Introduction: The Notion and Sense of Yoga

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lotos-1Yoga: History, Philosophy, Psychology. Part 1

The prominent place among the cultural values of Eastern countries is occupied by the philosophical idea and spiritual practice associated with it. One of the most significant schools is Yoga.

Yoga is not the eastern exotic gymnastics for body and mind as it can be accepted in mass awareness. The real Yoga is the system of a person’s spiritual self-perfection based on profound philosophy which has kept keen actuality and practical significance in modern everyday life.

            The western way of life, which aggressively imposes craving for profit in order to match the stereotypes of social successfulness, has led the planet to ecological crisis and the mankind to the really happening process of complete abolishment during ecological and technological crises.

            Yoga, which postulates the ecological way of life with natural following the moral and ethical norms, gives the practical methods of the inner sources of happiness.

            Yoga offers a different purpose and the practical ways of its achievement as an alternative to the purposes of personal enrichment accepted in the modern society and to the methods of extinguishing fear before the unavoidable end of people’s existence with the help of various enjoyments. The true purpose of Yoga practice is the mystical liberation of spirit from matter’s power and the person’s transformation into the superior spiritual Being.

            According to Yoga school, all phenomenal things that are sensed and are constantly in motion are unreal, i.e. inconstant, unstable, non-immovable, non-eternal. But behind these phenomenal things, which are only external manifestation, Maya coverings hide the real things which are higher than any attributes and qualities. This reality is Brahman, Atman, THAT, eternity and infinity, the origin of the phenomenal world, of the Universe. That is why it is so important for a real man of wisdom to penetrate behind the phenomenal aspect of all things, of the whole world towards THAT, Brahman, Absolute Reality.

            Absolute Reality has three hypostases: Space, Motion and Law. The phenomenal manifestation of matter is the emanation of the first hypostasis (Space); the phenomenal manifestation of energy is the emanation of the second one (Motion); the phenomenal manifestation of any regularities of objective reality is the emanation of the third one (Law). In general, the whole world of phenomenal things is the emanation of Absolute. The alienation of this world from its origin in all its hypostases led to the fact that this world – truly illusive – gave birth to all kinds of uncertainty, sufferings, dissatisfaction.

            Those who were aware of it (ascetics-anchorites for whom the true picture of the world was opened) escaped from the illusive world. Only the refusal from all material things, concentration on everything spiritual, solution in Brahman, Absolute opened the way to rescue for them, i.e. gave them the freedom from the chain of transformations.

           At first hidden, secret, concealed, this wisdom was accessible for only few hermits. In the course of time, the conception of the surrounding world as something illusive, and the pursuit to get out of the world of illusions, from the chain of transformations, from the sphere of the phenomenal, to join THAT REAL who is behind the world of phenomena and is its unchangeable eternal basis, turned into a strong pulse of philosophical-religious thinking.

            The classical Indian Yoga is the original (the most ancient from the known ones) Yoga system and on its basis the numerous ancient, middle-aged and modern varieties of Yoga philosophy have been developing.

            The word “yoga” comes from Sanskrit which is an ancient language. Scientists consider it as the paternal language of the whole Indo-European family including all the Indian, Slavonic and Roman-German languages. Sanskrit is sometimes called “Oriental Latin”. The word “yoga” is usually translated from Sanskrit as ‘union, linking, binding; watching, speculation’. However, the sense of the term is not limited by these meanings.


            The other meanings of the word ‘yoga’ are: “harness, bridle; application; means, method, trick; magic, enchantment; linking, mutual conditionality; acquisition, gain; work, zeal, diligence; concentration; etymology, structural origin; rule; agreement, management, control”.

            Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a famous Indian historian, philosopher and thinker, noticed that the word ‘yoga’ can mean “a method”, i.e. the method of spiritual practice.

            Patandjali, the systematizer of yoga philosophy and practice, used the term ‘yoga’ as the stressful effort directed to the differentiation between Spirit (spiritual substance — Purushi) and Matter (material nature – Prakriti) in human consciousness. This stressful effort lets the human consciousness join its highest transcendental ‘I’ which Patandjali calls Purushi or “Speculator”.

