For the millions of Americans who now practice yoga regularly, here is the perfect introduction to the rich philosophical and spiritual tradition behind the exercises.
George Feuerstein has drawn short, memorable quotations from the key texts of this five-thousand-year-old legacy, with an emphasis on the wisdom of modern yoga masters.The quotations have been selected and arranged to address the needs of yoga practitioners in the twenty-first century.
Among the many themes touched on in this treasure of a book: the process of inner growth; the value of silence; how to meditate; how to infuse everyday life with joy; universal kinship; overcoming suffering; dealing with grief, loss, anger, and jealousy; remembering and cultivating one’s true inner self; developing self-discipline; and bringing out the good in all you say and do.
For both new and experienced yoga students alike, Yoga Gems is the perfect travel companion on the road to inner peace.
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MIND--MAKER OF DESTINY
The human mind is a wondrous thing. It can create disease or heal us. It can hurl us into hell (suffering) or elevate us into heaven (happiness).
If we look at life closely, with a mind free from preconceptions and delusions, we quickly realize our days are filled with experiences that can be summed up in one word: suffering. As long as we look at life through the rose-colored glasses of wishful thinking and pretense, however, we are bound to tell ourselves and others that, in the words of Voltaire, this is the best of all possible worlds.
In contrast, the Indian sages have always been realistic in their assessment of human existence and the world as a whole. Apart from some fleeting moments of pleasure, which must not be confused with real happiness, ours is not an enviable lot.
This wisdom of the ancient Indian sages was given exquisite expression by the enlightened master Gautama, later to be known as "the Buddha" or "Awakened One." Like many of the sages remembered in history, Gautama was born into a royal family, but he abandoned his comfortable court life at the age of twenty-nine to take up the most challenging yogic practices. Six years later, after many years of exploring the dead end of severe asceticism, he opted for the middle path by restoring his physical well-being and mental balance. In a single night of concentrated self-inquiry, leading him to ever-higher states of consciousness, he attained full enlightenment. He felt moved to share the path he had discovered with others, and in his very first sermon he explained: "Life is suffering; suffering results from egoic desire which is rooted in spiritual ignorance; the elimination of egoic desire and thus of spiritual ignorance brings the end of suffering; the way of terminating egoic desire and spiritual ignorance is the noble eightfold path." The eightfold path consists of right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration, and leads to the extinction of suffering.
Gautama arrived at this penetrating insight because he clearly saw that everything is impermanent and lacking a stable center (or "self" or "ego"). Hundreds of great sages before and after him have testified to the same truth; yet we continue to behave as if our life lasts forever and as if everything revolves around us--the ego-personality. As long as we cling to these mistaken notions, we set ourselves up for suffering.
We must not, however, confuse suffering with pain. Our body, for instance, may be in great condition, but we may still be suffering. Conversely, we may have a piercing toothache but not suffer at all. Suffering is something we place on top of pain, and it is also something that, on closer inspection, lies hidden within pleasure. At root, we all know that however great our pleasure may be, it is still limited and cannot last.
The Sanskrit word for suffering is duhkha, which means literally "bad axle hole." With a bad or warped axle hole, the wheel will not turn smoothly. The word duhkha also can be translated as "bad space." When we are out of touch with our higher nature, we are indeed in bad space, and whether we are in or out of touch is all a matter of the mind.
Although the Yoga masters are very sensitive to the omnipresence of suffering, they are not pessimists. On the contrary, you might call them the greatest optimists alive, for they firmly believe that all suffering can be completely overcome. That is, in fact, the purpose of Yoga. The very possibility of suffering is perfectly eliminated through enlightenment. And enlightenment occurs when we discover our true Identity--the eternal, supraconscious Self. As I noted at the beginning of this introduction, whether we enjoy enlightenment or endure bondage is a matter of mind. As the Amrita-Bindu-Upanishad, a medieval Sanskrit text, states:
The mind alone is the cause of bondage and liberation for human beings. Attached to things, it leads to bondage. Emptied of things, it is deemed to lead to liberation.
