The word yoga is used to indicate an end as well as a means to reach that end. The meaning of the word is union; from the root yuj, meaning to join. This union is the highest possible stage of integration a person can reach. It actually means no less than the union (Samyoga) of the individual soul (Jeevetham) with the Universal soul (Paramatman). This great union is the end, the goal of all the different paths of yoga. As you can reach a city by many roads, you can attain this great union by many different paths. The main ones are Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, Raja, Hadha, Mantra and Laya Yogas, yet they all overlap to some extent.
Karma yoga is to ‘work without desiring the fruits of that work’. By surrendering to God while performing an action one perceives the all pervading entity in the action. In Bhakti yoga, the emotion of Divine Love is the mainspring and is expressed in worshipping a personal goda and in acts of devotion, love and service. In the Bhagavad gita, one reads of Karma and Bhakti yogas leading one to Jnana yoga where the mind vanishes and only pure knowledge exist. A jnani, in fact, is always in the higher regions and is a realized person in body.
Raja, Hadha, Mantra and Laya yogas all work towards the merging of the jeevatman with the paramataman at the ajna chakra but use different approaches. Raja yoga teaches one the workings of the mind and the ways of controlling and directing it to understand the Real Self of ‘I’. Hadha yoga teaches asanas in order that the body can sit comfortably for pranayama. The ‘ha’ (pingala) and the ‘dha’ (ida) unite with the sushumna nadi at the ajnachakra which is the essence fo the definition of yoga accoding to Hadha yoga. Mantra yoga is a vehicle for pranayama. The subtle sound vibrations of certain sacred words go through the chakras until they merge with prana at the top. Eventually, the sound will vanish leaving the prana in the ajnachakra. Laya yoga is the contemplation of Kundalini (vital energy). By concentration the Kundalini is awakened in the Mooladhara chakra and is withdrawn up the chakras to merge with the Universal force.
It should be noted that as state earlier, these different paths are not entirely exclusive of one another. To be successful in Raja yoga, you should be able to sit a steady and comfortable posture. So evidently some of the exercises of Hadha yoga are helpful to others too. Without devotion, the chief ingredient of Bhakti yoga, you are not likely to proceed very far on any of the different paths. The healthy body of a Hadha yogi, the clear mind of a Raja yogi, the burning heart of a Bhakti yogi and the selfless actiojn of a Karma yogi; these things could be found in one person and something like that must the true goal of a high discipline, supposed to make men God-like and totally integrated.
THE EIGHTFOLD PATH OF PATANJALI
Patanjali was the first sage to codify the science of yoga. His definition of yoga is “silencing the activities of the mind.” According to the Sastra, or sacred texts, there are eight stages to attain yoga. They are:
YAMA (right conduct)
PRANAYAMA (breath control)
PRATYAHARA (withdrawal of senses from sense objects)
Of these, the first five stages are related to the body and mind, and the last three related to the spirit. Among the first five, yama and niyama are the preliminary observances of the practice of yoga.
Many people do not realize that these stages go together in such a way that success in the later stages depends on how seriously you have taken the former. Some books on Hadha Yoga do not mention yama and niyama. The fact is that you will never reach anywhere on the path, unless you start working with your total being. Yoga is not something you do during a leisure hour and forget for the rest of the day. It needs your whole being and all of your time. Doing a few physical exercises may be called gymnastics, but it is not yoga. If a man behaves badly with his fellow beings or indulges in disreputable activities during the day and meditates in the evening, of what help will that be to him? It would be like going to church or temple on holidays and spending the remaining days violating the commandments. He cannot even cheat other people in that way, how then will be able to cheat God or his own deepest being? Only the fullest application and dedication to the cause brings about success in any ven ture.
