Once a Yogi, always a Yogi
Finding yoga in this lifetime
Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar would tell their students that finding yoga in this lifetime is one of the greatest gifts than a human could obtain. In this article, I quote from one of the greatest texts on yoga, the Bhagavad Gita, on what happens to someone across lifetimes, when they are on the path of yoga.
The end goal of all Yoga
The end goal of all yoga according to all texts on yoga is Liberation, or the state where the atma is not born again, known by the terms Kaivalyam in yoga and Moksha in Vedanta. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna talks about various paths to liberation including Sankhya (knowledge), Yoga, Karma (action) and Bhakthi (devotion). The highest state of yoga, mentioned in the yoga sutras is a meditative state called Samadhi or total absorption in the self which is why Vyasa begins his commentary on the yoga sutras by saying "Yoga is Samadhi". With meditation being the highest state of yoga, there is a full chapter in the Bhagavad Gita titled "Dhyana Yoga" or the yoga of meditation. It is in this chapter that Krishna talks about what happens to a yogi who does not attain liberation in a lifetime.
What happens to a yogi across lifetimes
The samskaras (imprints) from yoga are so strong, according to the Gita, that once one starts the practice of yoga, it is bound to take them again to yoga and eventually lead them to liberation.
अयतिः श्रद्धयोपेतो योगाच्चलितमानसः।
अप्राप्य योगसंसिद्धिं कां गतिं कृष्ण गच्छति।।6.37।।
Arjuna asks Krishna the question, "What is the fate of those yogis, who begin the path with faith, but fail to achieve success in yoga in this lifetime, because their minds have wandered away ?"
अप्रतिष्ठो महाबाहो विमूढो ब्रह्मणः पथि।।6.38।।
"Doesn't such a person who deviates from yoga get neither spiritual or material success and perishes like a broken cloud ?"
To this the Blessed Lord says,
पार्थ नैवेह नामुत्र विनाशस्तस्य विद्यते |
न हि कल्याणकृत्कश्चिद्दुर्गतिं तात गच्छति || 40||
"O Partha, neither in this world nor in the world to come is there destruction of that person; Verily, none who does good actions (i.e. yogic actions), ever comes to grief."
प्राप्य पुण्यकृतां लोकानुषित्वा शाश्वती: समा: |
शुचीनां श्रीमतां गेहे योगभ्रष्टोऽभिजायते || 41||
Those who are unsuccessful in yoga in a lifetime (after death), go to the worlds of the righteous and having dwelt there for everlasting years, are born in a house of the pure and wealthy.
अथवा योगिनामेव कुले भवति धीमताम् |
एतद्धि दुर्लभतरं लोके जन्म यदीदृशम् || 42||
Or they are born in the house of wise yogis; Verily such a birth in this world is very difficult to attain
तत्र तं बुद्धिसंयोगं लभते पौर्वदेहिकम् |
यतते च ततो भूय: संसिद्धौ कुरुनन्दन || 43||
"There the yogi comes in touch with the knowledge obtained in previous bodies (lives), and strives more than before for perfection, O Arjuna"
पूर्वाभ्यासेन तेनैव ह्रियते ह्यवशोऽपि स: |
जिज्ञासुरपि योगस्य शब्दब्रह्मातिवर्तते || 44||
"By virtue of the past practice (the yogi) is again attracted to yoga; Even one who merely wants to know about yoga goes beyond the word-Brahman (the all pervading one)."
प्रयत्नाद्यतमानस्तु योगी संशुद्धकिल्बिष: |
अनेकजन्मसंसिद्धस्ततो याति परां गतिम् || 45||
"But the yogi who strives with the right effort, with siddhis (mastery) obtained through many births, attains the highest goal."
"The Yogi is said to be superior to the ascetics and even to the people who possess great knowledge (from scriptures); The Yogi is also superior to people of action; Therefore be a yogi, O Arjuna."