The Development of Human Potential through Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, talk at Bihar School of Yoga, 1974, originally printed in YOGA, Vol. XIII, No. 3/4, March/April 1975

Yoga is a practice of unfoldment of the different layers of awareness which man has inherited from his ancient forefathers. They call it human potential. Awareness means unfoldment and absolute manifestation of this human potential. How does human awareness manifest and what are its different graduations? What is its form? Sometimes it is felt that the whole mind works like magic, but it doesn’t.

The awareness in every individual is all knowledge and all powerful. When you develop this awareness, it manifests within you in the form of energy and knowledge. Animals eat, sleep and move, but they are not aware of it. The act of witnessing oneself is completely absent in them. If they became aware that they were doing something, it would mean that they had developed this awareness.

Man is born with awareness. He knows that he knows. He knows that he is living, working, full of pain and happiness. The awareness develops gradually, step by step. Sometimes this awareness develops all of a sudden to such an extent that one just becomes aware of one’s own self. One becomes aware of all that has been taking place in the body and in the different spheres of one’s psyche. One becomes aware of oneself just like being aware of another person, and experiences two personalities. Of course, this is a supreme form of awareness.

The development of awareness

This awareness moves from the physical plane to the mental plane and then to the psychic plane and onward to the spiritual plane. There is a method, a process, by which the awareness within us can be freed from the shackles with which it is bound.

The awareness dwells in the body. It is integrated and mixed up with body awareness. We want to develop this awareness from the physical plane to the spiritual plane. You are aware of your body now. There is a faculty in you through which you become a witness of your physical being. You become a witness of the state of physical existence. This particular faculty through which you are aware of yourself must be completely separated, so the act or process of separation must take place. It is a process by which the spiritual awareness, the fundamental higher awareness or pure awareness is separated from the lower forms of awareness. The pure awareness or the awareness that ‘I am aware’ is developed gradually, in stages, through a particular process.

What happens in the development of this awareness? The dormant potentialities express themselves. You do not have to run after them, as many have been doing. Even if you are not aware of the fact that these great powers or abilities are part of your being, you will develop them. The path or method should be correct. We develop a theme or work out a program point by point, stage by stage.

Some people, having read literature on yoga, get into a process of disentangling the mind from awareness, and there they get into trouble. They have not separated the body idea. They have not separated the experiences of the senses. They just want to separate the mind idea from the faculty of awareness. In separating mental awareness from pure awareness they become almost abnormal. People think that by separating mental awareness from pure awareness, they will develop certain psychic powers such as telepathy, clairvoyance and so on.

The path or method must be the correct one, otherwise it will lead to great harm. A lot of preparation must be made. We must remember one thing: the awareness is within us; it is complete in itself. All we have to do is to give it an opportunity to manifest. If there are obstacles or hindrances, we have to remove them.

The awareness that is in us in all its fullness has to manifest through our life, our body, our actions, in such a manner that we are able to behold it. The supreme awareness is the secret of the great potential within us.

According to kundalini yoga, the vehicle of supreme awareness is a central nerve in the body, which has connections with different psychic centres, beginning at the base of the spinal cord and ascending to the centre of the brain. This nerve is known as sushumna. It is the channel which carries this supreme awareness. However, the awakening of sushumna and certain physical centres and glands responsible for the manifestation of supramental faculties is a difficult matter. It needs careful guidance, discipline and a regulated lifestyle.

Another method is to become aware of certain factors by a continual process of self-observation. In this process there is also a corresponding process of separation. The material aspect of the personality is slowly detached in our consciousness. There comes a time when we become absolutely aware and we remain aware, not of the physical body, nor of the impressions of the mind, but of the supreme or pure awareness. It takes time and it is not an easy method. During the stages of manifestation of awareness, the faculties inherent in everyone express themselves as mental, intellectual, psychic and also spiritual experiences, and these must be separated one by one.

Yoga versus hypnotism

Some people think of yoga as a peculiar method where one either becomes capable of drinking nitric acid or walking over fire and water. Some have felt that yoga is a method by which the faculties undergo a stage of depression. Yoga has also been compared with hypnotism. The differences should be clearly understood. In hypnotism there is a process of diminishing of consciousness, in yoga there is an expansion of consciousness.

When you practise yoga correctly, you become unaware of the outer events and experiences, but proportionately the inner awareness becomes more expanded and more glorious. Sometimes it is felt that the awareness in the higher stages of meditation does not differ from the awareness you have now. Here the awareness has objects, sounds, etc. for its experience, but in meditation the objects are absent, only the awareness is present. Here I am aware of all the external things, but there I am aware of my own self.

When the awareness of the body, mind and senses becomes fully developed, it starts acting or operating in a different sphere. The body and mind become the vehicle. It does not remain the actor, the ego feeling of ‘I’ is completely annihilated. So in the practice of yoga there is no possibility of hypnotizing oneself. When we undergo a process of hypnotism there is the extinction of individual awareness. The faculties are deprived of expansion, of enlargement.

So what exactly do we do? First of all, we choose an object for ourselves. It may be subjective or objective. It can be a sound, a form or an idea, it can be anything. During meditation we keep moving with it. We follow the object, image or theme, until we leave the body idea. The mind idea remains and this too must be transcended. We keep transcending different spheres of our consciousness, one by one. Ultimately, we come to a phase of consciousness which is devoid of all other bases, all other substrata. There is no basis for this awareness. This is what we mean by yoga, the communion of the individual self with the cosmic Self. But at the same time there is complete detachment. It is a complete departure from the outside world to an inner world.

