OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series (1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
SWAMI DAYÂNAND SARASWATI ON YOGA
ON the fourth day before we left for Northern India an incident occurred in my office, which I give from my Diary notes for what it may be worth, since its genuineness has been disputed by Mme. Coulomb. At the same time I must add that I have never had any proof going to support her assertions, while her reputation for good faith is such as to demand even more corroboration than usual before I could believe them against the evidence of my own senses. H. P. B., Damodar, and I were sitting in the office conversing, when the weird portrait of the Yogi "Tiruvalla," which was phenomenally produced for Mr. Judge and myself in New York—and which had disappeared from its frame in my bedroom just before we left America—fell through the air on the desk at which I sat. Afterwards a photograph of Swâmi Dayânand, which he had given me, fell similarly from space. In noting the circumstances the same evening, I wrote that "I saw the first when it struck a tin box on my desk, and the second as it was coming obliquely through the air." Which implies, of course, that it was not dropped through a slit in the ceiling cloth, as the truth-loving Mme. Coulomb says it was. Three evenings later, in presence of
SWÂMI DAYÂNAND SARASWATI ON YOGA 215
three witnesses besides myself, H. P. B. gave her visiting card to a visitor, who wished it, and somewhat later a duplicate card dropped from the ceiling at the gentleman's feet and was picked up by him.
We—H. P. B. and I, with our servant Babula—left Bombay for the North by the evening mail train of 27th August. After a halt at Allahabad we reached Meerut on the 30th. The entire local branch of the Arya Samaj greeted us at the railway station, escorted us to the residence of Mr. Sheonarain, and soon after Swâmi Dayânand called. In the presence of his followers, we opened a discussion intended to draw out his real views on Yoga and the alleged Siddhis, or humsan psycho-spiritual powers; his teachings to his Samajists having been calculated to discourage the practice of asceticism, and even to throw doubt on the reality of the powers; while his conversations with us had been in another tone. Our debate will be found reported in a full digest in the Theosophist for December, 1880, and I should content myself with referring my readers to it, but for the fact that only a very small proportion of them have probably access to that volume, and it is too interesting to the general reader on Yoga, and important in its historical connection with our Society to have it passed over or ignored. I shall, therefore, reproduce its substance herewith, as follows:
"The first question propounded to the Swâmi was whether Yoga was a true science, or but a metaphysical speculation; whether Patanjali described psychical
216 OLD DIARY LEAVES
powers attainable by man, and whether they had be attained, or not. The Swâmi's answer was that Yoga was true and based upon a knowledge of the laws of Nature. It was then asked whether these powers could still be acquired, or had the time passed by. The answer was that Nature's laws are unchangeable and illimitable: what had been done once could be done now. Not only can the man of to-day learn to do all the things described by the ancient writers, but he himself, the Swâmi, could teach the methods to anyone who might sincerely wish to take up that course of life. Many had come to him professing their desire and asserting their ability to command success; he had tried three, but all failed. One was a resident of Agra. They began well, but soon grew impatient of having to confine themselves to what they regarded as trivial efforts, and, to their surprise, broke down suddenly. Yoga is the most difficult science of all to learn, and few men are capable of acquiring it now. He was asked if there are now living any real Yogis who can at will produce the wonderful phenomena described in Aryan books. His reply was that there are such living men. Their number is small. They live in retired places, and in their proper persons seldom or never appear in public. Their secrets are never communicated by them to the profane, nor do they teach their secret science (Vidyâ) except to such as upon trial they find deserving.
