Sacred Paths: Essays on Wisdom, Love and Mystical Realization

Sacred Paths: Essays on Wisdom, Love and Mystical Realization 

by Georg Feuerstein
Larson Publications, Burdett, NY, 1991; paperback.

Sacred Paths consists of twenty-six essays of penetrating insight into the human condition, including practical guidance on perspectives, attitudes, and practices capable of effecting fundamental transformation of that condition. Georg Feuerstein is a longtime student of the ancient tradition of yoga who has tested and proven many of the principles and practices of yoga in his own life. Here is a book with considerable historical and theoretical information, thus providing a broad context for understanding the varied forms of yoga. Even more important, given the widespread anomie and degeneracy of our age, the book offers a variety of proven methods for not just improving the human condition but for transforming it into its most transcendent possibilities.

The author uses the word yoga to mean a spiritual discipline that aims at union between the lower or embodied self and the transcendental Self. The common Western use of the term to mean bodily postures or, even more mistakenly, physical exercise represents an extreme distortion of the great range and depth of yogic form s. After discussing briefly the common thrust of all forms of yoga and the philosophies that stand behind them, Feuerstein gives an overview of the channels by which yoga has been transmitted to the West. He then introduces several of the more important classic texts and presents some of the findings of modern science in its attempt to unravel the mysteries of yoga.

The heart of the book lies in its treatment of the spiritual disciplines that lead to union. Three chapters present the paths of wisdom, action, and loving devotion. Another three treat the contribution of Patanjali, the second-century author of the Yoga Sutra, one of the most important of all yoga texts. Here the author undertakes a fascinating, imaginary interview with Patanjali in which the latter clarifies and expands on the 195 aphorisms that make up his work. Hatha yoga is sometimes mistakenly limited to body postures (asanas), the topic of one chapter in the book. Feuerstein shows convincingly that Hatha yoga is essentially a spiritual tradition, with connections to tantra and kundalini yoga. The latter topic is developed more fully in an interview between the author and Lee Sannella, who recently published a book on the subject. Two additional chapters take up path s centering in light and geometric visualization.

In separate chapters Feuerstein addresses purification, meditation, silence, and nonharming (ahimsa). Two chapters present a refreshingly sane view of sexuality, focusing on what the author calls "sacramental sexuality." The relevance of yoga to ecology, death, immortality, and freedom is explored. The final chapter contrasts the Dark Age (Kali-yuga) of Hinduism with more optimistic Western interpretations. The author individualizes the sweeping theories by concluding: "We can embody either the dark actualities of our age or its luminous potential. The choice is always ours."

Feuerstein's flowing and lucid style makes Sacred Paths a joy to read. The exceptionally fine index encourages frequent return to the book for refreshing one's memory. In sum, this is a work of exceptional breadth and balance that reveals, by means of factual information, insightful interpretation, and practical counsel, the relevance of the thought and practice of India to the conditions of contemporary Westerns.


Summer 1992