I come to a definition of yoga which Sri Aurobindo has given in full (page 2): “For we mean by this term a methodised effort towards self-perfection by the expression of the secret potentialities latent in the being and the union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent existence we see partially expressed in man and in the Cosmos.” It is a difficult sentence, but yoga is a difficult matter and we have agreed to do a difficult task so we shall not be defeated by any difficulty.
“For we mean by this term a methodised effort…” a methodised effort is an important word. There can be efforts which are not methodical. We do lot of works in the world haphazardly. We sleep in a haphazard manner, we walk in an haphazard manner, we eat in an haphazard manner, we talk in an haphazard manner, even when we do a labour of any kind, we do it in a very unorganised and very irregular manner, unpunctually; but yoga is none of this. As long as we are irregular, unpunctual, haphazard it means that we have not done any yoga. Yoga means a methodised effort. It is an effort which is methodised, a methodical procedure. This is a very distinguishing feature. You remember when we were defining definition we had said that definition implies differentia; you should have one word in your definition which is a differentia. We go back to our definition of definition. We had said, “Definition is a statement in regard to a term in which we give reference to a term larger than the term which is in question.” When we say man is an animal, man is a term to be defined; when you say animal, animal is a larger term than man because cat also is an animal, the world animal includes many-many things including man. In a definition you should have a term larger than the term you are defining. Man being defined as an animal is a correct way of defining because you are given a term larger than the term you are defining. But that is not enough, there should be something more, a term larger than the term to be defined in addition to differentia which indicate the exact distinction from the larger term in regard to this term. When we say, man is a rational animal; the word rational distinguishes man from all other animals. If you say man is an animal it is not a complete definition, but when you say that man is a rational animal or an ethical animal or man is an aesthetical animal, then you are defining him properly. Similarly if you say, yoga is an effort, it is a good movement towards the definition, but not yet enough. Yoga is a methodised effort; it is distinguished from many kind of efforts. You can see that Sri Aurobindo statements are so precise, that everything is done perfectly well. Yoga is a methodised effort, so the distinguishing feature, the differentia is methodised. Effort is a larger term; a larger term is called genus. There should be in every definition something in it specific from all others.
“For we mean by this term a methodised effort…” but this is not enough, differentia still continues. It is a methodised effort because there are many kinds of methodised efforts in the world. When you keep accounts in your office it is also a methodised effort. How to distinguish yoga from so many methodised efforts? So Sri Aurobindo gives further differentia and he says, “methodised effort towards self-perfection…” This is the important word. The word perfection itself is a very difficult word to understand. When you say this is perfect what does it really means? There are many things that you can call perfect. It is not complete, so Sri Aurobindo goes forward: “… self-perfection by the expression of the secret potentialities latent in the being…” You can be perfect in dressing yourself and say that it is perfect. Your dress is perfect, but if you make yourself perfect by dressing that is not yoga because it is not an expression of the potentiality latent in you. And even if dressing is a part of your aesthetic feeling it is not enough. All the potentialities of your being are to be led towards perfection. Whatever is potential in you, whatever are the possibilities in you, you develop them to the highest possible degree and then you have satisfied the condition of yoga.
Let us repeat. By yoga we mean a methodised effort towards self-perfection by the expression of the secret potentialities latent in the being. This is half the definition as yet. We still have to go to the other differentia. “… and … a union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent Existence…” Now we have three terms here: the human individual, universal existence and the transcendent existence. When these three are united by means of a methodised effort then you have the yoga. The last phrase is simply adjectival because if somebody asks the question: “What is universal existence, what is transcendental existence?” then Sri Aurobindo’s answer is that we see both of them partially expressed in man and in the cosmos. If you want to understand what is universal and transcendental existence the answer is that you can know them partially, to some extent, because it is expressed partially in man and in the cosmos.