On Approaching the Philosophy of Yoga and the Bhagavad Gita

Trying to understand the philosophy of yoga is not so simple. This essay is aimed at providing a general background and starting point for approaching the philosophy of yoga, and a brief look at what is involved. It assumes no previous knowledge, and is probably aimed primarily at student teachers or interested students. It is also, inherently, in introduction to the Bhagavad Gita.

There are several common yoga texts today including the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita. These three are usually the main texts in yoga teacher training reading lists. But there are many other texts. For example the Sankhya Karikar, the Gerand Samhita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It is not so easy to understand what any of these texts are saying, nor how to interpret them. There are differing view points, differing opinions, differing translations, different cultural and language references. Nor is it easy to pick out which of these interpretations is the right one – and right as defined by what definition of right?

For me personally, I am trying to understand what it is that I am seeing around me and to make the best of what I have. I am trying to navigate this ocean of life with as much human decency, dignity, wisdom and kindness as I can.

There are a number of issues that I think are useful to consider before even starting on the material in the yoga texts.

One of the issues is to do with words and vocabulary. We are used to communicating with words, and words have meaning specific to our own life journey. Some words are relatively unambiguous. For example, take ‘brick’. Many of us have probably handled a brick, the kind used for building houses, at some point in our life journey. Your experience is probably comparable to mine, in terms of size, weight and texture. So we could talk about bricks and there is unlikely to be confusion. However, take a word like ‘mind’ or ‘soul’ – now there are many different opinions, meanings and uses. Here, two people using the same words could be meaning something completely different – plenty of scope for confusion and misunderstanding.

There is another issue with using words. Words are what we use to communicate (aside from things like gesture, expression and body language), and we need to use language that we both understand. We run into a problem when there are insufficient or inadequate words for what we want to talk about. For every day living there are usually sufficient words for what we need. However, when it comes to discussing spiritual or mystic matters the vocabulary we have available is often insufficient. Or, even worse, when you insist on sticking to words you are familiar with, with meaning relevant to your every day world, there is plenty of scope to miss the meaning or misinterpret what is being said. Sanskrit has a rich and deep vocabulary of spiritual concepts. I think if you are serious about deepening your knowledge of the philosophy of yoga it is worth spending time on the vocabulary in Sanskrit.

For example, take the word ‘shraddha‘. Easwaran speaks about this (“The Bhagavad Gita”, p 63). It is usually translated as ‘faith’, but it means so much more than what we normally understand as ‘faith’. He says,

It is literally “that which is placed in the heart”: all the beliefs we hold so deeply that we never think to question them. It is the set of values, axioms, prejudices and prepossessions that colours our perceptions, governs our thinking, dictates our responses, and shapes our lives, generally without our even being aware of its presence and power.

The Gita says [17:3] “A person is what his shraddha is”.

The Bible echoes this sentiment (Proverbs 23:7), “As a man thinketh so he is”.

I think this concept of shraddha is hugely significant. Again, echoing Easwaran, “There is nothing passive about shraddha. It is full of potency, for it prompts actions, conditions behavior, and determines how we see and therefore how we respond to the world around us”. I think if you want to understand yourself, look to your own shraddha.

Another issue is to do with context and perspective. I call this one the ‘Road to Glasgow’ principle. Consider a simple analogy of traveling by road. Imagine you are around the south coast of England, and you want to get to Glasgow, up in Scotland. You won’t see any road signs saying “Glasgow”. But the instruction “follow the road to Oxford” is valid and relevant. It will get you closer to Glasgow. If, however, you are in Birmingham, that same instruction is actively counter-productive. It will take you in the opposite direction to Glasgow. If you are in Sydney, Australia, and you want to get to Perth in Australia, that same instruction is irrelevant.

