Why do so many people 'take to yoga'? The chief reason is that from childhood they have heard about it, and have been familiar with legendary stories of great sages and saints and heroes of the past who have shown serenity and ability and strength - all gained through yoga - altogether superior to the lot of the masses of the people among whom they find that they have been born. They have perhaps listened to some of the numerous lectures on the subject or have read some of the books. Above all, many have looked into the famous yoga teachings of Patanjali, written down in his Yoga Sútras more than three hundred years B.c.
Those yoga sûtras (aphorisms) affirm at the outset that human unhappiness results from man's acceptance of a state of servitude to the low condition of his own mind.
They do not leave it at that, however, but they show how men can overcome this condition, and in time become like the sages and saints and heroes of their dreams, and, further, that they can also pass on into spiritual worlds - no less real than this - in which they will be veritable masters of life, or, in brief, that they can win competency for citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
Their belief does not set the future and the present at odds with each other. In their eyes the same mode of life that leads to what we may call the Kingdom - the word, however, is Independence (kaivalya) - also leads to the greatest happiness and the most felicitous conditions of existence on earth. Health, beauty, peace, prosperity, and every reasonable felicity result from the same ethics, mental disciplines, and type of endeavour as lead to a future free from the restrictions of earthly life.
Or, if the candidate for happiness through yoga chooses to do so, he can postpone his ultimate aims and think only of a series of future lives on earth with a conspicuous decrease of its objectionable features and increase of desirable ones, by the same effective and agreeable methods.
The candidate can proceed step by step, keeping his eye on the ground and doing one thing after another, or he can choose an ideal or an ideal person or mahâtma as his goal, and approach a teacher or guru for guidance towards it. The legends are full of noble examples, and the gurus have been many even within historical times. The guru is one who has experienced divine freedom in his consciousness, and knows the means by which it may be attained.
In some Western writings this state of freedom or independence has been called 'cosmic consciousness'. If this is to fit the yogic conception we must not use the word cosmic as meaning all-inclusive, but only - if one may say only - the direct perception and experience of the divine consciousness which is free from the troubles already mentioned, and is also inherently joyful.
Perhaps the first thing that the candidate learns is that his future does not depend upon fortunate material circumstances. There must however be enough. This could be expressed, and is expressed, in some of the books, in the following terms: 'Be glad that you are a man, and now do not be so foolish as to miss the opportunity this gives.' It is for this purpose that the yogi attends to his bodily needs and welfare. Suicide would certainly lead nowhere.
And neglect of the body will do no good. Still, the reasonable middle way is best. The candidate will learn that bodily greatness in the shape of uncommon muscular strength or skill in athletics will not help at all. The motto with reference to bodily strength may be said to be 'Enough is enough', but definitely also 'Enough is necessary'.
It may be thought by the enquirer or the novice that though a powerful body is not necessary for yoga a powerful mind is necessary - mind being defined as the totality of the functions of thinking, feeling, and willing. This too the student soon finds not to be the case. Once more 'Enough is enough', and once more 'Enough is necessary'. Great mental ability and special mental talent or genius are not required. On the other hand, stupidity, confusion and dissipation can avert or destroy the ‘enough’