The chief obstacle that stands in the way of attaining yoga is the wandering nature of the mind. As a first step one has to bring the mind under control. This is not easy in the early stages, because the mind is attracted by various sense objects. Experiences of the past, ties of relationships and worldly knowledge are some of the things that keep the mind in bondage. This bondage prevents a person from identifying himself with his inner spirit (jeevetman). The false notions regarding the reality of the world as perceived through the ego and senses lead him to think of the self as a separate entity. This concept of reality creates a diversion of the mind and desires increase. Disappointment or the non-fulfillment of desires are further causes for disturbance. The disturbed and restless mind deviates from its purity. This, to keep the mind pure, one should attempt to control every action that brings disturbance to it. Yama is therefore, insisted upon as the first step towards this. It contains five parts:
1. Ahimsa (non-injury)
2. Satyam (truth)
3. Asteya (non-stealing)
4. Brahmacharya (continence)
5. Aparigrha (non-coveting)
1. Ahimsa (non-injury)
Ahimsa is the opposite of himsa, which normally means any action which causes injury or suffering to the life of any being. One should, therefore, carefully watch his actions in order to prevent hurt to anybody. If the nature of God is love, then one should imbibe that character. Thus, any action intentionally performed should be based on ahimsa. To cause violence, unhappiness, pain or wounds, is considered himsa.
It is to be understood that ahimsa also means psychological non-violence. Our total being must be non-violence. Our total being must be non-violent. Here we realize that our changing modern society is not conducive to a yogic life. In the melee of the big cities success normally requires sharp elbows and a rapid tongue; in reality, you will never progress stress on ahimsa. To be able to be fully non-violent, you must develop a sympathetic neighbour as yourself”, as Christ said. This is the active aspect of ahimsa. If you are able to achieve this, you are much nearer your final goal. Love and ahimsa could be regarded as the gateway to the garden of the yogis.
2. Satyam (truth)
Truth, in though, word and action should be practiced. The nature of the Universal Being is truth. So one who tries to attain that state, must be truthful in all aspects. How does one achiev that? Probably the best way is to inspect each thought before proceeding to action.
As you proceed on the spiritual path you will be surprised to see how, in many respects, you have cunningly cheated yourself. Persons familiar with the ideas of Carl Jung and the psychoanalysts easily understand the psychological importance of this point. More than merely abstaining from telling lies, truthfulness is to live in truth, to live in harmony with the universe. By doing so, you will gradually increase truth in your life. But you must begin working towards it now.
3. Asteyam (non-stealing)
The desire for anything that belongs to another causes disturbance in the mind. Actions are then diverted towards the achievement of this wish. The result of such actions is detrimental to one’s happiness. One should not covet anything that belongs to others in word, mind, or action; this includes even the thought or idea of stealing.
There are other activities which are to be regarded as stealing; for example, wealth, or by selling your services at unreasonably high prices. For a wrong to be committed, the act does not have to actually take place, the thought in your mind is enough. For a yogi to practice asteyam, a pure mind is necessary. It is practically impossible for a true yogi to strive towards material wealth at the same time as serving the true path.
4. Brahmacharya (continenece)
Brahmacharya means chastity. Chastity is generally defined as an absence of erotic emotion in mind, sense or body, but brahmacharya is also defined in Hindu philosophy as wandering in the Universal Entity (Brahman). The worldly mind by nature wanders in sensory pleasure for the purposed of enjoyment. This brings worldly bondage. To avoid this, the mind should be directed away from worldly enjoyment, to the real knowledge (jnana), which is nothing other than Brahman. This for the sanysin, is the stage when his desire for lust have vanished. For a family man, brahmacharya means a regulated life which will gradually give him the opportunity to develop a detachment after reaching middle age, and will ultimately lead him to reach the goal of yoga. This process involves a cultural development for a person throughout the four ideal stages of life according to orthodox Hindusism;
Grahastya (house holder)
Vanaprastha (forest dweller)
Sanyasa (wandering mendicant)
Total control of sex will in the end lead one to the ultimate emancipation and the soul. To achieve this object, one should study the lives of persons such as Janaka, who led a noble life as a karma yogi and yet remained a family man. Lord Siva the King of preceptors of Yoga Sastra (yoga science), is an example of a being said to have a large household and who, at the same time, developed mental detachment. In short, a regulated sexual life brings gradual detachment.
5. Aparigraha (non-coveting)
One should avoid attachments to things owned by others, since unhealthy desires are obstacles to mental peace. Be content with whatever you possess. An avaricious mind will have no satisfaction or contentment. Desires should be kept to a minimum. One should have only moderate desires for physical or mental enjoyments. It is advisable for the student of yoga (and surely for other people too) to turn their face away from advertisements and publicity, as such things are basically aimed at creating and strengthening wants and desires in the individual, which are contrary to the aim of yoga.
