From Lectures And Discourses, chapter-I of Volume 8 of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
These lessons are composed of notes of class talks given by Swami Vivekananda to an intimate audience in the house of Mrs. Sara C. Bull, a devoted American disciple, and were preserved by her and finally printed in 1913 for private circulation
Raja – Yoga is as much a science as any in the world. It is an analysis of the mind, a gathering of the facts of the supersensuous world and so building up the spiritual world. All the great spiritual teachers the world has known said, “I see and I know.” Jesus, Paul, and Peter all claimed actual perception of the spiritual truths they taught.
This perception is obtained by Yoga.
Neither memory nor consciousness can be the limitation of existence. There is a superconscious state. Both it and the unconscious state are sensationless, but with a vast difference between them — the difference between ignorance and knowledge. Present Yoga as an appeal to reason, as a science.
Concentration of the mind is the source of all knowledge.
Yoga teaches us to make matter our slave, as it ought to be. Yoga means “yoke”, “to join”, that is, to join the soul of man with the supreme Soul or God.
The mind acts in and under consciousness. What we call consciousness is only one link in the infinite chain that is our nature.
This “I” of ours covers just a little consciousness and a vast amount of unconsciousness, while over it, and mostly unknown to it, is the superconscious plane.
Through faithful practice, layer after layer of the mind opens before us, and each reveals new facts to us. We see as it were new worlds created before us, new powers are put into our hands, but we must not stop by the way or allow ourselves to be dazzled by these “beads of glass” when the mine of diamonds lies before us.
God alone is our goal. Failing to reach God, we die.
Three things are necessary to the student who wishes to succeed. First. Give up all ideas of enjoyment in this world and the next, care only for God and Truth. We are here to know truth, not for enjoyment. Leave that to brutes who enjoy as we never can. Man is a thinking being and must struggle on until he conquers death, until he sees the light. He must not spend himself in vain talking that bears no fruit. Worship of society and popular opinion is idolatry. The soul has no sex, no country, no place, no time.
Second. Intense desire to know Truth and God. Be eager for them, long for them, as a drowning man longs for breath. Want only God, take nothing else, let not “seeming” cheat you any longer. Turn from all and seek only God.
Third. The six trainings: First — restraining the mind from going outward. Second — restraining the senses. Third — turning the mind inward. Fourth — suffering everything without murmuring. Fifth — fastening the mind to one idea. Take the subject before you and think it out; never leave it. Do not count time. Sixth — think constantly of your real nature. Get rid of superstition. Do not hypnotise yourself into a belief in your own inferiority. Day and night tell yourself what you really are, until you realise (actually realise) your oneness with God.
Without these disciplines, no results can be gained.
We can be conscious of the Absolute, but we can never express It. The moment we try to express It, we limit It and It ceases to be Absolute.
We have to go beyond sense limit and transcend even reason, and we have the power to do this.
[After practising the first lesson in breathing a week, the pupil reports to the teacher.]
This is a lesson seeking to bring out the individuality. Each individuality must be cultivated. All will meet at the centre. “Imagination is the door to inspiration and the basis of all thought.” All prophets, poets, and discoverers have had great imaginative power. The explanation of nature is in us; the stone falls outside, but gravitation is in us, not outside. Those who stuff themselves, those who starve themselves, those who sleep too much, those who sleep too little, cannot become Yogis. Ignorance, fickleness, jealousy, laziness, and excessive attachment are the great enemies to success in Yoga practice. The three great requisites are:
First. Purity, physical and mental; all uncleanness, all that would draw the mind down, must be abandoned.
Second. Patience: At first there will be wonderful manifestations, but they will all cease. This is the hardest period, but hold fast; in the end the gain is sure if you have patience.
Third. Perseverance: Persevere through thick and thin, through health and sickness, never miss a day in practice.
The best time for practice is the junction of day and night, the calmest time in the tides of our bodies, the zero point between two states. If this cannot be done, practise upon rising and going to bed. Great personal cleanliness is necessary — a daily bath.
After bathing, sit down and hold the seat firm, that
is, imagine that you sit as firm as a rock, that nothing can move you. Hold the head and shoulders and the hips in a straight line, keeping the spinal column free; all action is along it, and it must not be impaired.
