The state of “yoga,” or “union,” is when the individual self reunites with the infinite, undifferentiated, eternal Self. Yoga has been described as samadhi, or blissful ecstasy, because it is such a relief to finally reconnect with your whole being after so many lifetimes of wandering in the illusionary world of disconnection. The methods of yoga help to bring together that which appears to be separate.
Enlightenment is the goal of all yoga practices. Perceiving others—that is, perceiving ourselves as separate from others—is the biggest obstacle to enlightenment. For a yoga practice to work, it must address how to dissolve the others in our lives. Yoga teaches us that in truth there is only oneness; others are an illusionary projection coming from our own minds, from our own past karmas (actions). The practices help us to purify our karmas, which involve our relationships with others, so that we may perceive the oneness of being.
In the ancient text, the Yoga Sutra, the sage Patanjali suggests a few practices that may help us dissolve otherness and bring us closer to union. Patanjali is speaking to those who are still seeing others but who are interested in dissolving the disconnection between self and other.
He suggests that if we are still seeing others and not the divine oneness of being, then: Number one—don’t hurt them (ahimsa); Number two—don’t lie to them (satya); Number three—don’t steal from them (asteya); Number four—don’t manipulate them sexually (brahmacharya); and Number five—don’t be greedy, taking so much that you impoverish them (aparigraha). He gives these directives in the second chapter, the chapter on practice, and he refers to them as the five yamas (restrictions)—five ways to restrict your behavior in regards to the others you may encounter in your life.
On an immediate practical level, how we treat others will be reflected in our own experience of life. The others in our lives are a reflection of us. If we ourselves desire happiness and liberation from suffering, then our relationships with all beings and things should be mutually beneficial. No true or lasting happiness can come from causing unhappiness to others. No true or lasting freedom can come from depriving others of their freedom.
Patanjali tells us what we can expect to see happen in our lives when we become established in the practices of the five yamas. When we stop harming others, others will cease to harm us. When we practice telling the truth, we will be listened to. When we stop stealing from others, prosperity will come to us. When we treat others respectfully and don’t manipulate them sexually, we will enjoy good health and vitality. And when we let go of tendencies toward greed, we will come to know the reason we were born, and with that our destiny will be revealed to us.
If we want to know who we are, it will have to start with how willing we are to look at the way we are treating others, because how we treat others determines how others treat us; how others treat us determines how we see ourselves; and how we see ourselves determines who we are.
The simple but powerful gesture of placing our two hands together in front of our hearts when we greet or acknowledge others (namaste mudra) speaks without words of the magic of union. Two hands coming together: the left and the right, the sun and the moon, the ha and the tha, the self and the other. This is the gesture that describes yoga: union, the ultimate truth.