Satsang with a Paramahams

From satsang by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, Ganga Darshan, Munger, 1987-89

What are the causes of disease?

There is only one real cause which combines every cause, and that is imbalance. Whether it is ecological or pertaining to our lifestyle, diet, mind, thinking pattern; the main thing is imbalance. Physical imbalance is the cause of postural defects, stooping shoulders and other kinds of physiological ailments or diseases. Stomach problems come from dietary imbalance. Mental imbalance arises from conflict and emotional tension. For example, in a family where the husband desires something and the wife wants something else there is conflict, which may result in diseases like hypertension and diabetes, cardiac problems. When there is suppressed desire or ambition it may lead to asthma.

Then there is spiritual imbalance, when the mind is too extrovert and seeks pleasure and satisfaction and peace outside. This leads to mental dissipation, 'ashanti', loss of mental faculties and inner balance. So the one word to define diseases is 'imbalance'. We can even see the result of ecological imbalance which gives birth to many kinds of illnesses and diseases.

Yoga says that first of all you have to correct the imbalances of the body. This will increase the body's resistance and you will eventually be able to control the influx of other factors which create imbalance within us. The imbalance of the mind can be removed by the practices of pratyahara and dharana, such as mantra, antar mouna, ajapa japa, trataka and yoga nidra. In this process of removing the mental imbalance you will first attain peace and tranquillity. The second attainment will be balance of our emotions, thoughts and desires. The third attainment is the balancing of the energies that control the performance and functions of the body, mind and prana. This leads us to the Fourth attainment of, optimum health.

Yoga has never viewed any illness or disease as something purely physiological or psychological. It has always viewed an illness in the context of the whole human personality, and mind you, it works. Depression can be eliminated by the simple practice of pawanmuktasana, moving the toes forward and backward ten times, if it is due to a physical, pranic or psychological imbalance. You do not need to practice the headstand or vigorous pranayama or other techniques.

However, we also have to identify the strata of our personality which may have been affected due to an imbalance, be it physical, internal or external. Yoga has classified these into five:

  1. Annamaya kosha - the gross external body of bones, muscles, marrow, blood vessels and so forth.
  2. Pranamaya kosha - the field of energy, or the pranic field.
  3. Manomaya kosha - the mind, feelings that we get, thoughts that affect us, desires which are generated within, ambitions that inhibit our progress, the vrittis, tendencies, the gunas and different natures which dominate our personality.
  4. Vigyanamaya kosha - our intelligence which is based on buddhi but which is transcendental as well as being in the form of viveka, discrimination.
  5. Anandamaya kosha - the nature of oneness of the spirit. All these strata of our personality can be affected and they have to be dealt with.

One illness can seriously damage one particular level of our personality. A heart problem can seriously damage our pranamaya and annamaya koshas, but the effect on the other koshas may not he so serious. It may damage the manomaya kosha to an extent that we will be constantly thinking, 'Oh, I am sick, I have bad a heart attack, I can't do this or that', and in this way further deteriorate our condition. So an illness like that has to be treated on these three levels by creating a balance first in the subtle aspect, which is difficult.

Yoga does not believe in getting rid of the gross aspect first, or the symptoms that we see externally, although there are different systems of therapy which do it that way. When our blood pressure suddenly shoots up we take a pill, but rising of blood pressure is a symptom of a mental state. By simply taking the pill we do not remove the tension or the anxiety from the mental state; we are only subduing the symptom. It is the same with asthma. When an attack comes the sufferer reaches for the inhaler, the bronchial tubes dilate and they feel better. That is a symptom of some tension that has triggered off a physical reaction. We have treated the symptom but not the cause, which triggered off the actual asthmatic fit.

