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An Introduction To Yoga

The word yoga is presently found in all modern dictionaries in many languages the world over. However, the meanings given in such dictionaries are often inadequate to convey the essence of yoga. The reason being that the compilers of such dictionaries are not in themselves practitioners of yoga. Therefore the most esoteric aspects of yoga are not revealed to them. The Sanskrit language is extremely versatile and a word has many meanings and synonyms. So yoga has many meanings and applications. The actual meaning of yoga in the present context is union with, or becoming attached to. The English equivalent of yoga is 'yoke'. In itself the translation does not convey the full significance of the word. However, an exhaustive elucidation on it would require presenting the entire voluminous system of knowledge. Its essence nevertheless allows itself to be formulated as one-liners, making it easier and certainly less copious. For example: 'Yoga is a system of knowledge for realising the eternal self, whose practical application begins with controlling of the mind'. The first impression that comes to mind to a beginner or layman when yoga is mentioned is someone either sitting cross-legged on a mat or standing with raised arms and folded palms above the head. A common enough logo in 'esoteric' magazines etc. An inquisitive mind on probing further will find that yoga and Patanjali are often used as synonyms in seminal works on yoga. Patanjali was a great sage of ancient India who compiled the book 'Yoga – Sutra' or the tenets of Yoga. He diligently gleaned from the entire Vedic scriptures relevant doctrines and instructions codifying them into a system for conducting a spiritually goal oriented human life. These meant to guide and assist seekers of the Absolute Truth to attain transcendental self-realisation. The system has eight anga or limbs namely, yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. These Sanskrit terms will be later explained.

In a brief introduction on the vast body of knowledge known as the Vedas it is imperative to understand the fundamental paradigms of such knowledge. Just in the same way that if one wants to understand the construction of a building, then one should emphasise upon the base on which it is built. Veda means knowledge and is etymologically derived from the verb root 'vid' meaning ‘to know’. The Vedas propound four human goals of life and three yoga systems as means to achieve them. These are: Dharma (religiosity), Artha (wealth), Kama (sensual pleasures) and Moksha (liberation or salvation). The three Yoga systems are: Karma yoga (surrendering the fruits of action), Gyanayoga (empirical process of search after the Absolute Truth) and Bhaktiyoga (devotional surrender to the Supreme). Later day preceptors may have deemed it as expedient to subdivide the core Yoga systems, even giving them other nomenclatures. The Vedas are believed to have been in existence since time immemorial and are divine revelations from the Supreme Godhead. The Vedas are treatises on every conceivable aspect of human existence, from the supra-mental state of being, to nitty-gritty of ethical co-existence in tune with time, circumstances and space, which are perceived to be under the clutches of duality and illusion, to the ravages of nature and the influences of material energy, to the mysteries of the unseen and unknown.