Whereas yama deals with the attitude of the mind, niyama deals with one’s actions and conduct. Niyama also has five parts:
1. Saucha (purification)
2. Santhosha (contentment)
3. Tapas (austerity)
4. Swadhayaya (continual learning)
5. Iswarapranidhana (worship of God)
1. Saucha (purification)
Saucha insists on internal as well as external cleanliness; the body should always be kept clean. This includes cleaning of teeth, daily bathing and wearing clean clothes. The place of residence should also be clean throughout, including articles, clothes and food. The kitchen as well as its surroundings should be kept very clean. This kind of purification will aid the quality of goodness (satvaguna), which is an ultimate goal in the practice of yoga. Internal purity is also considered here. Ones’s own consciousness should be pure. Consciousness includes manas (mind), chitta (subconscious mind, budhi (intellect), and ahamkara (the principle of ego). Each function evolves from the other. Mind is capable of two actions; one that wills (samkalpa) and the other that doubts (vikalpa). Budhi determines whether one does the action or not (judgement); chitta concentrates on each particular action and the ego actually commands the act. The belief that every worldly action can result in happiness or misery is the root cause of ignorance. This is attachment and one should try to refrain from attachment in any worldly action (karma). One should only do the action, withouht expectations of the fruits.
It is not easy to keep clean in these days of pollution. Often cleanliness is confused with the degrees of whiteness (a factor which pleases the detergent companies). A “super white” shirt is not necessarily cleaner than a less shining one. The chemicals used to achieve this whiteness are not necessarily harmless to all forms of life.
Saucha means a healthy and natural cleanliness of mind and body. It does not mean “flashing - white” or “more shining than white”. It also means purity of mind. People normally accept and take an interest in clean clothes but the student of yoga must also work for a clean mind, which unfortunately few others do. One will never enter the higher states with a foul mind, even if the apparel is spotless. The laundry and the swimming pool will never fulfil your whole saucha.
2. Santhosha (contentment)
Troubles and turmoils beset the mind. These disturbances must be overcome for all the purpose of yoga. In all circumstances, whether favourable or unfavourable, in all experiences of pleasure or pain, profit or loss, one should try to remain content. A method of learning to do this, thereby keeping worries to a minimum, is to live a life of satisfaction with the bare necessities of life.
Here we see the great difficulty for a yogi to live a modern way of life, for simplicity is not the order of the day. To be a yogi in today’s world one must learn the art of detachment very precisely. It is very difficult to have the modern conveniences and yet not possess them or be possessed by them. If one wants to be a spiritual person, it is most likely that some of the conveniences of our time will have to be sacrificed. Costly devices can easily cause many economical and practical problems and change one’s life in other undesirable ways. Unfortunately, people must usually go through a painful phase to realize this themselves. We have noted that a short stay in India has often helped people to develop detachments towards their possessions and objects at home, The more possessions one has, the less free one becomes and therefore, the less content.
3. Tapas (austerity)
Like brahmacharya, opinions differ regarding the meaning of tapas. Some people define tapas as a sort of penance, for example, reducing the body by rigorous fasting. In reality, tapas is only a suggestion for a person not to become a slave to the senses or unhealthy emotions. It is the control and elimination of all the physical and mental desires of the senses; this includes physical, mental and spiritual aspects.
4. Swadhyaya (Continuous learning)
There are many ways of practicing continuous learning. Repetition of mantra (japa) can bring a response form the force of deity involved, whose grace contributes to our knowledge. Swadhyaya also denotes the study of interesting and inspiring literature. It means all activities which increase our knowledge. This continuous learning does not mean merely piling up facts in our memory (as we often asked to do in our schools and universities) but to understand this knowledte through experience and the study of informative literature. Good and inspirational literature is the object of our study, not “intellectually acrobatics’ and worldly knowledge.
