Yoga: The Union of Subject and Object
Continuing our series on Sanatan Dharma by Swami Krishnananda
Continuing our explorations into the yogic secrets of the body with Alok Pandey
We are so used to seeing the body so much as organs, tissues, cells and their functions that we fail to observe any consciousness inherent in it. Is the body something unconscious, a machine driven by mechanical energy? It may appear so at first, but a deeper probe reveals that a consciousness stands behind the seemingly unconscious machine. The first impression itself is of a battalion of cells that has repeatedly rehearsed their drill and execute it to the minutest perfection. Or of an orchestra playing a concert with various musical instruments. What we see is the final performance, but what we do not see are the years of patient practice. This programming of each cell (in our body’s case) to perform a certain drill or strike a certain note in the concert of the body’s movements has come through aeons of conditioning. The fixity of laws and processes are the result of an adaptive conditioning over the years. Whether this conditioning and memory is passed down through the genetic mechanism or in some other way is open to discussion. But the fact of adaptation in one body acquired through years being transmitted to others of the species in a rapid and spontaneous way is an undisputed thing.
Whatever be the mechanism behind this evolutionary adaptation this conditioning has its advantages. It provides stability essential for useful and coordinated function. It also provides a rapidity of response to known environmental cues and so enhances survival. But the flip side of this is a fixity, which prevents us from discovering new ways of understanding and meeting the challenges of life. The horns and the tail so useful to animal life become meaningless at the human level with the full development of hands and its power to hold and grasp. Again, for example, even when we eliminate fear of an object or social situation from our mind, the body still gives the response of fear in the form of a tremor. But once this fear is deconditioned from the physical body, it is done for good. The body is difficult to decondition but once done, the lesson is permanent. The memory of the mind may fail but the body’s imprints remain.
The Physical Consciousness
So where is the seat of physical imprint and memory? Where is the blueprint which registers all the changes and transmits it down the line and even horizontally? One can still stretch one’s imagination to conceive of reverse t-RNA, a strand of RNA that carries information from the cell surface to the nuclei. Its importance is that it is perhaps the micro-chip linking the outside world with the inside of a cell. Thus our environment (physical and psycho-spiritual) can induce changes within the cell itself, carrying messages from the outside to the nucleus and effectuating genetic changes to be subsequently passed down the generations. What is not so easily conceivable is the transmission of the evolutionary changes horizontally as if our very physical being extended into one another as a single continuum! The only way to understand this is that behind the gross and visible physical body is a layer of subtle physical consciousness extending as the archetype holding the imprints and images of our past as well as the present and the future. It is this physical consciousness that mingles with the gross physical body and becomes one with it. In fact the gross body is nothing but a derivative product precipitated through the condensation of this physical consciousness.
The physical consciousness is like the healthy background against which the changing patterns of our physical being are matched and certified as healthy or sick. A consequent directive follows to correct the imbalance and the entire body’s processes adjust to its dictates. Or else we may visualize the physical consciousness as the uncorrupted original file containing the plans and processes of the gross body. Genes, chemical reactions, the various functions are only intermediary processes that adjust of themselves in accordance with the central directive. The real map and contours, the inner geography and history of each form is there in the individual physical consciousness. Perhaps, considering the great importance of this subtle body, Nature has kept this original file in secrecy lest our all too human curiosity corrupts it. Yet Nature does lend all its secrets if we pursue it rightly. So too the physical consciousness can be studied, awakened and called upon to assist in the healing as well as the evolutionary process. It is the last frontier where the sense of a separate body is preserved without losing the innate sense of oneness behind all physical existence and within the different parts of the body itself. Just as computer programming is not on the display screen or circuits, but in the mind of the programmer, the fixity of patterns in body movements and functions is not in the gross structure or genetic code (which are mainly transcripts), but in the physical consciousness that receives and transmits influences from subtle levels of consciousness.
If subtlety and an incessant urge to progress are the hallmarks of mind and fluidity and an ever expanding plasticity are the hallmarks of life, then it may well be said that fixity and inertia are the hallmarks of the physical consciousness and the body. It is only natural that this be so because the very purpose of the body is to provide a stable basis for our individual existence. The human body is much like the take-off field for various types of aircrafts in the form of thoughts, feelings, desires, impulses, etc. If the field is not good then the forces of life and mind suffer a diminution and labour under great duress. The solidity of the field may not guarantee an equally robust and healthy life and mind but it does open such a possibility. In contrast, a handicap at the physical level generally (exceptions apart) does limit the possibilities. To take a common experience, while it is possible for us to turn our thoughts and emotions upwards or downwards when we are in a state of physical health, our thinking and feeling get grossly constricted when we are sick, say with fever! The significance of the body can therefore never be underestimated. The hardware has to be commensurate with the software we wish to install.
The Hardware of the Body and its Future Possibilities
Much of the body’s evolutionary hardware still pertains to our animal past and life in the jungles. If developed we can still recover many of the lost capabilities of animal life. A methodical programme of physical exercises can turn our muscles into steel, our legs into powerful wheels and our heart into an extraordinary pumping machine. But that would not really be a forward march but a sliding back to a left behind past. The physical consciousness has however not only the imprints of the past but also and more importantly the blueprints of the future. Any evolutionary change must first transit itself through the subtle physical consciousness and then trickle to the gross body through a complex system of nerves. The subtle body has many other possibilities than merely those of our animal past. It can, for example, escape the laws of gravity, change its size according to need, create additional covering for itself as a cloth wrapped around us, extend a portion of itself into other things, prolong its existence, reconstitute itself into different shapes, reach out through the subtle senses far beyond our limited sense, draw energy directly without food, transmute the experience of pain into delight, multiply itself and possibly exist indefinitely. We find these exceptional and higher possibilities manifested in the case of rare yogis. These rare possibilities, often mocked by our arrogant and limited science as fantasy and myths, are yet the things that would manifest in the future. The hidden possibility must one day come out and the concealed and latent energies release themselves. The human body may have an animal past; it yet has a god’s future.
