Yoga for you
After reading this article by Vanitha Vaidialingam, you can decide which type of yoga is right for you
Yoga is a democratic science. It offers a variety of options to its aspirants and the freedom to choose the path that best suits their nature and competency. People with a high emotional quotient may choose Bhakti. The intellectual may choose Jnana. The workaholic may choose Karma, and the contemplative may choose Raja Yoga. Yet others may be satisfied with Hatha Yoga. Every selection is a valid one. The famous words of Swami Vivekananda must be quoted in this context: “Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within, by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, worship, psychic control, or philosophy —by one or more or all of these—and be free. This is the whole of religion.” (Complete Works, Vol I, page 257)
It is evident that a belief in God or any religious system is not a precondition to the practice of yoga. The intellectual may question the very existence of God. The contemplative may start with the conviction that he is the prime mover of the universe. It follows that the believer, the atheist, and the agnostic are all welcome to explore the potentiality of the science of yoga.
Yoga is loosely defined as ‘union.’ Union with what? Union or integration of the individual with the universe. You may call this Self-realisation or God-realisation. It does not matter.
Yoga develops within the aspirant the capacity to stop the cyclic tendencies of the mind (chitta-vritti-nirodha: Patanjali Yoga Sutra, Sutra 1) and reach the desired goal of the Self or God-realisation. All paths lead to the same ultimate goal.
However, the pursuit of yoga is not a cakewalk. The mind struggles against the discipline and will prompt the yogi to do that which they should not. The pursuit demands devotion, dedication, and resolution. An aspirant of yoga can be led astray very easily. Constant vigilance and unflinching focus are essential for success. For instance, a bhakta (devotee) can begin to doubt his God. A Raja Yogi can be distracted from his path by the various siddhis (supernatural powers). The jnani can doubt his understanding. The Karma Yoga aspirant may desire favourable results.
Having said all this, let us look at the four major yoga paths.
Bhakti is the emotion of love for a particular conceptualisation of the Divine—Krishna, Rama, Jesus, Mary, or Allah. Awareness of the Divine is initially generated due to instruction, observation, and cultural heritage. Ritualistic practices and daily worship according to tradition will keep this emotion alive in the individual. However, bhakti is not the driving force of their lives. Other emotions may overwhelm bhakti at different points in the day and the emotion of bhakti may surface only at the time allocated for worship. This is stage zero.
Repeated focus on a particular concept of the Divine will gradually deepen the emotion of love and transform it into respect for the Divine. The individual is conscious of a commitment to the Divine and does not want to do anything that is disrespectful to his Ishta Devata (a desired form of the Divine). All energies and every waking action is directed towards pleasing the Divine. The individual is conscious of the Divine at all times of the day. This is stage one.
Stage two is attachment to the Ishta Devata. Respect gives way to a need to humanise the Divine. The Divine becomes a friend, a child, a beloved, a father, or a mother with whom the individual can sport unconditionally. All energies are directed into that relationship till there is nothing that is not directly or indirectly done for the benefit of the divinity. The bhakt is caught up—body and soul—in nurturing their relationship with God. Everything else ceases to matter. Every other relationship seems dream-like and insubstantial in contrast to the relationship with the Divine.
The next stage is immersion. The individual sees the whole world as the play of the Divine. Human relationships are divinised. Everything becomes a celebration of this divine play (Leela). Body and mind are surrendered to the Divine. All distinctions between the devotee and the object of devotion vanishes. The Self shines forth as a reflection of the Divine.
Raja Yoga is the royal path to Self-realisation. Why? It is direct. The individual sets out on this path with clarity of intent and purpose- the realisation of the Self. The practice itself is not clouded or muddied with the pulls and pushes of worldly activities. All that one needs for the practice of Raja Yoga is an intense desire to realise the Self and an understanding of what needs to be done in order to achieve it.
Stage zero is when the novice practitioner is attempting to control his body and mind and focus attention on the inner witness. Often, the inner witness is lost in the agony of physical awareness (aches, pains, itches) and the agitated attempts of the mind to assert itself. Repeated practice and patient observation will gradually lead to the calming of the mind and firming up of the physical posture.
Patanjali and masters of yoga recommend Kriya pranayama as a means of transitioning into stage two. Kriyas (inner action) are mental activities in which the mind is engaged using visual and auditory inputs along with breathing exercises. The yogi is asked to focus attention on an image, the flame of a lamp, or a light at some focal point in the body (a chakra in the auric body) and repeat a syllable (a mantra such as OM, or Namah Shivaya) audibly or mentally while maintaining defined rhythmic breathing. Gradually, the mind learns to remain completely immersed in the visual and audible inputs, and the breath maintains the regular pattern involuntarily.