5. Iswarapranidhana (constant thought of God)
Multiple and diverse are the ways of worshipping God. Complete surrender of our whole being to God, is what is meant by constant thought of God. Complete surrender means to consider the beauty in nature, the flowers, grass, birds and to constantly think about the gifts of pure water, clean air and the stream of life in our being. It means to see God everywhere, in all things. These are important points to think about, even though it may take time to become sensitive enough to perceive the divinity within and about us. It may be helpful to live as close to nature as possible. Iswarapranidhana, may be very difficult to practice in the noisy, dirty and overactive city, for the forces at work in these cities oppose those of yoga. Many people have already realized this danger, yet the cities grow faster and faster. Perhaps you are free to leave now, at least for a short time.
The above facets of yama and niyama should become a part of your life. With practice, they will gradually become a natural part of your character; they will be done as naturally as you breathe. It may take time to perfect these qualities within you but the time to start practicing is NOW.
A motionless sitting posture, according to one’s convenience is necessary for meditation. “Patanjali Yogadarsana” defines the word asana as “a posture which enables one to sit motionless for a long time without the least effort”. One can sit in any comfortable posture with spine, neck and head erect. To maintain this position, the muscles are tendons of the vertebral column should be made sufficiently elastic. For this purpose some accessories such as mudras, bandhas and kriyas are also prescribed. Mudras are gestures – psychophysical processes intended to stimulate the nerves. Bandhas are muscular contractions to bring the vital energy under control. Kriyas are movements of the internal organs intended fro cleansing and stimulating the organs of the pelvic and other regions.
Patanjali explained, “When you are in the practice of controlling the flow of air in inhalation and exhalation that is pranayama”. Moving the prana along the spinal cord (sushumna nadi) and finally keeping it motionless, is the aim of pranayama. When prana in motion resolves into it’s motionless state, the mind is at rest. The three phases in the practice of pranayama are rechaka, pooraka and kumbhaka. The first two are prana in motion; the third is the suspended state of prana.
Pratyahara means subjugating the senses to the supervision of the mind. Patanjali defines pratyahara as follows: “When the senses are withdrawn from their objects and transmitted into the realm of consciousness, it is called pratyahara”. The word means withdrawal. In pratyahara the subjective world becomes objective.
Dharana (concentration) means fixing the mind on one point. Fixing the mind on an idol is external. If the mind is fixed on the ajna chakra it leads to concentration. If the concentration is on the mantra OM (word vibration), it is astral. For a beginner it is often convenient to imagine a world of brilliant light around his chosen form of divinity; the halo can later be converted into the world of consciousness in the stage of contemplation.
Dhyana means contemplation (keeping the mind solely on one point is contemplation). This is also described as meditation. The ancient sages seeking emancipation resorted to three processes:
1. Fixing the eyes at bhroomadhya (a point in between the eyebrows).
2. Unifying the prana and apana, exercising them in the nasal cavities.
3. Mentally destroying all negative tendencies such as anger, fear, desire etc.
All these methods lead to the same end. But the easiest method for most people is the second. The mind engaged in its usual pursuit of external activities is retracted to the ajna chakra and prana merged with it, brings the state of transcendence or super consciousness. The effect of this will be realized at the last stage of pranayama.
Samadhi means identification. “When the object of contemplation and one’s own form are annihilated, it is identification”. This is yoga (union). This stage, Samadhi, is the goal of all our practices. Samadhi is indescribable in any language, and it is completely different from all other experiences. There are no words except Samadhi to describe it. One must have patience and not get discouraged when it is not attained, even after much practice. Some people achieve this stage rapidly, others only after many years. The important thing is to continue the practice of the foregoing steps. They will do an immense amount of good for you and make you mind and consciousness expand more and more. Finally, provided you are really honest in you attempt, Samadhi will happen. At that time, you are “born again” and your whole life will change in a beautiful way. Without patience and courage, however, you will never reach this goal. Also, you will never reach it if you do not work consciously to be a
more loving, truthful and simple person.
In conclusion, some reflection by the intelligent reader will make him understand the importance of doing all these practices together, beginning with the first eventually (by the grace of God) reaching the last. Yoga, as already mentioned, is taking the whole person into consideration, aiming at harmony of the total being. That is why some of the exercises are physical, others mental and still others a combination. Beginning your yoga career by simply doing the asanas may improve your health, but complete health you will never obtain by mere physical exercise. The betterment of you health, however, may clear the mind enough to show you that we must proceed through the gate of yama to enter “the garden”.