Yoga and the Goal of Self-Realisation


Well, the talk is formally on the Yoga Sutras as a means. Yoga – one of the meanings of the word is method; it’s a method towards Self-realization. There was also a yoga sect, which had a particular philosophy of its own. Yoga in general was a means of spiritual development and realization. We don’t want to get too technical but, just to put you in the picture, the Yoga Sutra is a work in four sections by Patanjali. The estimated date now is about 200 AD. The yoga system itself and the methods go back far earlier than that. For instance, there was one such verse quoted in the Bhagavad Gita, which is perhaps very old indeed, where it says, “The Yoga is achieved by practise and detachment.”  These are the very words that Patanjali uses, but they’re used in the Gita, perhaps 300 or 400 BC.

Patanjali wrote a treatise on the yoga system. It was not the first one, although it’s the only one that now remains (we have tiny little fragments of others earlier ones); so this is the classic. There was a short commentary written by Vyasa about 600 AD; it’s quite short. The tradition was originally oral – they had very good memories, there was no writing in India. We know that from ambassadors who visited India, say 300 BC, that there were no written contracts; people simply remembered the contract. It was all done by memory.  Later on, they began to write, and Patanjai wrote these very brief sutras that are just headings.

“It is by practise, and detachment” – that’s a sutra; then it would be filled out or commented on by the teacher. Vyasa wrote his short commentary, and the next authenticated one is by Vachaspati, about 850, so 250 years on. Recently, there was discovered in 1952, a text by Shankara (claiming to be by Shankara) on the Yoga Sutras. It’s a long and brilliantly written commentary, which is quite a bombshell, if it’s genuine. Anyway, I’ve given a lot of time to translating it. My own opinion is that it’s very likely genuine. I haven’t found any definite counter-indications.  Very often people who are imitating earlier writings give themselves away by some anachronisms. Shakespeare, writing about the Romans, mentioned watches, for instance. Well, that tells you that he’s not sticking strictly to a romance story.

There’s the Shankara, about 700 AD. That’s the text I want to mention this evening, and Vachaspati, a very long, voluminous commentary. Then the next one, Bhoja Raja, is a relatively short account of 1000 AD; and then there’s a long one by Vijnanabhikshu, about 1600. And for practical purposes, it’s worth knowing that the commentary by the great Madhusudhan on the Gita contains commentary on the first two books of Patanjali (the Madhusudan Gita). Though not formally on the Yoga Sutras it does mention them and go into great depth.

You have to know just a few technical words. I don’t want a bomb you with Sanskrit words, there’s no point. There are a number of words in any language which can’t easily be translated, or meaningfully translated, into other languages because they refer to thoughts or experiences, which those other languages may not have.

Purusha – there is an element in every man which is unchanging, pure, immortal, and the power of consciousness. This is called purusha; it means literally ‘the dweller in the city’. He is untouched by the events of the world; immortal; not struck down when the body is struck down. On the other side, there is nature – prakriti. It comes from a root meaning ‘to do’. There’s nature, and this is as real as purusha; but they are entirely separate. Prakriti is constantly moving, or potentially about to move, and it’s active, and it produces this world view before us. It consists of three elements.

‘Guna’ is a word you can’t really translate, but they are the three elements of nature.  To some extent, we can understand them. Sattwa is light, consciousness and goodness. Rajas, you can remember by the word, ‘rage’, which is perhaps akin to it. It means passion-struggle, furious activity, constant movement. Tamas is darkness – we can remember that by the Thames. Yes, the name Thames comes from tamasa, meaning ‘the dark river’; it is a Sanskrit word. I don’t know why it was called dark, perhaps it was dark then.  So there’s a principle of light, brightness, consciousness; there’s a principle of activity, ceaseless activity, and change; and there’s a principle of darkness and inertia and only semi-consciousness. These three in constant alternation make up nature, the functions of nature.

