What is the source of all that which exists? Some call it God, some call it the divine, and others call it the ultimate reality. In essence, this is the most fundamental question that human beings have asked themselves since the dawn of time. We have made many attempts at trying to understand and resolve this question. One of the ways in which we have articulated this understanding is in the form of religion. Religions came into being as man tried to grasp that which is beyond the intellect and tried to codify it into a system of limited beliefs. Every culture across the world evolved its own religious traditions based on how it understood this source. However, most traditions ended up as just exercises to codify the subjective experience of some individuals into a uniform doctrine. Over a period of time, these traditions got crystallised into religious beliefs and in many cases became rigid orthodox systems.
In this land, religion was never a subject of belief. It was a subject of a live & direct experience, ever-evolving & ever dynamic. We have valued and respected self-realised masters and their experiences over the second-hand definitions of God & the written word. This land was/is the greatest laboratory of human spiritual endeavour where masters created customised methods to enable others to experience the source. That is the fundamental difference between spirituality & religion. One is a matter of personal experience & the other a written set of instructions.
“Why should we even bother with trying to experience this ultimate reality?” I hear you asking this question. You can always argue “There are so many things which need to get done in life. Doesn’t it make practical sense to just adhere to the religion that one is born into? After all, resolving my physical, emotional & psychological needs & wants seem to present a more pressing problem for me. All this spiritual experience stuff is for when I am done with other things.” The issue is that we are fighting wars on several fronts inside and outside ourselves trying to satisfy all these needs & wants. These needs are like the heads of the Hydra monster from Greek mythology. Satisfy one need and two others take its place. It is a futile endeavour. What we often overlook is the fundamental reason why these needs or wants arise in the first place. It is because of our misalignment with the source. We are trying to satisfy our thirst using soft drinks. While it seems logical that since soft drinks contain water they should be able to quench our thirst, we all know from experience that it doesn’t work.
A question arises then as to why do we need methods to experience the source; if the source is all-pervading then isn’t it logical that we should not need methods to become aware of it. I will attempt to explain my understanding through a scientific analogy. There are thousands of radio waves that are criss-crossing the earth at any given time. However unless one uses a device which can capture the radio waves, one may not even know they are present. We are like radios which are switched off and unable to capture the signal from the source. Our bodies and minds are not in a state of adequate preparation to be able to withstand the grand & powerful spiritual experiences which would happen once we become aligned to the source.
So there is a need for preparation and there comes the discipline of Yoga. Nowadays physical asanas are commonly understood as the ultimate aim of Yoga which is actually not correct. Asanas are to prepare the physical body for the periods of stillness when the Yoga actually takes place. Yoga cannot be done, it happens either by the grace of the divine or by grace from a realised master. One can just prepare the mind and body and wait for it to happen.
How can we increase the probability of Yoga happening? While asanas can help in ensuring physical health, by themselves they are not enough. If we look at the human anatomy, the nervous system is the central unit for all the experiences of the body. So our experience of the source will depend to a large extent on the state of the nervous system. If the signals from the source have to flow properly in the circuitry of the nervous system, it implies that there is a need for the nervous system to be strong and free of blockages. Therein lies the importance of sadhana. Sadhana is the spiritual practice or method which enables in preparation for yoga. Usually, sadhana includes a meditative practice given by a realised Guru along with discipline in everything from food & sleep to speech in order to enable the purification of one’s nervous system. If proper purification and preparation of the body and mind have been done, then when grace descends, the system is able to withstand its intensity and assimilate the energies for further spiritual growth.
One key aspect of Yoga is the need for a realised Guru. In my personal experience, this is sine qua non on the path of self-realisation. The greatest event of my life has been meeting my Guru. I used to be an atheist and refused to believe in the divine or in God. I was a staunch proponent of science and rationality & rejected anything which did not fit into this paradigm. However, the grace of my Guru and regularity in sadhana shattered my rigid worldview completely. A Guru’s kripa or grace can dissolve many an impossible obstacle in the path of the disciple. There are many pitfalls & distractions which can waylay the best of us on this path. It is in such cases that a Guru can guide and course correct.
Seeking this source for oneself if the greatest endeavour which can be undertaken by a human being. Logical reasoning & intellectual acrobatics can only go so far in knowing the Source. To know the Source there has to be direct experience & the different methods of Yoga can enable this direct experience.
This essay was first published on Pragyata.