Yoga Unveiled: part one
Part one of a three part investigation of the origins, philosophy, and principles and practise of yoga
There can be very few people sincerely interested in Occultism or Mysticism who have not at some time or another delved into the study of what is popularly thought to constitute yoga. Countless books and now limitless videos, blogs and websites have explored this subject, brimming with all manner of breathing exercises, postures, meditations, confirmations, mantras, mudras (gestures) and so on and so forth. Many of these resources are utterly fantastic, others ridiculous, some highly dangerous. Few are good. It is for this reason, as well as others, that we long ago decided that our work would not be complete without a thorough investigation of yoga. But there were many other subjects we needed to write about first and misunderstandings that required clearing up (see complete list of articles on our Homepage). We feel the time is now right to thoroughly investigate what yoga really is, what it isn't, and explore and explain the philosophy and principles which underlie it. As we proceed, many erroneous ideas will need to jettisoned and not a few fantasies exploded. This is likely to upset those who fondly imagine that yoga consists of what one wit has called 'stretching in spandex'. We aim to show that this wishy-washy, touchy-feely exposition of yoga is unworthy of the name. Any readers who disagree with this view may stop reading now as nothing we have to say is likely to interest them.
In this first part of our three part investigation we discuss what yoga is and what it isn't, explore the profound philosophy which gave it birth and the eight stages of which it consists. In part two we discuss the antiquity and origins of yoga, the main schools into which it is divided and the practises associated with them. In the third and final part published in May 2023, we discuss some of the lesser known schools and the ultimate aim and purpose of this grand Science. In the accompaniment to this investigation we explore and explain the rich heritage of occult knowledge and wisdom to be found in the sayings and parables of the Sages of ancient India. It is the sublime philosophical ideas in these discourses that expound and explain the true science and art of yoga, not the countless 'yoga workouts for complete beginners' to be found on YouTube or the superficial explanations presented by perspiring young women posing in leotards! If, as we fervently believe and hope to prove, yoga is the epitome of Occult Science, there can be no better or more apposite compliment to its grand philosophy than the eternal truths to be found in the sacred literature which gave it birth. Should you wish to explore this rich heritage further (which would be an eminently good thing to do), you will find a short list of principal sources in the Further reading list in the sidebar.
What is Yoga?
Yoga as it is popularly understood today is a very broad church indeed. It encompasses a greater variety of ideas, teachings and practises than almost any other system of mental and spiritual discipline. Yoga as it is practised in the West today should, as we said in our introduction, be more properly described as 'stretching in spandex'. It consists almost entirely of a distortion of the practises of Hatha yoga introduced by the yogi Svatmarama in the 15th Century, and developed further in the 17th century in two Hindu texts, the Shiva Samhita and Gherada Samhita. The Sanskrit word hatha means 'force', a clear allusion to the physical nature of this discipline. The arduous postures and contortions — although 'tortures' would be a better word for many of them — which form the basis of Hatha yoga were quickly adopted by pseudo yogis as a fast track to the attainment of supernatural powers. In later times such practises degenerated into deceptive tricks, and are still carried on today in India by the cheating and cheated fools under the false name of yoga. Not that yoga is unique in this regard. It has been the fate of every religious or spiritual system since time immemorial to become distorted and degraded as we have pointed out in so many of our articles. And it always will be so long as trickery and fantasy are preferred to simple truth.
It is worth mentioning that some of the blame for the degeneration of yoga into 'stretching in spandex' can be laid at the door of Sanskrit scholars such as Professor Monier Williams (1819-1899) who, during the 19th century brought the Occult Sciences of India to the attention of Westerners. In doing so, Monier Williams came to the conclusion that, "the yoga system appears, in fact, to be a mere contrivance of getting rid of all thought, or at least of concentrating the mind with the utmost intensity upon nothing in particular. It is a strange compound of mental and bodily exercises consisting of unnatural constraint, forced and painful postures, twistings and contortions of the limbs, suppression of breath and utter absence of mind." He tops this not entirely inaccurate description by asking, "How is it that faith in a false system can operate with sufficient force upon the Hindu to impel him to submit voluntarily to the almost incredible restraints, mortifications of the flesh and physical tortures? How is it that an amount of physical endurance may be exhibited by an apparently weakly and emaciated Asiatic, which would be impossible to a European, the climate and diet in one case tending to debilitate and in the other to invigorate?"