Application of awareness in daily life

However, it is not sufficient to develop this inner awareness through meditation. It is necessary to apply it in day to day life. It is like making a bomb and keeping it in your room; you don’t make use of it. Through meditation, you heighten and purify your awareness, but when it comes to applying it in day to day living, you don’t do it. Therefore, daily life and spiritual life become two different and contradictory realities.

If you want your developed awareness to help you in your spiritual life as well as your material life, you must learn the method of taking a little energy from that fundamental source of awareness and putting it in touch with your daily activities or you will never realize your full potential. In yoga and other sciences pertaining to yoga, there are methods by which the supreme awareness can be applied in daily life.

The visions, the psychic experiences seen during meditation are not everything. They are just indications of a growing concentration. They prove that your consciousness is transcending different dimensions and stages of your being. You will find many spiritual aspirants, whether renunciates or householders, who have gone deep within during meditation. Some of them lose complete awareness of the outer body, yet they have not been able to accomplish anything. They have not been able to understand anything in life. If you tell them something, they forget; they lack the power of memory, the faculty of understanding. They have completely dimmed the power of constant awareness.

If they are meditating correctly, why does this happen? It is because their day to day life, the life of the senses, of the world, and their spiritual life become two different lives. What should do they do to correct this? Side by side with the practices of meditation there should be the practices of hatha yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, and especially karma yoga. It is wrong to say that one has to practise karma yoga first and when one becomes an expert in it, then one takes to bhakti yoga or raja yoga. No, it is not like that. All these aspects of yoga should be practised together. It must also be understood how to practise them in the right time and in the right amount. The right duration, depth, intensity and emphasis have to be placed on each one.

If you are an emotional person and you do not know how to use your surplus emotions, you will take more to bhakti yoga. If you are predominantly psychic, greater emphasis will be on meditation. If you are rational by temperament, you will have to lay emphasis on jnana yoga. In this way karma yoga also becomes very important for all spiritual aspirants. It is not only because karma is necessary in order to earn one’s livelihood, but karma is necessary to express the formless awareness, that pure awareness in actual work.

It sometimes happens that people develop a greater spiritual personality, so much so that they see divinity everywhere. They see oneness everywhere. It is a stage in spiritual life when they become aware of the oneness of everything. You may call it hallucination or a subjective idea, but it is pure consciousness. One does not find any difference between oneself and others. At that moment, the distinction between one person and another fades away. One does not see the distinction between religions, races, colour, sex, groups and so on. This is a great achievement and the greatest power that we can bring to this earth.

Coming of the psychic race

Man is now operating on a different plane. A few centuries ago he was operating on a physical plane or sensual plane. He then began to operate on the intellectual plane. Wherever people are practising yoga, they have begun to think in the way yogis of ancient times use to think. This will bring a civilization where perhaps millions of people will develop psychic faculties. I do not mean clairvoyance and clairaudience; I mean a state of consciousness from which we can act in this world.

Lord Buddha, Christ, Mohammed and many other saints, worked in this world. The great emperor Marcus Aurelius and King Janaka of India also worked in the world. They did not work from the physical plane, nor from the intellectual plane. They operated through the psychic or spiritual consciousness. This is how they could understand things much better than we can today.

Scientists, for instance, sometimes have flashes of inspiration or intuition. Where does it come from? It comes from within. At the time of these flashes of inspiration, their personality, individuality are working on a different plane. This is going to happen to the major part of humanity in times to come and the period has already started.

So, when we are discussing yoga and human potential, I must tell you that it is necessary for all of us to start operating on a different level, higher than the intellect. Let us transcend the intellect. Intellect was a helper, but now it is a barrier. It must be transcended. Intellect has its own glories, but a time comes when the intellect becomes confused. It cannot understand everything because its basis for understanding is logic. It needs certain authorities. Before we transcend the intellect, let us take a step into the psychic plane, because once we are devoid of intellectual understanding and psychic faculties we may be individuals of nowhere.

When you practise yoga, you should also study the scriptures and, most importantly, everyone should practise karma yoga, so that your spiritual powers and accomplishments may find a source or a channel of expression. This is why many great saints, sannyasins and seers who had achieved realization of that pure awareness came into society. They gave something to society through their spiritual understanding.

I feel that the time has come when the world will change. The emphasis on material things will diminish, and more emphasis will be placed on a higher spiritual life. This can be realized through yoga. When awareness grows, so man’s thoughts, concepts and values also change. If humanity as a whole is going to change, whether due to time, as it has been destined, or through certain practices, we are heading into the era of the psychic, the supramental race.

Before this is accomplished, man will have to fight a grim battle with himself. The psychic race will not be established so easily. One has to be careful because the first explosion or awakening of the psychic consciousness is complete anarchy, a complete non-acceptance of material values, complete detachment from the established values of life, authorities, etc. This happens when practising spiritual life, when the development of awareness takes place, we come to a point when we think, ‘What is all this nonsense?’ But, of course, the time also comes when balance returns. This balance must be brought about through evolution or through the practice of yoga.

Even if we do not practise yoga, the process of unfoldment of awareness is going to take place, and it is taking place. From the beginning of time to this day, awareness has evolved through the laws of nature. Nature’s scheme is that everyone will rise above instinct. Consciousness will rise above instinct, then above the body, senses, mind and intellect. Ultimately, it will operate on a higher level. This higher level is the spiritual level, the level of yoga.