Spirituality and Yoga
In the history of human quest, the field of direct spiritual experience has come to be cultivated, both intensively and extensively. This cultivation has come to be explored and practiced systematically in various cultures of the world, and in India, this systematic exploration and practice have been recognized as Yoga, and it has come to be clearly distinguished from religion, occultism and philosophy.
Yoga18 is a systematic and methodized pursuit of spirituality and direct spiritual experience. Spirituality, in its distinctiveness, aims at the knowledge and possession of the Spirit, as distinguished from Mind, Life and Matter; it pursues Spirit as an object of knowledge and not merely as an object to be merely believed in by an act of faith or under the pressure of the claims of dogma. Spirituality is distinguishable from a high intellectuality; it is not identified merely with idealism or with an ethical turn of mind or moral purity and austerity; nor is it religiosity or an ardent and exalted emotional fervor; nor is it even a compound of these excellent things. Spiritual experience transcends mental belief, creed or faith, emotional aspiration, and regulation of conduct according to a religious or ethical formula. All these things are of value to spirituality, but only as preparatory movements. They still belong to the
movement of evolution which remains within the boundaries of the mind. These things are far from what can truly be described as spiritual experience or spiritual realization or as spiritual change, which is itself a starting-point of great and radical processes of what can be called processes of psychic transformation, spiritual transformation and supramental transformation.
If we wish to define spirituality in its distinctive character,19 it can'be said that it is, in its essence and in its initial stages, an awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a Spirit, Self, Soul which is other than our Mind, Life and Body. This awakening is further nurtured by an inner aspiration to know, to feel and to be that spirit, self and soul. Spirituality is a radical and persistent effort to enter into contact with the greater Reality beyond and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being, to be in communion and union with It. Spirituality is not merely a turning and orientation towards that greater Reality; spirituality aims at conversion, a transformation of our whole being as a result of the aspiration, the contact, and the union. Spirituality is a process of growth or a process of waking and developing into a new becoming, a new being, a new self, a new nature.
There are several tentative beginnings, and they are followed by slow processes of growth and evolution at the high levels of which there emerge ranges of spiritual experience and realization. At earlier stages, a certain kind of religiosity may become predominant; this kind of religiosity is marked by the nature of mind or life seeking and finding in itself a spiritual support or factor. In this stage, one is mostly preoccupied with the utilization of such contact as one can get or construct with something transcendental that can help
or serve mental ideas or moral ideals or vital or physical interests. Morality too can become a starting-point and one can even arrive at a stage of consciousness which can be judged to be a state of justice in the light of certain ethical principles or criteria. Philosophical or scientific thought can also be a stage of the beginning, and this thought may arrive at increasing levels of wisdom or at many high points of mental manhood. One can develop states of consciousness appropriate to those of the priest and the sage, or to the man of piety or to the man of courage and heroism or charity and justice or to the man of wide vision, intimate understanding and intellectual love of Reality or ripeness of synthetic thought and of action proceeding from discoveries of secret perceptions and conceptions. At a later stage, there occurs a preparatory influence or influx of the spiritual light, and there develops a spiritualized turn of thought with uplifting illuminations, or a spiritualized turn of the emotional or the aesthetic being, a spiritualized ethical formation in the character, a spiritualized urge in some life-action or other dynamic vital movement of the nature, increasing awareness of inner light, of a guidance or a communion, of a greater Control than the mind and will to which one learns to obey. At still higher stages, intuitions and illuminations grow in insistence and canalize themselves and begin to govern the whole life. One can expect at that stage the emergence of types of character which can be described in terms of saintliness, sagehood, seerhood; it is here that the true mystic, the rishi, the yogi or the prophet begin to flower; it is here that one can meet the servant of God, the soldier of the spirit. The sage and the seer live in a plane higher than the plane of mind; they live ln tne spiritual mind, since their thought or their vision is governed and moulded by an inner or a greater divine light of Knowledge. The saint is moved by the awakened psychic
being in the inner heart, and he has grown powerful to govern the emotional and vital being. The saint is also marked by devotion that lives in the spiritual aspiration of the heart, its self-offering and its seeking. The soldier of the spirit, the hero of God's battle and the gentle and puissant servant of God stand in the vital kinetic nature driven by a higher spiritual energy and turned by it towards an inspired action, a God-given work or mission, the service of some Divine power, idea or ideal.
These higher degrees of spirituality are attained by constant aspiration and heroic efforts to break the boundaries of the mind so that the light of the spirit, the will-force and love and joy and compassion of the spirit that lie above the mind can pour into activities of conception; emotion and action can impart to them stability of increasing calm, silence and peace even while dynamism of the spiritual will manifests more and more puissantly. The distinction between the mind and the Spirit lies in the fact that while the mind, even at its highest levels, is over-weighed with multiplicity as its object and with division as its instrument of action, spirituality, even at its lowest levels is overweighed with the sense of unity and increasing synthesis in its instruments of action. Mind, even at its highest levels, tends to veil the integral Reality and to bind human nature to the imperatives of the laws of the body, life and mental operations, while the spirit is self-luminous and its increasing light reveals luminously various facets of Reality and opens up the gates, even the flood-gates, of the vision of the integral Reality, and it liberates human nature progressively and more and more fully from the imperatives of the laws of the body, life and mind.