Karma has become an English word now, so I’ve put it in its Anglicised form. ‘Kar’ means literally action; it means ‘to do’. Now an important concept in Yoga is that the things you do leave a dynamic impression on, what we used to call, the unconscious (and perhaps still do). The point is that it’s dynamic. When we perform a conscious action, a purposeful action, it leaves this dynamic trace. It’s not that we perform the action, and then it’s finished. It constantly returns and it returns in dynamic form. Shakespeare was aware of this, in practice; in him, it’s the ghost.  Caesar’s killed, that’s the end of Caesar; but then Caesar’s ghost appears and takes part in the events. We can see clearly in a number of Shakespeare’s plays, he had this concept; that when an action is done, it’s not finished with. There’s this dynamic trace which will come back. This is called the sanskara and again, ‘kara’ is action.  Sanskaras are these dynamic traces.

The last one is samadhi, which is a state of meditation in which the succeeding thoughts are identical. This is not an experience which is had in ordinary life. In ordinary meditation, the thoughts are similar, the thought comes up and then another one which is similar to it, and another which is similar. In samadhi, it’s coming to one, and the thought is one.

Now, this is just for your technical interest, it’ll just take a minute. Shankara, in his commentary, makes certain very big changes in the official philosophy of the Yoga Sutras, which is limited. The big changes were the nature of Knowledge, and then an enormous change in the concept of God. In the normal yoga philosophy, God was just incidental, in a way – one who helps, remove obstacles, who teaches, but not a Creator God, not one who actively intervenes in the world. Now Shankara completely changed that in a very long commentary.  This is the first part of the Yoga Sutras, the most important part, and in one quarter, he completely changes the idea of God. “Be aware”, the sutra says, “all you can do this by devotion to God. You can do it by practising detachment or by devotion to God”.  That is a sutra. Shankara enormously expands the sutra and brings in the idea of a creator God who is purposeful, intelligent, who has a purpose. Now it’s a very long commentary, but in one place he sums up. I thought I’d ask a friend if he’d read Shankara’s summing up of his position.

The world has been constructed by one who knows the separate classes of living beings of their karma and its means and its results. He provided the world as an appropriate place for these to be experienced as one might build a palace for people to live in. The earth is created by one who has the knowledge of what it is to be experienced by the many living beings, like rice and barley cultivated by a farmer for others to eat. These two examples show that the abode of all the living beings, the earth with its mountains and rivers has been created by a single conscious master adapted so that those who live in it can have the appropriate experiences.

The sun is created by one knower who has the power to control the light in which the many beings share, for its essence is light like a lamp. The sun’s course rising and setting at fixed times is ordered by one who knows its purpose, for it goes according to fixed times as if pulled along. The course of sun, planets, moon and stars is controlled by one intelligent Lord, for to keep to fix times is inherently difficult as it is for a punctilious student or a servant. The waxing and waning of the moon is controlled by a single knower of the times of the lunar month, et cetera. For there’s accurate discrimination of the divisions of time as with a clock.

The moon has been created by one who knows the discriminations of time because its waxing and waning are controlled to the minute. The world has a single Lord who is intelligent, just as when there are many groups of living beings each with its appointed leader and with conflicting interests, the whole tribe has a single sovereign. There must be a supervision by some one entity of the whole complex of occupations with their means and ends, as in the example of war, for instance. When mutually opposing or cooperating interests must subserve a single purpose. There must be a supervision because it is complex, as in the operations of a potter. This is our position.”

This is a quite new concept in the Yoga Sutras, this enormous section on God. Then there’s another important section on word and meaning. The Indian tradition is intellectual and verbal. They were the only one of the ancient peoples who ever constructed a grammar of their own language; and it’s a masterpiece, the grammar of probably 500 BC. The Greeks and Chinese intelligent people, it never occurred to them to make a grammar of their language. They didn’t have the interest in analysis; but in India, there was profound interest and skill in analysis. The grammar of Panini is still used today by philologists.  It’s a masterpiece of accurate analysis of language.

This long section in part three is expanded by Shankara. There’s a confusion, the Sutra says, between word, thing, and the idea. We confuse them. Part of the business of Yoga is to be able to separate out those three things. We think we can separate them; but in actual fact, we can’t. When we see a thing, we instantly name it; and the name is often not the same as the thing we’re now looking at, but we bring what we’re looking at under that name. Now there is an illusion; purusha who sits apart feels, by illusion, that he’s part of this prakriti, this changing nature with its light and its rage and its activity and its darkness and inertia.

