Entries from the Theosophical Glossary
Yoga (Sk.). (1) One of the six Darshanas or schools of India; a school of philosophy founded by Patânjali, though the real Yoga doctrine, the one that is said to have helped to prepare the world for the preaching of Buddha, is attributed with good reasons to the more ancient sage Yâjnawalkya, the writer of the Shatapatha Brâhmana, of Yajur Veda, the Brihad Âranyaka, and other famous works. (2) The practice of meditation as a means of leading to spiritual liberation. Psycho-spiritual powers are obtained thereby, and induced ecstatic states lead to the clear and correct perception of the eternal truths, in both the visible and invisible universe.
Yogâchârya (Sk.). (1) A mystic school. (2) Lit., a teacher (âchârya) of Yoga, one who has mastered the doctrines and practices of ecstatic meditation—the culmination of which are the Mahâsiddhis. It is incorrect to confuse this school with the Tantra, or Mahâtantra school founded by Samantabhadra, for there are two Yogâchârya Schools, one esoteric, the other popular. The doctrines of the latter were compiled and glossed by Asamgha in the sixth century of our era, and his mystic tantras and mantras, his formularies, litanies, spells and mudrâs would certainly, if attempted without a Guru, serve rather purposes of sorcery and black magic than real Yoga. Those who undertake to write upon the subject are generally learned missionaries and haters of Eastern philosophy in general. From these no unbiassed views can be expected. Thus when we read in the Sanskrit-Chinese Dictionary of Eitel, that the reciting of mantras (which he calls “spells” !) “should be accompanied by music and distortions of the fingers (mudrâ), that a state of mental fixity (Samâdhi) might he reached”—one acquainted, however slightly, with the real practice of Yoga can only shrug his shoulders. These distortions of the fingers or mudrâ are necessary, the author thinks, for the reaching of Samâdhi, “characterized by there being neither thought nor annihilation of thought, and consisting of six-fold bodily (sic) and mental happiness (yogi) whence would result endowment with supernatural miracle-working power”. Theosophists cannot be too much warned against such fantastic and prejudiced explanations.
Yogi (Sk.). (1) Not “a state of six-fold bodily and mental happiness as the result, of ecstatic meditation” (Eitel); but a state which, when reached, makes the practitioner thereof absolute master of his six principles”, he now being merged in the seventh. It gives him full control, owing to his knowledge of Self and Self, over his bodily, intellectual and mental states, which, unable any longer to interfere with, or act upon, his Higher Ego, leave it free to exist in its original, pure, and divine state. (2) Also the name of the devotee who practises Yoga.
Agni Dhâtu Samâdhi (Sk.). A kind of contemplation in Yoga practice, when Kundalini is raised to the extreme and the infinitude appears as one sheet of fire. An ecstatic condition.
Anâhata Shabda (Sk.). The mystic voices and sounds heard by the Yogi at the incipient stage of his meditation, The third of the four states of sound, otherwise called Madhyamâ—the fourth state being when it is perceptible by the physical sense of hearing. The sound in its previous stages is not heard except by those who have developed their internal, highest spiritual senses. The four stages are called respectively, Parâ, Pashyantî, Madhyamâ and Vaikharî.
Apâna (Sk.). “Inspirational breath”; a practice in Yoga. Prâna and apâna are the “expirational” and the “inspirational” breaths. It is called “vital wind” in Anugîta.
Âsana (Sk.). The third stage of Hatha Yoga, one of the prescribed postures of meditation.
Ashta Siddhis (Sk.). The eight consummations in the practice of Hatha Yoga.
Bala (Sk.), or Panchabalâni. The “five powers” to be acquired in Yoga practice; full trust or faith; energy; memory; meditation; wisdom.
Causal Body. This “body”, which is no body either objective or subjective, but Buddhi, the Spiritual Soul, is so called because it is the direct cause of the Sushupti condition, leading to the Turya state, the highest state of Samadhi. It is called Karanopadhi, “the basis of the Cause”, by the Taraka Raja Yogis; and in the Vedânta system it corresponds to both the Vignânamaya and Anandamaya Kosha, the latter coming next to Atma, and therefore being the vehicle of the universal Spirit. Buddhi alone could not be called a “Causal Body”, but becomes so in conjunction with Manas, the incarnating Entity or Ego.
Dhârana (Sk). That state in Yoga practice when the mind has to be fixed unflinchingly on some object of meditation.
Divyachakchus (Sk.). Lit., “celestial Eye” or divine seeing, perception. It is the first of the six “Abhijnas” (q.v.); the faculty developed by Yoga practice to perceive any object in the Universe, at whatever distance.
Divyasrôtra (Sk). Lit., “celestial Ear” Or divine hearing. The second “Abhijna”, or the faculty of understanding the language or sound produced by any living being on Earth.
Djnâna (Sk), or Jnâna. Lit., Knowledge; esoterically, “supernal or divine knowledge acquired by Yoga”. Written also Gnyana.
Hatha Yoga (Sk.). The lower form of Yoga practice; one which uses physical means for purposes of spiritual self-development The opposite of Raja Yoga.
Indriya or Deha Sanyama (Sk.). The control of the senses in Yoga practice. These are the ten external agents; the five senses which are used for perception are called Jnana-indriya, and the five used for action—Karma-indriya. Pancha-indryani means literally and in its occult sense “the live roots producing life”(eternal). With the Buddhists, it is the five positive agents producing five supernal qualities.
Jagrata (Sk.). The waking state of consciousness. When mentioned in Yoga philosophy, Jagrata-avastha is the waking condition, one of the four states of Pranava in ascetic practices, as used by the Yogis.
Japa (Sk.). A mystical practice of certain Yogis. It consists in the repetition of various magical formulæ and mantras.
Jivanmukta (Sk.). An adept or yogi who has reached the ultimate state of holiness, and separated himself from matter; a Mahatma, or Nirvanee, a “dweller in bliss” and emancipation. Virtually one who has reached Nirvana during life.
Kalavingka (Sk.), also Kuravikaya and Karanda, etc. “The sweet-voiced bird of immortality “. Eitel identifies it with cuculus melanoleicus, though the bird itself is allegorical and non-existent. Its voice is heard at a certain stage of Dhyana in Yoga practice. It is said to have awakened King Bimbisara and thus saved him from the sting of a cobra. In its esoteric meaning this sweet-voiced bird is our Higher Ego.
Kârana Sarîra (Sk.). The “Causal body”. It is dual in its meaning. Exoterically, it is Avidya, ignorance, or that which is the cause of the evolution of a human ego and its reincarnation; hence the lower Manas esoterically—the causal body or Kâranopadhi stands in the Taraka Raja yoga as corresponding to Buddhi and the Higher “Manas,” or Spiritual Soul.
Kâranopadhi (Sk.). The basis or upadhi of Karana, the “causal soul”. In Taraka Rajayoga, it corresponds with both Manas and Buddhi. See Table in the Secret Doctrine, Vol. I, p. 157.
Karunâ-Bhâwanâ (Sk.). The meditation of pity and compassion in Yoga.
Keshara (Sk.). “Sky Walker”, i.e., a Yogi who can travel in his astral form.
Kriyasakti (Gk.). The power of thought; one of the seven forces of Nature. Creative potency of the Siddhis (powers) of the full Yogis.
Kumbhaka (Sk.). Retention of breath, according to the regulations of the Hatha Yoga system.
Kundalini Sakti (Sk.). The power of life; one of the Forces of Nature; that power that generates a certain light in those who sit for spiritual and clairvoyant development. It is a power known only to those who practise concentration and Yoga.
Manas Sanyama (Sk.). Perfect concentration of the mind, and control over it, during Yoga practices.
Padma Âsana (Sk.). A posture prescribed to and practised by some Yogis for developing concentration.
Pâtanjala (Sk.). The Yoga philosophy; one of the six Darshanas or Schools of India.
Patanjali (Sk.). The founder of the Yoga philosophy. The date assigned to him by the Orientalists is 200 b.c.; and by the Occultists nearer to 700 than 600 b.c. At any rate he was a contemporary of Pânini.
Prânâyâma (Sk.). The suppression and regulation of the breath in Yoga practice.
Pranidhâna (Sk.). The fifth observance of the Yogis; ceaseless devotion. (See Yoga Shâstras, ii. 32.)
Prâpti (Sk.). From Prâp, to reach. One of the eight Siddhis (powers) of Râj-Yoga. The power of transporting oneself from one place to another, instantaneously, by the mere force of will; the faculty of divination, of healing and of prophesying, also a Yoga power.
Pratyâharana (Sk.). The preliminary training in practical Râj-Yoga.
Pûraka (Sk.). Inbreathing process; a way of breathing as regulated according to the prescribed rules of Hatha Yoga.
Râga (Sk). One of the five Kleshas (afflictions) in Patânjali’s Yoga philosophy. In Sânkhya Kârikâ, it is the “obstruction” called love and desire in the physical or terrestrial sense. The five Kleshas are: Avidyâ, or ignorance; Asmitâ, selfishness, or “I-am-ness”; Râga, love; Dwesha, hatred; and Abhinivesa, dread of suffering.
Râja-Yoga (Sk.). The true system of developing psychic and spiritual powers and union with one’s Higher Self—or the Supreme Spirit, as the profane express it. The exercise, regulation and concentration of thought. Râja-Yoga is opposed to Hatha-Yoga, the physical or psycho physiological training in asceticism.
Rasollâsâ (Sk.). The first of the eight physical perfections, or Siddhis (phenomena), of the Hatha Yogis. Rasollâsâ is the prompt evolution at will of the juices of the body independently of any nutriment from without.
Rechaka (Sk.). A practice in Hatha Yoga, during the performance of Pranayama or the regulation of breath: namely, that of opening one nostril and emitting breath therefrom, and keeping the other closed; one of the three operations respectively called Pûraka, Kumbhaka and Rechaka—operations very pernicious to health.
Samâdhâna (Sk.). That state in which a Yogi can no longer diverge from the path of spiritual progress; when everything terrestrial, except the visible body, has ceased to exist for him.
Samâdhi (Sk.). A state of ecstatic and complete trance. The term comes from the words Sam-âdha, “self-possession”. He who possesses this power is able to exercise an absolute control over all his faculties, physical or mental; it is the highest state of Yoga.
Samâdhindriya (Sk.). Lit., “the root of concentration”; the fourth of the five roots called Pancha Indriyâni, which are said in esoteric philosophy to be the agents in producing a highly moral life, leading to sanctity and liberation; when these are reached, the two spiritual roots lying latent in the body (Atmâ and Buddhi) will send out shoots and blossom. Samâdhindriya is the organ of ecstatic meditation in Râj-yoga practices.
Samâna (Sk.). One of the five breaths (Prânas) which carry on the chemical action in the animal body.
Samâpatti (Sk.). Absolute concentration in Râja-Yoga; the process of development by which perfect indifference (Sams) is reached (apatti). This state is the last stage of development before the possibility of entering into Samâdhi is reached.
Samma Sambuddha (Pali). The recollection of all of one’s past incarnations; a yoga phenomenon.
Siddhâsana (Sk.). A posture in Hatha-yoga practices.
Siddhis (Sk.). Lit., “attributes of perfection”; phenomenal powers acquired through holiness by Yogis.
Siva (Sk.). The third person of the Hindu Trinity (the Trimûrti). He is a god of the first order, and in his character of Destroyer higher than Vishnu, the Preserver, as he destroys only to regenerate on a higher plane. He is born as Rudra, the Kumâra, and is the patron of all the Yogis, being called, as such, Mahâ-Yogi, the great ascetic. His titles are significant: Trilochana, “the three-eyed”, Mahâdeva, “the great god”, Sankara, etc., etc., etc.
Sowan (Pali). The first of the “four paths” which lead to Nirvâna, in Yoga practice.
Sowanee (Pali). He who entered upon that “path”.
Sthûlopadhi (Sk.). A “principle” answering to the lower triad in man, i.e., body, astral form, and life, in the Târaka Râja Yoga system, which names only three chief principles in man. Sthûlopadhi corresponds to the jagrata, or waking conscious state.
Sûkshma Sarîra (Sk.). The dream-like, illusive body akin to Mânasarûpa or “thought-body”. It is the vesture of the gods, or the Dhyânis and the Devas. Written also Sukshama Sharira and called Sukshmopadhi by the Târaka Râja Yogis. (Secret Doctrine, I., 157)
Sûkshmopadhi (Sk.). In Târaka Râja Yoga the “principle” containing both the higher and the lower Manas and Kâma. It corresponds to the Manomaya Kosha of the Vedantic classification and to the Svapna state. (See “Svapna”.)
Sushumnâ (Sk.). The solar ray—the first of the seven rays. Also the name of a spinal nerve which connects the heart with the Brahmarandra, and plays a most important part in Yoga practices.
Sushupti Avasthâ (Sk.). Deep sleep; one of the four aspects of Prânava.
Svapna Avasthâ (Sk.). A dreaming state; one of the four aspects of Prânava; a Yoga practice.
Svastikâsana (Sk.). The second of the four principal postures of the eighty-four prescribed in Hatha Yoga practices.
Târakâ Râja Yoga (Sk.). One of the Brahminical Yoga systems for the development of purely spiritual powers and knowledge which lead to Nirvâna.
Tchhanda Riddhi Pâda (Sk.). “The step of desire”, a term used in Râja Yoga. It is the final renunciation of all desire as a sine quâ non condition of phenomenal powers, and entrance on the direct path of Nirvâna.
Turîya (Sk.). A state of the deepest trance—the fourth state of the Târaka Râja Yoga, one that corresponds with Âtmâ, and on this earth with dreamless sleep—a causal condition.
Turîya Avasthâ (Sk.). Almost a Nirvânic state in Samâdhi, which is itself a beatific state of the contemplative Yoga beyond this plane. A condition of the higher Triad, quite distinct (though still inseparable) from the conditions of Jagrat (waking), Svapna (dreaming), and Sushupti (sleeping).
Uparati (Sk) Absence of outgoing desires; a Yoga state.
Upekshâ (Sk.). Lit., Renunciation. In Yoga a state of absolute indifference attained by self-control, the complete mastery over one’s mental and physical feelings and sensations.
The Yoga Upanishads
Translated into English
(On the Basis of the Commentary of Śri Upaniṣad-Brahma-Yogin)
T. R. Śrīnivāsa Ayyangār, B.A., L.T.
And Edited By
Paṇdit S. Subrahmaṇya Śāstrī, F.T.S.
Articles from The Path
Yoga and Common Sense
Simple, straightforward, and beguilingly easy as seems the knowledge presented in the “Yoga Aphorisms” of Patanjali — in their American version at least, — it is in solemn fact a pathway of intensest difficulty, indeed almost impracticability, for all but the exceptional few of Western students. Ages of deeply devotional habit, metaphysical training, and passive abandonment to such speculative reflection as Western minds are prone to deem the very antithesis of practicality, have given to the men of the Orient a capacity for such pursuits that we are hardly able to comprehend and certainly cannot emulate. To them, that capacity is an inheritance; for us, it must be a slow and painful acquisition. Our very understanding of the significance of the words employed in conveying that knowledge must be remodelled. “Concentration” does not at all mean, to us, what it does to the Hindu philosophers.
A wise man here and there among us — though knowing nothing of Yoga — has comprehended the advantage of “hindering the modifications of the thinking principle” as an essential to the successful pursuit of knowledge or application of mental energy in scientific or professional labors. Hence the study of mathematics and the game of chess have been highly recommended as means to that end in disciplining the minds of the young. But the purpose entertained, in such artificial development of the power of concentration of mind, has not gone beyond controlling application of the entire mental force to a particular subject — generally upon the material plane, — and those most proficient in this art have had no conception of the possibility of development, through it, of such psychic and spiritual powers as are contemplated by Patanjali, and would, in all probability, view as extremely undesirable, and perhaps as suggestive of mental alienation, the state which that great philosopher designates as “meditation without a seed.” The pressure and thrill of vigorous activity in the physical and mental life surrounding us, and of which we are necessarily a part, tends to cultivate in us a habit of diffuseness of thought, or at best an abnormally vivid perceptivity and a capacity for synchronous pursuit of entirely disconnected and different trains of thought, the very opposite of the “one pointedness” sought in the practice of Yoga. At the same time, if to the observation and comprehension of the mental and psychic results of such “concentration” as has been unconsciously accomplished by our thinkers, as much intelligent effort had been applied as has been bestowed upon the study of the infusoria or calculation of the laws of chance governing recurrence of “hands” at cards, we should generally have recognized, long ere this, how very diaphanous are those barriers to the unseen world through which some of us have been involuntarily stumbling, and perhaps would have sought light for a purposeful direction of our steps thitherward, such as Yoga affords. Ever since Luther, looking up from his deep pondering, saw the devil in his room and hurled an inkstand at him, opinions have been divided as to his action upon that occasion. The credulous devout have said, “he really saw the devil.” It is true that beyond that point there has been a still further difference, good Protestants saying “the arch-enemy was properly repulsed,” and good Catholics averring “it was a most ungracious reception of his friend,” — but the actuality of the devil is denied by neither. Materialistic sceptics, however, who are in the majority, respond “Nonsense! A plague on both your houses! The man was bilious. The “bilious” theory is by far the most popular in these later days of “light and knowledge.” Physicians, as a rule, upon that theory treat cases akin to Luther’s coming within the range of their practice and — if possessed of a fair degree of skill — are sufficiently successful to feel confirmed in the hypothesis. In so doing they are like one who, being annoyed by the persistent ticking of a clock, stops it, — by plugging up his ears. He ceases to hear, but the clock goes on ticking all the same. So they accomplish their end of putting a stop to the psychic impressions, at least while the patient is under treatment, and do not trouble themselves with reflection upon the possibility that they have simply interfered with the conditions through which demonstrations of super-sensual realities were practicable.
A case recently brought to my knowledge is happily illustrative of the psychic effects of unconsciously-applied “concentration”, and as such I deem it worthy of mention. A gentleman who is a highly accomplished mathematician and accustomed to such intent application in mathematical operations, in conjunction with astronomical studies, that he at such times quite loses consciousness of his surroundings, became annoyed and finally alarmed by finding that from time to time, when he was so applying himself, pictures of persons, events, and landscapes — not reproductions from memory — forced themselves upon his consciousness and seemed to be vividly apparent to his corporeal sight. He also observed that, in what seemed to him an astounding way, he at times had clear perceptions of the contents of letters before he opened them, and knowledge — subsequently proved accurate — of the personalities of their writers, who were wholly strangers to him. He had sense enough to know that he was not bilious, and the alarming alternative presenting itself to him, by way of explanation, was that his mind was becoming affected. The thought of the astral light did not occur to him, but if it had he would probably have contemptuously dismissed it as a mere fantasy unworthy of serious consideration; for he is a very positive, hard-headed, big fellow, with not much respect for things that are not susceptible of mathematical demonstration. He carried his trouble to his doctor. Most physicians, upon hearing a statement of his case, would have said: “You need rest and tonics: Take vigorous open-air exercise, abundance of highly nourishing food, and regular doses of iron: Let up altogether on mathematics, and pretty much on all mental effort of an engrossing nature, for a time: try to become as far as you possibly can a perfectly healthy animal, and you will be all right.” That treatment would probably have speedily banished the pictures and the psychometric impressions, and he would always afterward, when the remembrance of the affection recurred to him, have congratulated himself upon his narrow escape from “losing his mind.” But, as it happened, he went to a physician possessed of the unprofessional and iconoclastic habit of thinking; one who ventured to believe there were things affecting man that had not been taught in his school. And that man, having heard him, replied complacently: “Yes; I guess you are all right. Your mind is in no danger from that cause. I have kept the fact to myself, as a majority of people are asses and would probably think me crazy if it were known — which might interfere with my practice, — but I have had plenty of such experiences myself and happen to know a good deal about them.” That physician, by years of “concentration” upon his favorite studies, had achieved the same results as had been attained by the mathematician, and was fortunately capable of recognizing the cause and the true character of the consequent state of being.
While there are undoubtedly many such cases, they are in the aggregate but an infinitely small minority in society, and can only be looked upon as mere indications of the possibilities attainable by even unconsciously-applied and consequently ill-directed “concentration;” and it may not be too pessimistic a view to take of the situation, to believe that few men entering upon this practice — however purposefully and intelligently directed — are justified in expecting much more than such indications, mere out-croppings of the inexhaustible mine to be developed hereafter. For the vast majority of us, particularly such as have reached middle age and established mental habits that are, to say the least, not conducive to rigidly restricted abstract meditation on the radiations of the unthinkable and the like, there is little hope that we will achieve any appreciable success in real “concentration”, on the Yoga basis, during our present incarnations. Happily, however, we know that we are not limited to our present earth-lives, and that every step of progress we take in this corporeal existence will be so much positive gain in our next. However long it may take us to reach the goal, our opportunities will not cease until it is attained, and, if our endeavor is earnest, each successive stage on the way will be easier and the advance proportionately greater than in that preceding. And the prize to be won is worth continuous effort through a long series of personal existences, being nothing less than enfranchisement of the Ego; liberation from “the wheel of life.”
This reflection is a reminder of another difficulty confronting the Western student of Yoga. Although Patanjali does not so explicitly and emphatically as Sankaracharya or the Bhagavad-Gita enjoin renunciation of desire for the legitimate fruits of good works, yet that is here also expressed with sufficient clearness to be understood as a necessary requirement. But the Western mind, which is nothing if not practical according to its lights, says; “What is the use in doing anything if there is no object in view? and, if the object in view is desirable, how is it possible to intelligently work for its attainment without desiring it?” Comprehension of the sublimely paramount requirement of conformity to duty for its own sake, and unquestioning acceptance of the truth that all desire is hindrance, must necessarily be stumbling blocks for most of us in a long time to come, but, like many another hard lesson, must be learned. That renunciation is one of the most important elements of Yoga, one that by its inherency of pure devotion elevates the soul beyond the psychic to the spiritual plane of consciousness.
“Hindering the modifications of the thinking principle,” though far short of that Dispassion which is “indifference regarding all else than soul,” will confer much greater power than the average man possesses — both in mental labors and such glimpses of another plane as have already been spoken of as attained by the mathematician and the physician, — and that is comparatively easy. One does not need to be very good, or even to have good ends in view, but only a strong will and capacity for sustained effort, to reach that point. Indeed, there are those who, by reason of their peculiar organization, without any particular will or much endeavor, may readily attain the astral plane through self-hypnotization, but their ability is by no means desirable. That plane abounds in real dangers for the untrained and unguided explorer, and can afford little real gratification to one in such a state, since his consciousness is only upon that plane and lacks the permanency of retention as knowledge attainable by the concentrated mind of the Yogin, which does not lose its continuity of consciousness upon any plane that he is able to reach.
It is to be hoped that no member of the Theosophical Society is cultivating strabismus by concentrated contemplation of the tip of his nose, in the vain hope of speedily attaining the superhuman powers spoken of in the third book of Patanjali; or fancying that the adumbrations of his own conceits in the luculent depths of some crystal ball are true visions on the planes of super-sensuous existence. Let us “make haste slowly” If in our present lives we learn to walk firmly in the first four “good levels” of the “eight-fold path,” we will do much; all, indeed, that we can reasonably expect. So far as we may, without illusive hopes and self-deceivings, let us follow the guidance of Patanjali, but with the ever-present remembrance that we are, in our present incarnation, only planting seed that Karma will develop into blossom and fruit in more propitious existences hereafter.
— J. H. Connelly, The Path, January 1890
Yoga: The Science of the Soul: I
Samatvamyoga ucha ate. (Equal–mindedness is called Yoga.) — Bhagavad-Gita.
Tadviddhi pranipatena pariprashnena sivaya upadekshyanti te jnanam janinastattvad arshinah.
(Seek to know it (yoga) by humility, by question, and by service. The truth-seeing wise will (then) communicate this knowledge to thee.) — Ibid. iv. 38.
So shalt thou be in full accord with all that lives and breathes; bear love to men as though they were thy brother pupils, disciples of one Teacher, and sons of one sweet Mother. — The Voice of the Silence.
I wish to tell you as simply as may be of the most important science in the world — the science of the soul — called Yoga in Sanskrit. Perhaps some of you may not know that the present restricted meaning of the word “science” has only been in fashion for a very brief season in the time-periods of the ages, and that “science” with the ancient forefathers of our Aryan race meant something more than only a careful and intelligent use of our five senses, aided by mechanical instruments.
In the West today the assertion that knowledge is obtainable otherwise than by the five senses is regarded as ignorant impertinence by the popular high priests of science and their trustful votaries; but ready as we all perforce must be to give due honor to the admirable patience and painstaking scrutiny which has rescued the West from the clutches of an ecclesiastical nightmare, we have yet to learn that the newly-established papacy of modern science is the guardian of our souls and dictator of our spiritual existence. In opposition to the ever-growing negation that is obscuring the ideals and paralyzing the intuitions of the men, women, and children of today, the present Theosophical movement, by its very title, asserts in no uncertain tones that real knowledge is to be obtained; that on the one hand man is something more than a five-sense animal, and on the other that he is under no necessity of waiting until death closes the doors for the assurance of spiritual things.
The immemorial science of the soul asserts that man is an immortal, divine, and spiritual being, whose fleshly tabernacle is but a temporary inn or prison-house; that his physical senses, so far from being his only means of knowledge, are almost invariably the self-imposed bonds that chain him in his narrow dungeon, where, indeed, he would most miserably perish did not sleep, death’s younger brother, mercifully release him by night and bear him for a space back to his home of freedom. But he who has begun to long for release from this thraldom, at the same time begins to see the illusive nature of the prison and chains of the body; how they deprive us of our sanity and make us think the prison a palace and the bonds wreaths of sweet-scented flowers. Lunatics in the asylum of the senses that we are, few of us ever contemplate the fact that the magic wand of sleep turns a third of our lives into an impenetrable blank, and that death, the great conductor of souls, may at any instant touch our shoulder.
In most cases, if a man thinks at all, he regards sleep with wonder and death with awe. Sleep and death guard two portals. Through one, man daily passes and repasses in a swoon; through the other, he passes to return no more. So at any rate it seems to us. True, it seems to be so; but the soul-science does not deal with seemings, it leaves appearances to the dominion of the five senses and the brain mind, and consecrates its study to realities and direct knowledge. The Yoga denies that sleep is a blank and death the end of existence; it asserts the possibility of knowledge of the mysteries of sleep in waking and of the mysteries of death in life; and tells us that the doors of sleep and death may be passed and repassed in full consciousness. This Yoga, or the science of the soul, is as precise and exact in its procedure as the most rigid of our scientific methods; but whereas physical science deals with physical phenomena, psychic science deals with the soul of things. Masters of Yoga assert most definitely and unhesitatingly that the existence, nature, life, and history of the soul have been and can be as rigidly and exactly demonstrated and proved in its own dominion as the best known scientific fact, so-called, in the natural universe. The negation of those ignorant of the subject, and the howling of the thoughtless for objective physical proof of that which is in its very nature immaterial and subjective, can have no real weight with the student. Intellectual vulgarity and cheap wit can no more weaken the eternal fact of man’s immortal spiritual nature than spitting at the sun affect the god of day.
And now, what is the meaning of Yoga? Many definitions have been given, and of course this same science has been called by other names, at various times, by various nations, in divers tongues. The subject is one replete with technicalities, for there is a very large literature treating of it distinctly and in a most technical manner, and, in a wider sense, all the Scriptures of the world are text-books of this science.
In the present paper, however, all technicalities will be avoided, and I therefore hazard the definition of Yoga as the science of the union of man with the source of his being, with his true Self. You will at once see that the claim of our science is one of direct knowledge. That does not mean to say that the student is at once to become omniscient, or that he will by a sudden leap obtain full knowledge of things in themselves. By no means. The way of pure knowledge is a long and thorny path of stern self-discipline and of ungrudging and unflagging effort. But the path leads up a mountain, and the view so extends that each successive point of vantage gained is of the nature of direct knowledge as compared with the lower stages. We are at present like men who persistently keep their eyes fixed on the ground at their feet, who as yet have not looked at even the visible universe as it really is. There are manifold stages of soul-knowledge, immeasurable degrees of union with the Self, for ultimately this Self is the One SELF of all that was, is, and will be.
It would be presumptuous in me to imagine that anyone else will entirely agree with my definitions, and naturally all are free to find better and more appropriate words to clothe the ideas according to their ability. There is, however, a longing that comes upon all men in their repeated wanderings on earth, “a longing of the soul to go out to the infinite”, as it has been phrased, and the freezing cold of negation cannot quench the fire of that divine desire, nor can the perfunctory performance of any lip-religion satisfy its ardor.
In endeavouring to give some idea of what the practical science of Yoga is, I am at a loss to convey my meaning because of the poverty of our ordinary language in fitting terms. We all readily talk of the soul, and mind, and consciousness, but few of us have any conception of the infinity of ideas that each of these terms connotes. In this paper, the soul must be understood to stand for the whole of man’s nature apart from his physical body, the mind for the thinking principle, and consciousness for man’s whole containment, his whole being. The mind is the thinker, the self-conscious principle in man, the means of his knowledge. It is this principle, therefore, which is both the scientist and his instrument in Yoga.
