The author was probably the first person to teach Hatha and Raja Yoga in Australia in 1949. He travelled to India in 1952 to attend the School of Wisdom at the Theosophical Headquarters in Adyar, in what was then Madras, and then travelled extensively in the Himalayas on foot. His first book, Yoga Pocket Teacher, was published in London in 1968. Six others have subsequently been published.
This book is the result of a lifelong study of the Sanatama Dharma or ‘Eternal Philosophy’ and contains material not generally available.
By the same author:
Diary of a Dropout. Sydney: Wellspring, 1990.
The Book of Relaxation. Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 1988.
Modern Naturopathy. Sydney: Harper & Row, 1986.
Your Lifestyle: Health and Nutrition. Sydney: Doubleday, 1984.
Your Health: Vitamins and Minerals. Sydney: Doubleday, 1982.
Basic Biosciences. Sydney: McClelland, 1976.
Yoga Pocket Teacher. London: Transworld, 1968.
In a world of paradoxes, here is another; the spirituality that is more appropriate to this Atomic age is in fact, ancient. This is so because it is free of specific religious traditions and does not depend upon faith in a single saviour, doctrine or belief system, but upon individual courage, intelligence and diligence. This spirituality encompasses the age-old views the Hindu sages had about the meaning of life and the Universe. Bits and pieces of these views have been filtering through western culture for many years now, often fragmented, superficial and without mention of the debt owed to original sources. Here are the major teachings all together in the one book; so come on a fascinating journey through enchanted lands of deep insights, revelations, startling notions and beautiful ideas. Explore an alternative Universe and discover another life. You may arrive back from where you started with a fresh new mind.
In the beginning…
According to Hindu traditions, the first of their great sages were called Rishis. They were part of the creation of human life, bringing with them the laws of living embodied in the scriptures and philosophies. Since then there have been countless Rishis born in all cultures and nations. No matter where or when, they all advise much the same things and broadly speaking, share common world-views. Within this wide scope, there are many differences due to the level of their understanding, their cultural heritage and language.
Going back to the Hindu traditions, the knowledge the first Rishis brought has been modified, refined and developed into the most succinct and complete expression about the nature of the Universe, the world and the significance of being human. In its present form it is called the Sanatana Dharma or the Eternal Law. Aldous Huxley named it the Perennial Philosophy, though in its various or partial expressions it is known by many other names.
The most complete description can be found in the Hindu teachings for the simple reason that the living springs have been kept flowing through lines of enlightened sages for thousands of years. According to some academics, the wisdom of the sages was first written down in the Sanskrit language about 3,000 years ago. Much of it has been translated into English and other languages to such an extent that some of it has become common parlance.
In the 21st century, the theories or axioms of science tend to confirm many of the ideas found in the Eternal Religion, giving birth to a marvellous fusion of cultural traditions. This phenomenon has profound significance, not only for this age but also for all time to come.
The sages and their works
So what is this wonderful world-view the sages have carefully nurtured since the beginning of time? Can it be expressed in common language and can the whole broad canvas be explained in a small book? This book is one such attempt, its purpose being to present the teachings of the great sages, saints, yogis and philosophers who have contributed to the sum total of teachings now known as Vedanta.
The most salient teachings have been presented in a simplified form in order to avoid the difficulties involved in grappling with Sanskrit terms and academic references, so that a clear exposition of the teachings of the Hindu sages can be easily understood.
Within the Hindu culture, the volume of philosophical literature is immense and varied. This exposition is taken from many such different sources, all considered authoritative treatises of Vedanta philosophy. Vedanta is the name given to the summation of knowledge known as the Upanishads, contained in the immense body of work known as the Vedas, ascribed to and sung by many ancient Rishis. (It is worth mentioning that 27 of them were women.) The authors of the Upanishads, however, are anonymous; the treatises referred to are by great sages such as Kanada, Gautama, Kapila, Shankara and Sadananda for the most part.
