From time immemorial there has been a conflict between the material culture, which gives importance to the sensual way of life, and the spiritual culture which goes beyond the senses. Both claim a philosophy and importance of their own. The material culture offers the conveniences, pleasures and luxuries of life, while the spiritual culture promises eternal peace and enlightenment. In the world at present, both ways are before us, and we find it difficult to make a choice between the two.
We cannot be free of the material culture like the birds and animals, nor can we escape it by saying that we do not want to progress in a material direction. Progress we must, but the direction of progress depends on us. We are all seekers, searching for a path. Some are searching with their eyes closed, while others search with their eyes open. But the search is on, and everyone seeks a higher level of life, without knowing exactly what it is they are looking for. We hear both calls, one from the spiritual culture promising bliss and enlightenment, and the other from the material way of life enticing us with sensual pleasures and luxuries. Some follow the path of materialism, preya, while others choose the path of spirituality, shreya.
About thirty years ago, I was in the same quandary. I wondered why I should follow either the material or the spiritual way of life. I realized that life has many facets – the material, annamaya kosha, the energy, pranamaya kosha, the mental, manomaya kosha, the astral, vijnanamaya kosha, and the spiritual, anandamaya kosha.
A human being must know and understand what life is. I studied the most modern scriptures. When I read Karl Marx, I was really shaken up. Ever since, it has remained a cultural backdrop for me and I can never deny materialism. Not only do we have to use and acknowledge the conveniences provided by the material culture in everyday life, but even in the process of reasoning and thinking, we cannot ignore it. Although we may be able to attain a state which transcends the material culture, we still have to accept dialectical materialism in our process of thought. This concept has influenced me to such an extent that even today I still regard it as a turning point in my life. I also studied other political, philosophical and scientific schools of thought.
Then one day, somebody suggested to me that if I wanted to have a panoramic view of life, I should choose the path which lies midway between the material and spiritual culture. I asked, “What is the middle way?” and the person replied, “It is the path of practical yoga which maintains the balance between these two ways of life.”
Yoga is like a bridge joining the two banks of a river. The purpose of life is neither pure spirituality nor pure materialism. The human body consists not only of bones and muscles but of consciousness as well.
What is it that makes us dream? What is it that gives knowledge to the unconscious? Is it a state of the brain? Is it a manifestation of consciousness? Where do thoughts arise from eternally? What are the processes of understanding and expressing the manifestations of the mind? Is it physical, spiritual, psychological or para-psychological?
We realize that we cannot just be material or spiritual. We have to accept both modes. We have to awaken and strengthen both of these sides of life equally and simultaneously. This process of awakening is called yoga.
When I was led into this path by a great saint, I realized that there are certain techniques in yoga which simultaneously develop both the material and spiritual aspects of life. Of all the cultures in history, it is only the yogic culture which has accepted the importance of the spiritual body. Yoga has accorded the body its due place, and has not shown disregard because it is perishable. A yogi, while aiming for self-realization, will not hesitate to perform even minor acts of life, because he knows that this human body is the temple for his meditation, and hence it has to be maintained.
The inhabitants of the western or modern Indian culture may not have infectious diseases like cholera or smallpox, but they have other more serious maladies like cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. They seek pleasures even though they are unwell, because they cannot attain wholeness in life. However, they will find satisfaction and bliss with even the simple, elementary forms of yoga.
At present mankind is in a confused state. People from the east as well as the west are trying to decide what is more important: the individual or the society, personal gain or the welfare of all, materialism or spirituality. Yoga presents a broader line of thinking by which mankind can achieve a higher status in both the individual and social spheres. Unless one learns to accept life in its entirety, neither individual nor society can gain contentment.
However, life follows a cosmic plan and runs on intuition. There is a higher force in all life forms as well as in the universe, which we can be attuned to through yogic sadhana. All the inventions in the field of science and all the creations in the field of art have come through intuition. It is as essential to a soldier, a social worker or an artist as to the sannyasin.
Life does not run on physical resources alone. It also needs intuitive thought. Intuition is attained in a particular state of mind, and once it is awakened, the person acquires immense strength. One may have knowledge and intellect and still not be using one’s full capacities. It is not just physical, mental or intellectual power that counts.
Yoga sadhana is the real way to gain that supreme power. Saints have rightly stressed it throughout the ages. You will have to follow it through with full force and actions. Yoga does not help only on the spiritual path. Whether one wants to live a life of luxury and sensual pleasure or a life of righteousness and salvation, yoga will help. The basic idea of yoga is to awaken inner consciousness.
March 1976, Sanpaul, India. Printed in Yoga Vidya, September 1976