Yoga Unveiled: part two
Part two of a three part investigation of the origins, philosophy, and principles and practise of yoga
In part one of this investigation published in January 2023, we discussed what yoga is and what it isn't, explored the profound philosophy which gave it birth and the eight stages of which it consists. In this second part we discuss the antiquity and origins of yoga, the main schools into which it is divided and the practises associated with each of them. In the third and final part published in May 2023 we discuss some of the lesser known schools and the ultimate aim and purpose of yoga. In the second accompaniment we continue our exploration of the rich heritage of occult knowledge and wisdom to be found in the sayings and parables of the Sages of ancient India. Readers who wish to explore this further will find a short list of principal sources in the Further reading list at the end of the sidebar. If you have not read part one and the accompaniment to it, we suggest that you do so before continuing, otherwise you will not obtain a complete understanding of the subjects under discussion.
From what we have said so far in this investigation you will realise that 'yoga' is not such a simple matter after all. We have seen that it consists of much more than 'stretching in spandex', bodily contortions, wheezy breathings and 'mindfulness'. This is not to say that the various systems of yoga which are popular in the West do not possess some part of the truth, but none have it all, though the Vedantic Yogis are nearest to perfection as we shall see later on. You may well ask why this is when India is supposed to be one of the cradles of the ancient Wisdom. So it is, but that perfect Wisdom is in the hands of a very few only. India is no different to anywhere else. With the demise of the Mysteries we discussed in the afterword to our article on the Elixir of Life, the true teachings were broken up into various fragments that were subsequently scattered all over the world. This led to the formation of countless religions, sects and 'isms' each of which honestly believed they had all the truth. It is the same with Hinduism as it is with the various Christian, Muslim, Chinese and Japanese sects. Each takes what suits their members best according to the amount of understanding they have. And this is right, for no two people on earth have the same powers of intellect, let alone wisdom, and all have faith — if any, these days — according to their state of evolution. Have we pointed this out in other articles before? Then it is a vital truth worth repeating!
The antiquity and origins of Yoga
The earliest references to yoga are found in the Vedas which sacred texts, according to scholars, were codified between 1200 and 900 B.C. We believe yogic practices to be far older. The observances of yoga are detailed at considerable length in the Mahabharata, one of the two great epics of ancient India, the other being the Ramayana. Since the Mahabharata also chronicles the wars fought between the survivors of the destruction of Atlantis and the indigenous inhabitants of India, we may be tolerably sure that yoga is infinitely older than modern authorities would have us believe. Like every other science founded on the Ancient Wisdom, its origins must be sought in the occult sciences that were developed and perfected in Atlantis, tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of years ago. But this is clearly a step too far for the historians of orthodoxy who cringe at the merest mention of the lost continent. The Puranas, which share the same hoary antiquity with the Vedas, also contain ample accounts of yoga and yogis. The Kurma Purana gives a string of names of yoga teachers who flourished many thousands of years before our era.
If further proof of the antiquity of yoga is required we need look no further than the principal gods of Hinduism. Brahma and Shiva are represented as yogis whilst the heroes Rama and Krishna were initiated in the science. The kings Dasharatha (also known as Nemi) and Janaka who appear in the Ramayana and their fellow prince Gautama Buddha were all practitioners and preceptors of yoga. Let us not leave out Mohammed who held his nightly communions with the angels, and Jesus who went into the mountain to contemplate. Socrates had his daemon with which he could communicate; just as every man has his own genius — his immortal soul — with whom he may commune on all matters if he so wishes. All this is true yoga of the right sort, just as all true knowledge is derived from intuition, revelation and inspiration, and not from distorting the human body into postures it was never meant to adopt such as we find in the practise of Hatha yoga mentioned earlier. We shall revisit this theme in the next section when we discuss the various schools into which yoga is divided.
