Sunday, December 29, 2013

Paths of Yoga

There are four main paths of classical Yoga:

1. Karma Yoga   'the path of action'
2. Bakhti Yoga    'the path of devotion'
2. Hatha Yoga     union through determination
4. Gyan Yoga      'the path of knowledge'

1.Karma Yoga

The essence of Karma Yoga is focussing on the quality of the action for its own sake and with enjoyment until ''the actor and the action become one''. Whatever actions we undertake leave an impression on our minds, and even our souls, so we can consciously make ourselves the way we want to be through deliberate action. Strong impressions leave a trace on the soul, so repeated actions will make an even stronger impression for good or bad. Our selves are the sum total of all our actions.

How can we make a stronger impression? We can follow a path of selfless action without thinking about the results. Repeated actions, done with great attention and commitment, will achieve far greater results than actions taken with one eye on the future outcome. If we focus 100 % of our attention on performing an action to the best of our ability and with enjoyment, the results will be optimum. If 70 % of our attention is consumed by worries or fears about the results, doubts about the action taken, weighing up of pros and cons, looking over our shoulder to see what others are doing or resenting the action as a 'means to an end', then only 30 % of our attention is on the action itself and the outcomes will reflect this. Halfhearted preparations or motivation will lead to halfhearted results.

The art of Karma Yoga is to focus on the action, not the outcome. We obtain union with the object of our attention through single-minded focus. When we become one with our goal, it is because we focus on the quality of what we do. For example, if, as students, we constantly focused on Ayurveda, we could begin to assimilate its knowledge and way of life to the point where we became Ayurveda itself. At that point there would be no need to check books, worry about practice, or doubt our abilities, as we would become pure conduits of Ayurvedic knowledge and practice. If we were to focus on any object of meditation we could come close to enlightenment.

2. Bakhti Yoga

Bakhti Yoga is the art of devotion or union through love. All great works have been achieved through human enjoyment, ie for their own sake. For example, Mother Teresa said that there are no great deeds, only small deeds performed with great love. 'Par' refers to personal love (lower) and 'Apar' to a loving attitude which does not discriminate as to its object (higher). In this case when the lover 'becomes' love (and only love), the force of love becomes incredibly powerful.

It is difficult to define love, surrounded as we are by many misconceptions about its nature. We may confuse desire with love, attachment with love, jealousy with love, fear of loneliness with love, possession with love, sex with love and romance with love. In the name of love we strike implicit bargains, not even knowing what our expectations are until they are breached. We may keep score of what we give, demanding that others reciprocate in every way. We may try to take away the freedom of partners or children or use emotional blackmail to make others prove their love for us. Even a mother's love can be contaminated with issues of possessiveness or clinging. The other side of the mass-media's promotion of glamour, passion and sex in relationships between men and women, is abuse, control, humiliation, obsession, stalking and even murder of women in the name of romantic love. In fact the very Hollywood/Bollywood stars who exemplify the former on the big screen often turn out to be struggling with far from loving relationships in their private lives.

Real love can be defined by the following qualities:

1. Fearlessness
2. Peace
3. Forgetting yourself/selflessness
4. A lack of suffering

When we experience the state of pure love, we are completely peaceful. There is no room for other emotions, such as resentment, jealousy, suffering or pride. ''When love, the lover, and the beloved become one'', that is Bakhti Yoga. Once we become love, we may extend love to everyone and everything without restriction. The personal becomes universal.

3. Hatha Yoga  

This is union through stubbornness and determination and refers to the seven stage path which ultimately  leads to Raj Yoga (King's Yoga) It focusses on physical and mental purification (satkarmas), strength-building exercises and postures (asanas) , 'locks' of breathing (bandhas) hand and other gestures (mudras) and breath expansion (pranayama) as well as the concentration and meditation of Astanga yoga.