            In the first three statements of Patandjali’s “Yoga-sutra”, the author briefly gives the definition of yoga’s essence as the process of ceasing the activity of personal consciousness resulting in the isolation illusion and the attachment to being (sansara). When the activity of the personal consciousness stops, the human Highest spiritual ‘I’ (“Speculator”) turns into its original state and stays in its own transcendental form. This is acquisition of super-consciousness and absolute liberation.

“1. So, the directions concerning yoga are

2. Yoga is the ceasing of consciousness activity

3. Then the Speculator stays in its own form”.

According to this definition, Yoga is called such a state of consciousness in which any uncontrolled thoughts, emotions and wishes are absent. This state is extremely difficult to achieve when a human is able to completely realize himself and to be the 100% rightful owner of all his motivations, actions and demonstrations. The Yoga state is the state of the complete self- consciousness. Its achievement raises the human to the qualitatively new, higher step of intellect evolution.

            So, in the ancient Indian cultural-philosophical tradition the term ‘yoga’ means, as a rule, a spiritual method of concentrating the consciousness that leads to absolute liberation with the accompanying attributes – spiritual super- consciousness, knowledge of thing essence, getting rid of attachments, sufferings, illusions.

            The commentator of “Yoga-sutra” – the middle-aged Indian philosopher Vyasa – explained, that not every concentration refers to Yoga, but “which, in case of focused consciousness, distinguishes the object as it is in reality… and aims at ceasing the unfolding of consciousness; just this is called ‘Yoga of consciousness’”. The concentration Vyaga speaks about is samadhi in Sanskrit. Patandjali calls so the highest step of various consciousness states on the way to the Yoga state. In the samadhi state the Yogi’s inner psychic reality merges with another, trans-personal reality, other spiritual reality, or Super-consciousness of Space.

            Staying in samadhi state gives the Yogi practical knowledge of other spiritual reality which is received by experience. This separates Yoga from the spiritual way of the traditional dogmatic religion. As a rule, religion dictates its followers to believe in the spiritual world, whereas Yoga teaches the practitioner to cognize spiritual reality by his own experience. While perfecting in skills of consciousness concentration, developing his inner psychic abilities, the Yogi achieves samadhi and cognizes the events of reality which are hidden from the physical organs of senses and the rational mind.

            While commenting Patandjali’s treatise, Vyasa notices that the ultimate purpose of Yoga is samadhi. According to his interpretation, samadhi is the feature of the human mind in all states because it is its integral feature. Vyasa divided samadhi into several kinds according to the criterion of focusing attention. He said that there is such a state of mind when the mind cannot focus at anything at all, and it is also samadhi.


There is a state of mind when the mind can focus at something only if it is very bright, noticeable, large, loud, but as soon as it stops being such, the mind stops focusing at it again, and it is samadhi.

There is a randomly directed samadhi , when a human can think of something randomly. And there is a unidirectional samadhi when a human can keep the stream of attention directed at something for a long time.


But there is one more state which is called nirodkhi when consciousness (being directed in one direction) stays there arbitrarily long.


Strictly speaking, by this commentary to Chapter 1 of Patandjali’s “Yoga-sutra” Vyasa gave an exhaustive explanation. He said that samadhi is the feature of a human mind which the modern human understands as the ability to control his attention: attention may be directed or scattered.


Yoga leads to the fact that the moment of concentrating attention can last as long as possible. Some successive stages on the way of perfection are offered for that. Moreover, when they say that Yoga is certainly merging with Divine, or the cognition of the Superior Essence, it means that this is one of the possible Yoga’s purposes.


For example, another possible purpose includes the ability separating a human out of the endless diversity of protein structures: only a human possesses the ability of conscious individual creativity. Due to Yoga tuning the process of creative thinking is improving. It should be recalled that the formation of an abstract idea and its particular embodiment in an intellectual or material product is the highest manifestation of consciousness activity.


Yoga existed in different religions, and each religion meant achieving some purpose interpreting it according to its dogmas and concepts. All of them though were moving along the way of Yoga. Because , as it was noticed as early as in ancient times, the word ‘Yoga’ means both a certain state and the method of its achievement. Yoga describes the methods a human can transform himself — from the physical body and to his mental activity.


