The charm of India’s traditional YOGA spirit

Born in India, YOGA is a divine gift equally offered to everyone

By Monica Dascălu

The wise yogis consider YOGA a gift from God to all the people, so they could have efficient practical solutions, both for resolving the personal problems, as well as for the harmonious development and the perfection of the human being. YOGA is not a religion and it is not based on particular oriental elements; it is a universal human science. It offers to everybody a method and a path towards the fulfilling of the most important human ideals. Unfortunately, one of the most popular prejudices in the Western world regarding YOGA is that this system only applies to the easterners and the Indians. The given arguments are usually connected to religion, culture and even… the specific climate of India. Because we do not agree at all with this prejudice we here present you some ideas that could help you get close to YOGA without any prejudices or complexes. With this article we also intend to help you perceive the traditional, fascinating spirit that surrounds YOGA in India.

The ideals of the Orient are connected to the spirituality

It is hard to understand for the Europeans the importance of the spirituality in the Orient. In the Occident world, both now and for the last two millenniums, the general accepted ideals and models, which polarize and control the human building-up are of a highly concrete nature. After idealizing models such as heroes, kings, artists, scientists, explorers, the westerners more and more idealize now obsolete models, such as: sportsmen, singers, actors, TV stars. While in India and Tibet, the main human ideals and models throughout the centuries were the saints, wise men, ascetics or yogis. The heroism, nobleness, royalty, art in the Orient are directly associated to the spirituality and the YOGA practice.

Why so many Hindus in India practice YOGA? The main reason is that even from childhood they are told tales about great wise, saints and heroes of the past which showed extraordinary abilities and great inner strength – all obtained through YOGA – and having a superior spiritual level compared to the rest of the people in the midst they were born.  Most of the Indians must have heard numerous tales on this subject or read some traditional YOGA texts, because both Hinduism as well as the Buddhism – the main religions in Asia – have taken over and promoted methods, practical principles and philosophical ideas from YOGA.

The spirituality means more than religion

In India people generally accept the idea that human suffering is the causal result of one’s previous actions. The human condition is not subordinated to fatality, but to a continuous transformation and the entire destiny could be modified through an adequate spiritual practice. The cultural and religious background, the collective subconscious help them easier understand the fact that the fulfillment or the perfection of the human being is of a spiritual nature (and not material or social) and could be obtained either through religion, either through another spiritual path, and among those YOGA is on top.

In the Occident world – and we are especially interested to talk about Europe – the social-political power of the Christian Church, both the Orthodox and the Catholic one has forcedly compelled ¬over the years the idea that spirituality is exclusively part of the religion and even more, part of the Christian religion. The Europeans tend to think – and they are forced to do so by certain cleverly kept propaganda – that YOGA, due to the fact that it talks about God and spirituality, is a religion; and worse, it’s been spread the idea that all the YOGA schools are religious sects. However, this is not true. YOGA provides practical exercises, therefore a method backed by an ample, coherent philosophical system, and it can be practiced either like this, either as an additional method in the religious engagement of a Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Mohammedan, Taoist and so on.

In India, the Hinduism, the main religion during the apparition and the development of the YOGA system is and especially was some millenniums ago, one of the most tolerant religions of the humankind. In India, the confusion between YOGA and religion was never made and all the religions that floated on the Indian territory gained a lot from the teachings of the YOGA system. The greatest yogis were more loved, known, appreciated and respected than the kings or the priests of different religious cults.

The aim of the spiritual evolution

Most of the Christian Europeans do not believe in reincarnation and more than that, most of them imagine in their ignorance that doing so they could determine the reality itself (in other words: it is true only what we want to believe). If we were to follow their reasoning, things are exactly the opposite, because over two thirds of the world population believes in reincarnation. To Indians for example, the successive passing through one life to the other is part of a gradual process of evolution, which includes the human existential level. In other words, the being evolves from stone to plant, then animal and afterwards it becomes human, after hundreds of thousands of successive incarnations. And in its turn, the human being should evolve towards the divine, plenary perfect condition. The aim of this long range of successive existences is that the created being would fulfill its fundamental designation of knowing God, its Creator and the Creator of everything that exists.

The succession of lives or incarnations also entail another sort of responsibility upon the actions that people make. Because according to the oriental wisdom, absolutely everything we do has some inexorable consequences which we will have to abide at a certain moment. The only way to end this fatidic chain of causes and effects, which compels us to pass through different existential circumstances, is the adequate spiritual practice.

That is how this concept of successive lives, so deeply rooted into the collective subconscious of the Indians makes them accept the spiritual practice as a necessity – even though not an urgent or imperative one. But in their vision all the people, sooner or later will end up on a spiritual path, looking for a spiritual guide and acting properly in order to accelerate their spiritual evolution. On the other hand, the Indians also have a great liberality and compliance (if we would chose to be critical, we would call it laziness). For most of them it is not absolutely necessary to start these spiritual efforts right now. But they definitely accept that they would have to start them at some point.

