Jun 5, 2011

The aim and practice of Yoga: Yoga as the empirical part of ancient religion

The aim and practice of Yoga: Yoga as the empirical part of ancient religion

Yoga, as the empirical part of religion, is especially valuable in this age of reason as the growing intellect of the race demands some proof for the existence of the Transcendent Reality within the universe. Unless and until this proof is forthcoming, even in a subjective form, it will be increasingly difficult to reconcile the intellect with the existing dogmas of religion and agnosticism  will continue to take a heavy toll from the ranks of scholars and men of science. From earliest times Yoga has provided the answer to the agnostic and the atheist in India. To the question, Can you prove the existence of a reality within the world of phenomena? The answer has been Yes. How? The answer, practice Yoga and see for yourself. It should not be supposed that India has not had its share of highly intelligent and vociferous skeptics and atheists.

They existed even before the birth of Buddha in the sixth century before Christ, and under various guises have continued to spread their subversive doctrines to this day. Nevertheless, it is true that in spite of their opposition, Yoga continued to thrive and to be the chief instrument of realization for almost all the innumerable and, sometimes, mutually contending creeds and sects in India, thereby providing strong evidence of its vitality as well as its efficacy and popularity even under difficult conditions.
The validity of Yoga in its various forms as a tested method for gaining spiritual experience has never been doubted.
On the other hand, the doctrine has remained surrounded by a halo that has continued undiminished to this day. Such a halo and such veneration, as Yoga now commands even in India, could never have been possible if from time to time its roots had not been watered by men of outstanding genius who brilliantly proved for themselves and others the possibility of the supreme achievement claimed for it. Because there exists a galaxy of extraordinary spiritual luminaries behind it, Yoga has been able to survive the onslaught of centuries and continues to this day to excite the curiosity and command the admiration of legions who accept it.
There is ample evidence to show that the various methods used in Yoga were in vogue in India even in the Vedic age, long before the birth of Patanjali, the renowned author of Yoga-Sutras.
To this great savant of the past, however, goes the credit for gathering the scattered threads of this hoary cult and formulating it, for the first time, into a methodological system of scientific experimentation and philosophy.
Divested of the superstition and myth that surround all reli-  gions, Yoga contains absolutely nothing that can be abhorrent to any faith or creed. On the other hand, it uses most of the methods advocated by the founders of great religions, mystics, and sages as a means to God-consciousness and to render the body a fit vehicle for spiritual illumination. Despite popular belief to the contrary, Yoga has never been considered to be a shortcut to self-realization. Although some writers on Yoga, even in the past, have claimed extraordinary efficacy for their particular method, the fact remains that this ancient system has never been considered as a means of easy approach to the Divine. On the contrary, all those who diligently pursued it did so with full realization that they were taking up a most serious quest and that they would be fortunate indeed if they attained some measure of success in it in their lifetime.
How seriously the quest is taken in India is, to some extent, evidenced by the large number of men who leave their homes and families to live in seclusion or in the company of masters to follow this path.
Their number runs into millions. Apart from them, millions of men in different walks of life in India make Yoga an integral part of their lives, devoting to it all the time and energy they can spare, and even neglecting their worldly ambitions to achieve success in this enterprise.
The life of most of these men is one great sacrifice to this holy quest. They have no delusions about the fact that they have entered upon an arduous undertaking, and have to submit completely to all the disciplines enjoined.
They know that the prerequisites for an earnest study and practice of this venerable system are a recognition of this important fact, a readiness to make the sacrifice; and last, but not the least, to make it a permanent, integral part of one’s life. The present sundry misconceptions about Yoga, treating it as a treasure house of easy- to-follow secret methods to experience the vision, Reality, or the psychic powers are entirely unfounded and often end in a painful harvest of disillusionment and frustration.
Many of the disciplines and practices of Yoga are common to  all great religions of mankind or, at least, to their esoteric aspects.
The main difference is that in Yoga they have been brought into a methodological system divested of other ritual. This gives to Yoga the semblance of an independent cult. The word yoga is met for the first time in Vedas in the Katha Upanishad and some description of it is contained in Svetasvatra, the last of the early Upanishads. It is more frequently met with in Puranas, the epics and other later literature, and is sometimes synonymously used for tapa and dhyana (i.e., religious austerity and meditation).
Basically Yoga is nothing more or less than systematized concentration. Fixity of attention, whether on a God or a goddess, on a symbol or a diagram, on the void or any material object, or whether on a mantra or any particular region of the body, is the main exercise of every ancient form of Yoga. It is at the same time the invariably met cornerstone of every religious discipline and occult practice known to man. 

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