Swami Vivekananda is considered as a key figure in the introduction of Yoga to the Western world. Vivekananda described Yoga as a practice that joins a human to “reality” or “God”. In this post we’ll make a collection of Swami Vivekananda’s quotes and comments on Yoga.
Yoga is controlling the senses, will and mind
From Complete Works Volume VI, Notes of Class Talks and Lectures—[Source]The Hindu concentrated on the internal world, upon the unseen realms in the Self, and developed the science of Yoga. Yoga is controlling the senses, will and mind. The benefit of its study is that we learn to control instead of being controlled. Mind seems to be layer on layer. Our real goal is to cross all these intervening strata of our being and find God. The end and aim of Yoga is to realise God. To do this we must go beyond relative knowledge, go beyond the sense-world. The world is awake to the senses, the children of the Lord are asleep on that plane. The world is asleep to the Eternal, the children of the Lord are awake in that realm. These are the sons of God. There is but one way to control the senses—to see Him who is the Reality in the universe. Then and only then can we really conquer our senses.
Yoga is the method to understand reality
From Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Notes from Lectures and Discourses—[Source]
The ultimate goal of all mankind, the aim and end of all religions, is but one—re-union with God, or, what amounts to the same, with the divinity which is every man’s true nature. But while the aim is one, the method of attaining may vary with the different temperaments of men.
Both the goal and the methods employed for reaching it are called Yoga, a word derived from the same Sanskrit root as the English “yoke”, meaning “to join”, to join us to our reality, God. There are various such Yogas, or methods of union—but the chief ones are—Karma-Yoga, Bhakti-Yoga, Râja-Yoga, and Jnâna-Yoga.
Every man must develop according to his own nature. As every science has its methods, so has every religion. The methods of attaining the end of religion are called Yoga by us, and the different forms of Yoga that we teach, are adapted to the different natures and temperaments of men. We classify them in the following way, under four heads:
(1) Karma-Yoga—The manner in which a man realises his own divinity through works and duty.(2) Bhakti-Yoga—The realisation of the divinity through devotion to, and love of, a Personal God.(3) Raja-Yoga—The realisation of the divinity through the control of mind.(4) Jnana-Yoga—The realisation of a man’s own divinity through knowledge.
These are all different roads leading to the same centre—God. Indeed, the varieties of religious belief are an advantage, since all faiths are good,so far as they encourage man to lead a religious life. The more sects there are, the more opportunities there are for making successful appeals to the divine instinct in all men.
What does Yoga teach?
From a lecture delivered in San Francisco on 5 April 1900—[Source]The Yoga doctrine, which we are having our lecture on, is not from that standpoint. [It teaches that] there is the soul, and inside this soul is all power. It is already there, and if we can master this body, all the power will be unfolded. All knowledge is in the soul. Why are people struggling? To lessen the misery…. All unhappiness is caused by our not having mastery over the body…. We are all putting the cart before the horse…. Take the system of work, for instance. We are trying to do good by … comforting the poor. We do not get to the cause which created the misery. It is like taking a bucket to empty out the ocean, and more [water] comes all the time. The Yogi sees that this is nonsense. [He says that] the way out of misery is to know the cause of misery first…. We try to do the good we can. What for? If there is an incurable disease, why should we struggle and take care of ourselves? If the utilitarians say: “Do not bother about soul and God!” what is that to the Yogi and what is it to the world? The world does not derive any good [from such an attitude]. More and more misery is going on all the time….
The Yogi says you are to go to the root of all this. Why is there misery in the world? He answers: “It is all our own foolishness, not having proper mastery of our own bodies. That is all.” He advises the means by which this misery can be [overcome]. If you can thus get mastery of your body, all the misery of the world will vanish. Every hospital is praying that more and more sick people will come there. Every time you think of doing some charity, you think there is some beggar to take your charity. If you say, “O Lord, let the world be full of charitable people!” — you mean, let the world be full of beggars also. Let the world be full of good works – let the world be full of misery. This is out-and-out slavishness!
