WHAT IS REAL YOGA?
Seers of the vast illumined seer yogically control their minds and their intelligence. –Rig Veda V.81.1
YOGA is a Sanskrit (as Greek and Latin is to Christianity, Sanskrit is to Hinduism) word meaning. "yuj Atman Brahman ca." ("to yoke to the Soul and Soul Source.")
Just as the word "religion" comes from the Latin root "religio;" i.e., "to link-back" to the spiritual, the word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root "yuj;" i.e., "to yoke" to the spiritual.
Spiritual awareness is the essence and practice of "yoga" and "religion."
The first written accounts of the spiritual processes of yoga are found in the Vedas. The Vedas (spiritual knowledge) are to Hinduism what the Bible is to Christianity or the Koran to those of the religion of Islam. The Vedas, dating back several thousands of years B.C.E., are said to be the oldest scriptures (and, of course, Sanskrit the oldest living language). The process of "yoking" to the spiritual defines the content of the Vedas. Before the word "yoga" was used, the word yajna was (and still is) used to denote the practice of spiritual disciplines. Yajna translates into "sacrifice," and the Latin meaning of "sacrifice" is "sacred doing." Sacred doing or spiritual practice is yoga–indeed the essence of all religion/spirituality.
Of course, the various religions of the world each have their unique terminology and spiritual practices by which they are immediately identified. For example, one who greets another with "Shalom," reads the Torah, attends synagogue and observes the Sabbath is of course an adherent of Judaism. Similarly, one who greets another with "Namaste," reads the Vedas, attends temple puja and observes various yogic disciplines is, of course, a student or follower of Hinduism–the religion of Classical Yoga.
C L A S S I C A L Y O G A
With an understanding of the word "yoga," to say "I do yoga" is like saying "I do spiritual union," or "I do religion." Though Spiritual-Realization or union is certainly the goal, these statements lack clarity. How am I seeking this spiritual union? This is where knowledge of the specific aspects of yoga brings a much greater understanding. Similar to any classical study (classical music, for example), the term CLASSICAL YOGA is often used to denote the progressive, step-by-step process of this Hindu religious/spiritual path.
It is exciting to observe the many similarities in the various religious/spiritual traditions as well as recognizing their unique differences. This approach brings a great sense of unity as well as a respect for the rich diversity found in the various religions. Interestingly, if we reflect on the nature of the spiritual path in general, we see much in common. For example, all religions have their ethics. The numerous holy scriptures of the many religions lay-out a foundation of moral guidelines. All religions have their unique devotions and meaningful rituals. To one degree or another, meditation is found in the various religions and each one attains to a certain amount of spiritual enlightenment according to the effort put forth.
This natural, classic pattern of spiritual growth can be found, to one degree or another, in all the religions of the world. It is analogous to climbing a mountain. One surveys the scene, chooses a path (the various religions) and ethically prepares creating a solid foundation . With strong devotion, one reaches up and makes the arduous climb. Finally, one reaches the "oneness" (only truly found after making the climb) and enjoys a natural meditative state of heightened awareness. From this expansive view, enlightenment is achieved.
In another analogy, this progressive spiritual path is like the natural growth of a tree. The roots are likened to one's strong ethical and moral foundation. The young tree reaching to the "heavens" is representative of devotion or spiritually directed emotion. The flowering symbolizes the beautiful and royal state of meditation. Finally, comes the fruit of enlightenment. The classic growth of the tree is, basically, always the same–so, too, with the classic spiritual path. This is the universal nature of spiritual growth and development.
Of course, when we use specific terms and particular spiritual practices we define the unique religions of the world. In this way, we respect the uniqueness of each religion as well as appreciating the many similarities. This mature attitude avoids religious bigotry as well as the cultic tendency to try and make a universal "catch-all" religion. For example, the ethics taught in the Koran, the devotions in the mosque and meditations at the Kaba stone immediately describe the Muslim religion. Similarly, the ethical code of the Yamas and Niyamas, puja/devotions in the temple and Hatha and Raja Yoga meditative disciplines immediately identify the religion of Sanatan Dharma/Hinduism.
The spiritual path of CLASSICAL YOGA defines the religion of Hinduism (reading from the bottom up):
Jnana Yoga~Enlightenment [fruit]
Raja Yoga~Meditation [flowers]
Bhakti Yoga~Devotion [young tree reaching up]
Karma Yoga~Ethics [roots]
Classical Yoga takes into account all aspects of one's being. Each sincere spiritual aspirant will experience all aspects of yoga in their progressive order. For example, without meditation there is no profound enlightenment. Without devotion (spiritually directed emotion), there is no true meditation or concentration on the spirit. And, naturally, an unethical individual will go no further in their spiritual life. Of course, each unique individual will often tend to focus more on one aspect of classical yoga over another. Some find service or Karma Yoga to be all-fulfilling while others may spend hours a day in the temple or their shrine room performing religious devotions, for example.
In another sense, there is a great truth to the completeness of each yoga. Remember "yoga" means spiritual union or "oneness." Therefore, one begins in Karma Yoga with a moral foundation and achieves "oneness" through self-less service. One begins in the duality of Bhakti praying to one's chosen Deity and ends in complete absorption or universal Love.
Their are other aspects of Classical Yoga/Hinduism which are sometimes viewed as components of these basic four yogas. For example, HATHA YOGA (stretching, breathing and relaxation exercises) are the devotional postures of Hinduism and generally considered a part of Raja Yoga training preparing the body for meditation. [In the tree analogy, the beneficial Hatha Yoga can be viewed as the stake used to support the young tree as it matures.] However, it is very important to remember that not only do all Hindus do Hatha Yoga in simply sitting in one comfortable posture but also one is to never overlook the vital importance of posture/attitude. In the case of Hatha Yoga, the proper attidude/posture is to respect that all of Yoga is Hinduism. Other forms of yoga are MANTRA YOGA or spiritual union through chanting; JAPA YOGA chanting on beads (often silently); NADA YOGA is spiritual union through music. KUDALINI YOGA is that part of Raja Yoga training that focuses on a deep metaphysical study and experience of the male/female nerve currents (nadis) and the seven spiritual centers (chakras).
See the article: New Age Yoga, Old Age theft and Surrender
Visit the Ashram Store for Publications: www.dharmayogaashramstore.org