Yoga is perhaps the most popular four-letter word originating from Sanskrit in modern times.
As an esoteric system of physical culture; as a panacea for all incurable diseases—physical and psychological—or as a pseudo-religious cult for “Seeing God”, Yoga has become the most fashionable fad in the modem world.
Yet Yoga is much more than all these. It is really a system of psychoanalytical therapy that enables the individual to get rid of all his preconceived notions about himself and his illusions about the world, by rigorous personal discipline. It enables him to unravel his real nature and can therefore be called rightly “Psychology of the Self”. Though it is often projected as a religious cult incorrectly, according to Patanjali, its founder, it is a secular, scientific system which by disciplined self-analysis leads Man to self-realization.
Trapped in an existential dilemma, Man can not fathom the mystery of all existence until he has first unraveled the mystery of his own existence. That will be like trying to measure the vast ocean without first knowing the capacity of the measuring vessel. Yoga does not attempt to answer the problem of where Man is going on his evolutionary journey. That it leaves to the realm of science fiction, philosophical speculation and the so-called revelations of religion. Instead Yoga attempts to find out where Man came from. When this fundamental question is solved by self-effort all other questions will resolve themselves automatically. A real Yogi does not withdraw into a shell and become a recluse like a mystic. He goes out into the wide world to help others in the path like a Buddha or a Christ, even at the cost of his own life.
Every individual has to fight the battle of Armageddon against the satanic forces of evil working in his brain and after vanquishing them realise the Christ in him. The Hindus allegorize it as the war between the Devas (the celestial beings) and the Asuras (the demons) which finally results in the destruction of the latter, giving the nectar of immortality (Amrit) to the former. The aim of Yoga is to help the individual to win this war, which goes on nowhere except in the human brain. Yoga accomplishes this by arresting the flow of psychological time by stilling the brain and reversing it till it returns to the origin, by meditation.
The thinking brain can only deal with the dead past, but when it is stilled it forms an inlet to the new. There is a silent interval between two consecutive thoughts (as between two notes of music). During this fleeting, silent moment one can experience the absolute emptiness of the living void, from which all things emerge. If one is able to keep the brain absolutely still and empty of thoughts even for a few minutes, the Timeless and Nameless experience—call it God, Reality or Truth as you like—prevails in the utterly isolated Mind-in-itself.
Nature abhors a vacuum, but will not reveal her secrets unless one is willing and ready to experience the transcendental. Metaphysics can instruct, but only discipline can liberate. Yoga proposes to achieve this; but one will have to remodel one’s whole life in a way suitable for the process.
The doctrine of Karma and rebirth is at best only an ingenious explanation of the evolutionary principles in nature. Science explains them by the more convincing laws of genetics, Which were unknown to the ancients. Yoga proposes to overcome the results of past Karma and transcend one’s genetic inheritance by systematic discipline and self-analysis.
All forms of energy are eventually dissipated into the Cosmic wastebasket called Entropy. Much of what is in Man is also subject to the same Entropy; including what is traditionally called his soul. Perhaps only human awareness, which is but consciousness turned upon itself, is an exception to this rule. It is the turning point in evolutionary development. This energy-fount (which some call God) is perhaps the only escape-hatch from the inexorable law of entropy for Man’s self-transcendence towards personal immortality.
Though the ultimate aim of Yoga is to make Man fully Self-conscious, the least that it can do for those who adopt it as a way of life is to make them Health-conscious. If even some of the injunctions of Yoga arc meticulously followed, the world may be saved form coming to a disastrous end by another dreaded four-letter word which is at present threatening all human existence on this planet, namely AIDS.
In the last decade of the twentieth century the majority of thinking persons is becoming more and more disillusioned with the rituals of religion and the rigmarole of philosophy. Looking for an alternative that is at once rational and practicable, they are turning to Yoga as the last resort.
