Continued from: The Origin and Development of Yoga. Part IV
The Mahabharata and the Ra may ana are the two vast epics which were written about three thousand five hundred years ago, a little before the time of Buddha. The Mahabharata can be roughly translated using a little imagination as ‘The Great Book of Indian Culture’ and the Ramayana as ‘The Path of Rama’. The Mahabharata contains well over one hundred thousand verses and the Ramayayia, though smaller, is still sufficiently bulky to call it more an encyclopaedia than a book. We only intend to give a cursory glance at their contents, for while they propound yoga, they are mainly wrapped in symbolism and stories. Though these two books are works of art in themselves, they don’t in the main give a systematic treatment of yoga, apart from the Bhagavad Gita, which we will discuss shortly.
The Ramayana is a particularly popular scripture even today in India. It portrays the life of Rama in poetry of unsurpassed beauty, which is often sung to the accompaniment of music. Though it contains little or no direct instructions on yoga, it conveys in symbolic form the essence of yogic life and the path that must be undertaken in order to attain self-realization. Superficially it deals with the life of Rama, his wife Sita, various other people and the tribulations that they face during life. But in fact, hidden under this thin disguise is a description of the trials and challenges that a yogi must face, both internally and externally, on the path to transcendental awareness.
Another spiritual text called the Yoga Vashishtha is regarded as a direct offshoot and continuation of the Ramayana. This too is a compendium of spiritual inspiration and notable for the depth of its scientific and spiritual ideas. Many scientific ideas only recently promulgated are clearly written in this treatise. The text attempts to explain all aspects of creation and link them ultimately to consciousness. All aspects of life are discussed, from health and disease to happiness and misery. It discusses various methods to attain spiritual realization and emphasizes time and time again the importance of direct perception and experience as opposed to second-hand knowledge. It speaks of various yogic paths, in particular the path of meditation and jnana. Pranayama is also recommended as a method of controlling the mind and inducing meditation. It is not, however, a book to be read by beginners of yoga, for although it is a goldmine of knowledge and beautiful poetry, it does not map out in any detail the path to be taken. It is essentially devoid of practical aspects of yoga and is really intended for people who already have a knowledge of yogic techniques and have had higher experiences.
The Mahabharata contains many passages which directly relate to yoga interposed in its main theme – the military struggles during a certain period of Indian history. However, the essence of its teachings is contained in the world famous section called the Bhagavad Gita. It is a poem of seven hundred verses in which Arjuna, a great warrior, is instructed in the practice of yoga by Krishna, incarnation of God, who assumes the role of charioteer during the main battle of the epic. Though its text can be easily seen as contradictory by over-intellectual analysis or an over-literal interpretation, it has been and still is a source of inspiration and guidance to those following the path of yoga. As one makes progress along the yogic path, so one sees more and more layers of wisdom emerge from its pages; it continually unfolds higher and higher levels of meaning. The apparent contradictions and anomalies slowly fade and one begins to realize what a wonderful text it really is.
Continue to: The Origin and Development of Yoga. Part VI