I will attempt to simplify and summarize the fundamental philosophy behind most spiritual, mystic, or yogic beliefs in hopes you might see the personal relevance and importance of practice (sadhana).
Before I do, let me stress my opinion that belief, philosophy, dogma, etc. are of little importance compared to spiritual practice and first-hand experience. The world has seen enough conflict and strife in the name of differing beliefs. Furthermore, beliefs are typically beyond our ability to prove, so what does it all really matter? It’s more important to be practical. Believe in yourself and your potential. Practice the spiritual methods that work for you and use your own experiences in life to formulate your beliefs with. With that, I continue:
There exists, or perhaps more accurately “non-exists“, a single supreme Consciousness beyond all space and time. With no word capable of accurately describing Absolute Nothingness, we lean on terms like God, Brahman, the Infinite and perhaps a hundred more across various faiths and traditions. This Supreme Spirit is regarded as the actual truth or reality (Sat) while the vast creation of light and shadows is merely an illusion (Maya).
This Consciousness is simultaneously manifest within creation and present within us all as the Soul (the Atma or Self), the subtlest layer and very root of our personal existence.
The soul is our true identity but is covered by successively grosser sheaths (the causal, astral and physical bodies) which serve as vehicles to experience creation. Impelled by desire, the Soul abandons Spirit to descend into creation and experience life (pravritthi marg) but in doing so, becomes entangled in the cycle of birth and death (samsara) and the necessary reaping of reactions to actions sown out of desire (karma).
After countless births and deaths, and having tasted all the joys and miseries in the University of Life, the Soul begins seeking liberation (moksha), realizing that no outward pleasure brings everlasting satisfaction. At this point, the Soul has tasted enough of material existence and seeks to find the source of true happiness within (nivritthi marg).
Yoga is a means to finding that inner contentment quickly, practiced and taught by saints and sages for millennia. The word itself signifies “union”, the union of our limited ego-awareness of body and mind with the unlimitled awareness of the Soul. The purpose of Yoga is to regain Soul-Consciousness, where individual consciousness is expanded to experience the Absolute within (sarvikalpa samadhi). With tremendous effort and lifetimes of practice, the Soul moves on to unite with the Absolute as it is beyond all creation (nirvikalpa samadhi).
Yogic techniques, especially under the guidance and blessings of a Master, become a vital way to expedite the process of introverting the senses to regain contact with the Soul. Yoga begins with the observance of moral disciplines and principles such as non-stealing, non-harming, cleanliness, contentment etc. which provide a firm foundation for spiritual growth (yama and niyama). The yogic postures (asanas) give excellent bodily health, purification and prepare the body for long hours of meditation and pranayama. Pranayama is the practice of controlling life-force energy (prana) and using it to balance and purify the energetic body. The core pranayama in Kriya Yoga works specifically to center awareness and prana within the spine, automatically introverting the senses (prathyahara) and allowing for deeper concentration (dharna) on the object of meditation. With perseverance, concentration expands into ever-deepening states of peace and the effortless state of meditation (dhyana).
Repeated contact with inner stillness brings about further dispassion and disinterest in material pleasure (vairagya), and advanced yogic techniques work to speed up elimination of past-life karmas (sanchit karma). As the practitioner advances in sadhana, the soul continues the inner ascent and, with the assistance of the awakened Kundalini, experiences deeper and deeper states of awareness until the soul merges completely with the Absolute (samadhi).
For a detailed explanation of the stages beyond this, see Yogiraj’s book “Wings to Freedom“, chapter 13.