“Churches, orders and theologies have failed to save Mankind because they have busied themselves with dogmas, rituals, rites and institutions, neglecting the one thing that is needful - enhancing the power and purification of the intellect.”
Yoga is neither a religion nor a philosophy. It is a metaphysical discipline much older than both, and offers a practical programme for redeeming Man. It is a solitary quest for liberating the individual rather than a mass movement for the emancipation of all Mankind. Nor is it mere mysticism, for a mystic stumbles into the Truth, the Yogin works his way assiduously towards it, and realizes it in himself.
The Yoga system of Patanjali is more than 2500 years old. However its original teachings have been commented upon through the centuries and often grossly misinterpreted mixing it with various religious cults to such an extent that the original teachings of the sage Patanjali have been distorted beyond recognition and reduced to a religious cult, if not a fashionable social fad.
Patanjali Yoga, in its original form, is a secular science that does not call for any kind of religious belief. It can be practiced by anyone irrespective of his or her belonging to any religious sect or otherwise. It only demands earnest and sincere effort to produce results, though some find it difficult because of their so-called other preoccupations in life. But an earnest student can practise the discipline along with his or her normal day-to-day activities and lead a healthy and meaningful life performing an efficient job. In course of time, one can also gain a glimpse of the reality beyond one’s own self, without which life often appears to be a meaningless merry-go-round.
Unfortunately, in recent times Yoga has become, in popular parlance, identified with certain physical exercises which, besides keeping the body healthy, also claims to cure all diseases from common cold to cancer. The therapeutic value of Yoga is an indisputable fact, as is being recognized in recent times, especially in the West. But Yoga is much more than a mere programme for physical fitness. Its ultimate purpose is to develop the potential of the human body and brain to its maximum and also to enable a person to realize his or her own real nature, which is otherwise known as Self- realization. This however, requires much more intense practice in a system of meditation after acquiring physical fitness.
Yoga in the widest sense has been known and practised all over the world ever since Man developed a yearning to know himself. Patanjali himself asserts that his dissertation is an exposition of a discipline that had already been expounded before. Most religious cults have incorporated Yogic methods in their ritualistic practices. In fact the word religion originally meant a system of discipline. It was much later that different religions invented Gods with names and forms and made ritualistic worship to realize them their sole preoccupation. The multiplicity of Gods and Goddesses in the Hindu pantheon are meant to cater for the tastes and temperaments of different individuals who can select a deity of their choice for the purpose of concentration.
Buddhism, in its original form, was an a occult path almost entirely based on the Yoga system. The noble Eight-fold Path is but a simplified version of the eight-fold discipline of Yoga. It was later that it became transformed into a popular religion. It is generally accepted that Jesus had undergone Yogic discipline and become an adept in it during his long sojourn in the orient. Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga is essentially based on this Yoga. It is not generally known that Mahatma Gandhi was a keen student of Yoga, though preoccupied with the freedom movement. Pandit Nehru, the confirmed agnostic was familiar with yogic practice and used to stand on his head daily, in spite of his preoccupation with politics.
Emperor Ashoka, after conquering the kingdom of Kalinga in a bloody war, realized that the more important thing was to conquer the Kingdom of the Self. Immediately later he embraced Buddhism and spread the faith all over India and the countries in East Asia. In recent times, Edumund Hillary who scaled the Everest is reported to have stated that the conquest of the Self is a more important and difficult venture than to conquer the highest peak in the world.
Experiences from the lives of the Tamil sage Shri Ramana (Maharshi) and the Bengali saint Shri Ramakrishna (Paramahansa) are given to illustrate the attainments of Yogic discipline, though they were not Yogins in the Patanjalian sense. They attained the fruits of Yoga by different methods. Ramana went into trance at will and remained immersed in the Self, while Ramakrishna attained communion with his personal deity (Kali) and remained in Samadhi often.
