Growing with the ‘Ities’

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, satsang in Brittany, France, July 2006

There are two kinds of yoga. One is the classical yoga in which we practise and advance in asana, pranayama, yama, niyama, pratyahara, dharana, and so on. The other is the yoga of Swami Sivananda, which is expressive yoga, and its main theme is service. As long as we follow the aims of classical yoga, yoga remains a process to be perfected. But if we follow the yoga of Sivananda, yoga becomes a lifestyle. When our life begins to express yoga, yoga no longer remains a one-hour practice to be done once a day. It becomes an attitude and awareness with which we live 24 hours of the day. At this stage, yoga enables us to express greater creativity and participation in the world.

The final outcome of yoga is not isolating ourselves from the world, but involving ourselves more deeply in the affairs of the world, knowing our place in it, our duties, and how we can make a difference in other people’s lives. This is what Swami Sivananda called the ‘divine life’. As we follow the yoga of Swami Sivananda, the gross nature is transformed. As we become more sattwic, more mature in wisdom and develop greater understanding, there is deeper identification with our environment and the world. It should be clear that yoga is not a path of isolation. We cannot escape to the mountains to experience higher consciousness; we have to escape into the world to realize higher consciousness. It is a question of training ourselves.

Training ourselves means managing our responses and reactions, attitudes, convictions, creativity and performance. Such transformation of a conditioned nature into a flowering nature is the ‘divine life’ described by Swami Sivananda.

Swami Sivananda also said that we may continue with our yogic practices of asana, pranayama and mantra; however, we should also be able to express yoga in our normal environment when we are not performing the practices. For this to happen, the yogic concepts have to be ingrained in our life. After all, a computer will function only according to its programming and software. So, we have to replace the software inside and upgrade the programming of our mind. But where do we find such software? Where do we find a program that allows us to change our computer’s performance? That possibility is seen in the 18 ‘ities’ of Swami Sivananda. Let us see what they are.

1. Serenity

The first ‘ity’ is serenity, which is the first change in the software. It has been said that serenity arises when we let go of our mental and emotional reactions. But let us look at it from a different perspective as well. It is known that when we are serene, we are at peace with ourselves. So the question arises, why do we become disturbed? Why can’t we maintain peace within ourselves all the time?

Some may say it is the association with and attraction to sense objects that disturbs our serenity, others may say it is desire, and all will have valid reasons for their statements. Serenity is like the body. Some may say that the body is made up of hands, others may say the body has legs, and so on. But they are only referring to parts of the body. The whole body is made up of all these parts put together. In the same manner, serenity is the experience of an integrated personality. However, most of us do not have an integrated personality and therefore we are not serene.

We identify with a false idea of ourselves. It is akin to pointing at our image in a mirror and saying, “That’s me.” How can that person be us? We are not saying, “That is my reflection.” We are identifying with that image. We don’t see ourselves, we don’t see the real us. We think the appearance is real. We beautify the appearance, and when it looks good, we feel good. We have never worked with the real us; we have always worked with the imaginary us.

There are two areas of experience. One is appearance, the other is reality. We are always identifying and concerned with appearance, not reality. When there is obsession with appearance, or narcissism, there is loss of serenity. That obsession can take the form of desire, expectation, strength or weakness, depending on our responses to situations.

The appearance and the reality are both satya. But there is a difference. One satya is real and the other is the apparent real. Unfortunately, we are never able to connect with the real satya. The Yoga Sutras state that we are attracted to pleasure because it gives happiness and we reject pain because it gives suffering. Attraction is association, and rejection is disassociation. In Sanskrit, these are known as raga and dwesha. As long as there is raga and dwesha, attraction and repulsion, we will be caught up in the apparent reality. The moment we are able to detach ourselves, we will discover the true reality. Serenity is finding the true reality and not being caught up in the apparent reality and its reactions. Therefore, in order to live serenity, one has to be free from the mental and emotional responses and reactions.