… The Yogi says, religion is practical if you know first why misery exists. All the misery in the world is in the senses. Is there any ailment in the sun, moon, and stars? The same fire that cooks your meal burns the child. Is it the fault of the fire? Blessed be the fire! Blessed be this electricity! It gives light…. Where can you lay the blame? Not on the elements. The world is neither good nor bad; the world is the world. The fire is the fire. If you burn your finger in it, you are a fool. If you [cook your meal and with it satisfy your hunger,] you are a wise man. That is all the difference. Circumstances can never be good or bad. Only the individual man can be good or bad. What is meant by the world being good or bad? Misery and happiness can only belong to the sensuous individual man.
The Yogis say that nature is the enjoyed; the soul is the enjoyer. All misery and happiness — where is it? In the senses. It is the touch of the senses that causes pleasure and pain, heat and cold. If we can control the senses and order what they shall feel — not let them order us about as they are doing now — if they can obey our commands, become our servants, the problem is solved at once. We are bound by the senses; they play upon us, make fools of us all the time.
Freedom of the soul is the goal of all Yogas
From Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume I, Book: Karma Yoga—[Source]You must remember that freedom of the soul is the goal of all Yogas, and each one equally leads to the same result. By work alone men may get to where Buddha got largely by meditation or Christ by prayer. Buddha was a working Jnâni, Christ was a Bhakta, but the same goal was reached by both of them. The difficulty is here. Liberation means entire freedom — freedom from the bondage of good, as well as from the bondage of evil. A golden chain is as much a chain as an iron one. There is a thorn in my finger, and I use another to take the first one out; and when I have taken it out, I throw both of them aside; I have no necessity for keeping the second thorn, because both are thorns after all. So the bad tendencies are to be counteracted by the good ones, and the bad impressions on the mind should be removed by the fresh waves of good ones, until all that is evil almost disappears, or is subdued and held in control in a corner of the mind; but after that, the good tendencies have also to be conquered. Thus the “attached” becomes the “unattached”. Work, but let not the action or the thought produce a deep impression on the mind. Let the ripples come and go, let huge actions proceed from the muscles and the brain, but let them not make any deep impression on the soul.
One does not necessarily need to practise all types of Yogas to attain perfection
From Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume I, Book: Karma Yoga—[Source]
Each one of our Yogas is fitted to make man perfect even without the help of the others, because they have all the same goal in view. The Yogas of work, of wisdom, and of devotion are all capable of serving as direct and independent means for the attainment of Moksha. “Fools alone say that work and philosophy are different, not the learned.” The learned know that, though apparently different from each other, they at last lead to the same goal of human perfection.
Non-attachment is the basis
From Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume I, Book: Karma Yoga—[Source]
Without non-attachment there cannot be any kind of Yoga. Non-attachment is the basis of all the Yogas. The man who gives up living in houses, wearing fine clothes, and eating good food, and goes into the desert, may be a most attached person. His only possession, his own body, may become everything to him; and as he lives he will be simply struggling for the sake of his body. Non-attachment does not mean anything that we may do in relation to our external body, it is all in the mind. The binding link of “I and mine” is in the mind. If we have not this link with the body and with the things of the senses, we are non-attached, wherever and whatever we may be. A man may be on a throne and perfectly non-attached; another man may be in rags and still very much attached. First, we have to attain this state of non-attachment and then to work incessantly.
Vairagya is the turning point
Vairâgya or renunciation is the turning point in all the various Yogas. The Karmi (worker) renounces the fruits of his work. The Bhakta (devotee) renounces all little loves for the almighty and omnipresent love. The Yogi renounces his experiences, because his philosophy is that the whole Nature, although it is for the experience of the soul, at last brings him to know that he is not in Nature, but eternally separate from Nature. The Jnâni (philosopher) renounces everything, because his philosophy is that Nature never existed, neither in the past, nor present, nor will It in the future.
