In our previous article, we have discussed briefly the main principles of the inward movement in Vedantic Yoga. In this and subsequent articles, we will examine how or what is the inner discipline by which this movement can be made.
The first set of discipline which is constantly emphasised in the Upanishadic Yoga is Renunciation and Discrimination. As we have explained elsewhere, the renunciation which was preached in the early classical Upanishad and the Githa was predominantly an inner renunciation of ego and desire and not an outer renunciation of work and action and the world. Isha Upanishad upholds with an unmistakable emphasis the gospel of work : “Doing verily works in this world one should wish to live a hundred years. Thus it is in thee and not otherwise than this; action cleaves not to a man”. The other early Upanishads like Taithria and Kena also preach Karma or work as an integral part of the spiritual discipline.
But the Upanishadic discipline insists with an uncompromising firmness on the renunciation of desire and the indulgence in vital enjoyment kama. And without this renunciation, the inward movement of yoga is extremely difficult, if not impossible. As we have said elsewhere one of the major obstacles to the inward movement in Yoga is the irresistible attraction and obstinate attachment of the vital and sensational being to the glamour and enjoyment of the names and forms of the outer world. As long as the consciousness of the human being is overwhelmed by this attraction and attachment to the outer world it cannot turn inwards, even if it wants to; it will be forcefully kept enclosed and imprisoned within the skin – encaspulated bodily consciousness. So an uncompromising renunciation of the attractions, attachments and enjoyments of the vital desire, kama is the first inescapable discipline imposed on the seeker of the inner path.
But how to renounce? We must remember here that this inner renunciation is much more difficult than an outer abandment of the world; it cannot be effected by a mere wish or by a mere vital or mental disgust for the world and its enjoyments though they may sometime lead to it. The inner renunciation is a positive psychological and spiritual process, an act of higher will and knowledge, which brings an inner freedom and peace. It requires Viveka and Vargya, discrimination of knowledge and the determination of will.
To renounce truly we must know what to renounce and why to renounce, not intellectually, which any mediocre pundit can do, but psychologically though an inner experience. A psychological, intuitive and experiential understanding of the true nature of vital desire and enjoyment and their harmful consequences, and as a result a spontaneous dropping away of the fever of desire, is the ideal act of inner renunciation by discrimination. A similar intuitive perception of the nature of the eternal and infinite Self and a spontaneous choice at every moment of our life of all that leads to this highest Self is the other aspect of a perfect and ideal discrimination.
But this state of perfect and ideal state of renunciation and discrimination is not normally found among average seekers. Only some exceptional spiritual personalities are endowed with such a spontaneous and inborn renunciation and discrimination. The average seeker can reach this ideal only through a long persistent inner discipline. The nature of this inner discipline of renunciation – discrimination is brought-out with an unparalleled insight and beauty in the following famous verses of the Katha Upanishad:
“One thing is the good and quite another thing is the pleasant and both seize upon a man with different meanings. Of these who takes the good, it is well with him; he falls from the aim of life who chooses the pleasant.
“The good and the pleasant come to a man and the thoughtful mind turns all around them and distinguishes. The wise chooses out the good from the pleasant but the dull soul chooses the pleasant rather than the getting of his good and its having.
“And thou, O Nachiketas, hast looked close at the objects of desire, at pleasant things and beautiful, and thou hast cast them from thee: thou hast not entered into the net of riches in which many men sink into perdition”.
There are other definitions of discrimination given by Vedanthic philosophers which stress on the choice between the real and the unreal or the truth and the falsehood etc. But most of such definitions sound abstract and do not have the living and psychological concreteness of the above verses of the Katha Upanishad. For in the initial stages of the path, the most concrete psychological difficulty which the seeker feels is not the choice between truth and falsehood or real and the unreal, but to put the choice of his will resolutely and persistently against the temptations of all that is pleasant, desirable and attractive, preya, to his lower nature and in favour of all that is good, auspcious and favourable, Sreya, to the development of his higher nature. And this prusuit of Sreya is not always pleasant in the beginning, especially if the attachment to Preya is strong and obstinate in the lower nature. This struggle between the hedonistic impulses of man’s lower nature, preya, and the idealistic moral and spiritual aspiration of his higher nature, Sreya, which makes the spiritual path difficult and painful in the beginning, “like poison in the begining but like nectar at the end” as Githa describes. This is a fact which is well known and recognised in all moral and spiritual disciplines of the world. But the uniqueness of the Upanishadic teaching is in the element of knowledge which it brings to the discipline. The moral discipline should not be merely an act of ethical will but should also be an act of understanding with a full knowledge of the truth and nature and law of the psychological process involved; it should be an act of discriminating knowledge. And this quality of discriminative knowledge becomes all the more important as the seeker progress on the path of yoga. For this Sreya and Preya are not fixed things but relative to the stage of inner evolution of the individuals. What is sreya at a particular stage of evolution may have to be renounced at a higher stage of inner progress. For the hedonistic impulse towards preya can pursue the seeker even in his inner journey. This attraction and attachment to the glamour and enjoyment of the outer world may be replaced by an equally strong and vehement attraction and attachment to the glamour and attraction and joy of some inner moral psychological or spiritual states or ideal. And this may prevent further progress of the seeker on the path to the highest. For example some form of outer isolation for the pursuit of inner life and a silent contemplation for inner peace is good and even necessary in the initial stages of the path. But if the seeker develops an attachment to the quietistic joy of inner peace and remains satisfied there, than he cannot progress further on toward higher and more dynamic and creative states of spiritual consciousness.
This bring us to one of the oft-repeated criticism of western minds on Eastern spirituality, that it is morally ambivalent. What is the role of the moral and ethical discipline in the vedanthic yoga? We have to admit here that the Vedantic yoga aims at a transcendent. supra-moral and absolute Goodness beyond the relative good and evil of human morality. We must also understand that in Indian Yoga, moral perfection is only a stage and not the aim of the path and the Indian ethical discipline is based on psychological principles rather than on moral or religious maxims. And the aim of the ethical discipline in yoga is not moral virtuosity but inner psychological purification, chitta-sudhi, which helps in the inner being of man to become transparent to the light of the inmost spirit. But still with all this caveats, Indian yoga is not morally ambivalent. It does not preach indifference to good and evil for the seeker, especially for the novice on the path. Katha Upanishad states categorically “None who has not ceased from doing evil” can attain to Him. The Western misreading of the ethical standpoint of Indian yoga proceeds from misinterpretation of certain descriptions in Indian scriptures of the highest supra-moral Brahmic consciousness.