YOGA IN GENERAL Part 1
Methods of Practice.
The materials for a study of yoga which relate to Hindu Yoga are seen to be the most complete of all, and by their sufficiency to make up for the scantiness of the others. It will be observed that the postures, breathings and movements are peculiar to that yoga, and that of these the movements are peculiar to Hatha Yoga, while the postures and breathings, though more or less borrowed from it by the others, have nowhere the prominence accorded to them by the Hatha, being by some prescribed as a preparative practice good for beginners only, and by others merely tolerated as fortifying the health, whereas the Hatha, as set forth by Swatmaram, seems to insist on the importance, if not the necessity, of all its methods. But if the postures, breathings and movements were essential to success, they would be found in all yogas. And this consideration would move us to dismiss them as of inferior importance, were it not that the American experiences, that have before been stated, seem to prove a necessary and wonderful connection to exist between the bodily manifestations on the one part and mental concentration on the other. Those experiences, it will be remembered, showed that mere concentration, unalloyed by any philosophical, ethical or religious admixture, will suffice, if long enough persisted in, to set up, independently of the will of the practicer, all the bodily processes of Swatmaram’s book, save only a few that, from their nature, require the concurrence of the conscious will, and that, except the hundred or more movements that were of the nature of mesmeric passes or massage manipulations, those experiences did not go beyond that book. Thus there were brought into play intelligence, force and will—and why not providence also? —from a source beyond the consciousness of the practicer, yet all operating within his body. It is not strange that mankind have generally believed that such manifestations indicate bodily possession by some de- parted soul or other supernatural being, but those of the present time who study the experiences in question will probably discard that supposition along with the Hindu one of a deva descending from heaven to act as guru, and the Christian one of direct guidance by God’s own hand, in favor of the more rational one, as it seems to me, that when a practicer has by his own efforts made a certain progress along the path, nature comes to his aid and conducts him the rest of the way. Whether all practicers may expect to be thus favored, that is to say, whether all men are so constituted as to be thus acted on is another question. Probably all of us have, in some degree, magical capabilities, whether for developing or operative magic, by which I mean that all are possible prophets. Probably all, whether in any measure or in no measure at all developed as such, may do prophet’s work by prophet’s methods, by force of thought, will, or whatever other force comes at the prophet’s call. That he has spirits, genii or gods in waiting we may well doubt, but that there are natural forces which, if rightly invoked, will do his bidding may not be doubted. It is to be noted that the American experiences reproduced Hatha Yoga and no other. So far from sustain- ing the claim of the mental yogists that Hatha is at best but a preparation for entering on the practice of their methods, those experiences show that it is just their methods that can inaugurate it. And the teachings of Swatmaram, though giving no precedence to concentration, malce it and the physical exercise go along together, the two combining to form a complete yoga system of dignity and importance and sufficiency too great for it to be put to use as a mere preparatory discipline, whether its value as such be, as some say, to strengthen the body, or as others say, to give a sort of initial control over the mind, in aid of its studies in discriminative philosophy, etc.
The school of Sankaracharya, which chiefly controls modern Hindu thought, gives as a reason for making Hatha practice merely subservient to its own, that by the former only a temporary release from rebirths can be obtained, which release will come to an end with the destruction of the presently existing universe, whereas the latter ensures an eternal release. But we of the West do not yet know that there is any rebirth to be feared, nor that yoga practice would give release from it if there were. Both alike lie beyond the powers of perception and the forms of knowing we are accustomed to rely on.
A better reason for preferring mental yoga to physical is to be found enveloped in Sankaracharya’s allusion in the Vedant Sara, before quoted, to the severe mortifica- tions of former yogis, which were such as in his time mankind were no longer capable of enduring. Doubtless the former yogis of the valley of the Indus were better able to undergo austerities than the later ones of the valley of the Ganges, but the enervating effects of a torrid climate would better excuse the deterioration that followed the abandonment by the Hindu race of its northern home, which is indicated by the saying of one authority that a really great yogi is now “the rare efflorescence of a century,” than justify a preference for the easier practice as being in itself better than the harder. Like the magicians of the Indus, those of the Akkadian highlands probably lost quality after their emigration into the hot plains of Babylonia, and thereby ultimately lost control of the vast empire whose civilization they created there. Perhaps, too, in some remote age the Hindus and Akkadians were one race, with one magic, and that magic Hatha Yoga.
