Yoga is a very old science and its main purpose is to bring higher enlightenment to all mankind. The word yoga means union. The individual consciousness expands gradually and becomes infinite. Attainment of infinite consciousness by setting off the empirical and objective personality is the main purpose of yoga. Not everybody is ready or fit for this aim, and thus we have other aspects of yoga, such as hatha yoga and raja yoga.
If control over the mind is achieved, one is able to dive deep into the innermost recesses of one's personality. If the winds of thought cannot disturb, then there is no yoga except meditation. However, when the body is ill one needs hatha yoga, and when the mind is ill one needs raja, karma and bhakti yoga. These branches of yoga are means for preparing the body and mind, but are not the ultimate aim of yoga.
When one is able to close external awareness and get in tune with a different state of consciousness, then yoga begins. Some say yoga begins when someone starts doing karma selflessly, but this is not true. Some feel yoga begins when one starts to achieve concentration and the mental tendencies become one-pointed, but this is not true either. Union begins when the notion of duality is completely lost for the individual who has been trying to experience the state of oneness. Yoga does not mean duality, but unity. Duality is a kind of hallucination, and in order to correct this mistake, the practice of yoga is to be done.
The lower consciousness which operates through the body, senses, mind, intelligence and ego is negated with the practices of yoga. A process of negation through meditation develops and illumines the inner part of one's personality. The light is within. There is an infinite state of consciousness or superconsciousness which, in the West is called expanded or higher consciousness. Through the practice of meditation, lower consciousness is made to ascend and commune with superconsciousness. The communion is established for all times.
It is true that yogasanas and pranayama as well as other aspects of yoga are practiced and taught. These aspects are important, but at the same time there is a higher phase of consciousness in every individual which should be realized and which is the ultimate purpose of yoga. In order to achieve this purpose in life, one must have a strong and steady mind.
In order to bring about mental health, one practices the yoga of concentration, relaxation and withdrawal of consciousness. The path of yoga is not at all difficult and everybody can turn to this path. Weakness of will and the concept of sin dissolve the moment one knows that it is only consciousness and nothing else. This is the subject matter of yoga, and when one practices yoga one deals with one's consciousness.
Consciousness seems to be in the form of awareness, rather than something philosophical or metaphysical as understood by Eastern and Western philosophers. This awareness is not manifest in animals. Through this awareness you know you are; I know I am and I am aware I am speaking just as you are aware that you are listening. This awareness is completely dormant in animals. Therefore, they do not know that they move and live. Sometimes animals do great deeds, but they do not know what they are doing. Self-awareness and the ability to develop the state of witnessing is completely absent in them, but it is developed in human beings.
Awareness is associated with sensual, intellectual and mental knowledge. The awareness is functioning through the lower mediums. Therefore, according to Vedanta, it is associated with senses, mind and prana. Is it possible that awareness, as far as its functions are concerned, could be made free and independent from the lower, limited and finite instruments? Is it possible that awareness could function without any medium? Is it possible that I could know without mind, see without eyes and hear without ears? Is it possible that every form of knowledge could develop within without depending on material instruments?
Yoga is trying to develop this awareness. There have been people in every period of history who were able to know things without any medium. Therefore, we can learn something about this medium within us, through which you know that you are and I know I am, through which you are aware of awareness, and through which you are aware of the functions of yoga in relation to your personality.
Is awareness an expression of the brain expressing itself through the senses, or is it completely distinct from brainwaves? Is the brain the origin of consciousness or is the brain independent of awareness? Eastern philosophy, especially Indian philosophy, says the brain is not the basis for awareness and awareness is not the action of the brain. The awareness that I am, that you are, that everything exists, this knowledge and understanding of everything is not an offspring of the brain. The brain is not the house of consciousness. When a person dies, consciousness does not leave the brain. This is Eastern philosophy. In man, awareness is something in man which is the nucleus, centre or hub of his personality.
If you see a spider's web and a spider in it, you can understand that the spider is the cause of the whole web. The web is the manifestation of the functions, abilities and qualities of the spider. In the same manner, somewhere or everywhere in us there is something which is the nucleus of our personality. Some say it is atman, the self or pure being. In Vedanta it is called satchidananda, which means existence, knowledge and bliss. Although we cannot indicate the existence of consciousness, some name must be given to it in order to make people understand the concept, but actually it is nameless.
The awareness in human beings is also in animals and minerals. It is in every vegetable, every visible and invisible object, but it is sleeping and dormant. In Vedanta and yoga, the sleeping consciousness is known as purusha, the sleeping consciousness in the city. The body is the city of nine gates and awareness is sleeping within.
In human beings consciousness has started functioning. When consciousness wakes up a little there is a slight movement, which tends towards expressing itself through the very limited means of the hands, eyes, ears, mouth or touch. Through these finite mediums, awareness is functioning in the form of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, thinking and acting. The potential is in every sphere, visible and invisible, and everything is taking place because of the power of consciousness. Human beings have become aware of this consciousness. When they become aware in a spiritual sense, then awareness becomes what is called God.
