Psycho-Spiritual Aspects of Yoga (I): Questions: Commonsense and Good Sense: Psychotherapy and Yoga: The Joining
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Caxton Hall, Westminster, London on 14th April 1971
Driven by the various drives within us, is it at all possible to realize the spiritual life? All the great teachers of the world emphasized above all purity and simple morality. If these drives are in us, operating all the time there can be no Yoga in the whole sense, however much we may practise the physical aspect of Yoga, in terms of the postures and the breathing. But if we practise the physical aspect and do not at the same time realize the psychological aspect of it within ourselves, then that physical aspect produces profounder conflict in our own being. That has to be borne in mind. Have you not noticed that you may go to a concert and be wonderfully uplifted, or to a church or temple or whatever it is, experience a sublime mode and then come back to ordinary life, as we may say, out of the concert hall, out of the temple, and the first little stimulus which annoys us calls for a much more intense reaction of anger or hate from us than under ordinary circumstances, because the spiritual, the pure, the wonderful intensifies every aspect of our self, both the good and the bad. This must be very clearly borne in mind, and most people do not, they think in terms of compensation, in terms of overcoming evil. You cannot overcome evil, you can only transform it. And you cannot transform it by willing to transform it, by a determined activity directed against it, because that is the state of conflict. There is only one extraordinary transmuting alchemy which resides in the living human being. And that is the power of such dispassionate attention that understanding emerges, not merely intellectual understanding — that is all kindergarten work — but this profound understanding which is completely wedded to Transcendent love. And that is the magical thing which heals, which makes whole and perfect. So you see, non-covetousness is not very easy with all the drives of ambition and the consequent jealousy, envy and so forth attached to it.
Next, continence. The Sanskrit word is brahmacariya. It is usually translated as sexual abstinence. It is a great pity that merely that aspect is emphasized. Brahmacariya literally means walking in Brahma, in Brahma, not only to Brahma — use if you like the ordinary English term God — a walking in God. You will find all the great mystics of all the religions using that phrase, Sufi mystics, Christian mystics, Hindu mystics, they have all used that term, a walking in God. Brahmacariya practically implies therefore in our everyday life freedom from all self-indulgence, from all sense-indulgence. Please note, sense-indulgence. The nature of the world is such that inevitably pleasure and pain will come to us. If I fall down in the street while I am walking, it will hurt, of course. If there is a beautiful sunset, it will give me pleasure, of course. Pain, pleasure and the psychological correspondences of joy and sorrow which accompany them naturally must be attended to, noted. Be sensitive to them, very, very sensitive. But be neither attached to either the pleasure or the pain nor give way to aversion. This is something, I believe, quite different from what has been conventionally handed down to us through the millennia in this matter. Freedom from self-indulgence therefore. You do not go out to acquire pleasure, you do not deliberately seek to avoid pain. This is very difficult, rather an austere doctrine. But keep wide awake and see what happens in everyday life if you will not deliberately try to avoid pain. Be sensible about it. Do not deliberately walk into pain, the masochistic type does that. Continence understood in that way brings about the fulfilment of another meaning of continence, one is self-contained. To be self-contained does not mean to be aloof from people, from situations, from things, from relationships. To be self-contained means not to be an obtrusion upon the situation. Notice how everyone hugs his so-called personality to himself. His personality is largely the false image in his own mind of what he is. He says, “This is what I am, this is my personality, this is my image which I have to sustain in the world.” Image, something dead, something which is not the real, living being, a shadow. If you are self-contained, then you do not thrust this personality upon the outside world. You do not hold fast to this false image of yourself which you have in your mind. You just remain awake, observant, watchful, and in that quiet watchfulness, without indulging, without fighting against, the awareness of what you really are emerges out of you. It is a living emergence, not a dead, mechanical image which is built up. So much for continence.
