We are living in a world afflicted by insecurity, fear, dishonesty, corruption, immorality, and other vices. Therefore, the question arises, how to lead a meaningful life amid all these vices? Before we examine to answer this question that haunts every human being, let us first deal with the world we have created. It is a mistake to view it as a problem for a group of people. It is everybody’s problem. We have to first accept the world we have made. There is no escape from it since everyone is a part of it and has contributed to its making. It is absurd to blame a particular group or a nation, or an individual. Accepting the world as we see is the first step toward leading a meaningful life. It will bring a drastic change to the content of our consciousness, not the consciousness. Consciousness is the underlying principle and we cannot change it. It is static. Only the content is dynamic. We can change only the content that we have created and imposed on it. Not accepting it is contradicting it and it will cause conflict and waste of energy. But we do not accept the reality and therefore, we are in constant conflict with it.
Our vision, therefore, is to create a meaningful life in a world filled with all vices. We need to create a mission to realize this vision. We should work out this mission at the individual level, not at the collective level, since every one of us has contributed to the making of world filled with vices in one way or the other. Seeking solutions collectively will not work out. What is the mission to realize our fundamental vision being how to lead a meaningful life?
The first sutra in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras has been just this, “…Now, an exposition on Yoga” (I.1 Atha Yogansusanam). This half-sentence or rather incomplete sentence sums up what has gone before now in our life and the present state of the world in which we are, and therefore, the urgency of the practice of Yoga. What has gone before from now in our life is not worthy to be considered. It does not, however, mean that we can ignore the present state of the world. The present world is a reality, and it is right before us and we are all living in it. We cannot retrieve or undone what has gone before. But we can alter the condition in which we are now. Therefore, the urgency of Yoga is conveyed in this half cryptic sentence. It is a strange way of starting the remaining Sutras, what is yet to follow in one’s life, signalling or warning that life has been incomplete because one has not lived through Yoga. Hence, the urgency of the practice of Yoga. It also shows the complexity of the practice of Yoga because of the complexity of life that we have made for ourselves. Human science has not thought of such a dimension. And this science is the science of the self—body and mind, and nothing else, not about the matter outside.
“Now” in the half-sentence also indicates that if Yoga is not practiced, now and here, it is forever never. It is now and here, and not tomorrow. It also cups the complexity of life and its seriousness – now or never. Why Patanjali had warned humanity of the seriousness and urgency of looking at human life two thousand years ago. This complexity is not today’s phenomenon, but it had existed in Patanjali’s times. If we cannot realize who and what we are, if we cannot solve our own crisis, now and here, no one else will rescue us, some danger ensues – the body may get diseased, the mind may turn neurotic and thereby life becomes crippled and useless.
“Now” also suggests that Patanjali is directly warning us to look at our life and the world – the way we have created and the way we have lived through pain and suffering. All through life this pain and suffering have persisted, the insecurity and fear caused by vices have haunted us. And how long can we go on with this pain and suffering, insecurity and fear? Is there no way out? Are we condemned to live with pain and suffering? Are we condemned to live in this world afflicted with insecurity, fear, dishonesty, and corruption? Therefore, the urgency to overcome pain and suffering, insecurity and fear in life has risen through Yoga. If we still believe that finding a comfortable job with a fat salary or starting a new venture that makes us fabulous in living, or finding a new wife or husband, or building a palace-like house and going for a luxurious car, or getting our daughter married will settle our life, or multiplying wealth by expanding business ventures, it is not yet time for Yoga, then we have mistaken. But, if we have seen money, power, wealth, and pleasure, we have tasted everything in our life and at the end of it, we have realized that all this has worked out nothing for us in the real sense and fulfilled us nothing ultimately, then it’s time for Yoga. This is the implication of half-sentence.
Patanjali brushes aside all that human undertakes and undergoes in life with half a sentence. Life is incomplete and unfulfilled. That is why the first Sutra is “… And now, an exposition on Yoga”. That means we realize at the end nothing works and we do not have a clue about what the hell this is, the pain and suffering tear us apart and the ignorance too. Then Yoga happens to us. Now, there is a way to know and learn and practice.
