The Higher System of Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Yoga is a very old science. The main purpose of yoga is to bring higher enlightenment to all mankind. The word yoga literally means ‘union’ and this means that the individual consciousness expands gradually and becomes infinite. Attainment of infinite consciousness by shutting off the empirical and objective personality is the main purpose of yoga. However, everybody is not ready and fit for this aim, and thus we have other aspects such as hatha yoga, karma yoga, raja yoga, jnana yoga.

If a man has achieved control over his mind and is able to dive deep into the innermost recesses of his personality, and if the winds of thought do not disturb him, then there is no yoga for him except meditation. However, when the body is ill, you need hatha yoga and when the mind is ill, you need raja yoga, bhakti yoga, karma yoga. Nevertheless, these are all the means, and they do not represent the higher system of yoga.

The ultimate aim of yoga

When you are able to close your external awareness and attune yourself with a different state of consciousness, then yoga begins. Sometimes it is said that yoga begins when someone starts doing karma selflessly, but this is not true. Some people feel that yoga begins when one starts to achieve concentration of mind, when the mental tendencies begin to become one-pointed, but this is not true. Union begins when the notion of duality is completely lost for the individual who has been trying to experience this state of oneness.

Yoga does not mean duality. Yoga means unity. Duality is a kind of hallucination and in order to correct this mistake, the practice of yoga should be done. In the practice of yoga the lower consciousness, which operates through the body, the senses, the mind, the intelligence, the ego, is negated through the process of meditation, which develops and illumines the inner part of your personality.

It has been said that the light is within, but there is an infinite realm of consciousness in man. We call it super consciousness, expanded consciousness or higher consciousness. Through the practice of meditation, the lower consciousness is made to ascend and commune with this super-consciousness, and this communion is established for all time. This is the ultimate aim of yoga, but it is not possible for everybody to start practising yoga with this purpose, therefore, yoga has often been misunderstood. It is true that we practise and teach yoga asana and pranayama, as well as other aspects of yoga. These are important but, at the same time, there is a higher state of consciousness in every individual which he should realize. This realization is the ultimate purpose of yoga.

In order to achieve this purpose one must have a strong and healthy mind. Therefore, in order to bring about mental health, we practise other yogas of relaxation, sensory withdrawal and concentration. These yogas are not at all difficult and everyone can practise them.

A matter of awareness

Such things as infirmity 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 we practise yoga, we deal with our consciousness. This consciousness seems to be in the form of awareness, rather than as it is philosophically or metaphysically understood by eastern and western philosophers.

This awareness in man is not manifest in animals. It is through this awareness that you know you are and I know I am; that you know you are listening and I know I am speaking. 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 are completely absent in them, but these have become developed in every man.

In our case, this self-awareness is associated with sensory knowledge, intellectual knowledge, mental knowledge, etc. The awareness is functioning through the lower media and therefore in Vedanta we say that this awareness is associated with the senses, the mind, prana and so on. Is it possible, however, that this awareness can be freed, can be made independent, insofar as its function is concerned, from these lower, limited and finite instruments?

Is it possible that my awareness could function without the help of any medium? Is it possible that I can know without the mind? Is it possible that I can see without the eyes? Is it possible that I can hear without the ears? Is it possible that all kinds of knowledge, every form of knowledge can develop within me, without depending on these material instruments?

This is what yoga achieves and it has been proven from time to time by those people who have developed the super sensual, the transcendental knowledge within them. There have been people in every period of history who have been able to know things without the help of any medium at all.

The nucleus of our personality

Therefore, first of all, let us try to understand something about this awareness that is within us, through which we know we are, through which we are aware of the consciousness and through which we are aware of the functions of yoga in relation to our personality. Is this awareness an expression of our brain, expressing itself through the senses, or is it completely distinct from the brain waves? Is the brain the origin of consciousness, of awareness, or is the brain independent of awareness?

Eastern philosophy, especially Indian philosophy, says no, the brain is not the basis of consciousness and awareness is not the action of the brain. The awareness that I am existing, you are existing and everything is existing, is not an offspring of the brain. The brain is not the source of consciousness. When a man dies the consciousness does not leave the brain. This consciousness or awareness in man is the nucleus, the centre or the hub of his personality.

If you see a spider busy spinning a web, you can understand that this spider is the cause of the whole web and that this web again goes back inside the spider. The web is the manifestation of the functions, of the abilities and the qualities of the spider. In the same way, within us there is consciousness which is the nucleus of our personality. Some call it atman, the self, or pure being. In Vedanta it is known as Brahman, which is the existence, the knowledge and the bliss. Actually it is nameless, but some name must be given so that people can understand this concept.

The process of involution

This awareness which is in man is also in the animals and minerals. It is in every vegetable and in every visible and invisible object, but this awareness is sleeping, it is dormant. In Vedanta and in yoga, the sleeping consciousness is known as purusha, which literally means, ‘the consciousness sleeping in the city’. This body is the city of nine gates and the awareness is sleeping inside it.

In man this consciousness has started functioning or expressing itself through the very limited means of the hands, eyes, ears, mouth, touch, etc. These are the finite media through which the awareness is functioning in the seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, thinking, acting and so forth. This potential is in animals as well as in every sphere, visible and invisible. All that is taking place is because of the awareness of the power of consciousness, but they are not aware of it.

As human being we have become aware of the consciousness in a gross sense, but when we become aware in the spiritual sense, that awareness becomes what we call God for us. It is here that the concept of God begins, when man begins to feel that awareness of God is within him. In ancient times man asked, “What is that awareness in me?” Those people who were interested in inner awareness were not the same ones who were afraid of thunderbolts, of terrible rains, great floods, the rising sun or the setting moon, and who created their concept of God around these phenomena.

On the other hand, these people began to ask, “What is this awareness in me? How do I know that I am? How do I know that it is? And what is this awareness which continues in spite of my death every night? I die every night, but again the next morning I am aware, I am the same man and it continues.” So they began to explore the possibility of the fact of continuity and ultimately they came to the conclusion that this awareness, through which I know I am, is only a partial expression of that supreme consciousness in every being.

They began to experiment in order to find out the finite scope, but they found that the consciousness is infinite, so they stopped the investigations. Then they asked, “From where does it spring?” So this started a process of involution or returning to the source and this process was actually and practically started by the process of yoga.

10 May 1968, University of NSW, Sydney, Australia