Now kindliness. I like the word ruth; its opposite, ruthlessness, pitilessness, is something which we know only too well in life. Look at the pitilessness of men the world over, as they work, as they strive, as they fight, as they destroy, as they struggle to attain their own desires, and so forth. Watch it! Millions of us pride ourselves on belonging to the free peoples of the world. We are all slaves, slaves to our ignorance, our greeds, our resentments, our ambitions, our self-isolation, slaves to the misery which we bring upon our own selves, and our intellect; what we call the intellect is continuously the slave of desire. It is a charming illusion which so many cherish that we look at things dispassionately, objectively, particularly if we have the scientific temperament. No less a world famous scientist than Eddington in his lectures in Cambridge in 1936 pointed out quite clearly that the scientist suffers from a delusion there. No one can be totally free from subjectivity, quite impossible, and why should one be? We are both objective and subjective, we must just recognise the fact. Do I have only a right hand and not a left hand? I have both. Subjectivity and objectivity in their harmony and their balance make for right perception, and they make for self-knowledge in the real and the profound sense, not a knowledge which we merely gather through a process of analysis with certain norms, criteria, evaluations and judgements at the back of those norms. That is not self-knowledge. However that we may deal with a little later on.
Abstemiousness in eating and drinking. All Yoga and all religious disciplines stress this very strongly. What is the origin of greed? My very first experience after I am born. My mother puts me to her breast soon after I am born and I go on suckling away till I am sozzled! Then the second time and the third time I do that. Perhaps the fourth time my mother is not feeling up to it so she rather prematurely (I think!) pushes me away. What happens? I scream with rage, the first resentment, the first hate. It sounds very funny to us now but have you the imaginative power to go back to those events? Work it out and see. Eating and drinking are the very foundation, the very root from which come out greed and resentment, the sense that thou and I are separate, and we are in conflict. Now, what is all our daily effort directed to when we are adults? We call it ‘earning our living’, which means that we are going to feed ourselves in order to continue the body, and secondly that we are going to be able to carry out those relationships and activities which will perpetuate the race. Both are associated with intense pleasure. Out of our ignorance we do not see that the pleasure driving us in actual fact is not a pleasure drive only, it is a pleasure-pain. Look into it very carefully, very intelligently, constantly and you will see that all life, all drives which emphasize the self and bring what is pleasant to our particular selves, all of them are the source of sorrow. Whatsoever comes naturally, unsought, which, after it has come and you have been sensitively responding to it, you let go, go completely, without desiring to hold it back and, above all, without desiring to repeat the experience — that is happiness. That is where happiness is utterly different from pleasure. And when that awareness emerges into full flower in us and when we are in right relationship within our own being and with everyone and everything else, then, whether the world and the immediate circumstance send stimuli which are pleasant or painful, we are happy. So you see in that happiness there is nothing acquisitive, nothing which is fought against, nothing which is sought for yourself or for your group. Then there is real happiness. That is man’s natural state, the state of conflict is the state of the sub-man, the sub-human. I, as I am, in the state of conflict, of confusion, the state which makes me want to grasp, to hold, the state of fear, or anxiety, I am a sub-human. The true human is free from all that. He is, to use the Christian term, the Son of Man. That is the real meaning of the Son of Man, and the Son of Man, remember, is identical with the Son of God, the two are no different. You find this in Hindu teachings, in Yoga, everywhere you find this. I think that is enough with regard to eating and drinking.
With regard to the different niyamas, I will just mention the principal ones. First, austerity, which includes fasting. Do remember, fasting and starving are quite different. Starving is deprivation which has been forced upon you either by circumstance or by your own lack of good sense. That is starving. But fasting is relinquishing what is not essential. Now you work that out for yourself. You have to decide for yourself what is essential.
The next is contentment with what comes naturally. Supposing all the world over, the so-called developed countries and the so-called developing countries, supposing their inhabitants really understood contentment with what comes naturally, without striving too much for it, do you think that we would be plagued with the economic problems that we are all plagued with? That is purely on the physical side. Consider the psychological side. We want love, we want friendship, we want position, prestige, power, status symbols, as if we have not got enough burden carrying our own little selves. Supposing that we were confident with what came to us naturally and wide awake to it, our entire life would be full of peace and happiness. These are just the preliminaries to Yoga, do remember.
The next one is charity. I think that everyone understands that, there is no need to expatiate on that, except to say that in the old days in India “gifts to deserving persons” was the sort of subtitle, if you like, of charity. Perhaps it was a way invented by the Brahmans and the bhikkhus to ensure that they had their food at least every third day. “Gifts to deserving persons” — that is how it is put.
