The Yogic Way of Life

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Swami Vivekananda condenses various paths of yoga into four main streams. ‘Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within by controlling nature, internal and external. Do this by work or worship or psychic control or philosophy - by one or more or all of these - and be free.'

Using any one or more or all these paths, we return to our real state of pure existence, consciousness and bliss. In this pilgrimage, we have to transform ourselves within and without. This becomes possible by following a yogic way of life - a lifestyle of peace and poise, health and happiness, and energy and efficiency. This lifestyle is far removed from lethargy and resistance to action, slavery to senses and comforts, and tensions and stresses.

Living the yogic way involves using the innate freedom within us at physical, pranic, mental, emotional and intellectual levels. Freedom is a choice. Intelligence manifests this freedom. Creativity springs from freedom within us. We can use this freedom to uplift or degrade ourselves. When we use it to uplift ourselves, we call it yoga; when we use it otherwise, it is roga (disease). This freedom built at the physical, mental, emotional, intellectual and super-conscious levels is the divinity within us. As we uplift ourselves in the yogic way, this freedom goes on increasing.

We have to exercise our freedom from the beginning. If we follow the path of Jnana-yoga, we are to exercise discrimination as to what is permanent and what is not, and choose the former (nitya-anitya-vastu-viveka). This is the best explained in Katha-Upanisad. ‘Of the two, the preferable and the pleasurable approaches, the man of intelligence, having considered them, separates the two. The intelligent one selects the electable in preference to the delectable; the non-intelligent one selects the delectable for the sake of growth and protection (of the body).'

If we choose the path of Karma-yoga, we shun tamas and rajas, and choose the way of sattva, the moral and the ethical way. After teaching scriptures, the guru imparts the benedictory instruction to his pupils to live the ethical way of life. Taittiriya-Upanisad explains it thus. ‘Speak the truth; Practice righteousness. Make no mistake about study. Having offered proper gift to the teacher, do not cut off the line of progeny. There should be no deviation from righteous activity. There should be no mistake about protection of yourself. Do not be careless about learning and teaching.'

On the path of Raja-yoga, we follow yama - the don'ts, namely, non-injury, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence and non-possessiveness, and niyama - the dos, namely, contentment, austerity, study and surrender to God. To overcome difficulties on the path, the mind is to be steadied. Patanjali's Yogasutras states thus.

‘The mind is made clear by meditation on friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the suffering, goodwill towards the virtuous and disinterest towards the sinful.'

Yoga-Vaasista explains the yogic way of life thus. ‘By the purity of food and dwelling, by the proper contemplation (or investigation) of the meaning of the scriptures, by the renunciation of enjoyments, by giving up anger, by serving virtuous people and by the intense, uninterrupted practice of pranayama, the vital energies become exceedingly obedient to one familiar with them, on account of his mastery of the techniques of controlling them, just as all the servants are controlled by the master.'

The path of devotion directs us to shun our gross love, kama, and to choose the real love, prema, which is disinterested and without any expectation of return. According to Narada Bhakti Sutras, true love is to direct all secular and religious activities towards the Lord. In the gross form of love, self-interest overwhelms. It only leads to sensual experience, which can never be blissful.

As a karma-yogi, one is to practice the art of attunement to the deeper and subtler layers of mind characterized by calmness, peace and tranquility. One is to learn to work in relaxation, and act in blissful awareness. As a raja-yogi, one is to act as if one were meditating on a single thought in a state of effortlessness, expansiveness and awareness. As a bhakti-yogi (devotee), one is to surrender one's mind and intellect to one's beloved Lord. As a jnana-yogi, one is to act as a witness considering that everything happens according to the Divine Will.

The yogic way of life involves setting up a spiritual goal, and efforts to realize it. The efforts are two-fold - abhyasa and vairagya. Abhyasa is constant, uninterrupted and dedicated practice for an indefinite length of time. It is to end only on attainment. This practice is to be rendered in vairagya, a spirit of total renunciation and detachment. Renunciation does not mean renouncing the world of which one is part; but it means that the spirit within has no attachment to the physical objects or action.

K. R. Paramahamsa is an author of book Living in Spirit.

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