To face life’s challenges, we must have hope. The practice of yoga on the spiritual path offers hope, for it brings the light of peace and happiness into the darkness of man’s sorrow and restlessness.
The science of spirituality was developed under the practice of yoga.
Etymologically, yoga means union. The union implied is the complete integration of body, mind, and soul; resulting in union with Spirit, or bliss. For this, Paramhansa Yogananda explained in The Essence of Self-Realization, is what Spirit is: “Ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss.”
Yoga outlines the attitudes and techniques necessary for people to reach their highest potential. Spiritual growth, as Kriyananda wrote, is best accomplished by a combination of the two: “right spiritual attitude coupled with right technique.”
Yoga is relevant to everyone, for it provides solutions to that which we are all seeking. For yoga points, compass-like, in the universally true direction toward that ultimate attainment: divine joy—a joy that can only be found within.
People commonly look for happiness in the world around them, instead of turning their awareness to its source in themselves. Happiness is, nevertheless, their unassailable birthright. Nothing people do can ever separate them from it, for the well of happiness springs from the very heart of every being. In The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Kriyananda offers this analogy:
There is a story Yogananda loved to tell about the musk deer of the Himalayas. At a certain season of the year this deer secretes in a pouch in its navel the delightful fragrance of musk. The deer runs frantically about, trying to find the source of this wonderful perfume. Sometimes, in its eager desperation, it plunges from a high crag to its death in the valley below… “O musk deer!” a poet once wrote, “Why could you not understand that the fragrance you sought was ever with you—in your very self?”
To attain joy, people must redirect their seeking. All things are passing, but the one reality behind all appearances, as Yogananda proclaimed in The Essence of Self-Realization, is unending joy:
“The quest for human happiness is like looking around for a candle while sitting out of doors in the sun. Divine joy surrounds us eternally, yet people look to mere things for their happiness. Mostly, all they find is relief from emotional or physical pain. But divine joy is the blazing Reality. Before it, earthly joys are but shadows.”
Unfortunately, that greatest of all treasures, joy, so often eludes those who seek it; just as the musk eluded the Himalayan musk deer in the story above, as it searched frantically outside of itself. Such will ever be the case with happiness as long as it is sought in the will-o’-the-wisp of outward pleasures and possessions.
Happiness is born in people’s hearts by holding the right attitude of mind. “Mind-power shows man the way”, Yogananda said, “to inner happiness, which gives him immunity to outer inconveniences.” The practice of yoga, teaches us the power to control our mind and uplift our hearts to the right attitude.
Joy, “must be sought in the right way, in the right place, and in the right spirit,” Yogananda explained. “The right spirit is an attitude of unconditional love… The right place is within yourself. The right way is in the silence of deep meditation.”
Meditation is at the heart of the yogic scheme of life. Indeed, meditation is to the spiritual seeker what the microscope is to the scientist. It allows one to test truths in the laboratory of their own life.
There are countless things to keep one’s energy stirred up, like dust in the wind; and their mind running wild, like a dog without a leash. Meditation is the still air that allows the stirred up energy to become calm and focused, and the leash that allows one to regain command over one’s mind. In Meditation for Starters, Kriyananda defines meditation thus:
“Meditation… is a state of intense inward awareness, a state in which one’s attention is no longer engaged in cheering onward the parade that life marches past us of projects and problems, but is wholly engrossed in the superconscious experience. Meditation may be defined also, more loosely, as any practice of which the goal is superconscious awareness.”
The panacea for people’s suffering lies in turning their awareness within, and raising it up to superconsciousness—which is to say, complete awareness. Whenever one is faced with trials, therefore, it is a great help for one to try to change one’s level of consciousness, rather than trying to change the circumstances. The only thing people will unconditionally have control over is their inner environment—which is to say, their level of consciousness, and the thoughts they entertain. “Change no circumstances in my life,” goes the prayer of a great woman saint, “Change me.”
In How to Meditate, Jyotish Novak describes the power of meditation in changing people:
“In meditation all of our scattered forces must be brought to [the] point between the eyebrows in the frontal part of the brain… This center is… associated with feelings of joy. Recent studies involving brain imaging show that when this center is more active, the participants report feeling happy, alert, and even blissful.”
One can never arrange the world around them in such a way as to bring happiness. The world is only a mirror of people’s own state of consciousness. It smiles back at those who smile, and appears sad for those who sorrow. Kriyananda expressed this poetically: “It’s in your heart, the songs of joy resound: you’ll hear but echoes in the world around. Wind on a hill sounds lonely if you’re sad; free, if you’re free; cheerful, if you’re glad.”
