Donna Quesada for Awaken: Dear Swami Vivekananda, it is an honor to spend this time with you.

Swami Vivekananda-awakenThank you for agreeing to share the ancient wisdom of Yoga with our readers. I believe that Yoga has been very misunderstood and misrepresented in the west… emphasizing the physical aspect of it, when it is largely a path to spiritual awakening, or Self-Realization. If you will, I would like to start there… What is Yoga really, and how is it a means to awaken?

Swami Vivekananda: All the different steps in Yoga are intended to bring us scientifically to the super-conscious state, or Samadhi…When the mind is above or below that line there is no feeling of I,” and yet the mind works. When the mind goes beyond this line of self-consciousness it is called Samadhi, or super-consciousness. It is above consciousness.

Awaken: Can you say more about this state called Samadhi, and why it alone, rather than other states of consciousness, may bring us to enlightenment?

Swami: When a man goes into deep sleep he enters a plane beneath consciousness. He works the body all the time, he breathes, he moves the body, perhaps, in his sleep, without any accompanying feeling of ego; he is unconscious, and when he returns from his sleep he is the same man who went into it. The sum-total of the knowledge which he had before he went into the sleep remains the same; it has not increased at all. No enlightenment has come. But if a man goes into Samadhi, if he goes into it a fool, he comes out a sage.

Awaken: And so… what makes the difference? 

Swami: What makes the difference? From one state a man comes out the very same man that went in, and out of another state the man becomes enlightened, a sage, a prophet, a saint, his whole character changed, his life changed, illumined. These are the two effects. Now the effects being different, the causes must be different. As this illumination, with which a man comes back from Samadhi, is much higher than can be got from unconsciousness, or much higher than can be got by reasoning in a conscious state, it must therefore be superconsciousness, and Samadhi is called the super-conscious state. This, in short, is the idea of Samadhi.

Awaken: Can we therefore say unequivocally, that Samadhi is the goal of all true Yoga?

Swami: All the different steps in Yoga are intended to bring us scientifically to the super-conscious state, or Samadhi. All the orthodox systems of Indian philosophy have one goal in view, the liberation of the soul through perfection. The method is by Yoga. The word Yoga covers an immense ground, but both the Sankhya and the Vedantist schools point to Yoga in some form or other.

Awaken: Would you elaborate on the philosophical core and mission of Yoga?

Swami: Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divine within, by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy, by one, or more, or all of these—and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.

Awaken: I recognize the Four Main Schools of Yoga in your response… “work” referring to Karma Yoga; “worship” to Bhakti Yoga; “psychic control” to Raja Yoga, and “philosophy” to Jnana Yoga. You are saying that whatever practices we adopt, the point is still the same… to achieve divine union, which is the goal of everything we call religion. Can you explain what you mean by “religion?” I would’ve expected you to better liken Yoga to science

Swami: The scientist does not tell you to believe in anything, but he has certain results which come from his own experiences, and reasoning on those experiences, when he asks us to believe in his conclusions, he appeals to some universal experience of humanity. In every exact science there is a universal basis which is common to all humanity, so that we can at once see the truth of the fallacy of the conclusions drawn therefrom.

Now, the question is, has religion any such basis or not? I shall have to answer the question both in the affirmative and in the negative. Religion, as it is generally taught all over the world, is said to be based on faith and belief, and, in most cases, consists only of different sets of theories, and that is the reason why we find all these various religions quarreling with each other. These theories, again, are based on belief. One man says there is a great Being sitting above the clouds and governing the whole universe, and he asks me to believe that, solely on the authority of his assertion. In the same way I may have my own ideas, which I am asking others to believe, and if they ask a reason, I cannot supply them with any. This is why religion and metaphysical philosophy have a bad name nowadays. Every educated man seems to say: Oh, these religions are only bundles of theories without any standard to judge them by, each man preaching his own pet ideas.”

