Friday, December 30, 2011

Einstein meets Patanjali

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!”

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2012: a Year to be Remembered

In some quarters the new year, 2012 is awaited with great expectations. Some are hopeful; others, well, not! Perhaps the weight of expectations alone will precipitate something dramatic.

I think we can expect that 2012 will not be boring, whatever twists and turns lay ahead of us. The pace and intensity of change and the volume level of uncertainty continues to rise, and not just steadily but exponentially.

What better time to get one's life together. What better time to grow up; get real; get a life; and share a life. What better time to think more deeply about the gift and the meaning of our lives.

Time to "occupy" your own life with substance, rather than fluff. I have lived nearly 35 years (most of my adult life) in an Ananda Community (first Ananda Village, near Nevada City, CA), and, since 1993, here at Ananda Community, north of Seattle, WA. I've been privileged to live among and to serve together with literally hundreds of high-minded, idealistic, sincere, unique, creative, and energetic pioneers in the practice of meditation and intentional community. So, I have some suggestions drawn from my (somewhat) unique life to offer:

1.)  Break the mold of daily habit and drudgery. Find some way to view and motivate your daily duties with inspiration and purpose. To make every act of the day an act of devotion to God is perhaps a bit too high for some, although it, too, is only a steppingstone to feeling divine consciousness flowing through you. But short of such lofty heights, remind yourself that your work is service, whether humble or "great," to others. Feel gratitude for the health and vitality that permit you to perform your duties; the intelligence to be focused, productive and creative; and for the harmony and beauty that results when we perform even simple tasks with conscious attention to detail and to excellence.

2.)  Pay attention to the world around you. Pay attention to your every act, words, thoughts, and movements. Just .... pay attention! Start with your own family or whomever you live with. Notice, appreciate and help in simple ways: many unnoticed by others and others by open expression. Add to that close circle your neighbors, your neighborhood, your town. Go from there to your country and around the world. Show sincere interest in life: science, nature, art, community, yes, even politics and religion. Notice and then get involved. Interest and mobility reinforce the flow of vitality, energy, and creativity into your life. I remember discovering in college that if I affirmed that I was interested in a subject I was having to take in class, that the interest would follow and would actually be stimulated. By interest, questions would arise; I would listen in class; ask questions and when time came for exams, it was just all "right there" as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

3.) Look ahead, don't hide in the sand. Are you spending more than you earn? Are going further in debt? Using up your savings? Rein in your spending if necessary. At the same time, expand your spending to include the well being of other people and worthy causes. No one, not even the "poor widow" (in the Bible), can afford NOT give something to help someone else. If you are not doing anything for others, something is terribly wrong in your life and resolve to open your heart and help. How secure is your job or other source of income? Don't wait for life to happen to you. Each household should have ample supplies for emergencies and something more for periods of unemployment, or even just to help others in such conditions. Do you have a place or know someone who does (friend, family, etc.) in the country (if you live in a city) where you could go if necessary? What if there's no food in the stores? Rioting? Looting? Can you grow some food in your yard or deck? Do you have food storage? Seeds? Develop your handy skills and make sure you have basic tools around your home. Learn how to turn off water, gas, and electricity.

4.) I have written about it before on this blog, but there is an economic tsunami coming to the shore of your life and your town very soon. Yes, like the Depression of the 1930's, some won't even be touched; some will prosper; many, however, will be devastated. What if our dollar currency became worthless? What if your bank fails? Why not obtain some hard currency or items you can barter. (There's lots of info on this sort of thing on the internet.)

5.) Do you have a faith practice? If you don't, you can meditate or approach God (or ?) on your own. But it is more powerful to share your faith with others, even just a few others. Faith brings courage, inspiration, and opens the heart. You can demonstrate to yourself a higher power if you have the courage and will to experiment. Put aside skepticism (or fear or resentment), and try it. Share your inner thoughts, aspirations; ask for inner guidance; ask yourself why things happen (good or "bad") and what the higher purpose might be? Be self-honest; willing to change; willing to know the truth and be guided by the truth. Consider that truth may be something you can mentally ask to know, but then, having asked, "be still and know." You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

6.) If everything we have become accustomed to disappears, can you handle that? Your health; family; financial security. Someday these will all be taken from you, but it could happen much sooner and not merely by death, which would be a relief comparatively speaking. Prepare yourself in body, mind, and soul to live courageously and "amidst the crash of breaking worlds." (a quote from Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the world renowned spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi")

In short, pledge to grow taller and stronger this year and to include in your life and needs the life and needs of others.

May 2012 shower upon you blessings of wisdom, courage, and true soul joy!

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thoughts for a Christmas Eve!

The Holy Family – Thoughts for a Christmas Eve

The image of Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus in that stable long ago, in the company of lowly shepherds and hushed barnyard animals on a cold, frosty December night evokes such tenderness in hearts, young and old, around the world. It is a scene mixed with poignancy, sacredness, and a timelessness that comforts and uplifts.

The images of Jesus’ birth bring together the mundane with the sublime, the natural with the supernatural, the individual with the archetypal, and the personal with the historic. I wonder too if the image and underlying meaning of the “holy family” speaks to us of our essential and elemental human nature: the father (masculine), the mother (the feminine), the spiritual (and therefore pure, i.e., the child), the past (the parents), the present (the scene), and the future (the child), all meet in a singularly cosmic, and yet personally immediate, tableau, frozen in both time and timelessness.

