“He incarnates in different forms such as Rama, Narasimha, Varaha and Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He descends like a human being, as the son of Mother Yashoda, and He is known as Krishna, Govinda and Vasudeva. He is the perfect child, husband, friend and master, and He is full with all opulences and transcendental qualities. If one remains fully conscious of these features of the Lord, he is called the highest yogi.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 6.47 Purport)
In this age in particular, practicing yoga is not easy. After a long day at the office, the couch is inviting. The bed even more so. Who wants to assume more responsibility after so many have been met during the day? Who wants another appointment after the difficult journey through traffic in the morning to get to work on time?
Yoga is beneficial for sure. For starters, the people who practice it seem to be pretty thin. They look like they are in shape. There is the exercise benefit in the way it is practiced today, but in fact yoga is meant for a spiritual benefit. Not simply to keep the body healthy so that sobriety reigns supreme, there are two souls within each living being that should unite. Both are there, with one being superior and the other inferior. The inferior one doesn’t know about the existence of the superior; hence the need to practice yoga.
The superior soul is an expansion of God. In Sanskrit it is described as paramatma, which means “supreme soul.” The other soul is the individual, jivatma. We are jivatma and God is Paramatma. Yoga is the linking of jivatma with Paramatma. That which is not jivatma is the material nature. We equate nature with trees, hills, mountains, clouds and rivers, but in fact our body is also part of nature. Anything that is not spirit is matter, which in Sanskrit is known as maya. Another definition for maya is “illusion.” Due to illusion we don’t know that we are soul. And if we don’t know this fundamental truth, we certainly don’t know about Paramatma. Nevertheless, the Supreme Lord is so kind to the fallen souls that He offers ways to help them in their yoga advancement. This is provided they are sincere and not merely looking for a health benefit.
1. He descends as Rama.
God is unlimited. He is a singular personality who can expand into many. These expansions can be just like Him, fully invested with His unlimited potency. One time God descended to earth in a seemingly human form named Rama. That Rama’s life is chronicled in the Ramayana of Valmiki and in the many Puranas, or ancient histories, of the Vedas. As a warrior prince, Rama did many amazing things while on earth. Any one of those things can be contemplated by the yogi. They could spend their entire life studying and appreciating Rama, as did notable saints like Goswami Tulsidas.
2. He descends as Narasimha.
The literal meaning to the word avatara is “one who descends.” This is important to know because it says that God does not accept a material body. He is not like us in going through the cycle of birth and death. He appears and disappears, manipulating the material elements to exhibit different forms and pastimes for our benefit. One time He came as a half-man/half-lion to protect a helpless five-year old child. This child, named Prahlada, was being persecuted by his father simply for practicing devotion to God. The yogi can contemplate the features belonging to this wonderful form of God, singing songs that glorify such.
3. He descends as Varaha.
Feeling the burden of material life? The weight of responsibility bringing you down? Feel like you’ll never be able to succeed in yoga? There is the avatara of Varaha to remember. God took the form of a boar. He held up the earth after it had fallen into the water. This history is meant to be understood literally, as we know right now that the earth is floating in space. There is no such thing as something happening automatically or by accident. The laws of material nature were created by God, so He can certainly hold up the earth in the form of a boar if He so chooses. There is also symbolic significance, as Varaha takes the responsibility of seeing to the success of the devotee’s yoga practice.
4. He descends as Krishna.
The original form of God, known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has two hands, wears a peacock feather in His hair, has a flower garland around His neck, and plays a flute. He is constantly enjoying with dear associates in the sacred land of Vrindavana. Starting from His toes and going all the way up to the head, the yogi has the perfect object of meditation in Krishna. They derive tremendous enjoyment in the process. Meditation on Krishna the person is the superior form of yoga.
5. He says that the best yogi is one who always thinks of Him.
We know that meditation on Krishna is superior due to the gift to humanity that is the Bhagavad-gita. In that famous work Krishna talks about yoga, material nature, karma, reincarnation and other important topics. He describes meditational yoga, how it should be practiced, and what happens if there is failure. He says that the yogi is superior to the ascetic, the mental speculator and the fruitive worker. And of all the mystics, the one who thinks of Him is the best.
yoginām api sarveṣāṁ
śraddhāvān bhajate yo māṁ
sa me yuktatamo mataḥ
“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.47)
Krishna offers these words to rescue the yogi, and He sustains their practice through His many transcendental pastimes. There is endless variety and nuance to each of the above mentioned ways in which Krishna helps the yogi. Thus there is no reason to fear taking the path of yoga in devotion, which is known as bhakti.
From helpful ways made clear,
That in bhakti no reason to fear.
As Narasimha for Prahlada coming,
As Varaha earth’s sustainer becoming.
As Krishna sweetness of God demonstrating,
Ideal object for yogis’ contemplating.
Meditation difficult in this age,
By Krishna’s mercy easier made.
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