Friday, 10 August 2018

An Introduction to Raja Yoga : Vivekananda - Book Review by Sister Nivedita

'Raja Yoga' from the Oriental point of view, is religion : from the occidental, it is science. We in the West are not left entirely without witness to the occasional occurrence of saintly raptures and prophetic visions which cannot be adequately described as mental aberrations. Without Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Jesus, and Ignatious Loyola, all our history would have been the poorer. But we have felt ourselves under no necessity of giving a scientific account of such phenomena. They have taken place for the most part, in spite of our misunderstanding of them, not because of our sympathy. In the East, however, humanity will give birth to a religious idea, with as much simplicity and directness as in the West would characterize the invention of a machine, or the elaboration of an industrial process. It follows, then, that the recognition of that mood in which religions are born — that mood which the Swami Vivekananda terms 'superconsciousness'—must necessarily form an integral part of Eastern Psychology. Could any 'dictum' range itself more haughtily, more fearlessly, under the banner of scientific ideals, than the seventh aphorism of Patanjali's first chapter — "direct perception?

INFERENCE AND COMPETENT EVIDENCE ARE PROOFS"? Is there any trace of confusion in the mind of the man who wrote this ? Any pet dogma to be screened from destructive criticism ? Any window to be kept dark ? The same words, by implication, base the claim of the aphorism to credence, on experience alone. There is here no room for the appeal to authority—"Competent evidence"— mark the pride of the adjective!—to guide the student; "inference" as a reliable means of determining points of theory; but both of these alike dependent on that which alone, therefore, forms the ultimate test for all, "direct perception." Is it not true that such a readiness to submit the whole content of faith to the test of experience, refusing authority, is to Western thinking, one of the 'differentiae' of science rather than of Religion?

Another point on which this Eastern science— assuming its credibility—challenges comparison with that of the West, is the question of method. In the very nature of the investigation, the human body is itself the laboratory, and all instruments, save those found within, are excluded. But it is not equally true that there is no experiment. The whole research claims to be built upon experiment. And when we read that the heart itself can be brought under such control that the circulation of the blood can be regulated or stopped at will, we catch a glimpse of the courage and devotion to knowledge that the subject must have demanded in its pioneers. There is no reason to believe that the sacrifice of life demanded for the authoritative establishment of its various steps, was in any way less than that required by, for instance, Modern Chemistry or Modern Medicine. And in the severity of the discipline imposed, it is evident that the habits of life of the modern scholar must give precedence to those of the older.

One more point remains to be touched upon. Patanjali, writing his 'Yoga Aphorisms' in the second century B.C. must not be looked upon as an author, in our twentieth-century meaning of the term. Rather, he was a recorder of those conclusions which had been arrived at by the consensus of erudite opinion in his time. His name is used to this day as that of the head of the Yoga School. But this is perhaps much the same thing as to make the President of the Academy of Sciences personally responsible for all the scientific discoveries published under the 'imprimatur' of that body, in a given year of grace! 'The Yoga Aphorisms' represent an era in culture, the work of a great floating university of begging friars, which at the time of their publication was already many centuries old.

Finally, this strange old science of Raja Yoga is to this day alive in India. Many thousands of students have made some progress in it; some few, it may be, are highly proficient. In any case, we who have been his disciples - both Indians and Europeans regard the writer of this book, the Swami Vivekananda, as belonging to the latter of these two classes. He was one of those souls for whom 'Samadhi', or super-consciousness, had no secrets, and when he publishes a statement regarding the nature of Yoga, his words fall under the category of "Competent Evidence."