Examples were given at the time, but Shankara gives frequently the example of the drama. These analogies can’t be taken too far, but to make one simple point, people look at televisions (if you’ve got a television). And people who follow a serial gradually become drawn into the serial. Some years ago, a very popular character in one of these serials retired to the country, and the producer allowed the scriptwriters (he later admitted, a terrible mistake), to name the village where this very much-loved character was going to retire in the television play.  The next day, fans of the program were at the village knocking people up and saying “Where is so-and-so staying? We’ve heard that she’s retired in this village.” The villagers were furious, but the producers said, “There are people who can’t quite distinguish.” Now they were drawn into this serial so that it became real, and they expected to go to this village, wherever it was, and find the star of this television serial. They were drawn in.

Now, this kind of thing is given as an example.  The purusha is apart – this is the audience to the television, but they can be drawn in by an illusion.  This is as far as the Yoga goes, that we have been drawn into the limitations of the world, including the limitations of bodily life, by an illusion, which is very strong. One can’t just laugh and say, “Those fans who went to that village, you just laugh.” If a star on a television serial gets a migraine, people send out cures for migraine. When one died, I was told that people sent wreaths. They’re drawn in by an illusion, and we have been drawn in, it says.

Now Shankara takes this one further. The Yoga just points to this illusion and says the thing is to get back and realize I’m one of the audience.  Shankara goes further and says, analyse this world and you will see that it’s illusory, as illusory as a play or as a television serial. Not merely are they drawn into this, but what they’re drawn into is illusory. It doesn’t exist at all. The yoga system then is to try to extract, pull out purusha, the pure consciousness – which doesn’t change, which doesn’t become ill when the body becomes ill, which doesn’t die when the body dies – from this identification with body and mind and limited individuality. The Sutra says of this illusion, “Though it is so, it is not so.” Though purusha is a part you can never be part of the television serial. It doesn’t exist.

Although you are a part, nevertheless, you’re not a part because you’ve become drawn in if you’re too much taken up with it.  You’ve become drawn in; and then you begin sending wreaths or migraine cures, or even going to visit villages. So that the activity of the mind, when it’s pulled into the activity of the world and takes it as real, begins to become dominated by it. Then I think that, when the mind becomes affected, becomes dull, becomes brilliant, becomes very active, becomes very lazy – that I, myself, that the purusha is active or lazy or dull or dying.

The aim is to detach from absolute dependence on the world and to practise a realization of the true nature of purusha, of something which is apart, which stands independent of these things. Meditation is the main means. The first part of the Yoga Sutras deals mainly with meditation for people who are already consciously trying to free themselves, they are people who feel restriction already. Before that, perhaps, we don’t feel restriction. In a prison camp, very small children are alright. They don’t feel any restriction. It’s big enough – provided the food holds up and they get whatever there is.  They can play the ball, and they’re quite happy. When they begin to grow up, they begin to look beyond the barbed wire, and then they begin to feel restricted.

Now Yoga is for people who are beginning to look beyond the chain of worldly causes, effects, and circumstances – for something beyond, not simply to improve the circumstances, but for something beyond. Shankara says that you will not, in fact, be able to free yourself, unless you see something beyond. You can see the unsatisfactoriness of the world; but most of us think, “Well, if this and this and this happened, everything would be alright,” but it wouldn’t.

When people are beginning to grow up, beginning to look through the barbed wire fence, they’re no longer satisfied with even better quarters in the prison camp. The people in the prison camp put on Christmas shows and charades. It’s amazing what they do, and how cheerful they can get. They get very excited, making the scenery and the costumes out of nothing. It’s a very brave thing to do, but all the time in the background, there’s the consciousness of imprisonment. In the same way, the Yoga is for people who are beginning to feel the consciousness of imprisonment.

Now, Yoga is a method.  He says that one of the main methods is by concentration on God, the Creator-Lord, as it was described. That there is an intelligence controlling the universe, and that that intelligence is also within oneself – to become part of that intelligent movement, instead of having the actions and the thoughts motivated by what I fancy will do me personal good or, more likely, will do somebody else some harm, if I happen to be of a rather revengeful disposition. Instead of that, try to feel the divine current, or by devotion to God, and Shankara makes a tremendous amount of this. The Yoga Sutras give other methods of calming and clearing the mind for meditation.

