Knots can be of different kinds, Shankara says. Status can be a big one. Here again, flexibility is life, and rigidity is death. As an example, take the case of winning and losing at games. A very influential book from the sixteenth century onwards in Europe was: “The Courtier” by an Italian nobleman and diplomat, Baldassare Castiglione. This classic tells the man good social position never to play any game or any form of sport against social inferiors in public, ‘unless absolutely certain to win!’
The book creates a knot: The man of higher status must not be seen to lose in public. If he lost, his status would be damaged: he must be superior to others in everything he did.
Contrast this with the attitude of the English land-owners in the seventeenth and eighteenth; centuries. They were called Squires, and many of them were very keen on sports such as hunting and shooting, but especially cricket. and . Now English squires such as Osbaldeston played cricket with his tenants. He had a strong proud character, was a fearless (and deadly) duellist, a local hero of many exploits. But when he played cricket with his tenants against teams from other localities, and happened to lose that match, was never angry or upset. To be a bad loser would show weakness of character – a poor sportsman. The two teams would mix together afterwards as fellow-sportsmen. They drank ale, and talked together: the powerful rich land-owning squires, and the tenants who were absolutely dependent on the squires.
The squires knew many of their tenants personally, whereas the French nobles were rarely on their estates, which were run by ruthless and corrupt managers. The French nobles did not know what was going on, but the English squires did know, and many of them were like fathers to their ‘people’ as they called them. Some historians think that this is why England did not have a French Revolution: the English squires could check the worst abuses because they knew what was happening. They could untie the knot of the class barrier at times. Osbaldeston was a proud and fearless man; he outfaced the formidable Duke of Wellington in an argument. But he did not bring the knot of personal or class pride into sport; he could untie it. Whereas in France and elsewhere on the Continent the knot had become iron-hard.
These examples from the life of the world illustrate the worldly advantages of being able to loose some of the rigid heart-knots. But yoga is not a question of adapting more smoothly to the circumstances of life. Life itself is a knot, whose strands are I-ness and love-and-hate. Tightened and tightened in many births, they become a hardened knot of Not-knowing-the-Supreme-Self. They have to be loosened.
Shankara says that likes, hates, egoism – these form knots in our hearts and if they become hardened,i mpacted and fixed they prevent our spiritual growth and spiritual realization.
One of the methods is, to look at them carefully, and see that they are not absolute.’There is no accounting for tastes’ says the proverb, meaning that they cannot be altered by reason and conscious decisions, because they are not based on reason and conscious decision in the first place. The idea is, that outer behaviour can be changed, but not the inner feeling. But the teachers of yoga say that like can be turned into dislike, and dislike turned into like, by the will.
A young student challenged a senior yogin to show any example of it, and the senior replied: ‘I see that you have an occasional cigarette. Now consult your own experience. When you took your first cigarette, did you like it?’ ‘Well, no. I admit that. I felt it was burning my throat, and I was coughing, and as a matter of fact I was a bit sick afterwards.’ ‘So how is it that you smoke now?’ ‘Well, I felt the others were laughing at me, so I made myself take another and then another. And I gradually came to like it, and now I can’t do without an occasional one.’ ‘Isn’t that an example of changing strong dislike into strong like, by force of will?’ asked the senior.
‘Don’t take these ideas as something from outside which you are asked to believe. They bring to light things in our own experience which we tend to overlook.
Please think about like and dislike in this way.’
Like can be deliberately changed to dislike and dislike can be deliberately changed to like.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Loosening the Knot of the Heart
Part 2: Swetaketu was a naughty boy