It is difficult to imagine Joseph and Mary as individuals, for their lives have long since vanished into legend, myth, and into the dim past. The so-called facts of the story as given to us in the Bible go far beyond our human experience: the husband engaged but not the father, the wife pregnant by alleged divine intervention, her travelling on a donkey in her “ninth month,” and all because of a taxation census decree called by some “dude” in Rome, far away, “no room at the inn,”  and giving birth in a barn ….. whoa! Sounds like a Disney movie, and throw in that moving star and three very wise fellows on camels in cool costumes from “the east!”

We yogis who believe in so-called miraculous powers, demonstrated even in modern times by masters of yoga (Paramhansa Yogananda is said to have raised a person from death at least twice according to eye witnesses), might take all of this “lying down,” and so, too, believing Christians who simply check the box that says, “Miracle” (no explanation needed).

But even we must, or at least should consider the effort to, distill some personal significance from such an inspired and powerful story. How can we understand this scene in the present tense, in the reality of our own lives? Can we discern some timeless, universal, and metaphysical meaning, as well?

The metaphysical significance of this scene is not difficult to unveil, for the stable setting says to us that the infant child of spiritual consciousness is given birth in humility. The child is a “king” because the soul, being a child of the Infinite, is the royal child of God. The birth taking place at night and at the winter solstice signifies the death of the ego as a pre-condition for the soul’s re-birth into human consciousness. The darkness also symbolizes inner silence, or meditation, as the cradle from which God’s grace is given birth.

The soul is considered a child because our spiritual awakening is, at first, helpless or dependent on parents and surrounded by animals. Parents refer to teachers (perhaps a priest, or minister or other giver of truth teachings) and teachings (such as given in scriptures that are studied). The presence of animals refers to the fact that at the birth of our soul’s awakening we are still very much enmeshed in body and sense consciousness (our lower nature, in other words).

The wicked King Herod, who plots the death of the infant, is our enemy ego supported by his soldiers from our sub-conscious. He kills all of the infants in the surrounding villages because any form that soul consciousness takes (peace, kindness, wisdom, pure love, etc.) must be killed. All higher qualities represent a threat to the ego’s hegemony.

As an aside, in just this same way, and in the great Indian epic story called the Mahabharata, the evil forces would not give on inch of territory to the rightful heirs and thus the famous and historic war of Kurukshetra ensued and became the allegorical basis for the great scripture of India, the Bhagavad Gita. In addition, at the birth of Lord Krishna (centuries before Jesus), another wicked king sought to kill the child for the exact same reasons: a prophecy that this child would usurp his kingdom!

The star, described as “his” star, symbolizes the child’s high spiritual stature, as does the visit from “three wise men from the East” (think India!). In ancient times the heavens gave signs and wonders of such historic and miraculous events. Metaphysically the star represents intuition, or the “third eye” (“spiritual eye”) seen in meditation in the forehead. This inner light becomes the devotee's guide and it was this intuitive guide, not some astronomical anomaly that the visitors from the east followed. As another point of interest, Paramhansa Yogananda told audiences in America that the three wise men were his own preceptors from India (in former lifetimes): viz., Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswar. (It must have taken some courage to say such a thing publicly in America during the Thirties!)

The angels singing “on high” in the hills is another symbol for the high spiritual stature of the child Jesus, for he indeed is considered an avatar: a soul who has achieved Self-realization (oneness with God) and has returned to physical birth as a savior for many souls.

Now let’s take a more personal turn, away from the archetypal, and inward to our own lives. The sanctity of Joseph and Mary as “the parents” reminds us that our spiritual awakening is preceded (seeded) by our efforts to live a moral and balanced life. Balancing male and female qualities in ourselves is one way of describing this process. From Joseph we learn self-control, justice, surrender to God’s will, servicefulness, and nobility; from Mary, purity, (also) surrender, modesty, endurance and faith in the goodness of God.

Joseph’s somewhat odd position as a kind of step father represents for us the realization that even the power to change on a human level has its source in God, in the higher power of our soul’s eternal wisdom and power. Specifically, this power comes to us through the agency of the Holy Ghost, or Holy Vibration: the primordial and underlying sustaining energy of the universe which is God immanent in creation. That the Holy Ghost inseminated Mary reminds us that the conception of the infant child of our soul’s reawakening has an essentially a divine source, for the child represents our higher self, or soul, and it is a reflection of God, a spark of the Infinite Spirit. It cannot therefore be conceived by merely ego tendencies, even the ego’s high aspirations.

Other aspects of our own spiritual journey include the message that we are “reborn” in the dark night of inner silence of prayer, meditation, and self-forgetfulness (desirelessness). The barnyard animals, hushed and attentive, represent our own animal nature, our lower nature, which must be stilled and quieted for this “inner soul child” to be born.

As the shepherds guide and protect their flocks, so, for us, does reason and intellect acts as shepherds, or guides, to our daily actions. But they, too, take their inspiration on the surrounding hilltops of self-reflection guided by the starlight of intuition. They receive intuitive counsel from the angels of our higher nature. We are instructed to come down from the hills of ego-consciousness and enter the cave (stable) of silence, of prayer and meditation. There we “worship” the soul’s inner light.

King Herod represents our subconscious habits, tendencies, and desires, vitalized through ego-affirmation and protectiveness. King Ego will stop at nothing to kill this young child for it instinctively knows that, though a child and seemingly helpless, it has the potential to de-throne the ego.

