“In India, the candidates for initiation into the science of ‘Raja Yoga,’ when they apply to the Yogi Masters for instruction, are given a series of lessons designed to enlighten them regarding the nature of the real self, and to instruct them in the secret knowledge whereby they may develop the consciousness and realization of the real ‘I’ within them. They are shown that they must cast aside the erroneous or imperfect knowledge regarding their real identity.
“Until the candidate masters this instruction, or at least until the truth becomes fixed in his consciousness, further instruction is denied him, for it is held that until he has awakened to a conscious realization of his actual identity, he is not able to understand the source of his power, …” ~Yogi Ramacharaka
The first thing you may notice about this statement is that there is no mention of the stretching and bending exercises that have become the staple of modern Yoga in the western world. Real yoga is a school of spiritual discipline and enlightenment of which those exercises are just a small part, and not a particularly important part. You might also notice that this Yoga Master doesn’t talk about students or customers, but “candidates for initiation”. That is because he is not selling something, or offering it to anyone who walks in off the street and asks for it.
This is not unique to Yoga or to India. All ancient schools of mystics or spiritual adepts required those who came to them to pass through a period of initiation before the more advanced teaching could be revealed, and that remain true today. This was true in Egypt, in ancient Greece, in Rome, and everywhere else. The Essenes took in students on a two or three year trial basis, The Pythagorean and Platonian schools did as well.
Ramacharaka says that this initiation period required the candidate to learn the nature of his “true self” and that part of doing that casting aside “erroneous or imperfect” knowledge regarding the true self. Today we might say that one has to develop an open mind (or already have one) and id herself of false beliefs and teachings. Some might ask why that is so important. Let’s look at an allegorical example. When a young elephant is first being trained, it is chained with a strong enough chain that it cannot break free. As the elephant gets used to the idea that it cannot escape the chain, it is replaced with a smaller one. As the elephant grows, it reached a point where it could easily break the chain based on it’s physical strength alone, but because mentally it believes it cannot break the chain, it really cannot. In order for the elephant to break the chain, it must be freed of the belief that the chain is unbreakable. Likewise, the spiritual student is “chained” by limiting beliefs that are simply not true. Whether those beliefs are of his own limitations, the limitations of God, or the limitations of the world to change, as long as he believes them, he cannot overcome them. So the candidate must get to know himself by first getting rid of false beliefs.
The Master says that the candidate will be denied further instruction until he is awakened to his true self. Some may think this is unfair, but it isn’t. It can be dangerous to the student to reveal to him knowledge that he is not ready to comprehend, and it can be dangerous to the spiritual community,and the world in general, to reveal such knowledge to new who doesn’t know how to use it wisely. But even without this limit placed on the students, the candidate will only be able to absorb that which he is ready to understand, in most cases.
Today, we have a strange philosophy shared by many that nothing should be secret. This philosophy has been particularly pushed by the organization called Wikileaks. The people who suggest this rarely consider the implications. Would any company bother to develop new products if they could not keep their formulas secret and patent them? Could any government function if everything it did was immediately shared with all other governments all over the world? Even on an individual basis, do you really want every foolish and sill mistake you have made revealed in detail to everyone you meet? Of course some things have to be secret, and in spiritual teaching this is to protect the secrets from those who would misuse them and to protect the beginner who could be harmed by having too much revealed before she is ready to understand, or at least accept it.