Tomorrow is the first International Yog Day. It is a major event. So we thought it would be helpful to lay out what is Yog, what is the foundation of Yog, why rigorous pronunciation of various Sanskrut mantra are important to Yog, and why Indian Dhaarmic Thought was the only one to discover Yog. By the way, the term “discover” is used with deliberation instead of “invent”.
1. The Foundation of Yog
The foundation of Yog is described best in the simple but profound Shlok (verse) from the Katha-UpaNiSad, one of ten most important treatises on Indian Dhaarmic Thought.
Understand the Aatman as the owner/rider of the chariot & the Body as the chariot
Understand Buddhi as the charioteer/driver and the Mind as the Reins*
The second line is paramount to our discussion but for the sake of completeness allow us to touch on the first line. The Aatman is the “Self” that enters the physical body at birth, resides within the body and leaves the body upon the death of the body. Suffice it to say, for this discussion, that the Aatman is the connection between the life within a human body and the Universal Life or Life-Energy that pervades creation.
Mind is, of course, mind as is generally known in English. The term Buddhi is a unique concept of paramount importance in all discussions of Indian Dhaarmic thought and seems totally absent in any Greek-European school of Thought. The simplest description in English terms is that Buddhi is the seat of understanding/intellect (cognition) & Mind is the seat of feeling (connation).
The unique understanding that Buddhi is separate & distinct from the Mind led Indian Sages to the discovery of Yog. The science of Yog was designed to develop the capability of Buddhi to direct the Mind which is the instrument to control the senses or physiological processes (“Indriya”) of the Body.
That the Buddhi and Mind are separate, distinct and of different hierarchy is a central concept of Indian Dhaarmic Thought. This concept led the Indian Sages to develop the conceptual framework and techniques that enable the Buddhi to control/manage the Mind. As a corollary, Yog enables the Buddhi to diagnose and correct the alignment of the Mind with the physiological processes of the Body. Just as the driver of a chariot diagnoses and corrects the alignment of the reins to control the horses that propel the chariot.
Note: What governs the relationship between the Aatman and Buddhi is beyond the scope of this discussion. Attaining that “paraa” or ultimate “Buddhi” is the province of liberation. Gautam was termed “Buddha” after he attained that ultimate stage of Buddhi which leads to Nirvaan & liberation from the cycle of Life.
2. Why Could Indian Dhaarmic Thought Discover Yog & Why European Metaphysics/Philosophy Could Not?
The above discussion makes it very simple – Greek-European philosophy/metaphysics doesn’t separate Buddhi & Mind. Instead, Greek-European analysis has always considered ‘Thought” to be an attribute of the mind and often confused Mind with Self. From its very beginning, Greek-European philosophy/metaphysics has treated the three functions of Cognition, Connation & Affection on par as functions of the Mind.
When you jumble up the functions of the Buddhi & the Mind, you lose, by definition, any ability to develop the science to enable Buddhi manage the Mind. Ergo, the inability of European Philosophy or Metaphysics to discover Yog.
It is not as if European thinkers have been unaware of the gap in their thinking. From what we read, Plato himself said that “cognition has two forms though only one name” (Philebus 57). Kant also formulated two senses of cognition in terms of the distinction between Understanding and Reason. Unfortunately, as we are told, Hegelian Idealism turned it into a dogma, rather than develop the logic underlying it. And the protest movements in Post-Hegelian thinking allowed the distinction to lapse.
In any case, the above attempts were essentially peripheral and Greek-Europeans never understood the fundamentally distinct separation of Buddhi & Mind. That eliminated any possibility of Greek-European thought ever discovering Yog.
3. The Integrated Discipline of Yog
The basic discussion above should make it amply clear the discipline of Yog is much broader & deeper than what is known as the physical science of Breathing & Aasan-postures. In our metaphor, the physical techniques for training the horses (senses & physiological process), for ensuring the optimal alignment of the reins to manage the horses & the chariot is only a part of total science of chariot management. The central function of chariot management is centered on the driver – the discipline, knowledge & techniques required for the driver to manage the chariot under different conditions.
Yog is the integrated system of achieving
- a correct state of Buddhi, focused stable Buddhi,
- that ensures the optimal mental state – control of emotions, feelings – which results in
- the optimal physical conditioning of the body in consonance with the Buddhi & Mind.