In the higher or highest stages of spirituality, we find the emergence of the liberated man who has realized the Self and
Spirit within him. The liberated man enters into the cosmic consciousness and passes into union with the Eternal and, so far as he still accepts life and action, acts by the light and energy of the Power within him working through his human instruments of Nature. There are still higher stages of the spiritual change and of liberation; liberation of the soul or of the Self from the laws of the body, life and mind can be followed by the liberation of the mind, life and body from the yoke of their own respective laws; liberation of the spirit is followed by the liberation of nature, and there are achievements of total liberation of soul, mind, heart and action, a casting of them all into the sense of the Cosmic Self and the Divine Reality.
The history of spiritual evolution has witnessed even the higher ranges of Himalayan eminences and peaks of highest nature. And beyond these heights, the paths have been built towards the supramental ascent or the incommunicable Transcendence. The recent developments of the spiritual evolution have opened up the paths of the supramental descent and supramental manifestation on the earth so as to bring about largest synthesis of the Spirit and Matter, the boundaries of which, it is claimed, are constantly breaking so as to bring about on the earth a new species, the very nature of which will have inherent powers of the supramental consciousness, just as the human species is imbued with spontaneous powers of the development of the mind and various ranges of mental consciousness.
Spirituality and Knowledge
Spirituality and direct spiritual experiences carry with them noetic quality,20 and they claim certainty of knowledge and the certainty of the truth of the object or the objects of
knowledge. In this respect, spirituality has been distinctly contrasted with religion and morality. Morality is admittedly a part of the ordinary life that seeks satisfaction and the development of the body, life and mind without any reference to their original source or self. Again, morality is that part of ordinary life which seeks to regulate and guide the various aspects of the physical and vital life or of mental or rational thought in the light of standards of conduct erected by moral or normative conscientiousness, — hedonistic, altruistic, or utilitarian or else in the light of standards of universal principles formulated under the light of the categorical imperative. But these standards of conduct are not found to be based on any claims of the certainty of knowledge. Moreover, these standards of conduct, in their application by a bewildered and an imperfect humanity, come easily to be conflicting principles. Justice often demands what love abhors, and in fact man's absolute justice easily turns out to be in practice a sovereign injustice. Morality is thus riddled with a state of uncertainty and disequilibrium.
Religion is an endeavor of man to turn away from the earth towards the Divine, even though it strives to relate man with God or gods or with the divine consciousness and to build bridges between heaven and earth and earth and heaven. It claims to be based on revelation or intuition, and it also claims veracity of the process and content of revelation or intuition, but it largely appeals to dogma and belief that does not and cannot question. It erects systems of rituals and ceremonies and provides codes of conduct or of prescribed acts, the ultimate justification of which is sought to be rooted in the revealed truth. It also erects or creates systems of institutions and modes of collective life designed to sub-serve the revealed truth. But religion is still governed by
mental consciousness; it often revolves in a round of rites, ceremonies and practices of set prescriptions and forms. Religion does promise eventual arrival at spiritual experience, but often, it is claimed that spiritual experience is beyond the normal limitations of humanity, even though the founders of religions, it is acknowledged, were blessed with the rare ability of divine seeing and divine hearing. The claims of one religion are often in conflict with those of other religions, and the issue of the conflict remains as yet an unresolved issue.
It is the limitations of morality and religion21 that have compelled the quest of direct spiritual experience. But even in the realm of direct spiritual experience the issue of the justification of the claim in regard to knowledge, certainty and truth is not easy to resolve.
Spirituality, Science and Criteria of Validity of Knowledge
Science demands physical valid proof of facts for building up justified or justifiable beliefs regarding them. But this demand in respect of phenomena of consciousness that are supra-physical and spiritual is often regarded as untenable.22 Consciousness is intrinsically supra-physical, and spirituality is the domain of higher and highest levels of consciousness and of supra-physical facts. Even though a supra-physical fact may impinge on the physical world and produce physical results, the action of the supra-physical on the physical and its effect on our senses cannot be its invariable action and most normal character or process. Ordinarily, the supra-physical produces a direct effect or a tangible impression on our mind and our life-being, and can only indirectly and through them, if at all, influence the
physical world and physical life. If it objectivises itself, it does so to subtler senses in us and only derivatively to the outward physical sense. In examples of the faculty of second sight and also of those of psychic faculties, this is what happens. It is through those subtle faculties that one can gain various kinds of evidence of the existence of other planes of beings and communication with them. It is then that one becomes aware that our physical mind and our physical senses are not the whole of us or the best or greatest part of us; and one begins to realize that reality cannot be restricted to a sole field of narrowness of the physical world.