The point here is that the same instruction is right and constructive, and wrong and irrelevant – all depending on where you are, and where you are aiming to get to. I think this element of what you are aiming at is really significant, and it is a key element of shradda. You will encounter passages and instructions in the yoga texts. However, not all instructions and practices are relevant and useful in all circumstances. For example, asana is the physical exercise component of yoga. For some people this is all that yoga is. In the yoga literature you will find many instructions on honing and explaining body structure and movement. The technicalities of the psoas muscle is very relevant in certain asana postures. However it has little relevance for a practice aimed at sitting still and quietening the chattering of your own thinking. The relevance of these practices is dependent on the aim of the practice. If you don’t have an aim, or if you are not clear on your aim, then what is it that you are doing? What direction are you heading in? All of this is a part of shraddha. Also, if you have one aim of yoga, and you are reading a yoga text about a different aim of yoga there will likely be a sense of dissonance.

Another issue is to do with what it is that we believe in. I call this one the ‘Philosophy Sweetshop’ principle. We can go into the Philosophy Sweetshop and select a bit of this, a bit of that, and … oohh, and a piece of that one too. We can believe in absolutely anything. Just take a look around you – look at all the myriad different beliefs that different people have. Every one of those people will tell you that what they believe is right. Nobody will say, “Hey, I believe in this, this, this. It is a load of rubbish, mind, but I really believe it.” We are all certain of our own correctness – and mostly it is impossible to either prove or disprove. Unfortunately, I fear this certainty lies in how we resonate with these various beliefs – rather than whether these beliefs are actually right or wrong. Again, this resonance is a part of shraddha. One part of this point is how much we are certain of our own correctness. Another part of this point, and perhaps the more scary, echoing what Easwaran said earlier, how much we are unaware of how our own shraddha impacts every aspect of our living.

A related issue is how rigidly we hold to our own opinions, beliefs and, especially, our certainties. If you take a religious extremist or fanatic, for example, they are usually pretty rigid in their beliefs. What we are talking about here, is not a question of right or wrong. Rather the issue of how rigidly they hold to those beliefs. If you approach the yoga texts and insist on fitting those concepts into your existing world view, you may miss a lot. Or, expressed a different way, you may fail to see any relevance in what the texts are saying. Or, worse, you are at risk of defining something as wrong simply because it does not fit into your current belief structure. I think a very real issue we face is how significantly our own beliefs and thought patterns can block us. We torpedo our own progress and think we are right. Or, expressed a different way, once again, we are unaware of how deeply we are impacted by our own shraddha.

There is another issue, that I call the ‘bookshelf knowledge’ principle. Some versions of the yoga texts are very academic. There is nothing wrong in this, of itself. However, it is easy to get lost in the detail – in the cross referencing, in the analysis of this fact versus that fact, in this source versus that source. It is all too easy to end up with something very technically accurate, a real work of art, that simply ends up on the bookshelf to be one of a collection of books. But how relevant is it? How significantly has it impacted and been incorporated into your daily living? Another analogy of this principle is to do with food. You can create a magnificent menu, inspired, with a myriad flavours and textures and overall yumminess. But you can’t eat a menu. You need to prepare and make the food – then you can eat it and satisfy your hunger. The point is, are you approaching the yoga texts with a view to academically understand them, collate the facts, assemble it all into a body of knowledge that you put on the shelf – and then get on with your life just the way you want to? Or are you looking to possibly understand your life better; maybe improve yourself, maybe be a better person, maybe navigate the ocean of life with a little more clarity and dignity? Some authors are more ‘menu preparers’. Other authors are more ‘let’s sit down and eat some food’ people. You will get different messages from each. How hungry are you, and for what kind of food? This principle reflects the classic yoga path of jnana (or gyana as I first encountered the word). This is the path of knowledge.

