Yoga and Life
Sri Swami Brahmananda
This article is a chapter from the book “Pointers on Vedanta”.
There exists a common belief, certainly an erroneous one, among the majority that Yoga is for those, who live in caves and forests, in monasteries and nunneries, away from the busy world, in seclusion, minding their own business without the least concern about other fellow-beings, renouncing the normal pleasures of life and aiming at some post-mortem happiness, in some far-off unknown worlds not seen by any one so far. While these recluses give up all the happiness of this world, the happiness in the form of enjoyments afforded by rich and affluent family life with all the modern facilities, high status in society, name and fame and the like, in the name of spiritual renunciation, the vast majority of people are not sure of the future happiness aimed at by these recluses. Thus arguing, most people shun all the higher values of life, which religion and philosophy offer. This is a sad mistake resulting from want of the right knowledge about life in this world.
Renunciation of the world is found to be the common factor in all scriptures dealing with Liberation as the only sure remedy for all our sufferings here in this world. This may sound strange. One who wants good has to renounce the bad. This is understandable. He who desires truth should renounce untruth. There cannot be any difference of opinion in this also. One who is after life should naturally give up death. None will deny these logical conclusions. But, if what is intended in the renunciation of the world is giving up of our normal life with all sense-experiences, what remains in our life? Nothing! The remedy seems to be worse than the illness! This conclusion is a result of not understanding the real import of the scriptures. Vedanta does in no way find fault with this world, but certainly instructs man, who is after Liberation, to renounce it. It is not renunciation resulting from a dislike and hatred of this world. It is renunciation by covering, the world with God, in the language of the Isavasya Upanishad, filling the world with God. We are asked to renounce the world of our present erroneous conception and realise its true nature. In short, to see the world as God is real renunciation of the world, prescribed by the seers, who have seen the Truth.
Just as the different parts of a big banyan tree, such as its underground roots, the aerial roots, the stem, the branches, the leaves and the fruits, though appearing separate, are yet not different from the tree; just as our limbs, the legs, hands, eyes, ears and mouth, though seemingly separate, are not distinct from the body; just as the various parts of a huge modern machinery are all inter-connected and serve the common purpose for which the machine has been erected, likewise, the umpteen objects which we see here and which we consider as separate entities are not independent and disjointed, but form a whole to make up this universe, an organic whole by itself. The least disturbance in any corner of this vast cosmos, let it be in the most insignificant object, affects the whole cosmos, even as the slightest pin-prick in any part of our body is felt by the whole being. A scientific analysis of any object here, say a chair, will prove that it is made up of atoms which are finally reducible to forces. When we perceive through the intellect, these forces that constitute the chair, the chair as such vanishes; and when the chair is seen, we do not perceive the forces, These forces have Consciousness as their substratum. No hair-splitting arguments are necessary to prove that nothing can exist without Consciousness.
Pure Consciousness is therefore the basic reality. It is the perceiving principle, the object perceived and the principle of perception also. In other words, Consciousness which cannot but be one, homogeneous and non-dual, and therefore eternal and immortal, is called by the different names of seer, seen and sight, hearer, hearing and heard, knower, known and knowledge, and so on. Again, it is this Consciousness alone that is referred to through different names, such as Brahman or Atman by Vedantins, Bhagavan or God by devotees, Vishnu or Narayana by Vaishnavas, Siva or Paramesvara by Saivites. Other religions of the world give different names for this one Principle, the Truth Supreme. It is called as Christ by the Christians, Allah by the Muslims, Arhat by the Jainas and Buddha by the Buddhists.
The truth about the relationship between God and the world is beautifully brought out in a simple Tamil verse which means: The wood is veiled by the elephant and into the wood disappears the elephant; even so, elements veil the Truth and into Truth disappear the elements.
The reference is to a life-size elephant made out of black wood by an expert carpenter. The likeness is complete. Though the eyes perceive the form of an elephant, the intellect and the mind will perceive the wood of which it is made. It is the form of the elephant that veils the wood and when the truth of the wood is seen, the elephant disappears. Likewise says the verse, this world made up of the five elements veils the Consciousness, and when one realises the latter, the former dissolves itself.
Knowing, experiencing and becoming one with the Consciousness is Yoga. This Yoga practice varies according to individual temperament. The rationalistic, the devotional, the active and the mystic temperaments, with their countless permutation-combinations, make the Yoga practice of each individual distinct from those of others. Strictly speaking, no two aspirants can follow an exactly similar method. Notwithstanding this, there are common factors in the methodology adopted by all seekers. Not a few in this modern world are benefited by a combination of the essentials in the different Yoga systems. Hence it is that sages prescribe this wise mixture–a little of Japa, a little Asana and Pranayama, study of some scriptures, worship of one’s tutelary deity, selfless service, concentration and meditation–especially for the neophytes in the spiritual path. When they go on practising all these intelligently and sincerely for a sufficiently long time, each one finds himself attached to that particular Yoga which is best suited to his temperament or natural turn of mind acquired as a result of the Karmas done in innumerable past lives, the others dropping off without his knowledge. And further concentration along the lines of the one particular Yoga with one’s whole personality–not as a hobby, but as one’s sole aim and purpose of life–takes one to the Supreme Awareness.
Om Tat Sat