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Yoga literally means "union." This union can be understood on different levels: philosophically, as that of the relative, limited self with the absolute self; religiously, as that of the individual soul with the Infinite Spirit; psychologically, as the integration of the personality--a state wherein a person no longer lives at cross-purposes with himself; emotionally, as the stilling of the waves of likes and dislikes, permitting one to remain in all circumstances complete in himself.
It is this last level that serves as the classical definition of yoga by the ancient sage Patanjali. Patanjali's profound Yoga Sutras, or aphorisms, have been looked upon for millennia as yoga's definitive scripture. He wrote: "Yogas chitta vritti nirodh" -- "Yoga is the neutralization of the waves of feeling." Chitta (feeling) has been variously translated as "mind-stuff," "consciousness," "subconsciousness," "the lower mind."
In a series of classes on Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms many years ago, Paramhansa Yogananda pointed out that those waves in the mind which produce delusion and bondage are primarily the likes and dislikes, the biased feelings of the heart. Vritti (vortices) literally means "whirlpools"--the whirling eddies that interfere with life's smoothly flowing stream, sucking into a purely private orbit whatever one likes, making one so preoccupied with egoistic selections and rejections that he is no longer consciously a part of the stream. Thoughts pass through the minds even of enlightened sages whenever they wish them to, though they subside easily because of the sages' nonattachment to them.
Other functions of mind, too, such as memory, idea-association, and analysis, the sage can perform far better than the average person. It is not as if he ceased completely to function as a human being after achieving enlightenment. What cease for him are the waves, or eddies, of selfish likes and dislikes of attachment. Entering thereby into the sacred lifestream of Pranava, or AUM, he merges consciously into the silent, infinite ocean of Spirit.
Yoga is the neutralization of ego-directed feelings, because once these become stilled, the yogi realizes that he is, and that he has always been, one with the Infinite--that his awareness of this reality was limited only by his infatuation with limitation.
The different paths of yoga, then, must be understood in the light of how they help to bring about this neutralization of the waves of feeling. Merely to whip oneself into a lather of devotional excitement does not constitute bhakti yoga (the attainment of yoga by the path of devotion). Merely to work hard, even in a good cause, is not truly karma yoga (yoga attainment by the path of action). Merely to study and philosophize intellectually is not the path of gyana yoga (the path of wisdom). All these paths must be followed with a firm awareness of the goal of all yoga practices: Yogas chitta vritti nirodh.
This is moreover, the true goal of all seeking. The reason Patanjali's aphorisms are accepted as a universal scripture is that he was dealing with universal spiritual truths, not with sectarian practices. Every truth seeker, regardless of his religion, eventually reaches the same state of divine calmness that is yoga.
Consider the path of bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. Those true saints in all religions, no matter how eagerly they prayed, sang, or danced in their devotion, reached a point in their development where deep inner calmness took over. All movement ceased. Saint Teresa of Avila reported that in this state she could not even pray, so deep was her inner stillness. Truly, she was a yogi though she had never heard of yoga. But because she was not aware that such perfect stillness is the goal of the spiritual search, she wasted many years (as she later stated) in trying to force her mind to return to superficial devotional practices which the soul was endeavoring to transcend.
The path of karma yoga (yoga through action), similarly, leads not to ever-more-frenzied activity, but to deep inner calmness and freedom. Fulfillment in karma yoga lies not so much in doing many things as in acting more and more, even in little things, with the consciousness that it is God who, truly, is the Doer. Everyone engages in mere activity, yet few people are karma yogis. The true karma yogi tries, by God-reminding activities, to redirect all the wrong impulses of his heart into wholesome channels. More than that, he tries to become aware of the divine energy flowing through him as he acts.
Gyana yoga is the yoga of wisdom. Wisdom first comes through the practice of viveka (discrimination). The temptation of the ego, once it takes up this practice, is to flatter itself with its own profundity by stepping further and further afield in its analyses of different aspects of reality. The important thing is not how many different deep truths one can grasp, but rather how deeply one grasps the central truth: the need to rise above personal likes and dislikes. Many gyana yogis, in their exercise of incisive discrimination, actually feed their likes and dislikes--in the form of an inordinate fondness for profound ideas.
The gyana yogi must view all things with the impartial consciousness of a sage. It is less important that he see through human follies than that he not be affected by man's supreme folly: delusion itself. The Bhagavad Gita, India's favorite scripture states, "He finds contentment who, like the calm ocean, absorbs within himself all the rivers of desires." (II:70)
Raja yoga views human nature as a kingdom composed of many psychological tendencies and physical attributes, all of which require considerate attention. A king cannot afford to favor one class of his subjects at the expense of all others, lest dissatisfaction among the rest sow seeds of rebellion. Man, similarly, progresses most smoothly when all aspects of his nature are developed harmoniously. Kriya yoga, a specific meditation technique, is the most advanced technique of raja yoga.
raja yogi, or kingly
yogi, is enjoined to rule his inner kingdom wisely and with
moderation, developing all aspects of his nature in a balanced,
integrated way. The raja yogi is therefore encouraged to develop all
sides of his nature--always, however, with a view to neutralizing the
waves of his likes and dislikes, and not, by egoistic
self-expression, to creating ever-new eddies of selfish
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