V.I. Evans-Vents, the English researcher of Tibet Yoga and mystical philosophy, believed that “yoga’ can suggest two main meanings depending on two different root bases of the word. The first one is “to contemplate, fall into a trance” or “to concentrate”; the second one is ‘to link”. The first meaning really appears in the classical texts of Yoga philosophy. The second meaning represents Yoga as a particular spiritual practice of linking the limited human consciousness with the unlimited Space Consciousness, Atman with Brahman (according to the Vedic conception).


Brahman is the Superior Absolute Reality. It is not God-creator as He is represented in the Bible or the Koran; it is abstract superior power which sometimes embodies some of its real things in the form of events of the phenomenal world.


Brahman is the he who possesses the souls, the superior spiritual unity. Each individual soul – Atman – is a part of his. Atman is “I”, but not just a spiritual substance of an individual, or rather the manifestation of Brahman, his separated part. At the same time Atman is Brahman himself, as great and incomprehensible as he is. Atman, as well as Brahman, created worlds and death, food and water, though it is not the creation from nothing but realization of the spiritual Atman’s potential in the material world.


Identical to Atman and Brahman is Purusha, the superior spiritual origin, superior soul with an individual soul as a part of it. Finally, identical to all of them is “That”. According to Katha Upanishada, “That” is “inexpressible superior beatitude”, that is Brahman, and Atman, and Purusha. And as a result of the philosophical-religious mystical understanding of all these superior abstract spiritual categories, identical to each other and at the same time being a part or manifestation, emanation of each other, a magic (it can’t be called otherwise!) one-syllable word appears in upanishadas — “Om” (“Aum”). This word means “everything, everyone” and possesses really miraculous power. “Om is Brakhman, Om is everyone” (Taittiria upanishada). Aum is the past, the present and the future, both Brakhman and Atman, each of the three trinomial options of reading the syllable having a particular sense and being correlated with the state of wakefulness, light and deep sleeping respectively (Mandukja upanishada). While pronouncing “Om” the Brahman priest says: “Let me achieve Brahman”, and he achieves him (Taittiria).


The cognition of Brahman, merging with him, achieving the unity with this Superior Reality gives the state of beatitude (ananda).

Yoga stands out as the theory and methodology of psychophysical perfection where the methods of concentration, contemplation, purification and other means participate.


Yoga practice develops so called “perfect abilities” – potential psychic and physical forces. However, for true Yoga it is not the end in itself but the side consequence of spiritual state.


While defining the term of Yoga, it is necessary to notice the difference between Yoga as a philosophical system, one of the orthodox schools (darshan) of the ancient Indian philosophy, and Yoga as the complex of special practical methods of spiritual self-development. The orthodox school is called “ sankhya-yoga school” or “Patandjali-darshan”. It is exactly the school that the classical Indian philosophy of Yoga is connected with. Further its most important items and conceptual ideas will be considered.



Though the representatives of other Indian philosophical schools sometimes argued against the philosophical statements of sankhya-yoga, Yoga as a method was accepted and used by practically all the orthodox systems of Indian philosophy, as well as by the followers of Jainism and Buddhism who belonged to the non-orthodox direction of Indian thinking.


With the lapse of time, the yoga psychic technique spread to the cultural space of other national-geographic areas (China, Tibet, Japan, Arab world, Easter-Christian world, etc). Mixing with the religious philosophical schools and magic practices, it gave birth to the original national variations of classical Indian Yoga which in the West got the names of ‘Buddha Yoga’, ‘Chinese Yoga’, ‘Taoist Yoga’, ‘Tibet Yoga’, ‘Zen-Buddha psychic technique’, ‘Suffical or Christian meditative practice’ and others.


Yoga exists in all religions as it helps to realize those ideals and superior purposes which are claimed in any religion. If it is said that “ There is eternity in Allah” or “Merging Atman with Brahman”, all these purposes will be achieved due to the Yoga practice.


It is the human‘s own choice what he will concentrate on while practicing the superior steps of Yoga and what to merge with; this choice is determined by the surrounding cultural paradigm. He can merge with startles Brahman, or with the Information field of Universe (if there is such a term in his consciousness), or he can merge with nothing, but just cognate the surrounding reality incarnating his inspirations about the nature of reality in creative acts.


Patandjali’s “Yoga-sutras” describe the method of managing consciousness which is based on three successive stages of focusing the unidirectional attention ray: concentration (dharana), contemplation (dhyana), focusing (Samadhi). This method uniting all the three stages is called sanjama – superior self-control or discipline of consciousness. Having possessed this method , Yogis used it both for the superior spiritual purposes and for the applied ones.


