Introduction to Yoga Philosophy
Yoga philosophy is a profound and ancient tradition closely linked with the Sankhya philosophy, serving as its practical counterpart. At its core, yoga seeks to provide a comprehensive framework for human existence, exploring the nature of the mind, consciousness, and the path to spiritual realization. Maharishi Patanjali, often regarded as the originator of yoga philosophy, laid down its foundational principles in the form of the ‘Yoga Sutra.’
Unveiling the Essence of Yoga
The word ‘Yoga’ itself carries a profound meaning—union. It signifies the union of the individual soul with the Divine, reflecting the core aspiration of yoga philosophy. In the Bhagavad Gita, equanimity is described as yoga (Samatvam Yoga Uchyate), highlighting that one who attains it experiences equanimity in the face of life’s dualities, such as joy and sorrow, gain and loss, and victory and defeat. Patanjali, in his seminal work, defines Yoga as “the spiritual journey undertaken to attain perfection by establishing control over the body, senses, and mind.” This philosophy not only encompasses the twenty-five elements expounded in Sankhya but also acknowledges the existence of the Divine, weaving together elements of wisdom from Sankhya. Consequently, it is sometimes referred to as ‘Ishwar Sankhya.’ Yoga philosophy serves as a practical guide for those seeking Kaivalya, the ultimate state of spiritual liberation.
Exploring the Mind and Its Instincts
In the Yoga Sutra, yoga is described as the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind (Yogaschittavrittinirodha). To understand this, we delve into the components of the mind. The term ‘Chitta’ encompasses intellect, ego, and mind, representing the primary disorder in the natural order of things, where Sattva (purity) predominates. While the mind is inherently inert, its proximity to the Purusha (soul) imbues it with a semblance of consciousness. When the mind encounters an external object, it assumes the shape and characteristics of that object—a phenomenon termed ‘Vritti.’
The light of human consciousness that illuminates these mental instincts is referred to as ‘knowledge.’ The Purusha, being pure consciousness, remains untouched by nature. However, due to the veil of illusion, it mistakenly identifies with its own reflection within the mind, causing a perceptible transformation.
This process is akin to the moon appearing to move when reflected in the flowing waves of a river, creating the illusion of luminous waves. Similarly, when individuals equate themselves with the reflection within the mind, their form appears mutable, and the mind seems conscious.
When one assumes the role of a neutral and passive observer, the connection with the mind’s image is severed. This disconnection causes the image to dissolve, and the instincts of the mind are restrained. This control over the mind is the essence of yoga, leading individuals to rediscover their pure state of consciousness.
Understanding the Five Instincts of the Mind
The mind exhibits five fundamental instincts, referred to as Praman (true knowledge), Viparyaya (false knowledge), Vikalp (imagination), sleep, and memory. These instincts are the lenses through which individuals perceive the world. Furthermore, there are three types of evidence used to understand reality—direct perception, inference, and testimony.
False knowledge, Viparyaya, arises when individuals mistake one thing for another, such as perceiving a rope as a snake. Vikalp represents imagination, while sleep denotes a state of mental disorder. Memory involves the recollection of past experiences. The core challenge faced by humans is the mistaken identification with the mind’s tendencies, leading individuals to perceive themselves as doers and experiencers, believing in birth, death, and the inevitability of suffering.
The Path to Liberation
The yoga philosophy aims to liberate individuals from this cycle of suffering. Five types of sorrow—Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (ego), Raga (attachment), Dvesha (aversion), and Abhinivesh (fear of death)—entangle individuals in the web of existence. Discriminative knowledge, born of self-awareness and understanding, creates a clear demarcation between the individual and nature. Ultimately, yoga philosophy strives to restrain the tendencies of the mind and guide individuals toward the state of spiritual realization.
Pratyahara (Control of the Senses)
Pratyahara, the fifth limb of Ashtanga Yoga, involves the formidable task of gaining mastery over one’s senses. In this stage, the senses relinquish their attachment to external objects and turn inward, directing their focus toward the mind. Achieving Pratyahara is a significant challenge, as it demands a profound level of self-control.
Dharana, the sixth limb, entails concentrating the mind on a chosen object or point of focus. This could be the tip of one’s nose, a deity, the Sun, or any other specific focal point. During Dharana, the mind is likened to the tip of a burning incense stick in a windless space—a state of intense concentration where distractions are minimized.
Dhyana follows meditation and involves the continuous contemplation of the chosen subject. In this stage, a continuous stream of thoughts related to the object of focus flows through the mind. Dhyana deepens one’s understanding and knowledge of the subject, fostering a profound connection between the practitioner and the chosen focal point.
Samadhi, the eighth and final limb, signifies the pinnacle of yoga practice. In this stage, the mind becomes completely absorbed in the chosen object or subject, transcending its own existence. While meditation maintains a separation between the mind and the object, in Samadhi, the two merge into one.
During Samadhi, the practitioner severs their connection with the external world, achieving a state of profound mental clarity and freedom from mental disturbances. This state represents the ultimate goal of human life—a state of oneness and spiritual realization. Among the mentioned practices, the first five—Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, and Pratyahara—are regarded as external means, while the last three—Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi—are internal means.
Understanding the Concept of God in Yoga Philosophy
Yoga philosophy acknowledges the existence of God. Patanjali, the founder of Yoga, portrays God as a distinct entity untouched by suffering, karma, results, intentions (sanskar), and more. This Divine being is perceived as eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent—a paragon of perfection. Ishwar (God) serves as a symbol of the Divine presence.
However, in Yoga philosophy, God is not considered the creator, sustainer, or destroyer of the universe. Instead, God plays a specific role in the spiritual journey. God’s function is to remove obstacles from the path of seekers, paving the way for spiritual growth. Yoga philosophy does not attribute human bondage or salvation directly to God but views God as a facilitator on the path to self-realization.
The Purpose of Human Life in Yoga Philosophy
The ultimate objective of human life, as viewed in Yoga philosophy, is not merely to merge with God but to disentangle the individual from the grasp of nature. While Yoga acknowledges the existence of God, it emphasizes the separation of humanity from the natural world. Yoga’s concept of God differs from that of other philosophies, as it doesn’t place a primary focus on achieving identity with the Divine.
Patanjali’s Yoga philosophy offers a significant method of spiritual discipline that finds a place in various Indian philosophies, with the exception of Charvaka. It serves as a practical guide for self-purification and self-control, directing individuals on the path to inner realization and liberation from the cycles of suffering and bondage.