Through yoga, we can connect with the qualities of divinity
The worldview derived from authentic yoga is that the world is divided into two parts: an unchanging, peaceful part that pervades everything, including humans; and a messy, changeable part that includes the world as we experience it every day. That is, even though we have peace inside us as part of our essential nature, we are seldom aware of it because of the ever-changing world around us and the ever-changing world within us.
The goal of yoga is to have a calm and peaceful mind. As it was developed, yoga contains the option of employing devotion to a concept of the divine within a practice. The term ‘devotion’ refers to an attitude of trust in and love for one’s concept of the Divine.
A student is free to undertake a yoga practice on his/her own — that is, without appealing to a higher power for help in dissolving the ego and discovering that which is unchanging within oneself. Or the student can humbly seek the ‘helping hand’ of the Divine. It is as though she is floundering in a swift-flowing river and the Divine is on the riverbank. She can call out to the Divine to pull her out of the river.
Some students gain inspiration from holding in their minds an image of someone who has attained the state of expanded awareness for which they aspire.
The Yogasutras encourage devotion within a yoga practice, to keep the mind focused and peaceful. The devotion supports the practice of yoga such as asana, pranayama, and control of the senses — and these practices in turn support devotion.
Yoga accommodates the Divine of any religious tradition. Through yoga, we can connect with the qualities of this divinity, which changes our thought processes and leads to a state of equanimity and freedom. The divine and our self are one in nature. But there is no requirement that the person believe in a Divine entity, or adopt a theory or doctrine of divinity.
Devotion as a practice can help support all the limbs of yoga, from asana through pranayama to control of the senses, and provide a deeply pleasant experience for meditation.
For the practice of devotion to work, though, our conception of the Divine has to be positive and nourishing.
Our idea of the Divine should have the best qualities that we want to see in our own minds. By connecting our minds to the qualities of such divinity, our thoughts and emotions will be guided toward a state of equanimity and freedom.
Yet it is important to remember that there is no substitute in yoga for the effort of the individual. Devotion also requires our effort; we must nurture it, envision it, and embrace it. No lasting transformation happens without the active participation of the person being transformed.
This article appeared in The Hindu newspaper.