The following is an excerpt from the book "Om Yoga: Its Theory and Practice."
Om is the Supreme Brahman. (Svetasvatara Upanishad 1:7)
He who utters Om with the intention 'I shall attain Brahman' does verily attain Brahman. (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.8.1)
The Self is of the nature of the Syllable Om. (Mandukya Upanishad 1.8.12)
Meditate on Om as the Self. (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.3)
Yoga is all about freedom. Only a fraction of the earth's population is formally imprisoned, but the entire human race is imprisoned in the earth itself. None are free from the inevitability of sickness, age, and death, however free of them they may be at the moment. The human condition is subject to innumerable limitations. Who really controls his life fully, attains all his goals, and knows no setbacks of any kind? No one. Om Yoga is the way to freedom from suffering and limitation. Regarding Om, the Yoga Sutras (1) simply say: "Its repetition and meditation is the way(Yoga Sutras 1:28). Even a superficial perusal of the Upanishads reveals that the meditation practice known and recommended by the Vedic Rishis (2), and later Patanjali and Krishna, (3)A Divine Incarnation (avatar) born in India about three thousand years ago, Whose teachings to His disciple Arjuna on the eve of the GREat India (Mahabharata) War comprise the Bhagavad Gita.) was based on Om, the sacred syllable that both symbolizes and embodies Brahman, the Absolute Reality.
It is my hope that you will test for yourself the spiritual alchemy of Om Yoga that is set forth here. If your practice is exactly as outlined and of sufficient duration, your experience will be the proof of its validity and its efficacy.
"This is the bridge to immortality. May you be successful in crossing over to the farther shore of darkness." (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.6)
Since the spirit is always free, and nothing can change it-nor does it ever need any changing-the question naturally arises: "Why bother with yoga at all? If our real self is ever perfect and free, what needs to be done? What can be done?"
It is true; the spirit is ever-free, but it has forgotten that and identifies with its experience of bondage and consequently (seemingly) suffers. Our situation is like someone who is asleep and dreaming that he is being tortured and beaten. In reality he is not being touched at all; yet he is experiencing pain and fear. He need not placate, overpower, or escape his torturers. He needs no more dream activity! He needs only to wake up. Yoga is the procedure of self-awakening.
In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras Shankara (The GREat reformer and re-establisher of Vedic Religion in India around 300 B.C.) has an "opponent" say: "How can there be a means to obtain liberation? Liberation is not a thing which can be obtained, for it is simply cessation of bondage." And Shankara replies: "You are wrong. For ignorance [bondage] to cease, something has to be done, with effort, as in the breaking of a fetter. Though liberation is not a 'thing,' inasmuch as it is cessation of ignorance in the presence of right knowledge it is figuratively spoken of as something to be obtained." And he concludes: "The purpose of Yoga is the knowledge of Reality."
What is Yoga?
"Yoga" is a Sanskrit word that means "to join." Yoga, then, is union and the way to union. What do we join through yoga?
First, we join our awareness to our own essential being: spirit that is consciousness. In yoga philosophy this is known as the atman or self. Next we join our finite consciousness to the Infinite Consciousness: God, the Supreme Self (Paramatman). In essence they are eternally one, and according to yogic philosophy all spirits originally dwelt in consciousness of that oneness. But in the descent into the material world for the purpose of evolving and extending its scope of consciousness, the individual spirit has lost its awareness of that eternal union, and therefore los the capacity to live in and manifest the union on a practical level. Through yoga the lost consciousness can be regained and actualized in the individual's practical life sphere. So profound and so necessary is yoga to the evolving consciousness, there is no more important subject in the world.
Regarding this, a yogi-adept of the twentieth century, Dr. I. K. Taimni, remarked in his book The Science of Yoga: "According to the yogic philosophy it is possible to rise completely above the illusions and miseries of life and to gain infinite knowledge, bliss, and power through enlightenment here and now while we are still living in the physical body. And if we do not attain this enlightenment while we are still alive we will have to come back again and again into this world until we have accomplished this appointed task. So it is not a question of choosing the path of yoga or rejecting it. It is a question of choosing it now or in some future life. It is a question of gaining enlightenment as soon as possible and avoiding the suffering in the future or postponing the effort and going through further suffering which is unnecessary and avoidable. This is the meaning of Yoga Sutra 2:16: 'The misery which is not yet come can and is to be avoided.' No vague promise of an uncertain postmortem happiness this, but a definite scientific assertion of a fact verified by the experience of innumerable yogis, saints, and sages who have trodden the path of yoga throughout the ages."
Yoga must be approached initially as a philosophy-but a philosophy which by its very nature stimulates its investigators to engage in practical applications through which they will experience-and demonstrate-its truth and worth. That which begins as theory develops into practice which culminates in realization. Yoga is thus a philosophy, a discipline, and an experience. It is a revelation of consciousness. And since rational thought always precedes rational action, we should begin with the philosophical side of Yoga.
Then and now
In the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita Krishna tells Arjuna: "There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be."(Bhagavad Gita 2:12) That is, we are eternal beings, without beginning and without end. Originally we were points of conscious light in the infinite Ocean of Conscious Light that is God. We were gods within God. And so we still are, for it is not possible to be outside of Infinity Itself. Yet we are also here in this ever-changing world-a place that completely overwhelms the truth of our immortal life within God. For countless life-cycles we have found ourselves embodied in material cases, little body-prisons within the GREater prison of the cosmos. And that is where we are right now.
There is a law that governs the place and kind of our embodiment. That law is karma, the principle of exact and inevitable reaction to our own actions and mental states, resulting in a seemingly endless domino effect of continual birth and death. Yoga offers us the possibility of ending this chain of embodiments by awakening and transformation from time and mortality into eternity and immortality.
God and gods
We are gods within God, finite spirits within the Infinite Spirit. But what is "spirit"? Yoga tells us that spirit is consciousness, hence we are eternal consciousnesses, each of us individual and distinct. ("Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be.?") Yet we are more. For we do not have an existence independent of one another or independent of God. Rather, we take our being from God as the waves take their existence from the ocean, sharing it with all the other waves.
God is the eternal Root or Ground of our being, our GREater Self. We are not God, but in some ineffable manner God is us-the Self of our self, the Spirit of our spirit. God is all, and we are the parts-each of us possessing an eternal and irrevocable distinction. That is why, as already quoted, Krishna told Arjuna: "There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be." It is incalculably important to realize this before we can have any viable understanding of or approach to ourselves, to our lives, to others, and even to God. The distinction between God, us, and one another is real and eternal; yet so is our unity.
In God there is unity; in us there is diversity. These two seemingly contradictory states coexist in perfection. Because of this we have the term advaita which does not mean "one," but simply "not two." Reality is neither One nor Two. It is a unity that possesses diversity. It is a mystery, but it can be realized by direct experience, and yoga is the means to that experience.
God and creation
God, the infinite Spirit, is pure consciousness, but-as we are experiencing even now-He has extended or emanated Himself as the cosmos: physical, astral, and causal. This seemingly dual nature of God as Light and Power, as Consciousness and Matter, has puzzled the minds of even the wise.
God, the Original Being, projects Himself as the ever-changing dance of creation, as the evolving light that is the cosmos. God projects the creation, evolves it, and withdraws it back into Himself in a perpetual cycle. Thus the creation can be thought of as God's body-that God becomes incarnate in creation again and again. And as parts or reflections of God we do exactly the same through reincarnation.
All conscious beings have existed eternally within the Being of God-living within the heart of God, one with Him, distinct though not separate. Having their being rooted in the infinity of God, the individual consciousnesses have within them a natural impulse to transcend their finitude and attain the boundlessness of their Origin. This, of course, is impossible, since the essential, eternal nature of a being cannot be altered. Being rooted in God, and therefore in a sense a part of God, all beings are as immutable as God-the only infinite Being. Yet the urge for transcendence is part of their nature.
The solution to this dilemma is actually quite simple: the individual consciousnesses cannot alter their natural state of finitude but they can come to share and participate in the infinite Consciousness of God. As Sri Ma Anandamayi said: "The soul can become godlike, but it cannot become God." That is, they cannot become infinite themselves, but they can experience the infinity of another: their divine Source. Just as a psychically sensitive person can experience the thoughts and feelings of another but does not become that other person, so the individual consciousness can come to experience the Consciousness of God while remaining in its limited native state.
It is necessary, then, for the individual spirit to develop the capacity for such a state of awareness. And this is done by learning to fully experience the state of existence of a being completely different from oneself-to enter into an altogether alien mode of being while retaining the awareness of one's true identity. In other words, the individual spirit must learn to put on the "costume" of a consciousness utterly different from its own and become able not just to fully experience that other mode of consciousness, but also to develop the ability to function as that other kind of being.
To enable the spirits to enter into this process, God breathes forth or emanates His own Self as the Power from which is manifested all the realms of relative existence, from the most subtle worlds of nearly-perfected beings to the most objective worlds of atomic matter. The spirits then enter into relative existence by taking on coverings, or "bodies," (There are five such concentric sheaths or bodies: the sheaths of bliss, intellect, mind, life-force and the physical body-the anandamaya, jnanamaya, manomaya, pranamaya and annamaya bodies (koshas) respectively.) of varying grades and patterns of vibratory energies and descending into this material world. Here they begin working their way back up the ladder of ever-evolving forms, beginning with forms whose scope of consciousness is lesser than theirs and working their way upward, entering into higher and higher levels of awareness until they can surpass their original breadth of consciousness and begin to partake of a life of awareness much beyond their own.
Furthermore, in the intervals between embodiments the spirit spends time in the astral regions where awakening and growth also take place. (This is best explained in the forty-third chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda.) Upward and upward they evolve until their capacity for awareness is developed to such a perfect state that they can actually experience the Being of God in full participation in God's all-embracing Consciousness, thenceforth to live in His infinity.
The master yogi, Dr. I. K. Taimni, in The Ultimate Reality and Realization, says this: "It is only when the realization of being a pure spirit or atma has been attained that it is possible to achieve the final goal of union of the atma with the Paramatma, the Supreme Spirit which exists eternally beyond the manifested universe and from which the manifested universe is derived. When this final realization has been attained and union of atma with Paramatma has been brought about there is not only a complete sharing of consciousness between the two but also of the infinite Power which is inherent in the Universal Consciousness.?It is necessary to distinguish between the powers which are acquired on the realization that he is a pure spirit or atma and those which are attained when he is able to destroy the last vestige of egoism and his consciousness becomes united with that of Paramatma. The former, though tremendous in some respects, are still limited, while the latter which are really the Powers of the Supreme Spirit are infinite and can manifest through the center of consciousness of a self-realized individual because there is fusion of the individual consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness and the channel between the two is open."
We do not become God the Absolute, but we enter into that Absolute Life and are one with it. As Shankara explains in his Yoga Sutra commentary: "When the light of several lamps appears simultaneously, it cannot be made out which is the light of which." Consequently we experience the infinite Being of God-infinite Consciousness-as our own being. Krishna has described it thusly: "When you have reached enlightenment, ignorance will delude you no longer. In the light of that knowledge you will see the entire creation within your own atman and in me." (Bhagavad Gita 4:35) Buddha called this "seeing with the Divine Eye." When we are unshakably established in that Consciousness the goal has been attained.
As Shakespeare wrote, "all the world's a stage" with the individual spirits wearing their costumes and playing their parts. Just as actors begin with small parts and proGREss to bigger roles by demonstrating their skill in those smaller parts, so also do the spirits advance to higher and more complex forms of existence and consciousness, at last returning home to God. The Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote:A stone I died and rose again a plant.
A plant I died and rose an animal;
I died an animal and was born a man.
Why should I fear? What have I lost by death?
As man, death sweeps me from this world of men
That I may wear an angel's wings in heaven;
Yet e'en as angel may I not abide,
For nought abideth save the face of God.
Thus o'er the angels' world I wing my way
Onwards and upwards, unto boundless lights;
Then let me be as nought, for in my heart
Rings as a harp-song that we must return to Him.Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of many GREat Americans whose belief in reincarnation is overlooked, wrote in his poem, The Chambered Nautilus: Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!
That is the purpose of this creation and our place in it through a seemingly endless chain of births in this and the higher worlds: to evolve beyond all worlds by expanding our consciousness through form after form, eventually reuniting ourselves consciously with God, leaving many "outgrown shells by life's unresting sea." For long ages beyond calculation this growth has occurred automatically, spontaneously, with no thought or intention on our part. But the time comes in our evolutionary scenario when comprehension dawns and we understand that we must take our own evolution in hand from that time forth. This is necessary for the development of our higher potential. As God controls and directs the macrocosm, we must now begin doing the same with the microcosm that is "us." And yoga is the means of our self-evolution that leads to our self-mastery and perfect union with the Supreme Self: God. Yoga is both the knowledge of cosmic and human makeup and the key to unlock them and ascend to freedom in spirit. Yoga is the means by which we answer for ourselves the prayer:
Lead me from the unreal to the Real.
Lead me from darkness to the Light.
Lead me from death to Immortality.
(1) The oldest known writing on the subject of yoga, written by the sage Patanjali, a yogi of ancient India, and considered the most authoritative text on yoga.
(2) Seers of the Truth, to whom the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of India, considered the oldest scriptures of the world, were revealed in meditation.
(3) A Divine Incarnation (avatar) born in India about three thousand years ago, Whose teachings to His disciple Arjuna on the eve of the GREat India (Mahabharata) War comprise the Bhagavad Gita.
Swami Nirmalananda Giri is the abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram, a traditional Hindu monastery in the small desert town of Borrego Springs in southern California. More of his writings, including the full book, Om Yoga: Its Theory and Practice, for which this article is an introduction, may be found at the Ashram's website, http://www.atmajyoti.org/