Yoga and the Western Philosophy
An article by Gregorian Bivolaru
A more accurate understanding of the Eastern philosophy is nowadays possible through Yoga. The East has already entered the History circuit and the European conscience is stimulated to take the philosophies of the peoples present in History more seriously. On the other hand, the European conscience is more and more used to define by reference to the issues of temporality and historicity.
Central Issue Approached by the Western Philosophy: the Conditioning
For more than a century a part of the European scientific and philosophical effort has been consecrated to the analysis of the factors that “condition” the human being. Consequently they could reveal how and to which extent the human being is conditioned by his physiology, psychic, heredity, and social environment, cultural ideology in which he takes part, his subconscious mind, and especially the History by means of his own history moment and by means of his personal history. This last discovery of the Western thinking, namely that man is essentially a temporal and historical being and that he is not, and cannot be anything but what History made of him, still dominates the European philosophy.
By analyzing this aspect we must however specify that the issues that have thrilled the European consciousness also prepare it to best understand the Eastern spirituality, and even more than that, they incite it to use the millenary Eastern experience for its own philosophical activity.
Let us clarify. The human condition is the one that has formed the object of the European philosophy. It has especially analyzed the temporality of the human being as the temporality makes possible all the other “conditionings” that ultimately make the human a “conditioned being”, leading to a indefinite and evanescent series of “conditions”.
The East Offers De-conditioning Methods
Exactly this problem of “conditioning” (and its corollary most neglected in the West: the “de-conditioning”) constitutes the central issue of the yogic and oriental philosophy. Beginning with Yoga and continuing with the Upanishads, the East has not been seriously preoccupied but with one sole issue: the structure of the human condition. (This also often and reasonably led to the idea that the entire oriental philosophy was and still is “existentialist”) From this point of view the western will be interested to learn:
a) What the yogic philosophy thinks about the multiple “conditionings” of the human being;
b) How yoga approaches the problem of human temporality and historicity;
c) What wise solution it finds for the fear and despair inevitably released by this feeling of temporality, which is a real matrix of all the “conditionings”.
From this viewpoint yoga has oriented itself with an almost incomparable rigor towards the analysis of the various conditionings of the human being. From the very beginning we must add that it did not do it in order to find an exact and coherent explanation of the human being, as they did in the 19th Century Europe, by which they thought than man can be explained through his hereditary or social conditioning, but especially to know the extent of the conditioned areas of the human being, in order to see whether or not there is something beyond such conditionings.
Exactly for this reason, long before the psychology of depths, the pundits and yogis of the East were interested in exploring the obscure zones of the unconscious mind and thus observed that the various physiological, social, psychological, cultural and religious conditionings were relatively easy to circumscribe and consequently to control, as the great obstacles for the spiritual and contemplative life appear due to the activity of the unconscious mind by means of the so-called samskaras and vasanas, “imprints”, “residues” and “potentials” that constitute what the psychology of depths names the contents and structures of the unconscious mind.
In yoga it is not this pragmatic anticipation of certain modern psychological techniques that is very precious, but their practical use in view of “de-conditioning” the human being. The simple knowledge of the “conditioning” system could not have found, in the case of the yoga system, its finality in itself: it was important not only for such conditionings to be known, but really to be controlled in order to be transcended. For this reason yoga evidently works upon the contents of the unconscious mind in order to “burn” them.
The Practice of Yoga Allows the Access to Fabulous Potentials
Those who practice yoga assiduously understand pretty quickly how one can reach such surprising results. And these often amazing results should also interest the western psychologists and philosophers.
By objectively and attentively studying the extraordinary results that appear after correctly exercising the yogic methods of psychic exploring, the western that will have the curiosity to do this will be made to consider that an incredibly vast and fecund perspective opens for him.
By open confrontation with the yogic tradition, the immemorial experience concerning the superior states of consciousness and the awakening of the human being’s fabulous potentials becomes gradually available. Once we have this extraordinary chance, it would be at least imprudent not to fully benefit from it.
