Teachings on Yoga from Ramacharitamanas 3: Conditions for Transformation

Swami Satyadharma Saraswati

In Uttarkanda there is a discussion between Kaka Bhusundi, the sage crow, and Garuda, the king of birds, on the distinction between jnana yoga and bhakti yoga. Although both yogas lead to the same goal, the distinction lies in the path. The knot of spirit and matter is tied in our hearts the moment we become embodied. This knot is the source of our bondage and the subject of both jnana and bhakti yogas, as well as all spiritual philosophies and disciplines. In the previous issue, the first two prerequisites were described and here we continue to enumerate the yogic conditions which are required to untie the knot.

The first condition is that the white cow of sattwa should come to live in the pure heart. The cow grazes on the abundant green grass of japa, tapa and vrata in the field of the heart, which means that we develop yogic practices and disciplines. This is the second condition. In this way the cow of sattwa will become robust and strong and give birth to the calf of faith, and this is the third condition. What is the birth of faith? Faith is not born by simply reading a book or listening to a lecture. Faith cannot be acquired from outside. Faith arises from within because of something that we know! We know it because we feel it, we experience it and we perceive it directly for ourselves, not because we are told.

When the cow of sattwa, residing in the heart, gives birth to the calf of faith, she produces copious milk, which represents the constantly flowing stream of dharma. Faith must be nourished by the milk of dharma, which is the fourth condition. This milk of dharma is the beginning of the transformation process from worldly life to spiritual life. Dharma here means harmony with the higher self and refers to the underlying harmony in our habits, expressions and way of thinking. So here begins the first stage of yoga where the conditions necessary to develop the foundations for higher yoga and meditation are described.

The cow must then be milked, and this gives rise to the fifth and sixth conditions. Before milking the cow, her two hind legs have to be tied; otherwise she may kick the bucket over. Her two hind legs are tied with the ropes of acceptance and tranquillity. These are the qualities we have to develop in order to milk the essence of dharma. We need acceptance because it makes our mind tranquil and quiet. Without the quality of acceptance, we react to every situation and lose the tranquil and balanced state of sattwa. When our expectations are not met, we become angry, arrogant and demanding. So acceptance and tranquillity are the two qualities with which the cow's hind legs are tied before milking.

The milk of dharma can then be collected in the pot of conviction, which is the seventh condition. The milkman, who milks the cow, is the pure mind, the eighth condition. So, the pure mind draws the essence of dharma into the pot of conviction. This pure mind is further described as always compliant, positive and unaffected by negative propensities, and ready to observe the path or principles of dharma.

These are the first eight conditions which need to be in place before the knot of spirit and matter can be untied. The following conditions are related with the transformation of the milk into curd.

Having milked the essence of dharma from the cow of sattwa, next this supreme milk has to be boiled on the fire of desirelessness, which is the ninth condition. Some texts describe desire as a blazing fire, but here the fire is desirelessness. Why? Because we become fired up by the objects of desire and all of our energy is burnt away. Therefore, if we wish to conserve our energy in order to start an internal or yogic fire, then we have to control the desires and become desireless. And this is how the milk of dharma must be boiled, on the fire of desirelessness. Once the milk is boiled, it has to be cooled by the wind of patience, which is the tenth condition. Patience is an important quality. Without patience we cannot progress in spiritual life. We have to wait for the milk to cool. When the milk is cooled by the wind of patience, then it has to be mixed with a little bit of curd so that it curdles. The milk can't be too hot or too cold. It has to be just the right temperature when we mix in the curd of self-control, which is the eleventh condition.

Self-control congeals the milk of dharma and transforms it into a solid substance. With just a small quantity of self-control, we change the consistency and the quality of our life. Self-control is the essence of yoga, and we have to learn to apply it at just the right time, when the aspiration is neither too hot nor too cold. When the milk congeals into curd, the curd then has to be churned into butter. In this way the milk is transformed into curd and again into butter. Similarly, this transformation has to take place within the mind before we can see the knot and untie it. This process represents the second transformation of our base nature into a higher nature.

Now, in order to transform the curd into butter, first of all, we need a special kind of pot for churning butter. This churning pot represents the eleventh condition, which is cheerfulness. We need cheerfulness because it is a very difficult job to churn and distil the lower nature into something higher. We need to be positive and cheerful to keep up our energy so that the task can be completed. If we feel negative and depressed, the butter will never get churned because we will give up halfway through.

Next, we need a churning stick to churn the butter inside the pot. The churning stick is the twelfth condition of reflection. The curd represents the mind in which the senses are withdrawn and controlled, and as we churn it many impressions come up from the deeper levels. The stick of reflection enables us to see and understand this process that is taking place inside the mind, as it is being transformed into a more concentrated stuff. The churning stick is fixed to the base of restraint, which is the thirteenth condition. Restraint is important for the completion of this process, because it ensures continuity. Without restraint, we may be carried away by any impressions, desires or distractions and never complete the job.

The churning stick of reflection is rotated by the two cords of truthful and agreeable speech, which are the fourteenth and fifteenth conditions. Truthful and agreeable speech is necessary because what we speak makes an indelible impression on the mind. The lies we speak will all come up during the churning process and we won't want to face them. We will try to turn away from them by externalizing the mind. Agreeable speech is also important, because whenever we say something mean or offensive, even if it is true, it comes up and disturbs us. So, truthful and agreeable speech are the two cords, which rotate the stick of reflection and allow the curd of the mind to be churned into the butter of vairagya.

These are the fifteen conditions by which the lower mind is transformed into a higher stuff. Just as milk is transformed into curd and butter, the lower mind is transformed into higher qualities. Vairagya is the first pure evolute of buddhi, the higher faculty of awareness, which represents the sattwic state of mind and consciousness. But vairagya in itself is not enough to enter the spiritual dimension; there must be two evolutes of buddhi. The second evolute is viveka, which is the outcome of another stage of meditation and transformation. This will be discussed in the next article.