Samatvamyoga ucha ate. (Equal–mindedness is called Yoga.)—Bhagavad-Gita.
Tadviddhi pranipatena pariprashnena sivaya upadekshyanti te jnanam janinastattvad arshinah.
(Seek to know it (yoga) by humility, by question, and by service. The truth-seeing wise will (then) communicate this knowledge to thee.) — Ibid. iv. 38.
So shalt thou be in full accord with all that lives and breathes; bear love to men as though they were thy brother pupils, disciples of one Teacher, and sons of one sweet Mother. — The Voice of the Silence.
I wish to tell you as simply as may be of the most important science in the world—the science of the soul—called Yoga in Sanskrit. Perhaps some of you may not know that the present restricted meaning of the word “science” has only been in fashion for a very brief season in the time-periods of the ages, and that “science” with the ancient forefathers of our Aryan race meant something more than only a careful and intelligent use of our five senses, aided by mechanical instruments.
In the West today the assertion that knowledge is obtainable otherwise than by the five senses is regarded as ignorant impertinence by the popular high priests of science and their trustful votaries; but ready as we all perforce must be to give due honor to the admirable patience and painstaking scrutiny which has rescued the West from the clutches of an ecclesiastical nightmare, we have yet to learn that the newly-established papacy of modern science is the guardian of our souls and dictator of our spiritual existence. In opposition to the ever-growing negation that is obscuring the ideals and paralyzing the intuitions of the men, women, and children of today, the present Theosophical movement, by its very title, asserts in no uncertain tones that real knowledge is to be obtained; that on the one hand man is something more than a five-sense animal, and on the other that he is under no necessity of waiting until death closes the doors for the assurance of spiritual things.
The immemorial science of the soul asserts that man is an immortal, divine, and spiritual being, whose fleshly tabernacle is but a temporary inn or prison-house; that his physical senses, so far from being his only means of knowledge, are almost invariably the self-imposed bonds that chain him in his narrow dungeon, where, indeed, he would most miserably perish did not sleep, death’s younger brother, mercifully release him by night and bear him for a space back to his home of freedom. But he who has begun to long for release from this thraldom, at the same time begins to see the illusive nature of the prison and chains of the body; how they deprive us of our sanity and make us think the prison a palace and the bonds wreaths of sweet-scented flowers. Lunatics in the asylum of the senses that we are, few of us ever contemplate the fact that the magic wand of sleep turns a third of our lives into an impenetrable blank, and that death, the great conductor of souls, may at any instant touch our shoulder.
In most cases, if a man thinks at all, he regards sleep with wonder and death with awe. Sleep and death guard two portals. Through one, man daily passes and repasses in a swoon; through the other, he passes to return no more. So at any rate it seems to us. True, it seems to be so; but the soul-science does not deal with seemings, it leaves appearances to the dominion of the five senses and the brain mind, and consecrates its study to realities and direct knowledge. The Yoga denies that sleep is a blank and death the end of existence; it asserts the possibility of knowledge of the mysteries of sleep in waking and of the mysteries of death in life; and tells us that the doors of sleep and death may be passed and repassed in full consciousness. This Yoga, or the science of the soul, is as precise and exact in its procedure as the most rigid of our scientific methods; but whereas physical science deals with physical phenomena, psychic science deals with the soul of things. Masters of Yoga assert most definitely and unhesitatingly that the existence, nature, life, and history of the soul have been and can be as rigidly and exactly demonstrated and proved in its own dominion as the best known scientific fact, so-called, in the natural universe. The negation of those ignorant of the subject, and the howling of the thoughtless for objective physical proof of that which is in its very nature immaterial and subjective, can have no real weight with the student. Intellectual vulgarity and cheap wit can no more weaken the eternal fact of man’s immortal spiritual nature than spitting at the sun affect the god of day.
And now, what is the meaning of Yoga? Many definitions have been given, and of course this same science has been called by other names, at various times, by various nations, in divers tongues. The subject is one replete with technicalities, for there is a very large literature treating of it distinctly and in a most technical manner, and, in a wider sense, all the Scriptures of the world are text-books of this science.
In the present paper, however, all technicalities will be avoided, and I therefore hazard the definition of Yoga as the science of the union of man with the source of his being, with his true Self. You will at once see that the claim of our science is one of direct knowledge. That does not mean to say that the student is at once to become omniscient, or that he will by a sudden leap obtain full knowledge of things in themselves. By no means. The way of pure knowledge is a long and thorny path of stern self-discipline and of ungrudging and unflagging effort. But the path leads up a mountain, and the view so extends that each successive point of vantage gained is of the nature of direct knowledge as compared with the lower stages. We are at present like men who persistently keep their eyes fixed on the ground at their feet, who as yet have not looked at even the visible universe as it really is. There are manifold stages of soul-knowledge, immeasurable degrees of union with the Self, for ultimately this Self is the One SELF of all that was, is, and will be.
It would be presumptuous in me to imagine that anyone else will entirely agree with my definitions, and naturally all are free to find better and more appropriate words to clothe the ideas according to their ability. There is, however, a longing that comes upon all men in their repeated wanderings on earth, “a longing of the soul to go out to the infinite,” as it has been phrased, and the freezing cold of negation cannot quench the fire of that divine desire, nor can the perfunctory performance of any lip-religion satisfy its ardor.
In endeavouring to give some idea of what the practical science of Yoga is, I am at a loss to convey my meaning because of the poverty of our ordinary language in fitting terms. We all readily talk of the soul, and mind, and consciousness, but few of us have any conception of the infinity of ideas that each of these terms connotes. In this paper, the soul must be understood to stand for the whole of man’s nature apart from his physical body, the mind for the thinking principle, and consciousness for man’s whole containment, his whole being. The mind is the thinker, the self-conscious principle in man, the means of his knowledge. It is this principle, therefore, which is both the scientist and his instrument in Yoga.
This mind is usually distinguished into two aspects for clearer comprehension. Perhaps these may be most easily understood as the “I am” and the “I am I” in man, ideas which it is usual with Theosophical writers to distinguish as the individuality and personality. The personality is the sum of all those impressions, as they are called in the East, which make up our consciousness of being such-and-such a particular person, of being the actor and sufferer in all the affairs of life. Everything we do, or say, or think leaves an impression on our character, whether we are conscious of it or not; and an impression once induced into our plastic-nature tends to repeat itself mechanically and to form habits which, as we know, become second nature. If the impressions are bad, a vicious habit is formed. The sum of all these impressions is called the personality, or, to use another simile, the vibrations set up by our acts, words, and thoughts inhere in our plastic nature, in an ascending scale of subtlety and rapidity, according to their plane of action, up to that of the rarest substance we are at present capable of conceiving, and which perhaps may be spoken of as thought-stuff, for this lower aspect of the mind is substantial, though not material.
The higher aspect of the mind, on the contrary, the individuality, that which I have called the “I am,” is of a divine and spiritual nature. It is not substantial, but a pure spiritual essence, divine, immortal, immemorial; it dies not, nor comes into being, but is throughout the ages.
Now the lower mind is ever fitful and changeable, going out to things of sense; it is a Mazeppa bound hand and foot on the horse of passion and desire. In the East, it is called the internal organ to distinguish it from the external organs, and we have first to learn to free it from its bonds before we can put our foot on the first rung of the ladder of true knowledge.
The ceaseless changes which take place in this lower mind are called the modifications of the internal organ; and these have to be held in the firm grip of the awakened spiritual will and rendered motionless, if any success is to be attained in the science of Yoga.
Imagine to yourself a sheet of paper with writing upon it, crumpled up into a ball, and whirling tumultuously down a mill-race. Such is the lower mind in each one of us. And if we want to read the writing which tells of the mystery of life, we must first rescue the ball of paper from the mill-race of the passions, and then carefully smooth out the paper so as to erase the impressions which prevent our reading the writing, that so at last we may learn the whence and whither of our pilgrimage.
A simile often used in the Eastern books, with regard to the upper and lower mind, is that of the moon reflected in the waves of a lake. So long as the surface is disturbed, the moonlight will be seen only as a broken and unsteady reflection, and not until every ripple is gone will a true image of the divine man be reflected into our souls.
Again, the lower mind is as a metal mirror covered with dust and rust; and until this is removed no image will be seen; or, again, the mind must be as steady as the flame of a lamp in a place sheltered from all wind.
You must not, however, suppose that the science of Yoga has always retained its purity; like everything else it has become corrupt. Methods of a mechanical and physical nature have grown up around it, and as the mind of man is more prone to error and materialism than to truth and spirituality, these bastard methods are more eagerly studied than the more difficult processes of the true science. Especially is this the case in our own times, when a growing number of enquirers are once more beginning to turn their attention to the subject.
According to the Esoteric Philosophy, the lower part of man’s nature, which he shares in common with the animal, has four aspects, viz.: (1) A physical body; (2) a subtile body, invisible to our physical senses; (3) a body, vehicle, or center, or system of centers, of sensation and desire; and (4) the life-principle.
The physical body need not here be further referred to, for although our modern science knows comparatively little of the functions of a number of the most important organs, yet its minute and exact classification of the physical structure of man’s ‘coat of skin’—as it is allegorically called in the Bible and elsewhere—is beyond all praise. The constitution of the subtile or astral body and of the passional and sensational system, however, is of a nature and extent immeasurably transcending that of the physical frame.
The Hindu books on Yoga, known as the Yoga-Shastras, contain elaborate treatises on the anatomy and physiology of these “principles.” We may get some hazy notion of their nature by a study of the nervous system and functions of the physical body, but we must remember that in reality they are a complete system of force-centers and force-tracts, so to speak, and that they bear the same relation to the physical body as the electrical current does to its physical conductors. The latest so-called discoveries of electrical science assert that an electrical current can be transmitted from one point of space to another without the conduction of wires, and the Yoga has from time immemorial asserted that man can act independently of his physical body.
We all of us know the tremendous power of electricity, and many of us know the astounding forces which can be brought into play by the agency of mesmerism. Yoga teaches us that every power in the universe has its corresponding power in man, and that not only the life-principle or vital electricity, and the mesmeric and magnetic forces, correspond to identical forces in the universe, but that man can so increase these powers in himself that he can raise them to the same rate of motion as that of the forces of nature. Moreover, as he brings these forces into play, his consciousness gradually and proportionally transcends that of normal mankind and progressively opens up new vistas of life and existence previously undreamed of.
All this may seem very wonderful and incredible to many of us, but the real science of Yoga is so transcendent that I have only entered into these explanations in order to tell you that these powers and practices, wonderful and extraordinary though they may be, are no part of true Yoga, and are deprecated as material, inferior, and most dangerous by spiritually-minded teachers of the true Divine Science.
Even when this lower Yoga is recommended by those who have practical knowledge of such things, the learner is told that in no case should any experiment be made except under the direct superintendence of an experienced teacher. In the East this advice is understood and acted on by all but the most foolhardy and ignorant, for the Orientals know the terrible results that come from ignorantly meddling with forces they cannot control.
In the West, however, the spirit of independent research, which is so admirable in many respects, has produced among the unreflecting a false bravado and a fretful and childish impatience that lead to recklessness rather than sober enquiry, especially in matters of an occult nature.
I know that the vast majority of people in the West will look on the position I am laying down as a silly crying of “wolf” where there is no wolf, or as an impudent series of falsehoods resting on nothing but assertions; and that among this majority there are men and women of intelligence and reputation that I can never hope to emulate. But the most ignorant bearer of Stanley’s expedition knows more of the center of the Dark Continent than the wisest who have never read the account of that expedition, or even than the average number of intelligent readers.
