Yoga - What It Is and What It Is Not
- YOGAWHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT
By Swami Chidananda
In Sanskrit, the primary definition of the term Yoga is the state of
union with the Divine or the experience of oneness with the great
Reality. Yoga, therefore, represents the experience of Truth, the
consciousness of Reality, the union with the Divine. There are also
secondary meanings of the term Yoga. Yoga is also a set of
scientifically evolved and intelligently formulated practical
techniques enabling man to shed himself of all the impurities imposed
upon him by the nature of his body, mind and senses, and aiding him
to concentrate his thoughts entirely upon the Supreme. Thus Yoga
means anything that man may do to purify his lower nature, to
restrain his senses, to direct his mind towards God, to come into a
deep interior level of worship of the Divine and finally to realise
his eternal oneness with the Divine Consciousness.
The application of yoga is universal. It may be applied within the
religious framework. Yet it clearly transcends religion. It is supra-
religious, far beyond any dogma or doctrine. The extent and duration
of its applicability is commensurate with the whole of humanity for
all time. I shall attempt to show you the significance that Yoga
holds for everyone in this great and eventful twentieth century.
First and foremost, Yoga is not mere acrobatics. Some people suppose
that Yoga is primarily concerned with the manipulation of the body
into various queer positions, standing on the head, for instance, or
twisting about the spine, or assuming any of the numerous odd poses
which are demonstrated in the text-books on Yoga. These techniques
are correctly employed in one distinct type of Yoga practice, but
they do not form an integral part of the most essential type.
Physical posture serve at best as an auxiliary, or a minor form of
Secondly, Yoga is not the performance of magical feats. I mention
this especially because among the many misconceptions that abound
about Yoga, this one is due to certain pretensions which have been
made by fake Yoginspseudo-Yogins. Anything that is good is all too
easily corrupted by perverted people. At all times in the history of
the world this has happened. Behind the deliberate mystification of
things pertaining to Yoga there lies a selfish motive. Unfortunately,
the distortion of this true science is the consequence. It will not
be out of place, therefore, for me to tell you frankly and clearly
that not all that has been put across as Yoga is really Yoga. Yoga is
certainly not magic, nor is it the performance of any extraordinary
or unusual mystical feat.
Neither is Yoga 'Fakirism', the impression that is obtained by many
tourists and travellers, especially by news-people who, with a strong
preference for the sensational and the fantastic, have managed to
create the fantastic idea that Yoga is some form of self-torture
lying on a bed of nails, burying oneself underground, chewing or
swallowing pieces of glass, drinking acid, swallowing nails or
piercing oneself with pins and needles. This has nothing to do with
Yoga, and real Yogins have nothing to do with all this.
Neither is Yoga any weird ceremonial or peculiar rite. It is not
hedonism. It is not paganism. It is not palmistry. It is not
prophesying. It is not astrology. It is not thought-reading, nor is
it the dispensing of charms to ward off evil spirits
or 'possessions'. None of these is Yoga. If people call themselves
Yogins and then explain their Yoga by exhibiting any of these unusual
feats, then they are misusing the term Yoga. Yoga is not auto-
hypnotism or self-hypnosis. It is not doing of incantations or by the
monotonous performance of gestures. Yoga is not experiences like
those obtained by taking lysergic acid or mescalin or peyote (of
Mexican origin) or divine mushrooms. These experiences are not Yoga,
nor are they products of Yoga.
Neither is Yoga a religious cult. Certain Eastern concepts do lie
behind it. This is true. But these concepts do not have anything to
do with the evolution of the science Proper. Yoga is comprised of
highly evolved and practical techniques which may be applied by
persons of any race, nation, caste, creed, church or sect. As
philosophical definitions were being formed and as religious concepts
of the Hindus were being formulated, the science of Yoga was evolved.
Certain metaphysical concepts are peculiarly Hindu and Eastern, but
Yoga which is separable from its philosophical and metaphysical
background, is a science of universal and practical value. Yoga is
essentially a spiritual matter concerning spiritual methods. It is an
intensely practical approach towards the realisation of the supreme
Reality, the very Centre of all lifeGod. And it is the heritage of
Worshipful Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to tell a
beautiful parable regarding the importance and truth about Yoga:
There was a big tree in a jungle. On the top of a branch there was a
very big honey-comb. But the ascent to the top of the tree was
difficult. One had to cut steps on the trunk of the tree and ascend;
but that demanded great patience and intelligent work.