The spiritual guide, GURU, the one that removes the darkness and brings the light

From the entire yogic tradition, probably the most stirring and the hardest notion to assimilate for the occidental mentality is the one of a spiritual guide, GURU. However, its understanding is natural for the Indian people. They know, due to their long lasting spiritual tradition, that the spiritual evolution is something extremely difficult, which needs, more than anything else, a competent guidance from someone who already succeeded to reach the final spiritual goal. The Indian people do not need explanations, it is clear to them: whoever wants to step on a spiritual path needs a GURU (spiritual guide) before anything else.

Etymologically, the word GURU means “the one that scatters the darkness of ignorance and brings the light of knowledge”. In India, this title denotes a very deep respect and it is conferred to the spiritual “teachers”. The Occident has ridiculed and profaned this term by using it wrong. And we do not only refer to the anti-MISA press campaign from Romania, which uses the word “GURU” as an insult. In America on the other hand, the term is used in advertising to show an expert in a certain field (music, fashion, psychology, and so on).

Nevertheless, in India the GURU status also implies certain outer manifestations of respect – ceremonies such as the giving offerings, legs kissing are often found – and that is why we find the taking over of this model to be inadequate for teaching the YOGA system in the Occident. But even giving up these aspects of external adoration, which Indians use to surround their spiritual guides, the notion remains a huge provocation for the westerners. One of the most difficult things to understand for the Europeans is the correct approach and understanding of the relation-ship between them and the spiritual guide they chose for themselves in the beginning of their YOGA practice.

If we give it some thought, this restraint is even a paradox, since the Europeans accept and take over in a surprisingly docile way lots of advices and life suggestions from complete strangers (TV hosts, the writers for the “life advising” fashionable magazines). They agree to conform themselves extremely easy to some rules imposed by fashion, social prejudices, gossip, bosses, politicians, etc. They seldom prove to be independent, self-governing and creative. But, when it comes to spirituality and spiritual evolution, they dreadfully reject the idea of a spiritual guide, without realizing that this kind of a relation-ship brings no constraint. In India this problem does not exist. The relation-ship with the spiritual guide is the axiom of the spiritual path. What doesn’t surprise, doesn’t provoke, scare or scandalize anybody, but only awakens respect and admiration.

Miracles and paranormal powers

The beginner in YOGA, who reads certain YOGA texts, can be surprised at some point by the fact that all the yogic texts end up speaking about paranormal powers. For the unauthorized reader, it is surprising not only the fact that the subject is approached, but also the fact that it is considered normal and perfectly possible. Some of the beginners will not only be confused by it, but they will even consider untruthful all the information about YOGA, because their education and culture make them believe that this sort of things is impossible and therefore they will hardly accept them or they will consider them simply “jokes”.

The Occident has an ambiguous attitude towards the paranormal powers, wonders and miracles. Most likely the dark ages of Christianity (the Inquisition) and the Church attitude towards this subject fully contributed to the forming of a collective subconscious, which oscillates between skepticism and credulity. In India, however, everybody has seen numerous yogis or fakirs proving amazing supernatural powers, and the traditional tales are full of narrations about miracles and preternatural events. If the approach of this subject is perceived as surprising and shocking for most of the Europeans, in India it is part of the daily life. Levitation, walking on fire, the complete stop of the breathing and the heart beats, the engendering of collective perceptions, the exceptional resistance to cold or heat and the invisibility are often seen performances given by fakirs.

On the contrary, the genuine yogis do not exhibit the eventual paranormal powers which inevitably appear through the YOGA practice, they do not consider them a goal and they fear the amplifying of the self-pride which may appear together with some yogic successes. The one who truly understands the principles of the YOGA practice at the same time understands that the human being and the whole reality are not reduced to the material aspects. By the adequate activation of the energetic focuses (CHAKRA), absolutely everyone can confront with supernatural phenomena.

The westerners that begin to practice YOGA often become charmed by the Indian culture and the Hindu or the Buddhist tradition and, in the absence of a proper guidance, they make regrettable confusions. Therefore, some of them come to convert themselves to Hinduism or Buddhism and they start to follow certain religious oriental practices, mistaking them with YOGA. Others end up so fascinated by the Indian yogic tradition that they become convinced that YOGA can be learned and practiced only in India. Despite of the long and consistent yogic tradition of India, there is now the possibility of learning YOGA from experienced instructors as well in Romania, where there is the biggest YOGA school in Europe, founded by The Movement of Spiritual Integration into the Absolute (MISA).

december 2009

Also available in: Română

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