It is said that perfection in Yoga takes several years of strenuous effort. Swami Vivekananda, who used to practise Yoga in the middle of his hectic lecturing tours all over the world, asserts that an earnest student can become a perfect Yogin within six months. Though this is perhaps an exaggeration, ii may not be an impossibility. We all know how the Buddha attained illumination in just forty days. It depends on the intensity of practice as Patanjali himself assures us.
“The oldest wisdom of the world tells us that we can consciously unite with the Eternal Reality while in this body; for that is what Man is really born for. If he misses his destiny, Nature is not in a hurry, She will catch him up some day and compel him to fulfill her secret purpose.”
The Yoga Aphorisms Sutras (lit. Strings) are a masterpiece in condensation, and hence rather difficult to understand even with a working knowledge of Sanskrit. The several chapters of interpretation follow the text in sequence according to the topic discussed, though these are scattered often in different books in the original. A simple rendering in English of the aphorisms is given in Part II. Though this may be sufficient for one who wants to understand this Yoga, one who wants seriously to embark on its practice is advised to commit the Sutras to memory in the original. Meditating on their deeper significance alone can give them full faith in Yoga.
Ever since Man acquired the faculty of thinking, which alone distinguishes him from other mammals, he has been indulging in several myths which have no basis in reality. The Vedas, which mean wisdom in Sanskrit, have been studied for over 3000 years and science, which means the same in Latin, for a somewhat shorter period; yet in spite of widespread literacy in the world, the vast majority of Homo Sapiens, which means Man the Wise, is still steeped in baseless superstitions which they believe would solve all their worldly problems and also help them to attain salvation (whatever it be).
The first and foremost of these myths need not be mentioned here; any intelligent person can discover it when he or she reads through this book. However two other common myths with which this book is concerned are what passes for in popular parlance as MIND and what is commonly called HEART. By a strange coincidence, both these are misnomers for the same organ of the human anatomy. It is none other than the BRAIN — the one and only reality behind them.
The organ called the human brain is rightly recognized as the most highly developed and organized form of matter in the universe. It appears to be the end-product of evolution till now. Consisting of several billions of neurons interconnected by an equally vast network of synapes, this marvelous product of nature makes Man what he is. It enables him to develop consciousness that makes him aware of himself as well as his environment.
Yet Man’s awareness of himself is very marginal compared to his knowledge of his surroundings. Apart from his physical body and to some extent his internal anatomy he knows very little about his brain and its functions, despite the tremendous advance in neuro-physiology in recent times. This basic ignorance makes him postulate a fictitious organ called the mind, which he considers responsible for his intelligence, reasoning and memory. This mysterious mind is supposed to be the connecting link between the physical brain and consciousness.
Physical science, however, has persistently refused to recognise ‘mind’ as a separate entity apart from the physical brain, as it fails to appear in any of its mathematical formulae or laboratory reactions. According to science, therefore, mind is but a fiction and consciousness itself an epi-phenomenon, connected with the brain like the magnetic field surrounding a magnet, or an electrical field around a charge of electricity.
The mind-body dualism which puts forth that inhabiting the physical body there is something made of quite a different stuff called the mind is anathema to science. The brain and its workings are a consequence of its anatomy and physiology, resulting from the physicochemical reactions taking place there and nothing more.
In a similar manner, the mythical ‘heart’ as the seat and source of all emotions like love,1ate etc. does not exist in the physical organ responsible for the circulation of blood. All emotions are produced by the brain alone, which responds to the secretions of the endocrine glands in the body, which react to the impulses produced by external events gathered by the sense-organs. Because of this these glands can be consciously stimulated and a consummate artiste can simulate most of these emotions by exercising his imagination. That is why when a faulty valve in the human heart is replaced by a porcine duplicate, the patient does not behave like a swine; or when a woman’s heart is transplanted on man, he does not behave like a woman.
Occult science holds that the human brain, being the final product of evolution, contains ‘a priori’ all knowledge locked up in its billions of neurons. In recent times occultism has fallen into disrepute because of its being associated with E.S.P. and other para-normal experiences. These are actually quite normal manifestations of a properly tuned-up brain. They are mere byproducts of yoga, rather than its goal.