Another point to keep in mind is that there are many different world views. I think there are three main ones:

  1. Nothing before birth, nothing after death (humanist, modern scientific) “All we have is this one life, and all we are is this physical body”

  2. Nothing before birth, something after death (eg Christianity, Islam and Judaism)
  3. Something before birth and something after death (eg Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism)

(Later in this essay, I’ll be referring to these different world views as 1, 2 and 3 respectively.) Probably, most people encountering this essay will fall into one of these three. If you are standing with your feet firmly in one of these, and an author is interpreting a yoga text with their feet firmly in a different one of these – there is likely to be a fundamental dissonance. Similarly, if a text is rooted in one of these, and the author is interpreting this text with their feet firmly in a different one of these – there is likely to be a fundamental dissonance.

Now, bearing all of these issues in mind, consider what yoga is. I think the deeper you dig into that question the more difficult it is to really answer it. It is many things, and there are many view points, many perspectives, and many opinions expressed by some very charismatic people. What it really is is not so easy to winkle out from all of this. I think the philosophy of yoga is even more difficult to unravel with any degree of clarity. What I am saying in this essay reflects my take on trying to get this clarity.

For many, the philosophy of yoga is found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, especially in the Eight Limbs (asht = eight, anga = limb) [Yoga Sutras 2.28]. This is one of the core teachings of the Sutras. We could talk at length on each one of these components. But to introduce them, they are described briefly below.

  1. The various forms of abstention from evil-doing (yama) or basic rules of good conduct. These are abstention from [Yoga Sutras 2:30]

    • harming others (ahimsa) – avoid harming, or hurting others by our thoughts, words or deeds. Cultivate kindness and compassion for all.

    • falsehood (satya) – avoid lying and untruth. Not just avoid actually lying, but cultivate truthfulness and integrity in thought, word and deed.

    • theft (asteya) – avoid stealing, or taking what is not yours. Not just the physical act of taking, but also the covetous mindset that leads up to the act of stealing.

    • promiscuity (brahmacharya) – avoid indiscriminate or inappropriate sex, rather than an instruction of no sex. Cultivate discrimination, cultivate chastity in thought, word and deed.

    • greed (aparigraha) – avoid that grasping, desiring aspect of always wanting more. Cultivate contentment with what you already have.

  1. The various observances or commitments (niyama). These are [Yoga Sutra 2.32]

    • purity (saucha) – this refers to cleanliness, wholesomeness, decency, integrity, cleanliness of intent. All of these in thought, word and deed – in all that we do. I think the intention here is a discriminative awareness, an intention towards upliftment, rather than a puritanical avoidance of anything nice and comfortable.

    • contentment (samtosha) – this refers to being content with what you have in life. It doesn’t mean just being a door mat, nor does it mean indifference. Cultivate being content with simplicity.

    • accepting pain, or austerity (tapa) – this is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘tap’ – to burn. It means cultivate dedication, self-discipline, a desire for self-improvement, rather than a common interpretation as self-flagelation

    • study of the scriptures (svadhyaya) – read and study the scriptures and texts to increase your own learning and deepen your own understanding. Bear in mind that it is not just reading, but living what you have learned and studied – in thought, word and deed. Make it a part of all that you do.

    • devotion to God (Ishvara Pranidhana) – this is often one of the trickiest to understand. Ishvara referes to God, to Supreme Being, to Brahman, to higher consciousness. Pranidhana means fixing, or orientation with, or devotion to. We encounter this again later in this essay, and it is a significant thread in the Bhagavad Gita.

  1. Posture (asana) – the physical exercise component of yoga. For many, this is yoga.

  2. Control of the prana (pranayama) – control of the breathing. There is a physical component, with awareness on the muscles and body structures we use to enact breathing, and how to do so effectively. There is also a non-physical component with concentration and visualisation practices.

  3. Withdrawal of the mind from the sense objects (pratyahara) – the next four are deep ones. Pratyahara deals with withdrawing the mind from sense objects, or reining in the tendency of mind to simply follow the senses outward into the manifest world. It is a part of the controlling of the mind and senses.

