An Introduction
to Yoga

by Annie Besant

The Meaning of the Universe

  • The Unfolding of Consciousness
  • The Oneness of the Self
  • The Quickening of the Process of Self-Unfoldment
  • Yoga is a Science
  • Man a Duality
  • States of Mind
  • Samadhi

The Literature of Yoga

  • Some Definitions
  • God Without and God  Within
  • Changes of Consciousness and Vibrations of Matter
  • Stages of Mind
  • Inward and Outward-turned Consciousness
  • The Cloud

Relation to Indian Philosophies

  • Mind
  • The Mental Body

Mind and Self

  • Methods of Yoga
  • To the Self by the Self
  • To the Self through the Not-Self

  • Yoga and Morality
  • Composition of States of the Mind

Pleasure and Pain

  • Inhibition of States of Mind
  • Meditation with and without Seed
  • The Use of Mantras


  • Obstacles to Yoga
  • Capacities for Yoga
  • Forthgoing and Returning
  • Purification of Bodies
  • Dwellers on the Threshold
  • Preparation for Yoga
  • The End
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An Introduction to Yoga
An Introduction to Yoga
By  Annie Besant

Let us, first of all, ask ourselves, looking at the world around
us, what it is that the history of the world signifies. When we
read history, what does the history tell us? It seems to be a
moving panorama of people and events, but it is really only a
dance of shadows; the people are shadows, not realities, the
kings and statesmen, the ministers and armies; and the events -
the battles and revolutions, the rises and falls of states - are
the most shadowlike dance of all.

Even if the historian tries to go deeper, if he deals with economic conditions, with social organisations, with the study of the tendencies of the currents of thought, even then he is in the midst of shadows, the illusory shadows cast by unseen realities. This world is full of forms
that are illusory, and the values are all wrong, the proportions
are out of focus. The things which a man of the world thinks
valuable, a spiritual man must cast aside as worthless. The
diamonds of the world, with their glare and glitter in the rays
of the outside sun, are mere fragments of broken glass to the man
of knowledge. The crown of the king, the sceptre of the emperor,
the triumph of earthly power, are less than nothing to the man
who has had one glimpse of the majesty of the Self. What is,
then, real? What is truly valuable? Our answer will be very
different from the answer given by the man of the world.

"The universe exists for the sake of the Self."  Not for what the
outer world can give, not for control over the objects of desire,
not for the sake even of beauty or pleasure, does the Great
Architect plan and build His worlds. He has filled them with
objects, beautiful and pleasure-giving. The great arch of the sky
above, the mountains with snow-clad peaks, the valleys soft with
verdure and fragrant with blossoms, the oceans with their vast
depths, their surface now calm as a lake, now tossing in
furyÄthey all exist, not for the objects themselves, but for
their value to the Self. Not for themselves because they are
anything in themselves but that the purpose of the Self may be
served, and His manifestations made possible.

The world, with all its beauty, its happiness and suffering, its
joys and pains" is planned with the utmost ingenuity, in order
that the powers of the Self may be shown forth in manifestation.
From the fire-mist to the LOGOS, all exist for the sake of the
Self. The lowest grain of dust, the mightiest deva in his
heavenly regions, the plant that grows out of sight in the nook
of a mountain, the star that shines aloft over us-all these exist
in order that the fragments of the one Self, embodied in
countless forms, may realize their own identity, and manifest the
powers of the Self through the matter that envelops them.

There is but one Self in the lowliest dust and the loftiest deva.
"Mamamsaha" My portion, "a portion of My Self," says Sri
Krishna, are all these Jivatmas, all these living spirits. For
them the universe exists; for them the sun shines, and the waves
roll, and the winds blow, and the rain falls, that the Self may
know Himself as manifested in matter, as embodied in the

The Unfolding of Consciousness

One of those pregnant and significant ideas which Theosophy
scatters so lavishly around is thisÄthat the same scale is
repeated over and over again, the same succession of events in
larger or smaller cycles. If you understand one cycle, you
understand the whole. The same laws by which a solar system is
builded go to the building up of the system of man. The laws by
which the Self unfolds his powers in the universe, from the
fire-mist up to the LOGOS, are the same laws of consciousness
which repeat themselves in the universe of man. If you understand
them in the one, you can equally understand them in the other.
Grasp them in the small, and the large is revealed to you. Grasp
them in the large, and the small becomes intelligible to you.

