Yoga and freedom
Yoga is all about freedom. Only a fraction of the world’s population is formally imprisoned, but none are free from the inevitability of sickness, age, and death. The human condition is subject to innumerable limitations. Who really controls his life fully, attains all his goals, and knows no setbacks of any kind? No one.
Our real Self, the spirit, is ever perfect and free. But we have forgotten that. So we identify with our present experience of limitation and bondage and consequently suffer stress and pain in countless ways. Our situation is like someone who is asleep and dreaming that he is suffering or fearful. To end the fear and pain he needs only to wake up. Yoga is the procedure of self-awakening, the way to freedom from suffering, fear, and limitation. It is the quest for liberation of the spirit. Yoga is an eternal science intended to reveal and manifest the Eternal.
Nature of Yoga
“Yoga” is a Sanskrit word that means “to join.” Yoga is both union and the way to union. What do we join through yoga? First, we join our awareness to our own essential being: the spirit whose nature is pure consciousness. In yoga philosophy this is known as the Atman or spirit-Self. Next, we join our finite consciousness to the infinite consciousness, God, the Supreme Self (Paramatman). In essence they are eternally one.
According to yogic philosophy the individual atman-spirit originally dwelt in the consciousness of that oneness. But through its descent into the material world the spirit lost its awareness of the eternal union and the capacity to live in and manifest the union on a practical level. Through yoga the lost consciousness can be regained and actualized in the individual’s practical life sphere.
Regarding this, a yogi-adept of the twentieth century, Dr. I. K. Taimni, remarks in his book The Science of Yoga: “According to the yogic philosophy it is possible to rise completely above the illusions and miseries of life and to gain infinite knowledge, bliss, and power through enlightenment here and now while we are still living in the physical body.…No vague promise of an uncertain postmortem happiness this, but a definite scientific assertion of a fact verified by the experience of innumerable yogis, saints, and sages who have trodden the path of yoga throughout the ages.”
Since rational thought precedes rational action, we should begin with the philosophical side of Yoga.
The basic text of the Yoga philosophy is the Yoga Sutras (also called Yoga Darshana), written by the sage Patanjali, a yogi of ancient India. In contrast to other philosophical systems, Yoga is a philosophy which stimulates its investigators to engage in yoga as a practice through which they will experience and demonstrate its truth and worth. What begins as theory develops into practice which culminates in realization. Yoga is philosophy, discipline, and experience–a revelation of consciousness.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna the teacher tells Arjuna the student: “There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be” (Bhagavad Gita 2:12). We are eternal beings, without beginning and without end.
Originally we were points of conscious light in the infinite ocean of Conscious Light that is God. We were gods within God. And so we still are, for it is not possible to be outside of Infinity. Yet we are also here in this ever-changing world, the experience of which completely overwhelms, and can annihilate, the awareness of our immortal life within God. As Blavatsky wrote in The Voice of the Silence: “Heaven’s dew-drop glittering in the morn’s first sunbeam within the bosom of the lotus, when dropped on earth becomes a piece of clay; behold, the pearl is now a speck of mire.” Each one of us is a dew-drop of heaven, but for countless life-cycles we have forgotten that.
God the Lord–Ishwara
In the Yoga Sutras the word for God is Ishwara: the Lord, Ruler, Master, or Controller possessing the powers of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. Ishwara is the Supreme Power, Parameshwara. It is toward this Ishwara that our life is to be directed if we would attain perfection in yoga. In Yoga Sutra 1:23, Patanjali says that samadhi, the state of superconsciousness where Absoluteness is experienced, is produced by Ishwarapranidhana–the offering of one’s life to God. This is not merely dedicating our deeds and thoughts to God, but consciously merging our life in the greater Life of God and making them one. Yoga is the way to accomplish this.
Since yoga is a practical matter, we need some workable, pragmatic understanding of the nature of God. For how will we seek and recognize him if we have no idea who he is? Patanjali supplies us with exactly the kind of definition we need: “Ishwara is a particular Spirit who is untouched by the afflictions of life, actions [karma] and the results and impressions [conditionings] produced by these actions” (Yoga Sutras 1:24).