  4. Concentration (dharana) – this is ‘holding’, or ‘single focus’, it is fixing the mind on some object or some practice technique, deep and focused concentration.

  5. Meditation (dhyana) – this is usually translated as meditative absorption,the state you experience when you have dharana right. In some yoga traditions, dhyana carries a connotation of visualisation.

  6. Absorption in the Atman (samadhi) – this is the end aim of yoga, enlightenment. Patanjali describes various kinds of Samhadi.

Concentration (dharana) [3.1] is holding or binding the mind to one place. Meditation [3.2] (dhyana) is an unbroken flow of thought toward the object of concentration. Samyama [3.4] is the practice of combining these last three limbs or anga – concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and absorption (Samadhi) – upon one subject. There are numerous ways of practicing samyama with various effects. In its highest form [3.55] correct application of samyama leads to real discriminative knowledge (viveka) and then there is no trace of ignorance (avidya). At this point [3.56] the tranquil mind is pure and there is perfection or liberation or kaivalya. Also with this you are free, no more birth, no more death.

For some, the Eight Limbs, with their yamas and niyamas, is the philosophy of yoga. For some, this is as for as they want to go. The ethos of the yamas and niyamas are comparable with the ethos of many world religions. They are similar to the Ten Commandment of Christianity and the Eight Noble Truths of Buddhism. I think, significantly, they fit into any of the world views we have looked at. For this reason they are generally accessible.

But is that it – is this what the philosophy of yoga is? Bear in mind the Philosophy Sweetshop principle, and also the Road to Glasgow principle – we can look at the material in the Sutras and take from it whatever we like. Also, there is the issue of which world view you are standing in, and how rigidly you define and hold onto your own opinions. With all of this, it is really difficult to distinguish between what the philosophy of yoga actually is, and what you want it to be – and do you want to know if there is a difference?

Personally, I think at its core, the philosophy of yoga is the philosophy of a mystic practice. Here ‘mystic’ can be defined as a direct experience of God. Easwaran (The Bhagavad Gita, p 17) recounts threads from Aldous Huxley talking about the Perennial Philosophy, because they appear in every age and civilisation. He talks about three basic points of this.

  1. There is an infinite, changeless reality beneath this world of change.

  2. This same reality lies at the core of every human personality.

  3. The purpose of life is to discover this reality experientially – that is, to realise God while living our lives on earth.

I think this sums up the essential message of the Bhagavad Gita, and of the full depth of the philosophy of yoga.

Of course, this immediately throws up a multitude of issues. Primarily, what to make of a statement like that if you do not believe in God? Does that render yoga irrelevant? I think, no. I think anyone, from whatever background, age, gender, culture or belief system can take something useful from the yoga tool-set and improve the quality of both their being and their experience of being.

It highlights a principle you find in many different places in the yoga philosophy and mystic texts, expressed in many different words. The principle that we are more than the physical body. The core of what we are, the Self, the Atman, the Jiva, was never created. Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita is quite clear,

[2.18] This body is mortal, but that which dwells within the body is immortal and immeasurable… [2.20] you were never born; you will never die. You have never changed; you can never change. Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die when the body dies.

Which word you use for this eternal, unchanging essence will depend on what tradition you are from. Easwaran tends to use the word ‘Self’. I think this is one of the key principles of the Gita.

I think, for me, one of the most significant passages in the Gita is seen in chapter 6:

6:35 It is true that the mind is restless and difficult to control. But it can be conquered, Arjuna, through regular practice and detachment. 6:36 those who lack self control will find it difficult to progress in meditation; but those who are self-controlled, striving earnestly through the right means, will attain the goal.