To lead a meaningful life (this is our vision), our mission should start with our bodies and move to our minds. Why should we give so much importance to the body? The body is a form without which we are nothing. We have no existence. Therefore, the body has gained prime importance in the yoga sadhana. When we are alone, what is with us? Who is with us? It is the body, visible, like the shadow, which is our companion, not our kith and kin. The body is a fundamental thing in understanding our own life. We need to accept this; the body is with us and without it we are nothing. In this body dwells the mind, which is invisible. If there is no body, there is no mind. Therefore, we should first deal with the body. The body is intelligent and has its own language. It feels and communicates every sensation. It answers and resists. It accepts that which is acceptable and rejects that which is not acceptable. But in our day-to-day living, we have paid scant attention to it. We hardly listen to it, its music, its complaints, its resistance, and so on. As we neglect, the body grows in its own way, disproportionately. We should keep this body in perfect order, being in good health and condition so that we can carry on our actions and activities in the world. We can proceed in our Yoga sadhana without hindrances from the body. If the body falls ill, we can hardly do any sadhana. Hence, the health of the body has gained serious attention.
We maintain the health of the body with physical exercise and the right food. Why do we need exercise for the body? The answer is to keep it in good condition so that no disease enters it. We can do any form of physical exercise, say walking, jogging, running, swimming, or playing games to maintain our fitness. But what makes the difference between the said physical exercises and performing asanas and pranayama? The former is an outdoor activity whereas the latter an indoor activity. The physical exercises activate the external parts of the body, while the asanas the internal parts. Each cell is activated and rejuvenated. As we direct each asana to a particular part of the body, it activates the muscles around, eliminates the toxins from the cells and tissues. Pranayama activates the nadis (nerves) and purifies blood by pumping more oxygen. When the toxins are removed, the body becomes elastic, and such a supple body can withstand any illness or disease.
But we cannot achieve the health of the body only by doing exercise. Food also plays a vital role. If the right food does not properly accompany physical exercise, the body cannot maintain its good health. So, health arises not only from exercise but also from consuming right food. What is the right food? The right food is that which nourishes the body and checks the influence of negative emotions which cause serious disturbances in our sadhana and mental agitations besides hampering our health. Consuming sattvic food containing fresh greens, raw vegetables, fruit, dried nuts, dates, milk, and millets will go a long way in making the body healthy and preparing for Dharana and Dhyana.
Next comes Dharana and Dhyana. Dharana can happen by the withdrawal of the sense organs from unnecessarily indulging in sensual pleasures. This is known as Pratyahara, the fifth limb in Astanga Yoga. Pratyahara can, however, happen if the body is in good condition, which can be achieved by asana, pranayama, and food. As we maintain moderation in our pleasures, it leads us automatically to Pratyahara and Dharana (concentration). Dhyana can easily happen. Since our body is free from disease and negative emotions, it is ready to sit in one posture without moving, steadily and comfortably, and meditate. So, each limb is connected to the other limb. This way we can achieve the vision of life, making life meaningful, and mission of life, creating a semblance of order, in the world afflicted with diabolical vices.
Dr. K.V. Raghupathi
Dr. K.V. Raghupathi is an ardent Yoga Sadhaka in Patanjali’s tradition, having over four decades of sadhana. He has been writing and transmitting his experiences born out of his uninterrupted sadhana in books and articles. He has so far published five books on Yoga that include, Yoga for Peace (2006/2019), Yoga and Zen (2007), My Tryst with Yoga and Other Essays (2018), Hastha Yoga: Theory and Practice (2018), and Dispersing Clouds: Discourses on Yoga (2022) and many articles both online and print journals. His other radical book on Yoga, Think with Heart and Feel with Mind: (from the Yoga Diary of…) is in the pipeline. An outspoken speaker, he holds radical views on life and spirituality. In addition, he is a creative writer, having twelve books in poetry, two novels, two short story collections, and eight critical/edited books to his credit.