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Obstacles in Yoga

by Swami Sivananda

A lecture delivered in the Willoughby Memorial Hall, Lakshmipur, by Swami Sivananda Sarasvati, on December 15 1932

There are certain obstacles in the path of Yoga, which you should, by all means, overcome in the very beginning of your Yogic career. If you do not adequately guard yourself against these impediments in right time by the warning voice of your Guru, they will smash all your hopes and aspirations to pieces and will eventually bring about miserable downfall.

Lust, greed, anger, hatred, jealousy, fear, inertia, depression, prejudice, intolerance, evil company, arrogance, self-sufficiency, desire for name and fame, curiosity, building castles in the air and hypocrisy are foremost among these. You should ever introspect and watch your mind. You should take effective measures to remove these obstacles root and branch.

"Women, beds, seats, dresses, and riches are obstacles in Yoga. Betels, dainty dishes, carriages, kingdoms, lordliness and powers; gold, silver, as well as copper, gems, aloe wood, and kine; learning the Vedas and the Sastras; dancing, singing and ornaments; harp, flute, and drum; riding on elephants and horses; wives and children, worldly enjoyments; all these are so many impediments." (Siva Samhita: Ch. V-3).

The Yogic student should not possess much wealth as it will drag him to worldly temptations. He may keep a small sum to get the wants of the body. Economical independence is of paramount importance to an aspirant; because it will relieve him from anxieties and will enable him to continue his practices uninterruptedly.

If you get easily offended even for trifling things, know that you cannot make any progress in Yoga and meditation. You should, hence, cultivate amiable, loving nature and adaptability. Some aspirants easily get offended, if their defects and vices are pointed out. They become indignant and begin to fight with the person who shows the defects. They think that the person is concocting them out of jealousy and hatred. This is bad. Others can very easily detect your defects. If you have no life of introspection, if your mind is of outgoing tendencies, how can you find out your own defects? Your self-conceit veils and blurs your mental vision. If you, therefore, want to grow in spirituality and Yoga, you must admit your defects, when they are pointed out by others. You must endeavour to eradicate them and must be really grateful to the man for pointing out your defects.

It is rather a difficult business to eradicate the self-assertive nature. This nature is born of ignorance only. Everyone has built his personality from beginningless time. This personality has grown very strong. It is hard to bend this personality and make it pliable and elastic. You want to dominate over others. You do not want to hear the opinions and arguments of others, even though they are quite logical, sound and tenable. You have a pair of jaundiced eyes. You say: "Whatever I say is correct. Whatever I do-is correct. The views and actions of others are incorrect." You never admit your mistakes. You try your best to support your own whimsical views by crooked arguments. If arguments fail, you will take to vituperation and hand-to-hand fight also. If people fail to show you respect and honour, you are instantaneously thrown into a fit of fury. You are immensely pleased with anybody who begins to flatter you. You will tell any number of lies to justify yourself. Self-justification goes hand in hand with self-assertive Rajasic nature. You can never grow in Yoga so long as you have this self-assertive nature with the habit of self-justification. You should change your mental attitude. You must develop the habit of looking at matters from the view-point of others. You must have the new vision of righteousness and truthfulness. Then alone you will grow in Yoga and spirituality. You should treat respect and honour as offal and poison, and censure and dishonour as ornament and nectar.

You will also find it hard to adjust yourself to the ways and habits of others. Your mind is filled, as it were, with likes and dislikes, prejudice of caste, creed and colour. You are quite intolerant. The faultfinding nature is ingrained in you. You jump at once to find the faults of others. You cannot see the good in others; you have a pair of morbid eyes. You cannot appreciate the meritorious actions of others. You brag of your own abilities and merits. That is the reason why you fight with all people and cannot maintain cordial relations with others for long time. You should overcome these defects by developing tolerance, love and other good virtues.

The old Samskaras (latent impressions) of vanity, cunningness, crookedness, arrogance, petty-mindedness, fighting, boasting or bragging nature, self-esteem or thinking too much of yourself, speaking ill of others, belittling others may be still lurking in your mind. You can never shine until you remove these faults thoroughly. Success in Yoga is not possible unless these undesirable negative qualities of lower nature are completely eradicated.

Those who engage themselves in hot discussions, vain debates, wranglings, lingual warfare and intellectual gymnastics cause serious damage to their astral bodies. Much energy is wasted. The astral body gets actually inflamed and an open sore is formed. Blood becomes hot. It bubbles like milk over fire. Ignorant people have no idea of the disastrous effects of unnecessary hot discussions and argumentations. Those who are in the habit of arguing unnecessarily and entering into vain discussions cannot expect an iota of progress in Yoga. Aspirants must entirely give up unnecessary discussions. They should destroy the impulses by careful introspection.

You have heard several brilliant lectures, delivered by learned monks or Sannyasins. You have listened to several discourses and expositions on the Bhagavad-Gita, the Ramayana, the Bhagavata and the Upanishads. You have also heard several valuable moral and spiritual instructions. But you have not at all endeavoured to put anything into serious earnest practice and to do protracted solid Sadhana.

Mere intellectual assent to a religious idea, a little closing of the eyes in the morning and at night just to deceive yourself and the Indweller and the Witness, a little endeavour to stick to the daily spiritual routine and to develop some virtues in a halt-hearted, careless manner, some mild effort to carry out the instructions of your spiritual preceptor perfunctorily will not suffice. This kind of mentality should be entirely given up. You should follow the instructions of your master and the teachings of the Scriptures to the very letter. No leniency to the mind. There can be no half measures in the path of Yoga. Exact implicit and strict obedience to the instructions is what is expected of you.

Do not make any thoughtless remarks. Do not speak even a single idle word. Give up idle talk, tall talk, big talk, loose talk. Avoid evil company. Become silent. Do not assert for rights in this physical, illusory plane. Do not fight for rights. Think more about your duties and less about your rights. These rights are worthless. Assert your birthright of God-consciousness. Then you are a wise man.

If you are endowed with good character, celibacy (Brahmacharya), truthfulness, mercy, love, tolerance, forgiveness, serenity these qualities will more than counterbalance many other evil qualities you may possess. Then gradually these evil qualities also will vanish, if you are careful, if you focus your attention on them.

If you remain in the company of a developed saint, you will be really benefited by his magnetic aura and wonderful spiritual currents. His company will be like a fortress for you. You will not be affected by evil influences. There is no fear of downfall. You can have rapid spiritual progress. Young aspirants should remain in the company of their Gurus or other experienced saints till they are firmly moulded and established in deep meditation. Nowadays many young aspirants wander aimlessly from place to place. They do not care to hear the instructions of their masters. They want independence from the very start. Hence they do not make any progress in Yoga.

Humour is a rare gift of nature. It helps aspirants in their march on the spiritual path. It removes depression. It keeps one cheerful. It brings joy and mirth. But you should not cut jokes at the expense of others and wound their feelings. The humorous words must educate and correct others.

You should laugh in a mild, delicate and decent manner. Silly giggling, guffaw, or boisterous, indecent, unrefined laughter in a rude manner should be given up, because it prevents the spiritual progress and destroys serenity of mind and serious magnanimous attitude. Sages smile through their eyes. It is grand and thrilling. Intelligent aspirants only can understand this. Don’t be childish and silly.

Even the slight annoyance and irritability affect the mind and the astral body. You should not allow these evil modifications (Vrittis) to manifest in the mind-lake. They may burst out as big waves of anger at any moment, if you are weak and careless. They should be nipped in the bud. You should develop the noble qualities of forgiveness, love and sympathy for others. There should not be the least disturbance in the mind-lake. It should be perfectly calm and serene. Then only meditation is possible.

