Yoga – A Universal Culture

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

I want to introduce a topic which has immediate relevance in our day-to-day life, but which has been utterly neglected by other civilizations for more than five centuries. As a result of that negligence, our society, culture and civilization has to pay a heavy cost. Today, we are a restless people and our society is suffering from psychosis and neurosis, which is reflecting in our family life, our community and national life.

Pre-Colombian art

Yoga is my subject wherever I go. From my study of history, religion and cultures, I have the experience that yoga is an international culture which humankind has imbibed from time to time. When I was in Latin American countries, I went to a famous museum near Bogota, Columbia. I am personally interested in investigating a universal system of life, the possibility of a universal culture, and with that intention, I have visited almost all museums in the world. From the paintings, designs and statues of what is called the pre-Colombian era, it is evident that there was a culture in the country. I have taken photographs and have concluded that the ancient culture was not only based on yoga, but it was a culture practising yoga.

In that pre-Colombian art, there are statues of hatha yoga mudras, nadi shodhana pranayama, vajrasana, uddiyana bandha and vipareeta karani mudra. These, and many other examples are found in the pre-Colombian and pre-Christian culture. Yoga has survived and will survive.

For achievement

The only drawback of this yogic culture is its disbelief in man's dependence on material things, and this is why other avenues of medical therapy like allopathy have become so popular worldwide. Why has it been able to influence the entire culture like a storm or hurricane? The yogic culture could not go ahead as briskly as allopathy has, although the science of yoga has much to give to humankind. The future will reveal it.

Yoga science is now being understood, for the process of making it is completed. Nothing has to be invented, everything is done. Now yoga has to be understood. During the centuries of our forefathers, the science of yoga was mainly associated with asceticism, fakirs, renunciates. It was thought that yoga had more to do with renunciation and less to do with accomplishment and achievement. This was the misunderstanding. Today we are educating ourselves and becoming enlightened, the sensitive representatives of this modern culture have come to the conclusion that yoga has less to renounce and much to achieve.

If any of the saints and sages were able to achieve anything, they achieved it only because they practised yoga. Whether it was Buddha or Mahavir or others who followed them, it was merely due to the awakening that they had through the practices of yoga.

Science of yoga

Yoga is a science by which the individual becomes powerful enough to be able to put his ideas into practice. This is one of the important aspects of yoga. In the nations which are heavily and highly industrialized, yoga has become the only resort to peace and social integration. If, in the western countries, yoga is neglected or kicked out just because it is not Christian, but has something to do with Hinduism, the whole structure of that nation is on the brink of disaster. The West exists because for it has organized society, but the individual is not organized.

In order to discipline the mind, from a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level, there ought to be a science. No politics, no military, no law can save a country unless the individual is disciplined. Individual discipline is a constant, continued inheritance in society. Yoga puts great emphasis on individual discipline. From the therapeutic point of view, for the treatment of diseases, for mental wellbeing and rehabilitation, there cannot be anything that can be compared with yoga.

A lot of investigations are being conducted all over the world: what is the influence of breath and retention of breath on blood pressure and the pressure of the heart? What is the behaviour of cardiac muscles and of the lungs? What is the rate of respiration and what is the intake of oxygen? What is the influence on the endocrine glands and how do the brainwaves react? These tests and many others are being conducted and are drawing conclusions.

Need to know the mind

As modern psychology puts it, the present of man is based on his past. What is your past? What do you know about it? Have you analyzed your mind, and if you want to, how can you do it? Not everyone can go to a psychoanalyst, not even in Europe, what to speak of India? How can you go to a psychoanalyst? For 550 crore people, can you find 550 crore psychoanalysts? No, it is not possible. One has to become one's own analyst. One must be able to know how to withdraw oneself inward and be inside. It is important.

As much as one is able to perceive objects outside, sounds, forms, taste, touch and smell, in the same way one should be able to see the train of thought of the subconscious, conscious and unconscious. There are levels of feeling and dimensions of emotion which one never knows, unless one is able to go to the bottom of the mind. The mind is not a thinking apparatus or a bundle of habits as it was thought of. The mind is a homogenous existence of awareness. The mind is like an ocean and one cannot say what is ocean, for the top is ocean, the bottom is ocean, every end is ocean. One cannot point out a particular part as ocean.

Likewise, one cannot say that thinking is the mind; one cannot say that feeling is the mind and one cannot say that intellect is the mind. This homogenous fount of awareness, known as the mind in modern psychology, as chitta in yoga and Samkhya philosophy, and as chaitanya in Vedanta, is a secret and mystical stuff. It is not known, and a person who has known it has known life.

One of the reasons why we are miserable is that we are movable; I am unhappy, you are unhappy, most of us are unhappy not because there are reasons for unhappiness, but because we don't know ourselves. In total ignorance of what we are, we are suffering. Therefore, the science of yoga which leads to self-knowledge and realization is a blessing and a boon for humankind, for it ends the continuous circle of suffering and ignorance.

—January 1976, Kumardhubi, India