This article is from the book An Instrument of Thy Peace.
Yoga is an ancient and unique system of unfoldment of the personality at all levels. However, especially in the West, people are only accustomed to doing yoga in order to derive some health benefits. Ninety-nine per cent of the people who practise yoga do it merely as a physical exercise. Steadiness of body can calm the mind, and for this reason many people are also interested in yoga, but another dimension to yoga needs to emerge; namely, the desire to meditate on something beyond body and mind. In my own opinion, these aspects of body and mind alone have a lesser place in yoga when compared to the spiritual aspect. What is the relevance of spirit to yoga? Maybe I am just more accustomed to speaking about spiritual life, but regardless of the kind of retreat with Swami Chidananda you intend to participate in, you will get a spiritual retreat, because Swami Chidananda and the spirit are inseparable.
What exactly is the connection between yoga and the spiritual life? You are practising yoga as a human being, but in reality you are an immortal spirit. When an immortal spirit is practising yoga, it is impossible to separate spirit from yoga. The question about the connection arises only when you have forgotten that you are an immortal soul and not a cage of flesh and bone. When you wisely remember this fact, the question of the relationship between yoga and spiritual life does not arise. It arises when you forget the truth and cling to falsehood. In addition to its being a psychological and physical system, yoga is the science of attaining the experience of your innermost Reality. Hatha yoga, or the practising of yoga asanas, is not the whole of yoga science. The word “yoga” is a Sanskrit word implying a union with the eternal, universal source of Being. The attainment of union with the universal Being is the supreme good for a human being.
In this world we try to avoid sorrow, pain and suffering. Even the most uneducated person with limited understanding does not want pain, sorrow or suffering. High and low, great and small, everyone wants happiness, joy and peace–this instinct is universal. In the ultimate analysis, all life as well as all human activity is only a striving to eliminate pain and to attain happiness. The will to joy, peace and satisfaction pervades the life of everything in this world. A little reflection will make this point very evident. Even subhuman creatures wish to avoid suffering and to get bodily satisfaction. You might have noticed that if the summer is very hot, animals try to remain more in the water. Even birds and insects take shelter from cold and rain, but their capacity to attain this universal desire of God-realisation is limited by the absence of greater intelligence.
It is the human individual alone who tries to consciously and intelligently achieve this objective and who can devise ways to attain this goal. Right from birth men strive to attain happiness and to avoid pain and suffering, so naturally one could expect that they would succeed in getting what they want. But in today’s world, do we find human beings full of happiness and completely free from any suffering or misery? What is our observation of life and the human beings around us? What is the report of the world’s condition that we get from the media? What is our own personal experience? I am not asking just about the outer facade or the mask we are putting on in the drama we are playing. I do not refer to the relative happiness of our outer life. What is our frank observation of our own lives based on our honest experience? I don’t necessarily need an answer from you, but I want you to answer these questions for yourselves.
What is your observation of life and the people around you? Are they full of joy with no sign of pain, suffering or any other negative experience? Day after day, what are we being told about the state of the world? People throughout the world are facing starvation; hundreds of thousands of people suffer hell due to political and social upheaval; an entire generation of Palestinians has never known a real home or a peaceful condition in their lives; people are being massacred in African countries. It is like this in all the directions of the compass–a constant tale of human agony.
What do you make of this paradoxical situation? If all people want happiness and joy, why do they not get it? We are able to possess thousands of things that our ancestors never had, due to science and technology, and so many things today are convenient and easy for us that were extremely difficult in the past. We have achieved a standard of living hitherto never achieved by human society, and yet, are we free from pain and suffering, old age, disease and decay? These inexorable experiences seem to be unavoidable. Old age is painful, disease is painful, and the decay of the senses and the weakening of one’s faculties are painful, but these problems have not been solved.
Many of the current solutions create worse problems than the initial ones. Cancer is an ever-growing menace in human society because modern life is so full of chemicals, and toxins are on the increase. Destructive therapies like cobalt, radiation and chemotherapy are being given for cancer, and the patient goes through hell. Teeth and hair can fall out and terrible changes occur in the entire system, but often in spite of all this, the cancer patient may not survive. Life becomes so much of a torture that it would seem more desirable to let the patient die a natural death. To die of cancer seems preferable to dying of the treatment for cancer. It is not just I who says this, but also families, patients and physicians who have borne witness from their own experience.