The holy family was told by an angel to flee into Egypt and to return only when called and it was safe. Thus it is that we are warned, as new devotees, to stay in close company with other, more seasoned devotees and to stay focused upon his newly adopted spiritual teachings, practices, and fellowship, before daring to venture out into the world of former friends and activities.

So, you see, the Holy Family and the night of Christ’s birth have lessons universal and timeless for each and every one of us. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Yoga Sutras Blog Post # 6! Samadhi at Last!

Yoga Sutras – Blog Article # 6 - Book 3 – Vibhuti Pada

We now arrive, at last, at Book 3 – Vibhuti Pada. Without attempting to be scholarly on the subject, there are two meanings of the term “vibhuti” that I am familiar with: one, is that the word refers to the sacred ash that remains after a fire ceremony. I recall that it also refers to divine aspects or “shining attributes.” Both terms apply here because Patanjali essentially reveals in Book 3 those attributes, born of superconsciousness, that arise to the yogi who has achieved the higher states of consciousness. Sacred ash works, too, because these attributes are what are left over from the self-offering of ego into the soul. (Ash may sound negative but the negative part is the ego and the positive part is what is sacred.)

But first Patanjali must describe to us the last three stages: dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (oneness). As usual his statements are pithy and clinical. To truly understand these sutras one must have a true (Self-realized) guru to unlock their secrets. Using resources that include Yogananda’s lecture notes from his talks on Patanjali and translations of commentaries written by disciples (both direct and subsequent) of Lahiri Mahasaya, and from my teacher, Swami Kriyananda (direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda), and what little might occur to me in this effort, I would like to proceed with great caution. I feel as if I am driving into a tunnel with dim headlights and the expectation of many diversions and obstacles.

The first five stages of the 8-Fold Path are considered “external.” Now that’s not easy to understand, looking back at the prior blog articles, but relative to the land beyond our dreams into which we will go in the final 3 stages, it can make some sense. That last word, sense, is purposeful and a pun, here. Because one way or another the first five stages have something to do with our relationship to the body and senses, even the subtle senses.
The first of the three (last) stages is called dharana. It is often translated simply as “concentration.” Dharana is the stage of consciousness where, in meditation, we can hold the mind steady and focused. If you are a meditator, try this experiment: using a timer, see how long you hold your mind without the intrusion of a single thought! (No need to report back!) Well, advanced yogis can do that for long periods of time. Yogananda offered that we would have to achieve one hour before we could say we’ve made any substantial progress in meditation. Well, you can pretend you didn’t hear that from me.

In the stage, now, of dharana our mind is focused and we experience what are called “thought waves.” Notice how when you meditate and gaze upwards behind closed eyes towards the sixth chakra (the Kutastha), that everything seems to be in motion. We aren’t aware of it but all physical sense stimuli come to us in repeated waves. Take for example the sense of touch. We must constantly move our hand over the object we are touching in order to continue to feel it. Same with smell, we must periodically sniff, as it were. If we were to stare fixedly at a candle in time the image would vanish. All material objects are pulsing with electromagnetic waves and the result, at least to our senses, is more or less that these objects are fixed in time and space, when, in fact, they are constantly moving, being held in their orbit by electromagnetic radiation.

And so it is, also, with our perceptive faculties. So long as the “I” is present and witnessing itself and the object under its microscope, we experience a constant sense of wave motion. It’s difficult, isn’t it, to even hold one thought in clear and unbroken focus. This is because even subtle objects such as mental images or perceptions of subtle sight and sound, wash over and toward us in pulses. It is like the refresh rate on your computer monitor or TV screen: the electrons are being fired rapidly and repeatedly in order to hold in steady focus the image on your screen. It happens too fast, usually, for us to notice unless we, perhaps, look away or to the side and then we might notice the fluctuation.s. One of the reasons for this is that nothing “outside” of ourselves is real. All is ultimately thought-waves. When at last these waves subside we have at least a taste of Stanza 2: “yogas chitta vrittis nirodha” (The state of Oneness is achieved when all thought-waves subside into the Eternal now!)

In meditation we concentrate on various things, but let us say, for illustration, we are focused on the heart chakra. It takes effort and concentration (achieved, ironically, only by deep relaxation and focused attention) to hold our awareness in the area of the heart, or anahat, chakra. But as we progress in meditation, a steady and prolonged concentration on any object will produce a state of breathlessness. This state of steady perception is the state of dharana. It is the gateway to the highest states of consciousness. Achieving it is the price of entry. It is your “ticket to ride!”

It is interesting that dharana is associated with the negative pole of the sixth chakra. This center resides at the base of the brain, near the medulla oblongata. It is the seat of ego consciousness. In dharana the sense of “I” perceiving or concentrating upon something remains. (See my blog articles on the 8-Fold Path, including dharana.)

In the next stage, dhyana (translated, simply, as meditation), the object yields up its wisdom as the “I” principle merges into the object. In one translation that I have the verse (no. 2) describes the knowledge that flows as “about the object” whereas in another translation it says an unbroken flow of thoughts towards the object. It is a curious and seemingly important distinction until you realize that “you” have disappeared and that the difference in verbs, so to speak, has no real meaning. The important point is that you have become that object. No words, which are but symbols, are confined to the world of distinctions, or duality and there is a point, and it is here, where words simply cannot go.

