The Chapter of the Self extract

 The Four Feelings

The meditations on four feelings which are to be intensified through meditation are called bhavana, they are:

  1. friendliness towards the happy,
  2. compassion for the suffering,
  3. goodwill towards virtue,
  4. and overlooking sin.

Shankara in his commentary explains that these are meditations which must actualize themselves. Until the reactions in ordinary life have begun to modify themselves along the lines of the meditations, the cultivation of intensity has only begun.

Friendliness -maitri, a great word in Buddhism – is explained as a general gladness at the good fortune and happiness of another. The Mahatma Balarama Udasin, whom Dr Shastri knew and held in great regard, remarks that this friendliness must not be partisanship, what the world calls friendship. It has to be something like the friendliness of the Lord towards all beings – not taking the side of one against another. Shankara in his Gita commentary (to V. 29) stresses meditation on the Lord as the friend of all, who does good to them without expecting any return for it, and who lies in the hearts of all. Worldly friendship, on the other hand, is towards one person identified with body-mind, and involves hatred of those who are against him.

The goodwill and friendliness of the world are often merely sentimentality, and do not do the good which is expected. A Chinese king heard a bull being driven to the temple for the annual sacrifice, and its melancholy bellow touched his heart; he felt that it somehow knew of what was to happen. He gave orders that the bull was to be returned and set free; ‘sacrifice a ram instead’, he told the minister. This was reported to the Confucian sage Mencius, who remarked that it was quite natural for the king to spare the bull and sacrifice a ram instead, because he had heard the bull, but not the ram. The king would be wrong, however, to suppose that he had done anything good. Similarly today some people are touched when they see a violent robber suffering in prison, and try to get him released; like the king, they see the robber but do not see the victims. ‘The shepherd who is kind to wolves is cruel to sheep.’ A modern teacher remarked of such cases that it is not reasonable to release the human being who finds himself caught in the wolf role. Those who feel a concern could do something to ameliorate the prison condition by personal visits and in other ways; and to put spiritual books into the prison library would be a service to both the prisoners and society.

In a sense, it is easier to feel goodwill towards the unhappy than towards the happy, because there is no question of envy. Those who are successful are generally targets of envy, their happiness being compared with the real or imagined sufferings of the others. It is a great meditation to fix the mind on happiness of others and realize it as a manifestation of the bliss aspect of Brahman. This is not nearly so easy as most people imagine; Iago was by no means an exceptional individual.

As result of some good action in the past, beings have a momentary glimpse of the bliss which underlies all, but they think this glimpse is due just to the particular circumstances of the moment. The yogi is expected to take all experiences of happiness, in others as in himself, as a manifestation of truth, distorted to the degree to which the experiencer so arrogates the happiness to his individual self. To the yogi the happiness of others is a manifestation of the Krishna or attraction element of Brahman, and he feels friendliness towards it. This feeling has to be intensified by meditation and action.

Compassion towards suffering is the second of the four bhavana exercises. Bhavana in Sanskrit has the sense of saturating, steeping, completely infusing; psychologically it means something which permeates the whole mental life. The yogi exercises compassion in his thinking, in his meditation, and in his action which springs from them. He is expected to find skilful means for relieving suffering at its root, not superficially. To keep giving alcohol to a drunkard or money to a gambler whose vice is ruining his life and that of his family, is not compassion.

This is not to say that an enlightened man might not manage to use just that method. A Zen monk was asked to come and preach to a drunkard. ‘I cannot do that he replied, ‘but I will come and stay at the house for a week.’ He told the family to go to bed early each evening, and himself used to produce some of the best quality rice-wine, which he would pour for his host. They stayed up talking late each night. At the end of the week the host said, ‘I’ve enjoyed having you here – you’re so cheerful and it has lightened my life. But it’s surprising that you don’t need any wine, because I’d thought no one could be really happy without it.’ They said good-bye. Some weeks later the monk received a letter from the man saying that the drinking habit had been thrown off. It would be no use for an ordinary man to imitate such methods – the change was brought about by the spiritual light and strength within the monk, not by his outer actions.

Men of the world try to help suffering as their feelings dictate, supplemented with a little bit of reason, and perhaps tradition. But until there is a considerable power of meditation, it is often found that the acts do not have the expected results. Bhavana practice is meditation and practice of action together, not just meditation alone or action alone.