How indeed! The answer is twofold. Firstly, the native Hindu is constitutionally inured to privations and mortifications that would kill the average European. Secondly, his body is designed to adopt postures and restraints that are wholly unsuitable for most Westerners. Or rather this was the case when Monier Williams made his observations and before Western habits of soft living and comfort undermined the Indian's natural resilience and austerity. Nowadays it is fashionable to dismiss the physical and mental differences between races as the result of environmental and social conditions and influences. Heaven forbid that some human beings, either physically, mentally, emotionally and even morally, or all four, should be superior to others. The current climate of political correctness forbids such a heretical view. All must be equal in the eyes of the arbiters of Orwellian rectitude or suffer the accusation of 'racism' and risk 'cancellation' or worse! Nonetheless, the fact remains that the various races to be found on earth at the present time do differ in many ways. To deny this fundamental truth is to add bigotry to blindness. Be that as it may, there is another reason why Monier Williams was so critical of the yogic practises he witnessed. His observations were coloured by the deceptive tricks of the pseudo yogis we mentioned earlier and what they chose to impart to him by way of an explanation of their practises. Had he bothered to study the sacred texts of India, it would quickly have become apparent that there is no mention of the 'postures, twistings and contortions of the limbs' he witnessed in the systems of yoga mentioned in the Vedas or Puranas. Neither are such contortions inculcated in the Upanishads, Patanjali's philosophy, or even in the Yoga Vasistha, which is thought to have been composed during the sixth century but is probably much older. As we shall see later, the practises of real yoga consist of moral restraints; they do not involve torture of any kind. Such restrictions were acknowledged from the earliest times, not only in India, but in Egypt and China too, as being indispensable to the concentration of the mind on any subject, and especially so when contemplating the inscrutable nature of the Unknown and Unknowable Divinity. To be fair to Monier Williams he did bring yoga to the attention of the West and in doing so did say some good, even wise things about it, as we shall learn as we proceed.
Having considered to some extent what yoga isn't and why it has become little more than another physical fitness regime in the West, let us now turn our attention to what it really is. True yoga as we understand it and as it was originally taught, comprehends within its ample sphere and deep recesses all that is of the greatest value, best interest and highest importance to mankind, consisting of a complete knowledge of the entire Kosmos, of the physical, intellectual, and spiritual parts of man and the universe which surrounds him on all sides. The richness of this truly wonderful contemplative philosophy is to be found in the sacred texts of olden times; the Vedas, Puranas and Upanishads, as well as in the writings of the Indian Sage Patanjali who is thought to have composed the Yoga Sutras that bear his name in the fourth or fifth centuries B.C. We explore this rich heritage in our accompaniment to this investigation in which we consider some of the parables and sayings of the ancient Sages of India.
The grandeur of yoga is exhibited in the abstract and abstruse reflections and investigations of the many great philosophers who have written about it over the centuries. This is particularly evident in the profusion of erudition and prolixity of ingenuity displayed in the philosophical aphorisms of Patanjali. The crowning sublimity of yoga is manifested in its aspiring enquiries into the nature of the human and divine souls, or the Higher Mind and Soul in our terminology, which it aims to unite with the one and all pervading spirit of God. It has given employment to the minds of saints and sages throughout history, enabling them to exalt their natures above the rest of mankind to the dignities of the gods, for nothing less than a godly nature can ever hope to approach and approximate that of the All–pervading and All–perfect Deity and truly become One with its Divinity. This is the true Art and Science of yoga in all its primitive perfection. It differs from the abortion that has supplanted it in both West and East as the glorious Sun differs from a smouldering rag in a dank cave inhabited by bemused bats.