It was around 700 B.C., that yoga became popular with the second class of the Atharva Upanishads. This class of works chiefly consists of subjects relating to divine meditation and giving up all earthly connections. To it belong the Jabala, Kathashruti, Bhallavi, Samvartasruti, Sannyasa, Hansa, Paramhansa, and Mandukya Upanishads, as well as a few others. The Garbha Upanishad, thought to have been composed more than 1000 years earlier, speaks of the Samkhya and Patanjali yoga systems as the means of knowing Narayana, or the Self-Existing Lord, one of the forms and names of the God Vishnu. It is clear from this and the recurrence of the word Samkhya in the later Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, that the Samkhya Yoga was long known to the ancients. Hence, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali compiled in the early centuries of our era were a further development of it, and not the origin of the yoga system as some mistakenly believe. Samkhya, also spelled Sankhya, is one of the six systems of Indian philosophy. It posits the periodical separation of matter (Prakriti) and spirit (Purusha) during manifestation (manvantara) which become, or rather re-become one during unmanifestation (pralaya). In other words, the occult scientific doctrine of waking and sleeping which we wrote about in our investigation of the occult evolutionary cycles called Yugas in Hindu philosophy.
Prior to Patanjali, or coeval with him, emerged the classical yoga text known as the Yoga Yajnavalkya. This is written in the form of a male-female dialogue between the sage Yajnavalkya and Gargi. In it Yajnavalkya speaks of his obtaining his teachings from the Sun, "He who wishes to attain yoga must know the aranyaka which I have received from the sun, and the Yoga Sastra [treatise] which I have taught." The word aranyaka is derived from the Sanskrit root aranya, meaning 'forest', because the sacred texts called aranyakas were intended to be studied by ascetics in the solitude of forests, far away from the distractions and diversions of human habitations. Like Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the Yoga Yajnavalkya describes the eight stages of yoga discussed in the previous part of our investigation. However, this treatise contains additional material that is not found in the Yoga Sutras, such as the reference to the sun just mentioned and the concept of kundalini which we will discuss in the next section of our investigation. The Yoga Yajnavalkya also contains a more comprehensive discussion of the stages of yoga than Patanjali provided in his Yoga Sutras.
In addition to the orthodox yoga systems of the Upanishads, we have the heterodox yoga Shastras of the Buddhists and Jains. Although these differ in many ways from the Vedanta yoga, all three systems coincide in inculcating the doctrine of the interminable metempsychosis of the human soul, or Higher Mind in our terminology. That is to say, they teach that, as a consequence of bodily acts, previous to its state of final absorption or utter annihilation (according to the difference in their respective views), the Higher Mind is not necessarily reborn as another human being, but as a Deva (heavenly spirit), demigod, animal, ghost, or demon. In other words, Buddhists and Jains believe that the state of humanity in its present, past and future lives, is the necessary result of its own acts in previous births. This, of course, is the well-flogged horse known as Karma which we discussed in the third part of our occult studies course. As we explain in that article, this doctrine has been much abused and misunderstood over the centuries. What was originally a highly elevated moral teaching has become nothing more than the ignorant attribution of everything that happens to us to the results of 'good' or 'bad' Karma. If we help someone, it was their karma to be helped; if we harm someone, it was their karma to be harmed. If Bob murders Bill it is probably because Bill murdered Bob in a previous life. According to this viewpoint they might continue to murder one another for several lives, without consciously remembering anything about it, until one day, one of them resists the impulse. Whatever happened to freewill? Does it not occur to the nincompoops who believe this nonsense that we may help someone simply because we want to? Or that Bob murdered Bill because Bill broke into his house in the dead of night intent on slaughtering Bob, his wife, and their eight little children?
The fact that this childish view of Karma is popular among many Theosophists is a sad indictment of the noble Society Madame Blavatsky founded. If these ideas were remotely correct it would make us mere tools of fate, to be blown hither and thither by the capricious winds of this so-called 'Karma.' The fact that countless millions do believe this fatalistic fantasy is a never-failing source of astonishment to us. In the aforementioned article we said that Karma means attunement; nothing more and nothing less. It is our attunement with 'good' or 'evil' persons or conditions, insofar as we understand these two opposites, that determines our thinking and actions. For we must never forget that no man or woman, however wise, can know the real meanings of good or evil in their ultimate configurations; these remain the secret of the Supreme Deity or Being. Hence the desire to help someone is the natural result of attunement with the principles of kindness and charity. The same applies to thoughts or acts of cruelty and selfishness, or any other vice or virtue. The problem with the popular ideas about Karma is that in ignorant or unscrupulous hands, it can become a dangerous weapon which offers a very useful plea for excusing one’s failures and ineptitudes in life. Bob can go on murdering as many Bills as he likes and blame it all on Karma.