What came first is Step 1, the most important step. That discipline called Buddhi-Yog is best discussed in Chapter II (Verses 39-53) of the Bhagvat-Geeta. What constitutes the correct emotional state or state of Mind arising from a stable Buddhi is discussed in Chapter II (verses 55-72) of the Bhagvat-Geeta. These discussions are of every day relevance in the success of any endeavor you undertake. This is why Yog was characterized in Chapter II of the Bhagvat-Geeta as in the verse – “Yog is realized in expertise of actions/functions – योगः कर्मसु कौशलम् (Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam)“.
What came later is the development of physical techniques to create the optimal state of the body to receive the direction from a stable Buddhi. These disciplines developed over centuries were finally integrated by Rushi (Sage) Patanjali in his ancient (pre-Christ) treatise Yog-Darshan, the View of Yog.
The Yog that is practiced in America and the Yog that is now being celebrated in the International Yog Day is merely the third step – the purely physical component that provides benefits to the physical body. It is based on the Yog-Sutra compiled by the Maha (Great) Rushi Patanjali from the works of previous centuries. This compilation was an enormous achievement that lives to this day and that will be celebrated around the world tomorrow.
Read what Bhoj, the eminent 11th century commentator on Patanjali’s Yog-Sutra, wrote about Rushi Patanjali:
- “My Namaskar with my hands together to the eminent sage Patañjali, who removed the deficiencies of the mind through Yog, of speech through Phonetic Grammar, and of the body through Vedic Medicine.
Once again, the central function of Yog as the controller of the Mind is stressed in this salutation. It also brings us to the discussion of why correct phonetic grammar is an important element of Patanjali’s Yog.
4. The Importance of Sanskrut Verses in Physical Yog
Sanskrut is absolutely unique in the world in that it achieved its greatness before writing became widely used. Sanskrut was designed to be learnt and propagated in verbal form via verbal techniques. That is why, to this day, Sanskrut is best learnt via hearing & reciting. This may be why the phonetic structure of Sanskrut is so advanced. Sanskrut verses are designed to maximize the input of energy into the physical body by optimizing breathing via correct pronunciation.
Indian Thought placed an enormous emphasis on breathing as the essential process of life itself. It built a science around the concept of Praan, the concept of life inside a human being composed of & controlled by breath. This, in turn, led to the development of the science of Praanaayaam = Praan + Aayaam (प्राणायाम). In fact, a school of Indian Dhaarmic Thought considers life to be breath itself.
This is why appropriate Sanskrut verses accompany the practice of Patanjali’s Yog to ensure optimally correct breathing to deliver an integrated energy component to maximize physical benefits to the body. No one doubts the linkages between respiratory system & the blood circulatory system of the body. So why should anyone, apart from reasons of dogma or obstinacy, break the linkage between Sanskrut verses that optimize breathing with the physical Aasan of Yog?
We suggest you try a simple experiment to see what we mean. If you say Yog with emphasis on the “o”, you will notice a different feeling in your chest & lungs. It is a feeling that comes from intake of energy. Now say Yoga – you will feel energy leaving your body with that exhaling breath.
Does it really matter whether you inhale or exhale energy in saying Yog or Yoga? Does it matter whether you sing say, “reunited we feel so good” or “we will rock you” when performing Patanjali’s Yog? Not really, at least not at the level at which most people who practice Physical Yog. But are you getting the optimal benefits of a integrated system that was designed to make your body, its energy of breath, your Mind & your Buddhi work together harmoniously for a total positive experience? The simple answer is No.
So the next time you get into your Yog-Aasan, remember the chariot analogy. The key to an optimal ride in a chariot is the balance between the driver, the reins & the horses. If you remember and embrace that, then you will begin to get the harmonious balance between your Buddhi, your Mind and the physiological processes of your Body – the true essence of Yog.
* The Shlok from Katha-UpaNiSad, a part of the immortal dialog between Yam & the student Nachiketas, is as below:
आत्मानम् रथिनम् विद्धि शरीरम् रथम् एव तु (Aatmaanam Rathinam Viddhi; Shariram Ratham Ev Tu)
बुद्धिम् तु सारथिम् विद्धि मन: प्रग्रह्म् एव च (Buddhim tu Sarathim Vidhi ; Manah PraGraham Ev cha)
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