In an effort to be less mental about it, let’s say you are experiencing a deep state of inner peace. In the stage of dharana you experience this peace even as you witness it and yourself witnessing it. As your consciousness relaxes and expands and joyfully offers itself into this living Presence what results is, simply, Peace. The “I” which watches has become that state of peace. That’s as far as I can go with words.
To return to the correlation with the chakras, in dharana we gaze, as it were from the base of the brain up and into the third eye (the positive pole of the sixth chakra; known as the Kutastha). As our consciousness expands upward toward the object or experience our center of gravity moves up and into the forehead (well, kinda). Hence dhyana is associated with the Kutastha center (point between the eyebrows).

Finally, Samadhi results when even the object, as an object (or state of consciousness), vanishes and we become whatever “meaning” or essential consciousness underlies the object. This is even harder to describe. It is a state of complete absorption and while I don’t want to stumble on terminology here let me say that the sutra itself speaks in terms of a state of oneness with specific objects, or states of consciousness. I will be so bold as to describe this as the final stage of superconsciousness, as it relates to the soul as an individual spark of Divinity (not, therefore, in the sense of cosmic consciousness which comes later). In dharana, we see the promised land; in dhyana we enter the promised land; in samadhi we ARE the promised land. (Hey, I’m trying, can’t you see?)

From Lahiri Mahasaya comes the description that Samadhi takes place when the mind (dhyata), the goal (Brahman), and meditation (dhyana) are undifferentiated, the true nature of the object shines forth. I take this to mean, restated at least, that when the “I” principle (the mind), the soul principle (Brahman), and the process of meditation (act of contemplation) are One in relation to an object, then what remains is the essence (consciousness) of the object. Now you may ask, “define object.”
In these higher states we might meditate on the guru, we might encounter astral beings (angels), we might be receiving a flow of knowledge and wisdom, hearing an astral sound or music, or otherwise be meditating on an infinity of states or internal objects of astral sense. We might be working out past karma from the subconscious mind, even possibly working on present day problems in the material world. At this point (for me at least), and contemplating the sutras in their entirety, I cannot see any end or any limit to what Patanjali means by “object.”

Like the candle that vanishes as we gaze fixedly at it, but in reverse, it’s not the candle that vanishes, WE vanish. Imagine staring out of a window. At first you are daydreaming. Then after a time, the daydream vanishes and you are left in the void, as it were. But again, in these higher stages our fixed concentration upon so called objects results in OUR vanishing. This does not mean, as opposed to daydreaming, that we lose consciousness. No, no, no & far, far from it.  As the entire universe, whether objects of thought, emotions, or material objects are a dream of the cosmic Dreamer and are in their essence consciousness and thought, so we, by deep concentration, enter into and become that consciousness. There is nothing else, for we, too, are but a thought and have no essential reality beyond the Dreamer. Just as at night in our dreams we may or may not be conscious of our own role in the dream, and we might not recall or play the role dictated by our body’s current age or gender, so too we can enter into any other reality, even if but temporarily.

When we experience these three stages of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi in our contemplation of objects, Patanjali calls the combined process samyama. “Sam” is possibly the root for our word, same and is the root for samadhi and for samprajnata etc. Yama means control as we saw in relation to this term used to describe the first stage of the 8-Fold Path. This is important to most of the rest of book 3 wherein he describes the consequences of the three stage process of concentration when applied to various objects. Shall we move on?

In verse 8, Patanjali cautions us that samyama is still external to the seedless or final and true state of samadhi (nirbikalpa). Samyama by itself is not necessarily productive of nirbikalpa. One must meditate on OM and approach samadhi through the stages of Om samadhi and Kutastha samadhi (astral and causal planes through the spiritual eye as Yogananda taught in his lessons). Samyama should be practiced in the order of the stages as given. Samyama is more direct than focusing on the first five stages of the 8-Fold Path (so here we see a direct reference to the stages as not being strictly linear).  

Verse 9 is especially oblique. As I understand it, Patanjali is saying that to reach nirbikalpa samadhi one must set aside the impressions and knowledge one has received through the practice and experience of samyama. The chitta (energy and waves of thought) will alternate between this setting aside (he uses the term “suppression”) and the spontaneous emergence of chitta. (This is a subtle expression of the flux, or thought pulsations, that are the creative engine of the universe.) This stage or state he calls nirodha parinama.

In time and with depth of practice the chitta is at last pacified and calmed. The thought waves have subsided and we experience, at first, the void, or nirvana (no-thing-ness). As water fills a glass from above, or as a boat out at sea comes towards the shore, so at last, we begin to hear the booming shores of Bliss as we enter cosmic consciousness beyond the three worlds into the Infinite Bliss of Spirit.

As verse 10 points out, all past impressions may be now cleared out and neutralized. I take it to mean that the subconscious mind has become en-lightened. To achieve samadhi we must learn to redirect the restless thought waves which go constantly towards objects of desire into a uniform thought wave which is the true nature of chitta (consciousness). This nature is called Ekagrata and achieving this state leads to samadhi. The mind remains calm even when impressions of this calm state arise. This state is called Ekagrata Parinama.

Now that we have reached Samadhi, we are ready to hear from Patanjali how samyama can reveal the nature of the creation. Stay tuned for the next blog!

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Yoga Sutras – Part 6 – 8-Fold Path

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.

Ashtanga Yoga
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!


Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, December 12, 2011

Occupy the Heart! Christmas Reflections

I cannot help but applaud the “occupiers,” protestors of the greed that is symbolized by “Wall Street.” Yes, changes are long overdue, and yes, we were not wise enough to make them on our own volition; and yes, we’ve asked for it, deserved it, no less; and, finally, yes, most of the people in western nations would not have made any other choices but to live beyond our means, both in money and in the world’s natural resources!

