Understanding Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

I am simply another disciple of my guru and I have surrendered my whole life to him and towards fulfilling his mission. I want to do my guru's work and it is his teachings that I am imparting. Therefore, my relationship with people is the relationship of yoga. It is not a family relationship or a relationship of attachment. It is not a relationship of jealousy, hatred, love or compassion; it is a relationship of yoga and spirituality. This relationship of yoga and spirituality bestows energy in our lives, and this is the truth.

In other relationships people look upon someone as a friend, well-wisher or family member. These are worldly relationships, which give neither peace of mind nor do they further one's spiritual growth. Instead one becomes involved in the problems of other people. This is the result of ordinary relationships. When one forms spiritual relationships there is nothing that ties one down. In such relationships one makes an attempt to evolve, find happiness, peace and joy. One is no longer worried about solving some problem or about getting rid of a stomach ache, a headache, or the lack of peace in the family. These are all momentary experiences and situations in life; they do not have a permanent presence in one's life. Happiness and sorrow come and go in life. Sometimes happiness knocks on the door and sometimes sorrow. People look upon this happiness and sorrow as the only motive of their lives.

Arjuna's depression

If there is sorrow, one should get out of it and try to find happiness. A householder and a sadhu both seek freedom from sorrow and they desire to find happiness. The relationships one forms are based on happiness and sorrow. If there is no sorrow in one's life one will not be looking for happiness. If there is only happiness in life, one's talents and capabilities do not have a chance to develop. There has to be a balance between the two for development and progress. Evolution takes place due to the effort one makes in dealing with and combating trying circumstances.

It is during the experience of sickness that the science of healing was born. Without sickness there is no need for a science of healing. When a person falls ill the activity of finding a cure begins, and development takes place. When a person faces sorrow in life he makes an effort to relieve that sorrow and searches for a path towards happiness.

This is said in the Bhagavad Gita. The first chapter is not on hatha yoga or raja yoga; it is the yoga of depression. 'Yoga of depression' means the attempt to understand sorrow. Depression is depression and sorrow is sorrow, but the word added here is yoga:

Arjunavishaada yogonaamah prathamodhyaayayah.

Arjuna's depression is the name of the yoga of the first chapter.

Vishada is sorrow, depression, anxiety, frustration and conflict. The word 'yoga' has been used for the simple reason that until one faces sorrow in life one does not make an attempt to seek happiness. Unless a person is ill, health has no meaning. Unless one experiences stress and strife, one will not know what peace means.

Everyone has to come to this understanding in life. This situation was not made by people, it was created by God. The sorrow and happiness in life is a gift from God. Through this gift from God one becomes aware of a direction in life, one gains knowledge about it and makes the effort to embark on that path. It is at that time that one experiences evolution in life, progress takes place and one finds peace and happiness.

Three types of suffering

One should not try to avoid sorrow or remove sorrow from one's life. When sorrow comes, one should accept it and make an effort to overcome it. When one is able to do this, one will be able to understand yoga. The sorrow one faces is worldly, emotional, mental and spiritual. In the Indian tradition of philosophy, struggles, troubles, strife and sorrow have been categorized into three groups.

One category is adhidaivika which roughly translates as that which is destined; sorrows or suffering written in one's destiny which comes from prarabdha, past karmas. No one is able to be free from this suffering. That which is in one's destiny is adhidaivika.

The second category of sorrow is the result of the external environment, of natural and climatic conditions. It is called adhibhautika, suffering or sorrow experienced as a result of external, natural circumstances.

The third category of sorrow is self-generated, adhyatmika. Adhyatmika does not refer to spiritual matters but to those issues that emanate from within and are self-generated. These self-generated problems and sorrows create depression in one's life. One can make an effort to free oneself from the problems faced and understood as being a result of circumstances. The self-generated problems are the ones that become the cause of anxiety and depression in one's life.

Need for restraint

Why are self-generated problems created? According to yoga there is a lack of restraint in one's life and therefore one finds oneself surrounded by problems. Restraint is absolutely essential in life. When one initiates this process of restraint in one's life then the possibility of change begins. Acquiring this restraint is the purpose and goal of yoga.

