What Yoga Really Is
By Johannes Aagaard
Professor of Religious Studies at Aarhus University of Denmark
The philosophy of yoga can be expressed as follows:
“Ashes are fire, ashes are water, ashes are earthy everything is ashes, mind, sight, and the other senses are ashes.” (Atharva Siras)
All things in life are transitory, and pain, suffering, and death lurk behind everything. All of life with its omnipresent suffering and death goes on and on in an eternal cycle (samsara or the reincarnation cycle) from which no one escapes. Life is an endless wandering through relentless and insurmountable suffering. The future holds only further rebirths, and whether one is inching towards a better life or sinking into worse life makes little difference.
For all life is ashes.
Hinduism in all its various forms is first of all an attempt: escape from this relentless cycle of rebirth. It is not death wish because the aim is to escape death as well as life. Hindus wish to escape from life with good reason – for life on the Indian subcontinent is hard. Sickness of every kind, famine due to drought or flood, war and oppression make life an unbearable succession of suffering and defeat. The religious faith of the hindus which grows out of their painful experience of life finds its foremost expression in the god Shiva and his consort Kali.
Fear of death
The various Hindu techniques for liberation are attempts to be free of both life and death. Even those who fail to reach the ultimate goal can at least reduce their involvement with life. This is the aim of yoga. By practicing yoga one can reduce suffering and defer death by reducing or completely halting the normal life
An important text of hatha yoga expresses it this way
92. As long as prana is held in the body, so long consciousness (cittam) (is) free from disease. What cause is there for fear of death so long as the sight (resins fixed) between the eyebrows’
93. Therefore, from the fear of death, Brahma (is) intent on pranayama, as are also Yogis and sages. Therefore, one should restrain the prana.” (Gozaksa Sataka)
As expressed in this text the source of yoga is the fear of death, and the way to avert death is to hold back breathing. The same hatha yoga techniques will hold back and immobilize other life functions.
Hatha Yoga Techniques
Hatha yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) are not intended to lead to better breathing, but to the reduction or complete cessation of breathing! In the same way hatha yoga body postures (asanas) are intended to immobilize the whole body. Practicing them will enable the body to become completely motionless and hardened in fixed positions. Meditation words (mantras) serve to immobilize the consciousness. Mantras are usually the names of gods used for worship. Symbolic body movements (mudras and bandhas) in yoga are designed to close all “nine doors of the body”, so that no sense perception from the outside penetrates into the mind. When all outer sensation is shut off the body itself will create as compensation sense perceptions of an inner kind, an inner light, an inner sound, an inner smell, an inner pleasure.
So the objective of yoga is not to affirm people’s lives, but to create another inner life as a substitute for the life one wants to escape. A whole inner new universe, an internal new dimension awaits those who meditate, those who are willing to become a disciple and follow the path of a guru. That is the ultimate aim of the techniques taught in all yoga schools and yoga classes throughout the world.
In yoga there are no neutral techniques. The entire discipline from beginning to end is intended to lead toward an escape from life and death and to serve the higher aims of yoga.
This higher yoga has many names. Distinctions can be made between the yoga of the emotions (bhakti), the yoga of action (karma), and the yoga of knowledge (jnana). However more important than all of these is the greater or higher yoga called Tantra yoga. Tantra yoga itself can be called kriya yoga, laya yoga, kundalini yoga, and raja yoga. The three class!c yogic disciplines of bhakti, karma, and jnana demand many reincarnations for training in order to break free from the cycle of life and death. In contrast, tantra yoga is the direct but also the most dangerous path. Most yoga schools teach that mankind is in a state of decay (kali yuga) and our desperate situation requires a desperate remedy. Tantra yoga is the desperate remedy, and most yoga schools and gurus are tantric in one way or another.
While the classic yogic systems either reject or play down sexuality, Tantra does completely the opposite. Along with the classic systems Tantra desires to escape from the samsaric cycle and perceives life as a poison, but Tantra intends to drive out evil with evil, poison with poison. This is where sexuality enters into tantra yoga. This is not immediately apparent to a newcomer, because like many other oriental religions yoga functions at two levels showing one face outwardly and a completely different face inwardly. This is why yoga is couched in w hat Hindus call “twilight language” which hides as much as it reveals, and is deliberately ambiguous. Thus the key concepts in yoga, such as bindu (semen) and prana (life force) have both a physical and a symbolic meaning.
It is a basic tenet of Tantra yoga that normal sexual activity uses up the life force and exposes the individual to sickness and death. Consequently it is not only prana in the sense of breathing that must be held back, but first and foremost bindu (semen) which must be conserved. The holding back of breath and all other techniques in Tantra yoga serve the ultimate aim of retention of semen. Retention of semen can lead to immortality or at least rejuvenat man in a way which holds off death. For this to happen semen must be transformed in to nectar, ambrosia, soma, the elixir of life, the drink of immortality. This is the deepest core, the very center of all that yoga is concerned with.