If you have come to the conclusion that the yoga we have described so far is remarkably similar to Occult Science, you would be right. Not only are they similar, they are one and the same. This will become clearer as we proceed with our investigation. Yoga, while it treats of a variety of subjects, is necessarily an aggregation of many sciences in itself. In India it is the Hindu form of metaphysical argument for the existence of the One Eternal — the Platonic 'Reality'. It is ontology in as much as it teaches a priori the being of God. It is psychology in its treatment of the doctrine of feelings and passions connected with the lower self and the higher aspirations of the Higher Self, and it represents morality in inculcating the wise control of the brutal tendencies of that lower self, in order that the Higher Self may emancipate itself from the bonds of illusion and be restored into the Spirit of spirits, yet retaining its full individuality.
Notwithstanding the various schools of yoga and the different ways in which each views this grand philosophy, there is a broad consensus among them all that yoga is the esoteric faith of the Hindus, and the occult adoration of God by spiritual meditation. Thus yoga is considered to be the only means of one’s ultimate liberation from the general doom of birth, death, and the miseries of this earth, and the surest way towards the final absorption of the Self in the Supreme, which represents the highest state of perfection and the Summum bonum of the Hindu. But the main idea of Yoga is no other than the effecting of that union of the human with the Divine Soul amidst all the trials and tribulations of earthly life. This is the highest form of Yoga which is set out in the six books of the Yoga Vasistha attributed to the Vedic Sage Valmiki. Monier Williams whom we mentioned earlier says: "According to Patanjali the word Yoga is interpreted to mean the act of fixing or concentration of the mind in abstract meditation. Its aim is to teach the means by which the human soul may attain complete union with the Supreme Soul, and of effecting the complete fusion of the individual with the universal spirit even in the body." The German Sanskritist, Albrecht Weber (1825-1901) echoed this view when he said: "Yoga is the absorption in Atman, the stages of this absorption and the external means of attaining it by means of meditation. It occurs first in the latter Upanishads, especially the tenth book of the Taittiriya and the Katha Upanishads, where the very doctrine is itself enunciated." In its Vedantic view, yoga is the joining of the individual with the Supreme Spirit by holy communion of the one with the other through intermediate grades, whereby the limited soul (Higher Self or Mind in our terminology) may be gradually led to approach its unlimited fountain and lose itself in the same.
We have quoted these statements at some length because they suggest that when this act of 'merging' or 'union' has been accomplished, the individuality goes with it, and the being who was once an individual entity, is now a mere drop in the great Ocean of God. Nothing could be more wrong or more pernicious, yet countless millions cling to this belief, both East and West. Regular readers may recall that we touched on this doctrine in the third of our afterwords to our investigation of Tibetan Buddhism. We did not mince our words then either, saying "Who wants to become merged, and so lost, in God? The first Law of Occult Science is the Law of Evolution, as we discuss in our occult studies course article of the same name. What greater loss can there be than the obliteration of one's individuality or personality? Impossible, dear reader, a mere pipe dream of the oriental sluggard, who sits by the wayside begging for alms, being too lazy to work. This idea of Nirvana, on earth or in Heaven, as seen with Buddhist eyes and understood by Buddhist minds must be cast overboard at once, for it is completely wrong."
If this merging really meant total extinction of the Ego as an ego, or of the self-existing individual, fully aware of himself, or even if a dim consciousness still remained in the 'drop' that has merged with all the other drops in that great Ocean, then the whole creation of man would become but a useless enterprise on the part of the Creator, a complete waste of time; a cruel, cosmic jest if you like. We say again, what would be the use of first creating a being such as thinking, reasoning, godlike man, the son of his Heavenly Father, if the end would be total extinction of that individuality so painfully built up over aeons of time? Nay! The purpose of man’s creation is much greater than that. It is every man’s destiny to become eventually an angel, a Minister to God in the Highest sense, and then a very God himself at last as we were at pains to point out in the afterword to our aforementioned article on Evolution. How in the name of not-so-common sense anyone who is capable of rational, philosophical thought can believe in the extinction of his or her individuality is beyond our comprehension. But there you are; millions do believe this pipe dream as we called it. There is no need for any merging at all, but there is a need for ascending in that vast Ocean so that we may reach the highest domains, and soar above the surface of that divine Expanse. That is yoga glorified. Yet, the strange part of all this is that we all have the God-given free-will to do or be whatever we wish. "Just what you want to be, you will be in the end," sang the English rock band the Moody Blues in the 1960's. They were right. If we truly want to remain individual spiritual beings, we will. But if we prefer to merge with the divine, losing all sense of individuality...it shall come to pass also! We have free will to choose our own Destiny as we discussed in our investigation of Fate versus Free-Will.