As it is today, Hindu Yoga stands distinguished from all others by this, that it has two supports, namely, mental stillness and bodily movement, thus combining intellectual and physical training, while those others have only the first, obtainable by concentration or its equivalents, in the shape of religious devotion, etc., which operate by virtue of the concentration they involve. It must be admitted that the best method of developing man should include the whole of him, and since Hatha Yoga includes more of him than the others do, its superi- ority to them must follow. Besides this, it is the purest magic of them all, having had its origin in simple times before philosophy or religion came to trouble it, and when only worldly welfare was cared for; and since the needs of every-day life are more urgent than those of any future one, the resort to magic must in those times have been extensive and habitual to a degree quite un- known in these. In fact, and to speak plainly, the task of the student of magic in this century consists mainly in digging through the rubbish of religion and philosophy which, during fifty or a hundred former ones, have been heaped upon it.
First to be considered, in entering upon our study, are the conditions proper to yoga practice; secondly, the various methods of it; thirdly, the results obtainable; and, fourthly, the object and aim of it held in view in each system. The later two will be added in a future post.
Solitude. Although none of the systems of yoga treats social life as absolutely inconsistent with successful practice, yet all of them regard it as a serious hindrance, and, as a rule, yogis have been solitaries or recluses whenever they could. Neither Zoroaster in his cave, Buddha be- neath his bo tree, Moses on Sinai, Jesus on the Mount of Olives, nor Mohammed in his grotto, had anybody to keep him company there. And the presence of super- natural intruders, in the shape of gods and saints, devils and demons, such as the practicer’s own imagination objectifies when he reaches the stage of visions and voices, is no more desirable than the presence of real persons would be, since they equally break the spell of his solitude. He should, in fact, aim to have no social existence at all. His business is with himself and nobody else. Not all the world could help him with it save by keeping away from him. Alone in the matrix he began the making of himself, and alone he can best continue that process. Ethics are for the social man and not for him. Love and sympathy, hate and antipathy, are disturbing emotions which, if allowed play, would make all his practice vain. Care for the well-being of family or neighborhood is utterly inconsistent with his entirely selfish undertaking of getting to his very self, all by himself. Silence. The Chineses age of old Taoism, we are told,” shut his mouth and made his instructions consist in silence.” In monastic communities silence in a measure serves as a substitute for solitude, keeping the members mentally apart though bodily congregated. In this the Trappists go far beyond the other Christian orders, but all of them practice sitting mute as a mode of discipline and worship; it is a condition of yoga practice with the Buddhists and Mohammedans as well.
Though Christian asceticism seems to prize poverty as being not merely a condition in aid of quietude, but also as a form of penitential misery, its real value to the yogi lies in the detachment it effects from worldly interests. A substitute for it is moral detach- ment, or a mental habit of not caring for wealth, or any of the enjoyments it brings, by force of which the practicer is made to live and act, feel and think just as he would if actually a beggar, which, according to Jacob Boehme and some others, is as good as being one, though the better opinion is that for him who tramps the yoga path real beggary is a surer means than any imitation of it, for getting left alone.
Detachment, as has been seen, is much insisted on in those works on yoga that give details concerning methods. It signifies renunciation, not merely of earthly goods, but of whatever can attach to earthly life. Complete detachment in fact constitutes that state of equanimity to reach which, according to Boethius, ” one must drive away joy and hope and grief and fear;” and which when attained, according to Plotinus, exempts from all the pangs of sympathy. It was the principle of stoicism, and appears to have incarnated in the peaceable but law- less, good but godless, Eskimo race.
Disagreeable surroundings have been considered proper conditions by Christian ascetics, but not by Hindu Yogis, whose manuals recommend comfortable homes with pleasant scenery, and who when they practice, instead of the kneeling posture of a slave, take the easier and more dignified one proper for him who in his own home awaits to receive as his equal the God of the Universe.
