Is HUMAN LIFE on earth a matter, fundamentally, of misery and sorrow? This is a problem which seems to have engaged the minds of the Indian thinkers since ancient times. The answer to this question, as most of them appear to believe, is in the affirmative. It is an important business of philosophy, according to the Indian tradition, to seek to attain a state which is completely free from the clutches of misery and sorrow. This state has been variously spoken of as nwksha, mukti, kaivalya, apavarga, nirvana, and so on, by th,e adherents of various schools of philosophy in India, and philosophy is, therefore, truly called tatvajnana,or darshana.Whether all these words signify one and the same state, may be a moot point. But the fact of a complete cessation of suffering applies equally to all of them.
The notion of suffering as a dominating factor in human life has loomed very large in Indian philosophy. In fact, it may be called the starting point of philosophical inquiries. Human suffering is traditionally supposed to be divided into three main types as follows:
1) The bodily and mental conditions of an individual, such as ill health, disease, and emotions like hate, fear, passion. and so on.
2)Suffering imposed on an individual through harmful behaviour of other human beings, animals, insects, and so on.
3) Suffering which cannot be attributed to other beings, which is largely beyond the control of an individual e.g., earthquakes, floods, famines, epidemics, and the like.
Beaten by the three-fold impact of suffering in the above manner, an individual is motivated or induced to think or act in such a way that he would ultimately succeed in overcoming the suffering. Naturally, the first response of an indivi dual springs from the experiential field, and is based on common sense considerations. For example, one works at one’s job in order to avoid starvation, takes medicine to get rid of diseases, constructs buildings, business industries, centres of production, etc.,to foster good living conditions for the members of a society. In addition to this, an individual tries to belong to various organizations, parties, sects, blocks and groups, in order to overcome fear and the feeling of insecurity. Besides these common sense measures, and especially when these are found inadequate or ineffective. one turns to religion, to the gurus, to the spiritual guides and masters, and indulges in prayer, devotion, faith and the like. It is found, however, that both these ways lack the power of wiping out sorrow completely and in a once-for-all manner. For example, one may temporarily become physically fit by .aking medicine, but some other disease may crop up after some time; the religious organizations and practices may not give full satisfaction, and one may have to run from one spiritual teacher or book to another.
It is argued sometimes that science, with its tremendous technological advances, can eventually make for human happiness. For example, it is thought that the science of medicine, in due course, may bring to man the ability of defying death as long as he wishes; the science of physics may make him gain an access to the heavenly bodies through outer space, and that there would indeed be a time, not in the far distant future, when man would attain full control over the forces of nature. Science is thus supposed by many to be a very powerful tool in the hands of man, which would, before long make him immune to grief and sorrow. But this seems to be a rather extravagant claim. It is indeed true that scientific discoveries have helped tremendously to make our life less hazardous. But science, bviously, is a way of collecting and arranging information, and mere information, however intelligently arranged, does not, and cannot make for an understanding of pain and suffering, which is a fundamental problem for life. Had this problem been the result of the forces of nature working in our surroundings alone, then perhaps science would have been an adequate tool for overcoming suffering.
The problem, however, seems to arise largely from our internal environment, that is, our peculiar ways of looking at the world. It is really a problem of understanding ourselves and our behaviour in daily life, our fears and cravings,our beliefs and ambitions, passions and emotions, and, in fact, whatever we do in our relationship with the surrounding people and environment. Therefore, unless we understand properly the way in which we see things and react to the various happenings in and about us, a mere collection of information regarding the outer nature, and trying to get mastery over it will not take us very far. Supposing) for example, that human beings succeed in reaching the moon or even distant bodies in outer space, and live there, or that the future developments in the science of human physiology make it possible for men to live as long as they wish; is this knowledge, as such, going to make human life happier and more peaceful? The belief that we shaIl be able to overcome pain, suffering and war through becoming more well-informed, seems to have led us up a blind aIley. We may quote a shrutihere with :,atdvantage. It says: “Knowledge is even more dangerous than ignorance, for the ignorant go ultimately to darkness, whereas those who take pride in their knowledge go to greater darkness still.”(Ushavas yopanishad,9).
