“Yoga” is a Sanskrit word that means “to join.” Yoga is both union and the way to that union.
What do we join through yoga? First, we join our awareness to our own essential being: the spirit whose nature is pure consciousness. In yoga philosophy this is known as the atman or self. Next, we join our finite consciousness to the Infinite Consciousness, God, the Supreme Self (Paramatman). In essence they are eternally one.
According to yogic philosophy the spirit originally dwelt in the consciousness of that oneness. But it descended into the material world for the purpose of evolving and extending its scope of consciousness. In that descent the spirit lost its awareness of the eternal union, and lost the capacity to live in and manifest the union on a practical level. Through yoga the lost consciousness can be regained and actualized in the individual’s present life sphere.
Regarding this, a yogi-adept of the twentieth century, Dr. I. K. Taimni, remarks in his book The Science of Yoga: “According to the yogic philosophy it is possible to rise completely above the illusions and miseries of life and to gain infinite knowledge, bliss, and power through enlightenment here and now while we are still living in the physical body.…No vague promise of an uncertain postmortem happiness this, but a definite scientific assertion of a fact verified by the experience of innumerable yogis, saints, and sages who have trodden the path of yoga throughout the ages.”
Since rational thought precedes rational action, we should begin with the philosophical side of Yoga.
Yoga is a philosophy–a philosophy which stimulates its investigators to engage in practice through which they will experience and demonstrate its truth and worth. What begins as theory develops into practice which culminates in realization. Yoga is philosophy, discipline, and experience. It is a revelation of consciousness.
In India’s major scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna the teacher tells Arjuna the student: “There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be.” (Bhagavad Gita 2:12) We are eternal beings, without beginning and without end.
“Yoga offers us the possibility of ending this chain of embodiments by awakening-transformation from time and mortality into eternity and immortality.”
Originally we were points of conscious light in the Infinite Ocean of Conscious Light that is God. We were gods within God. And so we still are, for it is not possible to be outside of Infinity. Yet we are also here in this ever-changing world–a place that completely overwhelms the truth of our immortal life within God. For countless life-cycles we have found ourselves embodied in material cases, little body-prisons within the greater prison of the cosmos. And that is where we are right now.
There is a law that governs the place and kind of our embodiment.
That law is karma, the principle of exact and inevitable reaction to our own actions and mental states, resulting in a seemingly endless domino effect of continual birth and death. Yoga offers us the possibility of ending this chain of embodiments by awakening-transformation from time and mortality into eternity and immortality.
God the Lord
In writings on Yoga, the word for God or Lord is Ishwara–the Ruler, Master, or Controller possessing the powers of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. Ishwara is the Supreme Power, Parameshwara. It is toward this Ishwara that our life is to be directed if we would attain perfection in yoga. In Yoga Sutra 1:23, Patanjali says that samadhi, the state of superconsciousness where Absoluteness is experienced, is produced by Ishwarapranidhana–the offering of one’s life to God. This is not merely dedicating our deeds and thoughts to God, but consciously merging our life in the greater life of God and making them one.
God and gods
We are gods within God, finite spirits within the Infinite Spirit. But what is spirit? Yoga tells us that spirit is consciousness. We are eternal consciousnesses, each of us individual and distinct. Yet we are more. We do not have an existence independent either of God or of one another. Each of us takes our being from God as the wave takes its existence from the ocean, at the same time sharing it with all the other waves.
God is the eternal Root, the Ground, of our being, our greater Self.
We are not God, but in some ineffable manner God is us–the Self of our self, the Spirit of our spirit. God is all, and we are the parts–each of us possessing an eternal and irrevocable distinction. That is why Krishna told Arjuna: “There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be.”
“Both the individual self and the Universal Self have entered the cave of the heart, the abode of the Most High, but the knowers of Brahman see a difference between them as between sunshine and shadow.” (Katha Upanishad 1:3:1)
God and creation
God, the infinite Spirit, is pure consciousness, but has extended or emanated Himself as the cosmos: physical, astral, and causal. (“This universe, before it was created, existed as Brahman. ‘I am Brahman;’ thus did Brahman know himself. Knowing himself, he became the Self of all beings.” Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1:) This seemingly dual nature of God as Light and Power, as Consciousness and Matter, has puzzled the minds of even the wise.
God, the Original Being, projects Himself as the ever-changing dance of creation, as the evolving light that is the cosmos. God projects the creation, evolves it, and withdraws it back into Himself in a perpetual cycle. The creation can be thought of as God’s body–that God becomes incarnate in creation again and again. And as parts or reflections of God we do exactly the same through reincarnation.
All conscious beings have existed eternally within the Being of God, one with Him, distinct though not separate from Him. Rooted in the infinity of God, they have within themselves an innate impulse to transcend their finitude and attain the boundlessness of their Origin. This is impossible, since they are as immutable as God–the only infinite Being. They can become godlike, but ithey cannot become God. Yet the urge for transcendence is part of their nature.
