Chapter 1 – The Origins of Yoga
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Yoga has become a household word in today’s high speed, hi-tech, socially interactive world. It is taught in health clubs, gyms, studios, schools, ashramas, yogashalas and practiced at home, but oftentimes with no reference to its deeper cultural roots and higher spiritual goals.
In our modern times, the known history of ancient civilisations can be traced back for around three thousand years. Beyond that, history becomes a grey zone before all but disappearing. At best, historians have some speculative understanding of what the world may have been like tens of thousands of years ago. Many advanced civilisations have come and gone on this planet and all of these cultures have left us some remnants of their phenomenal achievements. In India there is a body of Sanskrit literature which are by far the oldest texts in the history of planet earth, recorded by the Vedic civilisation some 5000 years ago. Before that, this body of knowledge and history was passed down through the ages via an oral tradition. In this literature, which includes numerous Upanishads, the Bhagavad-gita, the Puranas and the Yoga-sutras, the origin of yoga has been recorded as coinciding with the very birth of the universe. Skeptics consider the Vedas to be mythology, however the wisdom contained in the Vedas cannot be ignored. In the Vedic version of creation, there was Brahma, the first living being, who practiced yoga, austerity (tapasya), meditation (dhyana) and mantra meditation (mantra-dhyana) resulting in his realisation of the Absolute Truth.
At first nothing existed beyond Brahma – only darkness. Brahma sat in padmasana. He then controlled his breathing through pranayama, closed his eyes and went in search of his inner self through dhyana. Then, from the transcendental plane beyond the material universe, he received the mantras OM (ॐ), the 18 syllable gopala-mantra (क्लीं कृष्णाय गोविन्दाय गोपीजन वल्लभाय स्वाहा ।) and the 24 syllable kama-gayatri (क्लीं कामदेवाय विद्महे पुष्पबाणाय धीमहि तन्नोऽनङ्ग प्रचोदयात्।). In this book, only the OM mantra will be discussed in detail.
OM is known and recognised widely in the majority of spiritual cultures of eastern philosophy, from the Vedantists of Benares, to the Buddhists of Tibet, to the Theosophists of Los Angeles, and to the Hare Krishna movement. The full transcendental meaning of OM is given in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Vedanta and the Bhagavata. In the Rig Veda. we find the following information:
ॐ इत्येतद् ब्रह्मणो नेदिष्टं नाम यस्मादुच्चार्यमाण ।
एव संसारभयात् तारयति तस्मादुच्यते तार इति ॥
ॐ आस्य जानन्तो नाम चिद्विवक्तन महस्ते विष्णो सुमतिं भजामहे ॐ तत्सत् ।
ततोऽभूत्त्रिवृदोंकारो योऽव्यक्तप्रभव:स्वराट् ।
यत्तल्लिङ्गं भगवतो ब्रह्मण: परमात्मन: ॥
“One who chants OM, which is the closest form of Brahman, approaches Brahman. This liberates one from the fear of the material world; therefore, it is known as taraka-brahma. O Vishnu, Your self-manifest name, OM, is the eternal form of cognisance. Even if my knowledge about the glories of reciting this name is incomplete, still, by the practice of reciting this name I will achieve that perfect knowledge. He who has unmanifested potencies and is fully independent, manifests the vibration omkara, which indicates Himself. Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan are the three forms He manifests.” (Rig-veda)
OM is described throughout the Vedic literature and by the great spiritual masters (acharyas) as the seed conception of theism. In the words of Sridhara Deva Goswami:
OM means ‘Yes.’ Always, wherever we cast our glance to search, in one word the answer is ‘yes.’ Yes, what you are searching for, is. You are searching for happiness, pleasure, joy and fulfillment. You are in want, and in one word, yes – fulfillment is there. OM (emanating from the flute-sound of Krishna) takes the form of gayatri, then the Vedas and Vedanta-sutra, then it takes the shape of the Bhagavata and the lila, the divine pastimes of Krishna.
The Brahma-samhita states:
अथ वेणुनिनादस्य त्रयिमूर्त्तिमयी गति: ।
स्फुरन्ती प्रविवेशाशु मुखाब्जानि स्वयम्भुव: ॥
गायत्रीं गायतस्तस्मादधिगत्य सरोजज: ।
संस्कृतश्चादिगुरुणा द्विजतामगमत्तत: ॥
“Then OM (gayatri), mother of the Vedas, being made manifest by the divine sound of the flute of Sri Krishna, entered into the mouth of Brahma through his eight ear-holes. The lotus-born Brahma, having received OM which emanated from the flute-sound of Sri Krishna, attained the status of the twice-born, having been initiated by Sri Krishna Himself.” (Brahma-samhita 5.27)
As a tree or fruit-bearing creeper begins with a seed, so everything begins with OM; the gayatri mantra begins with OM; the Vedas begin with OM; the Upanishads begin with OM; the Vedanta begins with OM and the Bhagavata begins with OM. Therefore, it can safely be said that our search for the Absolute Truth begins with OM. OM is the seed of theism.