This mind is usually distinguished into two aspects for clearer comprehension. Perhaps these may be most easily understood as the “I am” and the “I am I” in man, ideas which it is usual with Theosophical writers to distinguish as the individuality and personality. The personality is the sum of all those impressions, as they are called in the East, which make up our consciousness of being such-and-such a particular person, of being the actor and sufferer in all the affairs of life. Everything we do, or say, or think leaves an impression on our character, whether we are conscious of it or not; and an impression once induced into our plastic-nature tends to repeat itself mechanically and to form habits which, as we know, become second nature. If the impressions are bad, a vicious habit is formed. The sum of all these impressions is called the personality, or, to use another simile, the vibrations set up by our acts, words, and thoughts inhere in our plastic nature, in an ascending scale of subtlety and rapidity, according to their plane of action, up to that of the rarest substance we are at present capable of conceiving, and which perhaps may be spoken of as thought-stuff, for this lower aspect of the mind is substantial, though not material.
The higher aspect of the mind, on the contrary, the individuality, that which I have called the “I am”, is of a divine and spiritual nature. It is not substantial, but a pure spiritual essence, divine, immortal, immemorial; it dies not, nor comes into being, but is throughout the ages.
Now the lower mind is ever fitful and changeable, going out to things of sense; it is a Mazeppa bound hand and foot on the horse of passion and desire. In the East, it is called the internal organ to distinguish it from the external organs, and we have first to learn to free it from its bonds before we can put our foot on the first rung of the ladder of true knowledge.
The ceaseless changes which take place in this lower mind are called the modifications of the internal organ; and these have to be held in the firm grip of the awakened spiritual will and rendered motionless, if any success is to be attained in the science of Yoga.
Imagine to yourself a sheet of paper with writing upon it, crumpled up into a ball, and whirling tumultuously down a mill-race. Such is the lower mind in each one of us. And if we want to read the writing which tells of the mystery of life, we must first rescue the ball of paper from the mill-race of the passions, and then carefully smooth out the paper so as to erase the impressions which prevent our reading the writing, that so at last we may learn the whence and whither of our pilgrimage.
A simile often used in the Eastern books, with regard to the upper and lower mind, is that of the moon reflected in the waves of a lake. So long as the surface is disturbed, the moonlight will be seen only as a broken and unsteady reflection, and not until every ripple is gone will a true image of the divine man be reflected into our souls.
Again, the lower mind is as a metal mirror covered with dust and rust; and until this is removed no image will be seen; or, again, the mind must be as steady as the flame of a lamp in a place sheltered from all wind.
Yoga: The Science of the Soul: II
You must not, however, suppose that the science of Yoga has always retained its purity; like everything else it has become corrupt. Methods of a mechanical and physical nature have grown up around it, and as the mind of man is more prone to error and materialism than to truth and spirituality, these bastard methods are more eagerly studied than the more difficult processes of the true science. Especially is this the case in our own times, when a growing number of enquirers are once more beginning to turn their attention to the subject.
According to the Esoteric Philosophy, the lower part of man’s nature, which he shares in common with the animal, has four aspects, viz.: (1) A physical body; (2) a subtile body, invisible to our physical senses; (3) a body, vehicle, or center, or system of centers, of sensation and desire; and (4) the life-principle.
The physical body need not here be further referred to, for although our modern science knows comparatively little of the functions of a number of the most important organs, yet its minute and exact classification of the physical structure of man’s ‘coat of skin’ — as it is allegorically called in the Bible and elsewhere — is beyond all praise. The constitution of the subtile or astral body and of the passional and sensational system, however, is of a nature and extent immeasurably transcending that of the physical frame.
The Hindu books on Yoga, known as the Yoga-Shastras, contain elaborate treatises on the anatomy and physiology of these “principles”. We may get some hazy notion of their nature by a study of the nervous system and functions of the physical body, but we must remember that in reality they are a complete system of force-centers and force-tracts, so to speak, and that they bear the same relation to the physical body as the electrical current does to its physical conductors. The latest so-called discoveries of electrical science assert that an electrical current can be transmitted from one point of space to another without the conduction of wires, and the Yoga has from time immemorial asserted that man can act independently of his physical body.
We all of us know the tremendous power of electricity, and many of us know the astounding forces which can be brought into play by the agency of mesmerism. Yoga teaches us that every power in the universe has its corresponding power in man, and that not only the life-principle or vital electricity, and the mesmeric and magnetic forces, correspond to identical forces in the universe, but that man can so increase these powers in himself that he can raise them to the same rate of motion as that of the forces of nature. Moreover, as he brings these forces into play, his consciousness gradually and proportionally transcends that of normal mankind and progressively opens up new vistas of life and existence previously undreamed of.
All this may seem very wonderful and incredible to many of us, but the real science of Yoga is so transcendent that I have only entered into these explanations in order to tell you that these powers and practices, wonderful and extraordinary though they may be, are no part of true Yoga, and are deprecated as material, inferior, and most dangerous by spiritually-minded teachers of the true Divine Science.
Even when this lower Yoga is recommended by those who have practical knowledge of such things, the learner is told that in no case should any experiment be made except under the direct superintendence of an experienced teacher. In the East this advice is understood and acted on by all but the most foolhardy and ignorant, for the Orientals know the terrible results that come from ignorantly meddling with forces they cannot control.
In the West, however, the spirit of independent research, which is so admirable in many respects, has produced among the unreflecting a false bravado and a fretful and childish impatience that lead to recklessness rather than sober enquiry, especially in matters of an occult nature.
I know that the vast majority of people in the West will look on the position I am laying down as a silly crying of “wolf” where there is no wolf, or as an impudent series of falsehoods resting on nothing but assertions; and that among this majority there are men and women of intelligence and reputation that I can never hope to emulate. But the most ignorant bearer of Stanley’s expedition knows more of the center of the Dark Continent than the wisest who have never read the account of that expedition, or even than the average number of intelligent readers.
When the majority have studied the theory of Yoga, their opinion will be entitled to respect; when they have essayed its practice, their views will claim the right of consideration, but not one instant before.
Let me try to explain to you why the dangers I have spoken of are real and terrible dangers. Morality is not a sentiment; ethics are not mere poetical rhapsodies. Ethical axioms are definite scientific formulae which describe certain facts and laws in nature. Vicious desires, vicious thoughts, vicious tendencies disease and atrophy the subtile body and organs of man by the alchemy of nature; they turn his vital fluids, so to speak, and his inner forces into poisonous and corrosive solvents, although the reaction in the physical body may not be detected by our scientists who persistently shut their eyes to the major part of man’s nature.
A corroded and cracked boiler may be patched up to hold cold water, but once turn the water into steam and the result is an explosion that not only destroys the vessel itself but also brings destruction both to things of its own nature and also to higher organisms. I have told you that the lower form of Yoga consists in increasing the rapidity of certain vital currents which attract to themselves corresponding currents of a like rapidity in nature. Woe to the man or woman who tries to confine such forces in a damaged vessel! Disease, madness, death will quickly follow such foolhardy experiments! I have just told you that we may be diseased within and yet our physical body may be apparently in perfect physical health; it is equally true that we may be physically diseased and yet be pure and healthy within.
Please remember that I am writing about a consciously used science, a definite and determined method of experiment which, even in its lower aspects, is a matter of great effort and difficulty. I am not talking of unconscious and irresponsible mediumship which pertains to a different method, or, rather, want of method, although some of the lower phenomena produced or experienced by either process are identical. And this is the reason why the lower form of Yoga is so largely sought after; the results, though difficult to obtain compared with mediumship, are still immeasurably more easy of acquirement than the results of pure Spiritual Yoga.
Physical phenomena and astral visions, both of a very remarkable nature, can be obtained, especially when a teacher gives the practical links which are invariably omitted in written or printed books. But, unless the lower nature has been purified, no real and permanent good or attainment can ever be achieved. On the other hand, when the lower nature is purified the lower forms of Yoga will not even be attempted, for then the spiritual nature of man seeks union with its transcendent and divine Self, and has no desire for material attainments, even though they may utterly surpass our wildest imaginations, and have to do with matter by innumerable degrees more subtile and extended than the matter we are acquainted with through our five senses.
Further, it is impossible for us to understand the true science of Yoga unless we admit the truth of reincarnation as one of the fundamental facts in nature. This doctrine teaches that what I have referred to as the individuality, the “I am”, persists throughout the whole cycle of rebirths, whereas the personality, the “I am I”, the John Smith or Mary Jones of one short life, is immortal only in such thoughts and aspirations as are of the nature of the divine individuality. Now this lower mind, together with the animal part of man’s nature, is the only factor at work in the lower Yoga I have been describing. Therefore, whatever attainment may be reached by such practices — astral clairvoyance or clairaudience, the projection of the double as it is called, and a thousand and one other psychic powers that, as yet, the profane world has not even heard of — all such acquirements pertain to the personality. They are no permanent property of the reincarnating entity, and can never be so as long as that divine Ego is debarred from sharing in them by the selfish ambitions and desires of the personal man. On the other hand, pure spiritual Yoga seeks to quell the stormy waves of the lower mind; to purify the dull red, smoky flames of passion; to make the lower mind the submissive and purified vehicle of the higher spiritual mind and Self. The results thus achieved by this moral training and. stern mental exercise remain permanently with the individuality, and are an assured possession in succeeding rebirths which nothing but a lapse into materiality and a willing servitude to the passions can take away.
The above is the reason why the mere possession of physical or astral clairvoyance and the rest is sternly refused the title of “spiritual” by students of Theosophy. Clairvoyance is not a “spiritual gift” in itself; although it is true that there is a spiritual clairvoyance which sees and yet sees not, and which renders its possessor a power in the world for good beyond all cavil. But they who have this divine vision are, by the very fact, unable to assert its possession, for any such claim would mean its instant loss, unless, indeed, the claim were an impersonal one.
Yoga: The Science of the Soul: III
Now the object of all religion seems to me to be the union of man with Deity, by whatever means and in whatever sense we understand these terms. The most important part of religion, and the part most easily comprehended by all men, is its ethical teaching. Why this should be so we have hitherto been mostly in ignorance; in fact scepticism has run to such lengths in these latter days that some men of great ability and intelligence deny that there is any scientific basis of ethics, and most assert the impossibility of our ever knowing why we should carry out any particular ethical precept. These teachings are for the most part merely dogmatic commands, or the reasons given are not of an explanatory nature, but rather of the nature of promises or threats. Do this, for otherwise you will not obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of light, and so on.
Now the higher science of the soul is rich in manifold compelling reasons for living a purer and more unselfish life. Asserting, as it does, the possibility of rolling up the dark curtain of sleep, and rending in twain the veil of death while still we live, in the very statement of the method whereby these things are to be accomplished, and of the instruments which man has to use to effect this purpose, it shows that morality is the indispensable preliminary training. Man has to look his own nature squarely in the face before he can look in the face of Nature. If he would tread the solitary path of Yoga whereby he steps out from the ranks of his fellow-beings and becomes a self-appointed pioneer of humanity, he must equip himself with fit instruments and, as the Scripture says truly, “gird himself with the breastplate of righteousness”. Without these requisites it is useless to volunteer for this pioneer work.
The track to be followed leads through strange lands, peopled with strange inhabitants, an inner path that, at the beginning, passes mostly through the country of our own creations that we have at each moment been busily bringing into existence ever since we have had bodies and minds. If we attempt to enter this country unarmed, that is to say, before we have prepared ourselves by a most careful scrutiny into the very recesses of our moral nature, and by a most rigid discipline that never relaxes its vigilance for a moment, then we are like a general in a fort at the head of a mutinous army in league with the enemy outside, and we shall find that in very truth our foes are “they of our own household” and that like attracts like by an unavoidable law of nature.
There is much talk among certain religionists about “conversion”, and there is a great truth hidden under the strange externals that so often clothe the idea. Perhaps some of you do not know that the Greek word for repentance, found in the New Testament and in the writings of the many mystical schools of the early years of Christianity, means, literally, a change of mind. The theory of this change and the history of its mystical degrees are elaborately treated of by some of these schools, and that which takes place unconsciously in a lower stage of the ordinary conversion, takes place consciously in a higher stage in Yoga. This is the real new birth spoken of by Christian mystics, and this is why Brahmins (which really means those who are at one with Brahma, the Deity) are called the twice-born. You will understand by what I have said about the importance of the mind in Yoga what this change of mind or repentance means. Now this repentance is of a very mystical nature and one difficult to comprehend. Suppose we look upon the whole series of lives of an individual as a necklace of pearls. The one that hangs lowest in front will represent this turning-point in the whole cycle of births, when the great change of mind occurs which shows that the soul is beginning to shake off the attractions of matter. In each succeeding birth this change will repeat itself on a smaller scale, and those may rejoice to whom it comes early in life. Only let us remember that there is no respect of persons, no aristocracy, no privileges, no monopoly. The path of self-knowledge, self-conquest, and self-devotion is open to everyone of us at every moment of time. It is idle to say: “What you tell me is very fine, but it is not for me!” There is no time but the eternal present. It is idle to put off to the future when none of us know what our past has been. How are we to be sure that we may not have gone some portion of the way before, and that the incidents we have lived through in our present birth are only the representation on a small scale of the lives we have lived before; that once we have reached the turning-point we shall again repeat all those strivings upwards which have characterized those of our past lives which have been on the ascending path of our soul pilgrimage?
No man can say what power for good may not lie latent in those who are commonly supposed to be most distinctly vicious, once the force of their character is turned in the right direction.
There is nothing historical in religion nor in Yoga. “Choose ye this day what gods ye will serve” is applicable to every moment of our lives. There is no time but the present, and only the ignorant pin their faith to historical events.
Of course this is no new thing to hear. It is very old, very ancient, but what I wish to insist upon is that it is practical and scientific in the best sense of the word; not, however, that I by any means believe that a thing must needs be scientific in the ordinary sense to be true, but because Yoga can claim everything that is best in the scientific method and at the same time immeasurably transcend it. It is necessary to state and restate this, for people are beginning to go in fear and trembling at the term “scientific”.
And now if any one asks whether I recommend him to study Yoga, the answer is: If a person honestly tries to live a moral, clean, and unselfish life, he is unconsciously training himself for the practice of this science, and he will thus gradually develop a consciousness of his spiritual nature which will grow into direct cognition, if not in this birth, at any rate in a succeeding incarnation. But I would also go beyond this, for I believe that neither goodness alone nor knowledge alone makes the perfect man, but that the two must join hands to bring him to perfection. I would therefore add: By all means study the theory of Yoga, and as for the practice of it, subject yourself continually to the most searching analysis in order to discern the secret of your motives of action; watch your thoughts, words, and acts; try to discover why you do this or that thing and not another; be ever on your guard. I do not mean to say, use your head only. By no means: use your heart also to its full capacity. Learn to sympathize with all, to feel for everyone; but to yourself be as hard as steel, never condone a fault, never seek an excuse. We need none of us retire from the world to do this; we need not shun association with others; we need not even make a “Sunday in the day”, as we make a Sunday in the week, in which to turn our thoughts to higher things and for the rest of the time be off our guard. But at the same time it is a most salutary daily practice to try and definitely concentrate the mind on some thought, or on some imaginary object in order to learn how to steady it, and to cultivate at the same time a continual aspiration towards and contemplation of the highest ideal we can in any way conceive. Perhaps some of you may think this the advice of a mere mystical platitudinarian, and that you could hear something very much resembling it from the nearest pulpit. Maybe; but my answer is still, Try! Try to find out why you do any particular action, or think some thought; try to fix your mind even for sixty seconds; and try to meditate on some high ideal when you are quiet and alone, and free from all hatred and malice; believe me, you will not repent the endeavor.
Perhaps you have noticed that I have said nothing of the farther practices of the higher Yoga. My reason for the omission is that the subject is too lofty and too sacred for any student like myself to attempt. Its practices are so marvellous and its attainments so stupendous that they absolutely transcend all words and all descriptions; and this is why they are invariably treated of in symbolical and allegorical language. But I need hardly tell students of Theosophy that the Yoga is the most important key to the interpretation of the world-scriptures, a key that even our teacher H. P. Blavatsky refrained from giving. But none of us need feel surprise or resentment at this omission if we reflect that it has been the immemorial custom to withhold the key until the pupil is ready to receive it. It is not withheld for any caprice, for it cannot be kept back when the pupil is ready, and they who hold the key are such as give their life-blood to guard mankind from even greater misery and sorrow than they are at present plunged into — though, indeed, mankind knows not of their ceaseless sacrifice.
It is easy to see that the subject I have dealt with is one of enormous difficulty; I could have presented you with a long treatise, full of technical terms gleaned from difficult works in a vast library of literature, but my purpose has rather been to try and show that in itself the science of the soul is not beyond the reach of any, and that it is the most practical and important branch of knowledge that man is heir to.
In conclusion, it is well to remember there is one indispensable condition of success in this science, without which our efforts will be as Dead Sea fruit. It must be undertaken solely for the service of others; if it is attempted for ourselves, it will prove nought but an illusion, for it will pertain to the “I am I”, to the personal human animal, whose characteristic is selfishness, whereas the nature of true spiritual Yoga is that of devotion to all beings, of love to all that lives and breathes, and the duty of the disciple becomes like that of the stars of heaven who “take light from none, but give to all”.
Companions, may we all tread the path of peace!
— G.R.S. Mead, The Path, June, July, August 1892
Culture of Concentration: I
(A PAPER READ BEFORE THE ARYAN THEOSOPH1CAL SOCIETY OF NEW YORK)
The term most generally in use to express what is included under the above title is SELF CULTURE. Now it seems to well enough express, for a time at least, the practice referred to by those who desire to know the truth. But, in fact, it is inaccurate from a theosophic standpoint. For the self is held to be that designated in the Indian books as Ishwara, which is a portion of the eternal spirit enshrined in each human body. That this is the Indian view there is no doubt. The Bhagavad-Gita in Ch. 15 says that an eternal portion of this spirit, “having assumed life in this world of life, attracts the heart and the five senses which belong to nature. Whatever body Ishwara enters or quits, it is connected with it by snatching those senses from nature, even as the breeze snatches perfumes from their very bed. This spirit approaches the objects of sense by presiding over the ear, the eye, the touch, the taste, and the smell, and also over the heart”; and in an earlier chapter, “the Supreme spirit within this body is called the Spectator and admonisher, sustainer, enjoyer, great Lord, and also highest soul”; and again, “the Supreme eternal soul, even when existing within — or connected with — the body, is not polluted by the actions of the body.”
Elsewhere in these books this same spirit is called the self, as in a celebrated sentence which in Sanskrit is “Atmanam atmana, pashya,” meaning, “Raise the self by the self,” and all through the Uphanishads, where the self is constantly spoken of as the same as the Ishwara of Bhagavad-Gita. Max Muller thinks the word “self” expresses best in English the ideas of the Upanishads on this head.
It therefore follows that such a thing as culture of this self, which in its very nature is eternal, unchangeable, and unpollutable by any action, cannot be. It is only from inadequacy of terms that students and writers using the English tongue are compelled to say “self culture,” while, when they say it, they admit that they know the self cannot be cultured.
What they wish to express is, “such culture or practice to be pursued by us as shall enable us, while on earth, to mirror forth the wisdom and fulfil the behests of the self within, which is allwise and all good.”
As the use of this term “self culture” demands a constant explanation either outwardly declared or inwardly assented to, it is wise to discard it altogether and substitute that which will express the practice aimed at without raising a contradiction. For another reason also the term should be discarded. That is, that it assumes a certain degree of selfishness, for, if we use it as referring to something that we do only for ourself, we separate at once between us and the rest of the human brotherhood. Only in one way can we use it without contradiction or without explanation, and that is by admitting we selfishly desire to cultivate ourselves, thus at once running against a prime rule in theosophic life and one so often and so strenuously insisted on, that the idea of personal self must be uprooted. Of course, as we will not negative this rule, we thus again have brought before us the necessity for a term that does not arouse contradictions. That new term should, as nearly as possible, shadow forth the three essential things in the action, that is, the instrument, the act, and the agent, as well as the incitement to action; or, knowledge itself, the thing to be known or done, and the person who knows.
This term is CONCENTRATION. In the Indian books it is called Yoga. This is translated also as Union, meaning a union with the Supreme Being, or, as it is otherwise put, “the object of spiritual knowledge is the Supreme Being.”
There are two great divisions of Yoga found in the ancient books, and they are called Hatha-Yoga and Raj-Yoga.
Hatha-Yoga is a practical mortification of the body by means of which certain powers are developed. It consists in the assumption of certain postures that aid the work, and certain kinds of breathing that bring on changes in the system, together with other devices. It is referred to in the 4th chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita thus: “Some devotees sacrifice the sense of hearing and the other senses in the fires of restraint; some offer objects of sense, such as sound, in the fires of the senses. Some also sacrifice inspiration of breath in expiration, and expiration in inspiration, by blocking up the channels of inspiration and expiration, desirous of retaining their breath. Others, by abstaining from food, sacrifice life in their life.”
In various treatises these methods are set forth in detail, and there is no doubt at all that by pursuing them one can gain possession of sundry abnormal powers. There is risk, however, especially in the case of people in the West where experienced gurus or teachers of these things are not found. These risks consist in this, that while an undirected person is doing according to the rules of Hatha-Yoga, he arouses about him influences that do him harm, and he also carries his natural functions to certain states now and then when he ought to stop for a while, but, having no knowledge of the matter, may go on beyond that and produce injurious effects. Then, again, Hatha-Yoga is a difficult thing to pursue, and one that must be pushed to the point of mastery and success. Few of our Western people are by nature fitted for such continuous and difficult labor on the mental and astral planes. Thus, being attracted to Hatha-Yoga by the novelty of it, and by the apparent pay that it offers in visible physical results, they begin without knowledge of the difficulty, and stopping after a period of trial they bring down upon themselves consequences that are wholly undesirable.
The greatest objection to it, however, is that it pertains to the material and semi-material man, — roughly speaking, to the body, and what is gained through it is lost at death.
The Bhagavad-Gita refers to this and describes what happens in these words: “All of these, indeed, being versed in sacrifice, have their sins destroyed by these sacrifices. But he alone reaches union with the Supreme being who eats of the ambrosia left from a sacrifice.” This means that the Hatha-Yoga practice represents the mere sacrifice itself, whereas the other kind is the ambrosia arising from the sacrifice, or “the perfection of spiritual cultivation,” and that leads to Nirvana. The means for attaining “the perfection of spiritual cultivation” are found in Raj-Yoga, or, as we shall term it for the present, Culture of Concentration.
When concentration is perfected, we are in a position to use the knowledge that is ever within reach but which ordinarily eludes us continually. That which is usually called knowledge is only an intellectual comprehension of the outside, visible forms assumed by certain realities. Take what is called scientific knowledge of minerals and metals. This is merely a classification of material phenomena and an empirical acquisition. It knows what certain minerals and metals are useful for, and what some of their properties are. Gold is known to be pure, soft, yellow, and extremely ductile, and by a series of accidents it has been discovered to be useful in medicine and the arts. But even to this day there is a controversy, not wholly settled, as to whether gold is held mechanically or chemically in crude ore. Similarly with minerals. The crystalline forms are known and classified.
And yet a new theory has arisen, coming very near to the truth, that we do not know matter in reality in this way, but only apprehend certain phenomena presented to us by matter, and variously called, as the phenomena alter, gold, wood, iron, stone, and so on. But whether the minerals, metals, and vegetables have further properties that are only to be apprehended by still other and undeveloped senses, science will not admit. Passing from inanimate objects to the men and women about us, this ordinary intellectual knowledge aids us no more than before. We see bodies with different names and of different races, but below the outer phenomena our everyday intellect will not carry us. This man we suppose to have a certain character assigned to him after experience of his conduct, but it is still only provisional, for none of us is ready to say that we know him either in his good or his bad qualities. We know there is more to him than we can see or reason about, but what, we cannot tell. It eludes us continually. And when we turn to contemplate ourselves, we are just as ignorant as we are about our fellow man. Out of this has arisen an old saying: “Every man knows what he is, but no one knows what he will be.”
There must be in us a power of discernment, the cultivation of which will enable us to know whatever is desired to be known. That there is such a power is affirmed by teachers of occultism, and the way to acquire it is by cultivating concentration.
It is generally overlooked, or not believed, that the inner man who is the one to have these powers has to grow up to maturity, just as the body has to mature before its organs fulfil their functions fully. By inner man I do not mean the higher self — the Ishwara before spoken of, but that part of us which is called soul, or astral man, or vehicle, and so on. All these terms are subject to correction, and should not be held rigidly to the meanings given by various writers. Let us premise, first, the body now visible; second, the inner man — not the spirit; and third, the spirit itself.
Now while it is quite true that the second — or inner man — has latent all the powers and peculiarities ascribed to the astral body, it is equally true that those powers are, in the generality of persons, still latent or only very partially developed.
This inner being is, so to say, inextricably entangled in the body, cell for cell and fibre for fibre. He exists in the body somewhat in the way the fibre of the mango fruit exists in the mango. In that fruit we have the inside nut with thousands of fine fibres spreading out from it through the yellow pulp around. And as you eat it, there is great difficulty in distinguishing the pulp from the fibre. So that the inner being of which we are speaking cannot do much when away from his body, and is always influenced by it. It is not therefore easy to leave the body at will and roam about in the double. The stories we hear of this as being so easily done may be put down to strong imagination, vanity, or other causes. One great cause for error in respect to these doubles is that a clairvoyant is quite likely to mistake a mere picture of the person’s thought for the person himself. In fact, among occultists who know the truth, the stepping out of the body at will and moving about the world is regarded as a most difficult feat, and for the reasons above hinted at. Inasmuch as the person is so interwoven with his body, it is absolutely necessary, before he can take his astral form about the country, for him to first carefully extract it, fibre by fibre, from the surrounding pulp of blood, bones, mucous, bile, skin, and flesh. Is this easy? It is neither easy nor quick of accomplishment, nor all done at one operation. It has to be the result of years of careful training and numerous experiments. And it cannot be consciously done until the inner man has developed and cohered into something more than irresponsible and quivering jelly. This development and coherence are gained by perfecting the power of concentration.
Nor is it true, as the matter has been presented to me by experiment and teaching, that even in our sleep we go rushing about the country seeing our friends and enemies or tasting earthly joys at distant points. In all cases where the man has acquired some amount of concentration, it is quite possible that the sleeping body is deserted altogether, but such cases are as yet not in the majority.
Most of us remain quite close to our slumbering forms. It is not necessary for us to go away in order to experience the different states of consciousness which is the privilege of every man, but we do not go away over miles of country until we are able, and we cannot be able until the necessary ethereal body has been acquired and has learned how to use its powers.
Now, this ethereal body has its own organs which are the essence or real basis of the senses described by men. The outer eye is only the instrument by which the real power of sight experiences that which relates to sight; the ear has its inner master — the power of hearing, and so on with every organ. These real powers within flow from the spirit to which we referred at the beginning of this paper. That spirit approaches the objects of sense by presiding over the different organs of sense. And whenever it withdraws itself the organs cannot be used. As when a sleep-walker moves about with open eyes which do not see anything, although objects are there and the different parts of the eye are perfectly normal and uninjured.
Ordinarily there is no demarcation to be observed between these inner organs and the outer; the inner ear is found to be too closely interknit with the outer to be distinguished apart. But when concentration has begun, the different inner organs begin to awake, as it were, and to separate themselves from the chains of their bodily counterparts. Thus the man begins to duplicate his powers. His bodily organs are not injured, but remain for use upon the plane to which they belong, and he is acquiring another set which he can use apart from the others in the plane of nature peculiarly theirs.
We find here and there cases where certain parts of this inner body have been by some means developed beyond the rest. Sometimes the inner head alone is developed, and we have one who can see or hear clairvoyantly or clairaudiently; again, only a hand is developed apart from the rest, all the other being nebulous and wavering. It may be a right hand, and it will enable the owner to have certain experiences that belong to the plane of nature to which the right hand belongs, say the positive side of touch and feeling.
But in these abnormal cases there are always wanting the results of concentration. They have merely protruded one portion, just as a lobster extrudes his eye on the end of the structure which carries it. Or take one who has thus curiously developed one of the inner eyes, say the left. This has a relation to a plane of nature quite different from that appertaining to the hand, and the results in experience are just as diverse. He will be a clairvoyant of a certain order, only able to recognize that which relates to his one-sided development, and completely ignorant of many other qualities inherent in the thing seen or felt, because the proper organs needed to perceive them have had no development. He will be like a two-dimensional being who cannot possibly know that which three-dimensional beings know, or like ourselves as compared with four-dimensional entities.
In the course of the growth of this ethereal body several things are to be observed.
It begins by having a cloudy, wavering appearance, with certain centres of energy caused by the incipiency of organs that correspond to the brain, heart, lungs, spleen, liver, and so on. It follows the same course of development as a solar system, and is, in fact, governed and influenced by the very solar system to which the world belongs on which the being may be incarnate. With us it is governed by our own solar orb.
If the practice of concentration be kept up, this cloudy mass begins to gain coherence and to shape itself into a body with different organs. As they grow they must be used. Essays are to be made with them, trials, experiments. In fact, just as a child must creep before it can walk, and must learn walking before it can run, so this ethereal man must do the same. But as the child can see and hear much farther than it can creep or walk, so this being usually begins to see and to hear before it can leave the vicinity of the body on any lengthy journey.
