The Theosophical Forum – October 1944

WESTERN YOGA — E. D. Wilcox

In any outlook over history one will find definite cycles of alternate progress and quiescence. Some of these are swift moving changes, others arrive with quiet, even flow. In individual life this rule is equally true in regard to both physical and mental development. Here in our western world the past century has been markedly one of upheaval in both ways. In the thought life the first great stir spread when the "Ape" replaced "Adam" as our first human parent, and this naturally shifted man back to the animal realm with Nature as his creator instead of God, depriving him of inner spiritual selfhood. The second great stir was a bombshell of inner world phenomena for which, to men's minds, there was neither reason nor denial. The two lines of thought contradicted each other, and as one looks back in retrospect the controversy was bitter and irreconcilable when Madame Blavatsky reached New York, bringing the key to both these riddles: from whence came man, and the cause of the so-called spirit-phenomena.

To the world of Science H. P. Blavatsky taught that the physical body of man was built according to the same laws of Nature that plant and animal were, that is, by gradual evolution. Nature manifested her forms of life on many planes other than physical, to any one of which Man had the power of conscious access. We of the West are accustomed to think of man as threefold, body, soul and spirit. Of the body we are actively cognizant; the soul, we confuse with mind, while of the spirit we know nothing other than vague musings.

The eastern teaching is that man is sevenfold, and when we stop to analyse we find it easy to separate man into a number of selves. Outwardly we live in an emotional self, swayed by sense impressions; inwardly, what we call the psychic self, we fill with longings and desires. Intellect we think of as the mind, the self of reason and decision of will. Beyond all these we are aware by flashes of what we call intuition, of a deeper Self, of a real I, in whose consciousness the other selves seem but passing phases, mere aspects of the real. For instance, involuntarily, we say: "I have a will, I have a mind! We even know that we have a soul, but we never say that "I have a spirit," because we intuitively recognise that back of and beyond all is Spirit of which we are an inherent part. Analyse, and we know that we can concentrate thought and act in any one of these selves to the exclusion of all the rest. Frequently we find someone wrapped in thought oblivious to sight or sound, and we say he is in a "brown study."

This power of the mind to focus its will or thought on a single idea within any of the planes of consciousness is called in the eastern teachings Yoga, a word meaning Union. We have no word in English to give the full meaning; the nearest is psychology, but that should rightly be restricted to psycho-mental processes. In fact, our western efforts to understand the different teachings and methods of yoga training has resulted in a veritable hodge-podge of mixed theories and practices. The eastern mind for centuries has wrapped itself in veils of inner worlds; the western mind fills itself with sense impressions from a physical world and translates all its thoughts into outer needs and utilities.

Methods of training in any of the forms of Yoga differ with the teachers, and in the Orient there are as many of them as there are of Christian sects here. A few of the rules are the same in all. The first step is to learn how to meditate, the aim of which is to so concentrate the thoughts within the mind upon the one desired idea or purpose that no entry or response may be made within the brain by sensation from without or varying thought within. In this effort the methods vary according to the plane of consciousness on which the training is placed, whether physical, psychic or mental.

Physical self-discipline has been often exhibited in instances of medieval ascetics with their forced postures and tortures such as that of Simon Stylites who spent most of his life seated cross-legged on the top of a pillar, but such devotees are rare among us nowadays.

The mainspring of yoga training for us is psychological, not to attain the nirvana of self-abnegation but to strengthen the power of the will to gain its object on the plane of desire in the present life. The entire religion and philosophy of life of the East and the West are antipodal. We of the West are so imbued by the concept of a special creation at each one's birth, of a single period of a lifetime to be spent on Earth, and with no return to body existence, that the chief incentive of thought is concerning the body, its health, its attainments, its wealth of comfort and personal achievements. For the purpose of obtaining one or the other of these is the type of yoga training and practice taught by most of the professional teachers.

The prevailing idea among us is that health is the natural state of man and that lack of it is due to mental ignorance or error of act or thought. The main argument is that in the native animal life health reigns unbroken and, as child of nature, to Man belongs the same right. To claim it lies solely in the will. There is a partial truth in the argument but the conclusion is wrong. The animal world lives wholly and unconsciously under the laws of nature; Man self-consciously obeys or defies those same laws by his own will and choice.

One of the unvarying laws of Nature is that "to every event there is an antecedent cause," and "remove the cause and the effect will cease." The "cause" and "where it lies" sum up the fallacies of all the popular teachings of western methods to "reach perfection." Compare the psychology (the so-called yoga) of the western teaching with the true sacred yoga of the Secret Doctrine of the east.

We crave the pleasures of this one earthly life, and we demand a surcease of all the illnesses which oppress the body even when we know that we ourselves have caused them. We claim as our right, whether in merit or not, the riches of Earth; whether rightly or wrongly a continual race to emulate or gain precedence over friend and foe alike. To compete and to succeed is our watchword.

When the knowledge of Yoga came to us we welcomed it with open arms. We renamed it Psychology and gave it leadership in school and church, in business and sport, and above all in the search for health. We have it down to the one lesson that the mind, single-pointed, can direct the will, can strike like an arrow, thought-barbed to its goal.

In the East they also seek surcease from all the woes of life. To them Yoga trains the mind to be impervious to sense impressions, to forcibly close the doorways of the body and thus seal the mind to their reception. Madame Blavatsky who brought the knowledge of true Yoga to the West, warns us that any of the physical methods of yoga training are ultimately injurious to the health of both body and mind and never contributory to attaining the higher spiritual yoga. She says in The Secret Doctrine: "Mind takes no cognizance of the senses in physical man." (I, 95)

Inculcated in the Oriental mind is the universal law of cause and effect (Karman) with its human field of action in a sequence of many lives preceding and following this present one — reincarnation. What we of the West have not been taught and will not face is this law that "Each man's life the outcome of his former living is," or as our own Bible puts it "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." Were we to take into our consciousness this fact that we have lived many lives on Earth, in each of which whatever has come, good and bad alike, is the reaping of what we and none other have sown, we would not fall so ready a prey to untrue panaceas.

Promise of easy remedy of any kind, physical, psychic or mental, by forced suppression of symptoms whether by one's own will or that of another lowers the normal resisting power of the system. It dams back the disorder until it swells and bursts forth at some future time in greater violence. What are called hereditary or birth conditions are all karmic results. Nature plans every organism to harmonious interaction of its parts. The study of the human body proves this. Only conflict or interference disrupts it. Man's place in nature has given him the power to intensify that harmony or destroy it, and he more than nature gains or loses thereby.

Both the western psychology of domination and the negation of eastern yoga are barriers that prevent and even destroy the attainment of the higher forms of yoga. What then is true yoga? The Great Teachers of every country have answered that question, but we "having eyes, see not, ears hear not, neither do we understand." "Raise the self by the Self," says one of the greatest of the printed books on Yoga, the Bhagavad-Gita; and in the Bible, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." How shall it be done?

The outer methods are the same. Meditation: how to train the personal to become the impersonal. Concentration: the tenacity of will that holds every thought and every act firm to the purpose the "greatest good to the greatest number."


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