What is the ultimate in yoga?
More often than not, this question is asked by way of idle curiosity, but it is regarded by philosophers and metaphysicians as a touchstone which exposes either the worth or the worthlessness of a system. Philosophically viewed, yoga is a modified version of the Samkhya system. An objection has been raised to yoga on the premise that a Buddhist or Jain doing meditation or a process akin to it will reach a different ultimate than a yogi. To my mind this is inevitable. Therefore, I do not subscribe to the theory that the ultimate should be comprehensible in one form or in one manner only. If that were so, then only one system of philosophy and one system of religion would have sufficed for mankind.
I also believe that the perennial questions of philosophy such as this one will continue to remain perennial, because the structure of the ultimate will never be postulated as logical and within the grasp of the finite intellect. This may be a valid attitude to take within the scope allotted to philosophy, but I do not see why the sadhaka should stand merely on the platform of logic and metaphysics when he seeks to reach a stage of consciousness in which all thoughts lose their confines. The bondage of thoughts is as vicious as the bondage of things and the ultimate of yoga as conceived by me is free from this bondage.
What is the need for the International Yoga Fellowship Movement?
The need for the revival of yoga can hardly be overstated. Yoga presents a panacea for all the mental, moral and material ailments of the inner and outer world of man. Yoga is more relevant today than ever before. The IYF movement exists and has come into being to emphasize and satisfy the need for a yogic culture. It has a special significance because it is not conceived to be one of the sporadic and piecemeal endeavours which are popular today, but a systematic and progressive movement.
What kind of yoga does the Fellowship seek to propagate?
Yoga is not a methodically divided, neatly labelled compact body of practices. The various designations such as hatha yoga, raja yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga and kriya yoga do not indicate different kinds of yoga. The difference is only in degree. Each type of yogic practice is useful to an aspirant at different stages of progress in sadhana. However, we do not wish to propagate a yoga synthesis. Its forms are purely distinct and need to be so maintained. We cannot have a synthesized yoga as we have a synthesized drug. So, in the IYFM the word yoga stands for homogenous values with heterogeneous ways of obtaining them.
Why this emphasis on yoga? Why not start a movement for the renaissance of vedic knowledge or a revival of ancient values, both cultural and philosophical?
To my mind, yoga is indeed the quintessence of both Indian philosophy and culture. However narrowly it may be understood, yoga is a philosophical system and an applied science as well. Moreover, much of what yoga has to say about the body and mind of man is today being borne out by scientific research. Academic knowledge of Indian philosophy can hardly serve the needs of the average person who wants to lead a better, happier and more progressive life. In fact, it is not the task of philosophy to enable man to do so. It is this dual aspect of yoga, which renders it a most desirable and important element of our culture, that needs to be revived.
How can yoga help us in our daily affairs?
One of the definitions of yoga given in the Bhagavad Gita is: “Yoga means efficiency in action.” At whatever stage of life you happen to be, whatever vocation you are immersed in, the impact of yoga will invariably be felt as a direction towards a better, happier life. All the kriyas of yoga aim at the negation of errors in the personality and the emergence of a strong, pure individual. Ajapa japa and mental control are immensely useful in this respect.
Is yoga a program, a method or a philosophy?
Yoga is a blueprint for perfection. You can consider it from all three standpoints. It is a program in so far as it assumes the shape of a movement with definite aims and objectives. It is a method in the sense that yogic kriyas are methodical and pure. Whatever your spiritual orientation may be, yoga can always be very useful. Few methods of self-realization are so universally valid and practical as yoga. I am tempted to say that yoga is the only modus operandi for self-realization.
As a philosophy, yoga needs reconsideration more than revival. Yoga is another side of Samkhya. However, we need a fresh approach to yoga philosophy on the basis of Samkhya, because much that is written about yoga is covered by the personal preferences of advaita vada. Perhaps, philosophically, the yoga system does not mark an advance over Samkhya.
What are your views on hatha yoga?
I welcome your question very much because, unfortunately, in this country as well as in the west, yoga is more or less regarded as a form of physical culture divested of all its psychological and spiritual significance. It is due to an exaggerated emphasis on the yoga asanas. Hatha yoga practices do form a preliminary background for progress in yoga, but they are not absolutely indispensable for yoga sadhana. While a strong body is an asset, a weak body is not always a handicap. There are instances in the history of yoga where the ultimate has been achieved while dispensing with the practices of hatha yoga. However, I believe that everybody should do asanas regularly. One of the aims of this movement is to popularize the use and the benefits of asana in the daily life of men, women and children.
Do you think that the average person is ready for yoga?
Yes. Everyone is ready and eligible for yoga. This classification into average and non-average is highly misleading because ultimately everyone is basically spiritual. I would say that an average person is more oriented to yoga than an intellectual who is enclosed in the obstinacy of his own system of knowledge.
