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Classical Yoga: The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali
The first statement in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra is that Yoga is the reduction of the fluctuations of consciousness. This statement may seem strange to westerners who think of Yoga as a form of physical exercise ("Oh yeah, Yoga. That thing where people twist their bodies into a prezel, or stand on their heads, or something.") It is important to remember that in Yoga, the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual realms are all connected. Nothing really applies to just one area; everything has meaning in several areas. I have found it best to think of the physical aspect of Yoga as a form of meditation. I will elaborate more on this later, in the chapter devoted to the Kundalini.
Patanjali goes on to say that when we have Yoga, that is to say, when we have a reduction in the turmoil of the mind (another way of putting it), the mind recognizes it's true self. When we do not reduce the turmoil of the mind, the mind identifies with all that stuff OUT THERE. In other words, the mind begins to think., "I am my job"; "I am my relationship"; "I am my bank account"; etc.
Patanjali says that when the mind detaches from all these false gods one can focus on the true God-energy within each one of us. This God within us is our true nature. He says that there are continuous fluctuations, continuous turmoil, at the surface of consciousness, and that the stillness lies in the depths of consciousness. He says that the purpose of Yoga is to disconnect from the continuous turmoil at the surface of the mind and to connect with the stillness that lies in the depths.
Patanjali says that we suffer when we mistake all that stuff out there for the real stuff inside us. This is the same thing as saying that we suffer when we mistake something temporary for something permanent. He says that there is only one god that is not temporary; only one god that is not at the mercy of the continuous fluctuations at the surface of consciousness, and that is the god that lies in the stillnes of the depths within each of us.
The root for the word "Yoga" is the same as our root for the word "Yoke". Yoga means "link". The link between the conscious and unconscious, the link between the temporal and eternal, the link between God and Human, the link between man and woman, the link between the left side of the body and the right side (more about that in the chapter on Hatha Yoga). This links are spiritual tools; they are methods by which one can be okay with oneself, and not be in a state of disease, (dis-ease).
Patanjali gives people various tools for being okay. If you can't be at peace with youself simply by understanding the above knowledge (most of the world unfortunately fits into this category, including me), he outlines what has come to be called the Astanga. The word "Astanga" in Sanskrit literally means, "Eight Limbs". Here are the eight limbs of Yoga. -
1. Yama - Qualities not to cultivate. There are five:
1) Not to harm.
2) Not to lie.
3) Not to steal.
4) Not to be greedy.
5) Not to be sexually promiscuous.
2. Niyama - Qualities that one should cultivate. There are five:
5) Devotion to the Lord within.
3. Asana - The postures. Although in modern times (and perhaps also in ancient times) the postures have been turned into an entire life-style all their own, there are only two statements Patanjali makes about the postures, and that is that they should be firm and comfortable.
4. Pranayama - Breath Control. The lungs are the only organ that operate on a regular basis both from a conscious and unconscious level. This makes breathing a kind of gateway between the conscious and unconscious mind. Hatha Yoga states that if you learn to control the breath, the mind will follow. In the Raga Yoga that has built up around Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, the belief is that if you learn to control the mind, the body will follow. My experience has been that both beliefs are equally true.
5. Pratyahara - This has been variously described as the closing off of the senses to outside stimulus, and the abstraction of a thing from it's experience. In any event, it is in this stage that the Yogi learns to disconnect from the feast of the senses, the ways of the world.
6. Dharani - Concentration, focusing the mind. Dharani also means the vehicle by which one focuses the mind. For instance, a mantra, counting one's breath, focusing one's breath, focusing on parts of the body, contemplating a Guru, etc. This builds mental strength, and prepares the Yogi for the next stage . . .
7. Dhyani - Shutting down the mind. This is the actual process by which one experiences the great void, "Maha Shunya". This is the "reduction of the fluctuations of consciousness" spoken of earlier. It is important to understand that one cannot really shut down the mind by trying to shut down the mind. One must allow thoughts to simply "be", and learn to detach from their importance. They are simply like people entering a room through one door, and exiting through another. One meditation technique is to simply label every thought, "thinking", as they pass through the mind. "I've got to call so-and-so - 'Thinking' - " I wonder if I'll get that job - 'Thinking' " Or to simply take every thought that comes into the mind and say, "This, too, is an interesting thought." To witness one's own mind in the process of doing it's job is a lifelong process in Yoga.
8. Samadhi - This is the end result of Yoga. Variously referred to as, "Trance", "Bliss", "Fulfillment", "Joy" etc; it is important to remember that ultimately Yoga is a process beyond the understanding of the conscious mind, and that, ultimately, Samadhi is really beyond definition. The first mistake that many people make is to try to reduce Yoga to something understandable to the ego.
Patanjali also talks about morality. He says that the actions of others is either black or white or both black and white, but the actions of the Yogi is none of these. Because of the Yogi's commitment to reducing the turmoil of the mind, his actions are beyond moral concern, because moral concern is also part of the turmoil of the mind. Shame and pride are built into the endless chatter of the ego that creates a veil between us and our true nature.
Patanjali also talks at length about majickal powers. He says that they just come naturally as a result of getting adept at Yoga practice. He says it's important to understand that as you deepen in your Yoga practice, you will meet many angels and demons who will wish to share their powers with you, however, this, too, is a distraction on the path to enlightenment.
What is enlightenment? It means two things: To relieve yourself of suffering, and to know the truth. That these two concepts are one and the same is a statement of faith on the part of the Yogi.
Eastern mysticism differs from Western belief in the way it presents the relationship between suffering and happiness, and the relationship between God and Human. Yoga does not present the Human as a creature who is in need of salvation, of forgiveness from God, because Original sin is not part of the Yoga belief system. Yoga says that the Human ego's nature is grasping. This grasping tends to create a distortion. The more the mind tries to grasp, or grab ahold, the more it distorts. In Yoga, a person does not worry about whether or not God forgives him/her for what he/she has done. Yoga is really a set of tools for being okay with yourself. If you make use of these tools, you can reduce the degree of distortion that results from the mind's grasping.
These tools involve mystical experiences. What is mysticism? It is simply what one experiences when one goes beyond the conscious, rational ego. There is a story in Yoga that goes like this:
Suppose you were trying to get to a destination and you were lost. You tried and tried, but the more energy you put into trying to figure out how to get to your destination, the more you got lost. You kept going around in circles, until you began to feel that the whole thing was hopeless. And then someone along the path told you that the reality of your situation was that you were actually asleep! The only way, the only way that you could get to your destination was to wake up!
Enlightenment is like waking up. Yoga is like "Tools for waking up".
Here's another image in Yoga:
Each one of us has a light within us. This is our true nature. This is what Patanjali calls, "Ishvara", the God within each of us. But this light is encased in a lamp. The lamp is our lives. The glass around this lamp is all covered with soot, so we can't experience this light from the flame within us. The soot is our karma, our actions. This build-up of soot is the grasping nature of the mind that creates the distortions in our thinking. Yoga gives us the tools to wipe away the soot from the glass of the lamp, so that we can experience the light within: our true nature.
Patanjali's method for achieving enlightenment reached a new chapter which began to emerge a couple of hundred years later as the Tantric movement. That is the subject of another chapter. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, which forms the basis of what is called "Classical Yoga", or "Dualistic Yoga", is really the central core of Yoga practice. Everything builds upon Patanjali.
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