Can Yoga and Alchemy Meet?

Eastern and Western Traditions of the Ancient Wisdom

When one is asked by a Syllabus Secretary to give a talk, the opening gambit is nearly always ‘What will your title be? I want to put it in my syllabus’. This simple query is designed to pin one down. “That’ll fix him, he can’t back out if I get a title,” the Secretary thinks. But if the lecturer is wise and knows the ropes, he plays for time.

“I’ll let you know … yes, as soon as possible.”

Being the prospective lecturer I have time to think this over. It will probably take several days while I get on with my normal work. After a couple of weeks I decide that I had better do something about that wretched lecture. My first thought is, ‘Get away from the usual cliche titles and try to find something startling and interesting’. This is not so easy, so I decide to discuss it with my wife. This I fancy is a good move.

“What are you reading about at the moment?” she asks.

“Alchemy,” I reply.

“Well how does that tie up with your reading on Theosophy?”

What a question!

“Yoga might be the nearest contact I suppose, but I really can’t see it.” A long pause …

“Can yoga and alchemy meet? How would that do?”

Yes, that has possibilities, so I reach for the ‘phone and get on to the Secretary.

“I’ve got a title for my talk. I hope you’ll like it.”

A sigh of relief is heard at the other end of the line. Of course he likes it. He’s got me hooked!

I hang up and sit back. What have I done? Committed myself either to bluff it out or prove a case. Strangely I find this a refreshing and exciting challenge.

And that was the beginning of a lecture I never gave because the date was cancelled.

Yoga and Alchemy … the East and the West… well, most systems have something in common, so out come my books and I set to work. But before getting onto the subject matter I must make it clear that I am not a practicing Yoga student, so I have taken what I have to say from Swami Vivekananda’s book Raja Yoga and The Yoga of Health, Youth and Joy by Sir Paul Dukes, K.B.E.

Regarding Alchemy I must express my appreciation for the help I have received from ‘The Builders of the Adytum’ without whom I could not have attempted this chapter. Let us begin with Yoga.

“The approach to Divinity through study, learning, thought and meditation. Jnana Yoga is generally agreed to be the most difficult of all the paths, for it leads rapidly into a mass of paradoxes and contradictions. Being the path demanding the highest flights of pure or abstract thinking it makes a strong appeal to the intellectual student.

“The second path, that of devotion, Bhakti Yoga is perhaps more popular for it does not demand the same intellectual equipment as Jnana. The approach is to God through worship, adoration and self-abnegation. The path of the visionary and the poet, of all great mystics and saints.

“The third path, that of Karma Yoga is the approach through work, activity and enterprise. The way of the welfare worker, the mechanic, the inventor or business man. It is the Yoga of a man of action inspired by an ideal.

“An important aspect of Karma Yoga is the economy of energy. It strives always to obtain the maximum of result with the minimum of effort. The principle of ‘skill in action’ applies not only to large matters of daily life, but to small details of thought and action too.

“The aim of Hatha Yoga is to bring the function of our physical bodies into harmony with the source of creation. Our physical and mental faculties must be trained to function with perfect rhythm and harmony. In physical terms perfection of health and physique is the aim, but health of a super-nature is the ultimate goal.

“Of the other divisions of this great subject, two of the more important are Mantra Yoga and Laya Yoga. This is the science of sound and vibration. It includes the study of chanting and incantations; the repetition of sacred formulae and their effects on the emotions, mind and body. Laya Yoga is the study of the subject of energy, particularly in the human organism, and the mystery of the ‘Life Force’ in all its aspects.

“These alone will not lead a man to develop his divinity. Along side must come the practice of character building in every aspect of every-day living in thought, word and deed. Wisdom is learned from experience gained by knowledge applied.” One could enlarge on these paths, but I propose to spend more time on Raja Yoga because we have here a method of dealing with consciousness and development of mind concentration.

“What has Raja Yoga to offer? It proposes to put before humanity a practical and scientifically worked out method of reaching truth. One must, they say, proceed as in science by observing, from which consciousness and principles are drawn.

“Knowledge of the internal nature of man, the real world and of thought can never be had until the power of observing the facts that are awakened within ourselves.

“Raja Yoga proclaims that there are in nature gross manifestations and subtle manifestations. It proposes to give a means of observing these internally. The instrument for perfecting this act is the mind.

“Before one can anticipate personal experience intellectually, acceptance must come from those who have trodden the Path before us. And there are many to whom we can refer if we wish to do so.

“One must have a basis on which to work and the intellectual reading and study of men like Vivikananda is an excellent beginning. One’s own confirmation follows by practice.” What then is their basic philosophy of the Universe?

1 “The Universe is composed of an omnipresent, all-pervading, ineffable, nameless existence. ‘The One Life’ in limitless varieties of forms and formlessness, everything that exists.”

2 “Nature is governed by three forces or distinguished by three qualities known as Three Gunas:

Raja– a positive quality that induces activity.

Tamas– a negative quality that shuns activity, including inertia.

Sattva– the equalising quality that balances the other two; these represent poise, self-control and moderation.”

3 “It also has five classes of expression known as Tatt-vas. These are five classes of energies behind our five senses. Each has its own colour and shape. Rama Prasad gives a very full description in Nature’s Finer Forces.” The five are:

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