Practical Yoga


This is from one of the upanishads called the Shvetashvatara Upanishad: “As a metal mirror, tarnished by dust, shines bright again after it has been cleaned, so does is the one in the body, when he sees the true nature of his Self, attain oneness, and the goal, and freedom from sorrow. When the one in meditation, through seeing the truth of his Self, as a lamp in this body, realizes the true nature of Brahman, he knows the unborn, eternal God – beyond all natures.  He is freed from all bonds. He is God, who pervades all; he has been born and he will be born. He stands behind all, all-seeing. Adoration to that God, adoration.”

In these verses, a means is given and a realization. The means is exemplified by cleaning a mirror.  The mirrors were of metal and they were cleaned by passing a rough surface repeatedly over the metal in a polishing movement. The polishing movement itself is not light; it’s only purpose is to make the mirror stand forth as a mirror. It always is a mirror, even when dull; but, when it is cleaned, it stands forth as a mirror. The polishing action itself is only a means. One of the teachers laid great stress that the means should not become the end. This very often happens, somebody who gets some very new and complicated high-fidelity recording equipment – in fact, when they want to use it to listen, they’re constantly jumping up and adjusting something, then sitting back again and then they jump up again. They bring the bass up a little bit, and then they change the loudspeakers a little bit. In fact, they don’t listen to the music. The means, which was the equipment, has become an end in itself, to make it ever more technically perfect, but they forget why they have it. They don’t in fact enjoy the music. In the same way, any spiritual means, can become an end, can become a life in itself.

People make a pilgrimage, and they are given at the place of pilgrimage, in the Far East, a little piece of wood from the sacred grove.  It just has on it, roughly, the name of the Divinity.  It’s wrapped up in a piece of paper to preserve it and it’s carried around. The man remembers when he touches it. He carries it with him. He just touches it and then he remembers the pilgrimage he made and the worship of the great divinity. It’s the Japanese God. His name is Daikoku. He corresponds to Shiva, a god of prosperity, auspiciousness. It’s a simple piece of wood and its purpose is to remember, to remind one.

One can also have a little bag to carry it in, to protect it. The bag is nice, it’s embroidered in little bit of colour, it’s very attractively done, with a little cord to hang it up, and that makes it last longer and it’s better. Again, one can have the thing, the form of the God himself, very well carved on a piece of metal, and this will last longer. It’s a replica of a work by a famous artist and shows the God of prosperity, with the rice bags and the great sack on his back like Father Christmas. They’ve even put a Sanskrit letter at the top. He’s not a Buddhist divinity, there’s no connection at all, but it’s been put in for good measure – one for the pot, so to say.

Then one has this little shrine, and this is very much better – it’s now quite a work of art. In the shrine, you can have a replica made by a famous artist. It’s pure silver – the God in the shrine. They put in a tray of pure silver, with little offerings of rice every morning; and then one feels the whole thing has gone on to a higher plane. You can’t help feeling that, in the great forecourt of the God’s palace, where all the prayers are jostling together, one says, “My man’s in terrible trouble,” and another says, “Don’t push, you’ve got to wait your turn.” But there’ll be a little gate by the side, “Silver prayers this way.”  You can’t help feeling it. Then one doesn’t really have to think much about Daikoku, himself, if you’ve got the silver image, because, well, it’ll just have priority.

In this way, what began as a spiritual thing becomes, in the end, an artistic appreciation and the purpose has been lost. Arjuna used to worship with these vessels, vessels like this of silver, of pure silver; and he made a ceremony and he prayed, keeping very carefully to the rules. He asked, once, what happened to his prayers and his devotions. He was given a vision. They said, “Well, you and your brother’s, they go up together.” His brother Bhima, just used to stand for a moment with his hands clasped – no ceremony, no vessel.

