What is yoga? Is it what you think it is?
What is yoga? Today, in the modern world it is a fashion only. It is an exercise class where you twist yourself into pretzel type postures that are supposed to be linked with being spiritual somehow, yet the entire thing is based upon western exercise, physiology, and anatomy and not anything of what yoga physiology is nor what yoga itself is.
“As through jaundiced eyes, white appears yellow; similarly, through the disease of ignorance, this world appears in the spirit – an error very difficult to be removed.”
– Shiva Samhita Chapter 1 Verse 41
Over the next month I will be posting posts like this one with the actual Puranic textual references of what yoga is. Lets see how much it has to do with an sweaty exercise class or tattoos of hindu deities all over the body.
Do you think the class you go to that has the handsome guy in small shorts dancing around playing a harmonium and singing/slaughtering the pronunciation of mantras (but you and 99.999% of everyone else wouldn’t know the difference anyway) is yoga? Then we proceed to him putting you through a grueling sweat your butt off workout in his “flow” class (to whatever sequencing of postures he thinks is cool to throw together) while jamming out the newest yoga grooves, loudly. What has this insane world come to. Marketing, sales, and competition of spirituality…….. really? This is all the very opposite to anything that was called yoga before the Western world go their hands on it.
What do the ancient texts explain yoga as?
To give you some kind of idea of dates of this literature here is a clipit from Wikipedia, who knows how accurate it is since it is from an American historical perspective. Interesting truth comes out when things are taken from their source though instead of a foreign view.
- Rigveda, 4000 – 1500 BCE
- Samaveda, 1500 – 500 BCE
- Yajurveda, 1500 – 500 BCE
- Atharvaveda, 1500 – 500 BCE
- Upanishads, 1200 – 500 BCE
- Bhagavad Gita, 500 BCE – 200 BCE
- Ramayana, 400 BCE – 400 CE
- Mahabharata, 400 BCE – 400 CE
- Samkhya Sutra
- Mimamsa Sutra, 300-200 BCE
- Arthashastra, 400 BCE – 200 CE
- Nyaya Sutra, 2nd century BCE
- Vaiseshika Sutra, 2nd century BCE
- Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 100 BCE – 500 CE
- Brahma Sutra
- Puranas, 3 CE
- Shiva Sutras, 8 CE
- Abhinavabharati, 9 – 10 CE (this is also Tantraloka, Tantrasara, and Kashmir Shavism)
- Yoga Vasistha, 10 – 14 CE
- The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, 15 CE
- Shiva Samhita, 17 CE
- Gheranda Samhita, 18 CE
- Christy Turlington’s Book on Yoga 2008
All of the following below is taken from rough Western translations of the main 18 Puranas, without any deeper knowledge to the wisdom held in them. Pretty much anywhere that the definition or any understanding of what yoga is can be had is what you have here. Then after reading this, go online to http://www.elephantjournal.com and see what you have there for modern day – what is considered yoga. Better yet, check out these… http://shivarea.com/pranadandayoga_home ….. or http://paddleboardbliss.com/ . I show this to people in India, their jaws drop and they are completely baffled at what we in the West think yoga is, not to mention the circus we make out of spirituality and I can’t tell you how much of a chuckle comes at our soft and heavenly “spiritual yoga teacher voices” and flowery language that we use. This is what happens when the foundation and context is not taught or understood and a focus is maintained upon a physical and self help context. Lots of money to be made on products and teacher trainings for styles though.
“That may be,” said Dadhichi. “But the weapons are no longer there. I have swallowed up their energy. Let me tell you what can be done. I will use the powers of meditation (yoga) to give up my life. Then excellent weapons can be made out of my bones.
The word yoga means union. Yoga is thus a form of meditation that unites the human soul (atman) with the divine soul (Paramatman), or equivalently, with the divine essence (Brahman).
A practitioner of yoga has to study the Puranas, the Vedas and history He has to exercise restraint regarding the sort of food he eats. The best forms of food are yogurt, fruits, roots, and milk. Yoga should be practiced in a place that is pleasant. It should not be too hot or too cold there. Nor should there be any noise to distract the practitioner.
Yoga has to be performed in a proper posture (asana). The practitioner concentrates the entire focus of his mind on the tip of his nose. He contemplates the form of brahmana. This can only be successful if one is detached and controls one’s senses completely.
