Monday, May 28, 2012
Yoga: Another View
By now almost everyone has seen an advertisement for the preposterous work entitled Autobiography of a Yogi, written long ago by the pseudonymous Paramahansa Yogananda, and advertised in innumerable issues of tabloids. Early in the 1920s, Yogananda immigrated from India to the USA, settling in (of course!) California, where he established his Self-Realization Fellowship. The Autobiography is replete with one cliche after another: Flowers appear out of the empty air, a mountain moves, a fakir climbs a rope and disappears from sight. The book appeared before the sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects, which probably explains why they failed to fly past the gaze of the swami Yogananda.
This work, still in print, epitomizes the popular view of Yoga as an irrational cult. Its preface assures the reader that Yogananda's corpse did not decay after his death. Presumably, it did not prove to be as enduring as that of Lenin, however, because no illustration of it is offered for the reader's wonderment. That is another assertion to be taken on faith.
Libraries are more likely to have copies of the works of Swami Vivekananda. Probably, Paramahansa has always been rather too much for most librarians, but the more academic approach of Vivekananda has won for his works more shelf space in academic libraries. Still, Vivekananda delivers the anti-rational gospel of Yoga with which we are familiar, albeit without the miracles of Yogananda: Yoga is all about dissolving the individual ego into the eternal.
Miguel Serrano, who served as Chile's ambassador to India, offers a radically different view of Yoga in his book The Serpent of Paradise (1963). Serrano reports that Swami Janardana had something totally different to tell him about Yoga:
" Those who talk about dissolving the individual ego in Brahma do not know what they are talking about. . . . In this world our only weapon is the intellect. Indeed, I will go further and say that spiritual truths can be understood only by an intellect that has become pure. You may say that this idea is modernistic, but in fact it originated in the teachings of Sanatana Dharma twelve thousand years ago. The Yoga that is known popularly in the West, and which aims at a dissolution of the individual ego in a superior ego, is merely the Yoga of Patanjali, which was popularized by Swami Vivekananda. The true Yoga, however, is Suddha-Yoga, which antedates Patanjali. This Yoga is quite different from the later type, for true Hindu philosophy does not aim at the dissolution of the individual nor the abolition of reason. On the contrary, it tries to find divinity within the heart and to make life divine. It is therefore concerned with the transference of the personality center from one point to another, and with the location of those centers. This is very difficult to do, since these centers are at the same time located in a particular place and generally influential over the whole being. Moreover, since the very idea that personality emanates from these centers is hypothetical, I cannot accept the analogy which is occasionally used to illustrate the evolution or change of personality in an individual, and which uses the symbol of the worm and the butterfly and the idea of passing from the one into the other. For, in fact, the metamorphosis may be in quite another direction. In short, I believe in the Individualized Spirit."
[Originally written on Oct 8, 2006]