The doctrine, or rather dogma, of the total extinction of man's Soul and Mind, or individuality, if we wish to call it that, is completely untrue in every way. In connection with this, there is a short Buddhist catechism which cleverly challenges this belief in a rather subtle manner. After Gautama Buddha died, the King of Kosala asked a learned nun, Khema, the following questions:
"Venerable Lady, the Perfect One is dead. Does he exist after death?"
"Great King, the Exalted One has not declared that he exists after death."
"Then, venerable Lady, does the Perfect One not exist?"
"The Perfect One has not declared that he does not exist after death."
"But, venerable Lady — does and does not? How is this possible?"
And, smiling a little, the learned nun replied: "Great King, have you an accountant or a mint-master who could count the sands of Ganges and lay the figure before you?"
"Venerable Lady, no."
"Or who could measure the drops in the Ocean?"
"Again no, venerable Lady."
"And why?" replied Khema. "Because the Ocean is deep, immeasurable, unfathomable. So also is it if the existence of the Perfect One be measured by any human category, for all statements of bodily form are abolished in the Perfect One; their root is severed; they are done with and can germinate no more. The Perfect One is released from the possibility that his being can be gauged in any human terms. He is now deep, immeasurable and unfathomable as the Ocean, and neither the terms of existence, or of non-existence as understood by the world, fit him anymore."
This catechism illustrates the enormous scope, subtlety and profundity of yoga as we shall see in the next section of our investigation.
The philosophy of Yoga
It has been said that the Hindu mind is naturally disposed to yoga. By which is meant a contemplative mind focused on the final beatitude in the afterlife even while immured in the cares, concerns and callings of this world. A world which the devotee regards with indifference as the transient shadows of passing clouds that serve to dim for a moment but never shut out from view the full blaze of luminous futurity. At least this may have been the case in the nineteenth century when the philosophy of yoga was first drawn to the attention of Western scholars. We are not so sure it is still true today, especially in India's teeming cities where millions pursue the will-o'-the-wisp of fame and fortune no less enthusiastically than their materialistic counterparts in the West. Whether the same holds good for the many millions who till the soil of India's diminishing countryside is open to question. It is possible that they still "enter the world as a stranger," as the German Orientalist Max Müller wrote in the 1870's, and that "all their thoughts are directed to another world, they take no part even where they are driven to act, and even when they sacrifice their life, it is but to be delivered from it." Frankly, this sounds more like Eastern fatalism to us than the philosophy taught by Patanjali and others. But when elsewhere in his writings, Max Müller says "All their lives the Hindus long for eternity; their activity is a struggle to return to that divine essence from which this life seemed to have severed them," he speaks truly so far as the Hindu yogi is concerned. In this respect we may say that the yogi views our visible world in the same light as Plato represents it in his Allegory of the Cave found in Book VII of The Republic.
We reproduced our own version of this philosophical treatise in the afterword to the final article in our occult studies course. In this seminal allegory Plato compares mankind to prisoners in a cave, chained in one particular attitude, so as to behold only an ever-varying multiplicity of shadows, projected through the opening of the cave upon the wall before them by some unseen realities behind. Only the true philosopher, whether by training or inspiration, is able to behold the unchangeable reality amidst these transient shadows. This shows, as we said earlier, that yoga and Occult Science are identical in all but name, for it was Plato's training as an occultist that informed his philosophy. Even Wikipedia, that molehill of misinformation and nescience numbers the Athenian Sage among its 'List of occultists.' Amusingly, it also includes Vyasa, the supposed author of the Mahabharata in the list, who, if nothing else, was a most accomplished yogi long before Patanjali compiled his famous Yoga Sutras, so inadvertently proving our point. On the other hand, the list also includes the rock musician Jim Morrison and Heinrich Himmler, so perhaps we shouldn't set too much store by it! Morrison may have read a few lurid occult books and Himmler may or may not have had a prurient fascination with nubile, young German witches, but this does not make either of them an occultist as we, and we hope you who are reading this, understand the word.