“The brain of Man is capable of anything because everything is in it — the past as well as the future”.
However, this storehouse of knowledge will become available to us only to the extent we are consciously able to unlock its contents. Education should be the process of drawing out the knowledge already latent in the brain of Man.
But as practised at present education has come to mean the injection of volumes of trivial information into the brain cells, which groan in agony under the impact. They want to be left alone: (That is why most children love to play truant at school) Education has thus become a painful and protracted punishment. Head-ache is the first signal of this protest. People try to suppress it by drugging the body, while the real remedy should be in the brain. If such splitting head-aches are neglected for long periods of time, it can lead to schizophrenia, which some regard as the most common malady of our century.
Yoga attempts to reverse this whole process and let the brain remain in peace and express itself, by stopping all its external activities. Then it can look at itself in deep introspection, till its blocked-up wisdom is released and Man becomes all-knowing and all-powerful. Whether the suppression of all the wasteful activities of the brain is at all possible is an open question, but the necessity is beyond any doubt to maximize its potential.
The extra-ordinary intellectual capacity of geniuses and prodigies, as well as of eminent scientists and others in different fields, appears to indicate that such a process is already taking place in the course of natural evolution. The lives of scientists like Newton and Einstein and sages like Buddha, Jesus, Ramana and others also bear ample testimony to such a fact.
The yoga aphorisms compiled by sage Patanjali some 2500 years ago constitute one of the six systems of Hindu metaphysics. The aphorisms being mnemonic phrases, are extremely cryptic and terse. Therefore, they are capable of being interpreted in many different ways. Over the centuries, they have been commented upon by various learned persons often incorrectly, as a religious text. Thus Yoga mixed with religion is given out to the West by many different cults and these are accepted by their unsuspecting victims as oriental mysticism. Though yoga is not a religion, most oriental faiths have incorporated a considerable part of yogic practices in their rituals. Buddhism, in its original form, is closest to this yoga. The Noble Eight-fold Path of the Buddha is a simplified version of the eight-fold yoga of Patanjali. The ‘Satori’ of later Zen is not different from the Samadhi of Yoga, though the methods of bringing it about are different.
Yoga is rightly regarded as an occult science, where all experiments are conducted in the laboratory of the human brain itself. Its similarity Western psychology has been discovered in recent times. The aim of depth psychology, inaugurated by its founder Sigmund Freud, is to explore the unconscious and arrive at the centre of human personality. The aim of Yoga is the same.
Psychotherapy attempts to reclaim the latent impressions in the unconscious regions of the human brain and analyse the psychoses and neuroses arising there from in the emotional life of an individual. But it confines itself to the so-called psychic structures of id, ego and superego and treats the patient by the interpretation of his dreams or under hypnosis. It does not recognize the existence of an inner self. Thus real Yoga can be said to begin when Western psychology ends a fact that should be constantly remembered, considering that Yoga is a metaphysics while psychology is a science — and a still developing one at that.
Whereas analytical therapy treats a psychically sick person for his maladies, Yoga deals with a normal healthy person and helps him to get rid of his illusions. It is a system of self-therapy intended to eliminate the tensions of an individual by his own effort and thus unravel the real nature of his personality, resulting in Self-realization.
Though yoga accepts (along with Freud) that all physical and psychical drives are equally biological, it does not consider all human complexes and tensions as the result of suppressed sexual libido alone. Analytical therapy is a scientific method of attaining inner equilibrium. Yoga is also a method for achieving the same, but to a higher degree. In Yoga, however, success depends on self-effort of the practitioner himself, though the guidance of an expert may often be useful.
