Tools For Daily Discipline

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

There is no difference between spiritual and worldly life. The moment we try to create a division between our spiritual and daily life, so that in one area we meditate, concentrate and do yoga, whilst in the other we are slaves to the mind, attached to sensory enjoyment, happiness and satisfaction, we are in trouble. However, if we believe that our spiritual life is our daily life, and our daily life is our spiritual life, there will be no conflict. The whole process of spiritual life is to be open and friendly with all fellow beings, to help, guide, love and live in harmony with each other.

Six yogic capsules

Negativity is a weed which kills and suppresses the power of positivity. Hatred, jealousy and envy are weeds which suppress the benevolent qualities of the mind. If we are identifying with the weed and we are under the influence of our negative states of mind, then we lose track of the positive nature. Just as a lawn has to be maintained regularly, the mind also has to be maintained on a regular basis. It has to be taken care of with positive thoughts and positive sankalpas which become our strengths in life. We must protect the mind from influences which disturb its peace, balance and harmony. People who can do this are the real yogis.

There are six practices to be adopted on a daily basis. The first is the practice of mantra, which will give birth to inner strength, optimism and creativity. The Mahamrityunjaya, Gayatri and Durga mantras are the three sankalpas or seeds. The seeds are planted in the subconscious mind when the mind is still, dormant, not active in the waking state, not connected with the senses, with the world or the sense objects. Therefore, these three mantras should be practised as soon as one wakes up in the morning, when one is still in bed. With regular practice, we will discover that these three mantras play a major role in cultivating inner strength, optimism and positivity.

The second practice which should become part of our daily life is yoga nidra. Practising yoga nidra will help reduce the psychological, psycho-emotional tensions and stresses and keep the mind active, creative, stress-free and clear.

The third component is pranic stimulation. The pranas in the body should be activated and balanced. When the pranas are active and the energy system is properly regulated, then a lot of the psychological, psycho-emotional and psycho-physiological stresses can be avoided. The body and the mind will always be energized, without a dull moment in life, without lethargy or isolation, rather a self-contained state in which the optimum creativity of body and mind will be experienced, attained and expressed.

The fourth component is simple meditation. In yoga, pratyahara, withdrawing the senses, comes first. We work through the superficial levels of our feelings and thoughts, as in the practice of antar mouna, inner silence. To know the state of stability in the body we practise kaya sthairyam, stillness of the body. Awareness of the subtle movements comes with ajapa japa and chidakasha dharana. We start with ten minutes of trataka, then we blow out the candle, continue with ten minutes of pratyahara and antar mouna to observe the inner activity, and end the practice with ten minutes of ajapa japa.

Asana is the fifth component. We are free to do as much as we want, wherever we want, but there has to be a purpose to the practice of asana. If flexibility and body work is the purpose, then that should remain the focus. If stability and comfort is the purpose, then that should be predominant.

In the sixth component we adopt one yama and one niyama which we try to follow wherever we are. In the system of Patanjali, yama and niyama are mental practices, attitudinal practices to discipline and regulate our life, to bring about an attitudinal and mental change.

If we can apply this system of yoga on a regular basis, we will understand the process of yoga sadhana. The understanding of our mind, behaviour, attitude, nature and character will develop more and more. If we can follow this for one year or six months or even for three months on a regular basis, we will definitely discover a transformation in our life.

The sequence is important and therefore we do the mantra after waking up, asana and pranayama in the morning, yoga nidra during the day, whenever we feel stressed out and in need of relaxation or new energy, and meditation in the evening.

Three adjustments

Whether we practise meditation or not, whether we practise yoga or not, if we are aspiring to live a yogic life, we should try to maintain a serene nature in all situations. Cultivating serenity, without becoming nervous or over-anxious, leads to inner awareness and inner peace.

Regularity is the second quality. We have to be regular and constant in our effort and maintain continuity until we fulfil its objective. Regular, continuous, sustained effort must become part of our nature in order to bring about a culmination, whether it is a job or our spiritual journey.

The third quality is absence of vanity. Vanity is putting on a mask. Some people are continuously putting on different masks at different times. We all hide from ourselves in order to protect our own vanity. We may hide from others, but at least we should not hide from ourselves. When there is absence of vanity in life, we will know our true nature.

If we use serenity, regularity and absence of vanity as the three simple adjustments that we can make, our inner life will become rich and it will also balance and improve our outer life.

Four qualities

In the Yoga Sutras (1:33), Patanjali states that four qualities should become the basis of our association with other people. The four qualities are maitri or friendship, karuna or sympathy and compassion, mudita or happiness and joy, and upeksha or indifference. Friendship with those who are content should form the basis of our association. An individual should be friendly with those who have no demands but are fulfilled. Sensitivity, sympathy and compassion is the relationship with those who are in need or are suffering. If somebody is suffering, then sympathy and compassion become the foundation of the association. We should be happy for those who are virtuous, who identify with the virtues of life. Finally, Patanjali says to ignore, neglect, leave behind those people who are crooked. He uses the word 'ignore'. He does not say, adjust and accommodate. Do not associate with negative, destructive people, who not only shatter your peace but peace everywhere. They have their destiny and you can't do anything about it.

These four ideas become the foundation of the behaviour and associations of a yogi. However, when there is hate then you begin to think, why should I ignore that person, why can't I help that person? That is your discrimination, your wisdom and your choice. If you are going near the black hole, you will also be sucked into it. If you enter a coal mine, your clothes will get black as well. Therefore, Patanjali gave a very clear instruction for the basis of one's associations and dealings with people, even with companions, with husbands, wives and children, with anybody.