A particular Spirit. God is a special, unique, conscious being–not just abstract Existence. God is a particular Spirit in the sense that God can be picked out or singled out from among all other things or beings.
Untouched. Though Ishwara is within all things and all things are within him, yet he stands apart. This is stated several times in the Bhagavad Gita: “They are contained in me, but I am not in them…I stand apart from them all, supreme and deathless” (7:12, 13). “For my spirit stands apart, watching over Maya, the maker” (9:9). “Standing apart, he sustains” (13:14). “He is within and without: he lives in the live and the lifeless: subtle beyond mind’s grasp; so near us, so utterly distant” (13:15). “Although I am not within any creature, all creatures exist within me” (9:4).
God is unique in the sense that he is Ekam Evam Advityam Brahman: the God who is one, only, without a second. He is not one of many, nor is he even one of two. He is one in every sense of the term. God is neither conditioned nor confined in any manner. Therefore he is not touched or tainted by the afflictions or faults of life (relative existence), in contrast to us who live within them as though they were the air we breathe and the basis of our existence. Nor is Ishwara bound or in any way conditioned by actions; therefore he is ever unchanging.
It should be noted that Ishwara is considered to be male in contradistinction to the divine creative power, Prakriti or Shakti, that is female. Consequently Ishwara is referred to as “he.” Brahman the Absolute is referred to as “It” because Brahman transcends such dualities as male and female, positive and negative. Since the English word God almost always implies Ishwara, in this book God will be referred to as “he.”
Infinite Consciousness: Omniscience
God is the essence and the apex of consciousness, so Patanjali further says: “In him is the highest limit of omniscience” (Yoga Sutras 1:25). Commenting on this, Shankara says: “The all-pervading mind of the supreme Lord is in simultaneous contact with every object.” The omniscience of God is total and absolute, for in truth God is Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence.
In this sutra Patanjali introduces a significant fact, for he does not just say that omniscience (sarvajña) is in God, but that the seed of omniscience (sarvajña bijam) is in him. Within God is the seed or potentiality of omniscience for those who unite with him through their practice of yoga. Omniscience is not just objective knowledge, but infinity of consciousness, the Being of God himself.
The two Selves
“Who am I?” is the age-old question asked along with “Who is God?” The true “I” of each sentient being is the individual spirit, the Self (Atman). But there is more. God (Brahman) is the Self of the Self as the ocean is the self of every wave. The illumined know that they are the immortal Self whose ultimate Self is the Immortal Itself. We are spirits within Spirit, in a wondrous way both ourselves and Brahman, both finite and infinite.
“Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the individual Self and the immortal Self are perched on the branches of the selfsame tree. The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes. The individual Self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he recognizes the worshipful Lord as his own true Self, and beholds his glory, he grieves no more” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.1, 2).
“That being who is the power of all powers, and is born as such, who embodies himself in the elements and in them exists, and who has entered the lotus of the heart, is the immortal Self” (Katha Upanishad 2:1:7).
“In the effulgent lotus of the heart dwells Brahman, who is passionless and indivisible. He is pure, he is the light of lights. Him the knowers of the Self attain” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.9).
“Brahman is supreme; he is self-luminous, he is beyond all thought. Subtler than the subtlest is he, farther than the farthest, nearer than the nearest. He resides in the lotus of the heart of every being” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.7).
“He who glows in the depths of your eyes–that is Brahman; that is the Self of yourself. He is the Beautiful One, he is the Luminous One. In all the worlds, forever and ever, he shines!” (Chandogya Upanishad 4:15:1).
Meditation is the key to knowledge of both the Self and the Self of the Self. Knowing one, both are known, so say the sages. “Wise, self-controlled, and tranquil souls, who are contented in spirit, and who practice austerity and meditation in solitude and silence, are freed from all impurity, and attain by the path of liberation to the Immortal, the truly existing, the changeless Self” (Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.11).