It is outlined primarily in three texts, although there is little description of exactly how to achieve the physical postures:

Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Yogi Swatmarama (15th century)
Shiva Samhita, author unknown (before 1500 CE[4] or late 17th century)
Gheranda Samhita by Yogi Gheranda (late 17th century)

However the Goraksha Samhita authored by Yogi Gorakshanath in the 11th century is considered to have been responsible for popularizing Hatha yoga as it is known today. In Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swatmarama introduces his system as preparatory stage for the physical purification needed for higher meditation or Yoga.

It must be remembered that Hatha Yoga (asanas included) was a life-time spiritual journey and commitment for the disciple who was accompanied by the guru every step of the way.

4. Gyana Yoga

This is union through knowledge. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that Gyana Yoga consists of understanding the body and the soul and the difference between these two and it is assumed throughout the Vedas that Gyana Yoga is the best path to take if possible. In knowing the self the supreme can also be known through a fourfold discipline.

1. Samanyasa, cultivating oneself the following qualities:

        Viveka, the capacity to discern between the real and the unreal.
        Vairagya, dispassion, indifference to pleasure and pain;
        Shad-sampat, the six virtues:
                   Sama, tranquility or control of mind, calmness;
                   Dama, control of the senses;
                   Uparati, renunciation of worldly activities;
                   Titiksha, endurance of changing and opposite circumstances;
                   Shradda, faith in the guru, the atman and the scriptures;
                   Samadhana, concentration of the mind.
        Mumukshutva, intense longing for liberation.

2. Sravana, listening to the teachings of the sages on the Upanishads and Advaita Vedanta, and studying the Vedas and Vedantic texts;
3. Manana, the stage of reflection on the teachings;
4. Dhyana, the stage of meditation on the truth "that art Thou".

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

4. Yoga 'Union'

Yoga philosophy was given by Patanjali and comes from the root 'yug' meaning 'union' or 'to unite'. It deals with the expansion of individual consciousness until it merges with  universal consciousness. Yoga can be understood as the practical aspect of Sankhya philosophy, which was the first to say that we can become part of the supreme soul/universal superconsciousness if we want to. Our individual self or soul is already made of a spark of Purusha, and has exactly the same invisible and eternal qualities, but we can only expand our consciousness to merge with it completely if we are aware of this fact.

This has some resemblance to the idea of a relationship between individual and universal truth, in that the more we align ourselves with the universal, the less suffering we experience.

These ideas come from Sankhya philosophy, so the study of the mind is vital to Yoga. Patanjali said ''Yog chitta vritti nirodha'' ('Yoga blocks the modifications of the mind.') The mind is modified (disturbed) from its natural state, in two ways, through Dishta 'sorrow' and Adishta 'pleasure'. The true nature of the mind is calm, yet it is easily distracted by sensory perceptions of the world. When we see a flower, for example, we become affected by beauty and the pleasure it gives us. When we see a dying animal, we become disturbed by sadness at the sight of suffering and death.

The mind is like a vast lake or ocean: although rippled by waves at the surface level, there is calm at a deeper level. Superficial waves (thoughts and feelings) arise in the mind and the more these can be calmed, the more the true nature of mind is unveiled. Superficial thoughts may be the easiest to 'control' or let go of, However, repetitive thought patterns or memories which emerge from a deeper level may be time bombs waiting to go off, shaking our composure more profoundly.

There are two sources of 'waves', sensory perception and memory. When these are absent, the lake or ocean is very clear and the deep innermost potential of the mind is laid bare. In that state of mind - clarity - one can achieve anything.

The mind is made up of Prakriti and is composed of three qualities, Sattva (purity) Rajas (activity) and Tamas (inertia, dullness) in varying proportions. Both Sattva and Tamas are empty, (though Sattva is clear and Tamas is cloudy or dull) whereas Rajas is full of content, that is the disturbances to tranquility caused by pleasure or pain.

