What is Yoga?
“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 spirit-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 individual atman-spirit originally dwelt in the consciousness of that oneness. But through its descent into the material world 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 practical 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.”
Gaining real freedom
Yoga is all about freedom. Only a fraction of the world’s population is formally imprisoned, but none are free from the inevitability of sickness, age, and death. The human condition is subject to innumerable limitations. Who really controls his life fully, attains all his goals, and knows no setbacks of any kind? No one.
Our real Self, the spirit, is ever perfect and free. But we have forgotten that. So we identify with our present experience of limitation and bondage and consequently suffer stress and pain in countless ways. Our situation is like someone who is asleep and dreaming that he is suffering or fearful. To end the fear and pain he needs only to wake up. Yoga is the procedure of self-awakening, the way to freedom from suffering, fear, and limitation–nothing less than the quest for liberation of the spirit. Yoga is an eternal science intended to reveal and manifest the Eternal.
Multiple facets of Yoga
The basic text of the Yoga philosophy is the Yoga Sutras (also called Yoga Darshana), written by the sage Patanjali, a yogi of ancient India. In contrast to other philosophical systems, Yoga is a philosophy which stimulates its investigators to engage in yoga as a 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–a revelation of consciousness.
In 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.
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. As Blavatsky wrote in The Voice of the Silence: “Heaven’s dew-drop glittering in the morn’s first sunbeam within the bosom of the lotus, when dropped on earth becomes a piece of clay; behold, the pearl is now a speck of mire.” Each one of us is a dew-drop of heaven, but 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. Yoga is the key to the prison.
For more on this subject, read Pranava Yoga: It’s Theory and Practice.
More on Yoga and Meditation:
- Seven Signs of Progress in Meditation, by Paramhansa Yogananda
- Obstacles in Meditation and How to Overcome Them
- The Two Essential Pillars of Yoga