At the same time, I must tell you that there is a basis of universal belief in religion, governing all these different theories, and all the varying ideas of different sects of men in different countries. Going to the basis of them we find that they also are based upon universal experiences. In the first place I will ask you to analyze all the various religions of the world. You will find that these are divided into two classes, those with a book, and those without a book. Those with a book are the strongest, and have the largest number of followers. Those without books have mostly died out, and the few new ones have very small followings. Yet, in all of them we find one consensus of opinion, that the truths they teach are the results of the experiences of particular persons.

The Christian asks you to believe in his religion, to believe in Christ, and to believe in Him as the incarnation of God, to believe in a God, in a soul, and in a better state of that soul. If I ask him for reasons he says, No, it is my belief.”But if you go to the fountain head of Christianity you will find that it is based upon experience. Christ said He saw God; the disciples said they felt God; and so forth. Similarly, in Buddhism, it is Buddhas experience—He experienced certain truths, saw them, came in contact with them, and preached them to the world. So with the Hindus—in their book the writers, who are called Rishis, or sages, declare that they have experienced certain truths, and these they preach. Thus it is clear that all the religions of the world have been built upon that one universal and adamantine foundation of all our knowledge—direct experience. The teachers all saw God; they all saw their own souls, they saw their eternity, they saw their future, and they saw what they preached.

Awaken: If I understand you correctly, you are saying that all religions originally developed as all science did… by means of direct experience. In this way, the division that we see today, between religion and science, did not exist as such, when these systems were born…

Swami: In modern times, a peculiar claim is put before us, and that claim is that these experiences are impossible at the present day; they were only possible with a few men, who were the first founders of the religions that subsequently bore their names. At the present time, these experiences have become obsolete, and therefore we have now to take religion on belief. This I entirely deny. If there has been one case of experience in this world in any particular branch of knowledge, it absolutely follows that this experience has been possible millions of times before, and will be repeated eternally. Uniformity is the rigorous law of nature; what once happened can happen always.

Awaken: I understand… Things became divisive as soon as it was pronounced that only a certain gifted few were able to have a spiritual experience. And all the worse because with that assertion came the following one, namely that the rest of us would have to take the whole thing on faith, rather than being encouraged or shown how to achieve the same experience…

Swami: The teachers of the science of Yoga declare that religion is not only based upon the experiences of ancient times, but that no man can be religious until he has had the same perceptions himself. Yoga is the science which teaches us to get these perceptions. It is useless to talk about religion until one has felt it.

Awaken: In this vein, you simultaneously refer to Yoga both as a science and as a religion. It is scientific in its method and religious in its aspiration. It seems so unproblematic! So, why is it that has religion been so fraught with trouble throughout most of modern history? 

Swami: Why is there so much disturbance, so much fighting and quarreling in the name of God? There has been more bloodshed in the name of God than for any other cause, and the reason is that people never went to the fountain head; they were content only to give a mental assent to the customs of their forefathers, and wanted others to do the same. What right has a man to say he has a soul if he does not feel it, or that there is a God if he does not see Him? If there is a God we must see Him, if there is a soul we must perceive it; otherwise it is better not to believe. It is better to be an outspoke atheist than a hypocrite.

Awaken: You are emphasizing that it must be based on one’s personal experience…

Swami: Man wants truth, wants to experience truth for himself, to grasp it, to realize it, to feel it within his heart of hearts; then alone, declare the Vedas, will all doubts vanish, all darkness be scattered, and all crookedness be made straight. Ye children of immortality, even those who live in the highest sphere, the way is found; there is a way out of all this darkness, and that is by perceiving Him Who is beyond all darkness, and there is no other way.”

Awaken: And the Yogic paths provide the means to the realization that you speak of…

Swami: The science of Raja Yoga proposes to put before humanity a practical and scientifically worked-out method of reaching this truth. In the first place, every science must have its own method of investigation. If you want to become an astronomer, and sit down and cry Astronmoy, Astronmoy!” it will never come to you. The same with chemistry. A certain method must be followed. You must go to the laboratory, take the different substance, mix them up, compound them, experiment with them, and out of that will come a knowledge of chemistry. If you want to be an astronomer you must go to the observatory, take a telescope, study the stars and planets, and then you will become an astronomer. Each science must have its own methods. I could preach you thousands of sermons, but they would not make you religious, until you first practiced the method.

The science of Raja Yoga, in the first place, proposes to give men such a means of observing the internal states, and the instrument is the mind itself. The power of attention of mind, when properly guided, and directed towards the internal world, will analyze the mind, and illumine facts for us. The powers of mind are like rays of light being dissipated; when they are concentrated they illumine everything. This is the only source of knowledge that we have.

From our childhood upwards we have been taught only to pay attention to things external, never to pay attention to things internal, and most of us have nearly lost the faculty of observing the internal mechanism. To turn the mind, as it were, inside, stop it from going outside, and then to concentrate all its powers, and throw them upon the mind itself, in order that it may know its own nature, analyze itself, is very hard work.

Awaken: What would you say to the materialist, who is skeptical of mysticism and of turning our search to such metaphysical matters, and who asks what is the purpose of such an inquiry?

Swami: What is the use of such knowledge? In the first place, knowledge itself is the highest reward of knowledge, and, in the second place, there is also utility in it. It will take away our misery.

All misery comes from fear, from unsatisfied desire. Man will find that he never dies, and then he will have no more fear of death. When he knows that he is perfect, he will have no more vain desires, and both these causes being absent, there will be no more misery—there will be perfect bliss, even while in this body.

Awaken: Indeed, it is like the story I once heard of the scholar of psychology who was just as depressed upon completing his studies, as he was on the day he began… it wasn’t until he joined the monastery that he found any respite at all. Understandably, monastic life isn’t the only answer, but I’ve found from personal experience that the plunge into the spiritual dimension of who we are, is the only thing that ever really brought relief and liberation from all manner of existential despair!

Swami: To acquire freedom we have to get beyond the limitations of this universe; it cannot be found here. Perfect equilibrium, or what the Christians call the peace that passeth all understanding, cannot be had in this universe, nor in heaven, nor in any place where our mind and thoughts can go, where the senses can feel, or which the imagination can conceive. No such place can give us that freedom, because all such places would be within our universe, and it is limited by space, time, and causation. There may be places that are more ethereal than this earth of ours, where enjoyments may be keener, but even those places must be in the universe and, therefore, in bondage to law; so we have to go beyond, and real religion begins where this little universe ends. These little joys, and sorrows, and knowledge of things end there, and the reality begins. Until we give up the thirst after life, the strong attachment to this… our transient conditioned existence, we have no hope of catching even a glimpse of that infinite freedom beyond.

Awaken: Swami, for those who are intrigued by Yoga as a pathway to this kind of liberation, may we start with The Royal Path of Raja Yoga and its eight limbs… Can you explain its core purpose?

Swami: Raja Yoga is divided into eight steps. The first is Yama—non-killing, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-receiving of any gifts. Next is Niyama — cleanliness, contentment, mortification, study, and self-surrender to God. Then comes Asana, or posture; Pranayama, or controlling the vital forces of the body; Pratyahara, or making the mind introspective; Dharana, or concentration; Dhyana, or meditation; and Samadhi, or super-consciousness. The Yama and Niyama, as we see, are moral trainings; without these as the basis no practice of Yoga will succeed. As these practices become established the Yogi will begin to realize the fruits of his practice; without these it will never bear fruit. A Yogi must not think of injuring anyone, through thought, word or deed, and this applies not only to man, but to all animals.

Awaken: And how would you distill from this the quintessence of the Yogi’s journey?

Swami: According to the Raja Yogi, all this external world is but the gross form of the internal, or subtle. One who has discovered and learned how to manipulate the internal forces will get the whole of nature under his control. The Yogi proposes to himself no less a task than to master the whole universe, to control the whole of nature. He wants to arrive at the point where what we call natures laws” will have no influence over him, where he will be able to get beyond them all. He will be master of the whole of nature, internal and external. The progress and civilization of the human race is simply controlling this nature.

Awaken: To clarify, by “controlling nature,” you mean that Yogi strives toward achieving a balanced and imperturbable nature within himself/herself, so as to better withstand life’s trials?

Swami: Most of our difficulties in our daily lives come from being unable to hold our minds in this way. For instance, if a man does evil to us, instantly we want to react evil… and we lose our power. Every reaction in the form of hatred or evil is so much loss to the mind… It is not that we lose by thus restraining ourselves; we are gaining infinitely more than we suspect. Each time we suppress hatred, or a feeling of anger, it is so much good energy stored up in our favor; that piece of energy will be converted into the higher powers.

We must have friendship for all; we must be merciful towards those that are in misery; when people are happy we ought to be happy, and to the wicked we must be indifferent. So with all subjects that come before us. If the subject is a good one, we shall feel friendly towards it; if the subject of thought is one that is miserable we must be merciful towards the subject. If it is good we must be glad, if it is evil we must be in different. These attitudes of the mind towards the different subjects that come before it will make the mind peaceful.

Awaken: So, ultimately, the idea is to be less reactive to the ups and downs of life… or to put it more simply, self-mastery. This pursuit was not localized to India… surely the western world has its equivalent?

Swami: India has been its special stronghold but it was also attempted by other nations. In Western countries it is thought to be mysticism. People who wanted to practice it were either burned or killed as witches and sorcerers, and in India, for various reasons, it fell into the hands of persons who destroyed 90 percent of the knowledge, and of that portion which remained tried to make a great secret. In modern times many so-called teachers have arisen worse than those of India, because the latter knew something, while these modern exponents do not.

Awaken: So, I suppose it was so forbidden because the institutions in power did not want us to be masters of our own journey. They wanted us to be uncritical believers and to remain dependent on external sources for salvation…

Swami: It is wrong to blindly believe. You must exercise your own reason and judgement; you must practice, and see whether things happen or not. Just as you would take up any other science of a material nature, exactly in the same manner you should take up this science for study. There is neither mystery nor danger in it.

Awaken: Let’s get into the details and specifics of higher Yogic practice, itself… Although it is common in the west to associate Yoga with physical postures, the technology is quite intricate and originates in the energetic movement along the spine, is it not?

Swami: The main part of the action will lie along the spinal column, so that the one thing necessary for the posture is to hold the spinal column free, sitting erect, holding the three parts — the chest, neck, and head — in a straight line. Let the whole weight of the body be supported by the ribs, and then you have an easy natural posture, with the spine straight. You will naturally see that you cannot think very high thoughts with the chest in. This portion of the Yoga is a little similar to the Hatha Yoga, which deals entirely with the physical body; the aim of the latter is to make the physical body very strong. We have nothing to do with that here, because the practices are very difficult, and cannot be learned in a day, and, after all, do not lead to any spiritual growth.

Awaken: To summarize your point, the focus of Hatha Yoga is physical, and is meant specifically to strengthen the body…

Swami: The object is physical, not psychological. There is not one muscle in the body over which a man cannot establish a perfect control; the heart can be made to stop or go on at his bidding, and, in the same way, each part of the organism can be made to work at his bidding. The result of this part of Yoga is to make men live long; health is the chief idea, the one goal of the Hatha Yogi. He is determined not to fall sick, and he never does. He lives long; a hundred years is nothing to him; he is quite young and fresh when he is 150, without one hair turned grey. But that is all. A Banyan tree lives sometimes 5000 years, but it is a Banyan tree and nothing more.

Awaken: Please explain the dimension of Yoga you wish to highlight…

Swami: According to the Yogis, there are two nerve currents in the spinal column, called Pingala and Ida, and there is a hollow canal called Susumna running through the spinal cord. At the lower end of the hollow canal is what the Yogis call the Lotus of the Kundalini.” They describe it as triangular in form, in which, in the symbolical language of the Yogis, there is a power called the Kundalini coiled up. When that Kundalini awakes it tries to force a passage through this hollow canal, and, as it rises step by step, as it were, layer after layer of the mind becomes open, all these different visions and wonderful powers come to the Yogi. When it reaches the brain the Yogi is perfectly detached from the body and mind; the soul finds itself free.