Dr. I. K. Taimni, in The Ultimate Reality and Realization, says this:
“It is only when the realization of being a pure spirit or atma has been attained that it is possible to achieve the final goal of union of the atma with the Paramatma, the Supreme Spirit which exists eternally beyond the manifested universe and from which the manifested universe is derived. When this final realization has been attained and union of atma with Paramatma has been brought about there is not only a complete sharing of consciousness between the two but also of the infinite Power which is inherent in the Universal Consciousness.…It is necessary to distinguish between the powers which are acquired on the realization that he is a pure spirit or atma and those which are attained when he is able to destroy the last vestige of egoism and his consciousness becomes united with that of Paramatma. The former, though tremendous in some respects, are still limited, while the latter which are really the Powers of the Supreme Spirit are infinite and can manifest through the center of consciousness of a Self-realized individual because there is fusion of the individual consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness and the channel between the two is open.”
God and gods
We are gods within God, finite spirits within the infinite Spirit. But what is spirit? Yoga tells us that spirit is consciousness. We are eternal consciousnesses, each of us individual and distinct. Yet we are more. Each of us takes our being from God as the wave takes its existence from the ocean.
God is the eternal Root, the Ground, of our being, our greater Self. We are not God, but in some ineffable manner God is us, the Self of our Self, the Spirit of our spirit. God is all, and we are the parts, each of us possessing an eternal and irrevocable distinction. That is why Krishna told Arjuna: “There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be.”
“Both the individual Self and the Universal Self have entered the cave of the heart, the abode of the Most High, but the knowers of Brahman see a difference between them as between sunshine and shadow” (Katha Upanishad 1:3:1).
God and creation
God, the infinite Spirit, is pure consciousness, but has extended or emanated himself as the cosmos: physical, astral, and causal. “This universe, before it was created, existed as Brahman. ‘I am Brahman;’ thus did Brahman know himself. Knowing himself, he became the Self of all beings” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1:4:10). This seemingly dual nature of God as Light and Power, as Consciousness and Matter, has puzzled the minds of even the wise.
God, the Original Being, projects himself as the ever-changing dance of creation, as the evolving light that is the cosmos. God projects the creation, evolves it, and withdraws it back into himself in a perpetual cycle. The creation can be thought of as God’s body, that God becomes incarnate in creation again and again. And as parts or reflections of God we do exactly the same through reincarnation.
There is a law that governs the place and kind of our embodiment. That law is karma, the principle of exact and usually inevitable reaction to our own actions and mental states, resulting in a seemingly endless domino effect of continual birth and death. Yoga offers us the possibility of ending this chain of embodiments by awakening-transformation from time and mortality into eternity and immortality.
All conscious beings have existed eternally within the Being of God, one with him, distinct though not separate from him. Rooted in the infinity of God, they have within themselves an innate impulse to transcend their finitude and attain the boundlessness of their origin. This is impossible, since they are as immutable as God–the only infinite being. They can become godlike, but they cannot become God. Yet the urge for transcendence is part of their nature.
The solution to this dilemma is simple. The individual consciousnesses cannot alter their natural state of finitude, but they can come to share and participate in the infinite consciousness of God. Even though they cannot become infinite themselves, they can experience the infinity of their divine Source, just as a psychically sensitive person can experience the thoughts and feelings of others without becoming them. In the same way, spirits can evolve to experience the consciousness of God while remaining in their naturally limited state. They do not become God the Absolute, but they enter into that Absolute Life and are one with it.
As Shankara explains in his Yoga Sutra commentary: “When the light of several lamps appears simultaneously, it cannot be made out which is the light of which.” Consequently liberated spirits experience the infinite being of God, infinite Consciousness, as their own being. Krishna has described it this way: “When you have reached enlightenment, ignorance will delude you no longer. In the light of that knowledge you will see the entire creation within your own Atman and in me” (Bhagavad Gita 4:35).
When the spirits are unshakably established in that consciousness the goal has been attained. All they need do is develop the capacity for such a state of awareness. This is done by learning to fully experience the state of existence of a being completely different from themselves while retaining the awareness of their true identity. They can put on the costume of a consciousness utterly different from theirs, and not just experience that other mode of consciousness, but become able to function as that other kind of being.
