Hindu Yoga

                                                 

                  

                                                      

                       One first offers salutations to Lord Ganesha

Hindu Yoga: the root of the Buddhist and Tantric yoga traditions:

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An understanding of the Tibetan tradition is rootless without an appreciation of the roots of Indian Buddhism and Indian Yoga, in Hinduism.  Members of the Simanhada Sanga (Senge-Ngwa Gen-Dun) study the Hindu tradition as part of their spiritual development.

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Thanks to Giri.....

Spirituality

Spirituality defined

Spirituality is the realization of the universality of Truth and the experience of bliss. It is an opportunity to realize and become conscious of an Supreme Reality.

Truth?

A good answer to this question is provided by Joe Miller in his book Great Song : Life and teachings of Joe Miller,

'The Truth IS, nobody can say it. You've got to BE it! You've got to live it. That's Sufism, that's Theosophy, that's Christianity, that's Vedanta, Zen, Buddhism. Whatever name you want to put on it, you have to feel the at-one-ment with the reality. Your surrender is signing off from personality and ego standpoint, then living from the One.'

Fitness for spirituality

Just as the tiniest drop in the ocean has a right to feel as part of the ocean, each individual {who is a manifestation and creation of the Divine} has a right to feel the Divine. Just like one's physical fitness is determined by the strength of the body, one's spiritual fitness is determined the feeling of oneness, the desire to be with the divine all the time and the strength of one's will power.

Difference between spirituality and religion

In reality, religion and spirituality are the same. Spirituality is at the core of all religions. However, all religions have forgotten this core and fiction seems to have replaced fact. Religion has come to mean 'blind organized faith' and has become dogmatic and fundamentalistic in its views. Spirituality is an one-on-one communication with the Divine, without the influence of any organization or a set of dogmatic views. It is based more on personal experiences rather than the experiences of others.

Yoga as the best irreligious path

Yoga is Self-conquest {God-realization}. Since the Divine is universal, there is no religion in yoga. There are various philosophical approaches to yoga, but the aspirant is free to choose whatever path he deems fit. In my humble opinion, Jesus and Buddha taught Bhakti yoga and Jnana Yoga respectively.

Yoga

Yoga defined

Yoga is from the Sanskrit word 'Yug' meaning union {with the Divine}.

Different types of yoga

There are various types of yoga. Before we examine the differences, we should remember that all of them lead to the same goal, unification with the Divine. The yoga paths can be broadly classified into

        Bhakti     yoga : Path of Devotion
        Karma      yoga : Path of Selfless Action
        Jnana      yoga : Path of Transcendental Knowledge
	Asthanga   yoga : Path of Patanjali (eight-step path)
Unfortunately, yoga in the west has come to mean "hatha" yoga which is mainly physical exercise and postures (asanas). In fact, asanas is only a single step in the eight-step path (Asthanga yoga of patanjali). Patanjali is quick to point out that asanas are to be used as a stepping stone for the higher paths, since just working on the beauty and welfare of an impermanent object (the body) is a waste of time and effort. Asthanga yoga is sometimes referred to as Raja yoga . However, Asthanga yoga is more of a philosophy like basic research while raja yoga usually refers to specific techniques which are based on not only Asthanga yoga but also on various [minor] upanishhads.

Brief descriptions of the different types of yoga

Bhakti yoga is the path of devotion (to the Divine). It is pure selfless love from the heart. A bhakti yogi feels that whenever he thinks of God, God thinks more of him. A relationship between a Bhakta and God can never be described in words.

Karma yoga is the path of selfless service. For a karma yogi, the activities of human life is a God-given opportunity to serve Him. He does not feel that the world is an illusion, does not encounter the ego-given 'highs' of success or the 'lows' of failure. Thus a karma yogi is detached while carrying out his duties on the earth.