Concentrating one’s mind
We claim that concentrating the powers of the mind is the only way to knowledge. In external science, concentration of mind is—putting it on something external; and in internal science, it is—drawing towards one’s Self. We call this concentration of mind Yoga. . . The Yogis claim a good deal. They claim that by concentration of the mind every truth in the universe becomes evident to the mind, both external and internal truth.
Utility of Yoga
From Complete Works, Volume II, The Powers of the Mind—[Source]
The utility of this science (Yoga) is to bring out the perfect man, and not let him wait and wait for ages, just a plaything in the hands of the physical world, like a log of drift-wood carried from wave to wave and tossing about in the ocean. This science wants you to be strong, to take the work in your own hand, instead of leaving it in the hands of nature, and get beyond this little life. That is the great idea.
Reject the mysterious and secret things
From Complete Works, Volume I, Raja Yoga Introduction—[Source]
Anything that is secret and mysterious in these systems of Yoga should be at once rejected. The best guide in life is strength. In religion, as in all other matters, discard everything that weakens you, have nothing to do with it. Mystery-mongering weakens the human brain. It has well-nigh destroyed Yoga — one of the grandest of sciences. From the time it was discovered, more than four thousand years ago, Yoga was perfectly delineated, formulated, and preached in India. It is a striking fact that the more modern the commentator the greater the mistakes he makes, while the more ancient the writer the more rational he is. Most of the modern writers talk of all sorts of mystery. Thus Yoga fell into the hands of a few persons who made it a secret, instead of letting the full blaze of daylight and reason fall upon it. They did so that they might have the powers to themselves.
Swami Vivekananda’s more quotes and comments on Yoga
- Does Yoga serve to keep the body in its full health and vitality? It does. It staves off disease. As objectification of one’s own body is difficult, it is very effective in regard to others. Fruit and milk are the best food for Yogis.[Source]
- I have been studying [Yoga] all my life and have made very little progress yet. But I have got enough [result] to believe that this is the only true way.[Source]
- In (lonely) places as mountain caves where the floor is even, free of pebbles, fire, or sand, where there are no disturbing noises from men or waterfalls, in auspicious places helpful to the mind and pleasing to the eyes. Yoga is to be practised (mind is to be joined).[Source]
- In Yoga, perception and realisation are one.[Source]
- Talk not of Yoga to make you pure; you are pure by your very nature. None can teach you.[Source]
- The first signs of entering Yoga are lightness, health, non-covetousness, clearness of complexion, a beautiful voice, an agreeable odour in the body, and scantiness of excretions.[Source].
- The Siddhis attained by Yoga are not to be denied like recovery through medicines etc.[Source]
- The sun = Knowledge. The stormy water = Work. The lotus = Love. The serpent = Yoga. The swan = the Self. The Motto = May the Swan (the Supreme Self) send us that. It is the mind-lake. (Swami Vivekananda’s explanation of Ramakrishna Mission’s emblem)[Source]
- The whole theory of Yoga is to go beyond the mind.[Source]
- … To every action there is equal reaction…. If a man strikes me and wounds me it is that man’s actions and my body’s reaction. … Suppose I have so much power over the body that I can resist even that automatic action. Can such power be attained? The books say it can. … If you stumble on [it], it is a miracle. If you learn it scientifically, it is Yoga.[Source]
- When the perceptions of Yoga, arising from earth, water, light, fire, ether, have taken place, then Yoga has begun. Unto him does not come disease, nor old age, nor death, who has got a body made up of the fire of Yoga.[Source]
- Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Chitta) from taking various forms (Vrittis).[Source]
Last quotation of this article
This will be the last quotation of this article. A quotation from a letter written to Miss Mary Hale, dated 17 September 1896—[Source]
- Either “Bhoga” or “Yoga” — either enjoy this life, or give up and be a Yogi; none can have both in one. Now or never, select quick. “He who is very particular gets nothing”, says the proverb.