Saturday, November 5, 2011
This week we hold class 2 on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. My last blog article described the Yoga Sutras (“YS”) as both intimidating AND inspiring. Well, that comment is only further justified by my ongoing study. I’d like to share some key points, insights, and inspirations as they have occurred to me. As this blog format is rather truncated (neither a class nor a book), I cannot begin to pretend to share comprehensively, both for the depth of the YS which is beyond my ken and for its very content which requires more time and space.
The first thing that hits one in book 1 of the YS (“Samadhi Pada”), is the necessity and power of concentration. Like shooting a gun or cannon to take down a target (person, plane or ship, e.g.), all you need do is combine force (will) with a steady aim at only one key portion of the “body” you are attempting to obliterate, and the whole thing comes down. [Now I know some of more pacific readers just blanched, but this is Patanjali’s point: get over it. I’ll explain in a minute.] You don’t need to wrestle every inch of it, only the heart or head!
It is through the power of meditative concentration that the arrow of our attention pierces the body armor of maya (the delusive force and masking power of matter and the creation which hides “the Lord,” the Spirit who is, alone, all that Is). There is a well known sentence in Paramhansa Yogananda’s classic story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” that I believe is inspired by a sloka in some Indian scripture that says “divine vision is center everywhere, circumference, nowhere.”
You could spend lifetimes trying to achieve realization of this key point. But for now, let me say the insightful point is you don’t have to acquire all the knowledge and wisdom of the world or to become scrupulously virtuous in thought, word, and deed to achieve freedom from this world of suffering, unceasing flux, and unending cycles of birth and death. To enter the transcendent state of Superconsciousness (and ultimately, cosmic consciousness), you need only one doorway: one “object” of concentration with which your entire being becomes One with.
I’ve heard my teacher (Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda and founder of the Ananda communities worldwide) lightly joke that you could worship a crocodile — indeed, anything. Why? Because the transcendent consciousness of Spirit is at the heart of every atom (“center everywhere”).
The second sutra (aphorism) of Patanjali is one of two most famous and most valuable: (and I paraphrase it) Suffering is transcended and Oneness with Bliss achieved by rising above identification with one’s body, matter, sense impressions, memories, fantasies, sleep (and all drug-induced states), likes, dislikes, attachments and desires. This second sutra (literally translated as “Yoga is the restraining, or calming, of the reactive process (mind-stuff) from taking various forms (vrittis)) states the concentration principle described above in negative terms. This isn’t a description of what to do. It is an explanation of what is necessary.
Because immediately thereafter, Patanjali launches into the subject of concentration. While it is true that our concentration in meditation is disrupted by our matter identifications (listed above). And yes it is true, therefore, as Patanjali enumerates in his most famous sutra (listing the 8 stages of enlightenment) we must work on achieving right attitude and right action. And, yet (and this is the beauty and power of yoga concentration), we can combine those efforts to release the hold of maya upon our minds by the power of concentration. We do not have to fight to the death every delusion that pops up like so many assassins in a James Bond movie.
As we identify with matter, we lose touch with our true Self. It’s really that simple. By steady concentration upon any single object (in meditation), the hypnotic influence of maya dissolves and we enter a portal into Oneness.
Patanjali enumerates and defines the obstacles to Oneness and he also describes some of the stages of realization. These stages are not permanent but represent the process by which, step by step, we achieve true knowledge. First, we question, doubt or reason based on our inner perceptions. Then, we receive (intuitively) true knowledge about that which we are contemplating. From that knowledge we experience happiness or some level of satisfaction and bliss. Finally, that knowledge becomes permanently realized as our own Self.
Beyond such realization is the “seedless” realization which a state of Oneness without any process or object used or intervening. This is true transcendence. He also acknowledges that the speed with which enlightenment takes place is the result of our energetic commitment (or lack thereof).
Patanjali gives a one-liner acknowledgement that, despite his clinical analysis, Oneness can be achieved by devotion to God! (He adds no comment or explanation.)But, to be fair, he then goes on for several sutras to describe the Supreme Ruler (or Power) who is the true teacher of all rishis and gurus and whose name (and word) is AUM! Repetition and communion with the seed sound of OM is “the way.”
To remedy our shortcomings and attachments, he recommends deep concentration upon one object (OM being previously suggested). Another approach, he says, is to control the breath (pranayama, including kriya yoga). Meditating upon the inner Light (“Jyoti”), or upon a pure heart, or on the message of dreams (that all life is a dream), or upon the bliss of the dreamless state (of sleep), or “on anything that appeals to one as good!”
Wow! Dr. Patanjali, here, at your service! I make house calls. Can you imagine it? That's enough medicine for us all right now. Until next week, your own Self.