Reactions in Yoga
Some beginners who take up Yoga with great enthusiasm, are surprised to find their initial exaltation soon fading into inertia. To think of spiritual things then gives them a feeling of headache and they conclude that they were better off when in the world. There can be a sense of betrayal; the higher spiritual forces surely should have shown some appreciation of the great efforts expended. It is as though an offering, produced with great exertion and trouble, has been rejected. This is an experience which will be repeated at different stages of yogic progress, and it is essential to understand it. The point is that the mind is a living thing, not dead like a piece of wood. And the characteristic of living things is that they react.
We can all recall that if we suddenly take unaccustomed exercise, as many people do on the first days of their summer holiday, soon afterwards the body feels painful, stiff and heavy. Exercise is supposed to lead to increased fitness, but at first the body reacts against what it is not used to. At this stage most pecple give up their resolutions to exercise every day; it obviously does not suit them. Those who go on, however, find that gradually the body begins to adapt itself; the muscles feel less stiff and begin to develop, and the lungs adapt themselves to take in more air, so that the sensation of “stitch” disappears.
In the trained athlete, far from being an effort, exercise is like a tonic to the body, which cries out for it at the exercise period every day. Such people know a physical zest of which ordinary people have no idea; furthermore, their bodies are capable of meeting the strains of ordinary life.
It is just so in the psychological and spiritual realms also. Beginners must expect their minds to feel a sort of discomfort after being subjected to unaccustomed tasks; the unease is not felt at the very beginning but soon afterwards. They must realize that the way to overcome it is to persist in the activity in the confidence that the mind will adapt itself.
Yoga should be pursued with common sense. We know quite well in anything else, good or bad, how sudden changes will produce violent reactions, whereas we can adapt to gradual changes. We also know that persistence is necessary to establish the instruments in their new condition. Everyone would see how ridiculous it would be for a child to. have to practise the piano for two hours a day from the beginning. Twenty minutes is quite sufficient. But we also see it would be fatal to permit even one day to be missed. In the same way beginners at Yoga should take up practice of twenty minutes a day, in which case they need expect no too violent reactions; but they must realize that it will be a very great mistake to permit a break of a single day for any reason whatsoever, even illness.
The mind should be treated as a plant; if it is wrenched in a new direction too abruptly, it will be broken and will not grow. To set it in the new path a persistent pressure must be applied and maintained steadily; after some time the plant adapts itself and is set in the desired way.
It may be said that if Realization is a natural thing, surely this process should not apply. But again, if we consult our everyday experience we shall see that when a man has adapted himself to an unnatural condition, the process of readapting to the natural condition follows the same laws. An habitual drunkard cannot suddenly stop drinking without grave discomfort; an opium addict cannot stop suddenly at all. If he does it causes serious illness. When an embroiderer is bent over a piece of work for a long time, there is only a mild discomfort, but when she straightens up she may feel a severe pain. If she still keeps the natural upright position, and reinforces recovery by stretching, she soon feels a deep relaxation and the satisfaction that goes with the natural state. Those with experience know how relaxation follows the straightening up, and to them the momentary pain is even pleasurable because it is consciously felt to be part of the return to relaxation.
The law of action and reaction holds on higher spiritual planes also, and it should be carefully marked by aspirants. It is symbolized in the attempts of Herod to kill the infant Jesus, and the parallel attempts of King Kansa to kill the child Krishna. In each case these are thwarted by the vigilance and self-sacrifice of those whose duty it is to protect the child. When a new insight is born, the forces which have hitherto ruled the mind and character often attempt to crush it. It is the business of the spiritualized will to protect the spiritual inspiration. Often as in the case of Herod an ostensible purpose is to honour the divine child; the egoity attempts to join forces so to say with divine intuition. “I will honour you”, it says, “and I will be your proclaimer to all the masses of ignorant ones. I will proclaim your message to the world sunk in ignorance”. By such means the egoity hopes to ride to power. Beginners believe sincerely that all they desire is to help the world, but the real motive is clear.
We can see the same thing in beginners at anything. People who come up and begin talking compulsively about the importance of understanding psycho-analysis, or Marxism, or the influence of Shakespeare on Strindberg’s historical plays, are mostly people who have only a flimsy knowledge of these subjects. They believe that they believe the theories important, but in fact the purpose is to make themselves important. Real experts are much more sparing with their information, which they give to keen enquirers.
The progress of a student is nearly always the same: at first the subject is merely an adjunct to the individual, serving to enhance his prestige and profit, psychological or material. There is often a mania for teaching and propaganda for the truth (as he understands it). Gradually, if he keeps on, the subject and his own individuality alternate in importance. Finally, if he is sincere, his individuality is devoted to serving the subject, without any selfish aim. Nevertheless, advanced students who are mastering their subject, by that very fact, are exposed to temptations of unusual strength, because their chance of personal advantage is correspondingly greater. In Yoga the help of a teacher is an inestimable advantage in such crises.
