Is Patanjali’s and Buddha’s approach to spiritual life the answer for defusing the threat of extremism, which is engulfing our world?
Is there an adequate life style to deal with the consequences of global meltdown? The pilgrimage described in this book is not concerned with moving from one geographical point to another but rather is intended to sanctify the consciousness and provide spiritual solutions to material problems. The teachings in this book originate from reliable sources and dismantle the protective walls that currently shield spiritual misleaders from being exposed.
Bhakti Yoga Pilgrimage, initially intended for Chinese Yoga students, depicts an authentic process of personal transformation, pertinent for every caring person of the twenty-first century. It discloses a realistic process that takes you beyond mere gymnastics or formless mysticism to tangible spiritual growth. Applying the directions in this book will elevate your awareness and empower you to remain ‘cool when the heat is on.’
Sankirtan Das has succeeded in combining a clear, logical flow of philosophical rigor with brevity in an easy, conversational style.
Your book is a joy to read. The smoothness of flow, the elegance of the language, the clarity of thought and the lucidity of the analysis are all remarkable. Kudos to you.
Here is just the book I was wishing to publish for students of philosophy. I was fascinated to see how concisely and systematically the philosophy is presented that even a beginner can easily understand. Even though familiar with the philosophy of Yoga, I eagerly read the book as if it were new information.
I feel so inspired by your book. It is full of practical advice and helps one understand the Yoga philosophy in a logical way devoid of dogmatic ideology. I believe the Chinese people will love it.
This concise book by Sankirtari Das neatly summarizes the ancient Yoga practice of India, and removes the shroud of mystery covering the true meaning of Yoga.
The Vedic scriptures compare our world to a vast, fearful ocean of illusion, where the living entities are relentlessly tossed around by the waves of duality. They feverishly grope for pleasure and smuggle to avoid pain.
In this ocean of illusion, the living entities vigorously pursue dreams of happiness, just as a man stranded out at sea sees imaginary land and strives hard to reach it. However, happiness remains tantalizingly elusive. Only when the living entity connects to Reality is happiness achievable.
Yoga offers that transcendental connection to the Ultimate Reality, the eternal shore beyond the ocean of illusion. Thus, Yoga is for those who seek to understand Ultimate Reality and the meaning to life; for those who want to make sense of this bewildering world; and for those who want to be truly happy.
But for the lay seeker, negotiating the maze of philosophies, meditative techniques, postures, and breathing methods offered by various schools of Yoga can be a formidable exercise. Rarely do these practices help one to cross over this ocean of illusion, because they are incorrect or incomplete conceptions.
Bhakti Yoga Pilgrimage comes as a breath of fresh air. Sankirtan Das takes us on a stimulating and enlightening yogic journey. He brings a refreshing, yet authentic perspective on Yoga that is complete. It includes and surpasses popular conceptions of Yoga, to transport one to the sublime spiritual realm, unexplored by, and perhaps unknown to, most Yoga teachers today. That is the realm of Bhakti pure devotion to Sri Krishna, the sweetest, most intimate and complete form of the Ultimate Reality.
Sankirtan Das has succeeded in combining a clear, logical flow of philosophical rigour with brevity in an easy, conversational style. So, dear reader, please begin your journey with all earnest. You will not be the loser!
When leading Chinese Yoga practitioners on pilgrimages of holy places in India I often discuss the teachings of Yoga. The experience visitors get in holy places naturally inspires them spiritually. As they observe a different way of life, many questions arise regarding the techniques, philosophy, and culture of Yoga. From the different questions and discussions that ensue, I have concluded that many of my Chinese friends have misunderstandings about the teachings of Yoga.
Of course, misconceptions about spiritual life are not limited to the Chinese. People from many other countries share them, partly due to Indian Swamis and Yogis that influenced America and Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. Adjusting the teachings of Yoga to the different contexts of their Western audiences so they could attract them more readily, these teachers introduced ideas and techniques that deviated from standard spiritual practices, thus compromising the integrity of the theories and methods they were introducing.
To this day the impact of such compromised Yoga practice continues to bedevil us. Moreover, a look at the distorted concepts of Yoga available on the market, will lead one to conclude that commercial interest is a major drive for many Yoga representatives to keep this science unclear. Generally, most Yoga centers give little, if any, education about the profound philosophy of Yoga. And whatever little education they give is usually tinged with misconceptions. Solely interested in the business aspect of Yoga, its promoters sell a service or a product that helps people achieve good health, beauty, freedom from tension, etc.
