Yoga of self-perfection synthesises the collective potential of traditional disciplines like Bhakti, Gyan and Karma yogas, to reorient human nature into bringing the highest octave of consciousness. Each of the other yogic systems develops a particular faculty.
In Bhakti yoga, for instance, one approaches God with unconditional love, devotion and veneration. It is a real, genuine search after the Lord, a search beginning, continuing, and ending in love. One single moment of the madness of extreme love of God brings us eternal freedom. Bhakti is intense love of God. When a man gets it, he loves all, hates none. He becomes satisfied forever. This love cannot be reduced to any earthly benefit because as worldly desires last, that kind of love does not come. Bhakti is greater than Karma, greater than Yoga because these are intended for an object in view, while Bhakti is its own fruition is own means and its own end.
The best definition of Bhakti, however, is given by Prahlada; “That deathless love which the ignorant have for the fleeting objects of the senses-as I keep meditating on thee, may that love not slip: I am poor, I have nothing, So I take this body of mine and place it at your feet. Do not give me up, O Lord.” such is the prayer proceeding out of the depths of the heart. To him who has experienced it, this eternal sacrifice of the self unto the Beloved Lord is higher by far than all wealth and power, than even all soaring thoughts of enjoyment.
The peace of the aspirant’s calm resignation is a peace that passeth all understanding and is of all incomparable value. His self surrender is a state of the mind in which it has no interests and naturally knows nothing that is opposed to it. In this states of sublime resignation, everything in the shape of attachment goes away completely, except that one all-absorbing love for Him whom all things live and moves and have their being. This attachment of love for God is indeed one that does not bind the soul but effectively breaks all its bondages. As oil poured from one vessel to another falls in an unbroken line, so when the mind in an unbroken stream thinks of the mind and heart to the Lord, with an inseparable attachment, is indeed the highest manifestation of man’s love for God.
It is in love that religion exists and not in ceremony. Unless a man is pure in body and mind, his coming into a temple, mosque or church and worshipping or praying is useless. The prayers of those who are pure in mind and body will be answered by God, and those who are impure and yet try to teach religion to others will fail in the end. External worship is only symbol of internal worship, but internal worship and purity are the real things. Without them, external worship would be of no avail. Therefore, you must all try to remember this.
This is the gist of all worship: to be pure and to do good to others. He who sees God in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships God. And if he sees God only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing God in him, without thinking of his caste or creed or race or anything, with him God is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in his respective religious places.
Gyan Yoga leads you to liberation of soul. Great is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet, however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when involuntarily they ask “Is this real?” To the person who never finds moment to question the credentials and of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense enjoyment-even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, “Is this real?” Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer. Even in the remote past, where recorded history cannot help us, in the mysterious light of mythology, back in the dim twilight of civilization, we find the same question was asked: “What becomes of this? What is real?”
One of the most poetical of the Upanishads the KATHA Upanishad, begins with the inquiry: “When a man dies, there is a dispute. One party declares that he has gone forever; the other insists that he is still living. Which is true?” Various answers have been given. The whole sphere of metaphysics philosophy, and religion is really filled with various answers to this question. At the same time, attempts have been made to suppress it, to put a stop to the unrest of the mind, which asks: “What is beyond? What is real?” But as long as death remains, all these attempts at suppression will prove to be unsuccessful. We may talk about seeing nothing beyond and keeping all our hopes and aspirations confined to the present moment, and struggle hard not to think of anything beyond the world of the senses. And perhaps everything outside helps to keep us limited within its narrow bounds. The whole world may combine to prevent us from broadening out beyond the present. Yet, as long as there is death, the question must come again and again: “Is death the end of all these things to which we are clinging, as if they were the most real of all realities, the most substantial of all substances?” The world vanishes in a moment and is gone. Standing on the brink of a precipice beyond which is the infinite, yawning chasm, every mind, however hardened, is bound to recoil and ask, “Is this real?” The hope of a lifetime built up little by little with all the energies of a great mind, vanish in a second. Are they real? This question must be answered. Time never listens its power; on the other hand, it adds strength to it.
On the one side, therefore, is the bold assertion that this is all nonsense. But along with it, there is the most hopeful assertions that there is some way out. On the other hand, practical men tell us: “Don’t bother your heads about such nonsense religion and metaphysics. Live here. This is a very bad world indeed, but make best out of it.” Go on applying patch after patch, until everything is lost and you are mass of patchwork. This is what is called practical life. Those who are satisfied with this patchwork will never come to religion. One curious fact, present in the midst of all our joys and sorrows, difficulties and struggles, is that we are surely journeying towards freedom. The question was practically this: “What is this universe? From what does it arise? Into what does it go?’ And the answer was, “In freedom it raises, in freedom it resets, and into freedom it melts away.”
