In general, what comes to mind when we hear the word “yoga” has very little to do with the original meaning of yoga. These days, the common perception of yoga is mostly related to the physical asana practice which has become very popular in modern times. Thus, when we hear the word yoga, we typically think of attractive people with fit, strong bodies in various bending poses. But, actually, this has very little to do with the original meaning of yoga.
So what is yoga?
Yoga is our natural state of loving relationship with the Supreme Person.
When we look to the ancient yoga scriptures (the Vedas), we find that yoga means “union” or “the linking up” of two individuals. Specifically, in the yoga system, yoga refers to the relationship between the individual person (jiva atma) and the Supreme Person (Paramatma) that is our most natural condition. It is explained in the Vedas that there are innumerable individual spiritual beings in existence. Out of all the spiritual beings in existence, there is one being who is superior to all the other beings. He alone is Supreme and all others are subordinate to, and dependent upon, Him. The Supreme spiritual being, or God, is called Paramatma and the subordinate spiritual beings (all of us) are called jiva atmas. In our natural state of being, we (the jiva atmas) are linked up very intimately and joyfully in a relationship of love (yoga) with the Supreme Person.
In the material world, most of us are not in our natural state.
Unfortunately, here in the material world, most of us are not in our natural state of being. When we are first born into this material dimension, our consciousness is immediately covered by forgetfulness (avidya). Our spiritual form is covered by a material mind and body, and our awareness of our spiritual nature is covered by the mistaken belief that we are these material bodies we are wearing.
In fact, we tend to forget nearly everything about who we are, where we came from, what our natural position and purpose is in life. We forget the millions of past lives we have already had in this material dimension since we first came here long ago. We even forget our innate relationship with the Supreme Person, the very foundation and source of our existence. Although the Supreme Person is our closest relative and eternally our dearmost beloved Friend, we forget Him. We forget our relationship with Him and all the vivid details of what He is like – His form, character, pastimes, what it feels like to be loving Him and to feel His love for us. Many of us forget Him so completely, we do not even acknowledge His existence. He is the most important Person in every way, the Source and maintainer of everything, and yet we more or less completely forget Him. This is the powerful influence that material nature has upon us.
Due to forgetfulness of our eternal relationship with God, we experience deep emptiness.
Due to our forgetfulness of our eternal relationship with God, we suffer immensely in this world. We feel a deep and painful emptiness in our heart of hearts, a persistent loneliness, an inexplicable sadness and dissatisfaction. Intuitively, we know something essential is missing from our lives. But because awareness of our spiritual nature is covered, it is very difficult for us to ascertain what is the actual root cause of this emptiness. Thus, we erroneously try fill it with material objects, experiences, and relationships of this world. This causes us to become even more deeply entangled within the world of materiality, even more thoroughly covered in forgetfulness of our true nature. In this way, we wander further and further from an actual solution to our suffering.
To return to our natural state, we need to revive our lost relationship of love with the Supreme Person.
However, if we recognize that we cannot fill this deep spiritual emptiness with material things, then we can instead devote our time and energy to filling it with what is actually needed – the restoration of our lost relationship of love with God. In order to do this, we must develop a very real, tangible, and profoundly personal close loving relationship with the Supreme Person. We cannot just join a group, speculate about Him, or externally go through the motions of having a relationship with Him. We need to be actually relating with Him again as our dearmost Friend – embracing Him in our hearts and lives, looking to Him for comfort and direction, completely taking shelter in Him, trying to serve Him, to please Him, out of genuine love for Him.
But how can we have a profoundly personal and deeply loving relationship with someone we cannot even remember? Due to our situation of forgetfulness under the influence of material nature, He may seem almost like a stranger to us – distant, vague, unobtainable. How can we love someone we have almost entirely forgotten?
Our answer is in the yoga process known as bhakti yoga. The yoga scriptures explain that although we have forgotten God and our intimate relationship with Him, He has not forgotten us. Our relationship with Him has not been dissolved by our estrangement from Him. Rather, it is covered, dormant. Through following the process of bhakti yoga as it is clearly laid out for us in yoga scriptures, this relationship can be uncovered and awakened.
Bhakti yoga is the most direct path to knowing and loving God.
Bhakti yoga is the very heart and soul of the entire yoga system. The yoga scriptures (the Vedas) are a vast treasury of knowledge, within which many different processes for purification and spiritual advancement are described. But the essence of all these processes – and, indeed, the essence and purpose of the entire Vedas – is contained within the yoga process known as bhakti yoga.
Bhakti yoga is the Supreme Person’s direct instruction to us on how we can come to know and love Him again. It is the most swift and direct path to complete restoration of our natural eternal relationship with Him. The Supreme Person freely gives us this instruction out of His kindness and love for us. In the yoga scriptures, He tells us exactly what to do. He makes things very clear, simple, and accessible for us, so that if we are sincere, we will be successful.
The essence of bhakti yoga is in hearing and chanting the Names of the Supreme Person.
The essence, and central activity, of bhakti yoga is in the hearing and repeating of the transcendental Names of the Supreme Person. In the yoga system, this is called Mantra Meditation.
The Names of the Supreme Person are not ordinary sound. They are, in fact, the Supreme Person Himself appearing in this world in the form of spiritual sound vibration. Thus, every time we hear and chant or sing the Names of God, we are putting ourselves in direct contact with Him. This has a profound purifying effect on our consciousness. Every time we come in contact with God through hearing or chanting His Names, the forgetfulness that clouds our consciousness, that keeps us from remembering our true nature and eternal relationship with Him, is steadily dissipated.
By hearing or chanting God’s Names, we are inviting Him back into our hearts, and into our lives. We are humbly praying to Him to help us know and love Him again. Approaching Him in this way, sincerely desiring to revive our close friendship with Him, our memory Him quickly begins to return and our love for Him, to blossom.
Because we have become so deeply conditioned by material life, this is generally a gradual process. But through the regular, daily, hearing and repeating of God’s Names – especially Names which relate with Him in very endearing ways, such as Krsna, Govinda, Gopala, Rama, Gauranga – our consciousness is steadily purified, and we are able to deeply know and love Him again as our dearmost beloved eternal Friend.
If knowing and loving God is what we sincerely desire, then bhakti yoga will enable us to do so.
Bhakti yoga is a practical, potent, and invaluable process for understanding and developing our personal relationship with the Supreme Person. Although oftentimes anything having to do with God is automatically categorized as a religion, bhakti yoga is not a religion. It has nothing to do with external labels or joining an organization. It is the most wonderful, transcendental gift of love from our Supreme Friend. It is divine assistance for reawakening, restoring, our most special and sacred of relationships. If we humbly choose to take this assistance, to hold it close in our hearts and to apply it in our lives with earnestness and care, we will experience the sweetest of fruits. If knowing and loving God is what we sincerely desire, then bhakti yoga will enable us to do so.
Through bhakti yoga, through hearing and chanting or singing the Names of the Supreme Person, the deep emptiness and longing within our heart of hearts can at last be fulfilled. And we can return to our original, purified state of absolute happiness, satisfaction, and the most exquisite, blissful, transcendental condition of divine love. This condition, wherein we are wholeheartedly engaged in loving exchange with our Supreme Friend – where we are joyfully reunited with Him in heart, mind, and will – is yoga in the truest sense of the word. And it is our most natural condition.
“Pure love for the Lord is eternally established in the hearts of the living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, this love naturally awakens.”
~ Sri Caitanya-caritamrta-Madhya-lila 22.107
For more information on specific types of yoga Mantra Meditation, simply click on the links below: