Before I go into the main subject of Yoga, at the outset, I would like to make clear to this esteemed gathering, some of the most misconstrued concepts on Yoga. The word ‘Yoga” is the most, if not the utmost popular word in the world today. It is also one of the most misunderstood sciences in the world today. Many times I feel that it is done with a purpose. One may ask why? It is simply because it has become one of the highest selling commodities in this country. It is a business that creates 22 billion dollars, surpassing the revenue of companies like Microsoft. As a result, many individuals and organizations have claimed authority and tried to patent it under various names. Today, you may hear names like doggy yoga, hot yoga, Bikram yoga, and recently, even as Christian yoga, causing insecurities in misinformed minds. Also, there are detrimental articles, floating around in well-known newspapers and journals.
Let me make clear the following facts. First of all, Yoga is a science that originated from ancient India. A Hindu sage by the name of Patanjali wrote it in sutra form and I shall address this later in my talk. Secondly, it is part of Hindu religion. There are no ifs or buts about it. It can be practiced by anybody from any religion as it has no religious barrier. The practice of yoga does not result in religious conversion, but only increases one’s spirituality. One can practice one’s own religion better and there is no need to call it by any other name. Till the turn of the nineteenth century, it was a science practiced silently by Hindu householders. After the visit of Swami Vivekananda in 1890s to USA he wrote the English translation of the subject, when it fell into western hands and slowly started gaining popularity.
In some quarters, it is advertised as part of health science and some people are popularizing it for the beautification and the physical fitness of the human body. As a matter of fact, I was invited to address this topic at a health festival. I am a vascular surgeon and with all humility, if I may say so, this was not created for the health or beautification of the human body. Yet, the person who practices yoga enjoys a higher state of well-being. He develops a physical, psychological and mental harmony, is better prepared to deal with life’s day to day problems, and goes through spiritual experiences. These are the fringe benefits. He will definitely enjoy a healthy life. For health a separate science known as Ayurveda was created by Hindu sages.
Historically speaking, I can make this bold statement, with scientific evidence, that yoga was practiced by Indians at least 4000 years before Christ. It has been revealed that the subjects of Harappa and Mohenjodaro civilizations, excavated during the last century, practiced this science. It goes back 6000 years from today. It is hard to say how long back Patanjali wrote this science.
Now, let us get to the main subject. It is mysterious that the entire science revolves around a single word called “YOGA”. The word “yoga” has many meanings in Sanskrit. The most important meaning is “UNION” and next in line is Knowledge or Wisdom. Here, it means both.
The creator of this science cleverly says that if one follows this science step-wise, and dedicates his life, he will ultimately achieve union with something higher than his Self. What that higher level of union is not revealed. It is the highest, Inexpressible experience for the follower.
There is sufficient proof with examples of great sages, sadhus and saints of India have attained this state by this practice. So, it behooves the student to believe in this science, attain it and prove it for himself. It has stood the test of time.
The great Patanjali wrote the entire science in a SUTRA form. It is difficult to explain in English what a sutra means. The closest word for sutra is “equation”. It takes a genius of all geniuses to write one sutra, and it takes another such genius to write BASHYA or give an explanation of the subject. Patanjali wrote the Sutra and Panini, another great sage, wrote the Bashya. I will give you an example of a sutra so that you may get a glimpse of what a sutra means. One sutra can be like a door to one entire new science by itself. Each sutra is like a sentence. Perhaps not even a sentence but just a bunch of words; sometimes just a single word but sometimes more; hardly ever more than four to six words. The book is divided into four chapters known as Sapthas. The first one is Samadhi saptha. The second is Sadhana saptha, the third is Vibhuthi saptha and the last one is Kaivalya saptha. Each may contain 40 – 50 sutras. The book has a total of 198 sutras.
Now I will try to explain one sutra in order for you to understand the great impact it had and how it transformed the philosophical world. The opening statement of the first sutra is just one word and reads like this: ‘Yoga Chitha Vrithi Nirodhaha”, and is written in Sanskrit as a single word, “Yogascittavrattinirodhaha”.
I shall now give you all the word meaning, which when put together may bewilder you, and may contradict all your beliefs of the definition of knowledge.
