Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The most important part of a tree is not the trunk, but the root. One has to nurture the root more than any other part, for once the root becomes weak, what kind of life will the tree have? You may prop it up but with one small storm it will fall, as it lacks the strength to stand upright. From the time of our birth till the time of our death, we care for our trunk, branches, leaves, flowers and fruit, but neglect our roots.

Our body represents the trunk. The branches represent the different organs, karmendriyas and jnanendriyas of the body. The leaves, flowers and fruit represent the mind and the different experiences of the total mind. However, the roots are somewhere hidden and we have never looked deep inside to find them. The roots are the spirit that is dormant within and unknown to us. As we have not looked after our spirit, we are weak physically, mentally, emotionally, psychically and spiritually.

When the body becomes sick, we try to care for it. The body is the medium for experiencing the higher realities of life, but we have neglected to care for the inner structure, the inner spirit. When the mind becomes infirm, we try to heal it with the different therapies that are available. This has been the greatest folly of humankind and it is the reason why we have been unable to find enjoyment, contentment, happiness, health and our place in life. It is the state of total well being that we have to aim for.

Well being of the human personality

The well being of the body, mind and emotions, the sense of ethics and morality, represents the concept of health, and not necessarily the absence of disease. According to tradition, once we become life members of this club of prakriti, we have to go through three experiences: janma, birth, vyadhi, disease, and mrityu, death. Janma, or birth, is our admission into the club of prakriti. Once we become members of this club, it is natural that we will experience vyadhi, or disease.

The definition of disease is ‘disturbed ease’. The natural harmony of the self becomes disturbed due to the attractions of the senses and the world, due to the diversion of the mind from the inner self to an imposed outer identity. This creates an imbalance in the structure of the mind, body, psyche and emotions. Later, that imbalance is reflected in our behaviour, performance, thought processes, and mental and emotional expressions.

When we are happy and content, everything seems to go smoothly, but when we are unhappy, when we struggle to attain something which is lacking in our lives, then we tend to lose our equilibrium and clarity of mind. These are the things that both modern and ancient therapies try to treat. However, it is not the symptom but the cause of the disturbance that has to be treated. Some therapies can do this and others cannot. We need to realize that there are ways to regulate our lifestyle. Regulation of lifestyle is the keyword here for the well being of the human personality.

Tree of life

Spirituality is awareness of the root of the tree of life. This has been clearly stated in the 15th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita which is Purushottam Yoga, the yoga of the supreme spirit. Here it says (15:1): Oordhvamoolamadhahshaakham which means that life is like an inverted tree, with the roots above and the branches below.

The roots represent the spirit. The trunk is the manifestation of the human nature, identity, personality and individuality. The branches, which are at the lower level, represent the many expressions of the gunas in human nature, in the form of knowledge, creativity, energy, feeling, attitude, positivity and negativity, which we express in our lives.

In the same chapter, it has also been said (15:3): Asangashastrena dridhena chhitva, which means that, ultimately, we have to cut the trunk of the tree, so that the physical and mental experiences are isolated from the spiritual experiences.

There are different astras, or divine weapons, such as the Brahmastra, Agneyastra, Vayavyaastra. Here, Lord Krishna has defined another form of astra to cut the trunk at the root. The instrument is the axe of anasakti, detachment. Those things we cannot leave are asakti, our attachments. When we hold the axe of detachment in our hands, we can cut this tree of life at the root. Then we are free from attachment to the physical and material life and can experience spiritual life. This is viveka and vairagya, discrimination and non-attachment.

Yogic view of spirituality

The combination of the four purusharthas, kama, artha, dharma and moksha, is spirituality. Spirituality does not require us to isolate ourselves from society, to close our eyes, concentrate, meditate and try to have different divine experiences. Yoga teaches us spirituality, not by running away from life, but by running into life with total awareness, total conviction, total faith, total belief in the completeness and the fullness that ‘I am’.

In order to change our view of spirituality, we will have to differentiate between spirituality and religion, between the practical experiences we can have of spirituality and of religion. Science is a global concept. Science remains the same whether it is taught in English, Hindi, Chinese or Japanese. Physics, chemistry and mathematics are the same whether in the East or the West. Religion, on the other hand, is a social concept. Every jati, or caste, has its own line of thought; every sampradaya, or sect, has its own line of thought; every culture has its own line of thought.

Therefore, religion is a social concept; it can change from society to society. However, spirituality is not a social concept; it is an individual concept. At the same time, it is a universal concept, because spirituality takes birth and unfolds from within, and it unites us with the universe by providing a sense of total fulfilment, and the experience of the effulgent personality. Yoga has always aimed for this.

Non-attachment – anasakta bhava

One more thing remains to be explained, which is asanga bhavana or detachment. There is a passage in the Yoga Sutras which states (2:7–8):

Sukhaanushayi raagaha, we are attracted towards the things that give us pleasure;

Dukhaanushayi dweshaha, we are repulsed by the things that give us suffering.

Attraction is known as raga, attachment, or asakti. Repulsion is known as dwesha or anasakti. These two are opposing concepts. Attachment means we are stuck to something, and detachment means that surgery is performed in order to remove that.

Anasakta bhava is not detachment, for it has the faculty of discrimination. Once we have the ability to discriminate, then non-attachment arises. Non-attachment means we have everything, but we are not attached to it. Detachment means that we make an effort to cut ourselves off. In anasakta bhava, we are not making an effort to cut ourselves off, because we have viveka, the faculty of discrimination.

So anasakta bhava is actually non-attachment rather than detachment. There are many examples in history of anasakta bhava and anasakta yogis who lived in the world and, at the same time, were non-attached. King Janaka ruled a large empire and yet was totally non-attached to it. He fulfilled his duties, role and obligations as a king, but at the same time, he was always in a state of internal harmony and peace.

Spiritual enlightenment

The expression of spiritual awakening manifests in the form of genius. It is experienced as a total change in viewpoint and ability to act in life. Interactions, behaviour and attitudes change as the vision becomes more universal. Spiritual enlightenment, the last stage of yoga, is the outcome of having attained physical health, mental well being, emotional harmony and psychic awakening. It is the result of these attainments, and that is how we can look into or look towards our roots.

Spiritual enlightenment is the totality of experience, fulfilment and knowledge, which can only be attained by developing all the aspects of our personality. In order to experience spirituality, we must live a complete life and attain total health in all as pects of our personality. In order to attain total health and develop ment of our personality, we must bring yoga into our lives.

10 October 1995, Doctors Conference, AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences), Delhi, published in Yoga Sadhana Panorama Volume Seven (Extracts)