There is a larger perspective in the context of which the theme of Yoga stands out as a subject of great contemporary relevance. That larger perspective is that of the acute crisis through which humankind is passing today. This crisis has arisen, it seems, from the fact that, while on the one hand, it does not seem unlikely that we may succeed in creating a system of life, practically covering the whole globe, which can provide to human beings means and materials to satisfy hedonistic, selfish and egoistic wants on such a scale that, for quite a long indefinite period, humankind might remain chained to circles of lower life marked by hunger and satisfaction, strife and success, and perils of small and great disasters, and yet, on the other hand, the upward human aspiration to build individual and collective life on the basis of mutuality and harmony, of peace and concord, and ever-increasing perfectibility of our highest potentialities must continue to struggle without any sound promise of its eventual fulfilment. In other words, while there is an upward endeavour to break the vicious circle of our present vitalism or economic barbarism, this very endeavour has come to be partly discouraged by the scientist by his demand to provide physical proof of the supraphysical and partly blocked by the religionist by his refusal to look beyond dogma and the revealed word of the past, and has thus come to be rendered unequal to its tasks.
The vicious circle can be broken only if our upward endeavour can get unmixed positive support from science and only if the moral and spiritual foundations can be strengthened and made increasingly unshakable.
This is the real issue.
It has been contented that all true knowledge belongs to science and can be acquired only by scientific methods. Morality, it is argued, is a matter of emotional responses which are themselves relative and carry no authenticity of knowledge in their contents or in their foundations. As far as spirituality is concerned, it is argued that its claims in regard to its insights, intuitions, revelations and other allied operations of knowledge are at the best occasional flashes, somewhat like conjectures which may sometime hit the truth but which escape from any systematic scrutiny by means of criteria that can confidently be applied in any impartial search of validity of knowledge. It is, therefore, concluded that spirituality is a field of light and shadow
where it is difficult to distinguish what really is light and what really is shadow.
Now it is true that morality is a field of relativities and that if its claims of knowledge of the good and right are to have some secure foundation, it can find these foundations only in a field which is higher than morality, namely, the field of spirituality. But if spirituality itself is a field of uncertainties besieged by doubtful lights and shadows, we are thrown back into the vicious circle of vitalism which cannot be broken.
But is it true that spirituality is a field of uncertainties, of occasional flashes of light and of doubtful intuitions and revelations? It is here that the claims of Yoga need to be taken into account. For Yoga claims to be, among many other things, a methodised quest of spiritual and eventually of integral knowledge which is found to have succeeded in arriving at certain stable states of consciousness and of plenary illumination and knowledge of truths which can be verified both objectively and in personal experience by means of criteria which can be considered to be a sound as in any inquiry relating to validity of knowledge. In other words, Yoga claims to be a scientific discipline through which authentic knowledge can be gained in regard to any object, particular, universal or transcendental, on which its methods are applied systematically and repeatedly.
It can at once be seen that if these claims of Yoga are valid, then we shall be able to have through Yogic methods that knowledge which, can possibly break vicious circle of the crisis of the present day and deliver us into new possibilities of a better humanity and a better world.
The next question, therefore, before us is whether the claims of Yoga are truly valid and whether they can be found to be sustainable. It has been contended that Yoga has discovered and perfected certain specific methods by application of which human consciousness can be so revolutionised that the ordinary functioning of the human body, human heart, and human mind can be united with superior faculties of knowledge and action, and ultimately the human being can become permanently united with the universal and transcendental states of consciousness and knowledge. It has been further contended that the Yogic science possesses assured data of the knowledge of methods and their processes of application as also of their corresponding results. It has even further been contended that the efficacy of these methods and their results can be verified by everybody who is
prepared to acquire the necessary preparation and training, and that the results obtained by others can be confirmed through one’s own personal experience and can be utilised for producing relevant consequences and results. Finally, it is added that there is a long history of the development of this science of Yoga, and as in the case of the history of development of any science, one can trace a credible account of the old methods and old knowledge, of how they have gradually grown and developed by methods of confirmation, modifications and fresh developments resulting from new experiments and fresh acquisitions of knowledge. It is, therefore, concluded that Yoga provides a sound basis of a vast field of knowledge which can even now be studied and reacquired by the present humanity, and that without any need of falling into any traps of dogmatism, blind belief, superstition or even of half-knowledge and half-blindness, we can come to tap those resources of knowledge which can provide us the required guidance for the building up of a world illumined by ever-progressive knowledge and inspired by universal love.