Krishna is talking about meditation and controlling the mind. (You see echoes here of the Yoga Sutras 1:2) A central thread of most forms of yoga practice is ‘self-control’, and that lies at the heart of the practice of meditation. “Striving earnestly through the right means”, I think is hugely significant. But what are the ‘right means’? Think back to our Road to Glasgow principle, and how any principle or instruction can be useful, counter-productive or irrelevant – all depending on perspective, both where you are and where you are heading. With that in mind, trying to determine what the right means are is well-nigh impossible. I think the most significant of all of that quote above is ‘goal’. Where are you heading? That will define so much – what practices are most relevant, how much practice, what to do, what to avoid… I think, from the perspective of the Gita as a mystic practice, the goal is first Self Realisation, awareness of that ageless, immutable essence, that Self. Then the realisation that there is no difference between that essence, that Self and God – direct experience of God, or God Realisation. Not in some afterlife, but here and now in this life we are leading, whilst living our lives in the nitty-gritty of every day life.

If, again, we consider the ‘goal’ Krishna talks about in 6:36, we can get an inkling of what he means in [18:49-56].

18:49 One who is free from selfish attachments, who has mastered himself and his passions, attains the supreme perfection of freedom from action. 18:50 Listen, and I shall explain now, Arjuna, how one who has attained perfection also attains Brahman, the supreme consummation of wisdom.

18:51 Unerring in discrimination, sovereign of the senses and passions, free from the clamour of likes and dislikes, 18:52 such a one leads a simple, self-reliant life based on meditation, controlling speech, body and mind.

18:53 Free from self-will, aggressiveness, arrogance, anger and the lust to posses people or things, they are at peace with themselves and others and enter into the unitive state. 18:54 United with Brahman, ever joyful, beyond the reach of desire and sorrow, they have equal regard for every living creature and attain supreme devotion to me. 18:55 By loving me they come to know me truly; then they know my glory and enter into my boundless being. 18:56 All their acts are performed in my service, and through my grace they win eternal life.

Consider this passage, and re-read the Eight Limbs. There are strong echoes of the yamas and the niyamas. I think, if you want to know what the philosophy of yoga looks like, it is this.

This single passage contains many of the key principles contained in the Gita. These are also the key components of any Mystic Practice.

It talks of the reigning in of the mind and senses – ‘sovereign of the senses and passions’ and ‘controlling speech, body and mind’. It talks of reigning in desires, the wanting this, not wanting that – ‘free from the clamour of likes and dislikes’. It talks of what we encountered in the Eight Limbs, Ishvara Pranidhana, devotion to God – ‘By loving me they come to know me truly; then they know my glory and enter into my boundless being.’ It speaks of the goal of attaining Brahman, the supreme consummation of wisdom – God Realisation. All of this is not in some afterlife, but here and now.

Re-look at the quotes [6:35-36] and consider what the goal means. If what we have just been talking about is the goal of yoga, is your current practice heading there? If not, then where is it heading? Right practice is a practice that heads in that direction.

Let’s go back to that point about the real essence of what we are, that deathless Self. This deathless Self is one and the same as God, the Original One, the Supreme One. We have already looked at how a concept like this jars with our current secular world view that there is no such thing as God, and spirituality is in the realm of incense and tarot cards. A question that can fit into all of the world views is around what our potential is. As a human, what are we capable of, what is our potential? You could take this point in so many different directions. How big is the gap between our current experience of being in the world, and the experience of our full potential? Is that gap a little one, or a vast, vast one? From where we are standing we don’t have enough information to answer that. There are many mystics and wise ones who have walked this road before us, and you can get an inkling from their writing. One of my favourite quotes from the Sufi mystic Rumi (or Maulana Rum, born in 1207), “You were born with wings – why do you insist in crawling?” The difference between flying and crawling is huge. An analogy you find in many texts is around the pauper and the treasure – “Why are you living as a pauper when you have a jewel of inestimable value in your pocket?” I think our potential is huge, and I think the practices of yoga, as you see in the Yoga Sutras and the Gita are dealing with heading toward the experience of this fuller potential.

