The practice of Yoga aims to penetrate through an externalized, dualistic world-view to arrive at the core of knowledge and self-realization.
The yoga sutras, while silent on the materiality of the external world, do hold it responsible, at least in part, as being a hindrance in the realization of ultimate non-dualistic Truth. In acting as a veil over Reality, the external world is a source of obstacles at several levels.
Firstly, the question of received wisdom, or existing belief, passed down and held up by society, value systems, transmitted knowledge. While mores and beliefs do hold a kernel of truth, for the most part they are dogmatic systems that stratify over time, propagating a mythical ideal of a world that does not exist and preventing the search for true knowledge.
There may be compounding factors that further exacerbate these obstacles, some of them being personal sloth and inefficiency. Thus the yogic niyamas of self-discipline.
So Truth is not theory, it is not a received view of the world, it is not the world as experienced through the senses. While some or all of these provide a partial explanation of how the world is, each explanation by itself also has a negative, an opposing pole that from another point of reference is equally valid and legitimate. Yoga practice, by freeing the mind of dualism, aims to penetrate a dualistic view and comprehend the Truth in its entirety. This may not be done by conceptualizing it, or writing about it, or talking about it, but needs to be experienced through the medium of Yoga practice. Once again, by the same concept, ultimate Truth is not communicable but is a personal experience whose full dimensions may never be translated by any other method.
It is clear, then, that under these conditions, one prerequisite for successful yogic practice is faith. Faith can manifest in many forms – faith in a greater God, faith in one’s guru, faith in one’s ability to persist, faith in family – but all of these demand a belief in something greater than one’s own physicality and bodily limitations, and a belief that what happens is for the greater good. It requires a slow letting go of one’s ego, of submitting to the fact that one’s purpose in life is controlled by things that are of a higher order, and a power that is far greater, than anything one has ever experienced or learnt about.
And that this power, this system, is all for the good.
This is the most difficult thing in yoga – to continue to have a sense of faith and to look beyond apparent setbacks to find something good in every act and event. It is here then that the simultaneous exercise of reducing one’s ego kicks in – for what is unfortunate for one is naturally fortunate for another. Letting go of one’s ego allows the yogi to feel a sense of self in the other – to be happy in another’s happiness, and to not gloat over one’s own luck.
In Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar lays down a series of yogic postures, or asanas, that are graduated in difficulty, from the apparently easy to the amazingly contorted. A person who has progressed even halfway through this course is almost guaranteed to have a physical body that is in superb shape, supple and far stronger than it may conventionally appear. And yet this is, in one way, the easiest stage of Yoga, to practice for a few years a set of physical exercises. Bereft of the moral and mental discipline that accompanies them, these exercises are no more than a physical regimen that may just as well be replaced by any other form of physical exercise.
It is, however, the mental process that accompanies performing an asana that is of supreme importance. How may a physical posture carry lessons with it for life? In the intense concentration required to hold a correct asana, in the single-minded attention required to focus on its effects on the body, in the discipline required to practice regularly through good times and bad, and finally in the final realization that there will never be ‘perfection’ – asana practice carries over valuable skills that, when used in life, guarantee moral and material success in practically every endeavor.
And once again the question of ego comes in. To be successful without being conceited, to have self-pride without being proud, to be kind to others while being harsh on yourself – these are some of the hardest lessons of yoga that need to be worked at constantly to have any chance of even partial success.
And through this whole process, it is the search for ultimate Truth and Reality that continues to motivate, to drive, and perhaps ultimately to annihilate.