Yoga and Evolution

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

We have to understand what evolution is, how science fits into the process of evolution and how yoga is part of that ongoing process. Evolution is the aim, the goal towards which we are all constantly moving. A definition of the word 'evolution' in one sentence is the process of moving from diversity to unity. I do not believe there is any such thing as involution. Just as there is no such thing as perfection or imperfection, there cannot be anything but a continuous journey forward, which is evolution. The moment one tries to define perfection, the whole idea is distorted. Therefore, instead of trying to understand the meaning of the word, try to understand the meaning of the concept.

Evolution and perfection = satyam, shivam, sundaram

According to the theories of the ancient seers, evolution and perfection equal satyam – truth, shivam – auspiciousness, and sundaram – beauty. These are the three components that we need to attain in our lives to complete the journey. Once you attain a nature which is full of truthfulness, beauty and auspiciousness, then you attain what is known as realization, completeness in life, moksha or nirvana.

The words sound nice but the process of attaining them is a sadhana. Sadhana is a conscious, ongoing effort which you make to experience the transformation of your nature. It is not something that you do for one hour. Sadhana is continuous awareness, being in the present moment. One has to become a sadhaka in order to experience the truth, the auspiciousness and the beauty in life. The entire process of yoga is based on the principle of sadhana. Samadhi, which is the aim of yoga, does not mean meditative isolation from the world where you become one with yourself, rather it means a harmonious interaction of the feeling of unity within and without.

There is a passage in the Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna describes the journey of the spirit in the manifest world: “My immortal self is attracted by the magnetic force of prakriti and enters into creation with six companions.” These companions are the five senses and one mind. After completing the life span in which you imbibe the wisdom, the knowledge of truth, auspiciousness and beauty, the spirit again realizes its immortal nature.

The shanti mantra of the Ishavasya Upanishad states: “Om poornamadah, poornamidam, poornat poornamudachyate, poornasya poornamaadaaya poornamevaa vashishyate.” The meaning is that everything is full, complete and whole. If you remove fullness from fullness, only fullness remains. If you remove completeness from completeness only completeness remains. If you remove wholeness from wholeness only wholeness remains.

Raising the level of awareness

Now these may sound like the philosophical thoughts of a sage of ancient times, but they also describe a state of realization in which the mental attitude, the mental concept has undergone a change and you are able to see yourself from a different perspective and level. There is a story about a neurotic guy who went to a yoga teacher for help. The teacher asked, “What is the problem?” The man said, “I have a great inner urge to cut everything down to a uniform size. When I see tall trees I want to chop them down with my electric saw so they are of an equal size.” The teacher replied, “Look, a safer method of doing this is to become a pilot. Once you go up in the air, everything looks the same size.”

The moment you raise the level of your perception, awareness and consciousness, your perspective changes. As a child our reality involves a toy, and when the toy breaks we cry because we have identified with that toy. When our toys break our dreams also shatter with them. So-called grown-ups say to the child, “Don't cry, it is only a toy you have lost. We can get another one.” The area of attachment moves from the child who plays with small toys to the grown-up who plays with bigger toys. As a child you played with a tiny plastic car or a Barbie doll, now you play with a bigger car, a Cressida or a Mercedes, and so on.

The focus of attachment changes. The shift of attention from one level to another we call maturity. It is the shift of attention from one level of maturity to a higher level which defines the sadhaka, the practitioner, the person who makes an effort. The process of moving from the present environment and conditions to a state where we can observe the different aspects of diversity, and from there begin to experience the unity within and without, is the aim of yoga.

Tantra: Shiva and Shakti

Before looking at the relationship of yoga and science with evolution, let us look at tantra. Tantra speaks of two concepts, the masculine and the feminine. The masculine concept is known as Shiva, meaning auspiciousness. It does not represent the male figure, it represents the state of auspiciousness, well-being that exists at every level of creation. The second component is Shakti, representing energy. So, in the higher tantric concept we do not speak of male and female, we speak of auspiciousness as the underlying reality and energy as the force which gives expression to that auspiciousness.

These are the two forces which govern the entire life of an individual. These are the motivating factors. They are the inspiration for your journey. Now if we want to understand the quality of Shiva and the quality of Shakti, of course we have to look at our own body and the other people around us; we have to look at creation. So these ideas are then converted into the social and cultural context. This is where tantra becomes distorted.

