Begin the day with raja yoga. Prayers and meditation will give you an undercurrent of poise like the lingering sound of a bell…
Be a bhakta in your contact with others. See God in everything and offer worship to Him…
In the field of action be a Karma yogi. Work for the sake of work. Let your work be your worship.
Last but not least, let your life be balanced and controlled by the intellect. Knowledge of fundamental principles gives you latitude and power of adjustment.
As The title indicates, this book is primarily intended for beginners in spiritual life. However, those who are well along the road to spiritual achievement will also find much encouragement and inspiration in it. Yoga for Beginners is a compilation of the spoken words of Swami Gnaneswarananda as they were taken down, mostly stenographically, by three of his students, Virginia Knapik, Genevieve Spoonholtz, and myself over a period of some years.
In a compilation of this sort there are bound to be some repetitions and reiterations. But I think that these enhance rather than detract from the book’s value. The subjects discussed require a great deal of attention on the part of the reader. Repetition of an idea is, therefore, very helpful. A good teacher will naturally repeat and explain in different ways the subject of discussion, in order to better reach the mind of the student.
Swami Gnaneswarananda’s yoga classes were held Tuesday evenings of the premises of the Vedanta Society of Chicago, then located at 120 East Delaware Place. The Swami would give his talks seated at a small table, with the students sitting around him. This made the classes very informal. The Swami spoke extemporaneously, introducing many lively stories and anecdotes to bring out his points and to enliven discussion. He was thus able to put before his students the highest religious and philosophical teaching of the Hindu religion in a language and idiom they could really understand. To paraphrase Swami Vivekananda, he could take a person from wherever he stood and lift him up.
One did not have to have high academic qualifications in order to understand Swami Gnaneswarananda. The Swami’s manner of teaching, in fact, was so simple that it was only after some reflection that one could fully appreciate its depth. One of the Swami’s strongest convictions was that Knowledge does not come from outside us. It is an unfoldment from within. The duty of the teacher in any field of Knowledge, he would say, was to stimulate the mind of the student and help him to remove the inner obstructions to the perfect unfoldment or realization of that knowledge.
Swami Gnaneswarananda was a person of great charm with a magnetic personality. He had a boyish nature, with a smile for everyone and an enthusiasm for spiritual endeavour that was contagious. He was equally at home discussing the intricacies of philosophy with the elders or telling stories of the saints and sages to small children, fascinating them with his tales. Two qualities seemed most prominent in his nature: a spiritual love that enveloped all beings in the universe; and a dynamic approach to, and understanding of, the problems that aspirants in spiritual life have to cope with.
“The clearest and most open thing in the world,” the Swami once said, “is the means to attain divine life; but because of our passions and weaknesses we have covered that up with all sorts of ‘secret knowledge’ and lots of other nonsense. The ‘open sesame’ to spiritual life is the secret of being and becoming, of having the strength and courage to carry a thing into actual practice, no matter how simple and devoid of high-sounding and befooling names it may be. This is the ‘open secret’ knowing which we can wake up from this long and painful wond-dream. There is no short cut to that.
“Truth is always simple. It is only falsehood that is intricate and complicated. Spirituality is simplicity. I find that many people are interested in yoga, particularly Saja Yoga. But most of them have a very odd conception of what it really is. Many think that it is something magical, like Aladdin’s lamp, something that can bring them, without the least trouble, all the things they wish to enjoy. They learn a couple of postures and a few peculiar ways of breathing and right away they become Aladdins of the twentieth century, even without a lamp! To others it appeals as the builder of perfect health and enduring beauty. Do whatever you like, live any way you please, only learn some yogic tricks and then you are free from indigestion, headache and overweight. And lo! Look into your mirror and see what magic charm your features radiate.
“These are all complexes. Only when everything about a person has become simple can the truth reveal itself in its simplest and healthiest form. It is weakness of the brain that gathers mystery around Yoga. Yoga is not for the weak. What we want is mysticism without the ‘mist’. I consider it my business to bring all types of ‘magic ’ into the penetrating light of Knowledge, so that whatever is fake in them will vanish and whatever is real and true will gain the precision of scientific knowledge. I therefore earnestly request you to cast from your minds all notions of mystery and magic regarding Yoga Spiritual unfoldment does not mean the achievement of any supernatural or magical powers. Far from it! ”
Every effort has been made to weave these notes, sometimes taken down at random, into a whole that is both comprehensive and representative of the Swami’s Yoga classes. It is hoped that this little book will reach the hearts of sincere aspirants in spiritual life and that in it they will find much to ponder over and much to enjoy. The search for spiritual perfection should be accompanied by joy, even laughter, and not by a morose, “sackcloth and ashes” attitude!
