Yoga Defined - Swami Sivananda
The word 'Yoga' comes from a Sanskrit root 'Yuj' which means 'to join'. In its spiritual sense, it is the process by which the identity of the individual soul and the Supreme Soul is realized by the Yogi. The human soul is brought into conscious communion with the Divine Reality. Just as camphor melts and becomes one with fire; just as a drop of water when it is thrown into the ocean, becomes one with the ocean; the individual soul, when it is purified, when it is freed from lust, greed, hatred and egoism, when it becomes pure (Sattvic), becomes one with the Supreme Soul. The science that teaches the way of acquiring this occult knowledge is called 'Yoga Sastra'.
Yoga, in a generic sense, refers to Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Laya Yoga or Kundalini Yoga. In a restricted sense, it means the Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga of Patanjali Maharishi only.
The word Yoga is also applicable in a secondary sense to all those factors and practices that are conducive to the final achievement or fulfillment of Yoga, and as such indirectly lead to final freedom or perfection. Similarly, though the one who has reached the final Asamprajnata Samadhi or union with Reality is called a Yogi, one who is attempting to get perfection in Yoga is also called a Yogi.
Yoga philosophy is one of the six systems of Hindu philosophy. 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 East civilization 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, Patanjali Maharishi, 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.
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-intuitional knowledge.
Equanimity is Yoga. Serenity is Yoga. Skill in actions 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.
Yoga is primarily a way of life, not something which is divorced from life. Yoga is not forsaking of action, but is efficient performance in the right spirit. Yoga is not running away from home and human habitation, but a process of moulding one's attitude to home and society with a new understanding. Yoga is not a turning away from life; it is spiritualization of life.
YOGA IS UNIVERSAL
Yoga is for all. Yoga is universal. It is not a sectarian affair. It is a way to God and not a creed.
The practice of Yoga is not opposed to any religion or any sacred Church. It is purely spiritual and universal. It does not contradict anyone's sincere faith.
Yoga is not a religion, but an aid to the practice of the basic spiritual truths in all religions. Yoga can be practised by a Christian or a Buddhist, a Parsee, a Muslim, a Sufi or an atheist.
To be a Yogi means to abide continuously in God and to live at peace with men. Yoga is union with God. Yoga is union with all. God dwells in all.
THIS IS NOT YOGA
A man gets himself buried in a box underneath the ground. He does this by plugging the nostrils through Khechari Mudra. This is no doubt a difficult Kriya. He gets Jada Samadhi. This is a state like deep sleep. The Samskaras and Vasanas (subtle desires) are not fried by this Samadhi. He does not return with superintuitional knowledge. This cannot give Mukti or Liberation. This is kind of feat only. This is not a sign of spirituality. People use this Kriya for acquiring money, name and fame. When they come out of the box, they stretch their hand for money. They make transactions before they enter the box.
Tie the hands and legs of a man with iron-chain and shut him in a room. Before you lock the door he will stand before you. Get inside the room. He will be again there. No doubt this is very, very astonishing. It is a mere trick. It is a kind of Jaalam (illusion). Some people can seat on a plank studded with sharpened nails and chew snakes like chocolates. If you pierce a long needle in their arms, no blood will come out. Some can draw water from stone. A Yogic charlatan can perform all these things through some trick or Jaalam. But these have nothing to do with real Yoga.
The public will take a man to be a Yogi or Guru only if he exhibits some Siddhis. It is a serious mistake. They must not be overcredulous. They will be easily duped by these Yogic charlatans. They must use their power of discrimination and reasoning. They must study the ways, habits, nature, conduct, Vritti, Svabhava, antecedence, etc., of the Gurus and test their knowledge of scriptures, before they come to any definite conclusion.
PREREQUISITES FOR YOGA PRACTICE
Moral purity and spiritual aspiration are the first steps in the path of Yoga. One who has a calm mind, who has faith in the words of his Guru and Sastras, who is moderate in eating and sleeping, and who has intense longing for deliverance from the Samsara-chakra is a qualified person for the practice of Yoga.
An aspirant in the path of Yoga should have faith, energy, cheerfulness, courage, patience, perseverance, sincerity, purity, lack of despondency of mind, dispassion, aspiration, concentration, serenity, self-restraint, truthfulness, non-violence, non-covetousness, etc.
An austere and simple life is indispensable for Yoga. The foundation of Yoga is self-control. Discipline is the essence of Yoga, discipline of the body as well as discipline of the mind.
In the practice of Yoga, there is a reversal of the normal outgoing activity of the mind. Steadiness of mind is very essential for a reversal of the normal outgoing activity of the mind. Unless the mind is first made steady and brought under complete control, it will not be possible to change its course to the opposite direction.
BENEFITS OF YOGA PRACTICE
Life today is full of stress and strain, of tension and nervous irritability, of passion and hurry. If man puts into practice a few of the elementary principles of Yoga, he would be far better equipped to cope with his complex existence.
Yoga brings in perfection, peace and lasting happiness. You can have calmness of mind at all times by the practice of Yoga. You can have restful sleep. You can have increased energy, vigour, vitality, longevity and a high standard of health. You can turn out efficient work within a short space of time. You can have success in every walk of life. Yoga will infuse in you new strength, confidence and self-reliance. The body and mind will be at your beck and call.
Yoga brings your emotions under control. It increases your power of concentration at work. Yoga discipline gives poise and tranquillity and miraculously rebuilds one's life. The Yoga way of life deepens man's understanding and enables him to know God and his relationship with Him.
Yoga leads from ignorance to wisdom, from weakness to strength, from disharmony to harmony, from hatred to love, from want to fullness, from limitation to infinitude, from diversity to unity, and from imperfection to perfection. Yoga gives hope to the sad and forlorn, strength to the weak, health to the sick and wisdom to the ignorant.
Through Yogic discipline, mind, body and the organ of speech work together harmoniously. For a Yoga practitioner, a new outlook, a new health, a new awareness and a new philosophy rush in and vividly transform his life.
Lust for power, material greed, sensual excitement, selfishness, passion for wealth and lower appetites have drawn man from his true life in the spirit into the materialistic life. He can regain his lost divine glory if he practices, in right earnest, the principles of Yoga. Yoga transmutes animal nature into divine nature and raises him to the pinnacle of divine glory and splendour.
BEWARE OF SIDDHIS
If a Yogi is not careful, if a Yogi is not well-established in the preliminary practices of Yama and Niyama, he is unconsciously swept away from his ideal by temptationMara or Satan. He uses his powers for selfish ends and suffers a hopeless downfall. His intellect becomes blind, perverted and intoxicated. His understanding gets clouded. He is no longer a divine Yogi. He becomes a black-magician or Yogic charlatan. He is a black sheep within the fold of Yogis. He is a menace to the society at large.
Many people are attracted to the practice of Pranayama and other Yogic exercises, as it is through Yoga that psychic healing, telepathy, though-transference and other great Siddhis are obtained. But Yoga is not for attaining Siddhis or powers. If a Yogic student is tempted to attain Siddhis, his further progress is seriously retarded. He has lost the way.
Do not stop Sadhana when you get a few glimpses and experiences. Continue the practice till you attain perfection. Do not stop the exercise and move about in the world. Examples are not lacking. Numerous persons have been ruined. A glimpse cannot give you safety.
The Yogi who is bent upon getting the highest Samadhi must reject Siddhis whenever they come. Siddhis are invitations from Devatas. Only by rejecting these Siddhis can one attain success in Yoga.