The problem is reaIly not of obtaining mastery over the outer nature or the surrounding environment, but rather of obtaining mastery over oneself, over one’s passions and ambitions, emotions and conflicts. For that, however, something much more profound than what our modern scientific techniques have to offer us, is needed. Only then the present human crisis all over the world can be resolved. To bring about peace in the world, one must himself be peaceful first. Peace, within and about oneself; has perhaps been the greatest mark of yoga. It is, therefore, that yoga can be of utmost utility to an individual whose mind, torn as it is between conflicting desires, seeks to attain peace and happiness. Yoga has rightly been held in very high esteem by all the systems of Indian philosophy including Jainism and Buddhism. It is indeed looked upon as a panacea for human misery and sorrow. Let us at this stage set ourselves to inquire into what yoga really means, what it claims to bring about in respect of the life of an individual, and also, the means through which that goal is realised.
The word ‘yoga’ is associated by and large with the acquisition and exhibition of supernatural powers. It is customary to look at yoga as a curious ancient art which combines a set of religious beliefs with a strange and mysterious practical discipline. It has become fairly common these days, to come across news about somebody claiming to be a yogi, performing miraculous feats like walking on fire (or even sometimes on water), passing a road-roller on the chest, or drinking concentrated acids, and so on. There seems to be a belief in the minds of many, that yoga is concerned mainly with such extraordinary phenomena. It is also supposed that yoga is not for the common man, and that only those who can get away from daily life in society, and retire in solitude for years, with a view to undergo rigorous discipline of the body and mind, are the fit persons to indulge in yoga. It is supposed to be a very risky and dangerous path, of which a common man should keep clear. It is an amazing fact that such superstitious ideas are widespread even in the land of yoga. ActuaIly, all these ideas about yoga turn out to be more or less erroneous, on a proper scrutiny. The difficulty, however, is that the field of yoga is, at present, largely in the hands of lesser men, who are not properly educated, and who turn to yoga, mainly becau~e they are not likely to succeed elsewhere. Dishonesty, insincerity and hypocricy are thus rampant causing frustration in the minds of sincere students of yoga. This sad state of affairs will be changed only when educated, intelligent men having a strength of character will be attracted towards the field of yoga in sufficient numbers. Secondly, not much is as yet scientifically known about the various processes of yoga. Some scientists are of late showing interest in this area, and it seems that much valuable information can be gathered through applying the modern techniques of research to the field of yoga.
The word “yoga” is perhaps older than the system of philosophy which goes by that name. The oldest use of the word “yoga”, as found in the Vedic literature, indicates a union of variousthings, especially the horses or the bullocks. This is derived from the Sanskrit root “yujir”,meaning to “unite” or “connect”.In later times,however, another technical meaning came to be associated with the term, and this is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj”,indicating control of the mind. Both the meanings seem to be fairly common in the Sanskrit language even today. This does not, of course,mean that while the word “yoga” was being used (in the time of the Vedic Aryans) to denote simply a union,the facts about controlling and steadying the mind were themselves unknown. In the Vedas we find clear indications that the rishisand the seers were quite familiar withthe highest state which is the goal of yoga. They used to acllieve this through procedures described as dhyana, diksha, tapas,etc.
We shall now examine the various descriptions and definitions of yoga as found in ancient Indian literature.These are too numerous, and our purpose may be served by mentioning only a few typical ones out of them. The Kathopanishad(II, 3, 10-11) defines yoga as “a state of steadiness and control of the senses, as well as the mind and the intellect,which, when attained, makes an individual completely faultless and unoffending”.Our mindsare usually swayed away by the objects of enjoyment. But the mind of a yogi is not taken away by his senses, because it becomes free of the process of desire, and hence remains steady in the highest state of yoga. How this state of steadiness is to be achieved, is a problem which we shall discuss later on.
In the Shvetaashvatara Upanishad (II, 12-13), the qualities of a yogi, whose body shines with the fire of yoga, are described, and it is said that disease, old age and death do not come to him, and further that his body becomes supple and healthy, his mind devoid of greed, and full of peace and satisfaction. There are many other references in the yoga texts where these and other similar qualities of highly developed masters of yoga are found mentioned. These descriptions show clearly that yogi is a person whose body and mind both become pure by the practice of yoga. This fact can be experienced, though to a limited extent, by everyone, who practises faithfully the physical and mental exercises, as we shall describe in the chapters to follow. It is especially due to this fact that we argue that yoga is not only for the chosen few or the superior few, but, in fact, it can be of immense benefit to everyone, learned as well as lay, rich or poor, who cares for his physical and mental health.
It is customary in religious literature to look upon the world as a stream or an ocean of sorrow. Human beings, since birth till death, are supposed to be drowning in this ocean. It is in this context that yoga is mentioned in the Yogavasista as a device that makes for reaching the other shore of the stream of sorrow. It is indeed true that a yogi is a person who is eternally free of cravings and sorrow. That is because he comes to overcome ignorance once for all.
