Real Meaning and Goal of Yoga


Hari Om! Namaste!!

Yoga has become a fashionable word in the world today.  We come across many different types of yoga: Astanga Yoga, Hatha yoga, Hot yoga, Office yoga, Aerial yoga, Chilli Yoga,  etc.  Just perplexing, right?

Adding to complication, yoga word itself is interpreted in many different ways by different people – for some it is practicing yoga poses (asanas), for others it is the concentration  of mind and for some others, it is just a physical exercise meant for improving health!

So, what is the real meaning of yoga, by the way? What is its goal? Let us try to understand it from traditional Indian perspective clearly, once for all.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word with deeper spiritual connotations.  Unfortunately, in modern times,  most of its meaning is lost in translation. To understand the real meaning, we need to go back to basics, i.e., etymological origin of the word itself!

The word yoga comes from dhatu(root) Yuj. According to Panini’s Dhatupata, the following different meanings can be given to yoga:

  1. Yuj samadhau: Samadhi.  So, yoga means attaining Samadhi state, i.e., to experience the fourth state(turya or turiya) which  is different from three states: waking, dream and deep sleep. Turya is a deep meditative state in which we can can connect to the Universal Self (a.k.a Paramatma, the Universal Consciousness/God) to experience extreme bliss and peace.
  2. Yuj yoge: Union.  Of what? Union of Individual Self(Atma) with Universal Self/Ultimate Reality to attain the state of Samadhi(Turiya) to experience the infinite bliss and peace to realize the God within us!
  3. Yuj samyamane: censure. Censuring thought waves in mental pond to see the self within clearly. It is like cleaning the mental mirror to see our own selves!

Great Master Shri  Patanjali Maharshi defines  Yoga in a sutra(aphorism) as :

Yogah chitta vritti nirodhah || – Yoga Sutras 1.2

It means cessation of mental waves to see one’s own Self. Notice that this meaning resembles meaning #3 above.

Thus, the goal of yoga, by definition, is to realize the Ultimate Reality. Why should we realize? To be absolutely happy and blissful. As discussed earlier, The Ultimate Reality is full of bliss, timeless and all powerful. Yoga is nothing but merging with the Universal Self(God) so that we can realize and enjoy all infinite powers of God.

What happens if we do not merge with Universal Self(a.k.a God)?

We will do good and bad deeds in this birth. Remember that we are nothing but the Individual Self in a body. Our Individual Self takes birth in another body after death. Again, we do good and bad deeds in that birth and this infinite cycle continues endlessly.  This is the main cause of all human sufferings.

How can we come out of this infinite birth and death cycle?

Simple. By merging with the Universal Self which is always full, happy and timeless. The traditional Indian yoga shows the way to achieve this. Liberating our Individual Self from the birth and death cycle is called moksha (liberation). It is the highest purpose of human life.

Yoga  is one of the six traditional schools (darshanas) of spiritual thought in Sanatana Dharma(Hinduism).  It accepts  existence of the Ultimate Reality and considers the Vedas as the final authority.

Yoga Darshana does not believe in arm chair philosophy; it is fully practical – involves various ways of tuning our body and mind to gain the experience of the Ultimate Truth.  Due to psycho-somatic nature of yoga practices, it is safer to learn it under the supervision of a Guru(Master) to attain the desired goal.

One more important point. We may get a perfect healthy body by practicing yoga – it is just a benefit along  our journey, not the destination by itself.

In summary, The real purpose or goal of yoga is to help us to merge with the Universal Self and get the liberation(moksha) from infinite birth and death cycle.

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Related articles for further reading:

  1. Asana is not yoga!
  2. New Age Yoga Vs. Traditional Yoga: A Funny Story!

Om Namah Shivaya ||

– Kalidas

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