In one sense, it is very good that Yoga concepts have come to China, since Yoga teachings are beneficial to humanity at large. But only when the concepts of Yoga are correctly understood, will they yield true benefit. Quite often, after realizing how they had not been taught properly even the basics of Yoga, people suggest that someone should produce a book to help the Chinese Yoga practitioners get things right. Such a book should be comprehensive. It should give the reader a broad perspective on the teachings of Yoga, an adequate and well rounded account of every aspect of the Yoga science, and practical advice that will lead to progress on the spiritual path.
Hence my attempt to fulfill that need and thereby rectify the situation. From my twenty years plus of dedication to the subject I gained an overall objective perspective that allows me to keep the whole picture of the Yoga science in mind and at the same time focus on important details without losing sight of the essential components. I have tried to use my best judgment in selecting what I consider important and of true relevance for a person interested in Yoga and spiritual growth.
The information you will get from these pages is not yet another version of Patanjali’s Yoga maxims.’ Many such books are already on the market, some of them in the Chinese language. The purpose of this book is to help you to develop a more adequate perspective of the whole culture and values of the Yoga science. This book is particularly meant for sincere students of Yoga who wish to improve their understanding of the Yoga science in general and of the ultimate goal of Yoga in particular. It is especially for those who are interested in spiritual growth and who desire to realize Lord Krishna’s statement from the Bhagavad-Gita that after one has practiced Yoga for some time, spiritual knowledge grows within and illuminates everything with its rays. Thus, “one never departs from the Truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty.” (Bg 6.23).
This book is meant for those who desire to learn what exactly that “Truth” is and how to gain the position of factual knowledge. You are not advised to accept or reject anything blindly. Everything explained herein should be considered with care and caution. That is the way to achieve freedom from doubt and delusion, and it results in factual spiritual growth.
Much of the selected materials in this book are from the teachings of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and students of his such as Suhotra Swami, Bhurijan Das, Ravindra Svarupa Das, and others (see Acknowledgements). With unprecedented clarity and authenticity, Prabhupada (Fig. 1) translated many original Sanskrit Yoga texts along with the commentaries of previous great Yoga teachers into English. From studying these works, one comes to acknowledge that Bhakti Yoga2 is the highest stage of Yoga realization, and that every other aspect of Yoga is to be seen as a stepping-stone to that goal.
Since this understanding is so fundamental and essential, yet at the same time the most ignored and neglected by numerous Yoga teachers, either purposefully or due to ignorance, I decided to make this theme the focus of my book. Whatever knowledge people have about Yoga usually comes from commented-upon translations of Patanjali’s work, but we should know that
without giving Bhakti Yoga the actual merit, such commentaries are negligible.
Over the last forty years following Prabhupada’s unique literary contribution, many more books and articles in pursuance of his writings and translations have been written to communicate the importance of Bhakti Yoga (see Bibliography).
For the task at hand, my work was mainly to choose and compile all the required information and then put it into a structured format, so that the Chinese reader could easily get the benefit of the accumulated knowledge given by Prabhupada and the many other authors in succession. Most of the contributions in this book are duly acknowledged. For example, the chapter describing the eightfold practice of Yoga is entirely taken from Suhotra Maharaja, an accomplished Yoga master
under whom I personally studied. Some other minor concepts that I present here and there are not specifically accredited to a particular author but are simply part of a living Bhakti Yoga tradition. Still, if someone feels that I have taken his or her intellectual property, then it is quite accidental and unintentional. I offer my sincere apologies for any type of transgressions.
The book acquaints the reader to places of pilgrimage briefly only, because that is not my intention for writing. The book is a guide for a journey of personal development. For that we dive deeply into the Yoga teachings to find out how they apply to our lives.3
We embark with a brief historical account of the Yoga philosophy. The second chapter evaluates basics of Yoga philosophy, thereby providing us with a map for our journey. Although we are like passengers riding on an uncontrollable chariot, we are responsible for the outcome of our journey. Thus, Yoga stresses control of the restless mind, the topic of Chapter Three. In Chapter Four we climb the eight steps of Astanga-Yoga, and in Chapter Five we learn to look at our ascending journey with the help of an analogy, the “Yoga Ladder.” Yoga is not a religion but a
science and therefore enables one to look at our surrounding with wisdom. Hence, Chapter Six analyses the path of Buddha and the actual significance of his mission. Chapter Seven establishes the direct practice of Bhakti Yoga. As one is supposed to know and follow the laws of any country one visits, we learn about the universal law of Karma in Chapter Eight. How much freedom we have in our decision making is discussed in Chapter Nine; and how one is unable to progress in Yoga if one does not relinquish preconceived ideas (paradigms) - as one absorbed in thoughts of affection for those left behind could not relish a journey - is the topic of Chapter Ten. Chapter Eleven points out misunderstandings that could divert us from the right track.