First and before all others is concentration. Solitude, silence, poverty and detachment, have their value only in so far as they are favoring conditions to concentration, the meaning and importance of which have been so often set forth in what has been cited from the teachings of those sages who left us full expositions of their methods, and implied in what we otherwise know of those who did not, that no further explanation of them is needed now. In some of the quotations the words “meditation” and “contemplation” are made to stand for concentration in a way that is confusing. Both mean concentration, but properly applied each means a different stage of it; at least so John of the Cross, Molinos and Guillaume Postel define them. But it is well to repeat here, what the quotations abundantly prove, that it is the concentration that does the work and not the thing concentrated on. All attempts to teach either philosophy or religion by means of yoga are attempts to pervert it, whether the point held up for the mind to fix itself on be, as Sankaracharya recommends, “This is not me,” or as Postel suggests, “The infinite wickedness of man.” To set out on the path with expectation that it will conduct you to absolute truth, and that that truth is formulated in the Sankhya philosophy, which you are already instructed in so far as mere instruction can go, is to ensure that at the end a ” spiritual impression ” will confirm both preconceptions, and that what you begun by believing in with your outer reason you will end by knowing, or ‘ realizing, ” as it is called, with your inmost sense of knowledge or feeling sure you do so. Yoga thus practiced may yield all other yoga results, but it will be with the disturbing addition of a fixed belief, proved in no better way than the fixed beliefs of visionaries usually are.
“All life is thought, all beings are contemplations,” said Plotinus; and again, “Since Nature is not an action, she is a contemplation.” The Greeks practiced concentration in the Eleusinian mysteries, and believed that by it a soul could redeem itself from hades. The Buddhists say of their creative God: “From his tapas (meditation) the universe was produced by him.” An ancient Chinese author boasts of his people’s superior “power of concentration”; and everywhere in the literature of old magic we come upon the word or its equivalent, as expressing both the method of the gods in creating and ruling the world and those of men develop- ing themselves as magicians, and as such rivalling those same gods in doing work of like sort with theirs. When, a few years ago, magical healing under its various names made its appearance in America, I found it easier to believe in its good results than to understand its methods, even after reading a large bookful of expositions of them and taking four courses of lessons from different instructors. Each of these taught that it was the recognition of certain truths by the patient as well as the healer that effected the cure but this only on condition that those truths were understood and realized. I do not think that any sick or well person was ever able to do this, yet still the healing went on. A year of speculation brought me to the conclusion that a certain mental attitude, such as the thinking out of abstruse problems or trying to think out incomprehensible ones involves, tended to induce in the thinker a magical healing power. Here I rested during, perhaps, another year, but at length was able to take one step further, and decide that the attitude in question consisted in the arrestation of thought. Years later I was confirmed in this by consulting Hindu works on yoga. But how does stopping his thinking make a yoga of a man?
As all know, every thought is an expenditure of the mysterious force whose inflow, whether from a spiritual or material source it matters not, constitutes human life. And when we consider how small an expenditure of thought is really needed to carry an ordinary mortal through his daily duties, and yet, what a constant stream of it runs through his head from dawn to dark, we see that an enormous waste of life is the ordinary attendant on living.
The same force that first produced a given man, and has since sustained him in being, for some reason con- tinues to superabundantly flow into him, the superabun- dance, like the overflow of a mill-dam, running out of him as continuously in, for the most part, useless ideation. Concentration, in such measure as it saves this waste by stopping the thinking, places at the disposal of Nature for whatever other work on the man she has in hand, making a yogi of him, for instance, an extra supply of force; thus, to arrest thought is to accumulate force.
