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Articles from Pre-1998 Issues 

Yoga and the Spiritual Path

by Aparna Dhar

The meaning of the word "yoga", conveyed literally, is "union". It signifies the union of the Jivatman (individual soul) with the Supreme Parmatman (the one Supreme Reality i.e. the eternal Ishwara, pervading the entire universe). This union marks the culmination of the spiritual journey, undertaken in the past by many sages, sairts, rishis and God-seekers throughout the length and breadth of our country (as also elsewhere in the rest of the world). In Kashmir, we revere and cherish the memory of saints such as Bhagawaan Gopinathji, Alakeshwari Roop Bhavani, Madhav Dhar (Roop Bhawani's guru and father), Lal Ded and others.

Today, in this age of material and technological advancement, it has become all the more necessary for us to try to understand the teachings of our revered sages, seers and rishis, for today's world has become more materialistic than ever before in its long history. With materialistic ends in view, the advancement of science has led to the virtual neglect of what were cherished as spiritual values in the past. The goal of science has all through been to understand and master external nature. Yoga, on the other hand, enables man to understand his own inner nature and realize the indwelling Atman. The purpose of science is to make life comfortable and enhance pleasures, while the purpose of yoga is the realization of one's self.

Our rishis taught us that no matter how much of material well-being we enjoy, in the end, when death comes, all of it is reduced to naught. Therefore, in their wisdom, they taught us to seek the Supreme Being, the only abiding Reality. It is the science of yoga that enables us to achieve this goal. Patanjali's "Raja Yoga Sutras" is one of the oldest texts on this discipline.

Since our spiritual goal is to find the Ishwara within us, the method for us to adopt is to purify ourselves through the fivefold moral disciplines of truthfuless (Satya), non-injury (Ahimsa), chastity (Brahmacharya), non-stealing (Asteya) and non-receiving of gifts (Aparigriha). These five disciplines at to be supplemented by the regulated conduct of our daily lives that consists in austerity, cleanliness, contentment and self-surrender to God.

The next stage is to find one's Guru and then to receive spiritual initiation from him, the Ishta Mantra, the sacred Name of God, best suited to the liking of the spiritual aspirant. The right choice of the Guru is of the utmost importance (as far as spirituality is concerned) so the Shaktas would receive a shakti Mantra, the Shaivites a Shiva Mantra and the Vishnavites a Vishnu Mantra. The repetition of the Mantra is a way of attaining closeness to the Supreme Being (Ishwara) seen in whatever form. This marks the beginning of our spiritual journey, and as we advance, we attain real peace of mind and experience true joy within ourselves. As we get stabilized in the path, our lives become spiritualized : a Divine Presence fills our hearts, our homes and every thing that exists around us. We perceive the Indwelling self and find the outward "things of sense" charged with a spiritual glow. It is as though Divinity becomes manifest to us on earth. We feel blessed and transported with delight ; our outlook on life gets transformed and we feel deified.

Our revered rishis ad saints showed this to us as having happened in their very lives, which were filled with Divinity. In their lives again one would feel the Divine power manifesting in so many miraculous ways. They taught us the truth as they lived it and experienced it, and handed down spiritual wisdom to us through their teachings.

Our material pleasures, though they look like nectar in the beginning, actually turn out to be poison-like in the end (aptly conveyed through one of the slokas of the Gita the readers must be familiar with). Spiritual disciplines on the contrary look like poison in the beginning (being difficult and as such unpalatable for the beginners) because they demand austerity and self-restraint. Eventually they turn out to be nectar-like, for they lead us to the Blissful Divine Presence.

Let us, therefore, pause a while in this fastmoving material life and sit at the feet of our rishis, the spiritual Masters. Let us revere them, follow their teachings, emulate their lives and ponder over the message they have handed down to us, their children. By earning their benedictions we can confidently advance in the spiritual path, that has aptly been compared to the 'razor's edge' (the phrase that appears in the Katha Upanishad signifying the difficulties and dangers the aspirant has to face on the path). Thus will over lives be sanctified and we can look forward to attaining union with the Divine. This is the only way for us to make our lives blessed and also our society blessed.

May Bhagawaan Gopinathji on this auspicious occasion of the celebration of His birth centenary shower blessings on us all and guide us to the goal of Divine Union!

[Dr. (Ms) Aparana Dhar, Lecturer in Mathematics, teaches at I.I.T., Kanpur]
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