Yoga takes all these into consideration, and that is why therapy in Yoga takes a long time. But if one is true to the path and follows it despite every kind of mental ups and downs, simply keeping on with the practices, then first the subtle and then the gross imbalances will be removed. Those who are sick must remember that they have to pinpoint the imbalances within themselves before they can hope for a permanent cure. So many people suffer from indigestion but they continue to eat every kind of rubbish day in and day out. We have all experienced this. We suffer from indigestion but when a nice dish comes before us we throw all caution away, 'Oh, forget about the indigestion, I can take a pill afterwards but now I will have this dish'. When we cannot even control a physical imbalance like that, how can we expect to find a solution to something which is deep-rooted in our psychology?

The first effort in Yoga is to try to generate an awareness that there is a little man sitting inside you who is also suffering. If you eliminate the tension from that little person you will eliminate the tension from yourself too. That little person is nobody but you.

If yoga brings latent sickness to the surface, is it responsible to teach yoga to people who might fall into depression or who are even latently psychotic?

I know people who, being very psychic, have gone mad. How can one prevent it? How can one distinguish psychic causes from other causes? What can yoga do for them and for mental cases in general?

I also know people who are obsessed with drugs, food, alcohol, people etc. What is the root cause of obsession and what can yoga do to help?

In order to understand, the different manifestations of life, first of all know the mind. It is through the mind that we experience traumas, obsessions and conflicts. Unless we are able to gain a broad perspective of the mind it is not possible to find a solution to such problems.

There are different types of perception. First, perception of the gross, material, manifest world which is linked to the senses, to the intellect, 'buddhi', and the different kinds of emotional attachments. Secondary to mental perception is psychic or subtle perception. Events perceived or experienced in this subtle, psychic realm of mind do not necessarily reflect on the buddhi or on the manas aspects. They are reflected in the 'ahamkhara' aspect, the ego principle, which in psychology Jung has called the 'animus', the unconscious. This represents the centre the core of the totality of human personality, the source of all perceptions, the source of intelligence and expression.

In Yoga philosophy this has been defined as the 'karana sharira' or the causal body. The karana sharira is responsible for the different reactions that are felt within us when we encounter certain situations, whether they are external or internal, gross or subtle. The concept of samskaras, karmas, destiny: 'prarabdha', be longs to the area of the karana sharira. The gross, subtle and causal bodies art integrated with each other. When we encounter difficulties in life we become aware of them only in one area of perception, the manifest area. How does one become aware of a samskara or karma? How does one become aware of obsessions, phobias, inhibitions? It is only because that particular experience has transferred itself from the causal body to the subtle body and then to the gross body; from karana to 'sukshma' (subtle) and from sukshma to 'sthoola' (gross).

The obsessions that we experience, or the anger, the different complexes, psychoses and neuroses, have all been transferred from the causal to the gross. It is only after they have been transferred that we become aware of them, and we try to analyse and understand their effect on our body, mind and lifestyle. This analysis takes place on the gross level, the level of buddhi. To have a clear understanding you need to know the other components of the mind. Apart from buddhi, the mind in Yoga philosophy comprises 'manas', 'chitta' and 'ahamkara'.

Chitta is that part of consciousness which perceives everything. It is the observer of all events created within and around us. The aspects of awareness, in a nutshell, is chitta. Buddhi, the intellect, links the mind with the object of sensory perception. When we look at an object, the process of seeing it and analysing it is translated into a language that is understood by the mind. When we smell something, the smell is translated and is understood by the mind. This happens through buddhi or intellect. This is the sensory aspect.

Apart from its analytical aspect, buddhi also has the ability to judge according to impressions which are latent in the mind, according to our memory, understanding, concepts of right and wrong, just and unjust, and what is proper and improper etc. This translation is taking place, not only on the level of the senses, but also on the level of feeling, attitude, behaviour, emotion and so forth. The external events and what is perceived by the senses and also the mind, like thought, desire, ambition and emotions, are being translated by buddhi into a language which is understood by the mind and ego.