"Colonel Olcott asked whether these great masters (Mahatmas) are invariably dressed in the saffron clothes of the ordinary sannyâsi or fakir we see
SWÂMI DAYÂNAND SARASWATI ON YOGA 217
every day, or in common costume. The Swâmi answered, in either the one or the other, as they may prefer, or circumstances require. In reply to the request that without suggestion he would state what specific powers the proficient in Yoga enjoys, he said that the true Yogi can do that which the vulgar call miracles. It is needless to make a list of his powers, for practically his power is limited only by his desire and the strength of his will. Among other things he can exchange thoughts with his brother Yogis at any distance, even though they be as far apart as one pole from the other, and have no visible external means of communication, such as the telegraph or post. He can read the thoughts of others. He can pass (in his inner self) from one place to another, and so be independent of the ordinary means of conveyance, and that at a speed incalculably greater than that of the railway engine. He can walk upon the water or in the air above the surface of the ground. He can pass his own soul (Âtmâ) from his own body into that of another person, either for a short time or for Years, as he chooses. He can prolong the natural term of the life of his own body by withdrawing his Âtmâ from it during the hours of sleep, and so, by reducing the activity of the vital processes to a minimum, avoid the greater part of the natural wear and tear. The time so occupied is so much time to be added to the natural sum of the physical existence of the bodily machine.
"Q. Up to what day, hour, or minute of his own bodily life can the Yogi exercise this power of
218 OLD DIARY LEAVES
transferring his Âtmâ, or inner self, to the body of another?
"A. Until the last minute, or even second, of his natural term of life. He knows beforehand, to a second, when his body must die, and until that second strikes, he may project his soul into another person's body if one is ready for his occupancy. But, should he allow that instant to pass, then he can do no more. The cord is snapped for ever, and the Yogi, if not sufficiently purified and perfected to be enabled to obtain Moksha, must follow the common law of rebirth. The only difference between his case and that of other men is, that he, having become a far more intellectual, good, and wise being than they, is reborn under better conditions.
"Q. Can a Yogi prolong his life to the following extent: say the natural life of his own body is seventy years, can he, just before the death of that body, enter the body of a child of six years, live in that another term of seventy years, remove from that to another, and live in it a third seventy?
"A. He can, and can thus prolong his stay on earth to about the term of four hundred years.
"Q. Can a Yogi thus pass from his own body into that of a woman?
"A. With as much ease as a man can, if he chooses, put on himself the dress of a woman, so he can put over his own Âtmâ her physical form. Externally, he would then be in every physical aspect and relation a woman; internally himself.
"Q. I have met two such: that is to say, two persons who appeared women, but who were entirely
SWÂMI DAYÂNAND SARASWATI ON YOGA 219
masculine in everything but the body. One of them, you remember, we visited together at Benares, in a temple on the bank of the Ganges.
"A. Yes, 'Majji.'
"Q. How many kinds of Yoga practice are there?
"A. Two—Hatha Yoga and Râja Yoga. Under the former the student undergoes physical trials and hardships for the purpose of subjecting his physical body to the will. For example, the swinging of one's body from a tree, head downwards, at a little distance from five burning fires, etc. In Râja Yoga nothing of the kind is required. It is a system of mental training by which the mind is made the servant of the will. The one—Hatha Yoga—gives physical results; the other—Râja Yoga—spiritual powers. He who would become perfect in Râja must have passed through the training in Hatha.
"Q. But are there not persons who possess the Siddhis, or powers, of the Râja Yoga, without ever having passed through the terrible ordeal of the Hatha? I recently have met three such in India, and they themselves told me they had never submitted their bodies to torture.
"A. Then they practised Hatha in their previous birth.
"Q. Explain, if you please, how we may distinguish between real and false phenomena when produced by one supposed to be a Yogi.
"A. Phenomena and phenomenal appearances are of three kinds: the lowest are produced by sleight-of-hand or dexterity; the second, by chemical or mechanical aids or appliances; the third
220 OLD DIARY LEAVES
and highest, by the occult powers of man. Whenever anything of a startling nature is exhibited by either of the first two means, and it is falsely represented to have been of an unnatural, or super-natural, or miraculous character, that is properly called a tamâsha, or dishonest deception. But if the true and correct explanation of such surprising effect is given, then it should be classed as a simple exhibition of scientific or technical skill, and is to be called Vyavahâra-Vidyâ. Effects produced by the sole exercise of the trained human will, without apparatus or mechanical aids, are true Yoga.