Whether the protestors cause any political change directly is less the point (to me) than the fact that they symbolize a shift in consciousness. For every occupier there must surely be a million, perhaps millions, of people in support of what they are saying. So there may well be some changes in attitude and policy in the years ahead.

There is a story from the life of Paramhansa Yogananda (see the book, “Conversations with Yogananda,” by Swami Kriyananda, wherein he was being thwarted by the Los Angeles Planning and Building Department regarding one of his properties there. Discussing his frustration with a group of disciples, someone blurted out, “There ought to be a revolution!” Yogananda chuckled at first with everyone else, then paused, became quiet and more serious, and then added, “There WILL be a revolution!”

Well, none too soon in my book. But I’m not here, today, to complain about our political and economic troubles. One could write a book about those and yet, for one’s effort, nothing would change. It’s the Christmas (or, would you prefer, Solstice?) holiday season and it is one of good cheer and goodwill toward all.

Instead, I say, “Let’s OCCUPY THE HEART!” By that I do not mean something soupy and sentimental. The heart is the receiving station for intuition and deep feelings, not just the boiling cauldron of ever-changing emotions that most people believe and experience the heart to be.

In the stories of the birth of Krishna in India, and Jesus Christ in Israel, the former was born in a prison, and the latter, a manger. Both were pursued by the local king who sought to kill them, as both were perceived by him to be a threat to his worldly power.

To us this symbolizes that our materially-minded, self-involved, self-affirming ego will fight our soul qualities to the death because the ego knows that the awakening of our soul nature threatens to de-throne the ego. But it’s easier to kill the soul when it’s still an infant and relatively helpless. The reason many children were killed in these two parallel stories is that infant soul qualities wherever located and whatever form they take are always a threat to the ego’s rule of the body kingdom.

In the darkened chamber of our heart, even if but imprisoned by the ego, lives the infant of our divine, soul Self. This calmer, wiser, and kinder higher Self occupies the heart and is the source of our heart’s natural loving nature. Whether we occupy Wall Street or Main Street or 228th Street is less important than the heart that pre-occupies us.  It is “where I am coming from” that counts far more than “where I am going to.”

We all have very different lives and only a few can go out and occupy anything at all. It’s less important what we do, and far more important how we do it. We like to think that what we do is important, and it is to us, or, at least, we may need that attitude in order to summon the will power, energy, and creativity to accomplish our work. But, let’s face it, drop dead today and someone else will take your place. They may even do a better job than you.

It is not my intention to suggest anyone act irresponsibly, just honestly and wisely, as best we can. What I am saying is that the intention and consciousness behind our every word, thought, and emotion, indeed, our essential “vibration,” is the real determinant in the happiness and fulfillment we discover in life.

During the Solstice season , on the shortest day of the year, the sun of God is born and with each passing day thereafter, he will grow in strength and wisdom as he ascends toward the summer Solstice. What a beautiful symbol and what an opportunity for us to be still, resting in the manger of the quiet and humble heart, to witness, pay reverence and adoration, to offer gifts of our intention, goodwill, and devotion to this infant Light.

It is this deeper knowing that brings millions of people out into the cold winter night on Christmas Eve to participate in devotions of all type, even when this may be the only time of the year some people do this.

For as the tiny oak seedling can grow into a mighty tree which gives rest and shelter to all creatures, so too the Light of God, manifested in the spark of divinity which is our own and unique soul, can grow and wrest from the pretender king ego the princely throne of our heart, mind, and body once again!

Christ is not just a human being born two thousand years ago. Christ is the Light reflected in every atom of creation that endows creation with innate intelligence and joy. It is this Christ consciousness that certain souls have fully realized (“Self-realized”) that anoints them as prophets, as messengers down through the ages who come to remind us of our true Self. Christ-mass therefore is the celebration of the second coming of Christ in our own hearts. He comes in the dark night of the soul’s winter, when nothing of this world can satisfy us. It is the Christ, the Kristna, the Buddha that comes to us as a messenger, carrying a Light which shines in our personal darkness and lights our way. That message is the same everywhere: “Know thy Self,” turn within to discover that that light is within us, as well.

Meditation is the priceless gift of India to this age of great change that we might find the inner security and inner peace of our soul. “Give me a light to light my way, truth is the light, so wise men say.” Imagine if this Light were to occupy the hearts of even but a small percentage of humanity, today! It would change the world in a way no legislation, no protest, no funding from a rich foundation, nor any treaty could ever do.

A blessed, bliss-filled celebration of the universal Christ consciousness in you, and in all creation. Occupy your heart of Light.

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yoga Sutras - Part 5

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!


Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, December 5, 2011

Yoga Sutras - Part 4

On Wednesday evening, the night before Thanksgiving, we completed class 4 of this Fall’s Yoga Sutras class. After the Thanksgiving holiday weekend I took a week of personal retreat and now, upon my return, I will continue with this series on the Yoga Sutras. Therefore, as with Class 3, I am writing this blog article AFTER rather than before the class (as I have done typically since beginning this blog).

I can’t say we got much further but we did at least venture into the Sutras book 2, Sadhana Pada. Since my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda said he was only permitted to study twelve sutras by his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, I feel exonerated that we did not get very far. Later on I shall explain why.

We began the last class by going back to last week’s four stages of samprajnata samadhi and attempting to create a suggested meditation routine from them. I did this in order to help make the sutras more practical for all of us and to show that however esoteric the sutras seem to get, they are based in actual inner experience which we can all attempt to access.