It is not creating a vague idea of compassion to all that suffers. This kind of practice can be depressing, because yogi can be overwhelmed at the hopelessness of individual efforts to relieve what he sees as an ocean of suffering.

Nor is bhavana taking some pattern of action, like the parable of the Good Samaritan, and forcing oneself to follow it as a duty. This also leads to inner disturbance from the parts of the mind which are unconvinced. The English saying ‘Cold as charity’ is a cruel illustration.

One of the traditional methods of bhavana is to meditate for at least six weeks on an incident in the life of a saint or avatar till it becomes intensely vivid. It is as it were lived through. When doing this practice, an attempt must be made over the weeks and months to bring outer conduct into line with the theme of the incident, but not as a compulsory task without feeling.

As an example, this is how a yogi might be directed to make bhavana on the Good Samaritan story. (It would be distracting for a Westerner to take an unfamiliar story from an Eastern source, requiring many explanatory notes. Another advantage of a familiar story is to find out how deep the ordinary acquaintance with it has penetrated.) First he would learn this little story, just about 300 words, by heart. Even the dullest memory can do this in a week, by writing it on a card to carry round; at moments of waiting, some sentences of the story are recited internally, and when he sticks, he can glance at the card to get going again. If he uses the old translations, he should compare them once with a new one – the derisory ‘two pence’ of the Authorized Version means ‘two silver pieces’. Here is the story, with its introduction, as it appears in the New English Bible (Luke 10:25):

On one occasion a lawyer came forward to put this test question to him: ‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said, ‘What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?’ He replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘That is the right answer,’ said Jesus; ‘do that and you will live.’ But he wanted to vindicate himself, so he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’

Jesus replied, ‘A man was on his way from Jerusalem down to Jericho when he fell in with robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. It so happened that a priest was going down by the same road; but when he saw him, he went past on the other side. So too a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him went past on the other side. But a Samaritan who was making the journey came upon him, and when he saw him was moved to pity. He went up and bandaged his wounds, bathing them with oil and wine. Then he lifted him on to his own beast, brought him to an inn, and looked after him there.

Next day he produced two silver pieces and gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Look after him; and if you spend any more, I will repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three do you think was neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He answered, ‘The one who showed him kindness.’ Jesus said, ‘Go and do as he did.’

All the words of this story have to be examined, in the light of the New Testament as a whole, if the yogi knows it. Why is it a Samaritan? In the same gospel of Luke, Jesus calls a Samaritan whom he has cured ‘this foreigner’, remarking that the foreigner is more grateful than the Jews cured at the same time. In the gospel of John, Jesus is accused of being a Samaritan; elsewhere it is recorded that Jews will not associate with Samaritans, who are ‘unclean’. A final point is, that when at the end the inquirer is asked, ‘Which was neighbour to the man who had fallen into the hands of the robbers?’ he does not make the natural reply, ‘the Samaritan’, but only says that he supposes it would be the merciful man. He can not bring himself to utter the word ‘Samaritan’. Why not?

To make bhavana on this story, the yogi first identifies himself with each character in turn. The victim is probably a pious Jew, who has just come from offering worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Should not God have protected him? In each event of life, if it is meditated upon profoundly, the ultimate questions appear. He is attacked by robbers, who not merely take everything he has, but beat him and leave him for dead. This is not necessarily meaningless cruelty; the robbers do not want to leave a living man who could report on them, and recognize them. The victim lies helpless, half-conscious, on the side of the road. Anyone who has been beaten, or knocked into semi-consciousness, can revive his memory of that state for the bhavana; others can think back to a time when they were very ill, and vividly imagine what it would be like to have been thrown then on to the side of the road, naked and in great pain. The meditator lives through the experience of being picked up, gently bandaged, held on the ass and finally brought to an inn; the total collapse, the relief at being put to bed, then being looked after for several days; the wonder at finding that the benefactor has gone on without waiting for gratitude or any return.

The priest and the Levite (an assistant at the Temple) have had an undeserved reputation for extreme callousness. The man whom they saw was probably dead, and to have touched a dead body would have made them ‘unclean’ and ineligible to carry out their duties till they had undertaken ritual purification. Chapter 6 of the Book of Numbers explains the background – if someone died suddenly in the presence of a devotee engaged in a vow of purity, the devotee had to offer ritual sacrifice and then begin his period of the vow all over again, because he would have become unclean from mere accidental proximity to death. For bhavana it is essential not to look at the priest and Levite from the outside, but enter into the conflict of duties which was their situation.

