When there exists a firewall between what we experience in meditation and what we experience during activity, we find that we go “nowhere fast” (spiritually speaking). Sadly, I suspect this is the reality for most meditators who are not yet integrated.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
As one who has meditated for most of my adult life and who has taught meditation for some twenty-five years, you might not expect me to bring up the subject of meditation’s pitfalls or shortcomings. Perhaps it’s a truth in advertising campaign.
A very good friend of mine and I were discussing the spiritual path and brought up a common issue for those on the meditation path: the dark side. But let me digress and build a foundation, because there are many forms and approaches to meditation.
I practice and represent the kriya yoga meditation taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. I was ordained to teach and initiate others into the kriya yoga technique and path by Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda, who was ordained personally by Paramhansa Yogananda.
Millions have read and have found inspiration from Yogananda’s now famous life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, and from his teachings which are very positive and emphasize “ananda,” the joy of the soul which is discoverable with special efficacy through the art and science of meditation and the advanced technique of kriya yoga. (Worry not, however, there is no claim to exclusivity here.)
Yogananda taught that in this new age (which in India is termed “Dwapara Yuga” – the second age), the impulse of spiritually minded souls would be to bring “Spirit to work” rather than to withdraw from the material world in search of God. Few people today are spiritually inspired by extreme forms of penance, austerity, or suffering. Rather, we find that love for God and love for all beings and all creation is what inspires and motivates us to embrace high ideals.
In the Ananda Sunday Service, the Festival of Light, we read aloud that “whereas suffering and sorrow, in the past, were the coin of man’s redemption, for us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy.” It goes on to say that “pain is the fruit of self-love, whereas joy is the fruit of love for God.” Yogananda emphasized therefore the positive aspects of the spiritual life.
Kriya yoga is a part of raja yoga which is, in turn, an outgrowth of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras from which comes the 8-Fold Path of spiritual awakening. In the raja yoga techniques of meditation, concentration is emphasized together with devotion. Both are practiced in the context of raising our energy and consciousness from the lower centers in the body to the brain wherein resides the seat of enlightenment. What this implies is a strong and positive focal point and direction for one’s meditation.
Raja yoga meditation (which by definition includes kriya yoga) is directional. While all meditation must be mindful, for what else is meditation if not an expansion of self-awareness, it is not passive or contemplative. This may seem contradictory or paradoxical but it is a both-and experience. The more important point, however, is that it is not primarily focused on the dark side, so to speak. It is not an effort to plumb the depths of our delusions and blindnesses in an effort to root them out like weeds. By holding our consciousness and energy up to the light of the superconscious level of our soul we banish blindness and darkness, in effect, we turn on the “light” and the “darkness” vanishes.
Or, does it?
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras have much to say about the obstacles and delusions of the mind, the subconscious, of delusion, and of past life karma. He has much to say about the need to be truthful, non-attached, kind etc. etc. There is nothing in the 8-Fold Path that suggests suppression or denial of negativity or darkness.
So while the emphasis in raja yoga may indeed be a positive one and once that works with moving “energy” upward, there is no lack of tools or awareness of that which holds us down.
My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, has pointed out that in raising energy to the brain (to the higher wisdom centers), we risk inflating the ego’s self-involvement. Indeed, meditation can even enhance enjoyment of sense pleasures. The ego (sense of separateness) is the first aspect of our soul’s fall from grace (from the beginning of time) and its last great struggle.
This is just one of many reasons why humility and devotion to God and guru is so essential and part and parcel of the path of meditation and the spiritual path in general. Patanjali enumerates at great length the powers that come to one who rises in wisdom towards enlightenment. Many, perhaps all, who seek God with increasing success must encounter the temptations that come with spiritual power. Jesus was tempted that he might have dominion over all creation if he would but worship Satan (creation itself) for its own sake, separate from God.
It is no coincidence that Yogananda linked meditation with fellowship. (So, of course, did Jesus Christ in quoting the Old Testament he summarized his teachings in two parts: love God and love others as oneself.) At Ananda this includes one of our central aspects: intentional community. But not everyone is going to live in an intentional community. But for all of us, association with others like-mind (which includes the company of those of greater wisdom) is necessary and essential. Only a highly advanced soul can spiritually afford to go on alone.
Swami Kriyananda tells the story of a businessman in Vancouver, Canada who decried his day job of making money while yearning for his meditation time at home. “What a waste,” Kriyananda thought. Outward activity should help our meditation and meditation should help our daily life. Meditation should be an attitude, a complete way of life. What we do during the day should feed, inspire, and inform our inner peace and meditation practice, just as meditation should enliven with even-mindedness, creativity, and calmness, our activities.
I have made it a campaign from time to time over the years to help remind meditators not to mistake meditation for the goal of meditation: union with God. It is so very easy to enjoy meditation for its own sake. It is so very easy to reap the benefits and rewards of meditation for that good alone: health, creativity, energy, vitality, intuition, peace, and joy (to name but a few). We might indeed gain dominion over all matter but lose our soul to the “devil” of material delusion or to the affirmation of ego separateness.
The final frontier is to offer ourselves completely to God, risking what, to the ego, seems to be annihilation but to the soul is completion, oneness, and fulfillment, indeed, the gaining of Infinity and the loss of absolutely nothing! It takes great courage, however, and the grace of God and guru to step out of the cage and fly towards the Light.
In the positive upward thrust of meditation practice it is sometimes a fact that the meditator loses touch with self-awareness, rather than gaining self-awareness. For most meditators this is because they fall into the habit of becoming semi-subconscious. This is when thoughts take over or one enters a stream of consciousness state. Real meditation begins when our thoughts are still. Patanjali’s most famous sutra, Yogas chitta vrittis nirodha, could be interpreted as “One enters the state of superconsciousness only when thoughts, mental-images, and feelings related thereto cease.” There are also states of blankness, including at least one termed jada samadhi, that do nothing spiritually but which demonstrate the power to enter a suspended state of consciousness where time, motion, and decay stand still.
Long-term meditators who fall prey to subconscious states are sometimes seen meditating with a a slumped posture, a head that droops down or sometimes to the side, by bobbing downward or to the side, rocking back and forth (a pseudo-kundalini movement), or a sudden shift (marked by a brief, sharp breath) in breath pattern to a long slow exhalation indicating entry into semi-subconsciousness. They might experience burning eyes, and their upward gaze begins to lower from their superconscious position (which consists of gazing intently but serenely into the point-between-the-eyebrows). As thoughts subside in true meditation, the breath becomes almost invisible, even ceasing for periods of time. In meditation one feels more dynamically conscious even if time, surroundings, or body-consciousness slips away. One never comes out of true meditation wondering, “Where was I?” In meditation the “I” is always present: at first, separate and self-aware of the process of meditation; later, expanded into higher states without sense of separation but with complete and total consciousness.
When there exists a firewall between what we experience in meditation and what we experience during activity, we find that we go “nowhere fast” (spiritually speaking). Sadly, I suspect this is the reality for most meditators who are not yet integrated.
Ananda Community residents are blessed with unceasing opportunities to do spiritual work together, to live and meditate together, to worship together, and to study together. This is an integrated way of life that will be the pattern of dedicated spiritual living in this age. Not necessarily by monks and nuns, but including couples and couples with children, this complete way of life offers great promise to millions in the hundreds of years to come.
When I first came to Ananda Village in 1977, I did not understand this. Raised as a Catholic, I understood monasticism but didn’t yet appreciate this new form of ashram, this new form of religious dedication, and indeed a new way of life and religious “order.” Yogananda put it this way: “Church, work, and family” all in one!
Getting back to our subject, then, meditators (whether Ananda Community residents or everyone else) are challenged by the need to include contemplation, introspection, mindfulness, and spiritual counseling in their toolbox for the path of meditation. In addition, regular selfless spiritual service and association with others is needful wherever you are.