Patandjali describes the various purposes of triple focusing (sanjama) and the results which are achieved with the practice of focusing on those purposes. So, he says that it is possible to focus on an elephant’s power and to achieve the body’s hardness. It is possible to focus on the Sun’s and Moon’s movement and to understand the mechanisms of rising tides and ebb tides. You can look at the star sky and understand the laws of heavenly bodies. You can focus on nabhi-chakra (energy centre in the stomach area) and to get the knowledge about the work of the human’s body. Patandjali offers a number of sanjama variations, each having practical use.


The later texts explaining Yoga’s purpose tell what Atman and Brahman are; you have done Yoga and as a result you have merged with Brahman. The Western mentality sees two variations of explanation in this purpose. One of them is scaring with the loss of personal self-identification, a suicide in a way. From the Western point of view, it is the choice of an individual despaired and hating oneself, eager to dissolve in emptiness. The other one gives the egocentric western consciousness a secret hope that after merging with Brahman, the human will instantly become the most powerful in the universe. That is, either to kill oneself, or to become all-powerful, having absolute power over all the living beings and natural phenomena. The both variations don’t suggest the true Yoga purpose being wrong belief, or a particular example avidya, ignorance which is explained by asmita (egoism). Also, these two variations are deprived of vairagya (impassivity), an important quality which leads the yogi’s consciousness to the superior spiritual discipline.


Let us explain our statement. As long as a human perceives himself as an autonomic creature (“I is my body”, “I is my sensing soul”, “I is my intellect”), he stays in ignorance (avidya) and is unable to move along the way of Yoga. But when he starts to understand himself as Absolute Spirit (Super-consciousness) reflecting in the mirror of his personal consciousness (ego) and creating the illusion of personal existence, then he makes an important step along the way of Yoga towards liberation from all illusions and dependences.


So, the main weapon against egoism is spiritual knowledge due to which yogis understand the difference between Universe Super-Consciousness (Spirit) and personal consciousness (ego).

Patandjali claims: ”The human who sees such a difference stops thinking about his own existence”. It happens because the man understands: only the Absolute Spirit has true reality – Super-Consciousness, and he himself is only a part of it reflected in the illusive mirror of the private consciousness which exists for the purposes of the space speculator – Absolute Spirit.


We shouldn’t be mistaken that Yoga denied social activity and demanded the escape from the world and being impassionate hermit far from the earthly anxieties. By tapas (ascetic activity, one of the five rules of niyam) it is meant not only carrying out the techniques developing consciousness is meant, steady enduring hardships and absence of excesses, but also active helping the surrounding people. Bhavat-Gita, the ancient Indian religious text, give the following statement:

“Don’t aim at the fruit, their delight is not needed,

However, you shouldn’t be inactive either”.


If we get to know the lives of yogis living at the times of Patandjali and even earlier, their lives were very different from the image of a yogi which is now cultivated in mass consciousness by mass media and popular editions. This is a hermit without permanent place of living who is wandering everywhere having as his estate a blanket, a big bowl for alms and a huge tube or a shell which he blows in sometimes for people to know where to bring him the alms. He wanders from one place to another; it is meant that he has discovered something in the spiritual sense, that is why people are afraid of him a little and bring food to him.


In fact, the early yogis were both hermits and people of high social activity. If we address the lives of Tamil siddhis, we can learn some very interesting facts. They really traveled, but their travels were alternated with stops. They came to some area, settled down, lived there for some decades studying this or that science. They studied chemistry, medicine, architecture, metallurgy, and many others. They wrote poetry, created the rules of the Tamil language, and generally filled their lives with applied sense. Tamil siddhis could study some science, e.g. architecture, for 10, 20, 30 years, then having moved to the other end of India they could build a temple for the same period of time which is still admired, and then leave architecture for the sake of medicine.


Moreover, no one of them was limited by only one science, so we cannot say that a man had been interested in architecture, for example, and his interest was not realized. No, each siddh successively studied a number of sciences, and when they stopped studying, it was not the end of their Way, but it was the end of their writings about their further activity. That is why it is one more variation of a human’s development on the way of Yoga practice.

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