Yoga Sūtra Verse 1.11

July 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

yoga_sutra_verse_1.11

Definitions

anubhūta – perceived, understood, apprehended; resulted,; that has experienced, tasted, tried or enjoyed
viṣaya – sphere (of influence or activity); dominion, kingdom, territory, region, district
country , abode
asaṁpramoṣaḥ – the not allowing to be carried off, not letting drop (as from memory)
smṛtiḥ –  memories, remembrances,

Translation

“Memories are unforgotten sensory experiences”

Commentary

When you think about what little control you have over what you remember you start to understand why the modern yogi is so determined to use her or his senses in as many transcendental or spiritual ways as possible.

Just a glimpse, the tiniest sound, or the most fragile fragment of a scent can force your mind back to some latent memory now unleashed from the store house of all remembrances.

Consequently the yogi wants to fill that storehouse with transcendental impressions rather than mundane, earthly memories.

It is your actions and daily activities that create the majority of your mental impressions. Of which your thoughts are largely a byproduct. So it bears repeating, trying to change your life by controlling your thoughts is like trying to start a fire with smoke. Thoughts are the symptoms of character and tell you how you are doing.

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Yoga Sūtra Verse 1.12

July 4, 2012 § Leave a comment


yoga_sutra_verse_1.12
Definitions

abhyāsa – practice; repeated or permanent exercise, discipline, use, habit, custom
vairāgyābhyāṁ – detachment, dispassion, vairāyga=absence of worldly passion, freedom from all worldly desires, indifference to worldly objects and to life; also change or loss of colour, growing pale; + abhyam=strongly, to attack or advance, to the point of pain
tat – that, those [vṛttis]
nirodhaḥ –  controlled, restrained, overcome, re-channeled, redirected

Translation

“The [mind’s habits or influence (vṛttis)] are overcome by practice and by detachment for those things we cannot control.”

Commentary

To understand why this all important verse taps into yoga’s very essence we will turn to the other great text on yoga – the Bhagavad Gita. We will explore one of the essential yoga lessons, taught in the famous dialog between Arjun-the world’s greatest warrior and Krishna-the incarnation of God taking the role of a humble chariot driver.

Catatonic on the battlefield

Cowering on the floor of his chariot, gripped by anxiety and deeply depressed, Arjuna, the once mighty hero and mystically imbued warrior, begs his friend and chariot driver Krishna for guidance.

Thus begins what is arguably the most important conversation in the history of yoga. Buried deep within the Sanskrit text called the Mahabharata, this conversation is known today as the Bhagavad Gita. In these 700 short Sanskrit verses, yoga’s essential meaning  and its profound psychological and spiritual impact is poetically and tersely laid out.

Because yoga is a deep and profound science of the mind and soul, many people question what is the connection between yoga’s psycho-spiritual origins and today’s plethora of poses and postures. A connection does exist. The nature of this connection may come as a surprise to some. Understanding this connection will also give us a sense of how you can pursue the journey of self-realization and develop your untapped potential.

From down-dog to being calmed down

Yoga exercises in and of themselves can have a healing effect on the nervous system and by extension, on the mind. But most types of physical exercises: stretching, running, swimming… will have a similar effect. So what distinguishes yoga exercise from regular old exercise?

The answer is complex. We begin by distinguishing the ancient science of yoga from the current tighten-your-abs-yoga. Consider yoga’s underlying philosophy: you are not your body. This is the first issue that Krishna brings to Arjuna’s attention. The responsibility of waging an unavoidable war overwhelms Arjuna, despite his training as a great leader and hero. Seeing his friend in such anguish, Krishna (an avatar of God) lovingly tells him, “Silly man, you agonize unnecessarily. A wise man mourns neither the living nor the dead. After all, never has there been a time, not will there be a time, when you, I, or any of these great warriors cease to exist. “

Krishna tells Arjuna, not only are we not the body, we are also not the mind. We are something far subtler, subtler than we can imagine. We are indescribable, indestructible, spirit. Unfortunately, we identify with the body and the mind, thus severing our capacity to see beyond the mortal coil. Krishna describes the soul as an immortal being, a distinct personality of immutable character. Such a notion appeals to our sense of the mystical and transcendent, yet it taunts the limits of our imagination. Who can fully comprehend the implications of being an eternal soul?

According to yoga philosophy, it is this incomprehensibility that is at the core of the human dilemma. Unable to experience spirit we settle for body. The problem of identifying with the body and mind is their impermanent nature. Identifying with impermanence is like tying the psyche to a roller coaster.

So, our principle psychological problem is a crisis of identity. Fortunately, yoga’s core function is to heal identity. Yoga does not tell you who you are; it gives you the tools to discover who you are. To do this, yoga offers an escalating range of practices and experiences. These range from the mystical-the process of sitting in trance for thousands of years; to devotional-following the simple practice of being a servant of the servant of spirit.

Unfortunately, much of what yoga describes in the ancient texts is untenable to modern man. Even to Arjuna, who was hearing about meditational practices thousands of years ago, it appeared as too much. After Krishna describes the austere practice of mystic yoga, which requires living in a secluded place and intense practice to overcome the mind’s influence, Arjuna glumly states, “It would be easier to subdue the wind than to control the mind.

Krishna answers that success is possible if the seeker pursues the proper practice with the proper attitude.

The modern yogi’s practice: willing to feel

So what is that proper practice and attitude in modern times? One name for it is buddhi yoga. Buddhi yoga means the yoga of discrimination, also known as the yoga of mindfulness. In this practice, the modern yogi uses the fabric of daily life as fodder for practice. Gradually, connections between material activities and the nature of spirit begin to emerge. In one example, Krishna tells Arjuna, “I am the taste in water,” so we can remember that each sip connects us to spirit. Learning to see Spirit in everything is also known as Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of love.

This brings us to the connection between body work (asanas) and the yoga of mindfulness. Physical yoga is a chance to feel the body in a whole new way; by noticing what it feels like as an object of gravity or exploring fearlessly the sensations of inflexibility. In becoming available to new experiences, the relationship between the mind and the body begins to shift and reveal itself. [See box for sample exercise] Grounded by the feeling of existing separately from the body, the yogi is ready for the next stage.

Pranayama and meditation when done properly, deepen the journey. A journey, that inevitably becomes your unique journey of self discovery. Naturally within this journey, each of you must face your own mental barriers and release the dark luggage of your heart. In order to experience who we really are, we have to journey through who we are not.

Yoga, practiced with mindfulness, can teach you to feel. In fact meditation is a synonym for feeling everything. When a you become willing to feel everything, you become increasingly fearless. This in turn increases all the qualities of a great person: empathy, courage, adaptability, and responsiveness… all crucial traits for warriors, athletes, executives, and leaders.

Courage Matters

A well-known saying in the American lexicon of idioms is, “nice guys finish last.” According to yoga philosophy this is partially true, but for a surprisingly different reason than one might expect. It is not that niceness, or kindness, or sensitivity are not desirable traits in a great person, they are absolutely desirable and essential. The problem is that simply being nice is not enough. Along with being nice, you must also be courageous.

In the modern practice of yoga, courage is born of the willingness to experience all aspects of the journey of self-realization. Remember that mindfulness and meditation are synonyms for, ‘the willingness to feel’. As you begin to heal your identity, you come in contact with many different experiences, some bright and enlivening, others dark and heart splitting. As a modern yogi you must be ready, even enthusiastic, to face the dark and the light. Otherwise, you will fail to heal your psyche. You will remain a victim. If you have the courage to face your fears and feel your body’s emotional pain, that changes everything.

Currently, the majority of yoga practitioners are women; this is a good time for them to start educating men in the importance of a holistic yoga practice. A complete yoga practice should teach mindfulness, courage and increased sensitivity. These are certainly the qualities of a heroic man. Since every man fantasizes about being a hero; what better way to encourage yoga practice than by teaching them to become modern yogis. In fact we should all endeavor to follow in the footsteps of Arjuna. By the end, Arjuna dedicates himself to mindfulness of spirit, and becomes the personification of service, kindness, and courage; in other words, a hero.

Mindfulness exercise

 Sitting comfortably with your head neck and truck straight, eyes open (so you can read,) become aware of your body where it comes in contact with the earth.
 Notice how the earth is providing continual support.
 Notice what it feels like to be supported.
 Now become aware of the sensation of weight.
 Notice what it feels like to be an object of gravity.
 Feel the sensation of weight in different parts of your body – from your head, to your shoulders, to your chest, trunk, hips, legs and feet…
 Avoid using thoughts, rely instead on physical sensation, and really examine what weight and gravity feel like.
Now you are grounded.

