The Vision of Yoga

From Yoga Sadhana Panorama 3 by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Yoga has always meant connection for it believes that there is an intimate and subtle connection between the individual, the world and the cosmos. Once we become aware of this connection, which is individual, global and cosmic, our creativity becomes alive and we become fulfilled in all spheres of life. Connecting with nature, whether personal or cosmic, has been the aim of yoga.

Connection

Nature is multidimensional. Externally, in the physical sense, we connect with each other through the breath. We are breathing in and breathing out, but it is not only you or me, as individuals, who are breathing in and out. The entire world and all of nature is breathing in and breathing out. Plants, animals and human beings breathe in and out. Through the breath we are connected with our environment, with our fellow human beings and with all sentient beings.

Just as we are connected with each other physically through the breath, another connection exists. That connection is consciousness. In German the word ‘atmen' means to breathe, and in Sanskrit the word atman means spirit. The breath is the connection in the external dimension, and the atman, the spirit or consciousness, is the connection in the internal dimension. When we breathe in or out, there is a process of expansion and release – liberation, freedom. Even the statement, "Give me air," indicates the desire to expand and experience freedom.

Shiva and Shakti

Expansion and freedom is also internal. In tantra this concept has been defined in beautiful terms as Shiva and Shakti. Shakti is the force and energy which in the physical dimension is the breath. The subtle aspect of Shakti is energy, vitality, dynamism, movement. Shiva is consciousness.

It is the awakening or expansion of consciousness and the experience of freedom, liberation of energy, which come together. The practices to give this experience are the systems of yoga. There is another symbology, the dance of Shiva, where the Indian icon of Shiva is dancing. Many people may think that Shiva is a religious figure, but he is not. The word shiva means the auspicious nature or the auspicious consciousness, consciousness which is conducive to positive, harmonious and balanced growth. Therefore, the symbology and icon of the dancing Shiva represent a process of connection between the individual and the cosmos.

Multidimensional experiences

Just as nature is multidimensional, so yoga sees a human being as having different dimensions of experience. The first dimension of experience is the physical body. We identify deeply with the body or the physical structure for it is visible. One knows that it exists due to thoughts, rationality, contemplation, beliefs and ideas that one tries to implement in life. This subtle activity makes one aware that there is something known as the mind.

In the same way, another area of human experience is energy, the dynamic force known as prana. At the physical level, this prana is experienced as warmth in the body, as motion and as energy and vitality. At the subtle dimension, it is experienced as the life force, the breath, in the absence of which nobody could exist.

There is a relationship between the breath and the spirit. When a person stops breathing and the breath finally leaves the body, he dies. However, is it only the breath leaving the body and the body not breathing any more that brings about death? Or is it the exit of the spirit from the body? The German word atmen and the Sanskrit word atman were used to show that there is a link between breath and spirit as a process of expansion and liberation, freedom, growth and overcoming human limitations.

The aim of yoga has been to experience this growth and freedom. Various methods have been adopted. Yogis have believed that in order to perceive the different dimensions of the body and the different levels of experience in life, one needs to develop awareness of the nature that governs this existence. They give the example of milk which is one substance but from which butter, yoghurt, cheese and many other products can be made. In its original form, cheese is not seen in milk, nor is yoghurt or butter. In order to extract any form of milk product, one needs to churn the milk.

Experiencing perfection

As a result of the four attainments in body, mind, energy and psychic consciousness, the final outcome is one of bliss, contentment, happiness and fulfilment. It is the culmination of the human effort and journey. This has been the vision of yoga.

No matter how we begin to incorporate yoga in our lives, whether we do it with the practice of physical postures, or with the application of meditative techniques, or with other systems, the final outcome is to experience perfection in life. There needs to be an effort to understand the whole spectrum of yoga, not only the part with which we are associated.

A long time ago people believed in truth. Truth was like a long piece of cloth. Everyone wanted to have the truth in their possession, so they tore up that long piece of cloth into millions of pieces. Each one held on to a piece, and said, "This is the truth! I have the truth!" But each fragment of fabric was not the complete truth.

Even today we hold on to our piece of fabric and say, "For me this is the truth." But yoga says, "No, what you have in your hands is only a fragment of the fabric known as the truth. If you put all the pieces together, you will have the complete picture."

Therefore, I would like to say, "Give yoga, the complete yoga, a chance in your life."

—24–27 April 1997, Aix-Les-Bains, France