“When you walk down a path, you walk on it, and you do not know. Do not know and yet continue to walk, and the way reveals both this lack of knowledge and the power to continue walking it.”
Yoga is an ancient Indian tradition encompassing layers upon layers and integrating many streams. Yoga is explicitly mentioned for the first time in the Katha Upanishad, written about 2,700 years ago, where it is described as special state of consciousness in which the senses are controlled.
At the basis of yogic thought is the assumption that the primary cause of suffering in life is avidya – the inability to see reality as it is. The objective of yoga is to guide us to the right view of reality. The yogis realized that, in order to see, the mechanism of seeing must be known and understood. For this reason perception needed to be examined thoroughly and wiped clean, like lenses. When the mind is transparent and clear, it precisely reflects reality. This is the basis for yoga practice.
Practicing under the guidance of a genuine teacher, over time and in a structured manner, hones the mind’s ability to be clean, spacious, and keen, and to overcome old habits. Then we can experience, see, and live differently in the world.
Yogic ideals and practices spread gradually throughout the Indian subcontinent, and later on, through Buddhism, to much of the Far East. In the 19th century it reached Europe and America, influencing philosophy and culture there as well. Raja Yoga (the royal way) is the name given in Hindu yogic culture to describe yoga that centers on dhyana – meditation, quiet contemplation or reflection – as a way of obtaining clear vision.
Yet the yoga we know today is not limited to meditation practices. Over generations a wide range of techniques developed that seek to transform the whole person. It is a system that trains not only the heart and mind, but also the body. Thus developed Hatha Yoga, in which the discipline of the body and breath assume a role as important as the discipline of mind and heart.
The Hatha Yogis did not develop a discipline of the body merely to have a healthier life. They saw the spiritual potential of the body. They believed that the body itself has the potential to awaken the mind to a different way of seeing and that a truly awakened body can be both the catalyst and temple for the soul’s awakening.
Vijnana Yoga combines the traditions of Raja and Hatha Yoga to create an integrated practice. Thus, we emphasize the importance of deep observation and quiet sitting in conjunction with training the breath and body. We believe that integrating Raja and Hatha Yoga is significant for practitioners who wish to live in the world as yogis.
The above text is excerpted and adapted from A Little Book of Yoga.