The Meaning of Adhyatma Yoga

Yoga is a Sanskrit word which derives from the verbal root ‘yuj’ which means ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. In the course of time, the name of yoga has come to be applied to almost any form of practice which has for its aim a yoking or uniting of apparently conflicting elements, with the result that there exist today so many varieties of Yoga that a newcomer to the subject is often understandably confused.

Adhyatma Yoga traces its origin to the Vedic Rishis or ‘Seers’ of the highest Truth. Their inspired utterances concern the nature of our true Self. This is the principal theme of the Upanishads, their final teaching and the culmination of wisdom.

The practices of this original yoga, integrated with our daily life, have the aim of uniting our outer and inner life with our ‘highest’ Self (adhi-atma). This endeavour leads to our re-discovery of the eternal bliss and freedom of our true identity, that ultimate essence of pure being and consciousness which upholds the perishable body and fluctuating mind, yet in reality transcends them utterly.

This re-discovery or ‘realisation’ of the nature of our innermost being is called by the yogis ‘liberation-in-life’. It is also referred to as ‘God-realization’, for experience reveals self as limitless, without parts or qualities, and thus free from any dividing line that separates the imagined individualised self from the whole. This transition from individuality to universality is indicated by the teacher, Shri Shankara, when, in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, he explains the word ‘adhyatma’ as ‘that which first appears as the innermost Self in the body and turns out in the end to be identical with the Supreme Reality (Brahman)’.

The teachers of Adhyatma Yoga define Reality, so far as it is possible to do so, as being that principle which continues to exist unchanged throughout the past, the present and the future. Another name for Reality is Truth—that which really exists and is eternal, untouched by changes in time. ‘Truth is as impossible to be soiled by any outward touch as the sunbeam’, said the poet Milton.

Another name for Truth is God, meaning the Supreme Being, the eternal Creator and Ruler of the universe. According to Adhyatma Yoga, Reality and Truth and God are different words to signify the same great Presence, which is the one Self of all, and which may be approached as a living, loving Power determined to evolve perfection in us. It is said that the sufi teacher of the mogul emperor Akbar once gave him a ring on which were inscribed the words: ‘In the name of Him who has no name and yet who responds to any name by which you call on Him with love’. The Upanishads proclaim this living loving power, this Supreme Self (Param-atma), alone as real. He is a-dvaita ‘not-two’, and for this reason the philosophy of Adhyatma Yoga is often called Advaita Vedanta.

Though the supreme Reality is beyond human understanding, it is our own real Self, and each one of us can re-awaken to our identity with That through the yogic practices and come to live consciously in that true identity. The promise is, as St Teresa of Avila has expressed it: ’To those who love me, I belong and they belong to Me. If any needy one should cry to Me, then in an instant I am at his side.’ This is the real freedom and total fulfilment which all people are really seeking from life, whether or not they are conscious of the fact, and it can be realized while actively engaged in our worldly duties. It is for this that we live and it is for this that Adhyatma Yoga should be practised daily.

Our greatest hunger is for eternal happiness and freedom. ‘Nor is it I alone, nor some few besides,’ says St Augustine in his Confessions, ‘but absolutely all would fain be happy.’ The trouble is that so long as we confine our search for lasting happiness to the objective world, we fail to find it. If, for example, we seek it through gratification of our sensual urges, the satisfaction we obtain is temporary and tends to decrease with repetition; and we pay a price, physically, mentally and spiritually which can far outweigh any satisfaction we originally obtained.

The same limitation is true if we seek to satisfy our urge for freedom through the exercise of power over others. In the end the domination we seek is filled with bitterness and fear. The acquisition of great wealth is no remedy, if we find ourselves obsessed by the need to acquire more of it and to prevent others stealing it. As it is said in the Gospel: ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where it grows rusty and moth-eaten, and thieves break in to steal it.’ A fact of life is that the satisfaction to be derived from the outer objects through the senses is transitory and the wise do not delight in it.

If these unsatisfying names and forms were all, our prospects would be grim. But the truth is that underlying these ever-changing phenomena of our world, and also the subtler realm of our thoughts and feeling, there is the Reality which does not change, which is our own true Self. And the Upanishads teach that ‘Even while we are here, in this life, we may know It.’

To take advantage of these teachings by confirming their validity in our own experience requires more than an intellectual acceptance of them. We need a practical, well-tested method of bringing about the necessary control and transformation of the mind in order that the true Self may be revealed in it ‘as in a clear mirror’. It is just such a method which is offered in the daily disciplines of study, mind-control and meditation provided by Adhyatma Yoga. Its time-honoured practices are available to all serious students who have faith in the higher spiritual values, irrespective of their religious convictions. As the Teacher Shri Dada of Aligarh has said: ‘There is no contradiction at the central core of Truth though the approaches to it may be varied.’

Although in the later stages of its practice traditional guidance will be necessary, a start may be made at once on the daily programme as given, for example, in this journal’s articles on meditation practice. Every day at a set time and, whenever possible in the same quiet place, students of the higher Yoga sit in the meditation posture on a cushion on the floor, or on an upright chair, and for a predetermined time, we endeavour to empty our mind of all other thoughts and concentrate it on an inspired text or symbol, or on some spiritual quality such as compassion, patience or fearlessness, ending the practice by giving our unconditional blessings to all without making any exceptions.

Other practices are given for use during the day to help us maintain the mood of the meditation and to observe and consciously direct our mind. Great importance is attached to the cultivation of a universal outlook and genuine goodwill in our dealings with others, an attitude consistent with the teaching of Adhyatma Yoga as to our true identity. The Bhagavad Gita, too, points out that it is really the irrational prejudices, the likes and dislikes arising in an undisciplined mind, which put us at the mercy of our circumstances. Such a mind, alternating between agitation and lethargy, renders itself unfit for the higher knowledge. Thus we are advised by Shri Dada to ’plant roses of sympathy in the garden of the mind, sow seeds of broad-mindedness and set cuttings of universal compassion and goodwill.’

It is easy to point to such an ideal, but in practice we are likely to agree with the student in the Gita, when he complains to his Teacher that he finds his mind as hard to control as the wind. But the Teacher reassures him; ‘Indeed, as you say, the mind is wild and restless and resists control, but through repeated practice and through detachment it can be controlled.’

Such practice, in partnership with our enquiry into the true nature of the Self, will aid the uncovering—not the creating anew—of the higher Self-knowledge, and the recognition that peace, freedom and perfection are already innate in our inner being, as the true nature of the ‘I’. This is the discovery awaiting all men and women who are willing to lift their gaze from its habitual absorption in outer goals and accessories, and turn within and to seek out the underlying unity in all, the One Reality which is none other than their own Self. Then, as Shri Dadaji has said: ‘For those who are tired of the wheel of transmigration, those who are tired of illness, failure, old age—for them there is a sure refuge, and it is the eternal Truth, so beautifully embodied in Adhyatma Yoga.’



This article is from the Autumn 2017 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.