A CHEERFUL ATTITUDE CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE
One of the basic rules of yoga is to remain even-minded and cheerful amidst all circumstances. In How to Be Happy All the Time, Yogananda explained that one’s reactions define the experience one has of life: “Objective conditions are always neutral. It is how you react to them that makes them appear happy or sad… You will never be able to change things outwardly in such a way as to make them ever pleasing to you. Change yourself.”
Indeed, the only constant in life is change. Life naturally urges humanity in an upward progression toward self-expansion, and self-improvement. “Pain and suffering,” Yogananda said, “are humanity’s goad toward an ever-increasing awareness of natural law, and toward an ever-expanding consciousness of peace, joy, and inner freedom.”
As mentioned above, everyone is seeking to find happiness and avoid pain. The first step to avoiding pain is accepting it when it comes; and in acceptance, there is also joy. It is in everyone’s highest interest, therefore, to accept gratefully the pains of life, seeing them as opportunities for growth and self-expansion.
Trials, when faced cheerfully, soon lose their gravity. Even the greatest obstacle can be turned into a great opportunity; and the greatest failure into an even greater success. Everything that happens has an inherent lesson. Pain teaches one that they have erred, just as a young boy feels pain when he touches fire, and gets burned. And yet, because of that experience (one at least assumes) the young boy will choose, from then onward, to avoid touching fire. The “burns” of human existence are there to guide humanity aright. If people’s ignorance didn’t cause them pain, they would lack the necessary incentive to start the rocky climb toward perfect joy.
If one lived in a closet their whole life and never saw the light of day, it is not unlikely that they would accept their limitations as normal, and feel no reason to seek the light. Upon seeing the light, however—and the limiting condition one allowed oneself to live in—one would rush toward it! The same is true for pain. It is by the contrast of pain from joy that spurs mankind to improve, and to break through self limitations. The greater the pain, life teaches, the greater the inherent joy.
There is no use in avoiding the tests that come. The only hope people have is in grateful acceptance of each test as a doorway to self-improvement.
“Recognize life for the opportunity, the very adventure, that it is: the opportunity to develop ourselves to our full potential as human beings; and the adventure of discovering hitherto unknown facets of our own selves.” —Swami Kriyananda, Education for Life
Misunderstandings, however, are apt to come; and apt to cause mistaken actions in people’s lives. Life demands action of people. Whether one knows the right next step or not, one must act. Though the path ahead may seem clear from where one is standing, the very next step may take one flat on one’s face. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have taken that step. People must have the courage to do their best, even if their best falls short of other’s expectations.
Yoga teaches that when people identify a thing with themselves, whether good or bad, success or failure, wealth or poverty, they are limiting themselves. If, instead, people forget themselves through joyful service to mankind, and act with a spirit of self-offering, there is no longer a “post” of limitation for pain and pleasure; heartbreak and elation; failure and success to be tied to.
The cause of error is simply unknowing. The highest priority for the truth seeker, therefore, should be to grow in understanding; understanding of oneself, and understanding of the true nature of the world around one. The laws of nature ever teach forgiveness over judgement; love over hate; self-expansion over self-involvement; cooperation over competition; harmlessness over violence; truthfulness over deceit; and generosity over greed.
One’s development on the path, rather than being measured by any outward attainments, should be measured by one’s attunement with these laws of nature, and with the joy of the soul— which comes as a consequence of the former. To live in attunement with something means, as the word implies, to be in tune with it. Just as a person tunes their radio to a station they particularly like, so must a person “tune” their mental “radio” to the station of the soul—the soul being the highest expression of one’s self. Life, when “tuned” to this “station,” can be a constant melody of joy.
When that attunement is complete, and all of the static of the mind has gone, one will have reached the goal of yoga: union with divine joy in a state of superconscious awareness.
The more people understand these precepts, the more motivated they will be to take on the adventure of attaining self-understanding and inner joy. The more people take on that divine adventure, the more more society will gradually—one person at a time—be uplifted also; for society is nothing if not a group of individuals. Those, moreover, who seek joy within will be a light in this world. Their joy will be contagious, and will inspire others around them to also begin the journey toward a brighter future. Thus, the practice of yoga, truly is a scientific approach to life which offers cheerful and universal solutions to humanity’s most fundamental problems.
Happy International Day of Yoga.
Joy to you,