It is this erroneous view of Karma which we reject with all our might and being. Not to do so, is to lie down supinely under the blows of fate, or surrender to undesirable conditions without making the slightest effort to change or overcome them. Such things are only tests, nothing else, and it is up to everyone to overcome such tests, thus proving themselves worthy of advancement and liberation. If we make mistakes (and who does not?) we must pay for them. But we must pay cheerfully, and not consider ourselves to be the victims of 'bad' Karma, and cringe before the lash of 'fate' like miserable curs. If you are knocked down by 'Karma' get up and fight back! If you see any one else knocked down by 'Karma', go to his or her assistance and help them to get back on their feet again if they show any spirit at all. But if they have real spirit, they will not need your help, but jump up and try again in another way by themselves. In this and no other way can we overcome so-called 'Karma'. We must regard it as a God-given means of learning our very necessary lessons in life, so that we shall not repeat the same old mistakes over and over again, but become worthier beings than we were before. Then 'bad' Karma becomes 'good' Karma; but there are few people wise enough to understand this simple truth fully, never mind act upon it.
Karma, rightly understood teaches us, or should teach us, that misery and unhappiness in this life is the unavoidable consequence of conduct in former states of existence, and that our present actions will determine our future states, depending solely on the merit or demerit of acts. We can only overcome bad deeds by good deeds. But we must first know ourselves as we are, not as we might wish to be, or want others to regard us, in order to overcome ourselves. Only thus can we overcome our faults, which are always caused by the urgings of the lower mind, which the Higher Mind must learn to master. This is the real meaning and use of Karma as taught originally by the great Sages, but perverted by fools and rogues in later times. The same applies to the doctrine, or rather dogma of metempsychosis taught by Jains and Buddhists. It is utterly impossible for the human soul (Higher Mind) to pass into the body of an animal, never mind that of a demigod or demon. A thoroughly degenerate Higher Mind which has devoted itself to evil, life after life, may take on the characteristics of an animal or even a demon, just as a thoroughly good, spiritually advanced Higher Mind may resemble those of a demigod or Deva, but that is not the same thing as being reincarnated as a demon, demigod, monkey or mollusc.
All this shows that the great Sages of ancient India, whose teachings persist to this day, though much distorted and incomplete as a rule, have given more light to the West than India has ever received from our quarter of the globe; hence the saying 'Lux–ab–oriens', or light from the East. The same applies to ancient Egypt which, with good reason, that indefatigable pursuer of truth and eminent scholar, Gerald Massey, called 'The Light of the world'. Whatever we possess in the West of spiritual wisdom and true Enlightenment comes from the East, good, bad or indifferent, and this applies to both the Far East and the Near East. H. P. Blavatsky proved this long ago in her monumental survey of the Wisdom of the Ages — The Secret Doctrine. A book we might add which is as misunderstood and underestimated today, if not more so, than it was when it first illuminated the stygian darkness of Western thinking in the 19th century.
Professor Monier Williams, whom we have mentioned several times in this investigation, speaking of the yoga philosophy we have been discussing, says: "The votaries of animal magnetism, clairvoyance and so-called spiritualism, will find most of their theories represented or far outdone by corresponding notions existing in the yoga system from more than two thousand years ago." In speaking of the Vedanta he declares: "The philosophy of the Sufis, alleged to be developed out of the Koran, appears to be a kind of pantheism very similar to that of the Vedanta." He also shows the correspondence of the Vedanta doctrines with those of Plato, and in this, as in much else, as Madame Blavatsky tells us, he was eminently correct. Monier Williams also showed that Hindu Philosophy was taken up by the followers of Alexander and communicated by them to Aristotle; and that Pythagoras derived his doctrine of Metempsychosis from the Hindu yoga in his travels through India. It was at the beginning of the 11th century of our era that the Muslim scholar Al-Biruni translated the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali into Arabic. The Gnostic doctrines derived especially from the Buddhist missionaries who travelled through Persia and the Punjab during this time, from whence they were spread all over Europe, to be embraced and cultivated particularly by Basilides, Valentinus and other philosophers among the Christian Gnostics of the second century. These were often blended with the remnants of the ancient Egyptian Mystery Teachings, and thus both were still more distorted and maimed than they were already. We must also bear in mind that Buddhism and its yoga are themselves offshoots and developments of the far more ancient Samkhya yoga discussed earlier. So, in the end the variegated and mutilated remnants of various Oriental, Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian and other doctrines were welded together to form the Christian religion and the ancient Western philosophies. What a heterogeneous mixture! John Temple exposes this melting pot in his exploration of the Facts and fictions of the Church.
