Thursday, September 11, 2014

The goal of yoga


 



Answering a challenge to formulate the goal of yoga in a single page, I can start by saying that it won’t even take me a page.


Yoga has many meanings and the first reports on yogis were as miracle-workers. However, the very first recorded definition of yoga, in the Katha Upanishad, has nothing to do with paranormal powers. It describes yoga as “silencing the mind, shutting out all thoughts”. A similar definition is given in the synthesis by Patanjali, the Yoga Sutra: “Yoga is the stopping of the modifications of the mind.” Some technical explanation about the preparations may then be given, but the definition itself is very simple: emptying the mind. Not too easy (“next week, don’t think of a monkey”), but certainly simple, like the zero among the numbers.


No goal need be defined. Silence is just silence, it is not in the service of anything else: "What's the use? No use! I just sit."

The conjunction with the doctrine of reincarnation (which also exists in cultures that don’t know of yoga), central to Jainism and Buddhism, is now generally believed east of the Indus, and also among Western yoga practitioners. It says that the goal of yoga is the stopping of the wheel of reincarnations. Possibly this is based on empirically-gained knowledge of the reincarnation cycle by practising yogis. The Buddha claimed to know all his incarnations, but accomplished yogis I know, report never to have had such experiences. At any rate, reincarnation is a separate doctrine not necessary for the notion and practice of yoga.

The conjunction with the doctrine of kundalini (energy lying coiled at the base of the spine which can be awakened and raised to the crown) is even younger, and was unknown to the first yoga writers. Here again, kundalini exists separately from yoga: it has been reported to rise in non-yogis, spontaneously or under the influence of drugs, and is known in cultures that don’t know yoga, such as those of the San (Bushmen), who dance to create a “warm feeling in the back”, or the Australian Aboriginals. In China, it was applied in a meditational practice, the “microcosmic orbit” where energy is led up the spine by the attention and the breath. I suspect that “kundalini yoga” came about as a variation on this Chinese practice, but am still looking for more relevant information. At any rate, yoga can be understood without reference to kundalini.   

In China, a practice of yoga (meditation) existed in parallel with the yoga outlined in the Upanishads and the ensuing Indian tradition. Zhuangzi speaks of “turning your eyes and ears inwards”, “shutting out your own thinking” and “remaining silent”. His simple definition is “sit and forget”. So, let’s cut out all the crap, all the visions and “spiritual experiences”, and focus on this demanding but very straightforward practice: emptying the mind.    

14 comments:

Sandeep said...

" I suspect that “kundalini yoga” came about as a variation on this Chinese practice, but am still looking for more relevant information. At any rate, yoga can be understood without reference to kundalini."

Witzel's origin of mythologies book talks of Kundalini yoga as a Gondwana concept.

Sandeep said...

Sorry I meant just "Kundalini", not "Kundalini yoga". May be you are talking of the Chinese practice as linking these two apriori extant notions?

Raman Sehgal said...

"The Buddha claimed to know all his incarnations"

Dr. Elst - can you provide some supporting evidence for the above comment.

Thanks and Regards,

Raman

Gururaj BN said...

I have a question. gita in Chapter VI speaks of Yogi looking at the tip of the nose. The phrase used is "Samprekshya nasikagram swam". Looking at the tip of one's own nose". Does this mean actually the end of nose, or as many are wont to say, fixing the eye between eyebrows? In practice, when one focuses eyes between eyebrows, it results in squinting and causes strain to eye muscles. also, one continues to get visual inputs of surroundings which distracts mind. Same is more or less true of looking at the tip of the nose. What is the correct understanding of "Samprekshya nasikagram swam"? will Dr.Elst or one of the followers of this blog enlighten this point?

Koenraad Elst said...

@Gururaj: Both the tip of the nose and the third eye are normal objects of concentration, part of well-known yogic exercises. Last weekend I attended a Yogi Bhajan workshop, and both were present in the exercises done. While hatha-yogic exercises are more recent (ca. 11th century, with some inputs from the early 20th century, leading Western media to falsely assert that yoga dates from the modern age), these pranayamas and mudras are indeed very old, as their mention in the Gita attests. The strain caused to the facial muscles is only temporary; practice makes perfect.

Raman Sehgal said...

"The Buddha claimed to know all his incarnations"

Can someone kindly provide me with references.

Koenraad Elst said...

@Raman: I vividly remember I have read this claim by the Buddha in a primary source; but can't find it back in the present busy time. Later sometime, or hopefully someone else can inform us?

Raman Sehgal said...

@Dr. Elst - my respect to you sir.

I am no scholar but just an inquisitive person.

I have written two blogs at http://ramansaigal.blogspot.in/2014/07/caste-system-caste-system-is-themost.html

on Caste System and Hindu absurdities.

Would be very happy to have your comments - but don't force yourself. Thanks.

Gururaj BN said...

Thanks, Dr.Elst, for the clarification. I am grateful.

Karthikrajan said...

What is the use of yoga ? Maybe that is the way to allow the gods within us to reveal themselves to us. And, there are other devils hiding in the corners. The allaah who revealed himself to mohammad happened to be one such devil in disguise, the rest is of course blood filled history.
I find a similar idea being depicted in the Hollywood film ‘E.T’ by steven spielberg. One E.T being gets stranded on earth when a group pays a visit. When the authorities and a neighborhood kid search for it in the woods, it manages to evade them in the din and frenzy. Later in the middle of the night when silence reigns all around, the E.T being 'reveals' itself to the the kid in his house for a handshake. Film analysts pointed out that it was this feature of depicting the E.T’s as friendly creatures which made the film a big hit, until then E.T’s were being projected in a demonic form.
Krishna also claims to know all his previous reincarnations and claims that anyone following his teachings can know their previous births. So who copied from whom, Krishna from budhdha or vice versa ?

Raman Sehgal said...

@Karthikrajan : can you provide me with the original references of Buddha knowing his previous births including that of Rama?

Koenraad Elst said...

"Krishna also claims to know all his previous reincarnations and claims that anyone following his teachings can know their previous births. So who copied from whom, Krishna from budhdha or vice versa?"
The events that gave rise to the Mahabharata epic featuring Krishna took place at least five centuries before the Buddha, but the writing and editing continued until centuries after the Buddha. Out of a grim anti-Hindu bias now generally presupposed in Buddhist studies, most scholars will say that others have plagiarized the Buddha, though the opposite is just as likely. The doctrine of reincarnation was at any rate well-established before the Buddha came on the scene. But if reincarnation is a fact, no borrowing need have taken place. The two, and many others, may have genuinely remembered their previous incarnations.

Karthikrajan said...

@Raman Sehgal: No, i haven't read any primary books on budhdha. I am an engineer by profession and have taken interest in history only in recent years. I read books and articles during free time and currently reading 'mein kampf' by hilter.

@ Dr KE : sir, krishna also says he knows the future. Have you come across any yogic gurus or books attesting to this ?
There was a program on 'ripleys believe it or not' where a guy in UK used to get premonitions and wrote down the events in a sealed cover which came true after a week. These premonitions died down subsequently.
Bruce Lee is said to be deeply spiritual guy who predicted his own death. Should be an interesting topic to discuss.

Koenraad Elst said...

@Karthikrajan: clairvoyance including the power to predict the future is a siddhi, a paranormal power. It is a historical fact that ancient yogis were primarily known for their siddhis -- and that is what most Hindus (including you, apparently) still expect from them. But Patañjali aptly relegates siddhis to the fringes and dismisses them as a distraction. Yoga is simpler.