The Secret Of Yoga

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horizon is but an infinitesimal part of the earth. The experience of samadhi, as described by Yogis and saints, is a plunge into the Infinite, a dive into the plumbless depths of an unbounded Conscious Ocean or the vision of an all-pervading Omnipotent Being or the face-to-face encounter with a personified God, of unlimited power, in a halo of infinite glory, unlike anything seen on earth.

In all the genuine phenomena of this kind, the effect on the visionary has been always stunning, and the experience has been repeated, with variations of course, but always with a powerful impact on the mind. The question is: How can this occasional virtual metamorphosis of consciousness be explained in terms of the solutions suggested? Either the whole subject is delusive and the vision is only an overpowering hallucination, in which case the inquiry need not proceed any further, or the phenomenon is the outcome of an alteration in consciousness, resulting from an alteration in the functioning of the brain. Arrest of thought can at the most tend to keep the consciousness unruffled or, in other words, it can cut off the impressions coming from the senses and keep the flame of awareness absolutely steady for some time, but it cannot enlarge the capacity of consciousness to such a degree as to cause a staggering effect on the individual, wafted to a new plane of being, to infinity and immortality. Unless there occurs a radical transformation in the power of cognition of the observer himself, allowing him to compare his former state with the vision seen, the mystic state, as described by great Yogis and mystics, is not possible. The consciousness will continue to have, even in the condition of stillness of thought, the same limited capacity as is allowed to it by the brain.

The argument that in the condition of samadhi consciousness is dissociated from the brain and can, therefore, be realized in all its majesty and universal character is not valid for the simple reason that not infrequently both in the mystical state, occurring spontaneously, and in samadhi, brought about by Yoga, the Deity is apprehended as a personified Being, as in the case of Vaishnava saints, Sufis, and Western mystics, which is not possible without the agency of the brain. Even in the case of nirvi-kalpa samadhi, which is considered to be the highest state of illumination, the yogi brings back the memory of the transmundane experience, when he comes again to his normal state, an impossible achievement unless the memory is awake all the time, demonstrating conclusively the continuing activity of the brain. There is no escape from the position that the rapturous descriptions of the ecstatic vision, described by those who had the supreme experience, could be possible only when they could retain a recollection of it in the normal state, establishing thereby a link between what they underwent in the trance condition and in their normal consciousness. This shows that in some way the surface consciousness continues to function in both conditions. If this were not the case the experience would leave no impression on the mind of the Yogi, as happens in syncope or deep sleep of which one has no recollection on awakening.

The view that the ego-consciousness completely ceases to operate at the time of mystical flight is contradicted by the accounts of the experience left by mystics, Yoga saints, and others, which clearly indicates that, even in such cases where the body shows all the outer signs of insensibility, the ecstatic state is still sufficiently alert to recall a memory of the extraordinary occurrence on returning to the normal state. "The Soul," says St. Teresa of Avila,* "neither sees, hears, nor understands anything while this state lasts; but this is usually a very short time, and seems to the soul even shorter than it really is. God visits the soul in a way that prevents it doubting when it comes to itself that it has been in God and God in it; and so firmly is it convinced of this truth that, though years may pass before this state recurs, the soul can never forget it nor doubt its reality. . . . But you will say, how can the soul see and comprehend that she is in God and God in her, if during this union she is not able either to see or understand? I reply, that she does not see it at the time, but that afterwards she perceives it clearly: not by a vision, but by a certitude

*The Way of Perfection, Newman Bookshop, Westminster, Maryland, 1948.

