International Yoga Day – (3) What is Yoga?

(This article by Swami Satyananda is taken for “International Yoga Day – in anticipation” from the Rikhiapeeth Satsang with thanks)

Guru is the one who shines like the full moon on a dark night. Guru is the one who has completely transformed his consciousness. Guru represents the highest stage of illumination for which we are striving. He lives in this world, but his spirit is always soaring in the highest dimension beyond space and time. Having completed his evolutionary cycle, there is nothing left for him to do, but help raise the consciousness level of humanity.

The guru tradition is not a modern one, it is most ancient. Even before the advent of man, guru existed in the form of nature which guided the seasons, the plants and the animals. Prehistoric and Stone Age man had gurus; the animists, naturists and idolaters had gurus. Those who practised animal sacrifice, who believed in abstract gods, who wanted to learn magic, siddhis and witchcraft had gurus. The guru tradition is not only confined to India. The Atlantis civilization had more gurus than any other civilization up to date. South America, Europe, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Tibet, China and Japan had gurus. The guru tradition is universal, but with so many wars and the ravages of time, it was gradually destroyed all over the world. No country was able to preserve it except India.

Preserving spiritual knowledge

The guru-disciple relationship is one of the most significant aspects of human development. This relationship forms the basis of all cults, organizations and institutions, whether spiritual or otherwise. When we think about the great cultures that have flourished in the past, as well as those in existence today, we realize that they too are based on this same vital relationship. All the traditions, arts and sciences have been handed down generation after generation from guru to disciple, master to apprentice, father to son.

The guru-disciple relationship is man’s link with the higher faculties, the greater dimensions of his being. Without it, we would be hopelessly lost in the external world of diversities. It is only the saving grace of the gurus and masters which guides us back to the inner source from which all our higher potentials emanate. This is why the great teachers have always been regarded as the cornerstones of higher culture. Without their knowledge and inspiration, traditions would not be enduring and culture would not last.

Higher culture

In India, we consider the gurus and rishis from ancient times right up to the present day as the light and strength of our cultural heritage. What they taught and wrote in the Vedas, Upanishads and tantras was not empty philosophy, but a complete science of living. They encouraged people to strive to fulfil their lives with abstinence, self-control, inner vision and self-knowledge. These qualities have a powerful influence on the whole society. If all people were to cultivate them, you can imagine the heights to which such a culture would rise.

Our gurus and rishis had in their minds the creation of exactly such a culture. After thousands of years of experimentation, they came up with a system by which every individual could reorientate himself and push open the doors of his perception. This is the science of yoga. Just as the potter fires his clay pots to make them strong, so yoga provides heat treatment for the vulnerable mind. It tempers and makes it strong enough to bear the upheavals of life.

Although the gurus envisioned an evolved human race, and knew that such a culture had once flourished throughout the world, they were unable to effectively introduce yoga into the society of their times due to the adverse political situations. So they remained in isolation and preserved the knowledge of this system for the time when mankind would again be ready for it.

The period in which the knowledge of the Upanishads and Vedanta came, when people were doing yajnas in the villages, was the peak of prosperity in India and one day the knowledge will return. It will happen again in India and at that time there will be no need for us to propagate yoga. We will not go to your door, but you will come to ours and ask where the guru lives. You will say, as many of you do say, “Guruji, we want to learn tantra.” “We want to learn asana.” “We want to learn the Yajur Veda.” “We want to do yajna. We have twenty lakh rupees.” This period is going to come in this country.

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