The four principles of Patanjali, maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksha, lead to detachment. Detachment is a better and a qualitative understanding of attachment.

An individual associates with other people in the course of this life for a limited period, a few years, ten, twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years. At the time of death, the association is finished. That association does not go on. Whoever was a husband or a wife today can become a son or daughter or the worst enemy in the next life, or a father or grandfather in another life. Associations in life are only temporary. They do not extend beyond life unless it is a spiritual association. A spiritual association is illuminated, it is a connection which has become alive. It is not emotional, not demanding. It is not an expectation, but the merger of two spirits and two minds.

Ganga Darshan, 15 & 17 January 2009

Living in the present

Through yoga we can acquire the ability to live in the present without being disturbed by the past or future. There are two important factors in life, one is memory and the other is worry and concern. Memories are always associated with the past. They are the factors which determine human evolution because they create the samskaras, the archetypes, conditionings, thought patterns, behaviour, attitudes and our nature. Our personality and our mentality are made up of different memories put together. Our responses and reactions are nothing but memories.

The second factor is the concern, the worry which comes out of a craving for life. Where there is craving for life, there is insecurity because craving is always associated and related with the future. If I want prosperity, the idea of prosperity with which I identify at present is futuristic. If I am a pauper today, I will become prosperous by looking ahead to the future, by identifying with that zeal or love for life, by identifying with the sense of insecurity as to what will happen tomorrow. Insecurity, worry, concern for life are the factors which make us plan for the future.

The pendulum

Our swing is between memory and concerns, the swing of the wild pendulum. The pendulum swings from one side to the other side and again back and forth; it does not remain fixed. Where is the present in this process? In the past, where the pendulum goes, there is a point where the movement stops and the pendulum begins its return journey. In the future there is a point where the movement stops and the pendulum begins its reverse journey. The past has a point where memory stops, the future has a point where planning and concern stop. The present has no point of stopping; it is just continuous movement. To be aware of the present means stopping the swing of the pendulum so that it is not affected by memory or by concern for the future.

The stage of stopping the swing is known as samadhi in raja yoga. When we are free from memories and plans, able to focus on our stability, and make the attempt to work with ourselves, that is the present. It is a very long process and we have to rediscipline our life, mind, and efforts. They have to be restructured once again and it is a difficult process.

Stopping the pendulum

What can be an easier method? Yoga can be used as a tool to develop creativity and awareness of the present moment while deriving understanding from our memories and using the understanding to overcome the present blockages of karmas and samskaras. Having a creative and optimistic frame of mind will ensure that the future is more complete.

A selection of maybe four or five asanas and a selection of two pranayamas will harmonize and realign the energies of the body. If you do yoga nidra for relaxation, you will not allow stress and tension to take subconscious and unconscious roots; rather you let a process of elimination happen. When you eat something, the food is digested and the waste product is expelled. The same rule applies to the mind, but unfortunately nothing has been expelled from the mind; the waste product is accumulated. That is the reason for mental constipation or diarrhoea, for depression, frustration, neurosis, psychosis. All the mental imbalances occur because the accumulated toxins have not been eliminated from the mind, just as the body eliminates its waste.

In order to release the constipated mind, to release the bilious and gastric mind and to make it light, healthy and quiet, a twenty-minute practice of yoga nidra and twenty minutes of meditation are important. In your meditation, practise breath and mantra awareness for ten minutes and for ten minutes analyze your strengths and weaknesses. What are the weak areas of your life that you want to strengthen this month, what are the positive areas of your life which you wish to cultivate?

Cultivate one quality per month and try to overcome one negative quality per month. It becomes possible to gradually transform your life, to develop better habits, to overcome those habits which are destructive and harmful by nature. Cultivate habits which are health and peace promoting. Rather than connecting with the problems and head trips, connect with your nature and fine-tune your nature. In this way you will feel that you are preparing and transforming yourself in the present, which will give better dividends in the future.

Ganga Darshan, 15 August 2006

For a pure beginner aspiring for spiritual life, what is the right attitude and the most important quality to develop?

The question is about a beginner in spiritual life. I do not believe that there is a beginning or an end to spiritual life, because the whole idea of spiritual life is based on a pure, simple principle. The most appropriate principle for ourselves has been mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita (2:48) as samatvam yoga uchyate, yoga is finding balance and equilibrium within oneself. This equilibrium is balance between what is attainable and what is not attainable, between what can be perfected and what cannot be perfected, between what gives happiness and what gives unhappiness. It is the balance between the two polarities of life and it is the first stepping stone into spiritual life.

Life is an expression of paradoxes from the time of birth to the time of death. Even till the time of death, one has to find the strength to experience balance. One has to find the strength to work in a harmonious way. Living in a harmonious way means living with awareness of the body, health and illness, with awareness of the mind and the pulls of the mind, and with the awareness of trying to find harmony and peace. It is the discovery of this harmony and peace which constitutes the first foundation stone of spiritual life. People have said yoga begins with asana or other techniques; others have said that spiritual life begins with discipline, but from the ideas and experiences of teachers and masters, real spiritual life is developed and experienced when one begins to take control over the fluctuating states of body and mind and brings about balance in their expression.

You have to make the effort and attempt to find this harmony, in thinking, behaviour, action, living and in the environment at home and at work. The different practices of yoga and sadhana help, but realization of spiritual life begins with balancing oneself. As a beginner or an advanced student, you always have to try to find this harmony in action, in non-action, in pain and pleasure, in happiness and discomfort, and this is the ultimate test of human spiritual effort.

Ganga Darshan, 28 April 2006