Spiritual Yoga

The process of Self-purification is not the work of a moment, nor of a few months but of years—nay extending over a series of lives. The later a man begins the living of a higher life, the longer must be his period of probation, for he has to undo the effects of a long number of years spent in objects diametrically opposed to the real goal. The more strenuous one's efforts and the brighter the result of his work, the nearer he comes to the Threshold. If his aspiration is genuine—a settled conviction and not a sentimental flash of the moment—he transfers from one body to another the determination which finally leads him to the attainment of his desire.

—A Master of Wisdom

RAJA-YOGA: the true system of developing psychic and spiritual powers and union with one's Higher Self—or the Supreme Spirit, as the profane express it. The exercise, regulation and concentration of thought. Raja-Yoga is oposed to Hatha Yoga, the physical or psycho-physiological training in asceticism.

—H. P. Blavatsky

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:

Raj-Yoga encourages no sham, requires no physical postures. It has to deal with the inner man whose sphere lies in the world of thought. To have the highest ideal placed before oneself and strive incessantly to rise up to it, is the only true concentration recognized by Esoteric Philosophy which deals with the inner world of noumena, not the outer shell of phenomena.

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:

Equal-mindedness is called Yoga (II, 48)
Yoga is skill in the performance of action. (II, 50)

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!

Law is operative everywhere and upon every being, because the Law is not something separate from him; it is not separate from the inner spiritual man. Law is the law of man's own action. So, as we act along those lines that affect others for good or for evil, we necessarily receive the return from those good or evil effects which we cause others to experience. Each individual is the operator of the Law; according to his actions he gets the reactions; according to his sowing, does he reap. In place, then, of the idea of a revengeful God, we have the ideas of absolute Justice and individual responsibility.

—Robert Crosbie

to return to the table of contents