Introduction to Yoga

Yoga, it’s philosophy and application is an ancient scientific formula given by the realised sages, by which the yogi can approach the higher goals of human life. Yoga is not sectarian, nor does it belong to Hinduism or any other religious perspective alone.  It is Sanatan Dharma, the eternal duty to be performed, and the success of the jiva’s existence, as directed by the sages of old to pursue a higher purpose in life.  All religions, spiritual paths, and indigenous traditions are essentially one or a mix of the different principles of approach as outlined within the different categories of yoga.

The five principle goals
of human life according to Srimad Bhagavad Gita are:

Artha – to accumulate wealth so that our material desires can be met.

Kama – to fulfil our desires so that we can enjoy sensual pleasure.

Dharma – to fulfil our duty and live correctly so that we are able to
progress in life and create positive karmic impressions, thus avoiding suffering.
This is related to Karma Yoga.

Moksha – to become liberated from the karma which causes suffering
associated with birth, death, old age and disease.
This is related to Raja and Jnana Yoga.

Prema – the highest spiritual aspiration for the jivatma (individual existence).
The indestructible, unconditional love of God.
This is related to Bhakti Yoga.

The main three main approaches within the yoga system related to the
higher goals of life are as follows:

Karma Yoga – the yoga of activity, service.
Jnana Yoga – the yoga of transcendental knowledge
Jnana Yoga is further divided into two catagories:
Jnana Yoga – the yoga of knowledge of the Self.
Raja Yoga – the yoga of self control and self mastery.
Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of loving devotional service.

All of the classic yogas we hear about fall under the category of Raja Yoga such as, hatha yoga, kriya yoga, kundalini yoga, ashtanga yoga, inyengar yoga, sivananda yoga etc, although these practises may well include and synthesise elements of any or all of the other three principle yoga paths.

It also says in the Bhagavad Gita that we are not our bodies, but we are in fact eternal spirit souls passing through a myriad different experiences within the temporary vessel of the body based on our individual karma. Every individual living entity has an inherent constitution and ultimate and unique function within the Divine scheme of things. The souls characteristics are created specifically for the pleasure of the Divine Person. We are supposed to be who we are.

The Three Ultimate Questions

The soul evolves throughout different experiences of life until it reaches the stage whereby it is able to objectively examine itself, in other words to become conscious of the self and Self. At this stage one begins to enquire as to the nature of existence. There are considered to be three primary contemplations for the evolving soul; three questions that every living entity will eventually ponder and become compelled to investigate. Without

having knowledge of the answers to these essential questions we are like lost ships in the ocean of samsara, cycling repeatedly around the wheel of birth, death, and rebirth, and being blown by the winds of karma without any rudder to help us navigate our way.

These questions are:

Who am I?
What is the Goal of Life?
How do I achieve it?

Sambandha Jnana – Knowledge of Relationship (with the Divine)
Who Am I? – the imperishable soul experiencing all this.
What is my relationship to God?

It is a pretty transparent characteristic of humanity that we are all interested in ourselves, or in other words, self-interested. Self interest comes in many forms both subtle and gross whether its wanting to voice our opinions, looking in the mirror to evaluate how we look, striving and desiring to accumulate material possessions, turning the conversation to ourselves, first looking for ourselves in a group photo, seeking approval, acknowledgement and fame, or even paying an astrologer to have him or her talk uninterruptedly about us.

This narcissistic fascination is what drives us eventually to investigate the question ‘Who Am I ?’ Self interest fuels the soul on the pilgrimage of self discovery. Some yogic schools consider the goal of life to be the answer to this question; to realise the Self, or Self-Realisation. For the bhakti (devotional) yogi, self realisation is only the beginning of a higher spiritual quest. Once we have knowledge of the self then we must also wonder what is our position and purpose in the Divine Scheme of things.
What is our relationship to God?

If we are able to accept that God exists, and is the Supreme Intelligence, and the creator, maintainer and destroyer of all material creation, we must also accept there is a reason for our existence. We can understand that we have been created for a reason. We have a genuine purpose in life, which is the very thing we are searching for in everything we do. We are looking for this purpose in our pursuit of pleasure because ultimately we are seeking a state of permanent happiness. As we know happiness arising from our desires and preferences being met is a temporary state of being. It is not ultimately satisfying.

We are looking for where we belong in the world, where our natural talents can be expressed, where our dharma or unique function can be fulfilled. Although every living entity has the same Divine origin, we are also all completely unique, as no two beings can have exactly the same experience. We feel complete when we know who we are, what we are supposed to be doing, are doing it, and doing it well.

According to the ancient vedic teachings of Bhakti Yoga, the principal reason for our existence is to love and serve God. From this knowledge we can understand that we have a purpose, and that we are related to God. The correct understanding of this is that God / Krishna is the Supreme and our relationship to God is that of a servant. We are here simply to make Krishna happy, and what makes Krishna most happy is for us to love Him with all our heart and soul. When we love somebody naturally we desire to serve them and make them happy.

