Monthly Message 
The Purpose of Yoga
Brian Afton
YogaBetsy Discourse #17
All kinds of benefits are said to accrue from practicing Yoga, but what is the actual purpose? Is it a religion? Is it Hinduism, Buddhism? It is eastern fantasy? Is there some core of truth and fact to the charkas and energy channels, to the myths people hear about the Yogis and Masters from the Himalayas?

   That question might be answered by asking what is the purpose of anything, when it comes right down to it? What is a hammer for? Is it for building? Yes, but they can just as easily be used to tear things apart. A Hammer can also be employed as a deadly weapon, and often was, during ancient times.

   From whit, it may be seen that to the extent anything has a purpose it is probably more closely related to the intention of the user than any inherent quality of the thing itself. Different people will use different tools and various pieces of knowledge to reach vastly different ends simply because of their intention and the way they use these things. Thus, the results of Yoga are going to depend as much upon what we are about as what yoga is about.

   As it turns out there are six main paths or kinds of yoga.

   Bhakti Yoga, is the path of devotion, the path of love
    and self surrender.

   Jnana Yoga is the path of Knowledge.

   Karma Yoga is the path of selfless action.

   Kundalini Yoga, which includes Hatha Yoga, is the wisdom of the body. The primal force, Shakti, which lies sleeping at the base of the spine is raised up the energy channels until the consciousness is completely awakened.

   Raja Yoga is the path of system which leads along the eight runged ladder. It is the most comprehensive path in which Karma, Bhakti, Kundalini and Jnana are combined.

   Sri Vidya in which the microcosm and macrocosm are understood, is the highest of all paths and very difficult. It requires great philosophical understanding and the direction of a great teacher.

   None of these paths is any better than the others. Each of them leads to the same place and have certain things in common, but some of them are better suited to certain personality types than others. We do not all learn in the same way, nor do we all need to learn quite the same things or to the same degree.

   Much of what a yoga practice achieves is purely subjective because it includes changes within your own consciousness which cannot be demonstrated or proven to others. Still, at this point in time, a number of the effects of practicing yoga have been validated scientifically many times. In fact, these results have been so significant and so practical that many insurance companies and health organizations now cover the cost of yoga classes for their subscribers.

   For the average student the study begins with Hatha Yoga and the Asanas. These are the traditional postures or poses that most people would regard as being yoga but they are not, of course, yoga. Yoga is something the student is trying to attain. It is most definitely not these postures. Nevertheless, to the average westerner yoga is the Asanas and they are viewed as exercise. It is to be admitted that there is that aspect to them. However, for those with the vision to see it, these postures are merely tools and higher teachings along the pathway to enlightenment.

   The exercise buffs can puff away for as long as they wish and the truth be known they will obtain some significant benefits from this. However, blind to the truth, they will remain like someone with a treasure in their hands that does not understand the value of what they are holding and are therefore, never able to make use of it.

   In this, they will face the problem of subjectivity, for their western education has not prepared them well for the study of Yoga. All of the old yoga studies and books speak of the charkas, energy channels and the Kundalini. Unfortunately, to the western student, these things do not exist.

   They are not recognized by western medicine, as such, and they are not shown in the biology books, as such. Furthermore, all of the history books portray Hinduism as the rankest form of superstitious nonsense and most people have Hinduism and or Buddhism intractably linked to yoga in their minds.

   This does not provide the western student with a very good foundation to begin their study. Their education is telling him or her one thing and their instructor is telling them something else.

   So, to begin with, let us understand that if you cut open a human body you will not find the Chakras pictured in yoga books inside of it. For one thing it would be a dead body and you could no more see a living energy flow there than you could see it in an engine which has been turned off. For another, these are not really material physical things in the sense westerners are comfortable with.

   On the other hand, while repudiating eastern superstition it turns out that western students and scientists are not above creating similar constructs when it suits their purpose. For example, you will find illustrations of electric currents and magnetic fields all over physics and chemistry texts. Mind you, none of these people has ever seen a magnetic field, yet they have created a representation of what one might look like if we could see it, and, they are well satisfied with that.

   Bear in mind that sight, in the strict sense, involves light being reflected from some object into our eyes. That has not happened in this case, no light was involved. The images in textbooks are only a subjective impression in someone’s mind. The magnetic field does not look like that, it does not look like anything.

   Your body has sensors for heat, light, smell, touch, taste and sound. There are none for time, gravity, or magnetic fields, among others. We can infer gravity from the sense of pressure, touch and motion, but no one has ever felt gravity. When you are free falling from a diving board, other than the pressure of the wind, you feel nothing.

   Our minds constructs time from changes in space and energy levels. We have no time sensors. No one has ever felt time, nor has anyone ever seen a magnetic field. The closest we can get to that is by observing what they do to the environment around us.

   With that in mind it can only be hoped that the beginning western student will approach the whole idea of Chakras and energy channels with a more open mind. Does the body have Chakras. Yes. Do they look like the pictures in the books. Yes and No, but those representations are, nevertheless, valuable.

   Your introduction to them will not come through the faculty of sight. It will come through the execution of the Asanas, the traditional postures of yoga. In the typical case this will take some period of time but eventually the Chakras will be felt. At first only for a few moments and only one at a time.

   To most people the Asanas are exercise with health benefits, and they will accomplish that, but it is not their purpose. The purpose of the Asanas is to introduce you to yourself.

   Now at first thought most people would consider that to be a ridiculous and trivial ambition but it turns out to be a very important consideration.