To enable the spirits to enter into this process, God breathes forth his own Self as the Power from which is manifested all the realms of relative existence, from the most subtle worlds of perfected beings to the most objective worlds of atomic matter. They can then enter into relative existence by taking on coverings, or bodies, of varying grades and patterns of vibratory energies. They descend into this material world and begin working their way up the ladder of ever-evolving forms. Beginning with forms whose scope of consciousness is vastly less than theirs, they work their way upward, entering into higher and higher levels of awareness until they can surpass their original breadth of consciousness and begin to partake of a life of awareness much beyond their own. This then culminates in their developing the ability to share in the Divine Consciousness itself.
There are seven worlds (lokas) or main divisions of relative existence. These worlds are the rungs of the evolutionary ladder. They correspond to the seven levels of consciousness that determine which of the worlds the individual spirit incarnates in. Keeping in mind that “world” in this list does not mean a planet, but a great division that includes within it many levels of existence, many planes of consciousness, here is a list of the seven worlds:
- Bhur Loka, where the dominant consciousness is that of matter.
- Bhuva Loka, where the dominant consciousness is that of feeling–emotion, instinct, and lower intuition.
- Swar Loka, where the dominant consciousness is that of sensory experience.
- Maha Loka, where the dominant consciousness is that of thought and reflective perception.
- Jnana Loka, where the dominant consciousness is that of fundamental causation and spiritual intuition.
- Tapa Loka, where the dominant consciousness is that of mastery of all the lesser elements and levels.
- Satya Loka, where the dominant consciousness is that of spirit-consciousness itself.
Bhur Loka is purely material; Bhuva and Swar Lokas are formed of astral energies; Maha Loka is a mixture of astral and causal energies; Jnana and Tapa Lokas are completely causal energies; and Satya Loka is a mixture of extremely subtle causal energies and pure consciousness.
Incarnating spirits move upward and downward in the three lower worlds of Bhur, Bhuva, and Swar, but once they attain the level of Maha Loka they are never reborn in the three lower worlds unless they will to do so. Spirits may move between the two worlds of Maha and Jnana, but once they reach Tapa Loka they remain there until they evolve into Satya Loka which is the world of perfectly liberated spirits and spirits that have evolved beyond Tapa Loka and are so close to liberation that they can arise to such a rarefied spiritual atmosphere as Satya Loka. Those fully liberated spirits who return to lower worlds for the benefit of others do so as avatars, incarnations of God-consciousness.
In the intervals between embodiments the spirit spends time in the astral regions where awakening and growth also take place. (This is best explained in the forty-third chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda.) Upward and upward they evolve until their capacity for awareness is developed to such a perfect state that they can experience and participate in God’s all-embracing Consciousness, thenceforth to live in his infinity.
As Shakespeare wrote, “all the world’s a stage” with the individual spirits wearing their body-costumes and playing their karmic parts. Just as actors begin with small parts and progress to bigger roles by demonstrating their skill in those smaller parts, so also do the spirits advance to higher and more complex forms of existence and consciousness, at last returning home to God. The Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote:
A stone I died and rose again a plant.
A plant I died and rose an animal;
I died an animal and was born a man.
Why should I fear? What have I lost by death?
As man, death sweeps me from this world of men
That I may wear an angel’s wings in heaven;
Yet e’en as angel may I not abide,
For nought abideth save the face of God.
Thus o’er the angels’ world I wing my way
Onwards and upwards, unto boundless lights;
Then let me be as nought, for in my heart
Rings as a harp-song that we must return to Him.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of many great Americans whose belief in reincarnation is overlooked, wrote in his poem, The Chambered Nautilus:
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
That is the purpose of creation and our place in it.
