What Yoga is and is not – Q&A

Excerpts of Q&A from the article “What Yoga is and is not” by Prof Bharat Gupt written originally for India Facts. Reproduced with permission.


Q: (by a Greek poet.). I am very moved and happy to be here. I ask your advice rather than a question. Yoga has a country, it sprang from a certain tradition.  I am aware of the fact that it is not limited to it. But please tell me, for someone who wants to delve more seriously, more in depth into yoga and serve it better, is it advisable or necessary to delve into Eastern philosophy and Hindu religion?

BG: Studying Hinduism will bring its own reward. But even after studying it, there is little chance that one understands Yoga. Nothing shall mean much unless one does some practical Yoga. I can say from my own experience, as I have done music as Yoga (called naadopaasanaa in India). It was only after doing something practical like music that I could understand the meaning of the deep philosophical texts of Hinduism. As any musician knows, music makes you aware of your body as you employ it to create art, and so your mind, and an entirely different way of understanding develops by constant practice. Same is true of Yoga.

Question: What you explained about Yoga seems to be very similar to Zen or Buddhist thought. What do you think?

BG: Well, in my humble opinion, there is extremely little difference between what have been academically called as separate doctrines going by the name of Hinduism and Buddhism. There have been political reasons for projecting a big divide between the two but to discuss them is beyond the subject of this talk today.

Question: What is Yoga for Indians, I mean the common persons? For those who do not study or discuss the way we have been talking here? What place does Yoga have in a regular Indian’s everyday life?

BG: Yoga is a very wide term used for many kinds of practices. Asanas and pranayama is just one part of it though they stand for Yoga in the common understanding now. But if Yoga is to be seen as a path or journey to knowing the Cosmic Self-experience, then there have to many ways of approaching the Cosmic Truth. So there are dozens of Yogas: Selfless service, social responsibility, lifelong devotion to the pursuit of an art or a science, or even political responsibility.

[laughter].

Question: What did you say? Politics?

BG: It is surprising to hear this. However, if you take political responsibility in the spirit of total selflessness and with no personal interest whatsoever, it is legitimate Yoga. Arjuna was preached to do that by Krishna, to fight for and establish a just kingdom for common Good. Politics can thus be beautiful.

[Laughter and disbelief]

Question: Do you know of any such politicians?

BG: Yes, many! I have lived in Delhi all my life where all kinds of politicians live, from black to white. If I recall correctly, Plato has said that of all arts, statecraft is the highest art. You make a state for others, not just for yourself to be a tyrant.

Question: You spoke of regular Yoga practice. What does “regular” mean? How often and for how long does Yoga need to be done?

BG: The physical part of it is always a regimen but the inner journey is known only to the practitioner. Classical texts use a term called pranidhaana or concentrative determination for progressing in a Yoga journey. Higher and stronger the pranidhaana, better the result.

Question: Sometimes I try very hard to go ahead in my Yoga pursuit but then sometimes I catch myself getting angry or upset – I get very disappointed for not being able to control myself more, following the yamas and niyamas. What should I do?

BG: We are all like that. That is why we need Yoga.

Question: (The poet) Are Yoga and meditation part of life or are they separate or is there a sacred union?

BG: In whatever form or style, Yoga has to be part of daily life.

Question: (by Lida). I like the way you have explained the channelling of energies in Yoga or rather that which is called ‘control’ in terms of Yoga. It is good that you explained that Yoga is not following a dogma or merely a set of rules but that it requires unconventional thinking and the opening of the mind.

BG: If you would read the lives of great Yogis, you will find that nearly all of them were unconventional and had their own innovative systems and even their rather eccentric style of social behaviour. The very core of Yoga is to think beyond the conventional and to know things afresh. That is why all puritans feel threatened by Yoga as they break rules.

Q:Regarding your expounding of Yoga as channelling of the forces and going within, I would like to say that in the Greek tradition there is a term used for inward exploration called ‘endoscopia.’

BG: For my info can you tell me in which text is this mentioned?

The Poet: One hundred maxims from the sayings of the Oracle of Delphi.

Q:Was Gandhi a Yogi?

BG: I will like to take that up in a separate lecture on Gandhi. I have a very critical view of Gandhi. In my humble opinion, right or wrong, like most social and political thinkers of modern India, Gandhi was cut off from the essential thought of classical India. Gandhi’s ideas were rooted in the paradigm of the medieval Hindu devotional movement called Vaishnavism that dominated the medieval times. The difference is the same as between a Byzantine painting of Christ in a monastery and an ancient painting of Apollo on a ritual ceramic vase. I am giving a comparison from Greece for your easy understanding. Gandhi did not belong to ancient Indian thought. My view, many may disagree.

Prof  Vassiliades: I want to say, although influenced by Islam and Christianity, Gandhi revered and constantly read the Bhagavad Gita, thus he does have some connection with ancient Indian thought.

BG: That is why he made a mess of the Bhagavad Gita. That is why he told the Jews to surrender to Hitler. We have to reassess Gandhi, Nehru and many of the so called makers of modern India. I have been saying this for 40 years. Most of these modern Indian leaders have been unaware of the real classical Indian thought. Look how Gandhi treated sex, which had little to do even with medieval India. Gandhi, regarding his attitude to sex and women reminds me of some Christian monk of the early centuries AD, who castrated himself. Don’t mind, mine is, perhaps, a very politically incorrect view.

Prof Vasillidaes: Classical India is not just Tantrism. It is also Jain thought which was a big influence on Gandhi.

BG: I agree with you that there is more to ancient Indian philosophy than just Tantra and the influence of Jain thought on Gandhi was certainly present. However, look at the real spirit of those ideas of brahmcharya (sexual control) and ahimsa (non-violence), which Gandhi adopted from Jain thought. In ancient times, as shown in the texts, brahmacharya was supposed to be practiced as moderation by the householder and total abstinence was for the mendicant ascetic. It was different for different people, in ancient society. Brahmacharya was not abstinence for the householder in ancient thought which rested on the four stages of life and social responsibility. But Gandhi forced abstinence on himself and preached it as desirable for all. Nonviolence or ahimsa was never pushed to such extreme in classical times, as Gandhi pushed it. All the Jain and Buddhist kings of India had strong and well equipped armies.

There is a lot of confusion about ancient Indian texts as for the past six to seven hundred years there have been no universities where these texts could have been studied systematically. Now there is a fresh need to understand them, prescribe them, study them at all levels of education, and discuss them again widely.  Then alone we will be able to judge our modern political leaders.

I thank you all, for coming and listening to me and giving your time this evening. Thank you very much indeed.

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