much more than a fitness regime...
This article, by Rob Tillett, astrologer, wizard and founder of Astrology on the Web, examines Yoga, one of the great "spiritual exports" that have come from East to West in recent times. There is much more to Yoga than just a system of physical exercises, because Yoga is a complete philosophy of life, as well as a technique (or rather a series of techniques) for self-realisation, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing. Yoga means "union", the union of the individual consciousness with the essential spirit. Although this article is not strictly astrological, it is relevant to our discourse in the sense that astrology can be seen to have a deep basis in nature.
One of the great “spiritual exports” that have come from East to West in recent times is Yoga. Almost everyone has heard of it and many Westerners have taken it up with enthusiasm, believing it to be little more than a healthy system of exercise, like Pilates. Yoga, however, is much more than this, for it is a time-honoured set of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual disciplines, designed to bring the human spirit to a state of liberation (moksha), or self-realisation. Yoga is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian Philosophy, but it is much more than a philosophy.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a sanscrit word, meaning “yoking” or “union”. The “union” is a melding of the individual consciousness, purusha, with Ishvara, the spiritual principle—while the “yoking” is the holding back of the material world of the senses, enabling a revelation of the inner essence. Yoga principles were systematised by Patanjali at a relatively late date, but there is evidence for the greatest antiquity of the teaching. There is some indication in the Upanishads of the development of relevant material; Zimmer, a leading Western authority, believes that Yoga predated the [supposed and now hotly disputed idea of the] Aryan invasion of India, and that it was first developed by the original inhabitants of the area, then adopted and claimed by the new regime.1
Yoga is often viewed as a practical method of applying the more intellectual Sankhya philosophy, but there is a primary difference between the two schools that distinguishes them into distinct, though related systems of thought.2 Sankhya argues for the independent, atheistic existence of eternal spiritual monads (purusha) and eternal modes of material nature (prakriti). Yoga basically agrees, but develops the notion of an ultimate unitary awareness, Ishvara, with which the struggling soul may eventually unite by transcending the material worlds of name and form (nama and rupa).
Yoga in a Real World
Unlike Vedanta, the main stream of current Indian philosophy, both of these philosophical systems maintain that the material world has a real existence, composed of the interaction of the three gunas, or modes of material existence: sattva, rajas and tamas.3 Nature is thought to be eternal, though cyclical in its manifestation. Astrology, the science of inbuilt natural cycles, is the map to this material world.
Prakriti is held to be quite separate from purusha. For the yogi, Nature exists purely for the purpose of awakening self-consciousness in the monad. This philosophical realism presents some well-known problems, but, yoga being principally a practical system, their resolution is generally deemed to be a function of the liberated state—moksha, the goal of all yogic action.
Yogic thought may be divided into several main branches, or fields of activity.
[NOTE: these are outlined here, but for a more extensive examination with an Indian flavour, see our sister site, TruthStar.com, especially Types of Yoga in our main Yoga section – ed.]
Hatha Yoga, familiar to Westerners as the popular system of health-giving exercises, is primarily concerned with the physical organism, its laws and the methods governing its conscious development. It is usually undertaken as one of the first moves towards knowledge of the higher self, because uncontrolled bodily processes are viewed as obstacles to its optimum unfoldment. Postures (asanas), exercises, mantra meditation and breath control are also connected with the tantric awakening of the chakra system, the arousal of Kundalini (Shakti or divine energy). Hatha yoga is not generally seen by initiated yogis as an end in itself, but as a preparatory discipline for more spiritual pursuits, though dedicated practitioners hold that Hatha is a complete pathway and contains its own ends (the attainment of yoga, or union of the individual consciousness with the divine).
Karma (or Kriya) Yoga, the path of works recommended by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, is a method of disciplining the mind and body to virtuous action within the everyday world of society. Karma is the chain of moral cause and effect, whereby every action, be it thought, word, or deed, is the both the product and initiator of a grand series of consequential events in the life path of the monad, the purusha. The karma yogi lives in accordance with what he perceives to be ethical action; his goal is to become an agent of unobstructed spiritual will, while maintaining an outwardly normal personality.
Raja Yoga, the “royal” path, is concerned with the mind, its control, development and eventual transcendence. It is the construction of will-power through techniques of meditation and mind-control. Raja yoga develops inner senses and can bring remarkable powers (siddhis) of the higher mind.
Gnani (or Jnana) Yoga, essentially presents a more philosophical approach to the problems of life. Its exponents recommend the profound study of fundamental principles, revealing the underlying truths of existence. Gnani yoga is primarily concerned with scientific and intellectual questions—the riddle of the universe—and in itself is more of a theoretical stratum than a field of practice, so is usually combined with specific yogic techniques.
Bhakti Yoga, the last great field of yogic development, is the method of the devotee who wishes to attain union with universal spirit by loving immersion in the bliss of divine awareness. The Bhakti yogi seeks fulfilment through love and worship.
There are other “yogas”, but all fit under one or more of these great umbrellas. For example, Mantra yoga (the process of spiritual development by recitation of formulæ), is a technique that may fall under Hatha, Karma, Gnani, Raja or Bhakti yoga, depending on the approach of the teacher, or guru. The mantra—a formula of spiritually charged syllables that has been prescribed by an empowered teacher—may be used as a method of controlling the attention of the aspirant's lower mind, allowing his higher, intuitional faculties to be revealed, or as a method of concentrating the attention of the student on the personality of his particular deity, destroying the karmas of material existence through its power. Mantra-shastra (mantra scripture) is a key element of Tantra, the other side of Yoga, which has also experienced a resurgence in the West in recent years.
This article continues in part two to outline the spiritual purposes of yoga, devotion and salvation. Yogis believe that the inner self is like a spark thrown from the divine fire of eternal spirit.
Read more about the spiritual purposes of Yoga