Yoga: The Mystic Path
Philosophy is considered the cradle of all sciences and the source of all ideas which are turned into actions in everyday life; it is by revealing the root of existence that it suggests and justifies man’s duties. Searching for the reasons of living is considered the greatest activity of the individual, because – as Plato said – “the worst thing that could happen to man is to avoid thinking“.
Human perception of existential and cosmic problems is influenced by the country, nation, race and local culture. Each nation has its own particular evolution and mission, that it accomplishes by copying the planetary archetype which corresponds to itself. This occult element provides each nation with a distinct expression, with a special way of perceiving reality and a different behaviour towards life necessities.
Under these special place and time circumstances, was developed in the Indian peninsula, a clearly metaphysical perception of reality, and this fact places Indian culture into a distinguished spiritual position with regard to Western perceptions. The people of India, having the freedom to develop their own idealistic life, philosophy and religion, managed to preserve a remarkably spiritual mentality, which began to be openly diffused towards the Occident only a few decades ago.
Indian thinking and mentality is characterized by a kind of spirituality that is not hemmed in the religious formalism, but remains the keystone around which its political, scientific and everyday life is performed. Its great philosophical works are not merely “ex cathedra“, but become the narrations and stories of the elder to the younger, and are used as parables and moral teachings which mould customs and habits and build characters. Bhagavad-Gita, Upanishad and Puranas, with their myths and stories, have been assimilated by its people to such extent, that the aim of spiritual initiation – which is man’s comprehension of the metaphysical aspect of life – has been achieved to a maximum in the Indian peninsula.
In this country, religion can hardly become a dogma, because it is used as a starting point for human communication, which is adapted to different stages of spiritual perception and terms of living. Its philosophy and religion – by not separating theory from practice and doctrine from life – have resisted the pressure of evoluting life and, consequently, were able to survive.
The central idea of Indian philosophy is human self. “Knoweth thyself” contains the spiritual law and its prophetes. The keystone of man is spirit, which is the centre of everything. A special importance is conferred to thinking and meditation, means which enable the discovery of inner truth. The postulate is that each stage of thinking and living is achieved through methodical training of will and intelligence. Psychic experiences are considered neither unnatural, nor miracles. They are neither products of damaged brain, nor divine inspirations, but human powers which can be activated under carefully established circumstances. The Yoga system refers extensively to the conditions for the development of inner powers, while its philosophy, Samkhya, being one of the Darshanas in the Indian attestation, reveals and interprets (explains) the cause of manifested life and its effusion towards the human vehicle.
The term Darshana represents a philosophical system and a theory. Etymologically, it derives from the word “drs” which means “vision“. This vision may derive from observation through senses, from rational perception and intuitive experience. The term is commonly used in order to define a whole of ideas which are explained rationally, while having been perceived intuitively. Darsana is a spiritual theory, an accomplished view which emerges from the pure soul. According to Samkara, the great monist, in order to apprehend it, four requirements are necessary:
- distinction between the finite and the eternal,
2. denial to harvest the fruit of one’s actions
3. detachment from senses, and
4. the goal of deliverance from re-incarnations.
Yoga is one of the six systems in Indian philosophy. Along with the other Darsanas, which are Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Mimamsa, Vedanta and Samkhya, they represent the six fundamental ways to knowledge in Brahmanic culture.
The curious thing is that Indian philosophy is so undetermined chronologically, that we know more about philosophies than about philosophers. The following divisions provide a chronological order and place the philosophical currents historically.
- The Vedic period, from 1500 B.C. to 600 A.D., comprises the settlement of the Arians and the gradual spread of their culture. Sophisticated idealism appears, and so does a successive escalation of thinking based on the Vedic hymns, Brahmanas and Upanishad.
- The Epic period, from 600 B.C. to 200 A.D., comprises the development between the Upanishad and Darsanas, that is the philosophical currents. Ramayana and Mahabharata carry the message of the heroic and divine aspect of human relations. During the same period, the popularization of the Upanishad occurs by means of Buddhism and Baghavat Gita, while abstract thinking is developed through philosophical theories.
- The Sutras period begins in 200 A.D., concerns the shrinking of theories into descriptive propositions which are commented and criticised.
