Yoga and Sant Mat
When one hears the word yoga the mind conjures images of difficult postures and contortions of the body. They are the techniques of the hatha yoga designed for purifying and disciplining the body to keep it healthy. The spiritual yogas (Rāja, Sahaj, Kriya, Ashtanga and Dhyan) include none of these hard measures. Their emphasis is on purification of the mind and meditation, to liberate the soul from the endless cycle of birth and death.
So what is yoga? In simple terms, according to the Bhagavad Gita, yoga is: “To be steadfast in the performance of one’s duty and treat both success and failure with equanimity.”
It has many similarities with Sant Mat principles. According to Guru Teg Bahadur Ji, sukh dukh dono sam kar jaanai a-or maan apmaanaa (One who realizes that pain and pleasure as well as honour and dishonour are the same). And according to Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Hukam rajai chalna, Nanak likhya naal (O Nanak, obey the preordained order/command and walk in the way of His Will).
Yoga is derived from Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which means union of the self (soul) with the Supreme Being.
Patanjali defines yoga as the control of thought-waves of the mind (chitta-vritti-nirodha). When thoughts begin to flow, one gets caught in them and the images they project. The turbulence of the mind is, therefore, to be made absolutely still, in order to facilitate the liberation of the soul. According to Ashtanga yoga, one has to go through the following eight steps.
Yama: five ethical restraints or a set of don’ts: Do not injure any being either by thought, word or deed; do not utter falsehood; do not steal; do not indulge in acts of passions and lust; and do not become greedy or covetous.
Niyama: five positive observances of certain good habits, the do’s. They are cleanliness of body and mind, contentment (santosha), austerity of body, speech and mind (tapas), study of holy books, and devotion to God (Īshvarapranidhāna).
Āsana: a bodily posture suitable for meditation – a bodily state midway between discomfort, which disturbs, and relaxation which causes drowsiness.
Prānāyāma: regulation of breath leading to integration of mind and body. Rhythmic breathing quiets the body, which in turn calms the mind. Thus, it is an important tool for mastering the body and quieting the mind.
Pratyāhāra: withdrawal of the mind and senses from all sense objects, turning it inward, and restraining it from going outward. Its purpose is to remove all possible distractions and diversions.
Dhāranā: concentration, that is fixing the attention at a point a little above the middle of the two eyebrows (popularly known as the shiva-netra or the third eye).
Dhyāna: This is deep meditation, when concentration is uninterrupted, like oil flowing from one vessel into another.
Samādhi: Total absorption of the mind in the object of meditation. Here all mental activities cease and the purusha (soul) realizes its true nature. This is inner illumination – liberation. The last three steps are collectively called sanyyam or control.
The first three steps are to purify the body and mind, and the next two are aimed at controlling or annihilating the thought waves of the mind (chitta-vritti-nirodha) for facilitating meditation (dhyāna). The last three are aids to spiritual experience. The spiritual aspirant need not accept any dogma blindly, nor is he required to perform any rites or rituals. It is an internal practice of meditation, by which the soul is freed from the fetters of prakriti (maya). Thereafter, the soul remains completely isolated from everything eternally. This is known as kevalaya (aloneness) or liberation. It brings an end to all sufferings.
Yoga and Sant Mat (teachings of the saints)
The first three steps, namely, Yama, Niyama and Asana are similar to the Sant Mat principles of honest living, maintaining purity of character, vegetarianism, and abstinence from alcohol and all mind-altering substances (natural or man-made).
As regards Asana, the posture – although Sant Mat prefers a spiritual aspirant sitting erect, cross-legged, with the head, neck and trunk upright, it is not dogmatic about it. If physical health has limitations one can sit erect in any position, midway between discomfort and relaxation or in any position where one can sit still comfortably for a longer period.
Among the eight steps mentioned above, the perspectives of Sant Mat on pranayama, dhyana and samadhi are different. Sant Mat does not advocate control or regulation of breath, and the spiritual aspirant is advised to breathe normally. Sant Mat supports dhyana, where one holds attention at the eye centre and contemplates on the form of the Guru. In Sant Mat, the basis of such contemplation is love for the Guru. For this reason it is also called the path of love and devotion.
As per yoga, samadhi is a stage in which all mental activities cease and the soul realizes its true nature. This is liberation from prakriti (maya) and mind. Whereas in Sant Mat it is a state in which the soul gets attuned to anhad Shabd – the creative power – which leads it to realize its oneness with God (Aham brahmasmi) and eventually, shining forth as pure consciousness (so aham), it merges into God. As such, liberation according to Sant Mat is not just separation of the soul from the web of prakriti (maya) but merging into the Supreme Consciousness.
Yoga is a rational practice where one is not required to follow any dogma or perform any mystifying ritual. It is of interest to those having a scientific outlook to know their ‘true self’. Sant Mat, however, aims at merging the soul (true self) with the Supreme Consciousness.
The practice of yoga is easy for those who have the required physical ability and are born with the power of concentration; whereas Sant Mat is the path of love and devotion and can be practised by one and all. For following Sant Mat, knowledge of yoga is not essential.
Although yoga and Sant Mat have different concepts and practices, both aim at the same noble cause of freeing the soul from the shackles of mind and prakriti (maya), leading to self-realization before God-realization. On attaining such a state of union with the Creative Power, one submits to the will of the Lord and accepts all happenings of life – pleasure or pain, honour or dishonour, success or failure – as the divine order and the grace of the Almighty Lord.