Georg Feuerstein, THE LOST TEACHINGS OF YOGA (6 audio CD set), 2003, Sounds True, Total Running time: 7hrs 30mins.
To most western practitioners of Yoga, it is a system of physical health and development, or stress management through meditation. It is so much more than this. In this extensive course in the history, philosophy and explanation of the true objectives of Yoga, Georg Feuerstein sets us right. Sounds True presents the listener with no less than a comprehensive curriculum in Yoga by a top practitioner and scholar.
German-Canadian Georg Feuerstein is an Indologist and founder and director of the Yoga Research and Education Foundation in northern California. He is the author of more than 30 books on Yoga, mysticism, tantra, and Hinduism. He has translated The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and The Bhagavad Gita. He is well qualified to deliver this course of twelve sessions. The listener could not be in better hands.
Mr Feuerstein has a pleasant slightly German-accented voice that is easy to understand and pleasant to hear. His speech is completely free of religious values and judgments. Rather he displays a strong moral and ethical stance that is the hallmark of Yogic wisdom from ancient times to the present.
This course is designed primarily for westernised students, for Mr Feuerstein understands and conveys the struggles in maintaining a balanced attitude as partakers of western life – work, home, and family relationships. Not many listeners will be ascetics or aspiring hermits in the classical Indian tradition.
Although Yoga is the underpinning of three great Indian religions, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, it is not a religion in itself. It is rather a culmination of 5,000 years of mental and spiritual discipline, developed by the sages and philosophers of India and the rest of the great sub-continent. It is also an exemplar of the Perennial Philosophy in action.
The course contains two sessions on each of the six CDs. The first session is called rather humorously ‘Yoga 101’. This gives the history and background of Yoga in its cultural and spiritual context. The ten basic principles are outlined and then discussed at length. The second session gives the different branches of Yoga, such as Kriya Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Mantra and Tantra Yoga, to name a few. The listener is instructed gently on the difference in emphasis and the requirements for each of the branches. The strong message in these sessions is that Yoga is not just an armchair philosophy, or a theoretical structure, but a highly practical discipline made up of many branches that need to be practised to attain the object of contact with the true self.
As the listeners move through the sessions, they will hear of the sad ignorance of our true nature and how meditation and yogic discipline can change this. Our current waking reality is a limited and poverty-stricken awareness compared to the unbounded nature of immersion in the divine mind. However, it won’t happen all at once and there are no short cuts to enlightenment.
There is a session on consciousness and the meaning of life as well as the seven stages of psychospiritual growth. It is clear that we are addicted to our current reality and Mr Feuerstein has adapted the Twelve Step program to twelve steps of Spiritual Recovery. This is really useful and I found the two sessions on Building Firm Moral Foundations to be even more helpful. It was mentally cleansing just to hear the great virtues being explained in such a clear way. I was struck by how similar the moral virtues are in all great cultures. That is the Perennial Philosophy. We are all one.
The later sessions expand on the yoga postures and tell how a number of them can be helpful in meditation. The forms of correct Yogic breathing are also clearly explained. These are an integral part of Hatha Yoga, which is a branch of Tantra. Rather than the extreme asceticism and repulsion of the physical body of the very early forms of yoga, the Tantric path sees the body as a temple and yogis aim to develop the ‘diamond’ or light body through spiritual exercise and discipline.
An introduction to the anatomy of the subtle bodies is fascinating. This sections seals with the sheaths of the body, the chakras, nadis and other channels of subtle energy or prana. The nature of the Kundalini energy coiled at the base chakra is explained as psychospiritual energy. Popular western publications tout Kundalini Yoga as the be-all and end-all of yogic practice, but, in fact, it is just one of the important steps along the way, not the final objective. Mr Feuerstein points that when effects of yoga are blissful or spectacular, there is tendency to dwell on and a desire to repeat that effect. In the Buddhist tradition life is seen as suffering. One of the important aims of spiritual practice is non-attachment. Desire for anything is attachment, and leads to suffering. How the mind does trick even the most experienced practitioner!
The last three session in this course focus on how to manage the senses, how to develop mindfulness and concentration in meditation and yoga practice. A road map to meditation and what can be expected in advanced practice is shown to the student, right up to the state of perfect enlightenment and freedom. There are very few truly enlightened people alive on this planet today. Living in the western style makes it quite hard to achieve this ultimate goal of Yoga, but this should not stop the student from embarking on the path to self realization – and beyond.
I recommend this set for the earnest seeker for expanded awareness, mindfulness and self realization. I was quite affected by this course and will listen to parts of it again.
From my early days in study, I recalled this little excerpt which I humbly share with you now in the hopes it will elicit what I felt when I first read it.
A well known story tells of the Buddha passing a man on the road who was struck by the Buddha's extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence. The man stopped and asked,
"My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?"
"No,” said the Buddha.
"Well, then, are you some kind of magician or a wizard?"
Again the Buddha answered, "No."
"Are you a man?" "No."
"Well, my friend, then what are you?"
The Buddha replied, "I am awake."