"Q. Define the nature of the human Âtmâ.
"A. In the Âtmâ there are twenty-four powers. Among these are will, passivity, action, determined perception or knowledge, strong memory, etc. When all these powers are brought to bear upon the external world, the practitioner produces effects which are properly classed under the head of Physical Science. When he applies them to the internal world, that is Spiritual Philosophy—Yoga—Antaryoga or inner Yoga. When two men talk to each other from far distant places by means of the telegraph, that is Vyavahâra-Vidyâ; when without any apparatus and by employing their knowledge of natural forces and currents, it is Yoga Vidyâ. It is also Yoga Vidyâ when an adept in the science causes articles of any kind to be brought to him from a distance, or sends them from himself to any distant place, in either case without visible means of transportation, such as railways, messengers, or what not. The former is called Âkarshan (attraction), the latter Preshana.
SWÂMI DAYÂNAND SARASWATI ON YOGA 221
The ancients thoroughly understood the laws of the attraction and repulsion of all things in Nature, between each other, and the Yoga phenomena are based upon that knowledge. The Yogi changes or intensifies these attractions and repulsions at will.
" Q What are the pre-requisites for one who wishes to acquire these powers?
"A. These are: (1) A desire to learn. Such a desire as the starving man has for food, or a thirsty one for water: an intense and eager yearning. (2) Perfect control over the passions and desires. (3) Chastity; pure companionship; pure food—that which brings into the body none but pure influences; the frequenting of a pure locality, one free from vicious taint of any kind; pure air; and seclusion. He must be endowed with intelligence—that he may comprehend the principles of Nature; concentrativeness—that his thoughts may be prevented from wandering; and self-control—that he may always be master over his passions and weaknesses. Five things he must relinquish—Ignorance, Egotism (conceit), Passion (sensual), Selfishness, and Fear of Death.
"Q. You do not believe, then, that the Yogi acts contrary to natural laws?
"A. Never; nothing happens contrary to the laws of Nature. By Hatha Yoga one can accomplish a certain range of minor phenomena, as, for instance, to draw all his vitality into a single finger, or, when in Dhyâna (a state of mental quiescence), to know another's thoughts. By Râja Yoga he becomes a Siddha; he can do whatever he wills, and know whatever he desires to know, even languages which
222 OLD DIARY LEAVES
he has never studied. But all these are in strict harmony with natural laws.
"Q. I have occasionally seen inanimate articles duplicated before my eyes, such as letters, coins, pencils, jewelry; how is this to be accounted for?
"A. In the atmosphere are the particles of every visible thing, in a highly diffused state. The Yogi knowing how to concentrate these, does so by the exercise of his will, and forms them into any shape of which he can picture to himself this model.
"Col. Olcott asked the Swâmi what he would call certain phenomena heretofore produced by Madame Blavatsky in the presence of witnesses—such as the causing of a shower of roses to fall in a room at Benares last year, the ringing of bells in the air, the causing of the flame of a lamp to gradually diminish until it almost went out, and then at command to blaze up again to the top of the chimney, without touching the regulator in either instance, etc. The answer was that these were phenomena of Yoga. Some of them might be imitated by tricksters and then would be mere tamâsha; but these were not of that class."