As for the Samaritan himself, to identify with him may not be so easy as is generally imagined. This was entirely Jewish territory, and the victim must have been a hated Jew, probably on his way down from worshipping in the hated Temple. (Twenty years before, the Samaritans had deliberately defiled the Temple, and their own temple on Mount Gerizim was still in ruins after its destruction by the Jewish king Hyrcanus over a century before.) The yogi in his bhavana lives through vividly the details of washing and binding the wounds, and when the man revives a little, supporting him on the ass to the inn. The Samaritan knows he is despised by the Jew as unclean. The next day, having seen the injured man a little better, the Samaritan goes; he evidently knows the innkeeper well, and makes provision for the victim’s full recovery. But he himself goes, without hanging about for any gratitude. This is a theme which recurs constantly in Christ’s teaching; it is the theme of the Bhagavad Gita on action: ‘Do right action without any attachment to results.’

Both the Gita and the New Testament stress that the man who does charity, expecting and receiving appreciation for it, is a good man, but he is not the highest type of man. In the Gita this charity is said to be mixed with the guna rajas, passion- struggle; Christ says simply that they have their reward – from men.

There are other meanings in the fact that the Samaritan passed on without waiting.

The further form of the bhavana is to picture Christ telling this parable, the yogi being one of those who hear him. He now lives through each part as the story is told – and yet is aware of the teller all the time.

When this happens, the story begins to take on its own life; it becomes radiant, as Patanjali says. Some of the details reveal a new meaning, not merely intellectually but in feeling, and ultimately a meaning deeper than either thinking or feeling. For instance, the phrase ‘and your neighbour as your Self’ can begin to unfold itself. Humanists who reduce Christianity to a system of ethics fail to understand this phrase, partly because they ignore the ‘love the Lord’ which precedes it, and which also comes from the Old Testament. It is not noticed that Jesus gave his approval ‘that is the right answer’ to the combination of the two phrases which the lawyer, who must have been a learned and spiritual man, had extracted from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and put together as a summary of the Law.

When the bhavana begins to enter sometimes into samadhi, the story extends. The robbers themselves are victims of other robbers – greed and cruelty have stripped them of their spiritual discrimination and power of love. Who is the Samaritan who will rescue the victims of the spiritual robbers? How will it be done?

The world itself is a victim of the robber of cosmic ignorance. The whole universe becomes wrapped up in the parable of the Good Samaritan, told by Christ to an expert in the Law. The parable becomes externalized to the limit of greatness, and also it becomes internalized. In the soul of man are the robbers, the victim, the ones who pass by on the other side, the Samaritan, and the innkeeper.

Goodwill towards virtue is a great spiritual quality, and it is placed very high because the human mind feels such relief at pulling down something felt to be greater than itself. In the list of doshas in the Chapter of the Self, spite, false speech, and backbiting all have reference to the vice of jealousy listed after them. Perhaps this vice is pointed out so frequently in the yogic classics because it is difficult to recognize in oneself. At the time of the French Revolution, parents were recommended to give their new-born children personal names representing the ideals of the Revolution, like Fraternity, instead of the names of Christian saints as hitherto. But the directive had to be changed, because some parents began giving names like ‘Death to the Aristocrats’ to their children, showing clearly what the so-called ideals of liberty and equality stood for in the minds of some of their supporters.

The judicial murders of Socrates and Christ are well-known; Buddha’s relative Devadatta made repeated attempts to kill him, St John of the Cross narrowly escaped murder by monks of his order, attempts were made to kill Mohammad and George Fox. Dr Shastri sometimes quoted an Indian saying, ‘Do good and be abused for it’; there is a humorous version of it, ‘Do good and . . . run!’

In the yogic view, all great qualities are of divine origin: ‘Know Me … I am the intelligence of the intelligent, the bravery of the brave, the energy of the mighty workers, devoid of passion and attachment; in all beings I am the desire not opposed to righteousness.’ The yogi is to think, and meditate until it becomes a conviction, that a virtue is not the property of the one now manifesting it. In fact, virtue is not true virtue while it is fully conscious; when it becomes unconscious, a natural expression, it is real virtue. ‘Let not the right hand know what the left hand is doing,’ says Christ.