A book (indeed books have been) could be written, on making the day more meditatively mindful. I dare not launch in this direction for there are so many tips and techniques. But my real point is that there may well be some psychological obstacles, pitfalls, delusions, or addictions so strong that one should seek counsel and contemplation, as well, as activating will power to deal creatively and energetically with them.
If you have an anger problem and are a meditator, you need to find creative ways to connect the dots between them. Hold your anger as calmly as possible in your meditation and offer it to God and guru. Work actively when it flashes to bring it under your control. It astonishes me how many long-term meditators are as yet unaware of their attitudes and behavior. Swami Sri Yukteswar (Yogananda’s guru) was famous for saying, “Learn to behave.” We must walk our talk but we can’t do this unless we are aware that there’s a yawning gap. “Mind the gap,” I like to say: we all have a gap between our self-image and our actions. That can be good if it is an incentive to close the gap but once the gap widens too much, we disconnect.
It’s ok and indeed helpful to hold up to the superconscious mind and to your guru’s grace, your problems, your delusions, your shortcoming for healing and light. Don’t make a big focus of it but don’t suppress, deny or ignore them either. Do this, typically, at the end of your meditation when you are hopefully the calmest and most uplifted.
“Connect the dots” between all the chakras; raise the “kundalini” of separateness into the Light of God. Be at peace not just in meditation but in speech, emotions, thoughts, and action.
Blessings to you,
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
I “Don’t Mind” – Mind: friend or foe?
Spiritual consciousness might be described as that level of awareness that lifts us from ego-protective/affirmative consciousness towards Oneness. Clinically or medically it might be described as the quieting of lower brain activity in favor of higher brain (pre-frontal lobe) activity. The variety of descriptions is potentially unlimited. I would like to explore spirituality from the inside view of our thoughts and images and their attendant emotions.
Our minds are a most wonderful invention. We can create fantasy images and worlds, write novels and sci-fi stories, get involved in the lives and details of fictitious television characters, rant at world events or leaders so far away or removed from our daily life that they have no effect on us at all, weep at the sufferings of peoples long ago whom we have never met, obsess upon the defects and imagined critiques of friends, family, or co-workers without any regard to their actual personalities or thoughts, and on and on into infinity with no relationship to anything else but our minds.
Indeed, I would aver that most people live more in their minds than in the objective reality around them. More in a world of mental images and thoughts with only a nominal relationship to objective facts, than in any reality viewable by other human beings. This isn’t necessarily problematic in most people, at least from a functional point of view. But from the existential view of “what is reality” and “how to achieve true happiness” this fact is what makes us all a little crazy. It’s just that, as Paramhansa Yogananda put it so charmingly, “crazy people of one type tend to mix with crazy people of the same type.”
To grow up means, in part, to separate our reaction to circumstances (which includes people) from the circumstances themselves. To hold one’s tongue is the better part of wisdom, for example. To bide one’s time before responding is the diplomat’s way of coping with his world. But, in fact, I believe that very few people on this planet make the distinction between their reactions (likes and dislikes) and the objective facts, circumstances, or people who, in their view, trigger those reactions. Obviously if I think my mother-in-law is a pill, she most certainly must be a pill. It may never occur to me that she is a “pill” only to me because I fear or dislike her critique of me. She may be revered by others and maybe in fact a kindly person, but my own hyper-sensitivity to being accepted or receiving her approval may make me reactively judgmental or negative towards her. Thus I conclude that she is a “bad” person. I might, instead, have concluded that it’s my problem and if I were to make an effort to get to know and understand her, or to be friendly and helpful towards her, that the issue I feel may exist may in fact dissipate!
Most people, therefore, do not distinguish between their response to circumstances from the circumstances themselves. How, then, is it possible to examine critically and with detachment my own stream of thoughts and images with which I reconstruct what I am pleased to call reality? This is a tall order for “tall” people of great courage, mental strength, and an expanded consciousness.
The process of growing spiritual consciousness was defined long ago by the great sage Patanjali (author of the famous “Yoga Sutras” which contains the even more famous “8-Fold Path”) as the dissolving of the mental images and emotional responses that the mind creates in response to sense-inputs, memory, thoughts, and impressions. Medical science understands that sensory input is reconstructed in the brain (or mind) for the purposes of evaluating and responding to its meaning (threat or promise) to the ego/body. All sense impressions are essentially experienced vicariously, in the mind. My hand may report a hot sensation when I place near a flame but it’s my mind that tells me what it is and why I need to move my hand away from it.
Now admittedly in this example it happens so fast that it seems like the hand itself contains the intelligence. And, heck, why argue: hands are really valuable things and of course the entire body is a body of intelligence. But nonetheless, without the supportive functions of the brain and mind it is at least possible theoretically possible that we might not know immediately that the heat sensation is a threat. And this is more so the case when we perceive potential threats in the form of critique from the casual or subtle remarks of our supervisor or spouse.
Mental imbalances or immaturity demonstrate these principles best. A child throws a tantrum (practicing “tantrum yoga”) over not being given another cookie. We dismiss this as immature. If an adult did this we’d wonder about his sanity. A person who hallucinates and sees threats where none exist is clearly living in a false reality of the mind. Being overly sensitive and feeling critique at the slightest hint of disapproval creates fear, anger, and anxiety in a person when absolutely nothing was intended by a casual remark.
Watch the 10 o’clock news sometime and analytically determine how many statements are factual and how many are opinions expressed with qualitative adjectives. Very little news and much speculation and opinion are what feeds the beast of what sells the “news.” Heated arguments between conservatives and liberals can occur when the people involved have little if any involvement or power in changing things. It’s so easy to get worked up, whether compassionately or in condemnation, over issues and people with whom we have no relationship and no influence. It’s all in our heads.
Maturity and spiritual growth are not essentially all that different (at least up to a point). Disengaging from one’s own opinions and reactions comes as we grow in understanding and appreciating different points of view. Not surprisingly, there is a general correlation between levels of education and the ability to see different points of view.
I know that some view the spiritual path as focusing on realities far removed from daily life. I wouldn’t argue with the fact that for some people that is unquestionably the case. Buddha and other great spiritual teachers, however, counseled “chop wood and carry water.” This means: get real, stay grounded in present realities, and don’t obsess over subtler realities that you haven’t experienced. Good advice, certainly. It would be mistake, however, to assume that this counsel implies that wood and water are the only realities worthy of our interest. Quite the contrary. Focusing on the present moment is intended to relax the feverish tendencies of the monkey mind to create realities that have nothing to do with, well, realities.
The mind is like a factory: it churns out all sorts of useless products and some helpful ones. It inclines to constant interpretation (a Darwinian would say in “self-defense”), analysis and response. Whatever its Darwinian utility and proclivities, it may be fine for skiing down a slope, taking an exam, being interviewed, driving down the freeway and all sorts of other practical functions. But it does tend to take control and continue spinning out possibilities long after its contribution is useful.
To grow in maturity and to grow towards spiritual consciousness (of “Oneness”) requires calming this ego-active, ego-reactive, functionality of the mind. As Patanjali put it, “Yogas chitta vrittis nirodha.” (Peace and Oneness are achieved when the reactive processes of the mind and emotions are permanently dissolved.)
We can attempt to discipline the mind and we can concentrate the mind. These efforts form the basis for much of the techniques of meditation: using breath, using mantra, using mindfulness, for example. In addition to this is a tool which is demonstrably powerful: feelings! It’s our emotional response to perceived realities that sends the mind into the hyperdrive of ego-active, ego-protective, and ego-affirming vortices. In extremis we might even create alternative fantasy realities. Thus if we can access and stimulate feelings of devotion and expansion of consciousness while also concentrating the mind in this direction we find that the calming and expanding of feelings does more to dissolve the feverish activity of the mind than only discipline or concentration.
Paramhansa Yogananda stated, “Chanting is half the battle.” By this he meant not just the traditional act of devotional chanting, but the repetition of a meaningful and feeling saturated image or word formula as a form of both concentration and expansion of consciousness. I am using words that a bit clinical and cold for some but the effect remains “effective” no matter how described.