The Universe was a living being to the sages who sung the Vedas. One of their most remarkable achievements was to deify and humanize everything at the same time. The sun was the father of the moon, night was his daughter and the dawn was night’s sister. Earth, air, fire and water were Gods and rites, rituals and festivals were timed to accord with the phases of the moon, for the moon was the deity of the mind.
The Vedas are not only religious but worldly and practical as well. They address all of life. The first part of the Vedas is called the Action section. It outlines the way to be happy by living in accordance with ethical laws and duties accompanied by oblations and sacrifices to maintain the harmony of nature. The Gods or Goddesses propitiated were seen as aspects of the one energy that structures creation. That energy was understood to be an expression of the Absolute Existence, Intelligence and Joy they called Brahman. Because material life is subject to suffering, is transitory and limited, it must ultimately be unsatisfactory. The human heart and mind long for something greater. This longing is the transcendental urge to which the second part of the Vedas is dedicated. It is the Knowledge section called the Upanishads. There are over 100 Upanishads though the most quoted are 11. Many great sages have written commentaries upon them. They are dedicated to transcending the limitations of ordinary life and awareness and thus the achievement of liberation, immortality, freedom from birth and death and everlasting peace and felicity. Because this is only possible through one’s realisation of Brahman, it is known as Brahmavidya. It is also known as Atmavidya, which brings in the idea of Self (atma). This points to one of the basic revelations of the sages – that what we intuit as the Self is in fact an aspect of Brahman. Self-realisation is Brahmavidya (knowledge of Brahman), world-shattering ideas the sages have taken great pains to explain.
As it is written in the Mundaka Upanishad
‘Heaven is his head, the sun and moon his eyes, the four quarters his ears, the revealed scriptures his voice, the air is his breath; the Universe is his heart. From his feet came the earth. He is the innermost Self of all’.[i]
Though the Upanishads are simple expressions of intuitive perceptions and not abstruse philosophy, the knowledge they contain is not meant to be regarded as interesting ideas to while away the time, or to be read as cultural anthropology or even a study of comparative religion. The world-views expressed by the sages are not a product of speculative thought nor are they based on a religious dogma to be believed in for fear of hellfire. They are based on their personal experience in heightened states of awareness and expressed in succinct intellectual form with great discrimination. Many of the subtler truths the sages proclaim are not easy to comprehend at first reading because they challenge our commonsense notions, but this will excite and not deter earnest readers. For the most part, the Upanishads are expressed in simple poetic language that is delightful to read.
Rather than wanting passive acceptance and belief in their ideas, the sages seek to encourage an attempt by others to gain the same state of heightened awareness they enjoy. So the truth of the Upanishads is to be made real in the life of the hearer. They are meant to be sung in preference to being read. The means to this realization is daily hearing, thinking about what is heard and then meditating on it until the truth becomes a part of one’s nature. The teaching method was to repeat the seminal ideas in many different ways and from within varying contexts, so that a comprehensive understanding could grow. This method has been followed in this text. Other methods were included in later ages such as Yoga, rituals and various spiritual disciplines.
Traditionally, the student studied under a realized teacher or Guru and was tested and trained until ready. The fortunate ones reached that state of awareness that established them forever in bliss, wisdom and freedom.
Springs rivers and oceans
The streams that flow out from the living springs of this realization have been the arts, science, religion and philosophy. Rather than clash as they have done in western nations, these streams of culture have flowed together to make a very deep ocean.
In the Hindu culture, philosophy is not merely an intellectual pursuit but an attempt to express the truth revealed by faith or revelation, whose validity is judged by the rigorous application of reason and logic. Science is the law obtained by the intuitive insight of minds trained in reason and logic along with application to a particular issue.
Two thousand five hundred years ago, Indian universities in Taxila and Nalanda led the world in science and attracted students from as far as Greece, Korea, Persia and China. Many of the basic concepts of modern-day science were known. The great sage Kanada taught atomic science and the relativity of time and space and that the smallest unit of time in the Universe was the time it took for an atom to traverse its own unit of space, along with many other ‘modern’ ideas. Because the object of science was to reveal wonder and inform philosophy, it was never used to exploit nature for materialistic ends. Perhaps this was because the sages knew that such exploitation would lead to the ecological, social and personal disasters this century is now reaping.