Nonetheless, there is a class of philosophers known as mayavadis who suggest that OM only denotes Brahman (spiritual light), or the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth. This, however, does not correspond with the conclusion of the Vedas or the statements of the Absolute Truth Himself. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says, vedyam pavitram omkara – “I am the syllable OM.” As such, OM is known as the maha-vakya (great statement) in the Vedas.
OM clearly denotes Krishna, and the Vedanta-sutra begins with OM. Yet the mayavadi philosophers stress the mantra, tat tvam asi, which they interpret to mean, “I am that,” or “I am God,” and they try to give less importance to OM. OM should never be thought of as impersonal. That is perhaps the greatest misconception amongst many philosophers and yoga practitioners.
OM is non-different from the sound of Krishna’s flute. OM is never impersonal at any time – all that can be impersonal about OM is the misconception that one chooses to attach to it. The Gopala-tapani Upanishad discusses OM, and clearly establishes its non-difference from the Absolute Truth, Sri Krishna:
चतु:शब्दो भवेदेको ह्योंकार: समुदाहृत: ।
तस्माद्देव: परो रजसेति सोऽहम्
इत्यवधार्यात्मानं गोपालोऽहमिति भावयेत् ।
“The sound vibration OM denotes the chatur-vyuha-tattva of Balarama, Pradyumna, Aniruddha, and Sri Krishna. As OM transcends the three qualities of material nature, so also one should know oneself to be beyond the identification with the material body. ‘I am the eternal servitor of Gopala (Sri Krishna, the cowherd boy of Vrindavana)’ – this consciousness must be maintained at all times.” (Gopala-tapani Upanishad 41-42)
The Gopala-tapani Upanishad further enlightens us that from the Devanagari script of OM we find the conjunct of four syllables that form one sound:
रोहिणीतनयो रामो अकाराक्षरसम्भव: ।
तैजसात्मक: प्रद्युम्नो उकाराक्षरसम्भव: ॥
प्राज्ञात्मकोऽनिरुद्धो वै मकाराक्षरसम्भव: ।
अर्धमात्रात्मक: कृष्णो यस्मिन्विश्वं प्रतिष्ठितम् ॥
“The letter ‘A’ denotes Balarama, the first expansion of Krishna, who is the substratum of the entire universe. The letter ‘U’ denotes Pradyumna, who is the Super-Consciousness of the universe. The letter ‘M’ denotes Aniruddha, who is the Super-Consciousness of each individual atma in the universe. And the dot (bindu) above the ‘M’ denotes Sri Krishna, the source of all avataras.” (Gopala-tapani Upanishad 55-56)
Meditation on OM begins in this way and one who has realised this knowledge knows OM to be identical with Sri Krishna. A further conception found in the Gopala-tapani Upanishad establishes OM as referring to the Supreme Entities, Sri Sri Radha-Krishna, the feminine and masculine forms of the Absolute Truth:
प्रणवत्वेन प्रकृतिं वदन्ति ब्रह्मवादिन: ।
तस्मादोंकारसम्भूतो गोपालो विश्वसम्भव: ॥
“The wise and enlightened sages declare that the prime potency of Krishna, Sri Radha, is non-different from OM. Sri Krishna, who is the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of the universe, is also non-different from OM.” (Gopala-tapani Upanishad 58)
If one chants OM, remembering the words of the Gopala-tapani Upanishad, then one can attain all spiritual perfection. But if one only considers OM to be a manifestation of the impersonal Brahman, then one certainly cheats oneself out of the chance of the ultimate realisation of the Absolute Truth.
Thus, yoga and mantra meditation can be said to have existed from the very beginning of the universe. Just as Brahma received mantras from the transcendental world, the same mantras have been passed down since that time and are present in the guru-disciple succession (parampara). One should receive such mantras for meditation from a genuine guru in disciplic succession. The Padma Purana warns that the chanting of mantras that are not received in a proper disciplic succession will not produce the desired results:
सम्प्रदाय विहीना ये मंत्रस्ते निष्फल: मत: ।
“Any mantra that is not received from a disciplic succession is considered to be useless.”
Yoga is not something that was created through a social evolution at some period in history. It has existed since the beginning and has been passed down through various societies and disciplic successions, and India has been its heartland since time immemorial.