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Yoga for Your Intellect: Wisdom for Living from the Ancient Indian Philosophy of Vedanta

by Joseph Emmett, Vedanta Teacher, Philosopher and Visiting Master at AyurMa

Joseph Emmett, Vedanta Teacher and Philosopher
Joseph Emmett, Vedanta Teacher and Philosopher

What is Vedanta?

Vedanta is an ancient Indian philosophy, first recorded in the Himalayas five thousand years ago.  The source of all Eastern thought, Vedanta is a timeless manual for life in the world and exploration of our inner selves. This wisdom for living guides us in the art of maintaining dynamic activity with a quiet mind.  It instills transformational higher values to provide peace, prosperity and spiritual awareness to oneself and the community. Ultimately, Vedanta is a map to help discover our true identity, the expansive state of self-realization. 

In his magnum opus, Vedanta Treatise: The Eternities, Swami A. Parthasarathy writes: ‘The union of your individual self with the supreme Self is yoga.’

Vedanta Treatise
Vedanta Treatise

The question would then arise, ‘What separates us from our true, supreme Self in the first place?’.  

The answer is ego and egocentric desire.  

Every spiritual master since time immemorial has come to the same conclusion, from Jesus Christ and Buddha to Mohammed and Krishna.  As the ancient sacred Hindu text Rig Veda puts it: ‘Truth is one, sages call it by various names.’

The effort to remove desires and reveal our true Self is the real meaning and purpose of yoga. 

The word yoga means ‘to bind’ or ‘to yoke’.  This implies that something has been separated.  Yoga is reconnecting that which has separated.  It refers to the process of reunion with our real Self, our Original Nature.  

Yoga may be supported by physical poses and other exercises, but if it doesn’t include reduction of desire, it is not truly yoga.  Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, describes yoga as yogacittavrittinirodha.  This Sanskrit phrase literally means ‘yoga is the cessation of mental fluctuations’.  

And yet, asana (physical poses) has taken over the modern understanding of yoga, while true yoga at the thought level has been largely neglected.

Being able to fold ourselves into a pretzel, hold our breath for minutes, stand on our head for hours, etc. will not bring about reduction of desire, per se.  Undoubtedly, the body needs to be kept fit.  Yoga asanas should be done daily (in addition to other exercises, proper eating habits, and so forth).  But no amount of physical efforts will result in true yoga, true reunion with our divine Self, if the mind and its desires are not dealt with.  So long as selfishness and egoism remain, true yoga will not unfold.

The law of life is ‘as you think, so you become’.  If preoccupied with our body, we are physical.  If preoccupied with our feelings, we are emotional.  If preoccupied with ideas and concepts, we are intellectual.  If we consciously direct our thoughts to the Self, the universal Spirit within, we are spiritual. 

Therefore, what is required to truly practice spirituality is what Vedanta calls Gnana Yoga.  It is the effort to consciously entertain spiritual thoughts. According to the great 8th century Vedanta Master, Adi Sankaracarya, this path of study and reflection upon the knowledge of Self ‘is as essential for Liberation as fire is for cooking’.

Visiting Master Joseph Emmett’s podcast where Vedanta is discussed in depth

Another name for this approach could be: Yoga for Your Intellect.

To develop our intellect we need to start questioning, not take things for granted, and imbibe higher values on a daily basis.  The ancient philosophy of Vedanta provides intellectual asanas, as it were, to help us in that effort.  The study and reflection over Vedanta’s ancient insights gradually elevates our intellect while allowing our lower desires to drop away.  At Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau wrote, ‘In the early morning, I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita (Vedanta)’.  

The study of Vedanta is that daily bathing of the intellect.  The effect is clarity, purity of heart and dynamic action.  As the Buddhists say, ‘You must polish your mirror daily!’. 

A good starting point would be to get a copy of Vedanta Treatise: The Eternities (pictured above).  Read a few pages every morning, first thing, as early as possible.  (As well as printed copies, digital versions and audiobooks are available on all the major book sites.)

Read 20%, reflect 80%.  Do not read for more than an hour.  Gradually you will strengthen your intellect and gain the objectivity we all need.  You may also listen to the podcast shown above, especially the first five episodes.

At Vedanta Academy, Swami A. Parthasarathy’s ashram in India, there is a three-year residential course for young people dedicated primarily to development of the intellect.  

Vedanta Academy
Vedanta Academy

Along with Gnana Yoga, students there also practice the other two classical yogas, Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga - Selfless service and Devotion.  We practice asana and daily exercise as well, while following a disciplined syllabus of study and reflection.  The daily schedule is thus designed to provide an ideal environment for spiritual evolution.

The talks I will be offering at AyurMa at Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru will give guests an opportunity to experience the type of higher thinking we practice in the ashram.


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