Western Confusion about Yoga
Yoga is an Address to the Mind, not the Body
You will notice that the 195 verses of the Yoga-Sutra, authoritative text on yoga and source of the very word, contain only four verses that touch the body. These three from the Taimni version:
Verse 2:46 "Posture (should be) steady and comfortable."
This is taken by yogis to refer to the best posture for meditation, not postures done for their own sake. See how simple and unexotic the verse is. There is not even a reference to an erect spine. One does not need to sit like a Buddha, or curl his fingers in a circle, or even sit at the top of dangerous and distracting mountaintops!
Verse 2:47 "By relaxation of effort and meditation on the Endless (posture is mastered.)"
Leggett uses "Infinity" instead of "the Endless" and states that actual samadhi should be done on infinity. So even in this verse, the central act is mental and the physical aspect involves relaxing and letting go of the body.
Verse 2:48 "From that no assaults from the pairs of opposites."
These are what the Yoga-Sutra contains about the body or body per se or bodily postures. (Then another I'll get to later, Verse 3:46.) Immunity from "the pairs of opposites" means the devotee becomes impervious to heat and cold, wetness or dryness, hunger and satiety, and I suppose even up and down. That is, that by relaxing bodily effort and meditation on the Infinite, occult siddhis are obtained! This is not your mother's yoga studio.
How did yoga, a discovery of males directed at the difficult feat of mind-mastery for God-knowledge, become the province of women who pay to sit in groups and do multifarious bodily postures for health, beauty, and socializing? Basically, the westerners who went over to India and picked up the hatha side of yoga misrepresented it to the west, or represented it only partially. It then was sold to American women as a health and beauty aid. That's the short summary of what happened. In time the obvious spiritual and religious content of yoga became impossible to ignore even for these, and thus "yoga studios" became also a strange kind of religious scene. Only one was not to call it "religious," but "spiritual." Then it became more of a mess from there.
One's interests and desires, should one want to master real yoga, must be these:
-- God knowledge
-- The end of suffering for one's self and others
-- Knowledge about the mystery of creation; how it arises, how it subsides, how it improves, and how it degrades.
-- All these through conquering mind, source of the external dualistic world-miasm.
All the rest, the body-oriented thing they now call yoga in the west, I will refer to as yoguh from now on in this text, and genuine yoga will be called yoga or yogah. I used to call it W.A.B.Y. (Women's American Body Yoga) but that seemed unkind, plus it misappropriated the word yoga again. Suffice it to say I don't respect yoguh too much. What led me, anyway, to the study of yoga? God-search! It was clear to me from the moment I opened my first Yoga-Sutra that yoga was actually religion, and the very essence of religion and religious questing. It was also clear that the Christian saints practiced many forms of it, under their own nomenclature. How can a fellow sit well with seeing the word and many of its ancient ideas turned toward vanity, the body, cosmetics, and worldly goals like "getting a husband" or "socializing with the women"?
Now, some sincere people believe that the mind is brought under control by applications to the body. They have, at least ostensibly, an interest in calming the mind and may even go to the yoga studio for the feeling of peace and well-being that body yoga (and other related techniques used there) brings to them. There is some validity to the view. When mother strokes her child's head or wife stokes her husband, she soothes him and calms his mind. When husband rubs his wife's feet, her mind becomes calm. When we go to sleep and experience utter relaxation we go into unconscious savikalpa samadhi (the dreaming state) and then unconscious nirvikalpa samadhi (the dreamless state). In pranayama the yogi slows down his mind by deliberately slowing his breathing; and makes his mind quiet by holding the breath. Likewise certain physical efforts, mudras and asanas have a beneficial calming effect on the mind. Combined with thought, these even activate occult spiritual energies and mental energies. Thus we have a dimension of yoga, a legitimate and ancient one, called hatha-yoga. This hatha-yoga is a God-search technique with a strong bodily emphasis along with the meditative principles. It uses many asanas, mudras, and pranayamas to bring about the pacification of mind and samadhi.
However, even the most venerable text on hatha, the Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika, states that these things are worthless "without raja yoga." That means without the yoga of austerities, meditation, and devotion described in the Yoga-Sutra. Hatha-yoga is properly considered an addendum or supplement to the yoga of God-meditation.
We can easily ask the question: If one pursues hatha-yoga but has no interest in the stilling of his mind, or in finding the Deity within, will those bodily postures and activities bring that person samadhi and God-knowledge? The answer is no. To still the mind, one must want to still the mind. To get God-knowledge, one must want God-knowledge. How often one can be doing an asana, doing an exercise, but her mind is all over the place. You know it's true. To get a grip on the mind, you must go at the mind directly, with hatha as a supplement to that task. Hatha without meditation and the other basics sorted later, such as chastity and God-devotion, is verily not yoga.
One yoguh teacher popular in the west is B.S. Iyengar. I saw something odd in one of his books. He said that the body was like the root of the mind. That we must address the body to get at the mind. But the yogis say exactly the opposite: That the body is a creation of the mind. When the mind is fully under control the body becomes the mind's plaything.
These facts were further driven home to me when I began to experience the phenomenon of yogic-kriyas. I was not one who took much interest in physical exercises in my life. I didn't enjoy gym class. Never messed much with any sport. Never went to a health club, went running, or lifted weights. However, I did love reading religious scriptures, and practicing meditation in hopes of coming to know about God and the great mysteries of religion. Somehow by God's grace I ciphered out from many scriptures that meditation, chastity, and the devotional thought-of-God were some kind of Fundamental Religion. (Fundamentals are good in all fields; you get nowhere without fundamentals.) I took to chanting. I took to reading the Bhagavad-Gita and Gospel of Ramakrishna. I imbibed the bhakti attitude. Finally I understood the guru principle (much cited in the Yoga-Sutra), and claimed a great saint as my teacher. Lo and behold, my body began moving in strange ways one night.
The mudras and asanas that we know and which are associated today with yoguh, yoga studios, and coffee table books are actually a natural emanation of the kundalini-shakti. The very first one was the slow movement of my head from right to left, in a velvet smooth motion reminiscent of the swaying of a cobra. Also my left hand began to pull back and up, taking a form I had seen in many religious paintings and sculptures. A devotee will begin to go into these positions spontaneously, perfectly and without will or effort, through the practice of the genuine yoga of meditation, bhakti, and chastity. When this occurred my body began to go into these ancient yogic positions called mudras and asanas, with no prior study on my part and no will of my own. At the time I had no knowledge about them, but soon found a book by Swami Muktananda where they were explained.
The truth is this is where the knowledge of the hatha-yoga postures and mudras actually originated from: Devotees practicing the real yoga, becoming the dawning places of Goddess Shakti, began to display them. There is no doubt about this. Since that time I have seen others who pursued the simple path of God-worship and meditation experience the same phenomenon, including beautiful movements and postures lost to time and no longer present in the texts.
(More on the phenomenon of spontaneous yogic movements in the Chidakasha Gita commentary.)
This is the true source of the hatha-yoga we now see practiced by women in "yoga studies." (Funny how the texts say yoga must be practiced solitarily!) Who? Me? I had never been within 100 yards of a yoga studio or a book on hatha-yoga, but there I was doing classical yogic movements and some difficult postures. All brought about by the yoga specified in this text, in particular the yoga specified in Verses 2:1 and 2:32. The movements were distracting to my meditation, but I accepted them as a sign of Goddess Shakti. Now they have subsided and only come about when I feel fresh and strong devotion (bhakti). In reality, contrary to the ideas of B.S. Iyengar, the bodily change comes in response to the inner state; the inner state is not brought by the bodily state. One can sit in perfect posture with his mind roiling like a storm. But meditation on the guru and chanting the mantra: Now this is yoga. The body will follow; the body will follow. Which brings me to the last Yoga-Sutra verse bearing on the body. The Sutra has this odd verse:
Verse 3:46 "The perfection of the body is grace, splendour, power and diamond hardness." -- Leggett
At first glance it could be seen as the crass goals of the modern yoguh studio. But context is everything. This comes in the section on siddhis (occult powers), and after Verse 3:45 in which the very elements are mastered by practicing complete concentration on them. This mastery of the body is an occult mastery stemming from mind mastery, then meditation on the elements. Taimni puts the verse this way:
"Thence, the attainment of Animan etc., perfection of the body and the non-obstruction of its functions (of the body) by the powers (of the elements)."