It is because of the ego that we feel either depression or elation. If the ego principle was not involved, we would not fluctuate from 'vritti' (modification of mind) to vritti. In the very first Sutra of Patanjali, it is stated that control of the mental vrittis is yoga. Vrittis are the modifications of the mind and they are many fold, right from sensory perception to the ego principle.

Manas is an aspect of buddhi which analyses and puts the information in the right compartments in the form of memory, in the form of an experience, in the form of a seed which can later become a samskara and form our karma and destiny. All these three aspects are linked with the ego principle. This identity of 'I' is a twofold identity. First the limited identity of me as a body, a person living and working in the world, having a family etc. As long as this limited concept of ego is there, which is only confined to the self and seeks satisfaction of the desires of the self, we cannot really aspire to correct the differed manifestations of the subtle and causal bodies. Correction in these two bodies will only take place after this ego principle hat been transcended.

The perception of ego is not only confined to the body, mind or sensual satisfactions, but also takes a universal form, but before it takes this universal form, chitta, manas and buddhi have to be controlled and guided in the right direction. It is precisely in order to control and direct the buddhi, chitta and manas that steps have been defined in the form of pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. They are not meditative stages but they bring about an understanding of these three areas.

When a piece of information or an experience has been transferred, it revolves around buddhi, chitta and manas. Take for example fear, a very common thing. Everyone has some kind of fear and just because we cannot pinpoint it we say, 'I have fear of the unknown'. It is one experience which has been transferred and which has manifested itself in the conscious mind. In the conscious mind that fear principle has already been compared with a past memory, with your ambitions and your ego. It has been compared with your obsessions, desires and vrittis. Everything has been done before you became aware of that fear; 99.9% of analysing has taken place before you become aware of something called fear or anger, obsession, psychosis or neurosis. They are symptoms of an unbalanced buddhi, chitta, manas and ahamkara, the four aspects of the mind.

Now, coming to the question of how very perceptive or psychic people go mad and how one can distinguish the causes for their madness. There is only a hairline's difference. What we consider psychic is something internal, coming from the causal aspect, which has been transferred to the subtle and gross aspects. If you can analyse the psychic experience, if you can find a solution to that psychic experience, it will remain psychic. However, if you are unable to find the cause of that experience and thereby control it, then it will not be psychic but will become madness.

The same experience which, on the one hand is psychic, can on the other hand become neurosis or psychosis. The source of the experience is the same, from the causal body, the source of ego, but its manifestation is different depending on the harmony or disharmony of the four aspects of the mind. When they are balanced we understand an experience as being psychic, and we are able to move into the depth of our personality. However, when there is an imbalance, we art not able to understand an experience and it is not accepted by the mind, but it has so much force and power behind it that we cannot control it. Why does it have such a force? Because it is coming from the very source of our being - the ego principle. If this powerful force is not analysed by the different areas of the mind and is manifested externally, then it assumes the form of psychotic, neurotic or obsessive behaviour which is abnormal.

To be very frank, there is little that yoga can do for mental cases. By the time that type of behaviour has manifested, all the faculties of the mind have been reduced if not eliminated.

What is the condition of willpower and the strength of self-confidence in such persons? When you see a mad person you can see whether he has any self-confidence or willpower, or whether he is totally dissipated. We can try, but we cannot guarantee anything. If by certain asanas, pranayamas, concentration and relaxation practices, or by implanting certain ideas we can raise the level of their willpower and confidence, then there is hope, otherwise it is very difficult. I would not tend to agree with people who claim to treat mental cases through yoga, because recovery depends on the patient and not on the yoga. Yoga can only provide a system, a method, but it is the stamina of the patient which provides the real treatment.

Obsession happens when we are being bombarded by situations and experiences stemming from inside, from the core of our personality, and we lose our sense of direction and perception. Trying to avoid these internal situations then becomes an obsession or escapism. How do people try to escape from a psychic or mental experience? It is seen and felt in their behaviour and lifestyle which they adopt in order to cover up a weakness. People who have less of a self-image or who suffer from an inferiority complex are generally very, very boisterous. They make tall claims, speak very loudly and like to show off. They try to project themselves as people who have control over everything- This is a symptom of compensating for the lack of self-image.