Thus we have the irony that to achieve sanity, maturity and spiritual growth we use the mind to focus on a reality that is transcendent to sense realities and, from the materialists’ point of view at least, unreal all together! Go figure and yet, the truth of this has been proved repeatedly since the dawn of humanity. Saints have demonstrated power over death, over matter, over gravity, over bodily functions time and again in ways that defy the materialists or mere philosophers again and again.
Thus it is that devotion to God whether in the form of the guru, a deity or the impersonal form of Light, Sound, Love, Peace, or Energy can so concentrate the mind as to dissolve its ego active tendencies. Even science admits that the five senses that report the different objects in our world are lying to us. Beneath the appearance of separateness is the underlying reality of energy (chemical, atomic, etc.) that renders all things as having the same essential substance!
We may survive better for the ego-active mind but we cannot find happiness through mere survival. Wealth, beauty, pleasure, power, name and fame bring no lasting happiness. This is proved time and again. Only the saints give consistent testimony regarding the summum bonum of life, the brass ring of true success comes only through ego transcendence. This is what meditation and devotion, one and the same, offer to us.
The mind is our greatest friend and greatest foe. To bring the mind to heel takes the courage and strength of a true hero. Meditation and the power of the grace that flows through the true guru are the keys to expansion of consciousness that can make us free. Learn to check and rein in the mind’s restless tendencies, both through meditation and during outer activity. Test your endurance and re-direct your sensitivities towards even-mindedness under all circumstances. The less we identify with the body and ego in favor of serving the needs of a greater reality (without unnecessarily endangering the body or ego), the greater happiness we shall achieve. For beneath the surface of the appearance of our separateness is the One.
Monday, February 27, 2012
Last week at each (separate) session of the Raja Yoga Intensive that I teach, I was asked “What does it mean to love another person ‘without attachment’?”
A very good question, indeed. For the record, we’ve been studying the first two stages on the 8-Fold Path toward enlightenment (as described in the famous Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali). The first two stages outline something often described in short-hand form with the phrase, the “do’s and the don’t’s.”
The question cited above was not specific to any of the yamas or niyamas (the names of the first two stages: each has five aspects of what to avoid and what to do). But the combination of discussing the need for self-control and moderation in sexual matters with the goal of seeing all as the divine, and striving for transcendence through devotion and non-attachment: all of these aspects conjoined in a kind of “OMG!” (“O my God!”)
Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the classic Autobiography of a Yogi and the guru whose teachings I am privileged to share, stated in his own life story that he was, as a young boy, disconsolate at the unexpected and premature death of his (very holy) mother. Later in life, it was known that he had to absent himself from the presence of those close to him who were dying (in order that they might be “allowed to go”).
Was he, therefore, “attached” even though his disciples, such as myself, consider him to be the avatar (God-realized master) of this “new” age? Was he just faking it so we could relate to him as a human being, like ourselves?
To plumb of the depths of understanding of the human and divine nature of an avatar has puzzled devotees down through the ages. Did not Jesus Christ cry out from the cross, “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” And, knowing of his fate that night in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me?”
We will return to the avatars in a minute. Let us, however, return to the ground zero of our own, everyday lives.
I’ve frequently thought to myself that the only perfect marriage on earth is one between two people who don’t need to be married at all! (Ok, so that’s partly a joke!) But my point, I think, you see clearly: marriage plays upon and preys upon the strengths and weaknesses, and the attraction and repulsion inherent between, two different individuals. An unhealthy relationship is a co-dependent one. I’m no therapist and I wouldn’t want to pretend to define co-dependency, but from where I sit (on the sidelines), an unhealthy relationship is one where the boundaries are more than fuzzy between two people and where two people are consistently projecting their issues, their insecurities, and their needs onto one another. Put another way, we are speaking of two people who are not yet quite mature and not yet centered in their own self (Self).
Returning then to the question of non-attachment vs. love I think of what my own spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, has said from time to time: (I paraphrase) “Impersonal love is impersonal with respect to my own desires; it is not cold or insensitive to the needs and well-being of others.”
So what this means is that I “love” another person not for what I get from him/her but for what I find in that person to be admirable, inspiring, worth emulating and worthy of consideration and practical service (without thought or expectation of personal return, acknowledgement or another other “quid pro quo”).
Is this TOO perfect? To, to…..as it were? Well, sure it is. Most love and family relationships are contractual: you do this; I do that. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We are merchants, in other words. And, society calls this “love?” Well society calls unabashed and uninhibited lust love too. So there!
Helicopter parents are generally considered to be loving and doting parents. But are they not perhaps simply projecting their own desires and insecurities onto their hapless children?
Would a parent not be a better parent by trying to objectively “tune-into” the child’s own nature, tendencies, and life directions without regard to his/her own? A highly educated and articulate parent might end up with an autistic child. Is this not all too common these days? Is not the spiritual purpose of this, at least in some small measure, perhaps, to help the parent to open his/her heart and serve this needful child unselfishly devoid of the usual hope and expectation that the child will “be a chip off the old block?”
Does not the typical teacher prefer the child who is attentive and obedient? Are not the rebellious or restless ones a tad bit too creative and troublesome? The files of school history are crammed with the stories of geniuses who were only recognized as such later in life (perhaps after overcoming whatever setbacks their education imposed upon them).
Are not the weekly tabloids which feature the marriages of the rich and famous strewn with the beautiful bodies of those who had great sex but a lousy marriage? Drug addiction, alcoholism, infidelity: are these not the fruits of such glamorous unions?
Well, for all of that, who can stem the tide of attraction between, say, men and women? Why bother to fight City Hall? We each have the right to learn our lessons our way: that is, the hard way! None of that, and indeed, all of that suggests that true love exists on a higher plane, even if it need not deny the magnetism of the lower.
Rather as marriage is a union of people, and as Self-realization is the union of body, mind and soul, so too a spiritual marriage can unite as parts of body, mind and soul. We just have to know what we are looking for and what actually works (brings greater fulfillment).
But, no matter how successful our marriage is or our relationship with our children, no relationship can fulfill the nature of the soul’s longing for omnipresence and onenesss. So long as our love is based upon differences we will be forced to play the part of the yo-yo, which is to say, the fool. As we love, so we suffer.
Interestingly, however, there is no way out EXCEPT to love. Jesus forgave a woman her sins and said, “For her sins, which are many, she is forgiven for she has loved much.”
We cannot find God by rejecting our brothers and sisters. Rather we must strive to perfect our love until it “becomes the perfect love of God.”
That perfection includes seeing in all, seeing in the “other,” the Divine presence. It means loving that unique expression of God without condition, without contractual expectation. A tall order, of course. Jesus said, hanging from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
We, who are far less than perfect as Jesus was, have plenty of reasons to “hang” without anyone crucifying us without cause! Yet, therefore, can we not forgive? Accept? Love without condition? Infidelity? Rebelliousness? Lack of charity? Rejection?
Do you see, now, perhaps, even a little more clearly, what we speak of? Yogananda grieved at the loss of his mother, for he was, at that point, a child. He didn’t pretend or need to pretend he was anything less. But in his overarching nature, to the degree he contacted it, he was free, in Bliss. The same holds true, at least potentially, for you and me.
Jesus suffered not for himself or his body but for those who lashed out at him and would suffer themselves on account of it.
We only need to try. Just like meditation. Just like the spiritual path at large. Non-attachment doesn’t mean to be impervious to pain, it means to strive to realize the Self which is beyond pain. It means to unite in one seamless experience both pain and transcendence, denying neither. The one is now, the other, eternally NOW. They co-exist only to the degree that they Co-Exist in our consciousness.
As Krishna says to Arjuna, his disciple, in the Bhagavad Gita, “Even a little bit of this practice, will save you from dire fires and colossal sufferings.”
