If we leave aside what the standard academic textbooks say about the origins of Yoga, we find an interesting account of its beginnings in the Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna that he gave the ancient Yoga first to Vivaswan, the Sun-God. Vivaswan is the name of the sun specific to this Chatur Yuga. In other words, Yoga was first given by the Supreme Godhead, immanent in creation to the guardian of the law of Truth, Sanatan Dharma. Subsequently Vivaswan transmitted it to Manu, the original prototype of Man as the truth that he must abide by. Subsequently the Yoga is given to the lineage of kings from the Solar Dynasty, the Suryavankshi king Ikshavaku. But this original Yoga is lost from time to time. When the Yoga is lost and men begin to live by their own fancies and desires and egoistic selfish interests, then the Sanatan Dharma declines, dharmasya glani. At each of these points the Divine assumes a human birth to restore the Dharma by giving the Yoga again to mankind, at first to a few who are ready and then to humanity at large. What is the purpose we may ask? As is implicit in the declaration, Yoga is the supreme means to restore the Dharma. And Dharma here is not religion as we understand today but the means through which we draw nearer to the Law of Truth and by that we grow in oneness with God, with the Origin and Source. Thus seen, Yoga becomes a means to join the creation of the created with the Creator. Secretly and in their essence, they are always one since nothing can exist independent in itself separate from the one Supreme Source. But it seems parted on the surface because of the various distortions and mal-alignments that come about due to the complex play of countless forces that mediate between the One Creator and the manifold creation.
It is difficult for the modern mind blinded by an extremely materialistic vision of science to understand what Sri Krishna, the Yogyogeswar is saying here. It was difficult even for Arjuna to understand this great declaration by Krishna. That is why the eye of faith must lead first before the eye of wisdom can open and man must learn to recognise that he is nothing in himself and his greatness, if any, lies in his capacity to unite with the Divine. In fact, he is here for that. Man is meant to become the bridge between that which is below him and that which is beyond. Matter and Spirit, World and God, Nature and Soul, Earth and the Heavens can come together and join in him harmoniously fulfilling each other. For it is through this union that matter is fulfilled by being touched by the Light Divine as a lamp lights up as the current passes through its wires. The body is the lamp and the Divine is the Source of Light while the wire that joins the two is the soul of man. True Yoga begins in its real sense only after we discover our secret soul now hidden and covered by our nature. Before that there are various kinds of preparations but the real Yoga has not yet begun in its true sense. On the other hand, Yoga also fulfils God in Creation by drawing things closer to the original Divine Plan. Sri Aurobindo reveals the supreme human aim in these powerful words, To fulfil God in life is man’s manhood [CWSA 21: 41].
Yogic practices therefore can be either a preparation or else a means of moving towards this great aim. If we take Yoga in this original sense of union with the Divine or our Highest Self or the Source, then it implies at least three main elements. There is of course a fourth element which is the matrix in which it is taking place. By Matrix we mean the gestalt or sum total elements of Time, Place, Circumstances. None of these elements have an absolute hold on the practice of Yoga but they do play a certain part in the eventual results. These differ from person to person. The rule of standardising everything does not work in psychological matters, – and ‘Yoga is nothing but practical psychology’ as Sri Aurobindo puts it. It works even less in spiritual matters. If we take a vertical axis from Matter to Spirit then we can say that the consciousness involved in Matter ascends or emerges through increasing degrees of freedom. That is why it is never a good idea to outwardly imitate a truly spiritual person. What is important instead to ascend to the inner Freedom to which he has climbed by following the path he has shown. Of course, Spiritual freedom is different from our idea of freedom. The freedom that we understand and wish to have is the freedom to do as we like, to get what we like, to be what we like. From the spiritual point of view the only freedom, the true freedom lies in union with the Divine and thereby manifesting and expressing His Will in and through our life and actions. This Divine Will, like Truth, cannot be fixed into any standard formula. What we however ordinarily call as freedom is in fact bondage to ego and ignorance. Yoga is the way to free ourselves from Ignorance which gives us freedom from all that binds us to desires and attachments and their results grief and error and suffering and fear and greed and ambition and lust.