Certain hindrances then begin to manifest themselves which, when properly understood by us, will give us good substantial reasons for the practicing of the several virtues enjoined in holy books and naturally included under the term of Universal Brotherhood.
One is that sometimes it is seen that this nebulous forming body is violently shaken, or pulled apart, or burst into fragments that at once have a tendency to fly back into the body and take on the same entanglement that we spoke of at first. This is caused by anger, and this is why the sages all dwell upon the need of calmness. When the student allows anger to arise, the influence of it is at once felt by the ethereal body, and manifests itself in an uncontrollable trembling which begins at the centre and violently pulls apart the hitherto coherent particles. If allowed to go on it will disintegrate the whole mass, which will then re-assume its natural place in the body. The effect following this is, that a long time has to elapse before the ethereal body can be again created. And each time this happens the result is the same. Nor does it make any difference what the cause for the anger may be. There is no such thing as having what is called “righteous anger” in this study and escaping these inevitable consequences. Whether your “rights” have been unjustly and flagrantly invaded or not does not matter. The anger is a force that will work itself out in its appointed way. Therefore anger must be strictly avoided, and it cannot be avoided unless charity and love — absolute toleration — are cultivated.
But anger may be absent and yet still another thing happen. The ethereal form may have assumed quite a coherence and definiteness. But it is observed that, instead of being pure and clear, and fresh, it begins to take on a cloudy and disagreeable color, the precursor of putrefaction, which invades every part and by its effects precludes any further progress, and at last reacts upon the student so that anger again manifests itself. This is the effect of envy. Envy is not a mere trifle that produces no physical result. It has a powerful action, as strong in its own field as that of anger. It not only hinders the further development, but attracts to the student’s vicinity thousands of malevolent beings of all classes that precipitate themselves upon him and wake up or bring on every evil passion. Envy, therefore, must be extirpated, and it cannot be got rid of as long as the personal idea is allowed to remain in us.
Another effect is produced on this ethereal body by vanity. Vanity represents the great illusion of nature. It brings up before the soul all sorts of erroneous or evil pictures, or both, and drags the judgment so away that once more anger or envy will enter, or such course be pursued that violent destruction by outside causes falls upon the being. As in one case related to me. The man had made considerable progress, but at last allowed vanity to rule. This was followed by the presentation to his inner sight of most extraordinary images and ideas, which in their turn so affected him that he attracted to his sphere hordes of elementals seldom known to students and quite indescribable in English. These at last, as is their nature, laid siege to him, and one day produced all about the plane of his astral body an effect similar in some respects to that which follows an explosion of the most powerful explosive known to science. The consequence was, his ethereal form was so suddenly fractured that by repercussion the whole nature of the man was altered, and he soon died in a madhouse after having committed the most awful excesses.
And vanity cannot be avoided except by studiously cultivating that selflessness and poverty of heart advised as well by Jesus of Nazareth as by Buddha.
Another hindrance is fear. This is not, however, the worst of all, and is one that will disappear by means of knowledge, for fear is always the son of ignorance. Its effect on the ethereal form is to shrivel it up, or coagulate and contract it. But as knowledge increases, that contraction abates, permitting the person to expand. Fear is the same thing as frigidity on the earth, and always proceeds by the process of freezing.
In my next the subject will be further developed.
— Ramatirtha, The Path, July 1888
Culture of Concentration: II
[PART I APPEARED IN JULY, 1888, PATH, p. 116.]
It is now over one year since I sent in Part I to the Editor of the PATH Since then I have heard that some students expressed a desire to read Part II, forgetting to observe, perhaps, that the first paper was complete in itself, and, if studied, with earnest practice to follow, would have led to beneficial results. It has not been necessary before to write No. II; and to the various students who so soon after reading the first have asked for the second I plainly say that you have been led away because a sequel was indicated and you cannot have studied the first; furthermore I much doubt if you will be benefited by this any more than by the other.
Success in the culture of concentration is not for him who sporadically attempts it. It is a thing that flows from “a firm position assumed with regard to the end in view, and unremittingly kept up.” Nineteenth Century students are too apt to think that success in occultism can be reached as one attains success in school or college, by reading and learning printed words. A complete knowledge of all that was ever written upon concentration will confer no power in the practice of that about which I treat. Mere book knowledge is derided in this school as much as it is by the clodhopper; not that I think book knowledge is to be avoided, but that sort of acquisition without the concentration is as useless as faith without works. It is called in some places, I believe, “mere eye-knowledge.” Such indeed it is; and such is the sort of culture most respected in these degenerate times.
In starting these papers the true practice was called Raj Yoga. It discards those physical motions, postures, and recipes relating solely to the present personality, and directs the student to virtue and altruism as the bases from which to start. This is more often rejected than accepted. So much has been said during the last 1800 years about Rosicrucians, Egyptian Adepts, Secret Masters, Kaballah, and wonderful magical books that students without a guide, attracted to these subjects, ask for information and seek in vain for the entrance to the temple of the learning they crave, because they say that virtue’s rules are meant for babes and Sunday-schools, but not for them. And, in consequence, we find hundreds of books in all the languages of Europe dealing with rites, ceremonies, invocations, and other obscurities that will lead to nothing but loss of time and money. But few of these authors had anything save “mere eye-knowledge”. ‘Tis true they have sometimes a reputation, but it is only that accorded to an ignoramus by those who are more ignorant. The so-called great man, knowing how fatal to reputation it would be to tell how really small is his practical knowledge, prates about “projections and elementals”, “philosopher’s stone and elixir”, but discreetly keeps from his readers the paucity of his acquirements and the insecurity of his own mental state. Let the seeker know, once for all, that the virtues cannot be discarded nor ignored; they must be made a part of our life, and their philosophical basis must be understood.
But it may be asked, if in the culture of concentration we will succeed alone by the practice of virtue. The answer is No, not in this life, but perhaps one day in a later life. The life of virtue accumulates much merit; that merit will at some time cause one to be born in a wise family where the real practice of concentration may perchance begin; or it may cause one to be born in a family of devotees or those far advanced on the Path, as said in Bhagavad-Gita. But such a birth as this, says Krishna, is difficult to obtain; hence the virtues alone will not always lead in short space to our object.
We must make up our minds to a life of constant work upon this line. The lazy ones or they who ask for pleasure may as well give it up at the threshold and be content with the pleasant paths marked out for those who “fear God and honor the King.” Immense fields of investigation and experiment have to be traversed; dangers unthought of and forces unknown are to be met; and all must be overcome, for in this battle there is no quarter asked or given. Great stores of knowledge must be found and seized. The kingdom of heaven is not to be had for the asking; it must be taken by violence. And the only way in which we can gain the will and the power to thus seize and hold is by acquiring the virtues on the one hand, and minutely understanding ourselves on the other. Some day we will begin to see why not one passing thought may be ignored, not one flitting impression missed. This we can perceive is no simple task. It is a gigantic work. Did you ever reflect that the mere passing sight of a picture, or a single word instantly lost in the rush of the world, may be basis for a dream that will poison the night and react upon the brain next day. Each one must be examined. If you have not noticed it, then when you awake next day you have to go back in memory over every word and circumstance of the preceding day, seeking, like the astronomer through space, for the lost one. And, similarly, without such a special reason, you must learn to be able to go thus backward into your days so as to go over carefully and in detail all that happened, all that you permitted to pass through the brain. Is this an easy matter?
But let us for a moment return to the sham adepts, the reputed Masters, whether they were well-intentioned or the reverse. Take Eliphas Levi who wrote so many good things, and whose books contain such masses of mysterious hints. Out of his own mouth he convicts himself. With great show he tells of the raising of the shade of Apollonius. Weeks beforehand all sorts of preparations had to be made, and on the momentous night absurd necromantic performances were gone through. What was the result? Why only that the so-called shade appeared for a few moments, and Levi says they never attempted it again. Any good medium of these days could call up the shade of Apollonius without preparation, and if Levi were an Adept he could have seen the dead quite as easily as he turned to his picture in a book. By these sporadic attempts and outside preparations, nothing is really gained but harm to those who thus indulge. And the foolish dabbling by American theosophists with practices of the Yogis of India that are not one-eighth understood and which in themselves are inadequate, will lead to much worse results than the apochryphal attempt recorded by Eliphas Levi.
As we have to deal with the Western mind now ours, all unused as it is to these things and over-burdened with false training and falser logic, we must begin where we are, we must examine our present possessions and grow to know our own present powers and mental machinery. This done, we may proceed to see ourselves in the way that shall bring about the best result.
— Ramatirtha, The Path – February 1890
Articles from The Theosophical Forum
Yoga in Daily Life
It is often thought that yoga, as expounded by the most famous authority on the subject, namely Patanjali, is something to be attempted only by highly privileged persons, either particularly endowed mentally or favored by having the agreeable karma of a pleasant existence in the countryside. This is not the fact. Many of the old books touching on Yoga say to those who read them that the reader, having had the good fortune to be born a man, and especially a Brahmin (which really means a thinking man), would be indeed a fool to miss the opportunity of taking deliberate steps to reach the goal of life. To put this in modern terms I would say that yoga is life in any environment lived intelligently with a good knowledge of human psychology, as contrasted with the same life lived according to the animal instincts we have inherited. It is a life in which we make the most of our intelligence, even to the point of the conscious enjoyment of intuitions and ecstacies.
The word yoga is to be taken in two senses: (1) as describing the goal of life, which is “union with the one life” or “the uncovering of the light” and (2) as describing the practical steps which may be taken to accelerate our movement towards that desirable end. Really, no one can escape that movement, because do what we will we are bound to learn either by thought or by experience.
If we follow what may be called the positive path of yoga pursued by the man of intelligence and love and will, we shall learn by intuition — in other words, finer elements in our active being will awaken and take hold of finer realities in our lives. But even if we follow the other and common way, the path of material enlargement — the path of quantity of things, not the path of quality of life — we shall be taught by karma, and thus we shall move towards the progressive uncovering of the light, though with pain and trouble and difficulty, instead of with freedom and ecstacy.
Now, turning to Patanjali, we find first his statement that the practice of yoga is chitta — vritti — nirodha. Chitta is the mind that deals with things. Vrittis are ideas. Nirodha means control. So yoga is control of the ideas in the mind. Patanjali goes on to say that when this control is achieved the man exists in his own true state, but otherwise he is the slave of his ideas and that implies his circumstances also. Somewhere else the uncontrolled man has been described as the slave of Nature.
Students of Patanjali do not always realize that vrittis are ideas and that ideas are objects in the mind. Ideas are not to be confused with thought. Thought is an activity of the mind in relation to objects or forms of the material world, and it uses ideas in its thinking. It is not the same as mental drift or the undirected flow of ideas.
It is quite necessary to make this clear distinction between thinking and ideas. We know it well in the study of Geometry, where first we have certain axioms, which are ideas, and then we manipulate those in various ways when we deal with propositions. In Geometry then, still further, when we have done our thinking on a certain proposition, so that that has become for us a definite result, that in turn becomes an idea upon which later on we may still further build with further thought. That vrittis are ideas and not operations of thinking becomes quite clear when Patanjali proceeds to give us a list of the vrittis.
He enumerates them as in five classes. The first group is that of right ideas, which he says can be arrived at by perception, or by inference or from the testimony of reliable witnesses. The second division is the group of wrong ideas, as in the case when at dusk we mistake a post for a man or a piece of rope for a snake. The third group is fanciful ideas, such as the horns of a rabbit. Fourthly comes sleep. We say in the morning we slept well last night. We mean not merely that we felt well when we woke up, and therefore we infer that we slept well, but that there was some sort of conscious experience which can be described by the expression “slept well.”
Lastly, we come to memory. Memories, of which there are several kinds, need not be described here.
Obviously, it is a good thing for every person, whatever he or she may be doing in life, to use his or her brains in thinking, not merely in mental drift. Mental drift occurs if, let us say, at one moment I am thinking of a cat and a few moments later I find myself thinking about a bridge which I have often admired that spans the river Indus. Now, I could ask myself how I came to think of that bridge soon after I started to think about a cat. Upon looking into my mind I find that the idea of a cat brought forth a picture of a cat lying on a hearth-rug, that then this hearth-rug reminded me of a factory where I had seen such rugs being made. That factory was near the banks of the river Indus and further up the river was the bridge of which I found myself thinking. That was mental drift. If I had controlled my ideas I might have thought of something to more purpose. I might have controlled my idea on the cat so that I would know a lot more about it. I would have directed my thought by my will. As we do in all study, I would first have concentrated and then meditated. I would have concentrated on the cat and then I would have expanded my knowledge of the cat without abandoning my concentration upon that subject. That process of thinking is really what we call meditation when we apply it to spiritual, religious, ethical, abstract or philosophical thinking.
Next, Patanjali tells us that nirodha or control becomes steady with practice and uncoloredness. (I am sorry to coin such an uncouth word, but there is nothing else for it.)
Patanjali speaks of these two as abhyasa and vairagya. Abhyasa is practice, and one need only say that it is helpful to practise occasionally, when there is opportunity, the art of controlling and directing our own ideas, in reference to anything that may occur to us at the moment, or that may come up in the business of life. We shall have to tear the word vairagya to pieces to get the real meaning out of it. Vai means contrary to or against; raga has to do with being red or colored, and the termination ya is here equivalent to our “ness,” thus converting the whole thing into the abstract noun, uncoloredness. The idea is that just as you may put a block of glass on red paper and it will look red, or on green paper it will look green, so do persons have their thinking and feeling colored by their environment and ideas. But the instruction here is that the aspirant should stop, look and listen every now and then to see that he is not being carried away by external impulses, but is using his own faculties in every business that he deals with. This is a subject that could be expanded very much indeed, for multifarious are the ways small and big in which we become slaves to Nature. But this much should now be said — that first we should complete an idea by meditation, if we want to stop the mental process and derive some intuition by some uncovering of the light.
I have described the first few sutras in Book I of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Later in Book I that author describes the final practice of complete control, called samadhi. We can leave that for the moment and jump to the beginning of Book II, where Patanjali tells the student of yoga what he must do first of all in practical life. I have heard of cases in which a would-be pupil has come to a teacher of yoga and the teacher has sent him away, telling him to come back after a number of years, and that in the meantime he should live an ordinary life in the world and try to practise certain things in that life.
Patanjali here gives us three things which are to be practised in the world as a kind of preparatory yoga, and in conjunction even with more advanced yoga if that is being carried on in the world of ordinary life. I must mention that these three practices are intended to weaken five difficulties or obstacles, instincts which arise in a man himself. These five are called the kleshas. They are: (1) mistake, (2) I-am-ness, (3) liking, (4) disliking, (5) clinging to form.
The first is the error of identifying oneself with the game of life. It is as though a chess player were to forget that his game is only a game. The yoga practice in this connection is to observe the distinction between the self and not-self as often as possible, to watch the business of life going on as a spectator but not as a passing spectator rather as one who is playing a very important game with a very definite purpose, and yet is playing that game outside himself. In this one watches not only the external activities but also the flow of one’s own thought and feeling. One sees the vrittis and becomes aware of the kleshas which build and sustain them. One has no need to pronounce sentence upon them. The mere viveka or perception uncovers the light. There is nothing to be done or made. The second klesha is self-personality. We know that our personality is a definite compound, let us hope well coordinated and useful in the world. There is a certain type of body with certain abilities and accomplishments, accompanied by a collection of ideas and habitual feelings. Such personality is a definite thing. As long as we recognize it as such and use it as our instrument in the business or game of life, it is well, but as soon as we fall into thinking “I am this” we lose our true character. For the character or core of a man is something different, which expresses itself in certain powers of thought, feeling and will.
The third klesha is akin to that coloredness which I mentioned before. It is a strong desire to obtain something, or even more, it is wishing. The implication is that we can become agitated and enslaved because we cannot get the thing that we want, or we cannot get enough of it, or, having obtained it, we are afraid of losing it. It colors our life. If we have it not, it worries us so that we do not employ our powers in dealing with other things that are in our power, or in our possession.
The fourth of these kleshas is just the opposite of that. It is the troubled condition which arises when we want to get rid of things or persons that we have, or conditions that we cannot get away from. If we allow this desire to escape from undesired conditions, to dominate our thinking and feeling or to govern our actions, again we lose our character and independence.
The fifth is clinging to things, even to the extent of fear of death. We have to come to that point of understanding in which we can feel that such possessions are simply for use, that they must come and go, that there is no such thing as static wealth; that life can only live on the wing — in brief, there is not life but only living, in which everything is to be used as a possession. If we fail in this, it is a fact that we become possessed by our so-called possessions. This applies to everything, even to the body itself, in regard to which there is such widespread and quite unnecessary fear of death.
I do not want to dwell particularly on these kleshas at the moment, but the three practices enjoined on the novice will deal with them quite effectively. These three practices are called tapas, swadhyaya and ishwara-pranidhana. They pertain to the three parts of our nature — body, thoughts and feelings. Tapas means literally ardor. It is from the root tap, which means to heat. It almost means effort but not quite. Some have exaggerated it into the idea of mortification of the flesh, and there are instances in India of people doing very absurd things, such as sitting on spikes or holding an arm up until it withers, with the idea of practising tapas. Those are only superstitions for the real thing. Put simply, tapas means that the novice must do for his body whatever he knows to be best. If, for example, he thinks that it is not good to take mineral salt with his food, then he will not take it. If he thinks that a certain amount of exercise at a certain time is good, he will do it. With regard to action or abstention from action, he will live his bodily life in accordance with his best understanding, in relation to its own best functioning and his social environment, in which it should be harmonious with others.
The second practice means self-study. It is just that a certain amount of time should be given to studying the nature of man and his relation to his environment.
The third klesha is bowing to the Divine. This means a feeling of devotion with regard to everything. It is that religious life which includes both ethics and devotion. Everything has to be thought of as providing the best opportunity for self-development. This puts an end to a great many of the bad emotions in life, such as resentment, envy, jealousy, greed, pride, anger and fear. It makes the aspirant look out upon the word very much as an architect does, who takes all materials for exactly what they are: wood, stone, etc. Stone is stone, iron is iron, glass is glass, and he would be a very curious architect who would sit at the roadside and weep because he could not bend a sheet of glass as he would bend a sheet of iron. There is, however, in this practice not a mere intellectual acceptance of all things as useful. It is more than that. It is a glad and joyful devotional response to this great fulness of life in which we find ourselves. It should carry with it all that intense devotion which is sometimes found with very narrow outlooks in religious circles, but it involves a recognition of the highest in everything.
I need not carry this idea of yoga in daily life much further. It is quite open to all of us to spend part of our day in concentration, meditation and contemplation, and in that contemplation to receive occasional inspirations and intuitions, accompanied by a corresponding ecstacy. To be able to control our thoughts, to expand them, and then to suspend them in an act of contemplation of any thing or idea, is not outside our reach and in fact should become easy when the three preliminary practices are carried on in daily life. These three practices weaken the kleshas. Later on we may perform a “meditation” that will entirely destroy them.
Patanjali mentions certain siddhis or abnormal powers which arise in a man as he progresses in the art of mind control or the control of ideas. But he mentions also that these are not of importance. If they become a source of pleasure or amusement, the man will stop at that subject and go no further. They will come, but he has merely to note them and pass them by. He can use them as white magic for the benefit of mankind, or the welfare of the world, but that will only be part of his particular business in life, and in his yoga practice they too will have to become subject to nirodha. If he delights in them he comes within the sphere of the kleshas, and will fall into black magic from which he will ultimately escape only by the tuition of karma.
I have said enough, perhaps, to show that yoga is for all of us and that there is no need to treat the subject with that kind of false respect which would make us think that it is only for uncommon people or people more advanced than ourselves.
— Ernest Wood, The Theosophical Forum, July 1947
The Yoga of Dharana
Dharana is a Sanskrit word coming from the verb-root dhri — meaning to maintain, direct and resolve. Hence the term implies a purposive directing of the mind towards some one goal or state of consciousness. What a vast field of interesting thought this simple word opens up to us. Let us follow a few of these bypaths.
Man is constantly giving off energy as does all Life. There is heat from the body; a more subtil energy that goes forth in the breath and emotions. Then come the children of the mind, and so on up to the pinnacle of our sevenfold constitution. Every part of our constitution is giving off its particular type of life. Now what has Dharana to do with these obvious facts?
Every type of energy composed of lesser lives has its appropriate channel in our being. Direct your mind upon a certain line of thought for a while and a corresponding type of energy will flow through you. It is thus that geniuses produce their great monuments of art and literature. Their work is constantly before their mind’s eye — even during sleep. Consequently the flow of inspiration is constant and all of the other types of energy in the constitution co-operate. The physical body, the emotions, the desires standing of course behind will, and the inspirations from the Buddhi-atman respond in a co-operative manner in accordance with the degree of one-pointedness of the mind. Thus, like attracts like. However there is also a reaction between opposites. For example, all of us have noticed that when we aspire deeply to break the fetters of illusion our faults are magnified and rise, as from the ashes, to challenge us. Thus the man who practises Dharana can expect obstacles at every turn, but if he is one who can laugh at himself, he need not be discouraged.
There is an occult rule which states the fact that one should never scatter his attention and energies if he wishes to achieve to the fullest extent of his ability. H. P. Blavatsky gave a good example of following this law especially while writing The Secret Doctrine. It is said that she could hardly be persuaded to take much needed drives in the open air. Even while in the process of moving her establishment she continued her writing, often asking for manuscripts that were already packed. This shows the intensity of her one-pointedness of mind. She declared at the time that if she stopped work for a while the current would stop and it would take months before she could re-establish it.
Dharana has its important place in the conquering and raising of the personal man. There are some who, because they lack one-pointedness of mind, find themselves torn between the different parts of their constitution. There is a lack of harmony and coordination between the different flows of energy. If such an individual is truly trying to aspire upon the Path he may, in desperation, blame the lower types of energy such as greed, selfishness, etc., as being the cause of his trouble, and hence he may try to kill and suppress his personality. By doing this he is conquering nothing, but is merely killing and blocking the very forces that would give him drive and will if he were practising Dharana. It is the one-pointedness of mind that gives co-operation among the various parts of our constitution. The fault does not lie with the innocent forces of our animal body but in our inability constantly to direct our minds towards that part of our nature which will respond by sending purifying and strengthening influences.
Forget the body and the personality and direct the mind along spiritual channels and keep it there. If this is done, all the rest will harmoniously fall in line and lend the best they have to offer. Thus by practising Dharana the lower is not killed but is uplifted and purified. It is our duty so to direct our mind that the personality becomes a friend and helper. One need not sit in a forest but can practise Dharana while eating, working, and even while at play.
— Martyn Witter, The Theosophical Forum, July 1942
The Yoga of Self-Discipline 1
The Bhagavad-Gita is a personal book. It is for each man. No one need feel any hesitation now, for we are face to face with ourselves. The weak man, or he who does not care for Truth no matter where it leads, had better shut the book now.
— William Brehon
We assume, quite justifiably I think, that the Bhagavad Gita sets forth Aryan philosophy. The Aryan is white and noble in contradistinction to the black and ignoble. This book then, if Aryan, must give us a noble system of philosophy and ethics, useful not only for speculative minds but also in daily life. Whoever was the author, represented by the mythical person Vyasa, he — or they — compressed into a short conversation — that is, short for Indians — the essence of religion and philosophy.
The singular manner in which this conversation or lecturing or teaching came about should be first noted. It is after the very beginning of a battle, for the arrows had already begun to fly from side to side. A rain of arrows would first be thrown in before the hand to hand encounter began. Arjuna and Krishna are in Arjuna’s great chariot. And there, between the two armies Arjuna asks for advice and receives it through eighteen chapters. All of this has significance.
Arjuna is man or the soul struggling to the light and while Krishna was one of the Avatars, or manifest atoms of God among men, he is also the Higher Self. Arjuna as man in this world of sense and matter is of necessity either always in a battle or about to begin one, and is also ever in need of advice. This he can get alone, in a valuable way, from his Higher Self. So the singular manner of placing the conversation where it is and of beginning it as it begins is the only way it ought to [be] done.
Arjuna is in the life his Karma has produced, and he must fight out the battle he himself invited. Arjuna’s object was to regain a kingdom, and so each one of us may know that our fight is for a kingdom gainable only by individual effort and not by any one’s favor.
From the remarks by Arjuna to Krishna we can perceive that the kingdom he — like ourselves — wishes to regain is the one we had in some former age upon this planet or upon some far more ancient one. He has too much insight, too much evident soul-power and wisdom to be an Ego who only for the first, or second, or third time had visited this earth. We likewise are not new. We have been here so many times that we ought to be beginning to learn. And we have not only been here, but, beyond doubt those of us who are inwardly and outwardly engaged in the theosophical movement for the good of others, have been in a similar movement before this life.
This being so, and there being yet many more lives to come, what is the reason we should in any way be downcast? The first chapter of the Book is really not only The Survey of the Armies but also The Despondency of the principal person — Arjuna. He grows downcast after looking over all the regiments and seeing that he had, on both sides, friends, teachers, relatives, as well as enemies. He falters because want of knowledge prevents him from seeing that the conflict and many apparent deaths are inevitable. And Krishna then proceeds to give him the true philosophy of man and the universe so that he can either fight or refrain from fighting, whichever he sees to be at any time the best.
Krishna leads him gradually. He plays upon his pride by telling him that if he backs out all men will say he is the most ignoble of all cowards; then he plays upon his hindu religious teaching telling him that a warrior must obey the rules of his caste, and fight. He does not plunge at once into high metaphysical speculation or show him occult wonders. And herein it seems to me is a good lesson for all working theosophists. Too many of us when trying to spread forth the theosophical teachings drag the poor Arjunas we have caught right into obscure realms where theosophists themselves know nothing at all but terminology. Krishna’s wise, practical and simple method should be followed, and much better results will be obtained. Our object is to spread theosophical philosophy as widely and quickly as possible. This cannot be done if we indulge in words and phrases far removed from daily life. What good does it do to talk about the Absolute, Parabrahm and Alaya, and to say manas when we mean mind, and kama when desire and passion are the english equivalents? It only puzzles the new enquirer who feels that he has to learn a new language before he will be able to do anything with theosophy. It is a good deal easier to show that the new terms can be learned afterwards.
The first chapter having introduced the practical question of life, the second is equally practical, for it directs attention at the outset to the larger and eternal life of which each incarnation is a day or a moment. For Krishna says:
I myself never was not, nor them, nor all the princes of the earth, nor shall we ever hereafter cease to be. As the Lord of this mortal frame experienceth therein infancy, youth and old age, so in future incarnations will it meet the same One who is confirmed in this belief is not disturbed by anything that may come to pass.
Thus continued practical existence as opposed to continued theoretical and so-called heavenly existence and as opposed to materialistic annihilation, is declared at once. This is true immortality. The Christian Bible has no word in the original teaching immortality such as this; and the preaching of the priests does not lean to an unselfish view of continued existence. And it is very certain that if one is fully confirmed in the knowledge of eternal life through reincarnation he is quite unlikely to be disturbed by things that disturb other people. So at the very outside [outset] the teachings of Krishna open up a tremendous vista of life, and confer a calmness most necessary for us in the fight.
The generality of men have many and widely branching objects for mental devotion. It is a devotion to sense, or to self, or to wrong belief or to improper practice. But the follower of the Bhagavad Gita gradually comes to see that the true devotion is that which has but one object through all changes of scene, of thought, or of companion-is immovable, whereas the objects taken up by the unwise are movable and transitory.
Equal mindedness and skill in the right performance of duty are the true rules — this is Yoga. This right performance of duty means the mental state, for the mere performance of an act has no moral quality in it, since even a machine may be made to perform acts done usually by men. The moral quality resides in the person inside and in his presence or absence. If a human body, asleep or devoid of a soul, raised its hand and took the life of another, that would not be a crime. And oppositely the performance of a good [act] is no virtue unless the person within is in the right attitude of mind. Many an apparently good act is done from selfish, hypocritical, crafty or other wrong motives. These are only outwardly good. So we must attain to a proper state of mind, or mental devotion, in order to know how to skilfully perform our actions without doing so for the sake of the result; doing them because they ought to be done, because they are our duties.
Krishna warns Arjuna also against inactivity from a false view of the philosophy. This warning was necessary then, is so still. On hearing this teaching for the first time many say that it teaches inaction, sitting still, silence. And in India great numbers, taking that view, retired from life and its duties, going into the caves and jungles away from men. Krishna says:
Firmly persisting in Yoga perform thy duty.
To endeavor to follow these rules empirically, without understanding the philosophy and without making the fundamental doctrines a part of one’s self, will lead to nothing but disgust and failure. Hence the philosophy must be understood. It is the philosophy of Oneness or Unity. The Supreme Self is One and includes all apparent others. We delude ourselves with the idea that we are separate. We must admit that we and every other person are the Self. From this we will begin to see that we may cease to be the actor although outwardly doing every act that is right. We cease to be the actor when we know that we can withdraw ourself from the act. Attachment to the act arises from a self interest in the result that is to follow. It is possible for us to do these things without that self interest, and if we are trying to follow the rule of doing our actions because they ought to be done we will at last do only that which is right to be done.
