In his magnum opus, Vedanta Treatise: The Eternities, Swami Parthasarathy writes: ‘The union of your individual self with the supreme Self is yoga. The merger of the conditioned-consciousness, the ego with the pure, unconditioned Conciousness’.
Yoga is not a physical practice. Yoga is the process of stilling thoughts and desires. Its culmination is Self-Realization. Even Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, describes yoga as ‘yogacittavrittinirodha’. Literally meaning ‘yoga is the cessation of mental fluctuations’. And yet, the small part of yoga known as asana (physical poses) has taken over the modern understanding of yoga. The real, inner yoga has been completely neglected, leading to what Swami Parthasarathy calls ‘The Fall of the Human Intellect’ in his book with the same title.
Being able to fold ourselves into a pretzel, hold our breath for minutes, stand on our heads for hours, etc. will not bring about reduction of ego and agitating selfish desire. The gross cannot affect the subtle. No doubt, the body needs to be kept fit. Yoga asanas should be done daily, in addition to other exercises, proper eating habits, and so forth. But none of that will result in true yoga if the mind is not dealt with directly. Thoughts alone can affect thoughts.
To deal with the inner personality, what is required is Gnana Yoga, Yoga for Your Intellect. This is the discipline of taking in higher values on a daily basis, reflecting upon them and gradually allowing our lower tendencies to vanish. This is what Emerson, Hawthorne, Browning, Thoreau and others were doing in their meetings in Concord. At Walden Pond, Thoreau wrote, ‘In the early morning, I bathe my intellect in the stupendous philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita’. He was not merely counting leaves and observing ice form in the lake!
Just as we bathe and exercise our bodies, we have to bathe and exercise our intellect. If we do not, it becomes weak. When the intellect is weak, we are susceptible to the wanderings of our mind. Intellect and mind are two separate equipments, known in Sanskrit as Buddhi and Manas, respectively. A strong intellect can direct the mind, keep it concentrated and thus less scattered. If the intellect is not strengthened through study and reflection on higher values, the mind runs amok. That is the source of all stress, strain, militancy, depression, divorces and other personal and social ills.
On the positive side, when a person puts in the effort to study and reflect and develop the intellect, the personality becomes streamlined. Actions become more dynamic. The mind becomes less attached, more universally loving and socially conscious. The intellect becomes sharp leading to clarity of thinking. In the advanced stages, the intellect can hold the mind in higher flights of contemplation and meditation. The conclusion of the journey is Self-Realization.
What the world needs is higher knowledge and development of the intellect, not mere stretching. As the great Adi Shankaracarya wrote, ‘Knowledge is as essential for Liberation as fire is for cooking!’.
Joseph Emmett is a student of Swami Parthasarathy and a graduate of Vedanta Academy’s three-year residential program on Vedanta. Based in Malibu, he is in residence at Calamigos Guest Ranch and Beach Club, offering daily Vedanta talks to the guests. He also makes monthly visits to Houston for a new study group that has been launched. His activities can be seen at www.vedantamalibu.org. More about the work of Swami Parthasarathy and Vedanta Academy is available at www.vedantaworld.org. If you would like to study with Joseph, please email email@example.com.