Now I just want to give an example of the superiority of the text that we’re looking at, the Shankara text, to the text of Vachaspati which is enormously learned and came in 850 AD. You will see that Vachaspati is written, in fact, by a very learned theorist. Now this sutra is one of a series: “You can calm the mind by long expulsions of the breath.” Generally, they say, ‘Om’, to make a very long expulsion. ‘Om’ is the name of God, expressing the word of God. Then another sutra says, “… or by concentrating on the knowledge of dream”.  The little Vyasa commentary hardly mentions this; he left it to an oral tradition. Vachaspati, in 850, has a long explanation.

“All the mind-stuff reaches the stable state, by having as the supporting object, a perception in dream or in sleep. For when in his dream, he adores the exalted Maheshvara’s image which abides within a sequestered forest and seems as if it was sculpted out of the moon’s orb, and its members and limbs as soft as Lotus stems. It is made of precious moon stem stones and festooned with garlands of exceeding fragrant Jasmine, the Melati flowers. It captivates the heart.

When, in the very act of adoration, he awakens with mind, undisturbed calm, then reflecting upon that same image, which have become the object supporting the perception in his dream, while his mind is identical in form with that object, his mind-stuff reaches a stable state in that very condition. Sleep in this case, is to be understood as having the quality of sattva, of which sleep, when he wakes, he has the connecting memory, “I slept well.” For in this sleep, his mind has become single in intent and to this extent only, that is in his sleep, tainted only insofar as it reverts to some sattva aspect of the thing. The knowers of Brahman, tell us that the form of Brahman is in a state of deep sleep.”

Well, you will see, this is meant to be a practice on how to calm and steady the mind. Vachaspati, he doesn’t know what to say. He says, “Well, if, one time in a million, you dream of a wonderful form of a wonderful God, whose limbs are soft as Lotus stems, who seems to have been sculpted out of the moon’s orb, then if you wake up, try and keep your mind in that state of adoration and then it’ll be steady. Well, you might spend 10 years or 20 years and never have a dream like that. It’s not a practice at all. He doesn’t know what to say. Now, Shankara’s direction on this, “You can make your mind calm and steady by concentrating on the knowledge of dream.”

Meditating on the knowledge of dream and sleep, either on the knowledge of dream or on the knowledge of sleep, the organs mind in that form attains steadiness. Meditating, either on the knowledge of dream or on the knowledge of sleep, the mind becomes of that form alone. What the mind meditates on, as its own being, that form indeed it becomes. In the dream state, there is knowledge without any physical objects like sound, and so on, and the nature of that knowledge is pure illumination.  Now he meditates on what that knowledge is, but not on the remembered objects themselves, which appeared in the dream; for the mind can be caught by the bridle of an object, even merely remembered.”

If we shut our eyes and think of our living room, we have a picture. Now that picture is lit. What is the nature of that light? That was a buried memory and suddenly it becomes alive.  A light, what is the nature of that light?  We should become aware of pure consciousness, not in any of the objects of the living room, but the light under which that you see. Shankara instruction is a definite practice. Vachaspati doesn’t know this practice. He’s a theorist. I think this is, in a sense, typical of a great deal of the commentary, the earlier one by Shankara is much more practical. The later commentaries, by Vachaspati and others, are much more theoretical; and quite often, they don’t seem to understand the nature of the practice, which is being referred to.

Then in the meditation we meditate on a particular object. The objects recommended are some great object, which will exalt and expand the mind. For instance, people could take an image of, in this country, St. Francis; and they read little stories about him and try to form a picture. These pictures and this meditation, even when they become continuous, they are mixed up with the name and with memories, and with associations of time and place. When the meditation goes deeper and deeper, the memory can become purified. When the memory is purified, the memories drop off. Then, for the first time, instead of thinking, “I am visualizing St Francis”, as it might be, the object blazes out in its own form. Normally, in meditation, the object of meditation is formulated, and then it drops away – we think of something else, “What am I going to have for dinner?” Then we come back to the meditation; then, “Oh, I don’t know whether it does any good…” We come back again.  It has to be constantly supported – dhāraṇā, supported. When you become expert, when it’s been practised for a long time (Patanjali says this, ‘for a long time’. He doesn’t say how long, but for a good time), then all this, ‘How am I doing?’ and ‘How much longer have I got to go’, and so on, instantly drops away. Then the memories become pure and then the object will stand out itself; but it still is something created by the meditation.

