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Philosophy is the human attempt to understand the nature of the universe and the meaning of life. For the study of philosophy to flourish, a settled society where people need not struggle for bare existence is important. India is blessed with a good climate, fertile land, the protection of the Himalayas and an abundant rainy season.

Introduction to Indian philosophy

In many parts of the world, the reflection on the nature of existence is luxury of life. However, since ancient times, philosophy has held a prominent position in Indian society as the basis of all arts and sciences.

The Indian view of the universe is that it is dynamic and constantly transforming itself. This is in quite different from that of Western science, which seems to want to “freeze” reality.

Indian philosophy accepts:

  • a cordial relationship between the human and Divine realms. God is not a tyrant, sitting up in heaven, who punishes you for your sins. Your karma (your own action) determines the reaction that you will get.
  • The idea that what thought reveals is not opposed to reality, but part of it. Reality can be understood by intuition; the subjective “truth” is as important as objective truth. It is generally accepted that truth may be many sided and paradox is readily accepted.
  • Each one of us, in essence, is pure – and can never be impure. Although you might identify with certain negative qualities, your essential nature remains pure. An analogy is that water may appear to be polluted, but actuality the water is simply carrying impurities.

Indian scriptures tend to be written in a way that is difficult for you to understand. The general consensus is that it is best to study them with a teacher. Yoga Vidya offers many excellent courses on Indian philosophy and various scriptures. In addition, you might want to consult the following books:

  • "Ayurveda and Yoga" by Dr. David Frawley
  • "The Yoga Tradition" by Dr. Georg Feuerstein

What is Yoga?

Enlightenment practice

  1. Union, union of individual soul with supreme soul;
  2. discipline by which such union effected;
  3. name of philosophy of sage Patanjali, teaching process of this union; '
  4. unruffled state of mind under all conditions.
  5. from root ‘yuj’ meaning to yoke, to harness, join together’

All life interconnected, integrated whole. When don’t experience that wholeness, feel isolated & dis-empowered.

Yoga means both experience of oneness, as well as practice by which attain that experience. Yoga is your progress & techniques for overcoming whatever obstacles may try to prevent that progress

“Yoga is the union of the individual psyche with the transcendental Self.” - Yoga-Yagnavalkya, 1.44

“Evenness of mind is called yoga.” - Bhagavad Gita, 2.48

“Yoga is skill in action.” - Bhagavad Gita, 2.50

“This is the real meaning of Yoga, the severance of union with pain and sorrow.” - Bhagavad Gita, 6.23

“yogas cittta vritti nirodhah” - “Yoga is the cessation, or the calming, of the mental modifications, i.e. the thoughts.” - Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.2

“Yoga is ecstasy.” - Yoga Bhashya, 1.1

“Yoga is said to be the oneness of breath, mind and senses, and the abandonment of all states of existence.” - Maitri Upanisad, 6.25

“Yoga is said to be control.” - Brahmada Purana,

“Yoga is he separation of the Self from the World-Ground.” - Raja-Martanda, 1.1

“This they consider yoga: he steady holding of the senses.” - Katha Upanishad, 6.11

“Yoga, in a nutshell, is to keep the entire eternal and internal body clean, pure, sanctified, so that the mind flows without any barrier within and absorbs what goes on inside the body”. - B.K.S. Iyengar

“Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distraction”. - T.K.V. Desikachar

“Yoga is the science which teaches us how to get direct experience of God”. - Swami Vivekananda

“I consider Yoga to be the oldest spiritual tradition in the world. The purpose of Yoga is to instil or to realize complete inner freedom. - Georg Feuerstein, Yoga Unveiled

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A word about karma

The word “karma” has become a fashionable term that many people use with little understanding of its actual meaning. The Sanskrit word means “action”, and every action has an equal and opposite re-action. Karma has nothing to do with your destiny or fate – or with being punished for your sins. It doesn’t refer to luck – good or bad.

The principle of karma is simple: if you throw a ball against a wall, it will rebound with a force equal to the strength you used to throw it. If you think of this in terms of life in general, you will understand how your actions return to you.

Another way of summarising karma would be: as you sow, so shall you reap. If you plant an apple seed, you will get an apple tree. If you plant apple seeds, don’t complain because you would prefer to have cherries.

In yoga, do your practice and reap the rewards. Don’t resign yourself and think “I will not do anything”. It is impossible. You can’t live without doing action – even for a second. If you are not doing something positive with your life, the lack of activity will result in negative consequences.

An understanding of the ‘law’ of karma leads to your taking responsibility for your own actions. Don’t blame others when things aren’t going as you would like them to. If you want to change your life, change your actions. You always have a choice, but sometimes it takes time for your actions to manifest – so be patient, but keep at it.

Take some time to understand the philosophical basis of yoga. Then, in addition to asanas and pranayama you can begin to put them into practice in your own life.

Remember: success in your yoga practice is the result of six important qualifications. You need cheerfulness, perseverance, courage, knowledge gained from direct personal experience, firm belief in the teachings, and solitude.

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How to keep your life in balance: yamas and niyamas

“Cultivate the ground with Yama and Niyama, living morally and ethically because it is the only way to live, the only possibility if you seek spiritual growth”. - Dr Swami Gitananda Giri

If you are like most people, you probably use between five and ten percent of your mental potential. If you already do yoga and/or have a meditation practice, you may have noticed that it has begun to awaken and enhance latent capacities within your personality. As these capacities continue to develop, you will most likely see your mind becoming more concentrated and more powerful. The ancient rishis (sages of India) were obviously aware that a concentrated mind is a strong mind. They recognised that there is a natural tendency for people with strong minds to control others with weaker minds. Unless you have unswerving spiritual integrity and discipline, the newly found powers of your mind can put powerful negative distractions into your path. A powerful mind, bereft of ethics and morals, can affect you and others adversely.