which remains in the heart which God alone can give." Here is an account of one of his samadhis given by Rama-Krishna Paramahamsa himself: "One day I found that my mind was soaring high in samadhi along a luminous path. It soon transcended the stellar universe and entered the subtler region of ideas. As it ascended higher and higher, I found on both sides of the way ideal forms of gods and goddesses. The mind then reached the outer limits of that region, where a luminous barrier separated the sphere of relative existence from that of the Absolute. Crossing that barrier, the mind entered the transcendent realm, where no corporeal being was visible. Even the gods dared not look into that sublime realm, and were content to keep their seats far below. But the next moment I saw seven venerable sages seated there in samadhi. It occurred to me that these sages must have surpassed not only men but even the gods in knowledge and holiness, in renunciation and love. Lost in admiration, I was reflecting on their greatness, when I saw a portion of that undifferentiated luminous region condense into the form of a divine child "

There is no denying the fact that in the case of samadhi brought about by Hatha-Yoga a deathlike state of the body can ensue as a result of more or less complete cessation of vital functions, caused by the almost complete interruption of breathing. The deathlike trance sometimes occurs naturally, as in the case of born mystics. But even in these cases the memory is partially active, since if this were not so, the Hatha-Yoga could not retain the memory of their visions. It is, therefore, obvious that the brain actively participates in inducing transcendent conditions of consciousness in a way which is a mystery at present. In some kinds of Hatha-Yoga samadhi, the Yogi loses all consciousness and, on returning to the normal state, has no recollection whatsoever of what he underwent in the trance. Yogis of this category demonstrate their mastery over their bodies by allowing themselves to be buried underground for days and even weeks. The astounding nature of this feat has led some present-day scholars to link superconsciousness with a cataleptic condition of the body, and they expect one with a transhuman state of consciousness to be able to stop his breathing and suspend his heart action, making the body inert and cold, that is, corpselike in appearance. This is an entirely erroneous position which we shall discuss at length elsewhere. Here it is enough to say that a corpselike condition supervenes only in some cases of Hatha-Yogis and not in Yogis in generals and among the former only a few attain to the supreme state of Transcendent Consciousness.

The fallacy of the notion that the arrest of thought can magically open the door to the Divine has already been pointed out. No method employed by man to experience a vision of the Transcendent Reality can ever be successful unless the human consciousness itself is developed to an extent where it can apprehend supersensory realms. Millions of Sadhus in India practice meditation for as much as twelve hours a day, and sit in the yogic posture even during the night, supporting their head and arms, while maintaining their erect position, on a flat piece of wood held aloft by a rod fastened to its middle, its other end planted firmly on the ground. They continue the practice for years without ever attaining samadhi. There is some mysterious element that has eluded the grasp not only of the adepts of the past but also the scholars of today, which must be present in all cases of a successful termination of the Yoga practice. The ancient masters, fully cognizant of the fact that in this enterprise success crowns the efforts of hardly one out of thousands of aspirants, attribute the anomaly to the effect of past karma, an explanation which they offer for the other inequalities of life also. But even admitting the operation of the law of karma, we have to accept the possibility that there must be some lack in the psychosomatic organization of the bodies of those who fail in this undertaking even after the most strenuous lifelong efforts to achieve a higher State of consciousness. Even those who believe implicitly in the law of karma do not hesitate to ascribe to a mediocre or inferior condition of the brain or to some defect in the body the failure of those who never shine intellectually or never acquire a strong physique, in spite of constant efforts made to achieve distinction in either. When on the physical plane, with belief in karma, in order to account for the absence of success in the efforts of the inferior condition of the brain, or the flaw in the construction of the body, is fully recognized, why should not failure in a spiritual effort also be ascribed to its temporal cause, that is to some lack in the mental and physical constitution of the Sadhaka about which we are in the dark at present?

In ancient Indian scriptures one of the factors responsible for success in spiritual endeavours is held to be the predominance of the sattva element, tending to a harmonized condition of the body and the mind which clearly points to the dependence of the experience on a certain favourable condition of the organism. Even among the sattvic aspirants success falls to the share of one out of hundreds. The ancient masters selected their disciples with the utmost care, always according preference to the purest and the most earnest among those who sought guidance from them. But in spite of this hardly one out of them all achieved the state of illumination and made not only himself but his Guru also immortal by his outstanding brilliance. The predominance of the sattva element, mentioned in the Gita, does not explain the reason for failures among the Sattvics in whom the percentage of success is very low. What then are the factors indispensable for genuine mystical experience? Since none of the solutions offered for transcendent conditions of consciousness is able to bear close scrutiny, and at the same time it is impossible to deny the phenomenon in consideration of the overwhelming evidence, it becomes necessary to place religion and transcendent religious experience on a solid foundation, beyond the shadow of uncertainty and doubt that hangs over it today, and to locate the mysterious factor which is responsible for all their enormously varied manifestations from prehistoric times to the present day.