Breathing gives activity to the mind by supplying arterialized blood to its organ, the brain, and holding the breath, by diminishing that supply retards thinking, thus accomplishing by physical restraint what in concentration is accomplished by moral restraint, namely, the saving up of vital force by curtailing its expenditure in thought. All the three modes of breath restraint that have been described show by their effects that nature puts this saved-up force to use by producing within the body in the first instance, and for some ulterior purpose which need not now be considered, certain vibrations, tensions and other movements of the same sort as mental concen- tration produces, but the method that consists in quite emptying the lungs, and holding them empty as long as may be, so that the smallest possible supply of arterialized blood reaches the brain, produces those movements in a more marked degree than do the other two, one of which consists in holding in the lungs all the air they can be made to receive and the other in retaining whatever quantity happens to be there when the breathing begins, indicating that the more absolute the exclusion of air is, the more so is the arrest of thought, if we may measure that arrest by the movements into which the saved force is diverted. This holding out, will very often, make the whole body shake or sweat, or both. But the other two methods go further than suppress thought ; they introduce into the body whatever elements of vitality accompany the inflowing atmosphere whatever of cosmic force from without is pressing to come in and thereby convert itself into vital force, opening to this an access additional to what the surface of the body affords. Ordinary breathing does the same, it is true, but these yoga breathings give nature more time than it does to appropriate the influx by ten to one. In performing them there will be felt a peculiar tensive fullness of the whole body reaching to the nails of the fingers and toes and even the roots of the teeth. Says Chuang-Tzu, in his only allusion to the breathings, and which is too brief to qualify the statement before made, that they are not included in any other than Hindu Yoga: “Pure men draw breath from their heels”—an expression that recalls one of Swatmaram’s sutras, which reads: “He should practice Kumbhaka until he feels that prana pervades the whole of his body from the head to the toe.” Whatever may be the nature of the elements of life that from without enter the human body, and whether they be many or one, it has always been believed that something so enters, and pervades that organism. This something has furnished much material for speculation. The Chinese give it the all-inclusive name of Tao, the Hindus call it Prana, or life-breath, and in modern science it goes incognito as vital force. But here the question will naturally arise: Why do not the ordinary ten breaths a minute let in as much or more of the vital force as one long-drawn breath retained for a whole minute? The ordinary breathing, short and frequent, certainly suffices to supply the blood with oxygen. Why not also to supply the organism with whatever else it wants that comes in with that oxygen? But there is a difference between ten quick taps and one slow press- ure, between ten short vibrations and one long one, dif. ference enough to make of one thing quite another thing, both as to action and effect. Whoever tries them will know that the yoga breaths do in fact produce effects which ordinary ones do not, and be apt to presume that this is because the long ones give more time than the short ones do for the inflowing force to act, as imparting, and the organism, as receiver, to appropriate. The beneficial effects of the yoga breathings seem evident enough, and there is no a priori reason why they should not be what they seem. The Hindus carry their belief in it so far as in certain cases to blow into the bladder through a kind of catheter. Just as the body of him who bathes in the ocean has the benefit of every medicament water can dissolve and it receive, the same body has the benefit of every force of nature that can come in with the breath, and remain long enough to be taken up.
In connection with the breathings certain sounds are directed to be made, namely, by “putting the tongue between the lips and drawing the breath in the mouth with a hissing sound “by “protruding the tongue a little way beyond the lips and then inhaling” by “filling in the air rapidly, making the sound of a male bee, and again exhaling it make the sound of a female bee humming.” One effect of making these sounds in the way described is, of course, the retardation of the inflow or outflow of the breath, and so of the thinking process, but we are led to look for a directly exerted magical action of the sounds themselves as such, when we consider how important a part music has played in ancient magic, and this not withstanding that in the synopsis that has been given of Hindu Yoga, all said about musical sounds is comprised in what has just been quoted, in what is found in the di- rections for practicing Laya Yoga, and in Sabhatapy’s directions that in making its divine pilgrimage through the body, the mind should at certain points sing a “man- tram ” to the spirit there ruling. The priests of Egypt insisted on the utmost exactness in the temple chants. The Hebrew prophet Elisha called for music to tune his soul to prophesy. David with his harp charmed away the evil spirit sent by Jehovah to afflict Saul. Plato, when he describes the four manias or ecstatic states ” by which the soul could be led back to its pristine felicity,” gives the musical mania the first place. Turning to Akkadian magic we find that though concentration is im- plied in the fact that magical powers were acquired, yet that when these powers were put in operation it was nearly always by means of incantation. The Kalevala shows that the Finnic gods and magicians alike did their work chiefly by singing. The gnostics worked, says Plotinus, “by enchantment, charms, cries, aspirations, whistling,” but to return to Hindu methods: The Laya Yoga consists wholly in listening to certain sounds that can be heard within the practicer’s body when the ears are closed, and which are collectively termed “The Nada.” “In the beginning they resemble those of the ocean, the clouds, the kettle-drum, and zazara (a sort of drum-cymbal) ; in the middle those arising from the mardala, the conch, the bell and the horn. In the end those of the tinkling bells, the flutes, the vina and the bees. Thus are heard the various sounds from the middle of the body.” The results of this Laya practice are very prompt in coming, according to Swatmaram, who says that ” Great yogis who practice Samadhi through concentration on Nada, experience a joy in their hearts that surpasses all description.” Certainly the American experiences tend to prove that the sounds produced in breathing have power over the bodily sensations, aside from the part they play in restraining the outgoing breath. They seem to bring the bodily vibrations into unison with themselves and also to strengthen them. The American sounds answer very well to the description just given of the Nada. Dancing is in all magic except Christian. Both it and music are well adapted to what may be termed congregational practice, where many take part. To be sure. King David was not a pretty sight when he performed before the Ark, anymore than a row of shaking Quakers are, but none will deny that such ballet troupes as have in all times been attached to pagan temples must have “drawn”with a force not to be despised. WhenWesley introduced lively tunes into Methodist worship, he said it was because he saw no reason for letting Satan have all the good music. Wesley’s innovation is extending, but as yet no movement has been made to appropriate for the service of the Christian sanctuary the allurement that lies in beautiful form in graceful movement, and these still remain the monopoly of the Christian devil and heathen gods.
