Practical Lessons in Yoga
by Swami Sivananda
Yoga Philosophy is one of the six systems of Hindu Philosophy which exist in India. Unlike so many other philosophies of the world, it is a philosophy that is wholly practical. Yoga is an exact science based on certain immutable Laws of Nature. It is well known to people of all countries of the world interested in the study of Eastern civilisation and culture, and is held in awe and reverence as it contains in it the master-key to unlock the realms of Peace, Bliss, Mystery and Miracle. Even the philosophers of the West found solace and peace in this Divine Science. Jesus Christ himself was a Yogi of a superior order, a Raja-Yogi indeed. The founder of the Yoga Philosophy was Patanjali Maharshi, who was not only a Philosopher and a Yogi, but a Physician as well. He is said to have lived about three hundred years before Jesus Christ.
Patanjali defines Yoga as the suspension of all the functions of the mind. As such, any book on Yoga, which does not deal with these three aspects of the subject, viz., mind, its functions and the method of suspending them, can he safely laid aside as unreliable and incomplete.
The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root "Yuj" which means "to join." Yoga is a science that teaches us the method of joining the individual soul and the Supreme Soul. It is the merging of the individual will with the Cosmic or Universal Will. Yoga is that inhibition of the functions of the mind which leads to the absolute abidance of the soul in its own real nature of Divine Glory and Divine Splendour. It is the process by which the identity of the individual soul and the Oversoul is established by the Yogi. In other words, the human soul is brought into conscious communion with God. Yoga is the Science of sciences that disentangles the individual soul from the phenomenal world of sense-objects and links with the Absolute, whose inherent attributes are Infinite Bliss, Supreme Peace, Infinite Knowledge and unbroken Joy.
Yoga is that state of Absolute Peace wherein there is neither imagination nor thought. Yoga is control of mind and its modifications. Yoga teaches us how to control the modifications of the mind and attain liberation. It teaches us how to transmute the unregenerate nature and attain the state of Divinity. It is the complete suppression of the tendency of the mind to transform itself into objects, thoughts, etc. Yoga kills all sorts of pain, misery and tribulation. It gives you freedom from the round of births and deaths, with its concomitant evils of disease, old age, etc., and bestows upon you all the Divine Powers and final liberation through super-intutional knowledge.
The word Yoga is also applicable in its secondary sense to the factors of Yoga, viz., self-training, study, the different actions and practices that go to make up Yoga as they are conducive to the fulfilment of Yoga and as such indirectly lead to emancipation. Union with God is the goal of human life and that ought to become the touchstone of all human endeavours. That is the be-all and end-all of existence.
Equanimity is Yoga. Serenity is Yoga. Skill in actions is Yoga. Control of the senses and the mind is Yoga. Anything by which the best and the highest in life can be attained is also Yoga. Yoga is thus all-embracing, all-inclusive and universal in its application leading to all-round development of body, mind and soul.
The object of Yoga is to weaken what are called the five afflictions. The five afflictions are: Ignorance, Egoism, Likes, Dislikes and the instinct of self-preservation (or clinging to bodily life). Ignorance is the fertile soil which bears an abundant crop of the rest. On account of ignorance only egoism has manifested. Wherever there is egoism, there invariably exist likes, dislikes and the rest side by side. Clinging to bodily life or fear of death is born of likes only. It is nothing but attachment.
Egoism is a specific form of ignorance. The mind gets itself attached wherever there is pleasure. If the mind likes pomegranate, it gets itself attached to this fruit, as it derives pleasure from eating it. The mind runs after things that have been associated with agreeable experiences in the past. This is attachment (like). The mind runs away from objects which have caused pain. This is dislike. These are all the faults of man himself. The world can never hurt you. The five elements are your best teachers. They help you in a variety of ways. The things created by the Lord are all beneficial. It is only the creation of man that brings pain and misery. These five afflictions bind you to the outside objects and reduce you to piteous slavery. These afflictions remain as tendencies even when they are inoperative. These afflictions and tendencies can be attenuated by Yogic discipline.
On account of ignorance you have forgotten your primitive Divine Glory. On account of this evil you are not able to remember your old status of Godhood, your original immortal, blissful, divine nature. Ignorance is the root cause of egoism, likes, dislikes and the rest. These five afflictions are great impediments to Yoga. They stand as stumbling-blocks to the attainment of Self-realisation.
These five afflictions remain in a dormant, attenuated, overpowered or fully developed state. When the husband begins to quarrel with the wife, his love for her becomes dormant and he shows dislike for her for the time being. In a Yogic student these afflictions become thinned out or attenuated by the spiritual force of his Yogic practices. But they do exist in a subtle state. They cannot do any havoc. They are like the cobra whose poisonous fangs have been extracted by the snake-charmer. The “overpowered state” is that state in which one set of impressions is kept under restraint for some time by another powerful set of impressions; but they manifest again, when the cause of the suppression is removed. In a worldly man with passions and appetites these can be seen operating in fullest swing. But in a fully developed or full-blown Yogi these afflictions and impressions are burnt in toto.
Owing to ignorance you have mistaken the physical body for the Self and this is all the mistake you have committed. But it is a serious mistake indeed. By changing your mental outlook, by purifying your heart and intellect, you can attain Knowledge of Self. Mind, Prana, body and the senses are all instruments only. The real Seer is the Self who is pure, unchanging, eternal, self-luminous, self-existent, self-contained, infinite and immortal. When you begin to identify yourself with this immortal, all-pervading Self, all miseries will come to an end.
Likes and dislikes are the causes for doing good and evil deeds. Good and evil deeds bring pleasure and pain. Thus the round of births and deaths is kept from time immemorial by the six-spoked wheel of Likes, Dislikes, Virtue, Vice, Pleasure and Pain.
The Yogic student should first try to weaken these five afflictions. Three practices are prescribed for this purpose. They are: Austerity (Tapas), Study of Scriptures (Svadhyaya) and Resignation to the Will of the Lord (Isvara-pranidhana). The practitioner should have intense faith in the efficacy of his practices. Then the energy to carry on with the practices will manifest by itself. Then the real memory will dawn. When there is memory, then there is no difficulty in practicing concentration. If there is concentration, discrimination will dawn. That is the reason why Patanjali says: "Samadhi will come through faith, energy, memory, concentration and discrimination."
Therefore, to get success in concentration, meditation and the practice of Yoga, you must have tremendous patience, tremendous will and tremendous perseverance. Plunge yourself in concentration. Merge the mind in the one idea of God and God alone. Let the mind fully get absorbed there. Forget other things. Let the whole body, muscles, tissues, nerves, cells and brain be filled with the one idea of God. This is the way to positive success. Great sages and saints of yore have practiced Yoga in this way only. Work hard. You will reach the goal. You will also become a great saint. Whatever one has achieved can be achieved by others also. This is the Law.