Awaken: Please continue… And doesn’t the process of uncoiling the Kundalini begin with minding and altering our breath?

Swami: In the first place, from rhythmical breathing will come a tendency of all the molecules in the body to have the same direction. When mind changes into will, the currents change into a motion similar to electricity, because the nerves have been proved to show polarity under action of electric currents. This shows that when the will evolves into the nerve currents it is changed into something like electricity. When all the motions of the body have become perfectly rhythmical the body has, as it were, become a gigantic battery of will. This tremendous will is exactly what the Yogi wants. This is, therefore, a physiological explanation of the breathing exercise. The aim of Pranayama here is to rouse the coiled-up power in the Muladhara, called the Kundalini.

This Susumna is, in ordinary persons, closed up at the lower extremity; no action comes through it. The Yogi proposes a practice by which it can be opened, and the nerve currents made to travel through.

Awaken: For those unfamiliar with the word Pranayama, it is the way we regulate our life force by way of the breath… Now, would you make clear the relationship between creating this electrical current in the body and awakening to God consciousness?

Swami: Now, if this coiled-up energy be roused and made active, and then consciously made to travel up the Susumna canal, a tremendous reaction will set in. When a minute portion of the energy of action travels along a nerve fibre and causes reaction from centers, the perception is either dream or imagination. But when the vast mass of this energy stored up by the power of long internal meditation travels along the Susumna, and strikes the centers, the reaction is tremendous, immensely superior to the reaction of dream or imagination, immensely more intense than the reaction of sense perception. It is super-sensuous perception, and the mind in that state is called super-conscious.

Awaken: By “centers,” you are referring the energetic vortexes, or conduits, that run along the spine…

Swami: And when it reaches the metropolis of all sensations, the brain, the whole brain, as it were, reacts, and every perceiving molecule in the body, as it were, reacts, and the result is the full blaze of illumination, the perception of the Self. As this Kundalini force travels from center to center, layer after layer of the mind, as it were, will be opened up, and this universe will be perceived by the Yogi in its fine, or course, form. Then alone the causes of this universe, both as sensation and reaction, will be known as they are, and hence will come all knowledge. The causes being known, the knowledge of the effects is sure to follow. Thus the rousing of the Kundalini is the one and only way to attaining Divine Wisdom, and super-conscious perception, the realization of the spirit.

Awaken: And such is the mystical nature nature of true Yoga… culminating in Self-Realization. But aren’t there many examples of awakening to Self-Realization, that came about in myriad ways, outside the context of Yoga?

Swami: It may come in various ways, through love for God, through the mercy of perfected sages, or through the power of the analytic will of the philosopher. Wherever there is any manifestation of what is ordinarily called supernatural power or wisdom, there must have been a little current of Kundalini which found its way into the Susumna.

Awaken: So, even though it ay have been called by a different name, there was still an awakening of the Kundalini within… But the institutionalized religious systems never wanted to acknowledge this technology or grant that it could be employed by our own power and mastery…

Swami: In the vast majority of such cases of supernaturalism, they had ignorantly stumbled on to some practice which set free a minute portion of the coiled-up Kundalini. All worship, consciously or unconsciously, leads to this end.

The man who thinks that he is receiving responses to his prayers does not know that the fulfillment came only from his own nature, that he has succeeded by the mental attitude of prayer in waking up a bit of the infinite power which is coiled up within himself. Whom, thus, men ignorantly worship under various names, through fear and tribulation, the Yogi declares to the world to  be the real power coiled up in every being, the mother of eternal happiness, if we know how to approach her. And Raja Yoga is the science of religion, the rationale of all worship, all prayers, forms, ceremonies and miracles.

Awaken: How would one begin on his/her own?

Swami: Yoga can only be safely learned by direct contact with a teacher.

Awaken: Would you lead us in a short example of the practices that you teach?