In the material world, which is the shadow of the transcendental world, we tend to want God to serve us. We pray ‘Dear God please give me good health, wealth, and happiness’, or ‘Dear God please remove this obstacle from my path’ . ‘Please I want that woman/man’ etc etc. We are asking God for something, rather than asking what we can do for God. So in other words we would prefer it if God was busy arranging everything for our happiness rather than us arranging our lives so that God is happy. When we are able to apply the correct understanding, and our priority is loving and serving God, our happiness will come automatically. As we will know by our experience in this material life, that when we make somebody we love happy, our happiness comes automatically, and it is not only a natural byproduct of our loved ones happiness, it is also a superior quality of happiness than the type of happiness we experience when doing something for ourselves.

There are five principal rasas or flavours of expressing loving relationship to Krishna,
each of which becomes increasingly personal.

Shanta Rasa –
Simple awareness or meditating/dissolving in God without offering any service.

Dasya Rasa –
Service to God considering God as Almighty, and with a sense of duty and
with some fear of the reactions of karma of not doing so.

Sakhya Rasa –
Serving God as an intimate friend. Considering God as your best friend
who is looking out for you and with Whom you can share everything. The type of
sentiment behind this service is not bound by any sense of duty, nor is there any fear of God.

Vatsalya Rasa –
Loving and serving God with the same intensity and intimacy that a parent loves their child
or a child loves a parent. Pure affection.

Madhurya Rasa –
Loving and serving God as a lover. This has the most potential for depth as the lover has no boundary to consider with regard to appropriateness of intimacy. Of course this might be difficult to relate to as our only experience of this depth within intimate relationship is material and therefore limited, whereas a transcendental relationship with Krishna is both eternal and completely unlimited.

 

Prayojan – The ultimate goal Itself
What is the Goal of Life? Depending on the approach there are different perspectives on the goal. For the Karma Yogi the goal is to alleviate suffering for one and all by performing pious activities. For the Jnana and Raja Yogis it is to gain liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth and to thereby merge with the Supreme Consciousness, and for the Bhakti Yogi it is to intimately love and serve the personal aspect of God eternally whereby the bhakta drowns endlessly in the ocean of sweet transcendental nectar which is the intimate personal loving relationship exchange between the jivatma (spiritsoul) and the Divine Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan.

Abhideya – the Process by Which I Attain the Goal.
In order to reach the goal, the pinnacle of human experience, we have to purify our hearts and minds of the obsession with self-interest. We have to become selfless. As we know this is no easy process, in fact the pursuit of this will shine the torchlight into every aspect of our psyche, illuminating areas that we would often prefer not to see. The detoxification of the soul can at times become overwhelming, and we fall down from the heights of our spiritual aspirations many, many times along the way. Often it can feel that the gravity of material attraction is stronger than our desire for spiritual perfection, and that our endeavour is hopeless. At other times we will feel spiritually elated, inspired and strong.

The reality is that our experience will fluctuate greatly, and our minds will try to convince us of many wrong things along the way, and in order to make real progress in spiritual life we need to take the shelter and guidance of somebody who has already completed the journey. If we wanted to ascend a material summit such as Mount Everest, which is relatively easy in compare to spiritual perfection, we wouldn’t dream of just hiking off into the mountains alone without knowledge of the path, and what we may need along the way. Of course we would employ the services of an experienced guide. It is the same with spiritual life. If we are genuinely serious and sincere about achieving our spiritual aspirations we will have to discover some humility within ourselves and ask for help.

For this reason we engage the practice of sadhana or those practises that are conducive to our progression toward the goal under the guidance of a qualified teacher or Satguru. A Satguru is a spiritual master who has not only realised the truth, but who can also reveal it to the disciple. Such a guru will guide the disciple on the journey, giving clear instructions on how to reach the destination. Through a process of self-discipline the disciple is taught to avoid those things that distract them, leading them away from their focus on the goal, and is instead taught and engaged in specific practices, and encouraged to live a life in the mode of goodness (sattva). Eventually through persistence, right use of will, and the mercy of the spiritual master, self-interest will begin to diminish and the sadhaka will make progress toward realization of the goal or prayojan.  Whilst ‘who we are’ may be unique according to our souls’s nature, and it’s experiences throughout the journey of life,   essentially we are all made from the same substance – Brahman – pure unadulterated consciousness.

Ultimately we all also have the same goal, but the means by which we attain that goal will differ according to our natural constitution and the karma which generates our need for the fulfilment of certain experiences so that our soul can progress toward that goal. Also according to the degree of evolution we will be attracted to one path or another, whether material, spiritual or a mix of both. This includes all varieties of material designations such as career choice etc and all religious or spiritual persuasions including all of their infinite sub-varieties of flavours. The ancient vedic paths of yoga are also included in this and carry differences in methods of approach and application. According to our constitution and current stage of evolution we will be drawn to one path or another. Yoga is one, but the means by which we attain the goal differ greatly.