Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

Yoga Philosophy and Metaphysics


Yoga means 'to join'. Yoga is actually a school of philosophy, one of the six systems of philosophy of ancient India. However, the philosophical system of Yoga has died down, and today when we say Yoga, we mean the practise of Yoga.

Yoga at present has come to mean performing some special asanas along with breathing exercises and these together help to make a person healthy and free from diseases and also makes him or her calm and tranquil.

All this is part of Yoga, but it is something more than that.

The true goal of Yoga is union, or 'to join' with the Absolute itself. It is this goal of mysticism, to unite with the Absolute within this life itself, that is the true goal of mysticism. The asanas and breathing exercises are an essential part of this, but they are only the preparatory exercises and the true Yoga aspirant must go far beyond this to acheive the true goal of Yoga.

Yoga has four main systems:

1. Raja Yoga
2. Karma Yoga
3. Gyan Yoga
4. Bhakti Yoga

Raja Yoga

Raja yoga is the yoga which we understand commonly when we say Yoga. It is based on Patanjali's Yoga sutras.

Patanjali was an ancient sage whose origins are lost in history, but it is commonly believed that his Sutras are even older, or at least as old, as the Upanishads. The Yoga Sutras establish a system containing eight steps:

1. Ayama: the Do's. This comprises an ethical system such as sayng the truth, etc.

2. Niyamas: the Dont's. This also comprises ethical rules such as avoiding lust,etc.

3. Asanas: this comprises sitting postures. In the sutras itself, not much attention is paid to this and only the sitting posure for meditation is described. But this was soon developed in ancient India into an elaborate system of postures which have immense physical and psychological benefits.

4. Pranayama: this comprises breathing exercises. Like asanas, this also was not given much space in the sutra but have susequently been developed into a powerful system which is capable of bringing the mystical experience by itself without the further steps. However, in the sutras, they were considered only as a preparatory exercise for the subsequent meditation.

5. Pratyahara: this is a mind-cleansing exercise, a type of meditation, which is done to bring calmness to the mind.

6. Dharana: this is the first step of meditation. This is a form of concentration on a particular object.

7. Dhyan: this is the next step of meditation. When dharana or concentration becomes unbroken and is fixed on the object of meditation, it is called Dhyan.

8. Samadhi: This is the final culmination of Yoga. In this, a full mystical union is attained with the Absolute. Then all these thoughts-sensatins of our mind die out and we become one with the Absolute.

Asanas are a very important part of this system, and by itself they can bring a person great tranquility and physical well being. But one must not stop at this and must go on forward. The system of Pranayama has also developed so that it by itself can bring on mystical experience. This is for those with tremondous will power. Those who find themselves more suited for meditation shold go on for the final steps of dharana and dhyan till they achieve the final Samadhi. It must never be forgotten that Samadhi is the goal of Yoga.

Besides Raja Yoga, there are other forms of Yoga which are equally important.

Gyan Yoga

Gyan Yoga is the system of Yoga where Samadhi is attained by knowledge. Unlike the meditation of Raja Yoga which is a form of concentration only, in Gyan Yoga the aspirant during meditation actively analyzes a particular aspect of existence deeper and deeper till at last he or she has a flash or realization of Brahman. For example, one meditation is on fire, first it is said that man is the fire, then woman is fire, then the world is fire, and so on till brahman is arrived at. Gyan Yoga is the way of the ascetics of India, and a complete renunciation of all material pleasures is a must for progress in this path.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the path whereby mystical knowledge is arrived at by work. In this, the secret is to know the way to do work. Whether a person is living in society or deep in the forests, we have to engage in activity. Karma Yoga teaches us how to do this activity without getting caught up in Maya. The secret is to concentrate on the work only, on that particular instant and not look on ahead to other things. By doing our activity in this way, no matter what it is, we can gradually achieve an equanimity of mind and this leads on to Samadhi.

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga is the path where Samadhi is attained by devotion to God. The God we take for our worship does not matter, it may be Jesus or Krishna or a formless God like Allah. The aspirant develops an attitude of deep love and devotion to his or her God, and daily progresses deeper and deeper into the love for God. The aspirant gradually approaches so close to God that the difference between God and the person becomes blurred, and ultimaely this difference is obliterated altogether and the person achieves oneness with the Absolute.

All these various forms of Yoga have one aim in common, to achieve mystical union with the Absolute. It is this which is the true goal of Yoga, and all aspirants on this path must struggle on till this is achieved.

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* To read more on Advaita Vedanta and Yoga and its harmony with modern science and reason, you can go through my book on Amazon:

Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

The Circle of Fire: The Metaphysics of Yoga

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