Westerners and Indian Yoga, Part 3: Are There Advantages to an Indian Birth for the Practice of Yoga?

If we look at the qualities required for bringing about the emergence of the psychic being, the development of a devotional attitude, and support for the idea of focusing on the Eternal through subordination or even abandonment of the relations of the outer life, it is clear that India has developed an atmosphere and cultural support structure that can be of advantage for the seeker at certain stages of the quest. Clearly those born in the West, who are raised in an environment focused on material acquisition, external validation and a method of inquiry that challenges everything, have certain difficulties in achieving the right poise of receptivity and acceptance, devotion and openness that are important elements of spiritual development.

This is not to say that there are not also positive sides and advantages to the Western mind-set when it comes to the practice of Yoga. In the end, every human being, regardless of their birth, cultural influences, education or background, has the same basic human aspiration, needs, drives and capacities that can be utilized or subordinated in their search for the truth and significance of their lives.

On the other side, an Indian birth is not automatically a qualification and has its own cultural limitations and obstacles that eventually have to be overcome. The story of Prince Siddhartha and the attempt of his family to bind him with the luxuries of royalty and hide the realities of the struggles of life from him, show how far the familial power can work to hinder the spiritual aspirations and quest of the sincere seeker.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “What are the differences after all from the viewpoint of yoga between the sadhak of Indian and the sadhak of occidental birth? You say the Indian has his yoga half done for him, — first, because he has his psychic much more directly open to the Transcendent Divine. Leaving out the adjective, (for it is not many who are by nature drawn to the Transcendent, most seek more readily the Personal, the Divine immanent here, especially if they can find it in a human body,) there is there no doubt an advantage. It arises simply from the strong survival in India of an atmosphere of spiritual seeking and a long tradition of practice and experience, while in Europe the atmosphere has been lost, the tradition interrupted, and both have to be rebuilt. There is an absence too of the essential doubt which so much afflicts the minds of Europeans or, it may be added, Europeanised Indians, although that does not prevent a great activity of a practical and very operative kind of doubt in the Indian sadhak. But when you speak of indifference to fellow human beings in any deeper aspect, I am unable to follow your meaning. My own experience is that the attachment to persons — to mother, father, wife, children, friends — not out of sense of duty or social relationship, but through close heart-ties is quite as strong as in Europe and often more intense; it is one of the great disturbing forces in the way, some succumbing to the pull and many, even advanced sadhaks, being still unable to get it out of their blood and their vital fibre. The impulse to set up a ‘spiritual’ or a ‘psychic’ relationship with others — very usually covering a vital mixture which distracts them from the one aim — is a persistently common feature. There is no difference here between the Western and Eastern human nature. Only the teaching in India is of long standing that all must be turned towards the Divine and everything else either sacrificed or changed into a subordinate and ancillary movement or made by sublimation a first step only towards the seeking for the Divine. This no doubt helps the Indian sadhak if not to become single-hearted at once, yet to orientate himself more completely towards the goal. It is not always for him the Divine alone, though that is considered the highest state; but the Divine, chief and first, is easily grasped by him as the ideal.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Westerners and Indian Yoga, pp. 365-370

1 thought on “Westerners and Indian Yoga, Part 3: Are There Advantages to an Indian Birth for the Practice of Yoga?

  1. “In the end, every human being, regardless of their birth, cultural influences, education or background, has the same basic human aspiration, needs, drives and capacities that can be utilized or subordinated in their search for the truth and significance of their lives.”

    Grace knows no country or cultural boundary. An urgent patience is asked of us. Being among the few who heard the call is half, to follow is All.

    As Jalalu’l-din Rumi encouraged, “I know you’re tired but come, this is the way.”

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