 Turn your attention to your breath.
 Feel the breath as it comes into the nose and as it goes out of the nose.
 Examine what it feels like to breathe, as if you were noticing it for the first time.
 Feel the breath as intimately as you can.
Now you are centered.

Practice these simple steps as you walk about, drive a car, do yoga exercises, and when you meditate. Just feel weight, feel the breath, pick your favorite mantra, and gently whisper it into your own ears, focusing on what it feels like to hear… the results may surprise you.

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Yoga Sūtra Verse 1.13

July 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

yoga_sutra_verse_1.13

Definitions

tatra -in regards to these [abhyāsa and vairāgya]
sthitau – standing firm [`as in battle’] standing, staying, situated, resting or abiding or remaining in
yatnaḥ – effort, activity of will, volition
abhyāsaḥ –  practice, repeated or permanent exercise, discipline, use, habit, custom

Translation

“This practice and detachment requires a steady discipline”

Commentary

In yoga you are the product of your habits, not your epiphanies. Consequently, how you conduct your lives is often more important than what you accomplish. Your daily behaviors and activities create your overall state of mind. To make meaningful changes in your experience of reality you must change your behaviors and activities.

Most of your daily behaviors become habits. For example, some people move in the world with little awareness of who they are and what they are doing. The result is habits bind that person to a material sense of identity. This material identification, thinking you are the body perpetuates anxiety and suffering.

If you are in the consciousness of, “I am this body, and if I can fulfill the interests of my mind and senses, I will be happy”, you are, in Sanskrit, jiva bhūta. This means you have materialistic consciousness.

Yoga practice is about creating new habits that undo that unhealthy consciousness and revive your bramha bhūta or spirit consciousness: “I am one with and simultaneously different from the inconceivable nature of spirit.”

The ancient yoga practice required a discipline and practice that extended over multiple life times. This along with the extraordinary purity of mind required for success in Raja Yoga is why it is no longer an option for spiritual aspirants.

The modern yogi’s path is one that accounts for our lack of discipline and uncontrolled minds. Consequently, the modern practice of yoga is about making spiritual habits of the things we have to do in our work-a-day material lives.

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Yoga Sūtra Verse 1.14

July 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

yoga_sutra_verse_1.14
Definitions

sa – that [practice]
tu – but
dīrgha – long
kāla – time
nairantarya – without interruption
satkāra – with great attention
āsevitaḥ – practicing assiduously
dṛḍha – firmly
bhūmiḥ -grounded

Translation

“But that practice only becomes firmly established when it has been executed with great attention and without interruption over a long period of time”

Commentary

If practice is perfect, then the perfection of practice is patience. Yoga is about the journey. There is no destination. There is no perfection to attain. There is only the never-ending discovery of Consciousness. This is the journey of self discovery.

Different yoga practices take different routes but all paths share the idea of a journey and not a destination.  All yoga is about the journey of discovering the nature of Consciousness. In Sanskrit philosophy the nature of Consciousness-aka the Spiritual realm, or the nature of the Absolute-is not some empty void or field of potential. That would be boring and illogical.

Consciousness is an unending realm of possibility filled with every possible experience. Sanskrit texts state that our world, our universe, is mere reflection. It  is a pale imitation; much like the difference between the mango tree reflected in the water and the real mango tree that stands on the banks. The experiences of this world can never compare to the exquisitely intense experiences of the realm of Consciousness.  So, how do you get some of that? The ability to taste the rich and variegated emotional joys of  Consciousness  begins with desire.

You simply develop a strong desire to experience what lies beyond the land of  shadow and reflection. Then practice seeing and hearing Consciousness in everything and everyone. Your enemy in this task is your mind. So as Patañjali says, you must practice consistently and with all your attention. How long will it take? Well the answer is, it doesn’t matter. So long as you are desiring to experience Consciousness, you can know that you are in the act of arriving at your destination. You see, the very desire for Consciousness, is the seed of full Consciousness. Just like the oak tree is in the acorn, Consciousness is in the desire for Consciousness.  You can feel content and appreciative knowing that what you are seeking is in your grasp.

In this sense modern yoga is the art of desiring. Channel your desires away from the temporary nature of matter and toward the unending experience of Consciousness. This is your practice.

