On Awareness

From On the Wings of the Swan, Volume VII, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

In the absence of awareness yoga does not fructify in life. You can practise hatha yoga for forty years and you can practise meditation for forty years, but that is not yoga.

There is a beautiful statement by Swami Sivananda. Somebody asked him, “Can I go to the caves and practise my meditation in isolation, in silence?” Swami Sivananda said, “It is not necessary, because once you go to the cave, you will be spending your time sleeping and fantasizing, building castles in the air during meditation.” This is a very appropriate and true response, because what would you do when you are alone with nothing to divert your mind, with nothing to extrovert your mind? You would be falling asleep in meditation, and when you sit to meditate, you would only be building castles in the air because there is nobody to guide you.

What has been your achievement until today? You cannot control your anger, you cannot control your moods, you cannot control your behaviour, you cannot control your expressions. Is that the outcome of meditation? You are negative, you are aggressive, you are violent, you are not at peace with yourself, and you are destructive to yourself. Therefore, meditation is not yoga, hatha yoga is not yoga, raja yoga is not yoga, karma yoga is not yoga, bhakti yoga is not yoga.

The cultivation of awareness is yoga, the cultivation of wisdom along with awareness is yoga, and the cultivation of the appropriate qualities of life along with sadhana, qualities which can help you grow and develop, is yoga. The different yogas, whether hatha, raja, kriya or kundalini yoga, are only an aid to the development of this yogic awareness, nothing more than that. They are not the final aim.

Live yoga

In this way, you are yoga teachers only. You can say that you are a yoga teacher, but not that you are a yogi, because you have not experienced yoga. You have practised yoga, you have taught the postures and techniques of yoga, but yoga is not embodied in you. It has to come to that point. Your real achievement in life is when you can imbibe yoga as awareness, as positive qualities flowering within you, as wisdom dawning and expressing itself through you.

What stops you from developing awareness in your life? Your habits and conditionings do, because they create barriers in the development of awareness. It is very difficult to overcome a habit or a conditioning because you never give your attention to it. You are always trying to take and take, without trying to change yourself internally.

Until you are able to clean the blackboard, to change your conditioning and habits, nothing can be written on it. Therefore, yoga initially has to become a method of cleaning the blackboard, not writing on top of what is already there. People want to write on the blackboard without wiping out anything because they are attached to what is there: sensuality, sensorial awareness, intellectual ideas, emotional expressions, beliefs – these are all conditionings. If they bind your mind, if they bind your personality, then how can there be an experience of freedom?

Undoing the knots

In order to experience freedom you have to release those bondages, you have to release those knots called ‘conditionings’ and ‘archetypes’, those samskaras. Therefore yoga has to become a way to improve the quality of the samskaras, not just a way to improve the quality of body, the quality of thinking, or the quality of meditation. It has to become a process through which you can improve the quality of the samskaras that you express in life. That is the practical yoga.

Meditation is not the answer, because you have not trained yourself to meditate. You think closing the eyes and visualizing something is meditation, or closing the eyes and concentrating on something is meditation, you think that meditation is internalization of mind, but no, it is not. Meditation is a state of mind. Just as passion or fear is a state of mind, meditation is a state of mind as well.

As generally practised, asanas are also irrelevant. Today you have an ache in your knee, tomorrow you have ache in your shoulder. After all, the body will follow its own dharma and if you practise today to remove the pain in your knee and tomorrow to remove the pain in your shoulder, then the entire focus of asana becomes physical, reduced to stretching to feel good. When I travel, I see those aerobic exercises on TV, with music and dance, passing for yoga. What is actually happening to the body at that time? You move the body, loosen it, and feel energetic for a while – that’s all right too, but beyond that, what?

In the Yoga Sutras, comfort and stillness is defined as asana (2:46):

Sthirasukhamasanam.

Steady and comfortable should be the posture.

That comfort and stillness is not only physical, but it is psychological and spiritual as well. It is multidimensional. Asana has to lead you to that multidimensional level of comfort, stability and stillness which includes the mind, the emotions, the human psyche and the expressions of the human psyche. In our tradition we do not consider asanas to be physical at all. There are many yoga teachers who read from a book, gather ten people and become a ‘Master’. I call those people the ‘uneducated’ yoga teachers, because an educated yoga teacher will teach hatha yoga in a totally different way: not for stretching the body, but as a process of experiencing the subtle dimensions of the personality. Awareness plays a very important role in this process.

The attainment of awareness, wisdom, inner harmony and the appropriate samskara is the actual practice of yoga. If you have a headache you can take a pill that will help you remove the headache. Some people have a reaction to aspirin, so they need to find another medicine. Each body responds differently to each chemical. In the same manner, even in yoga each person responds according to their nature and attains a different level. Therefore it is important to find the right combination of yoga for oneself. Yoga is not a universal practice; it is very much a personal sadhana. One can learn some general practices in a class, but as sadhana one has to have the right program, a proper program designed to overcome the limited conditioning and samskaras of the mind. These techniques, practised with awareness, give birth to insight and harmonious behaviour in life.

—23 March 2007, Ganga Darshan, Munger