We find yoga defined at three different places in the Gita,which is perhaps the most popular among the authoritative treatises on yoga. According to the first definition (Gita, II, 48) yoga signifies a state of equipoise wherein opposites like success and failure make little difference. This is something which looks rather strange to many thinkers. They ask as to what kind of existence it would be, if one looks equally upon success and failure. We always happen to seek to attain success and avoid failure. And what can be the significance of a person to the members of his family or society, if one does not bother about success and failure? How can he live in the present day society which is full of competition conflict?
We should note one important point here, namely, that a yogi, according to the Gila, is a person whose pattern of motivation is wholly changed for nothing remains for him to be achieved in this world; he is completely free of desire to attain anything. But he, nevertheless, does not abandon activity and work; he, on the contrary, continues to work for the good of humanity, and in this, he does not get elated or over joyed if his works bring success, or dejected when he fails to obtain good results. This is because his activity is not aimed at producing this or that limited result. He does continue to work, but renounces any enjoyment of the consequences. This fact has been made clear in another definition of yoga (II, 50-51), where it is stated that a yogi, who renounces the concern with the conse quencesof his deeds (that is, remains concerned only with action and not with the consequences), overcomes bondage for ever. This means, for example, that a student should study very hard, according to his capacity, but should not be troubled. in the least, by the idea that he must beat his rival in the examination.
Most of us are largely:concerned in life with pleasant imaginations of the good consequences of what we are engaged in. We always aspire for an improvement in our status and position; we always desire to be important and advanced in our society. But a yogi is not instigated to act by any such motive. He can, therefore, remain undisturbed even in the wake of the severest misery. This is described in a very clear and masterly way in another definition of yoga, as found in the Gila (VI, 21-23). Yoga is defined here as a state of sepa. ration from sorrow. The Gila declares that when that state of happiness par excellence is achieved, there remains nothing else to be achieved, which may be greater than it; not even the greatest misery can ever disturb that state. It is said also that such a state of yoga is to be attained with a high resolve.
It may be said, however, that in all the definitions mentioned above, yoga has been defined in such a higjh manner, that, frankly speaking, it must be admitted that the goal of yoga is something that lies completely beyond the reach of common man. The same difficulty would arise in the case of the definition of yoga as given in Patanjali’s Yoga Sulra (I, 2), which is supposed to be the most important text of yoga philosophy. Patanjali defines yoga as a state in which there is complete elimination of the thoughts and modifications of the mind. Patanjali states further that there are eight parts of this yoga, which, when mastered individually and collectively, ultimately make that state come into being. Herein lies a hope for everybody, because it is possible for any sincere and faithful student to master the eight parts of yoga, through the practice of the required discipline. Two minimum conditions must be fulfilled for achieving this .However, they are mentioned in the Gila (VI, 35) as well as the Yoga Sulra (I, 12), and are called abhyasa and vairagya respectively.
An individual can attain the goal of yoga, only when he has these two qualities to begin with. Vairagya means lack of ambition; it is the opposite of raga, which means attachment. The absence of the process of desire is what is meant by vairagya. It is only through vairagya that one can succeed in getting rid of the tendency of the mind to run after various objects of enjoyment. Such a mind can be made steady. Abhyasa is the process of steadying the mind. This can be achieved in various ways, according to one’s temperament. They are known as different types of yoga, and although looking separate and different in the beginning, they all seem to lead to the same goal of mukti. We shall discuss here the essential features of the important approaches or varieties of yoga, namely, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Jnana Yoga.
