Just as an acorn holds the potential to become an oak tree, we already possess the capacity to awaken. According to Patanjali, the underlying purpose of all experience is to show us this… Pure awareness underlies all thought and perception right now, he insists, and one need only recognize it fully in order to be free of suffering.
Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali,
a New Translation with Commentary
The word yoga is Sanskrit, it’s meaning literally ‘a yoke,’ or ‘the fixing of a yoke or harness to join a team [of horses or oxen] to a cart.’ (from A Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Sir Monier Monier-Williams). It is the joining of one thing to another.
Here in the West of course the word generally is used in reference to hatha yoga, the physical practices set forth by Patanjali and now developed into the countless different schools of yoga we find in every urban center, some with a “spiritual” aspect, others concerned mostly with yoga’s effectiveness as a form of exercise. In truth, yoga, in all Vedic references to it, is about the joining of, the yoking of, individuality to universality. As Monier-Williams states, ‘…its chief aim being to teach the means by which the human spirit may attain complete union with… the Supreme Spirit.’ This is true for hatha yoga as well as for all the other forms of yoga referenced in the Veda. All are avenues by which the student seeks ‘union with.’
Dhyana yoga, or meditation, is indeed one of the paths presented by Patanjali and referenced in the Bhagavad Gita, as well as countless other Vedic texts; but it is only one. There is also the yoga of works, karma yoga; the yoga of knowledge, jnana yoga; the yoga of love or devotion to God, bhakti yoga; and others.
The Veda, at bottom, is concerned with the attainment of union with this thing that is greater than oneself, whether we call this one thing nature or God, Oneness or Ishwara; and that everything one does, and the spirit with which one does it, is moving the individual either in the direction of union, or in the direction away from union.
At each moment we may ask ourselves the question: is this action/thought/behavior moving me toward God or away from God? As meditators, the answer will be there. Always. Then the question becomes, if it is not moving me toward God, do I still wish to be involved in it? And we will find that, some days, the answer will be no. I don’t wish to continue. And some days, the answer will be yes. Today I don’t care. And given that everything is about movement toward this union with, we will begin to know that even the days of ‘I don’t care’ may be used by nature to help us on our journey.
Today I will find at least one thing to do that unmistakably is a movement in the direction of union with this something that is greater than myself, and I will let myself off the hook for the things I may do that are not in the direction of that union.