The Philosophy of Yoga in Patanjali
On Re-establishing the Unity With
One’s Own Higher and Spiritual Nature
The Theosophical Movement
Just as an astronomer uses a telescope to gain knowledge of heavenly
bodies, theosophists use the mind and the body to obtain Self-knowledge
The following text was first published at
“The Theosophical Movement” magazine,
India, in its September 2010 edition, pp. 9-12.
Original title: “The Philosophy of Patanjali’s Yoga”.
Wise is one who sees all experiences of
life as lessons for the soul in the School of Nature.
The word “Yoga” draws the attention of many. It is generally understood that it refers to bodily postures, breathing exercises, breath control and meditation techniques. The reasons for practice of “yoga,” assuming it to be nothing more than postures and breathing exercises, are several. Good physical health, a certain calmness of mind and reduction of stress, improving strength and stamina, are the few common motives. In addition, some enthusiasts go further and desire to develop psychic powers. The result is, we find many self-styled teachers and schools catering to public demand.
Amidst these innumerable modern-age “teachers” and claimants, each proposing various techniques and practices, a serious consideration of the teachings of Sage Patanjali is of vital importance. Any technique or practice of yoga, without understanding the fundamental ideas, which are few in number, is as dangerous as the foolish experiments of the novice in chemistry who lacks sound understanding of chemical substances, their properties and interactions. Once we acquaint ourselves with the philosophy of the ancients, we cannot but reach the conclusion that today’s popular conception of “yoga” is a negation of the true Yoga inculcated by the sages.
First and foremost, the nature of man is to be understood. The body, its senses and the brain are not the whole of man. They are just the instruments of an inner, Real entity. Our body and brain have undergone, and are constantly undergoing, innumerable changes since its birth. Even our ideas and emotional nature are under constant change. However, there is that identity, which is constant, unchanging through all changes, and the Perceiver of the innumerable perceptions. When we look back at our lives, we find that we have gone through myriads of changes, physically, intellectually and emotionally. Nevertheless, there is a witness of all the altering states of consciousness, Itself unaltered. This is our real Self. Just as an astronomer uses telescope to gain knowledge of heavenly bodies, we use mind, brain and body as instruments to come in contact with and experience nature.
Now, viewing the subject in the light of these ideas as to what is the real nature of man, and his relation with the body that is transitory and impermanent, we find that any undertaking, which is a preoccupation with merely the body and breath, is a journey in wrong direction.
Next, the characteristics of the mind are to be understood. Mind, the “thinking principle”, is an instrument that is modified by any subject or object that comes before it. It thus reflects to the soul the qualities and characteristics of the subject/object, and enables the soul to contact and experience nature. This involuntary modification is to be hindered, and the process of hindering is known as yoga.
Yoga is not a set of techniques and breathing exercises. When we recognize ourselves to be beyond mind and matter, and see them both as our tools and implements, dispassion and the power to check the impulses of the mind arises. The understanding of superiority of oneself over mind will enable us to control, direct, and use the mind to accomplish the divine purposes of life. “Dispassion, carried to the utmost, is indifference regarding all else than soul, and this indifference arises from a knowledge of soul as distinguished from all else”. (“Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms”, Theosophy Company, Book I, Aphorism 16.)
Once this is achieved permanently, yoga (or union) with the Imperishable Principle within us is accomplished. This practice has to be striven for in the daily and hourly performance of duties.
The prime cause of all suffering and distress is confounding the Real and subsisting part of us with the transitory and perishable, so that we identify ourselves with our body, mind and emotions. This confusion is Ignorance.
“Ignorance is the notion that the non-eternal, the impure, the evil, and that which is not soul are, severally, eternal, pure, good, and soul”. (“Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms”, Theosophy Co., Book II, Aphorism 5.)
This misconception leads to wrongful acts, which will inevitably bring about pain in the future. The opposite of Ignorance is Spiritual Wisdom, i.e., the knowledge of one’s identity with Spirit, and this knowledge is the end of all suffering.
The whole of universe, and everything contained in it, exists for arousing the spiritual discrimination latent in us. The latent powers of divinity in us can sprout, grow and bear fruits of knowledge only when it has been sown in dense matter of body and its limitations; and by contrasting experiences, learns to assert its freedom and reach self-knowledge.
“The Universe, including the visible and the invisible, the essential nature of which is compounded of purity, action and rest, and which consists of the elements and the organs of action exists for the sake of the soul ’s experience and emancipation”. (“Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms”, Book II, Aphorism 18.)