A great deal of the unhappiness of life comes from having a number of interests in results which do not come out as expected. We find people pretending to believe in Providence and to rely on the Almighty but who are continually laying down plans for those powers to follow. They are not followed, and as the poor mortal fixed his mind and heart on the result unhappiness follows.
But there is a greater unhappiness and misery caused by acting as is the usual way for the sake of results. It is this that causes rebirth over and over again unendingly. It is by this that the great humdrum mass of men and women are whirled around the wheel of rebirth for [ages], always suffering because they do not know what is happening to them, and only by an accident altering the poor character of their births.
The mind is the actor, the person who is attached. When it is deluded it is not able to throw off the subtle chains that bind it to reincarnation. Having spent an incarnation in looking after results it is full of earthly impressions, and has made the outer skandhas very powerful. So when its stay in Devachan is at its end the old images, impressions and the powerful skandhas drag it back to another life. At the time of bodily death the mind is temporarily almost altered into the image of the dominant thought of life, and so is beside itself or insane by comparison with the sage and with what ought to be its proper state. Being so it is impossible for it either to prevent rebirth or to select and take up an incarnation with a definite end and work in the world in view.
The bearing of the teaching upon ethics is in my opinion very important. It gives a vital system as opposed to a mechanical one. We are to do our duty with the thought that we are acting for and as the Supreme Being because that being acts only by and through the creatures. If this be our real rule it would in time be impossible for us to do wrong because constantly thinking thus we grow careful as to what acts we commit and are always clearing up our view of duty as we proceed.
On the other hand a mechanical code of ethics leads into error. It is convenient because any fixed code is more convenient to follow than the application of broad principles in a brotherly spirit. Mechanical codes are conventional and for that reason they lead to hypocrisy. They have led people to mistake etiquette for morality. They cause the follower of them to unrighteously judge his neighbor who does not come up to his conventional code which is part of his ethics. It was a mechanical system of ethics that permitted and encouraged the Inquisition, and similar ethics in our later days permit men professing the highest altruism to persecute their brothers in the same way in intention. If the law and liberty of the times were not opposed they would slay and torture too.
But I have only time to touch lightly upon some of the many valuable points found in the first two chapters. If but those two chapters were preserved and the others lost, we would still have enough.
The remaining chapters deal with universal cosmical truths as well as with philosophy and ethics. They all enforce the great doctrine of unity or non-separateness. In going over them we find such references as require us to know and believe in the Wisdom Religion. The rise and destruction of races is given, the obscurities and darkness between evolutionary periods, the universal great destruction and the minor ones are there. Through all these the Self sits calmly looking on as the spectator, the witness, the receptacle.
Where Arjuna the Archer is, he who was taught by Krishna, with him is glory, honor, fortune and success. He who knows Arjuna knows himself.
1. From a manuscript entitled “Aryan Philosophy, etc.,” in the handwriting of William Q. Judge, and preserved in the archives of the Theosophical Society.
— William Quan Judge, printed in The Theosophical Forum, January 1951
The Yoga of Theosophy
Theosophists use the word Yoga as a convenient word, but we do not use it so much in order to express our Theosophical discipline. Why? Because in the West the word has come to signify one or other of the five different Hindu Schools of Yoga; whereas the Theosophical yogic discipline includes the best in them all, and tops them with a nobler, a sixth.
Now, what are these five Indian Yoga Schools? They are these, beginning with the simplest and lowest: Hatha-yoga, the yoga of physiological psychical training, dealing almost wholly with the body and the lower mind. Next, Karma-yoga, from the word “karman,” action. Third, Bhakti-yoga, the yoga of love and devotion. Fourth, Jñâna-yoga, the yoga of wisdom or knowledge, of study. Fifth, Raja-yoga, the yoga of self-devised effort to attain union with the god within, the yoga of discipline, such as the kings of the Kshattriya or Warrior Caste were supposed to exemplify as the leaders of their states; and the sixth, which we Theosophists add, is the Brahma-yoga, the yoga of the spirit, practically including the other five.
It is a sheer absurdity, taking human psychology and nature into account, to think that India is the only land that has ever known what Yoga is; yoga here meaning discipline, training, in order to attain self-conscious union with the god within, with the Inner Buddha, or the immanent Christ — call it by what name you like.
Take Karma-yoga: something of this form of discipline has been known for centuries in the Christian Church, as “salvation by works.” It is a well-known training in the Christian discipline. Or Bhakti-yoga: something of this form of discipline has been known for centuries in the Christian Church as “salvation by devotion,” or “love,” “self-dedication”: exactly the same things that the Hindu means by these words, and that the Theosophist means, and which arose spontaneously in the heart of Christendom, as they arose spontaneously in the heart of Hindusthan, or in any other country. Then again there was the training of the Stoics — these and others are all different kinds of yoga. They did not call these trainings by the word “yoga.” That is a Sanskrit term pertaining to, belonging to, Hindusthan; but the disciplines were known. The Christians called them salvation by this, salvation by that. The Hindus said union by this discipline, union by that discipline, etc.
The Theosophical occult discipline comprehends them all, because these different types of training or union correspond with the five main types of human minds or psychology, some men finding salvation in work, using the Christian term; others in love or devotion; others in theology or high thought. Why, even Christendom, in the monasteries especially, has known in the past a kind of Hatha-yoga in their physiological training — their flagellations, whippings, the wearing of sackcloth, and other practices of mortification and self-denial; in order, as they expressed it, to control and subordinate the lower passions and the body. These are typical examples of hatha-yoga of the lowest kind. However, when a man has the fortunate type of mind which will lead him into the training of the inner life, these other things follow sanely, automatically, if at all.
It is so with us Theosophists. Our training surpasses these different yogas. We do not have to bother with breathings and postures, flagellations and tortures. We know that to do our duty, we must work reverently, dedicate ourselves to duty, to effort, in the simplest things. We know that this is karma-yoga. We know that we must control the body from within, as well as our psychical impulses and our emotions, and keep the body clean and healthy, so that it be a fit instrument of the human spirit, and of the human soul. That is the real Hatha-yoga. We likewise know that to do our duty by ourselves and our fellow-men and by the glorious Movement to which we have dedicated ourselves, we must learn to give ourselves in devotion, in utter love, to the sublime objective — and this is Bhakti-yoga. We know that in order to understand life around us and our fellow-men, and our own selves, and the glorious truths of the laws of nature upon which nature herself is builded, we must study the sublime god-wisdom intellectually — Jñâna-yoga. We likewise know that to practice all these lower yogas we must arouse the feeling of love for self-discipline, finding marvelous joy in the fact that we can control ourselves, that we are men, striving to be masters of ourselves, and not slaves. We do not need to think twice about that idea. Look at the man who can control himself, and look at the man who cannot control himself: master and slave.
Yoga when properly understood is what we might call the moral, spiritual, intellectual, psychical, and the occult training that the Theosophist has, if he is worthy of the name Theosophist. Of course if he merely accepts the philosophy because it appeals to him, because he thinks it is logical and fine, and that nothing has yet overthrown it, he is simply what Pythagoras and the great men of his School would merely call akousmatikoi, “hearers,” “listeners.” This stage is indeed something, much, but lacks greatly of the higher degrees of understanding and development.
And the final yoga, the sixth, Brahma-yoga, is the one that most Theosophical chelas, disciples, aim for. It means taking all the best in the lower forms of yoga that we have just spoken of, unifying them into one as it were, carrying them all up and nailing them as it were to the Spirit within. The thought, the emotions, the wish, are fixed like the flag nailed to the mast. It cannot be hauled down: Brahma-yoga, union with Brahman, the Spirit; the Âtman.
I would like to point out one thing more: How is it that these particular forms of yoga exist always in India? All yoga in India is discipline, as stated, methods of training; and these arise mainly in the key-thought contained in what the Hindus called the greatest, grandest, most comprehensive verse in all the Vedas, in, 62, 10, of the Rig-Veda called the Gayatri, or often the Savitri. This the Hindu recites upon rising in the morning, after he makes his ablutions, before he sleeps at night. Occidental Orientalists do not understand why the Hindus so reverently regard these two Sanskrit lines in the Rig-Veda. But the reason is that the Rig-Veda is the chiefest of the Vedas; and, said the Hindus, within these two lines, are the heart of Rig-Veda. In Sanskrit they run thus:
Tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi,
Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat.
And they mean this (I will give a close translation, only slightly paraphrased, so that you will get the heart of the great Rig-Vedic verse out of which sprang all Hindu philosophy, and all Hindu yoga.):
“That lofty inner soul of the god’s sun, may it unite the thoughts of us, its offspring, and urge us into that union, the union of the lower with the superior, of the individual with the spirit of man, with divinity.” When this union or yoga is won, achieved, then we have those grand cases of god-men, or men-gods: Jesus the Avatâra, Krishna, Buddha-Gautama and all the other Buddhas; even Apollonius of Tyana — there have been hundreds. When this union is less complete, we have the great Teachers, less great than those just spoken of, but great.
Out of this one phrase, this one yoga, as the Sanskrit word is, of the Rig-Veda, sprang all the philosophy and religion and occult science of archaic India, all the systems of training by which men have sought to ally that divine solar spark with themselves, to become in individualized union with the cosmic Spirit — first with Father Sun, and then with the Spirit Universal. For so reverent were these ancients, that nought in them was divorced from divinity. Every atom, every stone, every animal, every man, every deva or god, whatever it be, high or low or intermediate, was a child of the cosmic heart of Being, and could by degrees rise higher and higher into the self-conscious union, yoga with THAT. And when this glorious consummation is achieved, then you have a man-god, a god-man.
These thoughts are not anything particularly unique in Hindusthan. On the contrary, they are commonplaces of archaic and modern Theosophy. They were commonplaces actually of the Stoics, of the Platonists, and of other schools of Greece and Rome. They have been known from immemorial time in Egypt and Persia. Read the ancient writings of these folks.
Yoga therefore, is training, discipline, by which that holiest of all human possibilities may be achieved: growth from manhood, expansion out of manhood, into godhood, divinity, which in our highest we already are. We simply become our highest selves. That is yoga achieved. I and my Father are one. Any Christ says the same. Any Buddha makes the same declaration. When you understand the profound wisdom behind it, there is nought of egoism in it. It is the spirit speaking through the lips of devotion in man.
— G. de Purucker, The Theosophical Forum, March 1940
Theosophy and Eastern Yoga
I strongly advise you to give up all yoga practices, which in almost all cases have disastrous results. . . . You have learnt, to a certain degree, the power of concentration, and the greatest help will now come to you from concentration upon the Higher Self, and aspiration toward the Higher Self. Also if you will take some subject or sentence from the Bhagavat-Gita, and concentrate your mind upon that and meditate upon it, you will find much good result from it, and there is no danger in such concentration. . .
What then is the panacea finally, the royal talisman? It is DUTY, Selfless-ness. Duty persistently followed is the highest yoga, and is better than . . . any other thing. If you can do no more than duty it will bring you to the goal. — William Q. Judge
We are frequently asked by inquirers if Theosophy teaches Oriental methods of Yoga, or whether it recommends them to seekers for spiritual wisdom. This is not an unnatural question because it is well known that the Theosophical Society was established under the direction of certain Oriental Masters of Wisdom, Compassion, and Peace. While we may say at once that the yoga-methods usually known by that name in the West have no place in the work or teaching of the Theosophical Society, the subject is sufficiently important to invite our consideration, even if only to clear up possible misunderstandings. Theosophy, indeed, has a system of spiritual development. In fact, it is the only system that is suitable for all people of whatever race or shade of opinion. If anyone chooses to call it ‘yoga’ it must be understood that it does not resemble what is commonly thought of over here when the word ‘yoga’ is spoken.
The Masters who founded the Theosophical Society are perfectly familiar with the ordinary physical and psychological yoga, but they have never permitted its introduction into the activities of the Society; what is called ‘sitting for yoga’ has always been rigorously discountenanced, and for good reasons. There are, however, perfectly safe and sane methods of studying ourselves and learning much about our inner consciousness, which are open to anyone who reads the sacred books of the East, including, we may say, the New Testament. Though sometimes the word ‘yoga’ is connected with these studies they must not be confused with the yoga just mentioned.
The lower form of yoga, best known in the West, is the yoga of bodily control or Hatha-yoga. According to the practitioners of Hatha-yoga, long and arduous concentration on control of the body and certain of its forces, which are unknown to Western science, is necessary before even mental training can begin, and actually with many so-called yogis mental purification is not their chief ambition. While this self-centered kind of yoga may develop willpower, it begins at the wrong end and strengthens the egotism of personal acquisition which is already lively enough. Hatha-yoga tries to develop astral sight and other changes in brain-consciousness by forcibly controlling the vibrations of matter. This is injurious to the working of the higher spiritual centers of the brain because of the strain upon the comparatively intractable matter of the body, and it also has other serious dangers.
Theosophy begins with moral and spiritual training and never loses sight of it. This cannot be said of Hatha-yoga, which handles the physical vehicle in order to acquire power, and not to attain the purification of the mind and emotions for the sake of humanity. It forces the control of respiration, an exercise which arouses strange forces of menacing potency. Many records are available of cases where dabbling with breath-control produced disastrous consequences, followed too late by bitter regret for the disregard of friendly warnings. Such unhappy reactions arise from ignorant and selfish L efforts to snatch forbidden powers — forbidden to the normal human being in the present phase of evolution — before their development is safe and in natural order. Criticisms of the much advertised ‘yoga-breathing’ do not, of course, refer to the perfectly proper methods pursued in the West in athletic training or under medical advice.
When the right time comes for the use of the inner powers by a few advanced souls — a very few at present because of the prevailing egotism, the enemy of man — they gradually develop and are seen to be a perfectly natural expression of the god within. Theosophical history contains examples of this legitimate form of evolution. One case was that of a spiritually and intellectually advanced Hindu lad who came to Madame Blavatsky’s assistance more than fifty years ago, when she was in India bringing out her first journal under great difficulties, chiefly from the lack of qualified helpers. He abandoned his Brahmanical, proud, and exclusive caste, and brilliant worldly prospects, to devote himself to hard work for Theosophy, whose immense importance to his country and to the world he deeply realized. He utterly repudiated the allurements of yoga, knowing that he had found an infinitely higher path to truth and wisdom, the path of pure devotion to the betterment of humanity. His sincerity quickly attracted the notice of the Masters of Wisdom, Compassion, and Peace, and they saw fit to give him personal attention. Gradually, and without straining, he found unknown capacities and powers naturally awakening and becoming available for the greater responsibilities and opportunities for service that soon came to him. The career of Damodar K. Mavalankar is honored by all Theosophists as a shining example of true discipleship and its triumphant fulfilment. In his case, as in that of all advanced souls who have killed out egotism and transmuted desire into spiritual energy, the higher powers he acquired were perfectly normal; and as they had never been coveted or sought for their own sake, so they were never displayed as inducements to others.
A few words more about Hatha-yoga are necessary because there is so much misunderstanding about yoga in general, and there are so many cunning sirens tempting the unwary with their alluring songs. The word yoga attracts the ill-informed by the wide advertising it gets through paid advertisements and the promise of acquiring psychic powers, ‘success’ in life, and so forth. Many clairvoyants, more or less genuine, practise under the name of yogi, but should be regarded as plain fortune-tellers. For one serious and valuable book on the spiritual yoga-philosophy of the Orient, dozens are produced which pander to an unhealthy curiosity about yoga, the authors seeming utterly careless as to whether the practices they recommend are dangerous or not — possibly being ignorant themselves in many cases — so long as they can produce a salable book. Perhaps the worst publications are the correspondence courses of so-called ‘Secret Lessons’ which promise adeptship, or, at least, mystic knowledge and the power of getting what you want at twenty-five dollars up! Some promise initiation for two dollars — a real bargain!
If yoga meant nothing but a low-grade psychism, a common dollar-philosophy, or a few hints on hypnotism for control of others; or if it only suggested Hindus lying on spikes or performing the mango-trick for the benefit of tourists (and incidentally for their own pockets) there would be no reason for these remarks, for everyone knows that Theosophy is worlds away from such quackery.
There is, however, another aspect of yoga, not spurious or fraudulent, and not professing to be a spiritual or even an ethical system, but a purely scientific method of artificially awakening certain dormant psychological faculties unknown to Western science. It is practised by certain Tibetan lamas of less spiritual orders, and by other yogis. It has, of course, no place in the program of the Theosophical Movement, but it calls for a little attention.
In the West, until lately, little or no notice was taken of Oriental psychology, or perhaps more properly, psychoanalysis, but now a few distinguished scholars, such as Dr. Carl Jung, are beginning to realize that Western psychology is a mere infant in comparison with that of the hoary East, especially in regard to the complex nature of man. This is perhaps largely due to the strange disregard of Reincarnation, without which no understanding of our true nature is possible. The discoveries of Oriental science were not made by the study of dreams in the clinic of the psychoanalyst, or through the investigation of insanity, but by the direct observation of the consciousness of the observer himself, a more profitable though more difficult method. Unfortunately, many side-issues on the line of yoga have developed from these discoveries which are an unprofitable and often highly dangerous field of investigation for the ordinary inquirer, however scientific and well-prepared in Western psychology he may be. He little suspects the strain on the moral as well as the mental qualities that the untrained and self-sufficient would have to stand. Those so-called ‘yogas’ are no less unprofitable to those who are seeking spiritual knowledge and have no time to waste. Even an apparently harmless yoga-system, if such be known, leads into a blind alley, if not worse.
Some of the Hindu and Lamaistic systems, while claiming to be efficient methods of getting behind the outer veil of Nature, are no more spiritual than, say, chemistry, but are strictly scientific, and, like chemistry, are capable of being employed for the most abominable purposes. Mme Alexandra David-Neel, the eminent French scholar and leading authority on Tibetan Yoga, and also other qualified observers, describe many cases where revenge, vanity, vulgar ambition, and hatred, were the motives that inspired the practitioners or would-be practitioners of scientific yoga. Even the better class of yoga (as well as Hatha-yoga) is associated in the public mind with notions of Hindu beggars, cross-legged and ash-smeared, with fire-walking, snake-charming, and so forth. It is a well-known fact that a large proportion of Eastern yogis — not only Hatha-yogis — have not only renounced the vanities of this world but have ceased to take any interest in the general welfare of humanity so completely that it would seem that the unhappy world may go to the devil its own way for all they care. All their time is devoted to their own salvation. This line of conduct is, of course, not universally followed, and we must remember that it is not unknown in Christian countries. It always defeats its own ends.
Such a self-centered attitude is the very last thing that a yoga of a Theosophical kind would inspire in anyone. A true yoga would mean a sympathetic and thorough understanding of human nature and human needs. It would mean the wise application of this knowledge to the service of humanity by one who has attained what is sometimes called Raja-yoga, the kingly union with man’s inner god. An Orientalist has said, “Buddhism is fundamentally a system of practically applied yoga.” If so, true yoga means the study and practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, the magnificent moral and spiritual teaching of the Buddha, in which devotion to the higher interests of humanity is the first duty, and concentration on one’s own petty personality the worst folly. For the Buddha himself abandoned the peaceful solitudes to answer the challenge of suffering mankind, as soon as he obtained Enlightenment.
Egotism is the greatest hindrance to spiritual progress, and when the commoner forms of ambition or appetite are overpassed, more subtil desires appear, such as the craving for exclusive and confidential information, or personal power in unusual directions. Anxiety to possess psychic powers for personal gratification is a serious bar to progress, even though disguised under specious pretexts. Our motives are not always so pure as we like to fancy, and the lower selfish part of our complex natures is exceedingly cunning in getting its own way. We have made personal acquisitiveness, personal desire, the mainspring of action, and we know the result. We reap the harvest we have sown. The yoga that the world is needing is one that makes altruism, love for others, self-sacrifice, a habit.
We are sometimes asked, Did not Madame Blavatsky, the founder of your Society, go to India to study yoga? No, she did not go to India in 1878, after establishing the Theosophical Society in America, to learn anything from Oriental yogis. She went to take the yoga of Universal Brotherhood to the East, which sorely needed it, in spite of all its thousands of yogis. She went, under the direction of the Masters of Wisdom, who are international and without partiality, to arouse India from its spiritual slumber, to answer the call of many who hungered for a higher interpretation of the ancient Hindu scriptures, the allegories of which had been perverted into superstitious dogmas. Many leading societies of native Sanskrit scholars welcomed her to their fellowship, and the strange sight was seen of proud Brahmanas, exclusive and self-sufficient to a degree, recognising her as a teacher, she, a foreigner, an ‘outcaste,’ and — a woman! She was publicly thanked by them on many occasions and honored by many tributes. One of these, tendered by more than three hundred Hindu students at a college at Madras, begins: “We are conscious that we are giving but a feeble expression to the debt of endless gratitude which India lies under to you. . . .” That was more than fifty years ago, but India and Ceylon have not forgotten her and what she did to arouse the dormant spirituality there.
William Q. Judge wrote that modern India was not to be regarded as a source of spirituality. He said:
It is not the desire of the Brotherhood that those members of the Theosophical movement who have, under their rights, taken up a belief in the messengers and the message should become pilgrims to India. To arouse that thought was not the work nor the wish of H. P. B. Nor is it the desire of the Lodge to have members think that Eastern methods are to be followed, Eastern habits adopted, or the present East made the model or the goal. The West has its own duty, its own life and development.
Quite recently a brilliant journalistic writer and student of the occult searched India from North to South to find wisdom. He found many alleged yogis, mostly self-seekers or frauds who have discredited the name of yogi among the younger generation of Hindus and the educated classes; he found a few real psychics or magicians of a low order; and a very few sincerely thoughtful men who were not ‘showing off’ in any way. The best one of these did not recommend yoga-practices, but gave good advice on self-control as the path to higher knowledge. So far as it went, this was good Theosophy — which the journalist could have found at home, by the way, in Madame Blavatsky’s little book of devotion, The Voice of the Silence, in Dr. de Purucker’s Golden Precepts of Esotericism, or elsewhere in Theosophical literature, where the path of discipleship is plainly set forth in a way that is equally suitable for all peoples, Oriental or Occidental. Further, though this researcher heard much of concentration, he found no emphasis laid on that unselfish, beneficent concentration which is the fundamental teaching of the true Masters — concentration on the spread of Universal Brotherhood among the nations of the world.
When the Hindu sage, previously mentioned, was asked by the journalist how to make spiritual progress, he replied:
There is only one thing to be done. Look within yourself. Do this in the right way and you shall find the answer to all your problems. You have to ask yourself, Who am I? Know the real Self, and then the truth will shine forth within your heart like sunshine. The mind will become untroubled and real happiness will flood it, for happiness and the true self are identical.
That is excellent Theosophy, so far as it goes. But without further explanation it could easily be misinterpreted to mean sitting in solitary indifference and looking at a spot on the wall. “Do this in the right way,” he said — but what is the right way? Why did he not boldly proclaim the truth that the only right way to bring the sunshine into the heart is to broaden our sympathies by active service to a world which needs it badly?
In Theosophy we have the true spiritual yoga which saves us from our lower selves by leading us out of egotistical concentration on personal concerns into a larger life. There is no need to struggle for initiation by force; it is prepared for by the right use of the opportunities of daily life. This requires a sympathetic imagination which can understand the sufferings as well as the joys of others, and which knows how to help wisely. How shall we develop this godlike power? All the Great Teachers have given us the true method. The present Leader of the Theosophical Society has condensed it into a few words: “LEARN TO LOVE. LEARN TO FORGIVE.” Our duty is to send this, and all that it implies, ringing round the world. If we make this principle the basis of our lives — a living power — we cannot wander from the true path of progress, and in due time intuition and all the higher psychic powers we need will develop within us because we can be trusted not to misuse them.
We have to fight our own battles, for it is said: “the adept becomes, he is not made.” But we can get help; we can find a Teacher whose advice will prevent us from wandering from the straight path if we are willing to take it wholeheartedly, one who can hasten our progress by bringing our hidden weaknesses to our attention. This is not always pleasant, for the real Teacher does not humor the egotism of anyone and the truth about one’s lower nature is usually anything but flattering when honestly faced. On the other hand, constant practice in self-discipline gradually reveals the fact that the egotistical side is only the shadow of the true man, and that we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by putting an end to its tyranny.
At a critical epoch, when the old medieval theology was breaking up and a mechanistic science was threatening to destroy all vestiges of spirituality in the West (and it very nearly did so), the Masters of Wisdom established the Theosophical Society, in order, as was stated, “to keep alive in man his spiritual intuitions.” They called together a few devoted souls and gave them the opportunity to bring hope and light to thousands. But no personal reward was offered, such as immediate intercourse with the Mahatmans, psychic powers, perfect physical health or prosperity — nothing but the deep satisfaction that comes from unselfish work in promoting a genuine Universal Brotherhood and all the blessings that it implies. In Theosophy the beginning of wisdom is self-forgetfulness. H. P. Blavatsky and her successors have been uncompromising in their warfare; they gave no quarter to the lower selfish desires. She proclaimed: “To live to benefit mankind is the first step,” and “Can there be bliss when all that lives must suffer? Shalt thou be saved and hear the whole world cry?” Do not make any mistake. Membership and progress in the Theosophical Movement means just that, and if one has no response in the heart to that appeal, no corresponding throb of joy at hearing of this unique opportunity to do something of real value, however little at first, membership in the Theosophical Society will give meager satisfaction.
In a series of communications made many years ago, the great Initiates who are behind the Theosophical Movement broke their traditional silence and gave out teachings about man and Nature that were hitherto unknown. They also gave an outline of their system of training for discipleship which is applicable to all, whether in the East or the West. In a few sentences written by H. P. Blavatsky we find this briefly expressed:
To merit the honorable title of Theosophist one must be an altruist above all. The duty of every Theosophist is certainly to help others to carry their burden. The Theosophist must himself be a center of spiritual action. Self-sacrifice is the highest standard of Theosophy.
Speaking of the way to bring this about, she says:
And what may be the duty of a Theosophist to himself? To control and conquer, through the Higher, the lower self. To purify himself inwardly and morally; to fear no one, and nought, save the tribunal of his own conscience.
One of the Mahatmans, in correcting the mistaken notion of a new member of the Theosophical Society, who asked for yoga-methods by which to get psychic powers, explained that the dynamic energy which gives the Movement strength to stand any shock is not the craving for personal advantages but:
— Love, an Immense Love for humanity — as a Whole! For it is “Humanity” which is the great Orphan, the only disinherited one upon this earth, my friend. And it is the duty of every man who is capable of an unselfish impulse, to do something, however little, for its welfare. — K. H. in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 52
Another (and a greater Master) confirmed this in these words:
It is not the individual determined purpose of attaining [for] oneself Nirvana (the culmination of all knowledge and absolute wisdom) which is after all only an exalted and glorious selfishness — but the self-sacrificing pursuit of the best means to lead in the right path our neighbor, to cause as many of our fellow-creatures as we possibly can to benefit by it, which constitutes the true Theosophist.
The same high Initiate added that the Masters would rather see the Theosophical Society perish “than become no better than an academy of magic or a hall of occultism,” and in spite of all the lures of various side-issues it has remained faithful to its trust, thanks largely to the determination and unshaken loyalty to its original principles of H. P. Blavatsky, and those who followed her example.
Doing something for others, unselfish work to raise the spiritual standard of the world is, then, the true yoga, the yoga of Theosophy. The world is our home. It needs our help, and we shall not get away from it quickly. The urgent question for all who think seriously is: Am I becoming more useful, more capable of giving the help that is demanded of me?
— C. J. Ryan, The Theosophical Forum, June 1936
Indian Yoga and the Modern World
In one of Dr. Paul Brunton’s earlier works, A Search in Secret India, he says that although Yoga “is one of the most valuable inheritances India has received from her ancient sages,” if it is “to remain the hobby of a few hermits the modern world will have no use for it and the last traces of the sacred science will disappear.” The West will ignore it and the new India will abandon it. Readers of that widely read study of Indian yogis will remember that the author was profoundly impressed at first by the mental peace shown by the Maharishi of Arunchala, “a saintly yogi who had perfected himself in indifference to worldly attractions and in the control of the restless mind.” But after further experience he has concluded that the effort to attain such a goal was not a justifiable one if it led to nothing of practical benefit to humanity at large.
Dr. Brunton’s latest book, The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, is the result of long experience in theoretical observation of Indian yoga and in its actual practice, and his previous works must be regarded as descriptions or expressions of the stages through which he has traveled in reaching a higher altitude. Its title conveys the realization that humanity can reach a far more all-round development than the limited outlook offered by the yogis. It is surely the most important contribution the author has yet made to occult literature and to the cause of social welfare, and we are glad that a further development will follow in a second volume. It is both critical and constructive in showing that certain mental disciplines of Indian yoga might be extremely useful when the terrible conditions now prevailing have passed and men of good-will are called upon to redeem the world from the nightmare of materialistic thought and action we have brought upon ourselves. For any artificial culture of psychic powers, sometimes mistaken for yoga, a terrible menace in this hotbed of passion and emotion, Dr. Brunton has of course no sympathy, and his presentation of yoga has no element which could appeal to the curiosity-seeker or the psychic researcher. He broadly defines yoga as “a Sanskrit word which appertains to various techniques of self-discipline involving mental concentration and leading to mystic experiences or intuitions,” but he emphasizes the warning that though these experiences may help to thin the veil between the ordinary consciousness and its profounder reaches they are certain to mislead unless strictly controlled and checked by the discriminating analysis of a mind trained by the methods of certain great Sages of old, and by practical experience and service in the world of men. The visions of “yogis,” whether in the Orient or among the Christian saints, or among certain Western seers or “sensitives” or even those of so-called “primitive” races, are rarely balanced by logical thinking, with the result that so many differences of opinion prevail about their correct interpretation. The Mahatman K. H. strongly emphasizes this in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 276. The need for the scientific and philosophical teaching of the Sages which we call “technical” Theosophy is apparent.