The Kundalini Serpent
The full details cannot be explained in a short presentation, but the culmination of yogic practice is ritual sexual intercourse (maithuna) using the various techniques of hatha yoga. Yoga uses the orgasm as the determining experience for both liberation from the samsaric cycle of life and death and confusion with the divine. In reality what takes place is the divinization of the human.
This takes place through meditation on the kundalini serpent. Prana or life force is identical with sexuality and is portrayed by the kundalini or coiled serpent which resides behind the human genitals. She (the life force/serpent is seen as feminine) must be awakened and forced from her spot at the bottom of the spinal column into a canal within the spinal column and then up through this canal. On the way up she will pass through a number of points called chakras. At each chakra she receives more and more energy and becomes more and more divine.
This process of divinization should manifest itself in supernatural powers for the person meditating. For example the meditator could levitate, or walk through walls, or be in two places at one time. The acquisition of supernatural power is called siddha yoga and is found all over the world. Siddha yoga is represented by TM which promises its meditators the power to levitate, but of course only upon the payment of a large fee.
The Great Death – Immortality
After all the difficult hatha yoga techniques and exercise: are put into practice, the serpent is forced to the top of the brain and a cosmic culmination takes place with a superorgasm. What occurs in reality is an orgasmic experience which when coupled sith strongly hallucinogenic feelings, has an extremely violent character. Symbolically the experience is explained as sexual intercourse between the god Shiva, who reigns supreme in the human brain, and his consort Kali, who is his potency and identical with the Kundalini.
This orgasmic experience is understood as the Great Death by which one escapes the manifold world, and by which one experiences the great freedom. From this experience only the “chosen” come back, as gurus who devote themselve. to the liberation of others. Ordinary people according to yogic doctrine should die within three weeks of this experience of full liberation. This death – and no other – leads away from all life and all death, to total freedom.
Escape from Death to Death
It is ironic that a religiosity so driven by fear of death should culminate in the Great Death. This is because yoga
is founded not only on the fear of death, but on the fear of life as well. Yoga therefore seeks to go beyond life and death to what can he called eternal Death, free from sickness, suffering, and all that is transitory.
A thorough reading of the central texts of yoga reveals that the root of yoga resides in the problem of old age. Yoga was developed as an old man’s attempt to stop the decay of the body, to put off death and at the came time to prepare the individual for death by a gradual withdrawal from life. This withdrawal is social, as an elderly man would leave his own environment to live in isolation in the forest or mountain. But the withdrawal is also mental and physical, as the individual draws back from ordinal life functions. The latter can even be accomplished while one remains in the same social environment. The truth of the matter is that yoga; was first of all developed for elder mer This sexist aspect of yoga is also seen in the centrality of semen mysticism.
Yoga for health
Many people who practice yoga will object that they are not interested in such theoretical rubbish, for from their own experience they know that yoga does them good. They have became healthier with it. This attitude should be respected, but also correctly understood.
A comparison can make this clear. It is a fact that it has done many young men good to have been soldiers. They have been taught discipline and self-control and have become stronger and more healthy. This fact does not alter another fact, that the army itself has a completely different aim, namely to teach people to kill. In the same way it can be said that the aim of yoga is not identical with its side effects and it is a fact that many meditating people, after a period with positive results, experience extremely alarming “harmful” results. We call these results “harmful” but they are in fact the desired effect. What happens is that one gradually loses the ability to lead an active, open extroverted life centering on loving interdependent relationships with others. The meditator gradually withdraw into his self and is less able to relate with other people. Slowly the meditator accepts this as valid – for as time goes on the practice of yoga leads to an acceptance of the theory of yoga.
One Is Taken Where One Does Not Want To Go
If a person practices yoga with the intention of becoming a Hindu this is of course perfectly all right, because freedom of religion is necessary and people ought to be able to practice their religion according to their convictions. However the vast majority of people who practice yoga are taken where really they had no intention of going They are transformed into people with new values, they become Hinduized, and this was not at all their intention. They began to practice yoga because it was presented as an art of life, when in reality it is an art of death developed to help first of all elderly men cope with the end of their lives.
If a person intends to escape from a normal life of social interaction and intends to “establish oneself as a God”, then yoga is the way. If one wants to abandon one’s Christian faith and its love for others and for life itself, then yoga is the best way. But most people are unsuspectingly drawn into yoga. Even some Christians defend yoga because they are ignorant of its factual reality.
It is, therefore, necessary to expose the facts concerning yoga, not in order the deprive yoga teachers of their livelihood or gurus of their disciples, but to provide guidance for those who cannot comprehend the real situation when they approach yoga.
For those who have a need to meditate, there are many methods of Christian meditation. Christian meditation is diametrically opposed to yoga. It will not make gods of us, it will not free us from life and death, but will bring us to the God who through his resurrection saved us from the dilemma of which yoga is itself an expression.”
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