Success in Yoga is possible only if the aspirant practices profound and constant meditation. He must practice self-restraint at all times, because all of a sudden the senses may become turbulent. That is the reason why Lord Krishna says to Arjuna: "O son of Kunti! The excited senses of even a wise man, though he be striving impetuously, carry away his mind. For the mind, which follows in the wake of the wandering senses, carries away his discrimination, as the wind (carries away) a boat on the waters." (Bhagavad-Gita: Ch. II-60, 67).

A terrible fit of anger shatters the physical nervous system and produces a deep and lasting impression on the astral body. Dark arrows will shoot forth from the astral body. The germs that caused the epidemic of Spanish flu may die, but the wave of influenza still continues in various parts for a long time. Even so, though the effect of the fit of anger in the mind may subside in a short time, the vibration or wave continues to exist for days or weeks together in the astral body. Slight, unpleasant feeling that lasts in the mind for five minutes may produce vibration in the astral body for two or three days. A terrible fit of wrath will produce deep inflammation of the astral body. An open sore will be formed on the surface of the astral body. It will take months for the healing of the ulcer. Have you now realised the serious consequences of anger? Do not fall a victim to anger. Control it by forgiveness, love, mercy, sympathy, enquiry (of "who am I?") and consideration for others.

Worry, depression, unholy thoughts and hatred produce a kind of crust or dark layer on the surface of the mind or astral body. This crust or rust or dirt prevents the beneficial influences to get entry inside, but it allows the evil forces or lower influences to operate. Worry does great harm to the astral body and the mind. Energy is wasted by this worry-habit. Nothing is gained by worrying. It causes inflammation of the astral body and drains the vitality of man. It should be eradicated by the practice of cheerfulness, vigilant introspection and keeping the mind fully occupied.

By continence, devotion to Guru and steady practice, success in Yoga comes after a long time. You should be patient and persevering.

Aspirants who take to seclusion generally become lazy after some time, as they do not know how to utilise their mental energy, as they do not have any daily routine, as they do not follow the instructions of their Gurus. They get Vairagya (dispassion and disgust for worldly enjoyments) in the beginning, but as they have no experience in the spiritual line, the Vairagya begins to wane. They do not make any real progress in the end. Intense and constant practice of Yoga is necessary for entering into Asamprajnata Samadhi.

If the Yogic student who practices meditation is gloomy, depressed and weak, surely there is some error in his Sadhana somewhere. True meditation makes the aspirant strong, cheerful and healthy. If the aspirants themselves are gloomy and peevish, how are they going to impart joy, peace and strength to others?

You will have to master every step in Yoga. Do not take up any higher step before completely mastering the lower step. Gradually ascend the successive stages boldly and cheerfully. This is the right royal road to perfection in Yoga.

Aspirants do not possess true and unshakable faith in their Gurus and the teachings of the Scriptures. Hence they fail to attain success in Yoga.

Sleepless vigilance is necessary, if you wish to have rapid spiritual advancement. Never rest contented with a little achievement or success in the path, a little serenity of mind, a little one-pointedness of mind, some visions of angels and Devatas, a little faculty of thought-reading, and so on. There are still higher summits to ascend, higher regions to climb.

A Yogi claims that he can attain extraordinary powers and knowledge by subduing the passions and appetites and by practicing Yama, Niyama and Yogic Samyama (concentration, meditation and Samadhi at one and the same time). Patanjali clearly warns the students that they should not be carried away by the temptations of powers. The gods themselves tempt the unwary Yogi by offering him a position similar to theirs. Aspirants run more after Siddhis (psychic powers) than after real spiritual attainment despite the clear note of warning.

Desire for powers will act like puffs of air which may blow out the lamp of Yoga that is being carefully fed. Any slackness in feeding it due to carelessness or selfishness will blow out the little spiritual lamp the Yogi has lighted after so much struggle and will hurl him down into the deep abyss of ignorance. He cannot rise up again to the original height to which he had ascended. Temptations are simply waiting to overwhelm the unwary aspirant or Yogi. Temptations of the astral, mental and the Gandharva worlds are more powerful than earthly temptations.