He was taken up to this heaven where there was a mass of flowers. He realized these were his prayers, and he saw a little posey on one side, which he realized were Bhima’s – they had still some beauty. The attendants were piling these flowers on the carts to take to the Hall of the Almighty. Then one of the attendants says to the other, “Be quick, come on, we must hurry.” Arjuna said to him, “Oh, it’s alright. I’m not going to do my devotions.” “Your devotions? Well, with that little posey, we can manage that. But Bhima is about to pray again.”  The story indicates that the beautiful ceremony doesn’t necessarily carry intensity. Bhima is an incarnation of Hanuman; Bhima is Hanuman in the Kali-Yuga. In the Kali-Yuga he’s often swept away by his fighting fury. At the time of devotion, he becomes Hanuman again.

The mirror is made bright by polishing. It says it must be done by one who knows. One of the important Zen stories is a man who practised meditation.  He used to sit in meditation and finally he went to a small hut to do it by himself. His teacher came, but he thought it best not to get up, so he went on with his meditation.  Then the teacher sat beside him, and picked up a tile and began grinding it. This time he thought perhaps it would be better to take notice of the teacher. He said, “Well, what are you doing? You’re disturbing me.” The teacher said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m making a Buddha.” The teacher went on grinding. He said, “Well, what are you doing?” He said “I’m making a mirror. No amount of grinding will make a mirror out of something which isn’t a mirror. No amount of meditation will make a Buddha out of something which isn’t a Buddha.” Our teacher in commenting on that story said, he thought he was making a Buddha. He had to create something which was not there. He didn’t know there was a mirror, an atman, already there. He was trying to create something.

In the same way we are taught, there must be an intellectual basis of conviction and then meditation is made on that basis. It’s not creating something which doesn’t exist, it’s making something stand forth, which does exist. Madhusudan in his Gita commentary says this, “Then they stand forth in My form. Not that they were not of My form before, but now they stand forth clearly in My form.” Without the realization which comes from meditation then all the phrases and the sayings and the holy texts are unreal. It’s easy to say the things that the sages say – we can read them; but they’re unreal when they’re said, if we don’t realize them in practice.

In some of the Judo contests, sometimes it’s very fast and the opponent will catch the jacket here, he’ll jump and catch it. To prevent that or to make it more difficult, many of the very experienced men as they come out, they just move the shoulder. It makes it slightly more difficult to catch it. Of course, it’s only of use if you’re an expert; but you can use that little bit of time you gain, which takes the coat away just an inch or two.  But some of the children – they’re eight or nine – they see a very experienced teacher, as he comes out, he has this habit against any opponent of just moving the shoulders.  But then you see the children do it too, they come out and move their shoulders too.

It has no meaning. They see the teacher do it and they imitate it. He says to them, “Don’t do that.  With you it’s a purely mechanical thing and it’ll impede your natural movement.” They think, “Well, he tells us not to do it, but he does it. He’s an expert. If I do it, I’m more likely to become an expert.”   Then the teacher tries to stop doing it, but he forgets.  One day he comes out again and then they’re all imitating him.

Well, it’s a little bit similar. One can imitate these things, but whether they have any meaning when they’re imitated is different thing.  The means are in maya, our teacher said – they are a manipulation of maya.  They mean rising to the most pure part of maya; then from that purest part of maya to take a jump.  They are in maya, they are available to the scrutiny of the intellect. It is a science of its own. The holy texts tell us of two things, they make declarations and statements about the supreme Truth. Then they make declarations and statements about the means to realize the supreme Truth, which means are in maya.

We have to take those means as part of as an experimental science, and not to criticize them on the basis of our own science, which has never conducted these experiments.  Thirty or forty years ago, our teacher would tell people who were very anxious, “Go to a mirror when you’re feeling anxious, and look in the mirror. If you see a line in your forehead, smooth out the line and do this repeatedly, and it’ll free you from the anxiety.”  How ridiculous. In a way that would be like telling a man whose teeth were chattering with the cold, “Well, hold your teeth and you won’t feel so cold” – because the lines on the forehead would just be an effect. What would be the use of changing that? These are old wives’ tales.

Now this year in America, in Florida university, a useful approach has been discovered of treating high blood pressure. The patients are taught to relax by making them aware of the tension in the muscle of the forehead. Dr. William Lay, a psychologist at the University of Florida, who originated this technique, finds that it can produce a 10% reduction in blood pressure on average.  So now it’s become scientific, so we can do it. It’s alright. It’s not an old wives’ tale, or perhaps the old wife was better informed than we think. If we wait until some scientist conducts, or stumbles upon, such an experiment, we should have missed thirty years.