Give your Self to God, to your Cosmic Beloved. See in all whom you love, the shining Face and perfection of your own true Self.
Blessings and joy to you,
Friday, February 24, 2012
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras the first book, Samadhi Pada, focuses upon the state of Oneness born of meditative concentration. We turn now to Book Two, Sadhana Pada. It focuses on those actions and attitudes necessary to achieve samadhi.
In this blog series which attempts to explore practical aspects for meditation inspired by the Yoga Sutras, we find in the first stanza of book two the term “kriya yoga.” This term has been made famous through Paramhansa Yogananda’s life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi.” In it, he uses the term kriya yoga in reference to a specific meditation technique that characterizes his teachings and lineage. I have practiced kriya yoga for several decades and can attest to its transformative spiritual power.
However, the yoga sutras are not, per se, a book on how to meditate. Therefore a technique such as Kriya Yoga (as taught by Yogananda) is not going to be described and taught in such a “scripture.” In India we find the term “kriya” applying to a great many practices and techniques. Even in the kriya yoga lineage of Yogananda and the masters of Self-realization (Babaji, Lahiri Mahasay, and Swami Sri Yukteswar) we have navi kriya and talabia kriya, offshoot techniques supportive of the main technique of kriya.
The term “kriya” moreover is so generic that it could be translated to mean any “technique.” This is in contradistinction to the so-called paths of yoga such as Bhakti yoga (devotion), karma yoga (selfless service) and gyana yoga (study of self, of scripture, and concentration of the mind). Some might even say that the practice of any set of breath control techniques are the practice of “kriya yoga.” Hence the term, once removed from Yogananda’s lineage, can be a bit confusing.
Returning now to Stanza 1 of Book Two, we find that Patanjali describes the path of yoga (generally) as based upon purification, study, and giving the fruits of all action in devotion to God. This is strikingly similar to much of the message of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.
From our point of view in this series, what I find in this is the admonition to understand the value of a definite “sadhana.” By this is meant a method of meditation and consistency of meditation undertaken in a spirit of self-offering and purification of desires and attachments. Patanjali identifies that egoity, attachment, aversion and “clinging to life” are impediments to the release of our identity from objects of the senses and mental imagery that is necessary to achieve samadhi.
Many spiritually minded people rest content with good fellow feelings, and high ideals. This might include enjoying spiritual music (chanting, bhajans, mantras) or spiritual ritual or dance, or service in humanitarian causes, or intensive study and debate of fine scriptural or metaphysical points. Good works produce good karma. Good karma can balance out “bad” karma but even if it does it brings us to zero. Unless we use the zero point to transcend the dualities of the opposites and the dual qualities of nature, we will be drawn back into the maelstrom.
Unless we perceive that our ego cannot by itself release us from the ceaseless flux of the opposites and thereby we offer ourselves into a greater Power and Presence, we will not find release. Our peace meditative experiences will only relieve us of tedium or stress but will not free us.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” it has been well said. I have met or learned of many good, fine, virtuous and noble people. I have met many devotees who could be real “schmucks.” But virtue alone will not free us from the wheel of suffering and rebirth. To paraphrase Jesus, “She has loved much and her sins, though many, are forgiven.”
There must come a point when we actively, intensively, and “scientifically,” seek freedom from delusion. To do that we naturally seek the grace and power of God. This comes not in some vague way, as if calling the White House will connect us to the President, but through the agency of those incarnate souls who come to earth to help others and who are, themselves, already free. They thus know “the way” and have the power.
Such souls are few, relatively to the plethora of spiritual leaders and teachers. We ascend step by step by our own sincerity and self-purification to attract to ourselves, progressively, more advanced souls who can empower our journey.
Therefore, meditate with the desire for freedom; meditate seeking divine grace, power, and presence; meditate with surrender to the Infinite Power which, by whatever name or form, no name or form, we are inspired to address.
We need a specific, proven technique of meditation; we need an understanding of the meaning and goal of life that inspires us and is true; we need a teacher who is above the obstructing qualities of nature.
As Jesus Christ said it so well: “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and its righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Never miss your daily appointment with the Divine within you and never fail to see that presence in all forms and circumstances, both agreeable and challenging.
Blessings to you,
Monday, February 20, 2012
Book 1 of the Yoga Sutras is titled “Samadhi Pada” or an exposition of the state of meditative concentration which constitutes true meditation. We saw in an earlier blog article (on Stanza 2) that Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, describes the state of yoga concentration (or meditation) as resulting from the cessation of the mind’s identification with, interest in, and feeling (like or dislike) response to its perceptions (whether in memory form, through current sense impressions, desires or imagination).
In this first book Patanjali is describing both the positive aspects of meditative concentration and the obstacles to that concentration. Meditation requires one to continually strive to disengage from thoughts and our emotional interest and response to these thoughts (here, thoughts include signals from the five senses and our response to them). Patanjali says success comes from “long and constant efforts with great love and desire for the goal.”
First we focus on detaching our response and interest in objects (called to our mind by desire, memory, etc.); then comes non-identification with the feeling states associated with objects (happiness, sadness, boredom, sleep).
We then go through various stages of meditation starting with interiorized contemplation which contains a mixture of intuition, reason, questioning and inner dialogue. This can reveal insights about objects, people, and of course ourselves and the very nature of cognition.
We proceed to the next level which is more purely intuitive and knowing. When we ascend beyond this stage we experience joy which is subtler because there’s no object under contemplation. Beyond joy, though without necessarily leaving it, is pure sense of Self, or I-ness.
These stages have yet higher octaves such as the experience of wonder and reverence; contemplation of God (or Higher Consciousness); pure Bliss; expansion of awareness beyond the body into space beyond the body.
The highest of such states, called Samadhi, merge the act of cognition with the object and the subject (Self). Called many things and described in countless ways down through the ages, this state goes beyond the intellect’s (and this writer’s) comprehension and ability to describe. I reference the reader to Paramhansa Yogananda’s poem, “Samadhi.” (It can be found in the original edition of his life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi.”)
Returning now to the process of concentration, Patanjali includes devotion to God (Iswara) as meditation and especially meditation upon the “word” that manifests God, OM. Repetition (mental chanting) of OM, and meditation upon OM (heard in meditation) are particularly important forms of meditation.
Patanjali recommends meditation upon one object as the way to calm the breath and emotional disturbances which hinder meditation. Breath control techniques can speedily bring the mind under control.
Any form of meditation that accelerates or reveals the subtle astral senses can greatly help as well. Meditating on the inner light (seen in the forehead), meditation upon the heart center, meditation upon peace or pure happiness, or indeed “anything that appeals to one as good” — these are all forms of meditative concentration which will yield the progressive stages which lead to samadhi.
In essence and in conclusion, Patanjali is recommending that the meditator find a positive focus for meditation rather than only work on “fighting off” all distractions. Instruction in the methods is given by one’s teacher and especially one who is or represents a true teacher, or guru: one who, has himself, achieved the highest state of samadhi.
In essence and in conclusion, Patanjali is recommending that the meditator find a positive focus for meditation rather than only work on “fighting off” all distractions. Instruction in the methods is given by one’s teacher and especially one who is or represents a true teacher, or guru: one who, has himself, achieved the highest state of samadhi.
Blessings to you,
Saturday, February 11, 2012
“And then the seer stands in his own nature (when all modifications and mental activities have ceased – see stanza 2).”
Paramhansa Yogananda is oft quoted saying “When motion ceases, God begins.” This stanza of the Yoga Sutras reminds us that our native state is that of perfection. We are complete in our Self. This must be the meditator’s goal and constant affirmation.
We are taught that meditation has three stages: relaxation, concentration, and expansion. Real meditation begins when all meditation techniques cease and we are still.
The Old Testament says, “Be still, and know that I AM God.”
When, in meditation, we are still, we can feel the transcendent, timeless, eternal, ever-new, ever-satisfying, immortal Presence which underlies our consciousness and, by extension, all creation.