Overlooking or disregarding sinis the last of the four practices in this group. Shankara explains it as having as little to do with sinful people as possible during the training period. This is a negative practice, and it may be asked why it is mentioned as a ‘refinement’ of the mind. He says:

If it were not mentioned, the mind would go to association even with people who are habitually unrighteous. From the taint which arises from having dealings with them, the mind would become unfit for the practice of Friendliness and the others. Let not sin arise in oneself from engaging in undertakings which depend on habitual wrong-doing.

This is why indifference is mentioned in this context.

Disregard of sin does not mean standing aside from the suffering of a victim. But it does mean to be free from the mixture of self-righteousness and animal fear and rage which calls itself ‘indignation’. And yet, how can anyone think of, not to say witness, the cruelties of a Nero or a Stalin without indignation? In the yogic analysis, these things are on the level of a cat torturing a mouse; the human being saves the mouse from the cat if he can, but does not hate the cat because he knows this is its nature. Tyrants great or small often function on the cat level. Small boys are sometimes cruel from the adult standpoint; they pull the wings off flies and laugh at their struggles. They have not the imagination to feel into the suffering they create. The parent knows that it has to stop, but he does not hate the child.

Indignation is caused by fear, a threat to security. Until a yogi has had a glimpse of immortality, he will be subject to fear and consequently to this kind of indignation. He has to treat it as a tapas, and try to pass through it without losing his interior balance for too long. He can reckon his progress by finding how quickly he recovers. With some people a shock can frighten and depress for weeks, sometimes for a lifetime. Those who practise yoga find that after only a few days, something rises within them that can throw off the depression. If they continue with Yogic practice, and especially Om practice, they find that as soon as the immediate pressure is over, an inner strength rises and revives their spirits. Finally even during the time of stress, an inner support is felt.

Indignation is an impulse of rajas, generally rising as a reaction to fear, which is of tamas. Rajas is better than tamas – it is better to feel indignation than to be paralysed by fear. But rajas must be transcended.

An opponent must sometimes be vigorously resisted, but that resistance should be like battling against a force of nature, for instance a storm. We do not personify the storm, nor do we hate it even when fighting for life.

In his commentary on the Gita, Madhusudana discusses the Four Feelings or bhavanas as cultivated in the yoga of Patanjali, and explains that the practice will first weaken and then destroy the latent drives of Passion in the seed-bed which is at the root of the mind. Shankara in his commentary explains the word ‘bhavana’ as ‘causing something to be’. As already pointed out, it has also the sense of soaking, permeating. The concept is different from conventional morality, where frustrated instincts still boil under a veneer of control. Bhavana can and must change the very roots of the mind, and this is possible because in the yogic psychology drives like power and sex are not the essential nature of the human being, but are based on ‘illusory notions’, as the Chapter of the Self commentary says.

Some Western psychology, like the early Chinese philosopher Kao-tsu, tends towards a pessimistic conclusion, because it is thought that truth and virtue are things acquired. Thinkers of this persuasion have argued that drives like hunger, power and sex are fundamental; they may be distorted, even sublimated apparently completely, but at a deep level they are always crying for satisfaction. In the yogic psychology, these things are not fundamental, but superimposed notions of difference on a fundamental divinity which is a unity in everything. ‘He who is constant in all beings, wise, immortal, firm. . . . The seer meditating, seeing everything in the Self, will not be deluded; and whoever sees the Self alone in everything, he is Brahman, glorious in the highest heaven.’ The Gita makes this vision the whole basis of true morality:

He sees who sees the supreme Lord abiding in all beings, The undying in the dying;

Seeing the same Lord established in all,

He harms not the Self by the Self, and attains the highest.

This is the same basis of morality as in the quotation from Leviticus cited by the teacher of the Law to Christ, ‘thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy Self: I the Lord.’ Christ extended the notion of neighbour to include all.

In the third part of the Patanjali yoga sutras, it states that when the bhavanas on friendliness and the others enter the state of samadhi, there come ‘powers’. One of the commentaries explains that one of the powers is that friendliness and compassion are aroused in others. These powers may come when the yogi’s meditation on, say, compassion has reached samadhi – that is to say the meditator disappears, and the meditation process disappears, and only compassion is there, becoming radiant. It is not a human, feeling compassion and giving expression to it; it is Compassion, making use of that body and mind to express itself. At this time there is no individual choosing or calculating about individual welfare. It is only compassion incarnate, and actions are not centred round the individual at all – hence they can be much more free. Here are two examples.