If yoga is performed properly, there comes the knowledge that the same Paramatman is in all living beings. To think that living beings are distinct from one another is only to fall prey to one’s illusions. All the elements have the same Paramatman in them.
In the absence of mind, even the soul is rendered motionless. When one accepts the dictates of the mind and indulges in sensual pleasures, soul too comes to be bound with them. The ultimate outcome of all the spiritual efforts like celibacy, study of Vedas etc. and abidance to pious actions is the concentration of mind. Concentration of mind and is abstaintation from sensual pleasures are the primary conditions for attainment of Paramayoga (supreme meditation). Thus Lord Krishna preached Uddhava about Jnana Gita. Uddhava too took Bhagvat (which is a form of the Lord) with honor and departed for Badrikashrama.
Describing about the various types of Yoga, Suta told the sages that there were three types of Yoga – Gyan Yoga, Kriya Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. “Each of them is capable of giving salvation to a man. When the mind or intellect unites with the soul it is called Gyana Yoga. When the soul gets attached with external objects, it is called Kriya yoga. The unification of one’s whole being with goddess Bhagavati is called Bhakti Yoga. All these three yogas combinedly are capable of giving salvation to a man. A man becomes a devotee by his actions or Karmas. Devotion or Bhakti helps a man to attain Jnana or knowledge. Jnana or Knowledge gives salvation. Yoga is the path through which a man can attain liberation whereas Kriya-yoga is the chief means to attain it.
A Sanyasi wakes up early in the morning before the sun rises. After getting up he should remember his preceptor or Guru and then he should pray to express his gratitude towards his Guru.
After that he should practice Pranayama and try to concentrate his mind on the six chakras present in his bodies.
After the completion of Pranayama and concentration on the six chakras he should finish his daily routines. After applying ‘ashes’ on his body he should chant the sacred mantras and perform ‘tarpana’. Subsequently he should perform Achaman and then practice Pranayama for three times. After that he should remember the sages or rishis. While going to do worship, he should maintain silence all along the way. He should do worship only after washing his feet and performing Achaman.
A Sanyasi should paste the ground with cow dung and construct a quadrangular ‘Mandapa’. He should then keep a broad leaf of Palm tree at its center. He should then fence the area with coloured threads from all the four directions. After that he should draw a eight petalled flower in the center of the Mandap, upon which he should draw a Shiva Yantra. At last he can commence his worship of the Sun god.
Kartikey told Sage Vamadev that an ascetic does not die but takes a Samadhi, therefore instead of being cremated he is buried. Therefore an ascetic must practice the art of Samadhi to perfection. If he has not yet perfected the art of Samadhi, then he should keep on practicing yoga till he attains mastery over the art of Samadhi. He should try to concentrate his mind on the Omkar mantra, which is eternal. If his body has become weak and feeble and incapable of doing physical exercises like Pranayama then he should indulge himself in Shiva remembrance. This way an ascetic can attain to heaven. After his death the rest of the ascetics should perform the rituals at his place of death for ten days.
The whole Pashupata Vrata is divided into five parts – Kriya, Taipei, Tapa, Dhyana and Gyana. The Shaiva-dharma is the supreme religion and the rituals pertaining to it are based on the Shruits and the Smritis. Pashupat Vrata has been mentioned in the Vedas as the bestower of Supreme knowledge. It also contains all the eight organs of yoga, which were created by lord Shiva himself. Lord Shiva is easily pleased if worship is done by this method. The devotee attains supreme knowledge and becomes liberated from all the bondage’s of this world.
This ritual should be repeated on the following day but the fast should not be broken in the night. On the final day, that is full moon day he should repeat all the rituals and after putting off the fire of the Havana Kunda, he should smear his body with the ashes. He should then take his bath and put on deer skin or bark of the tree. He should also hold a stick and put on a waist band (Mekhala). After that he should again rinse (Achaman) his mouth and smear ashes on his body. He should perform the exercise of Ashtanga yoga. Three times in a day as per the instructions of his guru. This way a man is freed from the beastly qualities present in him.
A brahmin should also have the following qualities:- a) To see god in each soul b)Compassion c) Virtuous conducts d) Satisfaction e) Belief in God f) Non violence g)Devotion h) Regular Vedas study i) Practicing Yoga j) Preaching teachings of Vedas k)Giving lectures on the religious scriptures. l) Being a celibate m) Penance n)Having a Shikha and a scared thread etc.