When the majority have studied the theory of Yoga, their opinion will be entitled to respect; when they have essayed its practice, their views will claim the right of consideration, but not one instant before.
Let me try to explain to you why the dangers I have spoken of are real and terrible dangers. Morality is not a sentiment; ethics are not mere poetical rhapsodies. Ethical axioms are definite scientific formulae which describe certain facts and laws in nature. Vicious desires, vicious thoughts, vicious tendencies disease and atrophy the subtile body and organs of man by the alchemy of nature; they turn his vital fluids, so to speak, and his inner forces into poisonous and corrosive solvents, although the reaction in the physical body may not be detected by our scientists who persistently shut their eyes to the major part of man’s nature.
A corroded and cracked boiler may be patched up to hold cold water, but once turn the water into steam and the result is an explosion that not only destroys the vessel itself but also brings destruction both to things of its own nature and also to higher organisms. I have told you that the lower form of Yoga consists in increasing the rapidity of certain vital currents which attract to themselves corresponding currents of a like rapidity in nature. Woe to the man or woman who tries to confine such forces in a damaged vessel! Disease, madness, death will quickly follow such foolhardy experiments! I have just told you that we may be diseased within and yet our physical body may be apparently in perfect physical health; it is equally true that we may be physically diseased and yet be pure and healthy within.
Please remember that I am writing about a consciously used science, a definite and determined method of experiment which, even in its lower aspects, is a matter of great effort and difficulty. I am not talking of unconscious and irresponsible mediumship which pertains to a different method, or, rather, want of method, although some of the lower phenomena produced or experienced by either process are identical. And this is the reason why the lower form of Yoga is so largely sought after; the results, though difficult to obtain compared with mediumship, are still immeasurably more easy of acquirement than the results of pure Spiritual Yoga.
Physical phenomena and astral visions, both of a very remarkable nature, can be obtained, especially when a teacher gives the practical links which are invariably omitted in written or printed books. But, unless the lower nature has been purified, no real and permanent good or attainment can ever be achieved. On the other hand, when the lower nature is purified the lower forms of Yoga will not even be attempted, for then the spiritual nature of man seeks union with its transcendent and divine Self, and has no desire for material attainments, even though they may utterly surpass our wildest imaginations, and have to do with matter by innumerable degrees more subtile and extended than the matter we are acquainted with through our five senses.
Further, it is impossible for us to understand the true science of Yoga unless we admit the truth of reincarnation as one of the fundamental facts in nature. This doctrine teaches that what I have referred to as the individuality, the “I am,” persists throughout the whole cycle of rebirths, whereas the personality, the “I am I,” the John Smith or Mary Jones of one short life, is immortal only in such thoughts and aspirations as are of the nature of the divine individuality. Now this lower mind, together with the animal part of man’s nature, is the only factor at work in the lower Yoga I have been describing. Therefore, whatever attainment may be reached by such practices—astral clairvoyance or clairaudience, the projection of the double as it is called, and a thousand and one other psychic powers that, as yet, the profane world has not even heard of—all such acquirements pertain to the personality. They are no permanent property of the reincarnating entity, and can never be so as long as that divine Ego is debarred from sharing in them by the selfish ambitions and desires of the personal man. On the other hand, pure spiritual Yoga seeks to quell the stormy waves of the lower mind; to purify the dull red, smoky flames of passion; to make the lower mind the submissive and purified vehicle of the higher spiritual mind and Self. The results thus achieved by this moral training and. stern mental exercise remain permanently with the individuality, and are an assured possession in succeeding rebirths which nothing but a lapse into materiality and a willing servitude to the passions can take away.
The above is the reason why the mere possession of physical or astral clairvoyance and the rest is sternly refused the title of “spiritual” by students of Theosophy. Clairvoyance is not a “spiritual gift” in itself; although it is true that there is a spiritual clairvoyance which sees and yet sees not, and which renders its possessor a power in the world for good beyond all cavil. But they who have this divine vision are, by the very fact, unable to assert its possession, for any such claim would mean its instant loss, unless, indeed, the claim were an impersonal one.
