Yoga for the Godless

Sri M’s new book, ‘Yoga Also for the Godless’, reviewed by OSWALD PEREIRA

In my late teens and later in life, I did complicated yoga asanas, including the headstand. I would also do some basic meditation. In the last few years, I have learnt more complex meditation techniques in a one-year Kriya Yoga training at the Ananda Sangha, which follows the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.

However, as a teenager and even later, I don’t recall any religion being ascribed to yoga or linking it to God or the Supreme.  That was how simple we were then when the good things in life like yoga was not said to be owned by anyone in particular, not even God.

Ownership means proprietorship, which is restrictive. For us to enjoy the benefits of yoga, a science, wouldn’t it be better that it is free from the shackles of religion and God? Or in the interests of peaceful coexistence, which I sincerely believe will have Divine sanction, shouldn’t both God-believers and the godless enjoy the bliss of yoga?

Sri M, renowned spiritual teacher, author, social reformer, educationist and global speaker in his new book, Yoga Also for the Godless, avers that, “let alone belonging to a particular religion, one doesn’t even need to believe in God to be a true yogi.”

One of the best-known Vedantic scholars of our times, he draws on his deep knowledge of ancient Indian scriptures to prove that the godless are as capable as the God-inspired of reaching the pinnacle of self-realisation and bliss through yoga.

Sri M (Pic courtesy, The Satsang Foundation)

Sri M says in his introduction to the book that ancient yoga philosophy has almost no interest in the concept of a creator or an all-powerful God, who controls you and throws you into heaven or hell according to his whims and fancies.

Even the great Patanjali, considered the foremost and earliest exponent of systematic yoga, in his masterpiece, The Yoga Sutras, uses Ishwara (God) only twice in the entire text and only as a useful adjunct to the main practices.

Whether Patanjali’s Ishwara denotes an omnipotent “thundering God” or the tranquil Purusha of Sankhya philosophy is an age-old question that needs a healthy debate, adds Sri M.

In the concluding sentence in his introduction, Sri M says, “This book is an attempt to save the purity of yoga from being adulterated by religious cults and politico-religious outfits keen to exploit the masses and use them to their advantage.”

Yoga Also for the Godless is a step-by-step guide to the theory and practice of yoga. Apart from the godless, the book is also targeted at the young and the millennial, who may be attempting yoga for the first time. Written in simple and crisp language, aided by visuals, the book takes the reader through the most complex notions of breath, body and posture. 

Excellence in yoga, the science of expansion of consciousness and freedom from limitation, has nothing to do with one’s personal beliefs, religious or otherwise. It depends entirely on the step-by-step practice of the methods described in yoga texts and on the guidance of a proper and authentic expert, affirms Sri M in his book.

To substantiate his point about the godless being as blessed as the godly, Sri M asks readers to take a look at some of the shanti mantras that occur in the Upanishads, the core and essence of the Vedas. They are mostly assertions, affirmations and wishes to ascend spiritually and derive physical and mental strength to achieve personal goals rather than prayers to an almighty creator.

Many of them end with the sincere wish for peace — shanti and the wish to improve the world and the beings that live in itThere is no reference to a creator God. It is a statement of completeness or fullness on the Truth or Ultimate Reality.

Yoga Also for the Godless begins with Sri M narrating a conversation between him and a smart young lady. He recounts what she said: ‘M, I believe you are a yogi. I thought you might be able to shed light on a question on yoga. I was very keen on practising yoga after I heard about its health benefits. The fact that many celebrities practise yoga to keep in shape also influenced me.’

‘I approached a yoga teacher. He started teaching me Sanskrit shlokas in praise of God and insisted that I chant them. I tried convincing him that I was an atheist. I was born a Hindu but do not think it necessary to believe in God. He strongly felt that without invoking Lord Ganesha, I could not begin my yoga practice and insisted that the aim of yoga was God-realisation.’

‘I told him that there is no God and, therefore, learning yoga for me was not to reach something that according to me did not exist. He was adamant and asked me to find another instructor.’

 ‘What do you think?’

Sri M tells the reader:

“This yoga teacher, the girl referred to, is not an exception. Thousands of people labour under the mistaken notion that yoga is a theistic philosophy and is not for atheists and agnostics.”

According to Sri M, “There is no mystic union of man and God in Yoga. Rather, man is exhorted to know himself by silencing the brain and reaching into the core of consciousness, where he recognises himself as purusha, the blissful ever-free Seer of all that is visible and invisible.”

Sri M goes on to say that his book is meant precisely to change misunderstood notions about yoga, while serving as a practical guide to practise yoga to perfection, without the “God crutch”.  He has, indeed, succeeded in his endeavour.

Sri M’s book includes a literal translation and commentary of all of Patanjali’s 196 sutras believed to be more than 2,500 years old.

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