It is, however, argued that the supra-physical experience is essentially subjective,23 and that subjective experiences or subtle-sense images can easily be deceptive, since we have no recognized method or standard of verification. But the counter-argument is that error is not the prerogative of the inner subjective experience alone; it is also a part of the knowledge that can be gained by physical senses, and even of the objective methods and standards. And just as in the physical domain, methods of scrutinizing physical exper iences have been worked out, and valid means of clarifications have been greatly standardized so that barren scepticism is no more defensible in regard to physical experiences, even so, in the occult sciences or in the yogic sciences, true standards and valid means of verification have been developed. Supra-physical experiences, when rightly interrogated and tested by their own characteristic appropriate standards of verification, are found to be valid, and the testimony of these experiences is confirmed again and again even in the physical and objective field. But it should be admitted that there is again too great a tendency to admit the extraordinary and miraculous or supernatural at its face value,
and there is, therefore, a reason to be more scrupulous and stringent in applying appropriate valid means of verification.
There is in science, insistence on the definition of knowledge, which includes one indispensable element, viz., its public character. It is true that it is much easier to satisfy the criterion of public character, where the data of our physical world are concerned, since most of the human beings can verify them through the physical organism, the operations of which are quite commonly and readily obtained. In regard to supra-physical experiences and supra-physical realities, where supra physical senses or faculties are required for purposes of testing and for public shareability, the situation is more difficult. But if a serious study is made, and if it is admitted that all truth, supra-physical or physical, must be founded not on mental beliefs alone, but on experience, and that in each case experience must be of the kind, physical, subliminal or spiritual, which is appropriate to the order of the truths into which we are empowered to enter, and further, if their validity and significance must be scrutinized according to their own laws and by a consciousness which can enter into them and not according to the laws of another domain or by a consciousness which is capable only of truths of another order, then, we find in the yogic sciences sure grounds for enlarging our sphere of knowledge and even of satisfying the criterion of public shareability, provided we mean by public that public which has at its command those senses and faculties which are appropriate for the knowledge of the supra-physical.
Yoga as Science and Validity of Spiritual Knowledge
Indeed, if spiritual experiences were a matter of sporadic occurrence or of a sudden momentary flash, — then, considering the variety of spiritual experiences and considering the
conflicts in regard to the truth-claims of various spiritual experiences, one would have hesitated to assign much value to the realm of spiritual experiences. But the dismissal of the claims of spiritual experiences on the ground that they are occasional or extremely rare or riddled with conflicts turns out to be untenable in the light of the systematic body of knowledge, with regard to spiritual experiences that has been developed over millennia by a large number of seekers in different parts of the world. Methods of spiritual seeking have been developed, and their assured results have come to be verified, repeated, reiterated and even expanded. In India, these systems have come to be grouped under the word Yoga, the connotation of which includes: methodized efforts
(a) which aim at self-perfection, and
(b) which are marked by the expression of the potentialities latent in the being, as also
(c) which are claimed to lead to a union of the human individual with the universal and the transcendental Existence we see partially expressed .in man and in the universe.
According to Yoga, spiritual experiences, even if they occur sporadically to some or many, are in themselves not hazardous or accidental. There is always a psychological base for these experiences. Certain intensity in the being is a precondition; that intensity may pertain to the operations of thought or emotions or will, or even to some bodily condition or even to some subtlety of sense experience. Even if they seem to occur suddenly or without any conscious or willed psychological preparation, they are always connected with some secret processes of preparation of which the conscious mind may not be aware. Yoga goes farther and points out that
spiritual experiences can be made to occur, even at will, by a conscious application of certain specific methods on a regular and sustained basis. During the long history of Yoga,24 methods have been developed, tested repeatedly, and the resultant spiritual experiences or supra-physical experiences have been tested; thus, as in science, so in Yoga these methods are formed upon a knowledge developed and confirmed by regular experiment, practical analysis and constant result. In India, Yoga has been recognized, and on account of millennia of experimentation, it has come to be regarded as shastra or science, which consists of the systematic body of the knowledge of the truths, principles, powers and processes that govern the spiritual experiences and spiritual realizations. This shastra has been built upon the perception and experience that our inner elements, functions, forces can be separated or resolved or they can be new-combined and set to novel and formerly impossible workings or can be transformed and resolved into a new general synthesis by fixed internal processes. Yoga is an attempt to realize psychological and physical perfection for our being by devising self-conscious means and willed arrangements of activity and by ever increasing expression of inner potentialities in a persistent and guided effort to unite our being with the divine reality and divine nature.
Just as in science, we first observe the natural force of electricity or of steam and its normal occurrences or normal operations, and then we handle these operations scientifically by means of experimentation and willed arrangements, so that we can generate electricity or steam at will and in the measure of requirements, even so Yoga observes and deals scientifically with the ranges of the psychical and spiritual being, and it arrives at the discovery and utilization of greater
secrets of physical, psycho-physical and other higher realities.25 As in all true science, the object is an assured method of personal discovery or living repetition and possession of past discovery and a working out in full details of all the things found. As in science, so in Yoga, there is a high intention to hold the truth, the light found in our inner power of being and turn it to our power of being, our psychic self, our spirit, our self of knowledge and will, our self of love and joy, our self of life and action.