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Yoga Practice

It is interesting to note that though the Sankhya metaphysics adopted by the Yoga was combated in many quarters, neither the Yoga practice nor the superior character of Yoga prajna was ever opposed by any of the other philosophic systems of India. Throughout all the epochs of Indian culture we find the highest reverence paid to the Yogins who were believed not only to possess a superior sense, by which they could know the highest truth beyond the ken of ordinary vision, but also to wield the most wonderful miraculous powers which Patanjali has described as the vibhutis of Yoga, by which the Yogin showed his powers not only over his mind and the minds of others, but also over inert external objects. It was not only superior knowledge that they possessed, but superior power as well, by which even the necessity of the normal parinamakramaniyama could be effected according to their will. We in this positivistic age of science and skepticism have but little belief in these trances. But it may not be out of place to note here that the idea that man could pass into states of trance by which he could be in communion with the highest kind of reality was quite common in most countries.

Ecstasy was for Plotinus the culmination of religious experience, whereby the union with God and perfect knowledge of divine truth, and the ultimate goal of the moral will, are realized in direct though ineffable experience. Plotinus enjoyed this supreme initiation four times during the period when Porphyry was with him; Porphyry himself had it only once, when he was in his sixty-eighth year. It was a vision of the Absolute, "the one," which being above thought, can only be apprehended passively by a sort of divine lapse into the expectant soul. It is not properly a vision, for the ,seer no longer distinguishes himself from what he sees; indeed it is impossible to speak of them as two, for the spirit during the ecstasy has become completely one with the "One." This "flight of the alone to the alone" is a rare and transient privilege even for the greatest saint, and it is said that he who enjoys it s "can only say that he has all his desire, and that he would not exchange his bliss for all the heaven of heavens." From neo-Platonism this philosophic rapture passed into Christianity though we seldom find it again in such a pure and elevated form. We trace the succession of metaphysical mystics from pseudo-Dionysius to Erigena, Eckhart, Boehme, and Swedenborg. In extreme cases ecstasy produces complete insensibility. "Schwester Katrej who is spoken of as a pupil of Eckhart is said to have been carried out for burial when in a cataleptic trance. Anesthesia of the skin is very common; the ecstatic feels nothing when pins are driven into his flesh. Aquinas says: "The higher our mind is raised to the contemplation of spiritual things the more it is abstracted from sensible things. But the final stage at which contemplation can possibly arrive is the divine substance. Therefore the mind that sees the divine substance must be wholly divorced from the bodily senses either by death or by some rapture." Professor William James also describes many kinds of trance experiences in his "Varieties of Religious Experience."

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