Yoga means such actions, which after pacifying all the human tendencies helps a man to unite with Shiva. Following are the five divisions of yoga- 1) Mantra Yoga, 2) Sparsh Yoga (union of touch), 3) Bhava Yoga (union by devotion), 4) Abhava yoga (Union without being emotionally attached), 5) Mahayoga (The great union).
Mantra yoga helps a man to understand the meaning of mantras and uniting with Shiva by the concentration of mind. When Mantra yoga is perfected by the practice of Pranayama it is called ‘Sparshyoga’. Bhavayoga means meditating and chanting without uttering a word. Abhava yoga means such a union when the devotee contemplates on the final annihilation, without being emotionally attached with the world.
A man whose mind is preoccupied with the thoughts of Shiva is supposed to have attained the state of Mahayoga. A yogi can unite with Shiva after purifying his body with the help of Pranayama etc.
There are possibilities of numerous obstacles being faced by a man who practices yoga like laziness, disease, carelessness, lack of concentration, confusion and sorrow etc. While practicing yoga, one must try to keep himself free from such demerits.
After becoming liberated from these flaws a man can easily attain six types of accomplishment – talent (Pratibha), super power of hearing (Shravana), excellent conversational power and power of speech (Vrata), Divine sight (Darshan), Divine power of taste (Aswad), Divine power of touch (Vedana). The capability of seeing things situated at distant places is called ‘Pratibha’. The ability to listen without making any effort is called ‘Shravana’. The ability to decipher the meaning of animal’s language is called ‘Vrata’. Being able to see divine things without making any effort is called ‘Darshan’. The power, which enables a man to know about the taste of a thing without actually tasting it, is called ‘Aswad’. ‘Vedana’ means the knowledge of all types of touch.
A devotee can attain all types of accomplishment merely by having devotion towards lord Shiva and by meditating on him. In the beginning, a yogi should try to meditate on the form of Shiva (Saguna), but later on the switch over to Shiva’s formless (nirguna) quality. Meditating on nirguna form of Shiva is not easy. It can be mastered only by constant and steady practice. When mastered it bestows all kinds of accomplishment. Meditation combined with Pranayama gives four types of accomplishments peace (Shanti), tranquility (Prashanti), luster (Dipti) and boon (Prasad). A devotee can have a darshan of lord Shiva if he does meditation with non attachment.
Once, he had gone into the Magadh forest where he found numerous sages engrossed in meditation. After introducing himself to the sages, he expressed his desire to know about the path that led to benediction. He also wanted to know how a man could achieve respectability and contentment in his life. The sages told him that a man could achieve benediction only by following the path of Dharma. “A religious man achieves both respectability and contentment”, said the sages. Sukeshi then asked them about the characteristics of Dharma. The sages revealed to him that the deities engage themselves in religious activities like Yagya, self-study, study of Vedas and worship of Lord Vishnu. So, all these activities are the Dharma of the deities. “The Dharma of the demons consists of negative qualities like jealousy etc. But they have profound knowledge in policy matters and have great devotion towards Shiva”, said the sages. “The Siddha’s Dharma is to engage himself in activities like practice of Yoga, study of Vedas, self-realisation and devotion to both Lord Vishnu and Shiva”, said the sages. In this way, the sages enlightened Sukeshi on the Dharma of different sections of divine entities.
Sage Pulastya says- “Dharma, the possessor of divine body and who manifested from the heart of Lord Brahma married Murti, the daughter of Daksha. Four sons were born to them- Hari, Krishna, Nara and Narayan. Hari and Krishna engaged themselves in the practice of Yoga while Nar and Narayan went to the Himalaya Mountain and started doing penance for the welfare of humans.
One day, Bali called his father- Prahlada to heaven and requested him to become the ruler of heaven but Prahlada refused by saying- “As I have chosen the path of Yoga after relinquishing everything, it would not be proper for me to get attached to worldly matters once again. Since you have snatched heaven from the deities on account of your valiance, hence the heaven belongs to you.” Bali requested Prahlada to enlighten him on the duties of a king and on the virtuous deeds which would enable him in attaining Dharma, Arth, Kama and Moksha.