Jnana yoga is the path of knowledge. A jnana yogi wants to understand the transcendental truth. He wants to solve the mystery of birth, death and the purpose of life. Hindu scriptures describe a Jnani yogi as one who utters Neti, Neti meaning 'not this, not this' to differentiate between what is permanent and impermanent. He uses viveka (discernment) for moving on from avidya (ignorance) to vidya (knowledge). He discerns that the world as perceived by the senses is not real, but an illusion conjured up by the mind.

Asthanga (eight-step) yoga was developed by Patanjali. The eight steps that would lead a seeker from ignorance to Truth are :

Yama		:	Self-control
Niyama		:	Strict observance of character
Asanas		:	Body postures
Pranayama	:	Breathing exercises, and control of prana
Pratyahara	:	Withdrawal from sense-desires
Dharana		:	Concentration on an object
Dhyana		:	Meditation on the Divine 
Samadhi		:	Union with the Divine
Any person who wants to seriously pursue meditation as his path should read the Patanjali's yoga sutras. Huge commentaries have been written on each of his sutra (meaning 'thread'). A list of books on this subject has been provided in the 'book section' below. Raja yoga is a science. There is no unconditional faith required. It is similar to a person who would go to the doctor for illness, and take the medicine the doctor gives with a faith that it will cure him. If he followed all the doctor's orders but still wasn't cured then it is the fault of the doctor and not that of the patient.

Brief description of Kundalini yoga

Most of the saints have agreed that the culmination of the Kundalini Shakti is essential for enlightenment. Various types of raja yogas (including siddha yoga, kriya yoga, laya yoga, sahaja yoga etc) end with the activation and culmination of the kundalini shakti at the crown chakra. They may be referred to as Kundalini yoga. Kundalini is the dormant energy which lies at the base of spine.

Yoga, life and the search

A serious search for truth is almost always based on answering the question 'Who am I'. All other questions are mere details. One of the greatest scientists, Erwin Schrodinger, examines consciousness and tries to answer this question in his book What is life, 'Each of us has the undisputable impression that the sum total of his experience and memory forms a unit, quite distinct from that of any other person. He refers to it as 'I'. What is this 'I'? If you analyze it closely you will, I think, find that it is just a little bit more than a collection of single data, namely the canvas upon which it is collected. And you will, upon closer introspection, find that, what you really mean by 'I', is that ground-stuff upon which they are collected....'The youth that was I', you may come to speak of him in third person, indeed the protagonist of the novel you are reading is probably nearer to your heart, certainly more intensely alive and better known to you. Yet there has been no intermediate break, or death. ..In no case is there a loss of personal existence to deplore ...Nor will there ever be.' The search starts and ends with you but when the search ends, you are aware of the reality of 'you'. As with ANY search, one has to be constantly aware of the three P's : Purpose of the search, the correct Practice and procedure to follow in the search, and possible imPediments.

Purpose

Before one embarks to practice and master yoga, one should always recall the purpose of one's life. Hindu scriptures state over and over again that liberation is possible only in the human life. In that aspect, humans are superior to angels. In the holy Quran the angels are requested to bow before the humans for this reason. A similar theme can be observed when the Lord of Death, Yama, 'confesses' to Nachiketa in Katha upanishhad (read the vedanta section in the Hinduism section) that even he has to let go of his reign (as the Lord of Death) and become a human being in order to attain Brahman. While Yoga scriptures believe in heaven and hell, they are quick to point out that these states are as impermanent as the human life and its possessions.

The purpose of human life is to attain liberation from the eternal cycle {called samsara}. All material happiness is impermanent, all attachments to human life are impermanent. Hence liberation through true selfless love for the Divine and all beings is the only path to eternal happiness. Hence, every moment which is not spent in the service, love, and contemplation of the Divine is wasted, in my humble opinion. An obvious win-win strategy is to choose the path of spiritualism and abandon materialism!! Always remember 'For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul ? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul' [Matthew 16,26].

Practice

Having realised that the purpose of living is to achieve the state of 'living in God', a right practice has to be adhered to. The practice which is outlined here takes years to perfect and practice at every moment of our life. The practice is usually likened to that of a calf, which tries to get up and falls, repeats the process again and again till it has enough strength to stand on its feet and becomes a cow. The key is to slowly absorb the truths, practice it sincerely, and the goal will be reached.

