Attitudinal Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

As human beings we are very weak. There is no substance in our lives which can give us an insight into the stable nature of personality. Ninety-nine percent of personalities in the world are not stable. We may be happy, just, content, virtuous, pious, a good Samaritan, but that does not reflect the stable aspect of our personality. That only reflects the expressive aspect of our nature.

Every personality has different dimensions. The first dimension of personality is expressive, how you project yourself to other people. When you look at somebody you always have to try to be on your best behaviour. You always smile, you can't frown. When you are with somebody you have to try and be a good person, even though all hell may be breaking loose in your home. This first dimension is controlled by the ego principle, status, recognition, friendship and desires.

The second dimension of personality is how stable you are in your beliefs, approach, thoughts, feelings, sentiments, ideas, devotion, desires, trust, faith. This aspect can be seen in some people. For example, we describe a person with very strong convictions as having a rigid personality. This second dimension of stability and instability is concerned with control of your nature, the vrittis, how alert and aware you are of what is happening in the mind.

There is another dimension of personality, one of simplicity and innocence. This nature is supposed to be the one which takes you clear to the spirit, to the divine, to God, and further away from the trappings of the world. Therefore, it has always been said that the guidelines for spiritual aspirants are to be as simple, as innocent and as free as possible, but with discrimination. You have to respond differently to different situations.

In the Yoga Sutras it is said,

Maitrikarunaamuditopekshanaam sukhadukhapun-
yaapunyavishayanam bhaavanaatashchittaprasaadanam

The first part of this statement says that a person who is a yogi should express friendship towards those who are happy and content. Generally we compare ourselves with people who are happy and content and we become jealous. Why jealousy? Why not friendship? Why not be happy for them too?

The statement goes on to say, “Be compassionate towards those who are unhappy.” In our lives the opposite happens. If we identify with somebody who is our competitor, our rival, then we become very happy when they are unhappy. We say, “Good, God is punishing them, let God punish them more.” Why can't we be compassionate towards our rival in times of their unhappiness? Why can't we be compassionate towards our competitor and enemy in their moment of pain and suffering? It is possible. At least this is what the Yoga Sutras have told us. Develop a different nature, a different attitude, a different vrittimaitri (friendship), karuna (compassion), mudita (gladness). Be happy for those who are virtuous. You don't have to define happiness, but you can try to define virtue from your own understanding. What is the social aspect, the personal aspect and the spiritual aspect of virtue. After all, we do live in a society and we do identify with social as well as personal virtues?

The last part of the statement is, “Ignore the crooked, the unvirtuous.” How can one ignore the crooked? It is not possible because they always exist. But you can definitely transcend and overcome the negativity which you tend to feel when you are in the company of the crooked. You can maintain your balance.

In this way, develop the stable aspect of personality. This has been the aim of yoga all the way from beginning to end. Our knowledge of yoga is not deep. Therefore, we identify yoga with asana and pranayama, eight hours of meditation, so many hours of sadhana, so many hours of mantra, and the more we do the greater sadhakas we think we are becoming. But that is not true. The problem is that we can't say what is on our mind to everybody because if we did, nobody would practise yoga, nobody would try to change, transform or overcome their limited nature. Therefore, we say, “Okay, continue to practise yoga. This is your sadhana. Practise this asana, practise this pranayama, practise this meditation.” And people feel happy with only that much.

However, the reality is that fifty asanas may make you strong in the body but they won't do anything to your head. Thousands of rounds of pranayama may make your feel light and energetic but it won't change the mind. Eight hours of meditation will only give you the satisfaction that, “Oh yes, I was closer to myself and my God while I was meditating and when I open my eyes I identify with the world. There is separation between myself and my God.” But eight hours of meditation does not change the mind. Yoga practices are like hooks to which you tie a wild, untamed animal for some time to make it quiet.

Apart from the yoga practices there has to be another practice, another yoga, which is attitudinal yoga. Not hatha yoga, not raja yoga, not karma yoga, not bhakti yoga, not kriya yoga, not kundalini yoga – attitudinal yoga. Awareness of what is happening in the mind, observation of that process, transformation of that process, overcoming the limitations which bind us in our day to day expressions in life.

It can only happen when we are super alert. Not just alert but super alert. Our attention is fragmented at present. When we hear the words 'become aware' what do we become aware of? Try this experiment. If I say, “Become aware of everything right now, in one moment,” what are you becoming aware of during this moment? Nothing! You may say, “I am watching the body,” but even that is incomplete, because you are not even aware of the heart beat. You are not even aware of the blinking of the eyelids. You are not even aware of the flow of blood through the veins and arteries. So even the physical awareness is not complete.

If the teacher says, “Become aware of the mind,” what aspect of the mind do you become aware of? Just what is happening at the surface level, nothing more than that. Our awareness is the most fragmented aspect of our individuality. There is no doubt about it. Our awareness is like a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces mixed up together. When the teacher says, “Become aware,” we pick up one piece of the puzzle and look at it, then another piece and try to fit it in. Only that much. We never make the whole picture.

So, in attitudinal yoga an effort has to be made to put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together and see the complete picture. And this takes time. Vision of the divine is not important. Preparation of the untranscendental self is important. Getting the eyesight back is important for a blind person, not having a glimpse of the sun. We always say, “Oh I wish I could see the sun.” We don't even have eyes and we are trying to see the sun.

Let us make an effort to go to the hospital where we can have an operation to give us new sight, new vision. Yoga is the process, meditation is the process, attitudinal yoga is the process which gives us the eyesight. It sounds simple but it can be a sadhana of many, many lives. It is not something that any one of us has the capacity to fulfil in a few years or in our lifetime.

These things have to develop naturally. Just be determined through your will that, “I will achieve.” In the race between the hare and the tortoise, the tortoise continued to walk at his own pace and eventually won the race. Whereas the hare would run, look back and say, “Oh, the tortoise is too far back right now. I can go to sleep for two hours and then when he is near the finishing line I'll make a dash and win the race.” It is the story of our lives. You are both the hare and the tortoise – both are inside you.

Ganga Darshan, December 6, 1997