Then there is another important one, “Shame at contravening social and Vedic rules”, to put it in our modern terms, conscience.
Those were the yamas and niyamas.
I am just taking up a question which I answered or tried to answer last time. “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?” I trust that this question has received some considerable answer in what has been said already. There is just one point I may add to that. The indulgence in sense pleasures includes indulgence in enjoying what we call cultural pursuits, music, science, art, philosophy and all the rest of it. This is intellectual and aesthetic indulgence. Do not think I mean don’t go to concerts and so on, far from it, do go, but be very watchful, do not wallow in it. The indulgence in sense pleasures deadens profound inner sensitivities of the mind which are trying to emerge if you will let them. This is something which the true religieux, the true mystic, the true Yogi is enabled to do — these profounder sensitivities of the mind. We do not know what we are, we think we do, we have only got hold of the husk. The kernel is something far deeper. So that is why Yoga and religious disciplines warn the religieux and the Yogi and tell him to abstain from indulgence in sense pleasures.
There is a question here: “Can you please explain in more detail your statement about the negative approach having more and greater bearing than the positive.” I think what has already been said would have conveyed a good deal but the essential point here is just this. We do not know the positive side, it is actually out of our ordinary experience. We think we do. For example we say, “Surely we know not only hate but we know love.” Do we? Yes, only insofar as this love-hate form the duals in the sphere of ambivalence. The sphere of ambivalence is the sphere of the animal. This is not to be derogatory to the animals, far from it, it is perfectly right and proper in that sphere. In the animal sphere there is the proper realm of ambivalence, and therefore you have the ordinary love-hate, cruelty-kindness, and so forth at work. I just mentioned these profounder aspects of the mind which are trying to emerge out of man. Where man is concerned something Transcendent has to come out. Man alone knows what Transcendence means, could mean and the possibility of Transcendence. So love, goodness, truth, beauty in that Transcendent sense is something quite unknown to us, we only know the sphere of ambivalence, and the conflict, the confusion, the unnecessary sorrow which are all involved in it. We could be free of all that.
I want to deal with questions which have been put by two people. “Would you discuss a comparison of Yoga and psychotherapy, that is, is the Yogi’s self-knowledge the same thing as the psychotherapist’s cure of personality problems?” And here is quite a lengthy question with some explanatory remarks before the actual question. “What is the present fascination of the West for Yoga due to? Is it that the split in the West between body and mind is widening and Yoga, with its one root in the body and the other in the spirit is seen as a possible uniting factor, that is, a way of experiencing the self?” Now, a comparison of Yoga and psychotherapy. You cannot compare the two. Your psychotherapist takes a man as he is in the world, he sees that this man is in an ill state, suffering, ill-adjusted, unbalanced and all the rest of it. All this is seen from the standpoint of the world’s values, the world’s evaluations, criteria, judgements and considerations of what is good and healthy and happy. All the world over we look at an individual as an individual and overstress his separateness from the Totality. We also take it for granted that the individual is some sort of permanent entity, and the psychotherapist deals with the person, brings him to some sort of right state (a perfectly legitimate term, right state, from the world’s point of view), and then recirculates this person into the world, the world as it is. But supposing I am a psychotherapist and I have done that. What have I actually done? I am not speaking derogatorily, but what the psychotherapist has done is to recirculate a worldling who is capable of dealing with the world which produces all the situations and conflicts and difficulties which make a person ill. This is a point of tremendous importance, do realize this. Man is the instrument, or the intended instrument of Transcendence, of the Infinite, of the Perfect which is utterly beyond all intellectual knowledge, utterly beyond what science knows. Transcendence functions through you or me only when my awareness of the nature of existence has undergone complete transformation. That is the whole story of spiritual or religious progress and development and fulfilment, this utter transformation of your mode of awareness, your very consciousness itself. Your consciousness is the one thing which you cannot put upon a silver salver and present and say, “There’s your consciousness.” Do you know what consciousness is? I don’t. It is a useful word to express something functioning in the living organism which is the focal point, the infinity which is the utterly small, through which the infinity which is the utterly large, Transcendence, God, functions through you and comes to flower. This is your immortal destiny. These are not just words, I have seen something of this. This is the concern of religion in the real sense. This is the concern of Yoga.