The compiler wishes to acknowledge with gratitude the permission given by the Vedanta Kesari, Madras, India, to reproduce these notes in their present form. They first appeared in that magazine in serial form from November, 1967, through May, 1971.
Swami Vivekananda summed up the whole of religion in three statements:
1. Each soul is potentially divine.
2. The goal is to manifest this divinity within, by controlling nature- external and internal.
3. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy, by one, or more, or all of these- and be free.
“This is the whole of religion,” added Swami Vivekananda.
“Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”
Let us consider these statements as three propositions
PropositionN 1: Each soul is potentially divine.
What is meant by the term, “divinity”? Most people have a very vague notion about this. Divinity is an existence which is infinite, immortal, imperishable; absolute, all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-blissful. The word, divinity, therefore, implies the state of (1) absolute existence, (2) unlimited power, (3) infinite knowledge, and (4) eternal bliss. Any conception of divinity, of God, or of an ultimate state or being, must include these attributes. Such a divinity, God, ultimate state or being must be perfect, and in order to be perfect it must be of the nature we have just described. Divine perfection is uncaused, unlimited, and un-conditioned by time, space or causation.
In relation to man what do I mean by divinity? I mean that highest ideal of perfection which we all want to attain in the course of our lives. I mean the unfoldment of that state of consciousness in which we will have no defect, misery, suffering, or limitation of any kind. Spontaneously, Knowingly or unknowingly, we all respond to an urge for that. What are we all working for? What is our highest goal in life? In short, we are all working for the attainment of the ideal state of perfection, for the attainment of limitless existence, absolute Knowledge, and infinite happiness.
We want to live. And we want to live in such a way that there will not be any suffering, disease, death, or an imperfection of any kind disturbing our existence.
We want to know. We spontaneously feel that we have a right to attain a state where there will not be anything in this universe unknown to us. We are all looking for that state of realization. Our discoveries, inventions and all the advancement of intellectual thought and scientific progress have been possible owing to that inner urge in man.
We Spontaneously feel that we have a right to be happy. Of course, the philosophy underlying the ideal and the method for the attainment of that state of bliss might be different with different individuals. But, so far as the fundamental urge is concerned, it is one and the same for everyone.
The motive force behind every living being is a similar fundamental urge for the unfoldment of the state of perfect existence, knowledge, and bliss. We do not have to be taught about this state of divinity, for it is not without; it is always within.
Can you find any living being who does not like to live? Can you find a man who has honestly become reconciled to disease and death? Where is the person who is satisfied with the state of imperfection? Can we become reconciled to ignorance? Why this insatiable yearning for more and more knowledge? There is no human being who does not feel a deep sense of protest against the state of ignorance. Tell a human being that he has no right to know, and see how insulted he feels. Why such sensitiveness?
What about happiness? There are people who have been suffering all their lives. But were they reconciled to their state of misery? Were they not always looking for that “silver lining” to the dark cloud of their suffering, either in this life or in a life here after? This shows that in man’s inner nature there is a firm conviction that he has the right to be happy.
Man’s instinctive protest against imperfection of any kind- against death, ignorance, suffering, and so on – presupposes that he is born with the unshakable conviction that infinite perfection is his birthright. That man is divine is shown by his response to this conviction and his resentment towards the contrary, spontaneously and intuitively.
The subjective ideal of perfection, of divinity, has been concretized and objectified in the form of a personal conception of divinity, or God. If you speak to people about God being possessed of these divine attributes – absolute existence, knowledge, and bliss – they will agree. But when you speak of their inner divinity they often seem shocked. Analyze your conception of God and you will find that it is nothing but the concretized picture of the fulfillment of absolute existence, knowledge, and bliss. Nothing can make him sad or depressed. These are the three basic subjective ideals that have been concretized, objectified, and developed into the conception of an objective deity.