When people start to feel awareness of God within, the concept of God begins. In ancient times people asked, "What is the awareness in me?" People who were interested in inner awareness were not afraid of thunderbolts, crying clouds, terrible rains, great floods, the rising sun and setting moon. They created their concept of God around these phenomena. They began to ask, "What is this in me? How do I know that I am? What is this awareness which continues in spite of my death every night? I die every night, but the next morning I am aware that I am the same."
They began to explore the possibility of continuity, and ultimately came to the conclusion that the awareness through which I know that I am is only a partial expression of supreme consciousness. They began to experiment in order to find the finite scope, but found that consciousness is infinite, so they stopped the investigation. Then they asked, "Where does awareness spring from?" This started a process of involution through the process of yoga.
What happens in yoga? In yoga you try to withdraw your consciousness so that the field of knowledge becomes narrower in the realm of the visible world of external knowledge. You stop seeing, hearing, being and completely disassociate your awareness from objects. When you are standing opposite another person, awareness is associated through the medium of the eyes. If you close the eyes there is disassociation, but it is not enough to break awareness because you still remember the other person. Your awareness is associated with the presence of the other person through the mind rather than the eyes. In yoga, you must withdraw the mind so that someone can be in front of you and, even though you have seen him a hundred times, your awareness is completely free from the impressions of that other person.
When you listen to someone speak, your awareness is associated with the flow of words and sounds. If you plug your ears, your awareness, functioning through the medium of the senses, is disconnected. You don't hear any more, but you have the experience or impression in your mind of all the words which you have heard. If you withdraw your consciousness from the mind, then all the words you have heard in the past and all the knowledge you have gathered through the ears is completely disassociated from your awareness.
This is how the process of purification works. Purification is usually associated with ethics and morals, but it should not be understood that way. Purification of consciousness is the process in which you free your consciousness from the incoming and accumulated impressions as well as from the possibility of impressions that consciousness might gather in the future.
When you close your ears, the mind becomes free from external sounds. When you close your eyes, the mind becomes free from visual perceptions. If you withdraw your mind, it becomes free from thoughts. However, what happens to the experiences of the past? There are thousands of experiences that are called samskaras, impressions of the past, which lie in the subliminal body and which decide how awareness functions. Awareness functions in the form of passion, greed, memory, pain, pleasure, ignorance, understanding and misunderstanding because they are impressions.
You have to scrap these impressions in the process of involution. First, you withdraw the senses and cut off the connections, then awareness becomes sense-free awareness. When your consciousness becomes free from sense associations, it is known as withdrawal or pratyahara. Pratyahara is the first stage in which awareness is disassociated from sense experiences. Yoga does not begin with asana or ethics and morality. It begins when sense perceptions are withdrawn. The state of pratyahara is where the lower scheme of yoga begins.
The second process is control of the mind. The mind remembers through chitta, memory. It remembers in the form of visions, thoughts, impressions, worries and anxieties. It is easy to withdraw awareness from the senses, but it is more difficult to withdraw it from the mind because it is very powerful.
In order to consolidate the multiple tendencies of the mind, there is a beautiful method known as dharana, fixing the mind on an object after the senses have been withdrawn. The object could be gross, semi-gross or abstract, but the mind must have an object or centre on which to fix itself and gradually consolidate its faculties. The field of the mind is made very narrow. This particular art of yoga is known as a process of negation or involution. The personality is withdrawn and becomes a point. When one has completely withdrawn, associations and awareness to just one point, it functions as one's object - a triangle, cross, flower, circle, sound or point.
Then one starts developing and expanding it. First one was contracting consciousness from a circle to a point. Now this point is again to be developed into the form of a circle. The difference is that the first circle was the objective circle, the finite circle, and this is an infinite circle. It is the process of expansion of consciousness where sense experiences are completely absent. Therefore, in the practice of yoga, meditation does not mean to close the eyes and see something.
People do not know how to meditate, and that is the whole problem. Many people feel that to sit down and close the eyes is meditation. As a matter of fact, meditation is not the right word. It is not meditation, but complete awareness. When one practices either meditation or awareness, one must start with the practices which withdraw awareness. Then one fixes the mind on an object so that mind and awareness become a point. One tries to expand this point to the maximum possible extent, and the experience of meditation takes place. It is here that yoga and Vedanta meet each other.
The spontaneous meditation known as ajapa japa can be used for this process. In the beginning it is practiced with the help of the breath, bringing the mind nearer to breath consciousness. The breath should be the normal breath one breathes throughout the day. The difference is that one becomes aware of the process of breathing. If awareness is maintained for about half an hour, one can transcend one phase of mental consciousness.