Before Swami Satyananda was initiated into sannyasa, he asked Swami Sivananda if his duties and obligations would change after taking sannyasa. Swami Sivananda replied that he would do exactly what he had been doing; the only change would be in his attitude towards performance.

When we work for ourselves, there is expectation, desire, need; we are affected by success and failure. But when we dedicate all our actions to the guru or a higher cause, success and failure do not affect us at all. The anxiety that goes with working for oneself is not there. We are free from the influence of actions. When this happens, we become free from the emotional and mental responses and reactions associated with selfish attitudes. That is serenity.

As we disassociate ourselves more and more from results and expectations, we identify more with our creative nature, with peace within, and we attain serenity. We realize the real, and are not caught up in the web of appearances.

2. Regularity

Regularity is the second ‘ity’, and an important point for a spiritual practitioner. It is stated in the Yoga Sutras that only through regular and constant practice, by having faith in our practice, can we build a solid foundation for growth.

Regularity indicates a positive and stable mind. When the mind is unstable, we are irregular. When the mind is left alone to behave like a monkey, irregularity sets in. But when the mind is encouraged to become stable and fixed, regularity comes about.

3. Absence of vanity

We are always trying to create an impression. We are never our true natural selves. We express vanity in the simplest as well as most complicated ways.

There is a story about the Sufi saint, Mulla Nasruddin. Once he participated in an archery contest. He was given three arrows to hit the bull’s eye. Mulla picked up one arrow, tweaked it, stood upright, and with an overconfident attitude shot it. The arrow went way beyond the target. Mulla now picked up the second arrow. This time, he took aim very carefully. The arrow fell down half way from the target. Mulla picked up the third arrow, looked neither left nor right, did not bother about his posture, but simply shot it. The arrow went straight and hits the bull’s eye. As Mulla was walking away with his prize, one of his disciples asked him the reason for his peculiar actions. Mulla replied, “When I was shooting the first arrow, I was overconfident and careless; when one is overconfident, it is easy to go astray.” The disciple asked, “What about the second time?” Mulla replied, “That was an underconfident person. When there is failure, you lose confidence and fear sets in; you cannot give 100% in that condition. You cannot attain whatever you hope or work for because you are holding back.” The disciple asked, “And the third time?” Mulla replied, “That was the natural me.”

Can you be the natural you? If you can be the natural you, you have overcome your vanities. But the moment you try to project yourself either as a confident or under-confident person, you subject yourself to vanities. Humility is the antidote to vanity. If you can become humble in all situations, then you will overcome vanity.

4. Sincerity

Sincerity is another important sadhana and attitude to be cultivated. Ask yourself, “Am I sincere with myself?” This is not a superficial question. Sincerity is purity and innocence of heart. When the heart is pure and you are innocent, then sincerity expresses itself naturally, because sincerity is an expression of the unconditioned state of existence.

5. Simplicity

Simplicity is getting rid of the unnecessary and complicated pretences in life, and learning to become uncomplicated.

6. Veracity

Veracity is adherence to truth. What truth is has to be discovered by every individual for themselves. I believe that in normal life, truth is diplomacy. Not crooked or political diplomacy, but a diplomacy that arises out of knowing how our words can influence another person’s mind.

Once there was a king who asked an astrologer what the future held for him. The astrologer looked at the king’s birth chart and said, “Your family, your clan and your kingdom will be destroyed. You will die a lonely man.” The king became angry and put the astrologer in jail. He called another astrologer, who read the chart and said, “My king, you have a long life. You will outlive your friends, family and sons; you will outlive your kingdom too.” The king showered him with gifts.

Both said the same thing. One said it bluntly, the other diplomatically. There is a saying in Sanskrit, Satyam bruyat priyam bruyat – speak the truth which is pleasant, and do not speak the unpleasant truth, because although it is the truth, it is unpleasant and will create himsa, aggression, violence and shock in the mind of the other person. So, veracity is diplomatic communication.

7. Equanimity

Equanimity is being even-tempered, even in extreme situations. It is being balanced in heat and cold, in happiness and suffering. One who goes through the path with clarity, who is not influenced by the opposites and is unruffled in all situations, is an equanimous person.