Over time, the Raja Yogi enters stage two, wherein the chakras begin to open and the kundalini (latent energy) rises through the Sushumna (the central energy channel of the subtle body). The yogi passes through several types of samadhi (elevated yogic state) described in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras till the Self stands revealed. The individual realises that the world is an illusion—a play of the Divine. The yogi is divinised and this becomes the permanent condition of the being.
The final stage is reached when the yogi decides to dissolve the individual self into the Divine and takes samadhi (unconditional merging with the divine).
Karma is action performed for the benefit of the self with an expectation of the fruits of the action. For instance, a father may nurture his son with the hope that the son will take care of him in his old age. This is action performed with a selfish motive. If the son takes care of the father, as expected, the father will be happy; else, he will be unhappy.
Karma Yoga is the spiritualisation of action. At stage zero of Karma Yoga, the yogi learns to distinguish between selfish and unselfish action. They purify their actions by ensuring that all action is performed because it is the right thing to do. They ensure that the intent of the action is pure, selfless, and dharmic (dutiful), irrespective of the results of the action. Note that the ego still operates. Intent is purified, expectation is surrendered. Charity is a good example of unselfish actions of stage zero. You give charity to the needy with the intent to do good. You expect nothing in return. The ego feels good.
At stage one of the practice, the Karma Yogi learns to empathise with those who benefit from the yogi’s actions. Empathy expands the ego to embrace those being served, and the boundaries of self fade and erode. Many religious organisations encourage their followers to serve the poor and needy by contributing physically and mentally. Reading to the blind, feeding the poor, spending time with the lonely, or tutoring children, etc. are some of the activities that are recommended as ego busters. Over time, the empathy generated will be liberating.
The final stage is reached when the Karma Yogi is able to perform selfless action with pure intent without expectation of the results of the action. Such a person will be egoless; they will see the Divine in everyone and everything, and be free from suffering engendered by expectation.
Jnana Yoga is the yoga of knowledge. As rational, educated human beings, we would expect this to be the easiest type of yoga. Contrarily, this is the hardest of the four types of yoga. The mind is volatile and the intellect is analytical. The mind has immense difficulty in stopping the inflow of sensory input, and the intellect has a very hard time stopping rationalisation of the input.
Jnana Yoga demands that we control the senses and stop the mind or intellect in order to truly appreciate that we are not this body or mind. To this end, Jnana Yoga attempts to use the intellect or mind to terminate their action.
Stage zero of Jnana Yoga is intellectualisation. Reading the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and other tomes of wisdom, or listening to talks by masters constitute this stage. In Sanskrit, this stage is called shravana (listening). You listen to the masters and try to understand intellectually what they are saying. For instance, most texts tell you that you are not the body-mind complex and present several arguments in favour of the hypothesis. You examine the validity of the various arguments and rationalise them based on your experience of the arguments as true or false. There is no emotional involvement. Only intellectual dissection.
Stage one is manana or rumination upon statements that your intellect has found acceptable or unacceptable. You are experientially and intellectually involved. You spend time and energy trying to deepen your understanding of what has been said. You try to identify the truth of the statements and arguments. You internalise the teachings and attempt to grasp experientially the meanings of the arguments put forth. For instance, you spend time thinking deeply on the statement that you are not the body-mind complex because the body and mind are objects and can be identified as objects that are susceptible to all the laws of change as other objects are. The real you is an unchanging witness to the changes occurring in the body-mind complex.
Nididhyasana or unequivocal experiential understanding is stage two and the final stage. The truth is a living reality. There is no room for doubt or misunderstanding. The truth is what it is. You realise that you are not the mind or body but that divine being that is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.
Swami Vivekananda has pointed out that each of these four paths are not rigidly compartmentalised. Whatever the primary path that may be selected by the individual, the four types of yoga can be practised in isolation or combination. There are no boundaries or rules that prevent a Jnani from practising bhakti or sitting down in meditation. A Karma Yogi can be a devotee of God while serving selflessly. A Raja Yogi can be both a bhakta and a jnani. You are the right person to decide what suits your nature the best. The real key to success in whatever path you choose- is intention, devotion, and dedication to the path(s).
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