Some inner voice tells us that we are free. But if we attempt to realize that freedom, to make it manifest, we find the difficulties almost insuperable. Yet, in spite of that, it insists on asserting itself inwardly: “I am Free, I am Free.” And if you study all the various religion of the world you will find this idea expressed. Freedom is knowledge.
Karma yoga offers every activity to the Divine in spirit of selfless service, without any expectation. The grandest idea in the religion of the Vedanta is that we may reach the same goal by different paths; and these paths generalized into four–viz. those of work, love, psychology and knowledge. But you must, at the same time, remember that these divisions are not very marked and quite exclusive of each other. Each blends into the other. But according to the type which prevails, we name the divisions. It is not that you can find men who have no other faculty than that of work, nor that you can find men who are no more than devoted worshippers only, nor that there are men who have no more than mere knowledge. These divisions are made in accordance with the type or the tendency that may be seen to prevail in a man. We have found that, in the end, all these four paths converge and become one. All religions and all methods of work and worship lead us to one and the same goal.
Our goal is freedom. Everything that we perceive around us is struggling towards freedom, from the atom to the man, from the insentient, lifeless particle of matter to the highest existence on earth, the human soul. The whole universe is in fact the result of this struggle for freedom. In all combinations every particle is trying to go on its own way, to fly from the other particles; but the others are holding it in check. Our Earth is trying to fly away from the Sun, and the Moon from the Earth. Everything has a tendency to infinite dispersion. All that we see in the universe has for its basis this one struggle towards freedom; it is under the impulse of this tendency that the saint prays and the robber robs. When the line of action taken is not a proper one, we call it evil; and when the manifestation of it is proper and high, we call it good. But the impulse is the same, the struggle towards freedom. The saint is oppressed with the knowledge of his condition of bondage, and he wants to get rid of it; so he worships God. The thief is oppressed with the idea that he does not possess certain things, and he tries to get rid of that want, to obtain freedom from it; so he steals. Freedom is the one goal of all nature, sentient or insentient; and, consciously or unconsciously, everything is struggling towards that goal. The freedom which the saint seeks is very different from that which the robber seeks; the freedom loved by the saint leads him to the enjoyment of infinite, unspeakable bliss, while that on which the robber has set his heart only forges other bonds for his soul.
The manifestation of this struggle towards freedom is to be found in every religion. It is the groundwork of all morality, of unselfishness, which means getting rid of the idea that men are the same as their little body. When we see a man doing good work, helping others, it means that he cannot be confined within the limited circle of “me and mine.” There is no limit to this getting out of selfishness. All the great systems of ethics preach absolute unselfishness as the goal. Supposing this absolute unselfishness can be reached by a man, what becomes of him? He is no more the little Mr. So-and-so; he has acquired infinite expansion. That little personality which he had before is now lost to him for ever; he has become infinite, and the attainment of this infinite expansion is indeed the goal of all religions and of all moral and philosophical teachings. It is the personalistic idea, when he hears this idea philosophically put, gets frightened. At the same time, if he preaches morality, he after all teaches the very same idea himself. He puts no limit to the unselfishness of man. Suppose a man becomes perfectly unselfish under the personalistic system, how are we to distinguish him from the perfected ones in other systems? He has become one with the universe and to become that is the goal of all; only the poor personalistic has not the courage to follow out his own reasoning to its right conclusion. Karma-Yoga is the attaining through unselfish work of that freedom which is the goal of all human nature. Every selfish action, therefore, retards our reaching the goal, and every unselfish action takes us towards the goal; that is why the only definition that can be given of morality is this: That which is selfish is immoral, and that which is unselfish is moral.
But if you come to details, the matter will not be seen to be quite so simple. For instance, environment often makes the details different. The same action under one set of circumstances may be unselfish, and under another set quite selfish. So we can give only a general definition, and leave the details to be worked out by taking into consideration the differences in time, place, and circumstances. In one country one kind of conduct is considered moral, and in another the very same is immoral, because the circumstances differ. The goal of all nature is freedom, and freedom is to be attained only by perfect unselfishness; every thought, word, or deed that is unselfish takes us towards the goal and, as such, is called moral. That definition, you will find, holds good in every religion and every system of ethics. In some systems of thought morality is derived from a Superior Being–God. If you ask why a man ought to do this and not that, their answer is: “Because such is the command of God.” But whatever be the source from which it is derived, their code of ethics also has the same central idea–not to think of self but to give up self. And yet some persons, in spite of this high ethical idea, are frightened at the thought of having to give up their little personalities. We may ask the man who clings to the idea of little personalities to consider the case of a person who has become perfectly unselfish, who has no thought for himself, who does no deed for himself, who speaks no word for himself, and then say where his “himself” is. That “himself” is known to him only so long as he thinks, acts, or speaks for himself. If he is only conscious of others, of the universe, and of the all, where is his “himself?” It is gone for ever.