The author’s final conclusion, after years of personal experience of yoga-states and wide acquaintance with genuine yogis, is that while there is much to say for a disciplined yoga training, freed from emotionalism, curiosity hunting, superstition, and “the miraculous,” its real usefulness lies in its practical methods of mind concentration, the control of the restlessness of the mind which is our greatest hindrance in hearing the Inner Voice. He does not disguise the danger of yoga becoming a mere personal gratification and a turning into ashes in the mouth, “a shriveling complacency accompanied by an open disdain for life’s practical fulfilment in disinterested service of others.” He repeats the old teaching that the withdrawal from the pleasures of the senses to the more subtil enjoyments of self-centered isolation is no self-abnegation at all. He quotes the well-known and cultured yogi, Sri Aurobindo: “Trance is a way of escape — the body is made quiet, the physical mind is in a state of torpor. . . [but] . . . The disadvantage is that trance becomes indispensable and that the problem of waking consciousness is not solved; it remains imperfect.”
Speaking from the logic of critical reflexion and somewhat painful experience, he writes:
I became acutely aware that mysticism was not enough by itself to transform or even discipline human character or to exalt its ethical standards towards a satisfactory ideal. It was unable to link itself thoroughly to life in the external world! . . . Even the emotional exaltations of mystical ecstacy — wonderfully satisfying though they be — were fleeting both in experience and effect and have proved insufficient to ennoble men permanently. The disdain for practical action and the disinclination to accept personal responsibility which marked the character of real mystics prevented them from testing the truth of their knowledge as well as the worth of their attainments and left them suspended in mid-air, as it were. Without the healthy opposition of active participation in the world’s affairs, they had no means of knowing whether they were living in a realm of sterilized self-hallucination or not . . . The true sage could be no anemic dreamer but would incessantly transform the seeds of his wisdom into visible and tangible plants of acts well done. — p. 25
The latter, of course, is the essential teaching of the true “Raja Yogis,” the Masters of Wisdom, and Compassion, who established the Theosophical Movement and its humble instrument, the Theosophical Society, to bring “Truth, Light and Liberation” to a world in sore need of them.
We have always admired the Zen system of Buddhism, and it is gratifying to find that Dr. Brunton accepts the Japanese Zen as a sensible and beneficial system free from the objections that apply to much of the Indian yoga. In Zen the students are given active duties as well as discipline in meditation, and after a period of training they are returned in most cases to the outside world, equipped with the power of sustained concentration and a desirable balance of the inner and the outer faculties that make them successful and respected citizens. A few adopt the monastic life but all made spiritual contacts by which their lives are permanently enriched.
What, then, is the balancing philosophy which is needed if Eastern Yoga training in concentration of mind, etc., is to be any use in the daily life of the world? “Disenchanted,” as the author says, “by long experience of certain ashrams and ascetics,” and no longer “confusing yogis with sages — as most of us do,” he was led, largely by the help and example of a truly great and spiritual philosopher-ruler, the late Maharaja of Mysore, to such ancient teachings as the Mandukya Upanishad, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Ashtavakra Samhita, Sankaracharya’s writings, etc., which contain what he calls “The Hidden Teachings Beyond Yoga,” the teaching of “the yoga of philosophic discernment” . . . “philosophic disciplines using the intense concentration generated by yoga practice but directed toward freeing the mind of its innate ignorance and habitual error”: in short to develop the fullest powers of insight. He says he is not writing for cloistered pedants of academic metaphysics but for the intelligent “man in the street” who is taking thought for the meaning of life; and therefore he has avoided technical language as far as possible, without sacrificing accuracy or depth — an example many writers on philosophy would do well to follow.
The great Hindu scriptures mentioned as of such transcendent importance by Dr. Brunton are not unfamiliar to Theosophists. The Bhagavad-Gita., for instance, has been the subject of almost universal and intensive study since the early days of the Theosophical Society. The teaching that is “Beyond Yoga,” but for which yoga concentration of mind is no doubt a good preparation, is not a new revelation, as Dr. Brunton says, for it is enshrined in the works mentioned, but unfortunately its meaning has not been properly understood by Western scholars and still less by the general reader unless enlightened by the teachings of Theosophy. If we understand Dr. Brunton correctly, the Theosophical discipline and outlook is practically the same as his “yoga of philosophical discernment” adapted to the comprehension of the Western mind. We are, however, looking forward with interest to the second volume of this study, where more complete interpretation is promised.
After a careful consideration of the modern developments in science, education, transport facilities, inventions, etc., which have transformed our social conditions and mental outlook, and especially the widespread increase, under the baleful influence of materialism, of the despairing feeling that there is no purpose in human life, the author declares that this is the time when the ancient “Aryan” knowledge must be brought to the West “to help the better cultured classes act more wisely that something nobler may emerge . . . toward a finer human world.” This is true indeed, but it is not exactly new, for the Theosophical Movement was started in 1875 to promote human welfare on “Aryan” lines of thought, spiritual, intellectual and practical. At that time only a minute coterie of scholars in the West knew anything about these principles, and few regarded them as anything more than an abstruse field of linguistic and ethnological research. The Theosophical activities called popular attention to the Wisdom of the East, and in the few years that have elapsed since H. P. Blavatsky brought her message it has produced far-reaching results by giving hope and encouragement to an immense number of discouraged people as well as by powerfully affecting the religious, scientific, and social ideas of our age. The Theosophical Movement was established by Hindu Sages, not “hibernating hermits,” but philanthropists of the highest compassion and wisdom, whose aims and ideals are universal in scope and application. These Masters of Life “have made the age-old cause of all mankind their own” and are not “ascetically indifferent” to the social welfare and evolution of the world in its common everyday experiences and tribulations. According to Dr. Brunton, this can hardly be said of many of the self-centered and self-sufficient Hindu yogis, pure-minded and mystically inclined though they may be, and untainted by the selfish desire to be reverenced for their possession of strange powers.
In the last chapter, “The Philosophic Life,” the author discusses the woes of the world and its crying need for a true and dynamic philosophy of life, one which would be recognised and accepted by men of action and leadership. But, as he writes, the ground for such a world-philosophy must be prepared by a voluntary clearance on the part of the organized religions of their labyrinth of traditional rubbish and a complete reorganization of their methods. The Unity of the Universe must be recognised, and this implies the divinity of man because he is an integral part of it — some would say of God, but the author prefers a term he has suggested, the Overself. He insists that the laws of Cause and Effect, Perfect Justice — Karman — and Reincarnation must be understood and lived up to. Fully to accept the law of Karman — you reap what you sow, and nothing else — is of the utmost importance for it is a natural and inescapable fact from which we shall suffer and suffer until we recognise it. Every day we are shaping our future conditions and history by our thoughts and deeds — fortunate if they are good, unhappy if they are selfish. The only way to change one’s life for the better is to take the bull by the horns and change one’s way of thinking, as he says. All this is good sound Theosophy, though Dr. Brunton does not use the word even though its antecedents in classical thought are excellent and expressive of his views. We notice that he avoids any reference to or consideration of the seven (or four) kosas or “principles” of man’s complex nature as given in Oriental philosophy, which have been found so illuminating by Theosophists in their study of the subtilities of human psychology and universal consciousness.
Dr. Brunton strikes a profound Theosophical keynote of action when he says that the key to happiness is forgetting oneself. He sums up his ethical position in the words: “It is the duty of the strong to assist the weak, of the advanced to help the backward, of the saintly to guide the sinful, of the wealthy to enlighten the ignorant. And because ignorance is the root of all other troubles, therefore the Buddha pointed out that, “explaining and spreading the truth is above all charities.” ” This, of course, is the “practical charity” which is the Theosophical ideal, the most effective way to bring about a permanent condition of universal brotherhood. The reason why the Theosophical Society as a philanthropic organization is more concerned in spreading the light of Theosophy in this Dark Age than in extending material assistance is that the latter can only be a temporary alleviation or “appeasement,” to use a popular expression, so long as human ignorance and selfishness remain unchanged. Members of Theosophical societies, as individuals, may and do help in any charitable work they prefer, for as H. P. Blavatsky says in The Voice of the Silence, “Inaction in a deed of mercy is action in a deadly sin.”
Dr. Brunton calls for a remedy for “the malady of human suffering,” and he clearly indicates that the remedy lies in the active participation of men of “goodwill” and wisdom in the work of redemption. For instance, he writes:
The sages who have gone looked within self in the quest of abiding reality rather than fitful experience, of final truth rather than emotional satisfaction . . . hence they alone found the genuine goal. And because they did not flee as did mystics from the vexing problem of the world, they solved that too at the same startling moment that the self was understood. . . . Thenceforth they made the age-old cause of all mankind their own.
This is excellent so far as it goes, and knowledge of the Self, even in part, is essential for a true Teacher. We must remember, however, that such an understanding is not gained by merely intellectual processes, nor can the search be entered upon without a higher inspiration if it is to succeed. According to the teaching and example of the Great Ones, the Buddhas and the Christs, the first and most important qualification for discipleship in “the age-old cause of all mankind” is to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” or, in Buddhism, to obey the highest of its rules of conduct or Paramitas, “Dana, the key of charity and love immortal,” and as H. P. Blavatsky gives it in The Voice of the Silence, “To live to benefit mankind is the first step,” and “Compassion speaks and saith: “Can there be bliss when all that lives must suffer? Shalt thou be saved and hear the whole world cry?” ”
We hope that in his forthcoming volume Dr. Brunton will emphasize this fundamental teaching of all the Saviors of humanity without which the candidate for even the highest psycho-intellectual states of consciousness is always in danger of being led into unproductive bypaths toward what is called the pratyeka condition. Dr. Brunton has certainly deserved gratitude and has done excellent service in this volume by courageously presenting the matured judgment of an expert in Hindu Yoga at the risk of inevitable misunderstanding, as he tells us. By his frankly critical but constructive and not unfriendly analysis he has cleared up many obscurities and helped greatly in exposing the false and fantastic notions about yoga so prevalent in the west.
Amid the wreckage of outworn forms of thought the world is blindly reaching for a nobler philosophy of life. If it would realize the admirable principles so skilfully and earnestly put forward here, which are practically those of Theosophy, and put them into practice, we should indeed begin to see the “Promised Land”!
— C. J. Ryan, The Theosophical Forum, July 1942
Tibetan Yoga: I
In this Transition Age, we, who have the good fortune of being here to watch the new developments and to do our share in their unfoldment, are naturally interested in the progress of scientific discovery and the steady advance of the new science — a philosophic science — toward the Ancient Wisdom. But there is a still more important change taking place in the high intellectual regions of Western thought which likewise is directly traceable to the untiring work of the Theosophical Movement, outwardly started by H. P. Blavatsky in 1875, but originated and constantly energized by the Masters of Wisdom. This change is shown by the new attitude of Western scholarship to the philosophy and Yoga teachings of Tibet. Not many years ago the stories of mysteries and magic in Tibet were utterly ridiculed by serious scholars; it was not respectable to listen to them in academic good society, or perhaps anywhere. The deadly, stodgy opposition from which H. P. Blavatsky suffered so terribly, largely arose from the complete ignorance of such possibilities on the part of the Western cultivated classes, elated and enthusiastic over the triumphs of materialistic science. “There ain’t no sich animal,” as the farmer said, and when H. P. Blavatsky said there was and that she could prove it — well, the natural consequences followed.
When Col. Olcott, the then President of the Theosophical Society, interviewed the great Sanskrit authority, Max Müller, about fifty years ago, the latter pleaded with him to advise the scholars in the Theosophical Society to abandon their belief that there was anything more in the Hindu Scriptures than what appeared on the surface, or that there could be any basis for esoteric or occult interpretations of them, as claimed by the ‘superstitious’ Hindus.
Today, however, we find great Orientalists not only accepting as a matter of course the existence of yogis possessing some occult powers, but whole-heartedly speaking of esoteric interpretations of the Hindu Scriptures, and some, like Mme Alexandra David-Néel, even claiming personal, though limited, knowledge of the rationale of certain psycho-magical processes. Dr. Richard Wilhelm the great German Sinologist, Dr. Carl Jung the psychologist, Sir Wallis Budge, late Egyptologist to the British Museum, and others, have given open support to the fact of that Eastern occult knowledge which was regarded as the purest superstition before H. P. Blavatsky began “to break the molds of mind” in the West. Today we see an audience of eminent scientists in England seriously studying the ‘impossible’ Fire-Walk and finding it a fact, but also finding no physical explanation!
The latest revelation of Oriental psychology is Dr. Evans-Wentz’s Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. 1 This is the third volume of a trilogy, the others being The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and Tibet’s Great Yogi, Milarepa, also published by the Oxford University Press. Thus, as Dr. Marett says in the Foreword, in regard to the collaboration between the author, or ‘editor’ as he modestly calls himself, and his Tibetan teacher, the late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup, the translator:
Its fruit is the trilogy of substantial works, based on translations from the Tibetan, and accompanied by an interpretation from within such as demands something even rarer with Western scholars than the ordinary scholarly equipment, namely, a sympathetic insight transcending the prejudices which render the average man antipathetic to any type of unfamiliar experience.
This is hardly surprising in view of the fact that Dr. Evans-Wentz has been closely associated for many years with the teachings of Theosophy and the International Headquarters at Point Loma, and that he has also spent much time in India in the intensive study of the Yoga philosophy at first hand.
Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines consists of seven treatises translated from the Tibetan and “representing a more or less comprehensive and unified expression of the most important tenets of Mahayanic Buddhism,” elucidated by a masterly Commentary and exhaustive explanatory footnotes by Dr. Evans-Wentz. The translation was made by the Lama Dawa-Samdup, assisted by the editor, and the difficulty of rendering subtil philosophical and technical Tibetan expressions into good English has been brilliantly overcome. The Lama was an initiate of the Kargyutpa School of Mahayana or Northern Buddhism and had profound practical knowledge of the Yoga philosophy and methods. He was, therefore, unusually qualified to help in the interpretation of Tibetan esoteric doctrines and secret lore hitherto hardly known, if at all, outside the precincts of Lamaism. They are not easy of comprehension by the Westerner, with the exception of a few students of Theosophy, or the like.
Dr. Evans-Wentz speaks very highly of his Tibetan guru’s learning and marvelous interpretive ability, and of his splendid spirit of helpfulness and desire to serve by bequeathing these translations of the abstruse doctrines of “the master minds,” so-called, of Tibetan Lamaism. Mme David-Néel was also associated with the Lama Dawa-Samdup, of whom she gives an account that shows he was a quaint and unique character. He ended his days as Professor of Tibetan at the University of Calcutta.
The Lama is a valuable witness in defense of H. P. Blavatsky against the absurd charges made in her lifetime that she invented the teachings of Theosophy. In his Tibetan Book of the Dead, Dr. Evans-Wentz says:
The late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup was of opinion that, despite the adverse criticisms directed against H. P. Blavatsky’s works, there is adequate internal evidence in them of their author’s intimate acquaintance with the higher lamaistic teachings into which she claimed to have been initiated.
We venture to suggest that, while the Lama was right so far as he goes, H. P. Blavatsky belonged to a far higher Order, and a far nobler, than the term ‘lamaistic’ suggests.
The seven treatises are arranged in a definite order, though each can be profitably studied by itself, but they are not all of similar origin. The first four are from the Kargyutpa School of the Mahayana or ‘Great Path,’ and are decidedly interesting to students of Theosophy. Dr. Evans-Wentz says that the entire Seven, however, “represent a more or less comprehensive and unified expression of the most important tenets of Mahayanic Buddhism, some of which in the form herein presented are as yet unknown to the Occident save for a few fragmentary extracts.”
Much, if not all, of the Kargyutpa Treatises are fairly in harmony with the Theosophical teachings on inner development, but parts of the others deal with extremely perilous psychological exercises which cannot be attempted safely, if at all, without an adept teacher and without the previous attainment, after almost incredible labor, of a power of self-control hardly conceivable in the West. These parts treat of occult forces, and of powers that are said, perhaps with truth, to arise as by-products of deep insight into occult laws or of spiritual development, but we are compelled to state that high spiritual Teachers would never give the real facts outside the privacy of the asrama. Most of the Treatises which touch on these matters are derived from the primitive unreformed Bonpa sources. The Bon religion, as H. P. Blavatsky mentions it, is:
itself a degenerated remnant of the Chaldean mysteries of old, now a religion entirely based upon necromancy, sorcery and soothsaying. The introduction of Buddha’s name into it means nothing. — The Complete Works of H. P. Blavatsky, III, 271
The Ritualistic Texts contain instructions for the development of occult knowledge little or not at all known in the West, such as immunity from fire, levitation, materializing of thought-forms, “transfer of consciousness,” and the Tummo, or the control of bodily temperature. In the last case the yogi keeps warm and comfortable while sitting on the snow in a furious blizzard with the temperature far below zero! Mme David-Neel describes her observations of this feat, and even mentions her own application of the Tummo to a limited degree when caught without fuel in a Tibetan wilderness!
The Fifth Treatise, which largely comes down from the pre-Buddhistic Bon faith, presents the Chod Rite of the ‘short path’ method, a desperate method of rapidly breaking the fetters of Maya and separateness by the mystical sacrifice of the body to the elementals, which sometimes brings insanity or death to the impatient venturer. Mme David-Neel gives a rather horrifying account of personal experiences in connexion with Chod in Magic and Mystery in Tibet. The ostensible aim of this grim Rite is to deliver the candidate from the necessity of rebirth, but it seems only too probable that it would be more often used to gain control of the elementals for personal power. Mme David-Neel frankly states that many so-called yogis enter the psychic training for selfish reasons such as revenge and vanity.
It is interesting, and should be of great significance to Western ill-informed and skeptical psychologists and other students for whom this work is written, to see in what a matter-of-fact way these occult and psychic matters are regarded by the yogi-authors of the Treatises. All such things are known to be strictly governed by natural laws, however obscure and ‘miraculous’ to the profane. Also, as we are told, they are treated by the most respected lamaistic teachers as being insignificant in comparison with the attainment of the Cosmic consciousness, the transcending of Maya, the Great Illusion in this and higher worlds.
It would be an error to condemn these Treatises as a whole, though some of the instructions, derived from Bonpa practices entirely at variance with the pure, impersonal, and beneficent Yoga of the Lord Buddha, are not at all consonant with the wholesome self-disciplinary methods advised by H. P. Blavatsky for her pupils. It seems a pity that the excellent precepts of the first Treatise on ‘The Supreme Path of Discipleship’ should have to be associated in the same series with certain phenomenalistic instructions, useless though the latter may be without the guiding and warning hand of a real teacher. Are not such texts, while perhaps informative for scholars as exhibiting the weaker side of lamaistic Buddhism, doubtfully suitable for wide publication to the Western world which is turning more and more toward the development of psychic powers for purely selfish purposes, or, at best, for the gratification of curiosity disguised under high-sounding names?
The Kargyutpa School, to which the Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup belonged, originated in a purifying reform under the famous Gurus Marpa and Milarepa in the 12th century when it separated from the Singmapa School, the “Red Caps” founded in 747 a.d. by the Hindu University Professor Padma Sambhava, who introduced the Tantrik element into Buddhism. The improvement brought about by the Kargyutpa reform was important, and its Tibetan Gurus followed Marpa (llth-12th cent.) in regular ‘apostolic succession,’ as Dr. Evans-Wentz mentions with approval. The word Kargyutpa means ‘Followers of the Apostolic Succession,’ and the line from which the Order was derived traditionally goes back for unknown centuries before the Christian Era. In this esoteric method each successor was obligated to hand on the teachings as received, and even Gautama-Buddha “is but One who handed on teachings which had existed since beginningless time.” The author praises the followers of the reforming Gurus, Marpa and Milarepa, for “their insistence upon the Bodhisattvic ideal of world-renunciation and selfless aeon-long labor looking to the ultimate enlightenment of every sentient being.”
Dr. Evans-Wentz states that Tsongkhapa, the greatest and wisest Reformer of Tibetan Buddhism, was “an eminent apostle” of the Kargyutpa School, but he refers to him only very briefly. Tsongkhapa did not, however, utilize that School as the nucleus of his sweeping reform in the fourteenth century, but associated himself with the Khadampas, “Those bound by the Ordinances.” This was the School which Atisha, another great Reformer, joined in the eleventh century. A good deal was written by H. P. Blavatsky about Tsongkhapa, but significantly she does not mention the names of the Kargyutpa Gurus. It was Tsongkhapa as Avatara of Buddha, she says, who established the Gelugpa, ‘Yellow Caps,’ the now Established Church, and also “the mystic Brotherhood connected with its chiefs.” Tsongkhapa must have had good reasons for choosing the Khadampas rather than the Kargyutpas as the foundation of his new and completely reformed institution. Is it not possible that there was too much old Bonpa sorcery, or at least phenomenalism, in the Kargyutpa Order?
“The Esoteric Philosophy is alone calculated to withstand, in this age of crass and illogical materialism, the repeated attacks on all and everything man holds most dear and sacred, in his inner spiritual life.” — H. P. Blavatsky (quoted in The Esoteric Tradition)
1. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, or Seven Books of Wisdom of the Great Path, according to the late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup’s English rendering. Arranged and Edited with Introductions and Annotations to serve as a Commentary by W. Y. Evans-Wentz. Oxford University Press. $6.00. pp. 385.
Tibetan Yoga: II
In resuming our consideration of Dr. W. Y. Evans-Wentz’s Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines (1), a work which contains much information hitherto entirely unknown to Western scholars, we must draw special attention to the “general Introduction” to the subject of Mahayana or Northern Buddhism. Dr. Evans-Wentz gives a concise and sympathetic outline of the teaching, which is shown as the most systematic, philosophical and logical form. He points out that without the Mahayana the Southern or Pali canon would be very difficult to understand, as it contains so many obscure passages and doctrines. As outlined in his brief analysis, the Mahayana Buddhism is very closely akin to the philosophic and devotional teaching of Theosophy as presented by H. P. Blavatsky.
We regret that there is not room here to quote the first twenty-one pages of the “General Introduction,” which with very slight alteration would make an excellent introductory handbook to Theosophy. The supreme aim of Buddhism, according to our author, is the Deliverance of the Mind from ignorance, illusion, and thereby the attainment of Nirvana — or perhaps more properly, of the right to enter Nirvana — for the Lord Buddha taught, above all, the Great Renunciation — never finally to pass out of the Samsara or phenomenal world into the ineffable Bliss of Nirvana until the weary pilgrims in all the worlds have reached “the Other Shore.”
According to the deepest teaching given in the Seven Treatises translated from the Tibetan and contained in Dr Evans-Wentz’s scholarly work, the emancipated yogi reaches actual perception of the unity of the Universe, the consciousness that Samsara, the phenomenal, and Nirvana, the noumenal, are really One. Of this supreme attainment, the author writes with justified enthusiasm:
The Conqueror of Maya becomes a master of life and death, a Light in the Darkness, a Guide to the Bewildered, a Freer of the Enslaved. In the transcendent language of the Great Path, the Mahayana, no longer is there for Him any distinction between the Sangsara and Nirvana Like an unbridled lion roaming free among the mountain ranges, He roams at will through the Existences. [See page 12 of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett ]
Samsara is the state of conditioned being, the realm of phenomena, of impermanence; while Nirvana is beyond lower “Nature,” beyond all “paradises” and “hells.” It is “the Other Shore.” As Shelley intuitively divined, we have to wake from “this dream of life.” The Tibetan-Yoga use of dreams is very different from that of the Freudians. By studying them and controlling their content it is seen that they are mere playthings of the mind, and from this a further step in yoga-training shows that the essential nature of “name and form” is equally unreal, and that the Reality must be looked for outside this or any other phenomenal world.
Many of the more profound and less familiar teachings of the Ancient Wisdom, to which in recent years Dr de Purucker has drawn attention, are referred to in these Treatises. One of these is the problem of Renunciation and the Pratyeka-Buddhas, about which there has been much confusion in some places. Dr. Evans-Wentz says:
Self-Enlightened (Skt. Pratyeka) Buddhas do not teach the Doctrine publicly, but merely do good to those who come into personal contact with Them, whereas Omniscient Buddhas, of Whom was the Buddha Gautama, preach the Doctrine widely, both to gods and to men . . .The Gurus of the Great Symbol School . . . .teach that Nirvana is not to be regarded as a final state, wherein its realizer selfishly abides in absolute bliss and rest. That is to say, Nirvana is not a state to be realized for one’s own good alone, but for the sake of the greater good which will accrue to every sentient thing merely in virtue of a realization of it. Thus it is that in Tibet all aspirants for the Divine Wisdom, for the Full Enlightenment known as Nirvana, take the vow to attain the state of the Bodhisattva, or Great Teacher. The vow implies that the Nirvanic State will not be finally entered, by the one taking the vow, until all beings, from the lowest in subhuman kingdoms on this and every other planet to the highest of unenlightened gods in many heaven-worlds, and the most fallen of dwellers in hell-worlds are safely led across the Ocean of the Sangsara to the Other Shore. Southern Buddhists are inclined to regard Nirvana, at least when attained by Pratyeka (or Non-teaching) Buddhas, as a state of finality. Mahayanists, however, say that Nirvana is a state of mind reached as a result of evolutionary spiritual unfoldment, and that It cannot, therefore, be regarded as a final state, inasmuch as evolution has no conceivable ending, being an eternal progression.
Students of Dr. de Purucker’s recent answers to questions, etc, on the paradoxical question of the Pratyeka-Buddhas and Nirvanic Bliss, will see the way to harmonize these conflicting opinions. The “Selfishness” of the Pratyeka-Buddha, spoken of in several places by H. P Blavatsky, is not the ordinary kind of selfishness but, as she says, a “Spiritual” kind. Efforts have been made by ill-advised editors to suppress H. P. Blavatsky’s remarks about Pratyeka-Buddhas by leaving them out of The Voice of the Silence in certain editions. They apparently forget that she gave half a page to the subject in her Theosophical Glossary! Her observations should be carefully studied, as they are very practical.
The first of the Seven Treatises is called “The Supreme Path of Discipleship: the Precepts of the Gurus” and it consists of 290 aphorisms for the use of those who enter the career of the yogi. Some are strictly practical, and some are not easily comprehended but are open to misconstruction unless explained by the guru, but the majority are clear. Among these are definite teachings in regard to the Nirmanakaya Path of the Great Renunciation, the highest spiritual ideal possible to man. Many of these texts closely resemble those translated by H. P. Blavatsky for The Voice of the Silence, though, as presented, they lack the exquisitely poetical rhythm and loftiness of diction that distinguishes that immortal textbook for aspirants. Here are a few, selected from the more ethical part:
Unless the mind be trained to selflessness and infinite compassion, one is apt to fall into the error of seeking liberation for self alone.
For a religious devotee to try to reform others instead of reforming himself is a grievous mistake.
The smallest amount of merit dedicated to the good of others is more precious than any amount of merit devoted to one’s own good.
If only the good of others be sought in all that one doeth, no need is there to seek benefit for oneself.
For him who hath attained the Sublime Wisdom, it is the same whether he be able to exercise miraculous powers or not.
The fact that there are Those who have attained Bodhic Enlightenment and are able to return to the world as Divine Incarnations and work for the deliverance of mankind and of all living things till the dissolution of the physical universe showeth the virtue of the Holy Dharma.
Having acquired practical knowledge of spiritual things and made the Great Renunciation, permit not the body, speech, or mind to become unruly, but observe the three vows, of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
One text is decidedly “practical” and worth the attention of some would-be ascetics:
One who professeth religion and is unable to live in solitude in his own company and yet knoweth not how to make himself agreeable in the company of others showeth weakness.
A sense of humor is not absent in Tibet:
To preach religion and not practise it is to be like a parrot saying a prayer; and this is a grievous failure.
Dr. Evans-Wentz prefaces these “Precepts of the Gurus” by a page from H. P. Blavatsky’s Voice of the Silence, though he does not mention her name. While the subject-matter of the aphorisms in both is closely alike in parts, the impression produced by the Kargyutpa precepts is not so inspiring; the latter do not radiate the magnificent Buddhic compassion for all that breathes with the fervor that inspires the noble teaching given in The Voice of the Silence.