Another key concept in the Gita is loosening your grip on the results of your action. I love the piece, 12.8-11

12.8 Still your mind in me, still your intellect in me, and without doubt you will be united with me forever. 12.9 If you are not able to still your mind in me, learn to do so through the regular practice of meditation. 12.10 If you lack the will for such self-disipline, engage yourself in my work, for selfless service can lead you at last to complete fulfilment. 12.11 If you are unable to do even this, surrender yourself to me, disciplining yourself, and renouncing the results of all your actions.

The significant piece here being, ‘surrender yourself to me, disciplining yourself, and renouncing the results of all your actions.’ There is a thread in our modern secular world of ‘empowering ourselves’, ‘we are unique’, ‘we are worth it’. That is all valid. One of the alternatives to that is a self-depracation, a self denial, a lack of self-worth – all of which is neither healthy, balanced nor robust. Yet, this focus on ‘me’, ‘the individual’ distinct from you and the rest of the world, this sense if ‘I’ (ahankar) is one of the factors lying at the root of our separation from the One. When that sense of ‘I’ is strong, ‘renouncing the results of all your actions’ is a difficult one.

What Krishna is saying in 12.11 is a part of Ishvara Pranidhana – devotion to God. Loosen your grip on the results of your actions (and I think a closely related point is to loosen your grip on your own opinions) and you move closer to the goal of yoga. This loosening your grip on the results of your actions, practicing stilling the mind, quietening the senses that chew at us, all of this is a part of ‘the right means’, Krishna mentions in 6.36. Krishna goes on,

6.7 The supreme Reality stands revealed in the consciousness of those who have conquered themselves. They live in peace, alike in cold and heat, pleasure and pain, praise and blame. 6.8 They are completely fulfilled by spiritual wisdom and Self-realisation. Having conquered their senses, they have climbed to the summit of human consciousness.

You see this point about the results of action again in,

2.47 You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For Yoga is perfect evenness of mind.

Another big word in the philosophy of yoga is ‘karma’. This is often misinterpreted. Or, worse, people go into the Philosophy Sweetshop and pick out a version of it that they like. In the Philosophy of the Masters, (p 14) Maharaji Sawan Singh speaks of three kinds of karma – sinchit, pralabdh and kriyaman. Sinchit karma is the store karma, that karma earned in past lives that needs to be accounted for. Pralabdh karma is that portion of karma allocated to us for this lifetime. Kriyaman karma is the karma earned in this current lifetime. Pralabdh karma drives the circumstances of our current life, and it needs to be lived through. We continue in the Wheel of Birth and Death so long as there is karma unaccounted for – this is primarily the sinchit karma. In terms of ‘dealing with karma’ as a goal of yoga practice, we need to a) reduce the amount of kriyaman karma we generate during this life, and b) ‘burn off’ the sinchit karma we have accumulated over our past lives. From where we are standing, we cannot see how many past lives we have had, nor the extent of our stored up sinchit karma. If freedom from Birth and Death is a life goal, then ‘dealing with karma’ needs to be a part of the practice that leads in that direction. As a part of this issue, I think it is important to understand what actions will lead to increasing our karma, and what actions will lead to reducing our karma.

I think the concept in the Gita of loosening your grip on the results of your action that we encountered above, is the start of a way to lessen the effects of the kriyaman karma we generate during our lives.

Let’s look again at the principle of Ishvara Pranidhana – devotion to God. As we have said earlier, a difficult one for many. Yet it is a widespread concept. In the Bible, Luke 10:27, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind’. Strong words. Love or devotion lies at the root of Bhakti Yoga, and the writings of the mystics and wise ones are full of it. For example, Sultan Bahu (a Sufi mystic born in Pakistan in 1630) writes,

The moment I realised the oneness of God, the flame of his love shone within, to lead me on. Constantly it burns in my heart with intense heat, revealing the mysteries along my path. This fire of love burns inside me with no smoke, fueled by my intense longing for the Beloved. Following the Royal Vein, I found the Lord close by me, as my love brought me face to face with him.