The religion of Yoga
It is commonly said that Yoga is not a religion. But since religion is derived from the Latin word religere, which means “to bind back,” and yoga means “joining,” practically speaking yoga is the only religion. The many systems of dogmas and doctrines are by their very nature not really religions at all, and in most instances are systems of superstition–either by the nature of their ideas or practices or by the attitudes of their adherents toward their beliefs and disciplines. Only when Yoga and Self-realization are the matrix around which a philosophy has been formulated for their furtherance is it worthy of our consideration. Other philosophies only produce confusion and distraction from the divine goal.
Regarding this, in his commentary on the twenty-second sutra of the Kaivalya Pada of the Yoga Sutras, Taimni says: “The student will have noticed that in the ideas set forth in the above pages no effort has been made to link up the facts of Yogic philosophy with doctrines which are considered to be religious. But this does not mean that there is no relation between them. In fact, a religious man can see, if he studies the subject of Yoga with an open mind, that all the ideas of Yogic philosophy can be interpreted in religious terms, and the consciousness which the Yogi seeks to uncover within the folds of his mind is nothing but that Supreme Reality which is commonly referred to as God. God is recognized by every religion with any philosophical background to be a Mighty Being whose consciousness transcends the manifested Universe. He is considered to be hidden within every human heart. He is supposed to transcend the mind. Basically, these ideas are the same as those of Yogic philosophy. The main difference lies in the assertion by Yogic philosophy that this Supreme Reality or Consciousness is not merely a matter for speculation or even adoration but can be discovered by following a technique which is as definite and unfailing as the technique of any modern Science. Yoga thus imparts a tremendous significance to religion and places the whole problem of religious life and endeavor on an entirely new basis and it is difficult to understand how any religious man can reject its claims without giving them due consideration.”
It is yoga alone which reunites the consciousness of the individual to its infinite source, restoring the lost unity. Earlier I quoted a paragraph from I. K. Taimni’s book The Science of Yoga about the purpose of yoga, but omitting his preceding words regarding the relation of yoga to religion–or rather, their difference. Here they are now, for I think you will find them relevant:
“The Orthodox religious ideal which requires people to be good and moral so that they may have a happy life here and hereafter is really a concession to human weakness and the desire to prefer the so-called happiness in life to enlightenment.
“In this respect the philosophy of yoga differs fundamentally from most of the orthodox religions of the world which offer nothing better than an uncertain and nebulous happiness in the life after death. They say in effect ‘Lead a good life to ensure happiness after death, put your faith in God and hope for the best.’ According to yogic philosophy death no more solves your spiritual problem than night solves your economic problem. If you are poor you do not expect on going to bed that your economic problem will be automatically solved next day. You will have to get up the next day and begin where you left off the previous night. If you are poor economically you do not expect to get rich overnight and if you are poor spiritually, bound by illusions and limitations of all kinds, you cannot expect to become enlightened [by simply being reborn] or, if you do not believe in reincarnation, in the vague and unending life which is supposed to follow death.”
Yoga is the way we answer for ourselves the prayer:
Lead me from the unreal to the Real.
Lead me from darkness to the Light.
Lead me from death to Immortality.
The Conscious Universe
The ancient yogi-sages of India directly experienced the truth that the entire universe is a manifestation of Divine Consciousness–of God. All creation is really spirit, not matter at all. More to the point, it is the infinitely complex and perfect thought of God. Just as we create worlds and live in them when we dream or daydream, in the same way the cosmic dreamer is dreaming the cosmic dream of this evolutionary creation, and we are dreaming our personal dream within it. Therefore it all has a meaning and a purpose, and is at all times absolutely perfect and consistent with itself. We must keep this in mind at all times, but especially when considering our life-dream within the greater dream.
As yogis aspiring to return to infinite being through the self-evolution produced by our yoga practice, we should understand every step of the way, and this requires a comprehension of the specific laws governing our presence within creation and our way out of relativity back into the Absolute.