Begin with your toes and think of each part of your body as perfect; picture it so in your mind, touching each part if you prefer to do so. Pass upward bit by bit until you reach the head, thinking of each as perfect, lacking nothing. Then think of the whole as perfect, an instrument given to you by God to enable you to attain Truth, the vessel in which you are to cross the ocean and reach the shores of eternal truth. When this has been done, take a long breath through both nostrils, throw it out again, and then hold it out as long as you comfortably can. Take four such breaths, then breathe naturally and pray for illumination. “I meditate on the glory of that being who created this universe; may he illuminate my mind.” Sit and meditate on this ten or fifteen minutes.
Tell your experiences to no one but your Guru.
Talk as little as possible.
Keep your thoughts on virtue; what we think we tend to become.
Holy meditation helps to burn out all mental impurities. All who are not Yogis are slaves; bond after bond must be broken to make us free.
All can find the reality beyond. If God is true, we must feel him as a fact, and if there is a soul, we ought to be able to see it and feel it.
The only way to find if there be a soul is to be something which is not the body.
The Yogis class our organs under two chief heads: organs of sense and organs of motion, or knowledge and action.
The internal organ or mind has four aspects. First — manas, the cogitating or thinking faculty, which is usually almost entirely wasted, because uncontrolled; properly governed, it is a wonderful power. Second — buddhi, the will (sometimes called the intellect). Third — ahamkara, the self – conscious egotism (from Aham). Fourth — chitta, the substance in and through which all the faculties act, the floor of the mind as it were; or the sea in which the various faculties are waves.
Yoga is the science by which we stop Chitta from assuming, or becoming transformed into, several faculties. As the reflection of the moon on the sea is broken or blurred by the waves, so is the reflection of the Atman, the true Self, broken by the mental waves. Only when the sea is stilled to mirror – like calmness, can the reflection of the moon be seen, and only when the “mind – stuff”, the Chitta is controlled to absolute calmness, is the Self to be recognised.
The mind is not the body, though it is matter in a finer form. It is not eternally bound by the body. This is proved as we get occasionally loosened from it. We can learn to do this at will by controlling the senses.
When we can do that fully, we shall control the universe, because our world is only what the senses bring us. Freedom is the test of the higher being. Spiritual life begins when you have loosened yourself from the control of the senses. He whose senses rule him is worldly — is a slave.
If we could entirely stop our mind – stuff from breaking into waves, it would put an end to our bodies. For millions of years we have worked so hard to manufacture these bodies that in the struggle we have forgotten our real purpose in getting them, which was to become perfect. We have grown to think that body – making is the end of our efforts. This is Maya. We must break this delusion and return to our original aim and realise we are not the body, it is our servant.
Learn to take the mind out and to see that it is
separate from the body. We endow the body with sensation and life and then think it is alive and real. We have worn it so long that we forget that it is not identical with us. Yoga is to help us put off our body when we please and see it as our servant, our instrument, not our ruler. Controlling the mental powers is the first great aim in Yoga practices. The second is concentrating them in full force upon any subject.
You cannot be a Yogi if you talk much.
This Yoga is known as the eightfold Yoga, because it is divided into eight principal parts. These are:
First — Yama. This is most important and has to govern the whole life; it has five divisions:
1st. Not injuring any being by thought, word, or deed.
2nd. Non – covetousness in thought, word, or deed.
3rd. Perfect chastity in thought, word, or deed.
4th. Perfect truthfulness in thought, word, or deed.
5th. Non – receiving of gifts.
Second — Niyama. The bodily care, bathing daily, dietary, etc.
Third — Asana, posture. Hips, shoulders, and head must be held straight, leaving the spine free.
Fourth — pranayama, restraining the breath (in order to get control of the Prana or vital force).
Fifth — Pratyahara, turning the mind inward and restraining it from going outward, revolving the matter in the mind in order to understand it.
Sixth — Dharana, concentration on one subject.
Seventh — Dhyana, meditation.
Eighth — Samadhi, illumination, the aim of all our efforts.
Yama and Niyama are for lifelong practice. As for the others, we do as the leech does, not leave one blade of grass before firmly grasping another. In other words, we have thoroughly to understand and practise one step before taking another.
The subject of this lesson is Pranayama, or controlling the Prana. In Raja – Yoga breathing enters the psychic plane and brings us to the spiritual. It is the fly – wheel of the whole bodily system. It acts first upon the lungs, the lungs act on the heart, the heart acts upon the circulation, this in turn upon the brain, and the brain upon the mind. The will can produce an outside sensation, and the outside sensation can arouse the will. Our wills are weak; we do not realise their power, we are so much bound up in matter. Most of our action is from outside in. Outside nature throws us off our balance, and we cannot (as we ought) throw nature off her balance. This is all wrong; the stronger power is really within.
