Unless You Disobey, You Can't Learn To Obey

Swami Suryamani Saraswati

Everyone tells everyone else to obey. The parent tells the child to obey. The teacher tells the school-boy to obey. The traffic cop tells the motorist to obey. Even the State tells the citizen to obey.

It is only the wise guru who says 'Surrender'. For, in the act of surrendering, is the act of both disobeying and obeying. It is like creation. Unless you destroy something, you cannot create anything. When you make ice from water, what are you actually doing? You are destroying this 'state' of water and are creating or making ice. The carpenter first destroys the wood to make the chair. Even the guru first destroys all the negativity in the disciple, so that the disciple can be led on the path of spirituality. Thus, obedience and disobedience are actually two sides of the same coin.

Disobedience - every step of the way!

In Patanjali's Yoga, the eight milestones on the yogic path, maybe we don't realize it, but we disobey in order to obey, at every stage. Let's take asanas. If we try to sit still for some time, the chances are, unless we have been practising yoga, we will find it difficult. After a few moments, we will start fidgeting. We will begin to scratch our nose, drive away an imaginary fly, or even shake our ears! That's because our limbs are obeying their natural instincts to keep moving. So asanas teach us to disobey our natural 'way of being' and to control our natural tendencies.

Now, the actual asanas too have disobedience inherent in them. When we sit padmasana, our ankles begin to ache. Our ankles are not used to being folded up. So what do we do? Gradually, stage by stage, we begin to sit longer and longer until we reach a stage where we have totally disobeyed the natural inclinations of our ankles, as we go on obeying our teacher.

Then we find that the very act of 'obedience' disappears, and we sit comfortably for a long time. What has actually happened is, while starting to disobey our inclinations, we have begun to obey the instructions of the teacher and gone on to a stage where we are no longer obeying anything at all. We are simply sitting in padmasana. We have surrendered our self to the asana.

As you are learning or rather 'obeying' the instructions about the other asanas, you find that your spine, your shoulder blades, your hip joints, your stomach, in fact, different parts of your body in different asanas grumble. But you 'disobey' what they don't want you to do. Instead you go on with your practice. And, as in the case of padmasana earlier, you surrender yourself totally to the asanas, one by one.

Of course, all this does not happen overnight, but in a gradual, continuous process and as days go by, you cease even to notice that your limbs have totally surrendered to the asanas. The same process takes place with pranayama. You or that part in you disobeys what your breathing pattern used to be. You now bring in a certain regularity and soon, you begin to master the different pranayamas. From this, you can now understand that in order to achieve even sthiram, that unique stillness and steadiness you find in a yogic body, one has to disobey many 'natural' inclinations.

Neti, neti, neti

However it is not so easy, when you come to pratyahara or the withdrawal of the senses. Since birth, your mind has been 'obeying' the messages of the sense organs and acting blindly according to the sensations. In fact, like a disciple surrendering to the guru, the brain has surrendered to your sense organs.

In order to achieve pratyahara, you must teach the brain to 'disobey' the sense organs, which were originally created to warn the brain of things happening around. This disobedience of a habit from birth, pratyahara, takes a long time to achieve. In other words, in order to obey the fifth limb or stage in ashtanga yoga, you disobey habits or 'practices' from birth. It is a hard task to convince yourself. 'Not this, not this'.

This sense of 'disobedience' is inherent in all the other steps of ashtanga yoga.

Disobedience in evolution

We all know that man and other living beings are continuously evolving. While other living things evolve physically only, it is only man who is evolving both physically and mentally. In fact, more than the mere physical evolution, it is the evolution of the mind or consciousness that sets man apart from other beings, though there is the same atman or soul in every being.

In the tree of evolution, man is sitting right at the top. And he has to evolve his consciousness into that of a divine consciousness. That is the 'raison d'etre' of being born a human being. If as apemen we had all been 'obedient' in our activities, not straying from the trodden path, we would never have evolved to the present state of consciousness. We would still be lumbering along, eating roots and berries, living in packs instead of in societies, and our bodies would still be covered with long hair.

Somebody at different times had the conviction to question 'Why?' 'Why not this way?' and so on.

And with each question came an answer in practical terms. No matter if the answer was not really an answer. But the very act rocketed man's consciousness to the next higher stage of evolution.

Obedience as an act of surrender

Now, disobedience is one aspect of obedience, but implicit obedience is more militaristic. The sense of implicity, obeying without questioning, stresses only on the obedience part of the act. Thus, while one implicitly obeys, the consciousness may be independent of such obedience. Given a chance, one could question.

It's like shrugging your shoulders and saying, 'Well, these are orders', as you might find in a business environment, a state or a political set-up or even in some theoretical religions which go by the book. To quote a book is to quote a rule and your obedience to the rule is limited to a particular time, a particular place or a particular environment. It's like 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do'. What happens when you get out of Rome? What happens when you get out of that age or environment to which the book was relevant? Logically, you are no longer bound by the rule.

You are Free

Yoga, as the path to spirituality, is truth for all times, for all climes, in whatever language you speak. Therefore, implicit obedience cannot be part of spirituality or yoga, unless it represents surrender to the living ideal or path of truth.

So, blind or implicit obedience without awareness is not the answer. Nor is surrender in bits and pieces, grass-hopping to different stages. Instead, we need a steady, maybe even slow, but continuous surrender with total awareness of the act of surrendering. We must go beyond the sense of mere obedience. We must learn to temper obedience with a sense of surrender.