The Role of Yoga Philosophy

By Rudra Shivananda

It is possible for a practitioner to take up a yogic discipline without any regard to the philosophical underpinnings of the particular path. What reason can be there for the seeker to learn more and investigate the philosophies that the yogic sages have taught?
The yogic path is long and arduous and many seekers embark on it full of enthusiasm generated by certain spiritual experiences and/or effects of a charismatic teacher. They expect that things will merrily hum along and that they will make progress by following
instructions. However, before too long, they come to the realization that progress is not consistent and they start having doubts as their subconscious compulsions re-assert themselves as well.

pexels-photo-590493.jpegIn fact, the spiritual practice itself can awaken all sorts of samskaras or karmic  compulsions, some even directly related to the path, the teachings or the teacher! Doubts can also be expanded by discussions with other students or seekers on different paths and many a seeker has fallen by the way-side due to insufficient preparation in yogic philosophy.

It is important to have a basic understanding of the philosophy or metaphysics that underlie your path because this will help you to:
1. Navigate the path better – the philosophy provides an overview of the goal and objectives with interim signposts or experiences that can validate the path
2. Settle doubts about the efficacy of the path and to be able to explain it to yourself and others – this can help the practitioner to maintain faith in the path itself
3. Differentiate your chosen path from others both in terms of objectives and the theory underlying the practices.

I do not advocate the study of yogic philosophy apart from a yogic practice as that would just lead to mental gymnastics without any basis for life-changing  experience.

It is also to be noted that those practitioners who are on the Bhakti or devotional path do not normally feel the need for studying their philosophical foundation. Indeed, most bhakti Masters or teachers exhort their students to stay away from any intellectual discourse all together and give themselves up to the bhava or emotional experiences
that come from their devotional chanting as the mind interferes with the possibility of ecstatic trance.

One must follow the guidance of one’s teachers and I would not advocate that they  should abandon their rules. However, if one should become beset with doubts, then it may be time to do some research rather than abandon one’s practice all together. For most yogic practitioners, the study of yogic philosophy will be very beneficial to maintaining their yoga sadhana.

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