The great unfolding from the stone to the God goes on through
millions of years, through aeons of time. But the long unfolding
that takes place in the universe, takes place in a shorter
time-cycle within the limit of humanity, and this in a cycle so
brief that it seems as nothing beside the longer one. Within a
still briefer cycle a similar unfolding takes place in the
individualÄ rapidly, swiftly, with all the force of its past
behind it. These forces that manifest and unveil themselves in
evolution are cumulative in their power. Embodied in the stone,
in the mineral world, they grow and put out a little more of
strength, and in the mineral world accomplish their unfolding.
Then they become too strong for the mineral, and press on into
the vegetable world. There they unfold more and more of their
divinity, until they become too mighty for the vegetable, and
become animal.

Expanding within and gaining experiences from the animal, they
again overflow the limits of the animal, and appear as the human.
In the human being they still grow and accumulate with
ever-increasing force, and exert greater pressure against the
barrier; and then out of the human, they press into the
super-human. This last process of evolution is called "Yoga."

Coming to the individual, the man of our own globe has behind him
his long evolution in other chains than oursÄthis same evolution
through mineral to vegetable, through vegetable to animal,
through animal to man, and then from our last dwelling-place in
the lunar orb on to this terrene globe that we call the earth.
Our evolution here has all the force of the last evolution in it,
and hence, when we come to this shortest cycle of evolution which
is called Yoga, the man has behind him the whole of the forces
accumulated in his human evolution, and it is the accumulation of
these forces which enables him to make the passage so rapidly. We
must connect our Yoga with the evolution of consciousness
everywhere, else we shall not understand it at all; for the laws
of evolution of consciousness in a universe are exactly the same
as the laws of Yoga, and the principles whereby consciousness
unfolds itself in the great evolution of humanity are the same
principles that we take in Yoga and deliberately apply to the
more rapid unfolding of our own consciousness. So that Yoga, when
it is definitely begun, is not a new thing, as some people

The whole evolution is one in its essence. The succession is the
same, the sequences identical. Whether you are thinking of the
unfolding of consciousness in the universe, or in the human race,
or in the individual, you can study the laws of the whole, and in
Yoga you learn to apply those same laws to your own consciousness
rationally and definitely. All the laws are one, however
different in their stage of manifestation.

If you look at Yoga in this light, then this Yoga, which seemed
so alien and so far off, will begin to wear a familiar face, and
come to you in a garb not wholly strange. As you study the
unfolding of consciousness, and the corresponding evolution of
form, it will not seem so strange that from man you should pass
on to superman, transcending the barrier of humanity, and finding
yourself in the region where divinity becomes more manifest.

The Oneness of the Self

The Self in you is the same as the Self Universal. Whatever
powers are manifested throughout the world, those powers exist in
germ, in latency, in you. He, the Supreme, does not evolve. In
Him there are no additions or subtractions. His portions, the
Jivatmas, are as Himself, and they only unfold their powers in
matter as conditions around them draw those powers forth. If you
realize the unity of the Self amid the diversities of the
Not-Self, then Yoga will not seem an impossible thing to you.

The Quickening of the Process of Self-unfoldment

Educated and thoughtful men and women you already are; already
you have climbed up that long ladder which separates the present
outer form of the Deity in you from His form in the dust. The
manifest Deity sleeps in the mineral and the stone. He becomes
more and more unfolded in vegetables and animals, and lastly in
man He has reached what appears as His culmination to ordinary
men. Having done so much, shall you not do more ? With the
consciousness so far unfolded, does it seem impossible that it
should unfold in the future into the Divine?

As you realize that the laws of the evolution of form and of the
unfolding of consciousness in the universe and man are the same,
and that it is through these laws that the yogi brings out his
hidden powers, then you will understand also that it is not
necessary to go into the mountain or into the desert, to hide
yourself in a cave or a forest, in order that the union with the
Self may be obtainedÄHe who is within you and without you.
Sometimes for a special purpose seclusion may be useful. It may
be well at times to retire temporarily from the busy haunts of
men. But in the universe planned by Isvara, in order that the
powers of the Self may be brought outÄthere is your best field
for Yoga, planned with Divine wisdom and sagacity. The world is
meant for the unfolding of the Self: why should you then seek to
run away from it? Look at Shri Krishna Himself in that great
Upanishad of yoga, the Bhagavad-Gita. He spoke it out on a
battle-field, and not on a mountain peak. He spoke it to a
Kshattriya ready to fight, and not to a Brahmana quietly retired
from the world. The Kurukshetra of the world is the field of
Yoga. They who cannot face the world have not the strength to
face the difficulties of Yoga practice. If the outer world
out-wearies your powers, how do you expect to conquer the
difficulties of the inner life? If you cannot climb over the
little troubles of the world, how can you hope to climb over the
difficulties that a yogi has to scale? Those men blunder, who
think that running away from the world is the road to victory,
and that peace can be found only in certain localities.

As a matter of fact, you have practised Yoga unconsciously in the
past, even before your self- consciousness had separated itself,
was aware of itself. Sand knew itself to be different, in
temporary matter at least, from all the others that surround it.
And that is the first idea that you should take up and hold
firmly: Yoga is only a quickened process of the ordinary
unfolding of consciousness.

Yoga may then be defined as the "rational application of the laws
of the unfolding of consciousness in an individual case". That is
what is meant by the methods of Yoga. You study the laws' of the
unfolding of consciousness in the universe, you then apply them
to a special caseÄand that case is your own. You cannot apply
them to another. They must be self-applied. That is the definite
principle to grasp. So we must add one more word to our
definition: "Yoga is the rational application of the laws of the
unfolding of consciousness, self-applied in an individual case."

Yoga Is a Science

Next, Yoga is a science. That is the second thing to grasp. Yoga
is a science, and not a vague, dreamy drifting or imagining. It
is an applied science, a systematized collection of laws applied
to bring about a definite end. It takes up the laws of
psychology, applicable to the unfolding of the whole
consciousness of man on every plane, in every world, and applies
those rationally in a particular case. This rational application
of the laws of unfolding consciousness acts exactly on the same
principles that you see applied around you every day in other
departments of science.

You know, by looking at the world around you, how enormously the
intelligence of man, co-operating with nature, may quicken
"natural" processes, and the working of intelligence is as
"natural" as anything else. We make this distinction, and
practically it is a real one, between "rational" and "natural"
growth, because human intelligence can guide the working of
natural laws; and when we come to deal with Yoga, we are in the
same department of applied science as, let us say, is the
scientific farmer or gardener, when he applies the natural laws
of selection to breeding. The farmer or gardener cannot transcend
the laws of nature, nor can he work against them. He has no other
laws of nature to work with save universal laws by which nature
is evolving forms around us, and yet he does in a few years what
nature takes, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of years to do. And
how? By applying human intelligence to choose the laws that serve
him and to neutralize the laws that hinder. He brings the divine
intelligence in man to utilise the divine powers in nature that
are working for general rather than for particular ends.

Take the breeder of pigeons. Out of the blue rock pigeon he
develops the pouter or the fan-tail; he chooses out, generation
after generation, the forms that show most strongly the
peculiarity that he wishes to develop. He mates such birds
together, takes every favouring circumstance into consideration
and selects again and again, and so on and on, till the
peculiarity that he wants to establish has become a well-marked
feature. Remove his controlling intelligence, leave the birds to
themselves, and they revert to the ancestral type.

Or take the case of the gardener. Out of the wild rose of the
hedge has been evolved every rose of the garden. Many-petalled
roses are but the result of the scientific culture of the
five-petalled rose of the hedgerow, the wild product of nature. A
gardener who chooses the pollen from one plant and places it on
the carpers of another is simply doing deliberately what is done
every day by the bee and the fly. But he chooses his plants, and
he chooses those that have the qualities he wants intensified,
and from those again he chooses those that show the desired
qualities still more clearly, until he has produced a flower so
different from the original stock that only by tracing it back
can you tell the stock whence it sprang.

