In honour of the upcoming International Yoga Day, we share some excerpts from two of the writings of Sri Aurobindo. In this first part of this series, we share a small essay written by Sri Aurobindo around 1911.
We believe these selected passages shed some much needed light on what is Yoga in its essence. This is especially helpful given some of the recent opposition Yoga has seen from some of the ill-informed and perhaps ill-intentioned critics of the International Yoga Day celebration. What makes this opposition more worrisome is that it is originating from within those misguided sections of the Indian community who are unwilling to see and accept the universal and holistic nature of Yoga, primarily because such a view will come in the way of their narrow religio-political ambitions.
For Yoga to see such erroneous and unfounded opposition in the very land of its origin, when the entire world and humanity are waking up to the deeper potential of Yoga and Indian spirituality is indeed a sorry symptom of how far removed some of us have become, not only from the spirit and essence of our own traditions and cultural riches, but also from a clear intellectual knowledge of what these traditions are. The reasons for this are numerous, some of which have also to do with the sinister nexus of religion and politics. But all that is not our concern for the present.
For now let us turn our attention to Sri Aurobindo’s words and spend some time contemplating on the real essence of Yoga. He writes:
Yoga is not a modern invention of the human mind, but our ancient and prehistoric possession. The Veda is our oldest extant human document and the Veda, from one point of view, is a great compilation of practical hints about Yoga. All religion is a ﬂower of which Yoga is the root; all philosophy, poetry & the works of genius use it, consciously or unconsciously, as an instrument. We believe that God created the world by Yoga and by Yoga He will draw it into Himself again. Yogah prabhavapyayau, Yoga is the birth and passing away of things. When Srikrishna reveals to Arjuna the greatness of His creation and the manner in which He has built it out of His being by a reconciliation of logical opposites, he says “Pasya me yogam aishwaram”, Behold my divine Yoga.
We usually attach a more limited sense to the word; when we use or hear it, we think of the details of Patanjali’s system, of rhythmic breathing, of peculiar ways of sitting, of concentration of mind, of the trance of the adept. But these are merely details of particular systems. The systems are not the thing itself, any more than the water of an irrigation canal is the river Ganges.
Yoga may be done without the least thought for the breathing, in any posture or no posture,without any insistence on concentration, in the full waking condition, while walking, working, eating, drinking, talking with others, in any occupation, in sleep, in dream, in states of unconsciousness, semi- consciousness, double-consciousness. It is no nostrum or system or ﬁxed practice, but an eternal fact of process based on the very nature of the Universe. Nevertheless in practice the name may be limited to certain applications of this general process for speciﬁc and deﬁnite ends.
Yoga stands essentially on the fact that in this world we are everywhere one, yet divided; one yet divided in our being, one with yet divided from our fellow creatures of all kinds, one with yet divided from the inﬁnite existence which we call God, Nature or Brahman. Yoga, generally, is the power which the soul in one body has of entering into effective relation with other souls, with parts of itself which are behind the waking consciousness, with forces of Nature and objects in Nature, with the Supreme Intelligence, Power & Bliss which governs the world either for the sake of that union in itself or for the purpose of increasing or modifying our manifest being, knowledge, faculty, force or delight. Any system which organises our inner being & our outer frame for these ends may be called a system of Yoga.
CWSA, Vol. 12, pp. 18-19 (emphasis added)
To be continued….