“Stand,” therefore, in your “own nature.” Live more in the spine, centered in your Self, free from desires, attractions, repulsions, likes, and dislikes! As Krishna exhorts Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “O Arjuna, be thou a yogi!”
I encourage meditation students to create a new self-image: that of the meditating yogi! Yes, it’s true that all mental modifications (internal images) must cease before we enter the kingdom of heaven within us, but in our present state, we have a plethora of self-definitions:
I am a man; a woman; young; middle age; old; I am healthy; sickly; artistic, scientific, business-like, successful, a failure, a parent, a child, a co-worker, a manager, and on and on. There’s nothing wrong with the simple fact that we play many roles in life. But to what extent do we identify with these roles as our self?
So begin your self-transformation with a new and overriding self-definition: that of a meditator (yogi). If you think of the image of a person sitting in meditation (on the floor), you have the shape of a triangle, or, if you prefer, a mountain. Use this image to re-create your Self.
At work, at home, driving, relating to your family and friends, hold the self-image of yourself as one who meditates each day. What is this? A yogi is one who sits in the stillness, withdrawing his awareness from the senses and from the body, and lifts his consciousness (and energy) upward in self-offering to the Self of All, at the feet of the Infinite Lord….retracing his steps from the creation to the Creator in whom all things exist and from all things have come and return!
“Stand,” therefore, in your “own nature!” Stand tall like a mountain: majestic, serene, forever calm and wise, beneficent, giving, sagacious and gracious! Walk through life like a sage!
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Perhaps one of the two most famous aphorisms of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the second one: Yogas chitta vritti nirodha. This stanza is not easy to translate as succinctly as it is written in Sanskrit. Sanskrit contains meanings, overtones, and levels of reality that make the language rich with wisdom and ripe for interpretation. Even reciting the stanza can, to one who is receptive and sensitive, convey ineffable wisdom and heart-opening joy.
The most common translation we use around Ananda is “Yoga is the neutralization of vortices of feeling.” Unfortunately this tells us little, unless we investigate and ponder more deeply. I have spent my life of spiritual introspection pondering the layers of meaning of this one stanza. In this series of articles, however, I will view this rich stanza from the more practical level of the practice of meditation as more commonly experienced.
Put, therefore, more simply, Patanjali is essentially remarking upon what is needed to achieve the state of unitive consciousness that might be termed “Superconsciousness,” oneness, samadhi, or enlightenment. I do not wish to define or distinguish these terms and so, for the more limited purpose of this blog series, let me interpret this stanza loosely and thusly:
The state of “yoga” (an experience of peaceful, meditative awareness) arises as one relaxes the body, calms the feelings, and clears the mind of restless thoughts. On a deeper level and involving more directly our consciousness, we might also say that a state of meditation is achieved when we dissolve the ceaseless ebb and flow of tension, emotions, and thoughts which are result of our psychic reaction to memories or other mental images or thoughts which appear to us during meditation.
Tension in the body is a kind of kinetic e-motion; disturbed feelings arising from anger, fear, anxiety, or desire thwart our efforts to achieve inner peace during meditation; lastly, the flow of random thoughts arising from the subconscious mind during meditation obscure the clarity of our intuitive, inner awareness. Thoughts can have their source (or be affected by) in physical tension (or vica versa) or in our disturbed feelings.
Patanjali is, one might say, simply stating the necessary precondition to higher consciousness: we must dissolve the energy-laden commitments to identifying with our body, to investing in our emotional reactions (likes and dislikes, past, present, or potential), and to the habit of ceaseless thoughts. Later in the sutras he explores specific obstacles to higher consciousness and specific forms of concentration designed to transcend these obstacles.
We, as meditators, can use this stanza to remind ourselves to use the techniques of meditation and apply them to body, feelings, and mind in a scientific and effective way to clear the motions and movements of body, emotions, and thoughts that we might “sit” or commune inwardly with inner peace.
For the body it is good to use yoga postures, or stretching exercises (e.g., Yogananda’s Energization Exercises), to release tension and fatigue. For the nervous system, brain, heart, and lungs, breath control exercises can decarbonizes the bloodstream and oxygenate the brain and all the cells; equalizing inhalation with exhalation can bring the body into stasis or relative stability so as to release the energy drag upon our mind and concentration. For the mind, concentration using mantra, or breath, or devotional aspiration can achieve a laser-like focus in the upper psychic centers (forehead) to cauterize or hold at bay the ceaseless stream of random thoughts.
While this blog series is not intended to teach meditation a simple and illustrative suggestion might begin with tensing the whole body (while seated) as you inhale, and relaxing the whole body as you exhale. Do this several times. Then do three to five rounds of simple, deep, diaphragmatic breathing with equal measures of inhalation, retention of breath, and exhalation. (While holding the breath visualize “holding” the breath in the heart; as you exhale let all nervousness or negativity melt away.) Then sit and observe the flow of breath as if it were gradually clearing your mind of all restless thoughts until the mind was clear and open to the clear blue sky above and in all directions. After this, simply sit in the inner silence, communing with the feeling of peace and serenity.
In addition, we must remind ourselves that the purpose of meditation is to go beyond meditation techniques and practices and enter the state of inner silence, mindfulness, inner peace, or inner communion: just BE! We are so addicted to DOING and PRACTICING that when at last the time comes in our meditation routine to simply BE we sometimes find that we are not ready; we may be unwilling to let go of the ego-controller. But without first intending to achieve inner silence and then having at least a taste of it in each meditation, we will not experience the promise implied by the second stanza of the Yoga Sutras. “Yoga-peace comes from calming and dissolving the ego-active tendencies of the body, heart and mind.”
Monday, February 6, 2012
This new series of blog articles is not intended to be a commentary or interpretation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Inspired by the aphorisms, however, I seek to use their guidance and inspiration to distill thoughts about the practice of meditation. Sometimes my remarks will bear directly upon the sutra(s) and other times only loosely or having served as an inspiration for sharing.
I often am asked which translation to use and I confess that as yet I have found no singular translation satisfactory. Unfortunately, neither my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, nor my spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda), has published translations and commentaries on the Yoga Sutras. Where I am aware of their paraphrase, I will of course use it. I survey other translations in order to distill what seems most in tune with the lineage I am dedicated to. However, their teachings, published, unpublished or recorded, bear directly and indirectly upon the Yoga Sutras. Perhaps as importantly, the Yoga Sutras are, themselves, of universal application and stature, bereft of sectarian filters. Thus I am confident that what I will share will be derived or inspired by them and my efforts to live and share them.
We begin with the first aphorism, "And now we come to the practice of Yoga." May I offer then that we commit to the practice of meditation on a daily practice, coming to the practice of "yoga" (seeking Oneness with the Self) as a distinct and conscious effort, apart from the rest of our day's activities? Not only are we encouraged to establish the daily habit of meditation but, having done so, to enter into the practice with calm and conscious intention. Never let meditation become routine and rote. You might even intone this aphorism as you turn away from other activities (or upon arising) so that you are clear and intentional.
Too many students brush aside the value of this "setting aside" with comments like "I meditate all the time." Or, "I strive to remain in mindfulness throughout the day." Well, "like duh!" Of course, we all should do that. But such practices are not a substitute for putting aside our activities in order to "Now I sit to meditate upon the inner Light of the Infinite Spirit, the eyes of my guru, the all-pervading sound of Aum (and so on)."
And even if, as a meditator, you are loyal to your daily practice, how easy is it to focus on your techniques and practices and upon your progress in achieving meditative states of inner stillness rather than upon the goal of meditation? True meditation begins when our practices (pranayamas etc.) end in superconsciousness. As Yogananda put it, "When motion ceases, God begins."