While sitting, therefore, in meditation try this experiment based on Yogananda’s commentary on Book 1, Verse 17: “Samadhi endowed with right knowledge is that which is attended by reasoning (savitarka), discrimination (savichara) bliss (sananda), and unqualified ego (asmita).” These are four stages of meditation which ensue from achieving “dharana,” the 6th stage of the 8-Fold Path of enlightenment:
1.       Meditate upon an object of contemplation and devotion thusly: one’s Ishta Devata or personal image of perfection or devotion, or an impersonal aspect of divine consciousness. For the former it might the image of one’s guru, Divine Mother, or deity. For the latter, it might the desired goal of inner peace, bliss or joy, the inner Light. Visualize your object or state of meditation and goal. Take your time to create and then concentrate upon this image.
2.       Extract from your image and contemplation those attributes of your object of contemplation that you seek. For example, the guru’s love or the feeling of contentment or satisfaction derived from inner peace. Rest in the knowing of the truth and value of these aspects as worthwhile, true, and lasting, and as your own Self.
3.       Extract from these attributes the joy you feel in their contemplation.
4.       Extract from this joy the pure experience of Self-awareness. Rest now in the Self and expand that Self outward in all directions (or, alternatively, extinguish that Self into No-thing!)
Dharana, by the way, is a stage of meditation wherein one can observe without a flicker of distraction some aspect of Superconsciousness. On an impersonal level, these are common: peace, wisdom, energy, love, calmness, inner sound, inner light, and bliss. However the four stages outlined above can be used as a guideline for one’s meditations or a specific meditation to try at certain times.

In our class, I digressed to talk about expansion versus contraction. By these terms I mean that on a very elemental or existential level souls tend to either expand their consciousness towards enlightenment or to dissolve ego consciousness in that same effort. It’s not necessarily an “either – or” but for some it is distinctive. In more outward terms we might compare a Mother Teresa (serving the poorest of the poor) with a Ram Gopal Muzumdar (who lived many many years in solitary meditation). Of course even Mother Teresa valued and engaged in silent prayer and meditation, and even so does Ram Gopal’s meditations serve and uplift humanity and anyone in tune with him for that purpose.

Still, the point is that in our meditation experience we may find that sometimes our consciousness expands and other times we enter a state of seeming dissolution. And some are innately attracted to one or the other, while for others, it comes in cycles. St. Teresa of Avila was both a mystic and a very active guide, counselor and founder of convents.

And now, therefore, I would like to extract from the Sutras some of the meditations implied or suggested by them in Book 1 (Samadhi Pada) (verses 28, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38 and 39).

1.      1.      Meditation upon OM. Chanting OM first aloud, then silently and deeply until you feel in your heart a resonance and can feel or hear inside the right ear, the rising subtle sound of AUM or other of the chakras (bumble bee, flute, harp, bell, wind).

2.       2.     Using traditional breath control techniques (pranayams) as taught by one’s teacher in order to purify the body and bring the life currents under control and for the purpose of transcending the need to breathe all together. Kriya yoga is one such pranayam.

3.       3.     Chakra meditations that produce inner experience of sounds, colors, tastes or energies.

4.       4.     Meditation upon the inner light, sometimes produced or enhanced by special mudras or other techniques as taught by one’s preceptor.

5.       5.     Meditation upon the feeling or intuition given you by superconscious dream experiences, or the bliss state experienced nightly in dreamless sleep.

6.       Meditation upon “anything that appeals to one as good!” Now, here Patanjali “winks and nods” suggesting that the window onto Oneness is achieved simply by such total concentration upon any object that appeals to one. This, he seems to say, is the “clinical” essence of meditation. Here I told the story that Yogananda tells in his lessons about the boy whose guru suggested he meditate upon a buffalo (that the boy loved) until that boy became the buffalo. At that point the guru touched him on the forehead and the boy went into samadhi! Thus it can be that anyone, even an outlaw, who lives with great intensity and concentration can find God once he directs that intensity towards God alone. Yogananda’s most advanced disciple was a self-made millionaire who mastered the art of material success (but found it wanting).

Towards the end of Samadhi Pada (Book 1), Patanjali makes reference to how in deep concentration all that is left is the object itself (of contemplation). The mind takes on, as it were, the qualities of that object. But he goes on to say that the highest state of Samadhi is beyond all qualities and is called nirbikalpa Samadhi. From this stage the soul is now free and can no longer “fall.” Yogananda calls such a soul a jivan mukta. There may be past karma yet to untie but such a one has an eternity or a moment to take care of this. He may even return to help his disciples or others.

I think I will stop here, at the end of Book, for now. But I feel a commitment (and, of course, the inspiration, to continue with more articles to get further into the yoga sutras. I promised to explain why Swami Sri Yukteswar only had his disciple, Paramhansa Yogananda, study twelve sutras. The sutras are like .facets of a diamond, or perhaps we could say like a hologram. As you enter into a certain number of them with the guidance of a true guru, you begin to see, and increasingly as you go, the bigger picture of all them. I related to a friend who also teaches Sanskrit that even although I've never taken the time to formally study Sanskrit, I had the blessing of discovering that as I viewed and read aloud the Sanskrit sutras, ideas and insights occurred to me even though knowledge of the language is rather limited. There's a vibrational aspect that conveys (similar to the feeling and communication of music, and art, generally) the meaning on a higher level than the intellect. 

