Excerpts from-Lessons by Swami Paramahamasa Sivananda of Divine Life Society Hrikesh 

Stage 1: Basic Lessons-Practical Lessons in Yoga 

Yoga And Its Objects  

Yoga Philosophy is one of the six systems of Hindu Philosophy which exist in India. 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 Eastern civilisation 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 was Patanjali Maharshi, who 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.

Patanjali defines Yoga as the suspension of all the functions of the mind. As such, any book on Yoga, which does not deal with these three aspects of the subject, viz., mind, its functions and the method of suspending them, can he safely laid aside as unreliable and incomplete.

The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root “Yuj” which means “to join.” Yoga is a science that teaches us the method of joining the individual soul and the Supreme Soul. It is the merging of the individual will with the Cosmic or Universal Will. Yoga is that inhibition of the functions of the mind which leads to the absolute abidance of the soul in its own real nature of Divine Glory and Divine Splendour. It is the process by which the identity of the individual soul and the Oversoul is established by the Yogi. In other words, the human soul is brought into conscious communion with God. Yoga is the Science of sciences that disentangles the individual soul from the phenomenal world of sense-objects and links with the Absolute, whose inherent attributes are Infinite Bliss, Supreme Peace, Infinite Knowledge and unbroken Joy.

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-intutional knowledge.

The word Yoga is also applicable in its secondary sense to the factors of Yoga, viz., self-training, study, the different actions and practices that go to make up Yoga as they are conducive to the fulfilment of Yoga and as such indirectly lead to emancipation. Union with God is the goal of human life and that ought to become the touchstone of all human endeavours. That is the be-all and end-all of existence.

Equanimity is Yoga. Serenity is Yoga. Skill in actions is Yoga. Control of the senses and the mind 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.

The object of Yoga is to weaken what are called the five afflictions. The five afflictions are: Ignorance, Egoism, Likes, Dislikes and the instinct of self-preservation (or clinging to bodily life). Ignorance is the fertile soil which bears an abundant crop of the rest. On account of ignorance only egoism has manifested. Wherever there is egoism, there invariably exist likes, dislikes and the rest side by side. Clinging to bodily life or fear of death is born of likes only. It is nothing but attachment.

Egoism is a specific form of ignorance. The mind gets itself attached wherever there is pleasure. If the mind likes pomegranate, it gets itself attached to this fruit, as it derives pleasure from eating it. The mind runs after things that have been associated with agreeable experiences in the past. This is attachment (like). The mind runs away from objects which have caused pain. This is dislike. These are all the faults of man himself. The world can never hurt you. The five elements are your best teachers. They help you in a variety of ways. The things created by the Lord are all beneficial. It is only the creation of man that brings pain and misery. These five afflictions bind you to the outside objects and reduce you to piteous slavery. These afflictions remain as tendencies even when they are inoperative. These afflictions and tendencies can be attenuated by Yogic discipline.

On account of ignorance you have forgotten your primitive Divine Glory. On account of this evil you are not able to remember your old status of Godhood, your original immortal, blissful, divine nature. Ignorance is the root cause of egoism, likes, dislikes and the rest. These five afflictions are great impediments to Yoga. They stand as stumbling-blocks to the attainment of Self-realisation.

These five afflictions remain in a dormant, attenuated, overpowered or fully developed state. When the husband begins to quarrel with the wife, his love for her becomes dormant and he shows dislike for her for the time being. In a Yogic student these afflictions become thinned out or attenuated by the spiritual force of his Yogic practices. But they do exist in a subtle state. They cannot do any havoc. They are like the cobra whose poisonous fangs have been extracted by the snake-charmer. The “overpowered state” is that state in which one set of impressions is kept under restraint for some time by another powerful set of impressions; but they manifest again, when the cause of the suppression is removed. In a worldly man with passions and appetites these can be seen operating in fullest swing. But in a fully developed or full-blown Yogi these afflictions and impressions are burnt in toto.

Owing to ignorance you have mistaken the physical body for the Self and this is all the mistake you have committed. But it is a serious mistake indeed. By changing your mental outlook, by purifying your heart and intellect, you can attain Knowledge of Self. Mind, Prana, body and the senses are all instruments only. The real Seer is the Self who is pure, unchanging, eternal, self-luminous, self-existent, self-contained, infinite and immortal. When you begin to identify yourself with this immortal, all-pervading Self, all miseries will come to an end.