Swami: Sit upright; the body must be kept straight. The spinal cord, although it is inside the vertebral column, is not attached to it. If you sit crookedly you disturb this spinal cord, so let it be free. The three parts of the body must be always held straight, the chest, the neck, and the head, in one line. The first lesson is just to breathe in a measured way, in and out. That will harmonize the system. When you have practices this for some time you will do well to join the repetition of some word to it, as Om,” or any other sacred word, and let the word flow in and out with the breath, rhythmically, harmoniously, and you will feel the whole body is become rhythmical.

Once this rest has come the most tired nerves will be calmed down, and you will find that you have never really rested. In India we use certain symbolical words instead one, two, three, four. That is why I advise you to join the mental repetition of the Om,” or other sacred word to the Pranayama.

The first effect of this practice will be that the face will change; harsh lines will disappear; with this calm though calmness will come over the face. Next, beautiful voice will come. I never saw a Yogi with a croaking voice. These signs will come after a few monthspractice.

Awaken: Shall we continue with this way of breathing, along with the repetition of the mantra, or should we progress to different breathing techniques?

Swami: After practicing this first breathing for a few days, you take up a higher one. Slowly fill the lungs with breath through the Ida, the left nostril, and at the same time concentrate the mind on the nerve current. You are, as it were, sending the nerve current down the spinal column, and striking violently on that last plexus, the basic lotus, which is triangular in form, the seat of the Kundalini. Then hold the current there for some time. Imagine that you are slowly drawing that nerve current with the breath through the other side, then slowly throw it out through the right nostril. This you will find a little difficult to practice.

The easiest way is to stop the right nostril with the thumb, and then slowly draw in the breath through the left; then close both nostrils with thumb and forefinger, and imagine that you are sending that current down, and striking the base of the Susumna; then take the thumb off, and let the breath out through the right nostril. Next inhale slowly though that nostril, keeping the other closed by the forefinger, then close both, as before.

Awaken: To clarify for those unfamiliar, this is but one example of Alternate Nostril Breathing…

Swami: The way the Hindus practice this would be very difficult for this country, because they do it from their childhood, and their lungs are prepared for it. Here it is well to being with four seconds, and slowly increase. Draw in four seconds, hold in sixteen seconds, then throw out in eight seconds. This makes one Pranayama. At the same time think of the triangle, concentrate the mind on that center. The imagination can help you a great deal. The next breathing is slowly drawing the breath in, and then immediately throwing it out slowly, and then stopping the breath out, using the same numbers. The only difference is that in the first case the breath was held in, and in the second, held out. The last is the easier one. The breathing in which you hold the breath in the lungs must not be practiced too much.

Awaken: To summarize the pattern and breath count a four second inhale, a sixteen second hold, followed by an eight second exhale… And should we do this everyday?

Swami: Do it only four times in the morning, and four times in the evening. Then you can slowly increase the time and number. You will find that you have the power to do so, and that you take pleasure in it. So, very carefully and cautiously increase as you feel that you have the power, to six instead of four.

Awaken: Buddha and Jesus were Yogis after all! And we can follow their example, as Yogis in our own right…

Swami: Furthermore, this is a most vital point to understand that inspiration is as much in every mans nature as it was in the ancient prophets. These prophets were not unique; they were just the same as you or I. They were great Yogis. They had gained this superconsciousness, and you and I can get the same. They were not peculiar people. The very fact that one man ever reached that state will prove that it is possible for every man to do so. Not only is it possible, but every man must, eventually, get to that state, and that is religion. Experience is the only teacher we have. We may talk and reason all our lives, without ever understanding a word of truth, until we experience it ourselves. You cannot hope to make a man a surgeon by simply giving him a few books.

Awaken: I want to thank you, Swami Vivikananda for so graciously spending this time with us, and especially for having shared these sacred practices with our readers. Namaste.

This is Awaken’s Dream Interview, conducted by Donna Quesada, and All Answers are Verbatim from Swami Vivekananda.

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Source: AWAKEN