by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri)

Being a Yogi — Preface: Yoga and Freedom

Boga is all about freedom. Only a fraction of the world’s population is formally imprisoned, but the entire human race is imprisoned in the body and the earth itself. None are free from the inevitability of sickness, age, and death, however free of them they may be at the moment. The human condition is subject to innumerable limitations. Who really controls his life fully, attains all his goals, and knows no setbacks of any kind? No one.

Our real Self, the spirit, is ever perfect and free. But we have forgotten that. So we identify with our present experience of limitation and bondage and consequently suffer stress and pain in countless ways. Our situation is like someone who is asleep and dreaming that he is suffering or fearful. To end the fear and pain he needs only to wake up. Yoga is the procedure of self-awakening, the way to freedom from suffering, fear, and limitation. “This is the bridge to immortality. May you be successful in crossing over to the farther shore of darkness” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.6).

I have included a great deal of material on what I call “the yoga life” in this book because yoga is not just a practice or a philosophy: it is an entire way of life. Without this understanding and without commitment to the Yoga Life there is simply no need to give yoga a second thought. And by yoga I mean the quest for liberation of the spirit. Yoga is an eternal science intended to reveal and manifest the Eternal.

Yoga is like a tree. The bark is not the tree; the leaves are not the tree; the branches are not the tree; nor are the roots the tree. But taken all together–that is a tree. If a single one of these elements is missing, then the tree will die. It is the same with yoga–everything must be present to a sufficient degree. That is why the chapter entitled The Foundations of Yoga is so important. It contains no options: the whole range of discipline must be present to even begin to be a yogi. Without such a foundation any structure will fall down to ruin.

Many years ago the wife of a professor of entomology told me a story about some students who took parts from several insects and put them together. Approaching their teacher, they showed it to him and asked: “What kind of bug is this?” Looking at it carefully he replied: “It is a humbug!” So is pick-and-choose “designer” yoga.

In the primary grades my readers sometimes had humorous stories about Mrs. Goose. One was about Mrs. Goose taking a bath. She sat and sat in the bathtub and just felt something was not right–but she could not figure out what it was. So she asked several of her neighbors to come and watch her take a bath and see if they could discover what was wrong. They did so, and immediately saw the problem: she had no water in the tub! It is the same with yoga: nothing can be missing.

Please see the Glossary for the definition of unfamiliar words and also for brief biographical information on unfamiliar persons.

Abbot George Burke
Light of the Spirit Monastery
Cedar Crest, New Mexico
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