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Questions: Practice of Yoga in the World: Asceticism: Sleep: Food: Death

A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Caxton Hall, Westminster, London on 7th April 1971


This transcript is currently incomplete — it will be continued in a future issue of our newsletter

Is it not more difficult to follow Yoga in the West than in the East? If one is deeply sincere and truly searching, would you advise leaving the West to study under a guru in the East?

Is it really more difficult to practise in the West? Is it more difficult to live our ordinary life in the West than in the East? Why should we make this distinction between what we commonly call the secular life and the spiritual life? We are here. Yoga is not intended as an escape from reality, from life, it is not intended to be something which we acquire or attain or benefit from for our own self. We are inextricably interwoven with the Totality. Therefore practise wheresoever you are. If there is the right sort of urge within yourself, you will be able to be a Yogi to the best of your ability. You will get the right teacher, and I think you are all very fortunate to have Mrs. Nield-Smith as your teacher. Why do you want to go to the East?

I am an active member of Amnesty International and the United Nations Association, also a voluntary worker for the Family Planning Association. I feel these things help my fellow men. Am I to understand that these activities are incompatible with the practice of Yoga?

The compatibility or incompatibility is a question of my own relationship to the world in which I live. If I undertake certain activities which I believe are helpful to my fellow human beings, let me persist in these activities until I see something deeper and better. This is very important. There are certain activities of course which one can say outright are incompatible with Yoga, for example indulging in that not so uncommon pastime the smash and grab raid which takes place in our modern world. That is obviously incompatible with Yoga. Anything which is obviously straightforwardly destructive, something which is obviously a case of mere self-indulgence, under the excuse of being “with it”, which is one of the highest forms of stupidity, those things are unquestionably incompatible with Yoga.  But whatsoever you sincerely feel is helpful to other human beings, persist with it, observe, discover your own self. Self-knowledge as it grows will show you perhaps better fields as and when the opportunity occurs.

Can a non-religious person practise Yoga other than the posture exercises?

This involves the question of motivation. Why do I take to posture exercises? In order that I may get rid of some illness, in order that I may be slim, be beautiful, be attractive and all the rest of it?  That if you like is the worldly approach, is it not? Outstandingly characterizing the approach which is the approach of pure worldliness is the fact that one denies the Total Reality. Most of us think of ourselves as a body, a living body. “This is me.” Of course it is me, but is only this me? If I ask the question as the old sages did, “Who am I?”, I will end up with the discovery that the word “I” stands for the One Total Reality. That is its legitimate and true meaning, aham in Sanskrit, usually translated as “I”, which stands for the Unabandonable. And what is the Unabandonable? The entire cosmos. You cannot be thrown out of the cosmos, you are there, you are in it. That is the meaning of the word “I”.  This Totality is so marvellous that it manifests itself in an incredibly large number, in a multitudinous variety of forms, each of which is unique, wonderful, temporal only, but wholly related to everything else.  We as ordinary human beings are blind to that relationship and therefore we live in conflict with the environment, in conflict within ourselves. To wake up to this Totality and all its implications is religiousness in the real sense. If then Yoga simply means practising certain exercises, breathing and postures and so forth, for limited, particular ends which hinder the flowering out of your full relationship with everything around you, then of course that is a non-religious attitude and approach. Be careful, it will bring you unhappy results in due time. Everything works out fully in the ripeness of circumstance. So it is essential that one should be awake, one should wake up to the whole significance of what we do, not live fragmentarily but live wholly.

I enjoy the pleasure of all the senses. Not only that, I feel they bring me closer to the Ultimate Reality.  I don’t believe this is wrong. Why does Yoga preach continence and abstinence from physical pleasures?

Supposing next Wednesday you have to row in a boat race, are you going to spend the time between now and then dancing till five o’clock in the morning, drinking bottles of liquor, going through the whole gamut of wine, women and song, and then think yourself fit to take your place in that boat race?  If you really care for that boat race you will naturally put aside everything that is unessential for it. This natural putting aside is true asceticism. I have given you an analogy which is worldly, there is an objective, something to be gained. Where Yoga is concerned, it is rather more difficult and more profound than that. There is no objective to be gained by you, the particular individual, none whatsoever. The universe got on extremely well before I was born, it will get on just as well, possibly better, after I am dead, let me have no conceit whatsoever on this point, nor any false humility about it. But if you really care for Transcendence, if you really care for the One Total Reality, if there is true love in your heart, you will naturally put aside all that is unessential for the realization of that One Total Reality. Let me repeat, it is not you who will realize Transcendence, it is not you who will attain union with God, to use the ordinary mystical phrase. But if you are utterly purified, utterly unresisting, then that Transcendence, that One Total Reality, will shine through you so that you are a benediction to all mankind and to the world in which you live. So you must decide for yourself whether you really care and whether, in the fulfilment of that caring, the pleasures of the senses are hindrances or helps. It is entirely your responsibility, you are an individual.

