Ideal of Yoga
Sri Swami Sivananda
This article is a chapter from the book Yoga And Realisation.
The understanding of Yoga and Vedanta is not an intellectual acceptance. Salvation from birth and death in this phenomenal world is possible only through Yoga. Miseries start due to ignorance by which the soul gets attached to human name and form. All the elements of the body are subject to change, disease and death. The mind, too is subject to change. The only changeless entity is the Immortal Soul, and its realisation is the ideal of Yoga.
The individual soul’s identification with the physical sheath is so deep-rooted that it is difficult to break oneself free from the thraldom of earthly life. The human life is a continuous process of self-perfection. No one is born perfect. In the childhood, when the scope of reason and discrimination is yet unfolded, we acquire various impressions from the environments. We acquire habits, tastes, likes and dislikes which go to form what is called character.
In the common parlance what we mean by character is just a pattern of correct, dignified, honest and suave manners or behaviour. But character means much more than that. It essentially implies self-culture, purity, self-restraint, unselfishness and nobility of thought, word and action. The process of Yoga is a means to the attainment of the finest of character.
Life opens up two paths before every individual–one is called the Preyo Marga and the other Sreyo Marga, i.e., the path of pleasure and the path of goodness or righteousness. The path of pleasure has an easy access; it is momentarily very exhilarating, titillating, tantalising and fascinating but in spite of all these, the Preyo Marga is always fraught with deceit, fear and ignomity, hostility and dissension, frustration and derision. Yet, the power of illusion is such that people invariably prefer the path of pleasure, irrespective of all its calcining ill-effects. While, on the contrary, the path of righteousness or goodness is very hard to tread and its exacting demands might often deny one the common pleasure of life, and yet this Sreyo Marga is the only way out of mundane unrealities. It is the only consolation of our existence.
The ideal of Yoga points out to man the transitoriness of earthly pleasure, or the finitude of temporal objects. It extols the value of righteousness and emphasises the need of detachment and selflessness in the performance of that which is good. Through this process of selfless actions, one purifies the heart.
Through the process of Raja Yoga, one restrains his senses and the mind, cultivates ethical propensities, cleanses and strengthens the internal vital organs, and thereby prepares oneself for spiritual enlightenment.
Then there is the process of Bhakti Yoga. It is the process of pulverising one’s ego and emptying oneself of all impurities for the love of God. It is the path of self-dedication or self-surrender. All loyalties are centred here in God alone. He alone is perceived in all creations. He alone is worshipped everywhere. He alone is sought at all times and in all places.
Bhakti has several stages. From gross stages, it takes one to subtler states. It has to be cultivated gradually and must find its expression in one’s every action and behaviour with others.
Then the final stage of evolution is the fruition of the process of Jnana Yoga. It is the path of self-enquiry and self-analysis. Here one attempts to penetrate into the very core of things and perceive the Reality behind. Here one identifies oneself with the absolute Consciousness that repletes all creations and yet remains unaffected by the pairs of the opposites, by change and finitude. This Consciousness is the real nature of man. The veil of illusion envelopes this Consciousness and its forgetfulness entails sufferings and fruitless groping in the void of unreality. The process of rending asunder this veil is called Jnana Yoga, and one’s identification with the supreme Consciousness and merging ones individuality in it is called Self-realisation.
All paths are interconnected and interdependent. One has, therefore, to take the aid of all the processes of Yoga in order to effect a harmonious development of the human personality. The ideal of Yoga enables one to live a happy and fruitful life, conducive to one’s own personal usefulness as well as to that of others. No crude denial or suppression is implied in the ideal of Yoga. What is required of us is a rational, judicious attempt in purifying and perfecting ourselves, to sublimate carnal drags, to dedicate to and submerge our individuality in the cosmic Will, to rise above the pairs of the opposites, to be ever intent in grasping the lessons that Nature provides us, to evaluate between the right and the wrong, the real and the unreal, and to direct our attitudes accordingly, and finally to fruitfully use our capacities in the service of the creations of God.
Hindu and Buddhist thinkers, with a singular unanimity declare that Avidya (ignorance) is the source of our anguish and all our trouble. Man’s nature of oneness with the living universe is lost. He develops an egocentric view of life and puts his individual preference above social welfare. He develops an acquisitive instinct and looks upon every other being as his potential enemy. He clings to nature, to his neighbours, in short, to everything, which is evanescent. He becomes a divided being, tormented by doubt, fear and suffering. There is a split in his oneness. The world in which we live today is the world of incessant fear. But the tragedy is that we are not as yet fully conscious of our ignorance. The more sick we are, the less sensible we become. Religion is the conquest of fear, an antidote to failure and death. We cannot dispel our doubts by drugging ourselves with myths and illusions. A temporary psychological peace may be obtained, but it cannot endure. True freedom from fear can only be obtained by Jnana, Wisdom.