If you look carefully at every individual you can generally find out what kind of illness they are suffering from, not physically but psychically. To compensate for an illness which is stemming from the psychic body an obsession has taken place which is experienced and seen externally. The obsession is actually an attempt to escape from the situation which they are feeling inside, nothing more and nothing less. Unless they are made to realise that this is taking place within their personality there is no hope. Definitely asanas cannot help them. Pranayamas can, because they lower the pranic resistance which has been built up, creating a front. Relaxation techniques will help them to lower the resistance of the psychic body which has become very powerful and strong.

You will find that such people have the tendency of feeling that they are sinking into the ground or falling into a well when they practice yoga nidra. As soon as they lie down the feeling comes, 'I am sinking, I am falling', and they cannot wake up. It is a very common experience, many people have it. At one point or another we all suffer from a psychic illness, even I have suffered from it. It used to be terrible trying to go to sleep at night. I used to avoid sleeping because I knew that as soon as I would lie down I would start falling in. That rush was so strong that I used to jump from my bed, 'My God! Is there a hole in my bed?'

An obsession can also lead us to drugs in an attempt to escape from it and just feel good for a while. A person might be very passive and quiet, 100% okay during the daytime, but after getting drugged the same person can become a demon - shouting, screaming, but he thinks that he is in control of himself and that other people are drunk (drugged). A total change takes place. A different frame of mind, rationale and it emotional perspective has come about, from the normal one, and that is called escapism. People take a little bit to relax themselves, but it is not relaxation, it is an attempt to suppress or cover up a weakness which they are feeling inside. Attachment to a person is another form of obsession, like Dasharatha was attached to Rama. He died thinking of Rama. Whether it was good, or bad we cannot judge. We all have this kind of obsession and we can only get out of the situation when, with awareness, we bring about a balance in the activities of the four mental faculties. As soon as this balance is created we can withstand, the negative influences which arise from the karana sharira. It is not possible for us to go to, or to even try to understand the karana sharina.

To do this we need to do sadhana. Start from the very basic principles of rebalancing and realigning the pranic structure, then the manifest mind, and then the unmanifest mind. Exactly the same principle has been defined in the form of the pranamaya kosha, manomaya kosha, vigyanamaya kosha and others, the five dimensions of experiences in yogic terminology.

What is the purpose of yoga nidra?

The purpose of yoga nidra varies from individual to individual. Many people who suffer from insomnia, practice it. They find that it helps them to relax by releasing the built-up tensions and allowing them to sleep, even if it is only for a short time initially. With repeated practice the length and depth of sleep increases. Release of stress is one of the aspects of yoga nidra, but stress is not only mental; it is also physical and emotional.

In yoga nidra we learn to deal with physical stress. Throughout the day differ cut parts of the body become tense and tight involuntarily. This tension in the muscular and skeletal structure affects and alters the performance of the nervous, circulatory, respiratory and other systems of the body. In the span of 24 hours, 99.9% of our physical body is in a state of alternating tensions. This is one of the causes of aches and pains in the body. When you are concentrating very hard on something, you will notice that the neck muscles and the upper shoulder region become tense. Whenever we do something certain parts of the body relating to that particular action become tense, but we are not aware of these little tensions that creep in every now and then. So, releasing of physical tension is the first aspect of yoga nidra.

Secondly, yoga nidra helps to release mental tensions. We accumulate tensions from our thoughts, the environment, family and work situations, and also from our own interaction with our intellect. To cope with these mental tensions is difficult. There is no science in the world today which can effectively deal with mental tension. Can psychotherapy deal with mental tension? It can make you aware of some kind of tension within you, it can even help to pinpoint the cause of tension, but it cannot provide a solution. We might feel that the solution lies externally - change the lifestyle, change the mental habits and everything will change. This is the general theory, but there is another more effective way to treat mental tension. In yoga nidra this is achieved by releasing the tensions which are blocked, in the form of symbols and archetypes.

