“For the man who does not know to which port he is sailing, no wind is favourable” Seneca
The scriptures of India have a disconcerting practice of beginning with the highest goal and then explaining the method of attaining the goal. This is challenging for us but it is important to understand the goal, even if it is only a distant mental concept at first – something to keep in mind so that we don’t get side-tracked.
The goal of Yoga is explained variously in numerous Upanishads and Sutras. In essence, the aim of life is to become conscious of the Supreme Reality, the Pure Consciousness, often referred to as Brahman or, in the case of the Yoga Sutra, Purusa. Yoga insists that the Purusa in us is distinct from the body-mind complex and it is this, rather than the egoic self, that should be called ‘I’.
The first four verses of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali give the whole meaning of Yoga in a condensed but accurate form.
Traditional Vedic Yoga is the cessation of the mind’s activities (citta vritti nirodha) and then the true nature (Purusa) is revealed. Normally, the mind moves incessantly and it is this activity that we assume is our identity. But, correct foundation has to be put in place to begin our spiritual ascent and transformation.
First, the physical, energetic and mental systems have to be purified and a robust moral behaviour followed.
Second, the energy is to be concentrated and focused on the goal.
Thirdly, the release from the ego, desire and nature’s movements take us to liberation of the free state of the spirit.
“The one thing necessary is to rise out of nature to the Self by either the most swift or the most thorough and effective method possible.” Sri Aurobindo
Of course, it takes effort to move away from our established habitual behaviour patterns and follow the path of Yoga.
We need to study of the spiritual scriptures and repeat sacred mantras to orient ourselves on the spiritual path. Devotion, to God and/or to the path of Yoga, surrender of personal desire and the fruit of our actions is also necessary.
These practices form an integral approach that brings our whole being into unity and focus to embark on the path to liberation.
To guide us in the practicalities of the purification of body, mind and spirit, we have the three Vedic Sciences of Ayurveda, Vak (sacred speech) and Yoga.
Ayurveda – body purification
Vak – speech purification
Yoga – mental purification
We begin with the body as this is our prevalent identity and base of our existence. The body is maintained by food. The practice of mitahara means to follow a moderate, nourishing, vegetarian and satvic diet. Satva has the qualities of lightness, harmony and peace. According to my teachers, mitahara is the first priority. Without this, self-control and good health cannot be established.
We need to avoid overeating and also to ensure that food is fresh at every meal. Fasting for a day on warm water only is recommended once a month on the 11th day after a full or new moon.
A full explanation of satvic foods is given in most authentic Yoga and Ayurveda books. It is important to note (and you might be relieved to know) that this diet, and the other purification practices I’ve mentioned here, are only for the aspiring Yogi/Yogini and so other people are not expected to follow these requirements.
The goal is the aspirational liberation of the spirit. The foundation is as ordinary and mundane as discipline in eating and speaking.