“From the practice of Yoga, spiritual illumination arises which develops into awareness of Reality.” (Yoga Sutras 2:28)
Om Yoga: Ashtanga Yoga
The yoga of the Yoga Sutras is usually called the Eight-limbed (Ashtanga) Yoga. “Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi are the eight limbs.” (Yoga Sutras 2:29) The Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali and Om Yoga are really the same thing.
1) Yama (Restraint)
Yama consists of the five Don’ts of Yoga:
1) Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness
2) Satya: truthfulness, honesty–i.e., non-lying
3) Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness
4) Brahmacharya: sexual continence and control of all the senses
5) Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness
2) Niyama (Observance)
Niyama comprises the five Do’s of Yoga:
1) Shaucha: purity, cleanliness
2) Santosha: contentment, peacefulness
3) Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline
4) Swadhyaya: self-study, spiritual study
5) Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God
Both Yama and Niyama are analyzed in the next chapter.
In the Yoga Sutras “asana” does not mean Hatha Yoga postures, but only meditation postures. Asana is both the sitting posture chosen for meditation and steadiness in that posture. It is this second aspect that is meant by Patanjali.
It is usually thought that pranayama is composed of the words prana and yama, which mean breath (or life-force) and restraint (or control). But it really comes from prana (breath) and ayama, which means lengthening, expansion, and extension. In meditation the breath becomes subtle, refined, and slow
(lengthened, expanded, and extended). Yoga Sutra says that pranayama “becomes measured or regulated [paridrishto], prolonged [dirgha], and subtle or attenuated [sukshmah].” “Prolonged and light [fine],” says Vyasa. Sometimes it is long and slow and sometimes it is slow but short. Whichever it may be, it is always spontaneous and not controlled–or even deliberately intended–in any way. This is accomplished through objective observation of the breath, and is not an artificial breathing exercise.
There is more to this pranayama, however. Patanjali tells us: “From that comes the dissolving of the covering of light and the fitting of the mind for meditation.” (Yoga Sutras 2:52,53) That is, the inmost pranayama dissolves the veil which covers the light of the knowledge of the self. Yet this veil is itself light–the light of subtle matter or energy, the light of which the most subtle bodies are formed.
They might reasonably be called “light that veils the (ultimate) light.” As Taimni observes in The Science of Yoga: “The covering of light referred to in this sutra is obviously not used in reference to the light of the soul, but to the light or luminosity associated with the subtler vehicles associated with and interpenetrating the physical vehicle.”
This “covering of light” is our karma, for “it is karma by which the light is covered,” says Shankara. Vyasa expands on this, saying: “It [pranayama] destroys the karma which covers up the light of knowledge in the yogi. As it is declared: ‘When the ever-shining [self] is covered over by the net of great illusion, one is impelled to what is not to be done.’ By the power of pranayama, the light-veiling karma binding him to the world becomes powerless, and moment by moment is destroyed. So it has been said: ‘There is no tapas
[spiritual practice] higher than pranayama; from it come purification from taints and the light of knowledge [of the self].” (The Laws of Manu 6:70,72) Both Shankara and Vyasa explain to us that karma not only binds us to material experience, it also impels us to create even more karma–and more bondage–in a self-perpetuating circle.
But by meditation the karma “becomes powerless, and moment by moment is destroyed.” That is, the karmic seeds are “roasted” and rendered incapable of creating future experience or births and are ultimately completely annihilated.
How could simple observation of the breath do all this? It cannot. There must be a second factor, Om, as the Yoga Vashishtha tells us. “Pranayama is accomplished by effortlessly breathing and joining to it the repetition of the sacred Om with the experience of Its meaning, when the consciousness reaches the deep sleep state.” (Yoga Vashishtha 5:78) The more we do japa and meditation of Om the more karma is dissolved–painlessly. Om Yoga, then, is the direct way to dissolve karma and be free.
Abstraction or withdrawal of the senses from their objects by turning the awareness inward is known as pratyahara. In Om Yoga we accomplish this by the simple expedient of turning our eyes slightly downward, closing them, and relaxing them. By this simple thing we reduce our brain-wave activity by about seventy-five percent. Immediately the awareness begins to withdraw inward. Breathing only through the nose also helps in this.
