You see, when the soul comes into the material world it becomes covered by different layers of material energy, it’s described in the Vedas. The first layer of material energy that covers the spirit soul is called the layer of false ego. If you’ve studied any yoga teachings, read any yoga books or esoteric books, etc., you will probably have come across the idea that the ego is a bad thing and you must get rid of your ego.
Just the other night I was talking to a couple of guys after the lecture and one person said, “Yeah, I’m working on my ego. I’ve gotta get rid of my ego. I’ve gotta lose my ego.” And I said, “no, you’ve got the wrong understanding”, because of course that’s what has been presented, but it’s not correct. Ego means I, you are the ego. You cannot lose yourself. So there’s no such thing as coming to a level of existence where you have no ego because you eternally exist, so there is no such thing. It’s not the problem of the ego, it’s the problem of the false ego.
The false ego is what causes us all the problems. This is the beginning of the big illusion of life. The false ego means I falsely identify myself as something other than spirit soul. I identify myself as the body and all the labels that go with that. I identify myself with my mind or maybe my desires (I have certain desires) or maybe my activities – all kinds of identities that I assume, and it’s all the false ego.
I don’t know who I really am. It’s like a person that has amnesia. When we learn about the disease of amnesia, it’s a horrible thing, isn’t it? All of a sudden you don’t know who you are, you don’t know who your parents are. You don’t know anything: where you live, what your name is – nothing, you see? You’re blank; you have no idea. But in reality we go through our whole life and we really don’t know who we are. It’s exactly the same thing. We have some identity, we go along playing the part of whatever role we happen to be in this particular lifetime and have no clue about the truth: I am spirit soul, I am not this material body. So yoga is a big philosophy.
Why is the Hatha yoga system is so popular today? Because we think we’re the body, its popularity is based on this conclusion, “I am this body.” Most people that engage in Hatha yoga do it for some material benefit, either physical or mental, or both. And it does give the benefit both mentally and physically; they want to look better or they want to lose weight. They want to become more adept in some athletic abilities, they want to cure some problems they have physically, they’ve got a bad back or other reasons; they want to look younger… whatever. These can be achieved; Hatha yoga is amazing, it’s designed by the Supreme Lord, how can it be bad? It has to be perfect, right? The Supreme Lord gives us all the knowledge we need to keep the body in its perfect condition, the mind in its perfect condition and the soul in its perfect condition. All of this is yoga knowledge.
Hatha yoga is knowledge about the body and a true Hatha yoga teacher has to study a long time to learn all the different parts of the body, and what parts are connected to what, it’s almost like getting a doctor’s degree – for a true Hatha yoga teacher; not very many people have it. But they have to learn all these connections.
You can address the skeletal system, the circulatory system, the nervous system, the digestive system – all the organs can be addressed. “Oh, you’ve got a problem with the liver, you’ve got to do these asanas”. “You’ve got a back problem, okay, do this, do this, and do this.” It works, it absolutely does. Great, and so people identifying with their body find, “Wow, this really works! It does make me feel good, I did lose weight.”
The reason I got interested in yoga was that I wanted to improve my surfing. A very ‘spiritual’ reason, you see? And it worked; I started doing it every day. Why? Because 3 of the best surfers on the planet at that time started doing it and I said, “man, if it’s good for them, it’s got to be good for me.” So I did it and it worked. “Hah! Wow, what else is here?” Then I started reading, meditating. “Okay, meditation.” I started meditating, “Wow, great!” And then it just led on and on. “Oh! Yoga diet. What is that? Vegetarian diet. Hmm, everything else is so good, why not?” And I did that, “Wow! Big improvement there!” And it just went on and on, deeper and deeper. Then I started learning more and more about the philosophy and was lucky enough to meet a bona fide spiritual teacher who could guide me in on this path of knowledge.
And it’s been many years and it’s been wonderful, and it keeps getting better. You never reach the end. It’s not like in athletics: you reach a peak and then it’s all downhill. “I used to do that. Yeah, I remember it, way back I used to do that,” but in yoga you never get too old. You never get too decrepit: it just gets better. Why? Because it’s the yoga of the soul, it’s the linking of the soul – the soul is eternal. You won’t ever outgrow it; so to speak, you won’t get too old to do it. At the last moment of your life you can apply the yoga philosophy and reach perfection in life; at the last moment, you see?