So is it in the application of the laws of psychology that we
call Yoga. Systematized knowledge of the unfolding of
consciousness applied to the individualized Self, that is Yoga.
As I have just said, it is by the world that consciousness has
been unfolded, and the world is admirably planned by the LOGOS
for this unfolding of consciousness; hence the would-be yogi,
choosing out his objects and applying his laws, finds in the
world exactly the things he wants to make his practice of Yoga
real, a vital thing, a quickening process for the knowledge of
the Self. There are many laws. You can choose those which you
require, you can evade those you do not require, you can utilize
those you need, and thus you can bring about the result that
nature, without that application of human intelligence, cannot so
swiftly effect.

Take it, then, that Yoga is within your reach, with your powers,
and that even some of the lower practices of Yoga, some of the
simpler applications of the laws of the unfolding of
consciousness to yourself, will benefit you in this world as well
as in all others. For you are really merely quickening your
growth, your unfolding, taking advantage of the powers nature
puts within your hands, and deliberately eliminating the
conditions which would not help you in your work, but rather
hinder your march forward. If you see it in that light, it seems
to me that Yoga will be to you a far more real, practical thing,
than it is when you merely read some fragments about it taken
from Sanskrit books, and often mistranslated into English, and
you will begin to feel that to be a yogi is not necessarily a
thing for a life far off, an incarnation far removed from the
present one.

Man a Duality

Some of the terms used in Yoga are necessarily to be known. For
Yoga takes man for a special purpose and studies him for a
special end and, therefore, only troubles itself about two great
facts regarding man, mind and body. First, he is a unit, a unit
of consciousness. That is a point to be definitely grasped. There
is only one of him in each set of envelopes, and sometimes the
Theosophist has to revise his ideas about man when he begins this
practical line. Theosophy quite usefully and rightly, for the
understanding of the human constitution, divides man into many
parts and pieces. We talk of physical, astral, mental, etc. Or we
talk about Sthula-sarira, Sukshma-sarira, Karana-sarira, and so
on. Sometimes we divide man into Anna-maya-kosa, Prana-maya-kosa,
Mano-maya-kosa, etc. We divide man into so many pieces in order
to study him thoroughly, that we can hardly find the man because
of the pieces. This is, so to say, for the study of human anatomy
and physiology.

But Yoga is practical and psychological. I am not complaining of
the various sub-divisions of other systems. They are necessary
for the purpose of those systems. But Yoga, for its practical
purposes, considers man simply as a dualityÄmind and body, a unit
of consciousness in a set of envelopes. This is not the duality
of the Self and the Not-Self. For in Yoga, "Self" includes
consciousness plus such matter as it cannot distinguish from
itself, and Not-Self is only the matter it can put aside.

Man is not pure Self, pure consciousness, Samvid. That is an
abstraction. In the concrete universe there are always the Self
and His sheaths, however tenuous the latter may be, so that a
unit of consciousness is inseparable from matter, and a Jivatma,
or Monad, is invariably consciousness plus matter.

In order that this may come out clearly, two terms are used in
Yoga as constituting manÄPrana and Pradhana, life-breath and
matter. Prana is not only the life-breath of the body, but the
totality of the life forces of the universe or, in other words,
the life-side of the universe.

"I am Prana," says Indra. Prana here means the totality of the
life-forces. They are taken as consciousness, mind. Pradhana is
the term used for matter. Body, or the opposite of mind, means
for the yogi in practice so much of the appropriated matter of
the outer world as he is able to put away from himself, to
distinguish from his own consciousness.

This division is very significant and useful, if you can catch
clearly hold of the root idea. Of course, looking at the thing
from beginning to end, you will see Prana, the great Life, the
great Self, always present in all, and you will see the
envelopes, the bodies, the sheaths, present at the different
stages, taking different forms; but from the standpoint of yogic
practice, that is called Prana, or Self, with which the man
identifies himself for the time, including every sheath of matter
from which the man is unable to separate himself in
consciousness. That unit, to the yogi, is the Self, so that it is
a changing quantity.