The solution to this dilemma is simple. The individual consciousnesses cannot alter their natural state of finitude, but they can come to share and participate in the infinite Consciousness of God. Even though they cannot become infinite themselves, they can experience the infinity of their divine Source. A psychically sensitive person can experience the thoughts and feelings of others without becoming them. In the same way, spirits can evolve to experience the Consciousness of God while remaining in their naturally limited state. They do not become God the Absolute, but they enter into that Absolute Life and are one with it.
As Shankara explains in his Yoga Sutra commentary: “When the light of several lamps appears simultaneously, it cannot be made out which is the light of which.” Consequently liberated spirits experience the infinite Being of God–infinite Consciousness–as their own being. Krishna has described it this way: “When you have reached enlightenment, ignorance will delude you no longer. In the light of that knowledge you will see the entire creation within your own atman and in me.” (Bhagavad Gita 4:35) Buddha called this “seeing with the Divine Eye.”
When the spirits are unshakably established in that Consciousness the goal has been attained. All they need do is develop the capacity for such a state of awareness. This is done by learning to fully experience the state of existence of a being completely different from themselves–while retaining the awareness of their true identity. They can put on the “costume” of a consciousness utterly different from theirs, and not just experience that other mode of consciousness, but become able to function as that other kind of being.
To enable the spirits to enter into this process, God breathes forth His own Self as the Power from which is manifested all the realms of relative existence, from the most subtle worlds of nearly-perfected beings to the most objective worlds of atomic matter. They can then enter into relative existence by taking on coverings, or “bodies,” of varying grades and patterns of vibratory energies. They descend into this material world and begin working their way up the ladder of ever-evolving forms. Beginning with forms whose scope of consciousness is vastly less than theirs, they work their way upward, entering into higher and higher levels of awareness until they can surpass their original breadth of consciousness and begin to partake of a life of awareness much beyond their own.
In the intervals between embodiments the spirit spends time in the astral regions where awakening and growth also take place. (This is best explained in the forty-third chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda.) Upward and upward they evolve until their capacity for awareness is developed to such a perfect state that they can experience and participate in God’s all-embracing Consciousness, thenceforth to live in His infinity.
As Shakespeare wrote, “all the world’s a stage” with the individual spirits wearing their costumes and playing their parts. Just as actors begin with small parts and progress to bigger roles by demonstrating their skill in those smaller parts, so also do the spirits advance to higher and more complex forms of existence and consciousness, at last returning home to God. The Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote:
A stone I died and rose again a plant.
A plant I died and rose an animal;
I died an animal and was born a man.
Why should I fear? What have I lost by death?
As man, death sweeps me from this world of men
That I may wear an angel’s wings in heaven;
Yet e’en as angel may I not abide,
For nought abideth save the face of God.
Thus o’er the angels’ world I wing my way
Onwards and upwards, unto boundless lights;
Then let me be as nought, for in my heart
Rings as a harp-song that we must return to Him.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of many great Americans whose belief in reincarnation is overlooked, wrote in his poem, The Chambered Nautilus:
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
That is the purpose of creation and our place in it.
The religion of Yoga
“It is yoga alone which reunites the consciousness of the individual to its infinite Source, restoring the lost unity.”
It is commonly said that Yoga is not a religion. But since religion is derived from the Latin word religere, which means “to bind back,”
and yoga means “joining,” practically speaking yoga is the only religion. The many systems of dogmas and doctrines are by their very nature not really religions at all, and in most instances are systems of superstition–either by the nature of their ideas or practices or by the attitudes of their adherents toward their beliefs and disciplines.
It is yoga alone which reunites the consciousness of the individual to its infinite Source, restoring the lost unity. Earlier I quoted a paragraph from I. K. Taimni’s book The Science of Yoga about the purpose of yoga, but omitting his preceding words regarding the relation of yoga to religion–or rather, their difference. Here they are now, for I think you will find them relevant:
“The Orthodox religious ideal which requires people to be good and moral so that they may have a happy life here and hereafter is really a concession to human weakness and the desire to prefer the so-called happiness in life to enlightenment.
“In this respect the philosophy of yoga differs fundamentally from most of the orthodox religions of the world which offer nothing better than an uncertain and nebulous happiness in the life after death. They say in effect ‘Lead a good life to ensure happiness after death, put your faith in God and hope for the best.’ According to yogic philosophy death no more solves your spiritual problem than night solves your economic problem. If you are poor you do not expect on going to bed that your economic problem will be automatically solved next day. You will have to get up the next day and begin where you left off the previous night. If you are poor economically you do not expect to get rich overnight and if you are poor spiritually, bound by illusions and limitations of all kinds, you cannot expect to become enlightened [by simply being reborn] or, if you do not believe in reincarnation, in the vague and unending life which is supposed to follow death.”
Yoga is the way we answer for ourselves the prayer:
Lead me from the unreal to the Real.
Lead me from darkness to the Light.
Lead me from death to Immortality.
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