Bondage means being bound by fear, anger, lust, jealousy, competitiveness, and all the other negative emotions and desires that drive so much of our conventional lives. It stands for psychological limitation or conditioning, which is caused by spiritual ignorance.
Liberation, by contrast, is caused by spiritual knowledge, or wisdom. It consists in enjoying freedom from our psychological conditioning in all circumstances, leaving us free for intelligent, compassionate activity. Yoga helps us overcome our psychological limitations and thus allows us to recover our innermost spiritual nature, the higher Self, which is eternally free and blissful.
As Swami Muktananda, a great modern master of Siddha-Yoga, once said,
"You should welcome heartily the beneficent grace of the mind," for it is the restless mind that starts you on your spiritual journey. It is also the mind, once mastered, that reveals the treasure locked away inside it: our higher, spiritual nature. That higher nature is variously called "transcendental Self," "Spirit," "God," "Lord," "Supreme Being," "ultimate Reality," or "Nirvana."
TO GROW OR NOT TO GROW
Growing is the most important and essential endeavor that a human being can undertake. You can make and lose money; you can be promoted and demoted in the world. Never, at any stage, is there any certainty about what will happen to you in this life. However, there is one thing that nobody can ever take away from you--the growth you attain through your own search for Self-knowledge. Furthermore, this growth and understanding become the foundation that sustains you through any and all worldly difficulties, and that allows you--whatever the form of your physical experience--to find in life a continuously unbroken flow of total well-being.
If we are honest with ourselves we see that we are not yet real human beings, not yet truly humane, compassionate, or sensitive creatures. We are not yet independent, aware, intelligent, mature, and responsible, with a concern for all life. Our basic values stem from the self-image--pleasure, power, wealth, and so on. They are the values of the self-focused mind trapped in its desires. We may refine this basic immaturity of the mind, make its indulgences more benevolent, its prejudices more tolerant, but at the core it persists.
LIFE IS PRECIOUS
We must never forget that our life is like a paper bag that a few drops of water could destroy. It is like a piece of thin glass that a little gust of wind could shatter. It is like a goatskin filled with air floating on a river, which would sink to the bottom if the air should go out of it. It is like a wall of sand that may collapse at any moment. Therefore, do not merely build castles in the air, but start building them on the ground. Every breath is precious, for once lost it can never return. Make hay while the sun shines. Take advantage of this human body so long as it lasts in searching for the One without whom the entire world is going adrift and astray.
The human form is an invaluable gift. We should avail ourselves of it for the purpose for which it is granted to us. Wife and children, food and drink, we have had in every life. The uniqueness of the human form consists in its ability to realize God as long as it is activated by life. Towards this end we must bend all our energies. This is our real work. The rest is all to no purpose.
--Maharaj Charan Singh
YOU BECOME WHAT YOU THINK
As is one's thought, so one becomes. This is an eternal mystery.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU THINK
One day, an employee of a refrigeration company was accidentally locked up in the ice chamber of a freight train with a temperature of forty degrees below zero. No one heard his shouts for help. He was absolutely terrified and left a record of his suffering scribbled on the walls of the wagon. By the time the train arrived at its destination he had died. Significantly, his death was due not to exposure to subzero temperature but sheer fright, because on that day the refrigeration was not switched on at all. Such is the fate of those who allow their thoughts to be imprisoned in a cold, dark chamber.
--Sri Ananda Acharya
The mind is susceptible to suggestions. It learns whatever you teach it. If through discrimination you can impress upon it the joy and fullness of life in the spirit and the folly of worldly attachments, then your mind will devote itself more and more to God.
Fickleness is the very nature of the mind. But if it is endowed with indifference to worldly things and guided toward yogic discipline, it can be steadied in due course. The reason is that there is a power in the mind that, once it becomes interested in something, it quickly develops a fondness for it. Therefore you should coax your mind and create in it a liking for the bliss of the Self.
CONTROLLING THE BRAIN
This cerebral system will ruin you, unless consciously you learn to free yourself from it. This secondary powerhouse continually not only spends energy, but damnably interferes with the very creation of energy in the body.