Why is it that most of you are ready to agree that these ideals describe God, or an ultimate being or state, but are not so ready to agree that these may be ascribed to the nature of man also? Why do you hesitate to believe that man is potentially divine? First of all let me ask you that if divinity is infinite, which it must be, will it not pervade everything? Will there be any place where it is not? Could there be anything else besides divinity? No. Because if there were, the infinite would not be infinite. Infinite implies the existence of one only. The existence of anything else would limit it and it would lose its infinite nature.
There are three sources of Knowledge, or means by which truth may be verified: authority, inference, and direct perception. Let us consider these.
Authority. This means reliable authority, from persons who have realized the truth themselves, or from scriptures or other records of those who have realized the truth. Ninety percent of all our knowledge is gained from this source. For instance, we say we know and we accept as true many scientific facts. But have we, ourselves, experimented and proved them? We have not. We accepted the authority of those who have experimented and reached certain conclusions which they have proved to themselves to be true. We may, in the same way, accept the findings of those in authority in spiritual matters if they have experimented and gained direct perception of the truth. This should satisfy the most scientific “modern.”
Inference. There are several items to be considered under this heading:
a) Change presupposes the existence of the Unchangeable. In order for change to be recognized it must be observed by someone who is, relatively, less changing. The subject, S, sees the object, A, changing into A-1, A-2, A-3, A-4, and so on (the figures representing time). If the subject, S, were not relatively less changing than the object, no change in the object could be discerned. However, the subject, S, may be observed by another subject which watches S as a changing object. If we were to continue this analysis ad infinitum, directing our attention first to the object and then to the subject, we would find the same process operating. Therefore, we must admit that there is, ultimately, one which is constant, in order for change to be recognized at all. That which is changeless is eternal, infinite. Where is there any other to work change upon it? The changeless is perfect and, therefore, divine. You cannot logically impute change to divinity.
b) The distinctness of the subject-object consciousness. Consider this in regard to yourself, and your body and mind. Divinity is within you, but you do not know it because you have taken yourself for something which it is not. What do you mean by your “self”? It is the body, the mind, the intellect, the emotions, or other faculties? No. You have the clear consciousness of these being used by you. You are conscious that you have a mind. Being conscious of anything presupposes that we are something other than the thing we are conscious of. “My body, my mind,” you say. You know that you are not the body, yet in the next instant if the body becomes ill you think you are the body. Such is your inconsistency! You say, “I think, I discriminate,” and so on. You know you are not the mind or the functions of the mind. Who is the subject of all these changing states of your body and mind, including the state of deep and dreamless sleep?
Are you your coat? No, you possess your coat. Who is the possessor of the body, mind, and all the faculties? Where is the possessor? Consider the subject-oriented consciousness, the relationship of possessor and possessed, in regard to the body, the mind, and the real self. That which is the possessor cannot be the same as the possessed.
c) The nature of compounds. A compound exists for something which does not form a part of the compound. First, consider it within the microscosm. The human entity is made up of three “bodies,” according to Hindu philosophy. They are the gross, physical body; the mental “body,” consisting of the ego-consciousness, the mind, and so on; and the causal “body”, which is the most subtle of the three and which holds the seed of world-consciousness. This compound of the three bodies (called sarira, in Sanskrit, meaning “that which changes”) exists for the benefit of the self of man, which is beyond them. These three bodies are sometimes called sheaths, or, coverings, of the soul
. It is possible to break all compounds into their component parts. This process, as regards material life, is what is known as disintegration or death. The existence of any compound which is subject to change presupposes an unchangeable, simple entity. Only that which is beyond causation, which cannot be acted upon, can be unchangeable. Therefore it follows that only perfection or omnipotence can be strictly unchangeable, can be purely “simple”.
The Divinity being uncaused and immutable, is a “simple” entity. It cannot be compounded by anyone or anything, or for anyone’s benefit. It is not made up of parts brought together as in a manufactured object. It is, in its very nature, the witness of all compounds, of all combinations, and combinations of combinations. Divine perfection is uncaused, is ever-all-itself and, therefore, it can never vanish, can never not be.
(d) Evolution presupposes involution. The seed is the tree involved; the tree, the seed evolved. If you sow the seed of a mango it will not be possible for you to grow an apple tree. You can only get an apple from an apple seed. The potentiality of the giant tree is within the little seed; the potentiality of the giant tree is within the little seed; the potentiality must be there for it to manifest. The child is the main involved; the man, the child evolved.
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