There are five states of mind, according to Yoga philosophy, ranging from the least to the most clear:

1. Kshipta     ´disturbed´                          no clarity            rajas with some tamas
2. Muda        ´stupid´, ´stupified´              obstacles            tamas
3. Vikshiptav  ´restless´                           obstacles           rajas with a litle tamas
4. Ekagra      'one-pointed' (focussed)       clear thinking      more sattvic
5. Nirodha     ´well-controlled´                  beyond thinking   pure and sattvic

The last two states are the lighter and purer aspect of Prakriti (matter), and the ultimate, Nirodha, is a pure manifestation of sattvic energy, where all modifications cease and a state of stillness is acquired or resumed. This is the subtlest form of unmanifested Prakriti, (the spark of divinity) Prakriti in its purest form. Only at this stage can Purusha see its real nature reflected in the clear screen of the mind. When Purusha sees and recognises itself, that is liberation.

It is the mind which leads the person into or out of bondage, in its function as the link between the physical body, the senses and consciousness. The mind can modify itself, or be modified, in the following ways:

1. Valid cognition, perception, true knowledge
2. Invalid cognition, false perceptions
3. Verbal cognition, indirect inference/guesswork, self talk
4. Sleep, dreams
5. Memories

Whether they provoke feelings of pleasure or pain, whether the basis for the thoughts or feelings has any validity or not, all of these modifications stop us from seeing the real nature of Purusha. However, when one focuses on looking for and seeing Purusha, one forgets these other perceptions and the true nature of consciousness is revealed.

Patanjali states that there are seven stages which must be passed through to reach the eighth, 'samadhi', (liberation). They are not really 'limbs' as they are often translated in English, as it is necessary to master each stage before advancing to the next.

1. Yama              'self-restraint' 'moral conduct' 'truthfulness'
2. Niyama           'discipline'
3. Asana             'postures'
4. Pranayama      'breathing control'
5. Pratyahara      'withdrawal of the senses from the object of the senses'
6. Dharna           ´concentration´
7. Dhyana           'meditation'
8. Samadhi          'oneness'

1. Yama involves:

Ahimsa                 'non violence'
Satya                    'truth'
Asteya                  'non-stealing' 'non-cheating'
Brahmacharya       'pure behaviour' 'celibacy' 'sensory control' 'remembering Brahma'
Aparigraha            'non-possessiveness' 'non-materialistic'

When we consider that Mahatma (great soul) Ghandi mastered the first two branches of Yama, non violence and truth and is considered a great person, we realise how long and hard the path of Yoga really is.

2. Niyama 'discipline' comes out of truth and involves:

Shaucha                 'purity' 'cleanliness'
Santosha                'contentment' 'satisfaction'
Tapas                     'zeal' 'sacrifice'
Sua-advayaya         'self-study'
Ishwar Pranidhan    'surrender to God' 'Karma' 'divine force'

3. Asana 'postures'

These are the physical postures most associated with Yoga in the Western mind, involving strength, flexibility, attention to breathing and resilience. Asana is believed to reduce stress and related complaints, such as high blood pressure, but its true function is to act as another discipline which will lead towards union. Asana makes the body stable and flexible enough to remain still and pain-free so that the aspirant is not distracted by aches and pains while spending hours in meditative postures at a later stage ''The purpose of Yoga is Yoga.'', so other physical and mental benefits are considered to be side-effects which come out of the striving for union.

4. Pranayama 'breathing control'

Firstly, when we control the breath, the mind is also under control. We tend to breathe more rapidly when we are afraid or angry and we are advised to take deep breaths to calm ourselves when we are nervous or upset. Secondly, the control of the breath increases health and life-expectancy. We can see by comparing the life-span of animals with their breathing rates how the two are related. The dog takes 50 breaths a minute and lives for 15 years, the elephant takes 24 breaths a minute and lives for about 70 years, the human being takes around 22 breaths a minute and lives for between 70 and 100 years, the turtle takes 5 breaths a minute and lives for 150 years.

Fast breathing involves more use of the sympathetic nervous system, more metabolic activity, more exhaustion, more free radical production and faster aging. (This is why Ayurveda advises gentle exercise to 50% of one's capacity and considers pushing the body to its limits in heavy labour or exercise to be counterproductive.) Slow breathing entails fewer functions and less stress on the body. When we are calm, our breathing rate goes down naturally. So we can use conscious and controlled breathing techniques to calm both mind and body.