These contentions and the conclusions to which they lead are so important that they deserve to be heard and noted with utmost seriousness, and they also deserve to be studied in full depth with all the required objectivity and even microscopic scruple so that whatever gates of knowledge that Yoga can open up before us are entered into, and we are enabled to ensure that no possibility or avenue of knowledge that we require to break the present crisis has been ignored or allowed to remain under clouds of our dogmatic refusal to inquire and to learn.
While undertaking this journey, three important conditions need to be underlined. Firstly, it should be acknowledged that belief by itself is not evidence of reality. Truths, supra-physical or physical, must be founded not on mental belief alone but on experience, − but in each case experience must be appropriate to the order of truths into which we enter; their validity and significance must be scrutinised, but according to their own law and by consciousness which can enter into them and according to the law of the relevant domain or by a consciousness which can be only of truths of that order; so alone can one be sure of the steps and can one enlarge firmly the sphere of knowledge.
Secondly, we should underline the fact that even though subjective experience can easily be deceptive, error is not the prerogative only of the inner subjective or of the subliminal parts of our being. For error is also
appendage of the physical mind and its objective methods and standards too; liability to error cannot be a reason for shutting out a large and important domain of experience; it is a reason rather for scrutinising it and finding out in it its own true standards and its characteristic appropriate and valid means of verification.
Thirdly, it must be pointed out that it is the subjective consciousness that has constructed the standards and criteria of objective knowledge; in doing so the great quality that has played the essential role is the sincerity and honesty of subjective consciousness as also development of various testing grounds and criteria; these can be employed once again when the fields of subjective experience are investigated, and yogic records indicate that yoga has the capacity to deal with the possible pitfalls and impurities of consciousness which are obstructive of the discoveries of the objects of yogic knowledge.
At the outset, it may be said that it is somewhat unfortunate that whenever we speak of Yoga today, we appear to be referring to that system of physical Yogic postures, which have been elaborately described in Hatha Yoga or else to that particular orthodox system of philosophy which has come to be known as the Yoga philosophy and which has been attributed to Patanjali, − a system of Yoga which is also known as Rajayoga. It is even believed in some quarters that while there must have been rudimentary beginnings of Yoga in early stages of the Veda and the Upanishads, the real Yoga is that which has been spoken of in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Actually, as it would be clear to every serious student of the history of Yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga is only one of the specialised systems of Yogic methods. As a matter of fact, every system of Indian philosophy was coupled with its corresponding system of Yogic methods. This is true not only of the orthodox systems of philosophy but also of both Jainism and Buddhism. In a serious study of the history of Yoga, therefore, we shall need to take into account all these systems of Yogic methods. We have also to take into account the fact that the Bhagavadgita, which preceded the final crystallisation of Indian systems of philosophy, is itself looked upon as an authentic text of a synthesis of Jñānayoga, Karmayoga, and Bhaktiyoga, and we have also to note the fact that the Bhagavadgita itself is sproclaimed to be a digest of the Upanishads. We are thus led to a much earlier beginning of the science of Yoga, and considering that the Upanishads themselves are a recovery, continuation, enrichment and even a sort of culmination of the knowledge contained in the Veda, we would be quite justified in looking
upon Veda as the earliest text available to mankind from which we can hope to trace a secure basis of a sound history of Yoga.
It may, however, be argued that the Veda presents a picture of primitive worshippers praying gods representing natural forces such as fire, rain, wind, dawn, night, earth and sky, for wealth, food, oxen, horses, gold and other kinds of richness and victories. And if so, it may be further argued, how can Veda be regarded as a book of science of Yoga? But this argument rests upon a certain line of Vedic interpretation which is neither conclusive nor in consonance with that Indian tradition which look upon Veda literally as Veda, namely, as a book of knowledge. Not only do the Vedic Rishis themselves declare that their hymns contain secret knowledge, not only do the Upanishads refer to the Vedic declarations as authority of their own discoveries of knowledge, but even in a later period, we have Shankaracharya’s view that the Vedas are mines of all knowledge, knowledge on all the planes of consciousness, and that they fix the condition and relations of the Divine, the human and the animal element in the being. Moreover, we have in recent times, the two great interpretations of the Veda which bring us to the deeper profundities of the Vedic knowledge. These are the interpretations of Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati and Sri Aurobindo. In particular, Sri Aurobindo’s method of interpretation which has been illustrated at length in his “The Secret of the Veda” and “The Hymns to the Mystic Fire” give us conclusive assurance and opens up before us a large body of Yoga contained in the hymns of the Rigveda even though the language of these hymns baffles us from time to time by its antique obscurity. As Sri Aurobindo points out:
“In the deep and mystic style of Dirghatamas Auchathya as in the melodious lucidity of Medhatithi Kanwa, in the puissant and energetic hymns of Vishwamitra, as in Vasishtha’s even harmonies we have the same firm foundation of knowledge and the same scrupulous adherence to the sacred conventions of the Initiates.”
