30 September 2007

YOGAS IN INDIA by Kathleen Sutherland

The term ‘yoga,’ as originally used in India, refers to a spiritual way of life. The Sanscrit word yoga means union. The ultimate aim of yoga is union of the individual soul with Brahma (the Supreme). For thousands of years Indian seekers of God followed the yogic principles and practices under the guidance of able and realized Gurus. There are various systems, or schools, of yoga. A disciple would follow the school best suited to his or her nature. For example, there is Raja Yoga, which focuses on meditation as a path to enlightenment. Jnana Yoga emphasizes the study of scriptures. Karma Yoga seeks higher consciousness through doing good works. And Bhakti Yoga focuses on passionate devotion to God. Hatha Yoga is yet another yogic system. This type of yoga is best known in the West, where it has become synonymous with the term "yoga." And its use is often narrowed even further to refer just to the poses and exercises which such yogis practice. It's true that the sadhana (practice) of Hatha Yoga is based on the physical body. But Hatha uses the body's energy to move towards a higher consciousness. Health and vitality are a means to this end, not the end in itself.Hatha Yoga includes, of course, the yogasana (yoga + asana), i. e., the physical poses and exercises, which help the yogi to achieve optimal nervous system functioning. But yoga-asana is only a preliminary stage of the long Hatha Yoga path. Hatha practice also includes following basic moral principals, called the "yamas" and "niyamas." And Hatha yoga teaches the disciple to move, control and regulate one's "prana," i.e., life energy. This is done through the practice of specific breathing exercises, called "pranayama." Meditation, too, is fundamental to Hatha Yoga practice. So it is all these things together - good moral conduct, a healthy nervous system, control of one's life force and deep meditation - that lead to union with the supreme consciousness. Hatha Yoga is not mere yogasana. On the contrary, the practice of the poses is only a minor, though very apparent part of this yogic system. To many in the West, India appears a mysterious land and thus seekers of other-worldly experiences may be drawn to it for that reason. But an exotic experience is not the same thing as a spiritual experience. Importing and practicing the simplest aspects of Hatha Yoga is a misguided attempt to find a genuine spirituality. In any culture, time or place, spiritual growth requires following difficult (and sometimes boring) practices and altering one's entire way of life. It is a surrender of the ego. So it is unfortunate that yoga in the West has come to mean yoga-asana. But it is even sadder that the majority of Indians who know and practice yoga-asana, know it as yoga. The term Hatha Yoga is not even known to them. But while we cannot change this current universal misuse of the term, we nevertheless can understand that one cannot be a true yogi by practicing yoga in its modern connotation. I myself am not a practicing Hatha-yogi. Far from it. My desire here is simply to show the dangers of this sort of misguided spiritual seeking. Here is another example. Some western people took ganja (hashish) as they thought it would help them progress spiritually. They learned this from imposter bearded sadhus sitting beside the Ganges or under a banyan tree smoking their ganja profusely. The problem with the West is that they forget that Indians are as normal as they are, notwithstanding cultural differences. The so-called sadhus also bear some responsibility for this. Indians, too, are often victims of such pseudo-spiritualism, perhaps being susceptible to it because of their other-worldly mind set.Spiritual progress involves learning to detach from egoic desires. This is often an arduous and even painful process. By contrast, activities that aim to gratify the ego, such as using intoxicants, or practicing yoga for the sole purpose of achieving health and beauty, lead us away from the path. The true seeker must learn to recognize and reject the temptations of such pseudo-spirituality. The true seeker knows that serving the ego will never bring any pleasure even close to the ineffable bliss of moving towards a higher consciousness, and ultimately experiencing union with God.