As he drops off one sheath after another and
says: " That is not myself," he is coming nearer and nearer to
his highest point, to consciousness in a single film, in a single
atom of matter, a Monad. For all practical purposes of Yoga, the
man, the working, conscious man, is so much of him as he cannot
separate from the matter enclosing him, or with which he is
connected. Only that is body which the man is able to put aside
and say: "This is not I, but mine." We find we have a whole
series of terms in Yoga which may be repeated over and over
again. All the states of mind exist on every plane, says Vyasa,
and this way of dealing with man enables the same significant
words, as we shall see in a moment, to be used over and over
again, with an ever subtler connotation; they all become
relative, and are equally true at each stage of evolution.

Now it is quite clear that, so far as many of us are concerned,
the physical body is the only thing of which we can say: " It is
not myself "; so that, in the practice of Yoga at first, for you,
all the words that would be used in it to describe the states of
consciousness, the states of mind, would deal with the waking
consciousness in the body as the lowest state, and, rising up
from that, all the words would be relative terms, implying a
distinct and recognisable state of the mind in relation to that
which is the lowest. In order to know how you shall begin to
apply to yourselves the various terms used to describe the states
of mind, you must carefully analyse your own consciousness, and
find out how much of it is really consciousness, and how much is
matter so closely appropriated that you cannot separate it from

States of Mind

Let us take it in detail. Four states of consciousness are spoken
of amongst us. "Waking" consciousness or Jagrat; the "dream"
consciousness, or Svapna; the "deep sleep" consciousness, or
Sushupti; and the state beyond that, called Turiya[FN#3: It is
impossible to avoid the use of these technical terms, even in an
introduction to Yoga. There are no exact English equivalents, and
they are no more troublesome to learn than any other technical
psychological terms.] How are those related to the body?

Jagrat is the ordinary waking consciousness, that you and I are
using at the present time. If our consciousness works in the
subtle, or astral, body, and is able to impress its experiences
upon the brain, it is called Svapna, or in English, dream
consciousness; it is more vivid and real than the Jagrat state.
When working in the subtler form--the mental body--it is not able
to impress its experiences on the brain, it is called Sushupti or
deep sleep consciousness; then the mind is working on its own
contents, not on outer objects. But if it has so far separated
itself from connection with the brain, that it cannot be readily
recalled by outer means, then it is, called Turiya, a lofty state
of trance. These four states, when correlated to the four planes,
represent a much unfolded consciousness. Jagrat is related to the
physical; Svapna to the astral; Sushupti to the mental; and
Turiya to the buddhic. When passing from one world to another, we
should use these words to designate the consciousness working
under the conditions of each world. But the same words are
repeated in the books of Yoga with a different context. There the
difficulty occurs, if we have not learned their relative nature.
Svapna is not the same for all, nor is Sushupti the same for

Above all, the word samadhi, to be explained in a moment, is used
in different ways and in different senses. How then are we to
find our way in this apparent tangle? By knowing the state which
is the starting-point, and then the sequence will always be the
same. All of you are familiar with the waking consciousness in
the physical body. You can find four states even in that, if you
analyse it, and a similar sequence of the states of the mind is
found on every plane.

How to distinguish them, then ? Let us take the waking
consciousness, and try to see the four states in that. Suppose I
take up a book and read it. I read the words; my eyes arc related
to the outer physical consciousness. That is the Jagrat state. I
go behind the words to the meaning of the words. I have passed
from the waking state of the physical plane into the Svapna state
of waking consciousness, that sees through the outer form,
seeking the inner life. I pass from this to the mind of the
writer; here the mind touches the mind; it is the waking
consciousness in its Sushupti state. If I pass from this contact
and enter the very mind of the writer, and live in that man's
mind, then I have reached the Turiya state of the waking

Take another illustration. I look at any watch; I am in Jagrat. I
close my eyes and make an image of the watch; I am in Svapna. I
call together many ideas of many watches, and reach the ideal
watch; I am in Sushupti. I pass to the ideal of time in the
abstract; I am in Turiya. But all these are stages in the
physical plane consciousness; I have not left the body.

