India’s ancient sages were not, strictly speaking, philosophers—that is, those who love wisdom. (From the Greek philo– “loving” + sophia “knowledge, wisdom.”) They were scientists, interested in wisdom itself, and intent on discerning what works in people’s lives.
They began their search for understanding by asking basic questions about human life, the most fundamental of which was: “What is it that all people are seeking?”
By observing the human scene with calm scientific objectivity, the answer that they arrived at was: “Beneath the colorful multiplicity of their stated motives, all people are seeking happiness, and freedom from suffering.”
The obvious next question was: “What are the actions, thoughts, and feelings that most reliably give people an increase of happiness and lessen their experience of suffering and sorrow?”
From their further observations in the laboratory of human existence, they concluded that happiness reliably increases whenever people expand their awareness to include ever-broader realities, and that every such expansion is rewarded by a corresponding increase in the person’s sense of happiness, well-being, and joy.
Next, they investigated the human tools by which we can expand our awareness and experience increasing happiness and well-being. And they discovered that the tools are five in number: body, feelings, will, mind, and soul.
Thus the five branches of yoga were born, with each branch cataloguing the most effective means for expanding awareness using a particular human tool: Hatha Yoga for the body, Bhakti Yoga for the feelings, Karma Yoga for the will, Gyana Yoga for the mind, and Raja Yoga for the soul.
Of these tools, the “outliers” at either end are beyond the reach of human volition. The body is a lump—it sits there, inactive until acted upon. Similarly, the soul cannot be activated by human effort alone; its qualities can only be invited, by cultivating expansive thoughts, feelings, and actions. But the three central tools—feeling, will, and mind—are under our control and are available for expanding our awareness.
Nature, in its wisdom, develops these five tools in children in a series of sequential stages, each of which lasts about six years. The three important “middle” tools become the primary areas of development during the school years from age 6 to 24.
From birth to age 6, the child is concerned primarily with gaining control of its body and senses. From 6 to 12, feelings come to the fore. And from 12 to 18, will power becomes the dominant focus. From 18 to 24, the intellect takes over. as evidenced by young people’s late-night discussions of philosophy, politics, science, and the arts. And at roughly age 24, many people may experience some form of spiritual awakening.
(Interestingly, the ancient scriptures always list the yoga branches in the same order, corresponding to the sequence in which they become the main focus in the life of a growing child.)
The Indian sages were not satisfied merely to scratch the surface of this greatest of all human sciences: the search for happiness. In time, they devised methods of meditation by which human awareness can be expanded infinitely, with infinite rewards.
Like the children at Living Wisdom School and the top Google scientists, we can increase our sense of happiness and security by expanding our awareness, starting at our own level. The beauty of the system is that our happiness will expand with each step we take, no matter how small, starting exactly where we are.
It’s a deceptively simple spiritual principle with profound implications. Our happiness increases whenever we expand our hearts in kindness, compassion, and sympathy; when we offer our support to others; when we cultivate a calm, focused, cheerful mind; and when we meditate on the blissful presence of Spirit within, in which expansive attitudes naturally flower in the human heart.