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.