Hindu Scriptures describes three finite dimensional human qualities (Gunas) in every human being, though varying in proportion.

Sattvic : purity, knowledge and joy
Rajsic  : active, desire and restlessness.
Tamsic  : inaction, delusion and dullness
These three gunas are the basic constituents of Prakrti (nature). However the Self (Truth) is above these gunas. With rigorous practice, devotion, and determination, we can become maintain our sattvic nature all the time. A person through the sincere, dedicated practice of yoga can transcend these gunas and become a triguNaatiita to be freed from samsara.

Yoga is a philosophy which has to be practiced continuously, throughout the day, week, year, and life. The ability to be calm in midst of action, the ability to have a quiet mind in midst of a turmoil is the mark of a true yogi. A lotus (yogi) lives in the marsh (the material world) but is unaffected by it, but opens its beautiful petals (mind, heart and soul) to the loving grace of the Sun (God). The lotus has petals which are unaffected by water (sense desires), and marsh (evil) with its beautiful stem (good) indicating that both does co-exist in the material world but without the Sun (God), the lotus (yogi) will die.

Since yoga is a direct link with the Divine, there is no use in pretending. Aspirants need to be sincere, dedicated and devoted to the Divine. Devotion is meaningful only if one surrenders one's ego or at least makes an attempt to surrender it. It is wrong to judge other paths, or to advocate the philosophy you follow as the only right path because all paths lead to the Divine too. It hardly matters if one loves Jesus, Allah, or Krsna, or prefers to meditate on an impersonal form like Tao or Brahman. While a Bhakti yogi wishes to retain both his individuality and the personality of God (since he considers God as a Supreme person and not as an intangible Absolute), a Jnana yogi strives to transcend all the subject-object relationship. As Ramakrishna remarks 'When I think of the Supreme Being as inactive-neither creating or preserving nor destroying-, I call him Brahman, the impersonal God. When I think of Him as active-creating, preserving, and destroying-, I call him Sakti or Maya or Prakriti, the Personal God. But the distinction between them does not mean a difference. The personal and the Impersonal are the same thing, like milk and its whiteness...It is impossible to conceive of the one without the other. The Divine Mother and Brahman are one.'

Lessening of attachment to sense-desires and the ability to love unconditionally (by pure devotion to God) are very essential. The first concept can be illustrated by a simple story often told by Satya Sai Baba : (paraphrased)

'In India, the monkey-catcher places nuts in a pot with a narrow mouth. The monkey is attracted to these nuts and puts its hand inside the path and clenches its hands at the nuts. When the monkey-catcher comes to catch the monkey, the monkey desperately wants to run away but thinks that someone is holding its hand inside the pot. If it unclenches its hand and 'lets go', it is home free. The man is similar to the monkey, and once he lets go off his sense-desires (nuts), he is freed from the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth (pot), and is not worried about the monkey-catcher (death) anymore and is liberated. Hence, peace and bliss automatically descends on a being whose mind has no ego and is freed from wants, desires.' As Patanjali repeatedly points out, the liberation and bondage is from one's thoughts. The monkey mind however needs something. A monkey is often seen to climb up and down a pole just to keep itself busy. This pole can be a mantra which will give the mind something to chant.

Discrimination is the essence of non-attachment. To be discriminatory means to analyze each thought, action and enquire whether this leads us towards the Goal or farther from it. This simple technique makes one realize that most of our actions lead away from the goal of realizing the divine. While it is easy to discriminate during our calm moments, we should slowly cultivate the ability to discriminate all the time. The non-attachment occurs in three steps, in my opinion. First, you cultivate a love for God and an attachment to Him by examining and trying to model our lives like the many saints who have graced this earth. This is followed by devotion, leading to an understanding of the spirit within each person and finally, realizing and experiencing the spirit behind everyone.

