Yoga [part three]
yoga and tantra – these paths are one
This article concludes by discussing the way tantric and religious elements have become thoroughly and inextricably intertwined with the strands of yogic practice. Rob argues that, in the final analysis, these paths are one. The goal of moksha, or liberation; the goal of enfoldment in the divine consciousness; the search for philosophical understanding and the desire to be an instrument of the divine will are resolved in the ultimate realisation that perfect service, spontaneous action without consideration of self, is the consummation of love and the fulfilment of the individual's purpose on this planet.
The tantric influences of the earlier religious practices of India are hard to separate from the practical application of yoga today. Their admixture with the yogic philosophy is one of the main departures from the more intellectual sankhya of Kapila and his followers. Philosopher S. N. Dasgupta holds that both sankhya and yoga are divergent expressions of an earlier common philosophy, which he detects in embryonic form in many of the Upanishads, notably the Katha and the Svetasvatara.7 Professor Zimmer believes that these unificatory traces are to be assigned to a pre-upanishadic, pre-aryan culture flourishing in the Indus Valley thousands of years before the Christian era. So much for the "authorities". The maharishis themselves assign a tremendous antiquity to the teachings, an antiquity which is largely scorned by Western orientalists—primarily, I believe, due to their general failure to comprehend the essential nature of man in his cyclical relation to the cosmos. Contemporary archæological and linguistic research now generally supports the remote antiquity of indigenous Indian civilisation.8
There is nevertheless some disagreement among bhaktis regarding the best philosophical approach. Ramanuja, for example, rejects the vedantic idea of an impersonal union with the brahman (absolute essence of all). He is so in love with the divine that he does not desire moksha, or personal liberation, for he feels that his fulfilment as an individual soul is perfect, insofar as he may maintain his loving relationship with God. The maintenance of this relationship is possible only to the extent that his own existence as an individual, separate from God, can continue. Ramanuja loves the taste of sugar—he wants to eat sugar, he does not want to be sugar...
What distinguishes the bhaktis is their idea of a supreme personality of godhead, as opposed to the more rarified concept of an absolute, an Ishvara and his community of liberated souls, or a simple dualistic eternalism. Krishna, Rama, or another incarnation of Vishnu is usually worshipped by the Vaisnavas, while Shiva, the divine light, in conjunction with the goddess Shakti, the expression of his divine energy, is held to be the supreme by the Saivite sects, which are generally more inclined towards a tantric approach. The yogic path has traditionally been one of ascetic discipline9 and duty; the tantric path is more one of acceptance and sensual involvement. Over the centuries these differences have become blurred; the tantric influence has become thoroughly intertwined with the yogic and religious elements of Hindu culture. Indeed, according to Srimad Bhagavatam, the "Bible" of many modern devotees, yoga was the pathway to salvation for the Satya Yuga (prehistoric Golden Age), but devotion to Godhead is the pathway for suffering souls in the current Kali Yuga (dark age). From another perspective, Mantrasastra Lalita Sahasranaman declares that chanting the names of the goddess inevitably leads to salvation and perfect understanding. There are many other competing pathways, but they are becoming more and more entwined.
These Paths Are One
In the final analysis, these paths are one. The goal of moksha, or liberation; the goal of enfoldment in the divine consciousness; the search for philosophical understanding and the desire to be an instrument of the divine will are all resolved in the ultimate realisation that perfect service, spontaneous action without consideration of self, is the consummation of love and the fulfilment of the individual's purpose on this planet. Mystical revelation, physical control, philosophical insights and ethical action are all subsumed and consumed under the rule of immaculate service, the flawlessly compassionate expression of universal love. This is truly the path to perfect understanding, the one way of utter love and sublime fulfilment.
Footnotes to the Text
1. Zimmer: Philosophies of India – p. 281. In fact, more recent evidence convincingly shows that yogic asanas were practiced by members of the indigenous Indus Valley Civilisation prior to 2000 BCE and that the now defunct Sarasvati River featured in the Rg Veda must be the cradle of Indian civilisation. See B.B.Lal The Sarasvati: the Mother of Indian Civilization
2. The Gita, however, clearly states in Chapter 5 that the two processes – of “enumerating knowledge” and of “inward-looking concentration” are not different in essence, but simply two sides of the same coin.
3. The gunas are called sattva (purity, clarity, effulgence), rajas (energy, passion, action) and tamas (dullness, inertia, mass). Prakriti is the material ground of which the gunas are functional modes, producing phenomena by their mutual interaction. The material world is thought to be devoid of consciousness, except insofar as it is derived or reflected from the purusha, via the buddhi, or higher mind – which is composed of a subtle kind of material substance called citta. The buddhi may become perfectly clarified by the predominance of sattva guna; this stage precedes moksha, the liberation from the activities of the material world – which itself is seen as full of suffering and sorrow (hence the need for liberation).
4. The apparently pessimistic approach of yoga is reminiscent of that of the buddhists. Yoga realism, however, and its eternal dualism of purusha and prakriti (both of which are held to be real) starkly contrasts with buddhist idealism and its momentary phenomenalism of external events and mental states.
5. See Taimini: The Science of Yoga for a fine translation and extensive commentary on the Yoga Sutras
6. Aurobindo Sri: The Synthesis of Yoga – p.35
7. Dasgupta: Yoga Philosophy – p.2. But bear in mind note 2, above.
8. c.f. The Secret Doctrine; The Vishnu Purana; Beyond Yoga; Gnani Yoga etc.
9. Note however that Patanjali (and many others) accept that one may, by perfect immersion in the Godhead, become liberated immediately, without the need for the panoply of techniques that comprise less exaltational forms of yogic endeavour. Such good fortune seems to be a matter of grace—and of dedicated work over several lifetimes. Krsna, in his dance with the gopis, is said to have rewarded the past efforts of great sages by allowing them to incarnate as cowgirls at the appropriate time, so that each one could have the experience of dancing with him in his plenipotentiality.
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