- The Scholastic period also begins in 200 A.D. and is dominated by plenty of scholastic philosophers who, with their interventions, darken rather than enlighten reality. During this period, Samskara and Ramanuya became well-known as brilliant exceptions, by re-defining the ancient doctrine in such successful way that its re-appearance came to be thought as a new spiritual revelation. As for the precedence of philosophical currents, there are different opinions. Although Nyaya and Vaiseshika are officially placed first, Samkhya – which is the philosophical attestation of Yoga – is considered to be the most ancient.
- Nyaya and Vaiseshika are the pair which represents the analytical type of philosophy and uses logic and science. What makes Nyaya remarkable is its critical behaviour with regard to metaphysical issues. It concerns a critical examination of cognitive objects through the laws of logical demonstration. It describes the mechanism of knowledge and is opposed to scepticism which declares that nothing is certain. Vaiseshika is concerned with the analysis of experience. It admits general postulates which concern reality known either through senses, or through inference, or by means of authority. Both aspects, Nyaya-Vaiseshika, admit that souls are beings of spiritual essence, which exist by means of an outside reality. The former (Nyaya) refers to the process and method of rational perception of things, while Vaiseshika develops the individual establishment of reality, which is accepted by Nyaya without many arguments.
- Purva Mimamsa is concerned with the nature of Dharma and is more interested in the practical aspect rather than the theoretical one. It admits the existence of soul, which possesses a physical body, through which it expresses itself by actions. Mimamsa advocates in favour of actions which, when performed ritually, their implementation is followed by beneficial results. Its theory admits all philosophical views, provided that they do not jeopardize its central idea, which is the transcendental notion of dharma expressed through ritual. For Mimamsa, the true nature of reality is reflected in a transformed way through the forms of nature. The use of shapes (forms) by means of man – who is in himself a differentiated reflection of his true nature – establishes a whole of actions which, if approppriately performed, can re-adapt the transformed aspect to the undifferentiated state from which it originated.
Vedanta, divided into four chapters, refers to a) the existence of Brahma as initial reality, b) the contrary opinions about Brahma, which it criticises, c) the ways and means to achieve Brahma-vidya, that is divine knowledge, and d) the outcome of knowledge. For Vedanta, logic is inferior to intuitive knowledge, which is achieved through worship and meditation.
- Samkhya-Yoga is the pair of two aspects of one and unique discipline which concerns spirituality. It is considered the most spread oriental philosophy and method in the Occident, because it provides the secret of deliverance from the painful return to the Earth.
As a term it means numeration and is considered suitable to express a system which provides analytically the ranking of the manifested world. It also means knowledge of the nature of pure spirit. Samkhya admits that the world is the result of a series of causes and effects, a synergy and interaction of individual spiritual monads, purusha, and of hyper-active matter, prakriti ; the latter is the potential of nature, what Plato mentions as “the receptacle and wet-nurse of every generation“.
There is no experience without the existence of subject and object, without the existence of a self and the object of knowledge. The dualism Purusha-Prakriti exists, because Samkhya defines the cause as an entity which comprises potentially the effect, and in order to justify that, it sets out as follows:
- the non-existing cannot be the object of any activity whatsoever
- the product cannot be different from whatever produces it
- it exists even before it appears under material shape
- the cause belongs to whatever possesses the necessary dynamism (potentiality)
- the effect has the same nature with the cause
According to the above-mentioned, the cause and the effect are the non-evoluted and the evoluted stage of one and unique essence. Each production is a development and each disappearance is a return to the cause. There is no annihilation; the past and the future do not disappear, but constitute stages of evolution and involution. While the effect is potentially comprised by the cause, potentiality is not activated directly, but by means of place, time, shape (form) and constitution of the object.