A slender creeper entwined that tree and reached up to a great part
of the height. It appeared to be strong, though it perilously dangled
in the air.
A greedy man, desirous of possessing honey, without much effort,
began to ascend the tree with the sole help of the creeper. He was
too lazy to cut steps on the trunk of the tree and thought that the
creeper was strong enough to take him to the top. When he was a few
feet above the ground, a violent wind broke the creeper and the man
fell down and fractured his limbs.
Similar is the case with those who try to ascend the tree of Yoga
(Divinity), in order to drink the honey of Moksha, with the help of
the creeper of Kamya Karmas (actions with selfish motives and
desires) through short-cut paths. The path of Yoga lies along the
trunk of the tree of Divinity. You have to improvise steps on it,
with some effort, which is Sadhana (spiritual practices). You have to
ascend step by step, starting with Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama,
Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and then reach the pinnacle of Samadhi.
There is no short-cut to this. You cannot evade this responsibility.
If, on the other hand, you climb with the help of Kamya-Karmas,
though they, too, appear to be strong,they will not take you to the
heights of Yoga. When the wind of selfish desires, greed for the
things of this world and the pleasures of heaven, blows, this creeper
of Karma will break and you will have a terrible fall.
O man! Selfish works will not lead you to the Goal of Yoga. Only
unselfish works will help you. Sadhana means something much sterner.
You have to ascend the top through the hard way. But once you reach
the top, you will drink the nectar of Immortality and Eternal Bliss.
There are various systems of Yoga which I shall now briefly describe.
The first is the intellectual system in which man employs his human
faculties in a supreme exercise: the realisation of the Truth. This
is known as Jnana Yoga or the Yoga of Intellect. One listens to the
expositions of the nature of God, acquires an understanding of the
Reality, then by reflecting upon it again and again, ultimately, one
penetrates into it through the power of reason in the depths of
The second system is known as Bhakti Yoga or the Yoga of Devotion or
Love. This is a very sweet path, one which is peculiarly suited and
easily adapted to the emotional temperament. One grows into close
relationship with the Supreme Being by constantly thinking about Him,
praying to Him, worshipping Him, feeling Him close, so close that one
naturally walks with Him, talks with Him, lives, moves and has one's
being in Him. A link is set up whereby pure love is directed to God.
In this exercise, the human being becomes totally integrated.
In the third system, all phases of life's activities are dedicated to
God. On an unselfish basis, man's duties are thus integrated. This is
known as Karma Yoga or the Yoga of selfless service. The prime and
crucial act in this system is the shedding of the ego. When the
personal ego is completely abnegated, all creatures upon earth are
clearly apprehended as visible manifestations of God, as moving
temples in which the Divine is enshrined. The service of others then
becomes natural and easy, and every act is performed not as a secular
act, but as an act of worship. Engaged in the transmutation of
dynamism into divine realisation, one may do his worship everywhere.
The teacher in the school, the doctor in the hospital, the farmer in
the field, the businessman in the stock-exchange, everyone engaged in
professional activity, can transmute his dynamism into pure devotion
by adopting a humble and worshipful inner attitude.
In the fourth system, man is employed in a very special process in
which all thought is made to merge in God. One becomes more and more
aware of God as the Centre of being. This is a very beautiful path
also. It is known as Raja Yoga or the Yoga of Concentration and
Meditation. Thought is movement of the mind-stuff. Movement of the
mind-stuff is produced by motion of the vital-life, force within
called Prana and by movement of the body. Thus, thought, Prana and
the body are all interconnected. Total subdual and control of the
body may be brought about by keeping it in a fixed and steady
posture. Subdual and control of the inner psychic energy may be
obtained by practising techniques of breath-control. And ultimately,
all the scattered rays of the mind may be withdrawn from the
multifarious universe and made to concentrate solely upon the one
idea of God. In this culminating process, man is raised above the
level of the mind, taken into a state of superconsciousness in which
the experience of oneness with God is realised, and he is released
forever from the bondage to the body and from death itself. There are
many heartening signs that this Yoga is being considered by many
seekers in the West to be the most suitable method for the solution
of the perplexing problems of their civilisation.