Adler’s individual psychology, with its craze for psychical powers, have been elaborated in a whole section (Book III) by Patanjali, who also issues a stern warning about the dangers of developing such powers and using them for selfish purposes. The concept of bio-energy as a modification of the sexual drive which was developed by W. Reich, one of Freud’s students, in his so-called Reichian Therapy, is similar to Kundalini Yoga, which is an esoteric branch of this discipline.
C. J. Jung was the first Western psychologist to bring into focus consciousness and its altered states into psychology. Consciousness is what this Yoga is primarily concerned with, but it does not share Jung’s deep interest in religion, which he considered to be an inbuilt instinct in Man. It is in modern transpersonal psychology, inaugurated by A. Maslow and S. Grof, that the spectrum of consciousness transcended all individual boundaries and dissolved into the Universal Undifferentiated Consciousness, when man realizes his supreme identity. However, the use of LSD and other psychedelic drugs for journeying into unexplored realms of the unconscious is contrary to Yogic methods, though not unknown to it.
Though their final conclusions may be nearly the same, the introduction of later Vedantic concepts in the interpretation of this Yoga violates the text and does injustice to its compiler. The terminology as well as the methodology of Yoga and Vedanta are different and often quite contrary. The original text of Patanjali is purely secular (i.e., non-religious) and scientific, as far as it was possible at the age when it was compiled.
Though different in several respects from modern physical and physiological sciences, Yoga can be interpreted entirely from these points of view. It needs to be psychological only in the sense that the human brain, with all its objective and subjective functions, is an integral and intelligent organ in the human anatomy. Considering that Patanjali employs the word ‘chittam’ meaning brain almost throughout the text, in preference to ‘manas’ (meaning mind) which rarely intrudes, this is what Patanjali intended in his aphorisms. He also uses the word ‘chiti’ for the intellect and ‘chit’ for consciousness, in the accepted meanings of the words from Rig Vedic times.
The present book is an attempt to provide, as far as possible, a purely scientific interpretation of Patanjali Yoga in a language that can be intelligible even for one with a rational approach.
All scriptures have a modicum of scientific truth hidden in them; but they are clothed in metaphorical language. This has led to their mis-interpretation by priest-craft, which has a vested interest in suppressing their true significance in order to have a hold over the illiterate common people. Thus, the metaphor of the Garden of Eden states that Adam (the first Man) along with Eve (his spouse) was banished from their peaceful existence in the Garden after eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Thus they were condemned to death and to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. They had also to conceal their nudity by wearing the barks of trees and skins of animals. Man has ever since been endeavoring to regain his lost place in Eden, his eternal home. Religion enjoins Man to worship God, who alone can redeem his soul and give him salvation at the second coming on Doomsday. Yoga has no patience to wait so long. It has therefore developed an intensely personal discipline calculated to reverse the slow process of his evolution and take him back to the natural state he was in, before his fall from Eden.
The best definition of God is Jehovah — which means I AM. To realise this the scripture says “Be still and know that I AM GOD.” But Yoga says “Be still and know Yourself”. Without knowing oneself knowing anything else has, according to it, no meaning. Even the Christian tradition is that Self-knowledge is the first step towards gaining the Kingdom of Heaven.
Yoga does not pretend to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. It has no messianic mission to liberate the whole world. That is the ambition of religion, so far not fulfilled. But Yoga does promise individual Man to regain his real nature — as Adam was in before he was banished from Eden. Eden is Man’s birthright; but he has to regain it by rigorous self-discipline.
The scripture further says that lest Man eat of the Tree of Life as well and become immortal like other celestial beings, he had to be banished from Eden. Man can know his real nature through Yoga, that he is pure Consciousness which is indeed immortal. His ego is crucified and real Self resurrected, for after all God is said to have created him in His own image (although with a lot of material contamination) which is none other than pure Consciousness. The difference between Man and God is one of degree and not of kind.
Bhakti Yoga (14)
Hatha Yoga (62)
Karma Yoga (29)
Kriya Yoga (59)
Kundalini Yoga (43)
Yoga For Children (9)
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