There are many meanings of the word Yoga, and the Vachaspatyam (a Sanskrit dictionary) gives us about fifty different ones, according to the several branches of art or science to which it appertains, and the multifarious affairs of life in which the word is used either singly or in composition with others. There is no need to give you all these names and meanings. Suffice it to say that yoga is derived from the root jung or jeung, meaning to join two things together. In Astronomy it is the conjunction of planets and stars. In Grammar it is the joining of words. In contemplative philosophy the word has several meanings.
According to Patanjali it means the suppression of mental functions while the Buddhists consider it to be the abstraction of the mind from all objects. On the other hand, some Buddhists consider it to consist of seeking one’s desired object, while with others it is the search after every desirable object. In the Vedas, it means the union of the human soul with the Supreme Spirit. Its meaning in the philosophy of yoga we are discussing is nearly the same, i.e., the joining of the Higher Self with the Soul in our terminology. In the Vaiseshika philosophy it means fixing one's attention on one subject by abstracting it from all others. The Ramanuja sect who follow the Visishtadvaita philosophy or qualified non-dualism, define it as seeking one’s particular Deity. In medicine it means the compounding of drugs, and again there are many compound words with yoga which mean only a ‘treatise’ on those subjects. Moreover the words yoga and viyoga are used to express the two processes of synthesis and analysis both in the abstract and practical sciences for the combination and disjoining of ideas and things. Finally, every process of meditation in Hinduism is also called yoga.
The constituent parts and progressive steps of yoga are composed of a series of bodily, mental and spiritual practises. When pursued assiduously these make the perfect man or woman, as a moral, intellectual and spiritual being, to be united to his Maker without, as we said earlier, any loss of his or her individuality. This Union of Man with God is termed Nirvana, though there are many different kinds and degrees of Nirvana. For, as we said in the third of our articles about Tibetan Buddhism, "there is no such thing as a Nirvana on earth. And if anyone should claim that he has found it, then he is a person who neglects his material duties, for if he moved amongst his fellow men and attended to his worldly tasks as he should, then there is no Nirvana for him, but much pain and disappointment, which, however, should not deter him from doing his work and completing it, so that he might become worthy, perhaps, of a reward elsewhere." And that reward may rightly be called Nirvana. We have only to consult the life of the Buddha or Jesus, or any of the other great Messengers to see the truth of this. Their fleeting moments of union with the Divine were conditioned by periods of severe test and trial. And how could it be otherwise when we consider the work they had to do among the ignorant and ungrateful masses who mostly spurned them and their teachings?
The end and aim of Yoga is the emancipation, or liberation from earthly bondage, of the soul as they regard it in India, or Higher Self in our terminology. The soul was the primary subject of inquiry in India just as it was with the sages of every other country and nation. The Greeks had their saying Gnothi Seauton, the Romans Nosce te Ipsum, the Hindus Khodra bedan and the Arabs Taalam Nafsaka, all of which mean 'know thyself'.
The eight stages of Yoga
There are generally considered to be eight stages of yoga, some of which are external, and others internal. These may be briefly summarised as follows:
- Yama. Forbearance, restraint of passions, feelings, and so on, including the best moral rules to be found in all religions.
- Niyama. Religious observances of all kinds.
- Asana or posture. This deals with the different postures as well as with complete relaxation of the body in the fullest sense of the word so that no bodily discomfort distracts us from deep meditation. We would mention in passing that the actual postures used in India can be very harmful to Europeans or the White Races in general whose physical constitution is very different.
- Pranayama. Control of the breath.
- Pratyahara. Restraint and control of the senses. In other words self-control leading to inner peace.
- Dharana. Steadying the mind by concentration on a specific object, such as a certain spot, symbol, or anything else.
- Dhyana. Inward contemplation and meditation.
- Samadhi. Trance, the last stage of yoga. Ecstatic meditation on any divine being or condition of the highest sort.
