Yoga Defined


Yogi
Yogi
Perform your duty equipoised, O Arjuna, abandoning all attachment to success or failure. Such equanimity is called yoga. – Bhagavad-gita 2.48

Yesterday I went to my weekly yoga class.

At the end of the class, during the relaxation period, the instructor asked everyone to focus on their breathing. She added, “If thoughts come to your mind, acknowledge them with compassion and let them go.” I was left thinking, “What in the world does that mean? Acknowledge your thoughts with compassion.” It sounds really beautiful, but how does one actually go about doing it?

In a similar vein, many people equate yoga with feeling peaceful. My question is, what does peace mean? This is the challenge with words. Few of us actually take the time to decode the intangibles like “peace,” “compassion,” and “humility” etc. Even turning to the dictionary is often fruitless since in the end, the words themselves are coloured by our experiences and perceptions. That’s why “spirituality,” which promotes the development of so many of these intangible characteristics, can be confusing to many.

On the other hand, bhakti yoga is not only practical but complete, as it not only gives us the process but explains the nature of the outcome. In this verse, Krishna provides a beautiful and practical definition of yoga: “Practice your duty in an equipoised frame of mind, abandoning all attachment to success or failure.” But let’s stop for a moment and really understand what this word “equipoised” means since I’m guessing it is not a common word for most of us. Simply put, it means balanced, in equilibrium.

In the context of yoga, equipoised means to do things for the sake of doing them and giving up the attitude of “I’m doing this because it will benefit me.” The thing is, we all need a motivating force to drive us to accomplish almost everything. If we don’t have one, we won’t do anything. Don’t you agree? So then, the question remains, “If I’m not doing this for me, what’s my motivation?” We might respond and say, “Well, the reasons why I do certain things are certainly not centered on me. I’m motivated because I’m doing it for my friends, family, my country, or even for the world.” To this, the Gita replies, “Okay. That is admittedly a step up from always focusing on yourself.”

However, it doesn’t end just there. Krishna wants to help us attain the best possible goal, so He gives us something even higher to reach for. That’s right, we can actually operate on an even higher motivating principle. So what is this principle?

Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, our bhakti guide and teacher for the Gita, explains in his purport, “Yoga means to concentrate the mind upon the Supreme by controlling the ever-disturbing senses.” Did you catch the progression here? It’s subtle, so let’s break it down.

In order to perform one’s duties in an equipoised frame of mind (i.e. in yoga):

  1. One needs to control the ever-disturbing senses. The senses are like tentacles that are always trying to grab some object so that they can derive pleasure from it. So how do we control the senses? By purifying them. We will have to keep reading to understand the instructions the Gita provides for this crucial step.
  2. One concentrates the mind upon the Supreme. This can be a hard one for many people. However, the simplest way is to perform mantra meditation. Simply by repeating transcendental sound vibrations, the mind is immediately calmed and focused. If you’ve never tried it, just try repeating the maha-mantra.

If we apply the process of mantra meditation correctly, then we gradually start experiencing our nonmaterial identity in relationship to the Supreme. As Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita (15.7):

The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.

The material body and mind almost completely cover our spiritual identity. In this state of spiritual amnesia, we are naturally forced to invest our energy in trying to gratify our material senses (in the Vedic worldview the mind is considered another sense). However, since material pleasure is temporary and dependent on conditions beyond our control, the quest to obtain it is inevitably a struggle fraught with anxiety and dissatisfaction. But when we start to experience our spiritual identity then we gradually relinquish our grip on trying to arrange pleasing situations for our senses. Instead, we become motivated to act in a way that rekindles our connection with the Supreme.

This seismic shift in motivation results in the experience of a higher consciousness. This higher consciousness reveals the worries and anxieties that normally swirl through our mind for what they really are—temporary and insignificant. This is not to imply that we don’t need to take care of our worries. It means we take care of them in the proper perspective and thereby avoid anxiety.

See how the attachment has changed? Instead of obsessing over the ever- changing, transient material conditions that determine the “success” or “failure” of our attempts to enjoy our material senses, we become attached to acting in harmony with Krishna. In following these steps, we can remain equipoised and devote our attention to our prime duty of reviving our loving relationship with the Supreme.

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