Chapter 1- The Ten Oriental Yogas

Great Systems of Yoga

by Ernest Wood

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| Ch.1 | | Ch.2 | | Ch.3 | | Ch.4 | | Ch.5 | | Ch.6 | | Ch.7 | | Ch.8 | | Ch.9 | | Preface | | Index |

THERE is great interest in the Western world at the present time on the subject of Oriental Occultism, and very rightly so, for the time has come for it to be blended in with the practical material civilization which has been so wonderfully developed in the modern world. There will be two benefits in this blending—more success in the outer world and more peace in the inner life.

The time has gone for any of us—East or West—to think of Occultism as an escape from material reality and responsibility into some vague inner condition in which one retreats from all that material life stands for. Rather it is concerned in the purpose voiced by Emerson when he wrote: "To make in matter home for mind." To make of this world a place where consciousness can enjoy to the full all the powers of its own mind and at the same time discover that there is more to the mind than is commonly known—that is practical Occultism.

To know how the mind works we cannot do better than turn to the ancient writers on what is called yoga—looking at all the principal ancient schools of yoga, not only one or two of them. Of these there are seven well-known surviving schools in India today, and in addition to these our survey of Oriental Occultism would be incomplete without allusion to three others—the Persian Sufis, the Buddhist "Noble Way," and the Chinese and Japanese Zen. This makes ten in all.

Many are the modern teachers of practical occultism or yoga, but all of them can be classed as especially devoted to the methods of one or other of these modes of practice.

Why have we at the outset associated the word yoga with occultism? Because yoga is the practice of occult powers—or rather the discovery and use of those powers residing unseen in the depths of the human mind. The practice could begin with the formula, "We are only part alive," and from that standpoint proceed to investigate the Introspectional Psychology of the ancients, which they said united them—yoga means union—with the latent possibilities and unseen actualities of and beyond the mind. The Introspectional Psychology, all the ancient teachers asserted, is justified by its results; it works.

That it should have been developed in elder times, in very peaceful times, in the Orient, was very natural. In those very settled days there were whole classes of society who had leisure to give to these matters. There were not only solitary and silent hermit-investigators, but also teachers with small schools, and travelling lecturers, and occasional conferences of teachers organized by the ancient rulers. But nowadays we have a phase of material activity, most fully developed in America and now invading the Orient itself, which leaves people with little energy or time to carry on the studies in Introspectional Psychology in which many people formerly immersed themselves—in which they were often at fault when they made the delights of the mind a substitute for the valuable experience of the whole estate of man. This modern activity is such that very often people have nervous breakdowns of various kinds. Many must be the material achievements left unfulfilled because of the collapse of those who could originate them but could not bear the strain of carrying them to their completion.

It is into this field of sorrow, lit up only occasionally by success, that the Oriental occultism can be brought for the discovery and use of the inner resources of the mind, increasing the power and improving the machinery of thought, emotion and the will. That peace and power are two aspects of one principle is one of the chief discoveries of the Oriental occultist—a discovery within the reach of all reasonable persons.

It is not to be thought, however, that the ancient teachers alluded to are proposing some sort of magic as a substitute for our present method of doing things through the mechanism of a healthy body. That the magic exists is true, and there is a long list of "psychic powers" which manifest themselves in various degrees quite naturally as the process of yoga goes on, but the teachers mostly refer to these as not of great value, and advise against making the mind a "playground" for them. In India there are many who can exhibit varieties of hallucinatory or hypnotic effects, and also telepathy, psychometry, clairvoyance, clairaudience, levitation, astral travelling, transportation and apport, and similar occult or magical arts. Indeed, some people with very little education in other respects have been specially trained in one or more of these faculties and powers, so that they are able to astonish the tourist and earn a living by exhibiting these feats. But the real yogīs are not interested in these. They are interested in mastering environment and finding the ethical and spiritual forces and experiences which are not only immature but positively infantile in most people.

It will be asked: "Why do not these more perfect men use both the higher powers and the magics?" The answer is, "They do. They use these constantly, but they do not display them, for they know that very many persons would be tempted out of the regular course of their evolution by the glamour of these faculties and powers. And many would use them as only another additional means for exploiting their fellow men." As to such matters as applying a healing influence for body and mind—these can be as well used in silence as with any display. I remember that one very respected Hindu occultist, when questioned on this point said that if highly successful and convincing demonstrations of the occult powers were given, most people would be overcome by modesty and would want to lean upon the demonstrator, others would be frightened, others would call it the work of the devil, and some who had not seen for themselves would call it all a fraud—but on the other hand those who sincerely practice the yoga will invariably have before long some convincing experiences of their own, useful for their own private encouragement and essential benefit.

