The Yoga of Synthesis

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

The yoga of synthesis is suitable for the vast majority of people. It is a unique yoga. Man is a strange, complex mixture of will, feeling and thought. He is like a three-wheeled chariot. He wills to possess the objects of his desires. He has emotion and so he feels. He has reason and so he thinks. In some people the emotional element may predominate, while in others the rational element may be dominant. Just as will, feeling and thought are not distinct and separate, so also work, devotion and knowledge are not exclusive of one another. A spiritual aspirant, therefore, needs to develop the heart, intellect and hands. Only then can perfection be attained.

The four main paths are karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga and jnana yoga. Some maintain that the practice of karma yoga alone is the means to salvation. Others hold that bhakti is the only way. Some believe that the path of wisdom is the sole way. There are still others who believe that all these paths are equally efficacious in bringing about perfection and freedom.

It must be remembered that karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga and jnana yoga do not mutually exclude each other. Karma yoga leads to bhakti yoga, which in turn leads to raja yoga. Raja yoga brings jnana, knowledge. Jnana intensifies bhakti. Karma yoga, the path of selfless service, purifies the heart, bhakti yoga removes the tossing of the mind, raja yoga steadies the mind. Every yoga is a fulfilment of the preceding one.

Yoga is a system of integral education, not only of the body and mind or the intellect, but also of the inner spirit. It is a complete method of overhauling the human personality. The idea of the beginner that yoga constitutes physical exercises or mere asana and pranayama only is a terrible error. Real yoga is more than asana, pranayama, mudras, bandhas and kriyas. These are considered to be aids in yoga practice.

Many aspirants have lopsided development. They do not possess integral development, as they neglect one or the other of these aspects of their personality. I do not encourage lop-sided development, but urge my disciples to combine the important branches of yoga with emphasis on dynamic selfless service and the cultivation of virtues. One-sided development is not commendable. Yoga must educate and develop the whole person – heart, intellect and hand. Only then will there be integral development.

In the mind, there are three defects: mala or impurity, vikshepa or tossing, and avarana, the veil of ignorance. The impurities of the mind should be removed by the practice of karma yoga, selfless service. The tossing should be removed by worship or upasana, by japa and devotion. The veil should be torn down by the practice of jnana yoga.

If you want to see your face clearly in a mirror, you must remove the dirt on the mirror, keep it steady, and remove the covering also. You can see your face clearly in the bottom of a lake only if the water agitated by the wind is rendered still, and if the moss lying on the surface is removed. It is the same with self-realization.

Action, emotion and intelligence are the three horses that are linked to this body-chariot. They should work in perfect harmony or unison. Only then will the chariot run smoothly. There must be integral development. You must have the head of Shankara, the heart of Buddha and the hands of Janaka. Bhakti softens the heart and removes jealousy, hatred, anger, pride and arrogance. Karma yoga removes the crust of selfishness, jealousy, hatred and pride and causes expansion of the heart. It develops virtues like tolerance, patience and humility which are necessary for the dawn of knowledge.

To behold the one self in all beings is jnana, wisdom; to love the self is bhakti; to serve the self is karma, action. When the jnana yogi attains wisdom, he is endowed with bhakti and selfless activity. Karma yoga becomes a spontaneous expression of his spiritual nature, as he sees the one self in all. When the devotee attains perfection in devotion, he is possessed of wisdom and activity. The karma yogi attains wisdom and devotion when his actions are wholly selfless. The three paths are in fact one, in which the three different temperaments emphasize one or the other of its inseparable constituents. Yoga supplies the method by which the self can be seen, loved and served.

Hence everyone should have one yoga as the basic yoga and combine other yogas. You can combine nishkama karma yoga, hatha yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga, sankirtan yoga, etc. with jnana yoga as the basis. This is my yoga of synthesis, which will ensure rapid spiritual progress.

A little practice of hatha yoga will give you good health. Raja yoga will steady your mind. Upasana and karma yoga will purify your heart and prepare you for the practice of Vedanta. Sankirtan will relax your mind and inspire you. Meditation will take you to liberation. Such a yogi has all-round development. The practice of this unique yoga of synthesis will help you to attain self-realization quickly.

Logic chopping, clever hair-splitting arguments, intellectual gymnastics and word jugglery will not help you in attaining self-realization. You must harmoniously develop your head, heart and hands through the practice of the yoga of synthesis. The impurities of the mind must be removed by untiring selfless service, japa, kirtan and upasana.

The superstructure of Vedanta can only be built when the foundation has been laid strongly by the practice of yama and niyama, when the heart has been purified thoroughly through untiring selfless service and upasana.

A bird cannot fly without two wings. Though the bird may have two wings, it cannot fly without a tail. The tail balances and directs the bird to fly in the right direction and saves it from falling. The tail is bhakti which balances karma and jnana. Karma, bhakti and jnana are necessary to make you perfect, and to develop the head, heart and hands, and help you in reaching the goal.

Have you seen the picture of Lord Shiva’s family? Mother Parvati is in the centre. She has Ganesha, the Lord of wisdom, on one side and Subrahmanya, the Lord of action, on the other. She is bhakti. This picture teaches you that you can attain perfection only by practising the yoga of synthesis. The yoga of synthesis alone will bring about integral development, develop the head, heart and hands, and lead one to perfection. To become harmoniously balanced in all directions is the ideal of yoga. This can be achieved by the practice of the yoga of synthesis.