Chapter Twelve: The Need for Yoga
A visitor: "What is yoga?"
Paramhansa Yogananda: "Yoga means union. Etymologically, it is connected to the English word, yoke. Yoga means union with God, or, union of the little, ego-self with the divine Self, the infinite Spirit.
"Most people in the West, and also many in India, confuse yoga with Hatha Yoga, the system of bodily postures. But yoga is primarily a spiritual discipline.
"I don't mean to belittle the yoga postures. Hatha Yoga is a wonderful system. The body, moreover, is a part of our human nature, and must be kept fit lest it obstruct our spiritual efforts. Devotees, however, who are bent on finding God give less importance to the yoga postures. Nor is it strictly necessary that they practice them.
"Hatha Yoga is the physical branch of Raja Yoga, the true science of yoga. Raja Yoga is a system of meditation techniques that help to harmonize human consciousness with the divine consciousness.
"Yoga is an art as well as a science. It is a science, because it offers practical methods for controlling body and mind, thereby making deep meditation possible. And it is an art, for unless it is practiced intuitively and sensitively it will yield only superficial results.
"Yoga is not a system of beliefs. It takes into account the influence on each other of body and mind, and brings them into mutual harmony. So often, for instance, the mind cannot concentrate simply because of tension or illness in the body, which prevent the energy from flowing to the brain. So often, too, the energy in the body is weakened because the will is dispirited, or paralyzed by harmful emotions.
"Yoga works primarily with the energy in the body, through the science of pranayama, or energy-control. Prana means also 'breath.' Yoga teaches how, through breathcontrol, to still the mind and attain higher states of awareness.
"The higher teachings of yoga take one beyond techniques, and show the yogi, or yoga practitioner, how to direct his concentration in such a way as not only to harmonize human with divine consciousness, but to merge his consciousness in the Infinite.
"Yoga is a very ancient science; it is thousands of years old. The perceptions derived from its practice form the backbone of the greatness of India, which for centuries has been legendary. The truths espoused in the yoga teachings, however, are not limited to India, nor to those who consciously practice yoga techniques. Many saints of other religions also, including many Christian saints, have discovered aspects of the spiritual path that are intrinsic to the teachings of yoga.
"A number of them were what Indians, too, would accept as great yogis.
"They had raised their energy from body-attachment to soul-identity.
"They had discovered the secret of directing the heart's feeling upward in devotion to the brain, instead of letting it spill outward in restless emotions.
"They had discovered the portal of divine vision at the point between the eyebrows, through which the soul passes to merge in Christ consciousness.
"They had discovered the secrets of breathlessness, and how in breathlessness the soul can soar to the spiritual heights.
"They had discovered the state which some of them called mystical marriage, where the soul merges with God and becomes one with Him.
"Yoga completes the biblical teaching on how one should love God: with heart, mind, souland strength. For strength means energy.
"The ordinary person's energy is locked in his body. The lack of availability of that energy to his will prevents him from loving the Lord one-pointedly with any of the three other aspects of his nature: heart, mind, or soul. Only when the energy can be withdrawn from the body and directed upward in deep meditation is true inner communion possible."
"With a strong lens the sun's rays, focused through it, can ignite wood. Yoga practice, similarly, so concentrates the mind that the curtain of doubt and uncertainty is burned away, and the light of inner truth becomes manifest."
An adherent of another spiritual teaching objected that yoga practice would distract her from the exercise of devotion. "I want to be mad with love for God!" she cried. "The practice of techniques for finding Him is offensive to me. It seems so mechanical."
"So it can be, certainly," agreed the Master. "But it would be a mistake to practice yoga mechanically.
"A danger on the path of devotion is emotionalism. If one keeps blowing on a candle, how will it burn steadily? Similarly, if you keep stirring up your heart's feelings, you may become intoxicated emotionally, but how will you experience the deeper 'intoxication' of divine bliss?
"The Lord comes not in outward noise, nor when the mind is agitated, but in inner silence. His very being is silence. In silence He speaks to the soul.
"I do not mean it isn't good to cry for God, to shed tears of love for Him. But intense feeling, if expressed too much outwardly, soon exhausts itself.
"After singing to the Beloved and crying for Him to come, it is important that you rein in those awakened feelings, and channel them upward in the calmness of deep inner communion.
