The purpose of all “Yoga” is to take the practitioner one step closer towards developing the right identity. A gross person identifies himself with the body and other things physical things that are related to the body. The perfect person identifies himself with the Subject discarding everything that can be objectified. The Subject is the real Self.
As an engineer, I got curious on how the various Yogas work. After a few days of thinking and discussions with friends, here is what I infer.
There are three entities talked about in all philosophies and religions – self, world and God. All religions and philosophies are merely different models for these three entities and the relationship between them. Every person has a personal model of these three depending on his stage of spiritual evolution.
The idea of all these three always go together. The person who identifies himself with the physical body sees the world as a physical entity and also needs a physical symbol of God to relate to. A person who sees himself as the mind sees everyone and everything in the world as mental entities and sees God also as a formless being with virtuous qualities.
By working on one of these three – self, world and God – and changing the perception of that entity, the other two get automatically changed. This is the basis of the various Yogas.
What is being aimed for is infinite, eternal and beyond causation. Anything finite cannot be fulfilling. Anything which can be acquired can be lost. So this leaves us with only one possibility. Whatever needs to be “acheived” is already there with us. The search is only because of the ignorance of it. The only remedy for ignorance is knowledge. Thus the final step to perfection is essentially that of knowledge (Jnana Yoga). There cannot be any other process there.
All other Yogas are preparations of the mind to make itself eligible to Jnana Yoga. It is here that the Yogas can be broadly classified based on which of the triad – self, world and God – that is taken as the primary entity to be worked upon. Each Yoga refines the concept and perception of a particular entity.
To start with, the self identity is with the physical body. This is because the objects of the senses are the main focus of attention. The body is taken as the subject when the external objects are focussed upon. Ashtanga Yoga (Raja Yoga) first makes the body and breath as the object and thus the identity shifts to the mind. This is only the beginning. After this, various practices of concentration make the mind the object. This makes the practitioner start enquiring “Who am I?”. He finds himself as the consciousness without any qualities. Going one step further, he finds that he himself exists and appears as a everything and everyone. This leads him to knowledge.
A gross person looks upon the world as an object of enjoyment and exploitation. He sees the world as physical objects. He looks upon all the non-living and living things in the world, including human beings as physical objects who can either bring him happiness or sorrow. By serving others without aiming at one’s own happiness and sorrow, the attitude about others change. The person starts seeing others as thinking and feeling entities. This is called Karma Yoga. Then going one more step, he realizes that everyone is a part of the same whole. Then he sees that the whole is in the core of every part. This leads him to knowledge.
The beginner of Bhakti Yoga sees God as a bigger power, who has to be appeased to get things done and to avoid calamities in life. He needs a physical symbol of God in a human form or any abstract shape. He needs to do a lot of physical rituals to connect to God. As he keeps following these, he develops an idea of God as a person with a lot of good qualities like compassion, fairness, omniscience, etc. Thus God’s “mental” qualities comes more into his focus than the physical symbols and forms. As he progresses, he starts developing deep love to God and he starts loving God irrespective of the qualities of God. The “mental” qualities of God vanishes and he considers God as without any qualities. Once qualities are gone, the distinction between individual objects and people in the world and God is gone. This leads him to knowledge.
Thus the different Yogas take the aspirant from physical to mental and beyond. In all cases, the final blow to the individuality is given by the realization that there is nothing called an “individual”. Only changeless eternal homogenous partless infinite consciousness exists. All variety is just an appearance. With this knowledge comes fulfilment. He finds that there was nothing to be acheived. He has been the infinite eternally. It was just the ignorance that made him think that he was not whole.
Thus the Yogas work.