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Benefits of Yoga and Meditation

RIgveda attaches great importance to Yoga or Union (with the divine). It is a concept wider than meditation, although meditation could be intrinsic to it.

Various verses identify its benefits and advantages.

One verse is striking:

गायन्ति त्वा गायत्रिणो अर्चन्ति अर्कम् अर्किणः[1] | ब्रह्माणस्त्वा शतक्रत उद्वंशमिव येमिरे || (1.010.1)[2]

Sing of the Director thou, the song of the threefold knowledge, shines before the flash of lightning bright; Thou artin possession of the breath of Brahman; on the backbone of Shatakratu (Indra), as it were, you having acquired established union.

The poet here is addressing himself. He calls upon himself to sing of the ‘Director’ (गायन्ति त्वा) implying that the world is a play directed by the One. Then he continues: (sing) the song of the threefold knowledge (गायत्रिणो).[3] This song of threefold knowledge, he says shines ‘before the flash of lightning bright’(अर्चन्त्यर्कमर्किणः)[4] . What is this flash of lightning before which shines the threefold knowledge?

The next line clarifies:  Thou art in possession of the breath of Brahman (ब्रह्माणस्त्वा)[5]. Thus, the poet possesses the ‘breath of Brahman’ which is like a flash of lightning, that lays bare and illuminates the threefold knowledge. Many yogis have referred to the flash of light that accompanies the experience of self-realisation. Vaisvamitra connects this flash to the three fold knowledge and the breath of Brahman.

How did he get this breath of Brahman?  The second line continues: “on the backbone of Indra (शतक्रत) , as it were, you having acquired established union (उद्वंशमिव येमिरे). This says two things. First it suggests that it is Union or Yoga denoted by ये that has helped the sage to acquire the breath of Brahman. The second, that it is on the backbone of Indra that this achievement rests. For more on this, see in our discussion of Indra.

The union referred to in the verse is known contemporaneously as Yoga, is presumably union of individual soul with the divine. It is remarkable that the sage describes the song of threefold knowledge (गायत्रिणो) as shining before the flash of lightning, suggestive of self-realisation (अर्चन्त्यर्कमर्किणः), and confirms it by the next line, where he describes himself as possessing the breath of Brahman (ब्रह्माणस्त्वा).

The benefits of knowledge obtained through Yoga are elaborated in the following verse:

अथा ते अन्तमानां विद्याम सुमतीनाम् | मा नो अति ख्य आ गहि || (1.004.3)[6]

Rather, you should push your will to utmost to ascertain the spiritual knowledge of Brahman (विद्याम), be called wise (सुमतीनाम्); (This gives ) knowledge/authority, prosperity, renown even to the family.

Another advantage of Yoga or Union is that it aborts addiction to drink. The relevant verse of Vaisvamitra reads:

यः कुक्षिः सोमपातमः समुद्रइव पिन्वते |  ऊर्वीरापो न् काकुदः || (1.008.7)[7]

Union from the womb as it were discharges water (aborts) addiction to Soma. It kills the desire, it is said, by eliminating the taste.

This verse suggests that immersion in the divine can metamorphose the personality. It can cure addiction to drink. It is said (रापो) that it kills the desire (ऊर्वी) by eliminating the palate (न् काकुदः) or taste. In this sense, it aborts addiction, likened to a womb discharging a collection of water.

Sage Kanva concurs with this:

यो अग्निं देववीतये हविष्माँ आविवासति | तस्मै पावक मृळय || (1.012.9)[8]

Yoga through Agni to fit to be worshipped Visnu (वीतयः) offered as oblation, uproots as it were evil. Therefore good conduct and compassion (of the yogi).

The efficacy of Yoga to cure psychological ailments seems to extend to all kinds of desire. In another verse pleading with Indra, he says: May we conquer this knowledge that fights desire (जयेम सं युधि स्प्रुधः;[9]  1.008.3).

Two more benefits are claimed to accrue from yoga, resulting from the inner knowledge that it yields. The relevant verse reads:

परि त्वा गिर्वणो गिर इमा भवन्तु विश्वतः |   वृद्धायुमनु वृद्धयो जुष्टा भवन्तु जुष्टयः || (1.010.12)[10]

More than making you rejoice in praise, speech sprung from knowledge (गिर इ-मा), becomes strong on all sides, i.e. is heard universally; A fully grown up man’s mental faculty, one who is adept in yoga (Union), also becomes strong on the practice of Yoga (Union).

This means that the words of a realised person acquire a depth and power and are heard universally.  That this power springs from yoga is revealed by the second line which refers to the adept at or eminent in Union as वृद्ध-यः (= वृद्धयो).

The other benefit is that the mental faculties of an adult (वृद्धायुमनु) who is adept at yoga (वृद्धयो) also become strong on practicing yoga (भवन्तु जुष्टयः).

In one verse, meditation is described as taking delight in one’s own self: मत्स्वा. The verse reads:

मत्स्वा सुशिप्र मन्दिभिः स्तोमेभिर्विश्वचर्षणे | ([11]

Delight in one’s own self (i.e., meditate) to have the power to be very attentive (मत्स्वा सुशिप्र).. (In contrast) the intoxicated is reduced to delusions. (मन्दिभिः); I praise the man who observes the world.

In another hymn, the sage says that meditation stimulates Union: Meditation (सं) stimulates Union (चोद-य) (1.009.5)

To sum up, the benefits of practicing yoga seem to be: self-realization, possession of the breath of Brahman, and three fold knowledge (1.010.1).  Knowledge of Brahman leads to one being called wise. This apart, authority, prosperity, and great renown flow to him and his family (1.006.3). Yoga aborts addiction to drinks, and other desires (1.008.7, 3). It gives depth to words of the yogi, which are then universally listened to. Further, it strengthens the mental powers of an adept, on practice (1.010.12). Meditation is said to increase the power of attention (1.009.3). It also stimulates Union or Yoga (1.009.5).

[1] We have broken down this long word for the benefit of the reader. It actually is :  गायत्रिणोSर्चन्त्यर्कमर्किणः

[2] गा यन्ति त्वा गायत्रि णो अर्च् अन्ति अर्कम् अर्किणः | ब्रह्म अण् अस् त्वा शतक्रत उद् वंशम् इव ये मि रे ||

Sing (गा) Director (यन्तृ = यन्ति) thou (त्वा) song  (गायः) three (त्रि) knowledge (णः = णो) shine (अर्च्) before (अन्ति) flash of lightning (अर्क = अर्कं) bright (अर्किन् = अर्किणः) |  Brahman (ब्रह्म) breath (अण्)  in possession of (अस्) thou (वा) performer of hundred sacrifices (Indra) (शतक्रतु = शतक्रत) on (उद्) backbone (वंशम्) as it were (इव)) Union (यः = ये) establish (मि) having acquired (रः = रे)

[3] song  (गायः) three (त्रि) knowledge (णः = णो)

[4] shine (अर्च्) before (अन्ति) flash of lighting (अर्क = अर्कं) bright (अर्किन् = अर्किणः)(अर्च्-अन्ति-अर्कम्-अर्किन् = अर्चन्त्यर्कमर्किणः)

[5] Brahman (ब्रह्म) breath (अण्)  in possession of (अस्) thou (वा) (ब्रह्म-अण्-अस्-त्वा = ब्रह्माणस्त्वा)

[6] अथा ते अन्त मान अम् विद्या मः सुमती नाम् | मा नो अति ख्य आ गहि || :

Rather (अथा) you (ते) extreme point (अन्त) will (मान) to ascertain (अम्) spiritual knowledge – Brahman (विद्या-मः = विद्याम) wise called (सुमति-नाम = सुमतीनाम्) | Knowledge (मा) prosperity (नः = नो) exceedingly (अति) renown (ख्या = ख्य) also (आ) family (गहि) ||

[7] यः कुक्षिः सोमपातमः समुद्रइव पिन्वते |  ऊर्व रापो न् काकुदः ||

Union (यः) womb (कुक्षिः) drinking much Soma/addiction (सोमपातमः) collection of waters (समुद्र) as it were (इव) discharge (पिन्व् = पिन्वते) |  Kill (ऊर्व्) desire (ई) to be talked (राप्य = रापो) no (न) palate (काकुद् = काकुदः)

[8] यो अग्निं देव – वीतये हविष्माँ आव – इव – असति | तस्मै पावक मृळय ||

Yoga (यः = यो) Agni (अग्निं) fit to be worshipped (देव) Veetaya (Visnu) (वीतयः = वीतये) offering an oblation (हविष्मत् = हविष्माँ) uprooted (आव = आव्) as it were (इव) evil (असत् = असति) | Therefore (तस्मै = तस्मात्) good conduct (पावक) compassion (मृडय = मृळय)

[9] Conquering  this (जय-इम = जयेम) knowledge (सं) fighting (युधि) desire (स्प्रुध् = स्पृधः)

[10] परि त्वा गिर्वणो गिर इमा भवन्-तु विश्वतः |   वृद्ध-आयु-मनु वृद्ध-यो जुष्टा भवन्-तु जुष्ट-यः ||

More than (परिं) you (त्वा) rejoicing in praise (गिर्वणः = गिर्वणो) speech (गिर) spring from (इ) knowledge (मा) becoming  (भवन् = भवत्) strong  (तु) on all sides (विश्वतस् = विश्वतः). Fully grown up (वृद्ध) man (आयु) mental faculty (मनु) eminent in (वृद्ध) Union (यः = यो) also   (जुष्टा) becoming  (भवन्) strong (तु) practiced (जुष्ट) Union (यः)

[11] मद् स्वा सु शि प्र मन्द भिः स्तोमे भिर् र्विश्व चर्षणे |

Delight in (मद्) one’s own self (स्वः = स्वा) to possess power (सु) to be attentive (शि) very (प्र) intoxicated (मन्द्) is reduced to (इ) delusions (भः = भि) praise (स्तोम = स्तोमे) man (भिर् = भिरु) world (विश्व) observing (चर्षण = चर्षणे)