Yoga Paramparas Revealed

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24 Sep 2023


Spiritual Power of Living Traditions of Yoga

Spiritual Power of Living Traditions of Yoga 

Yoga is a living tradition that has enhanced spiritual aspects of humanity from time immemorial. The credit for such must be given entirely to our Rishis who ensured that its teachings were never limited to any time frame in human history or any other human-made limitations.

In this context I often refer to Maharishi Patanjali, the codifier of the Yoga Darshan as a ‘time traveller from the future’ as I consider that his teachings are as valid and appropriate today as they have ever been, and ever will be.

The Rishiculture that since ancient times perceived, codified, nurtured and shared these universal teachings was indeed wise. They, in their infinite wisdom and compassion, created many provisions within the living tradition so that each and every sincere aspirant (Sadhaka/Adhikarin) would be provided with golden opportunities for spiritual growth. Every level of Sadhaka was provided with the very teachings they needed, at the appropriate time, and in the appropriate manner. We can say that this was the first ever “personalised approach to spiritual coaching” if we are to use a modern context to describe this timeless humanistic methodology.

Sadhakas have been traditionally classified as Mridu – with minimal commitment and involvement in Sadhana, Madhya – of average or moderate capability, Adhimatra – the ardent, steady-minded, and keen aspirant, and Teevrasamvegin or Adhimatratma – the most intense, clear-headed, pure-hearted aspirant endowed with supreme discernment and objectivity. It is often said that ‘attainment of Yoga is near or far, depending upon one’s eagerness and one’s efforts.’ In short, dedicated efforts in the process, determines ultimate progress.
Yogasutra verses 19 to 22 of the Samadhi Pada deal with the importance of qualities such as Shraddha, faithful devotion; Veerya, strength of body and mind; Smriti, ability to remember and learn from previous experiences; and Samadhi Prajna, mental competence for the higher states that are essential for spiritual success.
To facilitate all levels of Sadhakas and their progress, the Yogic Guru-Shishya tradition has three levels of sharing by the illustrious and benevolent masters with their worthy disciples. All three of these are valid but part of a bigger picture sadly often missed by modern Sadhakas, and especially the ‘scholars’ researching Indic traditions.

  1. The Written Tradition:
    The first, most common and accessible level of teachings is through the written tradition. When we analyse the concept of Vaak, we realise that the written word is the grossest level of communication and is limited in time and space. Para Vaak is transcendental, Pashyanti is subtle, Madhyama is manifested through mindfulness, while Vaikhari is the gross, physical level of communication that finally is spoken, heard and written down.

When we need to have a written document signed even before people get married these days, we understand the depths to which trust levels have indeed fallen. When something has been written, it has already become part of the past and is therefore not living in the present in the real sense of the word.
Once written down, the teachings still need to be personalised or modified as pertinent to the aspirant’s level of growth. If not, the teachings may become generalised and lose the personal touch, and remain set in stone.

Over the long periods of history, as it became more and more difficult to maintain the sanctity of traditions, many of the teachings started to be written down for posterity. The only aim of such masters was to prevent the total loss of all the teachings at any cost. Most of the written teachings we have today are only a minuscule part of a much larger knowledge base and were never meant to be the final arbitrator of the living tradition at all.
At best, they can be considered as ‘basic class notes’ of the masters; most often taken down by their dedicated students – nothing more, nothing less. To make my point clear, let me illustrate with a small example. Imagine the world ended today and someone in the future just had your class notes as their sole reference to understand the whole tradition of Yoga! Wouldn’t that be a pale reflection?
I don’t completely deny the validity of the written tradition, but am reiterating the fact that it was never ever meant to be taken as a separate entity the way it is happening in modern times. While the written form does have its own intrinsic value, it was always intended to be brought to life and embellished through benevolent guidance of a living master of the spiritual tradition. In this context I do agree with the perspective of my dear Yogasadhaka Michael McCann who says, ‘I think the written word is a form that was intended for the Kali Yuga – the consciousness was less opaque in the previous cycles, and perhaps that is why it was necessary to commit the teachings to writing.’

The fundamental nature of the Guru-Shishya Parampara is based on the Guru understanding the specific needs of the students, and hence the written form of teachings limits personalisation of the teachings tremendously. It is like all patients being given the same antibiotic without sensitivity testing. It may work sometimes but may often backfire badly.
In modern times, most schools of Yoga only focus on the written tradition as they don’t have access to any other methods of learning. Modern Yoga scholars trying to ‘study’ the mysteries of Yoga often get lost in the maze of the written word, and hence are found wanting when it comes to a true understanding of the Yoga tradition. They can be compared to the myopic bureaucrat who will not accept that you exist unless you have a printed document to prove it. No amount of mere academic study can give one the experience of Yoga.

As my mentor Prof Madanmohanji would say, ‘Books are for the obedience of fools and for the guidance of the wise.’

  1. The Oral Tradition:

The second, found in those institutions that follow the traditional teachings of Sanatana Dharma is the oral tradition. This requires a living Guru-Shishya Parampara, an unbroken lineage that is capable of receiving and passing on the sacred teachings from the ‘mouth of the Guru to the ear of the student.’ In time, the student becomes the Guru, who then in turn passes it on to the next generation in a similar fashion. Great fidelity, integrity and commitment are required for such traditions to continue over hundreds or even thousands of years.

Very few schools of Yoga in modern times have such a blessing, and I am indeed fortunate to be part of such a living tradition that traces its lineage back both to the great Rishi Agasthya in the Shaiva Siddhanta tradition of Srila Sri Kambaliswamigal, and Rishi Bhrigu in the Bengali Tantric tradition of Swami Kanakananda Bhrigu. Both of these illustrious traditions came together in the form of Yogamaharishi Dr Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj.