A great attempt by the passions is to react by appropriating Yoga to themselves. To do this, the mind searches for and finds texts which can be made to confirm its present attitudes, ignoring those which run counter. For instance, timid people will stress the texts on detachment, overlooking the clear fact that Arjuna at the beginning of the Gita quotes just such passages in favour of retiring from the battle, and his teacher Shri Krishna specifically rejects them and says . he must fight. Krishna points out that Arjuna is only taking this attitude because he feels events too much for him. Similarly, beginners often preach “renunciation” in order to escape unwelcome obligations; but they have no intention of renouncing their habitual amusements, except “mentally”. In other words those parts of life which are distasteful are to be physically discarded, whereas those parts which are pleasant are to be enjoyed, but renounced “inwardly”.
It is very easy to analyse out such attitudes in others to their ultimate absurdity, but no student elementary or advanced should imagine himself immune to this kind of mental sleightof-hand. For this reason it is much better to practise Yoga in a group, because the mutually incompatible attitudes do something to correct each other. Best of all is to have a teacher who will directly treat the sore point that is being protected.
Yoga must be studied as a whole; it is useless to try to extract certain portions as “the highest truth” and expect to take the rest as read (and practised). Sometimes, students excuse themselves by spurious humility: “I perform the menial tasks and in that way serve. I have no talent for study or meditation”.
Others persuade themselves that their circumstances are peculiarly unfavourable and no progress can be expected. Such professional martyrs speak of unprecedented sufferings, though to an outside observer they often appear rather well-placed. Others again take the view that life is to be enjoyed now while the sun shines, and Yoga will come later when “necessary”. They do not realize that they are exhausting the vitality which was the material to be converted into yogic illumination.
Childish though all these reactions seem to be, they are mighty assaults, and every Yogi has to practise himself in recognizing and dissolving them. Yoga is not a confirmation of the mental apparatus as it now exists. Yoga properly practised brings into play faculties which are latent. The test of yogic progress is the fundamental changes it brings about in fixed attitudes, external and internal. Throughout the yogic career the aspirant comes to certain “corners” when he has to give up his present understanding and throw himself into a new view. It takes courage to give up something of proven value in favour of what is as yet unknown, but it has the same significance as when the baby gives up crawling and tries to walk for the first time.
The tendency in life is to use exclusively those faculties which are most developed. We can see this when untrained people try to handle heavy things. They try to do all with their arms, of which they are most conscious. Proper training consists in getting them to attend to the legs and trunk, which are much stronger than the arms. Left alone, such people never get into the way of using the body properly, hands and arms for delicate operations, legs and trunks for the heavy work. On the contrary they more and more rely on the arms, because if they try the other method they at first get inferior results. This confirms their belief that the job can only be done with the arms. Only faith in a teacher will break the circle.
So in Yoga the intellectual attempts to grasp Yoga intellectually, the gregarious join Yoga simply to be in a group with some common aim, the intuitive hopes for flashes of inspiration which reveal a truth beyond knowledge or work. Each tries to use still further the strong faculty, and part of the teacher’s task is to correct this one-sidedness. The intellectual has to learn to work in a group and co-operate, and at the time of meditation he has to “burn his books” and try to make a leap beyond the discursive mind. When he finally does learn these things, he is more balanced and effective than those who take
to them naturally. He does not make the group a battle-ground for stubborn insistence on his own ideas, as many so-called group-minded people do-nor does he think his baby intuitions are complete visions of truth, immune from criticism in the light of yogic tradition.
Similarly the gregarious person learns to find satisfaction and support from within instead of relying on the herd. He actually attains convictions of his own instead of simply picking up convictions which are around.
The intuitive learns to free his faculty from the terrible egocentredness which nearly always vitiates the inspiration of the untrained. And he acquires accurate Knowledge and living practice through which he can bring his intuitive attempts into harmony with his every-day life.
When the physical instruments are thus developed in harmony, the student begins to be capable of real tranquillity. Before that, apparent tranquillity is only superficial, masking deep inner tension. In most people even sleep is not real tranquillity, the turmoil continues below the surface.
When real tranquillity begins to manifest itself, the latent faculties beyond the mind unfold gradually, which Patanjali calls Ritambhara and others Prajna or wisdom. There are still reactions, but not from individuality or its functions seeking to preserve separate existence; the reactions are promptings of the cosmic urges which are called collectively the Lila or sport of the Lord.
Those such as Christ or Socrates, Hallaj in Arabia and Daito in Japan, gave up all human rights because they no longer felt the imperative obligation to preserve the physical body at all costs. From the ordinary human standpoint the life of Holy Christ was a failure, because he was executed as a criminal; but, from the cosmic point of view it partially civilized the West, and it can be expected that newer and fuller manifestations of Christ’s teachings are still to appear.