Yoga, meditation, cosmic consciousness, the mystic experience—these and other equally great and sacred terms have made the headlines in newspapers and people are discussing glibly matters they know very little about. There is much misunderstanding, and confusion grows worse confounded as reports and photographs appear in the media. How incongruous to associate publicity with the practice of Yoga! We read of diplomas obtained after a few months' training, of assurances that the pursuit of Yoga will make no demands upon the practitioner, who need not change his ways and may continue to enjoy the "good" things of life. It is stated that it matters little or not at all why you want to go in for Yoga, or what mode of life is yours; if you take to Yoga you will achieve wonders.
And so Yoga is the fashion of the hour and people are taking to Yoga as they would take, let us say, to swimming or to playing golf; nay, worse still—to smoking or to drugs; overlooking altogether that spiritual Yoga is itself a way of life and demands severe self-discipline.
Broadly speaking it is first necessary to distinguish between Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga. The former deals primarily with the body; the latter with the inner man. The one is physiological; the other moral, mental and spiritual. Hatha Yoga claims to establish health and to train the will. Raja Yoga is concerned with the control and purification of the mind and is rightly described thus by Damodar K. Mavalankar:
Were the advocates of Hatha Yoga to keep to their physiological exercises and their effects upon the body, the danger would not be so serious. But while teaching asana and pranayama, posture and breathing exercises, they promise the development of spiritual powers and the attainment of higher levels of consciousness. These are possible only through the cultivation of virtue, and the first step is a clean life.
Down the ages all the Great Teachers have stressed the need for purity, virtue, and righteousness. As stated by one of them: "Lead the life necessary for the acquisition of such knowledge and powers and Wisdom will come to you naturally." (The Secret Doctrine)
The leading of the life is indeed the sine qua non condition for obtaining Wisdom; for the latter springs from within or rather from above; it is the divine afflatus from the Spirit in Man and cannot descend and be made manifest except in those pure of heart.
The literal meaning of the word "yoga" is union, and true Yoga is union with the Divine. One must be misguided indeed to believe that the gifts of the Spirit are to be obtained without the purification of the human personality. Sanctity is the mark of the true Yogi, of the man who has attained union with the Divine.
In the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna gives two most beautiful and suggestive definitions of Yoga which at once place it in its right perspective, that of a spiritual science and an art of living:
Yoga is thus the training of the mind and the right performance of action.
Patanjali's Yoga-Sutras is rightly considered the classic par excellence on Yoga, and modern yogis, genuine or otherwise, quote from it profusely. Most people, however, do not study the book themselves and are ignorant, or conveniently overlook, that Patanjali, like all spiritual Teachers, stresses the need for self-purification as the prelimary step. Yoga begins with a rigurous moral training, and this ethical preparation precedes the actual practice of concentration as a specialized technique of meditation.
In the Yoga-Sutras this preparation is described under two headings: the first is Yama and the second is Niyama. Let all those attracted to spiritual Yoga and desirous of taking it up carefully study and endeavour to practise the steps—five in number—given under Yama and Niyama.
Briefly stated, they are as follows:
Yama consists of ahimsa or non-injury; satya or truthfulness; asteya or integrity; brahmacharya or continence; and aparigraha or non-attachment to possessions.
Niyama comprises saucha, purity; santosa, contentment; tapas, mortification; svadhyaya, study; and Isvara pranidhana, devotion to Isvara or God.
Only when all these virtues have been practised with some degree of success can the next stage be entered upon without risk. The moral tone of the practitioner has been raised; his life has become one of temperance, virtue and purity; his character has been ennobled and purged of egotism; his life is one of service.
"Seek this wisdom by doing service, by strong search, by questions and by humility..." says Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita. (IV, 34)
This ethical preparation alone entitles the aspirant to undertake the practice of concentration as a technical discipline. To ignore Yama and Niyama and begin with asana, bodily posture, and pranayama, control of breath, is not only wrong, but positively dangerous. Foolhardy is the one who dares to dabble in Yoga without the protective armour of purity.
"KNOWLEDGE MUST BE CAREFULLY OBTAINED WITH A PURE MOTIVE," says W. Q. Judge, and again, "Motive is highly important and must be examined and tested countless times." Therefore those who want to go in for Yoga must ask themselves the question: Why do I want to practise Yoga? They must be of pure heart and of unselfish motive, remembering the injunctions and the warnings given in all spiritual traditions. All strike the same note and say: "Be of clean heart before thou startest on thy journey." For it is a sacred journey indeed, a holy pilgrimage, that which leads to union with the Spirit. May we prepare ourselves to undertake the sacred journey to the abode of Light and Truth Eternal wherein dwell the true Yogis!