Monday, June 2, 2014

Why Yoga is the Future of Spirituality

What do I mean by "yoga?" This is a constant and frustrating issue for those who us share the true yoga. The term refers in the common view to the physical exercises, movements and positions of but one branch of yoga: hatha yoga. Why not just say, "meditation?" Meditation connotes too narrow an image: that of just "sitting." (This term, more popular, it seems, with Buddhists, suggests a passive activity. "Mindfulness" is used by both Buddhists and the secularists seems, to me, rather banal.)

Why beat around the bush or allow the correct term to be hijacked? The correct term is "yoga!" And "yoga," which means "yoke" or "union," refers to both the practice and the goal of that practice: a state of consciousness that is not limited to confinement and identification with the body and ego. It is akin to the state referred to by such words as enlightenment, liberation, moksha, satori, nirvana, samadhi, salvation, cosmic consciousness, oneness, mystical union and on and on. This state is said to be the true state of Being and the only true reality from which all differentiated objects and states of consciousness derive. It is the underlying, primordial "soup" of God-consciousness that wills into manifestation the cosmos and which sustains, maintains, and dissolves the ceaseless flux of thoughts, emotions, and objects.

The practice of yoga includes a wide range of disciplines from the bodily positions of hatha yoga to the advanced meditation techniques of kriya yoga. It is supported by a lifestyle of high ideals, integrity, moderation, and self-control in the form of simple living and includes, by tradition, the practice of vegetarianism. Codified by the sage Patanjali in the renowned Yoga Sutras, yoga is achieved through eight stages of practice and eights levels of ever expanding consciousness.

Despite the overlap of Hindu culture with the practice of yoga, its emphasis on practice (and the results derived from practice) and on technique make it highly attractive and suitable to those "spiritual but not religious," and, to those of a results or evidence-based mindset. We in the yoga field too often say that the practice of yoga requires NO belief system and that is true enough but it also doesn't go far enough. It's true enough in the fitness centers, perhaps.

But once you start talking about the spiritual or transcendental goals of yoga -- which require a wholehearted dedication to its practice -- no one is going to make that kind of commitment without an equally serious expectation or goal! Who engages upon a diet or fast without the "belief system" that she will lose weight?

So, of course there's a belief system! Traditional yoga has come down through the ages with a clear view of its transcendent goal. Nonetheless, yoga doesn't "work" unless and to the extent one releases all expectations of what's in store. The goal itself is only in the present tense and remaining in the present is the only way to get there. A paradox, eh? Nonetheless, the gift of the rishis is a long list of sign posts and way stations that can aid the traveler on his journey to the unknown.

In addition, the dedicated yoga practitioner knows that complexity of yoga practices and their subtle relationship to consciousness dictates the need for a good teacher. The long-standing and traditional guru-disciple relationship is so interwoven with yoga's highest ideals that there is virtually no way around confronting it. Nor should one try to avoid it. But this article is not going to explore this cornerstone of yoga. The cliche "When the disciple is ready the guru appears" pretty much answers all questions. My own way of putting this goes like this: "Sure, try achieving enlightenment on your own. When you realize how difficult it is or how lost you are, come on back and we'll talk." For many, it is a gradual awakening, but for all, when that realization appears, there naturally arises an openness to and, indeed, an admiration for and an attraction to learn from those who have achieved the goal.

Returning to my thesis, ours is an age that seeks individual liberties; we are a human race increasingly impatient with monarchy, dictators, or, indeed, anyone who we think wants to tell us what to do. Ours is an age of personal initiative. Self-effort, in fact, is absolutely necessary: not only for worldly success but for enlightenment, as well.

Thus it is and for the reasons already stated above, yoga is ideally suited to become the "religion of spirituality." Already and worldwide yoga is available in person, in books, audio, video, and internet. For most people, their "guru" is whatever form it comes to them in. And for most people and for the purpose of my thesis, that is sufficient. I am speaking here of the role of yoga in the future of spirituality. (This is not the same as trying to describe the role of yoga in achieving union with God.)

Consider, after all, that in any given traditional religion, there may be millions who follow it but out of those millions how many are saints or even truly living their faith? A true ("sat") guru is for true disciples. "Out of a thousand," Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, "one seeks Me."

As described in the previous blog article, yoga has two faces: a secular face (health and well-being) and a spiritual face. Its spiritual face also has two faces: it can be highly individualistic ("spiritual but not religious") or it can be practiced in the context of other religious activities including communal worship, community service, temple-building and so on. Private practice has little cultural impact and will generally degenerate for lack of magnetism. Group practice in the context of association with others especially in serving and sharing yoga has far more magnetism both for individual transformation as well as cultural transformation (the real reason for yoga's appearance at this time of history). [Thus worldwide cooperative networks of yoga communities and centers such as Ananda already have had a noticeable impact on thousands, indeed, more.]

Paramhansa Yogananda predicted that the emphasis upon one's direct and personal perception of divinity using techniques of meditation would someday find its way into all traditional religions. His way of expressing this was "Self-realization would become the religion of the future." This may take many centuries to manifest but it doesn't seem such a far fetched idea. He didn't mean that there would be a new and worldwide church called Self-realization. Rather, it seems more likely that religionists of all types and persuasions would come to view and put a priority upon direct perception through inner communion with God. By the weight of its immense body of knowledge and centuries of experience, they would naturally draw inspiration from the science of yoga.

Consider, too, that despite the suspicion or rabid opposition today's fundamentalists might have to meditation, more thoughtful religionists in each of the main religions tend to view meditation as an appropriate form of prayer and as a practice that existed in their own tradition at least in the distant past. One can superimpose pretty much any decent religious "credo" onto meditation and, in meditation, one can pray to or seek communion with God in any form or name held dear and sincere.

Yoga is more than a pretty face and figure. Yoga is here to stay. It will grow. Someday the very term will be used in its correct and true sense. Yogananda predicted that someday lion-like swamis would come from India. That may well be but I also believe that some day great yogis will be recognized and accepted throughout the world. Some may be world leaders, artists, scientists as well as spiritual leaders. They will demonstrate feats of self-mastery and live lives of high ideals that will inspire millions. For the moment and in our lifetime, a great yogi is simply odd and irrelevant. So, for now, it's just you and me, so to speak. But this will change.

Jai Yoga!

Nayaswami Hriman