Now the object of all religion seems to me to be the union of man with Deity, by whatever means and in whatever sense we understand these terms. The most important part of religion, and the part most easily comprehended by all men, is its ethical teaching. Why this should be so we have hitherto been mostly in ignorance; in fact scepticism has run to such lengths in these latter days that some men of great ability and intelligence deny that there is any scientific basis of ethics, and most assert the impossibility of our ever knowing why we should carry out any particular ethical precept. These teachings are for the most part merely dogmatic commands, or the reasons given are not of an explanatory nature, but rather of the nature of promises or threats. Do this, for otherwise you will not obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of light, and so on.
Now the higher science of the soul is rich in manifold compelling reasons for living a purer and more unselfish life. Asserting, as it does, the possibility of rolling up the dark curtain of sleep, and rending in twain the veil of death while still we live, in the very statement of the method whereby these things are to be accomplished, and of the instruments which man has to use to effect this purpose, it shows that morality is the indispensable preliminary training. Man has to look his own nature squarely in the face before he can look in the face of Nature. If he would tread the solitary path of Yoga whereby he steps out from the ranks of his fellow-beings and becomes a self-appointed pioneer of humanity, he must equip himself with fit instruments and, as the Scripture says truly, “gird himself with the breastplate of righteousness.” Without these requisites it is useless to volunteer for this pioneer work.
The track to be followed leads through strange lands, peopled with strange inhabitants, an inner path that, at the beginning, passes mostly through the country of our own creations that we have at each moment been busily bringing into existence ever since we have had bodies and minds. If we attempt to enter this country unarmed, that is to say, before we have prepared ourselves by a most careful scrutiny into the very recesses of our moral nature, and by a most rigid discipline that never relaxes its vigilance for a moment, then we are like a general in a fort at the head of a mutinous army in league with the enemy outside, and we shall find that in very truth our foes are “they of our own household” and that like attracts like by an unavoidable law of nature.
There is much talk among certain religionists about “conversion,” and there is a great truth hidden under the strange externals that so often clothe the idea. Perhaps some of you do not know that the Greek word for repentance, found in the New Testament and in the writings of the many mystical schools of the early years of Christianity, means, literally, a change of mind. The theory of this change and the history of its mystical degrees are elaborately treated of by some of these schools, and that which takes place unconsciously in a lower stage of the ordinary conversion, takes place consciously in a higher stage in Yoga. This is the real new birth spoken of by Christian mystics, and this is why Brahmins (which really means those who are at one with Brahma, the Deity) are called the twice-born. You will understand by what I have said about the importance of the mind in Yoga what this change of mind or repentance means. Now this repentance is of a very mystical nature and one difficult to comprehend. Suppose we look upon the whole series of lives of an individual as a necklace of pearls. The one that hangs lowest in front will represent this turning-point in the whole cycle of births, when the great change of mind occurs which shows that the soul is beginning to shake off the attractions of matter. In each succeeding birth this change will repeat itself on a smaller scale, and those may rejoice to whom it comes early in life. Only let us remember that there is no respect of persons, no aristocracy, no privileges, no monopoly. The path of self-knowledge, self-conquest, and self-devotion is open to everyone of us at every moment of time. It is idle to say: “What you tell me is very fine, but it is not for me!” There is no time but the eternal present. It is idle to put off to the future when none of us know what our past has been. How are we to be sure that we may not have gone some portion of the way before, and that the incidents we have lived through in our present birth are only the representation on a small scale of the lives we have lived before; that once we have reached the turning-point we shall again repeat all those strivings upwards which have characterized those of our past lives which have been on the ascending path of our soul pilgrimage?
No man can say what power for good may not lie latent in those who are commonly supposed to be most distinctly vicious, once the force of their character is turned in the right direction.