Sumati says- Now, you should become a Vanprasthi and lead a life of a Bhikshu by having control over your senses. You will attain that rare Yoga, which helps a man to unite with the almighty after freeing him from the cycles of birth, death and rebirth.
Brahmin says- O son! Now explain to me about this Yoga, which bestows liberation to a man.
Sumati says- I am now describing to you, the same text related with Yoga that was once narrated by Dattatreya to Alarka.
The Brahmin asked Sumati- Who was Dattatreya’s father? How did he acquire the knowledge of Yoga? Who was Alarka?
Dattatreya says- O king! With the attainment of knowledge, people come to conjugate with the Supreme Almighty and which results into dispersion of their ignorance. To attain Moksha, it is necessary for a man to shun attachment first of all. Only after that, he will become free from sorrows. When he becomes free from sorrow, he unites with the supreme almighty. This phenomenon is known as Yoga. Unification with the supreme almighty enables a man to attain knowledge and finally Moksha (salvation). It is therefore essential for the all those seeking salvation that first of all they should renounce affection and attachment for the worldly objects including their near and dear ones.
Knowledge and renunciation are nothing but two sides of the same coin and one is necessary to give rise to the other. Home is nothing but the place for staying, food is nothing but the energy required sustaining our body and knowledge is nothing but an aid to attain salvation. Anything that caused obstacles in the way of salvation is ignorance. A living being is bound to receive the fruits of action no matter whether they are good or bad. Hence one should carry out his duties without bothering for the results. With the attenuation of the results of the action performed in the previous births, a living being becomes free from the cycles of life and death. With the attainment of Yoga, Yogis take refuge in none other than Brahma. But the path of attaining Yoga is indeed difficult, if not impossible. One has to conquer his soul first of all because the soul itself is regarded as invincible. Control of physical impurities with the help of Pranayama, sins by determination, lust by self-restrains and contemplation on God are the ways to conquer the soul.
Dattatreya says-During the process of conquering the soul, different kinds of allurements begins to divert the mind of the Yogis. It is imperative for the Yogi to keep his mind busy by observing fast, worshipping and contemplating in God. It is the duty of the Yogi to always contemplate on God, only then he can seek solace in Him. Thus, after controlling his senses, a Yogi ought to eat and sleep less, attain unification with the Supreme Being. O king! A Yogi unifies with Brahma once his physical and mental faults are removed. Then, he never separates from the Supreme Being.
Alarka says- O lord, now kindly narrate about the daily routine, a Yogi should abide by in order to preserve his piousness.
Dattatreya says- O king! Respect and insult are the two reasons for love and hatred. Yogis attain perfection by understanding insult as respect and vice versa. A Yogi should therefore never attend social functions like Shradha, marriage ceremonies or other festivities. He should not accept the hospitality of others and should shun unnecessary journeys. A Yogi should seek alms only after the householder and his family has dined. A Yogi should accept alms only from those households whose inmates are gentle, religious and free from blemishes and should accept things like whey, milk, fruits, edible roots, gram flour etc.
After reciting mantras one by one and offering food to the deities who are present in his body as different forms of air, the Yogi may now proceed to dine.
Control of senses and greed, celibacy, renunciation and non-violence are the five resolutions of a Yogi. Control of anger, service to the Guru, sanctity, eating less and studying Vedas regularly are the five norms for a Yogi. A Yogi must practice meditation at a desolate place, forest, cave or peak of a mountain. A true celibate has full control over his speech, mind and action. Iron and gold have equal worth in his eye; he loves no one and hates no one.
Dattatreya says- Those Yogis who abide by their resolution are never degraded from their supreme position. Such Yogis always recite Om while contemplating on the eternal God. ‘A’, ‘U’ and ‘M’, these three syllables constitute the body OM or AUM. These three syllables represent the virtues (gunas) of Satva, Tamas and Rajas respectively. Thus, by contemplating on God and reciting Om, a Yogi ultimately achieves unification with that eternal spirit. But there are still some disastrous traps that a Yogi should guard himself against, otherwise his entire penance might turn futile at the time of death. Hence every Yogi must be aware of these disastrous traps.