5. Pratyahara

This is the withdrawal of the senses from the object of attention, involving concentration and self-control. This means resisting our natural inclination to follow our senses outwards, being distracted by a beautiful or terrible sight, for example, with the range of emotions such as curiosity, desire, dislike, fear etc altering our mental calm. Likewise, we should learn to resist the enticements of things we like (music, sensual pleasures, perfumes, tasty food) as well as focussing on things we don't like (barking dogs, other people's music, car alarms, states of feeling hot or cold, bad smells or food.)

The last three levels are called internal aids to Yoga (antaranga sadhana).

6. Dharna 'concentration´

This entails the ability to focus singlemindedly on one physical object, such as the flame of a candle, between the eyebrows or the picture of a deity to the exclusion of all else, entailing a disciplined practice of focus and control. For example, the aspirant can close the eyes and see the internal image of Krishna or Jesus or any symbol of purity and focus on it. This should be done without thinking about the image, without making a story out of it and allowing the mind to wander or the emotions to come into play.

7. Dhyana 'meditation'

This will only take place on a regular basis through Dharna and is a more general stillness of mind. Here the mind does not close down the sense organs by focussing on one object but rests calmly around the object. It is a very advanced state which has nothing to do with dullness or mindlessness but with an alert calmness.

8. Samadhi 'oneness'

This involves becoming one with the object of meditation, whatever the goal may be. Since Yoga means 'union' it could be argued that samadhi and yoga are one and the same thing,

Samadhi is of two kinds:

1. Samprajnata Samadhi (conscious Samadhi)

The mind remains focussed on the object of meditation, therefore consciousness of the object of meditation persists. Mental modifications arise only in respect of this object of meditation.This state is of four kinds:
          Savitarka: concentrated upon a physical object of meditation.
          Savichara: concentrated upon a subtle object of meditation, such as the tanmatras
          Sananda Samadhi: concentrated upon a subtler object of meditation, like the senses.
          Sasmita: concentrated on the ego which the self generally identifies with..
2. Asamprajnata Samadhi (superconsciousness)

The consciousness of the object of meditation is transcended. All mental modifications are checked (niruddha), although latent impressions may continue.

Patanjali's concept of the existence of God is of perfect Purusha, eternal, all-pervading, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and unaffected by ignorance, egotism, aversion, fear or attachment, free from all actions (Karmas) and results of actions (Phal karmas) and all latent impressions (Sanskaras). When the self becomes liberated, it becomes one with and merges with God. In fact the individual soul is made of the same essence, but because of the afflictions of Karma, a separate self-concept arises and the self becomes victim to the illusions of the material world and suffering.

When ignorance is dissolved, the duality we create between ourselves and God is also dissolved. The perfect supreme being remains one and unchangeable - just as there is no change in the ocean no matter how many rivers flow into it. Changelessness is the basic quality of perfection and this absolute reality is available to all of us who try for it. Sooner or later we will merge into perfection, depending on how long it takes us to recognise the truth and commit ourselves to it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

3. Sankya ´Numbers´

The philosophy of Sankya was propounded by Kapila, and to some extent all other Indian philosophies are influenced by it. Sankya can be divided into three sections:

1. The evolution of the world
2. The concept of god and liberation
3. The theory of Knowledge

His major finding was the division of reality into two main categories: Purusha  (consciousness and energy) and Prakriti (matter made of atom-like substances). The entire world – including body, mind and senses – is produced by a combination of the above two effects. Even non-Vedic philosophies such as Charwak, Buddhism and Jainism and the Vedic philosophies Nayaya and Vaisesika followed this idea, agreeing that atoms of five different properties are the material cause of this world. (The mind, intellect and ego are made of a substance subtler than atoms.) The ultimate cause of the world must be a latent principle of potential, eternal and all pervading, and must be made of a subtler substance than mind, intellect and ego.

