Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

Raja Yoga: Chapter 11 — excerpts

He asks, ‘which desire of yours shall I sing?’
Because this one who, having this knowledge, sings the
Sama, sings the Sama, he is certainly able to fulfil desires by singing.

(Chandogya Upanishad 1.8.9)

Raja yoga is the path of attaining the mystical experience through connecting with the absolute power within us. In raja yoga, it is believed that the source of all the power of the universe is within us, and the goal of the yogi is to control and harness his mind and body so that he can connect with this power.

Yoga is the science of exploring the internal world. A scientist observes facts of the external world and deduces laws from these facts. Yogis also observe facts of the internal world, what goes on in the human mind and its relation to the body, and deduce laws about the way they work. Countless observers in the world of Yoga have systematically noted these mind-body events since ancient times.

When numerous observers have agreed that a certain relation is correct, it becomes an incontrovertible fact. Because these are the results of observations by numerous sages, they are not individual doctrines but universal findings, and can be experienced by anyone following the right method. Yoga can be seen in that sense as an experiment: an experiment of the mind for which the Yogi has described a certain procedure and declared that, if it is carried out, a certain result can be seen. This can then be verified by anyone who follows the methods described by the Yogi.

This is the great strength of Hinduism. Its teachings are not based on belief but on test. Its teachings can all be tested and confirmed by the aspirant. Religions are generally based on doctrinal teachings, and followers are asked to believe in something because someone wiser and greater than them laid down these laws. But Hinduism makes the assertion that the aspirant can test whatever it teaches, and in fact its main purpose is to lead the aspirants to test these beliefs and have them verify the teachings for themselves. True religion will be achieved only when this process is started. Someone who sets out to verify these teachings by following any of the four systems of Yoga is a Yogi.

Raja yoga is the path which we normally associate with the word yoga nowadays. It is in the systematic technical scriptures of this path that we find the description of asanas, breath control exercises and meditation. Yoga, however, is not simply a meditation technique but an entire school of philosophy. Along with samkhya, it is perhaps the oldest orthodox philosophy in India among the six schools, believed by many to be older even than the Vedantic school. Yoga in general follows all the doctrines of samkhya with only one or two minor differences. Its importance is in the method of practice that it developed. The main treatise of Yoga is the ‘Yoga Sutras’ of Patanjali. Its date and authorship are disputed, but it remains as a scripture which was to define much of Hinduism and Buddhism.

The samkhya divides the world into two strict categories, the Purush or the male principle, and the Prakriti, or the female principle. The Purush is the conscious principle, and it sets off the unconscious principle into the activity of creation, much in the way a snowball sets off an avalanche in a mountain, and becomes itself connected to it. There is no God in samkhya, but yoga accepts a God, although He is never clearly defined as to role and functions. The Purush is analogous to the soul, and each living person has his or her own individual conscious entity. The goal is to achieve the discontinuity of the Purush from Prakriti so that consciousness stands alone and is not drawn anymore into this chaos. Prakriti here is not just the matter and energy of the universe, but also comprises the mental substance.

In samkhya and yoga, it is believed that the mind produces thoughts, sensations and memories without being itself conscious, and it is only the conjunction of the Purush with the mind as its subject that they become part of consciousness. Thoughts, sensations and memories are, as it were, streams of information which are fed into the consciousness.

The mind is considered to have four parts, the ahamkara or ego, the buddhi or the discriminative faculty, the mind or manas and the indriyas or sense organs. They work in this way – the indriyas or the sense organs bring their impulses from the outside to the mind or manas. At the same time, the manas is also the receptacle of different thoughts and impressions that we have. All these are then presented to the discriminative faculty called the buddhi. The buddhi is the intellect, or the decision maker. This is the highest of the mind organs, and it decides the thought or sense organ that we will be conscious of. Connected to the buddhi is also the ahamkara, or the ego, which gives us the sense of ‘I’ness. All these are not within the realm of consciousness but merely ‘information processors’ and are part of Prakriti, the Purush connects to this information stream and then we have our human consciousness.

Again, all these are not considered absolute organs, merely a division in terms of psychological understanding of the mind. They are all formed from citta, which is the mind stuff or the material of which the mind is made. Chitta is hence a part of prakriti and by itself unconscious. The various ‘mind organs’ play out like ripples on the chitta or mind stuff. These ripples (vrittis) then cast their shadow on the Purush, which becomes ‘coloured’ by them, just a lake bed is coloured by ripples on the water. The mental manifestations, the mind, etc are the finer or higher manifestations and the material manifestations like the body and other objects are the grosser manifestations of Prakriti. Yoga consists of controlling these ripples in the citta and thus making the Purush free of the mind, so that it remains as consciousness alone.

