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