From this we see that yoga encompasses both spiritual and material aspects. It is esoteric in its philosophical enquiries into the human and divine souls, or the Higher Mind and Soul in our terminology; exoteric in its postures, gestures and purely physical exercises; subjective in the transcendency of its ideals, and objective in its aim of liberation from illusion and earthly bondage. It has its pure and impure sides as we shall see in the next section. Monier Williams says in connection with this bewildering variety: "It is at once vulgarly pantheistic, severely monotheistic, grossly polytheistic and coldly atheistic. It has a side for the practical and another for the devotional and another for the speculative. Those who rest in ceremonial observances, find it all satisfying; those who deny the efficacy of works and make faith the one thing needful, need not wander from its pale; those, who delight in meditating on the nature of God and man, the relation of matter and spirit, the mystery of separate existence and the origin of evil, may here indulge their love of speculation." All this is true. It proves quite conclusively, as we said in our introduction, that yoga is the epitome of Occult Science; indeed IS Occult Science in all but name. And this is why, among other reasons, we have spread our investigation of this sublime science over three articles. Having considered what yoga is and what it isn't, as well as explained its philosophy, antiquity and origins, we will now examine the many schools into which it has since been divided.
The main schools of Yoga
There are many schools or branches of yoga. In fact so many that we cannot possibly mention and discuss them all or it would turn this investigation into a catalogue. However, we will endeavour to consider all the main ones to uncover the occult truths they contain. We commence with the seven schools of yoga that are traditionally recognised in India. These are:
- Raja Yoga
- Karma Yoga
- Jnana Yoga
- Hatha Yoga
- Laya Yoga
- Bhakti Yoga
- Mantra Yoga
1. Raja yoga is said to be one of the four classical paths in Hinduism which lead to enlightenment and liberation from the wheel of rebirth, the other three paths being Karma yoga, Bhakti yoga and Jnana yoga which we shall discuss seriatim. Raja yoga originally meant simply the goal and the method of attaining it, the goal being enlightenment and liberation from rebirth on earth. Nowadays it is bandied about as term for any kind of yoga, including the physical jerks and contortions of Hatha yoga mentioned in our introduction. In some texts Raja yoga is described as the way for the yogi to reach "the illustrious king within oneself, the supreme self." This, of course, is none other than the Higher Mind or Self. Some scholars have drawn attention to the close similarities between Raja yoga and Buddhism. This is not surprising when we consider that the Buddha was first and foremost a Hindu, schooled in the doctrines of Brahmanism which included the practise of yoga.
2. Karma yoga is generally defined as the path of unselfish action. This sounds very well, does it not, but is it a true teaching, free from error? We should say it is almost impossible for any human being, however wise or virtuous, to be entirely free of selfishness. Let us take death and grieving as an example. Occult Science teaches that death is simply the transition to another realm of existence. If a person has lived a reasonably normal life, they will most likely be much happier in the afterlife than they ever were on earth. Thus, if one professes to truly love them, one should rejoice in the knowledge of their now better conditions. If you think about it honestly, you will agree that we sorrow for ourselves, not the departed. Hence it follows that grieving is a selfish action. Yet, who among us has not mourned the loss of a loved one? Not to do so would be the act of a stone or piece of wood, devoid of all sensibility and natural feeling. The eponymous hero of The Quest of Ruru almost expired from grief for Māiāvatī. Even Krishna, the Holy Hindu Saviour and prototype of Christ, mourned the death of his beloved mother Maia, as we may read in The Book of Sa-Heti and in the Puranas. If an Initiated Adept and even the Son of God himself are not immune from the selfishness of grief there can be no such thing as a truly unselfish action. The path of Karma yoga then becomes an impossible one for anyone with an ounce of feeling and good, red blood in their veins. This reinforces what we said earlier about the many flaws and errors in sacred texts and illustrates how even the most virtuous and reasonable sounding teachings can lead us into error. Now, if we were to say that we should always try to think of others before ourselves, that would be a true and noble teaching, but alas, that is not how Karma yoga is popularly defined. Wikipedia tells us that a "spiritual seeker" who wishes to practise karma yoga should "act according to dharma, without being attached to the fruits or personal consequences." Dharma is commonly translated as 'righteousness' or 'merit' but we cannot see what merit there is in detaching ourselves from, say, the 'personal consequences' of loving one's wife, child or parent or the 'fruits' of joy resulting from helping someone in need. You see, it is the same with all these teachings. They sound so very virtuous until we begin to thoroughly analyse them as we are attempting to do in this investigation.
3. Jnana yoga, also known Jnana marga, is the third school in the classical tradition. It is the polar opposite of Hatha yoga discussed next. The word 'jnana' means knowledge and this school is concerned with the pursuit of spiritual knowledge as opposed to supernatural powers. Hence it is much concerned with the perennial questions of "who am I?" and "what am I?" and similar metaphysical queries. As such it consists in the occult and mystic meditation upon the Divinity, and the study of the aranyakas mentioned earlier, practised by religious recluses after their retirement from the world in the deep recesses of forests. The lovable Ascetic encountered by Ruru in The Quest of Ruru mentioned above, probably belonged to this school of yoga. In the Upanishads, Jnana yoga aims at the realization of the oneness of the human self (Higher Mind) and the ultimate Self (the Soul). This is achieved by the cultivation of certain attitudes or mental practises. These include discrimination; the ability to discern truth from falsehood; dispassion or detachment from all worldly objects; and the earnest desire for liberation from illusion and ignorance.
4. Hatha yoga is at one and the same time the most popular of the seven schools of yoga and the least understood. In our introduction we mentioned that the arduous practices of this school were introduced to India by the yogi Svatmarama in the 15th Century. These are based on the superstitious belief in bodily tortures as a means of penance and the only means "of their fancied attainment of extraordinary sanctity and supernatural powers," as Monier Williams put it. We have only to think of the custom of flagellation among the Jews, the Romans, in the monasteries and convents of the Christian Church, and among the nuns and monks of various other religions to know that the so-called yogis who indulge in this form of madness aren't alone in their monomania. Flagellation was once believed to have certain medicinal powers, and may still have in the minds of some lunatics for all we know. Even some physicians subscribed to this notion in the last century, claiming a good thrashing reanimated the torpid condition of the capillary and cutaneous vessels, increased muscular energy, promoted absorption, and favoured the elimination of dangerous toxins. The medicinal use of flogging was well known and appreciated by the ancients. Asclepiades, Coelius, Aurelianus, and others, strongly recommended it in the treatment of madness and hysteria, and it is not so very long ago that in Europe the same 'curative' treatment was given to people suffering from many forms of mental illness. Perhaps it is time to reintroduce this practise among troubled teenagers. Who knows, it might work wonders in improving their behaviour!
Flagellation also plays a part in sadomasochism so it is not surprising to find that sex looms large in some Hatha yoga practises. This is based on the mistaken idea that the greatest amount of the Life Force is contained in semen which, the lunatics who practise kundalini yoga (which we will discuss later on), believe can be 'raised' using particular breathing techniques, postures and gestures. We shall not sully this page with a recitation of these odious practises which at best are self-indulgent foolishness, and at worst pure black magic. Regular readers will recall we referred to such abuses in the third of our articles on Tibetan Buddhism when we discussed Tantric sexual practises. Thus we arrive at the modern period when a development of Hatha yoga focused almost exclusively on physical postures (asanas), is firmly in the ascendant. In this it differs from true, Spiritual yoga which, as we have seen, is the Art and Science of liberating the Higher Self from all worldly attachments and illusions and attaining complete enlightenment, so far as this is possible on earth. One of the greatest of these illusions is the identification of Self with the physical body, a misconception which an emphasis on bodily exercises can only encourage. Thus, what was once the greatest of all the Occult Sciences and their very epitome has degenerated into a physical fitness regime based on postures intended to relieve stress. And it is this 'stretching in spandex' which passes for 'yoga' in the popular imagination!
