A selection from Perspectives on Yoga: Living the Yoga Life, a new book to be published this February.
When you get into an auto, turn on the ignition, press the accelerator, and guide the forward-moving vehicle by means of the steering-wheel, you are acting on a number of premises. The same is true of yoga.
Yoga is not just a mechanical practice; it presupposes the vast body of metaphysical principles known as Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Dharma, that is the basis of all true religion. Intelligent practice of yoga is not possible without knowing and adhering to those principles.
The system of practical methodology we call yoga was originated and perfected in India by great sages, every one of which was an adherent of the Eternal Dharma, which in turn was incalculably enriched by the subsequent teaching of the master yogis who were enlightened through the yoga system. Both yoga and the philosophy on which it is based–or rather, which stimulated the discovery and development of yoga–are truth in the purest form, exactly like mathematics. Therefore it is not amiss to speak of Sanatana Dharma and Sanatana Yoga–Eternal Dharma (Philosophy) and Eternal Yoga.
True Facts of Life
Sanatana Dharma is the presentation of the principles of existence itself–of the ultimate Facts of Life and nothing more, cultural or religious. Euclid was Greek, but Euclidian Geometry has no tint of Greek culture, philosophy, or religion. In the same way Sanatana Dharma should never be equated with what is known as modern “Hinduism,” the religion that is rooted in Sanatana Dharma but has developed into an elaborate system of beliefs and practices that are in many cases purely cultural and subjective–so much so that it can be said to conceal Sanatana Dharma more than reveal it. People can spend an entire lifetime as “Hindus” and never know Sanatana Dharma except in the most obscure and ineffectual manner.
What, then is Sanatana Dharma? Shankara put it this way:
“I shall tell you in half a sloka what has been written in millions of books: Brahman is real. The world is illusory. The jiva is nothing other than Brahman.”
Obviously these root facts imply a world of principles which a human being needs to know in order to realize the potential that is a living seed within every sentient being. Yoga–philosophy and practice–is that world. Sanatana Dharma and Sanatana Yoga are really the same thing. That which goes outside them is an obscuration not a clarification, a hindrance rather than a help.
Yoga and Dharma are realities, not speculations or conclusions. They are discoveries of universal, unalterable, principles that are verifiable by each individual. Through the ages each yogi has found for himself that they are true.
They are not revelations given by an arbitrary deity or a representative of such a deity. They require no faith or bowing of the head to any authority. They are verifiable facts, requiring nothing more than correct practice coupled with intelligent perception. No matter how many yogis there may be, Yoga and Dharma are always purely individual–in fact nothing can spoil Yoga and Dharma more than “groupism” or “movements.” The yogi is always an individual, always a whole, never a part. And so is a Sanatana Dharmi yogi
Dharma and Yoga are the supreme sciences, independent of all else. It is essential that our philosophy and practice be purely an expression of eternal verities. Authentic Dharma and Yoga have nothing to do with “East” or “West” and should have no connotation of them. Again, they are like Euclidian Geometry. The seers that discovered them were from what we call “the East,” but they are universal and neither Eastern nor Western.
More from Perspectives on Yoga:
- Perspectives on the Subtle Anatomy of the Yogi
- Shiva and Shakti: A Yogi’s Perspective
- How Should You Relate to a Spiritual Teacher? (A Common Sense Perspective)