The second concept of devotion can be illustrated by a simple story from the book titled Tibetan book of living and dying by Sogyal Rinpoche

'At the time of Buddha, there lived an old beggar woman called "Relying on Joy." She used to watch the kings, princes, and people making offerings to Buddha and his disciples, and there was nothing she would have liked more than to be able to do the same. So she went begging, but at the end of a whole day all she had was one small coin. She took it to the oil-merchant to try and buy some oil. He told her that she could not possibly buy anything with so little. But when he heard that she wanted it to make an offering to Buddha, he took pity on her and gave her the oil she wanted. She took it to the monastery, where she lit a lamp. She placed it before Buddha, and made this wish: "I have nothing to offer but this tiny lamp. But through this offering, in the future may I be blessed with the lamp of wisdom. May I free all beings from their darkness. May I purify all their obscurations, and lead them to enlightenment."
That night the oil in all the other lamps went out. But the beggar woman's lamp was still burning at dawn, when Buddha's disciple Maudgalyayana came to collect all the lamps. When he saw that one was still alight, full of oil and with a new wick, he thought, "There's no reason why this lamp should still be burning in the daytime," and he tried to blow it out. But it kept on burning. He tried to snuff it out with his fingers, but it stayed alight. He tried to smother it with his robe, but still it burned on. The Buddha had been watching all along, and said, "Maudgalyayana, do you want to put out that lamp? You cannot. You could not even move it let alone put it out. If you were to pour the water from all the oceans over this lamp, it still wouldn't go out. The water in all the rivers and lakes of the world could not extinguish it. Why not? Because this lamp was offered with devotion, and with purity of heart and mind. And that motivation has made it of tremendous benefit.' When Buddha had said this, the beggar woman approached him, and he made a prophecy that in the future she would become a perfect buddha, called "Light of the Lamp."

So it is our motivation, good or bad, that determines the fruit of our actions. Shantideva said:

  Whatever joy there is in this world
  All comes from desiring others to be happy,
  And whatever suffering there is in this world
  All comes from desiring myself to be happy.
This poem (by Satya Sai Baba) is to be remembered and etched in your heart, mind, soul and practiced.
  Destroying pride  man becomes endearing;
  Destroying anger  man gets rid of sorrow;
  Destroying desire man acquires peace;
  Destroying greed  man achieves happiness.
Thus, the path to eternal freedom consists of three main steps :

Pravritti (action, external activity) as a method of sublimating the instincts and impulses;
Nivritti (detachment, internal quietness) as a method of subduing the thirst of the senses and of the ego;
Prapatti (surrender) as a method of utilizing the senses, the instincts and impulses, the intelligence, the emotions, for the glorification of the all-knowing, all-directing Divine.
Do and dedicate; work and worship; plan and protect; but do not worry about the fruit. Follow the three D's : do your Duty without attachment, perform Disciplines to keep the senses under control, and maintain Devotion to God always. This is Dharma and the secret of spiritual success.

impediments

A common impediment is to become aware of another path and start fresh. It is important that one should take up a path and stick to it. It is foolish to switch paths thinking that the other path may be faster. This can be illustrated by a simple story by Ramana :

'A person wanted to dig a well so that he can drink water whenever he wanted. So, he started digging earnestly and when he reached 20 feet deep, another person came along and told him to start digging at an another spot. So, this man abandoned this spot and went digging at an another spot. When he reached 20 feet and there was no sign of water, he felt despair. He gave up this spot and started digging at another site. Soon, he had many holes of 20 feet deep with no water in sight. He soon died of thirst. If he stuck to digging at one spot, he would have dug him a good well and drank water out of it'.

Hence once one learns a particular path from a guru, and starts to practice it with dedication and devotion he should stick to that path irrespective of what others say about other paths.

