Principles Governing Control over the Body
By Shri. Acharya Mahapragya
One sadhak said, "I hear it said that the body is transient, unclean, derived from uncleanness. I hear this not once, but a number of times. I came here for spiritual training. I was told to observe my body. Time and again, the exhortation ran, 'Perceive your body!' I felt confused. Whatever is impure, transient, mortal, heterogeneous, unclean, a mere skeleton of flesh and bone, deserves no attention. One comes here for meditation, to witness something great, to perceive the soul or to meet God face to face. What is the utility of perceiving one's body? None, whatever, Besides, this physical organism is meant for experiencing pleasure, to be seated in comfort, to feel the cool breeze, drink cold water and eat hot food. That is after all the main use of the body. The body is a means of experiencing pleasure; it is meant for enjoyment. Why deprive it for nothing? During, meditation one has to sit in one posture. The whole body begins to ache; the feet ache. The whole body gets wet with perspiration. This amounts to oppressing the body, troubling it unnecessarily."
A great many questions are possible. But if we get entangled with questioning and counter-questioning, we shall never come to the end of it. We would never arrive at a satisfactory resolution. So we must not, complicate the issue. Let us concede that the body is unclean, impure, mortal and transient. And also let us concede that man does torment it. Let us take things the way the questioner wants us to take them, so as not to cause undue provocation.
I accepted the questioner's arguments. I said, "Yes, the body is unclean. You heard it said and someone told you. Both are right; neither the teller nor the listener is wrong. We cannot but acknowledge that every man is born and dies; that every man is transient. We know that the body casts forth many impurities. If it is not regularly cleaned, no one would care to come near it because, of the terrible stench exuding there from. The sweat gives out an offensive smell. So does the urine and the excrement. The body is unclean. Thanks to nature, our sense of sight, of hearing and touch is limited. These senses function only at certain frequencies. If their functioning were not limited, man would not be able to withstand his own body. The pressure of the senses would then be so great as to drive him mad. Nature has so ordained that while man's capacity for knowledge is boundless, his senses partake only a little of that knowledge. If ears could hear all the words, man would go crazy in a day. If eyes could see all the things, man will not be able to sleep, and would certainly lose his sanity. If the nose were to smell everything all at once, man would not be able to keep his equilibrium even for a moment. He would feel like vomiting all the time, because of the smell. It is therefore good that each sense functions at a certain frequency, otherwise living would be a great burden. Man would then not be able to hear anything, nor see anything, nor smell anything. He would have been so pestered by sense-objects as to lose his senses altogether.
The scientists once constructed a sound-proof house, where sounds from outside could not enter, nor sounds from within go out. And some of these scientists sat in the house for observation. Soon they heard noises which seemed to come from a machine. They wondered wherefrom these noises came. How could any noise enter a sound-proof house from without? Investigations revealed that nothing was coming from outside, and that all the noises which they heard proceeded from the great factory within the human body itself The flow of blood in the arteries, and the working of the great nervous system - all the sounds originated from these.
Because of the outside noises, we cannot hear the noises within. When the outer noises stop, we become sensible of the inner workings. Only when an individual enters the depths of meditation concentrating on perception of his body, he becomes aware of the innumerable vibrations 'm various parts of his body, not before. That is how our bodies are organized, making life possible.
I do not deny that the body is impure and unclean. And I also acknowledge the fact that in the practice of various techniques, the body suffers some initial discomfort. Those used to getting up at seven, have to leave their bed at four. The discomfort caused is undeniable. Though one of the sadhaks says, "This is no discomfort, whatsoever. Waking up is no trouble; on the contrary, it is a joy. I used to get up at seven. Now I get up at four. I have three more hours of waking time, which is a distinct advantage. However, in the shiver, we are made to practise one-hour meditation four times a day. This is too much. The body is not accustomed to it. The duration of meditation should be less."
I said, "it will be more comfortable, if there is no meditation. Why meditate at all? Better no meditation than less. We have prescribed the bare minimum. Otherwise no adequate results would follow. If you are not prepared to do that, why attend a shiver?"
