Yoga as Body and Mind Control
Throughout Bhagavad-gītā, Kṛṣṇa was encouraging Arjuna to fight, for he was a warrior, and fighting was his duty. Although Kṛṣṇa delineates the meditational yoga system in the Sixth Chapter, He does not stress it or encourage Arjuna to pursue it as his path. Kṛṣṇa admits that this meditational process is very difficult:
mano durnigrahaṁ calam
abhyāsena tu kaunteya
vairāgyeṇa ca gṛhyate
“The Blessed Lord said: O mighty-armed son of Kuntī, it is undoubtedly very difficult to curb the restless mind, but it is possible by constant practice and by detachment.” (Bg. 6.35)
Here Kṛṣṇa emphasizes practice and renunciation as ways to control the mind. But what is that renunciation? Today it is hardly possible for us to renounce anything, for we are so habituated to such a variety of material sense pleasures. Despite leading a life of uncontrolled sense indulgence, we attend yoga classes and expect to attain success. There are so many rules and regulations involved in the proper execution of yoga, and most of us can hardly give up a simple habit like smoking.
In His discourse on the meditational yoga system, Kṛṣṇa proclaims that yoga cannot be properly performed by one who eats too much or eats too little. One who starves himself cannot properly perform yoga. Nor can the person who eats more than required. The eating process should be moderate, just enough to keep body and soul together; it should not be for the enjoyment of the tongue. When palatable dishes come before us, we are accustomed to take not just one of the preparations but two, three and four – and upwards. Our tongue is never satisfied. But it is not unusual in India to see a yogī take only a small spoonful of rice a day and nothing more. Nor can one execute the meditational yoga system if one sleeps too much or does not sleep sufficiently. Kṛṣṇa does not say that there is such a thing as dreamless sleep. As soon as we go to sleep, we will have a dream, although we may not remember it. In the Gītā Kṛṣṇa cautions that one who dreams too much while sleeping cannot properly execute yoga. One should not sleep more than six hours daily. Nor can one infected by insomnia, who cannot sleep at night, successfully execute yoga, for the body must be kept fit. Thus Kṛṣṇa outlines so many requirements for disciplining the body. All these requirements, however, can essentially be broken down into four basic rules: no illicit sexual connection, no intoxication, no meat-eating and no gambling. These are the four minimum regulations for the execution of any yoga system. And in this age who can refrain from these activities? We have to test ourselves accordingly to ascertain our success in yoga execution.
ātmānaṁ rahasi sthitaḥ
“A transcendentalist should always try to concentrate his mind on the Supreme Self; he should live alone in a secluded place and should always carefully control his mind. He should be free from desires and feelings of possessiveness.” (Bg. 6.10) From this verse we can understand that it is the duty of the yogī to always remain alone. Meditational yoga cannot be performed in an assembly, at least not according to Bhagavad-gītā. In the meditational system it is not possible to concentrate the mind upon the Supersoul except in a secluded place. In India, there are still many yogīs who assemble at the Kumba Melā. Generally they are in seclusion, but on rare occasions they come to attend special functions. In India there are still thousands of yogīs and sages, and every twelve years or so they meet in particular holy places – Allahabad, etc. – just as in America they have businessmen’s conventions. The yogī, in addition to living in a secluded place, should also be free from desires and should not think that he is performing yoga to achieve some material powers. Nor should he accept gifts or favors from people. If he is properly executing this meditational yoga, he stays alone in the jungles, forests or mountains and avoids society altogether. At all times he must be convinced for whom he has become a yogī. He does not consider himself alone because at all times the Paramātmā – Supersoul – is with him. From this we can see that in modern civilization it is indeed very difficult to execute this meditational form of yoga properly. Contemporary civilization in this age of Kali has actually made it impossible for us to be alone, to be desireless and to be possessionless.
The method of executing meditational yoga is further explained in considerable detail by Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna. Śrī Kṛṣṇa says,
sthiram āsanam ātmanaḥ
“To practice yoga, one should go to a secluded place and should lay kuśa grass on the ground and then cover it with a deerskin and a soft cloth. The seat should be neither too high nor too low and should be situated in a sacred place. The yogī should then sit on it very firmly and should practice yoga by controlling the mind and the senses, purifying the heart and fixing the mind on one point.” (Bg. 6.11–12) Generally yogīs sit on tiger skin or deerskin because reptiles will not crawl on such skins to disturb their meditations. It seems that in God’s creation there is a use for everything. Every grass and herb has its use and serves some function, although we may not know what it is. So in Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa has made some provision whereby the yogī doesn’t have to worry about snakes. Having acquired a good sitting place in a secluded environment, the yogī begins to purify the ātmā – body, mind and soul. The yogī should not think, “Now I will try to achieve some wonderful powers.” Sometimes yogīs do attain certain siddhis, or powers, but these are not the purpose of yoga, and real yogīs do not exhibit them. The real yogī thinks, “I am now contaminated by this material atmosphere, so now I must purify myself.”
We can quickly see that controlling the mind and body is not such an easy thing and that we cannot control them as easily as we can go to the store and purchase something. But Kṛṣṇa indicates that these rules can be easily followed when we are in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Of course everyone is motivated by sex life, but sex life is not actually discouraged. We have this material body, and as long as we have it, sex desire will be there. Similarly, as long as we have the body, we must eat to maintain it, and we must sleep in order to give it rest. We cannot expect to negate these activities, but the Vedic literatures do give us guidelines for regulation in eating, sleeping, mating, etc. If we at all expect success in the yoga system, we cannot allow our unbridled senses to take us down the paths of sense objects; therefore guidelines are set up. Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is advising that the mind can be controlled through regulation. If we do not regulate our activities, our mind will be more and more agitated. It is not that activities are to be stopped, but regulated by the mind always engaged in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Being always engaged in some activity connected with Kṛṣṇa is actual samādhi. It is not that when one is in samādhi he doesn’t eat, work, sleep or enjoy himself in any way. Rather, samādhi can be defined as executing regulated activities while absorbed in the thought of Kṛṣṇa.
duṣprāpa iti me matiḥ
vaśyātmanā tu yatatā
śakyo ’vāptum upāyataḥ
“For one whose mind is unbridled,” Kṛṣṇa further says, “self-realization is difficult work.” (Bg. 6.36) Anyone knows that an unbridled horse is dangerous to ride. He can go in any direction at any speed, and his rider is likely to come to some harm. Insofar as the mind is unbridled, Kṛṣṇa agrees with Arjuna that the yoga system is very difficult work indeed. “But,” Kṛṣṇa adds, “he whose mind is controlled and strives by right means is assured of success. That is My judgment.” (Bg. 6.36) What is meant by “strives by right means”? One has to try to follow the four basic regulative principles as mentioned and execute his activities absorbed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
If one wants to engage in yoga at home, then he has to make certain that his other engagements are moderate. He cannot spend long hours of the day working hard to simply earn a livelihood. One should work very moderately, eat very moderately, gratify the senses very moderately and keep his life as free from anxiety as possible. In this way practice of yoga may be successful.
What is the sign by which we can tell that one has attained perfection in yoga? Kṛṣṇa indicates that one is situated in yoga when his consciousness is completely under his control.
yukta ity ucyate tadā
“When the yogī, by practice of yoga, disciplines his mental activities and becomes situated in Transcendence – devoid of all material desires – he is said to have attained yoga.” (Bg. 6.18) One who has attained yoga is not dependent on the dictations of his mind; rather, the mind comes under his control. Nor is the mind put out or extinguished, for it is the business of the yogī to think of Kṛṣṇa, or Viṣṇu, always. The yogī cannot allow his mind to go out. This may sound very difficult, but it is possible in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. When one is always engaged in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, in the service of Kṛṣṇa, then how is it possible for the mind to wander away from Kṛṣṇa? In the service of Kṛṣṇa, the mind is automatically controlled.
Nor should the yogī have any desire for material sense gratification. If one is in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he has no desire other than Kṛṣṇa. It is not possible to become desireless. The desire for sense gratification must be overcome by the process of purification, but desire for Kṛṣṇa should be cultivated. It is simply that we have to transfer the desire. There is no question of killing desire, for desire is the constant companion of the living entity. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is the process by which one purifies his desires; instead of desiring so many things for sense gratification, one simply desires things for the service of Kṛṣṇa. For example, we may desire palatable food, but instead of preparing foodstuffs for ourselves, we can prepare them for Kṛṣṇa and offer them to Him. It is not that the action is different, but there is a transfer of consciousness from thinking of acting for my senses to thinking of acting for Kṛṣṇa. We may prepare nice milk products, vegetables, grains, fruits and other vegetarian dishes for Kṛṣṇa and then offer them to Him, praying, “This material body is a lump of ignorance and the senses are a network of paths leading to death. Of all the senses the tongue is the most voracious and difficult to control. It is very difficult to conquer the tongue in this world; therefore Śrī Kṛṣṇa has given us this nice prasāda, spiritual food, to conquer the tongue. So let us take this prasāda to our full satisfaction and glorify Their Lordships Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa and in love call for the help of Lord Caitanya and Nityānanda Prabhu.” In this way our karma is sacrificed, for from the very beginning we are thinking that the food is being offered to Kṛṣṇa. We should have no personal desires for the food. Kṛṣṇa is so merciful, however, that he gives us the food to eat. In this way our desire is fulfilled. When one has moulded his life in such a way – dovetailing his desires to Kṛṣṇa’s – then it is to be understood that he has attained perfection in yoga. Simply breathing deeply and doing some exercises is not yoga as far as Bhagavad-gītā is concerned. A whole purification of consciousness is required.