The union of male and female is taken to be sexual freedom, but it is not. Maha Nirvana Tantra has said, 'If by drinking wine one were to attain self-realization, every drunkard in the world would be a self-realized person. If by sexual interaction one were to attain realization, we would all be self-realized. If by eating meat one were to attain self-realization, then only vegetarians would have something to lose, everyone else would be realized.' But is this the concept we have to think about? No, it is a distorted concept that has deviated from the actual path of tantra.

Re-education for inner freedom

There is no doubt that tantra teaches freedom of expression, but this freedom of expression has to be psychological, it has to be psychic, not sensual and sensorial, because day in and day out we express ourselves through our senses and our sensuality. We all express ourselves in different forms. The way we look at each other, the way we smile at each other, the way we walk, the way we act, the whole of humanity is sensual. Therefore, tantra emphasizes freedom of expression at an inner level.

There is freedom in discipline, in mind, in thought, in attitude, in behaviour. We just have to become aware of that process through which we can experience that freedom. In order to experience that freedom we have to let go of many preconceived notions and ideas. We have to actually re-educate ourselves, to forget what we have learnt so far and begin a process of re-education. Therefore, whenever I give a yoga class I tell the students to come with a clean mind, with a clean blackboard, otherwise they won't learn yoga.

You can learn asanas and feel good about it but you won't learn yoga. You have to come with a clean mind, a clean brain. That way you can let go of the preconceived ideas that you have about yourselves and other people. You have to squeeze a sponge to let the stagnant water out and enable new water to flow in. You have to empty a bucket of dirty water in order to fill it with fresh water. How many of us are willing to empty our buckets? We are all searching for fresh water and yet we do not want to empty our bucket. As a sadhaka, as an aspirant, that effort has to be made.

Science and yoga

Now where does science fit in? Science of the present day and age is a growing, developing subject. Yoga, which has existed for many thousands of years, is an ancient science, a developed science. Science must have two components without which it cannot be complete – a rational component and an intuitive component, the left and right hemispheres of the brain, the linear, logical and the artistic, intuitive. If you wish to see the entire world as a two-dimensional object, linear and logical, you only see one part of it. If you wish to see the world in three dimensions, artistic, creative and beautiful, you need the intuitive aspect.

Therefore, science is a growing subject. In the course of time, through its own discoveries and research, science will also come to realize the intuitive aspect. Within its body it will also develop the intuitive component. Then science will become complete and it will validate the spirit. Right now science is validating hormones and glands, the chemistry of the blood, measurement of brainwaves etc. This is the first step of science. The second step of science is to validate consciousness as a whole. The third step of science will be to validate the existence of spirit. Then it will become a complete subject in itself.

Yoga and science are complimentary to each other. I see yoga as a grandfather figure who has seen decades pass by, who has derived understanding and experience from the past and science as a young growing boy who wants to experiment. He also needs to derive experience from the grandfather figure, which is yoga. I am not saying that one can do without the other – they can – but if there is mutual support, then science and yoga can become a very powerful medium to quicken this process of integration, the movement from diversity to unity.

This is the movement we must aim for in the future, so that we can understand the integration of the individual being with the world and the universe and thus fulfil the vision of the ancient seers when they said, ”Know thyself, be a light unto thyself.” These are not just philosophical ramblings. These are actual indications of the progress we have to make, of the journey that we need to cover in the course of our lives.

Karma = recycling the samskaras

How can yoga become whole, complete in our lives? In order to think about how to integrate the three concepts of truth, auspiciousness and beauty into our life, we have to take a broader look at our life. Karma has been defined as life. If you want to escape from karma you have to escape from life, because you cannot avoid karma. We can also look at the whole process of karma from another angle. It is the process of recycling the samskaras. When the samskaras are recycled continuously then they become karma. You plant a seed in the ground, from that seed comes a tree, on that tree come flowers and fruit, inside the fruit there are seeds. If you sow those same seeds another tree will come up, again laden with fruit. Again you eat the fruit and again you sow the seeds. This process continues on and on. It is a recycling process; everything is continuously recycled.

That process also happens in our lives. Everything is being recycled – our desires, our aspirations, our thoughts and feelings, and we cannot find an exit. We cannot discover a method of liberating ourselves from this continuous recycling of human nature, from the gunas, tamas, rajas and sattwa, the negative, positive and luminous qualities. Life is controlled by these three gunas. It would be hypocritical to say that through meditation you can attain a sattwic nature. That is the aim of meditation no doubt, but you have to go gently through the process of rediscovering and realigning the forces which govern your nature.