Religion gave the people the fruits of these philosophical insights expressed by the easy to comprehend arts of music, dance and painting. Thus an integrated well-knit culture was created, which in spite of the problems of its old age, has stood the test of time.
Religion and philosophy
The focus of philosophy is truth; the focus of religion is God. One is primarily of the heart, the other of the head. Head and heart are the necessary poles of human life. Religion without intellect can become a morass of dogma, prejudice, ignorance and sentimentality. The intellect without altruistic feeling is soulless and dry and can serve only mundane materialistic ends. Philosophy of the mind and heart and religion of the heart and mind are complementary. The sages say that truth is God and God is truth. A saintly sage once said, ‘One cannot know truth through knowledge of the world. But through discrimination and reason, one can gain true understanding. Philosophical speculations ultimately lead to the conclusion that the world is illusory and the Lord, who is infinite, is alone true. He graciously assumes the form of man so that human beings might be able to understand a little of Him.’[ii]
That simple statement goes to the core of all religions. But for most of us, getting a clear understanding of the significance and role of religion is difficult because the major religions have become compromised by cultural and political issues. So much so, that these influences are commonly regarded as essential to the religion itself. Religion is, simply put, the knowledge and worship of God, yet the leading religions are overlaid with redundancies. They worship many other things, which may include privilege and hierarchy, history, prejudice, buildings, wealth, insularity, doctrines and the various cultural and political overlays that have often eclipsed the simple core of the religion with a tough outer shell.
Different opinions within each religion create schisms; governments, individuals and movements then amplify and exploit the resulting divisions for economic or political advantage. At the present time, such exploitation has become the major cause of conflict and wars, but such events are not the natural outcome of religion itself. Sages have always attempted to reconcile these differences, some at the cost of their lives.
The sages’ philosophies
There are six major schools of Hindu spiritual philosophy, each one known as a darshana, meaning ‘sight’, ‘vision’ or ‘viewpoint’. Mimamsa of Jaimini seeks to prove the authority of the Vedas by investigating reasoning and the relation of word, thought, acts and meaning. Nyaya philosophy of Gautama deals mainly with reason, logic, rhetoric and an analysis of difference. Vaisheshika of Kanada deals with the same issues from a cosmic point of view that includes metaphysics and the law of time cycles. Samkya of Kapila deals mainly with cosmic evolution from Brahman down to matter, occult anatomy and psychology. Yoga and its offshoot Tantra deal with psychology, metaphysics, rituals, occult anatomy and methods of realization. Vedanta led by sages such as Madhava, Ramanuja and Shankara include spiritual philosophies that harmonize all things – reason and logic, faith and reason, religion and philosophy, mind and body, humans and nature, God and matter. All these darshananas are explained in Part Two.
The spiritual philosophies of the Hindu sages have been classified into three groups depending upon the views they express concerning the reality and creation of the Universe, the nature, meaning and purpose of being human and how best to endure, change or transcend the limitations imposed upon us.
Philosophers have called these viewpoints dualistic, qualified non-dualistic and non-dualistic, thus highlighting their differences. This has created conflict amongst their adherents, though modern sages have shown them to be complementary, not conflicting doctrines. Comparisons of the three views and the different teachings of the leading exponents is a subject it would take many books to explore.
The major differences are that dualists hold that the Universe has been made by a God external to it, as a potter makes a pot, and that there is a real distinction between God and nature, nature and humans, and between each person. The world and differences are real, we are bound by fixed morals and ethics and we belong to one of a few distinctly different types of human beings.
Qualified non-duality sees the Universe as a transformation and embodiment of the Creator, as curd is different from but a transformation of milk. Humans are therefore an offspring of the Creator of the Universe who has given us the world as a sort of playground, and guides us back home to a parental embrace when we grow tired of it.