The great saints and teachers were those who had conquered this world of thought within themselves and so spake with power. The story [For the story see Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. I, p. 143.] of the minister confined in a high tower, who was released through the efforts of his wife who brought him a beetle, honey, a silken thread, a cord, and a rope, illustrates the way we gain control of our mind by using first the physical regulation of the breath as the silken thread. That enables us to lay hold on one power after another until the rope of concentration delivers us from the prison of the body and we are free. Reaching freedom, we can discard the means used to bring us there.
Pranayama has three parts:
1st. Puraka — inhaling.
2nd. Kumbhaka — restraining.
3rd. Rechaka — exhaling.
There are two currents passing through the brain and circulating down the sides of the spine, crossing at the base and returning to the brain. One of these currents, called the “sun” (Pingala), starts from the left hemisphere of the brain, crosses at the base of the brain to the right side of the spine, and recrosses at the base of the spine, like one – half of the figure eight.
The other current, the “moon” (Ida), reverses this action and completes this figure eight. Of course, the lower part is much longer than the upper. These currents flow day and night and make deposits of the great life forces at different points, commonly known as “plexuses”; but we are rarely conscious of them. By concentration we can learn to feel them and trace them over all parts of the body. These “sun” and “moon” currents are intimately connected with breathing, and by regulating this we get control of the body.
In the Katha Upanishad the body is described as the chariot, the mind is the reins, the intellect is the charioteer, the senses are the horses, and the objects of the senses their road. The self is the rider, seated in the chariot. Unless the rider has understanding and can make the charioteer control his horses, he can never attain the goal; but the senses, like vicious steeds, will drag him where they please and may even destroy him. These two currents are the great “check rein” in the hands of the charioteer, and he must get control of this to control the horses. We have to get the power to become moral; until we do that, we cannot control our actions. Yoga alone enables us to carry into practice the teachings of morality. To become moral is the object of Yoga. All great teachers were Yogis and controlled every current. The Yogis arrest these currents at the base of the spine and force them through the centre of the spinal column. They then become the current of knowledge, which only exists in the Yogi.
Second Lesson in Breathing: One method is not for all. This breathing must be done with rhythmic regularity, and the easiest way is by counting; as that is purely mechanical, we repeat the sacred word “Om” a certain number of times instead.
The process of Pranayama is as follows: Close the right nostril with the thumb and then slowly inhale through the left nostril, repeating the word “Om” four times.
Then firmly close both nostrils by placing the forefinger on the left one and hold the breath in, mentally repeating “Om” eight times.
Then, removing the thumb from the right nostril, exhale slowly through that, repeating “Om” four times.
As you close the exhalation, draw in the abdomen forcibly to expel all the air from the lungs. Then slowly inhale through the right nostril, keeping the left one closed, repeating “Om” four times. Next close the right nostril with the thumb and hold the breath while repeating “Om” eight times. Then unclose the left nostril and slowly exhale, repeating “Om” four times, drawing in the abdomen as before. Repeat this whole operation twice at each sitting, that is, making four Pranayamas, two for each nostril. Before taking your seat it is well to begin with prayer.
This needs to be practised a week; then gradually increase the duration of breathing, keeping the same ratio, that is, if you repeat “Om” six times at inhalation, then do the same at exhalation and twelve times during Kumbhaka. These exercises will make us more spiritual, more pure, more holy. Do not be led aside into any byways or seek after power. Love is the only power that stays by us and increases. He who seeks to come to God through Raja – yoga must be strong mentally, physically, morally, and spiritually. Take every step in that light.
Of hundreds of thousands only one soul will say, “I will go beyond, and I will penetrate to God.” Few can face the truth; but to accomplish anything, we must be willing to die for Truth.
Kundalini: Realise the soul not as matter, but as it is. We are thinking of the soul as body, but we must separate it from sense and thought. Then alone can we know we are immortal. Change implies the duality of cause and effect, and all that changes must be mortal. This proves that the body cannot be immortal, nor can the mind, because both are constantly changing. Only the unchangeable can be immortal, because there is nothing to act upon it.
We do not become it, we are it; but we have to clear away the veil of ignorance that hides the truth from us. The body is objectified thought. The “sun” and “moon” currents bring energy to all parts of the body. The surplus energy is stored at certain points (plexuses) along the spinal column commonly known as nerve centres.
These currents are not to be found in dead bodies and can only be traced in a healthy organism.
