Yoga – A System of Life

This is a very important evening for most of us as we are going to think about a system of life for ourselves, for society, the nation and the world at large. I have my own limitations and I don’t promise that I am going to tell you all about this great science in such a brief period. Yoga is not just one part of life; it covers almost the entire range of human personality.

When I think about yoga, I have a very clear concept in my mind and that is the manifestation of the potential latent in everyone. With this potential, one can overcome all the limitations of life. This emancipation of the greater part of human personality can be achieved by the practice of the science of yoga. We were taught a few decades ago that yoga was meant for people who have nothing to do with social life, but now the picture has entirely changed. We have come to understand that yoga can fulfil our needs and help us in the conflicts of life, and more importantly, in the evolution of awareness.

Man is shackled by limitations and there are certainly limitations of one’s personality which should be defined in one’s own mind. The mind which is free, the mind which has attained a homogenous dimension of consciousness is capable of accomplishing greatness in life. The nucleus of man’s personality is not only this prana, life energy, the nucleus of his personality is not only his thoughts and emotions but the nucleus of human personality is awareness.

This awareness should grow internally and externally so that the growth of this awareness brings to us its reward – intuition. In this particular context, yoga comes as a very valuable asset for mankind. All over the world people belonging to various religions have come to accept yoga and that is for just one reason: by the practice of yoga we develop our conscious- ness. Through the development of consciousness, we grow in understanding, we grow in knowledge and we grow spiritually. Therefore, when we talk of yoga we talk of meditation, and that is what I am going to talk about this evening.


When I say meditation, I am not going to deny the other aspects of yoga like bhakti yoga, karma yoga and hatha yoga. Of course, we need them but tonight I am going to devote my time exclusively to meditation or dhyana which our ancestors gave as a very valuable gift to humanity. Even as a scientist explodes an atom by the process of fission, we disintegrate the material particle of matter and ultimately what remains is energy – the inherent energy in matter is brought out. As with matter, so it is with the mind and the process is dhyana yoga. In one of the poems of Saint Kabir, he has clearly indicated what happens, Kabir says:

Is bangley mein ek achamba

Nari purush ka joda;

Kahat Kabir suno bhai sadho

Jin joda, tin toda.

In this house resides an astonishing

Female and male couple;

Says Kabir, listen my friend,

He who unites them breaks free of bonds.

This is exactly what happens. Mind is matter. Let me not speak too much about the mind because I don’t consider the mind as a thinking apparatus or as a bundle of habits. The mind is a homogenous entity. It is an ocean of awareness. Emotion is not the ultimate definition of mind; thinking is not the ultimate and total definition of mind; memory, feeling, reasoning and all these things with which you are acquainted are not the total definition of mind. Mind is awareness. We do not even know what the mind is. We presume that we are thinking and therefore we should know the mind.

Homogeneity of consciousness is the mind. In yoga philosophy we use the word chitta because it is a kind of awareness. Anyway, this mind is matter, it is composed of shakti, power, potentiality and within the fold of this mind there is a light. You have to withdraw the whole mind, the total external awareness, then what remains is shakti.

This shakti is always conceived on two planes. One is the shakti that you obtain from matter. You know better about this than I do. That is called aparashakti, shakti that has been derived and liberated from matter. This physical shakti is a result of liberation of the same energy from the fold of matter.

In the same way, when you liberate energy from chitta, it is called atmashakti. This is the ultimate essence of man. Man is miserable because he has not been able to achieve this atmashakti. So by following the entire process of dhyana yoga and concentration on a particular point, what you are achieving is a process of liberation. It is a process of fusion. When you sit down for meditation, you are withdrawing each and every thought or emotion that arises in the mind.

So here we have a very distinct definition of dhyana yoga. The raja yoga of Patanjali says, ‘Withdraw the mind; concentrate the mind; then withdraw the whole awareness to just one point’. In this particular process of meditation, we have a number of exercises. I am going to give just one for your benefit.

Ajapa japa

According to the tantra shastras, Lord Shiva tells Parvati that there are millions of methods by which one can concentrate and liberate shakti and one of them is known as ajapa japa. This is a very old, and the easiest, method of meditation. You make the breath the basis of your concentration. In one minute you breathe 15 times, in one hour 90 times and in 24 hours 21,600 times.

We breathe but we do not know that we are breathing. If you follow the process of breath for one moment, then that breathing becomes the basis of pratyahara. Concentration on the breath can be practised in the nostrils, in the throat and windpipe or in the spinal column. When you have achieved mastery in concentration on breath, then you should add one word to it known as mantra. It can be Aum, So Ham or anything. This is how you progress on the path of dhyana yoga.

Now comes the most important point. When you try to concentrate, the mind does not cooperate. The mind is composed of three gunas: sattwa, rajas and tamas. These are the constituents of the mind. We are more or less sattwic, rajasic or tamasic. Those who are rajasic, tamasic or sattwic by nature will have different problems with their mind. There are those who, when they concentrate, fall asleep and become lazy. Those who are rajasic by nature are not able to concentrate. The moment they try to concentrate, the mind gallops like a horse. Those who are sattwic by nature are able to concentrate on the object chosen by them for some time and then they get visions or psychic experiences. First of all, one has to find out to which particular nature one belongs.

If you are tamasic by nature and you try to concentrate, after a few minutes, you will start slumbering, and it so happened with me about 27 years ago. One evening at about 6.30 p.m., I sat down in padmasana and in the morning at 4.30 when I awoke I was still in padmasana. I was very happy. I thought I had attained samadhi. Swami Sivanandaji said that I had realized the total form of tamas. Naturally everyone has some tamas in him. In case of predominantly tamasic people, the practice of meditation should be preceded by the practice of bhakti yoga and hatha yoga.

Those who are predominantly rajasic by nature should not try to control the mind by force because they will fail. It will only create a split in their personality. It is a problem that will be faced by most of us. It is said in the Bhagavad Gita (6:14):

Yato yato nishcharati manashchanchalamasthiram,

Tatastato niyamyaitad aatmanyeva vasham nayet.

From whatever cause the restless, unsteady mind wanders away, from that let him restrain it and bring it under the control of the Self alone.

Whenever this unsteady and restless mind goes out, bring it back. This is not possible for us. We belong to a different age. Today if we are going to suppress our minds, we are going to get schizophrenia because we are creating a conflict within ourselves. We are creating mental chaos. That is the problem which many people have, but it can be overcome. Do not try to force or suppress the mind. Let it wander away if it wants to, but be aware that it is wandering away and bring it back to the practice again and again. In time it will grow weary of wandering and become more steady.

11 March 1976, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bombay, Maharashtra