Dattatreya says- A person who is unable to see the path of the deities, or the heavenly bodies like- Dhruva, Shukra (Venus), Soma (Moon), or his own shadow or Goddess Arundhati, must understand that his death is near. For those people to whom, the Sun appears without radiance but fire appears as the Sun, die within eleven months. Sighting of gold and silver in urine or stools signifies death within ten months. Those who see ghosts, Gandharvas and gold tree in the dreams live for nine months only. Those who become fat or thin suddenly live for eight months more. Those Yogis whose heels appear cracked while walking on sand or mud die within seven months. Getting perched on the body by volatile birds like vulture, pigeon, owl, crow etc. indicates that the concerned person will live for only six months. Those who see their shadow in opposite direction live for four or five months more only. Those who sight lightning without clouds or rainbow during the night time, in their dream live for two or three months more. Those who cannot see their reflection in ghee, oil, water and mirror die within a month. A person whose body smells like a cadaver die within fifteen days. Those whose hands and feet remain dry even after taking bath and dry even after taking light refreshments live only for ten days. Those who sight hair, cinders, ash, snakes and dried rivers in the dream, die on the eleventh day. Those who feel hungry even after eating to their fill also die soon.
Yoga means union with God. The state of yoga is impossible to attain without the blessings of Lord Shiva. It needs a concentrated and focussed mind. There are some specific spots in the human body concentrating upon which, enables a man to attain the state of yoga-spot between the eyebrows, lower part of the throat, navel and six inches above it etc.
The state of yoga can never be attained until and unless a person has fully controlled the tendencies of sense organs. It can be achieved with the help of eight means- Yama (penance), Niyam (discipline), Asan (posture), Pranayama (breath-control), Pratyahar (restraint of passion), Dharan (retention), Dhyan (concentration) and Samadhi (deep meditation). Each of them holds an important position in the path of yoga.
Describing about the methods of performing yoga, Suta says— A person should sit with his legs crossed in Padmasan and try to concentrate his mind by fixing his gaze between his eyebrows. He should keep his spine erect. He should meditate either on the form of Omkar or on the form of lord Shiva. Breath control is an important aspect of yogic exercise. A man should exhale deeply for 32 times and then breathe in deeply. He should then retain his breath as long as possible and visualize lord Shiva within his body. By constant practice he will achieve mastery over this art and a time will come when he will experience divine bliss. This divine bliss can not be experienced unless one has attained a deep state of meditation (Samadhi).
A man experiences numerous obstacles in the path of Yoga-laziness, restlessness confusion, a diseased body etc. The main reason for being lazy is a bulky physique and one’s inability to concentrate his mind. Lack of concentration results in restlessness, which is a major obstacle in the path of yoga. If a person in unsure about the results he becomes confused. It is impossible for a person suffering from any disease to concentrate his mind.
All the above mentioned hurdles can be overcome by firm resolution. A man who has successfully overcome all these obstacles might experience other obstacles in the form of siddhis (divine powers). There is a real danger of getting lured by these divine powers. As a result his mind may get distracted from his original goal and he may deviate from his path. The names of these siddhis or divine powers are-Pratibha (having knowledge of past present and future incident), Shravana (being capable of listening to abnormal sounds), Varta (whatever is said becomes true), Darshana (capable of seeing things which can mot be seen by the mortal eyes), Aswada (being capable of experiencing divine (tastes), Vedana (being capable of relieving other’s pain by a mere touch). If a person successfully overcomes all these allurements then he becomes a siddha- or man of accomplishment and divine powers.
The sages asked Suta as to how should a devotee meditate on Lord Triyambak following the path of Yoga. Suta then retold the tale which Mandishwar had once narrated to Sanatkumar–
The first type of Yoga is called Mantra Yoga. In this type of yoga a devotee tries to attain deep state of meditation by chanting mantras. The chanting of mantras helps a man to concentrate his mind.
The second type of Yoga is known as Sparsh Yoga. In this type of yoga, a man acquires perfection in breath-control by constantly practicing various exercises like Rechak (exhalation), Kumbhak (retention), etc. These exercises help to purify the nerves and blood vessels
The third type of yoga is known as Bhava Yoga. This is the state in which a person’s mind is totally engrossed in the thoughts of Lord Mahadeva. This state of mind can not be attained unless the two former types of yoga have been mastered.