How then can I discuss a comparison of Yoga and psychotherapy? The spheres in which they operate, their contexts are quite different from each other. All worldly doctoring and healing remain confined within the sphere of worldliness. But the psychology and the therapy which issue out of the world of religion or Yoga in the profound sense is the Transcendent — not all the external postures of piety and so forth, that is all childish nonsense as far as the Transcendent depths are concerned. This is what we have to be concerned with, something utterly different from worldliness. Where does the difference come in, how does it operate? Not in terms of external techniques but in terms of that metanoia which takes place within ourselves. We have to be converted, and to be converted does not mean to be convinced by another person’s arguments, ideas, ideals, however wonderful they may be, but to undergo that extraordinary change within oneself by which one suddenly becomes aware that “of course it is not this, it is that.” But if you have truly seen, you will discover that the word that totally includes this. The distinction between the within and the without, the self and the not-self is out, between the conscious and the unconscious. So the psychotherapist’s cure of personality problems lies in a context which is at least one dimension of being and consciousness short of that of the religieux or the Yogi. The Yogi is not concerned with recirculating a worldling into the world. You and I know what the world is like. Look at it. Why look at the world? Look at this world, oneself. What is it like? Order, harmony, happiness, fulfilment, the true man, God, Eternity, is all that there? No, not at all. The very fact that we are seeking is the sign that we have not got it. You do not seek what you have got. I do not go about seeking for my nose or my hand, they are there, part and parcel of the living me. It is something like that.
“What is the present fascination of the West for Yoga due to?” One may also enquire what is the fascination of the East for Yoga due to? Of course in the case of the East it is not a present fascination, it has been a fascination for a little while! Man is a restless creature, he just cannot keep quiet. He is always fidgeting, he changes his fashions, not merely with his clothes or with his cars or his horses but with his culture, with his intellectual pursuits, these are fashions which come and go. And because they are fashions, people take to the thing for a while, they go about telling all their friends, “Oh, you know I’m doing Yoga now.” “Are you, isn’t it marvellous, do tell me all about it!” We have to be very kind and allow at least some degree of intelligence for everybody! The fact that it is a fashion, an intellectual or a cultural fashion which one is concerned with is only too evident in that person’s whole behaviour. We all of us obtrude ourselves upon our society and upon Mother Earth. How many of us are capable of just being, like the flower is? When you and I are true humans, Yogis, we shall be like the perfect rose that blooms eternally in the desert where no one is present. But that rose will pour out its perfume in ecstasy, not caring and not knowing whether there is anyone to appreciate it or not, whether it is beautifying the desert or not.
So now, there is another side to it. People suffer and they seek. Every one of us and all people in the world have also this something which seeks the worthwhile, the really worthwhile. And it may be that in the rightness of circumstance, with the time here and now, Yoga, which was supposed to be exclusive to the East, has come to the West, and it is just as well. Maybe you will be able to infuse Yoga in our day and age with a new spirit which will release a profounder integration out of each and every one of us. And that is something which you can look forward to, if you like. The question goes on, “Is it that the split in the West between body and mind is widening and Yoga, with its one root in the body and the other in the spirit is seen as a possible uniting factor, that is, a way of experiencing the self?” The answer to this will come in what I have to say with regard to another question. But I will only say this, in this particular connection. Yoga does not have one root in the body and the other root in the spirit. You see, the way the question is formulated shows the dichotomy of body and spirit. There is only One Total Reality. We live in a universe not in a multiverse. What is the problem due to? The problem is due to this organism, this living creature, which Mother Earth has produced, a human being. It is due to the incapacity of this organism of being completely and totally aware of the One-ness of the One, the One-ness of the One Total Reality, the fact that this is a Universe, and what that word Universe implies. We are conscious in atomistic terms, separate atoms, we are not conscious in the “field” sense, the continuous field in which all the apparently separate atoms exist. That other aspect, the completely containing aspect, is what we are ignorant of. We may accept it intellectually but that is quite useless. Just with an intellectual acceptance, I behave atomistically, that is to say separatively, you against me, or you and I work together, provided you and I approve of each other. Then we talk of living and letting live, instead of living by letting live, in which case there would be the Totality. So you see, it is not that there is a body and a mind and a spirit or anything like that, and that these things are all sort of put together and screwed up tight and proper and the machine, it is hoped, will work satisfactorily. It is not like that, it is a living organic whole. We have not got enough sensitivity as to the nature of livingness and the nature of wholeness. This is why questions of this type come up. “One root in the body and the other in the spirit is seen as a possible uniting factor, that is, a way of experiencing the self.” No, not so much experiencing as being. Being in its living totality is the source of the becoming process also. This does not mean that there is any entity being which is changeless, permanent and all the rest of it. We are in quite deep waters here, but we have to stretch our mental muscles.
