Yoga means ‘union’ (with God or true Self). In modern times yoga has become separated from its spiritual purpose. All focus is then placed upon the physicality of the yoga postures (mudras), breathing techniques and so forth. These were only added to Hatha Yoga when the sages wished to make a complete science of yoga, and were never intended to be separated from meditation or the goal of yoga, which is identical with its meaning, ‘union’.
In the subtle human body, tradition has it there are two forces at work, often symbolised by two serpents called ida and pingala in Sanskrit, or personified as Isis and Nephthys in Egypt. These are likened to the solar and lunar force, the Sun and the Moon. Through their interactions we are able to perform all functions. We can live, breathe, eat and think, for example, by virtue of them. At various times one or the other force is dominant. When they are equilibrated, through yoga for example, it becomes possible to raise consciousness up through the chakras or ‘wheels’, centres of power, to the higher or supra-human states. This is brought about through the means of a ‘central canal’ called shushumna in Sanskrit, which has its equivalent in the central column of the Tree of Life or the trunk of the world tree in various cultures. This is described as the passage for a certain kind of fire and is otherwise called the Serpent Power. The vital force or Kundalini, that which keeps us alive, is said to be coiled sleeping at the base of the spine in the occult anatomy; the dream of existence arises therefrom. The Shakti or living power, which is personified as a goddess of the same name, is able to rise upward along the path of the shushumna. This is facilitated by pranayama or inward and outward breath in the yoga practice, combined with upward aspiration and sometimes the use of various images (yantras) and sounds (mantras).
The primary aim of yoga is withdrawal of the senses from the physical body (and mind) to the subtle realm. The gross and subtle senses are then withdrawn so that true meditation and yoga union is possible.
This article is adapted and abridged from the book Thunder Perfect Gnosis—Intellectual Flower of Mind.
Origin of Yoga
Everyone imagines they know what yoga is, but the notion commonly rests on the misconception that yoga is all about postures and breathing exercises. In fact, the development of postures and breathing came at a relatively late time and only forms a branch of Hatha Yoga—a branch that is not in any way a sum of even that specialised knowledge. Yoga, which is linked etymologically to ‘yoke’, includes both the goal and the means. The ‘union’ that is implicit is also mistaken for a uniting that takes place between two distinctly separate things, whereas it is really more of a return to one principle that has no second, so is more in the way of a fullness of realisation or total knowledge that involves the destruction of all ignorance concerning the true state of affairs.
The origin of yoga is far more ancient than is usually supposed. There are two darshanas or points of view within the Hindu doctrines that are closely linked, these being the principial cosmology of Shankhya, and the Yoga Sutras attributed to Patanjali. Modern scholarship always insists on attributing traditional knowledge to an individual author, whereas names like ‘Shankhya’ are not the names of a personage but descriptive more of a specialised knowledge or science not in any way comparable to conventional scientific theories. Shankhya literally has the meaning of ‘category’, which is meant in the sense of synthetic knowledge of true principles (tattvas). Patanjali, who wrote down the aphorisms (sutras) of the yoga theory and practice, based on the Shankhya cosmology, does not refer to one person; it is a family name, indicative of a school of thought as a collective entity.
Furthermore, the great antiquity of yoga is made clear in the Sanskrit source texts and the commentaries on them by the ancient sages. Yoga practice is inseparable from the Shankhya teaching and that is attributed to Kapila, who is identified with Hiranyagarbha, the Lord of the Universe in the present cycle or Manvantara. It is written that Kapila had acquired the sum total of all knowledge of the Manvantara previous to this present one, of which according to Hindu cosmology we are now at the end of the final phase called Kali Yuga. Owing to the degradation that takes place at the end of a cosmic cycle it thus became necessary to write down the theory and practice of yoga about two thousand years ago—before that it was not necessary as knowledge was passed down through oral tradition.
It is not recommended that anyone should attempt Kundalini Yoga, Raja Yoga or any other form of the science without knowledgeable guidance and supervision. See also our article and commentary on The Eight Limbs of Yoga, Patanjali.
1. The chakras in yoga do not in any way exist in the physical anatomy as such. When they are ‘located’ in various parts of the body the placement is only to serve as an analogy, not literal fact.
2. See ‘Cosmic Cycles’, Nu Hermetica—Initiation and Metaphysical Reality.
© Oliver St. John 2021, 2023
Adapted from the book Thunder Perfect Gnosis—Intellectual Flower of Mind. The book has ten chapters exclusively concerned with the theory of yoga and the practices of discrimination and concentration of the mind.
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