The sadhak persisted, "We are made to do asanas. The body aches all over. There is pain in the back. The feet ache too. The muscles get strained. Doing asanas is a torment.
I replied, "Pain is not really caused by the asanas. Doing yogic asanas is like initiating a movement against perversion. But the nerves are not accustomed to yogic practices. To practise means to molest, to provoke, to tease. This is bound to produce a reaction in the body. If there is no reaction whatsoever in the face of provocation the body becomes freed front passions and affections. As it is, the body is bound to react. There is sickness. You don't take any medicine. No reaction; sickness continues. The moment you do anything to tease out the disease, it is bound to call forth physical reaction. Sometimes, the reaction is terrific. You may interpret it as a needless torment to the body. Apparently it seems to be that. Man apprehends only the apparent; the subtle remains ungrasped.
A master said to his servant in great annoyance, "You are a great fool!" The servant answered with folded hands, "Master! It is you who are great, I am very small."
The servant did not really grasp what the master said. To the undiscerning only the very obvious is intelligible; the deeper significance is beyond him.
So I said to the questioner, Friend! Go deep into the matter. You say the body is being tormented. If you really understand, your very language would change. The body is not being tormented; it is being trained. To torment the body is one thing, to train it quite another. It is no torment at all; in fact it is purification. Without the purification of the body, without removing the accumulated impurities, there will never be light. For illumination, you have to wash away all dirt. For enlightenment all confusion must dissolve. A blurred glass cannot reflect dearly. No image appears in a faded mirror; no light comes out of a hazy lamp. The glass of the lantern must be cleaned. One may find it troublesome to be obliged to clean the chimney, but the purpose of cleaning the chimney is not to cause distress. To bear hardship and to cause hardship are two different things.
The training of the body might involve some initial hardship, but the purpose is not to cause hardship to the body. Far from it! The sole objective of spiritual training and religion is freedom from suffering, freedom from all troubles. What rids you of suffering cannot be its cause. One pain leads to another; it cannot give pleasure. One who invites suffering and is bent upon making himself unhappy, will continue to be unhappy for ever. Lord Mahavira said, "The unhappy attain to unhappiness; the happy know it not." Let us go deeper into this truth. During the course of training, the body might suffer some mortification. Gold is extracted from the mine, but the gold bricks are not so easily got. The ore has to pass through unimaginable heat before it yields gold. Only after the metal has passed through extreme heat, do we get the glittering yellow substance. If the ingot of metal were to say, "Don't torment me. Don't heat me up," will it ever become gold? Without undergoing the heating process, it will remain a clod of earth. If gold is to become gold, the bright shining metal which the world cherishes, it will have to pass through scorching fire. To pass the gold through fire is not to torment it; the whole process is meant to lend it greater lustre. It all depends upon the objective. To purify is one motive, to torment another. When the guru reprimands his pupil it is not to torment of destroy him, but to perfect him. Where the objective is destruction, there is torment; where, on the other hand, the objective is purification, it is fulfilment itself.
Asanas are performed so that the body is freed of its impurities, so that it is purified, so that it is properly disciplined to meet the challenge of life.
Some people say that breath does not reach the lungs at all. How could it reach there? We have created numberless obstacles. We have accumulated such refuse that would not let the breath free movement. If some physician were to give us treatment, he will have to administer purgatives for many days to cleanse the stomach of its collected filth. Even the cleansing of the lungs, the stomach and the arteries so as to remove all impediments, is not adequate from the point of view of the sadhak. He has to achieve still greater purification. From the medical point of view, the body may have been cleansed of all excrement, it may have been declared to be fully recovered, yet a sadhak looks far ahead - he is concerned with the removal not only of the rubbish that clogs the body, but also that which clogs his mind, his consciousness. To remove those mental faeces, a catharsis on a large scale is necessary. There is a difference between the purgation of the body and the catharsis of consciousness. Both of them are, however, achieved through asanas, pranayam, and yogic exercises.
There are five methods of body-purification-kayotsarga, asanas, bandhs, physical exercises and pranayama. All these five are employed to clean away the impurities which naturally accumulate in the physical organism. But the body also accumulates much mental refuse through emotions and attachment. Much filth also accumulates in the form of mental impressions. Experiments have established that the poison of thought accumulates in our nails and various limbs and this poison cannot be expelled by any purgative, or by kayotsargic methods. No doctor or physician can wash these away. Their eradication is possible only through non-attachment and love. This is the sixth method of body-purification.
