Adhyatma is a Sanskrit word meaning relating (adhy-) to the self (atma).
It is defined by Shankara in his commentary on Gita VIII.3 as Brahman the supreme Self, immortal universal consciousness, seemingly
(1) related to each individual body/mind complex
(2) manifesting as the Self of the Lord omniscient and omnipotent, and ultimately
(3) Brahman-without-attributions, Supreme Self in its own glory.
Adhyatma yoga is a method of realizing Brahman, not merely knowing by the mind, but knowing by being. It is an expansion of consciousness from individuality to the Absolute, not merely an intellectually or emotionally satisfying background idea.
The method normally has two stages:
Karma-yoga, or yoga of action, for those whose actual living experience is: “I am doing this and feeling this, in this world of real things”, but who nevertheless have an intuition that there is something beyond.
There are three main practices:
(1) Independence: calm endurance of the inevitable ups and downs of life, including results of actions; practice of independence means the ability to strip away inessentials, physical or mental.
(2) Worship of that vaguely intuited something beyond (accepting provisionally the word God), by study of the traditional texts, and by vigorous right action as service.
(3) Profound meditation on traditional lines, for at least 90 minutes a day.
To be fruitful, yoga must be a serious undertaking. To master, under pressure, a foreign language, or computer skills, or cookery or first-aid medicine, one cannot say: “Oh, I have no time tonight”. As one teacher put it: “You have time to have an accident, to become ill, and to die. Find time for yoga before those things happen to you.”
If Karma yoga is practised steadily for three months, there is an awareness that the iron grip of the world is becoming relaxed. Even a little of this yoga frees one from great fear, says the Bhagavad Gita, II.40. By three years, there will have appeared some flashes of experience of something unchanging and immortal within the moving and dying individual. This is technically called the Witness Self.
The clutching agitations of the mind are fewer, actions become light and well suited to the occasion, and sudden experiences of peace rise unexpectedly even in troubled circumstances. Now the way is open to the second part of yoga: Yoga of Knowledge.
Knowledge here means actual experience, not cherishing some exalted idea or ideal, while remaining basically unchanged in oneself. Yoga Knowledge is a radical change of consciousness; it is not knowing by thinking but knowing by being. The method now consists in maturing the Witness-self experience till it expands into universal consciousness. (These descriptions are only tentative,) The body/mind aggregate continues to function, but as a direct instrument of the divine purpose, not now having to struggle to express itself through the medium of a self-protecting personality. Body-mind are like a finger of the musician-Lord, sometimes unmoving and sometimes intensely active, according to the improvisation of the Musician.
For the higher stages of Yoga, a teacher is traditionally necessary. But in the beginning, and sometimes for quite a time, a teacher may do little more than encourage. A serious student can go a long way by what he feels to be his own efforts alone. In ordinary life we would recognize that it is a waste of time to go to a science teacher when one cannot do even simple arithmetic, or to a Shakespeare scholar when one can barely read. They will say, “Equip yourself first, and then come to me.”
In the same way, a yoga student can equip himself with some independence, some study, some reverence, some depth of meditation; then when he does find a teacher (or is found by one), he will make very rapid progress. There are cases where it took only one day.
The pieces given on this site are intended to encourage, and perhaps occasionally inform, serious students. They derive mainly from teaching given by the late Hari Prasad Shastri in London from 1929 to 1956, and from some of his pupils. Moreover, Indian yoga teachings were developed in some ways in the Far East, where Dr. Shastri himself visited teachers, and there are also included here things from these sources.
For background reading the following are recommended:
(1) Wisdom From The East, by Hari Prasad Shastri. This book gives an account of the ancient teachings of the Upanishads.
(2) The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching, by H.P. Shastri. This is a classic on yoga in modern life.
(3) Realization of the Supreme Self, by T. Leggett. It gives an account of the Gita yogas as explained by Shankara.