Intense religious anxiety, glad religious hopes and loving yearnings cultivated in every Christian church compel concentration of mind. But the hum- drum litanies, droning chants, and soporific incense, the tiresome genuflexions, bead-telling, repetition of aves and paters, the fixing of the gaze on the crucifix, turning of the eyes upward just as in Hindu yoga practice, and long and short retreats, such as the Church of Rome has de- vised, prove that better than the others she knows the value of magic as a support to faith.
Fasting is commonly thought to help the ascetic to be chaste, by weakening his body and thereby its passions, but it is hard to see the advantage of rousing up one vio- lent craving, which hunger is, to put down another no more violent, nor how, since yoga consists in perfecting the man in all his parts, fasting severe enough to impair health can be deemed good practice. Yet occasional fasts, for special purposes, undergone by yogis in good condition, may be supposed to accumulate power just as arrestingthoughtorbreathdoes. The ever-flowing current of the life breath, relieved of the labor of digesting food, is set free for yoga uses. So, too, with Vigils. The Christian monastic leaves his bed and begins his vigil about two o’clock in the morning; so does the Hindu, according to “The Science of Breath.” Now that is the time when the labor of digestion having been accomplished. Nature employs her forces in doing her plastic work, that is to say, in converting the fluids she has been producing from the food into solid tissues of the body. But this can only be done while it is sleeping, and so it is that by waking it at the time in question and holding it so the vital force is saved that would otherwise be spent in body building, which is postponed until the vigil is ended. For other reasons midnight is the most propitious time for concentration. It is then that the body is most at rest, and solitude and silence bathe the watcher in quietude.
Tiresome repetitions, whether devotional or not, is good practice. And in the number of these imposed on theHinduYogitheRomishritualisfaroutgone. Certain French savants of the present time who have waded into magic as far as what, to hide their shame, they have named hypnotism, have found out the value of tiresome repetition, and one of them has invented a mechanical means to it in the shape of a whirligig, which, being intently looked at as it whirls, brings on the hypnotic state, by fatiguing the looker’s eyes, as is supposed. The tiresome method, instead of restraining the wasteful flow of thought as concentration does, by holding the mindstill,putsittosleep. Stupefactionwhichfallsshort of sleep is considered a good result and to indicate hope- ful progress on the path, no less by Hindu Swatmaram’s commentator than by Spanish John of the Cross; and both give warning that it will increase till it reaches a stage wherein the yogi becomes incapable of taking care of himself, or performing the necessary duties of life without guidance, which the Hindu says may be afforded by another man, but, according to the Christian, is given in a miraculous way by God himself, as before stated, and there can be no doubt but that the moderate doles of it allowed by the Catholic Church to its children is whole- some and comforting, and being by the children supposed to come from the breast of their spiritual mother, helps confirm their faith in her teachings, just as the whirling crescent or cluster of mirrors arouses the faith of Dr. Luy’s patients in the truth of his suggestions while lull- ing them to quietude and slumber. Swatmaram commends the practice of the murcha Kumbhalca for the reason that, as he says: “It reduces the mind to a state of stupor and gives pleasure.”