   In ancient times, the churchmen of Europe had a similar problem. They were severely limited in their understanding of the gospels and the world around them because they did not begin to understand, or even suspect, the complexity and size of the world and universe around them. Their universe was much, much smaller and less complex than yours.

   They had names for seven of the planets, but they had no idea of what a solar system was. The planets were simply part of the sky to them, with heaven being up there someplace. They did not know about stars being other suns, or galaxies or even about outer space. They had utterly no comprehension of the size and scope of the universe, of how incredibly large it was, of how incredibly small and complex some parts of it were, or of how old it was. They had no idea what caused disease and, no conception, whatsoever, of their own history.

   In that regard, contemporary men are not so much better off as they may wish to believe. They too, generally have no conception whatsoever of their own true nature, or history.

   The DNA residing in the chromosomes and genes in your body came to you from two parents and each of them from two parents and so on from time immemorial. The energy and intelligence residing there is literally billions of years old and no matter what your chronological age or condition at this time, a tremendous power remains there. That DNA could not have lasted over two and a half billion years if this were not so.

   From the Yogic point of view, those genes are your karma. They are the hand you were dealt. From that point of view, certain choices are not available to you. If you are a woman you cannot choose to be a fullback for major professional football team. That choice does not exist for you. The truth be known, it does not exist for very many males either. For each of us there are physical and mental boundaries which cannot be transgressed, but, whatever our physical or mental abilities or disabilities, the choices which remain are still infinite in number.

   Hence, the puzzle of our lives is not fixed and may be assembled into an infinite number of outcomes. Even the physical structure of the genes does not result in one fixed result. They are greatly influenced by their environment or in other words by our choices and actions and to a considerable degree will build a body in response to the instructions they are given. This is a point of some considerable significance to the student of yoga.

   Similarly, our minds are not the simple things they might seem to be. Science has known for over a hundred years now that our consciousness is divided. We have our normal awareness but we have a subconscious mind as well.

   Our workaday consciousness is disciplined and nominally under our control. The other 98% of it is not. It is now known that the conscious mind typically can process about 2500 bytes of information a second, which is a lot from a certain point of view. On the other hand the entire brain is continuously processing several billion bytes per second and we ordinarily do not have the vaguest idea of what it is doing.

   All that is certain is that this mind is incredibly powerful and very, very old. It has also been around for a very long time because contrary to western beliefs and expectations, it does not die. That would violate the scientific law of conservation of energy. At lot of Eastern philosophy and Yoga is understood when this is realized.

   Such is our history, unknown and misunderstood by most of us. What the Yoga Asanas do is to introduce you to yourself. It makes little sense in the beginning when a student is told to find their center. It makes less sense when they are told to relax when they are struggling intensely just to remain standing and they give no real attention at all to breathing because they are much too busy. But there in the strain and suffering of the postures the student will come face to face with every manner of distraction and ultimately the biggest distraction of all, their own ego which must be tamed before any real advancement can occur.

   As this struggle continues the student eventually learns to relax and be at peace in the postures. Finally, that peace begins to find its way into the rest of their lives outside of the classroom. That is all most students hope for but there is a higher goal: That of enlightenment and union with the Universal Cosmic Mind: Yoga.

   Western Science and tradition completely ignores the divine nature of the human spirit and its relationship with the Cosmic Mind. It does not realize yet what an awesome mechanism we have been invested with.

   Different religious traditions use somewhat different terminology for all of this, but the same underlying truth is to be found in all of them. In Hinduism the Father Principle of Christianity corresponds to the male polarity of pure consciousness and is called Shiva. Shiva has absolute power to be and is infinite and formless. Its feminine expression is Shakti and has the power of manifestation. They are two halves or expressions of the whole.

   At their root all the great faiths of this world teach exactly the same thing. Jesus did not teach anything that Krishna did not teach. Jesus did not teach anything that Buddha did not teach. Jesus did say that the kingdom of Heaven lies within you. A point generally misunderstood. It is not somewhere you go. It is not out there or up in the sky. It is within you.

   If there is a gateway to heaven it lies at the base of your spine in the root Chakra, Muladhara, where Shakti, the coiled Kundalini energy slumbers at the entry to your energy channel, Sushuma. With development and study, this energy will rise up the energy channel through the seven charkas resulting in yoga, union with the Cosmic Mind, or enlightenment. This is not an exclusively mechanical process but it is the purpose of Yoga.

   Over the centuries many stories have filtered out of India and Tibet about the great sages living there who manifested many unusual powers called Siddhis in yoga and associated with the Kundalini energy. It is said that there is enough energy in the Shakti at the base of the spine to shake planets.

   The discussion of those channels and energy centers unfortunately must, owing to lack of time, fall to another session and we must now divert our attention to our circle meditation.

   When we hold certain kinds of thoughts a condition is established around us which attracts a kind of energy called grace, a power that lies far beyond anything we, ourselves, are capable of generating. What we are doing is receiving an energy from a higher source. This is sometimes called grace. It is also known as the power of the holy spirit though it has other names as well.

   By any name, it not only empowers and develops us but the mere existence of this condition among us raises the power of everyone and everything around us. Moreover, because of our configuration in this temple and because of our intention in being here it is a power of vastly greater magnitude than we could possibly hope to generate as a group of individuals.

   We do not need to save the world. We do not need to point out or correct the faults and imperfections in others. We need only to remove them from ourselves. We need only, in the days and weeks ahead rededicate ourselves to that task.We need only to accept that grace which will flow here this night because of our convocation and invocation and allow it to flow into the world though us.

   Let us then unite in our circle and radiate peace, joy and love into the world.
 Copyright 2008  Brian Afton 109 South 6th St Olean, NY 14760