A Few Steps Towards
The Yoga of Self-Knowledge
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
Along the path to self-knowledge, one comes to observe the difference between various states of mind. As we compare the moods and attitudes in our consciousness, the question emerges about what makes them change.
The mind adopts the shape and colour of that which it sees. 
One thing makes the person sad; another thing makes him get angry. A combination of nice facts may lead naïve persons into intense but passing states of contentment, just before they get infuriated by this or that “unfortunate” turn of events.
Changes in states of mind may depend on many a factor. French philosopher Maine de Biran tracked the influence that natural events and weather conditions around us may have on our own psychological “climate”. The change in mindset can be seen as a sort of “private climate change”.
Transformation in the emotional landscape of an individual, and in his attitude towards life, depends on his degree of self-knowledge and self-respect, and the amount of accumulated will he possesses. How dependent is he on external events, and what is the amount of self-confidence he has? Confidence in life provides us with a firmer soil than that offered by outer reality.
One’s individual consciousness has the size and the substance of that which one thinks on.
Theosophy liberates us from narrow-mindedness: by thinking of the universe, we make our minds literally universal, and get rid of attachment to personal pain and pleasure. Yet we need to be both galactic and terrestrial. Personal relations are important. They must be enlightened and transformed by universal thinking. We can emit towards others that sort of good-will that silently heals emotional pain at its roots. We are able to observe and see the effects of deeper love, although they sometimes are slower and more occult than we would expect. Deep or unconditional love creates emotional stability because it is a stable emotion itself. However, it needs courage and altruism to take place.
Self-discipline is necessary in looking for knowledge. Yet it must be a smooth and self-respectful effort if we want it to endure. Discipline’s influence is only effective when it lasts. It is not desirable, in philosophy, to exert a perfect self-control during one week or two. Effectiveness is rather in having a small amount of self-discipline set for the rest of your life and then improving and expanding it little by little with a long term perspective.
However, appearances are deceitful. In some moments the greatest efforts will have to be made for a considerable time in order to take a single, small step ahead. It tends to be worthwhile.
As we study the laws of Universe and see the unity of all that lives, we expand our contact with the eternal, and this is a generous source of inner peace. The path towards perfect self-control includes more than one incarnation. One’s effort along the road must be as nice as possible for the learning to be effective. Discernment is always necessary. While progress will be often painful, unnecessary suffering can be avoided, and a few practical tools for that may be highlighted here.
Three Steps Along the Path
1) In managing our states of mind, one first step consists in freely observing them from the point of view of our sacred potentialities and destiny. In order to start eliminating the cause of suffering, however, we must calmly see and understand exactly how we waste our time and energies.
Such observation will strengthen that which unites all the different states of mind: a desire to be happy. Life shows us that the search for happiness can be made in intelligent ways, if we have a growing knowledge of the law of karma. It is much more effective, for instance, to look for a happiness that comes from within, and is unconditional.
2) A second step is to start exerting a smooth effort to live happy states of mind with humbleness and detachment. We can be sure that comfortable periods will not necessarily last long. On the other hand, during the sad or “self-defeating” mindsets, we can also remember that such states are not ourselves: they are but passing “weather conditions” in the sky of our mind.
3) To expand the self-control effort is the third step, and it makes spiritual will possible. Through it antahkarana, the bridge to the immortal, is strengthened and enlarged.
The symmetry of pleasure and pain can now be fully perceived, and we do not search for refuge in “extreme intensity” any longer. From this point on the balance gets stable in one’s individual universe between sadness and contentment, and pure wisdom emerges.
The Point in the Circle
The idea of an enlightened equilibrium in our states of mind is well expressed by a geometrical image.
An unlimited openness of mind is the circle, and self-discipline is the point in its center.
An unavoidable symmetry exists between the point and the circle, for it is the firmness of the center, self-discipline, that makes it possible to have a wide mental horizon.
While moving along and looking for the path, the difference between flexibility and mere oscillation in one’s states of mind depends on the degree of universality and inclusiveness of one’s vision. As long as the mind is narrow, thoughts and feelings will go from one extreme to another according to the outer tides of events. When we learn about the whole cycles of life and observe them for a time that is long enough, we learn to acknowledge, to manage and transcend the different sets of opposites, and avoid extremes. Thus we get to be advanced students in the art of living, and learn to combine strength with moderation, and firmness with equilibrium.
 See Aphorisms 3 and 4, Book One, in “The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali”.