The Experience of Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

What is yoga?

The appropriate answer is that we are still discovering what yoga is. We know the practices of hatha yoga, raja yoga, kriya yoga, kundalini yoga and so on, but we have not yet discovered what yoga is. The literature says that the aim, the culmination, of yoga is in samadhi. What is samadhi? Can that state be defined by intellect, by logic, by rationality? Or is it a state of being? Right now we are on the path of becoming, but only when we reach the state of being and we have become will we be able to understand what yoga means.

With our present understanding, yoga is a process of developing as well as awakening and activating the different qualities of life. That is the first focus of yoga before we even attempt to reach the state of samadhi. Samadhi is a very distant reality, a very distant dream, in our lives. In order to come to that level there are many conditions we need to fulfil and many preparations that have to be made. So we are talking not of the aim of yoga, but of the preparations we need to make in order to experience yoga.

These preparations are tuning the lifestyle and the life process. In order to hear a radio station you need to tune into the right frequency. In the same way, to understand something transcendental with a non-transcendental mind you have to make the effort to transform the quality of the mind so that eventually you can become a transcendental being.

Developing awareness and positivity

The first tuning we need to perform in yoga is known as development of awareness; slowly, gradually and practically expanding the horizons of personal awareness from being self-contained to being more expansive.

The second condition of yoga is to become aware of the inner strengths, and not to identify with the normal weaknesses. The tendency or nature of the mind or personality when acting in the world is tamasic and rajasic. Tamas is the conditioned mind, the conditioned self, having a closed mind, not accepting new values or concepts, not being free to explore new horizons or frontiers, just being content with one's own ideas, beliefs, systems, thoughts, lifestyles, etc. Rajas means dominance, overpowering conviction, the assertive-ness of "I am right" to boost one's ego, one's self-image and prestige.

Tamasic and rajasic behaviour is restricted and limiting. It does not allow the expansive-ness of the self to manifest. That is visible in our life. If there is a problem facing our mind and we go somewhere new, despite being in a different, happy atmosphere, the same thought is like a magnet at the back of the head. The problem persists and we are conscious of it. There is never full participation in the other event that is taking place. We are separate from the event in which we want to participate, but can't.

Pitfalls of sensory identification

These conditionings of the rajasic and tamasic natures give birth to a sensorial identity, and that sensorial identity is the problem. The body is the medium through which we interact with the world through the senses, with the conscious, with the subconscious, with memories. These interactions trigger off different expressions of the senses and mind. Each one is identified by a specific mood, in which we are either elated or depressed, content and happy or frustrated and anxious. According to the mood, our relationship with the outside world changes. When we are happy we see the world as a happy place. When we are sad we see the world as a horrible place. This mood is total identification with the senses, leading to the experience of raga and dwesha, attraction and repulsion. Due to attraction and non-attainment of the desired object, again anger is created.

This is defined in the Bhagavad Gita (2:62-63):

Dhyaayato vishayaan pumsah sangasteshoopajaayate
Sangaat sanjaayate kaamah kaamaatkrodhobhijaayate.
Krodhaad bhavati sammohah sammohaat smritivibhramah
Smritibhramashaad buddhinaasho buddhinaashaat pranashyati.

Desire for an object creates attachment. Unfulfilled attachment leads to aggression, frustration and anger. When one is experiencing anger, frustration and aggression, at that time the wisdom is clouded. When the wisdom is clouded, the ability to make the right decision, to know right from wrong, goes away. When one does not know what is right and wrong, the intellect dies. The death of the intellect is the death of the person, of the being. This is the statement of the Bhagavad Gita.

Balanced wisdom

So what to become? By developing the positive, uplifting qualities of life, by having to find our strengths and not our weaknesses, we can come to the point of being a sthita prajna, one of steady wisdom. Prajna is wisdom, applied knowledge. Sthita means still, balanced, harmonious. In the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asks Krishna, "What are the symptoms of a person who has attained balanced wisdom? How does a person endowed with such qualities live on Earth, how does he walk, think, behave and act?"

Krishna answers in a very simple manner: "That person walks on Earth just like you and me. That person eats just like you and me. That person sleeps just like you and me. The only difference is that you are identified with the world and one with stable, steady wisdom is identified with the self." The world represents the tamasic and rajasic nature, the self represents the sattwic, luminous nature. So, identifying with the positive qualities, with one's strengths, is the second mandate of yoga.

Yamas and niyamas - tuning to sattwa

How can we cultivate and adopt positive qualities and attitudes? Through the practices of the yamas and niyamas. The yamas are: satya, truthfulness; ahimsa, absence of violence from the human personality, from the mind; asteya, not desiring to obtain; aparigraha, being non-possessive and non-accumulative; brahmacharya, being aware of the higher consciousness guiding your life.

The niyamas are: shaucha, purity of body, mind, speech, thought and action; santosha, contentment, restraint of the desires and the senses; tapasya, the desire for change, being ready to go through any process in order to change and become better in life; swadhyaya, awareness of how the body, mind, senses and the highest consciousness interact with each other; ishwara pranidhana, living according to the divine will, having faith in the self. Whether you define 'self' as God or as your self is up to you. But you exist, so have faith in that existence, which is eternal. If you don't want to use the word 'God' or the word 'self', use the word 'existence'.

These are the keys with which a human personality is tuned to sattwa. These are the keys by which a human personality can be tuned to ahimsa, to satya, to asteya, to aparigraha, etc. Attainment of each of these qualities will nurture the spirit. Just as the body is nurtured by food and the mind by happiness, the spirit is nurtured by the appropriate, positive, uplifting expression of these qualities. When you do something good you feel happy for a long time. You feel elated, spontaneously, naturally, without any external aid at all. That is an example of how a positive, uplifting quality can change and enhance your perceptions, motivations, expressions, creativity and efficiency. Therefore, the second mandate of yoga is learning to manage the tamasic and the rajasic, and tuning to sattwa.

Yoga - a process of becoming

Yoga is a process of becoming. We try to experience this process of becoming, which leads to that state of being where we exist as our true selves, where we have identified with the sattwic aspect of our life. In the process of becoming we adopt the different methods, techniques and practices of hatha yoga, raja yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, kriya yoga, kundalini yoga, nada yoga, mantra yoga, laya yoga and the many other paths of yoga described in the tradition.

The branches of yoga include practices that can lead us to perfection of that particular quality, ability, efficiency or creativeness which we acquire from within ourselves. It is not acquired from outside. Once a sculptor was asked, "How do you carve a beautiful statue out of a bare piece of rock?" He replied, "That beautiful image is already contained in the rock. I simply remove the unnecessary pieces." That is the process of becoming a yogi. We begin to remove the unnecessary parts from our lives, from our nature, from our personality, which creates a conditioning which then overpowers every thought, every behaviour, every action that we perform. It is like a magnet attracting iron filings. The conditioning is that magnet which attracts the iron filings of thinking, behaving, expressing, communicating, desiring, liking, not liking, happiness and sadness, euphoria and depression, etc.

That is what Swami Satyananda used to call 'removing the dross'. Remove the unnecessary and the undesirable; retain, cultivate and develop the desirable; learn to adjust and adapt. In this way, develop the ability to eliminate the tamasic and rajasic negative impressions which bind us to the gross plane of consciousness, and become more identified with that inner intuition which is based on nyaya, justice, and dharma, virtue.

That development of human personality, the establishment of sattwa, the attainment of the luminous quality in our life, a better perception, a better understanding and a better expression, is the beginning of the human journey.

What is faith? What faith should one have in life?

Which is more important - love or trust? You can love a person without trusting that person. It is not necessary for both to go together. That means that you are thinking of love but not giving your total. That total is trust. When you trust somebody that is beyond love, because in that trust you have given something of that total and there is no barrier between you and the other person. In love there is not total giving. Rather that love becomes the cause of total bondage and further conditioning. It acts like an agent to bring out the negative qualities - jealousy, possessiveness, aggression. Most people have experienced love in this manner.

Similarly, faith is not something you can conceptualize or intellectualize about. It is something you have. Just as you are endowed with life in this body, you are endowed with faith in this body. Life itself is faith. No one is born without faith. You live because of your faith. But faith has been misrepresented and misinterpreted as the placing of something, in some object, in some receptacle, in some being. That is where the concept of faith has not been true to its aspiration.

Faith is an expression of your innocence combined with wisdom and trust in something. That trust has to be in yourself, because trust in yourself is trust in the qualities you have inherited and are cultivating and developing. If you want to be loved, be pleasant to everyone. If you want to be disliked, be rude to everyone. It is as simple as that. If somebody is rude, then that person can't be loved, no matter how hard one tries. If somebody is pleasant, then without effort there is a feeling of affection and love.

Having faith in yourself, believing in what you can be and what you are, is the first step in the cultivation of faith. Believing in what you are should be without the shadow or colouring of the ego - without the shadow of doubt and without the shadow of arrogance in one's strength, ability and achievement. That is the condition.

The classic example is Hanuman in the Ramayana. Heroes are very proud of themselves. Hanuman was the greatest warrior who lived, but he was not proud of his prowess. On the seashore there was a discussion as to who could cross the ocean. One monkey said, "In my young days I could, but now I'm a bit old." What is reflected there? Pride in the past. Another said, "I can cross, but I don't know if I can come back again." What is reflected there? Self-doubt. Somebody said, "I will go halfway and fall straight in the ocean." What is reflected there? Inferiority complex. Only Hanuman sat quietly and passively. Janvant, the old bear, asked him, "Why are you so quiet? Out of all of us you are the only one who can cross the ocean and return. You don't know what your powers are. Get up and make an attempt." Meekly and obediently Hanuman then got up, made the attempt and was successful. That is innocence combined with wisdom and giving your total trust, which is faith.

Therefore, there is the old adage that faith can move mountains. Faith is cultivated by becoming aware of oneself in the right perspective, without anything that takes you on the minus side or on the plus side. You are able to maintain harmony. Maintenance of that harmony is described in the Bhagavad Gita as samatvam yoga ucchate - total wholeness, harmonious wholeness.

As a spiritual aspirant, that is the aim one can adopt in life. That should be the sankalpa. To cultivate and develop, not only faith but trust, not only trust but strength, not only strength but wisdom, not only wisdom but understanding, not only understanding but also awareness - the ability to see. This is the complete circle of yoga.

Ganga Darshan, April 2003