In the same way, our teacher used to say, “If you are distracted or dull, wash the face in cold water.”  Now they’ve done elaborate experiments in Russia with children in school.  They break the session in the middle of the morning; and then one class are given towels rung out from cold water to wash the face, and the control class, in the next run, they stretch during the break. The ones who’ve washed the face, do markedly better in the mental arithmetic than the control class. They have an explanation – the trigeminal nerves. They have now a scientific explanation, as they think; but if we had waited until this experiment was done, then we would’ve lost a very long time.

In the 1930s, our teacher used to speak of the two sides of the brain – the minister of the exterior, and the minister of the interior. He said, “When you are feeling extroverted and you want to turn the mind within, pass the hand here or breathe through the right nostril.” At the time it was fantastic. Now Dr Onstein in America is studying these things. In fact, he has written a book on it. He’s saying that an interesting line of investigation may be that of breathing techniques. “They may differentially innovate each hemisphere of the brain. Since the olfactory nerve enters directly and bilaterally into the brain, this technique might have effects on the separate halves of the brain.”

All this does is make it seem more scientific, but it doesn’t affect the instruction. We’re expected to take instructions from a teacher, without expecting too much of a scientific explanation, an explanation in scientific terms. They have theoretical explanations in Yoga, but we can’t necessarily understand them. There’s a theory and there’s the practice. We shouldn’t be too frightened if the present theory doesn’t confirm the Yoga practice. We shouldn’t be too frightened.

In the New Scientist last week, it says the beady eye of science, once turned upon biblical miracles, is apparently being redirected towards events of classical antiquity. They give the famous story quoted by Plutarch, of how Archimedes repulsed the Roman fleet at Syracuse by shining down the sunlight which set the ships on fire.

Professor Stavroudis, who’s just written an important book on optics which was very favourably reviewed in the Nature last week, he studied this.  He says, “Under ideal conditions even a hundred or a few hundred mirrors, all directed undeviatingly at one target, would scarcely suffice to raise the temperature by more than a few degrees per minute.” He says what must have happened was that they shone mirrors onto the Roman ships which would’ve dazzled the Romans. Then they threw down the chemicals, Greek fire, which was understood at the time – saltpetre and sulphur – and set the ships on fire. So, of course, the two stories got mixed up.  He says that Plutarch was a very good man, a very kind man, a very learned man – but he got the story wrong. It couldn’t have happened. The calculations show he would only have raised the temperature of the object a few degrees centigrade.

Now unfortunately there’s a terribly crude engineer in Greece who obviously couldn’t make the calculations and didn’t know it was impossible. He got 50 or 60 Greek sailors at the Naval base to aim large oblong mirrors to focus on a little boat 160 feet away. Smoke appeared within seconds and in two minutes the boat was on fire.  Well, optics is supposed to be a science that’s fairly well known. No obscurities in that. One of the foremost authorities says something’s impossible. Then somebody tries it. We shouldn’t be too frightened at trying the experiments even if some of the theoreticians think that they won’t lead to a result, because the only way of knowing whether they’ll lead to a result will be to try them.

The teachers say that the pupil has to exercise himself in the means, which involve all the elements of the personality – not simply the strong points, nor to be too depressed by the weak points of the personality. If the yogi trains, his teacher is able to unify the efforts of his whole personality; his intellect, his feelings, his will, his intuition. The teacher and the tradition are able to unify them. He mustn’t think, “Oh, I am no good at this. I shall never be able to do that.” The teacher and the tradition and the inspiration that he’ll receive from the Lord will find means.

One story from Chinese history, which is quoted in a spiritual sense, is this: the people of one of the states were well known to be what they called cowards. They didn’t like fighting. Then the time came when they had to fight, they were attacked by a neighbouring state. They invited in a very famous general, a man known for his great skill and also for his very upright character.  They asked him to come and he agreed. He addressed the army and said, “I know you people, you’re not people who love fighting, but will you trust me?” They said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, you have to fight, and the enemy are far superior to you, and the enemy despise you as cowards, but will you follow my orders?” They said, “Yes.”