I think that in saying that a good deal of what is here has been answered, but I will nevertheless read what is written here. “Yoga accords supremacy to the so-called rational elements in human nature. It appears to say we need to control the unconscious psyche and the body with the eye of consciousness, presumably the personal ego wherein resides the will.” I do not think we can put it that way. Yoga does not accord supremacy to the so-called rational elements in human nature. Yoga derives from the root yuj, meaning to join, to join not separate bits in order to make a larger bit but to join in this sense, that your awareness of the One-ness of the multitudinous variety that makes up that One-ness flowers out. It is a freeing of one’s own awareness from its limitations. This is Yoga, this is the joining. It is not that two separate bits are joined. The separate bits remain the two separate bits. If the variety were not there, the whole universe would be a deadly dull thing. The variety is there, but we have to awaken consciously to the complete relationships between all the items that make up the variety. This is Yoga, this is the joining. So there is no supremacy accorded to any one thing. When you are wholly conscious like that, you yourself have become unselfed. You are truly unselfed. Christian mysticism has called this “reducing oneself to one’s own nothingness.” But in that no-thing-ness is the entire plenitude of all existence. If you accord supremacy and you start comparing, then you immediately perpetuate conflict. “He is better than me, therefore I struggle to become like him.” It is horrible. In the educational world today we are trying to get rid of giving marks and having exams and so forth. What are we getting rid of? Comparison. In ordinary life John swears that his sweetheart is the most beautiful girl in the world and Bill swears the same about his girl. And they are both swearing the whole truth, the incomparable truth.
See it that way. “The unconscious psyche and the body with the eye of consciousness, presumably the personal ego wherein resides the will.” I rather feel that this is a terminology which does not apply to the context of Yoga and of religion in the real sense. It is a worldly context, intellectually and culturally, that is to say a context in which there is conflict between particulars.
“In Yoga as in Buddhist meditation one is exhorted to concentrate.” It is rather unfortunate that through the centuries this idea of exclusive concentration has come to be associated with meditation in the profound sense and particularly with samādhi. All exclusive concentration — concentrating upon the one particular, whatever it is — is not a way of realizing the universality of the universe. You cut off the rest from this. No, the true samādhi, the true communion — and this is where so many mystics of all the religions also have gone wrong — is not a communion with God, the nice chap upstairs there. And remember that that God is always created by me in my petty little image. It is not that at all. It is being so self-unobtrusive, so awake to the whole that you are in natural communion with the Totality that is, and which the intellect can never know. We all are in this state of communion in profound slumber. Everyone of us is but we cannot re-member it, and we never will be able to re-member it, because re-membering is again bringing it to the level of the particular which is separate from the rest. There are many, many allusions which we have regarding all these deep aspects.
“But the instrument for concentration is the ego.” Yes, that is so. “The unconscious knows no discipline, how then having to use the ego do we forget it?” I think that since the time is getting on, I will only say this. The unconscious, as modern western psychology has shown, is extremely powerful, but, do remember, this vast unconscious is also extremely trivial, shoddy stuff, worthless stuff, the bulk of it. That is a terrible statement to make, I know, but to me that is the fact. Work our carefully how this vast ocean of unconsciousness collects. This was known in ancient India, you study the Yoga Upaniṣads carefully, and what they call the vāsanās, this enormous ocean of mental impressions which have sunk into the depths. But what are these mental impressions? You look at your own lives, you look at the lives of other human beings, see what happens every day. Impressions are made and then we either repress them or forget them if we do not like them, or try to forget them, and we try to remember consciously only what pleases us. This vast, almost cesspool of all these impressions, what worth is it? But there is another unconscious which, as far as I am aware, is not very clear, if at all clear, in western psychology.