Patanjali enumerates the following nine obstacles: Disease, languor, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, mistaken notion (false knowledge), tossing of mind and instability to remain in the state of Samadhi. He prescribes practice of concentration on one subject (Eka-Tattvabhyasa) to overcome them. This will give the aspirant steadiness and real inner strength. He further advocates the practice of friendship between equals, mercy towards inferiors, complacency towards superiors and indifference towards wicked people. This practice will generate peace of mind or composure and will destroy hatred, jealousy, etc. A new life will dawn in him, when he practices these virtues. Perseverance is needed. It is the key-note to success in Yoga. The Yogi is amply rewarded, when he gets full control over his mind. He enjoys the highest bliss of Asamprajnata Samadhi.

In the Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad you will find: "Diseases are generated in one’s body through the following causes viz., sleeping in the day-time, late vigils overnight, excess of sexual intercourse, moving in crowds, the checking of the urine and the faeces, the evil of unwholesome food and laborious mental operations with Prana. If a Yogi is afraid of such diseases (when attacked by them), he says: "My diseases have arisen from the practice of Yoga." Then he will discontinue his practice. This is said to be the first obstacle. The second obstacle is doubt, the third carelessness, the fourth laziness, the fifth sleep, the sixth not leaving of objects (of sense), the seventh erroneous perception, the eighth sensual objects, the ninth want of faith and the tenth the failure to attain the truth of Yoga. A wise man should abandon these ten obstacles after great deliberation.

Fatigue is harmful for aspirants. They should avoid long walks and much exertion. When the state of tranquillity prevails during meditation, do not disturb the mind. Do not get up from your seat. Try to prolong the meditation.

You cannot please the world. Remember the story of the old man, his son and the donkey. Stick to your ideals, convictions and principles tenaciously, whether you become popular or unpopular, even if the whole world opposes you. Stand up boldly on your own principles of right conduct and right living. Do not retrace your steps even a fraction of an inch.

Do not dig shallow pits here and there for getting water. The pits will dry up soon. Dig a deep pit in one place. Centralise all your efforts here. You will get good water throughout the year. Even so, try to imbibe the spiritual teachings from one preceptor only. Drink deep from one man only. Sit at his feet for some years. There is no use of wandering from place to place, from one man to another man out of curiosity, losing faith in a short time. Do not have the ever-changing mind of a prostitute. Follow the spiritual instructions of one man only. If you go to several people and follow their instructions, you will be bewildered. You will be in a dilemma.

Do not relax your efforts. Keep the Divine Flame burning steadily. You are nearing the goal. The light has come. There is Brahmic aura in your face. You have crossed many peaks and insurmountable summits in the spiritual path by dint of untiring patient Sadhana. It is highly creditable indeed! You have made marvellous progress. I am highly pleased with you, O John! You will have to ascend one more peak and go through one more narrow pass. This demands some more patient effort and strength. You will have to melt your Sattvic egoism also. You will have to transcend the blissful state of Savikalpa Samadhi. The Brahmakara Vritti also should die. Then alone you will attain Bhuma, the highest goal of life. You can do this also. I am quite confident.

There at the summit of the Hill of Eternal Bliss, you can see now the Jivanmukta or the full-blown Yogi. He has climbed the stupendous heights through intense and constant struggle. He did severe rigorous spiritual Sadhana. He did profound meditation. He spent sleepless nights. He kept long vigils at night on countless occasions. He gradually ascended the heights step by step. He took rest at several halting-places. He persevered with patience and diligence. He surmounted many obstacles. He conquered despair, gloom and depression. Today he is a beacon-light to the world at large. You can also ascend to that summit if only you will (for further particulars vide my book "Sure ways for Success in Life and God-realisation").


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