Body reaching out beyond itself
An 18th century Indian depiction of the network
of centres (chakras) in the subtle body
Body reaching out beyond itself
The growing popularity of Hatha Yoga all over the world does not necessarily mean that its real purpose is well known or understood. In fact, the Hatha Yoga practices which were designed by the ancient Rishis of India for the evolution of man, are now being viewed and utilized in a very limited sense. Today, particularly in the West, Hatha Yoga is generally practised to improve health, reduce stress, minimize the effects of ageing or keep the body fit. People even speak of going to "yoga classes " or doing "yoga exercises " — as if "yoga" was some kind of callisthenics — without knowing, it seems, that Yoga, which is a word subsuming many disciplines, goes far beyond and far deeper than mere physical exercises, however remarkable they may be.
It is therefore important to reflect on the deeper purpose of Hatha Yoga so as to put this great discipline in its proper place in the realm of physical education.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word which comes from the root-verb "yuj", to unite. All Yoga is by nature an attempt and an arriving at unity with the Supreme. To attain freedom from our ordinary limitations and to become one with the Divine is the common aim of all Yogas, but there are specializations and, towards this end, they use different kinds of methods. They all consist in a self-discipline, but each Yoga concentrates on a different realm of the being which, once purified and controlled, can become a gateway into the Spirit.
So Hatha Yoga also is meant to lead to unity or some kind of union
with That which is the Highest; and here, the starting-point is the body, It is on the subtle workings of the body that the Hatha Yogin applies his concentration. It is the body that should be made into a door opening onto the Spirit. But the system of Hatha Yoga is founded on a particular view of the body, on a close connection between body and soul: here the body is not seen only as a mass of gross matter; this mass of gross matter in which there is life is seen as a material reproduction of the subtler parts of our being. It contains a secret. It is a sort of mysterious bridge between the physical and the spiritual being.
The human body, according to Hatha Yoga, is a receptacle which, when purified, can hold an illimitable amount of universal life-energy. It is an instrument which, when taught concentration, can control and direct energy for a definite end. It is a pathway which, once cleared, can lead to the vastness of the Spirit.
Yoga is different from philosophy. While in philosophy, what is important is theory and speculation, in Yoga what counts is practice and direct experience. However, traditionally one was not to undertake alone this difficult journey. Only a guru could guide the steps of the seeker, and most of the practical instructions were directly passed from the guru to the pupil. They were even meant not to be divulged to any one. Nevertheless some ancient texts exist and may help to shed light on this great science. We will extract some verses from one of them, Hatha ; Yoga Pradipika (Light on Hatha Yoga) written in Sanskrit by Yogi Swatmarama, hoping that it will enable the reader to understand better the principles and methods of Hatha Yoga.
Hatha Yoga is only one of the several systems of Yoga. Other systems of Yoga include Raja Yoga (Yoga of meditative concentration), ' Buddhi Yoga (Yoga of intelligent will), Karma Yoga (Yoga of Divine works), Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Divine knowledge), Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of Divine Love), etc. There are also many other systems of Yoga like Mantra Yoga, Kriya Yoga and others. Another very important system of Yoga is that of Tantra. In India, there have been many attempts at synthesizing various systems of Yoga. The earliest synthesise of Yoga is to be found in the Veda, which combined the processes of knowledge, action, and devotion so as to arrive at immortality. The next system of synthesis is to be in the Upanishads, where a great emphasis was laid on the processes of knowledge. In the Gita, Sri Krishna expounds a grand synthesis of Buddhi Yoga, Dhyana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana
Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, where the final emphasis is laid on bhakti as a supreme motivation of Karma Yoga and crown of Jnana Yoga. In recent times, Sri Ramakrishna synthesised various systems of Yoga as also inner practices of different religions like Christianity and Islam into a large synthesis. Swami Vivekananda expounded the concept of synthesis of Yoga in his various works. The latest task of synthesis of Yoga has been accomplished by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. In this synthesis the integrating principle is that of integral concentration. All instruments of the body life, mind, soul and spirit are purified, subtilised and perfected and they are focussed on the goal of integral realisation of the Divine and integral transformation of the human nature. In this vast synthesis, the goals of various systems of Yoga are integrated but the details of their respective methods are either dispensed with altogether or modified or retained only in their essence. In this Integral Yoga, the goal of physical perfection is an essential part; but the concept of physical perfection is much vaster than the one found in the Hatha Yoga. Again, while the methods of Hatha Yoga are accepted as valid methods of the goals of Hatha Yoga itself, these are not insisted upon either as central or peripheral in the Integral Yoga; they are optional. and can be adopted; but they can be also dispensed with altogether and replaced by deeper psychological processes applied to the human body as also to other aspects of human personality.
A very important caution is given to the reader that Hatha Yogic practises should be undertaken only under the strict supervision of a competent teacher.
All Yogic systems maintain that the human body is subordinate to the spirit and that the human body can be rightly dealt with only when we can reach out beyond the limitations of our physical being. In some extreme systems of Yoga, the body tends to be neglected and it is even declared that the body is an obstacle to conquest of the Spirit. In the integral systems of Yoga, body is looked upon as an instrument of the Spirit; in some cases, the body is used as an instrument or as a necessary basis until spiritual realisation is achieved. In the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, a greater goal of the human body has been envisaged. Here the human body is required to achieve not only high degrees of excellence but also such perfections which can be expected when the Spirit manifests fully in the physical body.
One can achieve extraordinary capacities by practices which have
been recommended by Hatha Yoga. One can also utilize methods, of or even Martial Arts. On account of their great importance, we are presenting in this part appropriate selections on these subjects. It is hoped that these will be found not only interesting but also instructive. But even then, there are further possibilities of the human body which have been envisaged in the Integral Yoga. A statement of these further possibilities is to be found in Sri Aurobindo's essays on "The Supramental Manifestation on Earth". A chapter from the book entitled "Perfection of the Body" has been placed in Part IX. Even beyond the perfection of the body, Sri Aurobindo has envisaged the possibility of the mutation of the human body. How that body would be, how it would function and what extraordinary powers and capacities it would possess and manifest is discussed by Sri Aurobindo in another chapter entitled "The Divine Body". We have envisaged the inclusion of that chapter in a later book that we are planning. But the readers who are keen even at this stage to know how Sri Aurobindo and The Mother envisaged and worked for the mutation of the human body may be advised to read Sri Aurobindo's book "-The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth" and thirteen volumes of Mother's Agenda. The readers may also refer in this connection to Satprem's "Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness", "The Mother or The Divine Materialism", "The Mother or the Next Species" and "The Mother or the Mutation of Death". Satprem's recent book "Evolution II" can also be recommended.