Like most esoteric practices, yoga has hidden depths to in that are generally infathomable to those unskilled in its use.
Yoga offers the promise of self-empowerment and spiritual insight but actually reaching out and touching it is a challenge for the Western mind.
Dr Shankaranarayana Jois is a Sanskrit scholar and Vedic astrologer who teaches yogic philosophy in Mysore, India. He is of the firm conviction that the way back to a condition of natural living and spiritual enrichment for those of us living in the decadence of the West is through yoga.
In The Sacred Tradition of Yoga, he offers an introduction to yoga which begins with a focus on what are referred to as the first two limbs of yoga: the yamas and the niyamas. The remaing six limbs of Astanga Yoga, namely asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dhrana and Samadhi will be covered in a subsequent volume.
The book itself is divided into ten chapters and three parts. These begin with a look at the foundation of yoga and the author’s recollection of his early childhood of being brought up in the tradition by his grandmother who introduced him to the daily routine of yoga practice—all within what he recognizes today as a quiet and stress free environment.
He laments society’s loss of this type of rich spiritually-nurturing environment and denigrates the many forms of mental stimulation that passes as entertainment today but which do little to nourish and strengthen the human condition.
He observes that ‘
Yoga is a systematic and scientifuc method for awakening the memory of our original state.”
The ultimate goal of yoga is to obtain the condition of Realization via the state of Samadhi or internal bliss.
Dr Jois suggests that it is only through the attainment of this state of consciousness that we are able to find true happiness as human beings.
The author frequently returns to present a concerted and emotional attack on modern Western life—its values, seductions and distractions. This extends to criticisms of our most fundamental actions such as the way that parents destroy a young baby’s natural state of bliss by constantly stimuating it or by coercing it unnaturally into action and enforced response.
In his chapter on the path of realization, Dr Jois considers the nature of the mind and its various ‘modifications’, such as right and wrong knowledge, imagination, sleep and memory.
Whilst here in the West, we tend to think of the mind as only functioning as a thinking tool, Dr Jois explains that, from an Eastern perspective, it operates in four distinct ways.
These are named pradhana, mahatm, ahankara and manas with each in their own particular way adding to the yogic experience.
The energy that allows the mind to function is formed by three currents or gunas. These are known as Sattva, Rajas and Tamas—though, in truth, these same three energy states permeate everything in the universe.
As in all aspects of life, when the three work together, life moves into a natural state of harmony. This is hastened by our ability to move into a state of quietness or meditative reflection.
So what then of the spiritual context of life in which we live, work, breathe and express our being?
According to the author, this is comprised of three primary aspects: Maya, Karma and Samskara. Where one or more of these interact, they result in specific results brought to bear through the mindset of the practitioner.
Their influences are not fixed and can be modified for even the impact of karma and the eraly influence upon our life by our parents are mutable.
Part two of The Sacred Tradition of Yoga invites you to consider the most popular of all yoga paths in the world today.
This is the way of astanga yoga, described by the author as a path of eight limbs that incorporates spiritual practices, such as mind control, correct posture, breath control, focus and concentration.
The author then includes a number of specific aspects to modern life from a yoga perspective. These include such common activities as the quality and regularity of eating, dangers of sex education, the morality of obtaining possessions, quality of the information we ingest and overcoming our fear of death and money,
Cleanliness, or so it is said in many religions, is the route to godliness. Removing impurities from the mind, body and soul is a core philosophy within yoga and so Dr Jois dedicates some time to exploring the process of elimination of them from a yogi’s life. He argues that there are two types of impurities. The first stems from our personal karma. The other one develops from our actions.
He offers several approaches to clear these via such practice as repentance, worship, honoring and chanting. The central discipline to these exercises is the study of the Self.
Finally, in part three, Dr Shankaranarayana focuses on the importance of engaging the support and guidance of a teacher who has attained for himself the state of realization. He argues that it is through the direct energetic influence of an advanced teacher that much of the personal developmental work needed to be done by a student can automatically occur through transference.
The book concludes with an overview of the traditional branches of yoga, a Sanskrit pronunciation guide and a full index.
Many books have attempted to bridge the gap between Eastern mystical thinking and Western life. Few have been successful but this book manages to pull it off.
Most of us understand that the secret to a more manageable and stres-free lifestyle is obtained by engaging with the principles and practices of yoga but where do you start? Whilst colorful. glossy coffee table books on the subject appear at first glance to offer much, they invariably miss out on explaining the core philosophies that are central to understanding the tradition.
To my mind, this book is different from so many others in the way in which metaphysical principles and the core spiritual philosophy of yoga are interwoven into an continuously-flowing treatise on how to regain the essence of that which so many of us living a modern lifestyle have lost .
This is not a perfect book by any means and it is certainly not one without its own strangeness and quirkiness—foibles that do tend to jar the Western mind. Some of the writing is a little ponderous—tinged with the inevitable pomposity that characterizes Eastern philosophy and sometimes its messages appear to be somewhat irrelevant to the way of life that most of us live. But these are no more than petty annoyances and, given the quality of the writing and the warmth of the teacher as a whole, they almost appear to be quaint and charming.
Another caveat is that this book does lack real practical guidance and hands-on advice which some readers might find to be a negative but there is so many other books on these subjects and so much free guidance available on the Internet that this is no big deal.
This book intentionally follows a completely different path—written by an author that has clearly established a completely different role for it. I simply loved the philosophy behind the writing (especially the swipes at Western society) and found it to be a thoroughly engaging and insightful read.
I am looking forward to the promised follow-up!
In The Sacred Tradition of Yoga, Dr Jois has written a book that literally teems with life, vibrancy and joy. It is a minor gem shining in an increasingly dark world called civilization.