Great Systems of Yoga - Preface

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 are many people in America and Europe who want to know what yoga is, and they say, "Do not tell us about the yoga of one particular school; we want a concise survey of the whole field."

This need I have tried to fill in the present small volume. In doing so I have endeavored to preserve the perfect authenticity and clearness of the original teachings of ten different well-known Oriental schools of yoga teaching and practice. This I am doing mainly direct from the original texts and with an extensive knowledge of their actual operation, acquired largely during my thirty-eight-years residence in the East.

Then comes the remark: "We want to find out whether there is anything in these forms of yoga which we can use in our present civilization. Has it anything for us?"

It certainly has. In explanation of this reply, I will first mention that it will be seen by the reader of this book that reflectiveness and meditation play a large part in most of the yoga systems, and then add,

"Half an hour spent in meditation or even in reflection in the morning is not time wasted. It is not even time spent. It is time gained, because it will make the rest of the day far more fruitful than it would otherwise have been."

"How so?"

"It will do this in four ways:

"First, it will co-ordinate the contents of the mind on all aspects of the matters in which you are currently interested, and ensure that nothing is missed or overlooked.

"Secondly, it will permit the rising of new ideas, through the recombinations of old ones, and suggestions arising from them.

"Thirdly, it will exercise the mental faculty, and thus increase both its grip and its grasp, improving its functionality for the whole day, just as the muscular development acquired by ten minutes' exercise in the morning gives the body greater strength for the whole day.

"Fourthly, it will automatically work some of the magic of the mind, whereby you will be put tele-magnetically into touch with things and persons you are interested in, and thus it will create opportunities and even so-called coincidences."

If this is not enough, let us add that it will open new fields of interest, especially those which are concerned with the understanding and right use of life itself.

It will also enrich consciousness itself. Inasmuch as we all enjoy consciousness more than anything else it will be giving us the best of all benefits. There is a story about two men who were talking about a little boy who was licking an ice-cream cone. One remarked that the boy did not like ice-cream. The other, sensing a catch, said he supposed that what was meant by that remark was that what was liked was the taste of the ice-cream. But the reply was that what the boy really liked was only the consciousness of the taste of the ice-cream, and that applies to everything in our lives.

Why should not our subjective faculties be cultivated? We take care of our horses and other animals, and give them proper food, exercise and rest. Why not do the same for our mental faculties—also for our moral and spiritual ones, too, and that not merely by the way?

But to return to the material practicality of the subject. Thousands of people are breaking down in modern life because they cannot stand the pace. Suppose we can teach them how to keep up the pace of outward modern life but at the same time have such inner calm and poise that they can stand it without strain and fatigue. That is something well worth while, is it not? Well, this is not an idle promise. It is a fact.

But you must be warned. What you gain in yoga must be accompanied by goodwill towards others and the wish that they also may benefit in some way by your increased knowledge and power. Without this there will be a recoil on your head, just as sure as the magic of the magnetism of thought operates to benefit you. But that is no hardship, is it, when we all know full well in these enlightened days that there is no true pleasure in life when our neighbors or companions are suffering, and indeed almost the greatest of all pleasures is to see others happy. This nature of ours is not merely negative and concerned with sympathy for the suffering. It is also positive—the enjoyment of the happiness of others. Is that not why people like a peaceful country scene? As one lady remarked a few days ago: "How much nicer the meadow is now that the cows are in it!"

In the present world crisis most of us are concerned not so much with the idea that a bomb may fall on our own heads—we would rather it did so than on the heads of those near and dear to us, or on any considerable number of people anywhere. We are very much concerned about the plight of humanity in general. We rejoice over the prosperity of the average family of today, and we quake to think that it may be destroyed and an age of torment and slavery may engulf it. We think of the welfare of the children and the aged, and most of us would not enjoy a personal prosperity built upon the sufferings of these.

These are matters which yoga also puts before us, studies and explains, so that we learn that happiness is a matter not merely of physical, emotional and mental health and strength, and these in balance—no small matter—but of social and moral and ethical health and balance also, and even something more of which we know only the rudiments now, namely that which we call the spiritual self, from the consecration by which all the invigoration of our powers proceeds.

Let us be definite and certain about this. If by some personal suffering or loss you could stop for good and all the sort of war that took place in Korea—stop the maiming and killing of unbelligerent men, stop the ruin and slaughter of gentle people, the populations of admirable lands of ancient culture, such as Korea was—how far would you go in that loss and suffering? Most people would go to the limit. Does this not tell us that it is ability we lack, not love of our fellowmen? We are held back by helplessness, not by selfishness. If the issue could be squarely put, how many would shrink from the supreme sacrifice? Very few. It is the sort of thing Tom Paine asked the people of the American Colonies to do when George Washington was on the wrong side of victory, and most of them held off through that helpless feeling, but there were enough responses to turn the tide, and ensure the material establishment of a grand set of social ideals which are again in danger today.

Washington acted much because he had thought and felt much. We do not think enough—that is what is the matter. Let us have some practice and more know-how in thinking—that is what yoga can give to every one. Not to make the opposite error, to sink ourselves in thought, as some have done, but to invigorate and rationalize the whole of living by the awakening of more of man-ness in our minds.

The man-ness of man is constantly being surrendered to externals. This is one of the warnings of the yoga theoreticians. By a curious paradox of our life, the very service of mammon, as we may call it, is often the one thing which calls the man-ness of man into activity. I must explain. The human body has its more or less permanent set-up, with a group of pains and pleasures geared to its activities and designed primarily to warn it against dangers and tempt it into healthful activities, which have for the most part become automatic. When, for example, the needs of the body are satisfied with food, the natural appetite dies away for the time being, and if it is then stimulated artificially by exciting spices pain will arise after some time and tend to stop that excess. To correct this and numerous other troubles the man-ness of the man, in the shape of his power of thought and affection is aroused. But it is rather a pitiful situation that the man-ness of the man should be awakened and operated for such negative reasons, when it is really the activity of that man-ness which is the chief possibility of enjoyment in human life.