The body is chock-full of accumulated dirt. Unless it is cleaned and purified, unless it is properly moulded, it would be next to impossible for us to achieve our aim. We shall not be able to make any progress towards the perfection of consciousness.
An important means of maintaining good health is through ensuring the elasticity of the backbone. The man, whose spine is not flexible, cannot be said to be healthy, physically or psychologically. The backbone of today's men is not resilient, and, how can it be otherwise? The spine lacks its nourishment. If the belly gets its fill it is because of its militancy. The quiet man in today's world, the silent one, is ever ignored. That perhaps accounts for the large-scale dissemination of the cult of violence; you get nothing without a fight. Therefore keep fighting. Some people say that is the way of the world - conflict. That is why perhaps the social workers proclaim 'struggle' to be the law of life. Many social scientists, evolutionists and communication specialists support this view. And they are not far from the truth either. Such is our world that you cannot get along without fighting. Hence the proverb, "Even the mother neglects the child until it cries." Only when the baby cries, does it attract its mother's attention. If it sleeps peacefully, the mother pays no attention to it.
So conflict has become inevitable. The stomach is bellicose. The digestive organs shout for nourishment. Just a days fasting makes them restless. A lot of problems crop up. However, the heart, the kidneys, the brain and the spine - they are not aggressive or militant. So they stand neglected. That is how filth accumulates there. The backbone has a great importance of its own. All the nerves, up or down, pass through it. Here is the means that regulates them all. A man, whose spine is not resilient, cannot be very successful in meditation. A man without a flexible backbone cannot enjoy physical or psychological health. Rigidity and aches proceed from inflexibility. That is why an efficient doctor pays attention to the condition of the backbone first.
Nowadays we have a new system of treatment called osteopathy, where the condition of the spine forms the basis on which the whole body is treated. It is precisely determined if and where there is a defect in the spine. However, what effort does modern man make to keep his spine flexible? Is any nourishment provided to the backbone? Never! Modern man has no time to think of it even.
Asanas serve to make the backbone resilient. By doing asanas, the blood flows more freely through the bone and it gets massaged. Thus, its resilience is maintained and it gets strengthened thereby. If the spine is resilient, the body and the mind too become pliable. However, modern man seldom takes recourse to these methods. He has much faith 'm medicine, no faith at all in asanas. That is why perhaps he is always sick, always suffering from one disease or another.
Ours is a meditation centre for developing an integrated personality. In other words, here is a centre where man's various distortions are brought to light. An individual is a veritable storehouse of ills. He comes here and practises dhyana. His hidden flaws come to the fore, and are uprooted. The inner disorder manifests itself in the form of aches in various parts of the body.
Once upon a time there was a monk. A disciple came to him. He served the monk with devotion. The monk was pleased. He gave the disciple some oil and said, "This oil has miraculous properties. Smear your body with it. It will grow to be perfect." The monk went away. The disciple anointed his body with the oil.
Devotees came, but as soon as they glanced at him, they departed. It happened on the first day, then on the second, and again on the third. The pupil said to himself, "What has happened? Hundreds of devotees used to come to me; they used to sit at my feet and listen to my discourses. Now they fly from me! Why?" He went to his guru and said, "O Master! A strange change has taken place in my devotees. Nobody comes near me now." The master said, "Did you make some experiment recently?" The disciple said, "I did no such thing. Only a monk came. He gave me some oil I anointed my body with that. That is all." The master smelled the body and said, "Oh Lord; that was sudarshan oil. If the body is smeared with this oil, it becomes transparent, and the whole image of the mind is visible through it. Your mind is not yet perfect. It has many defects. It is dirty and crooked. All these days it lay covered. Nobody could know its real nature. But, by the virtue of this oil, your mind is now reflected in your body. The devotees come. They look at the image reflected in the body and stand aghast, exclaiming to themselves, 'How is it that those before whom we bow down, whom we look upon as God, as utterly detached, have such unclean hearts and perverted minds? How can we respect such people? How can we give our devotion to them?' And so these devotees look from far and depart. Disciple! Wipe off this oil from your body. Mustard oil is good enough for you."
The awakening of wisdom is not unlike sudarshan oil; the flaws of those who come here for dhyana, all stand displayed. Whatever is accumulated within, comes out. When a man's shortcomings are exposed, he feels confounded, and cannot help complaining, "I came here to meditate, but the feet and the back ache badly. The neck is strained. The stomach is upset." I think this exposure is all for the better. The inner defects must come to the fore. This in itself constitutes a step towards fulfilment, one of the means of bodily purification.
Whatever is done during the period of spiritual training, is done not to torment the body, but to make it perfect. In this process of fulfilment, the body might suffer some discomfort, but the objective of the training is not to cause any suffering. A man falls sick. He takes medicine. Is not taking medicine a trouble? It is indeed a trouble. It takes half a minute to inject some fluid into the body, but the pain caused by the injection does not subside for days together. The giving of an injection is followed by pain; sometimes there is fever, too; at times, the prick even grows septic. Thus, the patient undergoes terrible suffering. The administration of an injection causes pain, but the objective thereof is not to cause pain. On the contrary, it is aimed at curing the disease. Are operations performed on the body merely to add to its suffering? No. The body might undergo some suffering, but to cause such suffering can never be the physician's aim. The curing of the disease and any suffering that the treatment might occasion, inevitably go together.
For the body's perfection, asanas, pranayama, bandhs etc. are all useful. However, the most important of these is the practice of non-attachment.
The body is a wonder-casket, containing an amazing variety of things. Even a whole life-time's study would not bring out all the secrets thereof. It is a very complex organism. Look at the skin - its colour and shape. But that is not all. Look at its texture: one square centimetre of it contains two lakh cells. Also there are two lakh sweat-glands. A thorough analysis reveals how immense and complex is this workshop of the skin. It is a vast subject. Enough for the moment.
Non-attachment is essential for bodily perfection. For attachment gives rise to a number of disorders. In an unconscious state, attachment takes hold of the mind and every inch of the body stands defiled. It is a pitiable condition. The individual is lost in confusion. This defilement can be got rid of only through non-attachment.
Body-perception, kayotsarga, and non-attachment are all means of awakening intelligence. Meditation is not a study of vacancy, a meaningless void. Meditation means self-awareness and direct self-realisation. Meditation has two parts-awakening and realisation. Awakening comes first, and as this awakening gradually matures, one moves towards realisation - direct experiencing of breath, of body, of various limbs, and finally of consciousness itself.
My questioner's argument that the body is vile, is not incorrect. Defilements enter the physical organism from the outer world of matter, as well as through inner attachment. And means are available for excreting this filth. We cannot say that the body is wholly vile, or that it is not vile at all. It is vile and not vile, impure and pure at one and the same time. If it were wholly vile, all talk of body-perception in preksha dhyana would be pointless. If it were not vile at all, there could be no talk of body-purification. Both statements are relative.
A spiritual master was accompanied by a number of disciples. The master felt thirsty. One of the disciples went running to fetch water. The master looked into the vessel and said, "Oh, how dirty is this water!" The pupil said, "Stay, master; I'll fetch another jugful." After ten minutes, the disciple reappeared with a jug of water. The master again looked into the jug and exclaimed, "Ali, how clean this water is! The first jugful was so dirty!" The pupil replied, "Sir! Earlier a long train of vehicles had crossed the stream; so the water was all muddied. Now it has gradually cleared up, all dirt has settled down." The master said, "That is our condition, too. When the train of attachment rumbles through the mind, our consciousness is all sullied. With the removal of attachment, our consciousness becomes pure. Not only does consciousness become pure, but the body, too."
Two points of view. Is the body being tormented or is it being perfected? Is the body vile and impure, or is it pure and unsullied? The approach is all-important. If we look at the body rightly, then we leave all foulness behind and move in the direction of pure consciousness. We leave all talk of mortification, and instead talk of transformation. That is the way and the whole purpose of bodily perfection.
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