For Samkhya, the Initial Cause is found in Prakriti, while itself lacks (is without) cause. Its products are dependent, while itself is independent. “The chain of causes and effects, as well as action derive fron Prakriti.“(Bhagavad Gita, 13-20)
The nature of Purusha is consciousness without beginning and end, eternal, immobile, unmodified, free, isolated in nature and place. However, it is the creative cause that turns space into cosmic spheres, into fields of thoughts, emotions and senses and keeps these worlds together. “Learn that Purusha and Prakriti are both without beginning and end, however the ways of nature and the forms they take for the sake of our conscious experience, have their origin in Prakriti.” (Bhagavad Gita, 13-19)
While Purusha is infinite, its attributes are finite, limited and act automatically and blindly. The radiation and potentiality (dynamism) of Purusha are what strengthen and activate inert matter, which belongs to the wet-nurse – Prakriti, and thus life and individual consciousness are created. “My own Ego is the source and support of all existences, but it is not placed inside them. Out of My own nature do I create this crowd of existences which are all incurably submitted to its domination. And these actions bind me in no way, for I stand above them, as an observer and not attached to these actions.” (Bhagavad Gita, 9-5)
Prakriti is the homogenous substance from which is everything existing is made. Their differences are due to the different combination of the Prakriti components, which are called “gunas“. They are its component powers, and are recognized and defined according to their effects. The first gunas is sattva, which is potential consciousness, light and vividness. The second is rajas, the source of action and pain. The third is tamas, which resists motion by producing apathy (impassivity), indifference and ignorance. The three of them represent the different stage of evolution within each product; they are never found apart, on the contrary they co-exist and support one another, like the flame, the oil and the wick of an oil-lamp. Sattva represents the archetype, either as an idea or a form, which has to be materialized; tamas provides the obstacles for the materialization; while rajas gives the power to overcome the obstacles for the materialization of the plan.
While the gunas are working together for the creation of things in life, they never join one another. They represent objectivity, while Purusha always exists within subjectivity. Prakriti – which comprises the root-essence as well as the three fundamental power, out of which derives the formation of cosmos – also comprises all the antagonist components. Samkhya admits the highest principle of cosmos as a unity which contains all the oppositions of manifested life. However, the abstract unity cannot be eternally active or eternally non-active.
For the sake of the final aim of Purusha, which is the release of every Self – there are many purushas – from the modifications of life, by facing and overcoming all existing causes and effects, Prakriti – troubled by this desire-will – loses the initial balance of its components. Thus it is set into a developing motion which is characterized by continuous change and modification, perpetually transforming the previous cause into the next effect. Out of the line of transformations emerges a ladder of evolution which contains all the potential of manifested life and all the stages of modification, starting from the top – which is the Thought-Idea – to the objects of Thinking.
Mahat, The Great Nous, is the first cause of the universe; the first product of the evolution of Prakriti. It is the root of individual consciousnesses. The next differentiation is Buddhi, which is considered a synonym of Mahat, but belongs to the individuality and lends it its psychologic touch; its attributes are virtue, wisdom, serenity and domination. It is the principle of Ego and non-Ego.
Next comes Ahamkara, which is the principle of Egotism. The individual purushas or spiritual monads, at this point of differentiation, are endowed with their individual mental content; they are transformed into self-consciousnesses. Purusha perceives the motions of prakriti through ahamkara, as this last one individualizes the acquired impressions.
From the individual Ego – Ahamkara, start three different flows, that is the three gunas. From the line of sattva derives manas, the five organs of perception and the five organs of action; and from its tamasic aspect derive the five sensory qualities and next, the five elements. Rajas is found in both as well as in the effects. Manas is the guardian, while the senses are the gates; it also contributes to perception and action. Buddhi, ahamkara, manas and senses constitute the mechanism through which the external object becomes comprehensible by the subject, that is purusha.
Man is the monad which exists within objectivity and, by means of perception and sense, he acquires impressions and experience. His consciousness consists of five items: knowledge, imagination, perception, sleep and recollection. However, it is dominated by the five causes of grief, which are: a) ignorance, b) attraction to whatever satisfies the Ego, c) rejection of whatever hurts and humiliates the Ego, d) attachment and e) fear of death.
The great number of impressions which are formed during re-incarnations, are added into collective experiences which build character, karma and the cause of re-birth. These impressions – which in Sanskrit are called samskaras – tend to be re-manifested as tendencies and characteristics of bevaviour and their potential determines the after-death period and the number of rebirths. The notion of samskara is extremely important in Indian philosophy, because it represents the karmic law and the fundament of Indian doctrine of salvation.