Wise is one who sees all experiences of life as lessons for the soul in the School of Nature.
“It is even a portion of myself which, having assumed life in this world of conditioned existence, draweth together the five senses and the mind in order that it may obtain a body and may leave it again. And those are carried by the Sovereign Lord to and from whatever body he enters or quits, even as the breeze bears the fragrance from the flower.” (“Bhagavad Gita”, Theosophy Co., Chapter XV.)
When we confuse ourselves to be the body or the mind, and thus act under this misconception, we create causes that will hinder our growth as spiritual beings. The seeds we have sown in the long past bear fruits in terms of our opportunities in life, pleasure and pain, happiness and suffering, good fortune and disasters.
“While that root of merit and demerit exists, there is a fructification during each succeeding life upon earth in rank, years, pleasure, or pain. Happiness or suffering results, as the fruit of merit and demerit, accordingly as the cause is virtue or vice.” (“Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms”, Book II, Aphorisms 13-14.)
This is fundamentally different from our present understanding of life. The unquestioned assumption of today’s world is that we live only once, that we are here only for enjoyment, so one must satisfy one’s unrestrained desires at any cost! But we must understand that we are going to come back again, to reap the fruits whose seeds we are now sowing. “A harsh word uttered in past life is not destroyed, but ever comes again.”  Our present life, with its “fortunes” and “misfortunes,” opportunities and hindrances, friends and foes, is the making of ourselves. Also, our present actions and thoughts will determine our future conditions.
Our true and real nature, therefore, must first be understood. Like a spark from fire, a drop from ocean, Soul arises from Universal Over-soul, and is essentially identical with it. Being essentially of spiritual nature, and being in touch with material nature, each of us have a choice to make: to choose and assert our inner divine nature by subjugating matter, or give in to the turbulent animal nature, thus divorcing oneself from Spirit. If our lower, material self takes the upper hand, it leads to perdition. But, if we are able to control our passions and desires and succeed in merging with the Divine Source we are able to reach a high spiritual state known as Isolation. This state is one of faultless spiritual vision and all-knowingness. There is a complete isolation from all illusions and delusions of matter. This is the assigned purpose and final destiny of each of us.
The scientific process and means to attain this Isolation, a complete union with one’s inner Divine nature, is true Yoga. The present state of general mankind is such that mind and will are the slaves of desire. Our job is to reverse this condition, and make free our mind and “will” from the dominion of desire, and give them an altogether different direction, towards our spiritual nature. The first two steps, out of the eightfold path of Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga), are most important. These are, Forbearance (Yama) and Religious Observances (Niyama). The sage explains them as follows:
“Forbearance consists in not killing, veracity, not stealing, continence, and not coveting.” These, he mentions next, are not the duties of just spiritual aspirants, but Universal Great Duties, to be practised by everybody without exception! “These, without respect to rank, place, time, or compact, are the universal great duties.” (“Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms”, Book II, Aphorisms 30-31.)
Thus we find, when we carefully consider the words of the Sage, that Yoga is a pre-eminently mental and moral effort, aimed at developing one’s awareness of the Spirit within oneself. This has to be effected while living in the body, amidst the din and noise of the world, all the while doing every duty of life, whatever our station of life may be, without any self-interest and as a sacrifice to the divinity within. “All actions performed other than as sacrifice unto God  make the actor bound by action. Abandon, then, O son of Kunti, all selfish motives, and in action perform thy duty for him alone.” (“Bhagavad Gita”, Chapter III.)
 However, soft words are no bridge to heaven. In fact, false friendliness only creates further suffering. A severe and honest criticism is most valuable to those who are criticized. Hypocrisy, on its turn, creates an enduring bad karma to those who naively indulge in its exercise. A critical sense is as necessary as sincerity (“veracity”), in yoga and theosophy. (CCA)
 “God”. There is of course no monotheistic God whatsoever, either in, or outside, our universe, except in the fertile imagination of professional priests, as the famous Letter 10, in “The Mahatma Letters”, clarifies once and for all. The word “God”, then, if it has to be accepted, must mean but the Universal Law, or the vast plurality of cosmic and divine intelligences. According to the Mahatmas, however, the word “God” in the singular form is an unfortunate misnomer; it misleads; it creates confusion (Letter 10).(CCA)
In September 2016, after a careful analysis of the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to form the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose priorities include the building of a better future in the different dimensions of life.
E-Theosophy e-group offers a regular study of the classic, intercultural theosophy taught by Helena P. Blavatsky (photo).
The Philosophy of Yoga in Patanjali