Monday, February 6, 2012

Yoga Sutras: Guide to Meditation

This new series of blog articles is not intended to be a commentary or interpretation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Inspired by the aphorisms, however, I seek to use their guidance and inspiration to distill thoughts about the practice of meditation. Sometimes my remarks will bear directly upon the sutra(s) and other times only loosely or having served as an inspiration for sharing.

I often am asked which translation to use and I confess that as yet I have found no singular translation satisfactory. Unfortunately, neither my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, nor my spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda), has published translations and commentaries on the Yoga Sutras. Where I am aware of their paraphrase, I will of course use it. I survey other translations in order to distill what seems most in tune with the lineage I am dedicated to. However, their teachings, published, unpublished or recorded, bear directly and indirectly upon the Yoga Sutras. Perhaps as importantly, the Yoga Sutras are, themselves, of universal application and stature, bereft of sectarian filters. Thus I am confident that what I will share will be derived or inspired by them and my efforts to live and share them.

We begin with the first aphorism, "And now we come to the practice of Yoga." May I offer then that we commit to the practice of meditation on a daily practice, coming to the practice of "yoga" (seeking Oneness with the Self) as a distinct and conscious effort, apart from the rest of our day's activities? Not only are we encouraged to establish the daily habit of meditation but, having done so, to enter into the practice with calm and conscious intention. Never let meditation become routine and rote. You might even intone this aphorism as you turn away from other activities (or upon arising) so that you are clear and intentional.

Too many students brush aside the value of this "setting aside" with comments like "I meditate all the time." Or, "I strive to remain in mindfulness throughout the day." Well, "like duh!" Of course, we all should do that. But such practices are not a substitute for putting aside our activities in order to "Now I sit to meditate upon the inner Light of the Infinite Spirit, the eyes of my guru, the all-pervading sound of Aum (and so on)."

And even if, as a meditator, you are loyal to your daily practice, how easy is it to focus on your techniques and practices and upon your progress in achieving meditative states of inner stillness rather than upon the goal of meditation? True meditation begins when our practices (pranayamas etc.) end in superconsciousness. As Yogananda put it, "When motion ceases, God begins."

I also put this in another way, based on a story from Yogananda's life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." As a young boy or teenager he visited a saint who remarked to Yogananda that Yogananda often entered the quiescent state of inner stillness but, asked the saint, had he achieved "anubhava" -- love for God? We, as meditators, mustn't forget the goal of meditation even as we are non-attached to the time, place, or form of the goal. Union with God, or true yoga, is our goal. There is no point in defining either "union" or "God" for they can define themselves by our own experience. To say, simply, that we seek an upliftment of consciousness into transcendence and into the thrill and bliss of that state is sufficient for general purposes.

Next blog: Stanza 2: Yoga is achieved through the dissolution of the ceaseless reactions of attraction and repulsion; of the restless motions of body, senses, and mental images and our reactions to them.


Nayaswami Hriman