Sultan Bahu, Bait 4 (Sultan Bahu, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 1998, p 145)

Read the poems and writings of Dadu, Kabir, Paltu, Sahajobai, Mirabai, Nanak, Rumi, Tulsi Das, Shamas Tabriz, Hafiz… Read the writings of the Christian contemplatives.

There is another favourite quote of mine from Rumi, ‘Why do you remain in prison when the door is wide open?’ I think this relates to our hanging on rigidly to our own opinions. How much are we responsible for keeping ourselves in prison? In not appreciating what our potential is? In not recognising the enormity of the Self that is our real essence?

You see this thread echoed in the Upanishads.

“The Self is hidden in the hearts of all,

As butter lies hidden in cream. Realise

the Self in the depths of meditation,

The Lord of Love, supreme reality,

Who is the goal of all knowledge.

This is the highest mystical teaching.” (Shvetashvatara 1.15, p 162)

Again in the Chandogya Upanishad.

(of people who look at themselves and see only the physical)

They have seen the Self, but they have not recognised the Self.

They mistake the Self to be the body.

Those who think the Self is the body

Will loose their way in life.” (Chandogya VIII.8.3, p146)

If you live in world view 1, nothing before birth, nothing after death and the physical body is all we are – then much of this is nonsense and myth from less enlightened times. We remain the chief architect and builder of our own prison walls. If you read the Bhagavad Gita looking for the correct practice of Virabhadrasana 2, you won’t find it.

In another quote from Rumi, he says, “My soul is not from here. Before I die, I want to go back to where it came from.” I think this sums up the essence of the practice and philosophy of yoga, and of the Bhagavad Gita. You see it in the Yoga Sutras, the Upanishads, so many of the writings of mystics and wise ones. I think this is the goal of yoga that Krishna speaks of in 6.36.

A thread common to many different traditions is the call to wake up and get on with it. For example, Dōgen, a Zen Buddhist master born in 1200, said,

Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken! Take heed, do not squander your life.”

In summary, we have touched on some of the main threads in the philosophy of yoga, and some of the main texts. It was intended as a starting point, to introduce some concepts and principles. In looking at all of these issues and texts, there is plenty of scope for confusion and misunderstanding. I think of all the various issues we have looked at, the most crucial of all lies around your motive in approaching the yoga texts – your motive and your aspiration. There are no rights and wrongs here, nor any specific have-to’s. Rather it is an issue of constructiveness or usefulness. How deep do you want to go? A little bit, or as deep as it is possible to go? How do you want to walk the road of your life? As you approach the end of your life journey, what achievements would you like to be able to look back on? How well and with how much grace did you navigate this ocean of life? What were the underlying motives that informed your life decisions and life choices? What were the underlying characteristics of your own shraddha? Perhaps, maybe an uncomfortable question, on looking back at your life, have you squandering it – or did you make the best use if it that you knew how?

There is a story they tell, about a journey of a thousand steps. Expressed simply, you can either spend a thousand steps and move from place A to a new place, place B. Or, you can spend those thousand steps walking in a circle, and after expending a lifetime of effort, you never leave the place you started. After all of that effort, you are still in the same place. In terms of your own life, which of those do you want to do, and what do you intend to do about it?

I wish you well on your journey and may it be filled with ever deepening human decency, dignity, wisdom and kindness. Any questions, thoughts, comments please feel free to be in touch.


The primary reference for this essay is:

Eknath Easwaran, The Bhagavad Gita, Nilgiri Press, Canada, 2007

Others include:

JR Puri and KS Khak, Sultan Bahu, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, Punjab India,1998

Maharaji Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters (Abridged), Radha Soami Satsang Beas, Punjab India, 1997

Swami Prabhavananda & Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God – The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, Vedanta Press, California, 1946

Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Integral Yoga, 2010

© Dale Spence    info@AntifragilityYoga.com    V 2.05