The goal of Yoga, linking with the Isvara, requires at least a theoretical understanding of what the Isvara is; thus we encounter Him in Chapters Twelve and Thirteen. How our journey started in this world is discussed in Chapter Fourteen. The ultimate destination of ourjourney is the topic of Chapter Fifteen. As with any other journey, our journey is not free from dangers - the dangers of incorrect teachings - against which Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen give us much needed protection. Enriched from a pilgrimage one has much to share. In Chapter Eighteen we reassess the practice of Yoga by contrasting it to concepts of mundane religions. The book ends with an epilogue showing the practical benefits of Bhakti Yoga.
Simply sightseeing holy places and saying “Wonderful” is not sufficient, because Yoga teachings call for practical actions. Although some of the precepts discussed in the book are likely already a part of the daily life of the Yoga practitioners, nevertheless, in order to remain determined and to progress we need to be clear about the goal of our practice. We need to learn things correctly. Incorrect thinking results in mistaken action, and mistaken actions become habits. Habits become traditions, and in this way entire masses end up living a misdirected way of life.
In former times people learned about Yoga from Yoga teachers and Sanskrit texts written by them. Patanjali was not the only person teaching Yoga. One must be conversant with the different texts to get a correct understanding of Yoga. Such texts might vary in minor details, but essentially they present harmonious conclusions. In this book I used a range of such texts for reference, in order to give a comprehensive perspective to Patanjali’s text. You will find the following abbreviations to indicate reference for:
• Bhagavad-gita: “Bg 1.1” , stands for Chapter One / Verse One;
• Srimad Bhagavatam: “SB 1.1.1”, stands for Canto One / Chapter One / Verse One;5
• Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra: “YS 1.1”, stands for Section One and Sutra One;
• Caitanya Charitamrita: “CC 1.1”, stands for Chapter and Verse;
At the end of this book you will find a bibliography and a glossary with explanations of important Sanskrit terms used throughout the work. There are also appendixes with tables of additional information. Now let us begin the journey – a journey that promises to reward us with wisdom and happiness.
I hope this book will inspire many readers to reassess what they presently do and to progress in their pilgrimage in the company of old and new friends.
This book introduces you to four out of thousands of holy places throughout
India, namely Risikesh (with Hardware), Vrindavan (and surroundings), Bodhgaya, and Mayapur. It is practically not possible to visit all holy places, but these four places relate closely to the philosophical content of this book and are, in one sense, representatives of the many other holy pL.ces, an appetizer so to speak. Nevertheless, for one who has developed a taste for Bhakti Yoga, Vrindavan and Mayapur, although not well known to the ordinary tourists, will remain the dearest spots in the entire universe. A person with Bhakti in his heart will find these two places fully rewarding and will want to spend all of his allotted time there without wanting to go anywhere else.
About 230 km. northeast of Delhi, on the way to Risikesh, one passes through Haridwar.
Situated at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains, Haridwar literally means “the Gate to Han” (Vishnu). It is the place where the holy Ganges, coming from the glacier, enters the plains and the place wherefrom holy persons that renounce the world ascend to the caves situated higher up in
25 km. further northeast, on the bank of the Ganges, is Risikesh, a very peaceful place famous for Yoga and meditation. Many foreigners interested in Yoga come here for long- term training. The Yoga courses offered are for beginners and advanced practitioners, but unfortunately, much of it is business minded, with little spiritual value. The best climates are from April to June and from September to November. Lately, due to global warming, winters here are less cold and one can also spend the winter without excessive discomfort.
Vrindavan and Surroundings
Vrindavan is a mystical place with many charming spots. It is situated 135 kin, south of Delhi, just off the DelhiMathura-Agra road that brings visitors to the Taj Mahal. Hardly any of the visitors to the Taj Mahal know about Vrindavan, because Vrindavan is not a tourist spot. But for one interested in spiritual progress and Bhakti Yoga, it is an extremely important place to visit. Vrindavan has around 5000 temples and Marty bathing places along the Yamuna River. Although Vrindavan is a small town with a population of about 100,000, its surroundings are sacred and worth a visit.