The reliance which has been had in all systems of magic on the one word spell, such as the Egyptian ‘Ammon,” the Jewish ‘Jah-Veh” and the Hindu “Om.” is hard to comprehend. Yet so important was it esteemed by the founders of Christianity that the new religion should not be behind the old ones in this respect that they incarnated a spell referred to as “the word,” and put it into their Trinity. Longer formulas, such as adjurations to depart addressed to the devil, and longer still, such as were the incantations of Egyptian and Chaldean magic, or the philosophical statements which Christian scientists and other modern healers address to their patients may work by way of concentration or suggestion, or by force of their logic or tiresomeness, but this would not account for any single word, even though it be the name of a god, having magical power, or the reputation of it. Yet wonderful stories are told by Hindus of the potency of their word Om., the “Yoga Vasishtha,” devoting fifty pages to it, and conjuring with names has always been common with magicians of all degrees, whether priestly or lay.
Not with standing the exceptions heretofore noted, there can be no doubt that absolute chastity has always been considered the method than deviation from it to any degree, and in most systems, as shown by the quotations heretofore given, has been rigorously insisted on. The Christian Church may have had many good reasons for imposing celibacy on her priesthood, but none could have been more cogent than its value, made known by the experiences of the monks of the desert and cloister, as a condition to magical practice. Not
only is the existence of a family inconsistent with soli- tude, silence, inaction and quietude, but the calling one into existence involves a drain on vital force, that is, on magical force. The chastity of the yogi is better named diversion than suppression, and to resort to mutilation, as the Bible says some have done for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake, would be exceeding bad practice, and the fact that no yoga scripture that has been quoted names or sanctions it tends to prove that, in the judgment of the wise authors of them, the organs concerned have functions to perform even in the organism of a celibate. Of course, emasculation would save a deal of self-restraint, and, of course, without it there will be a disturbance; for years the practicer may have to battle with beautiful devils, as Saint Anthony did, but, soon or late, the yogis say, the compensation will come, and all will be peace.
Self-torment as a magical method must be in some way efficacious, for it has place in all systems, the Christian Church, as I have said, putting it to the additional use of forestalling punishment for sin. Apuleius, who wrote in the second century A.D., in his ” Golden Ass,” describes a scourging, which for a very base, but yet purely magical purpose, a devotee of Isis gave him- self thus: “Seizing, therefore, a whip, which it is usual for these half men to carry with them, and which con- sisted of twisted woolen fillets, hanging down in long fringes, and is chequered with many pastern joints of sheep, he gave himself with it many lashes, which were severe on account of the numerous knots of the whip, being fortified with wonderful firmness against the pain oftheblows.” This man and his companions, who went through other like performances, and whom Apuleius termed “filthy catamites,” wound up with a feast procured with the pence flung at them by the attendant crowd, which closed in a disgusting orgy. The Christian flagellants, so numerous in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, though following the pagan method, set Up for themselves as object the very opposite result of maintaining their chastity by mortifying the flesh, but, strange as it may seem, these pious persons, who also went about the country whipping themselves on their bare haunches for the edification of the crowd, arrived in so many cases at a very pagan result that the Church, which had at first favored the movement as being in the interest of religion, had to take measures to arrest it. It has by no means died out, however, nor ceased to be honored and encouraged by the applause of that very large body of good Catholics who, like the throng that followed the flagellating Greek catamites, are able to enjoy the sufferings of other people. Scene, the city of Philadelphia; time, the culmination of the nineteenth century. The late Catholic bishop of that city, the already beatified John Neuman, destined in due time to be Saint John, namesake and imitator of him of the Cross, was accus- tomed to whip himself, it is said, in true flagellant fashion. His scourge, it is true, had but one lash, but the principle of it was the same as that of those used by the catamite Apuleius mentions, being long and weighted at the end, so that it could be wielded over the shoulder and made to reach the objective point of attack, and having a sharp nail at the end, which made a Russian knout of it, was really a severer instrument than the woolen cat-o’-nine- tails of the pagan flagellants. Our John of Philadelphia seems to have been a close follower of John of the Cross in other respects. He not only wore the same kind of barbed girdle that the other did, but had the same disposition to self-abasement. He slept on a plank, kept himself poor by giving away whatever he had to give, and, when notified by his Archbishop that he was to be made bishop, fell on his knees and with tears in his eyes begged the latter not to appoint one so unworthy as himself. Like his exemplar, too, he ruined his health and shortened his life by austerities.