Those who fear that a thorough analysis of religion and transcendent truths is not desirable, since scriptural knowledge is


beyond the probe of reason and must always remain above it to avoid profanation, are inviting the very catastrophe which they dread. If faith is a mere bubble, liable to burst with only a pinprick, it would be far better to make the prick sooner and watch the reaction, rather than that it should continue to exist as a hollow mass of vapoury thought liable to burst and spread ruin around it at any time. The custodians of various faiths of mankind are often loath to allow a free and frank discussion of their tenets and dogmas because most of them lack the grand experience of the founder that brought their faith into existence. If they had it even once, the situation would be quite different and, confident of their own position, for true mystical experience engenders a faith that no fault-finding can shake, they would welcome healthy criticism, and by their very life prove the truth of the basic doctrines of all great religions, lying barren beneath a crumbling mass of superstition and a ponderous load of ceremonies, rituals, and practices, the cobwebs which every prophet, mystic, and seer tried to clear in his time, only to expose his own message to the same process of encrustation soon after his departure from the earth, to become more prolific and tenacious than the one he had swept away.

Those who hold that the founder or founders of their religion, their mystics and saints, had the supreme vision and performed their holy tasks of regenerating mankind as a special prerogative of God, and that they had been sent purposely for the mission assigned to them, do a great injustice not only to the lofty men who, acting as messiahs, tried to elevate mankind by their own example and precept, but also to the Supreme Source of all Creation by attributing arbitrariness, partiality, and nepotism to a system of existence bound by law from end to end. The Anthropomorphic conception of a God, dealing out favours left and right, watching over the actions of his children like a jealous father, propitiated by acts of remembrance and small offerings and always on the look out to punish those who offend him or forget to pay homage in the prescribed way, cannot but cramp man's highly developed imagination and constantly rankle his penetrating intellect. We have, therefore, to search for some other explanation than those now offered to account for the inexplicable phenomena associated with Yoga and mysticism, and for the appearance from time to time of extraordinary spiritual prodigies, who tried in diverse ways to popularize noble ideals of love, brotherhood, and peace on the blood-stained arena of the earth.

There are still some people, though their number is now on the decrease, who ascribe visionary religious experiences to a pathological or hysterical condition of the mind. They make no difference between illuminative states experienced by a contemplative and the delusions of a psychotic. While it must be admitted that the biological factors which pave the way to spiritual experience can, in disharmonious states of the body or mind, or unfavourable heredity, cause pathological affections of various kinds, it is as fallacious to attribute the phenomenon of spiritual unfoldment to a morbid state of the mind as it would be to ascribe the conditions attending pregnancy and childbirth to an unhealthy state of the body. To stigmatize genuine religious experience as a kind of mania would mean to ascribe some of the loftiest creations of the human mind in the sphere of literature, art, philosophy, and ethics to the erratic efforts of a mad man. If we cannot understand the phenomenon it is not sensible to resort to solutions that savour of sterility. A far better course would be to make greater efforts to solve the riddle and to refrain from explanations until our knowledge has developed sufficiently to make a fruitful investigation possible. To ignore a factor that has been responsible for half the events of history and has proved the greatest incentive for human progress has been a serious omission on the part of those competent to make the investigation. Failure to meet the challenge of a phenomenon so remarkable, so far-reaching and widespread in its effects, so intriguing and baffling in its nature as religion has always proved to be, can mean only one of three things in the present state of man's progress. Either there is a sense of defeat even before the exploration has been started, or an unaccountable prejudice toward religion and the Divine exists, or the present evolutionary development of the mind tends more toward the material and the gross than toward the spiritual and the sublime.