What is your way of initiating the average person into yoga?
Once again that ghost of average. I ask everyone coming to me to do two things regularly: one, whatever asanas suit their system and, two, the practice of ajapa japa. Both are essential. Ajapa japa is a peculiar practice which has been obscured in secret formulas and is not yet systematically exposed. But I find that ajapa japa is a unique method of disciplining one’s own mind. Today the technique of ajapa japa will be well understood because depth psychology is very much in vogue. But anyone who cares to read the ancient formulation of the system of ajapa japa will invariably come to the conclusion that those ancient sages who expounded the significance of yoga did have an idea of the three-dimensional nature of human consciousness.
Ajapa japa consists of recitation of any particular mantra with the ingoing and outgoing breath during a given period of time, beginning with ten minutes and gradually developing into a number of hours. The instant effect of ajapa japa quietens and refreshes the mind and with practice it purifies and refines the mental processes. In fact, most of those who have practised ajapa japa have confided to me that the errors in their personality were being gradually eliminated and they were filled with new energy, strength and a better understanding of themselves.
Ajapa japa opens the gates of consciousness. It teaches a sadhaka to watch the undisturbed influx of mental states while the recitation of the mantra is going on. Further exploration into oneself must be done by meditation. In meditation the flux of thought in the mental states is gradually obliterated and a new awareness is infused by non-verbal reflection on the ishta devata. Meditation is the process of going within. While ajapa japa seeks to dilute the ceaseless turmoil of the mind, meditation positively destroys it. It is in and through meditation that realization engenders itself. It is here that the fusion between the self and the superself occurs.
Can we practise yoga without the yamas and niyamas?
It is very difficult for an ordinary person to practise the yamas and niyamas. If you fight with yourself for years and years together, then you may find some achievement. Therefore, in spite of all the imperfections in our nature, if we practise concentration we will be able to purify our inner consciousness. Thus we shall prepare for ethical perfection in life, even before we practise ethics such as the yamas and niyamas.
What is swadhyaya?
By swadhyaya, we usually mean scriptural studies. However, in my opinion, it means self-awareness during concentration. When we meditate we will have to separate our consciousness. A part of our consciousness will be concentrating, but the other part must become the seer or the observer. This seer, drashta, or the inner principle in us, should be awakened during the period of meditation. Swadhyaya does not mean self-analysis or reading of scriptural books. It means the mindfulness that one practises during meditation.
Should asanas be done systematically?
Yes. If you are a beginner, you must do sirshasana at the end of the session and if you are an experienced practitioner, you must start with sirshasana. After chakrasana, the counterpose should follow. Bhujangasana, shalabhasana and dhanurasana can follow one another and then the counterpose.
If there is any mistake in the asana series, there will be fatigue in the body. This should not happen. When you get up in the morning you stretch yourself. In this way, although you create a temporary tension in the body, you obtain full relaxation. Therefore, asanas must remove the fatigue and laziness. They are not exercises but postures that relax, give peace and rest, and remove rigidity from the body. If you feel lazy or sleepy after doing asanas, then you are doing them as exercises and not as yogic postures.
Sometimes the breathing is forced during asanas. There is no adverse effect on the body, but it is better to breathe in and out with control. This will bring more relaxation and rest. Many people practise asanas for three to six months and then give them up. Thus all the benefits are lost. Their body becomes fat and they will have to go back to the beginning and start again.
How can you say that yoga is universal? There are many prescriptions in yoga which are peculiarly Indian such as vegetarian diet, meditation upon the ishta, recitation of mantras etc. How could foreigners practise yoga?
It is true that there are certain prescriptions of yoga that hold good for the Indian culture, but these do not make an inseparable barrier to the adoption of the yogic way of life. Giving up a non-vegetarian diet becomes necessary only at a certain stage of yoga where all heavy and rich foods have to be given up in favour of a simple, nutritious diet. Food plays an important role in one’s life and it has to be regulated according to one’s way of living. Smoking and drinking also have to be moderated if one wants to practise yoga. Adjustment and moderation of these things only form a preliminary part of yoga in order to help one to progress more easily. If you can drink and still meditate, smoke and still practise ajapa japa, you are welcome to. But you will find that it is not possible.
Religions and cultures differ. A Christian, a Mohammedan, a Jew can all practise yoga. Except for an agnostic or an atheist, everyone has a vision of the ideal supreme. Rama or Soham are not the only fundamental mantras. One can say Allah or Hail Mary as well. In meditation, just as we have Krishna consciousness, there is also Christ consciousness. It is not the ultimate which varies but the mode of apprehension. Yoga is a universal recipe.