Patanjali begins his 8-limbed system with the “yamas” and “niyamas”, i.e. admonitions to practice truthfulness and non-violence; develop compassion; don’t steal; don’t be jealous; learn to control your energy and cravings. Simplify your life. Purify your mind and your environment; try to be content. Continue to study; never think that you have “mastered” yoga – and surrender your ego.

The yamas and niyamas are not harsh rules, but descriptions of human potential. As ethical guide-lines they offer you a way to live with heightened consciousness, integrity and joy.

Yamas suggest ways of establishing a healthy relationship to others, to society; they include positive attitudes towards life. These are ethical tenets with an outward aspect; they provide you with the guidance for mindful self-regulation when you interact with the world around you. The principles of ‘yama’ provide boundaries that can assist you in simplifying your life, creating peaceful interactions and in preserving your peace of mind.

Studying and attempting to practice the yamas, guides you in developing non-violent sensitivity (ahimsā), honesty (satya), non-stealing (asteya) , healthy intimacy (brahmacharya) and non-greediness/generosity (aparigraha) . These attitudes cannot be imposed upon you, nor can you develop them by merely imitating other people’s behaviour.

Niyamas address your relationship with yourself; observances with an inward-turned aspect. The niyamas focus on your obedience to the spiritual laws of yoga, self-discipline, and your attitude and relationship with yourself. They advocate positive means of self-empowerment by encouraging you to take full responsibility for your own actions. They consist of keeping yourself and your environment as pure as possible (śaucha), cultivating a sense of contentment (santosha), working to strengthen your mind and body (tapas), on-going study (swādhyāya) and a recognition that you are not separate from the Infinite (īshwara-pranidhāna).

Ahimsā: non-violence, refraining from doing injury, compassion

Ahimsā-pratisthāyām tat-sannidhau vaira-tyāgah - When your mind is peaceful, hostility vanishes in your presence. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, 2.35

By making ahimsa the first principle of the first limb (yama) of his eight-limbed system, Patānjali seems to be emphasising the importance of the practice. He does not debate the fact that violence can be an integral part of survival. As a human being, you are a combination of animalistic tendencies and divine inspiration. Your reactive mind (manas) is prone to acting instinctively and habitually. However, by using your higher mind (buddhi), you can choose whether or not you will respond to violence with violence. Unselfish love and compassion are expressions of your divine nature.

Ahimsā is more than non-injury; it is best expressed as positive, cosmic love. It includes forgiveness, gentleness and non-injury, whether physical, mental or emotional. Ahimsā stops you from doing harm with your thoughts, tongue or hands. When you practice yoga and meditation on a deep level, your goal is to transmute your basic aggressive nature.

To cultivate compassion, it is important to refine your awareness and develop clarity of vision. From pure visualisation, enlightened action arises. As a yogi, one of your ultimate goals is to see everything as your own Self. Patānjali suggests through the practice of ahimsa, you recognize the suffering of others and feel inspired to attempt to alleviate it.

Ahimsa is not passivity, nor is it cowardice. To practice ahimsa you may have to put up with insults, rebukes, criticisms and sometimes even assaults. Never retaliate nor wish to offend anybody even under extreme provocation. Don’t entertain negative thoughts against anybody nor harbour anger. Ahimsa is the perfection of forgiveness.

Satya: truthfulness, honesty

When you are firmly rooted in truthfulness, your actions accomplish their desired end. - Patañjail’s Yoga Sūtra, 2.36

Satya entails your continued efforts to live your life in accordance with the highest spiritual values. As the second of Patanjali’s yamas (ethical guideline that suggest ways in which you, as a yoga practitioner, can best relate to other people), satya indicates truthfulness on all levels.

Satya involves approaching life without being bogged down by preconceptions that hinder your freedom. It means starting to get rid of some of the extraneous “baggage” that you probably carry around with you. It entails becoming more aware of how your perceptions may be inaccurate.  

When tuning to the truth you attempt to speak, think and act in positive ways that are not hurtful to others or to yourself. Yet it is also vital to try to be as straightforward and sincere as possible. It might seem impractical or too difficult for you to always be truthful, but with practice, you will find that it gradually becomes easier. You begin to understand that non-violence, non-injury, purity, justice, harmony, forgiveness, and peace are all facets of the highest Truth.

Gandhi considered Truth to be the highest power in the Universe. His “Satyagraha” (meaning “the power of Truth”) is known in the West as the “passive resistance” movement. He realised that a truthful person is fearless and powerful. You have nothing to hide – from yourself or from others.

Some suggestions to help you to integrate the practice of satya into your daily life

  • Begin to recognize how your fears and other negative emotions may prompt you to twist reality. Once you have understood this subtle process, your thoughts, speech and actions will start to realign themselves with each other.
  • Think about how a regular meditation practice might improve your adherence to the principle of satya? Then meditate on a regular basis!
  • Remember to keep your practice diary. See the attached sample; add a few other questions that could help you to adhere to satya.
  • Be honest with your practice. Begin to notice how important it is to set an intention that is within your capability rather than something that you know is beyond you.
  • Notice how the opportunity to practice satya arises every day.

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