There is a class of scholars who, though themselves intensely religious and God-fearing, refrain from the inquiry on the plea that the sacramental and the holy should always remain beyond the touch of reason, and that the ways of God and the prophets are not amenable to intellectual investigation. Such an attitude of mind is not one of submission but of antagonism to the laws of God, for if He had decreed that reason should not meddle in the affairs of faith, then religion would have remained confined to the spirit alone and never encroached upon the province of the flesh. But since every prophet and every inspired sage tried to regulate the behaviour of the body so as to make mortal life in harmony with spiritual laws, this constitutes an invitation, even a command, to the intellect, which is a part of the body, to aid in making this harmony not only possible but also fruitful. For a number of reasons the modern intellect has shown an apathy toward the investigation of the phenomenon of religion which is completely at variance with the zeal evinced by it in other directions. The upshot has been that many infantile beliefs, dogmas, and practices still continue to obsess the mind of a large proportion of the human race, which is not only incommensurate with their intellectual stature, but also positively dangerous for their survival. The fact that a few intellectuals here and there put forward what appear to be rational interpretations of the religious idea and belief in defence of faith, does not serve to change the general atmosphere of doubt toward the expression of what is one of the fundamental urges of the human mind.

One other explanation that the Yoga trance or mystical experience is the outcome of self-hypnosis and suggestion, though applicable in a number of cases, does not at all help us to understand genuine spiritual illumination. It can explain the ecstasy, the visions, and the exaltation, but not the permanent, uplifting effect of the experience on the whole of life. It cannot explain the certitude gained of immortality, or the magnetic influence exercised, or the, at times, psychic gifts displayed; and, above all, it cannot explain the dazzling light of genius shed from ancient times by some of the brightest stars of this constellation. In the literature of the world is there anything to compare with the sublimity of the Upanishads, the Bible, the Quran, the dialogues of Buddha, and the teachings of the Gita? Does any other work contain the same inimitable arrangement of words, the same depth, persuasive power and appeal?

If the answer to this is negative does it not mean that besides their divine mission these religious preceptors also rank among the greatest geniuses the earth has ever produced for the literary excellence of their works? The achievement appears all the more phenomenal when it is remembered that some of these authors were illiterate, some imperfectly lettered, and only a few of them having any pretension to scholarship. Besides them there are hundreds of comparatively lesser known ecstatics who, circumscribed by the environments in which they were born, shed their brilliance within the periphery of a small locality, but nonetheless, within their own province and relating to their own language, their works possess the same excellence as the more widely known contributions of the world-renowned founders of great religions and top-rank illumined seers.

We are, therefore, face to face with a mighty problem when we try to find an explanation for the mental condition of the religious teachers of the highest order. We have to account for the existence of not one but four outstanding attributes of front-rank mystic minds. They are Ecstasy, Moral Elevation, Psychic Powers, and Genius. This remarkable combination is confined to this class, and this class alone. Otherwise we find these attributes distributed singly and in too few cases. The combination of even two out of them in one individual is extremely rare. The man of genius may not have moral elevation, ecstatic vision, or psychic gifts, a medium may not have moral stature, vision, or genius, and one prone to visionary states may not have the moral armour, psychic power, or the genius of the true mystic. In judging the prophet, the mystic, and the real saint we have to take the startling fact into consideration that he is in possession of all four rare and lofty attributes, each one of which, even when singly present, confers distinction on one possessing it. There is no difference except one of degree between a genuine prophet, mystic, accomplished Yogi, seer, and sage, and whoever out of them emerged with all these four gems glittering in his crown.

