“Yoga is not a thing of ideas but of inner spiritual experience. Merely to be attracted to any set of religious or spiritual ideas does not bring with it any realization. Yoga means a change of consciousness; a mere mental activity will not bring a change of consciousness, it can only bring a change of mind. And if your mind is sufficiently mobile, it will go on changing from one thing to another till the end without arriving at any sure way or any spiritual harbor.” – Aurobindo
The concept of Yoga as a spiritual science being completely misunderstood by the contemporary mind is not a novel concept. Teachers such as Vamadeva Shastri, Durgadas Lingham and myself have written about this extensively.
Aurobindo speaks deeply to this concept of how the modern mind has radically misunderstood the concept of Yoga. The first sentence succinctly expresses the key idea:
Yoga is not a collection of beliefs or personal identifications, but rather an inner spiritual experience.
This idea is particularly relevant in the contemporary climate of identity politics which is slowly invading all aspects of life. It’s not uncommon for “yoga teachers” to turn their exercise classes into political tirades for the victim-of-the-month or even attack sadhakas for what they deem “cultural appropriation.” Aurobindo reminds us that what we think and more importantly, what we feel, is not Yoga; a collection of mental concepts and ideas is not Self-Realization.
Simply being attracted to a philosophy does not in any way transform the mind or life. More often than not, the individual who is attracted to an exotic Eastern philosophy ends up using the respective philosophy to feed and support their personal mirages, prejudices and delusions.
We can see this occurring when the average western mind expects every teacher from the East to conform to secular liberal democratic worldviews. Any time a teacher steps outside of this worldview, they are deemed dangerous or insane. Teachers must conform to modern standards of morality which change with the seasons.
This highlights the concept Aurobindo is expressing as he states that “mere mental activity will not bring a change in consciousness, it can only bring a change of mind.” The mind is not the Atman! This mis-identification alone defines the state of avidya existing in the contemporary representation of yoga in the west.
One is also reminded of individuals in the occulture collecting books as if the ownership of a book transmits some type of awareness or initiatic knowledge. The amassing of a large book collection does not bring about a change in consciousness, at best it can fill the mind with details. But what is the individual doing with the details?
This echoes the virtue signaling of identity politics whereby the individual can purchase a product or espouse an idea and instantly assume a higher level of awareness. The inner spiritual experience which Aurobindo discusses is not arrived upon via a collection of books or identification with certain ideas. Rather the journey to the borderland of this “spiritual harbor” begins with the deconstruction of respective beliefs and opinions.
As stated by Nisargadatta:
“The search for Reality is the most dangerous of all undertakings, for it destroys the world in which you live.”
Yoga should not be used to support one’s collection of beliefs and opinions which are spoon fed via the media and echo-chamber social environments. Helping one another does not demand a spiritual system anymore than a religion is needed to perform surgery.
Aurobindo also touches upon a critical idea of the nature of the mind. The mind is constantly changing on a day-to-day basis. We see this when individuals are in a constant search for stimulation and beliefs. Spiritual paths are changed month-to-month, teachers are a disposable commodity abandoned any time a specific belief is challenged. The nature of the mind is like wind, constantly shifting without rhyme or reason, most often steered by the media and entertainment industry.
If one wishes to have success in the long painful process of self-discovery, a dedicated path must be chosen. This does not even consider the possibility of what Yoga terms “Self-Realization” or what Aurobindo terms “inner spiritual experience.” If one can not dedicate one’s life to a single path or ideal, how can one seriously entertain the idea of Self-Realization?
If every month and every year one’s ideas or ideals change based on the current psychological climate, how can one expect to withstand the deconstruction of awareness in worlds beyond gravity?
We see this issue of constant searching made glaringly apparent with the never- ending supply of beginner’s books in the occult / spiritual environments. Endless preparations and endless beginnings will not lead to an arrival to any spiritual harbor.
How long will it take for you to move beyond the fluctuations of the mind and media to reach even an intermediate stage of praxis?
Life is very short and time is constantly tightening Her grip on our lives. In this verse Aurobindo is clearly telling us that we must not be addicted to a collection of mental concepts or spiritual beliefs; this alone will not bring any realization. If you are constantly changing, eventually the mind and body will fade without reaching even an intermediate level of understanding.
“Some people spend the whole of their life preparing to practice. Then the end of their life comes, and they are still preparing. So they begin their next life without ever having completed all these preparations!” – Drakpa Gyaltsen
Aurobindo is calling us to move beyond myopic mental constructs and see Yoga as a spiritual science of the Soul.
Will you use Yoga to support the never-ending flittering mind to continue to accrue surface beliefs?
Or will you seek to deepen your perceptions of yoga beyond an exercise class, identity politics and virtue signaling?
Aurobindo reminds us:
“You describe the rich human life egoistic life you might have lived and say ‘not altogether a wretched life, you will admit.’ On paper it sounds even very glowing and satisfactory, as you describe it. But there is no real or final satisfaction in it, except for those who are too common or too trivial to seek anything else, and even they are not really satisfied or happy,–and in the end, it tires and palls. Sorrow and illness, clash and strife, disappointment, disillusionment and all kinds of human suffering come and beat its glow to pieces—and then decay and death.”
Yoga is not a tool for curing disease, egoic disappointment or the inevitable societal challenges. Yoga is a science of the Soul which can bring us a rare glimpse of something beyond the chattering mind: “an inner spiritual experience.” This inner experience alone can transform our minds and eventually our entire lives. This inner experience is not tied to a religious or political belief and is not the least bit concerned with our emotionally willingness to accept its reality.
Blessed with the existence of a human body, cherish this concept and seek to move beyond the surface conceptions of reality and the modern commodification of yoga!