In the execution of yoga, it is very important that the mind is not agitated.
neṅgate sopamā smṛtā
yuñjato yogam ātmanaḥ
“As a lamp in a windless place does not waver, so the transcendentalist, whose mind is controlled, remains always steady in his meditation on the transcendent self.” (Bg. 6.19) When a candle is in a windless place, its flame remains straight and does not waver. The mind, like the flame, is susceptible to so many material desires that with the slightest agitation it will move. A little movement of the mind can change the whole consciousness. Therefore in India one seriously practicing yoga traditionally remained brahmacārī, or celibate.
There are two kinds of brahmacārī: one is completely celibate and the other is gṛhastha-brahmacārī, that is to say he has a wife, he does not associate with any other woman, and his relations with his own wife are strictly regulated. In this way, either by complete celibacy or restricted sex life, one’s mind is kept from being agitated. Yet when one takes a vow to remain a complete celibate, his mind may still be agitated by sexual desire; therefore in India those practicing the traditional yoga under strict vows of celibacy are not allowed to sit alone even with a mother, sister or daughter. The mind is so fickle that the slightest suggestion can create havoc.
The yogī should have his mind trained in such a way that as soon as his mind wanders from meditation on Viṣṇu, he drags it back again. This requires a great deal of practice. One must come to know that his real happiness is in experiencing the pleasure of his transcendental senses, not the material senses. Senses are not to be sacrificed, and desires are not to be sacrificed, but there are both desires and sense satisfaction in the spiritual sphere. Real happiness is transcendental to material, sensual experience. If one is not convinced of this, he will surely be agitated and will fall down. One should therefore know that the happiness he is trying to derive from material senses is not really happiness.
Those who are actually yogīs truly enjoy, but how do they enjoy? Ramante yogino ’nante – their enjoyment is unlimited, that unlimited enjoyment is real happiness, and such happiness is spiritual, not material. This is the real meaning of Rāma, as in the chant Hare Rāma. Rāma means enjoyment through spiritual life. Spiritual life is all pleasure, and Kṛṣṇa is all pleasure. We do not have to sacrifice pleasure, but we do have to enjoy it properly. A diseased man cannot enjoy life; his enjoyment of life is a false enjoyment. But when he is cured and is healthy, then he is able to enjoy. Similarly, as long as we are in the material conception of life, we are not actually enjoying ourselves but are simply becoming more and more entangled in material nature. If a sick man is not supposed to eat, his eating unrestrictedly actually kills him. Similarly, the more we increase material enjoyment, the more we become entangled in this world, and the more difficult it becomes to get free from the material entrapment. All of the systems of yoga are meant to disentangle the conditioned soul from this entrapment, to transfer him from the false enjoyment of material things to the actual enjoyment of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Śrī Kṛṣṇa says,
paśyann ātmani tuṣyati
vetti yatra na caivāyaṁ
sthitaś calati tattvataḥ
manyate nādhikaṁ tataḥ
yasmin sthito na duḥkhena
“In the stage of perfection called trance, or samādhi, one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This is characterized by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness and enjoys himself through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.” (Bg. 6.20–23)
One form of yoga may be difficult and another may be easy, but in all cases one must purify his existence to the conception of Kṛṣṇa conscious enjoyment. Then one will be happy.
na karmasv anuṣajjate
ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur
ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ
“A person is said to have attained to yoga when, having renounced all material desires, he neither acts for sense gratification nor engages in fruitive activities. A man must elevate himself by his own mind, not degrade himself. The mind is the friend of the conditioned soul, and his enemy as well.” (Bg. 6.4–5) We have to raise ourselves to the spiritual standard by ourselves. In this sense I am my own friend and I am my own enemy. The opportunity is ours. There is a very nice verse by Cāṇakya Paṇḍita: “No one is anyone’s friend, no one is anyone’s enemy. It is only by behavior that one can understand who is his friend and who is his enemy.” No one is born our enemy, and no one is born our friend. These roles are determined by mutual behavior. As we have dealings with others in ordinary affairs, in the same way the individual has dealings with himself. I may act as my own friend or as an enemy. As a friend, I can understand my position as spirit soul and, seeing that somehow or other I have come into contact with material nature, try to get free from material entanglement by acting in such a way as to disentangle myself. In this case I am my friend. But if even after getting this opportunity I do not take it, then I should be considered my own worst enemy.
