The word yoga comes from the root word yuj, meaning to “yoke” or “unite.” The earliest yoga teachings are found in the Upanishads, which are the final portions of the Vedas, India’s most ancient and venerated scriptures. The Upanishadscontain the oldest extant teachings of the spiritual wisdom, ideals, and practices of yoga: the Oneness of existence, the divinity of each human soul, meditation, karma, rebirth, maya, spiritual psychology, Self-realization, and so on.
The wisdom of the Upanishads is known as the Vedanta, meaning the culmination of the Vedas. The Upanishads are the ecstatic expressions of unknown sages who lived thousands of years ago regarding the nature of reality and our relationship to that reality, and they contain the first teachings of the various spiritual disciplines and practices that would come to define the four main mystical yoga pathways (bhakti, jnana, karma, raja) in future scriptures.
There have been many subdefinitions of the word yoga in the thousands of years of its teachings and practice, with many modern Western definitions reducing its meaning to a series of physical postures, or asanas, but the oldest, truest, and highest meaning of yoga is the union of our spirit with the Infinite Spirit, and the many paths and practices that lead to that union. Swami Nikhilananda [ed: one of the foremost Vedanta teachers of the 20th century] put it beautifully: “The word ‘yoga’ denotes the union of individual soul with Universal Soul, and also the means to such union. Hence yoga is the goal of all religions and the basis of all religious practices.”
The Upanishads contain the original seeds of all the yoga wisdom from which the vast library of yoga practices would subsequently be fashioned and perfected by countless generations of anonymous spiritual masters devoted to these incredible wisdom pathways.
The first of the great Upanishadic revelations is that the true nature of reality is Oneness. The Upanishads call the Eternal Oneness Brahman, the “great breath” or “expanse.”
Everything in the universe is a temporary expression of the One: everything comes from the One, has its being in the One, and returns to the One. There is nothing in the universe that is not a manifestation of Brahman. According to theTaittiriya Upanishad,
He who has no form assumed many forms;
He who is infinite appeared finite;
He who is everywhere assumed a place;
He who is all wisdom caused ignorance;
He who is real caused unreality.
It is He who has become everything.
It is He who gives reality to all.
Before the universe was created,
Brahman existed as unmanifest.
This is not mere pantheism, which equates God with nature. According to the Upanishadic seers, even the vast, unimaginable expanse of the known physical universe is absolutely insignificant in scope when compared to the totality of Existence that is Brahman.
DAVE DELUCA is one of the West’s most passionate and highly regarded teachers of India’s ancient Vedanta yoga wisdom and the editor of Sacred Jewels of Yoga and Pathways to Joy. Visit him online at http://www.davedeluca.com.