One can appreciate Yoga, and be a yogi, without disturbing one’s own faith. There are Yoga centers all over the world. Often, students begin with Hatha Yoga, the physical side. Gradually, when they understand the true essence of Yoga, they want to go more deeply into it so they learn more subtle techniques. Very soon, we will see that Yoga is uniting the entire world, because that is Yoga; that is its aim. The very name “Yoga” means “to unite.” This sort of union is found in almost all the wisdom traditions, because no faith or philosophy will ask you to be divisive or to feel separate from others. They all ask us to understand the oneness, the spiritual unity of humankind, and the entire globe—both the animate and the inanimate.

The Sanskrit term Yoga, or “union,” and the Western religious term “communion” are one and the same in meaning. One is English and the other is Sanskrit, that’s all the difference. Some people have doubts about Yoga because they think it is limited to the Eastern culture and cannot be adaptable to Western culture. To those people I would suggest that instead of practicing Yoga they can practice communion, because it is only the terminology that differs. After all, what is the meaning of “love thy neighbor as thy own self?” Is it not Yoga? In that one sentence alone you will find the entire meaning of Yoga. Without even understanding the principles or philosophy of Yoga, you can just follow this one commandment from the Bible: “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

What does it mean when you are asked to love your neighbor as your own self? The Bible doesn’t ask you to love your neighbor as your neighbor. That’s very easy. If somebody asks you who your neighbor is, you would answer something like, “Well their name is this or that and they do this job or that job.” I doubt you would answer this question by replying, “Oh, they are my own self.” Why? Because you don’t see yourself in that person. You see them as a different self. So to see your own self in another, you should know what your own self is.

It’s very simple logic. To see yourself as them, you should first know who you are. To see a dog or a cat you should know what a dog or cat looks like. Without knowing what a dog is, how can you see a dog? So when you want to see your own self in your neighbor, you should know your own self. Therefore, according to scriptures, the first and foremost thing to do is to know thyself. Before you know everything else, know thy self and with that vision you then possess the capacity to see that self in others and in everything. It’s almost like if you were to acquire a pair of glasses, which were made of the self, so that with those glasses you would then see everything as your own self. It’s something like when you wear yellow glasses, you see everything as yellow.

This knowledge is called the eye of self, which is sometimes called the third eye. That third eye is the eye of wisdom—the unlimited eye, not the limited, little physical eye. Once you know that, you are that capital “I,” not the little “i,” you see everybody as that capital “I.” So then what is the difference between the little “i” and capital “I?” Every schoolchild knows the answer. They will immediately say that the little “I” has a dot over it. Take the dot away, it becomes capital “I.”

So what makes the “I” little? A dot. Or, you can say a dark spot, an ugly spot, or in other words an egoistic spot is what makes the capital “I” small. So all that is necessary to do is just to take the dot away; not that you are going to create the new “I.” The big “I” is already there; you are made in the image of that “I.” That’s why the scriptures say that God made man in his own image. The capital “I” is the image of God.

But we project our own ego onto things and that makes the great Self, that divine Self, or image of God—or whatever way you want to call it—small. With that vision of a small “i” or egoistic “i,” or little “i,” you see everybody as different because your vision is colored, limited. So the need is to get out of this limited condition, get out of this egoistic limitation, this self-centered attitude. To do that we have to work on the ego.

And what is an ego? It is the basis of every mind. It’s a large root of a big tree. And as you know, as a tree grows up, it develops branches, flowers, and finally fruit. But because the tree is rooted in ego, it is an egoistic tree and so it wants its own fruits. It wants to enjoy all its own fruits and it never wants to share the fruits. The ordinary tree which we see in the garden is much better than this egoistic tree. Have you ever seen a garden tree eating its own fruit? Go and ask an apple tree, “Hey, how many fruits have you given this season?”

“Well, in one season, I gave at least a few thousands fruits.”

“Okay, having given all these thousands of fruits, have you ever tasted at least one of your fruits?”

The apple tree will laugh at you and say, “Do you think that I am a human? Do you think I am a human being who eats its own fruit?”

It knows that we humans want to eat our own fruit, even though nature or God has forbidden us to do so. The entire world is the garden of Eden. Our very life is the tree. All our actions bring forth results, or fruits, and we are not supposed to eat the forbidden fruit. The garden of Eden is not just something from long ago. It is always here. It’s not just an old story. We have to control the ego so that it doesn’t project itself and try to eat its own fruit. Anybody who wants to eat his own fruit is called a selfish person because they are always fishing for something for themselves. In the absence of that fish, we are selfless. Otherwise it’s a fishy business! We should not indulge in that kind of business. Instead, become selfless and then you are a yogi. Then there is nothing to limit you. You are the divine, capital “I.”

Our Yoga practice is to help us control the ego so that it doesn’t run after its own fruit. We learn to keep control over own thoughts and to have thoughts that are selfless. Such thoughts and actions will ultimately bring benefit to all of humanity. When we have selfless thoughts we think of the other person first. The main thing is to have control over our own thinking. That is why Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, began with this line: “Yogah citta vrtti nirodhah.” This translates as: The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga. So we began with “Love thy neighbor as thy own self” and we ended with Yoga or communion. Without that, loving our neighbor as our own self, is not possible.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda