Well, this is a path not in the ordinary sense, because in the ordinary sense, a journey is me as I am going to some other place and arriving as I am, but in another place. The place is not moved. The ‘I’ itself changes. It’s like the path from childhood to adulthood, or it’s like a path from not realizing something to coming to realize something. Change is inwardly.
In the book Training the Mind through Yoga, which is the one on which we have these talks based, this phrase is often used. One can be in the kindergarten stage, but very small children in imprisonment don’t feel it confining. Provided things aren’t too bad, the prison area is big enough for them. The wall is not something that holds you back, it’s something to bounce a ball against or to shelter from the wind. They don’t feel the restriction.
As they begin to grow up and they begin to wonder, “What’s beyond? What’s outside?” When they’re very small what’s outside the prison doesn’t look very attractive. “Probably it’s just a barren stretch of land. Prison is better, cosy. It’s home.” As they begin to grow up, then the childish attitudes begin to drop off, and there begins to be an instinct for freedom. “Who will change? Who will progress? Where will the progress be.” Progress is an inward of change.
Another example given by the teachers is when we go to a play. We deliberately suspend our disbelief and we enter into the reality of the play. We don’t notice when an actor closes the door on the whole furniture, or the ripple through all the tables and chairs which are being painted on the back cloth. We don’t notice that. We want to enter into the reality of it. This is the purpose of the play, to appreciate the beauty of the dramatic masterpiece.
If we go too far in suspending our disbelief and begin to take it as real, then we can suffer intensely. We see the eyes being put out in King Liam and we believe that this is real, and we suffer. Then the progress is an inner one. We’re not in this talk dealing with the end but with some of the obstacles. It’s to be noted that these obstacles come in everything. Everything we learn or try is attempted with very much the same obstacles.
Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra lists nine main obstacles to the path of meditation, which is the path we follow here.
- The first one is illness. Now, he gives, or the commentators of Patanjali give, in some cases specific remedies for these obstacles, but there is a Sutra which says, “By the repetition of the name of God and meditation on its meaning, the obstacles are overcome, and there is a consciousness of the inner light.” This is the main method of overcoming them. Very often, the human mind is not satisfied to pursue one method for several years, and it wants definite smaller things.
In addition, some of these specific methods I give. For illness, one of the practices which we do, and which we should be doing this evening, consists in slowing the breath, making it long and deep, and drawing it up to centre line. These practices seem to be simple. They are simple, but they lead to something. They develop. It’s not simply becoming an expert and then you have this feeling. The practice will develop. If we do these practices, something will come out of them which we haven’t suspected. Perhaps we will understand some phrases in the New Testament that have never been explained. ‘Straight is the gate and narrow is the way’. If we do these practices, we may get an insight to these things. That breathing practice, if the breath over a period of time without any strain is gradually made slower and more full, then all illnesses can be improved, can be alleviated, and some of them can be cured altogether. Now, in every illness, a great part of the suffering is because of the attention which has been bestowed on it.
We know that soldiers engaged in fighting, or even sportsmen under a trivial sporting contest, don’t notice that they have quite a bad injury, don’t notice that they have broken a toe or a rib. They don’t feel it because the attention is not directed there. It’s directed on something else. For the first practice then is the slowing the breath, putting the attention on the breath. Then if this is done carefully and for a long period and regularly, and the life is controlled and regulated, then the illness Patanjali says, will be alleviated and can be removed.
- The next one is apathy. It’s a sort of stupor, a sort of paralysis. It comes through a sort of acceptance. If the children become depressed in prison when they’re growing up and they think, “Oh, we’ll never get out,” they can’t get out. It’s no good. Their impulses to freedom is no good. A hundred years ago, the Victorians used a set of cartoons to represent social types as birds. There was one bird called the the doom bird, and the examples were given.
If a person of that type heard that a friend of theirs had been examined by the doctor, and the good news was there was no serious illness discoverable at all, then the reply would be, “Oh, I don’t have that. You see, it’s just a matter of the fear that there’s a serious illness, because then they can treat him. If it’s so deep they can’t even find it, how are they going to treat him?” The doom bird. Well, this is what is called by Patanjali apathy. “A sort of paralysis,” Śaṅkara calls it in his commentary.
We can observe this in ourselves with certain things. Some people adopt it as a means a defence. “Oh, I was never any good at figures. I’m an absolute fool with mechanical things. I could never do that. You’re so clever. You do it.” They would rush off to show their mastery, not aware that they’re being manipulated. “Oh, no. I can’t.” This is called apathy, or a paralysis, and it’s the second of the obstacles.