Bodhgaya is the place where Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. It is a sacred pilgrimage place for all the followers of Buddha. Bodhgaya is situated between Kolkata and Varanasi, about 450 km. West of Kolkata, 13km. next to the city of Gaya. In the area surrounding Bodhgaya are countless monasteries with monks from Japan, Burma, Bhutan, Sri L.anka, Vietnam, and China.
Mayapur is situated on the Ganges, 130 km. north of Kolkata. It is the birthplace of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who appeared in 1486 A.D. to popularize Bhakti Yoga. The Mayapur area is very lush and its atmosphere is ideal atmosphere for spiritual activities. Daily, thousands of pilgrims, locals and foreigners alike, visit Mayapur. Mayapur is famous for its melodious kirtans (singings of mantras). Additionally, Yoga teachers from Europe and India run Yoga Guesthouses with high-class room facilities and intercontinental restaurants. The mood in Mayapur is non commercial and one easily experiences the spiritual world.
When don’t know much about the life of the popular Yoga teacher Patanjali Muni (Fig. 2). Some scholars say he was born about 4000 B. and others 400 A.D.
Such a big difference of opinion exists because there are no surviving records about his life. However, Patanjali Muni (also called Patanjali Rishi) gets the credit for having systematically organized techniques of the ancient Yoga science into 196 verses (called Sutras) and this work survived to the present day in the original Sanskrit language. Generally, Yoga teachers refer to Patanjali’s Sutras to explain Yoga.
The word Sutra literally means “thread” and conveys the meaning of a unifying thread, a line of thoughts; a Sutra thus expresses essential knowledge in a minimum of words. Many such Sutras joined together become the book, then also called Sutra, in this case the YogaSutra. The word Yoga derives from the Sanskrit root you, which means, ‘to unite” or “link up”. Patanjali speaks in these texts about the nature of the mind, the impediments to growth, its attachments, and the method for detachment leading to the attainment of the goal of life, namely Yoga (union) with the Absolute Truth. It is not possible to achieve Yoga unless one deals with the activities of the mind. Patanjali clearly states whilst defining Yoga that the main purpose of Yoga is to rise above the disturbing activities of the mind (Yogas citta-vrtti-nirodhah, YS 1.2).
Patanjali grouped the different methodologies and techniques of Yoga known at his time into a single outline. He divided his work of 196 verses (Sutras) into four sections (Kandhas) to deal with four basic topics.
a) samadhi absorption (51 verses),
b) sadhana = practice (55 verses),
c) siddhis = mystic powers (56 verses),
d) kaivalya = isolation of the self from matter (34 verses).
Since the time that Patanjali compiled the Yoga-Sutra, many translations and commentaries have been written. Due to their compressed nature, Sutras require further explanations. Just as the formula H20 needs an explanation by the chemist teacher so the student understands that it means water, Sutras need experts teachers to reveal the proper understanding to the learner. Unless well trained in the subject, one is sure to misunderstand the meaning of a Sutra. Likewise, persons who write commentaries without reference to other ancient texts on the Yoga science commonly fail to present conclusive information. We have to keep in mind how Patanjali’s teachings are part of a cultural setting different from ours. Unless we adjust our own minds to the values and convictions of the persons in former times, we will fail to grasp the implications of Patanjali’s teachings and come up with a distorted and partial understanding. For example, Patanjali’s writings clearly imply that Patanjali thought of the doctrine of reincarnation as the way to explain our existence in the world. However, he did not see the need to assert or enforce it in the Sutras. That understanding is implicitly assumed throughout his teachings and is critical to understanding the goals of Yoga practice.
To penetrate the teachings of Yoga we need to be open-minded and willing to adjust our present thinking to the way our predecessors looked at the world. Our thoughts need to be in harmony with the Yoga tradition that has - at least in some ways - survived to this day. By visiting holy places, one can observe without difficulty that once the culture and values of Yoga prevailed in people’s lives. It is now upon you, my dear reader, to take careful note of the various elements that direct us on our Yoga pilgrimage to a virtually forgotten realm, a realm that exceeds even the Sutras of Patanjali Muni.
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