The fourth type of Yoga is called Abhava-yoga. When a man has mastered this particular yoga his ego is subdued in totality
The fifth type of yoga is called Maha yoga. It helps a man to understand his real self and get united with the supreme Almighty. The secret of Yoga should be revealed to worthy disciples–who are virtuous and religious.”
This way, Suta described the divine tales of Linga Purana and blessed the sages. The Linga Purana contains eleven thousand shlokas in it. The study of Linga Purana fulfills all the four worldly aspirations of a man- Dharma, Artha, Kam and Moksha.It also helps a man to attain salvation.
Once, Sage Shaunak asked Sutji about the reasons behind man’s sorrow. Sutji told him that man’s ego and his attachments to this mortal world were the two most important causes for his sorrow and until he gets rid of them he will continue to suffer. Sutji said-‘ The ‘tree of ignorance’ sprouts from the seed of ‘egotism’ and it receives its nutrition from sensual pleasures. Only those who possess the ‘axe of knowledge’ are successful in felling this ‘tree of ignorance’ and experience the ecstasy of Divine bliss. Once a man has experienced this divine bliss he not only becomes free from all kinds of sorrow but is also freed from the cycles of birth, death and rebirth. This divine link which a man establishes with the Almighty is called ‘Mahayoga’ (the supreme Yoga). But, those unfortunate people who have not experienced this divine bliss continue to get trapped by the worldly illusions leading to their countless births and deaths.’
Sutji then went on to describe the means by which a man can have a pure heart and said-‘ Austerities like meditation, worship, fasts, oblations, charity, etc., certainly helps a man in getting rid of all kinds of impurities.’
Sutji told Sage Shaunak that the ultimate aim of a man’s life was to attain salvation. A man can not attain salvation until and unless he has seen through the trappings of the worldly illusions. Sutji said–‘Practice of Yoga helps a man to live in this world with a sense of detachment and to successfully avoid the allurements of this mortal world. Yoga comprises of six organs:
Pranayamaa (Breathing exercises), Japa (chanting), Pratyahara (restraining sense organs), Dharana (resolution), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (deep meditation).
Not running after sensual pleasures by having self control helps a man in diminishing his sins and diminishment of sins pleases the deities who give blessings. Blessings of deities help a man to attain salvation. Pranayama, an important part of Yoga is of two types-‘Garbha’ and ‘Agarbha’. Pranayama, done with simultaneous chanting of a mantra is called ‘Garbha’ whereas in ‘Agarbha’ Pranayama mantras are not chanted.
It is natural for a man to get attracted by worldly pleasures and checking this tendency of the mind is called ‘Pratyahara’. It is not easy to control the mind and concentrate on anything for a long time but ‘Dharana’ helps a man to do that. When a man has successfully controlled his sensual desires, then it becomes very easy for him to concentrate his mind. A concentrated mind finds it easy to meditate. When he has mastered meditation it is not much difficult for him to enter into the deep state of meditation i.e. ‘Samadhi’. In the state of ‘Samadhi’, all sense of dualism cease to exist as one establishes divine link with the Almighty, which helps him in experiencing indescribable divine bliss.
Shiva taught the world the technique of yoga. Yoga literally means union and is a form of meditation that teaches about the union between the individual human soul (atman) and the divine soul (paramatman). It is this knowledge that is strived for by those who meditate. And one who does not appreciate this union suffers from illusions. Yoga has five components. These are pranayama, dhyana, pratyahara, dharana and smarana.
Pranayama signifies control over the breath of life. A lion or an elephant is a wild animal. But if lions or elephants are caught and tamed, they can be made to serve man‘s purpose. Exactly similarly, when the breath of life is controlled and mastered, an individual can use it to serve his own will. Pranayama must always be practised in a proper posture (asana).
Pratyahara signifies the withdrawal of the senses from material attachments. The next step is dharana. One chooses the image that one is contemplating and fixes it in one‘s mind. In the process, it is best to concentrate on the tip of one‘s nose or at the centre of one‘s brows. When the image has been thus fixed, one can begin the actual process of meditation (dhyana). Yoga must however always be practised in a proper place and at a proper time. It must not be practised in the middle of the forest, near a fire, or at a place frequented by wild animals and insects. There must not be any noise to distract the practitioner. Nor must yoga be practised when one is hungry or thirsty, or in an unhappy state of mind. If these injuctions are not adhered to, yoga can bring great harm. It can lead to illness, dumbness, deafness, blindness and old age before the appointed time. But practised properly, yoga is a cure for various illnesses.
