Access to Yoga

We have seen that the preliminary objective of yoga is the purification of the body and the intermediate objective is the purging of mental impurities. When both the body and the mind are freed from defilements, consciousness becomes clear and pure. The inner spirit is reflected without distortion. It means that the highest objective of self realization is facilitated by the external as well as the internal purity attained during the preliminary and the intermediate stages.

But it is by no means easy to attain this. One may succeed in arriving at it after many lives. One has to go through spiritual notifications in many previous lives as prior preparation for the final birth. In Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna says, “After journeying through many circles of birth, the enlightened one reaches me with the conviction that everything is vasudeva(myself), but it is exceedingly rare to find such an exalted person.” (VII: 19) It may take thousands of years and may require many births to attain perfect evolution of the soul and to reach the final goal of yoga.

One has to strive hard and pay a very high price for attaining that lofty objective. One must undergo arduous asceticism for many years, living a life of renunciation, practicing celibacy and moderation in diet, observing silence and residing in seclusion. Such a difficult path obviously cannot be within the reach of every person. It certainly is not for an average person. Only those who are above average, stand a chance of getting access to the path of Yoga. And it will really be a great fortune for any of them to attain the final goal of yoga. And it will really be a great fortune for any of them to attain the final goal of Yoga. Of those who survive for the final target, only a few fortunate ones succeed. In Bhagvad Gita, lord Krishna also says, “Among thousands of persons, hardly one strives to achieve the goal of perfection; and even of those who strive, one hardly knows me in reality.” (VII: 3)

The final objective of yoga or liberation is not such an ordinary thing for which one can aspire. Thousands of aspirants grope along to cross the ocean of existence, yet scarcely anyone succeeds in reaching the other shore. Of those aspirants who take to the practice of yoga in the present times, hardly any one truly learns to live by the arduous rules and discipline.

a)     Aspirants of Yoga

It is no doubt true that the path of yoga is very difficult. None is barred, however, from practicing it. One should only be careful in fixing the goal to be achieved. An aspirant should recognize his or her own shortcomings and limitations, but with sincerity of effort, should strive persistently to achieve a modest goal. He or she should choose a goal that is really attainable. It may be a preliminary or intermediary goal; it does not matter so far as even these lead to physical health and the development of mental abilities.

Those aspirants, who have not yet overcome the appetites, passions, vanity, arrogance, selfishness, greed, cravings, etc, are not fit to receive higher spiritual goals for themselves. They should be modest in fixing their goal and at the same time should sincerely try to avoid their shortcomings if they genuinely intend to go further along the path of yoga.

A true aspirant has to conform strictly to all the rules set down by yoga discipline. A student should have shraddha, full faith that the truth can be discovered through the techniques of yoga. The aspirant should have mumukshutva, earnest longing for attaining freedom from the bondage of worldly existence. He or she should have viveka, discriminating insight to differentiate between what is permanent and real and what is transient and illusory. The pupil should have vairagya, readiness to renounce the worldly way of life or say, indifference to worldly enjoyments. The aspirants should possess shat-sampatti (treasure of six precious virtues), shama (pacification of mind and passions), dama (self restraint or subjugation of senses), uparati (withdrawl from the outer world), titiksa (endurance), shraddha (perfect faith) and samadhana (composure of mind). Such an aspirant is truly qualified to tread upon the higher spiritual path of yoga.

b)    Guidance and Self-effort in Yoga

The path of yoga is rigorous, but there are experienced yogis or gurus who have achieved higher spiritual levels and can guide others. Such gurus have themselves learned Yoga through hard training and arduous discipline. A real guru (preceptor) is one who has experienced the real nature if his or her own self and attuned him or herself with God or universal self. Such a person always experiences oneness with all and loves all without discrimination. He or she abides serene in the uninterrupted stillness and super-consciousness. This person has achieved the highest goal of yoga.

According to ancient tradition, and even today in India, the knowledge of Yoga is passed on from a guru to disciple. But in ancient times, this sacred knowledge was never revealed to an undeserving person. Moreover, the teaching of yoga was never made a business. Yoga was not a commodity for sale as it is at present. In ancient times a Guru gave this knowledge only to a worthy disciple as a sacred gift, expecting nothing in return. The guru also sincerely wished that the disciple would excel the guru in prowess. Such was the nobility and goodness on the part of a guru in ancient times. The disciple also revered the guru sincerely and intensely. The aspirant received the sacred knowledge of yoga from the guru as a blessing. Then the student regularly applied the practice of yoga, the aspirant always remained vigilant and practiced without any lapse or laziness, surrendering everything, including the aspirant’s own self, at the holy feet of the guru without reservation. Such model relationships existed between guru and shishya. But this is also a rare thing in present times.

The basic tenet of Yoga discipline is that every individual is responsible for his or her own liberation. One has to climb the ladder of yoga step by step reaching each successive level by one’s own efforts. In the Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna also says, “One should raise himself by his own self; he should not cause his self to degrade. For, the self alone is the benefactor of the self and the self is the enemy of self. (VI: 5)

Though in the initial stage one has the need for a guru to show the ladder of yoga and the technique of climbing it, the role of self-effort cannot be underrated. The guidance from a guru, in subsequent stages, makes the progress smooth and easy and also saves time and energy, no doubt; but it is entirely left to the pupil to make efforts to attain the goal. One can help a child practice walking by providing support, but it should be left entirely to the child’s effort to learn walking. In the same manner, a guru can set the truth before a pupil and also give directions on how to reach it, but it remains entirely the student’s responsibility to strive and train in conformity with the guru’s teachings.

A guru may inspire a pupil to know the truth and guide the pupil toward the path of Yoga, but the guru cannot compel the aspirant to walk on the right track, if the pupil falls short in self-efforts or loses interest halfway or even goes astray, the student will suffer and the guru should not be blamed for that. On the other hand, if the pupil is completely receptive and possesses a genuine desire to know the truth, then the pupil is bound to make efforts with all his heart to reach the set goal. Such a pupil is a true seeker who will succeed.