Despite the ongoing human quest for happiness, there does not seem to be much success. So what is to be done? Modern man seems no better off now than our forefathers, in spite of technological progress in comfort and convenience. The modern dilemma is further worsened by the actions of certain people who are out to inflict sorrow and suffering on other human beings. Man is bringing to bear all his powers of intelligence, reasoning and scientific knowledge to create things that can harm, destroy and kill. This is not entirely a modern phenomenon, because hatred, conflict, violence and war have been a part of the human situation since ancient times.
What is mankind’s actual state in these modern times? There are many colleges and universities, and vast libraries house thousands of books. The literacy rate in most progressive countries is ninety-nine per cent. There has been an explosion of knowledge and advancement in every sphere of human activity–with amazing advances in electronics, physics and chemistry. Man prides himself on being cultured and civilised, and he might speak condescendingly of his Stone Age ancestors, but then again, let’s take another look at modern society. Side by side with the scientific progress and apparent advances in culture and civilisation, there is something very shocking. As I already said, there has always been hatred, violence and war in human society, but the ability to inflict suffering was limited.
Today, however, thanks to his vast knowledge, modern man has now perfected the technology of annihilation. He now has the ability to bring destruction to the whole of mankind. He has provided himself with the tools to destroy the entire world or make it uninhabitable. Planet Earth could become a lifeless wasteland. We are told that man has the capacity to destroy the world twenty times over. Is this sanity or madness? If this is progress, is it really the progress we want? How and why has man brought himself to this present sad state? How many of us have seriously pondered these questions?
In spite of man’s best efforts to find happiness and peace, he has failed. Today, as though this failure were not enough, man has become the destroyer of human welfare and the potential creator of unimaginable suffering, pain and destruction. In the face of these plain facts, is there something in our human heritage that would offer itself as a solution? There is a saying, “While there is life, there is hope.” Those who have faith in God never lose hope. One of the basic tenets of the Christian religion is that man lives by hope. Faith, hope and charity are three of the great virtues preached by Christianity. When you have faith in God, you have hope in life, and when you have hope you can be compassionate and kind towards all human beings. Despair makes animals out of human beings, but living in hope makes charity possible.
Man is a part of God–not physically or mentally–but spiritually. The inner spiritual Reality is your essential identity, and you are a part of that supreme Universal Soul that is the pinnacle of all perfection. God is experienced and known to be an ocean of love, compassion, wisdom and joy. These things are an essential part of your own true nature. Each human individual has the potential of manifesting all these divine qualities. Living life in order to bring about these potentials is true culture and also the art and science of life. The failure to understand this truth about our real nature and to make our lives a process of inner awakening has brought mankind into this state of darkness.
Yoga is more relevant than at any other time in human history, precisely because it is a system that teaches man how to bring about an inner transformation of life through the manifestation of these divine qualities. The pursuit of self-satisfaction and sensuality totally warps human nature and brings it down to the level of a beast. The more you ignore your true spiritual nature, the more you enter into darkness and suffering. Yoga provides a tool by which you can bring about a change in the present human condition. Yoga brings about a direct relationship with that Being with whom you are inseparably connected. To forfeit this supreme privilege would bring the potential for great evil to all mankind. Yet, the prevalence of yoga over the modern world today is a sign of hope that there may be a future for mankind. Yoga can bring light into the darkness, and it can replace un-wisdom by wisdom. It can replace weakness with strength and slavery by self-mastery. It can bring wisdom where there is now only folly. It can make the human being truly a child of God.
These ideas warrant serious reflection and deep contemplation. Think, reflect, and if possible try to see what you can do in the context of your own life in the light of this present condition of man. I feel personally that it would not be in any way an exaggeration if I said that this is the only way out of humanity’s present condition. This is neither fanaticism nor dogmatism. There are so many paths put forward by different organisations, but for any of these paths to be successful, they must in some way contain yoga. Nothing can be achieved unless the human individual puts himself into a conscious relationship with God. No improvement is possible unless the channel is opened between man and God. This is precisely what yoga constitutes, and this is the purpose of yoga. It actually brings man to God and God to man.
May the grace of the Lord illumine your intellect, and may the peace of God fill your hearts. May the love of God manifest and prevail in your lives. May the light, purity and truth of God find expression through your thoughts, words and actions. May the benedictions of beloved Master Swami Sivananda make all things possible for you through yoga.