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