People have many misunderstandings about yoga. Even sannyasins will find it difficult to appreciate the obvious truth of what I am going to say now. It will uproot many of your pet theories on yoga. What are these ideas? Firstly, no one need leave their home and go into oblivion to practise yoga. It is about time that we scotched the belief that only sannyasins are fit to practise yoga. Secondly, marital relations do not stand in the way of yoga. Thirdly, one is not required to become a vegetarian just because he has taken up yoga.
The real aim of yoga is to attain peace and tranquillity within. For this you need not give up your normal ways. Running away from life is not the way to deliverance. Samsara is not maya or illusion. It may be maya to the philosopher because he lives in a world of imagination and his feet are not solidly on the ground. Yoga is different; it is practical. It has nothing to do with philosophical flights of fancy. Never believe for a moment that the life of the householder is low and the renunciate high. Let no woman think that her status in life is inferior to that of a man.
We believe that yoga has a special role to play in the world of today. It can remove our mental and physical afflictions. It can bring joy to our hearths and homes. Our concept of yoga does not lay down extraordinary rules and regulations of self-discipline and behaviour. You can continue to enjoy the good things of life and still be a yogi.
It is not necessary to give up your worldly ambitions and material aspirations. If you do so, it will do you no good. It will bring harm to society and ruin our country. However, do not become the slave of your desires. Be like the ocean which remains undisturbed as the turbulent, rushing waters of the rivers pour into it. Enjoy sense gratification but dont let it overpower you. Do not despise life. There is no virtue in retiring to the forest and sitting enchanted in the solitary grandeur of samadhi. Heroism lies in remaining steadfast in the tumult of life when the scales are heavily loaded against you, and attaining the samadhi of self-equilibrium.
The physician who wants only healthy persons for patients is no physician. Likewise, if yoga were to work its wonders on normal, healthy people only, then the scope of yoga would become limited. Yoga can benefit all people under all circumstances. After your daily round of mental and physical toil, if yoga cannot bring back your resilience and vigour, then you have learned it in vain.
Your life is karma yoga. Sannyasins do not do karma and therefore they cannot realize through the duties and obligations of householders. Life for a householder is a continuous yajna. All your labours to keep your home fires burning, your activities to discharge your social and national obligations are oblations. Once you understand this truth, you can keep your vision of self-realization undimmed in the midst of the unremitting hard work that your station in life enjoins upon you.
However, ceaseless activity in the rough and tumble of life takes its own toll. Anxieties, frustrations, exhaustion of mind and body, all accelerate the ageing process. Yoga is a powerful remedy against these forces of destruction. Why cling to the belief that the road to the Himalayas is the royal road that will end all your worldly troubles? The Bhagavad Gita does not teach escapism. When the magic moment of his crowning achievement arrived, Arjuna faltered and began to talk of sin and salvation and retreating to the Himalayas. The Lord brought him back to sanity by preaching the excellence of karma yoga.
Do you wish to pursue the soul lifting science of yoga? If so, lifelong celibacy is not indispensable, notwithstanding what our wise men of old have declared. Age does not come in your way. Whether you are on the threshold of life or the spring of youthfulness has yielded to the venerableness of old age, you can learn yoga. There are no limiting factors.
Yoga does not mean solely the ashtanga yoga of our scriptures. Such simple practices as likhit japa, nada yoga, trataka and mantra anushthana are also yoga. Karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga and raja yoga are all different facets of yoga. Because music is an integral part of it, bhakti yoga has a soothing effect on your bottled up and feverish mind. Trataka is a form of pratyahara. But why go so far? Life itself is yoga. Religion is yoga. Your day to day work is yoga. The field is vast and inviting. Let the thrill and quiver of yoga transform all your activities.
In the snares and pitfalls of life, you cannot allow yourself to be divorced from reality. Satya, ahimsa, brahmacharya, etc. are all wonderful words, but I have yet to see the individual who can claim that he has not departed one iota from their practice. Not even our great saints can lay such claim. Patanjalis yamas and niyamas were formulated for an age that is gone and done with, and they have no place in the world of today. In the good old days the very air that our ancestors breathed was full of these virtues The polluted air that we now breathe is full of falsehood, violence and countless other imperfections.