anātmanas tu śatrutve
“For he who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be the greatest enemy.” (Bg. 6.6) How is it possible for one to become his own friend? This is explained here. Ātmā means “mind,” “body” and “soul.” When we speak of ātmā, insofar as we are in the bodily conception, we refer to the body. However, when we transcend the bodily conception and rise to the mental platform, ātmā refers to the mind. But actually when we are situated on the truly spiritual platform, then ātmā refers to the soul. In actuality we are pure spirit. In this way, according to one’s spiritual development, the meaning of the word ātmā differs. As far as the Nirukti Vedic dictionary is concerned, ātmā refers to body, mind and soul. However, in this verse of Bhagavad-gītā, ātmā refers to mind.
If, through yoga, the mind can be trained, then the mind is our friend. But if the mind is left untrained, then there is no possibility of leading a successful life. For one who has no idea of spiritual life, the mind is the enemy. If one thinks that he is simply the body, his mind will not be working for his benefit; it will simply be acting to serve the gross body and to further condition the living entity and entrap him in material nature. If, however, one understands one’s position as spirit soul apart from the body, the mind can be a liberating factor. In itself, the mind has nothing to do; it is simply waiting to be trained, and it is best trained through association. Desire is the function of the mind, and one desires according to his association; so if the mind is to act as friend, there must be good association.
The best association is a sādhu, that is, a Kṛṣṇa conscious person or one who is striving for spiritual realization. There are those who are striving for temporary things (asat). Matter and the body are temporary, and if one only engages himself for bodily pleasure, he is conditioned by temporary things. But if he engages himself in self-realization, then he is engaged in something permanent (sat). Obviously if one is intelligent he will associate with those who are trying to elevate themselves to the platform of self-realization through one of the various forms of yoga. The result will be that those who are sādhu, or realized, will be able to sever his attachment to material association. This is the great advantage of good association. For instance, Kṛṣṇa speaks Bhagavad-gītā to Arjuna just to cut off his attachment to this material affection. Because Arjuna is attracted to things that are impeding the execution of his own duty, Kṛṣṇa severs these things. To cut something, a sharp instrument is required; and to cut the mind from its attachments, sharp words are often required. The sādhu or teacher shows no mercy in using sharp words to sever the student’s mind from material attractions. By speaking the truth uncompromisingly, he is able to sever the bondage. For example, at the very beginning of Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa speaks sharply to Arjuna by telling him that although he speaks like a learned man, he is actually fool number one. If we actually want detachment from this material world, we should be prepared to accept such cutting words from the spiritual master. Compromise and flattery have no effect where strong words are required.
In Bhagavad-gītā the material conception of life is condemned in so many places. One who thinks the country in which he is born is worshipable, or one who goes to holy places and yet ignores the sādhus there, is likened unto an ass. As an enemy is always thinking of doing harm, so the untrained mind will drag one deeper and deeper into material entanglement. Conditioned souls struggle very hard with the mind and with the other senses. Since the mind directs the other senses, it is of utmost importance to make the mind the friend.
“For one who has conquered the mind, the Supersoul is already reached, for he has attained tranquillity. To such a man happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same.” (Bg. 6.7) By training the mind, one actually attains tranquillity, for the mind is always dragging us over nonpermanent things, just as an unbridled horse will pull a chariot on a perilous course. Although we are permanent and eternal, somehow or other we have become attracted to nonpermanent things. But the mind can be easily trained if it is simply fixed on Kṛṣṇa. Just as a fort is safe when it is defended by a great general, if Kṛṣṇa is placed in the fort of the mind, there will be no possibility of the enemy’s entering. Material education, wealth and power will not help one to control the mind. A great devotee prays, “When will I be able to think of You constantly? My mind is always dragging me about, but as soon as I am able to fix my mind on the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, it becomes clear.” When the mind is clear, it is possible to meditate on the Supersoul. The Paramātmā, or Supersoul, is always seated within the heart along with the individual soul. The yoga system involves concentrating the mind and focusing it on the Paramātmā, or Supersoul, seated within the heart. The previously quoted verse from Bhagavad-gītā indicates that one who has conquered the mind and has overcome all attachment to nonpermanent things can be absorbed in thought of the Paramātmā. One so absorbed becomes free from all duality and false designations.