Arguments for prakriti are as follows:

1. All objects are dependent on something else for their existence, so there must be an unlimited or independent cause.
2. All objects in the world are capable of producing certain common effects like pleasure, pain, indifference etc. Like begets like, the common cause being Prakriti. Atoms are indifferent.
3. In the process of evolution, effects arise from a certain cause and then are again dissolved into their origins when creation is dissolved. Prakriti can be seen as the material cause of the universe, (whereas Purusha is the ultimate cause) primordial, unmanifested matter, the unconscious principle. Although Purusha is the ultimate cause, it needs Prakriti to become 'something.' Unmanifested atoms are like primordial soup, always there, indivisible particles, Pramanu (even smaller than atoms). Involution is the reverse process, physical matter being broken down into atoms, gross energies giving way to finer energies, all the way back to unmanifested Prakriti.

Purusha is consciousness and energy. Each human body contains a self or soul, which is different from the body and mind, a conscious spark that is both subject and object of knowledge and knowing. It is not a substance or an attribute of consciousness. It is at the same time self-illuminating, unchanging, not caused, all-pervading and eternal consciousness. (The self or soul is an observer which has no memory, although it may retain exceptionally strong impressions of mind or body and be primed from a former life.) The self is Purusha, a spark plus Karma.

Everything which is subject to time, death, decay, evolution and change is Prakriti. So everything we normally think of as 'I' (body, mind and intellect) and identify with is not our real self at all.

1.Theory of Creation and Evolution

Prakriti is the unconscious principle of matter, and Purusha the spark of life. Matter and energy are always found together. The meeting of Prakriti and Purusha disturbed the equilibrium of the 3 gunas - Sattva (purity) Rajas (activity) and Tamas (dullness/inertia). Without movement nothing happens, so it was the encounter of Prakriti and Purusha that disturbed the balance and started all activity in the universe. Prakriti and Purusha together make up Mahat (universal intelligence/ intelligent design or order) Certain things began finding their centre and boundary, ie the undifferentiated soup of Prakriti, fired up by Purusha, began to organise itself into separate objects, thereby creating individual forms, including an individual sense of 'I', that is,Ahankara (ego)

Five micro-elements, five macro-elements, five sensory organs, five motor organs, and one mind developed, and when added to Prakruti, Purusha, Mahat and Ahankara made up the human being (25 elements) This theory of evolution relates to the unmanifested and the manifested. The ego is separate and related to Prakriti and the idea of individual physical survival.

2. Concept of God and Liberation

There is some controversy about this concept. In the original Sankya texts there was no discussion of God. Instead it was said that the entire universe was purely a system of cause and effect. Later arguments centred around the idea that if Prakruti is the changing principle, there must be a need for a controlling intelligence of the universe, ie an unchanging and eternal God.

Sankya argued that if God were perfect, why was he inspired to create a world full of such misery? To imply that a perfect God would deliberately choose imperfection over perfection doesn't make sense. A perfect God would create a perfect world, ergo God does not exist and the concept of Purusha is sufficient. This concept already existed in Vedic thinking.

However, later Sankhya philosophies argued that this kind of metaphysical universe is difficult to accept without the presence of a supreme being.

3. Theory of Knowledge

Sankhya wanted to make people self-sufficient and courageous and explained that mind has three different states, lower mind, ego and intellect (similar to the concept of conscious, sub-conscious and super-conscious mind). The mind being in one of these three states is the root cause of suffering. It is better to go beyond all of them to the peaceful mind. The idea is not for us to renounce the world however, but to function well within it. This entails being ''in the world, but not of it'', accepting our physical presence here, but remembering that our true selves are timeless. Liberation and peace comes from the understanding that we are Purusha, not Prakriti. We are advised not to run away from the world, but to have perfect mental control through knowledge of the 25 elements and how they function together.

''He attains peace in whom all sensual experiences are just so many waves flowing into the ocean, which, though being ever filled remains unaffected, but he who is desirous of enjoyments never attains peace in this world.''