“Dharana is the confining [fixing] of the mind within a point or area,” says Yoga Sutra 3:1. The word that can be translated either “point” or “area” is desha,
as in Bangala–the area where Bengalis live. Physcially we accomplish this by fixing our attention within the midst of the head in the Chidakasha area. Mentally we do this by fixing our attention on the etheric level of inner speaking and inner hearing, on our inner intonations of Om.<>
“Meditation is the unbroken flow of awareness of the object.
Dhyana is the process of meditation itself. In Yoga Sutra 3:2, Patanjali defines dhyana as “the uninterrupted flow of the mind–the content of the consciousness–in a single and unbroken stream.” This we accomplish by inwardly intoning Om in time with our breath and listening to those intonations.
The sutra may also be translated: “Meditation is the unbroken flow of awareness of the object.” Vyasa says: “Meditation is continuity of the experience of the meditation-object.”
Shankara defines meditation as a stream of identical vrittis [thoughts] as a unity, a continuity of vrittis not disturbed by intrusion of differing or opposing vrittis. This is dhyana”–a continuous stream of inner intonations of Om.
And He contrasts the beginning stage of meditation, dharana, with meditation itself, saying: “Whereas in dharana there may be other impressions of peripheral thoughts even though the chitta has been settled on the object of meditation alone–for the chitta is functioning on the location [desha] as a pure mental process–it is not so with dhyana, for there it [the object of meditation] is only the stream of a single vritti untouched by any other vritti of a different kind.”
By the continual intonations of Om with the breath at the Chidakasha we produce a stream of identical waves in the chitta until that stream becomes a continuous unitary flow of rarefied sound, a single object or wave that is “untouched” by any other thought or impression.
The state in which the mind unites with and identifies with the object of meditation is known as samadhi. This is purely a state of the mind (chitta) and has nothing to do with physical phenomena such as the cessation all outward sensations, breath, and heartbeat, though awareness of those phenomena certainly does cease in samadhi.
Fundamentally, samadhi is a state in which your awareness, your breath, and the inner intonations of Om become one in the Chidakasha. When the consciousness merges into and becomes revealed as Om Itself, that is the true samadhi. It is the perfect merging of the consciousness of the individual spirit with the Consciousness of the Infinite Spirit, for Om is both of these.
Regarding this, Sri Ramakrishna said: “By crossing over this maya of living beings and the universe, one is able to reach reality. One attains samadhi by piercing nada (the sound barrier). The nada is pierced through repetition of Om and one attains samadhi.” (Part Four, Chapter Two, of the Mazumdar translation.)
States of consciousness
Although asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi may be considered as processes of meditation, in a higher sense they are really stages of awareness passed through in meditation.
Asana is the initial stage of body awareness as we sit in the chosen posture and arrange ourselves comfortably. Pranayama is the slowing down and refinement of the breath leading to awareness of the pranas moving in the physical and subtle bodies that results from our physical and mental relaxation (asana) and observation of the breath. Pratyahara is the turning inward of the mind
resulting naturally from our closed eyes, relaxation, bodily ease, and the calming of the breath. Dharana is the fixing of the awareness in the etheric levels of our being as we begin mentally intoning and listening to the sound of Om. Dhyana is Dharana in an unbroken stream when the awareness is absorbed in intoning and listening to Om within the Chidakasha. Samadhi is the experience of the absolute unity of the breath, Om, and the meditator, the perfecting merging of consciousness into the Chidakasha.
In asana the awareness is centered in the physical body, the annamaya kosha. In pranayama the awareness is centered in the pranic (biomagnetic) body, the pranamaya kosha. In pratyahara the awareness is centered in the sensory mental body, the manomaya kosha.
In dharana the awareness is centered in the intellect-intelligence body, the jnanamaya kosha. In dhyana the awareness is centered in the will-etheric body, the anandamaya kosha. In samadhi the awareness transcends the bodies and unites with the atman-spirit in the Chidakasha.
Asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and the annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, jnanamaya, and anandamaya bodies also correspond to the earth, water, fire, air, and ether elements respectively.
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