When one is practising yoga, there are various disturbances and distractions that impede the progress towards the desired goals. These are known as upasargas. For example, one might become overly attached to relations, to becoming wealthy or to attaining heaven. Noises are heard, although there are no real noises at all. Demons, gods and gandharvas are seen. All of these are illusions and have to be conquered. When the upasargas are successfully conquered, a practitioner of yoga attains various powers. These are known as aishvarya (wealth). There are eight of these powers. The first is known as anima. This enables the individual to obtain whatever object he desires from anywhere in the universe instantly. The second is known as laghima. This enables one to travel through the sky. The third power is prapti. By means of this, any object in the three worlds can be attained. The fourth power is called prakamya. This gives the individual the power to obtain all the wealth of the universe. The fifth power is called mahima. Through this power, one can be connected to any place or any object in the universe. The sixth power of ishitva gives one the capability to cause happiness or unhappiness anywhere in the three worlds. The seventh power is vashitva. This grants the power to control other living beings and all objects. The final power is known as kamavasayita. By means of this, the individual can travel freely at will. A person who attains these powers knows no birth, death, old age, illnesss, happiness or unhappiness. The senses mean nothing to him. Nor do material objects. His mind is fixed only on the brahman. Everything else is unreal.
O king! There are many more disastrous symptoms that indicate death. A Yogi must always be alert regarding these signs. Whenever a Yogi perceives the appearance of all or some of these disastrous symptoms, he must at once take to Yoga to minimise the effects.
Brahmagyana- A Yogi experiences extreme joy when he meditates while doing Yoga. Only then can he experience Brahma. Physical body is ephemeral; hence a true Yogi does not mourn over the loss of physical body nor is there any focus on it. Hence, a Yogi does not suffer the affliction of vanity.
Alarka says- O Brahmin! By your blessings, my ignorance has ended. Now I will do everything so that ignorance does not grip me once again.
Then taking Dattatreya’s permission, Alarka went back to the king of Kashi and said- ‘O king! You have a desire for the kingdom, so take this kingdom and enjoy its luxuries yourself or give it to Subahu.’ The king of Kashi asked Alarka as to why he was renouncing the kingdom without fighting a war. He also tried to instigate Alarka by saying that his conduct did not suit the Kshatriyas. Alarka said- ‘Only Brahma is truth, all the other things are false. Now controlling my senses, I will attain perfection in Yoga.’
Subahu said- “O king! My younger brother Alarka had been so far indulging in luxuries despite having metaphysical knowledge. He was in fact experiencing miseries in his household. When the miseries cross all limits, only then renunciation arises in the mind, as is the case with Alarka. That was why I had taken your refuge. My job is finished now. So I am leaving to attain perfection in Yoga. O king, I regard those people who ignore their near and dear ones in their miseries as heartless.
Such people are degraded from their position of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha and are criticised everywhere.”
The king of Kashi too returned to his kingdom. Alarka crowned his elder son as the new king and he began to practice Yoga in a forest. After many years of rigorous practice, Alarka attained salvation and his abode in Brahma loka.
The Brahmin’s son said- “O father! Now you too must take refuge in Yoga in order to attain Brahma. I too will try to attain salvation.”
Yoga is the way to circumvent the miseries of life. True knowledge is that which informs one about the true nature of Brahman or Paramatman. The atman or jivatman is that which characterises an individual. Yoga means union, it is the union of the jivatman with the Paramatman. Yoga concentrates one’s mind on the Paramatman.
The first prerequisites of yoga is non-violence. A non-violent person is always righteous. The second requirement of yoga is truthfulness. The third prerequisite is celibacy. The fourth is controlling one’s senses and the last is the worship of god. One who practices yoga should not go around collecting material possessions. A piece of cloth, a covering against the cold, and a pair of sandals are possessions enough for him.
Before meditating on the true nature of the Paramatman, one has to seat oneself in a proper asana (posture). The piece of cloth on which one is to sit should be placed in a clean place. One sits on such a seat and tries to purify one’s atman by controlling one’s mind and senses through yoga. The head and the neck should be held straight up, motionless. The point of vision should be directed towards the tip of one’s nose. One should not look in any direction. The arms should lightly rest on the folded thighs and the right hand should be placed, palm upwards, on the left palm. Padmasana (lotus position) is one such recommended posture.