The general had smashed the rebel army, and proposed to execute their leaders at a big public occasion the next morning. After that, he thought he would go to see the flowers at the Peony Temple. The monks there grew tree-peonies as a contribution to the beauty of the neighbourhood; when the flowers bloomed, many visitors came to see the hundreds of flowers. The general therefore sent a messenger to tell the head priest that he would visit the temple the next afternoon, after the executions. The priest, who was a fully realized yogi of the Mantra Sect, said to the messenger, ‘Come round with me and look at the flowers.’ On the way he picked up a little sickle. As they passed each tree, the priest cut off the flowers. The messenger was aghast, but too bewildered to say anything. When they had gone right round the gardens, the priest faced the messenger and said, ‘Tell him I’ve murdered them.’

The messenger returned and told his tale. The general’s eyes grew red with anger, but then he became thoughtful. The rebel leaders were sent back to their own people.

A duke was displeased with one of his ministers who had disobeyed him. He sentenced the minister to die at the end of the month. One of the court counsellors, who practised a certain form of yoga, argued against the sentence. ‘He has made a mistake, but remember that he served you loyally for a long time before that.’ The duke heard him out, but met all his arguments by referring to the clear words of the law which laid down the death penalty for this offence. When the counsellor persisted, the duke cut him short: ‘I am the highest judge in this dukedom. I have heard your reasons and met them, and told you my decision. If you still persist in presenting reasons, you are as good as saying that my decision is unjust. That would be treason.’ The counsellor was silent. Next morning he presented himself again, and asked for mercy for the minister. ‘And what are your reasons?’ asked the duke smoothly. ‘I have no reasons,’ replied the counsellor, ‘I just ask for mercy for him.’ The duke shouted, ‘Get out!’ Next day it was the same – ‘No special reasons.’ The duke irritably ordered him to be punished. Next day the counsellor appeared again – ‘No special reasons.’ The duke was impressed and pardoned the minister.

On reading such stories, there is bound to be a feeling that it is question of being able to say certain lines, like an actor, and if they are well said, then the other party also will say his lines and all will be well. The Archbishop of Canterbury under William the Conqueror was an Italian, Lanfranc, and he relates an interesting story of his youth. He had read how a saint in Lombardy had been invited to visit a rich man’s family, and the rich man had sent him a horse on which to make the journey. However, as he was passing through a forest, he was set on by an outlaw who knocked him off the horse and rode off with it. The whip was left lying on the ground, and the saint picked it up and ran after the outlaw, calling to him, ‘Take the whip too – you will need it when you come to the river!’

As it happened, when Lanfranc was travelling in France to Cluny, he himself was set on in the same way, and the robber stripped him of everything except his cloak and went off. Lanfranc remembered the story of the Lombard saint, and its happy ending, and went after the robber. When he caught him up he offered him the cloak too. Lanfranc remarks, ‘He thought I was mocking him, and he beat me until I was nearly killed. And that was right, for that saint in Lombardy had given that

the robber might take, but I was giving in the hope that he might be converted and give me back everything he had taken!’

And furthermore, the powers arising from samadhi may not necessarily preserve the individual life of the yogi. That life is only one element in the universe; the manifestation of Compassion may not include preserving that particular life. In fact the counsellor of the duke, mentioned above, was executed by that duke’s successor for a very similar protest.

There are other powers which can arise from bhavana on friendliness and the others. But Shankara remarks, in his commentary on sutra III.23, that though the man of bhavana is a ‘powerful’ man, if he concentrates on any of the supernormal powers in the world he invites a recurrence of Ignorance. For example, if a yogi were to concentrate on achieving telepathic power, he would achieve it, but it would involve polluting his partially purified mind with the thoughts of passion of an unpurified mind, and that would set him back in his yoga. Shankara is definite that such powers exist – he says in his Brahma-sutra commentary that they are a fact, which cannot be brushed aside merely by an emphatic denial. But to concentrate on them invites a darkening of the mind.

Sometimes this darkening may not be apparent to the man himself. An adhyatma yogi fell in with a magician travelling the same path, and the magician said to him, ‘Your yoga is only words. At the end you are only what you were before. You speak of removing limitations, but you cannot do it. Now in our path we do actually remove limitations; we extend our powers.’ ‘But you do not remove the limitation of individuality,’ said the yogi, ‘and while that remains, though you may think you remove some physical limitations, others will be imposed on you, perhaps unconsciously.’ ‘If they are unconscious, what would it matter?’ retorted the magician. ‘Anyhow, we shall see.’