You can learn to control your mind very well--because it is yours, but do not try to control the minds of others and make them dependent. When one becomes dependent, one suffers, so you should learn to be independent, and you should not make others dependent upon you.
You are the master of your mind, and you have to keep it pure. Your responsibility ends there, the rest is God's business.
THOUGHT AND ADDICTION
We have many addictions, which we may call habits and interests, or even skills and talents. Such addictions as drugs, alcohol or gambling are but the most evident forms of the addictive pattern of our entire behavior. Some of us are addicted to sex, others to food, others to business, knowledge, or even religious practices. Whatever we become dependent on to occupy our time or fill our minds is an addiction. All external seeking--whether for pleasure, wealth, status or knowledge--is not essentially different than the alcoholic looking for a drink.
Thought is our most basic addiction and from it other addictions derive like branches. Thought is a habit, an unconscious mechanism of the mind. If you do not believe this, then try to control your thoughts, try to stop thinking. Obviously thought is not a conscious process but a compulsion. As long as we are ruled by thought we are addicts and our addiction must distort our perception of reality.
CHOOSE A SUBLIME IDEAL
If you dedicate yourself to a sublime ideal, your life will continually grow in richness, strength and intensity. It is like a capital investment: you place your capital in a Heavenly bank so that, instead of deteriorating or going to waste, it increases and makes you richer.
--Omraam Mikha'l A*vanhov
MAKING LIFE MEANINGFUL
Whether life in itself has a meaning or not: it is up to us to give it a meaning. In the hands of an inspired artist a worthless lump of clay turns into a priceless work of art. Why should we not likewise try to make something worthwhile out of the common clay of our lives, instead of lamenting about its worthlessness?
--Lama Anagarika Govinda
Just as one comes to ruin
Through wrong eating and obtains
Long life, freedom from disease,
Strength and pleasure through right eating,
So one comes to ruin
Through wrong understanding
But gains bliss and complete enlightenment
Through right understanding.
Right view is vital to the intelligent pursuit of happiness. We are not talking about right view in terms of one person's or one group's views being superior to another's. Right view refers to the harmony of the knowing mind with the nature of phenomena as they actually are. How we view the world shapes how we act and feel in it. If we view the cosmos as personally hostile towards us, or disappointing, or meaningless, we are bound to be haunted by an anxiety which lurks in the dark recesses of our minds and periodically erupts into consciousness with disabling intensity. If we view existence as benevolent or at least benign, it is easier for us to relax into it; we might be more tolerant, more grateful, more gracious, and less inclined to be thrown off balance into the pain of negative emotions.
FROM IGNORANCE TO KNOWLEDGE
One must know that one is ignorant before one can begin to know.
THE MILK OF WISDOM
Like butter hidden in milk, wisdom dwells in all living beings.
With the mind as the churning rod, one should ever churn out
wisdom from within oneself.
TWO KINDS OF DOUBT
"Is it wrong to doubt? I don't like to believe blindly," a student said. The Master replied:
"There are two kinds of doubt: destructive and constructive. Destructive doubt is habitual skepticism. Men who cultivate that attitude disbelieve blindly; they shun the work of impartial investigation. Skepticism is a static on one's mental radio that causes him to lose the program of truth.
"Constructive doubt is intelligent questioning and fair examination. Those who cultivate that attitude do not prejudge matters or accept as valid the opinions of others. In the spiritual path, constructive doubters base their conclusions on tests and personal experience: the proper approach to truth."
THE LIMITS OF REASON
Reason is a finite instrument. It cannot explain many mysterious problems of life. Those who are free from the so-called rationalism and skepticism can march in the path of God-realization.
--Swami Sivananda Saraswati
Doubts, like clouds, sail on the mental horizon occasionally. They can be dark and heavy or small and wispy. Sometimes they disappear, but often return unnoticed because of an influx of new experiences. . . . Impatience and restlessness create doubt, but the aspirant is warned that both prevent certain spiritual powers from developing. Remember that impatience is an expression of arrogance of some sort which, if allowed to linger, will undermine faith, hope, and will, and only strengthen the moods of depression. Arrogance is of the ego and is therefore destructive.
--Swami Sivananda Radha