The breath of life (prana vayu) has to be controlled. This process of control is known as Pranayama. A finger is placed on the nose when the breath is being exhaled. The entire breath should be exhaled from the body. Since rechana means exhalation, this process of control is known as rechaka. When the breath is inhaled, the inhalation should be such that it fills the entire body. Since puraka literally means ‘that which fills’, this process of control is known as puraka. When the breath is neither being exhaled nor inhaled, one sits completely still like a kumbha (pot) and this is known as kumbhaka. Pranayama makes one healthy, swift, enthusiastic, strong and collected. Since the senses are controlled, one goes to heaven and avoids going to hell. Material pursuits are like the strong current of a river. The atman drowns in it.
Pranayama alone is not enough. It has to be supplemented with dhyana of japa (meditation and contemplation). One contemplates the true nature of the Paramatman. The body is like a chariot. The senses are its horses, the mind is the charioteer and Pranayama is the bridle. An individual who dies while performing dhyana is immediately assimilated with Vishnu.
Dhyana involve four different things, all of which must be in complete harmony. The first is the meditator, the second is the act of meditating, the third is the object that one is meditating upon and the fourth is the reason why one is performing the mediation. One does not have to; sit in a rigid posture for dhyana to be possible. It can be done while one is walking, sitting or even sleeping. The important aspect is to establish the object of one’s meditation in one’s heart.
There are different ways of establishing one’s concentration. As an object of meditation, one can meditate on three concentric circles which are black, red and white. In the center of the circles is a divine lotus. The lotus has eight petals. One thinks that detachment is the stem of the lotus and praying to Vishnu its stamen. Right in the center of the lotus is a pure spark of fire and that is the Paramatman. Alternatively, one can visualise the Paramatman in a blaze of light, in the center of the lotus. Dhyana is far far superior to any yajna that one might perform.
One particular form of deep and intense meditation is known as samadhi. The meditator is then completely still, as calm as the ocean. He loses all track of the outside world. He does not hear, smell, see or touch. His mind has no wishes and feels nothing. He is completely united with god. Such a meditator automatically gets to know all the knowledge that can be gleaned from the Vedas or the shastras. He can obtain all the material possessions that he wants, but he regards them all as no more important than a blade of grass.
Such a meditator attains supreme knowledge. If you look at various pots full of water, you will find that the same sky is reflected in them all. Supreme knowledge tells one that, exactly similarly, it is the same atman that is everywhere. It is the atman which is the same as the Paramatman, it is this atman that is in the water, in energy, in water, in the earth and in metals. The atman is everywhere.
Yoga literally, union or combination, is a technique of meditation that helps to bring about this sense of identity between the jivatman and the Paramatman. Yoga has eight components. The first is Pranayama. This means the control of one’s breath. The breath of life is known as prana and ayama means control. There are three parts to any Pranayama exercise. When the breath is being exhaled, that is known as rechaka; and the process of inhalation is known as puraka. When the breath is neither being inhaled nor exhaled, that is kumbhaka.
The second component of yoga is pratyahara. This connotes the control of one’s senses. Yoga must always be performed in a proper posture and this is the third component of asana. The fourth component is called yama. This means the practice of non-violence, truthfulness and pity. The fifth component is known as niyama. This encompasses worship, studying the Vedas, cleanliness and meditation.
Yoga has a sixth component named dhyana. In this process, one conjures up an image of the Paramatman and meditates continuously on it. The process of fixing this image in one’s heart is the seventh component, dharana. And the final component, samadhi, is a situation where the individual realizes the complete identity between the jivatman and the Paramatman.
Notice that none of the quotes above have anything to do with turning oneself into a pretzel or getting a workout. Surprised? Asana is a stable seat (not moving, Stirah = stable – still) of which it was meant and not different postures. How times have changed. Still think you are doing anything that is actually close to being considered yoga or maybe it is just ego and identification.
“Perhaps at no other time have men been so knowing and yet so unaware, so burdened with purposes and yet so purposeless, so disillusioned and yet so completely the victims of illusion. This strange contradiction pervades our entire modern culture, our science and our philosophy, our literature and our art.
So it is not just an era thing, this is how the West is.