In the present day world, there are many who often use the word YOGA. And they use it as a synonym for a set of bodily postures. Is YOGA really equivalent to just few bodily postures? Is that all, the ancient Indians had to offer, to the present world? Why did they guard it so secretively for so long and passed it down only through selective initiations? Is there more to the word YOGA? This article’s aim is to dispel few wrong notions about YOGA and give a clarity on the true meaning and some important points in regard to the path of YOGA.
Before embarking upon the journey, let us understand few basic axioms without which the whole theory of Spirituality of the land of Bharat, crumbles.
- “The whole cosmos consists of – a Universal self (GOD), the localized selves (LIFE or LIFE Force) and the matter. The Universal self is unborn (ever existent) and immutable. It is the substratum as well as the cause of the origin, the existence and the dissolution of the other two. The other two, are in a way, projections of the Universal self, conditioned by its own instrument of illusion, called as MAYA. The goal of the localized selves is to get rid of this illusive layer of MAYA and be ONE with the Universal self.”
- That which is born dies and that which dies is reborn and this cycle of birth and death repeats until the GOAL is reached. This is the Theory of Reincarnation.
The whole quintessence of all the theories of spirituality is in the above italicized statements. So, what most of the people call as GOD is this Universal Self. Remember that there are no “GODS” or “a GOD” but only “The GOD”. Owing to some divine drama, HE/THAT (I will stick to HE) suffers from a strange phenomenon i.e. HE divides himself into matter and life and yet fills the both and is not conditioned by either of them. Imagine a lake of water and an iceberg in it. The water is the substratum of the iceberg and fills it and also exists beyond it. The matter forms the base on which the LIFE entangles in different grades or degrees of awareness/consciousness.
- In the Mineral Kingdom (the crude physical matter that we see) the awareness is very little. A stone neither knows of its existence nor of others’ existence, but still exists (its not lifeless, but has lowest degree of awareness — like a deep sleep slumber).
- In the Plant Kingdom, the awareness is little better. A plant can sense the feelings like pain, for example, but is in a dreamy state (and hence its feelings are not localized, but are spread all over its body).
- In the Animal Kingdom, the awareness is refined. The animal recognizes all its surroundings – like its master, the route to the house etc., but it doesn’t know of its own existence (hence it is only driven by instincts and not WILL).
- In the Human Kingdom, we see that the awareness is very well developed. A human knows of his surroundings as well as himself (hence the feeling of SHY, etc.). This degree of awareness is what gave us the ability to question “ Who am I” and lead us to find the GOD and his Drama and the shortcuts to reach the climax to HIS drama. YOGA is one of these shortcuts (others being TANTRA, MANTRA, etc.)
The GOD precipitating into matter and forms is called “The Descent” and the life forms reaching and uniting with the GOD is called “The Ascent”. The science of YOGA concentrates on the path of the Ascent in its full details. Hence the name YOGAM/’Union’ is very apt. The goal of this path is to unite the localized self with universal self. And by definition, only Humans have the urge to question their own existence and thus have capacity to go beyond their animalistic degree (like hunger, greed, sexual lust, etc.) to a state of culmination with GOD.
Just like the tributeries of a river, we have many paths of YOGA that leads a practitioner/disciple to the GOAL. They can broadly be classified into four types:
- Bhakti Yoga – The YOGA of devotion
- Jnana Yoga – The YOGA of Knowledge
- Karma Yoga – The YOGA of Action
- Raja Yoga – The YOGA of Royal Path
Though the GOAL is the same, each one has its own flavor and characteristic elements catering to the needs of different natures of individuals. These four YOGAs form four pillars/ladders of the YOGA philosophy. When following the tenets of these YOGAs, one must bare in mind that each YOGA has non rigid boundaries, i.e. all the possible combinations of the YOGAs may be possible (Bhakti+Jnana or Raja+Jnana+Bhakti, etc.). So, there are no hard and fast rules to stick to one path alone. For that matter, even atheists can reach the GOAL (say through Janana and Karma), if they follow the paths with sincerity and self confidence.
Let us go into the brief overviews of each path.
1.Bhakti Yoga: Devotion is a peculiar element of human behavioral psychology. Being devoted to something or someone is not everyone’s cup of tea. Many people actually express fear in the garb of false sense of devotion. For example, many people are afraid of SIN and hence reach out to the gods of religions, but there are very few who search for GOD with the sense of true devotion and love. Where there is devotion, there is no place for fear.
According to this path of BHAKTI YOGA, if the devotion is developed onto someone or something, the sense of devotion itself pulls one’s self above the delusion of multitudeness of this creation, for, they will become one with the devoted, at some stage. The true meaning of devotion is self surrenderance – i.e. believing and living the life in such a way that the entity to whom one is devoted, is verily the protector and light bringer in their life. Slowly, this layer of seperation dilutes and a sense of ONEness is obtained. At that stage of oneness, it doesn’t matter if one is devoted to a stone or a human or an animal, they will start to see that the true Universal Self lies in all and everything and thus the goal is reached. So, Bhakti YOGA prescribes the methods to improvise this devotion and steps to follow so that one can sustain the extreme emotional drama and be consistently in tune with the true SELF.