The beginning–and the end
When the individual spirit-Self, the Atman, moves in its consciousness from the Absolute to the relative, the first step is an outward-turning of awareness and a production of the seed of dual consciousness that is necessary for its entry into and its eventual exit out of the relative state that is fundamentally dual. This is done through the slightest and subtlest of movements that produces a kind of stress-point in our awareness. This is the moment of entry into relativity, though so subtle as to be virtually imperceptible. Actually, the movement is the stress-point. (On the cosmic level it is the root or seed that is the beginning of all things, the Holy Breath, the Agia Pneuma, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Light, from which all things proceed and into which all things are ultimately resolved.) As a divine seed it contains all that ever shall be for that individual spirit. Its unfoldment and manifestation is the history or destiny that it shall experience throughout its time within relative existence.
This initial impulse is dual in nature. First, it is the force that impels the individual onto the path that leads into involution–into experience and identity with increasingly complex forms of manifestation; and it is also the impulse that moves the spirit onto the path of evolution–of growth out of relativity. Second, it is the beginning of duality: a vast chain of constant cycling between two poles–negative and positive–that makes relative existence possible, both as evolving consciousness and evolving organism.
First the spirit travels along the path of involution until it reaches the experience of self-awareness and self-reflection (or analysis) within a human body sufficiently developed to permit–and even perhaps produce–that awareness. Then it begins the path of evolution back to infinity. Of course, the two paths are really one–it is only a matter of the direction being taken. The point where involution becomes evolution is a kind of watershed or continental divide. All this is a direct production of the original breath which takes place both macrocosmically and microcosmically. This has a profound yogic significance, and will be discussed in a later chapter.
In yogic treatises we find it stated over and over that the breath is the essence of our existence. Prana means both life and breath in Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, the word Atman (Self) comes from the root-word at, which means “to breathe.” Other religions also use the same word for both spirit and breath: in Judaism, ruach; in ancient Greek religion and Eastern Christianity, pneuma; in ancient Roman religion and Western Christianity, spiritus which comes from spiro, “I breathe.”
The ancient yogis of India found after intense and extensive self-examination that the mind, the instrument of the spirit-consciousness, was fundamentally affected by two factors, breath and sound, and that all other elements were quite secondary to these two things. Investigating the breath in its subtler and subtler (higher and higher) levels, they found that breath and sound were inseparable–really two manifestations of a single factor: an impulse that came directly from the spirit. In the highest level they found that the breath is originally a kind of unitary-yet-dual impulse manifesting in a circular motion or pattern that is single yet possessing two halves which appear in the body as two parallel movements–inhalation and exhalation–seemingly opposed to one another and completely separate like two lines side-by-side.
They further discovered that root impulse of inhalation and exhalation makes the subtle sound of Om. But we have lost the awareness of that sacred thread of inmost consciousness and are now wandering without direction or discernment. By means of Om Yoga we consciously take hold of the thread and begin moving in the right direction.
Through constant repetition of Om in time with their breath, those primeval yogis united their outer and inner consciousness and will. In this way they brought their physical, astral and causal bodies back into alignment with the evolutionary vibrations of Om–for Om is the keynote of the evolving universe. Repeating it in a constant flow turns the mind inward and produces spiritual awareness in an ever-increasing degree, in time putting us in touch with the cosmos as well as our Self and God.
And that is what this book is all about, for this tradition has been handed down even until today, though often obscured and nearly lost.
The religion of yoga is the way to restore the original evolutionary pattern on the individual level, enabling the yogis go from darkness to the Light of God which fills the horizon of their consciousness completely in the realization-experience that is the ever-increasing awareness of God as the prime reality and our individual spirit as a divine atom of that Divine Light, drawing on the infinite life for its finite life. Since God is our own inmost reality, through Om japa and meditation we will become increasingly ourselves until we become gods within God. That is the glory of yoga: we breathe God. The experience of separation from God is an illusion, but the experience of union with God is reality. Om is the force that impels us ever onward and upward.
Yoga is based on the science of spiritual sound, or mantra. A mantra is a series of sounds whose effect lies not in an assigned intellectual meaning, but in an inherent sound-power that can produce a specific effect, physically or psychologically. The word mantra itself comes from the Sanskrit expression manat trayate which means “a transforming thought” which produces an objective, perceptible change. Om is the supreme mantra of liberation.