After continuous awareness of the breath, one should discover the sound of the breath. It may happen on the first day or it may be after a few months. When one is able to discover the sound of the breath, it is mantra. The sound is not the physical but the psychic sound. If one becomes aware of the breathing process today, one will hear the physical sound. But when consciousness merges with breath awareness, breath and mind become one; they are synchronized with each other.
Mind becomes prana and prana becomes mind. Breath becomes mind, mind becomes breath and they operate as one entity. It is at that moment that sound is discovered, the bija mantra, the seed or root mantra. When one is able to discover that particular mantra from the depths of consciousness, it can be said that one has transcended. It does not mean that one has transcended all the facts of objective awareness; it means that one has transcended one step of external awareness. Once the mantra is discovered, one continues to use it. This is one practice that can be done anywhere, any time throughout the day, with the eyes open or closed, with the spinal cord bent or straight.
The second process is japa yoga or rhythmic sound movement. It is so powerful that even if tranquillizers fail to relieve tension, this will act immediately. Meditation is nothing but a kind of movement of consciousness, and japa yoga is the rhythmic movement of consciousness. In this method you take a particular sound - Om, Kleem, Ram, or any other sound - and bring about a state of transcendence in the realm of awareness. You make a rhythmic movement of sound, for half a second, without stopping, and continue this for twenty minutes. The mind will continue to function in the form of worries, memories, reflections, anticipations or brooding, but you must stay one-pointed with a straightforward rhythmic movement of consciousness in the form of a sound. You continue at the same moderate speed, neither too quick nor too slow, and once a speed is fixed, you continue at that speed.
After twenty minutes of rhythmic movement of consciousness in the form of sound, remain in the same position and become still. Now develop awareness in the form of an image and find out if the movement of consciousness has brought about some tangible results. If the sound movement has brought about a tangible result, then the moment you close your eyes and think of a triangle, the triangle comes as a vision rather than a thought. The image is clear when consciousness is pure. Purity of consciousness is understood in a spiritual and metaphysical sense, rather than ia an ethical or moral sense.
In spite of the fact that the mind may have been running here and there at times in the practice, the moment the movement is stopped and the eyes are closed, the image should appear. The image of a circle, triangle, rose or human form once decided upon should not change even if other forms come to replace it. The form is the basis for the manifestation of consciousness. It is not God and I do not like to associate the idea of God with it. This particular form can also be the guru, husband, a person one loves and adores.
One should try to develop awareness of this one unchanging form. When the form comes as imagination or an idea, it means that awareness is not clear. There is some kind of disturbance in the mind. When one is able to see the image as if it is a conscious dream, it means consciousness is coming to the point of consolidation or crystallization. If the form continues in the plane of consciousness like a vivid dream with colours, it means consciousness is completely disassociated and is functioning independently on the borderline of knowledge.
Eventually, one will be able to see the object as clearly as one sees an object with the eyes open. It is the experience of expanded consciousness or the fourth dimensional consciousness, which is the ultimate aim of yoga. Through yoga that dimension of consciousness is opened so that one can see one's consciousness just as one sees objects outside. In yogic texts, this state is called spiritual seeing or darshan. It means to see an object without the medium of the senses, without thinking, feeling or touching. What comes in the form of an image, an idea, a vision or conscious dream are different manifestations of awareness. It is one's being, the atman and nucleus of one's personality. When one has this vision and experiences the fourth dimension of one's personality, one has completed yoga and experiences that 'I am all'.
I have spoken a little about the theory and background of yoga and the time has come when it should be understood in a different way. Yoga came to the West in the form of physical exercises. Now it is developing as a new science and many psychologists are thinking in terms of using meditation for psychotherapy. This should be done, but with a few sincere aspirants who must come forward and work hard to develop higher awareness. Out of millions of people all over the world, only a few actually try to take the path of yoga to attain higher realization or higher experience.
The ultimate purpose of yoga is to experience oneself in the purest state. We do not know ourselves in the purest state. Our knowledge is mixed up. We know ourselves in terms of "I am a Christian, I am a Hindu, I am a man, I am a woman, I am a tall man, my name is this, I have an MA." We know ourselves in terms of all these labels, which is confused knowledge. We have to disassociate from this type of knowledge and gradually understand ourselves as we are.
When Socrates said, "Know thyself," he meant try to realize the centre of your personality. When the great saint Ramana Maharshi said, "Think, who am I," he meant try to realize the centre of your personality. Many great men have been saying this from time to time.
You should try to realize and understand theoretically and practically the higher aim of yoga. There is no other path and no other way by which you will be able to experience your consciousness. There are different paths which take you nearer to God. There are various religions: Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, through which you can worship God in your way, but when you want to make consciousness free from its limitations, the only method is yoga. The method is called the yoga of meditation in Sanskrit, but it should be translated as the science of self-awareness.