Devotion requires the purity of the heart. If a person has malice or hatred in their heart, they can not be truly devoted. Thus, the process of devotion burns the malefic qualities and purifies the heart and true love is automatically generated, not only towards the devoted but towards the whole creation. So, the bottom line is that, if the devotee is an unripe fruit, the path of BHAKTI is the process of ripening and the result is that the devotee becomes the sweet ripe fruit.
2.Jnana Yoga: The path of knowledge is one of the fiery paths. The fire of knowledge burns the ignorance and gives the radiance of wisdom. This path does not mean just assimilating information. It is the post process of assimilation of information. Interestingly one can not define quantitatively what ‘information’ is and neither do we know how it is stored in our heads and how it is getting attached with a meaning. Because you already ‘know’ English, you are able to understand the strokes of the ink on the screen as letters. But for a person who does not know this language, the collection of this symbols/letters is just a garbage. So, that aspect which associates a meaning to the perception — be it sight or smell or sound, etc., is Jnana. When a proper meaning is associated with the symbols of nature, the mind just ponders on the meaning and not the structure of symbol. As you read these lines, rarely do you notice reading each letter – you would mostly read through and the meaning is automatically associated in your head. Now, when you meditate upon what this meaning actually is, you will face an obstacle. The series of questions that we ask when ‘knowing’ an object, is very interesting. Lets take a tasty apple.
- What is the meaning of the collection of letters – ‘APPLE’? You would say, “It symbolizes a fruit”.
- What is a ‘fruit’? — “Its something that we eat and is tasty/juicy, etc.”
- What is ‘taste’ or what is the ‘feeling’ that we get when the fruit touches our tongue? — “Its an electric impulse generated by relative contact” or _____________ (you may fill in)
- Well, what is an electron? and what is our experience to do anything with electrical impulse? — “Electrons are part of atoms and their flow causes reactions in brain”
- Well, what is that which ‘feels’ in brain? IF brain has neurons and it has electrical currents, do the currents feel themselves? if not and if there is something material that ‘feels’, even it is made up of atoms and electrons and so ultimately, are electrons feeling electrons? —- _________________- (May be you can input your thoughts here)
This kind of iteration will lead you to inevitably arrive at the conclusion of a non-material self as the receiver of the inputs from senses and the one that experiences. So, Jnana-YOGA, literally means, becoming one with the information and thus, any information (good or bad, as we define it) if we have oneness with it, i.e. if we are in YOGAM with it, we become verily our selves. This is the clue that ancients used. Also, they refined this process with Mantra, tantra and other methods to hasten the process of unification through mere knowledge. Through knowledge, comes the wisdom of Karma and KARMA and JNANA are intimately connected.
3.Karma Yoga: The path of detaching from the fruits of action. Action is one of the inevitable events of life. The very breath is a krama. But there are some actions that create ripples in the mind. These ripples cause polarization of the mind into a happy state or sad state depending on the state of the mind (that which is good for some one is bad for some one else). But, if one trains to act without experiencing this polarized mind, the result of the act can not effect the mind. When mind is calm, the ripples settle and the bosom of the lake — our true self shines forth. Thus, uniting with higher, selfless-self through a dispassionate karma, is called KARMA-YOGAM. When mind is pure, it can discriminate properly, the knowledge that it gets from the senses (five input organs). With the knowledge that it gets, it can choose the actions wisely — that which are selfless, instead of useless (use, in the sense of fellow being’s development).Thus Karma and Jnana, are cyclically connected and purify one another. Where every you start, you will end up at the other.
4.Raja Yoga: This is king of Yogas, because it unites the above three and systematizes the pathway. Patanjali’s aṣtāṃga yoga is verily the raja yoga. It has eight parts dealing with morals and values to the art of Samadhi – the state of unity with universal self. This will be dealt explicitly in another article. For now, the important point is that this is a path most prefered, because of mixture of right elements from all the paths. That does not mean other paths are useless. When you are in a path, that path alone — if followed without doubt and conviction, takes to the same goal as any other path. So, in a way, raja yoga is for the modern man, for different elements capture the needs of different mentalities of present day diverse world. But those who find an affinity for either of the above paths, can take them safely and surely!
Thus, the philosophy and practice of yoga is a wide field with many many potential seeds to be sown by us for the fruits of divine realization. Yoga, is but one of the many paths and yet is integral part of other paths. Take veda or tantra, you can not get away without the aspects of yoga. Similarly, you can not get away with yoga without the veda or tantra. Example, tantra speaks of kundalini and chakras. Though patanjali does not speak of these in his aphorisms, the resultant is what is proclaimed by tantra – i.e. the evolution of the chakras and rise of kundalini. So, whether you know or do not know, what happens happens. So, it does not matter which stem you hold on to. Yo are holding different stems of ONE TREE.
Have a happy search for the path of life that gives YOU the unconditional JOY, which is called YOGAM.