People have very strange notions about yoga. Some think that only sannyasins can practise yoga and that it is taboo for householders. This is a fallacy. In the scriptures there are many stories of householders who were yogis, like King Janaka. Some people believe that yoga means a few asanas and pranayamas, but yoga is actually much more than that. In the Bhagavad Gita mention is made of Brahma vidya, the science of the Self, and the yoga shastras, the yogic scriptures or texts. These two are interlinked, the former relating to theory and the latter to practice.
Yoga is a practical science. Remember that the knowledge of yoga was imparted by Lord Krishna to Arjuna right in the midst of the battlefield. It was not given to a sannyasin, but to a person who was living in the world, a warrior who was confused about the problem of right and wrong. Thus you will see that yoga does not mean performing a few asanas or pranayamas, although this is important, nor is it meant for sannyasins only. Yoga is actually meant for people in the world who are faced with the day-to-day problems and realities of life.
There are different branches of yoga which can help you in your individual and social life. Yoga is a form of mental therapy. Asana, pranayama, ajapa japa, nada yoga and all the other practices of yoga help to rid the mind of the accumulated samskaras, the impressions and unconscious memories. Once these samskaras are removed, your neurosis, mental conflicts, complexes, frustrations and tensions also go. They are a legacy of psychological problems. Man identifies with the body and then becomes a victim of all sorts of psychological neuroses. Even when there is no external cause for neuroses, he creates them – fear of death, fear of ill health, fear of monetary loss. He imagines all sorts of foreboding situations and worries without rhyme or reason.
If you want to change your personality, to remove your mental complexes, then yoga is the answer. Liberation does not mean going into seclusion. Liberation means remaining steadfast where you are and overcoming your limitations. It means destroying the chains that bind you. It does not mean, as some imagine, going to some unknown region, high up in the sky, from which there is no rebirth. It belongs very much to the world. It is a matter of here and now.
If you cannot shake off the vasanas or deep-rooted desires which bind you in life, if you cannot overcome your personality deficiencies which are entrenched in your unconscious, how can you get happiness, bliss and liberation? Yoga will liberate you from the shackles that bind. Through yoga you can fathom your unconscious and remove layer after layer of the samskaras which hold you back and block your natural self-expression. When these samskaras are removed, the power and wisdom which lie dormant within you begin to manifest.
In an ultramodern drawing room, furnished in the best taste, if there is some highly decomposed, stinking matter hidden from the eye, no one will want to enter that room despite its elegance. The same principle applies to the human personality. If there is rot within, people will keep away from you. Yoga is a broom which makes a clean sweep of your internal rubbish.
Our daily life is full of tensions. There are tensions between husband and wife, employer and employee, friend and friend. Nobody wants tensions, but somehow they are there making life miserable. Tensions are there because of our accumulated samskaras. Modern psychology does not believe in rebirth and karma, but this is an important aspect of yogic philosophy. The soul has been changing residence from one body to another from time immemorial, and in the process it has accumulated many samskaras. That is why people act as they do and at times are at a loss to know why they did a particular thing in a particular way.
Everyone wants peace and harmony in life. In fact, only after you have attained peace and harmony within yourself can God-realization be attained. Once you attain peace, all of the tensions, complexes and frustrations vanish. Then you will know God. Mind-realization and God-realization go hand in hand. Therefore, first try to understand your mind. A yogi never overlooks his mind. He synchronizes his psychic consciousness with his mind. He withdraws his senses from their objects and joins them with his consciousness, his atma. This is yoga.
When your mind becomes introverted and begins to meditate, then you attain supreme peace, paramananda. You become one with your Self. This is meditation on the Self. There are various methods whereby you can attain this state, such as nada yoga, kundalini yoga and jnana yoga. Some say these yogas are too complicated for them to understand. They find it easier to practise bhakti, and that too is yoga. The saints have said that bhakti, karma and jnana are all paths of yoga.
Raja yoga is common to all these yogas, just as salt is to different types of food preparations. Ultimately all the above yogas become one with raja yoga. Without raja yoga you cannot control the dissipation of your mind. Karma yoga is difficult because you have to act with total awareness, treating pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, all alike in your daily life. Jnana yoga is easier and bhakti is the easiest to practise.
You will see therefore how all-embracing our scriptural concept of yoga is. The practice of yoga transforms a rank pessimist into a robust optimist. The science of yoga can no longer be kept away from humanity. We have to propagate it because it can do tremendous good to the weary world.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was a great believer in bhakti yoga. All surplus emotions, uncontrolled and unfulfilled desires are exhausted by the practice of bhakti yoga. Human beings are emotional beings. They try to channel their emotions in their love for wife, husband, children, relatives, friends, etc., but love for worldly objects cannot give fulfillment, and unfulfilled love creates complexes. Instead of controlling your emotions, your emotions control you. This results in all sorts of maladjustments.
Bhakti yoga takes care of all surplus emotions. It can transform your mundane neuroses into sublime neurosis. But along with bhakti yoga, you should also practise karma and jnana yoga. Having established yourself in poorna yoga, complete yoga, go into meditation and by and by you will attain samadhi. You don’t have to take sannyasa for that. Stay where you are and practise it.
There are various methods of doing meditation and attaining samadhi. But for all practical purposes, you will have to seek answers to two questions One is whether yoga can help you to improve your everyday social life. The second is whether people can overcome their personality deficiencies by the practice of yoga. As you will soon realize, the answer to both questions is in the affirmative.
Originally printed in YOGA, Vol. 3, No. 2, January 1965