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Build a Foundation for Understanding Yoga

A selection on Yoga, from Perspectives on Yoga, a new book to be published later this year.

Keeping in mind that the body and the self are not the same is not just a matter of holding a philosophical concept. Rather, it is a matter of maintaining spiritual awareness throughout external experience, to center our identity in the Self and not in the body. This is accomplished through yoga.

“Knowing thus, the ancient seekers for liberation performed action. Do you, therefore, perform action as did the ancients in earlier times” (Bhagavad Gita 4:15).

In the thirteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna speaks of the difference between the “knower of the field,” the Self, and the “field,” which is the body, saying:

“The knowledge of the Field and the Knower of the Field I consider to be the knowledge” (Bhagavad Gita 13:2).


The only truly learned person is the one who has learned the secret that he is the jivatman, one with the Paramatman. As the Skanda Upanishad says: “Jiva is Shiva and Shiva is Jiva; when bound by husk it is paddy, unbound it is rice. Thus the bound one is Jiva; released from karma he is eternal Shiva. Bound by ropes, he is Jiva; unbound, Shiva” (Skanda Upanishad 6-7).

The school of true education is yoga. We enroll as jiva and graduate as Shiva.


Yoga and Dharma comprise the spiritual and material psychotherapy that all human beings desperately need. One of the reasons so little comes of people’s becoming yogis is their assumption that their life is fundamentally sound and all right, that yoga will be the oil that stops their life-wheels from squeaking so they can be peaceful and “happy.”

The real truth is that human beings are spiritually insane, actually not just potentially, and need profound correction and reorientation of intellect and consciousness. But this must not be taken in a mistaken way. Yes, we are “crazy” in the superficial levels of our being, but in our true Self we are always perfect, and it is the discovery/recovery of our Self that is the answer to our dilemma.

And we are the ones that should and can do it. This is a very important fact, in contrast to the disempowering cult-mentality of “you are a sinner,” “you are unworthy,” “you do not know what is right or good for you.” No: Thou Art That is the truth. And you can yourself reclaim your eternal heritage.

No one either should or can do it for you, and that includes God, who set up the cosmos so you could evolve within it motivated by your own Self-power. Yoga is a supreme help, but it is your divine will that will effect the spiritual alchemy. So when I say we are crazy it is neither an accusation nor a lament. It is a calm diagnosis–calm because I know that we are only momentarily in trouble, and that we can without doubt awaken into Truth, the Truth that is Us.

Sri RamakrishnaPart of our self-correction and self-healing is the internalization of our awareness, the living within the various levels of our being as their possessor and controller. When this is done, and even when going through the process, we begin to perceive the inner world and live more and more therein. Does that mean we withdraw from the outer world and disengage ourselves from it? Not at all. For we come to see that the outer is a projection of the inner, that the better we live inwardly the better we live outwardly. As Sri Ramakrishna said: “If you can weigh salt you can weigh sugar.” And we certainly can.


To be truly human is to be awakened enough to knew what is dharma and what is adharma and to hold to dharma and eschew adharma. That is why in the Yoga Sutras yama and niyama, the principles of right thought and deed, are the first step of yoga. And those who do not take the first step cannot really take any others, though a lot of people are fooling themselves about that fact.


Without a clear awareness of dharma and adharma, and a life perfectly conformed to dharma, we are not truly human. But those who know the distinction and live according to dharma are truly human beings.


When one strives to live the truth of the upanishadic philosophy (which includes the Bhagavad Gita), then there is true development of the personality. Before that the personality changes from life to life in a very random manner, being merely temporary shapings and responses to the events of the various lives that have been lived. Yoga, on the other hand, increases awareness of the eternal Self steadily until the revelation of that Self is attained as naturally as the child grows into adulthood.


We should respect and care for our physical vehicle, for it is the instrument of yoga and enlightenment: of evolution. But a delusive attachment (moha) for it and a kind of body-worship is folly of the worst sort. That is because such attitudes arise from identification with the body, which is as silly as identifying our body with a mirror in which it is reflected. The body, too, is a mirror, a fleeting image in the greater mirror of the cosmos. It is never “us” at any time. We should not have the slightest selfish, egoic attachment to it, or to anything else, for that matter.

Such a high ideal can only be attained by one who transfers his identity to the Self through the practice of yoga. And he who knows the Self comes to know the Supreme Being in everything and everywhere.


Although the mind (both manas and buddhi) may be a problem, still its basic constitution is the same in all people, which is why the science of yoga is timeless. It has remained supremely relevant and effective throughout the ages.


Saint John of Kronstadt in colorWithin us is a vast treasure-house and we can open it through yoga, and even through sheer will power. Saint John of Kronstadt was mentally backward, but it was such a torment to him that he prayed fervently until a kind of mental veil fell away, and afterward he was not just normal, he was intellectually brilliant and received many academic honors.

I knew a girl whose singing was exceptionally beautiful and who could play several musical instruments with outstanding ability. Her parents told me that formerly she had been completely tone deaf and could not sing a note, though she yearned to be able to sing and play musical instruments in church as a service to God. When she was in her mid-teens she went out in the woods around their house and prayed for hours. When she came back in the house she told them she could sing–and did so beautifully. She sat down at the piano, fiddled around a bit and then played a song! Eventually she taught herself to play several instruments very well. She had unlocked her innate musical abilities.

The same can be done in the spirit.

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