There is nothing historical in religion nor in Yoga. “Choose ye this day what gods ye will serve” is applicable to every moment of our lives. There is no time but the present, and only the ignorant pin their faith to historical events.
Of course this is no new thing to hear. It is very old, very ancient, but what I wish to insist upon is that it is practical and scientific in the best sense of the word; not, however, that I by any means believe that a thing must needs be scientific in the ordinary sense to be true, but because Yoga can claim everything that is best in the scientific method and at the same time immeasurably transcend it. It is necessary to state and restate this, for people are beginning to go in fear and trembling at the term “scientific.”
And now if any one asks whether I recommend him to study Yoga, the answer is: If a person honestly tries to live a moral, clean, and unselfish life, he is unconsciously training himself for the practice of this science, and he will thus gradually develop a consciousness of his spiritual nature which will grow into direct cognition, if not in this birth, at any rate in a succeeding incarnation. But I would also go beyond this, for I believe that neither goodness alone nor knowledge alone makes the perfect man, but that the two must join hands to bring him to perfection. I would therefore add: By all means study the theory of Yoga, and as for the practice of it, subject yourself continually to the most searching analysis in order to discern the secret of your motives of action; watch your thoughts, words, and acts; try to discover why you do this or that thing and not another; be ever on your guard. I do not mean to say, use your head only. By no means: use your heart also to its full capacity. Learn to sympathize with all, to feel for everyone; but to yourself be as hard as steel, never condone a fault, never seek an excuse. We need none of us retire from the world to do this; we need not shun association with others; we need not even make a “Sunday in the day,” as we make a Sunday in the week, in which to turn our thoughts to higher things and for the rest of the time be off our guard. But at the same time it is a most salutary daily practice to try and definitely concentrate the mind on some thought, or on some imaginary object in order to learn how to steady it, and to cultivate at the same time a continual aspiration towards and contemplation of the highest ideal we can in any way conceive. Perhaps some of you may think this the advice of a mere mystical platitudinarian, and that you could hear something very much resembling it from the nearest pulpit. Maybe; but my answer is still, Try! Try to find out why you do any particular action, or think some thought; try to fix your mind even for sixty seconds; and try to meditate on some high ideal when you are quiet and alone, and free from all hatred and malice; believe me, you will not repent the endeavor.
Perhaps you have noticed that I have said nothing of the farther practices of the higher Yoga. My reason for the omission is that the subject is too lofty and too sacred for any student like myself to attempt. Its practices are so marvellous and its attainments so stupendous that they absolutely transcend all words and all descriptions; and this is why they are invariably treated of in symbolical and allegorical language. But I need hardly tell students of Theosophy that the Yoga is the most important key to the interpretation of the world-scriptures, a key that even our teacher H. P. Blavatsky refrained from giving. But none of us need feel surprise or resentment at this omission if we reflect that it has been the immemorial custom to withhold the key until the pupil is ready to receive it. It is not withheld for any caprice, for it cannot be kept back when the pupil is ready, and they who hold the key are such as give their life-blood to guard mankind from even greater misery and sorrow than they are at present plunged into—though, indeed, mankind knows not of their ceaseless sacrifice.
It is easy to see that the subject I have dealt with is one of enormous difficulty; I could have presented you with a long treatise, full of technical terms gleaned from difficult works in a vast library of literature, but my purpose has rather been to try and show that in itself the science of the soul is not beyond the reach of any, and that it is the most practical and important branch of knowledge that man is heir to.
In conclusion, it is well to remember there is one indispensable condition of success in this science, without which our efforts will be as Dead Sea fruit. It must be undertaken solely for the service of others; if it is attempted for ourselves, it will prove nought but an illusion, for it will pertain to the “I am I,” to the personal human animal, whose characteristic is selfishness, whereas the nature of true spiritual Yoga is that of devotion to all beings, of love to all that lives and breathes, and the duty of the disciple becomes like that of the stars of heaven who “take light from none, but give to all.”
Companions, may we all tread the path of peace!