They came to a river and could not see any boat. The magician stood on the bank, muttering certain syllables again and again. His body began to tremble and his aspect changed; he looked as light as a feather. He threw his straw hat on the water, and stepped on it. Spreading the sleeves of his cloak like a sail, he was carried across the river by a breeze which had sprung up from nowhere. The yogi called a farewell which was ignored.

After a little time, a boat came down the river and the yogi hailed it; the boatman amiably took him across the river for a

little fee. On the other side the magician was waiting for him, and as he stepped ashore said triumphantly, ‘Nowdo you see the superiority of our path! You had to wait while I crossed directly.’

‘Yet here we are together,’ remarked the yogi.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Why, your magic made you light, and so you crossed the river and you were ahead of me. But when you had crossed, something made you heavy, and you could not move till I came up. You had to wait so that you could score off me. Surely there is no loosening of the limitations by such things.’

It may reasonably be asked, ‘If these powers are no help in yoga, and are not to be pursued, why are they mentioned at all?’ One reason is that when meditation and worship are being practised, sometimes one of these things momentarily manifests itself spontaneously. If the yogi has not been warned of it, he may go nearly mad with excitement; he may think that the tradition he is being taught knows nothing of what is now happening, and is merely theoretical. This,he may feel, is something actual and definite, whereas the rest was merely big words. His excitement inflates his individuality and rouses the passion for power; this darkens the instrument, which in the end no longer manifests anything unusual. At first he deceives himself, but later when he finds it has gone for ever, he may fall into bitterness and despair.

George Fox had many such experiences, but he never attributed them to himself. When a mob came to lynch him at Cambridge, they fell back before a light which they saw coming from him; yet soon afterwards in the same year he was badly beaten and stoned. Fox carefully collected a number of such cases from his own experience and those of other Quakers, and made a book of them; but this was suppressed by his literary executors and has disappeared, though some of the main incidents have been reconstructed from references elsewhere. Fox believed that such manifestations of the Lord’s power were a great aid to faith, but he never relied on them, and never prayed to receive them.

Shankara’s view was similar; he says that one or two experiences are a great help for a beginner, as an encouragement; but if he prizes them for themselves, they prevent further progress.

The difference between exercising such powers of the mind and exercising ordinary powers of applied science is that with science the motive does not affect the instrument, whereas in the powers that may come through yoga, the mind is itself the instrument, and an individual motive affects it detrimentally. Then they become unreliable and finally cease. Repeatedly in his commentary Shankara says that these are among the most subtle bonds which tie the self to individuality; like the other bonds, they are cut by yoga practice based on truth, and especially by the OM practice. The truth is that individual self-existence, whether felt to be weak or felt to be semi-divine, is an illusion.

Training the Mind

Most minds are too disturbed to be able to meditate for long on the pure Self or the universal Self, and Patanjali gives six classes of practice for purifying and steadying the mind. These easier practices are nearer to daily life and body-consciousness than the disciple feels that the universal Lord, or even the pure Self, can be. Without some practice on these lines, students tend to find the gap between the present state, darkened by passion and fear, and the absolute transcendence of the Self or the Lord, too great. Then they may give up.

Patanjali’s practices are called collectively parikarman, which could be rendered as ‘enriching’. Dr Shastri sometimes referred to it as refining the mind. The practices give results quickly – results which in the normal course may appear naturally, but in the higher stages of meditation; to experience one of them at the beginning gives confidence. For instance, a student who is particularly physically restless always turns out to be breathing irregularly. By practice on Om, his breathing will gradually become deep and slow naturally. But if he performs one of the breathing exercises consciously, he can remove the disturbance more quickly. Still, he has to remember what the aim is: to cure the restlessness, not to become expert in manipulating breath. To stop at one special practice, as if it were a sporting event, and abandon or postpone the jump beyond individuality into the universal, is to miss the point. It would correspond to playing with the magnets and refusing to build the radio.

Sutra 50 of the first part of Patanjali’s sutras lists nine main obstacles in the way of yoga, which distract the mind. They are, as explained by Shankara,

  1. illness;
  2. rigidity of mind;
  3. doubt, which is a notion – for instance, ‘is that a post or a man?’ – which touches both of two contradictory alternatives;
  4. heedlessness, being a lack of intensity (bhavana), not being constant in the practice for attaining samadhi;
  5. slackness, being lack of effort due to heaviness of body or mind;
  6. attraction to the world;
  7. illusion about the disciplines of yoga and the path;
  8. failure to attain a stage of samadhi;
  9. instability, which is a failure to remain steady in a meditation stage when it has been achieved.