Four areas of attainment in life

In the process of realigning our nature we have to analyze the purusharthas, the efforts that one can make in life. The yogic, vedic, tantric and samkhya traditions have described four kinds of effort or attainments in life. The first is the attainment of security. The effort that we put into our actions to attain security, whether personal, social or financial, is known as artha. The second is attainment of the desires. The effort to obtain those desires that we wish to fulfil is known as kama.

The third is the attainment of a quality of consciousness where we become responsible for ourselves and are aware of our dharma, our duty. The effort behind the attainment of that quality of consciousness where we become aware of our responsibility in relation to the individual, the self and in relation to others is the concept of dharma. The fourth purushartha is the attainment of inner freedom. The effort we put into the action to attain that inner freedom is known as moksha. So yogis have defined these four broad categories of attainment and effort.

Four stages of life

Yogis have also described four stages of life. The first is studentship, brahmacharya. When we are students the skills that we learn and develop, the understanding that we derive, the subjects that we study and the aspirations that we have for the future are to obtain security and stability in the future.

After studentship we enter into a new pattern of family life, social life, grihastha, where we become responsible for other people around us who are part of our family. We make every effort to maintain and nurture that family and our social life, utilizing the skills that we learned and imbibed in our student life. We try to fulfil our aspirations, ambitions and desires, complementing the aspect of kama, in family and social life.

When we have gone through this stage of life, we enter into the third stage of retirement, vanaprastha. This is from a social perspective. Although we retire after a certain age, we continue our effort to understand dharma, to propagate dharma and to expand the concept of dharma by becoming a thinker. Here we are complementing the effort of dharma. After we have expanded and developed our own understanding of our dharma, we enter into the fourth stage of life, sannyasa, Sannyasa does not mean renunciation or isolation, sannyasa means dedicating the qualities that one has towards the growth of humankind and inspiring others to attain inner freedom. Sannyasa is not escaping from life, rather it is running into life with greater wisdom, understanding, and perception.

Preparing to evolve

These four stages of life have been defined as the ideal life. How much we are able to follow this is our own business. The majority of people reach the second stage of leading family and social life, but after that, Hari Om Tat Sat. They don't move into the third or fourth stage. I invite you to enter the third and fourth stage. There is a saying in India, “How can I tell you what my achievements have been in life. I have studied, I passed my university degree, I did my service, I obtained my pension and I died.” This sort of life only goes up to the second stage, it does not enter the third or fourth stage of life. You have to get rid of the notion that the third and fourth stages of life are not meant for you. They are meant for each and every individual and one has to prepare for them. If you want to live a complete life, you have to prepare for it and this preparation happens through the practice of yoga.

Harmonizing the body and lifestyle

Perfection in ashtanga yoga, the eightfold path of yoga, which is known as raja yoga, gives one the ability to evolve up to the doors of moksha. The practice of raja yoga has to begin with the body. In the yoga sutras of Swami Niranjanananda, asana and pranayama constitute the first stages of yoga, not the yamas and niyamas. Asana and pranayama are the first two stages for harmony and well-being of the physical body. They have to be practised first because the body is the medium through which we perform all efforts and actions. If the body is sick, we cannot do anything.

However, asana and pranayama alone are not enough to provide optimum harmony to the body. There also has to be an understanding of the present lifestyle. If your day-to-day pattern is irregular, you will not derive full benefit from the practice of asana and pranayama. There must also be some form of discipline in the daily activity, with regular timings to get up, to eat and to sleep. These points are a must.

Have a fixed time to get up every morning. If it is 8 a.m. maintain that, if it is 6 a.m. maintain that, if it is 4 a.m. maintain that. Make specific times to eat, even if it is 1 p.m. and 8 p.m., and maintain them. Have a fixed time to sleep, even if it is 11 p.m. or 12 p.m., and maintain that. If you can bring only this much discipline into your daily routine, along with the practices of asana and pranayama, you will experience wellbeing and harmony in your physical body, and you will be able to manage your own time in a better way.

Harmonizing the mind

Pratyahara and dharana constitute the third and fourth stages in the practice of yoga, according to the yoga sutras of Swami Niranjan. It is not important to sit down and close your eyes to practise pratyahara and dharana. Remember that the aim of pratyahara and dharana is stilling the activities of the mind. The pebbles that we throw into the still waters of our mind are known as pratyayas. The ripples they create are known as vrittis. The pratyaya is the stone and the vrittis are the ripples. A pratyaya is an impression that goes deep into the mind, into the psyche and that impression creates a reaction which is the vritti. You cannot stop the vrittis from altering the natural state of mind, but you can make an effort to release some of the impressions that go into your mind.

