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