Thus we have heard recently a story of two boys who now, as men, are regarded as fine examples of the resolute betterment of human life. Briefly, they mortgaged everything they had and went into the silver fox business and made a lot of money. That was the betterment! And presumably they then settled down to a life of bodily enjoyment or bodily excitement, the chief feature of which could be described as the consciousness bathing, as it were, in the body's enjoyment. How different from the pursuit of knowledge, affection and art—which grow by exercise, and show us the man enjoying himself, or enjoying, to use my previous phrase, the man-ness of man, and thereby increasing his man-ness.

The paradox of the situation is resolved by the knowledge that all material gains can be used for the purposes of the real man that we all the time truly are, did we but observe and remember that important fact. It could be summed up in the old trinity of truth, goodness and beauty, resulting from the use of honest thought, affection and the will. And when they are so used there is more man-ness and in consequence more happiness.

Briefly, then, the great yogīs do not teach abandonment of circumstances, but triumph over circumstances. The result is that man being true to himself overcomes all his troubles—of body, emotions and mind—and there is then harmony between the outer and the inner life. It could then be said that man does not serve mammon, but mammon serves him.

Now we must notice a very important principle of yoga, which arises from this recognition of the true nature of man. It is that in yoga practice there must be no negativity or passivity of the man. Anything in the nature of hypnotism, suggestion or auto-suggestion, repetition of words, sentences or ideas to form habits of thought or feeling is strictly taboo.

The emotions and the ideas which constantly spring up from past associations are to be used under the surveillance of the real man in all circumstances. With his present powers of thought, love and the will he will either permit them or change them, as the case may be, just as he permits or orders the body to walk or jump or talk on a given occasion, and does not expect it to follow old habits of activity but to keep quiet when he does not want it to do something. The body must be well treated, of course, like a good horse, but it is not supposed to run around the country-side on its own account. Similarly, the emotions and the mind should be quiet, having only that functional flow which in them is analogous to the movements of breathing, heart action, digestion etc. in the body.

This matter of no passivity appears very clearly in the practice of concentration, meditation and contemplation. Concentration is voluntary attentiveness to something. This brings about a contraction which is at the same time an intensification of consciousness, somewhat analogous to placing a reflector round a lamp. Meditation, which proceeds as soon as concentration is established, is an expansion of attention to the object without loss of this intensification. It thus consists of a flow or fountain of observation and thought about the object. When this process is complete it can be followed by an active poise of the mind, without any passivity, which is contemplation. At the end of the meditation it will be observed, the thinking stops. Then the new process—a third process—must go on without any diminution of the high quality or intensity of consciousness obtained by the concentration or voluntary attention. If the reader tries this method with some perseverance he will soon find the benefit of it, in the consciousness, in the powers of the mind (will, love and thought) and in the body and his world of things and events.

It will soon be found that this three-fold meditation, practiced at first at special times, begins to work with great swiftness even in the midst of activity, and even amid what were previously regarded as disturbing circumstances. In this connection one wishes again to issue the warning that increase of knowledge and power without love will lead to a point of great recoil. No organism can continue if it develops one or two of its functions at the expense of the rest—that is obvious in the body, which to be healthy must have harmoniousness and balance in all its parts. This is true with regard to the three parts of the man-ness of us. One cannot know everything, love everything, do everything, but what one does in the small area of a human being's life must be positive in thought, love and the will. There can be no hate and such emotions, no carelessness of judgment, no surrender of the will, all of which imply negativity and waste of man-ness. There can and indeed must be relaxation, but this also must be voluntary. Voluntary relaxation carried on with your approval, sometimes with your assistance.

Another question is, "What is the relation between mysticism and yoga?"

In connection with this we have to think of yoga as goal—not only as methods or the way to the goal. The goal of yoga is the Beyond. Some call this God. God is the Beyond. This word Beyond only is used in the Bhagavad Gītā for what in the West we call the goal or God. To know the Beyond and to enter the Beyond are familiar expressions. If someone asks what God is we cannot in these enlightened days say "He is a big man, an exacting but benevolent old gentleman with a white beard," nor even, "He is a great mind, a great thinker and lover and law-giver." We have to admit that God is the Beyond, beyond both world and mind, beyond object and subject, and therefore a Mystery, except to those who have experience of the Beyond. The very word mystic means "with the eyes closed"—in terms of yoga we say with the eyes of the body and the eyes of the mind—both sets—closed. There are, of course, mystic eyes belonging to the Beyond. That is another truth. Man has them, but scarcely knows it, and so has in most cases still to learn to use them. He is sometimes reminded that he has them by the rare God-knowers of past or present.

One last question: "Why Oriental yoga? Why not merely yoga? Surely this yoga cannot be Oriental or Occidental, any more than science or, strictly, religion, or the good life."

The answer is that many Eastern thinkers and writers have dealt with this subject, and have left us books explaining it. That is all we mean by the word Oriental in this matter. Those books have their individual emphasis on the use and study of thought or of love—the human feeling—or the will, but all concur in the nature of the goal. The subject has not been dealt with so extensively in the new civilizations of Europe and America, which have been mostly engaged in building a satisfactory material life. Let us therefore blend the knowledge from the Orient with the culture of body and environment which we have derived from Greece and the culture of the heart which has been accepted from Palestine.


November, 1953.

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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.