The way to receive the benefit of a mantra is japa, the continual repetition-intonation of the mantra. In this way the invoker is constantly imbued with the power and consciousness inherent in the mantra. So whenever we intone Om, we align and link our consciousness with its origin: both our spirit and Divine Spirit.
The Vachaka–sound form–of Ishwara
In the section of the Yoga Sutras (1:27) dealing with Ishwara, the Supreme Lord, Patanjali makes this statement: Tasya vachakah pranavah–“His vachaka is the Pranava.” “Vachaka” means speech or speaking. “Pranava” means Life, Life-Giver and Breath Principle. The vachaka of Ishwara is Om, the Breath and Life Word. Ishwara vibrates Om as the foundation of the universe, as the evolutionary life force within the cosmos and every individual being.
Om is the Word written about by Saint John in his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4). This is all about Om, and shows that Christianity is deeply rooted in the philosophy and yoga of India.
God is the guru of all
“The Lord lives in the heart of every creature” (Bhagavad Gita 18:61). Dwelling in the hearts of all, God empowers and guides the questing souls. Gorakhnath, the greatest of all yogis, asked his teacher, Matsyendranath: “Who is the Primal Guru [Adiguru]?” And Matsyendranath answered: “The Eternal Beginningless One [Anadi] is the Primal Guru” (Gorakh Bodha 21, 22). He continued: “Realization of that Guru gives us immortality” (Gorakh Bodha 24).
Since God is eternal, it is from him that all knowledge has come–especially the revelation of spiritual truth. As Vyasa observes: “His purpose is to give grace to living beings, by teaching knowledge and dharma [righteousness].” “There is no other but God to give the teaching which is a boat by which they can cross over the sea of samsara, and he teaches knowledge and dharma to those who take sole refuge in him.…For all the kinds of knowledge arise from him, as sparks of fire from a blaze or drops of water from the sea,” says Shankara. This does not mean that qualified spiritual teachers are not helpful to us, but dwelling in the hearts of all, God continues to be the guru of questing souls. Others are only teachers (acharyas).
Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahashaya wrote to a student regarding the guru: “No one does anything; all is done by God. The individual [that seems to be the guru] is only an excuse; remain abidingly focused on that Divine Guru; in this is blessing.”
Swami Yatiswarananda, Vice-president of the Ramakrishna Mission, wrote to one of his students: “We bring the message of the guru of gurus.…please turn to him for light and guidance, for peace and blessedness.…The Lord, the guru of gurus, alone can give us the shelter, the illumination and the bliss we need.”
Sri Ramakrishna himself said: “Satchidananda [Existence-Consciousness-Bliss] alone is the guru; he alone will teach” (1.2.8; also: 4.2.1, 5.1.2, 5.5.1). “There is no other guru except Satchidananda. There is no other refuge but him. He alone is the ferryman who takes one across the ocean of relative existence” (1.12.8). “The more you will advance, the more you will see that it is he who has become everything and it is he who is doing everything. He alone is the guru and he alone is the spiritual ideal of your choice. He alone is giving jnana, bhakti and everything” (4.26.2). “Do you pray to Satchidananda Guru every morning? Do you?” (4.9.2). (These quotations are from the Majumdar translation of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.)
God is the guru of humanity because he has implanted in us the Om mantra. In the depths of our being, God is perpetually stimulating–teaching–the spirit to emanate Om as the agent of its evolution and perfection. In this way God is the guru of each one of us. The aspiring yogi can then feel safe and assured, for God will be his guru, just as he has been for all the enlightened throughout the ages. “He is guru even of the ancients,” affirmed Patanjali (Yoga Sutras 1:26). In the sixth edition of Paramhansa Yogananda’s Whispers From Eternity, on page 263 there is this declaration-vow to God: “Thou art my Guru-Preceptor; I am Thy disciple.”