In this way, you can make states of mind intelligible and real,
instead of mere words.


Some other important words, which recur from time to time in the
Yoga-sutras, need to be understood, though there are no exact
English equivalents. As they must be used to avoid clumsy
circumlocutions, it is necessary to explain them. It is said:
"Yoga is Samadhi." Samadhi is a state in which the consciousness
is so dissociated from the body that the latter remains
insensible. It is a state of trance in which the mind is fully
self-conscious, though the body is insensitive, and from which
the mind returns to the body with the experiences it has had in
the superphysical state, remembering them when again immersed in
the physical brain. Samadhi for any one person is relative to his
waking consciousness, but implies insensitiveness of the body. If
an ordinary person throws himself into trance and is active on
the astral plane, his Samadhi is on the astral. If his
consciousness is functioning in the mental plane, Samadhi is
there. The man who can so withdraw from the body as to leave it
insensitive, while his mind is fully self-conscious, can practice

The phrase "Yoga is Samadhi" covers facts of the highest
significance and greatest instruction. Suppose you are only able
to reach the astral world when you are asleep, your consciousness
there is, as we have seen, in the Svapna state. But as you slowly
unfold your powers, the astral forms begin to intrude upon your
waking physical consciousness until they appear as distinctly as
do physical forms, and thus become objects of your waking
consciousness. The astral world then, for you, no longer belongs
to the Svapna consciousness, but to the Jagrat; you have taken
two worlds within the scope of your Jagrat consciousness--the
physical and the astral worlds--and the mental world is in your
Svapna consciousness. "Your body" is then the physical and the
astral bodies taken together. As you go on, the mental plane
begins similarly to intrude itself, and the physical, astral and
mental all come within your waking consciousness; all these are,
then, your Jagrat world. These three worlds form but one world to
you; their three corresponding bodies but one body, that
perceives and acts.

The three bodies of the ordinary man have
become one body for the yogi. If under these conditions you want
to see only one world at a time, you must fix your attention on
it, and thus focus it. You can, in that state of enlarged waking,
concentrate your attention on the physical and see it; then the
astral and mental will appear hazy. So you can focus your
attention on the astral and see it; then the physical and the
mental, being out of focus, will appear dim. You will easily
understand this if you remember that, in this hall, I may focus
my sight in the middle of the hall, when the pillars on both
sides will appear indistinctly. Or I may concentrate my attention
on a pillar and see it distinctly, but I then see you only
vaguely at the same time. It is a change of focus, not a change
of body. Remember that all which you can put aside as not
yourself is the body of the yogi, and hence, as you go higher,
the lower bodies form but a single body and the consciousness in
that sheath of matter which it still cannot throw away, that
becomes the man.

"Yoga is Samadhi." It is the power to withdraw from all that you
know as body, and to concentrate yourself within. That is
Samadhi. No ordinary means will then call you back to the world
that you have left.[FN#4: An Indian yogi in Samadhi, discovered
in a forest by some ignorant and brutal Englishmen, was so
violently ill used that he returned to his tortured body, only to
leave it again at once by death.] This will also explain to you
the phrase in The Secret Doctrine that the Adept " begins his
Samadhi on the atmic plane " When a Jivan-mukta enters into
Samadhi, he begins it on the atmic plane. All planes below the
atmic are one plane for him. He begins his Samadhi on a plane to
which the mere man cannot rise. He begins it on the atmic plane,
and thence rises stage by stage to the higher cosmic planes. The
same word, samadhi, is used to describe the states of the
consciousness, whether it rises above the physical into the
astral, as in self-induced trance of an ordinary man, or as in
the case of a Jivan-mukta when, the consciousness being already
centred in the fifth, or atmic plane, it rises to the higher
planes of a larger world.

The Meaning of the Universe
The Meaning of the Universe