Yoga [part two]
What does Yoga have to do with salvation?
In this part of the article, Rob looks at how the yogic practitioners, or yogis, view the world, destiny and salvation—and especially the techniques used in yoga to achieve this grand objective or goal. Our primary spiritual essence, the "purusha", is like a spark thrown from the fire of eternal spirit; it is the same in essence as the fire, but it has a relatively independent life of its own. In a similar way, a ray of sunlight is relatively independent of the Sun, but essentially the same. This is where we begin...
Our existence is viewed very differently by a yogi from the way it seems to the typical Westerner, whether educated in the materialistic, scientific school, or in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Yogic Masters declare that a spiritual essence, or monad, is the truly real part of any person, being that eternal part around which we build our lives in this world. Experiences that distinguish our individual personalities are deemed to be conditioned by the results of karma and generated by the interaction of the gunas, or fundamental energies.
This spiritual essence, the purusha, is like a spark thrown from the fire of eternal spirit; it is the same in essence as the fire, but it has a relatively independent life of its own. In a similar way, a ray of sunlight is relatively independent of the Sun, but essentially the same. The materialist believes that we are simply composed of material elements that have somehow come together through random natural forces—and that we will return to a dissolute, entropic state once this fortuitous combination disintegrates after death. The Christian position is that souls are individually created by God at conception (or later, should one seek to justify abortion), with but one life on this planet to determine their destiny in an eternal after-life—be it heavenly, or hellish.
The yogi believes that his life-force, the purusha, is restricted in its natural freedom by the bondage of desire; desire for the pleasures (or otherwise) of existence in the material world. The body, including the mind and the emotions, is very much the product of the interaction of the gunas, the three modes of material nature, or prakriti. Karma, the “glue” that holds the gunas together, is both the source and the product of this bondage, for every action, word and deed contains both the source and the terminus of an ongoing, interactive chain of causality—a chain of unbounded misery.4
A Sliver of Shining Light
The purusha is compared to a shining sliver of light, encapsulated within a dark, monstrous cabinet of material delusion. Like an egyptian mummy, the soul is wrapped in layer upon layer of the thick, sticky clothing of desire. This wrapping of materiality obscures the inner light, attracting ever more layers of karmic delusion. Infatuation with the processes of prakriti—pleasure, pain, relationships, possessions, power and so on—is part of a continuum of self-discovery, albeit a miserable one!
Yoga seeks to provide techniques of deliverance from this condition. A regime of guided discipline from a chosen master enables the student to losen the bondage of these drab rags and to emerge, like a butterfly from a chrysalis, into the sunlight of eternal love.
Yogic Powers (siddhis)
One of the most fascinating aspects of the process of yoga is that the development of the physical, mental and emotional bodies can generate certain mystical abilities, known as siddhis. These are usually considered side-effects of the process of self-realisation, not to be pursued in themselves, but seen as notable milestones on the journey. Powers in fact are an inevitable part of the process and not to be feared, but neither are they to be shunned, as they are a natural consequence of advanced stages of development, or inner growth. For more on Siddhis, click here.
The eightfold “limbs” of Patanjali's yoga, expounded in his sutras,5 hold the keys to deliverance from immersion in the sea of delusion. The basic limbs of yoga, subject to much expansion, are:
||control of vitality
||withdrawal of senses
While yoga is divided into several paths, or branches, any serious aspirant would normally follow a mixture of these disciplines along the path to moksha (liberation from the chains of existence in the conditioned world). The rajayogi, while mainly interested in mind-control, would be sure to learn body and breath control; the karmayogi would naturally practise daily meditation and exercises; the jnanayogi would have an understanding of the mystical trance and so on. All yogis would practise some form of devotion to the supreme spirit; indeed, Sri Aurobindo does not even regard bhakti as a separate discipline, but as an integral part of all yoga practice.6 Even an atheist, or impersonalist yogi would at the very least be obliged to render some form of devotion to his guru, the source of his empowerment, whether or not he perceived him to be an embodiment of the Absolute, the universal ground of being.
How is Bhakti yoga different from other kinds of yoga?
Each form of yoga is believed to be specially adapted to the requirements of a certain class of students. Nevertheless, each path is directed to the same end—the unfoldment of spiritual growth. As a rajayogi progresses by the growth of his intent, a karmayogi by his submission to ethical principles and as a jnanayogi is fascinated by the intricacies of the philosophical path, so one who has a strongly devotional nature is attracted by the power of the divine love perceived to emanate from his chosen deity, the embodiment of Ishvara.
The bhaktayogi, following the path of devotion, aims at the enjoyment of supreme love and bliss. He seeks to experience the supreme Lord in his personality as the divine lover and enjoyer of the universe. The phenomenal world is perceived as a game, a lila originating in the divine mind, devised for the amusement of the transcendental being and the pleasure of his worshippers. All activities are devoted to the service of the Lord; worship and meditation are used primarily for the preparation and deepening of the divine relationship.
Bhakti yoga differs from the other main branches of yoga primarily in the matter of approach; the intense physical and mental disciplines of other branches are largely replaced with devotional exercises and chanting, but the goal of the attainment of yoga remains the same. Bhakti yoga is not to be confused with simple religious devotion, for the latter is largely a matter of prescribed ritual and ceremonial sacrifice. The emotional content of religion is generally devoid of any intellectual or philosophical elements; the ultimate goal of yoga, however, is that of union with the supreme, combined with a genuine understanding of the self, the world and how these categories stand in relation to the divine essence.
In part three, this article concludes by discussing the way tantric and religious elements have become thoroughly and inextricably intertwined with the strands of yogic practice. Rob argues that, in the final analysis, these paths are one.
Read how Yoga and Tantra are really one