Is the lineage of a yogi important? This is an area mostly overlooked by serious seekers and practitioners. Lineages are not important for someone who is looking for some yoga holidays or the fashionable and fitness practitioners. But for a serious spiritual practitioner who has a true quest, the lineage of the teacher is very important.
A lineage is the line of teachers of a particular discipline. Since spirituality is a science of precision, it is necessary to follow methods and practices which have been proven to be true by a series of practitioners. What is important is to follow the guidance of someone who has practiced and achieved the kriyas himself. Only under this condition one can be sure of following correct methods.
The successful practice of yoga depends upon two things. One is the source or authority of the subject and the second is a teacher who has tested and proven the subject himself. In the absence of either of the two it is not possible to practice yoga successfully. As far as the authority of Yoga is concerned, we have the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Undoubtedly, this is the highest authority on Yoga. The authority of the Yoga Sutras is substantiated by several other ancient scriptures. Not only it enjoys the concurrence of the Vedas and all the ancient scriptures, it also has confirmation from modern science. Taking the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as the source of practice is definitely advisable. For different spiritual practices one has to look for the scripture of absolute authority of that subject.
The second most important aspect of successful practice is the teacher. The teacher is the only witness of the truth and veracity of the subject. Other than the direct experience of the teacher, there is no other source to verify the truth of the practice. Since the direct experience of the teacher is so important, every practitioner should know where it comes from. Since the days of the creation of yoga as a spiritual subject, several masters have practiced and have proven the Sutras of yoga to be true. For the purpose of achieving success in the practice and to preserve the proven methods, they have passed down their knowledge and techniques to their students who, in turn, prove the Sutras themselves and pass down the techniques. Most of the ancient practitioners guarded the genuineness of the subject and the secret techniques very jealously and never allowed anyone to dilute or modify it. Every student of those great teachers had to take a sacred vow to maintain and preserve the purity of the practices.
There have been several great teachers in history who have successfully achieved the siddhis of yoga. The practices as handed down by these masters have formed a line of teachers who preserve and teach the same exact methods even today. Hence it is necessary for a new practitioner to choose a teacher of a lineage that follows a genuine practice.
The religious and spiritual practitioners of ancient India are divided into few categories. They are the Vaishnavites or those who follow Vishnu and the incarnations of Vishnu as the ultimate Godhood. The Saivites are the people who follow Shiva as the ultimate Godhood. The Saktas follow the divine feminine. The yogis are people who seek spiritual realization from an impersonal cosmos. There are so many other lineages of Tantrics and ascetics. The yogic lineages have started from the sankhya and the yogic masters. The most prominent yogis of the past were yogis Gorakhnath, Taroknath, Matshyendranath, etc. The teachings of these yogis are followed even today by their lineages. There are about ten lineages of yogis, those who still practise the ancient practices of yoga. The ten lineages are known as the Dasanami Naga Sampradaya. The ten sects of the Nagas are Bharati, Vana, Aranya, Parvata, Sagara, Giri, Puri, Tirtha, Asrama and Saraswati. The first seven sects are known as the Astradhari or the warrior Naga sects. They carry a trident or a sword as the symbol of their lineage. In the ancient times these were mostly used to protect the practicing yogis. The latter three sects are called the Sastradhari or the pure practicing yogis. The Sastradhari lineages are considered the followers of the purest systems of yoga. The Sastradharis are often considered as atheists since they do not believe in a personal Godhood and follow the practices of yoga as a matter of science. Yogi Manmoyanand belongs to the Sastradhari Saraswati lineage.
Every person who has successfully practiced yogic methods does not necessarily become a teacher. Every teacher picks and chooses a few amongst his students who are considered suitable to impart teaching on behalf of the lineage. Even though there are more than two hundred thousand Naga ascetics in India today, the number of teachers of the Sastradharis is a mere handful. It usually takes a stringent selection procedure to choose and accept a student into the folds of the lineage. The teachers of most of the lineages are very cautious about the people they accept as students. At the same time, they have the sacred responsibility towards the lineage to protect and propagate the methods to deserving students.
The lineages are thousands of years old, and the entire line of teachers is recorded by the Ascetics’ Society of India. ‘Teachers’ and ‘lineages’ that do not have mention in the registers of the Ascetics’ Society are not considered eligible to teach yoga. Often the Ascetics’ Society takes disciplinary action against fake teachers.