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The Yoga Dictionary

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The Sanskrit language is rich in words to communicate ideas about spiritual life, yoga, and God realization. This dictionary, appearing by installments in BACK TO GODHEAD, will focus upon the most important of these words (and, occasionally, upon relevant English terms) and explain what they mean.

Arjuna. The hero of the Bhagavad-gita and personal friend of Lord Sri Krsna. Five thousand years ago, Arjuna, one of the five righteous princes known as the Pandavas, faced the duty of fighting in a great battle against his evil cousin Duryodhana. Just as the battle was to begin, Arjuna, torn between his duty as a prince and his finer sentiments of compassion and familial love,. threw down his weapons in despair. Unable to decide whether to leave the battlefield in disgrace or fight against his beloved relatives and friends, Arjuna turned to his friend Krsna, who was acting as his charioteer. There on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, on a chariot drawn between the two opposed armies, Krsna enlightened Arjuna with the teachings that have come down to us in the seven hundred verses known as Bhagavad-gita.

Astanga-yoga. This is the eightfold discipline by which to achieve union with the Supreme. It is described in Bhagavad-gita and also in the writings of the sage Patanjali (for whom it is sometimes called “the Patanjali yoga system”).

The eight stages in astanga-yoga are yama (restraint of the senses), niyama (restraint of the mind), asana (sitting in the appropriate posture), pratyahara (withdrawal from sense objects), dharana (mental concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (a trance of perfect realization).

To follow the astanga-yoga system, one must practice so as to attain stages, one after another. As described in Bhagavad-gita (Chapter Six), one must vow complete celibacy and withdraw to seclusion in a sanctified place. There one must strictly regulate one’s eating and sleeping, subdue one’s mind and senses, discipline one’s respiration, cease all external awareness, and ultimately fix one’s mind unswervingly on the Supreme Personality. of Godhead, Krsna. Thus one attains perfection.

We should note, however, that the rules of this system are so stringent that in the present age they are nearly impossible to follow. Arjuna himself, although a man of extraordinary qualifications, admitted in Bhagavad-gita that he would be unable to endure the difficulties of astanga-yoga. Instead he followed the path of bhakti-yoga, the yoga of devotional service, which is easier, more direct, and therefore more appropriate for people today.

Of course, one may elect to practice astanga-yoga by going to a yoga class or retreat where one can skip over the difficult and unpleasant austerities but still learn to sit in yogic postures, practice exercises in breathing, and take part in sessions of meditation. This path has the advantage of being easy, but unfortunately it is useless for spiritual realization.

Astral travel. There are various means by which a yogi can enable his mind to take him out of his body to journey to far distant places in the universe. This is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam (Second Canto). But Bhagavad-gita advises that even if one goes to Brahmaloka, the highest planet in the universe, one cannot stay there, but will have to return to where one is now. On the other hand, if one focuses one’s mind upon Krsna and becomes fully Krsna conscious, one can go beyond this material universe and enter the eternal spiritual sky, the abode of Krsna, from which one never has to return. The desire to travel to other planets in this material world is therefore considered an impediment on the path of spiritual realization. Whether one goes by yoga or by the mechanical rockets of modern science, traveling to other planets cannot free one from the cycle of birth and death. So from the spiritual point of view it is a useless waste of time.

Asuras. Bhagavad-gita describes two kinds of human beings-the godly (devas) and the ungodly (asuras). Those who are godly are known by their good qualities, such as purity, simplicity, self-control, fearlessness, truthfulness, and tranquility. The ungodly, on the other hand, are those who are harsh, arrogant, conceited, foolish, and bewildered by lust, anger, and greed. The godly proceed on the path toward liberation, following the guidance of scriptures, whereas the ungodly, bound by their own illusions, suffer the worst tortures of repeated birth and death. Because the ungodly try to exploit the world, its creatures, and their fellow men through mean, cruel, vicious acts, the laws of karma force them to be born as dogs, worms, pigs, and other lower species of life. The ungodly, who are also called demons, are vividly described in the Sixteenth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita.

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