Do you think it is wrong to eat animal flesh in that animals were not created for the purpose of feeding man? Yet it seems that animals and insects eat each other to preserve the earth and keep down its population.

It is for each individual to decide for himself or herself exactly what he or she will eat.  I am a Parsee by birth, I couldn’t help that!  I was brought up on a mixed diet for the first twelve years of my life, but being a person who was rather prone to asking lots and lots of questions, I constantly asked this question, “Why must that poor little creature be killed in order that I may eat?” So I gave up meat eating. Merely incidentally, I found that in some ways my health was better. But the one thing that urged me to it was the motive of compassion. We human beings are very fond of life and it looks in modern times as though we are over-fond of life, so fond in fact that if success in grafting can go on in the way it has gone on, soon it will be difficult to know whether John is actually John only or about 25 other people inside him! What his actual personality might be, one does not know. We cling to life, but we are human beings. We have a power of looking within ourselves, looking outside ourselves, seeing relationships, understanding what it means intellectually to be free of clinging, of grasping for ourselves. Animals are devoid of that faculty, at least they have not got it to anything like the extent to which we have it. They love their life very intensely, very deeply. You know the good old English statement, “Live and let live.” I prefer to put it this way — “By letting live.” So you must answer that for yourself, that is to say, make your own decision.

How can one work towards a state of Transcendency while taking part in worldly affairs? Are you advocating a retreat? If not, what help can you suggest?

I know this is a tremendous problem with so many people who are very sincere as regards the living of the spiritual life. I’ll answer the second question first. “Are you advocating a retreat?” No, nor am I saying, “Onward Yogic soldiers…!!!” I am only going to say, stay just where you are, very quiet. Do nothing unnecessary, it is a golden rule. The spiritual life deals essentially with the transformation of your own mode of awareness of existence. You need neither to retreat nor advance. If you like, if you are very extrovert and very wilful, advance and see what happens. If you are granted infinite time, you will end up ultimately in the same spot. The universe is round, there is no up, there is no down, there is no backward, forward, sideways or anything. Just where you are is both the centre and the circumference of your existence. This we must realize, then we are free of the peculiar limitation which the consciousness of time and space impose upon us.  Stay just where you are, quietly, do nothing unnecessary. The mind cannot be slain. Śri Kṛṣṇa in the Gītā talks about the Ātma and says, “Never was born, never will die, cannot be slain.” So why bother about advancing or retreating? So, advocating a retreat, certainly not.  “How can one work towards a state of Transcendency while taking part in worldly affairs?” The question is, how do you take part in worldly affairs, in what manner? Supposing I am in business, do I follow the usual practice, go to church on Sundays and swindle my neighbours and competitors in business Monday to Friday? I must take part in worldly affairs, I have to take part in worldly affairs, there is no escape from it.

Observe the moralities, live as purely as possible, and if that means that a certain degree of loss may come my way, very well, let the loss be there. If on the other hand some gain comes my way, all right, let the gain be there. Have neither attachment to what is pleasant and gainful nor aversion from what is unpleasant and what you consider a loss. Then you have the outlook and the approach of the true Yogi, unperturbed one way or the other. Do the right thing, the best thing possible and usually you will find that the best thing possible is not to plunge into useless, unnecessary activity. Then you will find that in the midst of worldly affairs this awareness of the Transcendent will grow and grow, and the Transcendent will work through you without your knowing it, and that is the most important thing.  If you become limitedly self-conscious — “I am advancing, I am becoming a better Yogi, I am becoming more spiritual, I am becoming more perfect” — you will be on the wrong tack. It is not you who become, it is the Totality which flowers through you. So don’t try to measure the Transcendent, you’ll find it easier to find out the volume of the Atlantic using your teacup! What help can I suggest? Perhaps you don’t need any help after that.

This transcript will be continued in a future issue of our newsletter


In life, in the living therof we are made to feel small and worthless. When the speeker seemingly tried to undermine the veracity of the soul he failed to do so for me, because I believe thine own consciousness, not formed into anything in reality void, and the intellect, shining and blissfull — these two — are inseparable. The union of them is the dharma-kaya state of perfect enlightenment. Thine own consciousness, shining, void, and inseparable from the great body of radiance, hath no birth, nor death.

Peter, 8th July 2005

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