The Yoga philosophy relies on other parts of the Vedas than the Upanishads and hence is not a Vedantic (Upanishadic) school. Its philosophy has many inherent contradictions and soon died out, but the practise was taken up by the Vedantic schools, including Advaita. The duality between a real and existing Prakriti and a consciousness, is considered to be a halfway theory and is not accepted by Advaita. The advaitist pushes on beyond this post and achieves the merger with the one unchanged Brahman.

In Advaita, it is the absolute Brahman which is, in the constricted state, manifesting as our individual consciousness and this constriction is brought about by the senses, thoughts, memories, etc, in other words, by the working of the mind. Thus, we exist on two levels of consciousness, the individual consciousness and absolute consciousness. When the ripples of the mind are stilled, our individual consciousness will die out so that we will exist only on the level of the absolute consciousness. The stilling of the ripples is the necessary fact and that is what is achieved through the techniques of Raja yoga, and hence these methods can also lead to the Advaitic realisation. Thus Advaita adapts the practices of Raja yoga, even while rejecting its theory, and harmonises them to explain Rajasic Samadhi based on its own metaphysical philosophy.

Raja yoga techniques have evolved over thousands of years ago, and by following these techniques, the yogi can obtain total control over both his mind and body. Such control is achieved by sheer force of will power. Normally we do not have much control over either our body or the mind, and are more or less slaves to them. We fall ill, and thoughts and desires come to us unbidden even when we try to stop them.

But raja yoga says, we can use our will alone to have total control over every aspect of our physical existence. We can control and feel every part of our body, such as for example, the beating of our heart. We can also control our minds totally, and become aware of all the intricate psychical events going on in it which are normally at a preconscious level, and can control them, so that we can at will stop all thoughts. Once we acquire such control, there is virtually limitless potential for us.

Yoga believes that all the forces, all the power in the universe are connected directly to us as all of nature, both matter and mind, is one and only of differing grades, and among this, the mental aspect is highest. Hence once we gain control over first our physical body and then our mental, we have control over all of Prakriti and can achieve anything at all that we want. We acquire the eight powers of the yogi, to become as light as air, to become invisible, heavy as the earth, etc. and to make all our desires come true at once. We become virtual gods. But if we remain in the grip of these powers, we still remain on the material plane. The true goal is beyond this, to sever the connection between prakriti and purush, so that the purush, the pure consciousness, attains total freedom.

In Advaita also, as we come nearer to Brahman, we come closer to the root of all the energy and power of the universe. All mental and physical existence are differentiations of the same root, and once we come to this root, we can have control over everything. Hence the closer we are to Samadhi, the greater is the power we acquire. But to achieve the final goal, we must give up the temptations of such distractions and press onward towards the end.

Ayam and niyam are the system of ethics laid out in the Yoga sutras. They consist of more or less the same ethical rules seen throughout the world. Ayam, the doníts, are non–killing, truthfulness, non–stealing, continence and non–receiving; Niyam, the doís, are internal and external purification, contentment, mortification, study and worship of God.

These ethical rules have a purely practical function, they help in yoga. There is no moral basis to these rules, as is also seen in the Upanishads. Breaking of these rules cause ‘a tying of a knot in the heart’, in other words they lead to physical and psychological problems.

This can be understood in terms of modern techniques like the use of lie detectors to test truth speaking. Here it is seen that when the subject tells a lie, he has changes in various functions like an enlarging of the pupils, rise of BP, sweating, etc. This means that even such small transgressions lead to important changes in the mind and body. So these ethical boundaries are apparently hardwired into the human body, perhaps during the evolution of living within a social herd, and are common for everyone. Such disturbances in our physiology will naturally be harmful for yoga, and hence these acts which are seen to disturb us are to be avoided. Hence raja yoga advises us to act ethically not on the basis of some arbitrary moral doctrine but in order to maintain our equilibrium and tranquillity.

Another interesting point is that yoga believes that following such rules gives us an immense power, not just a moral power but a psychical power as well. It lays the strictest importance on telling the truth. If we make a promise to do something, we have to carry out the promise no matter what, so that our words do not become an untruth. Yoga says, if we continue telling the truth in this way, a time will come when our will becomes so strong that whatever we say becomes the truth, and comes to fruition. Hindu myths are full of stories of sages who have this power of cursing or blessing people, and whose uttering are never thwarted.