This is perhaps the easiest of the varieties of yoga, because it does not involve any highly technical and complicated procedures, nor does it can for any special intellectual capacity on the part of the student. It has a tremendous appeal to the common man, because it develops a feeling of security in the devotee (bhakta)who has a kind of reliance and dependence on the object of his devotion. It is based on the conviction that there exists a higher power (called God) that has wilfully created the universe, and that this power, which is all-powerful and merciful, may shower grace and mercy on the devotee, thereby protecting him from harms and evils. All that the devotee is expected to do is to make himself fit for obtaining the grace and mercy of God, the Supreme Creator, through devotion and the practice of virtue. The devotee aspires to become ultimately one with the object of devotion, resting eternally in peace and happiness with Him. The devotee surrenders all his motives and acts to the Divine Power, and renounces all responsibility towards the good or bad consequences of what he does, in the name of the will of the Supreme. Devotion and faith are observed to play an important part in religion, and the devrotee is usually a religious person, who is supposed to develop friendliness to all human beings, abstain from doing any harm to others, read religious literature, concentrate on the symbol of the Supreme, and so on. The widespread appeal of Bhakti Yoga is largely drawn from the element of simplicity, which is a characteristic mark of it
This is the yoga of the Gita, as Lokamanya Tilak would have us believe. Karma in Sanskrit means action and this variety of yoga derives its name from the fact that even after attainment of the goal of yoga, i.e. jivanmukti, one does not renounce the various acts themselves. It is said that bondage is caused by the cravings and desires that are associated with an act, and that one can be free of the binding effect of any act if one does the act without associating himself with the consequences. It is not the acts themselves that bind an individual, but rather the attitude or intention involved. A Karma Yogi behaves with indifference which is the product of cessation of desire and an awareness of the real significance of happenings in the world. Karma Yoga thus involves doing one’s duties without any reservation, and without the craving that one should get this or that benefit for his acts. This attitude is indeed very difficult to cultivate, for most of us have their mind usually swayed away by the imaginations of the pleasures that our acts may possibly give rise to. We thus always have an eye on the future improvement in our position. prestige, power and so on. We usually do various things in order to become more important in the society we live in, we always happen to aspire and crave for achieving something that others cannot achieve, we always want to have something more and better than what our neighbours and friends have.
A Karma Yogi behaves in life with all such mental activity having been stopped completely. But his lack of attention on the goal does not make him dull or inefficient in whatever he may be engaged in. On the contrary, he devotes his full energies towards good action, because his energy is not dissipated by hankering after this or that pleasure. A Karma Yogi is a man of the happiest behavioral adjustment within himself, as well as with the surrounding world. He does not pursue pleasure but pleasure follows him in whatever he does.
This is supposed to be the yoga of the intelligent or the superior few. All other varieties of yoga are believed ultimately to lead to this kind of yoga, in which one comes to look at everything in the world as itis, without any ignorance and bias. This is supposed to be achieved through a continued practice of a strenuous mental discipline and virtue. This variety is also called Raja Yoga, because it is the highest variety, so to say, or the yoga that presides. Perhaps it is the variety which Patanjali has described in his Yoga Sutra. He has said that it is made of eight parts, five of which are said to be external, and three internal. Yamaand Niyama, that is, the first two parts, are concerned respectively with what habits a student of yoga should avoid (e.g. harming others, speaking lies, stealing, gathering wealth unnecessarily, etc.), and what habits he should positively cultivate (e.g. cleanliness of the body and mind, contentment, devotion etc.) Asanaand pranayama, which are respectively the third and fourth parts in patanjali’s system, are dealt with elaborately in Hatha Yoga. The fifth part, namely, Pratyahara,indicates a withdrawal of the sense organs from the objects of enjoyment. The next three parts consist of a process of progressive mental concentration. Patanjali argues that through a faithful and intense practice of these eight parts of yoga for a sufficient length of time, a student of yoga can wash away all the impurities of his body and mind, so that he attains knowledge which ultimately liberates him from bondage and ignorance. This yoga is also called Ashtanga Yoga, because of the fact that it is made of eight parts. It is also sometimes called Dhyana Yoga, because of an emphasis on mental concentration. We find a lucid description of this variety of yoga in the sixth chapter of the Gita. It is usually this yoga that is implied whenever the word “yoga” stands alone without any qualification.
This is perhaps a comparatively later development among the varieties of yoga. It is made of four parts, namely, Asana, Pranayama, Mudraand Nadanusandlzana. Swatmarama, an old authority on this yoga, declares in the Hathayoga-Pradipika, that Hatha Yoga is the staircase which leads a sincere student ultimately to the goal of Raja Yoga. It is supposed that a practice of the techniques included in this yoga brings about a union of what are called the sun and the moon in our body. The moon is situated in a region above the hard palate, and is believed to exude a fluid which percolates down, and is swallowed by the sun, which is situated near the navel. It is due to the swallowing up of this elixir by the sun, that we are said to suffer from old age and death. Hatha Yoga, in short, is a way of tackling these two, i.e. the sun and the moon in our body, so as to bring about a union of them.