Blessings to all,
Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, November 18, 2011

Yoga Sutras - Part 3

This blog post comes AFTER class #3 instead beforehand. In our first two classes, we've moved slowly in relation to the stanzas or sutras themselves. But I warned the class that I had no agenda and would move about as our interests guided us and that's the way it's been. It's been more fun for me and more engaging for everyone. The very vibration of these sutras - no less a scripture - inspires in one who seeks their treasure with reverence, a wisdom beyond one's years! So let us continue.....

In the first two classes (out of only 4), we had proceeded only about 5 sutras into book 1 (Samadhi Pada), out of 4 books. We've all agreed that the material is very deep, for each sutra opens like a picture window onto a panorama at at once diverse, colorful and expansive. So in class 3 this week, we began with stanzas 6 through 11 in which Patanjali talks about the most elemental "vrittis" or "modifications" in consciousness. As is typical with the sutras, Patanjali is clinically austere.

The five modifications (or vrittis) he says that our consciousness creates in contact with the qualities of nature are as follows: we either perceive what is true, or we mistake the false for the real, or we live in the unreality of our own thoughts and words (unrelated to any reality other than our own), or we experience the voidness of sleep (and other similar states), or memory brings to our mind recollected objects.

In the state of mind that perceives that which is true, we find three levels: lowest is that knowledge which comes from sensory or experiential evidence; next is that which comes through logical inference, and finally comes the highest form, or intuition (direct perception). The first two are easily understood but in our culture, intuition is greatly misunderstood and mistrusted.

We all rely on hunches and the combination of memory and insight to give us answers, often under difficult circumstances. The process of creativity is nothing less than intuition. The process of creativity has been widely studied and has found that inspirations and ideas come from a "place" that goes beyond logic and typically requires that one suspend ratiocination for a time. Sometimes that means going for walk; taking a shower; "sleeping on it" and the like. When thinking "aloud" so to speak, we often look up, or up and off to the side, as if, like a computer, we are searching for a file on some invisible hard disk. Sometimes the response is "file not found" but often in that "pause that refreshes" and which clears the grinding activity of the  conscious mind, the super-mind ("superconsciousness" or "sixth sense") drops an answer into the lap of the intellect. It is correct to say that "I had an idea" but our language fails to admit that the conscious thinking mind didn't produce the idea. It simply appeared by a process that is stimulated by our concentration upon the need for an answer and upon our knowledge and commitment to the subject matter, but otherwise appears as if a gift from a power that is beyond our conscious control. In ancient times this gift of creative ability was said to be the gift of the Muse(es), mythical goddess(es).

In modern history when artistry left behind the almost exclusive realm of serving religious artistry and the sense of individual self-hood began to appear more commonly, creativity was ascribed to the ego and to the subconscious mind. Not surprisingly the cultural image of the artist as slightly mad and dependent upon the need for opiates (of one form or another) to fuel one's creativity came into being.

Yogananda described intuition as "the soul's power of knowing God." But God is truth in any form, from the location of your car keys to the theory of Relativity. Yogananda called this realm of the mind the "superconscious mind." It is unitive in nature and beyond the boundaries of time and space. It manifests in an infinity of resourceful ways in human life but includes such proven and dramatic powers as telepathy.

In this class I was able to draw upon some of the interesting material from the lecture notes from Yogananda's class series on the Yoga Sutras. For example, he told his audiences that to take stock of another person's character (when necessity demands it), concentrate in your own heart center until you are very calm and then visualize the eyes of the person and "watch" for what feelings arise in the heart. Of course you should first beware of any superficial attraction or dislike and make sure those reactions are not creating filters. As he put it: to take a picture you must hold the camera very still!

Patanjali in stanza 12 speaks strong of the need for non-attachment. After speaking on the need for non-attachment, on how to be impartial in the face of criticism, and the need to rise above being too personal, he describes non-attachment not as denial (as it is usual thought of), but, rather, as sharing what one has while not thinking that it is yours! What a wonderful, positive, and expansive way to think about non-attachment.

On the subject of material desires Yogananda counsels us to beware of denying the power of temptation lest it overpower you by your very denial. He says "of course temptation is made pleasurable! Why deny it? But it comes at a cost. Learn to live without and not depend upon anything for your happiness."

Now we get into some heavy material. Thus far, Patanjali's progression in book one begins with stating that Oneness ("yoga") is achieved when the mind is freed of the delusive power of the vrittis. In the stanzas described above he describes those vrittis and how they are stilled by non-attachment, practice, and devotion. Now he comes to stanzas 17 through 20 which describe the stages of "samadhi" or true knowledge born of deep meditative concentration and born of superconsciousness transcendent of ego and body awareness.

In Yogananda's commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita he digresses to bring together the "Gita" and the Yoga Sutras. He explains that Patanjali was describing an extended ladder of states under the term "samadhi." In his own teachings, Yogananda limited the use of that term to the two highest states (known as "sabikalpa" and "nirbikalpa" samadhi). But here, in interpreting the yoga sutras, Yogananda follows the thread of Patanjali's analysis and explains Patanjali's terminology under the heading of "samadhi."

The terms "samprajnata" and "asamprajnata," he explains, go together but have a lower octave of meaning and a higher octave or set of meanings and experience. Furthermore, within samprajnata (on both the lower and higher levels) there are four sub-levels. For those four sub-levels Patanjali uses the terms savitarka, savichara, sananda, and sasmita. In the first octave of samprajnata samadhi, savitarka refers to intuition that is mixed with inner dialogue that questions, reasons, and doubts the nature and meaning of the experience that is taking place. It has a particular relationship to the coccyx center (the muladhara chakra) at the base of the astral spine. (Now I warned you this was going to get heavy.) For example, in meditation you might hear the characteristic astral sound of the bumble bee but in savitarka state you are unsure whether that's the sound you are hearing; you doubt, you question, and you try to reason your way through the inner experience that you are having.