Much of great interest in this remarkable book cannot even be mentioned here, especially the exceedingly useful notes which explain the original text. Very many of the most difficult teachings of Theosophy are shown to be stated in the Treatises, or in the oral explanations of obscure passages given by the Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup. It is not surprising that he immediately recognised that H. P. Blavatsky’s books contained proof that she was acquainted with the deeper teachings. To the Western scholar the book will be a revelation of something new — the fact that the Orient has made overwhelming discoveries in human psychology beside which much Western psychology is almost infantile. The author quotes the following from the eminent English philosopher Dr. C. D. Broad:
[Progress] depends upon our getting an adequate knowledge and control of life and mind before the combination of ignorance on these subjects with knowledge of physics and chemistry wrecks the whole social system. Which of the runners in this very interesting race will win, it is impossible to foretell. But physics and death have a long start over psychology and life.
And, as Dr. Evan-Wentz adds:
Is Occidental man for much longer to be content with the study of the external universe, and not know himself?
In place of psychoanalysing dreams, trying crude experiments with hypnotism, studying the reactions of mentally sick patients, and so forth, the Oriental psychologist boldly plunges within himself and tries to find something greater than his surface-personality, namely, a Universal Self. In this process he discovers unthought-of “magical” powers, but as already mentioned they fade into nothingness when the greater goal is glimpsed. In fact, in many cases they are hindrances.
In this process the Oriental has found that true psychology is not a cold, intellectual study, such as can be learned in classrooms, but that it deals with the highest and most spiritual parts of man — begins there, in fact. Without self-sacrificing devotion to the interests of others, the sense of universal brotherhood and the burning desire to lift the heavy burdens of the world, all intellectual knowledge, all development of personal psychic powers, turns to dust and ashes. Dr. Evans-Wentz never loses sight of the spiritual basis of Mahayana Buddhism and Tibetan Yoga, and he would be the last to advocate yoga as a means to attain personal occult powers, to satisfy cold intellectual curiosity, or for other selfish ends; but here and there in the Treatises passages occur which might be construed or misconstrued as leading that way. One of these occurs on page 326, as the author himself points out.
This book should do much to awaken Western scholars and anthropologists from their ignorance of man’s nature, and to arouse a proper respect for Oriental science, but it is difficult to appraise its value to the Theosophist who already has his glorious yoga-teachings in H. P. Blavatsky’s Voice of the Silence, and elsewhere. These are the principles and practices that the world needs for its salvation, and the work of the Theosophical disciple is well marked out therein. As H. P. Blavatsky says, “Occultism is the Science of Life, the Art of Living.” And, “It is altruism, not ego-ism even in its most legal and noble conception, that can lead the unit to merge its little Self in the Universal Selves.” It may be, and probably is, an excellent provision of Nature that scientific Tibetan Yoga, even on a lower level than the highest Atma-Vidya of the Masters of the Great Lodge, and more or less entangled with inferior practices, should be kept alive by a small section of that remarkable, isolated race; but, except as an intellectual study for Western scholars, useful in breaking up the false view of Oriental “superstition” so-called, it does not seem that its introduction in any widespread form in the West would be advantageous. In this hotbed of personal ambitions, personal desires, unrest and emotionalism, the results would be dangerous in the extreme. Already the craze for so-called “occultism” has done much harm in the West. At best, under present conditions here, the Tibetan semi-esoteric yoga would produce Pratyeka-occultists, while the probability of making proficients in Black Magic is almost infinitely great. The wise words of W. Q. Judge express what is the real need of the West:
What then is the panacea finally, the royal talisman? It is DUTY, Selflessness. Duty persistently followed is the highest yoga. . . . If you can do no more than duty it will bring you to the goal. . . . It is that boundless charity of love that led Buddha to say: “Let the sins of this dark age fall on me that the world may be saved,” and not a desire to escape or for knowledge. It is expressed in the words: THE FIRST STEP IN TRUE MAGIC IS DEVOTION TO THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.
1. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, or Seven Books of Wisdom of the Great Path, according to the late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup’s English rendering. Arranged and Edited with Introductions and Annotations to serve as a Commentary by W. Y. Evans-Wentz. Oxford University Press. $6.00. pp. 385.
— C. J. Ryan, The Theosophical Forum, January-February 1936
Articles from Theosophy Magazine
Union With Deity 1
THERE is a great difference between the two paths of Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga. This will be observed by the student when he examines what is written about the siddhis or “psychic faculties and powers” said to be attainable by Yoga. There is one group which exacts a high training of the spiritual powers; and another group which concerns the lower and coarse, psychic and mental energies. In the Anugita, a very occult treatise belonging to the Upanishads, is a chapter explaining Pranayama. This, in Yoga practices, is regulation of the breath. Without the previous acquisition of, or at least a full understanding of, the two higher senses (of which there are seven), this mode pertains to the lower Yoga. The Hatha Yoga so called was and still is discountenanced by the Arhats. It is injurious to the health and alone can never develop into Raja Yoga. The Hindu books, which are the only works through which inquirers have heard about Hatha Yoga practices, say that a guide who is fully acquainted with the subject is necessary for each student, and further that every one of these practices requires an antidote for its effects through other regulations tending to neutralize the bad physical effects.
The true system of developing psychic and spiritual powers and union with one’s Higher Self — or the Supreme Spirit, as the profane express it — is Raja Yoga. It consists of the exercise, regulation and concentration of thought. Raja Yoga is opposed to Hatha Yoga, the physical or psychological training in asceticism. The latter is the lower form which uses physical means for the purposes of spiritual development. “The Yogi, or he who energizes himself to recollect and reunite his scattered self by internal contemplation, is more exalted than those zealots who harass themselves in performing penances.” The state of the Yogi is, when reached, that which makes the practitioner absolute master of his six “principles,” he now being merged in the seventh. It gives him full control, owing to his knowledge of SELF and Self, over his bodily, intellectual and mental states, which, unable longer to interfere with, or act upon his Higher Ego, leave it free to exist in its original, pure, and divine state.
This highest state of Raja Yoga is variously denominated. As Samadhi it is explained as that state when the disciple has attained the primeval consciousness, absolute bliss, of which the nature is truth, which is without form and actions, and abandons this illusive body that has been assumed by the Atma just as an actor abandons the dress put on. In Samadhi (as in Pralaya) the trinity of Atma in conjunction with Buddhi and the higher Manas, loses its name, when the real ONE SELF of man merges into Brahm in the Turiya state or final Nirvana. Bodhi is likewise said to be the name of the particular state or trance condition, called Samadhi, during which the subject reaches the culmination of spiritual knowledge. The term Samadhi comes from words indicating “self-possession.” He who possesses this power is able to exercise an absolute control over all his faculties, physical and mental. Again, the Turiya Avastha (condition) is almost a Nirvanic state — a condition of the higher Triad, “quite distinct from the conditions known as waking, dreaming, and sleeping,” or the life of man’s general acquaintance. “There is a state when everything terrestrial except the visible body has ceased to exist for the Yogi, a condition called Samadhana, in which he can no longer diverge from the path of spiritual progress.”
Theurgy likewise had its two general forms of practice, as the higher and lower forms of Yoga. Theurgy is defined as “a communication with, and means of bringing down to earth, planetary spirits and angels — the ‘gods of Light.’ Knowledge of the inner meaning of their hierarchies, and purity of life alone can lead to the acquisition of powers necessary for communion with them. To arrive at such an exalted goal the aspirant must be absolutely worthy and unselfish.” The first school of practical Theurgy in the Christian period was founded by Iamblichus among the Alexandrian Platonists. The priests, however, who were attached to the temples of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia and Greece, and whose business it was to evoke the gods during the celebration of the Mysteries, were known by this name or its equivalent in other terms from the earliest archaic periods. A theurgist had to be a hierophant and an expert in the esoteric learning of the Sanctuaries of all great countries. The popular prevailing idea is that the theurgists, as well as the magicians, worked wonders such as evoking the souls or shadows of the heroes and gods, and other thaumaturgic works, by supernatural powers. But this never was the fact. They did it simply by the liberation of their own astral body, which, taking the form of a god or hero, served as a medium or vehicle through which the special current preserving the ideas and knowledge of that hero or god could be reached and manifested. The Brahman Grihasta, like the Neo-Platonist, had (as evocator) to be in a state of complete purity before he ventured to call forth the Pitris — the images of ancient heroes, “gods,” and divine, spiritual entities. He pronounced a certain number of times the sacred word, and his astral body escaped from its prison, his body disappeared, and the soul (image) of the evoked spirit descended into the double body and animated it. Then the theurgist’s astral re-entered its body, whose subtle particles had again been aggregating (to the objective sense), after having formed themselves an aerial body for the deva (god or spirit) evoked. And then, the operator propounded to the latter questions “on the mysteries of Being and the transformation of the imperishable.”
The Rosicrucians or the Philosophers per ignem, were the successors of the theurgists. That which was worshipped by the Magi and Fire-Philosophers is the invisible, imponderable Spirit of things and the invisible, but too tangible fluid that radiates from the fingers of the healthy magnetizer — Vital Electricity, LIFE itself. To this day it is termed by the theurgists and occultists “the living Fire”; and there is not a Hindu who practices at dawn a certain kind of meditation but knows its effects. This is the “Fire that gives knowledge of the future.” It is the “Deity in the shape of Akasha pervading all things.”
A Yogi (however named) generally performs his wonders by means of Will-power and Kriyashakti, or the mysterious power of thought. It was in this way that the Third race created the so-called Sons of Will and Yoga, the spiritual forefathers of all the subsequent and present Arhats, Mahatmas, in a truly immaculate way. They were created, not begotten; for creation is the result of Will acting on phenomenal matter, and calling forth out of it primordial Light and Life. The unbound soul of the Yogi is limited by neither time nor space; nor obstructed by obstacles; nor prevented from seeing, hearing, feeling or knowing anything it likes, on the instant; no matter how distant or hidden the thing the Yogi would see, feel, hear or know. The soul has potentially, in short, the qualities of omniscience and omnipotence, and the object in the pursuit of this knowledge — Yoga Vidya — is to develop them fully.
The unveiling of the soul’s senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, and the awakening of its Will-power, may be compared with that change which comes to the bodily senses and will, when the child emerges from its foetal home into the outer world. All the physical faculties it will ever exercise were potentially in the babe before birth, but latent. And yet this contrast affords but a very meagre idea of that contrast which exists between the dormant powers of the soul in the man of matter, and the transcendent reach of these same powers in the fully-trained Yogi. Rather compare the shining star with a yellow taper. While average mortals maintain their perceptions only during the day, the initiated Yogi has an equally real, undimmed, and perfect appreciation of his individual existence at night, while his body sleeps. He can go even further, he can voluntarily paralyze his vital functions so that his body shall lie like a corpse, the heart still, the lungs collapsed, animal heat transferred to the interior surfaces; the vital machine stopped, as it were, like a clock which waits only the key that re-winds it, to resume its beating. What nature does for the scores of hibernating quadrupeds, reptiles and insects under the spontaneous action of her established laws, the Yogi effects for his physical body by long practice, and the intense concentration of an undaunted will.
Concentration, or Yoga, is said by Patanjali to be the hindering of the modifications of the thinking principle, or the mind. “The state of abstract meditation may be obtained by profound devotedness toward the Supreme Spirit considered in its comprehensible manifestation as Ishwara. Ishwara is a spirit, untouched by troubles, works, fruits of works, or desires. In Ishwara becomes infinite that omniscience which in man exists but as a germ.” Thus Yoga is the practice of meditation as a means of leading to spiritual liberation. Psychological powers are obtained thereby, and induced ecstatic states lead to the clear and correct perception of the eternal truths, in both the visible and invisible universe. “In the esoteric system Concentration (Yoga, Samadhi) is divided into five roots, which are said in that philosophy to be the agents in producing a highly moral life, leading to sanctity and liberation. When the latter are reached, the two spiritual roots lying latent in the body (Atma and Buddhi) will send out shoots and blossom.”
The story is related of two Yogis, Ananta and Maricha, primitive Rishis of old who lived in the days of the Ramayana of India, but whose names when examined indicate these two personages were far more than this tale would imply. The former, Ananta, dwelt in a hermitage with civilization all around him, while the latter, Maricha, lived in the center of a dense forest. The practice of severe penitential austerities was carried to excess by Maricha, who had stood on his head for a series of years; for a similar period upon one leg; had hung suspended from a tree with his head down, or stood motionless for a long time gazing at the sun. … While Maricha scrupled on account of his vow of renunciation to wear any clothing but woven bark, and even renounced all action itself, Ananta wore fine and clean cotton garments, without being attached to or taking any pride in them, and took part in useful action without looking to reward.
Even in the performance of Yoga, or the internal contemplation and self-union, Ananta differed from Maricha. The latter, following his mystic, thaumaturgic bent, was full of internal visions and revelations. Sometimes, according to the mystic school of Paithana, sitting cross-legged, meditating at midnight at the foot of a banyan-tree, with his two thumbs closing his ears, and his little fingers pressed upon his eyelids, he saw rolling before him gigantic fiery wheels, masses of serpent shapes, clusters of brilliant jewels. … Internal, spontaneous, unproduced music (anahata) vibrated on his ear. At other times, he followed the path laid down by the more ancient and profounder school of Alandi, and sought to attain, and sometimes deemed that he had attained, the condition of the illuminated Yogi as described by Krishna to his friend Arjuna in the sixth Adhyaya of that most mystic of all mystic books, the Dnyaneshvari. Ananta, without condemning such visions, and the pursuit after such a transfiguration and rejuvenescence, without expressing disbelief, or daring to pronounce them hallucinations, simply declared that his own experience had furnished him with none such. Admitting the infinite possibilities of the spiritual world and the internal life, he looked with wonder and respect on Maricha, but contented himself with the humbler exercise of fixing the contemplations of his spirit on the infinite moral beauty and goodness of the divine nature, and endeavoring by contemplation, to transform himself to some likeness of the eternal love. While Maricha, notwithstanding the natural timidity of his nature, came down from the mount of contemplation with a wild and terrible splendor on his brow, and a crazed, unearthly expression, which scared his fellowmen — Ananta “returned” with a glow of sweetness and love, that encouraged and drew them towards him….
Meditation is silent and unuttered prayer, or as Plato expresses it, “the ardent turning of the soul toward the divine; not to ask for any particular good but for good itself — for the universal Supreme Good,” of which we are a part on earth, and out of the essence of which we have all emerged. “The mind, when united with the soul and fully conversant with knowledge, embraces universally all objects. In the ascetic who has acquired the accurate discriminative knowledge of the truth and of the nature of the soul, there arises (spontaneously) a knowledge of all existences in their essential natures and mastery over them. Perfection in meditation comes from persevering devotion to the Supreme Soul.” That which hinders man today in the acquirement of soul perceptions is the dormancy of his spiritual organs. With earlier races of the human period such faculties were normal in their functioning. According to The Secret Doctrine, “When the Fourth race arrived at its middle age, the inner vision — that of the ‘third eye’ — had to be awakened, and acquired by artificial stimulus, the process of which was known to the old sages. The third eye, getting gradually petrified, soon disappeared. During the activity of the inner man (during trances and spiritual visions) the eye swells and expands. The Arhat sees and feels it, and regulates his action accordingly.” The inner sight could henceforth be acquired only through training and initiation, save in the cases of “natural and born magicians.” The “deva-eye” exists no more for the majority of mankind. The third eye is dead, and acts no longer. But it has left behind a witness to its existence, which is now the pineal gland. The latter has become an atrophied organ, as little understood now by physiologists as the spleen is.
During human life the greatest impediment in the way of spiritual development, and especially to the acquirement of Yoga powers, is the activity of our physiological organs. Sexual action being closely connected, by interaction, with the spinal cord and the grey matter of the brain, it is useless to give any longer explanation. Of course, the normal and abnormal state of the brain, and the degree of active work in the medulla oblongata, reacts powerfully on the pineal gland, for, owing to the number of “centres” in that region, which controls by far the greater majority of the physiological actions of the animal economy — and also owing to the close and intimate neighborhood of the two — there must be exerted a very powerful “inductive” action by the medulla on the pineal gland.
“When, O Arjuna, a man hath renounced all intentions and is devoid of attachment to action in regard to objects of sense, then he is called one who has ascended to meditation.”
(1) NOTE.—Collated from standard Theosophical sources.
— THEOSOPHY, October, 1954
Articles from Sunrise Magazine
Yoga and Enlightenment
There are several different schools of yoga. Best known in the West is hatha yoga. It involves bodily postures and breathing techniques which are supposed to lead to the development of higher faculties, including occult powers. Various types of tantra yoga, however, are growing in popularity. Hiroshi Motoyama, a prominent Japanese authority in the field of yoga, advocates a form of tantra yoga which bears many resemblances to hatha yoga; it involves bodily postures, regulation of the breath, and activation of the chakras (the seven subtle energy centers in the body). It also involves the awakening of the kundalini — a psychic force which normally lies dormant at the base of the spine. H. P. Blavatsky calls it “a creative power which when aroused into action can as easily kill as it can create.” (The Voice of the Silence, p. 77.) According to Motoyama, on the other hand, these methods are totally harmless, but this claim is called into serious doubt by his description of the experiences which he underwent when he first took up tantra yoga.
After many months of practicing tantra yoga for three or four hours every day, Motoyama had his first experience of the rising of the kundalini:
One day, when I was meditating before the altar as usual, I felt particularly feverish in the lower abdomen . . . Suddenly, an incredible power rushed through my spine to the top of the head and, though it lasted only a second or two, my body levitated off the floor a few centimeters. I was terrified. My whole body was burning, and a severe headache prevented me from doing anything all day. The feverish state continued for two or three days. I felt as if my head would explode with energy. — Theories of the Chakras: Bridge to Higher Consciousness, 1981, p. 241
He then adds that despite these unfortunate side-effects, at least he didn’t experience the serious physical and mental difficulties that many people go through when trying to arouse the kundalini!
He continues: “I became overly sensitive, both physically and mentally. . . . My emotions became unstable and I was excited easily.” He began to see lower astral entities with increasing frequency: “if the spirits were very strong and hostile, I was unable to help them and was adversely affected by them . . . my body and mind became unstable” (pp. 242-3). When trying to awaken his throat chakra, an irritation developed in his throat and he had difficulty breathing. He began to feel a sense of absolute nothingness:
After experiencing this state several times I found myself facing an abyss of absolute void. I experienced such a terrible fear that I wanted to stop yoga. . . . During this process, I encountered a horrible devil-like being. It was an indescribably terrifying experience. — p. 250
These are some of the negative experiences Motoyama went through. He also reports that he was able to develop paranormal powers and eventually acquired a sense of peace and optimism and greater sympathy with his fellow human beings. But it is not for nothing that he repeatedly emphasizes that the supervision of a properly qualified teacher is an absolute necessity. It is however questionable how many of the numerous yogis and self-proclaimed gurus are really knowledgeable and reliable.
Motoyama has conducted scientific research into the chakras with the aid of two electric instruments he developed. He concludes that the activation of the chakras by concentrating on them leads not only to the development of certain paranormal powers, but also to a greater risk of functional disorders in the internal organs connected with the chakras that have been aroused. He points out that overuse of the paranormal ability of one chakra is likely to cause abnormality or disease in the internal organ controlled by that chakra, and may even lead to an early death. He says that many psychics who have overworked the manipura chakra, located in the solar plexus and associated with clairvoyant powers, have died young or have had severe problems in the stomach and intestines. He himself developed a gastric ulcer.
All this confirms the warnings found in theosophical writings. The physical postures alone may be fairly harmless, but when combined with specialized breathing exercises and intense mental concentration on the chakras, and when pursued with the almost fanatical determination displayed by Motoyama, there is no doubt of there being a very real risk of disturbing the natural balance of life forces in the body, leading to disease, mental instability, even insanity. Nevertheless, Motoyama remains a firm proponent of such techniques, and even goes so far as to assert that “chakra awakening is a process which must be undergone if the soul is to evolve and if enlightenment is to be reached.” (Ibid., p. 256)
Hatha yoga and tantra yoga are the lowest forms of yoga and deal mainly with the body and lower mind. Since they do little or nothing to develop our higher nature they produce no lasting benefits, for it is only those things that can be recorded by our spiritual self that endure beyond death. But there are several higher forms of yoga discipline. The main ones are: karma yoga, the yoga of action (similar to what is known in the West as “salvation by works”); bhakti yoga, the yoga of love and devotion (similar to “salvation by faith or love”); jnana yoga, the yoga of wisdom or knowledge; and raja yoga, literally “royal union,” the yoga of spiritual self-discipline. Finally, there is brahma yoga, “divine union,” which is a synthesis of the best and purest practices in the other yoga schools.
Real hatha yoga means keeping the body clean, fit, and healthy so that it can act as a suitable instrument for the human soul. Karma yoga means that we must do our work and duty without complaint and to the best of our ability. Bhakti yoga means devoting ourselves to the service of our fellow human beings. Jnana yoga means studying the divine wisdom, and therefore nature herself. Raja yoga means taking joy in self-discipline, in learning to become master of our lower nature rather than its slave. If we try to do all of this, we are beginning to practice brahma yoga, which eventually leads to the ultimate aim of yoga: self-conscious union with our higher self, the divinity within. This state of oneness with our higher nature — the treasury of all the wisdom and knowledge accumulated in past lives — brings spiritual illumination or enlightenment.
The New Age movement offers a whole range of techniques and courses, including hatha and tantra yoga, which are supposed to enable us to develop paranormal powers, obtain contact with other entities, recall past lives, and achieve enlightenment. Many of the practices offered are of highly dubious value, and the ability to distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit has never been more necessary.
A general rule is that practices should not be undertaken if they are aimed mainly at personal advancement and profit, or at obtaining influence over others, or if they open a doorway to malignant lower astral influences and cause mental instability. On the other hand, there is no harm in taking time for relaxation and self-examination, especially if this enables us to act in a more brotherly and balanced fashion in our everyday lives. The more we are at peace with ourselves, the more balanced and harmonious we are within, the greater will be our ability to act as a source of peace and harmony in the world around us.
Motive is of vital importance, and all too often there is a strong element of selfishness in psychic practices. Naturally there are also sincere people who want to use their paranormal gifts to help others, but in the case of psychic healing, for example, it is quite possible that treatments which seem to be successful may have harmful side-effects later. Loving deeds are not always wise deeds.
The path advocated by all the great spiritual traditions the world over is the path of compassion, brotherhood, and self-mastery. As Hindu scholar T. Subba Row put it: “All the great teachers have put forward a few broad moral principles and not astral wonders as the path to be followed.” (Esoteric Writings, 1933, pp. 535-6) From Krishna to Buddha to Christ, the Golden Rule has always been: Love one another.
There is nothing intrinsically spiritual in the ability to bend a spoon, to see auras, or to levitate a table. There is far more spirituality in helping neighbors. Those who succeed in forcing the development of paranormal powers before they have purified their minds and learnt to control themselves, are merely putting an extra temptation in their way and run the risk of physical, mental, and moral injury. At this stage in our evolution, it is preferable to try to understand the rationale of paranormal powers rather than to develop them in ourselves. According to theosophy, in the further course of our evolution two higher senses (associated with clairvoyance and intuition) will develop in a natural manner, but only when we have evolved to the stage where we are fit to possess them and are able to use them wisely.
There is however one power that we should seek to cultivate, and that is our spiritual willpower. Every time we give in to a selfish or unworthy impulse we weaken our will and our moral sense and make it a little easier to yield to that impulse again; while every time we resist a selfish or unworthy impulse we strengthen our will and our moral sense and make the next victory a little easier. By developing our will we become able to gradually improve the quality of our thoughts, and therefore of our desires, feelings, and actions.
It cannot be too strongly emphasized that there are no shortcuts to self-transformation and spiritual enlightenment. Listening to a meditation tape, chanting a mantra, following a weekend course, or reading a book will not automatically lead to the attainment of cosmic consciousness. They may help us — or they may hinder us — but lasting progress can never be achieved by external means alone. Nor can it be bought. Self-realization is the fruit of many lives of self-purification and altruism. In the words of H. P. Blavatsky:
The pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations. — The Secret Doctrine 1:17
In other words, there is no favoritism in nature. The circumstances of our birth, our basic character traits, and the trials we undergo in the course of our lives are not the result of chance, nor are they dictated by the whim of some scheming deity; they are of our own making, the product of our thoughts and deeds in past lives. And while we cannot change our past karma, we can mold our future by how we live now.
Motoyama claims that through the practice of tantra yoga he acquired the power to alter other people’s negative karma. If this were true it would border on black magic, since it is only by suffering the consequences of all our thoughts and deeds, life after life, that we learn better, acquire inner strength and evolve. There is no attainment unless we make the progress ourselves. William Quan Judge states that the advanced human beings who watch over humanity could conceivably use their occult powers to cure humanity of its ills, but, he says, “they do not: humanity has to struggle on as ever in misery until they acquire self mastery and self knowledge. It may be hard but it is the law.” (Practical Occultism, p. 196.)
Everything in nature is interconnected; nothing can live unto itself alone. Our every thought, feeling, and deed impact upon the world around us, for good or ill. The idea that anything is totally separate from anything else is called in Buddhism the heresy of separateness. We are all part of one vast, incomprehensible Whole; we all sprang from one divine source aeons ago, and to that source we shall all return. It is our duty to work with nature rather than against it, and to help one another along the path. Every effort at self-improvement and every effort to help others, make a contribution, however small, to the progress of all humanity.
The highest and most noble ideal that we can try to live up to is called in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition the bodhisattva ideal. A bodhisattva is a human being who has advanced so far on the path of spiritual progress that he has attained enlightenment and reached the threshold of nirvana. But rather than entering the peace and bliss of nirvana, which would rule out any further active involvement in human affairs, he renounces nirvana and returns to earth to help struggling humanity. This spirit of self-sacrifice is beautifully captured in the vow of the Chinese bodhisattva Kwan Yin:
Never will I seek or receive private, individual salvation; never will I enter into final peace alone; but forever, and everywhere will I live and strive for the redemption of every creature throughout the world.
It is the constant aspiration to realize this ideal, and above all the constant effort to practice compassion and brotherhood in our daily lives, that is the surest path to enlightenment.
— David Pratt, Sunrise magazine, August/September 1996
Articles from H. P. Blavatsky
The Yoga Philosophy *
[Vol. II. Nos. 2, 4 and 7, November, 1880, and January and April, 1881.]
[YOGA, or human hibernation, being only prolonged sleep, it is interesting to notice that there are instances on record of individuals sleeping for weeks, months, nay, even for years.]
We have ourself known a Russian lady—Mme. Kashereninoff—whose sister, then an unmarried lady about twenty-seven, slept regularly for six weeks at a time. After that period she would awake, weak but not very exhausted, and ask for some milk, her habitual food. At the end of a fortnight, sometimes three weeks, she would begin to show unmistakable signs of somnolence, and at the end of a month fall into her trance again. Thus it lasted for seven years, she being considered by the populace a great saint. It was in 1841. What became of her after that we are unable to say.
[Yoga has been differently defined by different authorities. Some have defined it as mental abstraction; some have defined it as silent prayer; some have defined it as the union of the inspired to the expired air; some have defined it as the union of mind to soul. But by Yoga, I understand the art of suspending the respiration and circulation. Yoga is chiefly divided into Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga.]
Here the. author falls into an unmistakable error. He confounds the Râja with the Hatha Yogins, whereas the former have nothing to do with the physical training of the Hatha nor with any other of the innumerable sects who have now adopted the name and emblems of Yogins. Wilson, in his Essays on the Religions of the Hindus, falls into the same confusion, and knows very little, if anything at all of the true Râja Yogins, who have no more to do with Shiva than with Vishnu, or any other deity. Alone, the most learned among the Shankara’s Dandins of Northern India, especially those who are settled in Râjputâna, would be able—if they were willing—to give some correct notions about the Râja Yogins; for these men, who have adopted the philosophical tenets of Shankara’s Vedânta are, moreover, profoundly versed in the doctrines of the Tantras—termed devilish by those who either do not understand them or reject their tenets with some preconceived object. If in speaking of the Dandins we have used above the phrase beginning with the conjunction if,” it is because we happen to know how carefully the secrets of the real Yogins—nay even their existence itself—are denied within this fraternity. It is comparatively but lately that the usual excuse adopted by them, in support of which they bring their strongest authorities, who affirm that the Yoga state is unattainable in the present or Kali age, has been set afloat by them. “From the unsteadiness of the senses, the prevalence of sin in the Kali, and the shortness of life, how can exaltation by Yoga be obtained?” enquires Kâshîkhanda. But this declaration can be refuted in two words and with their own weapons. The duration of the present Kali Yuga is 432,000 years, of which 4,979 have already expired. It is at the very beginning of Kali Yuga that Krishna and Arjuna were born. It is since Vishnu’s eighth incarnation that the country had all its historical Yogins, for as to the prehistoric ones, or those claimed as such, we do not find ourselves entitled to force them upon public notice. Are we then to understand that none of these numerous saints, philosophers and ascetics from Krishna down to the late Vishnu Brahmachâri Bawa of Bombay had ever reached the “exaltation by Yoga”? To repeat this assertion is simply suicidal to their own interests.