Asanas, which form the first part of Hatha Yoga, bring about bodily and mental stability, which is a mark of perfect health. They make the body active and supple, by removing the impurities and extra fat. The next two parts,namely Mudraand Pranayama, are aimed at making the breath silent, thereby activating certain dormant areas of our nervous system, when the nerves are completely divested of all impurities. This is spoken of in yogic terms as the arousal of the Kundalini, the divine power that usually lies dormant in human beings. We shall have occasion to discuss the notion of the Kundalini in detail while dealing with the techniques of the Mudrasand Pranayama,in a latcr chapter. The fourth part of Eatha Yoga, which is supposed to be the result of an intense and prolong e.q practice of the first three parts, is associated with concentrating the mind on the subtle sounds (nada)which an advanced student of yoga can hear after arousal of the Kunda/ini>. his phenomenon continues for a while, and the student hears progressively subtler sounds until at least the nadabe comes silent, making the mind completely absorbed in itself. This state is described by words like samadhi, sahajavastha, unmani, etc., and is the highest state of happiness that remains ever undisturbed by whatever happens in one’s life. Such a person may rightly be said to have reached the goal of yoga that is common to a11 the varieties of yoga. It is indeed the state of liberation in bodily existence.
We shall here try to describe this state at some length, with a view to make two points clear, namely, what yoga really stands for, and who can be considered a real yogi. A student of yoga should understand these two points very clearly. A lot of confusion seems to prevail among the minds of many people, on these two points. We are obviously not referring here to people, who, with their long grown beards and hair, move about in the masses as masters of yoga, trying to impress people with demonstrations of unusual powers concerning bending metal bars, breaking thick metal plates, stopping moving cars, or walking on fire or water. Patanjali has mentioned many yogic powers or siddhisin the third chapter of the Yoga Sutra.But he has clearly warned the students of yoga against an unwise use and exhibition of them, by declaring that they are actually distractions in the path of samadhi.
A yogi, to be sure, is a person who behaves in everyday life like other persons. He has his biological needs; he has to eat and drink in order to keep the body living. But on the psychological plane his behaviour shows a vast difference. He is not motivated in the same fashion as most of us are. He has nothing to attain in the world for himself. Yet, he keeps on working for the good of humanity. His sense organs do work like those of others, but he is not swayed away by the sensations, nor does his mind run after objects of enjoyment. Jnaneshwara, the great master of yoga, has described the behaviour of a yogi in a very interesting manner as foI1ows :
“The yogi may apparently respond to experiences in life, but he remains unaffected or undisturbed from within. Just as the moon responds to moonlight or the ocean responds to showers of rain, the yogi reacts passively to whatever confronts him in life. His choicelessness, passivity and peace are never disturbed by whatever he does, and while his sense organs behave in their usual manner, his silent samadhi remains ever undisturbed with all that he does.”
A yogi’s personality may be described in a very real sense by the Sanskrit term” guru” , and according to the ancient Indian tradition, such a guruis verily equated with Brahman itself. The great Shankaracharya, who had himself attained the state of jivanmukli, speaks about such a person in terms of the following qualities: “He is sinless, unsmitten by desire, peaceful like fire that has consumed its fuel to the end, and, being himself in a state beyond death and sorrow, he helps others mercifully and compassionately.”
An interesting fact in this matter has been brought out in the Yoga Vasishlha. It says, “For a yogi who has found the treasure of eternal happiness, and whose intellect has stopped running after the objects of enjoyment, even the greatest empire on the earth is nothing more valuable than a dry leaf that is to be shed. Such a person, even if he may be without a single coin in his possession, still obtains the pleasure that can hardly ever be obtained by an emperor.”
The Gita abounds in references to the behaviour of a yogi. Lord Krishna has, for example, described towards the end of the second chapter, how a yogi with a stabilized intellect behaves in everyday life. It is said that his mind is divested of all cravings, and that he remains at peace with himself and with the world; he loves all, and remains unmoved in the wake of disturbing circumstances. Such a yogi is rightly compared with a vast ocean, which remains undisturbed, although the big rivers are continually pouring water in it. More or less the same qualities are found mentioned in the fourth chapter of the Gila. It is declared in the fifteenth chapter of the Gila(5) that the state of muktiis reached by those who have become free of any feeling of superiority or prestige, as well as infatuation, who have won over the feeling of attachment to anything, and who have risen above’ the dualities like pleasure and pain, and have thereby become completely free of ignorance.
But such highly pure and enlightened personalities are indeed very rare, and it looks almost impossible for a common man to rise to such immense heights. A common man can, nevertheless, aspire to reach there I)y trying, according to his own capacity, to tread the path shown by such highly developed personalities. Our main concern in this book is to show and describe how far yoga can be included in the daily routine of an average individual. We shall discuss thoroughly four main areas in this respect, namely, having to do respectively with bodily health, silencing of the breath, psychological behaviour, and mental concentration. Let us, therefore, turn now to a detailed study of these aspects of yoga, from the point of view of an average individual.