It is in this evolutionary direction that we need to develop the hardware of the body. This would need a twofold effort. First, an awakening and development of the body to its own highest human possibilities, that is, to bring the now automatic functions under a wilful, conscious and voluntary control. Next, to further sublimate the possibilities by the pressure of higher and higher energies accessible to us. The body consciousness has first to be awakened out of its animal sleep and next opened to the spiritual influences from above. It would need again a twofold labour. A deconditioning of the body from many of the animal instincts, which hinder the full play of higher energies in us, is the first requirement. The next requirement is to link our thus purified physical consciousness with the spiritual existence above through an aspiration and surrender.
In fact, all physical culture properly pursued, awakens physical consciousness, makes it subtler and less obscure, introducing into it a certain plasticity and control, thereby making it more receptive to higher influences. Dancing is one such ‘exercise’ that reintegrates body, mind, life energy and even the higher consciousness. Yogasanas also reintegrate body, mind and deeper levels of consciousness. It is no easy task and needs persistence and perseverance. What is of utmost importance however is not the fact of doing this or that exercise but rather adopting a certain attitude within us and a concentrated aspiration in the physical consciousness towards its own higher future.
Key to Educating the Body
The mind with its dogmas, its rigid and arbitrary principles, the vital with its passions, its excesses and dissipations soon destroy the natural balance of the body and create in it fatigue, exhaustion and disease. It must be freed from this tyranny and this can be done only through a constant union with the psychic centre of the being. The body has a wonderful capacity of adaptation and endurance. It is able to do so many more things than one usually imagines. If, instead of the ignorant and despotic masters that now govern it, it is ruled by the central truth of the being, you will be amazed at what it is capable of doing. Calm and quiet, strong and poised, at every minute it will be able to put forth the effort that is demanded of it, for it will have learnt to find rest in action and to recuperate, through contact with the universal forces, the energies it expends consciously and usefully. In this sound and balanced life a new harmony will manifest in the body, reflecting the harmony of the higher regions, which will give it perfect proportions and ideal beauty of form. And this harmony will be progressive, for the truth of the being is never static; it is a perpetual unfolding of a growing perfection that is more and more total and comprehensive. As soon as the body has learnt to follow this movement of progressive harmony, it will be possible for it to escape, through a continuous process of transformation, from the necessity of disintegration and destruction. – The Mother, On Education : ‘The Science of Living’
Evolutionary Transformation or Disintegrative Destruction
This therefore is the real challenge before the human body and every body. The animal body faced this challenge in its earlier leap towards the human form. The human body faces the same challenge today leading to an upsurge in the many forms of illnesses. Seen outwardly these illnesses are threats to survival to be crushed out by powerful medicines that eliminate germs and toxins (and perhaps the body itself in the long run). We forget that animal life knew nothing of all this consciously and yet it overcame the challenges and evolved to a greater possibility of life. The same evolutionary force is once again active in the earth atmosphere calling us to exceed our human limitations. Disease is merely a shadow showing us where we stand in this process. It is an inability of the physical parts to respond with a sufficient plasticity to the evolutionary pressure, firstly due to inertia and secondly due to the long standing habit of response to forces of a lower order. Unfortunately much of our present culture continues to strengthen our animal instincts and thereby making things even more difficult for the body that obeys these extravagances of our vital life of night clubs and late parties with the docility of a tamed animal and an obedient slave. The only way it can make noise or make itself heard is through the agency of illness. But do we listen and make the corresponding change in our lifestyle that precipitated the illness in the first place? The final conquest would not be therefore in eliminating the outer causes of illnesses or our ability to contain them through powerful drugs. The real conquest would be to eliminate the inner causes of illnesses by a spontaneous immunity to every force of disease and disintegration. This demands an evolutionary transformation of the body itself without which we will only replace one illness with another, create one mutant strain of virus after another, substitute one powerful chemical by another, change one form of illness into another without really eliminating them.
The inner reasons for physical deterioration and aging therefore are:
(i) An inability of the body to follow, due mainly to its fixity the progressive movement of other parts of the being. The body has learnt to obey the vital impulses (from its animal past) and thought-movements (in our human present). It does not yet respond to the forces of the higher consciousness (the superconscience). There are yet no centres in the body to respond to the higher touches. The superconscient is not yet organised in the body. In fact that is why traditionally, the body is required to be stilled so as to escape into a trance of superconscience. However the future body will be able to directly manifest the superconscience without resistance, in its waking, active state. Governed by the truth above, it will be able to respond much more surely and effectively.
(ii) A conditioning of the physical consciousness due to past programming.
(iii) A secret necessity of life to have infinite experience on a finite basis can also be the cause of aging and death. No form, however great and powerful, can provide this varied opportunity for infinite growth. Therefore, death is used as a device to assume new and different forms under different psychological and physical conditions. This cyclical return of growth through experience is the rationale for rebirth. In effect, nothing dies – all returns and reconstitutes itself, so that one day each element can manifest the highest harmony.
Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alok Pandey’s book “Veda of the Body”
An exponent of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s writings, especially on the subject of Yoga, Psychology, Education and Health, he has a medical degree in Psychiatry and has served in the Indian Air Force. He lives and practices in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry.
Continuing our series on Sanatan Dharma by Swami Krishnananda
Continuing our series on Sri Aurobindo and Integral Yoga
Sri Aurobindo wrote a letter to his younger brother, Barin Ghosh in 1920, explaining, among other things, his Yoga and spiritual approach.