Likes and dislikes are the causes for doing good and evil deeds. Good and evil deeds bring pleasure and pain. Thus the round of births and deaths is kept from time immemorial by the six-spoked wheel of Likes, Dislikes, Virtue, Vice, Pleasure and Pain.

The Yogic student should first try to weaken these five afflictions. Three practices are prescribed for this purpose. They are: Austerity (Tapas), Study of Scriptures (Svadhyaya) and Resignation to the Will of the Lord (Isvara-pranidhana). The practitioner should have intense faith in the efficacy of his practices. Then the energy to carry on with the practices will manifest by itself. Then the real memory will dawn. When there is memory, then there is no difficulty in practicing concentration. If there is concentration, discrimination will dawn. That is the reason why Patanjali says: “Samadhi will come through faith, energy, memory, concentration and discrimination.”

How many of you, sisters and brothers, find in yourselves the unmistakable signs of disease, declining health, vim, vigour and vitality? How many of you, may I ask again, feel actually the grip of premature old age? Why do you unjustly throw the whole blame on heredity without for a moment realising that for nearly thirty or thirty-five years you have been flouting the laws of life? Thirty-five years of wrong living! Thirty-five years of wrong feeding! Thirty-five years of wrong breathing! Thirty-five years of wrong thinking! Thirty-five years spent in abject ignorance of the relationship between brain and brawn! Thirty-five years, in fact, spent in doing everything possible to develop the disease of “Old Age!”

Now suppose the whole situation is reversed, and in place of wrong living, wrong feeding, wrong breathing, etc., there is introduced right living, right feeding, right breathing, and so forth, what will be the effect? Will physical and mental degeneration give place to physical and mental regeneration? The answer given by the Seers of the East is an emphatic “YES”. The Indian Yogins have conclusively proved that by following a regimen it is quite possible to rebuild the human body, to reconstruct the human mind, to regain lost youth, strength and beauty. The key to accomplish this remarkable feat according to the Saints, Sages and Rishis of yore is to be found in Yoga-Asanas.

You know what the word ‘Yoga’ means. It is union of the individual soul (Jivatman) with the Supreme Soul (Paramatman). Asana is an easy and comfortable seat or pose or posture. Thus the term Yoga-Asanas means certain postures by assuming any one of which the individual soul is united with the Supreme Soul quite easily by the Yogic practitioner. The relationship between mind and body is so complete and so subtle that it is no wonder that certain physical training will induce certain mental transformations.

A good many of you might have come across several persons capable of demonstrating these Yoga-Asanas some of which may seem at first sight disgusting and tiring. At any rate such persons are not uncommon in India. Some of my own students who are specialists in this branch of Yoga can do the various exercises with amazing grace and finish. It is wrong to suppose that these Yoga-Asanas are merely physical exercises founded by the ancient Rishis of India just as so many systems of physical culture have cropped up now both in Europe and in America. There is something spiritual, something divine at the bottom of this system for it awakens the sleeping Kundalini-Shakti, helps the Yogic student a lot in establishing himself fully in meditation and finally makes him taste the nectar of Cosmic Consciousness.

It is important to know what an ideal system of physical culture should be, so that you will be able to judge for yourself the value of Yoga-Asanas in the light of the ideal. That system can be safely said to be an ideal system which requires the smallest amount of energy to be spent in order to secure the greatest amount of benefit; which can effect a maximum increase in the vital index; which can build up a healthy nervous system; which can ensure health for the excretory organs of the body; which can take care of the circulatory system; and which can also develop the muscular system.

Yoga aims at developing, will-power. A man of strong and dynamic will-power will always sit upright and walk with his chest thrown in front of his head; but a weak-willed person will change his posture often and often, while sitting or standing, will walk in a zigzag fashion, betraying infirmity and want of resolution of mind in every step. The practice of Asanas is of vital importance, and though the practice may be found to be painful and troublesome at the outset, when once the habit of sitting on one Asana for a considerable length of time is formed, you will feel a peculiar thrill and pleasure while seated there, and you will not like to change the pose on any account.

According to Patanjali Maharshi, posture is that which is firm and comfortable. He does not lay any special stress on either Asana or Pranayama. It was only later on that the Hatha-Yogins developed these two limbs of Yoga, and, no doubt they are of tremendous help to the Yogic student. While the Hatha-Yogins aim at the control and culture of the body, the Raja-Yogins aim at the control and culture of the mind. And as body and mind are interdependent, physical culture is a sine qua non to mental culture.

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