In my book The Occult Training of the Hindus, published some years ago in Madras, and recently reprinted there, I presented a brief survey of this subject, resulting from my long residence in India, during which I was chiefly interested in studying these matters. In that book I have told of my acquaintance and friendship with many of these exponents of yoga, and how I thus learned that all over the country there are tens of thousands of people who give part of their day to the pursuit of the methods of the ancient occult teachers, although they are engaged in modern occupations. There is in India, I would say, a vein of practicality in these matters which most Western persons just do not understand.

In the present small volume, intended to bring these matters more to the attention of the West, I am making use again of much of the material in that book, without feeling it necessary to employ quotation marks. This has been done considerably in Chapters 2 to 6. Chapters 7 to 9 are entirely newly written.

Let us begin then with the statement that the seven well-known varieties of yoga practice among the Hindus can be listed as follows:—

  1. The Rāja Yoga of Patanjali.
  2. The Karma and Buddhi Yoga of Shrī Krishna.
  3. The Gnyāna Yoga of Shrī Shankarāchārya.
  4. Hatha Yoga.
  5. Laya Yoga.
  6. Bhakti Yoga.
  7. Mantra Yoga.

These seven can be classified in two groups—the first three being called varieties of rāja-yoga and the last four varieties of hatha-yoga. The adjective rāja means "kingly" because the man becomes king or master of his own faculties. The last four emphasize the importance of material aids, by working largely on the outside or on the "terrestrial man," which is composed of the body along with its bundle of habitual emotions and memories and knowledge.

The rāja-yogī maintains that the inner powers of the mind can never be enhanced by any external means, but only by their own exercise.

Here the law of growth from within is paramount. By the use of thought, thought grows. This is true also of love and the will. There is no other way in which these growths can be obtained. A realization of this fact sets the novice on his own feet, and cures him at the outset of any tendency to lean or depend upon others, even upon experts and teachers he may admire.

Still, this exercise can be hindered or at least made very difficult by any bad condition of the body in such matters as nervous disorders, irregular breathing, bad balance, and undue tension. The hatha-yogīs of the more intellectual kind accede to the proposition that all higher growth is from within, but still say "No rāja without hatha" because they find that bodies generally require some preparation. The thorough-going rāja-yogīs however, generally reply that there is rāja without hatha, and in fact that rāja-yoga if properly done will itself put the body in order, for the mind influences the body even if the body cannot influence the mind. Still there is no harm, they often add, in just a little hatha-yoga as well, provided that the aspirant does not fall into a state of dependence on anything or any person, and does not seek merely the comforts of the body, emotions and knowledge, or make his purpose the increase of his power with a view to gain in these three fields.

The term hatha-yoga, when used strictly, refers specifically only to the fourth school on our list, for it is specially devoted to breathing practices, dealing with the incoming and outgoing—or ha and tha breaths. But the term is quite elastic and portions of the remaining three groups of teachings are generally included, to supplement the breathing exercises of the hatha-yoga schools. Inasmuch as all the four schools operate by external means they are all classable as in the general field of hatha-yoga, as they all work on the body and environment.

One of the great gains of modern yoga is that the "hair shirt" has been entirely given up. The new race is not afraid of the world. It does not regard it as evil or of the devil. Modern man can trust himself amidst all the lures. He can handle them and be their master. He knows his own powers and can very well judge the results of his use of them. He can envisage a metaphysical goal and also be aware of the metaphysical in the physical as he goes along. He feels that whatever he may gain by any exercise or experience in his will, his goodwill and his intelligence is all to the good, quite apart from any so-called material gain, and there is no objection to that in addition. If he is caught up in any interests, enthusiasms or excitements—as he is—he knows not to go too far, and that he will come out of them richer in character, even if a bit scarred. He knows that time will heal all the wounds and ripen the character. So in the field of yoga today he is not in fear of missing anything, nor dependent upon a particular guide, but will choose his exercises with all the natural confidence with which he can choose a good cigar. He asks for information, not gifts, nor orders, and here the Orient spreads it out before him for his choice. According to individual temperament each will choose, and then travel in the way that suits him best.

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Source: Reproduced from the Great Systems of Yoga, by Ernest Wood, 1954. This text is in the public domain in the United States because it was not renewed at the US Copyright Office in a timely fashion. These files may be used for any non-commercial purpose provided this Notice of Attribution is left intact in all copies.