Yoga was first taught by God to Brahma, the creator. God was Hiranyagarbha. Hiranyagarbha means the 'golden womb' or 'golden egg', the cosmic womb or cosmic egg. Brahma is the force, the consciousness of creation, responsible for the manifest and the unknown, unmanifest dimensions, yet which exist in the realm of the possibilities within Brahma. Brahma in turn taught yoga to Vashishtha. That is the sequence of the guru mantras:
Om namo Brahmadibhyo
Brahmavidya sampradaya kartribhyo
vansharishibhyo namo Gurubhyaha
Narayanam padmabhavam Vashishtham
shaktim cha tatputra-parasharam cha
Hiranyagarbha was Narayana. Narayana taught Brahma, and Brahma taught his son, Vashishtha. Vashishtha was a sage of great repute; he was a Brahma rishi, a seer of all the worlds. From Vashishtha, the tradition of yoga was handed down through a lineage of thinkers, saints and personalities who are not part of a myth but part of history, of humanity.
What was the need for yoga? If we believe that Narayana, the source of life, taught yoga to Brahma, the force or energy responsible for the creation of life, then it indicates the beginning of a new cycle of life. In this cycle the sprout emerges from the seed and becomes a tree, and in the tree is the fruit that contains the seed, which when planted comes full circle. It is more like a universal, cosmic, divine play, known as lila. Just as the different parts of the body all working together become responsible for the health of the body, similarly each human being and each form of creation nourishes the other to attain its fulfilment and totality and is therefore part of a big complex organism.
Yoga is that process of going full circle. From a seed we have become a personality, a nature. Now it is time to realize the potentials of the nature and to encourage the birth of the fruit which contains the seed, which again takes us back to the source. This is the concept of spirituality which has been interpreted and described by religious people as a religious phenomena, by scientists as a scientific phenomena, by yogis as a spiritual phenomena and by philosophers as a philosophical possibility. So, there have been many approaches but this has been the basic underlying form. The entire process of knowing and realizing the evolution of life and one's role in it is the process of yoga; life not only in our body but life as a whole, encompassing the human being, nature and God. This is known as avyakta, the unmanifest, and vyakta, the manifest nature, prakriti - the current and the undercurrent. Vyakta is the current on the surface which is visible, which is seen, creating different waves and movements. Avyakta is the undercurrent inside the body, unseen, unknown yet exerting a very powerful control and force over the movement of the water.
Life has been seen not only in the form of a body but also in the form of abstract realities, in the form of tattwas, in the form of spandan, vibration, in the form of single cell life forms, in the form of sentient and insentient creations. What happens is that as we go back to the source, the imbalances which are created naturally due to interaction in the world of objects, the senses, are rectified. Yoga has been more a process of knowing, realizing, becoming aware. This awareness begins with the most simple and gross object, the body. It becomes as subtle as knowing the effect of the karma at another level. So this awareness spans many dimensions of existence, in the form of physical activity, in the form of mental activity, in the form of emotional activity, in the form of belief, logic, expression, in the form of spiritual awareness, in the form of desires for peace, happiness and bliss and in the form of security, comfort and luxury. Whenever our mind and the faculty of mind, the awareness, can work together to find that stability, security, comfort and sense of well-being, that becomes a particular state experienced by the mind, which is unique. Therefore, awareness spans many levels of existence at the same time.
The heaviest concentration of attention, of awareness, is at the level of the senses. The opposite holds true at the inner level, at the time of moksha, realization or emancipation. The process in between is the passive aspect. Imagine a cable with a live wire running through it. Both ends of the cable are unsealed. If you touch either end you will get a shock, but you can hold the cable, which is protected, and not get a shock. This is what is perceived as the material and spiritual expressions of an individual. Material means totally involved, engrossed and attached; spiritual means totally detached, non-involved and content. People are generally aware of these two extremes in life. They are not aware of the connection which exists between these two different experiences.
When we are affected by the materialistic approach then our expression becomes more materialistic in nature. When we are shocked by spiritual values then that becomes more appealing. When we are again shocked by the material aspects of life then, despite the spiritual aspect, the material becomes more appealing. Then suddenly a realization happens that we should again become spiritual. This is known as raga and dwesha, like and dislike, in life. Confusion, conflict, not knowing where to tread, and not having that inner self-confidence to actually learn something and see how it can improve or worsen the situation. This is when yoga comes in as an education in internal discipline.
Yoga is nothing but a process of education leading to inner discipline, inner clarity and inner strength. With strength comes all the qualities that we consider appropriate and right. With clarity comes the wisdom to apply those qualities, the right one at the right time. With confidence you are able to bypass arrogance, the negative expression of ego, and thus elevate yourself. Recognizing the physical, spiritual, moral, psychological and psychic needs, yoga has developed a system of practices which can remove many kinds of irregularities and abnormalities from our life. I am using the words 'many kinds', not 'all', because most of human nature is still untapped. We don't know what will come out of you tomorrow. Whatever comes out tomorrow will have to be dealt with in tomorrow's manner, not in today's manner. So, many of the identified abnormalities and irregularities can be managed and corrected through this yogic system. This is the process of yoga.
—Ganga Darshan, October 10, 2000