Redefining Isolation through Yogic Tradition

-By Spriha Roy*

“There is always a light within us that is free from all sorrow and grief, no matter how much we may be experiencing suffering.” Patañjali

‘Spirituality’ or being spiritual has often been misinterpreted not because of its transcendental essence but due to the sheer ignorance of humankind. We fail to acknowledge the most obvious phenomena around us simply because it appears way too ordinary to us. And this is where Philosophy emerges to acquaint us with the very elementary yet convoluted concepts circumscribing our day-to-day activity. Perhaps, undoubtedly Philosophy as an academic regimen has been credited with the burden to unmask the reality of the nature of truth binding every walks of our life. Yet the perennial quest for the ontic status of the nature of being human pervades the discipline of Philosophy. Probably, this forms the common grounding for the Social Sciences to unite and reflect. So far it has been accepted that human beings are a “social” and a “rational” animal, as they survive in a society following certain moral codes which are mutually agreed upon. These are one of the few truisms accepted globally but my central concern remains to explore the concept of ‘isolation’ in one of the most ancient schools of Philosophy, which has laid the foundation for the modern ascetics and in general, had paved the path for a healthy living. I wish to highlight the contrast between the classical understanding of Yoga, as enumerated by sage Patañjali and the contemporary ideas attached to the practice of yoga, which is evidently inclined towards the progressing capitalistic market; where people associate it with fitness, mental wellbeing and thereby, gradually losing its philosophical relevance.

Etymologically, yoga has been derived from the Sanskrit term, yuj which is translated as union or to attach. The foundation was laid by Patañjali in the form of Yoga Sutras which provides an insight into the yoga philosophy. According to the Indian philosophical tradition, Yoga is considered to be the allied school of thought of Sānkhya, which is the only school whose metaphysical doctrine is based on duality. Gīta considers them to be the two perspectives of the same thought, one being the spiritual aspect and the other represents the epistemology. One of the distinguishing factors is that Yoga revers God as Isvara but Sānkhya belongs to the atheistic or heterodox tradition. This is why, often Yoga is termed as the theistic Sānkhya. For brevity, Yoga Sutra is divided into four portions, each categorised as ‘pada’ meaning chapters; namely: Samādhi, Sādhanā, Vibhūti and Kaivalya.[1] Every chapter familiarizes us with a vision which draws us nearer to the divine experience and sets the journey for the art of meditation and āsanas. 

Sāmadhi enumerates the basic postulates of yoga by highlighting its importance and introducing us with the real essence of it, which requires continuous pracrice or abhyasa. The second chapter outlines the principles of Ashtanga yoga, those hurdles which must be conquered in order to experience the divine. The eightfold path can be demonstrated as: Yama, Niyama, Āsana, Prānāyāma, Pratyāhāra, Dhāranā, Dhyāna and Samādhi. The third stage reveals the state of ecstasy and finally kaivalya makes us realise that we are one with the ultimate, and we are in confluence with the Universal Soul. The commonsensical meaning of the term isolation, therefore doesn’t fit in this context. One has to go beyond the worldly boundaries to acknowledge it. 

Kaivalya in the Sānkhya-Yoga philosophical framework can be understood as a state of solitude, detachment and freedom from all bondages. It is the separation of purusha from prakriti. It marks the detachment from all the worldly relationships, attraction, ego along with the cycle of birth and death. According to the sutras, one who overcomes the selfish desires and lead a discipline life as delineated by Patañjali, is a true kevalin. At this juncture, it must be noted that this isolation indirectly forms the thread for the union with the ultimate Self. Our own being is reflected and we are aware of our true self. We attain the state of absolute consciousness negating our physical self, in other words, it is the enlightened state one enjoys.

Having described the nature of isolation in the philosophical framework, didn’t it sound too metaphysical or unrealistic to digest? This is majorly because we are ignorant about the roots of this notion. In the contemporary world, we are only concerned with the therapeutic aspects of yoga because it has been coloured with the social conditioning. We are “virtually” surviving to increase our followers and paint a picture-perfect image of ourselves in the social media platforms. We have gone way too far from the real teachings of this traditional culture. We take pride in imitating others as it is “trending”. Though, I still find a silver lining and cannot completely blame the present socio-economic condition for the downfall of our heritage as it has at least once again have attempted to bring forth among the masses. Nowadays, we not only practice on our own, but we also join to celebrate International Yoga day globally. In conjunction, probably this ‘isolation’ serves as a resort from the persistent cacophony of our busy schedule. We find solace in meditation, yoga āsanas and body purification because it detours our self. But perhaps, I am still hopeful that we might revive the essential features and regain the lost philosophical relevance not only to promote academic research but also to equally benefit from the teachings of Yoga sutras, both physically as well as mentally.

[1] Chandradhar Sharma, Indian Philosophy: A Critical Survey, 1960

*Spriha Roy is MA student at University of Delhi.

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