The later verses say of the chapter, “When by skill, by long practice on the same object, when the memories can be discarded and thrown away, when he forgets I am meditating, then, tatra – there – the prajna – that knowledge – becomes ritambhara – truth-bearing. It becomes true. What he’s seeing now is a true object; before that, it may or may not be true.

This analysis is pursued again in the third book very carefully. To have wonderful experiences is no guarantee that they are true – it has to be practised for a long time on the same object. Then the memory has to be purified, and this can’t be done unless there’s a certain amount of detachment from the passing object. Then it becomes true, and then the truth is revealed.

Now we can see this sometimes in cases of scientific or artistic inspiration. They spend a long time studying, wrestling with it; and then theories begin to come up, but those theories are not necessarily true. Then there’s a sudden change – like an inspiration, and it’s often completely contradictory to the logic of the situation as in the case of the scientist.

After X-rays were discovered, they thought the X-rays were produced by the fluorescence, the shining at the end of the vacuum tube. It occurred to Becquerel in France in 1896 that uranium fluoresces in sunlight. He wondered if the fluorescing uranium might produce X-rays too; so he strapped up a little parcel with the photographic plate underneath, then a key, then the uranium. He was going to put it out in the sunshine. This was in February 1896 – there was no sun, as we know from checking the records. So he put it away in a drawer to wait until there should be some sun.  For no known reason, and absolutely contrary to the logic of the situation, he took it out and developed it. It hadn’t been in the sun, so there’d be no fluorescence – but he found marks of the key on the photographic plate.

Well, this was the discovery; it was something quite different from X-rays, but his action can’t be explained logically or rationally. It was an inspiration from somebody who had concentrated for a long time on the particular problem and then it came to him. This inspiration became truth-bearing.  This is only one example, which is given from the world. These meditation examples are meant to be on spiritual things but, still, it shows that the principle does operate in the world.

Now, the second book of the Yoga Sutras is connected with people who are in the world. The first book is people who are largely detached from the world, not subject to tremendous pulls and pushes. They’ve detached themselves to some extent, and they spend most of their time practising meditation.  The second book is for people who are still in the world, and it begins with three things that they must do, called the yoga of action, Kriyā yoga, to destroy or thin out some of the taints.

The yogic analysis of our worldly experience is a man in a fever. If you’ve ever had a high fever, you know that you’re lying there and you feel, suddenly, you must move – you’ve got to move, you’ve got to stretch out. You say, “Oh,” and then, suddenly, you get to feel cold. [So you pull on the blankets] and, “Oh, that’s better. It’s a little warm this time now.”  Then you feel, “God, I’m dying under all these clothes.” You throw them off and you feel cool again. It’s tiny little flashes of pleasure in a long background of pain – because there’s a fever. These moments of relief, putting a cold compress on the brow, “Oh, it’s marvellously refreshing”, and then it’s damned cold after a few seconds.

We talk of instant satisfaction today. Well, instant satisfaction, yes, on the spot, but also it only lasts an instant. This is the yogic analysis. To the wise, everything is pain, less pain or more pain. Shankara humorously compares it to somebody who’s eating sweet mixed with poison. He enjoys the sweet, but he knows what’s going to happen. You say, “Well, who would ever do that?” Diabetics do. They like chocolate. They know what’s going to happen. They know it’s killing them.  I’ve seen a diabetic who kept chocolates in the corner cupboard. She used to go across to the corner cupboard, nobody’s looking, just open the door, just a tiny little bit. It wouldn’t count if nobody saw it. Well, it did kill her. Eating sweet mixed with poison.

Now he says that we can move beyond this, the clash of the gunas – flecks and spots of the other two. The Chinese only have two gunas – they have the yin and the yang. Westerners always call it yang and yin, positive and negative; but the Chinese phrases are yin, negative, and then the positive. Now, it used to be just this black and white, but they realized that you never got absolutely pure black. So later on, they began to put the white dot in the middle of the black.

In the Indian system, within the black, there are points of white. However inert or dull somebody may be, there are flecks and spots and moments of activity and of light and awareness. In the same way it’s never completely white, there’s a tiny spot of black. In the yoga system, there are the three [gunas] which go round and alternate and we’re expected to see them, observe them in ourselves. We can see in our reactions to things, whether it is a reaction of sattva or of darkness or of passion struggle.

If something unpleasant happens, I simply want to run away – “You sort it out for me”. If it’s passion struggle, I want to hit back. If it’s light, I can see what’s happening – whether it’s appropriate to run, whether it’s appropriate to fight, whether it’s appropriate simply to bear it.  It’s not so terrible, hitting myself.  So, gradually, we should increase the sattva, so the white is dominant. Black can be dominant, or the red can be dominant; but they’re changing all the time and even in the most evil man, there are moments, there are instants, of clear awareness. Even in the most saintly man, there are moments and there are instants of dullness and blindness; but they are minimal – the main thing is to be largely sattvic, emptiness.

The difficulty with the Chinese system is that you only have two, the white is activity; the darkness is inertia.  Where does spiritual illumination come in? Well, they’ve had to put it under darkness – and this is one of the reasons for the very confusing nature of the Chinese texts, that the sage is often seems to be as inert as somebody very lazy. He just sits apart often on a mountain top and doesn’t take part in life at all.

These are then the gunas, and we can to some extent begin to free ourselves from them. One of the practices is: now I’m getting angry, now I’m disappointed, now I’m successful, now I’m very depressed and frightened – if those can be observed, clearly, then purusha, the power of consciousness which is beyond all these states, is beginning to awaken.

Now there’s one thing more – that, when the meditation becomes perfect, the memories have become purified and the object is blazing out, and all the sense, “I am meditating” is gone, then this makes an opening in the world process. Perhaps it’s a little more favourable now. Physics, if Feynman is right, shows that the vacuum is not quite the empty negation that was thought; but it’s full of virtual particles, positive and negative, peering and annihilating each other. It’s seething mass potentialities.

Well, the scientific experiments don’t prove anything yogic, it’s only that they may show the yogic methods aren’t as ridiculous as might be seen to someone who doesn’t practice them. The principle is that if the yoga meditation is practised, an opening is made; and through that opening of a particular form, this rush of potentiality can come through.  It’s compared to a gardener – if you’ve seen the terraced gardens in the east, they are irrigated.  The water comes over the top, and they flood the top stratum; then he makes a little cut and the water flows down into the next one; then he makes another cut.

Water will flow of itself once the opening is made. But if he doesn’t know this, he’ll have to transfer the water by taking a bucket and scooping it out of the top layer and putting in the next one and scooping it, and so on – and that’s said to be like the ordinary actions in the world.  But if he knows that, he can make a gap and the potentiality will flow through.  But to make that gap depends on being able to make a pure meditation, free from thoughts of passion.  And if he does this for any vantage of himself, it will mean that a sanskara, a living trace, a dynamic trace is left – and it will make it much more difficult to purify the memory next time, because he’ll be thinking, “I’ll do it again,” and that will make an obstacle to the meditation, to the clarity of the meditation.

To some extent, these things have a contradiction in them. Shankara gives the example of telepathy.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know what other people are thinking – useful in a poker game, it would be – you’d know what other people have in their hands.  Well, the story is that a man came to a village and there was a yogi who was in trouble, he’d been pushed right over by a cart.  Anyway, this man had an impulse and helped him along; and the yogi, when he was healed, said, “You’ve earned merit now. You can have a spiritual blessing, or you can have one of these powers.”  So the chap said, “Oh, don’t bother with the spiritual blessing; give me one of the powers – telepathy.  I do business, so I’d like to know what the other man’s thinking.”

The teacher said, “Well, yes, but you’ve got to have a bit of experience of it first. There’s a hut at the end of the village, isn’t there, I saw it as I came in. You’ve go to stay in that hut for three days, then come back.”  The man went to the hut and camped there for three days, in an old collapsing hut. He came back and saw the teacher, and the teacher said, “Well?” He said, “No, it was a failure, I didn’t get any telepathy. The fact is I couldn’t get any sleep. There were a couple of drunks living in the next hut, who were quarrelling and shouting and screaming and yelling at each other all the time you see. I couldn’t get any sleep, let alone telepathy.”

The teacher said, “Well, that’s what it will be like – voices shouting in your head all the time.” “Oh, but surely you can control this, can’t you?” The teacher said, “Well, when you can go to that hut and control your mind, so that you’re not disturbed by those two drunks quarrelling, then you’ll be able to have telepathy and not be overwhelmed by all this pollution which will come in.” He said, “You have enough trouble with the pollution in your own mind, don’t you, without the pollution of other minds as well.” The man said, “I think I’ll have the spiritual blessing after all, if I may.”

Well, these things are given and they need thinking about. People who practise yoga will get what Shankara calls ‘invitations’; and, very often, if they practise sincerely and hard, they will have some indications – they’ll get to know what’s going to happen, but they may not be truth-bearing. You can have an indication of what’s going to happen, and what’s going to happen, and what’s going to happen; and you think that another one is just going to happen – and then, it doesn’t happen. When you put your money on it, it doesn’t happen.  Macbeth is the classic story of that.

So that he says even the exercise of these powers is a pain in the end, because it rouses tremendous desires and passions, and you have to try to get away from this slavery to your individuality. He says that, however great your powers may be, it’s like putting on magnificent clothes.  It’s very nice to have magnificent clothes and not from the Old Kent Road – but soon it gets boring. It’s going to get boring because you’re still the same. He says, “You must try to find this pure consciousness, which is not increased and not decreased, but is unmoved and which is one with the cosmic purpose.”

In a country, which we need not name, there was a river coming out of the mountains. It came out and watered an area, and then it joined up to a larger river; but on one side of the area watered by the river there was a deep ravine. Now the villagers who were at the place where the water came out (it wasn’t a huge stream) from the mountains, discovered that by felling a few trees, they could divert the water into the ravine where it would be completely lost.  So they could blackmail the people of the country watered by that stream by threatening to cut off the supplies.  They didn’t cultivate the land anymore. They practised military art, fighting with a sword and spear, and they terrorized the whole area, who had to pay them tribute. Well, that was very satisfactory for them. If any village in the area threatened to come up and object to this, they sent a few armed men and the disturbance was soon quelled.

Then a new and enlightened government came, and the people in the village realized that, very likely, this kind of livelihood would be cut off. There was a very bright boy of about 10 who was the son of the village chief. They sent him secretly to a distant relative in another part of the country and subscribed the money so that he would get special tutoring and special education. The boy was very loyal, and they said, “Now you’ve got to get into the government and work your way up and prevent any interference with our traditional privileges.”  This very bright boy did this and he became the deputy in charge of this area. Well, he was asked now to make a plan for this particular area. His plan was that the traditional privileges of the village should be swept away. The villagers should be given some compensation, but the thing should be controlled by the government and the irrigation should be on a proper basis.

The minister looked at this and he said, “You come from this village yourself, don’t you?” The boy looked very surprised. The minister said, “Yes, we’ve got a good intelligence service,  You come from this village yourself, and you’re saying that all their privileges should be swept away.” The boy said, “Yes, it’s all got to go. I can see that now. When I was in the village, of course, my view was very narrow, but I can see it now.”  Well, when the plans were published, of course, the headman of the village came up and said, “You’ve got the power now. Now, confirm us in our rights. This is what we brought you up for. You’ve got the power now.” The boy said to him, “Father, the reason I have the power is because I can see the interests of the whole country. This is why I’m in the situation I’m in now.”