8. Fixity

Fixity is being stable and constant, one-pointed. A one-pointed nature is an attitude of mind. It is an attitude of total identification and merger with the object of contemplation.

There is a story in the Mahabharata of the Kaurava and Pandava princes learning archery. To test their learning, their guru Dronacharya put them through a test. He fixed a clay bird on top of a tree and said to his students, “You have to hit the eye of that bird.” He called the students one by one and asked them to take aim and describe what they saw. Each one said, “I can see the tree, I can see the leaves, I can see the bird, I can see the clouds . . .” To each of them, Dronacharya said, “Put down your bow and arrow.” He then called Arjuna. When asked to describe what he saw, Arjuna said, “I see the eye of the bird.” That is fixity, one-pointedness. The teacher has given you a goal, a target, and you have to identify with that target.

Yoga gives you an aim and you have to identify with it. If instead you see everything around the aim, then your awareness can easily be dissipated and diverted. But when you only see the eye, the aim, and focus on that, then the world disappears and only you and the aim remain.

That is the idea of meditation too. In the beginning, three things are involved in meditation. One is you, the practitioner; the other is the process of meditation, and the third is the experience or aim of meditation. All three move together in synchronicity. When one focuses on all three, the process is called pratyahara. Then one thing drops. You become so involved in the practice that you lose physical awareness. The practice becomes the vehicle which takes you to the aim; you are aware of the practice and the aim. That is dharana. When you reach the aim and identify totally with it, that is dhyana, meditation. Fixity here means a focused state of mind.

9. Non-irritability

Non-irritability means not to be annoyed or irritated, but to cultivate patience and tolerance – not just with others, but with ourselves too.

10. Adaptability

If you are sitting in a boat being rocked by big waves, you have to move your body to the movement of the boat. If you sit rigidly, you may tumble over. This is how adaptability, adjustment, has to take place in every situation. There has to be perfect balance in this process.

11. Humility

The key to humility is consideration. When we are able to develop the faculty of consideration, then a natural attitude of respect develops within us, which takes us to humility.

12. Tenacity

Tenacity is holding firmly to one’s belief, which means having a clear mind. Normally, we don’t hold on to our beliefs, we hold on to a conditioning. The conditioning can be a conviction, but nevertheless it is a conditioning. That is what has to change, so that through a state of expanded awareness, we can discriminate between the appropriate and the inappropriate, and maintain the appropriate belief.

13. Integrity

Integrity is striving to bring together the fractured personality.

14. Nobility

Nobility represents a high, good and refined character.

15. Magnanimity

Magnanimity is generosity and the ability to forgive.

16. Charity

Charity means helping others to overcome their needs.

17. Generosity

Generosity is sharing, making others happy.

18. Purity

Purity is an expression of the true self. It is expressed through appropriate thought, action and behaviour.

These are the 18 ‘ities’ of Swami Sivananda which represent a new programming for our mental software. So, along with asana and pranayama, the ‘ities’ should also be cultivated.

Work with one ‘ity’ per month. Make it a sankalpa, a resolution. Every morning say to yourself, “This month I am working on serenity,” and remember the concept of serenity as you go through the day’s routine. At the end of the day, make a note in your spiritual diary: “For how long was I serene today?” and “When did I lose my serenity?” Don’t worry about perfecting the ‘ity’. Even if you are able to take one step in the first month, that’s fine. After 18 months, you can repeat that ‘ity’ again. It is not a practice that you do only once and then put aside. You rotate it continuously, and in each new cycle, there will be a new revelation, a new understanding, a new realization of who you are and how you can manage yourself.

The ‘ities’ are the attempt to fill our life with positive and beautiful qualities. Working with the ‘ities’ involves cultivating positive habits. Do not become neurotic about how to change a negative habit; just make the effort to cultivate positive habits. When you build up the positive dimension of your nature, you become pure within, which enables you to enter the transcendental experience of life, the divine life. This is the practical teaching that Swami Sivananda has given to us.