This is cleared by reading the traditional texts such as the Gita, the Upanishads, the New Testament, with great attention. There’s a special charm and a mystery in these texts which will make something stir in us. For a bird which has been caged for sometime is put on a branch in the garden, it can’t fly. Though it has wings, it keeps spreading its wings, it’s about to take off, and then the conviction of being caged comes over it and it can’t fly. Then a wild bird flies up in front of it and unleashes a whole bed of quivers with the instinct for flight. It takes, the naturalist tell us, sometimes weeks before that impulse received can actually manifest itself in the first flight, which may be clumsy, but it’s the bird’s true nature.
In the same way, if we read these texts with attention, there will be a quiver that will be set up in us. They correspond to something in us, and that will be developed, and finally the apathy will be overcome.
- The third obstacle is doubt. Doubt doesn’t mean inquiry. A doubter doesn’t inquire. He just doubts.
A man who was interested in his health, he used to go to a very expensive doctor. He’d spend a lot of money and went a lot. Then a friend said to him, “You’ve gone to the doctor a terrible lot, don’t you? How is it he doesn’t cure you?” The patient said, “Well, you see, it’s not his financial interest to cure me, is it? Because if he cures me, I shan’t go to him any more. His interest, obviously, is to keep me slightly ill, not so much, of course, that I leave him and go to another doctor, but just slightly ill then I have to keep going back to him. His prescriptions are meant to cure any actual illness, almost, but just to keep me slightly ill. What I do is I modify these prescriptions that he gives me.”
The friend said, “In actual fact, you are always slightly ill, aren’t you?” The patient said, “Yes. I sometimes think he knows, so he’s modifying it in anticipation of my modification, and then I have to modify it some more.” Well, this is an example of the habitual doubter. Bernard Shaw was right. He said, “The punishment of the liar is not that people don’t believe him, it’s that he can’t believe anyone else.”
Doubt, this kind of doubt, is a form of mental illness which spreads over everything and becomes a great obstacle. The teacher and the texts have faith in us, but we have no faith in ourselves if we’re doubters. Only by studying the holy text we should come to have faith in ourselves and then the doubt can be resolved.
- Carelessness is a lack of devotion. We seem to be making no progress. Actually, we seem to be getting worse. When people begin to become healthy, they sometimes feel that their condition is becoming worse, because they now react against things which before didn’t make them react. When a man has been a very heavy smoker and used to smoke-laden rooms, he doesn’t react against them at all, but a healthy man going into a smoke-laden room instantly reacts. The skin reacts at once. He begins to sweat and he begins to feel quite sick with it. These are the natural warning signs of health, and they’re partially paralyzed in the people who have become used to, as they call it, to the smoky rooms. They think they’re stronger but, in actual fact, it’s leading up to a physical collapse.
In the same way, with spiritual studies and practices, we become more aware of the artificial condition of our minds and, to that extent, we seem to be getting worse, simply because we are more aware of the illness or the defects within ourselves.
- The next one is laziness. People will pursue something with enormous energy for two or three weeks, and up in their mind will come an objection saying, “Oh, this discipline is too hard.” People will go and sit in a temple, adopt a very strict discipline in a temple, and a voice will say, “This is ridiculous. You want to do things in moderation, not all of this.” Then he will thunder at this in his mind, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Satan then, not a word from Satan. Two or three weeks, and then after about three weeks, Satan says, “You’ve done very well. Not many people could have kept this up, but I think now we need a drink.” Then the laziness comes back again.
Patanjali refers to this. He says that things go in waves, and if people don’t know that, on the downgrade, they can become diverted. If they know, as an athlete knows that his condition will go up and down, then on the low phases, he knows this is something simply passing, and he practises all the more, and then he will come onto the upgrade again.
- A failure to withdraw from the world. There is a sudden desire to return to the complications of the world. There is a materialist attitude which says, “Well, perhaps all this is illusory. These ancient teachings from the east, are they going to suit western man?” Many distractions of this kind come up and we begin to think, “Well, the world is all right. Why are you trying to change it? We’re all right as we are.”
A sceptical French poet wrote a poem. It’s a sort of skit on the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father who art in heaven, stay there, and we will stay on earth, which is at times so lovely with its mysteries of New York and its mysteries of Paris which absolutely outweigh the mystery of the Trinity. With its nice children and its miserable fellows, with all the earth’s marvels which are here, quite simply are here on earth.”
We think that sounds all right. We remember the song, “Live, love, and laugh. Take what this life of ours can give. Live, love, and laugh. Laugh, love, and live.” We can guess the wonders of New York and of Paris. “There are a lot of murders in New York but, still, perhaps stay there all the time. Come to the glories of Paris and then the unearthly beauty of the Pacific island of Borneo, the most beautiful place in the world.”
The thing is you’ve got to have a whole lot of money to do this. Travelling across to New York, then you get a bit tired of that, back to Paris, then to the Windward Islands in the far Pacific. You’ve got to have a lot of money to live in this full way that they recommend so that when we say, “Oh, well, we’re being asked to give up the world.” Well, we haven’t actually got the money for all these wonderful opportunities that this poet, who is now dead, outlined of the marvels of the earth.