Yoga means knowledge, Chitha means mind, Vrathi has many meanings and in this context means, job. It is like asking the mind what its job is, and the answer is, the mind’s job is thinking. Nirodhaha means cessation. So the sutra reads that knowledge is cessation of thinking. At the outset, the sage is declaring to the world in the very first sutra, that a blank mind opens the door to wisdom. It is a sort of oxymoron statement. Many sages and saints of India contemplated on this sutra and came up with great philosophies. Some of the world’s greatest philosophies were born out of this one sutra. New techniques were developed to reach this state of mind. Many of the modern sages of India catapulted to world fame.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi stated that he has a technique to reach that state. It was a device to transcend the thinking mind. He called the technique, “Transcendental Meditation”. Hundreds of thousands of people fell for it. As you know, the Beatles went to him and sat under his feet. Another said that one has to elevate one’s body beyond the physical laws of the mind, and he called it “Levitation Meditation”, and this too became very popular. We can go on and on, and a never-ending
stream of names can be mentioned. It is the same truth with different names. Jiddu Krishnamurthy, one of the great philosophers of contemporary India, created a new philosophy, stating that the mind can only think in the past. There are no new thoughts in the mind. Even future thoughts are based on past thoughts. So he preached, “Delete the past from one’s mind, called ‘de-pasting one’s mind’, and open the door to new wisdom.”
Now, let us discuss Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. Ashta means eight and anga means limbs or folds, and each one will be discussed here. Once all eight folds are discussed, you may get an idea of what Patanjali means when he refers to “uniting with”. The first five folds are called external folds, and they are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara. The three internal folds are: Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Yama and Niyama have to do with discipline. Niyama is related to the five senses of the mind and includes whatever you are hearing, seeing, smelling, eating or touching, thinking or imagining, as these belong to the senses. The discipline of the senses is known as Niyama. Yama deals with mainly the mind. It is an investigation and clarification of the Truth, by practicing resolutions by the mind. Then there is Asana. Everyone who knows or has heard of yoga knows this part of yoga in particular. As a matter of fact, yoga is the most confused subject in the world. Many people think that yoga means just Asana. In the western world, yoga means the complete perfection of the Asana. One can come across a yoga center at almost every corner of Manhattan. Basically, these centers teach just Asana in the name of yoga. Asana is a posture. There are thousands of postures that people practice. It has become the biggest business commodity today. But the take-home message today is that Asana is not the main aspect of yoga, but it is just one of the folds of yoga. It is an important part of yoga but is only the preliminary step in yoga. Then there is Pranayama. This is the second most popular understanding of yoga. Unfortunately, this part is not practiced much by students of yoga. I shall give just a preliminary introduction. It is based on the understanding that there is an energy present in each of our bodies. It is beyond the material energy like electric energy or magnetic energy. It is named, Prana. Its store house is situated in the ano-coccygeal area of the body known as “Mooladhara”. It is in a static form. Awakening that energy and moving it up along the spinal chord from one store house to another till it reaches the upper most one known as the “Sahasrara”and merging it with the universal prana is the science of Pranayama. Prana moves and controls everything in the body including breathing. So, indirectly, one can awaken prana by rhythmic control of breathing. Various types of pranayama are created. To name a few, Kapalabhathi, Anuloma viloma, Basthrika, Bhimari, etc. There is not enough time for us to talk exclusively on this subject today. Yet, one important point to note is that Pranayama is the science to awaken the prana in our body. It can be achieved in many ways, breathing exercise is one method. Intense involvement in anything one does with dedication and focus, results in the awakening of pranayama. That is why a singer, dancer or artist enjoys this state so easily without their knowledge. The fifth fold is Pratyahara. This is a very important fold. The yogi should practice this from the very beginning to the end of yoga. Even after attaining the highest standards one has to continue Pratyahara. In the practice of yoga there is always the risk of falling down from the heights attained. Recently, there was an article in the New York Times that yoga causes moral downfall of the individual and resulted in the disgrace of many Indian swamis. This is an incorrect statement and shows author’s ignorance. Yoga, by itself, elevates one’s life to a higher level. One has to understand that when these earlier folds like Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama are
practiced, it creates a tremendous psychic energy in the body. This psychic energy has to be guided properly by the practice of pratyahara. It has to be guided in such a way that it has to help the individual to progress further in the path of yoga. The psychic energy makes the human being very high, like taking drugs. The next thing is that he wants to do all sorts of things, which can lead to illicit behavior, resulting in a vicious cycle. So, the early steps of yoga, which has created the psychic energy, can bring about the fall of the individual. That is the reason why Pratyahara is the method by which you direct the psychic energy inwards. It is like a guard for the psychic energy in the initial stages.
In the later stages when the yogi practices Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, he gets psychic powers. This is much more dangerous than the psychic energy. Those powers have to be guided properly so that it is used for the good of fellow beings. In the words of Ramkrishna Paramahamsa, it is best not to use it at all. A yogi who does not practice pratyahara is in imminent danger of falling down from the level of perfection that he has reached. This is why we hear of so many great yogis, who have reached very high status, suddenly do foul things up in the world and we wonder why it happened. It is because pratyahara was not practiced well. One cannot blame it on yoga, for it can only uplift the person to a higher level, when practiced correctly under the tutelage of a dedicated guru.
Then, there are the inner folds. The inner folds are Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. The difference between Dharana and Dhyana is this: Dharana means total focus of the mind. It is the total attention to a particular object, or a subject, or a concept. For example, if you go to the temple to pray only to Lord Ganesha, you will be aware of nothing else. Dhyana is the addition of attention. You fill the mind with thoughts of only that object. You meditate on that thought alone. When the Dharana and the Dhyana merge together, it results in Samadhi, which is the eighth fold. When Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi merge together, it is known as Samyama. So, what is Samadhi? It is a Sanskrit word that can be broken into three parts: “Sum Ah Dhi “. “Sum” means total even in European languages. Sanskrit is the mother of all Indo-European languages. Many of these root words originated from Sanskrit. “Ah” means absolute and “Dhi” means consciousness. Absolute totality of consciousness is Samadhi. No wonder the word “Dhi” is also used in Gayathri Mantra. “Devasya Dhimahi” is the consciousness of God. “Diyo yo naha prachodayat” means fill my consciousness with yours and enlighten me. That is a prayer. Ultimately, this is the aim of yoga. Now we have a glimpse of what we are uniting with. We are uniting ourselves with super consciousness. We are a conscious people. So, what is the confusion regarding our uniting with super consciousness? Let us delve a little more in depth. We are conscious but we are not the consciousness. What we have done is that we have used that super consciousness for self-awareness, and awareness of external things. We are continuously seeing, hearing, smelling,
eating, touching, thinking, imagining, either in pleasure or in pain. We are continuously creating a state of awareness. Continuously, we are thinking or imagining, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, or every moment from birth to death. We are in touch with internal and external awareness. We use the reflection of the universal consciousness for external awareness. Unfortunately, we never stop that awareness for a moment and try to enter into that consciousness. To be in that consciousness, we have to give up all external awareness and then merge into this consciousness. This is what yoga is, and this is what the union is about. When you are in the awareness, you cease to be in the universal consciousness, and when you are in the consciousness, you cease to be in the awareness. When one is merged in the universal consciousness there is no external or internal knowledge, because that is the wisdom in itself. There is neither pleasure nor pain. It is a state of bliss in itself. It is wisdom in itself. It is existence in itself, and it is bliss in itself. This is a state of Absolute existence, absolute Bliss and absolute Wisdom, known as “Sat, Chith, Ananda”. “Thasyabhasa na Surya na shashanka na cha pavaka, Thathgatva na nivartanthe thath dama paramam mama”. It is not lighted by the sun, nor by the moon, nor by the Agni (fire). Once you reach that state, you never return. This is the union we are talking about. This is why this eight-fold path which ultimately leads to union with the universal consciousness is known as “Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali”. It is a very tedious journey, but Krishna makes it very simple. He says, “Don’t worry about anything.” “Yuktha ahara viharsya, Yuktha chestasya karmasu.Yuktha swapnava bodhasya yogo bhavathi dhukahaha”.
Yuktha means as much as necessary or as much as needed; just adequate or appropriate. Eat as much as needed. Relax as much as needed. Just be efficient in all the karma you perform. Sleep as much as needed, be awake as much as needed. A yogi eats when he is hungry, drinks when he is thirsty, sleeps when he is sleepy. That is the meaning of the word “Yuktha”. In that one word, “Yoga karmasukaushalam”, yoga means efficiency and excelling in one’s own karma.
Dinker B Rai
Chairman , Dept Of Surgery
Interfaith Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York.
PS: This is presented as a lecture at the Yoga day celebration at the Hindu temple and later to an audience at the Baruch College NY City . Narrated as it is presented .