I think this one of the simplest, clearest, most sententious and most suggestive digests of the Indian view of the high science of Yoga in literature. My respondent was one of the most distinctly Aryan personages of the time, a man of large erudition, an experienced ascetic, a powerful orator, and an intense patriot. Attention should be paid to the Swâmi's assertion that one cannot pass on to the practice of Râja Yoga without first having subjugated the physical
SWÂMI DAYÂNAND SARASWATI ON YOGA 223
body by a course of Hatha Yoga, or physiological training, and that if one be found who is confining himself with success to Râja Yoga, this is primâ facie proof of his having done his Hatha Yoga in the anterior birth. This idea is shared by all orthodox educated Hindus whom I have met, but my readers will decide for themselves whether it is reasonable or not. We may, at any rate, say that nothing is clearer than that man's personal evolution towards the spiritual life is progressive, and that every stage of physical self-mastery must be passed before "liberation" can be attained. To most believers in the theory of reincarnation the above hypothesis will not seem destitute of a reasonable foundation; and yet it is not so clear to me that I have ever had to sleep on pointed spikes; or hang by my heels; or sit between fierce fires; or cleanse my stomach daily by the feat of dhoti—the swallowing of yards upon yards of wet cotton cloth and then pulling it up again; or fill my abdominal cavity with gallons of water, to reach even my low stage of spiritual capacity. I think the will can be fortified even better without than with physical torture.
We were fortunate enough to meet at Mr. Sheona-rain's house the now celebrated Pandita Ramabai, then married to a Bengali barrister or advocate, but visiting here with her late brother in the course of a tour. Ramabai's name and history are now so well known in all parts of the world that I need only say that at that time she was letter-perfect in the Gîtâ and Râmâyana, could converse and write with great fluency in Sanskrit and compose verses in it impromptu on any
224 OLD DIARY LEAVES
given subject within the range of her reading. After a lecture I delivered on the evening of 6th September, she gave her own views first in Hindi and then, by request, in Sanskrit, displaying equal fluency in both. She had not learnt English then, but could lecture in Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Guzerati, and Kanarese—the latter her mother-tongue. She was twenty-two years old; a pale, slim, ascetic-looking young woman, not at all recognizable in the stout, worldly-wise appearing matron whom I recently saw at Poona at a lecture of Mrs. Besant's. The Ramabai of 1880 was a true type of the highly meditative Brahmini; the one of Poona might have sat for the type of the Western business-woman, who is more at home with lodges and ledgers than with literature.
My debate with the Swâmi went on day by day and evening by evening, despite a heat so oppressive as to be almost unbearable. One morning H. P. B. came to call me long before daylight, being afraid of heat-apoplexy, and determined that we should start at once for Simla, notwithstanding that the notices were out for my above-mentioned public lecture. But, finding that by adopting the Hindu custom of sleeping out-doors she might fare better, she changed her mind, countermanded by telegraph a previous telegram, and that next night had her high-post bedstead placed out of doors near my cot and our host's, and, protected by a large mosquito curtain from all flying insects, she slept soundly until the chattering crows hoarsely called to each other in the neighboring mango tope.
That day the Swâmi and I, as Presidents of our respective Societies, had a long and serious private
SWÂMI DAYÂNAND SARASWATI ON YOGA 225
talk, the result being that "We agreed that neither should be responsible for the views of the other: the two Societies to be allies, yet independent."
At 4.14 in the afternoon we left Meerut for Simla. From Ambala—after a halt until 11 p.m., with Indian friends—we drove all night up the mountain road to the summer capital of the Viceroy in a dakgharry, an oblong, wooden-bodied conveyance, something like a big palanquin on wheels. We slept but little as we were entering the foot-hills of the Himâlayas and H. P. B. had business with the Mahatmas to attend to. I note that it was on this night that she told me the story about Swâmi Dayânand's body being occupied by a Master, which influenced me so much in my later intercourse with him. A five-hours' halt was made at Kalka, and we then went on in a tonga—a two-wheeled spring cart, hung very low, and with seats for four persons, the driver included—to Simla. The military, road is good, though somewhat perilous at the sharper turns (with balky ponies). The scenery is imposing by reason of the altitudes and mountainous outlines and masses, but there is a great lack of woods, which robs the landscapes of the refreshing element of verdure. We came in sight of Simla just before sunset, and its sun-gilded villas gave it an attractive appearance. A servant of Mr Sinnett's met us as we entered the town, with jampans—chairs carried by porters by long poles—and we were soon under the hospitable roof of our, good friends the Sinnetts, where a hearty welcome awaited us.