You are also the guru
All spiritual life is self-initiated from within; we are both guru and disciple as Krishna and Arjuna symbolize in the Bhagavad Gita. Ultimately the yogi must be guided by the divine from within his own consciousness. The God-illumined mind becomes our guru. “The mind is itself guru and disciple: it smiles on itself, and is the cause of its own well-being or ruin,” wrote the great poet-saint Tukaram (Tukaram’s Teachings, by S. R. Sharma, p. 19). “The mind will eventually turn into your guru,” said Sri Sarada Devi, the consort of Sri Ramakrishna (Gospel of the Holy Mother, p. 340). Swami Brahmananda, the spiritual son of Sri Ramakrishna, in speaking about the role of an external guru said: “Know this! There is no greater guru than your own mind. When the mind has been purified by prayer and contemplation it will direct you from within. Even in your daily duties, this inner guru will guide you and will continue to help you until the goal is reached” (Eternal Companion, p. 120).
Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahashaya wrote to a student regarding the guru: “Guru is the one who is all; Guru is the one who is merciful. You are the Guru within yourself” (Garland of Letters [Patravali], Letter 45). In Purana Purusha by Dr. Ashoke Kumar Chatterjee it is recorded on page 224 that Yogiraj made these two statements: “I am not a guru. I do not hold the distinction of ‘guru’ and ‘disciple.’” “The Self is the Guru…the immortal, imperishable Guru.”
The great fourteenth-century yogini, Lalla Yogeshwari, sang about finding her inner guru, her Self:
With passionate longing did I, Lalla, go forth.
Seeking and searching did I pass the day and night.
Then, lo, saw I in mine own house a learned man [pandit],
And that was my lucky star and my lucky moment
when I laid hold of him. (Lalla Vakyani 3)
According to Vyasa there is another teacher: our yoga practice itself. He says: “It is yoga that is the teacher. How so? It has been said: ‘Yoga is to be known by yoga. Yoga goes forward from yoga alone. He who is not careless [neglectful] in his yoga for a long time, rejoices in the yoga.’” Shankara, commenting on these words of Vyasa, discusses the reaction that the awakening person has upon learning about the possibility of liberation from his present state of bondage: “Meditation on his own being, which is the cause that should lead to liberation, begins of itself, caused by karma of a previous life or else by steadfastness in renunciation in this present one. And it goes on of itself, without instruction from a teacher.”
The experience gained from yoga practice itself teaches us the reality and value of yoga. But even more, it opens our intuition and enables us to comprehend the inner workings of the subtle levels of our being and its mastery. Yoga truly becomes our teacher, revealing to us that which is far beyond the wisdom of books and verbal instructions. Moreover, it is practice of yoga that enables us to understand the basis and rationale of its methods and their application. The why and wherefore of yoga become known to us by direct insight.
In his commentary on Yoga Sutra 2:28 Vyasa says: “From practicing yoga, illusion [ignorance] is destroyed and perishes. When it is destroyed, there is manifestation of right vision. In proportion to the practice done, illusion is dispelled. In proportion to its destruction, the light of [spiritual] knowledge increases correspondingly. This increase is an experience of increasing refinement up to the realization of the true nature of the purusha [spirit].”
The Yoga Vashishtha says it clearly and truly: “God consciousness is not achieved by means of the scriptures, nor is it achieved by the grace of your master. God consciousness is only achieved by your own subtle awareness.”
When Gorakhnath asked: “Who is the Guru that leads to the Goal?” Matsyendranath told him: “Nirvana itself is the Guru that leads to the Goal.” That is, the liberated condition of the Self, though presently buried beneath the debris of lifetimes of ignorance, is itself the inspirer and guide to the revelation of our eternal liberation.
Read the next Chapter in Om Yoga Meditation, The Word That Is God.
Om Yoga links:
Preface to Om Yoga: The Physics of OM
- The Word That Is God
- OM in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras
- Om Yoga Meditation
- The Yogi’s Subtle Anatomy and Meditation
- Understanding the Aspects of Om Yoga Meditation
- Points For Successful Meditation
- Foundations of Yoga
- Afterword: It Is All Up To You
- Appendix One: The Glories and Powers of Om
- Appendix Two: Breath and Sound in Meditation
- Appendix Three: Practical Applications of Om
More on OM Yoga:
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary
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