Yoga: A Universal Path


OM. May That protect us both, teacher and pupil. May That cause both to enjoy the bliss of liberation. May we both exert to find out the true meaning of the scriptures. May our learning be brilliant. May we never quarrel with each other. Om, peace, peace, peace. OM NAMAH SIVAYA!

Blessed Selves,

I remember being fascinated in my Eastern Religion classes when I was in college. A few years later, I had my first experience of ashram (hermitage or monastery) life during my teacher training course. I was blown away! I thought the path to enlightenment was something that was practiced thousands of years ago on the other side of the world. I had no idea people were consciously living a devoted lifestyle for this purpose in contemporary society. I also did not realize this was the aim of yoga.For many of us, enlightenment (in yoga there are many different terms for enlightenment, Self-Realization is one of them) may not be on the top of our ‘to do’ list. However, enlightenment is possible. Even if Self-Realization is not your objective, it is important to remember it is yoga’s objective.

Consciously or unconsciously, we practice yoga in hopes of creating a more peaceful life for ourselves. Each time we practice, read, question or reflect; we are removing another layer of the veil that hides the truth within. As we move closer to this truth we experience more peace in our lives. Self-Realized beings describe the highest stage of yoga as eternal peace. They say that suffering ceases when the illusion of separation disappears. Each step on the path brings us closer to this state of eternal peace.

Yoga provides us with a skill set that allows us to move through life with more awareness. As we become more aware of ourselves, our purpose and the way that our actions affect the world and the people around us, we begin to make choices that both support our evolution as well as inevitably helping others with theirs. Our choices begin to reflect the peace that we are experiencing within.

The Nature of Impermanence: There is a continual flux between birth (Brahma), preservation (Vishnu), and death (Shiva) happening all around us everyday. The yogis claim that one of humanities greatest downfalls is our lack of wisdom to live in harmony with this flux. We may all know on a grander level that the people and things we love will eventually cease to exist, however, we like to fool ourselves that this change will occur some time in the future. When change inevitably does come and we lose something we value, we suffer deeply due to our attachment to that object or experience.

Because most of us are seeking happiness, we run towards the things that bring us pleasure and avoid the things that bring us pain. We ping pong back and forth between the highs and lows letting ourselves be taken on an emotional roller coaster as we experience gain and loss in our lives. Due to the nature of impermanence, no object nor experience is going to bring us the complete satisfaction that we are seeking.

There is a vedantic (Vedanta- the philosophy of Oneness) story about 10 people on a pilgrimage. On their journey, they approached a flooded river. They had to swim across the river because there was no boat. Once the pilgrims had crossed the river, the leader of the group made sure that everyone had crossed, but he only counted nine people.

Saddened by their loss, he asked the others to count as well, but each time, the number was nine. Another pilgrim was passing by and asked why everyone was so upset. When he heard what had happened, he realized that each of the pilgrims was forgetting to include themselves in the count and thus only counting nine people.

The vedantic moral of the story is that, like the unwise pilgrims, we search everywhere outside of ourselves for happiness because we feel that something is missing. Vedanta and yoga assert that what is missing is knowledge of the Self and this knowledge exists within.

Duality: Vedanta philosophy states that we experience life self-consciously. We perceive ourselves being separate from the people and the things around us. This is the experience of duality, the experience of self and other. We perceive duality because we are bound to our mind and body, the limiting adjuncts (upadhis). The bondage of the upadhis keeps us in a state of ignorance (avidya). Our ignorance makes us forget that we are the Self (Atman). In other words, our self-conscious identity prevents us from remembering our Universal consciousness, which is the highest state of awareness where we indentify with our true Self.

The advaita (non-dualism) philosophers claim the experience of duality is illusion (maya). Shankacharya the great non-dualist thinker of the 9th century stated that, “Only that is real that does not change nor cease of exist.” Therefore, non-dualist philosophy claims that the changing universe is unreal.

Vedanta is a part of classical Indian philosophy. This philosophy is incorporated into the yoga system as well as being an independent system of thought.

Form (Saguna) And Formlessness (Nirguna): Yoga is a universal path. Yoga is not a religion nor is it a philosophy, but it is a spiritual path. Because yoga’s purpose is to help humanity realize eternal peace, it has many modalities for practice. Yoga incorporates several of the classical Indian philosophies for the purpose of being accessible to all temperaments.

Yoga states that whatever brings us closer to our essential nature should be used as an aid. Because many of us perceive duality, using uplifting objects to meditate or concentrate on can be useful. For instance, if you are Christian, perhaps the image of Jesus or Mary is a focal point. If you are Buddhist, maybe it will be an image of the Buddha. If you are not religious, then perhaps it will be a symbol such as a lotus flower or the Om symbol.

In yoga, we often use the Hindu deities as an object of our devotion (saguna – with form). Although the devotion is a dualist experience, the yogi knows that the deity is still a limited concept that eventually needs to be transcended. The deity is a name and form that represents a particular energy. For example, Vishnu represents preservation and harmony. Therefore, the peacekeepers of the world may be attracted to this deity. This practice of meditating on and devoting yourself to a deity is a Bhakti yoga (the path of devotion) practice. This practice is attractive for those of us that are of a devotional nature.

Advaita and Vedanta do not share this process of dualist devotion. These philosophies are a process of negating what ‘is not’ to discover what ‘is’. For those individuals that are attracted to vedantic philosophy, meditating or concentrating on an abstract mantra or a mantra without form (nirguna – without form) would be inviting for these individuals. For instance, the mantra ‘Soham’ is the vedantic assertion, ‘I am that I am’. The universal mantra ‘Om’ is also without form and has no literal translation. Om is the sacred monosyllable that represents the three states of consciousness: waking, dreaming and deep sleep as well as representing the physical, mental and astral planes of existence. For many of us, the concepts of the non-dualist philosophies are too abstract. These types of mantras require a very strong mind to be able to concentrate on the formless.

Yoga’s purpose is to bring us to a state of eternal peace. There is no converting, dogma or preaching. It is a path of intentional living and it is available to all whether you are religious, atheist or agnostic.

Questions: In your opinion, why is it important that we should remember that yoga’s aim is Self-Realization?

Why won’t the objects and experiences in the world bring us lasting happiness? Explain.

What are the upadhis and why do they keep us in a state of ignorance?

Practice: Contemplate what temperament you; are you attracted to the idea of meditating of a form or are you drawn to the formless?

Suggested Reading: Vedanta: Voice of Freedom ~ Swami Vivekananda Chapter 11 in the CIBY


Lead me from the unreal to the Real From darkness to light From mortality to Immortality OM, peace, peace, peace