This is a write up of the talk given by Prashant Shah (http://spiritual-living.in) in London on 14 April 2013, at the Discovery Day Program by Solar Events.
Yoga has been introduced in the western world as a technique for reducing our stress and improving our health. However, the traditional purpose of Yoga is to develop our spiritual life. Here we explore this ‘spiritual side’ of Yoga. First we explain the nature of the inner life and the spiritual quest; and then we show how spiritual yoga can help you in accomplishing the spiritual goal.
The Inner Life
We are born on earth with a mind that directs our attention outward towards things. Hence, we do not see the inner life and we seek our satisfaction from the outside — through the ‘things’ of the outer world. Thus, we chase comforts, pleasures and possessions in the outer world.
We pursue these things thinking that by having them we shall get the deeper satisfaction that we really want. However, when we achieve something, we do get some superficial satisfaction, which lasts for a short time. However, soon thereafter we again become dissatisfied and start to chase something else. In this way the chase goes on and on. It does not strike us that we are looking for our satisfaction in the wrong places!
Yoga considers our mind and body as instruments through which we function on earth. They are like our possessions – our house or car. Hence, by satisfying the desires in the mind and body, we can only get some superficial and temporary satisfaction. If we want deeper and lasting satisfaction, then we have to also satisfy something that is truly deeper and lasting! That something deeper or lasting is the soul or spirit.
When we satisfy our spiritual being, spiritual qualities begin to arise in our inner life. And as we organise these qualities in our nature, we develop spiritually. Let us tray and understand this development in terms of the two levels of our consciousness.
The two levels of consciousness
Throughout our life on earth two levels of consciousness (the ordinary and the higher level) are reflected in our mind. The ordinary level reflects the desires in our mind and body; and the higher level reflects the impulses got from our soul and the over-soul or God.
When we function at the ORDINARY level, we are attached to our mind and body. Then we experience ourselves as a ‘mental-self’, which is simply a self in the mind. This mental-self causes us to live mainly to satisfy the desires in our mind and body. So, we keep on looking for comforts, pleasures, possessions and recognition in the outer world: We want to own a posh house; we want to eat tasty food; and we measure our success by how well we stack up against others.
In society we experience the ordinary level as our ‘GROUP IDENTITY’. When we serve this group identity, we move beyond the boundaries of our personal selfishness and try to include the feeling of others in our group. In this way we identify with our family members, with our work associates, with the followers of our religion, and with the people of our community. The group identity enlarges our concern, and that causes us to think that we are serving the higher consciousness. That can happen sometimes, but more often the group identity merely replaces our personal selfishness. And sometimes the group identity can make us behave in ways that are more degrading than mere selfishness (as in terrorism).
What happens when we can function at the HIGHER level? It awakens our ‘sense of unity’ and the ‘voice of our conscience’. The experience of UNITY makes us feel that as human beings we are like children of the same father. Thus, we feel kindness towards others; we cannot be cruel or insensitive towards them; and we cannot solve our problems by making them someone else’s problems. Even the idea of competition makes us uncomfortable. So we try to replace it with feelings of cooperation and coexistence.
The voice of our CONSCIENCE is the silent voice from the heart. It enables us to recognise the right and the wrong in all matters concerning life; it causes us to refine the values and motives that guide our thoughts and actions in the world. When we try to follow this voice, a truth-sense develops within us.
The process of spiritual growth
Both the ordinary and the higher levels of our consciousness are always reflected in our mind. However, initially we mainly function at the ordinary level. That is, we serve the mental-self. And the mental-self in turn keeps us preoccupied with physical activity and egoistic pursuits.
Our spiritual being also has its presence inside our mind through the higher level of consciousness. However, we give so little attention to it that in most of us it has become something vague, hesitant or far removed. As a result we do not feel united; our ‘truth sense’ is weak; and we do not perceive any deeper purpose to our life.
The practice of Yoga seeks to REVERSE this situation. And it does that by changing our ‘point of view’! Instead of looking upon everything from the ordinary level, and giving an ordinary meaning to higher things, Yoga makes us look upon everything from the higher level. It changes the ‘level’ of our perception. It changes ‘from where’ we see or ‘what depth’ we see from.
Gradually we begin to see everything as a part of a much LARGER PICTURE: We can situate everything correctly or find the proper place for each thing; we can look deeper into the happenings in our life and in the world; and we can recognise the true motives behind the actions of people and the world movements. The result is that we are not easily deceived by outer appearances.
The method of Spiritual Yoga
The term Yoga is a common noun that means joining or union. In the beginning our mind is joined with the ordinary consciousness. In Spiritual Yoga we change this. We begin to detach it from the ordinary level and attach it to the higher level. And as we do that, spiritual qualities get organised in our mind.
The KEY idea of Spiritual Yoga is that wisdom and the higher values of life arise naturally in our mind when we are responsive to the higher consciousness. Thus, wisdom is not the result of developing our ordinary consciousness, as in modern education! It is the result of disciplining the mind and making it responsive to the higher consciousness. Then, instead of being led by the desires and tendencies of our mind and body, we shall be guided by the wisdom of our spiritual being.
The idea of unity in Yoga is similar to the ‘oneness’ that develops between a horse and its rider. However, the oneness has to be such that the will of the rider prevails! When the rider wants to go somewhere, the horse should also want to take him there. The horse should not protest or assert its independence and wander away.
We begin the practice spiritual yoga by learning to concentrate. What does that do? It brings together all the scattered forces of our attention under a higher will. It is like bringing the different chieftains under a ‘central leadership’. Gradually all the forces inside the mind are made to acknowledge the presence of the higher will and adjust themselves accordingly. When that happens, we can concentrate on our tasks without distraction; we can change our mental habits; and we can remake our values on the basis of a higher principle.
In Yoga we practice concentration by giving the mind something to hold on to, like a mantra. Then, in our task is to simply try to confine our attention to the mantra. The natural tendency of the mind is to drift onto other thoughts, particularly to thoughts of pending matters and personal concerns. So, our attention will stray onto other thoughts. However, when we find that our attention has strayed, we must continue the practice by simply returning it to our chosen theme, the mantra. The act of persistently returning our attention to the chosen theme makes all the difference: Gradually all the forces inside our mind will accept the leadership of the higher consciousness and adjust themselves to it.
Is Spiritual Yoga theistic or atheistic?
Let us consider these two different points of view. The atheistic view regards God as an imaginary concept or a belief. On the other hand the theistic view uses the ‘God idea’ to perceive the spiritual presence that exists behind all things and happenings. In the theistic view we learn to relate with the spiritual presence and try to make it a reality in our life.
It should be evident that Spiritual Yoga is a theistic pursuit. Here a personal (self-made) God is used to bring about a deliberate shift in consciousness – from the ordinary level to the higher level. When the higher consciousness gets organised in the mind, we become intuitive and begin to live at a higher level. It totally changes how we regard ourselves and the outer world. Then, instead of perceiving ourselves as a personality that has arisen out of a mind and body, we begin to see ourselves as a spiritual being that is temporarily functioning on earth through the instruments of a mind and body. Thus, it opens up the truly mystical dimension of our life.
The author is a spiritual guide for aspirants of Mantra Yoga. To know more, read the author’s book: ‘Solving the Problems of Life’; click here: http://a.co/fDEjbYR. And for the book ‘The Art of Awakening the Soul’ the URL is http://a.co/jfAc1bf