It is evident that in a globalised world comprised of travel, technology and communication, that traditions from the east and west have encountered one another and journeyed to all corners of the globe. However, in that process, it is apparent that the origins and intentions of those customs have been misinterpreted, miscommunicated or simply forgotten. One tradition in particular, or a practise as it is referred to, is yoga.
Yoga has become a popular practise by people in the western world. Yet it is apparent that we have forgotten its origins, its intentions and its ability to transform consciousness.
Let’s take a step back in time to India, the unique and mystifying nation where yoga originated.
India. The land of diversity. Diversity amongst spirituality, religion, beliefs and customs. The land of happiness, karma and hope. Hope, that one may find freedom in a predominantly oppressed nation.
Image credit: Michael Dowe
So how does one free themselves from oppression and break away from their pre-determined social group, as a result of the Hindu caste System?
The Hindu caste system was introduced by migrants from central-Europe who invaded the Indian sub-continent between 1500 – 250BC. This was known as the Aryan invasion. The Aryan’s introduced the caste system, which divides the Hindus from birth into fixed social groups. Depending on the family you’re born into, will determine your place in society. The highest being the Brahmans, which is made up of philosophers, priests and scholars. The lowest being the Untouchables, who are considered outcasts and perform the most undesirable tasks.
So I pose the question again – how does one free themselves from oppression inflicted by the illusion of power?
The answer – Moksha, meaning ‘enlightenment’, which is the central drive of Hinduism. Whilst speaking to a woman in India who was born into the lower caste of ‘workers and servants’, I asked how she intended to free herself from oppression and discover enlightenment. Although admitting she felt uncomfortable to discuss this topic with a westerner, she soon warmed to the idea and began to speak of her personal journey to enlightenment. For her, she believed it would be through the practise of yoga.
As we sat sipping chai, surrounded by sounds of serenity and a lingering scent of masala filling the air, she informed me of the different stages of consciousness, otherwise known as ‘avasthas’.
- Jagrat – This is the waking state. The normal state you are experiencing while reading this text.
- Svapna – The dreaming state. Where one enters the dream world and still remains conscious.
- Sushupti – The dreamless state. When one is free from their ego and ceases to be aware of ourselves or the universe.
- Turiya – The state of absolute consciousness. This state cannot be described as only those who have experienced it know it.
The final state, turiya, is the state of enlightenment and one, which all Hindu’s strive to achieve in their lifetime. It is the Absoloute and goes beyond time and space. It is something that can be experienced through the practise of yoga and is the path this wise woman in front of me had embarked upon in order to find enlightenment and thus, find freedom in an oppressed nation.
As I sat there listening to the words of this heart-warming woman, I realised that the practise of yoga in the west has forgotten the magic of its origins and transformed primarily into a physical exercise.
Understanding the origins of such an ancient practise is one thing, but to achieve what is intended is another. That is why yoga is a life-long journey. As B.K.S. Lyengar quoted…
“Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame.”
Although the caste system does discriminate and cause separation amongst society by belittling those in lower rankings, it is a part of the Indian way of life. In a way, it encourages followers of Hinduism to live moral lives in order to receive good karma in their next life. It opens the doors to all, no matter what caste, to experiment with consciousness and find their own path to happiness, peace and enlightenment in a nation clouded by oppression.
Michelle Travaglione is a Perth based flint contributor currently completing a degree in Anthropology.