Karma-Yoga, therefore, is a system of ethics and religion intended to attain freedom through unselfishness and by good works. The Karma-yogi need not believe in any doctrine whatever. He may not believe even in God, may not ask what his soul is, nor think of any metaphysical speculation. He has got his own special aim of realizing selflessness; and he has to work it out himself. Every moment of his life must be realization, because he has to solve by mere work, without the help of doctrine or theory, the very same problem to which the Jnâni applies his reason,inspiration and his love.
Now comes the next question: What is this work? What is this doing good to the world? Can we do good to the world? In an absolute sense, no; in a relative sense, yes. No permanent or everlasting good can be done to the world; if it could be done, the world would not be this world. We may satisfy the hunger of a man for five minutes, but he will be hungry again. Every pleasure with which we supply a man may be seen to be momentary. No one can permanently cure this ever-recurring fever of pleasure and pain. Can any permanent happiness be given to the world? In the ocean we cannot raise a wave without causing a hollow somewhere else. The sum total of the good things in the world has been the same throughout in its relation to man’s need and greed. It cannot be increased or decreased. Take the history of the human race as we know today. Do we not find the same miseries and the same happiness, the same pleasures and pains, the same differences in position? Are not some rich, some poor, some high, some low, some healthy, some unhealthy? All this was just the same with the Egyptians, the Greeks, Indians and the Romans in ancient times as it is with the Americans today. So far as history is known, it has always been the same; yet at the same time we find that running along with all these incurable differences of pleasure and pain, there has ever been the struggle to alleviate them. Every period of history has given birth to thousands of men and women who have worked hard to smooth the passage of life for others. And how far have they succeeded? We can only play at driving the ball from one place to another. We take away pain from the physical plane, and it goes to the mental one. It is like that picture in Dante’s hell where the misers were given a mass of gold to roll up a hill. Every time they rolled it up a little, it again rolled down. All our talks about the millennium are very nice as schoolboy’s stories, but they are no better than that. All nations that dream of the millennium also think that, of all peoples in the world, they will have the best of it then for themselves. This is the wonderfully unselfish idea of the millennium!
We cannot add happiness to this world; similarly we cannot add pain to it either. The sum total of the energies of pleasure and pain displayed here on earth will be the same throughout. We just push it from this side to the other side, and from that side to this; but it will remain the same, because to remain so is its very nature. This ebb and flow, this rising and falling is in the world’s very nature; it would be as logical to hold otherwise as to say that we may have life without death. This is complete nonsense, because the very idea of life implies death, and the very idea of pleasure implies pain. The lamp is constantly burning out, and that is its life. If you want to have life, you have to die every moment for it. Life and death are only different expressions of the same thing looked at from different standpoints; they are the falling and rising of the same wave, and the two form one whole. One looks at the “fall” side and becomes a pessimist, another looks at the “rise” side and becomes an optimist. When a boy is going to school and his father and mother are taking care of him, everything seems blessed to him; his wants are simple, he is a great optimist. But the old man, with his varied experience, becomes calmer and is sure to have his warmth considerably cooled down. So old nations, with signs of decay all around them, are apt to be less hopeful than new nations. There is a proverb in India, “A thousand years a city, and a thousand years a forest.” This change of city into forest and vice versa is going on everywhere, and it makes people optimists or pessimists according to the side they see of it.
The next idea we take up is the idea of equality. These millennium ideas have been great motive powers to work. Those who preached the idea first were of course ignorant fanatics, but very sincere. In modern times this millennial aspiration takes the form of equality–of liberty, equality, and fraternity. This is also fanaticism. True equality has never been and never can be on earth. How can we all be equal here? This impossible kind of equality implies total death. What makes this world what it is? Lost balance. In the primal state, which is called chaos, there is perfect balance. How do all the formative forces of the universe come then? By struggling, competition, conflict. Suppose that all the particles of matter were held in equilibrium, would there be then any process of creation? We know from science that it is impossible. Disturb a sheet of water, and there you find every particle of the water trying to become calm again, one rushing against the other; and in the same way all the phenomena which we call the universe—all things therein–are struggling to get back to the state of perfect balance. Again a disturbance comes, and again we have combination and creation. Inequality is the very basis of creation. At the same time the forces struggling to obtain equality are as much a Necessity of creation as those which destroy it.
Absolute equality, that which means a perfect balance of all the struggling forces in all the planes, can never be in this world. Before you attain that state, the world will have become quite unfit for any kind of life, and no one will be there. We find, therefore, that all these ideas of the millennium and of absolute equality are not only impossible but also that, if we try to carry them out, they will lead us surely enough to the day of destruction. What makes the difference between man and man? It is largely the difference in the brain. Nowadays no one but a lunatic will say that we are all born with the same brain power. We come into the world with unequal endowments; we come as greater men or as lesser men, and there is no getting away from that pre-natally determined condition. Absolute non-differentiation is death. So long as this world lasts, differentiation there will and must be, and the millennium of perfect equality will come only when a cycle of creation comes to its end. Before that, equality cannot be. Yet this idea of realizing the millennium is a great motive power. Just as inequality is necessary for creation itself so the struggle to limit it is also necessary. If there were no struggle to become free and get back to God, there would be no creation either. It is the difference between these two forces that determines the nature of the motives of men. There will always be these motives to work, some tending towards bondage and others towards freedom.
This world’s wheel within wheel is a terrible mechanism; if we put our hands in it, as soon as we are caught we are gone. We all think that when we have done a certain duty, we shall be at rest; but before we have done a part of that duty, another is already in waiting. We are all being dragged along by this mighty, complex world-machine. There are only two ways out of it; one is to give up all concern with the machine, to let it go and stand aside, to give up our desires. That is very easy to say, but is almost impossible to do. We do not know whether in twenty millions of men one can do that. The other way is to plunge into the world and learn the secret of work, and that is the way of Karma-Yoga. Do not fly away from the wheels of the world-machine, but stand inside it and learn the secret of work. Through proper work done inside, it is also possible to come out. Through this machinery itself is the way out.
We have now seen what work is. It is a part of nature’s foundation and goes on always. Those that believe in God understand this better, because they know that God is not such an incapable being as will need our help. Although this universe will go on always, our goal is freedom, our goal is unselfishness; and according to Karma-Yoga, that goal is to be reached through work. All ideas of making the world perfectly happy may be good as motive powers for fanatics; but we must know that fanaticism brings forth as much evil as good. The Karma-Yogi asks why you require any motive to work other than the inborn love of freedom. Be beyond the common worldly motives. “To work you have the right, but not to the fruits thereof.” Man can train himself to know and to practice that, says the Karma-Yogi. When the idea of doing good becomes a part of his very being, then he will not seek for any motive outside. Let us do good because it is good to do good; he who does good work even in order to get to heaven binds himself down, says the Karma-Yogi. Any work that is done with any the least selfish motive, instead of making us free, forges one more chain for our feet.
So the only way is to give up all the fruits of work, to be unattached to them. Know that this world is not we, nor are we this world; that we are really not the body; that we really do not work. We are the Self, eternally at rest and at peace. Why should we be bound by anything? It is very good to say that we should be perfectly non-attached, but what is the way to do it? Every good work we do without any ulterior motive, instead of forging a new chain, will break one of the links in the existing chains. Every good thought that we send to the world without thinking of any return, will be stored up there and break one link in the chain and make us purer and purer, until we become the purest of mortals. Yet all this may seem to be rather quixotic and too philosophical, more theoretical than practical.
Now we consider yoga as a whole. Yoga aims at the total perfection of not one but all parts of the being. It directs the flow of consciousness from soul to the lower levels – rather than begin from the bottom up – purifying as it descends. This can prove effective only by the instrumentality of like-minded souls, jointly engaged in the endeavour. The core group can act as catalyst in ‘Godward’ progress. It strips successive layers of the body and mind of every vestige of inertia, falsehood and lower nature, down to the very innards of its tiniest cell, in order to unclog channels for the descent of divine consciousness. Once empowered, it taps into and co-opts nature to help hasten its ongoing evolution of divinised beings.
Every voluntary or involuntary effort, activity or drive to better individual or community life, is yoga. It is the nature operating through human agency to materialise progress and growth. As sentient being, man is capable of cooperating with this inexorable evolutionary movement and brings about desired changes in a compressed time-frame, which, if left to it, would have taken eons.
The key is integral yoga with a three-fold approach: intense aspiration for the Divine, rejection of all that is inimical to the path and total surrender or opening oneself to the Divine. It perceives Godhead as the fundamental unity permeating every atom of diverse creation, or the centrality of the spirit underlying nature, growth, life, material and non-material phenomena. It aims at nothing less than the transmutation of matter, a tectonic shift from the earlier quest of sages to help man rise above his mundane limitations. It has been long realised that unless basic fault lines and destructive patterns ingrained in the human psyche were eradicated, the world would never be free of strife. That virtually implied recasting the flawed genetic script before human-kind was rid of its demons of base passions and impulses, lying at the root of global unrest today.
Be Happy – we can achieve perfection with yoga also.