It is obvious that no explanation offered either now or in the past provides a satisfactory solution to the riddle. What makes the phenomenon more inexplicable is the evidence of authentic cases in which the whole gamut of mystical flight of the soul has been experienced by some persons who neither underwent any discipline nor were religious nor even believed in God. For some of them nature assumed the aspect of divinity, and they experienced all the emotions—the sense of awe, enlargement of consciousness, the sense of oneness with creation, overwhelming idea of deathlessness and unlimited knowledge—which are associated with mystical experience. It does not matter whether the ecstasy was repeated frequently or occurred only once or twice, but what is of utmost importance in judging the phenomenon is the inescapable fact that, apart from the category of mystics and Yoga saints, human consciousness shows the capacity of enlargement in the direction of a supersensory, widely extended state, in some persons even without any discipline or training, denoting a potentiality of the human body which the various methods are designed to develop. This clearly points to the existence of a psychic or organic activity in man by which this extraordinary metamorphosis of consciousness is effected.

Commenting on the significance of ecstasy, William James writes: "Saint Ignatius was a mystic, but his mysticism made him assuredly one of the most powerfully practical human engines that ever lived. Saint John of the Cross* writing of the intuitions and 'touches' by which God reaches the substance of the soul, tells us that— 'They enrich it marvellously. A single one of them may be sufficient to abolish at a stroke certain imperfections of which the soul during its whole life had vainly tried to rid itself, and to leave it adorned with virtues and loaded with supernatural gifts. A single one of these intoxicating consolations may reward it for all the labours undergone in its life—even were they numberless. Invested with an invincible courage, filled with an impassioned desire to suffer for its God, the soul is then seized with a strange torment— that of not being allowed to suffer enough.' "

Where is this new centre of spiritual energy formed? From which mysterious source comes the vision, the celestial joy which, as St. Teresa says, "Penetrates to the very marrow of one's bones," the lucidity that sees to the very foundations of the universe and the sense of unity that merges one with All? Secular knowledge has no answer to this question. "To the medical mind," says William James, "these ecstasies signify nothing but suggested and imitated hypnoid states, on an intellectual basis of superstition, and a corporeal one of degeneration and hysteria. Undoubtedly these pathological conditions have existed in many and possibly in all the cases, but that fact tells us nothing about the value for knowledge of the consciousness which they induce. To pass a spiritual judgment upon these states, we must not content ourselves with superficial medical talk, but inquire into their fruits for life."

But an answer to it is provided in the Tantras, the Upanishads, Sufi literature, the self-revelations of Christian mystics, and the esoteric doctrines of almost all religions both ancient and modern. In fact the whole ponderous superstructure of religion that has been progressively gathering substance from prehistoric times

*Collected Works, translated by Otilio Rodriguez, Doubleday, New York, 1964.

contains the most effective answer to this question. The impulse to find the Creator, the search for magical powers to rise beyond the inexorable laws of the material world, the desire for immortality and the yearning for an ideal state of existence, which have been an inherent feature of the human mind, in crude and nebulous forms in the primitive state, must have a place of origin in the organism of man which not only produced the initial seed but has continued to water the growing plant for the past many thousand years in all the vicissitudes through which mankind has passed.

It is a striking testimony to the anomalous behaviour of the human mind that an impulse which received the greatest share of attention from the outstanding intellects during past epochs should, in this age of reason, be the target of a most irrational prejudice which refuses to accord even recognition to it, as a basic urge reaching up from the deepest strata of man's being. Nothing would, perhaps, appear more fantastic to a modern intellectual than to hold that the impulse to reach God or the desire to gain miraculous powers, immortality, or an ideal state of being does not merely rest on fancy or wish-fulfillment or any other imaginary cause, but rather on a solid basis provided for it by nature in mankind. Just as travel at incredible speeds in interplanetary space represents an achievement beyond the wildest dreams of the leading thinkers of the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, in the same way the discovery of the marvellous Fount of Spiritual Energy, which is at the bottom of all these impulses and desires, would place in the hands of the elite of the coming centuries a veritable mine of new knowledge and possibilities entirely beyond the imagination of the thinkers of our time.

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