The Yogi has an advantage; for he is able not only to feel them, but actually to see them. They are luminous in his life, and so are the great nerve centres.
There is conscious as well as unconscious action. The Yogis possess a third kind, the superconscious, which in all countries and in all ages has been the source of all religious knowledge. The superconscious state makes no mistakes, but whereas the action of the instinct would be purely mechanical, the former is beyond consciousness.
It has been called inspiration, but the Yogi says, “This faculty is in every human being, and eventually all will enjoy it.”
We must give a new direction to the “sun” and “moon” currents and open for them a new passage through the centre of the spinal cord. When we succeed in bringing the currents through this passage called “Sushumna”, up to the brain, we are for the time being separated entirely from the body.
The nerve centre at the base of the spine near the sacrum is most important. It is the seat of the generative substance of the sexual energy and is symbolised by the Yogi as a triangle containing a tiny serpent coiled up in it. This sleeping serpent is called Kundalini, and to raise this Kundalini is the whole object of Raja – yoga.
The great sexual force, raised from animal action and sent upward to the great dynamo of the human system, the brain, and there stored up, becomes Ojas or spiritual force. All good thought, all prayer, resolves a part of that animal energy into Ojas and helps to give us spiritual power. This Ojas is the real man and in human beings alone is it possible for this storage of Ojas to be accomplished. One in whom the whole animal sex force has been transformed into Ojas is a god. He speaks with power, and his words regenerate the world.
The Yogi pictures this serpent as being slowly lifted from stage to stage until the highest, the pineal gland, is reached. No man or woman can be really spiritual until the sexual energy, the highest power possessed by man, has been converted into Ojas.
No force can be created; it can only be directed. Therefore we must learn to control the grand powers that are already in our hands and by will power make them spiritual instead of merely animal. Thus it is clearly seen that chastity is the corner – stone of all morality and of all religion. In Raja – yoga especially, absolute chastity in thought, word, and deed is a sine qua non. The same laws apply to the married and the single. If one wastes the most potent forces of one’s being, one cannot become spiritual.
All history teaches us that the great seers of all ages were either monks and ascetics or those who had given up married life; only the pure in life can see God.
Just before making the Pranayama, endeavour to visualise the triangle. Close your eyes and picture it vividly in your imagination. See it surrounded by flames and with the serpent coiled in the middle. When you can clearly see the Kundalini, place it in imagination at the base of the spine, and when restraining the breath in Kumbhaka, throw it forcibly down on the head of the serpent to awaken it. The more powerful the imagination, the more quickly will the real result be attained and the Kundalini be awakened. Until it does, imagine it does: try to feel the currents and try to force them through the Sushumna. This hastens their action.
Before we can control the mind we must study it.
We have to seize this unstable mind and drag it from its wanderings and fix it on one idea. Over and over again this must be done. By power of will we must get hold of the mind and make it stop and reflect upon the glory of God.
The easiest way to get hold of the mind is to sit quiet and let it drift where it will for a while. Hold fast to the idea, “I am the witness watching my mind drifting. The mind is not I.” Then see it think as if it were a thing entirely apart from yourself. Identify yourself with God, never with matter or with the mind.
Picture the mind as a calm lake stretched before you and the thoughts that come and go as bubbles rising and breaking on its surface. Make no effort to control the thoughts, but watch them and follow them in imagination as they float away. This will gradually lessen the circles. For the mind ranges over wide circles of thought and those circles widen out into ever – increasing circles, as in a pond when we throw a stone into it. We want to reverse the process and starting with a huge circle make it narrower until at last we can fix the mind on one point and make it stay there. Hold to the idea, “I am not the mind, I see that I am thinking, I am watching my mind act”, and each day the identification of yourself with thought and feeling will grow less, until at last you can entirely separate yourself from the mind and actually know it to be apart from yourself.
When this is done, the mind is your servant to control as you will. The first stage of being a Yogi is to go beyond the senses. When the mind is conquered, he has reached the highest stage.
Live alone as much as possible. The seat should be of comfortable height; put first a grass mat, then a skin (fur), next a silken cover. It is better that the seat has no back and it must stand firm.
Thoughts being pictures, we should not create them. We have to exclude all thought from the mind and make it a blank; as fast as a thought comes we have to banish it. To be able to accomplish this, we must transcend matter and go beyond our body. The whole life of man is really an effort to do this.
Each soul has its own meaning: In our nature these two things are connected.
The highest ideal we have is God. Meditate on Him. We cannot know the Knower, but we are He.