I also put this in another way, based on a story from Yogananda's life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." As a young boy or teenager he visited a saint who remarked to Yogananda that Yogananda often entered the quiescent state of inner stillness but, asked the saint, had he achieved "anubhava" -- love for God? We, as meditators, mustn't forget the goal of meditation even as we are non-attached to the time, place, or form of the goal. Union with God, or true yoga, is our goal. There is no point in defining either "union" or "God" for they can define themselves by our own experience. To say, simply, that we seek an upliftment of consciousness into transcendence and into the thrill and bliss of that state is sufficient for general purposes.
Next blog: Stanza 2: Yoga is achieved through the dissolution of the ceaseless reactions of attraction and repulsion; of the restless motions of body, senses, and mental images and our reactions to them.
Friday, December 30, 2011
Einstein meets Patanjali
And asks, “Who Am I?”
The new year of 2012 is upon us and in combination with the holy season of Christmas or, if you prefer, Winter Solstice it is a time for reflection over the past year (or life), and a re-setting of priorities.
History, science and metaphysics offer such a vast and grand view of the creation and evolution that we, as individuals, can only appear as insignificant. Imagine every 100 years hardly a trace remains of the human race which once reveled, cried, fought, rejoiced, aged, and finally past from sight. Within hours of one’s death in a retirement facility your belongings can be boxed up, emptied, delivered to the dumpster or thrift store, and nothing left of your life remains.
You can take a collection of newspapers from any decade in the last century and re-arrange the headlines and article titles and re-create tomorrow’s news. It’s all basically the same stuff.
That’s a pretty depressing assessment of our lives. Yet for all the “facts” assembled here, we aren’t depressed for we don’t live our lives from that perspective. We are in the middle of our own universe.
But are we being real or are we hiding our hands in the endless sands of delusion? Perhaps we, too, need some way to expand our self-identity to embrace the vastness which is the greater reality in which we live?
But how? Traditional beliefs that say God is in the heaven above, looking down upon us, sometimes answering our pleadings, but always judging our actions, and then when the play is over we get our just desserts. End of story. This “guy” must be like some cosmic but petty traffic cop or like a child playing with toy soldiers arranging them in various battle formations, blowing them up, moving them around. This is hardly a satisfying view nor does it bear any resemblance the view of the cosmos our science provides.
My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, in his book, “Out of the Labyrinth,” (also in his guide to meditation, "Awaken to Superconsciousness") asks this question: “Either nothing is conscious, or everything is conscious.” I have puzzled over this because it omits all the possibilities in between. But his statement is in context of the modern view of evolution and biology, namely, that consciousness is produced by the electrical and chemical responses in the brain to sense stimuli. The argument of materialism is that consciousness is the product of matter’s evolution and response to its environment.
Metaphysics says the opposite: that matter is the product of consciousness, or put another way, matter is the product of a conscious intention, and that, therefore, all created things possess some level of consciousness. Hard to prove this in the case of rocks and minerals, gases and lower life forms.
Kriyananda’s response to his own question includes the statement that, to the effect, it is an interesting question given our interest in it. I think what he is saying that insofar as it we who are asking the question of “What is consciousness,” the very question answers itself in that to even ask such an abstract question is to prove the independence of consciousness from matter. A clever response to be sure and not an easy one to grasp, a bit like a funny joke where you know it’s funny but you can’t quite explain it.
To be fair to the poor old struggling evolutionary biologists, we can’t deny the contribution of the human brain and nervous system to the human ability to ask impossibly abstract questions! (I’ve heard that someone was found who was very much alive but didn’t have a brain, or at least important parts of it.) So far as we can tell, even our closest animal relatives don’t ask these questions. We seem to be alone in that department of living things. There’s no point in denying the incredible “mechanism” of the human body, brain, and nervous system.
And rocks really don’t seem very conscious even if arguably they “behave” like rocks and thus conform to their own kind of intelligence and action-plan. Some are extraordinarily beautiful and suggestive of art and meaning. Others, like crystal, have attributes that go way beyond ordinary garden rocks (like the difference between gifted humans and the larger quantity of “clods” that hang around this planet).
Metals and plants have been shown to have responses analogous to emotions and fatigue. I think of the initial work by the great Indian scientist, J.C. Bose, followed by others around the world showing the same cross-over towards consciousness.
There’s a bumper sticker cliché running around (yes — bumpers) that says “The only way out is in!” The bridge between our human experience in the body and the outer and vast world of this universe is, in fact, our consciousness. It is our awareness that makes it possible for us to survey the universe and notice that our bodies (size, shape, power, length of life) are hopelessly insignificant.
The measure of value is not in conquest, space, time, brute force, longevity, or knowledge of the natural world. If we behave insignificantly, then to that degree we are. This is to say that if we take for our reality that all we are is this short-lived, disease-prone, and death-bound higher animal that lives for palate, pleasure, and position only to see all three evaporate, well then we have condemned only ourselves.
Through imagination we can travel back or forward in time or to worlds hitherto unseen. This mind that we possess is what links us to all life. To view the cosmos and see the hand of a vast and benign intelligence and to seek to contact this Mind is what elevates us above being mere objects limited by time, space, weight, and shape.
We can approach this Mind in many ways: we can expand our Mind to include the welfare of others and of life around us; we can go “within” to contact this cosmic Mind directly; we can seek the company and wisdom of others who have gone before us and can show us the way; or, we can strip from our own mind the self-limiting, instinct bound self-affirmations of the body-bound ego.
The mind as we experience it carries on the ages old tendency of constant movement as if in unceasing warfare of self-defense or self-gratification. Only as we awaken to our higher potential do we begin slowly to begin to gain control of this instinctual functioning which is tied to the body, tissues, organs and its preservation.
Those who pursue with deep dedication the arts, the sciences, service to humanity, self-forgetfulness, or God alone begin to re-direct the mind’s lower tendencies to increasingly abstract or self-forgetful realms of awareness. Only when all outward objects or goals fall away and we direct our consciousness in upon itself does the fusion of knower, knowing, and known smash the atom of ego and release an incredible and life transforming expansion of consciousness towards the limitless horizon of infinity.
Einstein’s famous formula suggests that as an object approaches the speed of light its mass grows towards infinity. Well, he said it well. Of course we are not speaking of the mass of our human body, but of our consciousness. Einstein’s formula couldn’t be applied literally to matter, anyway. But that doesn’t make it invalid, only suggestive of truth that perhaps he, himself, did not cognize.
When he posited light as the only constant in the universe here, too, he touched the hem of consciousness and stated a principle that he may not have grasped at least in its metaphysical aspects.
All great saints speak of God manifesting as light and the voice of God as a sound of many waters, or as thunder. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the author describes as clinically as any Einstein the elements of consciousness as it pursues itself down the corridors of creation’s elemental stages.
At the dawn of a new year, therefore, don’t spend another year merely pursuing comforts, running from troubles, and looking forward to nothing more significant than a cup of tea, a Friday night movie, or getting to bed early. You have been born to “know Thy Self.” Meditation science has come that we might know the “truth that shall make you free!”
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
At last we arrive at the best known stanza of the Yoga Sutras!
Stanza 29 of Book 2 (Sadhana Pada) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the famous list of the eight stages of the universal and nonsectarian awakening and ascension of the individual soul back to its Creator. I have previously written blog posts on each of these stages and refer readers to those for more details. However in those blog posts my references were not directly to the sutras but to the classic text by Swami Kriyananda, The Art & Science of Raja Yoga. I have been privileged to teach this course for some sixteen years at Ananda in the Seattle area.
The term, Ashtanga Yoga, is commonly translated as 8-Limbed Yoga. Patanjali was not intending to start a yoga studio or yoga movement called “Ashtanga Yoga.” His is a clinical description of the psycho-physiological and spiritual attributes of the universal path toward enlightenment. The stages he describes have several meanings, and here are just a few:
· First, they do represent steps (as in a ladder) that the aspirant is encouraged to take on his path to soul freedom. But this is a linear approach and a transactional interpretation. For example, the fourth stage, pranayama, may be interpreted to suggest that the one practice breath control techniques.