The most important point among all these is renunciation of all ties and bonds, including sex. Continence is the prerequisite for yogis and there is no compromise on this. Without it, it is declared, the yogi can never attain success. Yoga believes that there is a certain amount of spiritual energy, ojas, in every human, and this energy is to be used during yogic practice. Sexual activities fritter away this energy, and hence is to be avoided. Even without such theories, it is easy to see that a sexually active life can be very distracting, and one cannot attain the single mindedness necessary for success. Complete continence is demanded, not just in deeds but in thought as well.

This doubtless is one of the toughest demands that can be made on most people living a worldly life. Calls for such forbearance are often scoffed at, and people who can renounce the demands of their bodies are said to lack a zest for life or to be not leading a full life. The consternation of most people at such exhortations can be seen in the same light as the slight ridicule with which someone who enjoys his drinks looks upon the teetotaller, or a meat eater looks upon the vegetarian.

It really depends on where we draw the line, we all of us have to draw it somewhere in order to balance our indulgences with our studies, work or other social needs. The point where we draw the line seems the most appropriate to us, for example, in how much we would consider reasonable to drink, and anyone crossing the line seems reckless and anyone who draws it much tighter than us seems too prudish. But we tend to forget that we ourselves are also being judged in the same way by the other person.

In such cases, those who indulge invariably feel that the sacrificing person is giving up something very important, while the persons who renunciate feel that they have acquired a much deeper enjoyment by sacrificing something cruder. In the same way, the brahmacharis also feels they have acquired something much greater by giving up a smaller thing, and in fact they do actually find their lives as rich and fulfilling as any profligate, and usually far more so.

Along with sexual activity, yoga also demands sacrifice of all ties and bonds towards society, including family and social ties. They must strictly avoid any ownership of property or wealth. True yogis must lead lonely lives, and in their search for truth they cannot succumb to simple pleasures like loving and being loved. Not all of us feel a desire for truth so compelling that our worldly ties begin to look like burdens, and unless we have that trait in our character, we can never really break such golden chains easily.

Hence for worldly people, the path that is recommended is the path of Bhakti, and not the high lonely path of yoga. Of course, such an extreme course is only the ideal, and meant for a very few. Even without going to such lengths, we can still do yoga but always with the remembrance of these exhortations, and try to keep to them as far as is possible for us individually.

The Ida is the smoothing or calming channel and is called the Chandra (moon) channel. It is on the left side and is controlled by breathing through the left nostril. The Pingala is the exciting or stimulating channel and is called the Surya (sun) channel. It is on the right side and is controlled by breathing through the right nostril. Normally the flow of energy within us is discontinuous, and we do not have much control over it. Through regular practice of Pranayam, we can gradually control it so that the energy flow is harmonious and in equilibrium, and then we have the entire Prana of the universe at our command. There will be no limits to our powers and we will become ever-free.

We are all connected to this ocean of cosmic energy, and we can achieve our desires by drawing from it. The source is infinite, making the potential power in us in infinite. We can be strong or weak, depending on how much of this force we manifest. Powerful persons who influence others draw more upon this energy. We can and do sometimes draw upon this energy, unconsciously, and at these moments we feel a sense of supreme power, as if we can achieve virtually anything. At other times we may feel defeated and weak, and at this moment we are simply not drawing upon this supply. Through Pranayama, we can learn to draw upon this energy whenever we want.

When the mind goes beyond thoughts of an object and captures its essence, it is called a samyama. This is done by meditating on a specific object. Through samyama, the Yogi can gain immense powers. By understanding and fusing with the essence of something, we can have power over it. Psychical activities are considered the finest form of existence of Prakriti, and when the mind itself grasps a quality, the physical body follows suit. Literally infinite powers are promised to the Yogi making samyama on different things. Some of the promised powers are the strength of an elephant (by making samyama on an elephant) and knowledge of the world (by focusing on the sun). By conquering his body he can become light as air, float on water, become invisible, and more. But all such powers are said to be useless in Yoga. The powers achieved in the initial stages are to be refused. This is somewhat like the powers offered to Jesus by the devil. The goal is to go beyond them all and obtain the ultimate mystical experience: complete freedom from this manifold reality. This is the final stage, Nirvikalpa Samadhi of Advaita. As the mind becomes more and more concentrated, the thoughts become finer and finer. After remaining in dhyana for a long time, the thoughts become so faint that finally they cease altogether, and the stage of Samadhi is reached. In this the mind has achieved complete stillness, and there is no movement.

This is the final stage, when the ultimate realization is gained. What the mind experiences during this stage can never be described. With the cessation of all thoughts, the individual consciousness has died out, and consciousness now exists on its natural plane: the plane of absolute consciousness. This is the plane of existence of Brahman. This is the goal of all Yoga.

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