‘Love’ – yes, all right, with a man or a woman, is infinitely attractive and as hard as nails, but most people are not like that. There are problems of jealousy. There are many other problems of frustration to be faced. They’re not being asked to give up a sort of paradise. As Yoga says, “We’re not being asked to give up a sort of hell.”
‘Live’ – well, we don’t perhaps have enough money to live as he could live, because he had a lot of money. ‘Love’ – well, perhaps we’re not so universally attractive that we can love just freely as we would like. ‘Laugh’ – well, there may not be so much to laugh about.
- The seventh, misconceptions, misconceptions about yoga and its path. These come up in different forms. We say, “Oh, the western mind is different from the eastern mind.” If we talk of the eastern mind, there’s not much in common between an Indian and a Japanese. We hate all of the east, the east, the east. They think of the west, the west, the west, the Portuguese and the Norwegian. They’re practically the same, west, but it isn’t so.
These teachings are universal because they are much deeper than the casual characteristics of the individual mind. A failure to attain any stage of yoga is a depression, sensing. “Will they ever let me go back to the old ways? At least I had some satisfaction there.” Well, the same thing we can see in an ordinary life. A man who types with two fingers can get quite expert, but he’s got to keep on looking. He can’t read without looking.
A touch typist can read. What computer experts never learn is touch typing. They still do because when the time comes, they think, “Oh, it would be good to learn to touch type.” When he begins to touch type, he’s suddenly much worse. He can’t think where the keys are. Not allowed to look when you’re learning, so he’s much worse. He makes a lot of mistakes and he says, “Oh, well, let me go back to these old two fingers. I can do something with two fingers. I can’t do anything with ten.” He fails to attain it. He thinks, “Well, I’ll go back.”
8. Well, in the same way with yoga. A fall at any stage is attained, it seems that there’s nothing here, but there was something at least occasionally in ordinary life, but this is another obstacle.
- The last one is instability. Even when a state has been attained, sometimes dreams and realities will come up and disturb that state. Those who had perhaps a very bad time in imprisonment, then they are brought out, they’re rescued. They’re among their friends and they’re being looked after, and all is well. Periodically, they begin to talk rapidly to each other, and they begin to contest. The principal says, “No, not true. You’re here. You’re safe. You’re here. You’re among us. You’re not in that awful place anymore. No. No. No. No.” Then he gradually calms down.
Sometimes, some of the first several nights, they can’t sleep. Somebody has to be with them when they’re sleeping, because the moment they fall asleep, they’re back in the nightmare. The man sitting beside the bed, beside the sleeping man, sees sweating, sees him shake. He wakes him up and says to him, “They’re my old friends. Can we talk for a little bit, then you sleep again?”
Dreams, things which are completely unreal and against the reality of the situation can disturb him.
Patanjali gives particular remedies for these things, but there are three sutras in which Patanjali says. Meditation on the name of God. Repetition of the name which is generally used is Om. It’s a word of not of the Sanskrit language. It’s used by many mystical schools outside India, who have found it, who have discovered it for themselves. It’s one of the greatest of the names of God.
Any traditional name of God on which the man has meditated and found its meaning, then if he repeats it, repeating the name then meditating, then again repeating for 10 minutes, then meditating for 10 minutes on the name. Now, the process is like waking something up from this repetition and meditation. There is an awareness of the inner light, of the inner divine light, and an absence of obstacles. The obstacles begin to disappear and there is an awareness of an inner light.
In modern psychological laboratories, a man, he becomes used to sleeping in the laboratory. Do they have this apparatus which can monitor the so-called brainwaves and they register that he is indeed asleep? Well, then a tape is played with a series of names on it in a very soft voice, and they monitor the brainwaves and these names. Don’t awaken the man. When his own name comes, although it is no louder, he wakes. Sometimes if it’s the name of his girlfriend, or her boyfriend, they wake. Something on which there’s a name on which there’s been a meditation and a deep feeling, something will wake him.
Now, in the same way, one of the teachers says that these repetition of the names of God like “Om” is like repeating the name of the sleeping God in a man. When this is repeated, the God will begin to stir from repetition, absence of obstacles, and a growing awareness of the light within.
Nine major obstacles that get in the way of our sadhana or Spiritual journey:
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, 1.30
- Vyadhi: Physical illness
- Styana: Lack of interest or enthusiasm
- Samshaya: Doubt or indecision
- Pramada: Carelessness or negligence
- Alasya: Physical laziness
- Avirati: Desire for sense objects
- Bhrantidarshana: Living under illusion or wrong understanding
- Alabdhabhumikatva: Missing the point or inability to hold on to what is achieved
- Anavasthitatva: Inability to maintain the achieved progress