Meditation is not the only way to practise pratyahara or dharana. It is also important to reduce one's involvement with the world of objects. Let me make it clear in a slightly different way. You sleep at night and when you wake up in the morning you are absolutely fresh and relaxed. Generally what do people do after waking up and drinking their cup of tea? They read the newspapers, turn on the TV or radio and listen to the news. What kind of news do you listen to or read about? Scandals, murders, accidents, thefts, criticism. You throw such negative pratyayas into that fresh, relaxed state of mind. These are the first impressions that your mind receives early in the morning. Stop that for at least two hours! Don't turn on the telly or read the newspaper for at least two hours until your mind naturally becomes active and extrovert.

This is a very important matter. Allow your fresh, relaxed mind to come to its natural state of vitality in the course of time. Don't plant the seeds of negativity early in the morning as the first input. You will find that your day becomes different. You are free to do, read or see anything after two hours but give yourself this time to wake up. This type of affirmation to yourself is the beginning of pratyahara and dharana. It is not sitting cross-legged in a meditative posture. Disciplining the mind and lifestyle is the beginning of pratyahara and dharana.

Yama and niyama – expressions of a balanced mind

Once you have attained the state of dharana and the mind is tranquil, harmonious and balanced, then the natural expressions of the self are the yamas and niyamas, which represent your attitude, behaviour, personality and nature. It is very difficult to practise the yamas and niyamas without a basis of asanas, pranayama, pratyahara and dharana. You will struggle with yourself, with your mind, with your nature. If you wish to struggle go ahead! It is like taking one step forward and two steps back. You think you are walking forward but actually you are walking backwards. Yamas and niyamas are spontaneous expressions of a balanced and harmonious mindframe, of a balanced personality. When this balance manifests in the form of yama and niyama you can easily move into the state of dhyana and experience samadhi.

Holistic yoga

So yoga is not just the practice of asana, pranayama pratyahara or dharana; it is not scientific discoveries; it is understanding and living one's life with unity and harmony. However, before we can express that unity and harmony externally we have to feel it inside. Before an artist can paint on a canvas he needs to have an image in his mind. Once the image is there, the painting is natural and spontaneous. Before an architect can design the blueprint of a house or a building, he must have a concept of what he wishes to construct. In the same way, before we think of enlightenment, harmony and unity, we need to develop a concept of what harmony, unity and enlightenment are. It is in this context that we are trying to bring the subject not only of physical yoga or mental yoga but holistic yoga, complete yoga to all of you. You have to think of yoga not as a practice which you do for half an hour or an hour every day, but as a process which is part of your life.

A living example of yoga

If you want to experience health, if you want to experience peace and to evolve, make yoga a part of your lifestyle. This is what Paramahamsa Satyananda is still teaching, not in a classroom environment, not as a yoga teacher but as a living example of the yogic lifestyle. After departing from the yogic mission which he had created, Paramahamsaji travelled and settled eventually in the village of Rikhia, in Deoghar. There he entered into the performance of intense sadhana, not for himself, but more for us to realize that there is another dimension to yoga, another dimension to the personal involvement with spiritual life. He has been in Rikhia since 1989, performing different vedic and tantric sadhanas.

Paramahamsaji has said clearly, “When I took sannyasa it was not to become a guru, to have an institution and disciples. My purpose was to realize my nature, but my guru had told me, 'You need to exhaust your karmas, you need to stop recycling the samskaras, you need to burn the seeds so that they die and don't have the potential to come up in the form of a tree!' In order to do that I did my work. People called me a guru, I established institutions, but that was not my aim in life. I'm a sannyasin and I am thankful to God that I have not forgotten that. It is my purpose in life to discover my nature.”

It is with this inspiration of sannyasa still alive in his heart, that Paramahamsaji is performing, guiding and inspiring thousands, even today, to experience the true yogic life. We are yoga teachers, we teach yoga, we hold conventions and conferences, we may call ourselves yogis but actually we are not. How can we say that we live yoga? Paramahamsaji is a true yogi, one who lives yoga. For me, and for many who have known him, he is a living example of yoga.

World Yoga Convention, Australia, October 1996