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by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Perfection of Yoga addresses many common misconceptions about the purpose and goal of the yoga system. One of the most popular introductory books on the science and practice of Krishna consciousness, Perfection of Yoga was originally presented before a live audience as a lecture on the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita by Srila Prabhupada in September of 1966 in New York City.
As yoga grows in popularity, there is a growing need for clear, authoritative information about yoga's origins and deeper meanings. Krishna, the speaker of the Gita, tells his disciple Arjuna that the whole point of yoga is to make the body and mind as peaceful as possible so that one can meditate on Paramatma, the aspect of the Supreme Person dwelling within us all.
The Perfection of Yoga, Paperback
Paperback; 56 pages; 10.2 x 17.8 (centimeters); 4 x 7 (inches)
Chapter 1: Yoga as Rejected by Arjuna
Chapter 2: Yoga as Work in Devotion
Chapter 3: Yoga as Meditation on Krishna
Chapter 4: Yoga as Body and Mind Control
Chapter 5: Yoga as Freedom from Duality and Designation
Chapter 6: The Fate of the Unsuccessful Yogi
Chapter 7: Yoga as Reestablishing Relations with Krishna
Chapter 8: The Perfection of Yoga
Yoga as Rejected by Arjuna
There have been many yoga systems popularized in the Western world, especially in this century, but none of them have actually taught the perfection of yoga. In the Bhagavad-gita, Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, teaches Arjuna directly the perfection of yoga. If we actually want to participate in the perfection of the yoga system, in Bhagavad-gita we will find the authoritative statements of the Supreme Person.
It is certainly remarkable that the perfection of yoga was taught in the middle of a battlefield. It was taught to Arjuna, the warrior, just before Arjuna was to engage in a fratricidal battle. Out of sentiment, Arjuna was thinking, “Why should I fight against my own kinsmen?” That reluctance to fight was due to Arjuna’s illusion, and just to eradicate that illusion, Sri Krishna spoke the Bhagavad-gita to him. One can just imagine how little time must have elapsed while Bhagavad-gita was being spoken. All the warriors on both sides were poised to fight, so there was very little time indeed - at the utmost, one hour. Within this one hour, the whole Bhagavad-gita was discussed, and Sri Krishna set forth the perfection of all yoga, systems to His friend Arjuna. At the end of this great discourse, Arjuna set aside his misgivings and fought.
However, within the discourse, when Arjuna heard the explanation of the meditational system of yoga "how to sit down, how to keep the body straight, how to keep the eyes half-closed and how to gaze at the tip of the nose without diverting one’s attention, all this being conducted in a secluded place, alone." he replied,
yo 'yam yogas tvaya proktah
etasyaham na pashyami
cancalatvat sthitim sthiram
“O Madhusudana, the system of yoga which You have summarized appears impractical and unendurable to me, for the mind is restless and unsteady.” (Bg. 6.33)
This is important. We must always remember that we are in a material circumstance wherein at every moment our mind is subject to agitation. Actually we are not in a very comfortable situation. We are always thinking that by changing our situation we will overcome our mental agitation, and we are always thinking that when we reach a certain point, all mental agitations will disappear. But it is the nature of the material world that we cannot be free from anxiety. Our dilemma is that we are always trying to make a solution to our problems, but this universe is so designed that these solutions never come.
Not being a cheater, being very frank and open, Arjuna tells Krishna that the system of yoga which He has described is not possible for him to execute. In speaking to Krishna, it is significant that Arjuna addresses Him as Madhusudana, indicating that the Lord is the killer of the demon Madhu. It is notable that God’s names are innumerable, for He is often named according to His activities. Indeed, God has innumerable names because He has innumerable activities. We are only parts of God, and we cannot even remember how many activities we have engaged in from our childhood to the present. The eternal God is unlimited, and since His activities are also unlimited, He has unlimited names, of which Krishna is the chief. Then why is Arjuna addressing Him as Madhusudana when, being Krishna’s friend, he could address Him directly as Krishna? The answer is that Arjuna considers his mind to be like a great demon, such as the demon Madhu. If it were possible for Krishna to kill the demon called the mind, then Arjuna would be able to attain the perfection of yoga. “My mind is much stronger than this demon Madhu,” Arjuna is saying. “Please, if You could kill him, then it would be possible for me to execute this yoga system.” Even the mind of a great man like Arjuna is always agitated. As Arjuna himself says,
“For the mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate and very strong, O Krishna, and to subdue it is, it seems to me, more difficult than controlling the wind.” (Bg. 6.34)
It is indeed a fact that the mind is always telling us to go here, go there, do this, do that - it is always telling us which way to turn. Thus the sum and substance of the yoga system is to control the agitated mind. In the meditational yoga system the mind is controlled by focusing on the Supersoul - that is the whole purpose of yoga. But Arjuna says that controlling this mind is more difficult than stopping the wind from blowing. One can imagine a man stretching out his arms trying to stop a hurricane. Are we to assume that Arjuna is simply not sufficiently qualified to control his mind? The actual fact is that we cannot begin to understand the immense qualifications of Arjuna. After all, he was a personal friend of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is a highly elevated position and is one that cannot be at all attained by one without great qualifications. In addition to this, Arjuna was renowned as a great warrior and administrator. He was such an intelligent man that he could understand Bhagavad-gita within one hour, whereas at the present moment great scholars cannot even understand it in the course of a lifetime. Yet Arjuna was thinking that controlling the mind was simply not possible for him. Are we then to assume that what was impossible for Arjuna in a more advanced age is possible for us in this degenerate age? We should not for one moment think that we are in Arjuna’s category. We are a thousand times inferior.