It is not that among the Hatha Yogins—men who at times had reached through a physical and well-organized system of training the highest powers as “wonder workers”—there has never been a man worthy of being considered as a true Yogin. What we say is simply this: the Râja Yogin trains but his mental and intellectual powers, leaving the physical alone and making but little of the exercise of phenomena simply of a physical character. Hence it is the rarest thing in the world to find a real Yogin boasting of being one, or willing to exhibit such powers—though he does acquire them as well as the one practising Hatha Yoga but through another and far more intellectual system. Generally they deny these powers point-blank, for reasons but too well grounded. The former need not even belong to any apparent order of ascetics, and are oftener known as private individuals than members of a religious fraternity, nor need they necessarily be Hindus. Kabir, who was one of them, fulminates against most of the later sects of mendicants who occasionally become warriors when not simply brigands, and sketches them with a masterly hand:
I never beheld such a Yogin, O brother! who, forgetting his doctrine, roves about in negligence. He follows professedly the faith of Mahâdeva and calls himself an eminent teacher: the scene of his abstraction is the fair or the market. Mâyâ is the mistress of the false saint. When did Dattatraya demolish a dwelling? When did Sukhadeva collect an armed host? When did Nârada mount a matchlock? When did Vyâsadeva blow a trumpet? etc.
Therefore, whenever the author—Dr. Paul—speaks of Râja Yoga, the Hatha simply is to be understood.
[Minute directions then follow for the practising of postures, the repetition of Mantras; and Yâmyâsana and Prânâyâma, or the inspiration and suspension of the breath.]
All the above are, as we said before, the practices of Hatha Yoga, and conducive but to the production of physical phenomena affording very rarely flashes of real clairvoyance, unless it be a kind of feverish state of artificial ecstasy. If we publish them, it is merely for the great value we set upon this information as liable to afford a glimpse of truth to sceptics, by showing them that even in the case of the Hatha Yogins, the cause for the production of the phenomena as well as the results obtained can be all explained scientifically; and that therefore there is no need to either reject the phenomena à priori and without investigation or to attribute them to any but natural, though occult powers, more or less latent in every man and woman.
[Dr. Paul next describes the eight varieties. Kumbhaka, which Yogins practise with a view to study the nature of the Soul. Khecharî Mudrâ is the lengthening the tongue by splitting and then “milking” it until it is long enough to be turned back into the gullet, and, with its point, to press the epiglottis and so close the rima glottidis, which confines the inspired air within the system, the lungs and intestines being completely filled. By this practice he becomes insensible to everything that is external. “Without it,” says Dr. Paul, “he can never be absorbed into God.”]
As the science and study of Yoga Philosophy pertains to Buddhist, Lamaic and other religions supposed to be atheistical, i.e., rejecting belief in a personal deity, and as a Vedântin would by no means use such an expression, we must understand the term “absorption into God” in the sense of union with the Universal Soul, or Parama-Purusha—the primal or One Spirit.
[Directions are then given for the practice of Mûlabandha, a process by which youth is said to be restored to an old man.]
This posture will hardly have the desired effect unless its philosophy is well understood and it is practised from youth. The appearance of old age, when the skin has wrinkled and the tissues have relaxed, can be restored but temporarily, and with the help of Mâyâ. The Mûlabandha is simply a process to throw oneself into sleep (thus gaining the regular hours of sleep).
[Ujjayi Kumbhaka. Assume the posture called Sukhâsana, render the two nostrils free by the first Kumbhaka, inspire through both nostrils, fill the stomach and throat with the inspired air, and then expire slowly through the left nostril. He that practises this Kumbhaka cures all diseases dependent upon deficient inhalation of oxygen.]
And if anyone feels inclined to sneer at the novel remedy employed by the Yogins to cure “coryza,” “worms” and other diseases—which is only a certain mode of inhalation—his attention is invited to the fact that these illiterate and superstitious ascetics seem to have only anticipated the discoveries of modern science. One of the latest is reported in the last number of the New York Medical Record (Sept., 1888), under the title of “A New and Curious Plan for Deadening Pain.” The experiments were made by Dr. Bonwill, a well-known physician of Philadelphia, in 1872, and have been since successfully applied as an anæsthetic. We quote it from the Dubuque Daily Telegraph:
In 1875 Dr. A. Hewson made a favourable report of his experience with it to the International Medical Congress, and at a recent meeting of the Philadelphia County Medical Society several papers were read on the subject, and much discussion followed. In using the method, the operator merely requests the patient to breathe rapidly making about one hundred respirations per minute, ending in rapid puffing expirations. At the end of from two to five minutes an entire or partial absence of pain results for half a minute or more, and during that time teeth may be drawn or incisions made. The patient may be in any position, but that recommended is lying on the side, and it is generally best to throw a handkerchief over the face to prevent distraction of the patient’s attention. When the rapid breathing is first begun the patient may feel some exhilaration, following this comes a sensation of fulness in the head or dizziness. The face is at first flushed and afterwards pale or even bluish, the heart beats rather feebly and fast, but the sense of touch is not affected, nor is consciousness lost. The effect is produced more readily in females than in males, and in middle-aged more easily than in the old; children can hardly be made to breathe properly. It is denied that there is any possible danger. Several minor operations, other than dental ones, have been successfully made by this method, and it is claimed that in dentistry, surgery and obstetrics it may supplant the common anæsthetics. Dr. Hewson’s explanation is that rapid breathing diminishes the oxygenation of the blood, and that the resultant excess of carbonic acid temporarily poisons the nerve centres. Dr. Bonwill gives several explanations, one being the specific effect of carbonic acid, another the diversion of will-force produced by rapid voluntary muscular action, and, third, the damming up of the blood in the brain, due to the excessive amount of air passing into the lungs. The Record is not satisfied with the theories, but considers it well proved that pain may be deadened by the method, which it commends to the profession for the experimental determination of its precise value.
And if it be well proved that about one hundred respirations per minute ending in rapid puffing expirations can successfully deaden pain, then why should not a varied mode of inhaling oxygen be productive of other and still more extraordinary results, yet unknown to Science, but awaiting her future discoveries?
[After speaking at some length concerning Samâdhi and of the various branches of Râja Yoga, Dr. Paul’s remarks call forth the following note.]
This system, evolved by long ages of practice until it was brought to bear the above-described results, was not practised in India alone in the days of antiquity The greatest philosophers of all countries sought to acquire these powers, and, certainly, behind the external ridiculous postures of the Yogins of to-day, lies concealed the profound wisdom of the archaic ages, one that included among other things a perfect knowledge of what are now termed physiology and psychology. Ammonius Saccas, Porphyry, Proclus and others practised it in Egypt; and Greece and Rome did not hesitate at all in their time of philosophical glory to follow suit. Pythagoras speaks of the celestial music of the spheres that one hears in hours of ecstasy, Zeno finds a wise man who, having conquered all passions, feels happiness and emotion but in the midst of torture. Plato advocates the man of meditation and likens his powers to those of the divinity, and we see the Christian ascetics themselves through a mere life of contemplation and self-torture acquire powers of levitation or æthrobacy, which, though attributed to the miraculous intervention of a personal God, are nevertheless real and the result of physiological changes in the human body Says Patanjali:
The Yogin will hear celestial sounds, the songs and conversations of celestial choirs. He will have the perception of their touch in their passage through the air, which, translated into more sober language, means that the ascetic is enabled to see with the spiritual eye in the Astral Light, hear with the spiritual ear subjective sounds inaudible to others, and live and feel, so to say, in the Unseen Universe.
The Yogin is able to enter a dead or a living body by the path of the senses, and in this body to act as though it were his own.
The “path of the senses”; our physical senses, supposed to originate in the astral body, the ethereal counterpart of man, or the jîvâtma, which dies with the body; the senses are here meant in their spiritual sense—volition of the higher principle in man. The true Râja Yogin is a stoic; and Kapila, who deals but with the latter—utterly rejecting the claim of the Hatha Yogins to converse during Samâdhi with the Infinite Îshvara—describes their state in the following words:
To a Yogin in whose mind all things are identified as spirit, what is infatuation? What is grief? He sees all things as one; he is destitute of affections; he neither rejoices in good nor is offended with evil. . . . A wise man sees so many false things in those which are called true, so much misery in what is called happiness, that he turns away with disgust. . . . Me who in the body has obtained liberation (from the tyranny of the senses) is of no caste, of no sect, of no order, attends to no duties, adheres to no shastras, to no formulas, to no works of merit; he is beyond the reach of speech; he remains at a distance from all secular concerns; he has renounced the love and the knowledge of all sensible objects; he flatters none, he honours none, he is not worshipped, he worships none; whether he practises and follows the customs of his fellow-men or not this is his character.
And a selfish and a disgustingly misanthropical one this character would be were it that for which the True Adept was striving. But it must not be understood literally, and we shall have something more to say upon the subject in the following article, which will conclude Dr. Paul’s essay on Yoga Philosophy.
[One of the practices followed by the Hatha Yogin is called Dhauti. This is the act of swallowing a bandage of linen moistened with water, measuring three inches in breadth and fifteen cubits in length. This is rather a difficult process. But very few fakirs can practise it.]
And a happy thing it is that the process is so difficult, as we do not know of anything half so disgusting. No true Râja Yogin will ever condescend to practise it. Besides, as every physician can easily tell, the process, if repeated, becomes a very dangerous one for the experimenter. There are other “processes” still more hideous, and as useless for psychological purposes.
[Nor does his hair grow during the time he remains buried.]
In reference to the arrest of the growth of the hair, some adepts in the secret science claim to know more than this. They prove their ability to completely suspend the functions of life each night during the hours intended for sleep. Life then is, so to say, held in total abeyance. The wear and tear of the inner as well as the outer organism being thus artificially arrested, and there being no possibility of waste, these men accumulate as much vital energy for use in their waking state as they would have lost in sleep, during which state, if natural, the process of energy and expense of force is still mechanically going on in the human body. In the induced state described, as in that of a deep swoon, the brain no more dreams than if it were dead. One century, if passed, would appear no longer than one second, for all perception of time is lost for him who is subjected to it. Nor do the hairs or nails grow under such circumstances, though they do for a certain time in a body actually dead, which proves, if anything can, that the atoms and tissues of the physical body are held under conditions quite different from those of the state we call death. For, to use a physiological paradox, life in a dead animal organism is even more intensely active than it ever is in a living one, which, as we see, does not hold good in the case under notice. Though the average sceptic may regard this statement as sheer nonsense those who have experienced this in themselves know it as an undoubted fact.
Two certain fakirs from Nepaul once agreed to try the experiment. One of them, previous to attempting the hibernation, underwent all the ceremonies of preparation as described by Dr. Paul, and took all the necessary precautions; the other simply threw himself by a process known to himself and others into that temporary state of complete paralysis which imposes no limits of time, may last months as well as hours, and which is known in certain Tibetan lamaseries as . . . . The result was that while the hair, beard and nails of the former had grown at the end of six weeks, though feebly yet perceptibly, the cells of the latter had remained as closed and inactive as if he had been transformed for that lapse of time into a marble statue. Not having personally seen either of these men, or the experiment, we can vouch only in a general way for the possibility of the phenomenon, not for the details of this peculiar case, though we would as soon doubt our existence as the truthfulness of those from whom we have the story. We only hope that among the sceptical and materialistic who may scoff, we may not find either people who nevertheless accept with a firm and pious conviction the story of the resurrection of the half-decayed Lazarus and other like miracles, or yet those who while ready to crush a Theosophist for his beliefs, would never dare to scoff at those of a Christian.
[A Yogin acquires an increase of specific gravity by swallowing great draughts of the air, and compressing the same within the system.]
This is what, three years ago, in describing the phenomenon in Isis Unveiled, we called “interpolarization.” (See vol. i. op. cit., pp. 23 and 24.)
[On the powers resulting from Prâpti, it is said . . .]
As a deaf and dumb person learns to understand the exact meaning of what is said simply from the motion of the lips and face of the speaker, and without understanding any language phonetically, other and extra senses can be developed in the soul as well as in the physical mind of a mute, a sixth and equally phenomenal sense is developed as the result of practice, which supplies for him the lack of the other two.
Magnetic and mesmeric aura, or “fluid,” can be generated and intensified in every man to an almost miraculous extent, unless he be by nature utterly passive.
We have known of such a faculty (divining the thoughts of others) to exist in individuals who were far from being adepts or Yogins, and had never heard of the latter It can be easily developed by intense will, perseverance and practice, especially in persons who are born with natural analytical powers, intuitive perception, and a certain aptness for observation and penetration. These may, if they only preserve perfect purity, develop the faculty of divining people’s thoughts to a degree which seems almost supernatural. Some very clever but quite uneducated detectives in London and Paris, develop it in themselves to an almost faultless perfection. It can also be helped by mathematical study and practice. If then such is found to be the case with simple individuals, why not in men who have devoted to it a whole life, helped on by a study of the accumulated experience of many a generation of mystics and under the tuition of real adepts?
The dual soul is no fancy and may be one day explained in scientific language, when the psycho-physiological faculties of man shall be better studied, when the possibility of many a now-doubted phenomenon is discovered, and when truth will no longer be sacrificed to conceit, vanity and routine. Our physical senses have nothing to do with the spiritual or psychological faculties. The latter begin their action where the former stop, owing to that Chinese wall about the soul empire, called matter.
[Concerning the power called Vashitva, it is observed . . .]
Perhaps the Hobilgans and the Shaberons of Tibet might have something to tell us if they chose. The great secret which enwraps the mystery of the reïncarnations of their great Dalay-Lamas, their supreme Hobilgans, and others who as well as the former are supposed, a few days after their enlightened souls have laid aside their mortal clothing, to reincarnate themselves in young, and, previously to that, very weak bodies of children, has never yet been told. These children, who are invariably on the point of death when designated to have their bodies become the tabernacles of the souls of deceased Buddhas, recover immediately after the ceremony, and, barring accident, live long years, exhibiting trait for trait the same peculiarities of temper, characteristics and predilections as the dead man’s. Vashitva is also said to be the power of taming living creatures and of making them obedient to one’s own wishes and orders.
[Pythagoras, who visited India, is said to have tamed by the influence of his will or word a furious bear, prevented an ox from eating beans, and stopped an eagle in its flight.]
These are mesmeric feats and it is only by (in)exact scientists that mesmerism is denied in our days. It is largely treated of in Isis, and the power of Pythagoras is explained in vol. i. p. 283, et seq.
[Îshatwa, or divine power. When the passions are restrained from their desires, the mind becomes tranquil and the soul is awakened.]
In which case it means that the soul, being liberated from the yoke of the body through certain practices, discipline and purity of life, during the lifetime of the latter, acquires powers identical with its primitive element, the universal soul. It has overpowered its material custodian; the terrestrial gross appetites and passions of the latter, from being its despotic masters, have become its slaves, hence the soul has become free henceforth to exercise its transcendental powers, untrammelled by any fetters.
[With regard to restoring the dead to life.]
Life once extinct can never be recalled, but another life and another soul can sometimes reanimate the abandoned frame, if we may believe learned men who were never known to utter an untruth.
Wherever the word “soul” has occurred in the course of the above comments, the reader must bear in mind that we do not use it in the sense of an immortal principle in man, but in that of the group of personal qualities which are but a congeries of material particles whose term of survival beyond the physical, or material, personality is for a longer or shorter period, proportionately with the grossness or refinement of the individual. Various correspondents have asked whether the Siddhis of Yoga can only be acquired by the rude training of Hatha Yoga; and The Journal of Science (London) assuming that they cannot, launched out in the violent expressions which were recently quoted in these pages. But the fact is that there is another, an unobjectionable and rational process, the particulars of which cannot be given to the idle enquirer, and which must not even be touched upon at the latter end of a commentary like the present one. The subject may be reverted to at a more favourable time.
* The paragraphs in small type within square brackets are summarized from an article in The Theosophist to which H.P.B. attached notes. We insert them to render the comments intelligible.
— H. P. Blavatsky, as printed in A Modern Panarion.
Questions Answered About Yoga Vidyâ
[Vol. II. No. 5, February, 1881.]
A HINDU gentleman of the Madras Presidency propounds a number of questions about Occult Science which we answer in these columns, as the information is often demanded of us and we can reach all at once in this way.
Q.—Do you or Colonel Olcott undertake to teach this wonderful Vidyâ to anyone who may be anxious to learn it?
A.—No; the correspondent is referred to our January number for remarks upon this point.
Q.—Would you like to give proofs of the existence of occult powers in man to anyone who may be sceptically inclined, or who may desire to have his faith strengthened, as you have given to Mr. and Mrs. —— and the editor of The Amrita Bazar Patrika?
A.—We would “like” that everyone should have such proofs who needs them, but, as the world is rather full of people—some twenty-four crores being in India alone—the thing is impracticable. Still such proofs have always been found by those who sought them in earnest, from the beginning of time until now. We found them—in India. But then we spared neither time nor trouble in journeying round the world.
Q.—Can you give such proofs to one like myself, who is at a great distance; or must I come to Bombay?
A.—Answered above. We would not undertake to do this thing, even if we could, for we would be run down with thousands of curiosity-seekers, and our life become a burden.
Q.—Can a married man acquire the Vidyâ?
A.—No, not while a Grihasta. You know the invariable rule was that a boy was placed at a tender age under his Guru for this training;
he stopped with him until he was twenty-five to thirty; then lived as a married man fifteen to twenty years; finally retired to the forest to resume his spiritual studies. The use of liquors, of beef, and certain other meats and certain vegetables, and the relations of marriage, prevent spiritual development.
Q.—Does God reveal himself by inspiration to a Yogî?
A.—Every man has his own ideas about “God.” So far as we have learned, the Yogî discovers his God in his inner self, his Âtmâ. When he reaches that point he is inspired—by the union of himself with the Universal, Divine Principle—Parabrahman. With a personal God—a God who thinks, plots, rewards, punishes and repents—we are not acquainted. Nor do we think any Yogî ever saw such a one—unless it be true, as a missionary affirmed the other day, at the close of Colonel Olcott’s lecture at Lahore, that Moses, who had murdered a man in Egypt, and the adulterous murderer (David), were Yogîs!
Q.—If any Adept has power to do anything he likes, as Colonel Olcott said in his lecture at Simla,* can he make me, who am hungering and thirsting after the Vidyâ, a thorough Adept like himself ?
A.—Colonel Olcott is no Adept and never boasted of being one. Does our friend suppose any Adept ever became such without making himself one, without breaking through every impediment through sheer force of will and soul-power? Such adeptship would be a mere farce. “An Adept becomes, he is not made,” was the motto of the ancient Rosicrucians.
Q.—How is it that in the presence of such clear proof the most civilized nations still continue to be sceptical ?
A.—The peoples referred to are Christian, and although Jesus declared that all who believed in him should have the power to do all manner of wonders (see Mark, xxvi. 17, 18), like a Hindu Yogî’s, Christendom has been waiting in vain some eighteen centuries to see them. And now, having become total disbelievers in the possibility of such Siddhis, they must come to India to get their proofs, if they care for them at all.
Q.—Why does Colonel Olcott fix the year 1848 as the time from which occult phenomena have occurred?
A.—Our friend should read more carefully, and not put us to the trouble to answer questions that are quite useless. What Colonel Olcott did say was that modem Spiritualism dates from 1848.
Q.—Are there any such mediums in India as William Eddy, in whose presence materialized forms can be seen?
A.—We do not know, but suspect there are. We heard of a case at Calcutta where a dead girl revisited her parents’ house in broad daylight, and sat and conversed with her mother on various occasions. Mediumship can be easily developed anywhere, but we think it a dangerous thing and decline to give instructions for its development. Those who think otherwise can find what they want in any current number of the London Spiritualist, The Medium and Daybreak, the Melbourne Harbinger of Light, the American Banner of Light, or any other respectable Spiritualistic organ.
Q.—How do these mediums get their powers; by a course of training, or as the result of an accident of their constitution?
A.—Mediums are mainly so from birth; theirs is a peculiar psychophysiological constitution. But some of the most noted mediums of our times have been made so by sitting in circles. There is in many persons a latent mediumistic faculty, which can be developed by effort and the right conditions. The same remark applies to adeptship. We all have the latent germs of adeptship in us, but in the case of some individuals it is infinitely easier to bring them into activity than in others.
Q.—Colonel Olcott repudiates the idea of spirit agency as necessary to account for the production of phenomena, yet I have read that a certain scientist sent spirits to visit the planets and report what they saw there.
A.—Perhaps reference is made to Professor William Denton, the American geologist, author of that interesting work, The Soul of Things. His explorations were made through psychometry, his wife—a very intellectual lady though a great sceptic as to spirits—being the psychometer. Our correspondent should read the book.
Q.—What becomes of the spirits of the departed?
A.—There is but one “Spirit”—Parabrahman, or by whatever other name one chooses to call the Eternal Principle. The “souls” of the departed pass through many other stages of existence after leaving this earth-body, just as they were in many others anterior to their birth as men and women here. The exact truth about this mystery is known only to the highest Adepts; but it may be said even by the lowest of the neophytes that each of us controls his future rebirths, making each next succeeding one better or worse according to his present efforts and deserts.
Q.—Is asceticism necessary for Yoga?
A.—Yoga exacts certain conditions which will be found described at p. 47 of our December number. One of these conditions is seclusion in a place where the Yogî is free from all impurities—whether physical or moral. In short, he must get away from the immoral atmosphere of the world. If anyone has by such study gained powers, he cannot remain long in the world without losing the greater part of his powers—and that the higher and nobler part. So that, if any such person is seen for many consecutive years labouring in public, and neither for money nor fame, it should be known that he is sacrificing himself for the good of his fellow-men. Some day such men seem to suddenly die, and their supposed remains are disposed of; but yet they may not be dead. “Appearances are deceitful,” the proverb says.
* Colonel Olcott said nothing of the kind.
— H. P. Blavatsky, as printed in A Modern Panarion.
Yoga and Yoga Discipline: A Theosophical Interpretation
Yoga and Yoga Discipline
A Theosophical Interpretation
By Charles J. Ryan
Meditation and Yoga, from Fountain-Source of Occultism
Meditation and Yoga
By G. de Purucker, from Fountain-Source of Occultism
It is in the silence that the soul grows strong. For then it is thrown back upon its own energies and powers, and learns to know itself. One of the finest ways of getting light on a problem quickly and certainly, of cultivating intuition, is by not passing the trouble of solving it on to someone who you believe can help you. Seeing solutions and solving problems are a matter of training, of inner growth. One of the first rules that a neophyte is taught is never to ask a question until he has tried earnestly and repeatedly to answer it. Because the attempt to do so is an appeal to the intuition. It is also an exercise. It strengthens one’s inner powers. Asking questions before we have ourselves tried to resolve them simply shows that we are leaning, and this is not good. To exercise our own faculties means growth, the gaining of strength and ability.
Certain questions, however, come with a force that compels an answer. They are like the mystic knocking on the door of the temple; they demand the giving of more light, for they come not from the brain-mind, but from the soul striving to understand the light flowing into it from the perennial fountains of divinity. Ask and ye shall receive; knock — and knock aright — and it shall be opened unto you. If the appeal is strong and impersonal enough, the very gods in heaven will respond. If the individual is very much in earnest, the answer will come to him from within, from the only initiator that any neophyte ever has.
Meditation is a positive attitude of mind, a state of consciousness rather than a system or a time period of intensive brain-mind thinking. One should be positive in attitude, but quietly so; positive as the mountain of granite, and as serene and peaceful, avoiding the disturbing influences of the ever-active and feverish mentality. And, above everything else, impersonal. Meditation in the better sense is the bending of the consciousness, and the raising of the mind to the plane where intuition guides, and where some noble idea or aspiration is native, and the holding of the consciousness in thought there. But one can meditate also on evil things and, alas, many do just this.
It is possible so to meditate before falling asleep that one’s soul ascends to the gods, and is refreshed and strengthened by its confabulations with those divine beings. But it is likewise possible to brood before sleep comes so that when the bonds of wakefulness are broken, and the brain-mind is silenced, the soul is dragged downwards, and is thus degraded and weakened. One should never sleep until one has sincerely forgiven all injuries done unto him. This is very important not only as an ennobling practice, but as a much needed protection. Fill the heart with thoughts of love and compassion for all, and the mind with some lofty idea and dwell on it calmly, with the higher, impersonal brooding that is effortless and still, and then there will be a rest of all the senses, and quiet in the mind.
One reason for the need of strict impersonality, without the slightest thought of any destructive or morally offensive element intruding into the heart, such as hate, anger, fear or revenge, or any other of the horrid progeny of the lower self, is that when sleep steals over the body and the ordinary brain-mind consciousness drops away, the soul now released automatically follows the direction last given to it. Thus the practice of calming the mind before retiring can elevate the soul.
Meditate all the time — nothing is so easy and so helpful. Far better is this for most students than to have a set period: quiet, unremitting thought on the questions you have, continuing even when the hands are busy with the tasks of the day, and the mind itself quite absorbed by other duties. In the back of the consciousness there can still be this steady undercurrent of thought. It is likewise a protecting shield in all one’s affairs, for it surrounds the body with an aura drawn forth from the deeper recesses of the auric egg, which is akasic, and through which, when condensed by the will of one who knows how to do it, nothing material can pass.
Yet even in the profoundest meditation, when one has lost all sense of surrounding circumstances, the trained chela is never in the condition of having lost his spiritual and intellectual grip. He is always alert, always aware that he is in control of the situation, even while the consciousness is passing in review the myriad phases of the subject under contemplation. It is highly inadvisable, as a general rule, to allow oneself to be on another plane in thought so greatly that one becomes a psychic or physical automaton.
There are two kinds of meditation: first, the keeping of some beautiful idea clearly in the mind as a picture, and letting one’s consciousness enter into that picture; and second, the casting of the consciousness into higher spheres or planes, and taking in and absorbing the experiences that flow into the consciousness by doing so. But if we set our teeth and grip our hands and mentally hammer this or that point of thought, we are not meditating at all. If we do this, we won’t succeed, because such exercise is merely brain-mind cogitation, which is often exhausting, uninspiring and uninspired. There is a difference between just thinking concentratedly on a subject, especially if it means using the brain-mind, and a concentration or absorption of the consciousness in following the ennobling direction along which the spiritual will is guiding.
Meditation, then, is the holding of a thought steady in the mind, and allowing the consciousness to work interiorly upon this thought, easily and with delight. Let it dwell there; let the spirit brood over it. There is no need to put the physical or psychical will on to it. This is true meditation and is really the fundamental secret of yoga, meaning ‘union’ of the mind with the ineffable peace, wisdom and love of the god within. If one practices this simple rule of jnana-yoga, after a while it will become natural, a part of the daily consciousness. Concentration or one-pointedness of mind is merely taking this thought into our consciousness more clearly, and centering all our attention upon it — not with the will, but with ease.
All other forms of yoga which depend more or less upon exterior aids, such as posturings, breathings, positions of hands and fingers and feet, etc., belong to the lower parts of hatha-yoga and are little more than crutches, because distracting the mind to these exterior methods and away from the main objective of true yoga itself, which is a reversal of the mind from exterior to inner and spiritual things. Thus all forms of the lower yoga, now become so popular in the West through the ‘teachings’ of itinerant and wandering ‘yogis,’ usually do more harm than good.
The hatha-yoga system is a fivefold method of attaining control of the lower psychic faculties through various forms of ascetic practices, requiring a scientific paralyzing of the physical and psychic parts by violent methods. The yogi effects this complete self-absorption by suspending his vital processes and causing a short-circuiting of certain pranic energies of his astro-physical body. As should be obvious, this practice is mentally and physically perilous as well as spiritually restricting, and hence is unequivocally discouraged by all genuinely occult schools. Certain powers can indeed be acquired by these means, but, I repeat, they are powers of the lowest kind, and have no lasting benefit, and, moreover, will greatly hinder one’s spiritual progress.
In this connection, William Q. Judge wrote:
. . . progress will be made. Not by trying to cultivate psychic powers that at best can be but dimly realized, nor by submitting to any control by another, but by educating and strengthening the soul. If all the virtues are not tried for, if the mind is not well based in philosophy, if the spiritual needs are not recognized as quite apart from the realm of psychism, there will be but a temporary dissipation in the astral realms, ending at last in disappointment as sure as the shining of the sun. — “Answers to Correspondence,” December 1893
On the other hand, the raja-yoga and jnana-yoga systems, embracing spiritual and intellectual discipline combined with love for all beings, have to do with the higher portions of the inner constitution — the control of the physical and psychic following as a natural consequence of an understanding of the entire sevenfold man. True yoga controls and raises the mind, thus effecting the communion of the human with the spiritual consciousness, which is relative universal consciousness. The attaining of this union or at-oneness with one’s divine-spiritual essence brings illumination.
In certain very exceptional circumstances where a chela has advanced relatively far, mentally and spiritually speaking, but has still a very unfortunate and heavy physical karma not yet worked out, it is proper to use the hatha-yoga methods to a limited degree, but only under the master’s own eye. I may add that the Yoga Aphorisms (or Sutras) of Patanjali is a hatha-yoga scripture, but one of the highest type. The terse instructions contained in this small work are well known to Western students, largely through the interpretation of W. Q. Judge and later writers.
Real yoga is meditation, as said, and this obviously includes the centering and holding of the mind with fixity on a point of noble thought, and a brooding upon it, pondering upon it. Patanjali in his Sutras (i, 2) wrote: Yogas chitta-vritti-nirodhah — “yoga is the preventing of the whirlings of thought.” This is very clear: when the ever-active brain-mind, with its butterfly-like wandering from thought to thought, and its fevered emotions, can be controlled into one-pointed aspiration and intellectual vision upwards, then these ‘whirlings’ of thinking vanish, and the aspiring organ of thought becomes intensely active, manifests intuition, sees truth, and in fact makes the man whose organ of self-conscious thought is so occupied, an imbodiment of wisdom and love — and this is the true yoga. It is the manas, the mind-principle, which is thus active and is, so to speak, turned upon itself upwards instead of downwards, becoming the buddhi-manas instead of the kama-manas. The chitta of the Sanskrit phrase, i.e. the ‘thinking,’ becomes filled with wisdom and intuition, and the man becomes virtually, when expert in this sublime spiritual exercise, one with the divinity within.
In the next sloka Patanjali goes on to state: “then the Seer abides in himself,” the meaning being that the man then becomes a seer, and abides in his spiritual self, the god within him.
Contrariwise, when the mind is not so restrained and directed upwards, then the “whirlings (activity) become assimilated mutually,” as the 4th sloka has it — a very concise statement meaning that when the mind is fastened in lower things, its feverish activities enchain the higher manas, which thus becomes temporarily ‘assimilated’ with its lowest elements, and the man is in consequence no more than the ordinary human being.
An occult secret in connection with the mind is that it takes the form of the object contemplated or perceived, and so molds itself into the objects of thought, whatever their quality. If the mental picture is divine, the mind becomes similar to it because it flows into the divine and molds itself accordingly; and likewise, when the mind is held in the lower things it becomes assimilated to them, because flowing into their form and appearance. 1
It is precisely the desire to know, not for oneself, not even for the mere sake of knowing in an abstract sense, but for the purpose of laying knowledge on the altar of service, which leads to esoteric advancement. It is this desire, this will for impersonal service, which purifies the heart, clarifies the mind and impersonalizes the knots of the lower selfhood, so that they open and thereby become capable of receiving wisdom. It is this desire which is the impelling force, the driving engine, carrying the aspirant forward, ever higher and higher.
1. This great fact of occultism has therefore a high as well as a low aspect; and this faculty of the mind it is which is used by the adept of either the white or the black class in order to produce, when required, magical effects. Indeed, it is not too much to say that the powers of avesa, the entering into and using the body of another, as well as the Hpho-wa, or the power of projecting the will and intelligence to other parts, sometimes to incredible distances, depend largely upon this attribute or characteristic of the fluid mind.
The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga
The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga
“Let us divide Meditation into two sorts. First is the meditation practiced at a set time, or an occasional one, whether by design or from physiological idiosyncrasy. Second is the meditation of an entire lifetime, that single thread of intention, intentness, and desire running through the years stretching between the cradle and the grave. For the first, in Patanjali’s Aphorisms will be found all needful rules and particularity. If these are studied and not forgotten, then practice must give results. How many of those who reiterate the call for instruction on this head have read that book, only to turn it down and never again consider it? Far too many.”—W. Q. Judge, from the article “Meditation, Concentration, Will.”
We embark here upon an exploration of Patanjali’s Eightfold system of Yoga, drawn from his Yoga Sutras, with the hope of coming to an appreciation of the overall teachings as a unified whole. Patanjali’s instructions are perhaps the most specific of their kind, taking us through the entire process from regular human consciousness to final liberation in a logical, step by step sequence. While many great teachers have left their instructions seemingly vague or indirect, the Yoga Sutras are clear, distinct and concise. They allow us to see that the path is well formed before us and leave us with a sense of the utter simplicity of true spiritual progress. With Patanjali, the path to liberation is not something magical or mythic or foggy; it is a scientific discipline of exacting precision.
Let us venture on, then, with an overview of the process given in his sutras, from beginning to end.
We may start with Patanjali’s definition of Yoga, which he states at the opening of his sutras:
“Concentration, or Yoga, is the hindering of the modifications of the thinking principle.” 2
This is followed shortly after with a statement of the twofold means by which this may be accomplished:
abhyāsa-vairāgya-ābhyāṁ tan-nirodhaḥ 3
“The hindering of the modifications of the mind already referred to, is to be effected by means of Exercise and Dispassion.” 4
Each of these is further defined:
tatra sthitau yatno-‘bhyāsaḥ
sa tu dīrghakāla nairantarya satkāra-ādara-āsevito dṛḍhabhūmiḥ 3
“Exercise is the uninterrupted, or repeated, effort that the mind shall remain in its unmoved state.
This exercise is a firm position observed out of regard for the end in view, and perseveringly adhered to for a long time without intermission.” 4
dṛṣṭa-anuśravika-viṣaya-vitṛṣṇasya vaśīkāra-saṁjṇā vairāgyam
tatparaṁ puruṣa-khyāteḥ guṇa-vaitṛṣṇyam 3
“Dispassion is the having overcome one’s desires.
Dispassion, carried to the utmost, is indifference regarding all else than soul, and this indifference arises from a knowledge of soul as distinguished from all else.” 4
Exercise or practice, and dispassion or desirelessness, thus mark two pillars of yoga. For the latter, the Bhagavad Gita provides all we need in the way of philosophical explanation, which is then complimented by the practical instructions contained in the regulations (yama/niyama) of Patanjali’s sutras. For the former, we have these Yoga Sutras in their completeness, which examine every key facet of the practice required by the yogi.
Our exercise is met with obstacles at every step, including such things as doubt, sickness, carelessness, laziness, addiction, etc., 5 and the remedy of each of these obstacles is ultimately to be found in the development of dispassion, through the practice of virtues, through regulations, through focus and concentration. 6 What the student is aiming for is a steadiness of mind, and in the early sutras Patanjali provides some simple tips one can utilize to overcome whatever obstacles and distractions arise in their life. Through these one may begin to develop the steady, confident and dispassionate mind that is truly necessary for further yoga practice.
From these two pillars and the preliminary lessons of the first chapter of the sutras, the yoga philosophy unfolds itself in greater degree throughout the remaining three chapters, centering on what has been called the Eight Limbs of Raj Yoga, namely:
yama niyama-āsana prāṇāyāma pratyāhāra dhāraṇā dhyāna samādhayo-‘ṣṭāvaṅgāni 7
We may translate this as: the eight (ashtau) limbs (angani) are social-regulations (yama), self-regulations (niyama), posture (asana), pranic-regulations (pranayama), withdrawal from sensory input (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), contemplation (dhyana), and true meditation (samadhi).
It is this eightfold system that comprises the core of Patanjali’s teachings. The first two constitute preliminary training, but in truth are principles of action that carry throughout the life of the Yogi—they are not progressive steps that one passes through in serial order but are the way of life the yogi must adopt if he is to be successful in yoga meditation, and this way of life must be maintained even after he has passed through those later steps. From this training Asana results, and from there a serial order of progression can be traced from Pranayama through to Samadhi.
Each term of this eightfold practice requires elucidation, and the whole system of Raja Yoga will begin to be seen when they are thus explored.
Yama may be seen as those observances that relate to our interactions with others and with the world at large. Five key principles are provided, which, when understood in their true significance are applicable to our every interaction. These are given in the following verse:
ahiṁsā-satya-asteya brahmacarya-aparigrahāḥ yamāḥ 8
These may be translated as: non-violence (ahimsa), truth or truthfulness (satya), not stealing (asteya), continence or self-restraint (brahmacharya), and non-covetousness (aparigraha). Yet each of these words can hold a much wider, deeper meaning. The meanings of ahimsa and satya are well exemplified by Gandhi’s expanded use of the terms 9, whereby the meaning of violence is raised so that any injury done, whether spiritual, mental or physical is considered an act of violence. Ahimsa thus becomes satya and vice-versa, as truth or truthfulness becomes indistinguishable from non-violence. The meaning of asteya is expanded by applying it not just to physical but also to mental theft, and the mere act of desiring the possession of another is considered asteya. 10 Brahmacharya takes on a larger meaning when it is seen to constitute an entire way of life—the term may be more literally translated as “a mode of life that leads one to the ultimate reality”. Lastly, the expanded meaning of aparigraha takes on greater significance when we understand, as W. Q. Judge says, that it “applies not only to coveting any object, but also to the desire for enjoyable conditions of mundane existence, or even for mundane existence itself.” 11
In essence, these are self-imposed rules of conduct that train the disciple in right living for the purpose of the spiritual upliftment of all. They become guides by which ever his every interaction may be spiritualized. Indeed, no true spiritual advancement can be made without them.
Niyama may be seen as those observances that relate to oneself, or the interactions of one’s inner life. Again, five key principles are given, which provide guidance in every internal struggle of the self. These are given in the following verse:
śauca saṁtoṣa tapaḥ svādhyāy-eśvarapraṇidhānāni niyamāḥ 12
These may be translated as: cleanliness or ‘purification of body and mind’ (shaucha), contentment (santosha), austerity or self-discipline (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya), and ‘persevering devotion to the Supreme Soul’ or ‘love and surrender to the indwelling divinity’ (ishvara-pranidhana). Just as we find with the five principles of Yama, each of the principles of Niyama are likewise capable of much larger, more expansive meanings. For instance, shaucha is more than just cleanliness but is a kind of inner and outer purification that leads to disinterest towards the physical and to an inner fitness for contemplation. 13 Santosha is not simply a passive contentment, but leads to and is accompanied by unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction. Tapas is a kind of focused effort that removes (lit. ‘burns’) impurities and impediments and in one sense is the willingness to endure spiritual suffering. Svadhyaya means much more than ‘self-study’ in that it implies lessons customized for oneself (i.e. by one’s guru or by one’s higher Self, or we might say one’s own self-devised and self-induced efforts in study and practice), while on another level svadhyaya also means ‘properly uttered invocations’ as given in the scriptures (Vedas). And lastly ishvara-pranidhana can be understood as the positive side of the elimination of attachment to the personal and the thirst for this (separate) life (tanha), in that it is the letting go and allowing of oneself to merge with the indwelling divinity—without this willingness or surrender, Samadhi cannot be attained. 14 These five principles, when properly understood and followed, provide the remedy for all internal difficulties faced by the disciple.
These two, Yama and Niyama, constitute the preparational training of the disciple. Success in the later steps of Yoga depends entirely upon the level of mastery of these ten principles of self-discipline. Without them, any attempt to reach higher states in meditation is useless, and any forced attempt at pranayama is dangerous, as the inner constitution is not adequately prepared. Just as athletes must prepare for their sport with proper diet, fitness and lifestyle, with preparatory stretching and mental focus, so too much the yogi be thoroughly prepared for the practice of Raj Yog meditation. Without adequate training for the ‘heavy lifting’ of intense meditation, injury is all but guaranteed, but while athletes risk injuring their bodies, an ill-prepared yogi risks injuring his mind.
None of these eight limbs stands on its own; they are interrelated and interdependent.
Asana may be roughly translated as ‘posture’, but again this has an expanded meaning far beyond that of physical positioning. Posture may be thought of in the sense of one’s poise, one’s composite attitude or state—i.e. the harmonic alignment of one’s entire constitution, inward and outward. It is the ‘posture’ of the entirety of the yogi, the synchronization of the being from the very highest part of its nature down to the very lowest. Thus it can be seen that proper Asana naturally results from the practice of Yama and Niyama. The degree to which one can fully practice the ten principles determines the extent to which one is capable of attaining proper ‘posture’ as a yogi. It is a posture, inner and outer, that is steady, stable, motionless, comfortable (because such stability and steadiness has become natural), and pleasant.
If the yogi has mastered Yama and Niyama their entire being is naturally stable and steady—they are stable and healthy mentally, emotionally, physically; stable in relationships, in dealings with the world at large, stable in their commitment to the path and to their guru (and/or their higher Self, the indwelling divinity), etc.. One can easily see that if one is internally and externally unstable, no amount of forcing of posture (inner or outer) is going to produce positive results. Just as striking a physical hatha yoga pose without the proper preparation (years of practice, flexibility, balance, etc.) will be flawed and unbalanced, so too will any attempt to strike the complete right-posture of one’s entire constitution be flawed and unbalanced if such a posture is unnatural for the yogi. Thus, proper posture results from persevering in the practice of the ten principles of social and self regulation, and cannot be forced without them. No physical posture can overcome an unaligned internal constitution.
Only when proper posture (in its expanded meaning) is attained is true pranayama possible or even desireable. While pranayama is often translated simply as ‘regulation of the breath’ or ‘breath control’, it’s meaning is far greater and extends into the very nature of mind (Manas). In Vedic philosophy the pranas are the ‘life-winds’ or the distinct vital living forces underlying the vehicles (upadhis) of Man’s constitution, and which are likewise intimately related to the koshas (the five sheaths of our being). This relation, between the pranas (of which there are seven) and mind (Manas) is such that each prana underlies one of the seven senses (smell, sight, taste, touch, hearing, mind and understanding), these seven senses having their seat in mind. Matter (i.e. the objects of perception) has seven characteristics corresponding to the seven senses; it has extension, colour, motion (molecular motion), taste, and smell, and when fully developed will reveal the remaining two characteristics (permeability, and the seventh, which we may see as the synthesis of the other six, relating to the neumenon of the object, or the composite object per se). 15
While the regulation of the physical breath plays its role in the production of physical nerve perception 16 and thus relates to audible thought and physical sensory input, the expanded meaning of pranayama relates to the motions of the pranas in the activity of upholding or vitally-powering the senses and in the subsequent motion of Manas as it moulds itself to that which is perceived. 17 The substance of mind (Manas) is plastic (pliable, flexible, malleable, adaptable), and when under the influence of the senses it moulds itself into that which is perceived. Sensory experience is only ever a reflection—i.e. it is not the object of perception we experience but rather the approximation of it made by the mind in its attempt to mimic that which the senses report to it. The senses are seven, the characteristics of matter are seven and the ‘divisions’ of Manas are seven, and thus the mind moulds itself according to each of these seven and a more or less complete experiential-motion-picture is presented to the Self (the true perceiver behind the mind). Thus, in our normal waking state, the mind is in constant flux, never at rest, never clear and calm, because always becoming this or that composite sensory-experience. This flux is not particularly regulated and has little sustained rhythm; instead it is haphazard, scattered, liable to fly off in any direction or to change abruptly, like a feather carried by shifting winds. In short: in our normal human waking state the modifications of the mind are not under the control of the will, which becomes passive and allows the mind to blindly follow the wandering senses. 18
“Regulation of prana” therefore is the rhythmic regulation of the vital forces underlying the senses, such that the chaotic motions of the substance of manas becomes as steady and directed as the inhalation and exhalation of breath. When these forces are brought into synchronistic rhythm with one another the underlying power (Prana) comes increasingly under the control of the will, which steadily lessens the instinctive wandering of the mind through the influence of the senses. The vital power that has been allowed to flow in haphazard fashion is re-harnessed by the will and the tendencies of thought, identification, sense-delight, etc., that have developed over lifetimes are slowly but steadily weakened. 19
So the chaotic modifications of the mind are first reigned into rhythmic, predictable, regular motion, after which they can be steadily calmed or stilled, which is the next of the Eight Limbs.
The interaction of the mind (manas) with the objects of perception (matter) is mediated by the vital life-energy (Prana – or the synthesis of the pranas). This mediation is, in essence, a connection between the seven divisions of manas and the seven characteristics of matter in any object of perception, and the bridge by which this connection is made is called ‘sense’. Sense is, ultimately, a function of the mind (manas) in its operation through a vehicle (upadhi). Within that vehicle are sense-organs, but the senses themselves are seated in manas.
When manas is functioning in its habitual human state of sensory-perception, the pranas are directed outwards through the senses and then back inward through the same channels. This moving outwards and moving inwards may be said to be the ‘breath’ of the mind, or the true flow of Prana in its sevenfold nature. The impressions made when the pranas are directed outwards are returned to the mind, from which it moulds itself into the sevenfold-experiential-picture (complete with image, smell, sound, touch, taste, thought, etc.). When this ‘breath’ is regulated (i.e. when the senses are directed by the will into controlled rhythmic motion) not only can the habitual tendency of the mind to mould itself into the received impression be reduced, but the very motion itself of the vital life-energy is calmed and increasingly stilled. Just as regulation of the outer breath in yoga practice can result (among adept practitioners) in the reduction of the quantity and interval of inhalation and exhalation until the breath is (nearly) stilled, so too can the ‘breath’ of the mind be lessened until stilled.
Pratyahara is often translated as the ‘withdrawal of the senses’, and in this what we see is that when the ‘breath’ of the mind is regulated and subsequently calmed, the vital energy can be willingly directed to either move more towards objects of perception (resulting in heightened sensory experience) or to move less towards objects of perception and thus return with less impressions to the mind. In the latter scenario (which is pratyahara), the sense-organs continue to operate as usual, but the connection or the bridge between the mind and those organs is reduced and ultimately stopped altogether. While the vital energy is still moving outwards and back inwards, connecting the mind with the objects of perception, the mind may find a certain degree of disinterest in those objects, but it cannot truly become free of them so long as that motion of vital energy continues. It is only when that motion is completely stilled, and the inherent energy of the senses is brought back to rest in the mind (its source) that the mind can come to a state of perfect calm stillness.
Only when this state of complete ‘withdrawal’ is reached is samyama possible, and this samyama constitutes the three remaining limbs: dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
Dharana is introduced in the following verse:
deśa-bandhaḥ cittasya dhāraṇā 20
This may be translated as: concentration (dharana) is the binding or holding (bandha) of the mind or consciousness (chittasya) to a singular point or place or object (desha).
In The Voice of the Silence, H. P. Blavatsky defines Dharana as: “the intense and perfect concentration of the mind upon some one interior object, accompanied by complete abstraction from everything pertaining to the external Universe, or the world of the senses”, and further states that: “in the sixth stage of development which, in the occult system is Dharana, every sense as an individual faculty has to be ‘killed’ (or paralyzed) on this plane, passing into and merging with the Seventh sense, the most spiritual.”
Until Pratyahara is mastered, perfect concentration (Dharana) is not possible, as the mind will continue to be drawn in more than one direction in any single instant. When mind (Manas) is operating through the senses it becomes seemingly divided into seven distinct functions, each relating to a sense perception. It thus ceases to operate as one but rather as a hierarchy of seven. Furthermore, when each of these functions is connecting with its particular characteristic of matter through the bridge made by each particular sense, the focus of mind becomes fanned-out or scattered. When one is perceiving an object through the senses one is only perceiving but the reflection of a partial impression of each of the seven characteristics of the substance that composes the form of that object, but not the object itself. It is only when the vital energies have been withdrawn from the operations of the senses and returned to their unified seat in manas that true perception of that object, in and of itself, is possible, because only then can the mind be directed wholly and with one-directional focus onto that object itself, instead of but towards its form through an intermediary.
As we saw earlier, the seventh sense is commonly translated as ‘understanding’. What we may say is that this seventh sense marks the pinnacle of Manas, or the synthesis of the sensory functioning of manas. In normal waking consciousness (sensory perception) this functioning is divided, but when all senses are merged into the seventh the functioning is once more unified into a singular perception independent of organs of sense belonging to Man’s upadhis. This singular perception is rooted in the vahana of the being—the essential vehicle (Buddhi) of the Self (Atma)—which contacts directly the object of interest. The withdrawing and subsequent merging of the senses, or the functioning of manas through the intermediary of vital energy, thus brings the yogi into consciously willed direction of its highest faculty (Buddhi), allowing the yogi to connect with the object of interest and thus to truly understand it, in and of itself. And this perfect concentration is Dharana.
However, Dharana can be, and most certainly is, in the beginning, but a fleeting or momentary connection which may be experienced as a flash of insight or understanding, but which is not maintained. The maintenance or holding of that concentration is the next limb of Raja Yoga, known as Dhyana.
Dhyana is introduced in the following verse:
tatra pratyaya-ikatānatā dhyānam 21
This may be translated as: maintaining continuous singular flow or attention (ekatanata) of the perceiving or knowing consciousness (pratyaya) in that place or point or with that object (tatra) is called true contemplation (dhyana).
The term pratyaya also carries with it the sense of confidence and trust in knowing, demonstrating that the type of connection made with the object of interest in this state leads to true understanding of that object, and such understanding can be trusted.
There are said to be degrees of dhyana, from the lower to the higher, and that climbing this ladder of contemplation is what leads to samadhi—i.e. the yogi may find themselves able to enter into the state of dhyana and yet remain well short of samadhi. We may distinguish ranges of dhyana based on what it is that is being contemplated. For instance, true focused and intent contemplation on a mundane object may be seen as one level of dhyana; the same when directed to an abstract philosophical concept may be said to be another; the same when directed towards a high religious or spiritual concept or ideas of universal morality may be said to be another; the same directed towards the source of all being, the One Reality, may be said to be another. We can also look at the degrees as a moving through the grades or levels of an object of interest, which has a gross, a subtle, a mental and a spiritual aspect.
As we saw earlier, Manas assumes the qualities or characteristics of that which is interacts with. When this interaction is mediated by the senses, the modification of the mind is based on the impressions returned to it by the sense perception. When the interaction is direct perception, through Buddhi—which is a direct contact with the object itself—then the modification of the mind takes on the character of the true nature of that object. There is an old saying that in order to truly know something one must become it; and perhaps we may say that this is the nature of Dhyana. The mind becomes, for all intents and purposes, the object that is being directly perceived through sustained and one-pointed concentration upon it. Thus, dhyana of various degrees may bring with it knowledge of the gross, the subtle, the mental or the spiritual aspects of that which is being contemplated. Or similarly, dhyana of a lower nature may bring direct understanding of the nature of a mundane object; dhyana of a higher nature may bring direct understanding of the true nature of a philosophical concept; dhyana of an even higher nature may bring direct understanding of the true nature of a religious or spiritual ideal; and dhyana of the highest nature may bring with it understanding of the true nature of the One Reality. In each of these, the understanding is arrived at by a ‘becoming at one with’ that which is contemplated, or that aspect of that which is being contemplated, and through these degrees of Dhyana, the yogi attains to true scientific, philosophic and religious understanding, which three ultimately merge into the fourth or true spiritual understanding.
When one arrives at the true fundamental or absolute essence of that which is contemplated one may be said to have arrived at the state of Samadhi. As the absolute essence of any object of interest is ultimately One, ultimately derived from a singular source, the One Reality, the Absolute, we may say that Samadhi is an arriving at that source through concentration on any object of interest when such concentration is sustained with enough intensity and duration to have passed through that object inwardly until one reaches the One All. Thus contemplation (Dhyana) is the means by which Samadhi is ultimately attained.
Samdhi is introduced in the following verse:
tadeva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ svarūpa-śūnyam-iva-samādhiḥ 22
This may be translated as: when only (matra) that same (tadeva) object (artha) appears (nibhasam), even as though empty (shunyam) of its own form or nature (svarupa), this is called true meditation (samadhi).
In The Voice of the Silence, H. P. Blavatsky defined Samadhi as: “the state in which the ascetic loses the consciousness of every individuality including his own. He becomes—the ALL.”
Contrast this with her definition of Dhyana in the same work: “in this state [dhyana] the Raj Yogi is yet spiritually conscious of Self, and the working of his higher principles. One step more, and he will be on the plane beyond the Seventh (or fourth according to some schools).”
In Dhyana there is still a Self-recognized differentiation between the Self that is contemplating and the object of interest that is being contemplated. We may say that in Dhyana, the mind (Manas) is experiencing modifications the subtlety of which is determined by the depth (degree) of the contemplation of the object. Yet while that contemplation is singularly intent upon an object, it is not yet a complete meditation or absorption in the essence of that object—i.e. the mind’s modifications are still yet to conform to the ultimate root of the object of interest.
That root is the ALL. We may say that the constitution of every object of possible contemplation (whether seemingly subjective or seemingly objective) is like a set of tracks that leads inevitably to the One Cause. And that One Cause is non-modification; it is the homogenous singular being of all objects, at one with the fundamental be-ness of the Absolute. As the constitution of the contemplator himself is also like a track that leads inevitably to the One Cause, the deeper his contemplation on any given object of interest the closer to his own fundamental unity with that object he comes.
When in contemplation that One Cause underlying the object of interest is reached there comes a natural cessation of the duality of subject and object. To the contemplator there is a complete merger between himself and the object; he becomes it, or it becomes he, or both become the ALL. Better yet, we might say that both always were, are and will be the ALL, and Samadhi is simply the complete experiential realization of this. Thus “the ascetic loses the consciousness of every individuality including his own.” How can there be a contemplator in a state wherein there is no distinction to be made between subject and object?
In terms of the modifications of the mind (Manas), we can say that this arrival at the ALL represents non-modification; the singular one-directional concentration of the mind, sustained as contemplation, passes through a series of increasingly subtle modifications until such a level of subtlety is reached that for all intents and purposes the mind is absolutely at rest at what is the highest pinnacle of homogeneity of its own substance.
The entirety of this process (concentration (dharana) through to contemplation (dhyana) and into true meditation (samadhi)) constitutes samyama, and the practice of samyama is capable of revealing the truth of any facet of Nature, from the true nature of any object, to the complete past and future of that object, to the true nature of any sound (vibration), to the nature of the mind of another, to the knowledge of past lives, and so on. 23 Furthermore, the whole spectrum of siddhis (powers) opens itself to the yogi, 24 who, given his extensive training in yama/niyama is in a position to wisely and benevolently wield such powers. However, these powers themselves may become obstacles to Samadhi if the yogi is not beyond the possibility of attachment to them, which is why the yogi must ever be vigilant in the practice of yama/niyama. 25
So while Samadhi is a merging with the ALL, the procedure (samyama) is one that can be directed towards any facet of Nature in such a way as to reveal the fundamental truth underlying that facet. The ultimate goal is union, liberation, but along that path true understanding and mastery over life are attained.
The remainder of the Yoga Sutras deal with the subtle transitions during the process of yoga meditation, with the powers associated with the successful yogi and how they are accessed, and with the details of final or perpetual liberation through true discrimination between Mind and Self. But samyama, it would seem, is the key to all these.
It is true liberation when the pure consciousness resides once more in its true nature, where all things are known in their simplest essence, and the multitudinous reality is recognized as a simple and easily understood unity. This is the goal and yoga is the means. But when the goal is reached, means and end merge and yoga (union) is revealed as the essence of being—yogi and yoga are One.
1. Yoga Sutras, I:2.
2. Translation is from William Quan Judge’s interpretation. His version can be compare with several other English translations, for example:
Union, spiritual consciousness, is gained through control of the versatile psychic nature.—Charles Johnston
Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Chitta) from taking various forms (Vrittis).—Swami Vivekananda
[Yoga is] “the neutralization of the alternating waves in consciousness,” [or alternatively, the] “cessation of the modifications of the mind-stuff.”—Paramahansa Yogananda (see Yogananda’s detailed examination here).
Patanjali begins his Yoga Sutras with the definition of yoga as “the neutralization of the alternating waves in consciousness” (chitta vritti nirodha—I:2). This may also be translated as “cessation of the modifications of the mind-stuff.” I have explained in Autobiography of a Yogi, “Chitta is a comprehensive term for the thinking principle, which includes the pranic life forces, manas (mind or sense consciousness), ahamkara (egoity), and buddhi (intuitive intelligence). Vritti (literally ‘whirlpool’) refers to the waves of thought and emotion that ceaselessly arise and subside in man’s consciousness. Nirodha means neutralization, cessation, control.”—Paramahansa Yogananda (from God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, p. 70)
See also: detailed analysis of the verse.
3. Yoga Sutras, I:12-16
4. Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, interpretation by William Quan Judge.
5. Yoga Sutras, I:30-31
6. Yoga Sutras, I:32-40
7. Yoga Sutras, II:29
8. Yoga Sutras, II:30
9. See The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi, by Rhagavan Iyer.
10. See, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus also makes it clear that it is not only outer actions that are considered ‘sin’, but even the mental counterparts to such actions.
11. See comment on yoga sutra II:39 in WQJ’s interpretation of the Yoga Aphorisms.
12. Yoga Sutras, II:32
13. See Yoga Sutras, II:40-41
14. See Yoga Sutras, II:45
16. See comment on yoga sutra II:51 in WQJ’s interpretation of the Yoga Aphorisms.
17. See Yoga Sutras, I:4
18. See Katha Upanishad, I, 3, 3-6:
Know the Higher Self as the lord of the chariot, and the body as the chariot; know the soul as the charioteer, and the mind and emotional nature as the reins.
They say that the powers of perception and action are the horses, and that objective things are the roadways for these; the Self joined with the powers through the mental and emotional nature is called the enjoyer of experience by the wise.
But he who is without understanding, with mind and emotional nature ever uncontrolled, of such a one his powers of perception and action are not under his command, like the unruly horses of the charioteer.
But he who is possessed of understanding, with mind and emotional nature controlled, his powers of perception and action are under his command, like the well-ruled horses of the charioteer.
—tr. Charles Johnston
19. See Yoga Sutras, II:12-25, etc.
20. Yoga Sutras, III:1
21. Yoga Sutras, III:2
22. Yoga Sutras, III:3
23. Yoga Sutras, III:16-20
24. Yoga Sutras, III:21-37
25. Yoga Sutras, III:38