It lies in one’s own realisation or experience.
Foremost among ancient yoga texts is Patanjali’s Yogasutra, a text consisting of 195 terse aphorisms, or pithy sayings. Yogasutra, along with traditional commentaries on it, explains the practice of meditation and the psychology of yoga in detail. It offers a systematic method for making the transition from the distracted mind that rules many of our decisions to a steady and peaceful mind that waits upon our command.
Patanjali was able to see the origin of the mind and to understand its nature. He understood that the more freedom we give to the wanderings of the mind, the more we are in bondage to it. Conversely, the more we steady the mind, the freer we are from its bondage.
From the ancient yoga texts, we learn of the experiences of those who achieved these heightened state of awareness. The fundamentals that these sages have described come from empirical knowledge — from their own experiences, not merely from concepts about the way to achieve peace of mind. Writing out of their enlightened experience, the ancient sages revealed the steps on this path for the benefit of all humanity.
From the verbal testimony of these sages, their followers inferred the wisdom of the path. When these followers undertook the path that the sages described, their direct experience confirmed the wisdom of the sages. They, in turn, perpetuated the wisdom.
In truth, the traditional path of Yogasutra is not following any tradition. The traditional path is to follow the logic of the text supported by your own practice. The role of the guru is to help you understand the teachings and guide you in your practice.
Consequently, several traditional Sanskrit commentaries have been written on Yogasutra. When studying Yogasutra, keep in mind that the text is not based on faith. You are expected to understand the text by analysis, by practice, and by your own experience.
Yoga Yajnavalkya is an orderly yoga text that dates before many of the other yoga texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Yogasutra predates Yoga Yajnavalkya. It is a defining text devoid of any historical or social commentary, but Yoga Yajnavalkya and other yoga texts do contain such messages that are not relevant to the practice of yoga in the twenty-first century. Outside of the Yogasutra and Yoga Yajnavalkya, there are no detailed and systematically organised presentations of the eight limbs of yoga. The other yoga texts tend to be disorganised in comparison.
The ancient yoga scriptures are thought by some to contain mystical secrets that are transmitted from teacher to student, but this is not actually true.
The Sanskrit word rahasya in these texts does mean “secret.” But it is secret not because it can only be mystically transmitted from a guru but because it is not in our comprehension or experience now. With guided study and practice, both understanding and experience will dawn.
In the Bhagavad Gita, we find Krishna telling Arjuna, “This is the secret of all secrets,” but what is secret about it when the text is available for everyone to hear and read?
Similarly, ancient mantras are often supposed to be secret and are received behind closed doors from a guru. Again, what is secret about them if they are available for everyone to hear? And now, we can listen to them as a digital download! The point here is that the inner meaning is not revealed by simply saying it; the inner meaning is the actual secret. But books are available now, explaining the meaning of the mantras.
How can it still remain a secret? It can because the revelation of a mantra’s true meaning is not in words but in an experience. That experience can be earned only through personal effort.
The meaning is hidden in the cave of your heart, and your personal practice is the key that unlocks it.
This article appeared in The Hindu newspaper.