It is considered, and is indeed, the potential which has been created by man’s actions, as long as he is found under the influence of ignorance and selfishness. The disintegration of samskara is done either by purification, which is necessarily imposed to man through pain and suffering, or by conscious inhibition of the causes that provoked it. The abolition of impressions, which are the germinative causes of human life, constitutes the fundament of the doctrine of salvation, as well as the keystone of the yoga method. While Samkhya reveals and ennumerates the causes of manifested life from The Unique Principle to the phenomenon of human existence, Yoga, as the other aspect of the same double-way path, carefully plans the unfolding of causes at their very beginning.
Yoga is the union; it also means junction of the opposites and balance of the different element within the psychism, which, like untamed horses, ought to obbey to the spiritual rider, that is the Higher Self. It is difined as discipline which isolates human consciousness from the activity of the tangible. It uses a psychological way by which it first creates experiential impressions and next it abolishes them, forcing the trainee to search for the relation between the different projected states of consciousness.
Yoga accepts man as he is, that is foolish, weak, attached, with shortcomings and qualities. But by suggesting him a progressive detachment, it finally leads him to release from his emotional and mental bounds. The Yoga method is a discipline which is performed only through the mind and manages to set limits to the activities of personality and turn them into spiritual aptitudes and actions.
The aim of Samkhya – which is to put an end to human suffering, to release man from the wheel of re-birth and reveal him his spiritual nature – is materialized through the technique of Yoga. The Yoga method, while it theoretically represents one aspect of the dualist theory Samkhya-Yoga, is in fact a method which exists in every spiritual system and is found in every individual effort of spiritualization. Is is the process which follows individual life, when its time comes to return to its spiritual source from which once fled in order to acquire experience and knowledge through personal choice and effort.
This process, which is similar to climbing up to the high summits of our individual existence, was concentrated and formulated as a technique by Patanjali and was codified into the famous Yoga-Sutra. Sutras, that is aphorisms, comprise the recipe of an alchemist process during which the elements of personality – through continuous differentiation and continuous modification – are turned into pure, spiritual elements. The Yoga technique aims to continuous ascent of the elements of human existence towards higher and higher levels of consciousness, by means of progressive trancendence of the restricting limits.
This system is called Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga or Eight-fold Path and is preserved within the four sections of the two hundred Yoga Sutras which analyse exhaustively the motions of the mind and personality. In the first section are developed the nature and the aim of meditation. In the second are described the means of meditational achievement. In the third are mentioned the supernatural powers which are developed through mental and sensory control. The fourth stage refers to deliverance from the emotional and mental bonds, as well as the release from every cycle which hems in individuality within the field of objectivity.
The same technique is mentioned as Self-knowledge, Self-awareness, Zen, Contemplation, Dialectics, and Samadhi. “Knoweth thyself“, the symbol of the Apollonian teaching, is yet another expression which renders intactly the aim of Yoga, that is the acquaintance with our true self and its detachment from the tangible things. Self-knowledge or Yoga is knowledge of one’s self and union with the Higher and the Spiritual; it is knowledge of the elements and states which constitute the self, perception of their functioning, comprehension of their interaction, control of causes and, consequently, annihilation and holding back of those consequences which do not match the ideals and the virtues of the spiritual world.
The fundament of the Yoga system is the human mind. Mind, that is manas, is the model of the human brain, as well as the link which unites human existence with its spiritual nature. It is the vehicle of purusha, that is of its individual self, and through it, spiritual conscience absorbs and records the experience of its lower projection, which is man. Consequently, manas – the mind, is the most important tool at the level of human life, because on the one hand it lends egotism, perception and consciousness to man, and on the other it connects him with his higher nature. In parallel with the mind also exists the wish, which leads personality into actions in view of its satisfaction, thus setting the mind into action in order to find solutions and satisfactions. This process, by establishing an endless series of impressions, records the history of personal life which, on the one hand is transferred in the form of character from one incarnation to another, and on the other, through its potential, becomes the cause of the wheel of re-birth.
For the annihilation of consequences, which have as their principle the wish for satisfying the individual self, the soul is set into a state of alarm and, through the mind, gets control over wishes and senses. And through successive transcendence of the states which derive from the relation of Ego with every level of consciousness, from the lower to the upper, the spiritual monad or purusha manages to overcome its human nature and, succesively through continuous efforts based on its conscious beam, it manages to overcome its psychic nature, then its spiritual nature and finally to be united with the Cosmic Self or Cosmic Purusha. This stage is the highest aim of Yoga and is called asamprajnata samadi. At this stage, individuality, by rejecting every external support, penetrates inside its true nature: “Isolation is the settlement of the Supreme Consciousness within its own Self“.(Patanjali)
In view of this whole process, Patanjali proposes eight stages that a yogi should pass one by one, if he wishes to achieve his spiritual goal, without dangers and dangerous detours. The first two, which are Yama and Niyama, constitute the fundament of the Yoga pyramid and concern the moralization of the trainee; the righteous and moral behaviour towards ourselves and to the other, is the fundament of our spiritual ascent. This stage is also mentioned as Kriya Yoga, which means action of the self in order to perform whatever necessary for the purification and the balance of its elements, which is its physical, energetic, emotional and mental body.
The next two stages concern the control of the physical and the energetic body, and mainly the balance of their elements. This stage which is known as Hatha Yoga, prepares personality for the next movement which is the absolute control of emotions and thoughts. The physical body being the vehicle of the soul, is used by the mind, which is its rider, in order to serve spiritual, not sensory purposes. The culmination of this stage is for the yogi the control of senses and their organs, which brings him on the verge of his spiritual soul and the Supreme Soul.
In view of absolute spiritualization, the yogi should insist on absolute control of mind and, by progressive denial of all forms and stimuli coming from the field of objectivity, enter through the beam of consciousness into the plain of his individual and next of Cosmic Subjectivity.
This process of detachment and stabilization of human conscience towards the absolute spiritual aim, is comprised by the three higher ranks of the Eight-fold Wheel of Yoga, which are Pratyakara, Dhyana and Samadhi. Pratyakara is the stage where senses retire from the outer world, and that is why it is symbolized by a turtle which draws in its limbs and head inside the carapace. Dhyana is the stage of meditation, in which the mind manages to focus its flow into a unique point and thus is able to penetrate the essence of the object of its contemplation. Meditation is the continuous effort to focus the mind so as to assimilate the essence of the object, releasing it from any differentiation whatsoever. Through such effort and steady perseverence, the yogi reaches the limits of the next stage, which is Samadhi.
Samadhi is the complete reversion of the human soul towards the centre of the Self. When within the plain of consciousness remains only the image of the object of knowledge and the mind is totally released from its reflexive action and impressions, when the object exists self-same and released from all its related support, then a different perception emerges, which has the nature of glorious radiation. “Then emerges the light of direct knowledge, of epoptia and intuition.“(Yoga Soutra, Patanjali)
While focus is the steady concentration of the mind on the object and meditation is co-ordination between mind and object, Samadhi is inter-penetration of the light of the aim into the light of the contemplator. “When only the contemplated object radiates within the plain of conscience which has been cleared of any other image, then that is Samadhi.“(Yoga Sutra, Patanjali)
The thorough control of the movements of the mind and human consciousness, although existing in the codified system of Patanjali, represents a special part of the process of spiritualization and is defined as Raja-Yoga or the Royal System. This Yoga is the zenith of spiritualization. All types of Yoga which are mentioned and described as Hatha, Kriya, Tantra, Laya and other, are parts of this transmutation process which – by using the elements of human existence, that is body, breath, sensory organs and intelligence, and by setting them into a balance – build up the appropriate background for the final and complete spiritualization, which is materialized through Raja-Yoga.
For Samkhya-Yoga, man is a whole of concrete and abstract elements, which are divided into small groups and constitute the different levels of his consciousness. By controlling each group of elements from the centre where they belong, human individuality is able to progressively control its physico-energetical and psycho-mental structures. Each stage of control can represent a special part of the Major Yoga; this is how the minor yogas known as Hatha, Kriya, Laya and Tantra occur.