Seeing evil, we are creating it. What we are, we see outside, for the world is our mirror. This little body is a little mirror we have created, but the whole universe is our body. We must think this all the time; then we shall know that we cannot die or hurt another, because he is our own. We are birthless and deathless and we ought only to love. “This whole universe is my body; all health, all happiness is mine, because all is in the universe.” Say, “I am the universe.” We finally learn that all action is from us to the mirror.
Although we appear as little waves, the whole sea is at our back, and we are one with it. No wave can exist of itself.
Imagination properly employed is our greatest friend; it goes beyond reason and is the only light that takes us everywhere.
Inspiration is from within and we have to inspire ourselves by our own higher faculties.
Pratyahara and Dharana: Krishna says, “All who seek me by whatever means will reach me”, “All must reach me.” Pratyahara is a gathering toward, an attempt to get hold of the mind and focus it on the desired object. The first step is to let the mind drift; watch it; see what it thinks; be only the witness. Mind is not soul or spirit. It is only matter in a finer form, and we own it and can learn to manipulate it through the nerve energies.
The body is the objective view of what we call mind (subjective). We, the Self, are beyond both body and mind; we are “Atman”, the eternal, unchangeable witness. The body is crystallised thought.
When the breath is flowing through the left nostril, it is the time for rest; when through the right, for work; and when through both, the time to meditate. When we are calm and breathing equally through both nostrils, we are in the right condition for quiet meditation. It is no use trying to concentrate at first. Control of thought will come of itself.
After sufficient practice of closing the nostrils with the thumb and forefinger, we shall be able to do it by the power of will, through thought alone.
Pranayama is now to be slightly changed. If the student has the name of his “Ishta” (Chosen Ideal), he should use that instead of “Om” during inhalation and exhalation, and use the word “Hum” (pronounced Hoom) during Kumbhaka.
Throw the restrained breath forcibly down on the head of the Kundalini at each repetition of the word Hum and imagine that this awakens her. Identify yourself only with God. After a while thoughts will announce their coming, and we shall learn the way they begin and be aware of what we are going to think, just as on this plane we can look out and see a person coming. This stage is reached when we have learnt to separate ourselves from our minds and see ourselves as one and thought as something apart. Do not let the thoughts grasp you; stand aside, and they will die away.
Follow these holy thoughts; go with them; and when they melt away, you will find the feet of the Omnipotent God. This is the superconscious state; when the idea melts, follow it and melt with it.
Haloes are symbols of inner light and can be seen by the Yogi. Sometimes we may see a face as if surrounded by flames and in them read the character and judge without erring. We may have our Ishta come to us as a vision, and this symbol will be the one upon which we can rest easily and fully concentrate our minds.
We can imagine through all the senses, but we do so mostly through the eyes. Even imagination is half material. In other words, we cannot think without a phantasm. But since animals appear to think, yet have no words, it is probable that there is no inseparable connection between thought and images.
Try to keep up the imagination in Yoga, being careful to keep it pure and holy. We all have our peculiarities in the way of imaginative power; follow the way most natural to you; it will be the easiest.
We are the results of all reincarnations through Karma: “One lamp lighted from another”, says the Buddhist — different lamps, but the same light.
Be cheerful, be brave, bathe daily, have patience, purity, and perseverance, then you will become a Yogi in truth. Never try to hurry, and if the higher powers come, remember that they are but side – paths. Do not let them tempt you from the main road; put them aside and hold fast to your only true aim — god. Seek only the Eternal, finding which we are at rest for ever; having the all, nothing is left to strive for, and we are for ever in free and perfect existence — existence absolute, Knowledge absolute, Bliss absolute.
Sushumna: It is very useful to meditate on the Sushumna. You may have a vision of it come to you, and this is the best way. Then meditate for a long time on that. It is a very fine, very brilliant thread, this living passage through the spinal cord, this way of salvation through which we have to make the Kundalini rise.
In the language of the Yogi, the Sushumna has its ends in two lotuses, the lower lotus surrounding the triangle of the Kundalini and the top one in the brain surrounding the pineal gland; between these two are four other lotuses, stages on the way:
6th. Pineal Gland.
5th. Between the Eyes.
4th. Bottom of the Throat.
3rd. Level with the Heart.
2nd. Opposite the Navel.
1st. Base of Spine.
We must awaken the Kundalini, then slowly raise it from one lotus to another till the brain is reached. Each stage corresponds to a new layer of the mind.