They are, says Shankara, distractions, adversaries, defects in yoga. They are above all distractions of the mind. It is clear that these correspond to some of the doshas of the Chapter of the Self, and in both cases the recommendation is given to remove them by yoga practices. Sutra 51 adds that they are generally evidenced by experience of pain, depression, restlessness of the body, and irregular breathing.

Sutra 52 states that these obstacles can all be removed by practice on ‘one principle’, and Shankara remarks that this refers to some one out of the six parikarman practices.But it has also been stated in Sutra 29 that the obstacles can be removed, and are removed, by meditation on the Lord by means of Om meditation practice. The Lord is described in Sutra 25, and Shankara makes his commentary on this the longest one in the whole work. It may be wondered why the parikarman practices are given at all, when the whole process can be effected by the Om practice alone. The length of Shankara’s commentary on Sutra 25, which is mostly concerned with evidences for the existence of a supreme omniscient controlling Lord, gives a hint. Many would-be yogis are not convinced even intellectually about the matter, and in Shankara’s time, those who performed religious rituals often regarded them more as magical ceremonies rather than worship. In fact one of the sects held that it is immaterial whether the gods exist or not. If the ceremonies are performed correctly, and the names of the gods pronounced, the results follow for the sacrificer. It was not his concern whether any deity exists corresponding to the name. The sacrificial priest of that sect regarded himself as somewhat like an electronics engineer today. The engineer knows what an electric charge will do to a wire, and the knowledge enables him to work effectively. As to what the charge is in itself, he leaves that to the philosophers – perhaps it is unanswerable.

But the position of the yogi is, that he wants to know. He is more like the physicists who first investigated electricity: they wanted to know, whether it was ultimately applicable in other fields or not. And the final conclusion of the yogi is, that happiness on this earth or in some heaven, as aimed at by the ritualists, is based on illusion. It depends on identification with body or mind, which in the end is an imprisonment. The physical body dies, the soul falls from heaven after its merits are exhausted, as the Chapter of the Self commentary says at the beginning. It is said in one of the accounts of heaven, that the soul suddenly becomes aware that its stay there is about to end, and that moment is a worse agony than any of the hells.

Experience has shown, however, that few yogis can contemplate an immediate dis-identification from body and mind. The latent impressions of identity are too strong. They may try to imagine it, and think that they have an idea of it, but in fact it is not so. Children try to imagine themselves grown-up, but when they explain what they will do, it is nearly always some ridiculous exaggeration of what they are doing now.

So Patanjali gives the training meditations for those who cannot simply perform the Om practice in meditation on the Lord. The training meditations are nearer to the things of this world; they thin out the seed-bed of latent dynamic impressions called sanskaras, and then they steady the agitation of the mind. The sutras specify the results as prasadana and sthiti. The first means something like clearness: Dr Shastri also translates it as ‘purification’. The second word means stability, firmness – it is in fact our English word ‘steady’. These two things, clearness and steadiness, are the essential factors in yogic practice. First the mind is made a little clear, and then it becomes able to concentrate more and more steadily on subtle things; finally it can concentrate without flinching on the Lord and on the Self – it passes away into them, and that is liberation.

A merely pure mind, or temporarily steadied mind, do not necessarily lead to liberation. There are minds which are pure, but which merely enjoy the happiness of their sattva. They have no spirit of inquiry awake in them. There are other minds which are steady in pursuit of an objective like ambition, but because they are not clear, they are unable to free themselves from the fantasy even when it is ruining their lives.

The Patanjali sutras on parikarman are:

1.55 By intensification of friendliness towards the happy,

compassion towards the suffering, goodwill towards virtue, overlooking sin, the mind becomes clear

by either exhaling and checking the prana life-current,

or (by) mental perception of (divine) objects, the mind becomes steady

or (by) the ‘sorrowless radiant’ (mental perception)

or (by) meditation on a mind free from passion,

or on the knowledge of dream and of dreamless sleep,

or on the Chosen Form.

Mastery is when mind can be steadied on anything from the ultimate in smallness to the ultimate in greatness.

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