Non-dualism sees the Universe as a sort of apparition projected by, upon and within absolute awareness, as the appearance of a snake might be believed to exist where there is, in fact, only a coil of rope. Everything in experience is therefore relative and only apparently real. Freedom and liberation from relativity is the goal of life, by whatever means.
Not all the schools of Hindu spiritual philosophy advocate or depend upon a belief in God, nor do they extol atheism. As an example, the Sankya philosophy that is the basis for much of Yoga is a spiritual philosophy without being theistic. Its founder, the sage Kapila, leaves the matter open, stating as a proviso that God is not proved.
Yoga and other philosophies may be incorporated in Vedanta and Yoga may share a mix of systems or appear to support one or the other, though it is generally considered to be dualistic. The leading exponents of each system are usually considered to be the sages Jaimini, Kanada, Kapila, Patanjali, and Madhava, Ramanuja and Shankara, of the three schools of Vedanta proper. Each of these famous sages had brilliant disciples who added much to the original texts, so there is an immense amount of literature, exposition and investigation. If these and the schools of Yoga, Tantra, Buddhist, Jain and other teachings were added to this book, it would contain much more information, so vast and varied are the expositions. However interesting this might be to some readers, most of it would be only different interpretations of the same themes or various subtle aspects of them.
Taken in its entirety, Hindu philosophy is not a single viewpoint developed by a few sages, but many viewpoints expounded by many sages, with infinite ramifications. However, the three classifications, though they get fuzzy at the overlaps, is a useful way of understanding the development of Hindu thought. Most of the content of this book is interpretation of the qualified and non-dualistic schools.
There is no room in the sages’ philosophy for fanciful notions of eternal damnation or everlasting harp playing in an antiseptic heaven, resurrection of every dead body that ever existed, or an eternity that only starts when the saved pass on. It is a philosophy of joy and freedom. It is not dependent on inspiring fear, but rather praises fearlessness.
Humans are sung of as children of immortal bliss. Not miserable creatures born in sin, but self-directed people wending their way through a fascinating maze to find security at the winning post – final beatitude. For this reason, many of the sages have used the child’s game ‘blind man’s bluff’ as a metaphor for the game of life.
The sages do not expect that what they say should be accepted on faith alone. Faith is certainly needed in the case of propositions that cannot be supported by reason, logic and demonstration, but rational arguments, allegories and metaphors can explain all other propositions. This is the role of philosophy. According to the sages, if one’s spiritual life and religion is not based on a sound philosophical foundation it will be weakened due to doubt, intellectual conflict and uninformed bigotry.
The combined views of the Hindu sages comprise all that can be said about everything. That which cannot be said is to be realized.
So here we are alive in the world and absolutely sure it is real, and that we are as we think we are. We know a great deal about many things and are very clever and rather marvellous compared to other animals. On the other hand, we might feel unsure about many things and a little uncomfortable about our weaknesses, worries and limitations but we bungle through life one way or another. The startling truth, according to the sages, is that almost everything we think about ourselves and life is only half true at best, for even for the brilliant, intelligence is clouded. The average person stumbles through life blindfolded. Intelligent people feel this and want to know some surety and clarity. They ask the big questions – Who (or what) am I? – What is life all about? – How best to live it? – What is it I can really know? – How can I achieve my desires? – Is it possible to live above the valley of sorrow and suffering? – What is it I can really be sure of? – How can I get out of the mess I am in?
The sages’ philosophies answer the big questions of life in a very convincing manner that satisfies heart and head, while warning at the same time against mere belief. Personal realization is the keynote.
Though philosophy and books cannot produce a realization of the answers, they can show the way and clarify the questions. This is important, for the proper answer cannot be found unless the question is expressed correctly. In many cases, the correct framing of a question automatically reveals the answer. For this, clear thinking and discrimination are essential and these are the benefits of studying the sages’ philosophies.
[i] The Upanishads-breath of the Eternal. Swami Prabhavananda & Frederick Manchester. Vedanta Press, 1947.
[ii] The Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna. ‘M’. Swami Nikhilananda. Shri Ramakrishna Math, 1986.
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