Another obstacle is the desire to reveal your progress to others. Scriptures emphasize that a spiritual aspirant should never reveal his experience to an other, except his Guru. He can say that he had never had any such experiences if asked by anyone other than his Guru. There is no use in telling your experiences to a materialistic person, since he is not going to believe you. There is no use in telling it to someone who is not as spiritual as you are, since he may try to emulate your experience (which he shouldn't because each has an unique experience) or become envious of you. There is no use in telling your experiences to a spiritually advanced being because he may have already experienced it or he has no use for it. Your Guru, since he/she knows you intimately, may be able to interpret the experience for you, but no one else can.

While being very much aware of the absolute superiority of the spirit over the material, and the spiritual consciousness within himself, the aspirant will frequently will be constantly confronted by the karmic elements of his incarnation bringing him sorrow, bitterness, and even despair!!! However, the true path is never lost for someone who has started the journey. Even the material world may drag you away for a short while, but the erring son will be returned to the father [Jesus]. As Ramana Maharishi used to say, 'Who once enters on the Path cannot lose it, just as the prey which falls into the tiger's jaws will be never allowed to escape'.

Besides these obstacles, one arrives at a time when one has to make decisions about his life and asks questions which are called "two-path" questions. One such question is whether we should retaliate against people who harm us ? One answer is no, love them, but avoid them. The other answer is 'Turn the other cheek' [Jesus]. Yet an another answer is that we should uphold our Dharma (duty) even by fighting but not worry about the result [Krishna]. Another question is whether we should tell about our path to people who query on our new way of life and resist our change ? One answer is no, the path should be a secret. The other answer is 'Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God, the things that are God's' [Jesus]. One can give many similar examples, but no one can say what is right, apart from yourself.

Apart from these "two-path" obstacles are obstacles from our mind with endless why's. Why does a soul need a body to liberate ? Why can't we glimpse at the end of the path everyday ? If sensual pleasures and the material world are obstacles, why did God create them [if He did] in the first place ? Anyone who is stuck in this duality is urged to read Zanoni by Bulwer Lytton. The easiest and the best answer is to look at your own consciousness. As Plotinus in Enneades said 'Enter into thyself and look; and if thou are not beautiful, do as the sculptor with his statue : he smooths this line, he planes another, giving a nobler expression, until the whole becomes the resplendent picture of perfect beauty. And thou shouldst do the same.'

Meditation

It should be clear to any aspirant that meditation is the only way and reading books are not going to help you directly. As Swami Nityananda used to say, 'A mind can make thousand books, but thousand books cannot make a mind'. I meditate, therefore I am.

Mantras

'In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God,' says the Gospel (St. John). A passage in the oldest of the vedas, Rig veda, says, ' In the beginning was Brahman, with whom was the Word, and the Word was truly the Brahman'. Mantra is 'just' a Word or phrases. The act of repeating it is called Japa .

While mere repetition of the Word is insufficient, meditation on its meaning and manifestation is an excellent way to transcend the mind. But the latter follows the former (repetition) naturally. Mantras and Japa have played an important role in Christianity. The prayer on Jesus and the chanting of 'Hail Mary' and their usefulness has been detailed in the books The way of the pilgrim and The pilgrim continues his way based on the spiritual pilgrimage of a Russian monk during the 1800's.

There are a multitude of mantras available. The best is the one given by a Guru. You may wonder why a Guru is needed for a simple word (or sentences). This can be best explained by a story told often in India: (paraphrased)

'A king, and a minister were talking about the effectiveness of mantras. The king felt that anyone can recite the mantra and no initiation was necessary. At that time, the guards brought in a man who had stolen some property. The minister shouted, ' Arrest this man and put him in the dungeon'. The guards did not move and gazed at the minister surprisingly. The king repeated the same words and the guards put the prisoner in the dungeon. Immediately, the king realized the value of the word spoken, and how proper authority for mantras matter.'

However, one can choose something like 'Jesus', 'Krishna', 'Rama', 'Allah'. A detailed explanation of the mantras and passages for meditation and recitation which have been used for ages can be found in the above book by Eknath Easwaran. You can find explanations of the Sanskrit Mantra's including the gayatri mantra there.

-v