None of this is to say that most of those who practise Hatha yoga as it is taught nowadays are masochists, sexual deviants or rank materialists. Nor is the average 'stretcher in spandex' who attends yoga classes twice a week in danger of anything worse than a few pulled muscles. But let them be under no illusions that such practises constitute yoga as the ancient Sages formulated and taught it and as we have endeavoured to expound it to you. The materialistic school of Hatha yoga was first propounded in the Samkhya yoga system mentioned earlier. From thence it was taken up in the Puranas and Tantras, which posited a primeval matter as the basis of the universe, from which the animal soul (lower mind in our terminology) evolved out of. In this system 'unmanifest' matter (Prakriti) is considered to be prior to spirit (Purusha), whereas in the Vedanta it is the other way around. Hence the Samkhya system recognises the adoration of matter as its yoga, and its founder Kapila, who is thought to have flourished around the seventh century B.C., was a yogi of this kind. Later materialists meditate on the material principles and agencies as the causes of all. These agencies were first viewed as concentrated in a male form, as in the person of Buddha among Buddhists, Jina among Jains, and Shiva among Hindus. Both the Samkhya and Saiva materialism are deprecated in orthodox works as atheistic and heretical, like the impious doctrines of the positivists and materialists of 19th century Europe, on account of their disbelief in a personal and spiritual God.
5. Laya yoga is an ancient system of meditation concerned with awakening and using the force or energy known in occultism as kundalini. Laya is a Sanskrit word that may be translated into English as either 'extinction', 'absorption' or 'dissolution.' Laya yoga, also known as kundalini yoga, consists of specific techniques and postures intended to arouse, absorb and manage this force to effect changes in consciousness, leading ultimately to union with the Divine. When fully aroused, kundalini flows through seven centres called chakras which are situated at intervals along the spine. The chakras are connected to nervous plexuses in the physical and astral body. When the various chakras are energized by the inflow of kundalini latent occult powers appropriate to the specific centre are brought into activity, such as clairvoyance and clairaudience. H. P. Blavatsky was at pains to point out in several of her books and articles that the misuse of this force can easily kill and that the first and most likely victim is the person misusing it! Please take this warning seriously if it is the case that you have been tempted to experiment with the arousal of kundalini. Blavatsky goes on to warn that misuse can take various forms but any attempt to force the awakening of kundalini, whether through breathing exercises such as Pranayama or other methods, is fraught with peril.
6. Bhakti yoga is perhaps the best known of all the schools of yoga which are popular in the West. This is the practise of devotion, generally towards a personal god or goddess such as Krishna, Radha, Rama, Sita, Vishnu, Lakshmi, etc. Bhakti yoga is a very ancient path mentioned in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad where it means participation, devotion and love for any endeavour. The well-known Hare Krishna movement founded in New York City in 1966 by A. C. Bhaktivedanta (Swami Prabhupada) is an example of the practise of Bhakti yoga which subsequently spread all over the world in the 1960's and 70's. Three exercises form the basis of Bhakti Yoga: the chanting of mantras and singing of devotional songs; breath control; and mudras or symbolic gestures. Many of these date back to the Vedas and Puranas.
7. Mantra yoga is the practise of using particular combinations of sounds called mantras to attain certain results. Mantra is a Sanskrit word meaning 'sacred utterance', believed to possess a religious, magical or spiritual power. The vast majority of mantras are of a religious nature, such as the sacred vowel 'Om' or 'Aum' which may be chanted on its own or in combination with other sacred words. As we have pointed out in several of our articles, sound is one of the most potent of all occult forces and the least understood. Hence, Mantra yoga, like Laya yoga is fraught with danger for the inexperienced seeker who is not under the direct, personal guidance of a qualified teacher. Having said this, the gibberish bawled out by the average Westerner in the mistaken belief that it contains some magical virtue or conveys some occult 'power' is quite harmless as Bombast and Flitterflop discussed in their third Astral Conversation.
In the final part of this investigation we consider some of the lesser known schools of yoga and also tell you something about the ultimate aim and purpose of this sublime science — needless to add — not what most practitioners think it is!
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 12 March 2023.