· Second, as “limbs” in a tree, they are more like facets of the diamond of truth rather than steps. Each stage is somewhat holographic, for it contains within its perfection some aspect of all the others. Perfection of the consciousness of non-violence (ahimsa) brings with it or opens the door, at least, to the highest stage, Samadhi.
· Third, the stages represent states of consciousness and degrees of mastery over life force and consciousness. Pranayama, therefore, refers not only to the techniques of controlling life force (starting with awareness and control of the breath) but refers also to the goal of said practices: the state of breathlessness.
· Fourth, each stage brings with it appropriate attitudes and levels of mastery over objective nature. Continuing with the fourth stage as my example, pranayama relates to the heart center and great devotion and pure (unselfish) feeling is awakened and, at the same time, such qualities are necessary for the realization of pranayama. Although it is not clear from the sutras themselves, mastery of prana (pranayama), would possibly bring to the yogi great healing powers, whether of self or others. By stopping the heart pump and breath, human life is prolonged and the effects of aging and disease can be reversed. It is important to note that one can perfect an attitude but cannot perfect its outer expression. For example, perfect nonviolence cannot be achieved insofar as the very act of eating and travelling involves the “killing” of other life forms. (Even a cabbage is a living being.) But no such actions require us to hate or purposely inflict harm. And there are times when one ideal appears to conflict with another. For example, self-defense might seem to place non-violence at odds to the value and protection of human life. In such a case the higher ideal must suffice. Yogananda taught that human life is to be valued, spiritually speaking, and the protection of human life from disease and death is the higher duty where it might involve such policies as mosquito abatement, for example.
· Fifth, Patanjali is describing “yoga” as 8-Limbed. Yoga means, inter alia, “union,” and refers to Oneness or union of soul with the Infinite Power, or Spirit. From Vedanta (the view of reality from the God’s eye), this state has 8-limbs, or eight manifestations. Thus the ladder goes both up and down, and, well, all around! The description of this reality includes the physical body (and macrocosm of the cosmos); the subtle (or astral, or energy) body (and cosmos), the causal body (and cosmos, of ideas and thoughts), and the transcendent realm of Bliss beyond creation (and the various levels of creation in between, as well).
So leaving most interpretation and analysis to my prior blog articles, let us examine the sutras and the remainder of Book 2, which describe the first five stages of the 8-Fold Path:
Verse 29 lists the eight as yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi. These eight have a special correlation with the seven chakras (which become eight by the positive and negative polarity of the sixth chakra: the negative pole being located at the medulla oblongata, and the positive pole being the point between the eyebrows. Because these stages exist on all three levels of our Being (physical, astral, and ideational), the correlation between the eight stages and the chakras is only approximate. There is also an approximate correlation of the chakras with the eight facets, or aspects, of the attributes of the soul: peace, wisdom, energy, love, calmness, sound, light, and bliss.
Verse 30 lists the sub-aspects of yama (“control”) as non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-attachment. When these are observed under all circumstances we have achieved realization of yama. (Verse 31) When tempted to violate these “great vows,” one should employ positive thoughts, Patanjali advises (in Verse 33). Violations may occur by omission, commission, by indirect means (including ignorance) and may be minor, “middling,” or great in consequence or intensity (Verse 34). Obstacles include greed, anger, and selfishness (V32). One must remember, always, the suffering that such lapses cause. I find it interesting how simply Patanjali states that one should substitute positive thoughts in place of negative one. I have seen this principle employed very frequently in the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.
Angry or violent tendencies in others cease in one’s presence when non-violence is established in one’s consciousness. From truthfulness one acquires the power of attaining for oneself and for others the results of efforts without have to exert the effort (one’s mere word is sufficient). From non-stealing all one’s material needs are attracted to you without additional or strenuous effort. From celibacy there comes great health, vitality, and memory. From non-attachment (to one’s body and possessions) comes the knowledge of one’s past lives. (V35-39)
The second stage, niyama (“non-control,” or the “do’s”), consists also of five precepts, or sub-aspects: internal and external purification, contentment, mortification, study, and worship of God.
With realization of purification (cleanliness) comes indifference (non-attachment) to the demands and needs of the body and senses, and a disinclination for bodily contact with others. Cleanliness (of body, internal and external, and mind) lead to purity of heart, cheerfulness, concentration, control of passions, and awareness of the soul. Contentment yields supreme happiness and joyful peace. Mortification, called in Sanskrit, tapasya, refers to both self-control and even-mindedness under all conditions. The specific instructions regarding mortification should come from one’s preceptor (guru) and the result is the purification of karma. Tapasya leads to the manifestation of psychic powers related to the sense organs (discussed in Book 3, Vibhuti Pada). By remaining focused at the point between the eyebrows (an instruction given by the guru and considered tapasya), the mind becomes pure. By perfection of Self-study (swadhyaya) as a result of meditating and chanting OM, one’s chosen ideal of God appears and higher Beings (devas, rishis, and siddhas) appear before one’s inner sight. With devotion to God while focused at the spiritual eye, Samadhi and attendant siddhis (psychic powers) are achieved. Knowledge of time and space is attained. (V40-45)
6. The third stage is asana. It means, simply, posture. It is to be found by sitting relaxed with a straight spine. This is achieved by awareness and control of the body and by deep meditation on the Infinite. By perfection of asana one is no longer troubled by the ebb and flow of the senses. (V46-48)
Pranayam is the fourth stage and consists of controlling the breath (inhalation, exhalation, and cessation). The external breath is the air moving in the lungs; internal breath is the prana in the astral body; cessation is breathlessness. Cessation is momentary when the breath is held in, or out, but prolonged when it ceases all together in higher stages of meditation. One practices pranayama according to the instructions of the preceptor. Many variations exist and relate to timing, placement of the breath, number of breaths performed, long or short, and so on. Another pranayam is that which results from concentration upon an object, either external or internal. Watching the breath, for example causes the breath to become quiet and even to stop all together. By these four stages the inner light is revealed and obstacles are overcome. (V49-52)
8. With the stage of pratyahara, the prana flowing to the sense organs is reversed and the energy released can be used and focused. The result is a great power of interiorized concentration. Then is complete mastery of the senses achieved. (V53-55).
Thus ends Book 2, Sadhana Pada! The last three stages of the 8-Fold Path, Patanjali consigns to Book 3, Vibhuti Pada, as they are qualitatively on a different level than the first five stages. The five stages (and chakras) relate to the soul’s piercing the veil of maya, especially on the material plane. The three highest stages are, by degrees, stages of contemplation and progressively deeper identification with higher, and finally transcendent, realities.
Thus ends this blog article!
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Although the Yoga Sutras class series ended Wednesday, November 23, I made the commitment to continue these articles until I felt satisfied we had surveyed all four of the books (padas) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Hence this is Part 5 of the blog article series.
Book 2 is called Sadhana Pada. Whereas the sutras of Book 1 (Samadhi Pada) largely deal with the attributes of superconsciousness, Book 2 deals with the disciplines, practices, and attitudes necessary to achieve superconsciousness.
Before I go on, however, I’d like to comment on terminology. Throughout the sutras, and especially Book 1, the term samadhi is used. Just now I used the term “superconsciousness.” The two terms are not necessarily the same. In Yogananda’s teachings the term samadhi refers to the state sometimes known as cosmic consciousness: a state wherein the soul achieves Oneness with God, with Infinity. That state has a preliminary and temporary stage called sabikalpa and a final and permanent stage called nirbikalpa samadhi. But as previously described in a prior blog article Patanjali uses the term to describe several levels. In fact in translations from Sanskrit the term is sometimes translated simply as “concentration!”
In Book 1 when Patanjali describes at some length the interaction between the Knower, the knowing, and the object, the equivalency of concentration for samadhi seems close enough. In the state of cosmic consciousness there is no object, no knowing and no knower, for they are One. It strikes me that Patanjali’s use of the term samadhi is larger, broader, and somewhat looser than Yogananda’s. Hence my ambivalence in these articles in my own usage.
Superconsciousness, by contrast, is used by Yogananda (it may have even been his own term, though I am not sure of that) to describe the state of the soul and especially its attributes which are eight in number (listed in Part 4, the previous blog article). It is a state of intuitive perception that goes beyond the body and the senses and which perceives through the sixth sense: intuition. It is not samadhi as Yogananda uses the term.
But a state of superconsciousness is part of the states described by Patanjali.
Sadhana Pada begins by defining “kriya yoga.” What Patanjali defines as kriya yoga are practices that are, in fact, aspects of the niyamas (the second stage of the 8-Fold Path, or right action). To we who are disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda and kriyabans (practitioners of the technique Yogananda taught which he and his line of gurus termed “Kriya Yoga”), this is all rather confusing. The practice of austerity (self-control, or tapaysa), Self-study (swadhaya), and nishkam karma (action without desire for the fruits of action, ascribing all action to God as the Doer) are certainly aspects of the yogic path but do not, by themselves, appear to describe Kriya Yoga insofar as it is an advanced breath control meditation technique that Yogananda made famous throughout the world in his teachings and his autobiography!
In his life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” Yogananda, in a footnote, explains that by using the term “kriya yoga” Patanjali was referring to the exact technique taught by Babaji or a similar technique. He goes on to write that the reference to kriya as a life force control technique is proved by verse 49 of Book 2 which he translates as “Liberation can be accomplished by that pranayama which is attained by disjoining the course of inspiration and expiration (inhalation and exhalation).” This translation seems loosely formed even if, for all of that, clearer and more accurate as to its meaning. The literal translation of Verse 49 seems mostly to define “pranayama” as the fourth stage of the 8-Fold Path wherein breath is controlled, meaning transcended. Close enough.
Either way, this illustrates either Yogananda’s stretching a point to make a point or, as I prefer, demonstrates the necessity of having a true guru to explain and interpret the scriptures, and especially their deeper and more immediate meaning. Yogananda’s translation fits neatly into the clinical approach take by Patanjali throughout the sutras.
In Verse 2 Patanjali states that kriya yoga leads to samadhi and freedom from suffering. This is, at minimum, a hint that the term refers to something more than austerity, study, and selfless action as those terms (and practices) are commonly understood.
He then goes on to list the psychological attributes that lead to pain as being ignorance, egoity, attachment, aversion and clinging to life. As the verses of Book 2 proceed it is clear that he is establishing a link between the seeds of past action, suffering, and karma. Ignorance comes first and is the foundation for all the other attributes, he writes. Ignorance mistakes the ephemeral for the eternal. Egoity mistakes the soul for the body and its senses (the “instrument of seeing”). Attachment dwells on pleasure and aversion upon pain, while clinging to life is to abide in (to hold fast to) the present form and is derived from past experience of change, especially the great change we call death.
These are conquered by “resolving them” into their causal state. To quote Yogananda’s counsel, he said that a kriya yogi should “cognize breath as an act of mind,” in other words, as a thought, merely. By dissolving the thought, the object vanishes. This is rather subtle, to say the least, but let me try.
Every time we experience one or more of the five senses, say, we smell incense, we are in fact engaging in a mental act. The sense stimuli come to the brain via the organs of sense, say the olfactory nerves, and are noticed, then analyzed, then identified, categorized, and then judged by the mind. “Ah, I LOVE the smell of incense!” Truly, therefore, “it’s all in your head.” If you were asleep you would presumably not smell the incense. This isn’t to say that there is no reality to the smell of incense. It is to point out that without the functions of your mind, you could smell incense.
To a yogi, therefore, who attains full conscious control of otherwise autonomic functions, including the power to turn off the five senses at will in a state of deep meditation, the process is one of dismissing the sensory input and especially the mind’s interest in and response to that input. So the yogi who dissolves the reactive process of attachment and aversion, who dissolves the egoity that arises from awareness and identification with the body and the senses, and overcomes the clinging to that body has, by definition, and if only during that state, banishes false Prince Ignorance from the throne of soul consciousness.
The clinical key to transcendence resides in controlling the mind and transcending its body-bound, matter-dependent, sense-dependent functionings. The creation is a dream, or thought, but not a subjective one of our making but a relatively objective one of the cosmic Dreamer. To banish the dream is not to dissolve the dream on its level but in relation to our consciousness. The objective reality of the creation is but a thought in the mind of the observer AS IT RELATES to the observer. The yogi can banish the world of the senses once he cognizes that, for him, it is merely a thought because it takes the cognizing functions of the mind to perceive it. In fact, we are all yogis at night when we sleep for then we banish the dream world of this world from our awareness. More on this later.
Well, like I said — I’d try.
Thus Verse 10, Book 2 concludes that by meditation the gross modifications (motions and appearances) of the world are rejected. Through Verse 15 Patanjali speaks obliquely about the law of karma and the samskaras (tendencies) caused by past action. In Verse 15 he says that to the yogi all is painful because he knows, in advance that: 1) the consequence of desire impelled action is its opposite; 2) in pleasant circumstances he knows it will have to end; or 3) after the pleasure of indulgence has past, the memory will bring fresh renewed sense cravings, and 4) in all events the law of duality means everything has to balance to zero! Whew!
I recall that in an extraordinary movie about Padre Pio (the Italian stigmatic of the twentieth century), he turns to his confessor and says, without explanation or context, and in a whisper as if a secret that cannot be spoken aloud: “it is all sin, Angelino!” He doesn’t mean this in the judgmental, sin-oriented way of fundamentalists. He is speaking as a yogi, as a Shankhya-yogi (one who pierces the veil of maya – delusion). “All is maya,” he is saying: pleasure, pain, success, failure, health, disease and so on. It doesn’t matter! Any attachment we have has to be paid for: sooner, or later.
In Verse 17 Patanjali “nails it” when he says that the cause of delusion, the cause of misery, and that which is to be avoided is the “junction of the Seer and the seen.” Yogananda frequently quoted Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (another example of his overarching wisdom, for this quote cannot be found in the Gita!) saying to Arjuna: “Get away, oh Arjuna, from my ocean suffering and misery!” In the Self, alone and untainted by duality, the Seer is One. But as the mind cognizes objects, internal or external, revealed by chitta (consciousness modified by the lower mind’s contact with the senses and objects of the senses, whether past, present or in imagination), the Seer takes on these modifications (of chitta) and becomes colored or stained by them.
This sounds all pretty “heavy” except that as Yogananda would put it: with God all is fun; without God, it is anything but fun!” When we know this life to be but a dream, we can enjoy the show with the eyes of God.
Patanjali goes on to clinical define that which is “seen” as composed of the elements and the organs, and the interplay of the three gunas, or qualities of nature (Prakriti) which alternatingly illuminate, energize or hide the eternal Spirit who plays them all. Patanjali says that this play, this drama, is carried on for the experience (entertainment) of the Seer and for the ultimate release (freedom-moksha) of the Seer from identification with the drama.
He goes further in Verse 23 to turn the problem into the solution, for he states that this drama is necessary for the soul’s Self realization: the junction of the seen (Prakriti, or nature) and the Seer (soul, or Purusha) is the necessary perquisite to Self-realization. Discrimination practiced with unceasing vigilance is what is needed. Or as Krishna put it in the Bhagavad Gita, the soul cannot achieve the actionless state (of the Seer) by refusing to take action (engage with the seen).
Self-realization is achieved in seven stages: the first four eliminate past karma and are intuition born knowledge of Shankhya (essential maya of creation), cessation of suffering, samadhi and constant illumination (flowing of knowledge about all things). The latter three bring complete freedom from considering thoughts as having any reality, from this no more thoughts arise to create more reactive processes, and at last one achieves the permanent state of unbroken union with Spirit.
As we now have arrived at Verse 29: the stages of Ashtanga (8-Fold Path) – the most famous of the sutras of Patanjali – we will stop here!