They came through the mountains to challenge the enemy in the afternoon, and they fought a battle. He privately had given his officers orders that, when the battle went a little badly, to retreat into the mountains. They gave way quite soon and retreated, but in good order, into the mountains; and the enemy was hesitant to follow into the narrow valleys. He gave orders on the first night to light 10,000 campfires. They lit them and the enemy waited. They didn’t come out; the enemy didn’t follow them. The next night he gave orders for 5,000 campfires, and the next night, 2000 only. Then the enemy general said, “Yes, you see. They are such cowards, their army is deserting. It was 10,000, then it was 5,000, and now there are only 2000. We can go in. There are only 2000 men there.”  They went in, and the others who were on the sides of the valley poured down the rocks and the attacking force was destroyed.  The general used their reputation for cowardice, he used that very weakness and turned it into a victory. It’s a famous story, an actual historical incident of how the very weakness itself can be used by a very skilful man.

Then the ultimate means is to jump out of the individuality into the true Self.  He said, “And then by the light of that true Self, he will see Brahman. He will see the God who is within all and who stands behind all.” The Upanishad gives some of the subsidiary methods before the final meditation. These come in a number of places in the texts. Our teacher said they are basically of two kinds, one to purify the mind and to make it serene, and the second is to make it one-pointed.

Now in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, the first of the means is for making the mind clear and steady and serene. There are four practices given – not only meditations, but actual practice. There are four kinds of people whom we meet – the happy, the unhappy, the virtuous, and the wicked. To the happy we should practise friendliness; and the commentator says, not friendship. If it is friendship, you are expected to support them and to take their side against other people, but friendliness.  He says, “One of the great difficulties, when somebody sees someone happy, is a feeling of envy.” He says, “Not a feeling of envy, but a feeling of happiness, in their happiness.”

For the people who are miserable, we should practise compassion. The commentator says, “This doesn’t mean doing what they want, but doing what will be for their benefit.”  Then, and it’s a very important one, he says, “In regard to the attitude to the virtuous,” he says, “that is deep…”, as Yung says, “It’s a great relief to feel one is dragging down something great.”  The commentators say that, in essence, confronted with the virtuous, a man feels a resentment.  Even a direct speech is given, “These virtuous people?”  He says that is the feeling that instinctively comes up. We can see it for instance, if we look at the accounts of the disciples of Christ, how they resented each other’s virtue and how it changed afterwards.  Because those accounts of how the disciples fought, even at critical moments, as to who should be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, those accounts must have come from those disciples themselves.

There’s so much in the Gospels that’s unfavourable to Peter, how jealous he was of John. That must have come from Peter himself. He completely changed. He completely overcame this point. Our teacher said that when a man is virtuous, he must expect opposition. Of course, it doesn’t mean that every time a man has opposition, he can feel, “I’m virtuous” [laughter] because he may be the opposition to somebody else’s virtue. “Overlooking the sin”, and Shankara says to disregard it.  But he says, just the same, not to have traffic with the people who make their lives in a sinful way. Then he says, “These must be done. These practices must be done, for clarifying and pacifying the mind.”

Then for stabilizing, for making the mind one-pointed, there are six alternatives: to make the breath controlled; to meditate on light, either externally or internally; to meditate on those who have attained perfect calm; to meditate on saints or realized men; to meditate on the knowledge which comes from dream and sleep; and lastly, to meditate on the chosen one, on the particular form, the particular ideal, the spiritual ideal, which has a special attraction.  For each man there’s one aspect which has a special attraction, and he should meditate on that.

Of these six, our teacher gave the control of the breath practice – the central one, he said, on which all the others are based.  It is to sit straight and to breathe slowly, gradually to make the breath slow, and then withdrawing, to feel the breath is coming in the centre line at the navel point and is rising with the in-breath up to here [the point between the eyebrows]; as if it were a line of light that’s rising up to this point, like drawing up water in a straw.  We breathe slowly, to feel the breath or the prana (which is not quite the same as the breath, but is felt with it) is coming in at the navel point and is coming up a central line, up to between the brows. He often gave this practice.