As for Yogas referred to as Gnana – Knowledge, Bakti – Worship and Karma – Duty, they are the branches which emerge from the implementation of Raja-Yoga, having as an effect the development of the spiritual elements of the yogi. “Having conquered all senses, he has to remain steadily attached to Yoga, entirely given to the Self. Because, the spirit of the one whose senses have been conquered, possesses the divine wisdom” (Bhagavad Gita, 2-61) The wiseman is the one who knows and worships, and considers his duty to work for and serve the Plan of his Father.
The three major Yoga together with Raja-Yoga, constitute the four paths of self-consciousness. Each of them represents initself a system of development of consciousness. However, whichever path man is marching along, in order to reach the pursued deliverance, he should implement Raja-Yoga, that is absolute control of his human nature; this is achieved through the mind, because, as already mentioned, mind is the mediator between our human and our spiritual nature.
According to Occult Tradition, Yoga, the beginning of which is not determined historically, belongs to Hiranya Garbha, its creator, who split himself up into innumerable pieces in order to teach and help people. The myth defines the split of One into Many, as a flow which is rendered by the ranking of the principles into components, which make up the manifested world and its beings, (Samkhya). Meanwhile, this initial self-split also determines the way in which the components return to their principles (Yoga).
The process of re-unification of the parts into their initial centres of power, although defined and specified by Patanjali, is and remains an independent process which concerns every individuality. Each individual, either consciously or not, is found within the becoming of a progressive unification of the lower towards the higher. The flow of human life, moving towards the ascending arch of life, draws human elements towards all the more ennoblement with the ultimate goal of balancing and co-ordinating them with the centres of their flow.
When the individual is ripe enough to pursue deliverance from the bonds of suffering, then he consciously pursues the return of human elements to their centres and has access to the technique of spiritualization. Until this hour comes, man – either because of psychic and physical suffering, or due to the need to solve his problems through intelligence or invocation – is found within the path of yoga, without being himself aware of it.
Yoga is the process of spiritualization of the elements which compose our human nature. This can happen without man being aware of it or consciously pursuing it. Each change into the better and each modification into the more spiritualized, approaching man towards his higher nature, is a kind of yoga. When the modifying process of the components and their concentration into the centres of their output is established so as to become a technique with practice that carefully plans the conscious control of senses through the mind, then it appears as the system of Yoga.
Yoga is the union of opposites and of the lower with the higher; it is the progress towards our spiritual nature, which is the principle and the root of our life; it is knowledge of our true Self; it is the path of salvation which is created by Self-Existence, while being scattered throughout the space, in order for the universe to be manifested. It is the self-existent and unique way of return of the many into the One, which takes various aspects, and leads many times the trainee to the false impression that thay are different.
The home-coming of the soul is a law and, either called yoga or contemplation, mysticism, self-knowledge, salvation, prayer or meditation, it is the process of transforming human nature into spiritual one and leads to the re-unification of individual with the Self. Being the self-sown ascending process of life, Yoga is found in every man; it should not be turned into prejudice and considered an obstacle, when one compares it with his own traditional process of spiritualization. Spiritualization of life is the aim of Manifestation. It is Dharma, which expresses the Supreme Will, and for this reason it is precious and deserves respect, regardless of form or terminology.
“It is said that senses are supreme; master of senses is the mind; master of the mind is will; and what dominates over conscious will is Him.“(Bhagavad Gita, 3-42)
“Noone can teach this absolute mystic knowledge to someone who is not his son, his disciple or whose spirit has not yet found its serenity. He can teach it only to the one who is totally devoted to his Master or to his spiritual aim, and who has acquired the necessary requirements for that.” (Maitri Upanishad, VI, 29)
some consider him a writer of Sanskrit grammar and others a mythical person. He is not the one who inspired Yoga-Sutra, but the one who gathered the elements of the method from the tradition and, by concentrating them, arranged them into the system of the famous aphorisms, through which the technique of Yoga was preserved.
it is the god who, according to the myth, merely took the form of a human body in order to teach humans the truth about the world, existence and deliverance.
information about the system is found in the classic work by Patanjali, the older work Yoga-Basya of Vyasa and as excerpts in the Upanishads.