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Yoga Sūtra Verse 1.15

July 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

yoga_sutra_verse_1.15
Definitions

dṛśṭa – visible, perceptible, something you can see with your eyes
ānuśravika – extra dimensional experiences [lit. to hear (or read) Vedic descriptions]
viśaya – sense objects
vitṛśṇarya – from one who is freed from material desires
vaśīkāra – held under control, subjugated
saṁjñā –  consciousness
vairāgyam – detachment, renunciation, dispassion, disinterested

Translation

“To be a detached yogi, you must take back control of your consciousness, so that it is free from desire for any material object in this world, or any of the subtler dimensions.”

Commentary

Ignorance shields you from your true nature due to your mind’s influence. Consequently, you identify with your body, mind and senses. This results in innumerable desires for material pleasures and pain avoidance.  To overcome the mind you must  accept that nothing or no one in this material world will make you happy or fulfill you. You must also welcome any pain this life will produce. In this way, you rise above material desires.

Doing this does not mean you will be free from material desires. It means you will perceive your material desires as useless. This will allow you to direct your energy towards spiritual desires. As you practice dispassion for all things material you must also practice longing for a connection to the inconceivable, the absolute, or God as you understand him.

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Yoga Sūtra Verse 1.16

June 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

yoga_sutra_verse_1.16Definitions

tat – that [detachment]
param – the very best (in this case: better than)
puruṣa – the absolute nature of Self; Consciousness, both the soul and the source of the soul,
khyāti – knowledge, perception, it can also mean renown, fame, celebrity, being familiar with…
guṇa – fundamental particles (threads) of matter [sattva, raja, guna]
vaitṛśṇa – indifference to, quenching of thirst [lit], freedom from material desires

Translation

” Greater than detachment  from the material world is to lose all interest in the very fabric of our reality. This comes from experiencing the nature of Consciousness.”

Commentary

The path to enlightenment does not exist.

Enlightenment is the endless journey of the awakening soul. Since it is endless there is no destination. It’s all journey.

In the absence of destinations, spiritual joy is the product of personal effort. This means you no longer have to think in terms of having arrived. You just think that there is always something new to discover. From this perspective, the journey of self discovery is not about where you go, but how you get there.

This is a very freeing concept, because it gives you, the aspirant, relief from either worrying whether you are not far enough along, or worse, thinking you are further along than you are.  Sadly, thinking we are further than we are is a frequent obstacle  among the modern-day seekers. A flaw made worse by the cultural tendency to avoid self-deprecation at all costs. We are, sadly, a bit too hung up on “good esteem” at all costs.

Spiritual life is not about reinforcing the ego. It is about humility. Which, as it happens, is the only defense the yogi has against  the false ego’s influence. Consequently, the  safest position for  the modern yogi to take is to assume they have made little or no progress. This, however, does not mean that milestones do not exist, or that there is no criteria for describing spiritual progress. This verse, and many others show that many such criteria do exist.  None of these criteria are destinations as much as they are milestones or markers that indicate where you are in the unending exploration of Consciousness.

All of this is to say, that Patañjali is describing in this verse, a very high and rarefied state of consciousness. He is describing a state of being that is even greater than the detachment discussed in the previous verse.This is exciting news and should both humble you and inspire you. Who can imagine the extraordinary spiritual adventures that await the practicing yogi.

Patañjali is also providing an important clue to the inferred importance of Bhakti Yoga.  A central tenet of Sanskrit philosophy is that all yoga is dependent upon Bhakti or devotion for spirit. Even though Patañjali does not use the word Bhakti directly in the sūtras, he implies it many times over. The word Bhakti’s absence does not negate its importance to the process;  but its absence is logical because the sutras are by design, compact and distilled. Patañjali’s does this so that commentators will unpack the sūtras according to time and circumstance. In some eras, Bhakti yoga is implicitly taught; and in others, like ours, it is explicitly taught.

Additionally, this verse hints at a state of being where the individual soul is completely free from matter and material desire’s influence, even though they may still be in a human body.

This indicates that some deeper and far richer state of awareness is possible. And, more significantly, that it is not  voidism or some sort of spiritual coma. It suggests an inconceivable experience of Consciousness: intense, personal, and intoxicating. It suggests the possibility of a higher taste. In other words no matter how good it is here, something even better awaits.

So it is ok to slow down in your estimation of where you are spiritually. You can feel joy and gratitude about your pursuit of Consciousness just because you are in pursuit of Consciousness. This is one of the intoxicating paradoxes of modern yoga: you have arrived and not arrived simultaneously. 🙂

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