Yoga: A Psychological Perspective

Yoga: A Psychological Perspective

Yoga is a vast and complex topic. It is a pervasive concept in classical Indian thought and also a living tradition. Yoga in one form or the other is found embedded in many belief systems, religions and philosophies. It cannot be understood adequately without reference to the concepts of samsara, karma, reincarnation and moksha. In ancient India a prevalent belief system is that life is full of suffering and people go through a cycle of births and deaths. The actions of a person during a lifetime, whether they are good or bad determine the life form in which one is born again. Virtuous deeds result in rebirth in higher forms of life, as living organisms or in higher class or caste as humans in the hierarchical Hindu society. Life is full of suffering because of diseases of the body and mind, environmental factors such as natural calamities and dangerous animals, supernatural forces and inevitable death. Thus, the ultimate aim of life, the philosophical and religious pursuit ought to be overcoming samsara, the cycle of births and deaths. Such a state is believed to be free of birth and death and suffering whatsoever. The liberated state which known as moksha or nirvana or mukti. kaivalya is another word for it. The liberated state is either free of suffering and/or blissful.

Yoga is a corpus of means to attain moksha, which is the ultimate goal of life. A number of means of attaining moksha have been outlined in classical Indian philosophical and religious literature. Also, the liberated state has been described as a state in which the person is aware of the truth of the Existence, the self and the universe, which is veiled from the individual due to congenital ignorance or avidya. The liberated state is one of sat-chit-ananda (existence-awareness-bliss) or pure consciousness, depending on the philosophical position. It is possible to understand the broad domain of yoga, if we examine two conceptual models. One is advita, according to which there is a principle underlying the Universe

And it manifests as the individual self (atman) and the universal self (Brahman) or the universe in all its diversity. The individual is not aware of it due to avidya. If he overcomes avidya, he will know the truth about ultimate reality and he himself becomes such a reality. The other is samkhya, according to which there are two principles underlying the Existence, matter (prakriti) and consciousness (purusha). The material world including human body and mind is a manifestation of prakriti, which by it self is unaware. As purusha (consciousness) is associated with the mind in the individual, he becomes aware of the existence. Though the awareness of an individual is pure and content less to begin with, it starts identifying with the body, mind and life process of the individual and confuses itself with the material world processes and suffers in bondage. In the former philosophical position, yoga is understood as a union of the individual self and the universal self and in the latter instance yoga is understood as isolation (kivalya) of consciousness from the matter processes. Indian philosophical and religious traditions describe a variety of means to attain moksa or kaivalya). It is possible to attain moksha through discriminative knowledge, which is jnana yoga.

It is possible to attain the same by stilling the processes of the mind to free awareness. If the ultimate reality is personified and worshipped it also leads to moksha, which is bhakti yoga. From the beginning yoga was associated meditation upon the truth for realization under the tutelage of a guru and renunciation. In course of time, tantra emerged as a set of methods for attaining moksha for the householders. It emphasized the role of body and energies in attaining the same goal of moksha and lead to the conceptions of chakras, mantras and yantras. It even incorporated carnal desires as a part of the program of liberation. It did not deny seeking material prosperity here and now. It retained the meditative practices and adopted them in worship methods.

Yoga and tantra eventually merged with each other so much that in course of time they have become indistinguishable. Let us for a moment ponder over moksha. How do we understand it from a psychological perspective? No one denies that life is full of suffering and suffering is something one should seek to avoid to the possible extent. But,is it possible to overcome suffering in the life of man? We all know how futile it is to continuously seek positive experiences in life. Even if man made suffering were eliminated, there would be suffering from inevitable natural calamities and other natural forces. Suffering is a part of life. How wonderful if suffering is totally eliminated from ones life? As said in one Upanishad, fear arises from the other. We are all alone in our consciousness. How wonderful it would be if there is no separation and each one of is a whole, a one-in-many? Human awareness of the bodily processes and the world process is limited and control over them still more limited. We do not know the origin of the universe and our place in it. There is a lot of unknown to us. What is more desirable than a state of omniscience and omnipotence? Yoga was perhaps a collective myth or dream of man in the older times. It incidentally, passed on to us a set of practices for enhancing our awareness of the mind-body processes and for regulating them for health, happiness and effectiveness.. Devoid of its metaphysical commitments, yoga is a self-regulation strategy.

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