Sweet is something which is not bitter can help us to understand the nature of sweet more easily than trying to explain what sweet is. Similarly understanding what ‘yoga is not’, can help us to better grasp the meaning of yoga than trying to go headlong to define yoga.
Yoga originated at times when man used to live a simple life in amity with nature. There were no physical labs or research institutes and statistical methods that we have today to inquire, test, verify, understand and draw results. People would learn observing the surroundings and nature and accumulating experiences. When students used to ask questions to teachers they would answer from their inner experience. Teacher would also instantly suggest to the students that what they have told them should become part of their own experience before they put their faith into it.
Therefore, one’s own life experiences used to be the testimony of valid knowledge. For advanced studies like yoga and spirituality one’s own mind used to be the inner lab of experimentation and findings.
Once a student asked question to the teacher – O venerable teacher please tell me what is yoga? The teacher understood that the young student out of curiosity has asked something of great depth and dimension. Yoga is a subtle science which deals with self advancement, transcending the limitations of body and mind, leading to the union with the Absolute. Hence, answer to the question ‘What is yoga’ cannot be answered as plainly as it is asked. Yoga is a sensitive subject dealing with one’s inner being and hence its meaning has to be transmitted conscientiously – the teacher thought to himself.
The teacher again thought to himself – the student is novice and must be carrying some deformed understanding, ideas and knowledge about yoga. So let me first remove this unripe knowledge surrounding yoga and every other possible attachment to help the young student grasp the meaning of yoga.
This was the turning point of developing the pivotal method of teaching known in Sanskrit language as Neti Neti; or Not this, Not this. Neti, Neti is an analytical method that helps the student or individual to grasp the true meaning of the subject matter of inquiry; which in this case is yoga. It is a method of negation, where we negate all the possible ideas, notions, thoughts and identifications around yoga. When we negate and remove all the unnecessary meanings and misconceptions attached to yoga, we can safely arrive at the true meaning and nature of yoga.
Most of the times our mind is colored by our psychology. Our education, culture, emotions, feelings, likings and disliking are part of our psychology. Based on our individual psychology we tend to give or create meaning of something – in this case yoga – and preserve it inside us. If we are identified with coloring, the meaning will be lost. Therefore, the old teachers would say Neti, Neti; ‘neither this, nor that’. Let us see what yoga is ‘Not’ to clear some misconceptions and see for ourselves if we have stored similar meanings around yoga within us.