How Yoga can Lead to a Universal Vision of
by Stephen Knapp
First of all, yoga is not a religion, it is a spiritual science that has been practiced and developed over thousands of years. Archeological evidence shows figures in yogic positions from the Indus Valley region that date as far back as 3000 BCE. Yoga is also mentioned in various Vedic literature, such as some of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-gita, the Bhagavata Purana, and others, all of which date back thousands of years.
Religion often deals with externals, such as how we act, what we do, and customs and rituals. Spirituality, on the other hand, may also use rituals and practices, but is focused on our internal changes and development, and is, thus, more personal and individualistic. It does not depend on a church or our connection with an institution. Neither does it depend on a strict dogma, but it goes beyond all that. This is the Vedic system. The goal of religion may be to reach heaven, but the goal of Vedic spirituality, from which originates the yoga system, is moksha, or liberation from all forms of materialistic limitations, providing a reawakening of our real spiritual identity, and even complete entrance into the spiritual dimension.
The purpose of any true spiritual path is to raise our consciousness to the point of allowing us to directly perceive the spiritual strata. Being spiritual means to recognize one’s spiritual identity and practically see the transcendental essence of all others. It also means to see that we are all parts and parcels of God and to respect each other in that light. That is one of the goals of yoga.
We need to understand that all things that are spiritual function on a higher plane of existence, one that is hardly perceptible by our mind, intelligence, or senses. The spiritual dimension can only be detected when our consciousness reaches a higher level of awareness. It is similar to radio and television waves. These are not perceptible by our mind or senses. They remain invisible, yet they are all around us. In our base level of awareness, or unawareness, we may think that such things as radio waves and television frequencies are not real. Of course, we may be viewed as quite uneducated by those who are familiar with their existence. So the thing is, even if you cannot perceive them, if you have a receiver that can detect or even utilize such subtle waves or frequencies, then you will know that radio and television waves are not only a fact, but can be used for many practical purposes.
The same thing goes for a genuine spiritual path. It is meant to bring our consciousness up to a higher level of awareness, to fine tune it so that we can receive or perceive the higher vibrations of the spiritual strata. As we practice a genuine spiritual tradition, then our consciousness can become refined and focused enough so we can receive the subtle frequencies and perceive the reality of the spiritual domain. Then we can have our own spiritual experiences. The point is that the more spiritual we become, the more we can perceive that which is spiritual. As we develop and grow in this way, the questions about spiritual life are no longer a mystery to solve, but become a reality to experience. It becomes a practical part of our lives. And how to reach that level of perception is supplied in the Vedic methodologies that have been preserved and handed to us by the previous sages who have also used them for their own development and spiritual experience. And that is what the Vedic process has been giving to humanity for thousands of years.
The Vedic system is practically non-denominational. It is not for any one culture or ethnic group. It is for all of humanity and is called Sanatana-dharma. Sanatana-dharma is both a path and a state of being. It means, essentially, the eternal nature of the soul, that which always exists. We are all spiritual beings within material bodies, so the goal and our main duty of human existence is to regain that spiritual identity. This is attained by a reawakening of our higher consciousness and the perception of our spiritual identity. It is through the process of yoga and the path of Sanatana-dharma that we can reach this higher awareness and perceive exactly who we are. This is precisely the purpose of yoga.
The Sanskrit root of the word yoga is yuj, which means to bind, link, or unite with the object of our meditation. Thus, it is to unite the mind, intellect, the will, body, and soul to God, or the jivatma to the Paramatma, the individual soul to the Supersoul, through the discipline of yoga. Furthermore, the word religion comes from the Latin word religio, which also means to bring back or bind to God. Thus, there is no difference between the goal of yoga and the deeper goal of religion.
Nowadays people often practice yoga merely for improving their physical fitness, or for their mental and overall well-being. There is nothing wrong with that, and yoga can do that most efficiently. But there is also a higher aspect of yoga, which for some has been forgotten. The great rishis of old in India gave it for our preparation to reach higher states of consciousness. And such training was performed for years to attain more developed states of being. Thus, the process of hatha yoga was given to prepare one for entering the elevated stages of meditation. Hatha yoga is a beginning process for preparing the body and mind for spiritual awakening through the practice of raja or astanga yoga. Thus, it is also quite effective in reducing any diseases, physical defects, or mental disturbances. And this is why some people use it as a preventative medical therapy. It is the imbalance in the energy system that contributes much of the psychic or mental diseases that people suffer. Hatha yoga, along with breathing exercises, pranayama, can eliminate many such problems. However, it is not enough to use only particular asanas or yoga postures to remedy certain problems. It must be used holistically to treat the whole person so the student, or the sadhaka, can rise to a higher level of being. The person’s character, thought processes, mind, senses, and physical nature, must all rise to a more refined level of existence. That is what is needed, otherwise the goal of yoga remains incomplete. This, it seems, is what has been forgotten by many modern yoga teachers.
In order for the mind to be purified, the body also has to be purified, or prepared spiritually. Hatha yoga is that preliminary process by which we prepare the body, nervous system, mind, lungs or breathing, and nadi channels so the energy within can flow most efficiently for states of deep meditation. As we increase our ability for deeper meditation, naturally higher awareness also develops, and our consciousness will operate on a higher frequency level, a level in which we begin to perceive the spiritual strata. And this also means that we can perceive our real spiritual identity beyond the physical body, both of ourselves and all others.
SEEING THE DIVINITY IN EACH OF US
Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of the Aikido method of martial arts said: “Above all, one must unite one’s heart with that of the gods. The essence of God is love, an all-pervading love that reaches every corner of the universe. If one is not united to God, the universe cannot be harmonized. Martial artists who are not in harmony with the universe are merely executing combat techniques, not Aiki (Ai--uniting harmony and love with ki--the universal energy).”
This understanding is very important even in ordinary, everyday life. If we are not working in harmony with love and universal energy, we are simply going through daily routines that are ineffectual and empty. We need to practice the methods which also awaken the connection we have with God, the universe, and each other. This is the way we can fully grow and develop. Then our life will have meaning and purpose. We will be guided by our own upliftment and will be able to assist in the upliftment of others. We will also be able to recognize the all-pervasiveness of the Supreme Being.
The essence of this perception has been related in the ancient Vedic texts, as we find in the Svetasvatara Upanishad (6.11) which states, “He is the one God hidden in all beings, all pervading, the self within all beings, watching over all worlds, dwelling in all beings, the witness, and the perceiver.” If one can truly understand this and become enlightened in this way, he will see that he is a part of the Supreme Reality and realize his union with all beings. Within that enlightenment one can reach Divine Love. This love is based on the spiritual oneness and harmony between all beings, which is sublime. It is a source of spiritual bliss. It is a love based not on bodily relations or mutual attraction, but it is based on being one in spirit, beyond the temporary nature of the body. This is the love for which everyone searches, from which springs forth peace, harmony, and unity, of which all other kinds of love are mere reflections. This state of being is reached only through spirituality, which is one of the main goals of yoga. Therefore, a life without spirituality is a life incomplete. All have the need to fill their souls with spirituality, or the presence of God, in order to feel fullness, peace, contentment, and unity.
As the Supreme says in the ancient Vedic text of Bhagavad-gita (6.30): “To him who sees Me in everything and everything in Me, I am never lost, and he is not lost to Me.”
In this way, a person who sees everything in relation to the Supreme Lord, and who sees all beings as His parts or extensions, and who sees the Lord within everything, never hates anything nor any being. One who thus sees all living beings as inner spiritual sparks, having the same spiritual quality of eternal nature with the Lord, becomes a true knower of things. Thus, how can there be illusion or anxiety for him? This is the yoga vision.
To begin seeing how things really are, and to recognize the Divinity in each of us, we have to start adjusting our consciousness. This takes place by being trained in spiritual knowledge and by the practice of yoga which purifies the mind. When the mind becomes purified and the false ego no longer influences our vision, we become sensible people. As the Bhagavad-gita (13.31-32) says, when a sensible man ceases to see different identities due to different material bodies, he attains the spiritual conception. Those with the vision of eternity see that the soul is transcendental, eternal, and beyond the modes of nature. Despite being within the material body, the soul is above material contact.
As the son is a part and parcel of the father, similarly, we are all individual parts of the supreme spiritual Father. In fact, the whole creation displays different energies which are expansions of the Supreme Energetic. Thus, there is diversity within the variegated material energy which expands from the Supreme Being. These expansions manifest in millions of species of life, as explained in the Vedic literature. Therefore, although we are in different material bodies, we are all expansions of the same spiritual energy. This is oneness and unity in diversity. On the spiritual platform, which is absolute, we are all the same. We are all spiritual beings, servants of the Supreme Being, undergoing life in the material creation. That is real unity. This perception is the perfection of the spiritually conscious person. He sees all living beings as reflections of the One, the Supreme Being. Thus, in a broad sense, there is one interest. Spiritually there is never any clash.
We are all but small reflections of the Supreme Consciousness. When we put the greater whole above ourselves, and realize that we all contribute to the condition of this planet, then uniting with a common cause and with that Supreme Consciousness will be easy.
This planet does not allow us to be isolated. We all must work together and interface with others on some level. One lesson that this school of existence on this planet forces us to learn is that when we come together willingly to communicate, with a positive purpose, or to pray together, and to unite for the good of the whole, then harmony and peace can exist. That peace forms and manifests when we focus on our spiritual nature, which brings between us our unity in the Supreme. Making this the center of our existence will easily bring peace, unity, and harmony in this world because it brings in the spiritual vibration that emanates from the Supreme. That vibration is one of spiritual love. It is all that is eternal. All else is temporary. Therefore, focusing on and using our energy on temporary emotions such as envy, jealousy, and anger, will only keep us far away from the Supreme, and from reaching any peace or unity between us.
We have to recognize how similar we are in order to expand our heart toward others we may have previously rejected. This is how love and understanding can dissolve the boundaries that keep us stifled as a society and individuals, and keep us from entering higher dimensions of consciousness. There is no other way to grow spiritually. A lack of love for each other is a reflection of a lack of love for God.
When we think in spiritual consciousness, we do not recognize others by their differences. We see our similarities. This is easy when we think in terms of being sons and daughters of the same Supreme Father. We all belong to the One. Only in this way can there be universal love among all living entities. Only in this way can we begin to think that we are all related to each other. Once we establish our relationship with the Supreme, then we can establish our true relationship with everyone else. Our spiritual nature is eternal, and our spiritual relation with the Supreme is eternal. Therefore, our spiritual relationship with each other is also eternal. It is not subject to time and circumstances. This central point has to be established in order for there to be universal peace, brotherhood, equality, and unity in the world. This central point must be a part of every religion or it remains incomplete.
In essence, we are all consciousness in material forms. Consciousness cannot be destroyed. It is the essence of God in each of us. We are all spiritual beings, reflections of the Divine. We are not our beliefs, our cultures, or our minds and bodies. We are all divine souls on a wondrous journey through Truth. We have all manifested from God, the Supreme Truth, and we are all evolving back to God. As the Manu-samhita (12.125) relates, “Thus, he who by means of Self sees the self in all created things, after attaining equality with all, enters into Brahman [spiritual consciousness], the highest place.” That is the ultimate goal, and that is the vision by which we can attain unity with one and all. This spiritual perception can automatically be facilitated through the practice of yoga and meditation.