The Most Important Thing

“The philosophy of Yoga is to withdraw the mind from external activities, to draw its focus inwards, and to bring it into deep concentration.”

Sri T. Krishnamacharya (From Yoga Makaranda)

A Zen student asked his Master, “Master, what is the most important thing”?

“The most important thing”, said the Master, “is to find out what is the most important thing.”

I was once told by a friend that if I ever got a chance to ask a Master a question, to ask one that would change my life.

After my first programme with Ramaswami in Chicago, Ramaswami and I shared a taxi to the airport. I was going back to the UK and Ramaswami to New York. At that moment I did not know if I would see Ramaswami again and I recalled the Zen story and my friends advice.

So I asked Ramaswami, “What is the most important thing about Yoga?”. He replied that Yoga was an Atma Vidya, soul knowledge. I felt a moment of freedom, and a peaceful, calm state arose in me. My practice is more focused now and I read the Yoga Sutra every day to keep reminding me; its so easy to fall back into old habits if I do not maintain focus.

Yoga is a procedure to realise the true nature of the Self. The Yoga Sutra describes this procedure along with the obstacles to this goal. Avidya is the cause of not seeing the true nature of the Self, YS II:24

One way of finding the soul is to see what is not the soul. Non soul is impermanent, impure, painful & sorrowful. Soul is permanent, pure, sorrowless. So one method mentioned in the Yoga Sutra is to meditate on everything and reject what is not the Self as non-self. This is apara-vairagya. Everything in nature external to us and our own body, mind and emotions are non-self. That which observes this play of nature is purusa, the true Self. Once you know that you will know the true nature of the Self and that is para-vairagya.

I have had three main inputs into my spiritual life, an upbringing in a Christian country, a long term connection with Buddha’s teachings and a dedicated Yoga practice. I have mentioned the teachings of Patanjali but would like to quote from Buddha and Jesus when they were asked an important question.

Jesus was asked, “What are those things we should hold of high value?”

“All the ills which people suffer are caused by those things without us; for what is within us can never make us suffer. A child dies, a fortune is lost, house and fields burn and all people are helpless. People grieve and rejoice over events which befall them, events which are not of their doing. In this doth happiness lie: to know what is thine and what is not thine. If thou would have eternal life, hold fast to the eternity within thee, and grasp not at the shadows of the world of men, which hold the seeds of death. Do not barter that which is eternal for that which dieth in an hour.” from The Essene Gospel of Peace Book II

When Buddha lay dying his last words to his disciples were, “I exhort you saying, ‘Decay is inherent in all component things, but the truth will remain forever!’ Work out your own salvation with diligence!”

You may wish to reflect on these words before we are all engulfed in the hedonistic frenzy that peculiarly claims to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

I try to ask myself every morning, “What is the most important thing?”

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