Discipline and Liberation

Discipline and Liberation is generally understood, the yogic discipline consists of two elements first, complete detachment from the desire for limited egoistic experience in this or another body ; and second, desire for and meditation on the consciousness of immortality and bliss which follows the realization of the true Self in the form ” I am Brahman ” or ” I am God “. The first element is common to all Yogas. But the statement” I am God ” is to some students too much of a shock to the ordinary way of thinking to form the subject of meditation ; they can follow it intellectually but cannot incorporate it at all into their life. These yogis worship God as external to themselves, by meditating and taking refuge in Him, and by dedicating the results of their yogic efforts to him. In this way, says Shri Shankara, they attain clarity (sattva) of the psychological apparatus, and then the Lord liberates them from all sins (Gita). They begin to understand that the Lord is all, that there is nothing else except Him, and can meditate on Him as the Self of all. Then the Lord frees them from all sins (limitations) by manifesting Himself as their own Self. This form of Yoga is called Karma Yoga, and it is recommended to people living active lives in the world with others dependent on them.

In the 13th Chapter of the Gita the different yogas are described briefly, and the highest place is given to those who meditate in perfect mental tranquillity on the Consciousness-Self beyond the mind. Next come those who realize by intellectually discriminating the ‘Self from the movements of nature (technically called gunas); the Self is witness of the gunas and thus witness of the mind also, which is one of the movements of nature. Both these yogas are based on knowledge.

The third yoga mentioned is Karma Yoga; which is based on illusion, because here the true Self, the Lord is worshipped as something external only.             It does not mean that the existence of the Lord is an illusion, but that the yogi who worships Him as unknown, as distant, only sees part of the truth; he does not yet see that the Lord who supports the whole universe is the inner Self supporting him also.

Still a fourth path is mentioned, and this is the path of those who cannot know the Self by any of the other ways ; that is to say they are not experts in meditation and so have had no flashes of inner illumination, nor are they capable of maintaining the intellectual analysis which reveals the witness Self, nor have they performed right actions dedicating them to the Lord in worship. These people depend entirely on what they hear from a teacher who tells them

” Meditate on such-and-such in such-and-such a way “. They then contemplate the idea in full faith and adhere to this which they have heard, and finally, says the Gita, they too cross beyond death, which is one of the phrases meaning full liberation. It takes tremendous faith and will to be fast in an idea when they cannot understand the evidence for it, and have not lived a life consonant with it:

These are people of straightforward mind, capable of taking and sticking to sudden far-reaching decisions.

It is implied that these sincere men, who have nothing but faith in what they have heard, will become quickly Karma yogis and then philosophers or mystics, thus traversing the whole of the path. Similarly those who enter on the path of Karma yoga-a stage higher up, so to say will soon be able to practise discrimination (vichara) which is the yoga of the philosopher (Sankhya); and the Sankhya philosopher, when his intellectual analysis is complete and rooted, finds his mind comes to complete clarity and stillness in Samadhi (trance-meditation) when the full consciousness of the true Self shines through and he is liberated. Thus all the yogas lead to the realization in meditation, by gradual purification of the life and mind, though if one of the early yogas is very faithfully and earnestly performed, the final stages may be quite short.

This Gita classification of the stages does not differ substantially from the one generally used by Shri Shankara. He most often speaks of a discipline of right action, sacrifice and worship, combined with the mental training:

Shravana (hearing the truth),

Manana (reflecting continuously on the truth),

and Nididhyasana (profound meditation and Samadhi).

The end of the path is Anubhuti (consciousness of the infinite Self), which is Mukti, libera tion from all limitations. The discipline is to detach the student from all objects, and the training to focus the purified mind on the infinite Self, and finally to dissolve it in the Self. The two wings of the yoga are given by Patanjali as Vairagya (detachment) and Abhyasa (practice), and in this classification he follows the Gita; his Vairagya is really the same as the result of Shri Shankara’s discipline, and the practice is Shri Shankara’s Shravana, Manana and Nididhyasana.          It is noteworthy that Patanjali, the great exponent of Meditation, gives Vairagya equal (some commentators say greater) importance. By detachment the obstacles of impurity and distraction are cleared away, and by meditation practices the spiritual eye is so to say turned towards the ever-luminous Self.

It is a picture of a long process; as a fly slowly and patiently cleans its wings of the honey that has clogged them, as a prisoner doggedly files away the bars of the window, as a man makes a long journey through the desert, as the treasure-seeker resolutely prosecutes his digging, as the would-be king assembles an army and in long campaigns finally conquers the enemy, so the yogi pursues the path of yoga indicated by the teacher, thinking no sacrifice too great, no suffering too heavy on the path to the infinite bliss of Liberation.

However, reading Shri Shankara or any of the great Vedanta texts, the beginner comes across phrases which do not quite fit in with this picture. He tends to dismiss them as irrelevant or obscure, but as he penetrates deeper and deeper into Vedanta thought, he becomes aware that the picture of an arduous process, accomplished only at the cost of keenest sacrifice and suffering, is not the only view of ‘ Shri Shankara. It is not even his main one.              Shri Shankara’s great disciples give Shravana-the hearing of “That Thou Art ” and similar texts-as the main factor in Liberation ; surprising, when surely Shravana is merely the preliminary to Manana and Nididhyasana.              

How can Shravana give liberation ? We have heard the text on our first entry into Yoga, and hundreds of times since, and yet we are not liberated. How can mere hearing free a prisoner from his chains, or conquer a kingdom ? The disciple begins to feel bewildered as he hears that Liberation is not a thing to be achieved, when he hears that all beings are ever-liberated. The teaching, intelligible when it spoke of a definite achievement and the way to do it, seems to be losing all meaning.

The point is that Shri Shankara expounds two views, one for those who still at heart believe the world to be real, and one for those who are beginning to have flashes of understanding of its illusory nature. While the world is real, then the discipline, the sacrifices and sufferings the slow progress, are real. But when the yogi understands something of the truth, he finds that the prison cell, the desert, the enemy army, were all unreal. They are not necessarily non-existent, but they have no real relationship with or power over his real Self.

The naturalist describes how a cockatoo which has always lived in a cage is taken out and put on the branch of a tree in the garden. For a long time it cannot bring itself to believe it is free. When another bird first flies up in front of it, its wings quiver and all its muscles tense for flying, but then the conviction of imprisonment descends, and it gives up the attempt. It may take over three weeks of frustrating and painful efforts before the bird can give up its irrational idea of being still somehow caged. The bird sees of course that there is no cage, but the habit of a lifetime is not thrown off immediately. The analogy is not exact but in some ways living beings can be compared with the cockatoo on the branch. It does not dream of flying at all, but then the free bird streaks up in front of it and a deep instinct is awakened fragmentarily. This is comparable to meeting with words like ” Thou Art That ” and other texts directly speaking of Liberation. They stir a deep instinct, the deep-buried conviction of the truth of the psalm quoted by Lord Jesus : ” Ye are gods “. The special fascination of the spiritual teachings and teachers is partly due to their touching this deepest layer in man, and this is also the reason why re-reading the holy texts increases their significance and charm for us instead of exhausting it.

The bird on the branch is always free. It is Nityamukta, ever-free, as Shri Shankara says of all men. But till the other bird flies up, it will not think of flying, just as men will not think of Liberation till they hear of it (Shravana). After Shravana there is Manana (continuous pondering on the truth); this corresponds to the bird looking round and seeing there is no cage. In spite of its clear cognition that there is nothing imprisoning it, the bird still feels caged, and it has to repeat the action and go over the surroundings again and again. Nididhyasana corresponds to the actual attempts to take off into the air. Again and again the bird is poised for flight, is about to fly, but finds still a latent doubt, and is disturbed and relapses into its mere perching on the bough.

The bird may fly any moment. True, it will generally take time before he does so, but that time may be long or short. No one can say the bird cannot possibly fly in less than three weeks, or even that it cannot possibly fly till tomorrow. It may fly at the very next try. The only necessary condition to success is that it should continue to make attempts. So Shri Shankara says that meditation should not be imposed on the student as a kind of duty, because he may then simply do it mechanically without much hope of a result. But the teacher should in different ways show the pupil the advantages of freeing himself from his imaginary bondage, and rouse in him more and more strongly the sleeping instinct for infinity and bliss. Then the student repeats his meditations and mystic practices, not as steps in a long journey of which he cannot see the end, but each time as a direct attempt to realize his present immortality and infinity.

In a sense, after Shravana Liberation is only a question of time, but we can see that that time is not determined by anything without. Manana and Nididhyasana are not like filing through a chain or travelling across an endless desert or conquering a powerful enemy. If we have filed half through a chain in a month, then it will take us another month to cut it right through. If in a year we have travelled half way, then we can suppose it will take another to get right across a desert. If it has taken five years to destroy half the enemy’s forces, it will doubtless take another five years to conquer the rest. But in yoga the chain we are cutting is not in fact locked on to our foot at all, the

desert is already crossed, the enemy never existed. After Shravana the remaining steps are not steps at all; they do not get us to any place not already reached. Manana and Nididhyasana are only realizing the ever-attained. The yogi is expected to see more and more that the apparent sacrifices and sufferings of the path are unreal, are really only sacrifices of his sense of bondage. After the curtain comes down, the actor takes off his king’s crown, but does not feel he is sacrificing anything, because he knows it was nothing real; so too the prisoner who was executed in the play doesn’t feel that he was suffering and now it is ended. Both enjoyed the play for what it was, and were not held by it. But the small child who sees the play weeps for the prisoner and prays that it will end differently; he hates and fears the king, who perhaps haunts his dreams till he is older and learns to discriminate the real from the unreal.

If we want to be free from the tortures of the world which break our hearts and ultimately kill us, every day we must practise along the lines indicated by the teacher:” The infinite Self is real, ever-free ; the world is illusory.” There is a Buddhist phrase on meditation, of the Tien-tai school : Meditation and Liberation are not two.  It means that as we sit in meditation we must know that Liberation is already attained, and not suppose it is something to be attained, with unheard-of efforts, in the future. Swami Rama Tirtha says the student should go to meditate with the firm conviction that he will realize his ever-achieved Liberation,” today, today, today.”

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