Before I begin to discuss our topic of yoga, I would like to offer my respects to my spiritual masters.
It is a comprehensive lecture, it includes a lot. So it requires some attention. Therefore we hope that you won’t talk to one another and so you won’t distract each other.
All of this information comes from the Vedic scriptures. The Vedas are very ancient scriptures. They were actually written down 5 000 years ago. But this knowledge itself is eternal. So prior to being written down, it was passed down orally from one perfect master to the next. Such a line of perfect masters is known as a disciplic succession or a parampara. We are in the parampara known as Brahma Sampradaya and feel fortunate to receive our knowledge through this lineage.
So having said that, it is obvious this is not my opinion. I am not here tonight to give you my opinion about yoga. I am just passing on this eternal science.
Yoga is very popular in the world today. Many people are interested as is indicated by all of you coming tonight. And only when we think of yoga, we think of one little portion of yoga. The picture is someone is standing on the head or twisting, bending, stretching. As I say this is one part of yoga. But there is much more. So that is what we are going to do night. It is kind of to give you an overview of the yoga system. There are different yoga paths. Different paths lead to different places. So we will also discuss where we go by following a particular path.
Before we can understand yoga, we have to understand the word yoga. Actually ‘yoga’ means ‘union’. So there has to be understanding of who is going to be united. It means the individual person achieving union with the Absolute Truth. So it is a journey from being separated to being united.
In all the yoga teachings the beginning is the information about ourselves. Who are we? Ok, we are going to become united, but who are we? In the Vedas it actually says we should ask ourselves this question, “Who am I?” But unfortunately, we almost never ask such a question because we all think we already know the answer.
I mean we’ve all got our identities. We carry them our whole life. We’ve got them in our minds. We’ve got them on our lips. We even carry them in our pockets, meaning this is who I think I am, this is who I tell others I am, and I can prove it, “Here is my passport, here are my documents.” We accept it and so does everyone else. But is this our true identity?
Upon close examination we find that this is nothing but a compilation of many labels. And the labeling process begins at birth. So all of us here now, as soon as we took birth, we received one of two labels – male or female. And we still identify like that today, “I am a man” or “I am a woman”. And then, of course, we have another label according to our race – Caucasian, Negroid. And our nationality – I am Russian, I am American, I am German. And then our family identity – we belong to this family. And actually this identity is so strong that every day on this planet one person kills another person just because they have a different label.
And this is just the beginning. Many, many labels come and go throughout our life. At birth we are known as babies and then kids. We start school, now we are students. A few more years passed, we are known as teenagers and then finally adults. We take up some profession in life and we are known accordingly – doctors, lawyers, secretaries, nurses. And then we get married. Immediately we are a husband or a wife. Later we have a child, now we are a father or a mother. And a few more years later – a grandfather, a grandmother. This is how we see ourselves, “This is me.” This continues on and on until we finally get the last label – dead.
But again looking closely, we can see this is all about the material body. Of course the body is male and female, black or white, old or young, whatever the body is, it is. Yes, it is true. But the question is, “Is this who we are?” Every day we take our pilgrimage to the mirror to see how ‘we’ look. Sometimes we are a little disappointed but we come back the next day to see if there has been some improvement. But do we really see ourselves? So the question is, “Am I this material body?”
If we want the most authoritative answer, we should go to the revealed scriptures of the world. It can be any scripture – the Holy Bible, Koran, Bhagavad-gita. They all tell us the same truth. And there we learn, “No, you are not the material body.”
But this is the modern world and very rarely do people go to scripture to find the truth in life. But we do accept the conclusion of the scientists. We like the scientists because they prove things. Well, uniquely enough in this case the scientists have proven in their laboratories that we are not the material body.
They discovered there is no cell in the human body that lives more than 5 years. Some cells have a really short life. For instance, the lining of our stomach, those cells live only 5 days. Our skin cells – 1 month. Liver cells – 6 weeks. But in 5 years everything is changed. So if I look at a photograph of myself taken 10 years ago, the eyes in the photograph are actually different than the eyes I am looking with. They are not the same eyes. According to the scientific formula, if I am 35 years old, I have had 7 bodies. But we all know we are not 7 different people. Everybody knows, “I am still me.” So the changing factor is the material body, the constant factor is ourselves. So we are not this material body.
At this point some people begin to meditate, to look inside to find out who they really are. And when we look inside, what do we find? Emotion, desire, sentiment, feeling, will. It is all very real so it is easy to conclude, “This is who I really am.” Maybe we even have some experience that reinforces this. Let’s say we are very emotionally upset. We recognize when people look at us, they don’t see us. All they see is the outside cover. And maybe we feel very lonely. We might even say, “Nobody really knows me.”
But we must confirm this with scripture, especially with Vedic scriptures, they are very detailed in this knowledge. And when we do, we find we have made another mistake. This is not who we are either. This is actually another material body. This is called the subtle mental body. Sometimes it is called the austral body, maybe you have heard of the austral body. So really we have two bodies, the gross physical body and the subtle mental body. Like two layers of clothing, an outer layer and an under layer.
But who are we? Once again go to the Vedas. We learn that we are in a different category of energy. Everything is energy. Our bodies are material energy. But we learn that we are spiritual energy. We further learn we are a tiny little spark of spiritual energy.
We learn that material energy is temporary. That is easy to see. We all know too well that our bodies are very temporary. So much that we don’t want to even talk about it, “Hey, don’t talk about that!” But even a more permanent thing like this building… Come back in 1 000 years, “Gee, where was that lecture right here?” Very temporary. But we learn that spirit is eternal. Eternal means no beginning and no end. So we are eternal.
We also learn that material energy is non-living. Again, easy to see. This table, this microphone – there is no life. But we learn that spirit is life itself. There is no such thing as live matter, no such thing as dead spirit. So we are the life force in the body. As long as we are present in the body, the body is called alive. Actually this is not true. The body is dead. We are alive. And that becomes obvious at the time of death. At the time of death we leave the body and at that exact moment the body reveals its true nature. It can’t even sit in a chair, falls on the floor. So we are the life force in the body.
Our true identity is spirit soul. Spirit meaning we are spiritual in essence, soul meaning the individual spiritual spark that we eternally are. We never become someone else. We never cease to exist. For some people this is very depressing news, “What? I’ll always be me? I thought it would be over soon!” It is never over. But when we learn the truth in life, this is very wonderful news. So again, we learn we are spirit soul.
We further learn we are part and parcel of the Supreme Soul. There is a Supreme Soul from which we all come. We are known as the atma, the Supreme Soul is the Paramatma. Now understanding this, we can begin to discuss and understand yoga.
Again, the word ‘yoga’ means ‘union’. So the union referred to is the union between us, the spirit soul, and the Supreme Soul from which we all came from. And there are different yoga paths that take us to different aspects of the Absolute. So yoga is the journey of the soul back to union with the Absolute.
Ok, so we have started at the bottom – our identity, now we have to go to the top. And next we will discuss the journey.