"The feelings experienced when the heart is restless are like a storm in a thimble compared to the oceanic love that bursts upon the soul when the heart is calm. If you grasp the bud of devotion too tightly, it won't be able to open its petals and spread them to receive the sun-rays of God's love. Only when you relax your heart's feelings can you channel them upward. And only then will they expand to embrace Infinity.
"Reflect: When talking to someone, isn't it normal to want also to hear his response? After praying and singing to God, then, why not listen for His answer in your soul? Meditation is that process of listening. Meditation is making yourself receptive to His silent inspirations within.
"The essence of yoga is the silence and receptivity that the practice of the techniques induces in the mind.
"So, be mad for God, yes, but more and more let that madness itself come from Him! Be intoxicated not with your own feelings, but with His rapture in your soul."
"Love for God should not be an outward show. To display to others your deep love for Him is a desecration of that most sacred of all relationships. Your love must be directed inward.
"This is why yoga practice is so important. It helps to direct one's feelings along the inner path which leads to Him.
"There was a famous woman saint in India named Mira. She was a bhakta, or devotee, who spent all her time singing to God. Mira was a saint, truly. But her husband was spiritually greater than she. She didn't even realize that he was spiritual, for he never spoke of God. And so it happened that, all the while he was in deep inner communion with the Lord, Mira kept praying for his conversion! It seemed to her that this was the only thing lacking in her life.
"One night, as they lay in bed together, she heard him cry to God in his sleep, 'My Infinite Beloved! Oh, when will You come and relieve the pangs of longing in my heart?'
"The following morning Mira addressed him joyfully, 'I've found you out!'
"'Don't say it!' he begged her earnestly.
"'Oh, you can't fool me any more! I realize now what a great devotee you are.'
"'I am so sorry you said that,' he replied. 'For now I must leave you. Long ago I made a promise to God that if anyone ever learned of my love for Him, I would leave this world.' He sat on the floor forthwith in the lotus pose, and left his body."
A student: "Why is concentration necessary?"
Yogananda: "Concentration is the key to success in everything. Even the businessman must be able to concentrate, or he won't achieve success in his worldly affairs.
"If you are talking with someone, and his eyes wander about the room and he keeps on fidgeting restlessly, won't you feel that he isn't really listening to you? After some time you may lose interest in further conversation with him.
"Don't expect, then, to win God's response until you can sit still and hold your mind open and attentive to His presence within."
A newcomer to the Self-Realization Fellowship church in Hollywood asked Paramhansa Yogananda, "Why are techniques necessary for developing concentration? Can't a person simply flow with the inspiration he feels when he prays?"
"A violinist may feel inspiration," Yogananda replied, "but if he doesn't learn techniques that have been developed through the experience of great musicians, he will never become more than an inspired amateur. Yoga techniques, in the same way, are necessary to help you to plumb the inner silence."
"Master," lamented a disciple, "I have such difficulty in concentrating! I am faithful to my practice of the yoga techniques, but I never seem to get anywhere with them."
"Mechanical practice is not enough," the Master replied. "There must also be sincere interest in what you are doing. You must deepen your devotion.
"Just observe people at the movies. Don't they become yogis? See how still they sit during the suspenseful parts; how engrossed they are in the plot as it unfolds. All that absorption, simply because their interest has been aroused!
"Meditate in that way.
"Once you've convinced your mind that you really want to meet God in the inner silence, it will be easy for you to sit still and to meditate deeply."
To the disciples, Yogananda often said, "Be patient in your yoga practice. A plant won't grow the moment you plant the seed. 'Make haste slowly,' as the saying goes. It may take time to achieve the results you long for, but the more you practice, the more you will see your life changing.
"The day will dawn at last when you won't even recognize yourself as the person you were."
"What happens," someone asked, "to those who try to reach God without the benefit of yoga techniques?"
"A few of them are successful," the Master replied, "if they came into this life with strong spiritual karma from the past. The great majority, however, even if they start out on the path with enthusiasm, gradually become discouraged.
"'Where is that God,' they ask finally, 'to Whom I've been praying all these years?' They attain a little inner peace, but over the years their prayers become increasingly a matter of habit, less one of inspiration.
"Rarely, in the West, have the centuries seen such great saints as there have been in India."