Well, in a little bit the same way, Shankara says, “The people who practise will come into touch and become part of the cosmic process. Then there’ll be able to do and will do real good.”  Well, you’ll say, “What good can somebody who’s sitting still in meditation do?”  Perhaps the greatest civilizing force that the world has ever known was Mahāyāna Buddhism. The literacy rate, for instance, in Japan was 30%, some even say 40% in the Middle Ages – when here it was about 3%. Charlemagne, the Emperor of Europe, couldn’t write his name, but at that time, the Emperor of Japan was one of the finest calligraphers in the country. This was a wonderful development of culture.

Now it arose from a man sitting in meditation. Four disciples came to him; one of them was a woman, there was no prejudice against women.  Zen gradually spread and transformed the whole country.  There is a picture by a Japanese artist – just as we represent Christ sometimes as a big man with a bronze beard, and so on, in the picture, Bodhidharma is represented as a Chinese ascetic. It says, “He’s sitting silent. What good? What benefit is he doing anybody?” It says, “From this came the whole spiritual enlightenment of China, Japan, and Mongolia”.  For 600 years in Japan, there was no death sentence, about 600 A.D. to 1200 A.D. – no death sentence. It had an enormous effect on the people, this one man sitting in meditation. Four people came to him under an inspiration, the cosmic will.

There are two stages. One is, as far as possible, to direct our actions consciously to some useful end, which will be of spiritual meaning – all our actions. That means reshaping the whole life; not necessarily becoming a beggar or anything like that.  But it does mean to do nothing which isn’t consciously directed towards this end. It’s a bit like somebody who’s very keen on making money.  Lord Thompson said, “Anybody really can make money, but you’ve got to sacrifice everything for it – your free time, your friendships, your marriage.  Everything’s got to be sacrificed and then you can make money.” He said, “If people knew how narrowing the concept is, they wouldn’t want to do it.” Well, this is the one thing.

Now the other is, know you can live, you can do selfish actions or self-interested actions. You must try not to harm people, but you can protect your property and you can then make your way in the world, and so on.  But when you do them, practise that, when it goes wrong, not to be dejected or angry or embittered; and when it goes well, not to be exultant or triumphant, or very arrogant.  This is the spiritual practice within a worldly life. With the other one, the whole life, its aim is to become spiritual – never to do anything, which hasn’t got a spiritual aim. The other one, know you can live an ordinary worldly life, but you must become independent of the ups and downs.

When you’ve worked very hard and it’s been brought up very well and now it’s kicked to pieces viciously in front of your very eyes, to be able to accept it.  When you’re successful, not to aim at triumph, just to be satisfied with the success and then go onto something else. A businessman once told me, he said, “People spend as much time on triumph as success, sometimes more.” It’s not enough to be successful. They’ve got to admit they were wrong. They’ve got to be humiliated. He said this is where the emotional energy is all wasted on something absolutely meaningless.  “I’ve got to have an apology.” You may get an apology, but it’s not sincere, but still…

Well, those are the two main points which Shankara made. One is said to lead into the other. The fact is it’s where we stand: if I’ve got a mortgage, I should try to pay that off; if I’ve made promises to people, I should try to fulfil those promises.  But I should remain calm and try to keep the purusha consciousness in the ups and downs.  Finally, when I begin to look through the barbed wire more and more, I’m thinking, “I want to be free”. Then I won’t take on anymore; I won’t get a larger house; I won’t get a bigger car; I won’t get more status – because those things will gradually become less important. Then it’ll move into the second path. This is the experience that the teachers describe.

When I was a small kid, I used to think my parents were mad. I used to think, “When I’m grown up, I’m going to have big box of chocolates in every room, including the lavatory.”  I used to think they were barmy – they could afford it, why didn’t they buy them? This mingy little handing out, “Well, you can have a chocolate as you’re being very good”. It’s very difficult to project, but I could accept that, perhaps, they did know better than me.

In the same way, when we enter into meditation, we do get these inspirations and impulses towards the cosmic consciousness. Then we do begin to get little flashes, a little flash of immortality consciousness in this very life.  I’m not thinking, “Oh, I’m sure we shall all be born again”.  But, in this very life, to have a momentary experience, even just a flash, of something which doesn’t change in all the changes. My thought is changing; my thoughts are dying; my body’s changing; my body is dying – but to have a momentary flash of something which is not changing, which is not dying.  Then it gives us a confidence that the further stages will be open to us as well.



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