The next stage is more upbeat. In the savichara state of meditation, intuition is still mixed with inner dialogue of reasoning and pondering but we are clearer and surer of our inner perceptions. This is associated with the sacral (swadisthana chakra) center, one and a half inches above the base of the spine (opposite the sex organs). Sananda is the next state which happens when those perceptions resolve into their deeper essence of joy!

The example I gave in class goes like this: you see a rose. Looking at it, you wonder to yourself: Is that a rose, or is it a poppy or daisy? You are unsure of yourself. In savichara you conclude (rightly) that it is indeed a rose. That conclusion makes you happy. Focusing on the happiness you now feel, you forget the rose and notice and enjoy the happiness. This is sananda. In the fourth stage, called sasmita, the joy recedes somewhat in favor of pure self-awareness. The joy doesn't disappear entirely but the feeling of pure Self-awareness dominates the experience.

If you are following the progression of chakras you will have concluded on your own that sananda relates to the manipur (navel) chakra and sasmita to the heart center. These first four are the product of the awakening of that stage of Patanjali's famous 8-Fold Path (not introduced by him, however, until Book 2, Verse 29) known as dharana: concentration. This is the stage where the meditator can hold in steady focus the perception of such inner sounds (of the chakras) and other astral manifestations described in raja yoga. In the stage of dharana (see my prior blog articles on each of the stages of the 8-Fold Path), the awareness of "I" as the perceiver remains. "I am feeling joy." "I am feeling peace." "I am seeing the inner light of the spiritual eye." And so on.

When samprajnata and asamprajnata achieve their higher octave, they are synonymous with the stages of samadhi described with the terms "sabikalpa" and "nirbikalpa" samadhi. The four stages samprajnata are described now seen as preliminary steps towards nirbikalpa samadhi -- a state of cosmic consciousness from which the soul returns into so-called ordinary or ego consciousness. By progressive flights into cosmic consciousness the soul eventually retains contact with transcendence even upon returning to wakeful consciousness. That state is then nirbikalpa samadhi.

Getting back to the four stages of samprajnata that are the initial forays leading to nirbikalpa samadhi, we find that savitarka is no longer the doubting mind but is filled with reverence and wonderment at what it is experiencing. In savichara the soul perceives the very nature of God, while in Sananda the soul experiences pure bliss. Finally in sasmita the expanded Self feel its identity in every atom of space as though creation were its own body. It is a state of perfect calmness in which the soul is like a grand mirror in which all creation is reflected! (Whew! Imagine....well, yes that's an excellent meditation exercise.)

Yogananda then takes a fun little detour to explain that the chakras produce these sounds in the same way that if you walk up to the projection booth of the theatre you will hear the electric light making a buzzing noise as it throws its light rays onto the screen below. The prana which enters the astral body and then down the spine and out the doorways of the chakras is like a subtle and intelligent form of electricity. It therefore hums like electricity. Yogananda says the coccyx center (muladhara) produces an astral and electrical current that makes the bumble bee sound but whose purpose is to solidify the life force current (known as "prana") into atoms. It is known as the "earth current." In doing so it produces the power of smell.

The next chakra, the water element of swadisthan, makes a flute-like sound and produces the sense of taste. The navel chakra (manipura) is the fire element wherein prana glows with heat and light, producing harp like sounds and the sense of sight. At the heart (anahat) chakra, the current combines life force and oxygen producing the bell or gong like sound and the sense of touch. At the throat center (visuddha), the vibration current is very subtle. Yogananda says that this current maintains the etheric background in the body "timing it to all spatial vibrations." Space, he says, is a vibration upon which all objects are projected and can appear to be separate and three dimensional. The etheric current produces the sense of hearing and the sound of distant waterfall or ocean rumblings. Finally, the sixth chakra is the dynamo (or holding vessel or battery) of consciousness and life force as it continuously recharges with life current and intelligence the sub-dynamos of the lower five chakras. It's sound is the symphony or source of the other sounds. It is the sound the AUM, the sound of a might ocean or thunder.

For reasons that are unclear and upon which Yogananda made no comment, stanzas 42-44 make another attempt to further define samprajnata samadhi. This time it's as if there are only two stages, not four, of samprajnata. With respect to what he calls "objects" savitarka samadhi is when we achieve knowledge that includes simultaneous awareness of sound and meaning whereas nirvitarka samadhi (samadhi without question) is attained when only the object remains and no trace memory of sound, meaning or knowledge remains! When the objects are subtle (meaning the inner powers of the chakras which have the capacity and intelligence to produce the five senses), the same two stages are called savichara and nirvichara!

There is a higher level of consciousness into which all the stages of samprajnata evolves (whether in its lower octave or higher). This level is called asamprajnata. In its lower octave, asamprajnata is when we move from the stage of dharana (described earlier) into the 7 stage of the 8-Fold Path, known as dhyana (absorption). Here we are in superconsciousness: knowing, knower, known are One. There is no flicker of interruption of consciousness. In its higher octave, asamprajnata samadhi is, as I understand it, the equivalent of nirbilkapa samadhi: the final and highest stage of transcendence, or Oneness.

On that one note, I think I shall end with a sigh of relief!


Nayaswami Hriman.