The third aspect of yoga nidra deals with emotional disturbance and imbalance. Here the practice of yoga nidra becomes more of a meditative process, a process of self-analysis and self-observation. Stored up memories of different events, emotional experiences, samskaras, different crises and traumas, happiness and sadness are viewed objectively, realised and released.

The fourth aspect of yoga nidra is the preparation of mental awareness for the awakening of the mental faculties. Here the weak faculties of the mind are worked upon, such as lack of self-confidence, inferiority complex, lack of will power, loss of positive self-image and so forth. A proper base is created where we can utilise the full faculties of the mind.

The fifth aspect of yoga nidra awakens our awareness of the psychic faculties which at times manifest in our lives; awareness of the different bodies and their experiences etc. Yoga nidra is, in fact, a process of self-discovery. It is one of the practices of yoga which combines the three aspects of Ashtanga yoga. It begins in pratyahara, goes through dharana and ends in dhyana. It is therefore a very comprehensive technique.

Traditionally, there are 84 stages of yoga nidra, because it is said that the human consciousness has to pass through 84 lakhs of different kinds of experiences, which are described as yonis. In the Tantras the 84 practices deal with one particular kind of experience, but in order to start off the practice of yoga nidra we begin with very basic, simple techniques such as body and breath awareness, rotation of body parts, resolution etc. These are the initial stages in the practice of yoga nidra. Advanced sadhaks can one day learn and practice the other more advanced practices.

Is there a connection between low blood pressure and sleeping legs? How can we increase blood pressure?

Despite different kinds of belief, there is no connection between either hypotension or hypertension and the parts of the body going numb. Numbness of the body is due to pressure in certain parts of the body and organs which inhibit the supply of blood. Even normal, healthy people experience this numbness when they lie or sit in the wrong posture. In Yoga, we believe numbness of any part of the body is due to postural defect. So it is more important to correct the body posture.

Certain yoga asanas, pranayamas, bandhas and kriyas help to raise the blood pressure. Bhastrika pranayama, the technique of hyperventilation, is one. Asanas should be dynamic, like surya namaskar and trikonasana. Uddhyana bandha, jalandhara bandha, and agnisar kriya will also help to raise the blood pressure. However, practices must be done under the supervision and guidance of a teacher, because it is possible that, due to the lack of understanding of our own physical structure, there may be some other underlying illness, disease, or imbalance within the body which might give rise to a new problem.

Are there methods in Yoga to attain "Sushupti" sleep?

Sleep is one of the vrittis of the mind. It is a natural, spontaneous manifestation and an altered state of consciousness. Since it is a natural process of the mind and also a necessity of life, there are no specific practices in Yoga to attain Sushupti.

There are two types of sleep. One state of sushupti is conscious, there is identification of the mind, with the external environment and objects. This state is achieved through the practice of yoga nidra. The state of mind during the deep stage of yoga nidra is the Sushupti-mind which is also known as "tandra".

The three normal states of mind are: 'Jagrit', the waking state; 'Swapna', the dream state, and 'Sushupti', the unconscious state. When there is not a single iota of awareness at the time of sleep or Sushupti, that state of mind is known as 'nidra', total absence of consciousness, but if there is even one per cent of consciousness, then it is not nidra; it becomes tandra. In normal sleep, which we call bhoga nidra, we reach the state of nidra.

The definition of sleep has to be made clear, We consider sleep as total absence of consciousness in our normal life. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sushupti is only an altered state of mind which one can reach wilfully, at any time. Externally you might be snoring. Other people might consider that you are last asleep, but at that moment you are aware that you are sleeping. You are aware of the whole process of sleeping. So, if you are contemplating achieving the state of tandra, then yoga nidra is the correct practice, and if you are thinking of having a good sleep, then normal sleep is a good practice.