In these oral traditions, great reverence is placed upon the word of the Guru that is accepted as the supreme authority. Aagama or Shabda, the acceptance of reliable testimony as a valid method of cognition, is well endorsed by all Indian traditions. Often the word of the Guru may not be completely understood by a student at a certain point of time, but it does become clearer as they advance in their own Sadhana.
The ardent aspirant sits down near their Guru to receive these sacred oral instructions. The word Upa-Ni-Shad literally means to ‘sit down near’ the source of wisdom. So many examples are there for such oral teacher-taught exchanges including the stories of Yogeshwar Shri Krishna with King Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita, Sage Vashistha with Lord Rama in Yoga Vasistha and Lord Yama with Nachiketa in Katha Upanishad. You never hear Lord Krishna telling Arjuna, or Lord Yama telling Nachiketa to refer to some book of written teachings! They all teach orally and the disciples absorb aurally.
In all Vedic traditions, the Brahmavidya, the ‘Highest Wisdom of the Universal Oneness’, is always communicated by the Guru to Shishya through the oral-aural methodology in Shruti-Smriti Vaidika Parampara.

  1. The Subtle Tradition:

The most refined of all traditions is the Sukshma Parampara that is a direct conduit to the Cosmic Wisdom itself. The cultural traditions of India have so many legendary examples including Sri Ramana Maharishi and Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in recent times who attained to the highest state of enlightenment without support of either the written or oral tradition.

It is said in the Yogasutra, Samadhi Pada, Verse 19 ‘bhavapratyayo videhaprakrutilayanam’’, meaning that the supreme aspirants who have transcended the material plane can attain the highest state of oneness just by being born again. The one who has transcended the body is known as Videha and is considered equal to the demi-gods or celestial beings who are bereft of a physical body. The supreme aspirant who has attained oneness with manifest nature is a ‘Prakriti Laya’. They have already reached the threshold between Prakriti and Purusha and hence mere attainment of a human birth will bestow upon them the state of Samadhi.

Shri Dakshinamurthy, the form of Lord Shiva as a young teacher of the Rishis is described in the Shri Dakshinamurthy Stotram by the great Srimad Adhi Sankara as follows:

mounavyakhyaprakatithapara brahma thathwamyuvanam
varshishthaanthevasadrishiganairavrutham brahma nishtai
acharyendramkarakalihtha chin mudramanandaroopam

This sublime and timeless poetry of the great seer can be understood as one describing the pinnacle of the subtle spiritual tradition. It elucidates how the teachings of the true nature of the Supreme Brahman are conveyed in a state of silence to the wise sages by the greatest of teachers, the youthful Shri Dakshinamurthy. He who sits in silence with a blissful countenance, facing South, with his hand in Chin Mudra, the gesture of pure consciousness.

The tradition of Shaktipat which is prevalent in India is based on transmission of spiritual energy (Shakti) either through a Guru or directly from a Divine Entity. This may happen through various forms of Deeksha including Mantra, Darshanam, and Sparshanam.

I have personally witnessed the manner in which my Guru-father Swamiji Gitananda Giri could tap into the universal source at will. He would sit there in a state of Sahaja Samadhi and the Divine wisdom of the Prajna Lokha would flow through him, seamlessly and endlessly from the Akashic Rai, or the cosmic source of Ritam Satyam Param. Hundreds of thousands of classes, hundreds of articles and dozens of books would just manifest as if by magic as he sat there sharing the universal wisdom with the purest of hearts and clearest of minds.

To be in the presence of such a master is something that can only be experienced and is a direct revelation of the Subtle Tradition of Yoga, the Sukshma Parampara.
In conclusion, I wish to reiterate that the entirety of the ‘Living tradition of Yoga’ cannot be captured by studying the written tradition only. Hence, any sincere aspirant seeking the highest levels of wisdom must endeavour to gain an understanding of the oral and subtle traditions too. This may require a lifetime (or even lifetimes) of study and one must be prepared for the hard grind. Nothing comes easy in Eastern traditions and the onus is always on the seeker to prove their ‘worthiness quotient’ before the teachings open up to them. Just as we have a gross existence, Sthoola Sharira, that may be perceived by the senses, we have the generalised teachings of the written tradition. But we are not just the manifest gross body. We are much more, and that is why we need to work on the subtle aspects like our Sukshma Sharira to understand the life-force that percolates through these unmanifest teachings.

Viveka, which is keen intuitive discernment, and vairagya, our metacognitive, dispassionate objectivity, are essential for this inner journey. When we connect to the Guru Parampara, this part of our journey will unravel a bit more easily than without. However to completely understand the wholesome nature of this living tradition, one needs to connect intrinsically to the ultimate universal source, our Karana Sharira. This can only manifest through Ishvara Pranidhana. It is only when we transform ourselves and transcend the separateness of the ahamkara that we will be fit for this highest realisation.

‘Sattvapurusayoh suddhisamyekaivalyam’’ reiterates Maharishi Patanjali in the 35th verse of the Vibhuti Pada, meaning that all impurities – the three-fold Mala of Anavam, Kanmam and Maayai according to Saint Thirumoolar – have been washed away by the Sadhaka’s dedicated and disciplined self-efforts.

When we finally give over completely to the Supreme, Saranagathi, the teaching will come alive in us through Guru Kripa and Dhaiva Anugraha. Then we will truly be ONE.

Yogacharya Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani,


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