Moreover, there is no record of Arjuna’s having executed the yoga system at any time. Yet Arjuna was praised by Krishna as the only man worthy of understanding Bhagavad-gita. What was Arjuna’s great qualification? Sri Krishna says, “You are My devotee. You are My very dear friend.” Despite this qualification, Arjuna refused to execute the meditational yoga system described by Sri Krishna. What then are we to conclude? Are we to despair the mind’s ever being controlled? No, it can be controlled, and the process is this Krishna consciousness. The mind must be fixed always in Krishna. Insofar as the mind is absorbed in Krishna, it has attained the perfection of yoga.
Now when we turn to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, in the Twelfth Canto we find Shukadeva Goswami telling Maharaja Parikshit that in the golden age, the Satya-yuga, people were living for one hundred thousand years, and at that time, when advanced living entities lived for such lengths of time, it was possible to execute this meditational system of yoga. But what was achieved in the Satya-yuga by this meditational process, and in the following yuga, the Treta-yuga, by the offering of great sacrifices, and in the next yuga, the Dvapara-yuga, by temple worship, would be achieved at the present time, in this Kali-yuga, by simply chanting the names of God, hari-kirtana, Hare Krishna. So from authoritative sources we learn that this chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is the embodiment of the perfection of yoga for this age.
Today we have great difficulties living fifty or sixty years. A man may live at the utmost eighty or a hundred years. In addition, these brief years are always fraught with anxiety, with difficulties due to circumstances of war, pestilence, famine and so many other disturbances. We’re also not very intelligent, and, at the same time, we’re unfortunate. These are the characteristics of man living in Kali-yuga, a degraded age. So properly speaking, we can never attain success in this meditational yoga system described by Krishna. At the utmost we can only gratify our personal whims by some pseudoadaptation of this system. Thus people are paying money to attend some classes in gymnastic exercises and deep-breathing, and they’re happy if they think they can lengthen their lifetimes by a few years or enjoy better sex life. But we must understand that this is not the actual yoga system. In this age that meditational system cannot be properly executed. Instead, all of the perfections of that system can be realized through bhakti-yoga, the sublime process of Krishna consciousness, specifically mantra-yoga, the glorification of Sri Krishna through the chanting of Hare Krishna. That is recommended in Vedic scriptures and is introduced by great authorities like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Indeed, the Bhagavad-gita proclaims that the mahatmas, the great souls, are always chanting the glories of the Lord. If one wants to be a mahatma in terms of the Vedic literature, in terms of Bhagavad-gita and in terms of the great authorities, then one has to adopt this process of Krishna consciousness and of chanting Hare Krishna. But if we’re content at making a show of meditation by sitting very straight in lotus position and going into a trance like some sort of performer, then that is a different thing. But we should understand that such show-bottle performances have nothing to do with the actual perfection of yoga. The material disease cannot be cured by artificial medicine. We have to take the real cure straight from Krishna.
“The Perfection of Yoga is most useful for anyone wishing to understand the meaning of yoga. It also introduces the student to the study of Bhagavad-gita and shows how direct and simple, yet in another sense, how profoundly complex is the path of spiritual growth through yoga practice. It is a scholarly book, yet has a direct personal meaning for all—a powerful combination.”
—Dr. Frank Ledwith
Professor of Psychology
University of St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland