Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Hindu Yoga as Seen in the Gita
The photo show a practitioner of Hatha Yoga involved in the Sun Salutation. A series of asanas (postures) which serve to welcome the return of the Sun -- the provider of light, warmth and energy.
When the average person thinks of Yoga, he/she believes it is a form of physical exercise. He may know its name, Hatha Yoga. Yet Hatha Yoga's purpose is not to make the practitioner a more perfect physical specimen, but to make his mind/body ready for other practices of morality, ethics, meditation ...that will lead to Yoga --- Union with God. Yoga means union. So Hatha Yoga is a tiny part of the vast system called Yoga.
In the Bhagavad Gita, one chapter of the Mahabharata -- one of the two Hindu epics -- God in the form of the avatar, Krishna, teaches Arjuna (who stands for us) the way to union with God. The Gita focuses on three of the most important yogas: Jnana (Wisdom), Bhakti ( Devotion), and Karma (Service).
Jnana Yoga is making use of the mind and intellect to approach, and hopefully, attain union with Brahman (God). The Jnani Yogi aims to see behind and beyond the mind through the use of viveka (discrimination). In the words of the revered Sri Swami Sivananda: "Jnana is knowledge. To know Brahman as one's own Self is Jnana. To say, 'I am Brahman, the pure, all-pervading Consciousness, the non-enjoyer, non-doer and silent witness,' is Jnana. To behold the one Self everywhere is Jnana."
One technique commonly used is "neti, neti" -- "not this, not this". The student of Jnana Yoga dismisses each thought, image, concept, sound or sense distraction with
"not this, not this". Eventually he/she realizes, knows that Brahman is not any of these. One then, in a sense, moves backwards into the realization of Brahman -- the Absolute Reality which cannot be seen, heard, conceived or captured. This approach leads to dispassion by which the yogi should be able to detach oneself from all that is temporary --- all that is not Brahman. The Jnana yogi still, though is left with Everything since Brahman is the only Absolute Reality.
Some Jnana Yogis, like the great and highly regarded Ramana Maharshi recommended concentrating on asking the question, "Who Am I?" over and over again -- until one reaches the "knowing" of and union with Brahman.
The Gita depicts Jnana Yoga as the spiritual path for the few -- those of strong intellect and the discipline to use it with discimination and steady focus.
"Therefore, just keep thinking of me. Fix your entire mind on me. Continuously direct your discriminating intellect to consider who I am, and you will soon know that we are united forever; there is no doubt about it." (from The Gita)
Bhakti Yoga is recommended for most people who have a devotional soul, those for whom feelings and affection is easier to come by than intense mental focus. Christianity is basically a bhakti religion.
Within Hinduism -- Bhakti Yogis show their devotion and love usually to a personal form of the Absolute (Brahman) --- Krishna, Rama, the Divine Mother, Shiva, Ganesh. Jesus and Buddha can also be used. Devotion within Hinduism usually is expressed through chanting, prayer, singing of bhajans (spiritual songs) and japa -- reciting one of the names of God over and over again, frequently using a mala (beads, rosary) to keep count and to keep focused.
In Bhakti Yoga the devotee surrenders herself/himself completely to the Lord --- and thereby escapes the impediment to Union which is the Ego.
The Gita (Bhagavad Gita) emphasizes Bhakti in Chapter 12. For Example:
"On the other hand, those who being solely devoted to Me, and surrendering all actions to Me, worship Me - the manifest divine - constantly meditating on Me with single minded devotion; these O Arjuna I speedily rescue from the ocean of birth and death."
Karma Yoga is a path which also will lead to union with God; however, instead of using devotional practices, or the discriminating use of a disciplined intellect --- it is the Yoga of service. The Karma Yoga considers everything he does as an offering to God. His everyday actions are performed because they are part of his "dharma" -- his duty-- however, she/he does not seek the fruits of these actions -- the fruits belong only to the Lord. Whether in a worldly sense his/her actions are "successful" is due entirely to God. It is the dedicated performance of duties that leads eventually to union with God. All of the yogi's actions are offerings or sacrifices to the Divinity. The yogi is -- in a sense -- indifferent to the results.
If a Karma Yogi is a businessman and works at developing his particular enterprise -- he does this because it is her/his role in life which God has proscribed for him/her --- not for fame, money, or possessions.
These belong to God.
(Some passages on Karma Yoga from The Gita)
"And if one has not developed the necessary self-discipline to practice yoga (e.g. Jnana/Bhakti) regularly, -- he can also attain perfection just by conscientiously dedicating all of his actions to me."
"As for you, do the work that comes to you -- but don't look for the results. Don't be motivated by the fruits of your actions. nor become attached to inaction."
"Whoever desires me above everything else, and (thus) completely devotes himself to me, and (thus) offers me all his actions, and (thus) sheds all personal (selfish) attachments and feelings of ill-will toward any other creature, that person surely comes to me."
There is another major form of Yoga, Raja Yoga, which many commentators/ scholars believe is also referred to in the Gita. This Yoga is the way of focusing the mind on a single "object" to achieve quietness -- and with continued practice -- will lead to union with God. The major Hindu scripture devoted to Raja Yoga is the great Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. In this book Patajali describes a complete form of Raja Yoga that includes morality, ethics, virtue as well as various stages of mental discipline.
(Quotations from The Gita are mostly by Swami Satchidananda)