These eight stages all comprise other practises within them. Yama (forbearance) for instance, includes the following five acts:
- Ahimsa: refraining from hurting any creature whatsoever, or universal innocence.
- Asteyam: avoidance of theft or stealth.
- Satyam: observance of Truth.
- Brahmacharyam: purity and chastity.
- Aparigraha: disinterestedness, non-possessiveness and non-attachment.
The second stage, Niyama (religious observances of all kinds), also includes no less than five moral rules which are:
- Saucham: personal cleanliness.
- Santosha: contentment.
- Tapas: devotion, including self-denial and self-mortification.
- Svadhyaya: knowledge of all nature, or universal education by which the real laws of the universe and all within it can be learnt.
- Pranidhana: adoration of God in His various emanations and conditions.
Besides these stages and acts, yoga recognises many vices which are obstacles to meditation and spiritual progress. We will pass over these as their name is legion and we have previously covered all the main ones in the final part of our investigation of the origins of Hermeticism and the true teachings of Hermes, as well as in our article on Inner Peace through applied Wisdom.
Before we conclude this part of our investigation we wish to say something about Ahimsa. There is more misinformation and confusion about this than almost any other yogic practise. As we said above, Ahimsa means refraining from hurting any creature whatsoever, or universal innocence. This concept has been eagerly seized upon by some vegetarians and vegans as a moral justification for not eating meat. But is it? If we think about it rationally, the only difference between slaughtering a sheep for food or boiling a cabbage to death is one of degree, not of kind. Man, for reasons mostly arbitrary and sentimental, considers a sheep to be a higher life form than a cabbage, but is it? Only the Creators of both cabbages and sheep know, and they wisely hold their peace! It is now known that plants have a nervous system. A study published in Science in 2018 showed that plants, like humans, employ extracellular glutamate, a well-known mammalian neurotransmitter and a more recently uncovered developmental signalling agent in plants. In mammals, glutamate receptors are central to fast excitatory neurotransmission, which is a close parallel to their role as a long-distance signalling mechanism in plants to defend themselves against attack and mechanical damage. Occult Science has long known that consciousness exists in everything, but manifests itself in different ways; a truth material science is only now slowly beginning to accept as it delves ever deeper into matter. Other studies have proved quite conclusively that plants respond to various stimuli in a similar manner to animals. Recent Russian experiments revealed that when a cabbage was connected by electrodes to a machine that converted its energetic expressions into audible tones and was injured, it was heard screaming or crying, with a very high pitched tone. Hence it is not unreasonable to posit that plants feel pain. But this is currently a step too far for most scientists for reasons that have less to do with honest research and rather more to do with political rectitude. Imagine the consternation among vegetarians and vegans if it were once proved that cutting up a tomato was no different to killing a chicken!
A study published in Ecology Letters found that plants engage in self-recognition and can communicate danger to their genetically identical cuttings planted nearby. Recent research has uncovered that plants transmit information about light intensity and quality from leaf to leaf in a very similar way to the nervous system of human beings. In the experiment that found this, scientists showed that light shone on to one leaf caused the whole plant to respond and the response, which took the form of light-induced chemical reactions in the leaves, continued in the dark. This showed the surprised scientists that plants remembered the information encoded in light; in short plants have memories. And if they have memories, they must possess consciousness, however rudimentary and alien it may be compared to ours. Hence, we may dismiss the simplistic and sentimental view common among some vegetarians and vegans that ahimsa means not injuring any living creature. If it did, a devout Buddhist could never be a dentist or phlebotomist! As we said in our article on vegetarianism, there are many times in our lives when we are compelled to injure someone or something in order to alleviate want, distress or suffering. All Ahimsa really means is that we should not hurt any living thing without good reason. We have not dwelt on Ahimsa to take a swipe at vegetarians or vegans, but to show how any of the constituent parts and practises of yoga may be misunderstood and misapplied. Indeed, as we said in our Introduction, one of our main aims is to point out the many misconceptions connected with Yoga.
In part two of this investigation we discuss the antiquity and origins of Yoga and the main schools into which it is divided.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 8 January 2023.