As we have shown above, the issue of the human conditioning — or, in other words, the temporality and historicity of the human being — has been in the center of the western thought and the same problem has also obsessed the yogic philosophy from its beginning. It is true that in yoga we will not find concepts like “history” and “historicity” in the sense that they have in the Occident and also in the yogic texts we will very rarely find the term “temporality”. However the identity of the philosophical terminology is not important, because it is enough for the issues to be able for homologation.
Maya — the Cosmic Illusion and the Root of the Conditionings
In this sense it has been long well-known that the yogic thought gives considerable importance to the concept of maya, which is often translated by “illusion” as it does not participate to the Supreme Being, because it is the “becoming”, doubt, and it is also a historic becoming.
Thus it becomes rather evident that yoga has not ignored the connection between the illusion, the temporality and the human sufferance and as soon as we understand that the yogic wise men generally expressed this sufferance in cosmic terms, we easily realize, by reading them with the focus they deserve, that they referred especially to the human sufferance in its capacity of “becoming”, which is conditioned by the structures of the temporality. We can also observe this: what the modern western philosophy calls “being in the situation”, “being constituted due to temporality and historicity” corresponds in the yogic thought with the “existence in maya”. Thus, if the two philosophical horizons — the yogic one (oriental) and occidental — come to be homologated, everything that yoga thought about maya gains a certain actuality for us.
For instance, by attentively reading the famous text of the oriental wisdom Bhagavad-Gita, we realize that this analysis of the human existence is made in a language that is familiar to us: maya is no longer only cosmic illusion, and also, and especially, historicity, not only existence in the eternal cosmic becoming, but especially existence in time and history.
For the Bhagavad-Gita, the issue was approached to a certain extent — like for the Christianity — in these terms: how can one wisely solve the paradox-like situation created by the double fact that the human being, on the one hand, IS in time, being under the History, and on the other hand he knows that he will be “cursed” if he indulges in being possessed and exhausted by temporality and historicity? Being confronted with this dilemma he consequently feels that he must as quickly and at any price find — even by continuing to exist in this world — a harmonious way to give him imperishable happiness and to help him go beyond history and beyond time.
If we look at things from this point of view, after reading this text, we discover that all suggested solutions in Bhagavad-Gita represent different applications of the yoga system.
Yoga is not a philosophy, but a practical system
The wise solution proposed by East in the situation of anxiety triggered by the discovery of our temporality and historicity, the modalities, which produce transcendence and integral happiness due to which we can exist in this world without letting ourselves “seized” and “exhausted” by time and history, more or less implicate the knowledge of certain forms of yoga in theory in practice.
We must underline the fact that in the case of the yoga system, it is not about simply accepting one of the solutions offered by the East.
Each one can understand that a spiritual value is not obtained like a new car brand. Practicing yoga we will see it is neither a philosophical syncretism nor a so called indianization; even less a spiritual hybridism initiated by the Theosophical Society, continued and worsened by uncounted contemporary pseudo spiritual orientations, like the New Age movement.
Gradually exercising the steps of the yoga system, the western man comes to know and understand, through his direct experience, an extremely valuable thinking, which had a major role in the history of universal spirituality.
Practicing yoga, the great discoveries of the Indian thinking will be easily recognized through direct experience against the philosophical jargon’s disguise.
For instance, we believe it is impossible to lose sight of one of the greatest Indian yogis’ discovery, which is the witness-conscience or in other words the conscience educed by its philosophical structures and their temporally conditioning, the conscience of the “spiritual awakened”, of the one who managed to escape temporality and knows the real and beatific freedom through detachment.
Conquering this absolute freedom, the perfect spontaneity, represents the goal of al philosophies and all Indian spiritual techniques. Especially through one or several types of yoga, India considered itself being able to grant the access to this Supreme Freedom of the human being.
This is the main reason why yoga is worth practicing.
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