The next one is meditating on light, either externally or internally. One of the practices is to look at the dawn sun and in Far Eastern mysticism, this is a very important practice. The Chinese say that, looking at the dawn sun, looking at the sunrise, if he can do it, is a time when he can very easily forget his name, forget who he is, forget where he is, forget words. This is a very favourable moment when the sun comes up.

To meditate on light internally. One of the practices our teacher gave is this line, which has been established by the breathing. Then without breathing, especially when going about in the day, when performing physical activities, to realize the central line. This is a great advantage in performing physical activities. For instance, people who have to write a lot, tend to get in a bad position; but if they remember the central line, they won’t become fatigued, even though they have to write for a long time.

We should meditate on some great soul who has become free, free from passion, free from desires and disturbances. One of the great avatars, in this sense, was Shri Rama, and it was said that, when he was banished to exile for 14 years, and when he was enthroned finally, his face was the same – it was undisturbed. They said of Socrates that when he came back, whatever day he’d had, his face was the same.

We should meditate on the knowledge that arises from sleep and dream.  One of the forms of this is, if we examine ‘who am I?’, we shall find, as the Upanishad says, “The eye sees, the limbs move, the voice speaks, the mind thinks – then who am I?”  A modern materialist would say, “That’s all there is, there is no ‘I’.  You cannot point to anything apart from these activities.”  Dream gives us an example of the ‘I’, free from all these activities. When a man is dreaming, his eye is seeing, his legs are walking, his hands are grasping, his voice is speaking, his ears are hearing, his mind thinking. When he wakes up, all that stops at the instant of waking; all that stops and yet the ‘I’ remains.

Then the last one to meditate on the chosen one on the ishta-deva , the form of the Lord, which has a special attraction for him.  Our teacher said this is one reason for reading the sacred books, for reading the devotional poems, that we shall find something in it, which will strike a special chord, which won’t be theoretical, which won’t be external, which will point to something in ourselves. Then it’s on that, the man will be able to meditate especially easily, and he’ll be able to go more quickly, more deeply into meditation.

These are all methods of bringing the mind to stability. The previous methods [for making the mind clear] were the four practices of friendliness, compassion, cheerfulness, and kindliness towards the virtuous and indifference towards the wicked. These are contained in the Gita verse, chapter 2: 65.  “The buddhi of the man of refined mind can quickly be brought to one-pointedness.”  Unless these have been done, as our teacher said, it means you have invited guests into your house; and when you’ve finished with them, they won’t go.  He said, the house must be restricted; that the guests whom we invite in, must be people who will be peaceful and who will allow us pursue our purposes.

When those are being practised, at the same time the yogi practises the final meditation.  In the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, and also in Patanjali, very strongly, it is said this is meditation on ‘OM’. The Upanishad says ‘OM’ is a raft. This is one of the many cases where ‘OM’ is compared to something which carries a man; it’s compared to a chariot or to a boat or to a raft; it’s something which if he can get on it, will carry him.  The ‘OM’ repetition is called the raft of Brahman.  The teacher says in the Upanishad, “He will come to see the true nature of his Self and then by that, as by a lamp, he will see the true nature of Brahman. Then he will know the God who is within all, who stands behind all.”

Then if you would like to try one of the practices; the line of light practice is to sit in a balanced position. Then our teacher gave this method – to touch the finger between the brows and bring it down the central line lightly to the navel point and just press there. Then to use that sensation of pressure to bring the mind back.  With the eyes shut, use the sensation of pressure, which will remain for a little bit, and keep bringing the mind back to that and realize it as light. He said, “We are not imagining something not there. There is a light there, which as yet we may not be able to see clearly.”

This kind of meditation, our teacher said, is immediate experience, nothing to do with name or personality. One of the koans or riddles of the Zen school, which is given to a man who’s been doing this practice and whom the teacher thinks has done it and has a little experience, is,  “I don’t ask you the future, I don’t ask you the past, I ask you now.” The pupil gives an answer, that will only be understood by people who have done this practice.




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