Admittedly satya, ahimsa, etc. are forces of great potency, but they are only so if one practises them to perfection in obedience to inner compulsion. Yoga is not concerned with the cultivation of impossible virtues. We leave them to the moralists. Yoga is a system, a technique for stilling the turbulence of the mind, for harnessing it and maintaining its resilience. Aim at developing an integrated personality. The best way to achieve this is a synthesis of bhakti, karma, jnana and raja yoga. You should not be all intellect or all emotion. There should be a happy blending of both, otherwise you will have no peace in life.
When I was in Swami Sivanandas ashram, I kept no money on me or in my room. I thought this was aparigraha, but Swamiji thought differently. He saw no harm in my keeping money and giving it away to whoever needed it. The real meaning of aparigraha then became clear to me. If you have money and can use it when necessary to help others, seeing no differences between one person and another, then it is aparigraha. What is the use of developing virtues in the solitary confinement of your room entirely for your own spiritual progress with no benefit to society as a whole?
If you practise aparigraha in its strict scriptural sense, individually it may bring you spiritual gain, but collectively it can only bring poverty and starvation to your whole family and society. The householder takes one path and the sannyasin another. The paths differ but the destination is the same. One has a small family; the other adopts an infinitely large family. Whether one is a householder or a sannyasin, a single test applies to both. How far do your attainments and siddhis benefit others? Remember that any religion which aims at individual improvement in isolation cannot be a good religion.
Unless we make root and branch changes to our traditional concepts of yoga, we cannot fully bring the blessings of this wonderful science to humanity. The word yoga is of great significance. It is derived from the word yuj, to unite. It means union, identification. If you identify yourself with the joy and sorrow of everyone, extend your horizons, rise above the pettiness of life, this is yoga. If you take identification in this sense, it ceases to be personal. Mother and son have an emotional identification. If the son is unwell, the mother does not feel well either. Another such relationship is that of husband and wife; if one is unhappy, the other is also unhappy.
Have emotional integration with everyone around you. That is the yoga my master, Swami Sivananda, taught me. He wanted me to identify myself with the mind of a thief, of a liar, of one who spoke ill of me. His advice to me was, Put yourself in their position, then you will understand them better. If you can develop such an attitude in life, then you are not very far from yoga siddhi. To attain psychic powers is easy, but to understand yoga is very difficult.
Yoga stands for physical well-being. It comes as a blessing to suffering humanity, as a form of psychosomatic treatment. It comes as the shortest cut to God-realization for seekers of truth. It does not stand for magic mongering or mystifying the unwary. Half-truths and untruths have been propagated in the name of yoga. People have been taught to look down upon grihastha ashrama, householder life. However, my guru, Swami Sivananda, was one to give it a lofty status. Householders are real yogis. They have great duties and responsibilities. Sannyasins have kept themselves away from the stormy seas of life. How can we treat grihastha ashrama lightly? Swami Sivananda used to say, Grihastha ashrama is the crucible which burns the dross of past samskaras and tempers the steel in you so that your personality can develop to its fullest potential. A householders life is a long, continuous sadhana. When the storms and tempests of life threaten to sweep you off your feet, you have to stand firm and hold on to your duties.
Why should you consider your station in life as less worthy than mine? You have the capacity to earn, to feed yourself and others, to acquire wealth and throw it away. I am a penniless, vagrant sadhu. I have nothing to give; I can only take. Like the wick in the lamp, you burn yourselves away so that others may live. Those who say that grihastha ashrama is inferior do not know what they are saying. They speak from a mental perch so remote that they cannot see the glory and grandeur of life around them.
Having said so much in praise of grihastha ashrama, I must also tell you that it is up to you to uphold its sanctity. Live in the world but renounce all that is vulgar and petty. Perform all your actions in a spirit of detachment. That is how you can have renunciation in the midst of samsara. Strive for perfection in every action. That will be the yoga of efficiency mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita.
My own ideas on yoga differ widely from what has been taken for granted all along. I do not believe in making prim and proper speeches. I have no time for moralistic talks. What I have to say, I say with full conviction and with all the force I have at my command. I have a mission to fulfil.
Do you enjoy a happy and harmonious home life? Are you afire with enthusiasm in your day to day activities? When adverse circumstances squash and suppress you, do you rise above them with a cool head and an easy assurance? If so, you are a yogi. Strive to put your house in order. Strive for the betterment of society. Strive, strive with every fibre of your being for the welfare of humanity. Let caste, creed and sex be no barriers to you.