People think that the goal of yoga is samadhi as stated by Rishi Patanjali. People ask if yoga should be practised for self-knowledge. It is necessary to understand the goal of yoga. Yoga is practised today so that one can bring some restraint and discipline into one's life. In earlier times yoga was practised for self-knowledge; today the need is not for that, however, there is a great need for restraint. Therefore, one has to redefine the purpose of yoga to suit the times.

In the beginning, rishis and munis tried to discover themselves through their yoga sadhana and it was not difficult for them to have spiritual and internal experiences. Their lifestyle was different, the circumstances were different, teaching and discipline was different. People exercised much more restraint in their lives; their thoughts, behaviour and diet was carefully calibrated and balanced. When one leads a balanced life then the need to struggle with oneself is not experienced. It is easier to embark on internal quests and gain self-knowledge. When the senses are over-stimulated, the mind is overactive, and at such times the goal of yoga cannot be self-knowledge. The goal has to be to acquire some peace and to arrive at a state where there are fewer thoughts.

Buddha and Swami Sivananda

Buddha did not say that the goal or purpose of spiritual practices was self-knowledge. He spoke about nirvana which was the sadhana, the system, the philosophy. He did not talk about self-knowledge. He said that through sadhana you should attempt to arrive at the state of nirvana. He defined nirvana as a state where you can calm the mind, make it peaceful and attain the state of shoonya or nothingness. Nirvana means attaining the mental state of shoonya where the mind is not agitated or too active. The mind is still and calm. During the time of Mahatma Buddha the definition of spirituality changed from self-knowledge to nirvana: internal peace and stillness, freedom from agitation.

In today's times the situations and circumstances have changed and so has the definition and goal of yoga. Our paramguru Swami Sivananda said in the 1940s that in the coming age the goal of yoga would not be self-knowledge, samadhi, nirvana, moksha or God-realization. The goal of yoga and the need for yoga would be to acquire balance and discipline in life so that one's creative potential could be fully expressed and one could progress in life.

When he explained the purpose of yoga and spoke on the philosophy of yoga according to the needs of the times, he put forward only three aims: with the practice of yoga cultivate the creative faculties of head, heart and hands. This is the goal of yoga.

With the practise of yoga you develop the creative and positive expression of the head, meaning intelligence; heart, meaning emotions; and hands, meaning action. If you are able to achieve this in your life, life will progress and take you towards peace and happiness.

Becoming a brave person

Swami Sivananda clarified this idea through an illustrative story. He said that a blind person wishes to see the sun. This is his ambition, not his requirement. His need is to acquire the faculty of sight, to be able to see. Once he acquires this ability, he can see the entire creation, not just the sun. He can delight in the whole of creation, and being able to see the sun will be just one small aspect of the complete experience.

In the same manner, if one aspires for God-realization, self-knowledge or moksha, liberation, and makes that the goal of one's life, it will be like the blind man wishing to see the sun. Moksha can never be the goal of one's life. There are so many desires, so much attachment, it is so difficult to change even one little habit. How can one aspire for moksha?

If an alcoholic is told not to have a drink for a month, he will not be able to do it. If a terrorist is told not to terrorize anyone he will not be able to stop. If people are asked to sustain a feeling of happiness for just twenty-four hours without feeling sad, without changing the mood, just smiling for twenty-four hours, it will be close to impossible for them to do such an easy task. Therefore, this is my challenge: the person who can maintain a happy mood for one hour is a truly brave person.

One's moods change every moment. One's needs, ambitions, requirements change every hour. Every hour a new desire is born and at such a time how can one aspire for moksha? Who will be able to make an effort to attain it? People are just fooling themselves by this thought. They do not have moksha in their destiny, they do not have God-realization in their destiny, and they do not have self-knowledge in their destiny.

The aim of human life

What people do have in their destiny is a specific discipline that they can acquire to balance life, to find joy in all circumstances, mental peace and at a spiritual level to fill life with spiritual awareness and consciousness. These are the words of Sri Swami Satyananda.

Once someone asked him about the goal of human life and he replied in a single sentence: acquiring spiritual awareness is the goal of human life. Cultivating spiritual awareness is the aim of human life. Awareness is sajagta. This spiritual awareness is to be acquired through the union of the three aspects of head, heart and hands. There has to be understanding and balance of the faculties of head, heart and hands. This understanding and balance is called yoga.

—25 July 2014, Swabhoomi Rangamanch, Kolkata, India