The power of "animan" is the power of making one's self as small as an atom. The non-obstruction by the elements, in this yogic bodily perfection, means that the body can go through objects, be unaffected by fire or water, etc. This is the sort of perfection intended. Not being buff or muscled or pretty. "Grace" and "splendour" in Leggett's rendering refers to literal splendor as in luminosity, and an ineffable splendour of divinity and not the conformations of fashion magazines or the western body cult.
In practical usage the word 'yoga' has two correct meanings:
The state of God-union (the
state of yoga), and
The practices of yoga all address the mind and emotions, and only incidentally the body as the body is an emanation of the mind.
Women and Real Yoga
A woman is on as strong a footing for yoga and meditation as a male who has no more than one male period monthly, and such men are rare. The average male today is far more incontinent than the average female, who is constrained by nature to have no more than one loss of life force per month.
On the other hand, the nature of the male sexual energy itself, and the way it influences his mind, makes him uniquely fitted for austerities and concentration. My view is that women don't fundamentally take to austerities. That is why modern-American so-called yoguh is body oriented and oriented toward worldly gain, not austerities-oriented, and those who pursue it have little interest in the Yoga-Sutra or the material here.
On the other hand, women are natural bhaktas, and bhakti-yoga is highest yoga and the most important aspect of all that is written here. She is naturally devotional. She is also intuitive and imaginative, and both intuition and imagination play important roles in yogic breakthroughs and technique.
A male body and it's sexual drive, because of the significance of sublimating that, is fortunate for the pursuit of real yoga. On the other hand, a great yogi with much yogic development can easily happen to be born into a female body, such is the nature of samsara. We have the example of tremendous yogesses, actual siddhas, who are women. One of these is Ananda Mayi Ma, another is Karunamayi, and there are others in history. But woman finally has no disadvantages in yoga, and makes a more natural bhakta. Further, woman has a special path into the mysteries of yoga that is unique to her, a principle that is illustrated in the Yoga-Vasistha tale of "The Sage in the Rock." In that tale the husband of a good wife turned to austerities and God-search, and that annoyed her because she naturally preferred the life of the world. However, she was devoted to him, thus received all his same yogic development. This is a mystery available to women and also the core mystery of that same bhakti-yoga which gives union with the Lord. By devotion alone, one receives all the highest possessed by the object of their devotion. Which brings me to another matter:
A modern woman may sometimes be found saying: "Julian, you keep talking about God as a male and a father, but I want God to be a woman." This comes more from bristling male-like ego than from wisdom and especially the female wisdom.
If you have understanding, you see that those born into a world in which God is featured as the opposite sex are the lucky ones. (Oh, how lucky women never knew they were prior to being induced to destroy all the good things they had through the stoking of endless desire and abandonment of natural duty. Oh, how much she devalued and threw away the good things what men and the world were giving to her.)
Bhakti-yoga is the highest yoga,
and the real cream of Patanjali's yoga
too. Did you know that men tend to be able to cultivate the strongest
feelings of devotion for a female idea? Such as a mother or wife? Isn't
it the same with women? Western men, actually, are at the disadvantage
in a culture having a God characterized as male. Most of them are
estranged from their fathers and not fond of them. The Father God feels
more distant to them than the Divine Mother worshiped by many Indian
men. It is absurd for you to chafe and complain about a masculine God
when most of you (if not lesbians) get the highest feelings of
affection for male figures during your life, or your father. This
business of western women complaining about a male God simply shows
spiritual ignorance and an approach to life that bristles with
ego-pride rather than wisdom. In any case, picture God in the form and
sex that appeals to you most, because God will always take the form
that suits you best. As for me, my father was the honest one; my mother
dishonest. My father was the religious bhakta; my mother disinterested
in religion. My dad was the one willing to do any thing for his family,
and who hurt the most over his family, and a compassionate and warm
man, as well as noble. Thus I am comfortable with the Father God.
Convert my verbiage to the terms you prefer. God transcends sex, but
from compassion he takes the form that attracts us. So let it be as you
COPYRIGHT 2011 Julian Lee.
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