Awareness of Stress

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The different levels of mental perception and awareness have been classified as the conscious, subconscious, unconscious, and super conscious dimensions of the mind. There is no division or partition between the levels. The only way to know the difference between the conscious, the subconscious and the unconscious is by knowing the span of awareness in each dimension. In the unconscious, there is no span of awareness. The conscious faculty does not exist there. Even though you are alive and the mind exists, there is a total absence of asmita, ‘I-identity’. There is no awareness of anything the body is experiencing, which means the conscious faculty is absent even while the mind is active. When you are asleep, there is no feeling of your body. There is no feeling of a mosquito biting you or the bed-sheet falling off. That is the unconscious level of the mind.

The subconscious represents a basic presence of consciousness in a state of dormancy. For example, you switch the light on in a room, close the doors and windows. Then you go outside and notice the light coming through the cracks of the doors and windows. You guide and orient yourself using that thin shade of light. That is like the subconscious, where there is only a little awareness. You realize that something was at the back of your mind which you were not aware of. This something which surfaced from the back of your mind is the light of the subconscious.

The afflictions caused by the maya of avidya, asmita, raga, dwesha and abhinivesha germinate in the subconscious mind. It is the repository of all tensions and strife. If the conscious mind were to realize the actual suffering, the kleshas, that the subconscious is going through due to avidya, asmita, raga, dwesha and abhinivesha, then most people would not be able to survive. Therefore, the conscious faculty is such that it only makes you aware of those things, situations or areas that connect you to the present time. You have to wilfully bring memories from the past to the present. They are not readily there for you. You have to bring them out. The conscious awareness has blocked the flow of the impressions of the subconscious to allow survival and interaction in the world of sense objects.

The kleshas in the subconscious mind are known as sufferings; however, due to the conscious mind attaching itself with sense objects, the kleshas tend to take the form of external suffering, and you try to discover the causes of suffering outside of yourself. You say, “That man was not nice to me.” Your reaction is not due to the other person. Your reaction is caused by your ego, which is inside you, yet you are blaming the person outside. Whenever you blame somebody, know that you are blaming your own self and you are reacting to an emotion created within you. You are hating yourself in that moment. Instead of acknowledging that you are disliking yourself, you project your hate or dislike on the person in front of you. This is what will be found in the study of psychology.

The stresses alter the peaceful state of mind and give it a different colour. In the scriptures, envy and anger are identified as mental diseases. Just as modern psychology has identified depression, neurosis and psychosis as mental health conditions, ancient yoga psychology has identified not only these, but also envy, greed, jealousy, hatred and anger. They have been put in the same category of disease as they are negative expressions of the mind. If the body is reacting in a negative way, that is physical disease. If the mind reacts in a negative way, that is a mental disease. These afflictions which stay dormant in the subconscious mind continue to enforce and strengthen asmita, and become the cause of suffering.

Management of suffering

Lord Buddha asked the questions, “What is suffering? How can one end suffering?” His spiritual quest started with these questions. He was thinking of the kleshas, the source of suffering which afflict every individual. Understanding the kleshas is the beginning of yoga psychology, and the next step is their management.

The kleshas germinate in the subconscious mind. When they come to the surface of the subconscious, before entering the conscious level, they create a vritti, a modification in consciousness. These vrittis become the cause of mental awareness. A klesha is recognized by the mind with the creation of a vritti, of which there are five: pramana, vikalpa, nidra, viparyaya and smriti. The concept of right and wrong develops according to these latent impressions. The traits of personality develop according to the impressions which are inherent in the mind as samskaras. Limitations are placed on human creativity as the latent karmas manifest and become part of one’s destiny and decide what one can and cannot do in life.

Thus, kleshas are the cause of suffering, samskaras are the impressions, and karmas are the actions that decide what your life is going to be and how you are going to live it. Nevertheless, when you become aware of the influence of karmas, samskaras, kleshas and their role in modifying your life, you can change them. Yoga generates awareness of the suffering and its effect on human nature. The moment you try to manage this suffering, the kleshas and the samskaras are altered, and the karmas are changed.

Improving relationships and interactions

In the process of yoga, there is greater focus on understanding and improving sambandha, relationships and interactions. It is not necessary to meditate for hours. Instead, develop the awareness of how you can improve your connection and interaction with people, society, the environment, nature, and the Higher Self. The moment you start to improve your connection and relationship with people and with yourself, you will discover peace, shanti.

Meditation will not give you shanti. Meditation can only make you aware of the causes of ashanti, absence of peace. In order to discover shanti, you have to improve your interactions, relationships and your moment-to-moment awareness. This includes how you speak, as there needs to be awareness of that particular moment. There must be awareness when engaged in doing something and in making the effort to give your best. That moment is lived only once in your lifetime, therefore give it your best shot. With the improvement of interaction and communication there develops an understanding. This is the beginning of yoga psychology. Cultivation of understanding makes you the drashta, the witness, and you are able to observe your traits, limitations, attitudes and behaviours, and cultivate the appropriate qualities to manage the agitations of the mind in a better way.

Imagine a bare piece of land with a lot of sunshine, making it too hot to live there. What do you do? You plant trees, and when the trees grow they provide enough shade. It is not necessary to cover the entire plot with a ceiling and a roof to create shade. By planting trees, shade can be created even in the most bare of lands. Similarly, in life, if the seeds of good qualities such as hope, love and aspiration are sown, an effort is made to break away from selfish needs, and to explore the selfless interaction with the community and people, there will be more shanti, within and without. With the understanding of this process, management of the mind begins and the systems of yoga psychology come into force.

Published in Yoga: Philosophy to Realization (Yogadrishti Series, 2013)