It may still be argued that the Veda is centred on the institution of sacrifice, yajña, and that Veda is rather karmakānda and not jñānakanda. In continuation of this argument, it may be contended that the Veda is a book of ritualistic materialism and that we need not look for any profound knowledge or for science such as that of Yoga. Now we may admit that the Veda is centred on the institution of sacrifice, but we may question whether
 Sri Aurobindo: The Secret of the Veda, Vol. 10, Centenary Edition, p. 54
sacrifice is merely a matter of outer ritualism. There is no doubt that there is an exterior aspect of the Vedic hymns and that the Vedic hymns were used for ritualistic purposes; but a deeper study of Vedic ritualism would suggest that this ritualism was symbolic in character. Moreover, karmakānda went beyond mere ritualism and Veda, in one of its aspects, may be regarded as a gospel of Karmayoga which was continued in the Karmayoga of the Bhagavadgita where, too, significantly, we find that the concept of yajña is not only accepted but also shown to have a profounder psychological meaning by the help of which it could be declared that every action is yajña, provided it is done in the spirit of inner sacrifice to the cosmic and transcendental Reality. As in the Gita, yajña is Yoga, even so in the Veda yajña can be so understood as to be Yoga.
There are, again, in the Veda a number of other terms which are used symbolically, and if we try to understand them in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation, we would be able to enter into the heart of the methods of Vedic Yoga as also into the richness of the great results which were achieved by the Vedic Rishis by the application of these Vedic methods.
What exactly were the methods of Yoga and what were the results achieved by the Vedic Rishis should be a very important subject matter of a long and a detailed study. But there is no doubt that these methods were those of purification of our ordinary consciousness, methods of concentration of our consciousness on higher states and beings of consciousness, methods of perfection by which the lower can be transcended into the corresponding higher realms of being, − and these are again the same methods which we find repeated in the same way or in a more modified manner in subsequent developments in the Upanishads, the Gita and the rest. And we find in the Veda the affirmation of a hierarchy of infinitudes to which the normal existence of man even in its higher and widest flights is still a stranger. And this hierarchy of infinitudes is achieved in the Vedic Yoga by the transcendence of the lower triple being and our lower triple world, a transcendence which has been described by the Vedic seers as an exceeding or breaking beyond the two firmaments of heaven and earth.
Commenting on the basic nature of the methods and results of the Vedic Yoga, Sri Aurobindo refers to the Vedic movement of the descent and the ascent. As he points out:
“The link between the spiritual and the lower planes of the mental being is that which is called in the old Vedantic phraseology the vijnana and which we may term the Truth-plane or the ideal mind or the supermind where the One and May meet and our being is freely open to the revealing light of the Divine truth and the inspiration of the Divine Will and Knowledge. If we can break down the veil of the intellectual, emotional, sensational mind which our ordinary existence has built between us and the Divine, we can then take up through the Truth-mind all our mental, vital and physical experience and offer it up to the Spiritual – this was the secret or mystic sense of the old Vedic `Sacrifice’ – to be converted into the terms of infinite truth of Sacchidananda, and we can receive the powers and illuminations of the infinite Existence in forms of a Divine knowledge, will and delight to be imposed on our mentality, vitality, physical existence till the lower is transformed into the perfect vessel of the higher. This was the double Vedic movement of the descent and birth form the gods in the human creature and the ascent of the human power that struggle towards the Divine knowledge, power and delight and climb into the godheads, the results of which was the possession of the One, the Infinite, the beatific existence, the union with God, the immortality.”
We then begin to study of history of science of Yoga, and we shall begin this study with the theme of the Vedic Yoga. The scope of the history of Yoga is very vast, and it should cover not only the Indian history of Yogic science but also the study of Yogic methods and their results as we find in the esoteric score of a number of religions such as Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and even in systems like the Chinese Taoism. Our intention is to bring to ourselves the treasures that are available in the records of Yogic knowledge.
 Sri Aurobindo: The Synthesis of Yoga, Vol. 20, Centenary Edition, pp. 399-400.