This Yoga Day 2019 let us remember Yoga as a science of Consciousness with a central place in education, research and spiritual aspiration
In Vedic and yogic thought Consciousness is the supreme reality, not matter, energy or mind. Consciousness is all-pervasive like space, self-effulgent like light, uniting everything in the universe in the highest awareness and bliss as the Self of all.
A recognition of universal Consciousness is now becoming accepted in modern physics. How can all the laws of nature function, from vast galactic to minute subatomic particles, if there is not some overall guiding intelligence behind it, not as some deity apart, but woven into the very fabric of existence?
While not impossible to theorize, the difficulty is how to approach, cognize and realise that supreme Consciousness within ourselves and see it in the world around us. Such a path to unfold the supreme Consciousness has yet to be formulated by modern physics. Yet it has not only been formulated, but has been explored from every possible angle in the meditation traditions of India. A practical philosophy and psychology of Consciousness is the basis of Vedanta and the tools to realize it are part of Yoga.
Limitations of the Human Mind
In our ordinary human nature we do not directly experience this supreme Consciousness, though many people have intimations. We are creatures of the mind, which is an embodied or individualized consciousness. We have a limited identity, limited intelligence, limited energy and limited will power far removed from this inner state of knowing.
The individual mind holds the reflection of Consciousness, which is the source of its light of knowledge, but is not itself Self-aware. The mind’s limited awareness is coloured by the gunas and forces of nature at biological, psychological and social levels. As such, much of what we call mind is unconscious or only partly conscious. This lack of true awareness in the mind gives rise to karma, duality, conflict and all the misunderstandings of life.
The mind is like a half-light that illumines the surface of things but veils the depth – which draws us into the waves but causes us to forget the sea. In order to find the cosmic reality of existence we must go beyond the conditioned patterns of the mind to the light of Universal Consciousness hidden behind it. This going beyond the mind is not easy to approach as we are by habit and karma only mental beings caught in our own mental formations, not spiritual beings beyond any personal or cultural prejudices. We take the opinions of the mind, unreliable and shifting though they are, to be truth when they are just the limited perspective of a particular individual or group. This results in the clash of beliefs and cultures that characterises our society, with their related conflicts of religion, politics and competing power centers.
Yoga as the Science of Consciousness for Controlling the Mind Yoga arose originally in Vedic thought as a means of moving beyond the mind, or mere creaturely awareness to transcendent awareness – such as we see in the Upanishadic search for the Self. This requires control of the mind and detachment from it.
Yoga Sutras defines Yoga as chitta vritti nirodha, the mastery, calming or concentration of the movements of the mind. The practices of Yoga serve to make the mind still like a mirror so it can reflect the cosmic reality, while for most of us the mind is like a turbulent lake that distorts the light of Consciousness that filters through it.
Mind moreover is a product of ego, or limited self-identity (ahamkara), and of ignorance (avidya) or lack of unitary awareness. It provides only a partial knowledge that can show us the surface of things but not the inner depths and truth.
Such meditative control of the mind is not simply part of Yoga but is essential in all educational pursuits in which we need to develop focus, attention and clear observation beyond our mental conditioning. To gain this we must question the opinions, preconceptions, fears and desires of the mind.
Moving to the Higher Levels of Yoga Practice
Today Yoga is most known for asana or its calming and healing of the body. This is very important for physical health and wellbeing and can extend to deeper psychological levels, gradually freeing us from the limitations of body consciousness.
Yet Yoga must extend to deep meditation in order to understand and master the mind. Asana should be a seat for meditation, not an end in itself. Pranayama should help us draw our prana into our inner awareness. Pratyahara should turn our senses within into the light beyond the mind. Once the mind is brought into a state of silence it can reflect the Universal Consciousness and grant us direct knowledge of the cosmos itself, not as a mere mathematical formulation but as a manifestation of Consciousness that we are an integral part of. We can see this in the yogic science of Sri Vidya.
The silent mind can become the tool for a higher knowledge beyond name, form and number that can resolve all conflict and duality. In this regard the silent mind is more important than any other scientific instrument or computer, however important these may be in their respective spheres.
Reviving the Yogic Science of Consciousness
This yogic science of consciousness is India’s greatest contribution to human knowledge and probably the most important science we have as a species because it alone grants true knowledge of the Infinite and Eternal.Dharmic education requires a yogic approach to the mind through meditation.
This higher state of yogic awareness in called samadhi, deep absorption or unity consciousness. All dharmic traditions, Vedic or not, require samadhi as the ultimate pramana or means of knowledge. Such direct perception provides us not with just facts and information but the knowledge of Being itself beyond the partialities of ideas, concepts or beliefs. It takes us from the shadows of darkness to the unbounded Self-effulgent light.
This Yoga Day 2019 let us remember Yoga as a science of Consciousness with a central place in education, research and spiritual aspiration. Only through such a higher awareness can we transcend our individual and cultural limitations that are the basis of all the conflict and misunderstanding that plagues our material world. We live in an unbounded reality of Being-Consciousness-Bliss (Sat-chit-ananda). Experiencing that should be the heritage and birth right of every person, not just outer social or political rights. This is where Yoga leads us but we must follow the way in our daily lives.
(The writer also known as Vamdev Shastri. He is US-based Vedic scholar)