Tag Archives: patanjali

Is Samadhi a lofty goal, or something we attain everyday?

Samadhi, the eighth limb of yoga, is defined at length in the first pada (chapter) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s. Most modern practitioners don’t acknowledge this part of yoga and see it as a something one achieves after many years of austere practice whilst sitting in a cave. But Patanjali gives many scenarios for achieving this state in the “or” verses I.33-I.39.

He first outlines achieving this state of mind by intense mediation with the goal of purging all thoughts. For me this is impossible as I suspect it is for most. This is the way of the renunciate.

But then he gives options. You can achieve Samadhi by chanting “OM.” You can achieve Samadhi by being friendly and compassionate. You can achieve Samadhi by doing pranayama. You can achieve Samadhi by looking at pictures of enlightened sages.. The list is vast and I recommend you read it.

Here is an example:

I.35 viṣayavatī vā pravṛttir utpannā manasaḥ sthiti-nibandhanī

Or else, focus on a sense object arises, and this causes steadiness of the mind.

I was teaching a class this week and a student revealed after class that she received bad family news. She said the class made her focus on straightening her leg, exhaling during twists, and externally rotating her arms. She said this was the first time her mind was able to “rest” in the gravity of the bad news. In light of the bad news, she probably did not reach Samadhi, but I have had many classes where my troubles became much less intense during the focus of the session.

Today I was working in my garden. I saw tender new buds. I was in a state of calm ecstasy which I have not experienced in a long time. Was this Samadhi? I cooked dinner for my wife and mother in law. The dinner turned out perfectly. Everyone enjoyed it. Was this Samadhi?

I  have an inkling that Samadhi hits us when we are not trying to achieve Samadhi. If you are in your natural state doing your dharma without any expectation, I think you are ripe for the experience.

The interesting thing about the eight limbs is that most involve “doing” something. But Samadhi is something that is done to you.

So please don’t write it off if you don’t understand it or think it is way out there. Like fertile soil, once the conditions are correct within your mind, the seeds of Samadhi can easily take root.

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Book Review: I Am That, by Nisargadatta Maharaj

I just finished all 531 pages of I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj, translated by Maurice Frydman. I started reading it in late May and just finished now in mid-September. Why did it take me so long? It certainly wasn’t that he used complicated words. Any high school student could understand it if they have the patience to decipher some the Sanskrit terminology that can be found in the book’s appendix. It certainly wasn’t long drawn out chapters. The book contains 101 chapters which are two to four pages long. It took me so long because the concepts in the book, when thought about and considered, are among the deepest one may experience.

The book is in the the typical question and answer format one reads in most of the non-dualist genre. Nisargadatta Maharaj gave satsang, or spiritual teachings, based out his Bombay (Mumbai) apartment until his death in 1981. He wasn’t a typical yoga practitioner. He made a living making and selling cigarettes on the street and chain smoked them as he gave his teachings. He liked to argue with his disciples, and would kick them out if he felt they have overstayed their welcome after receiving the essence of his teachings. He only spoke in Marathi, and would employ translators for Westerners.

In all of his eccentricities, his teachings get to the heart of the matter: we are not what we take ourselves to be, we are the very universe itself. He foremost rejects that he is his body which is repeated ad nauseum in this text. He rejects that he is his mind, which he says belongs to the body. “As long as one is burdened with a personality, one is exposed to its idiosyncrasies and habits.” He says he is that which does not change: the purusha. Purusha can be translated as “soul” but Maharaj gives it a much more nuanced and textured meaning throughout his book.

His basic teaching is summed up in this dialogue:

Maharaj: How can an unsteady mind make itself steady? Of course it cannot. It is the nature of the mind to roam about. All you can do is to shift the focus of consciousness beyond the mind.

Questioner: How is it done?

Maharaj: Refuse all thoughts except one: the thought ‘I am’. The mind will rebel in the beginning, but with patience and perseverance it will yield and keep quiet. Once you are quiet, things will begin to happen spontaneously and quite naturally without any interference on your part. (page 17)

This may sound a lot like the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Maharaj’s teachings are very similar with the exception that Maharaj was not silent the way Ramana Maharshi was (Maharshi said very few words to his devotees). But by using his preferred format of argument, the teachings of Nisargadatta yield more concrete “instructions” that are well suited for the Western mind.

I would recommend this book after one is familiarized with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s, as many of the concepts draw from that classic text. In fact if you struggle with the Sutra-s in terms of how prakriti and purusha interplay, I Am That offers elegant explanations and possible solutions. To read this book properly, I wouldn’t advise taking on more than a chapter a day (3-4 pages), and really think about the words. You won’t be the same after reading it.

Linked below is a pdf of the book, and also a video which can be viewed as a primer to the teachings.

http://advaita.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/1-I-Am-That-Nisargadatta-Maharaj-Resumo.pdf

 

This old Pune belt

After my father-in-law passed away in May, my mother-in-law is now wanting to go to a care home which means we will have to sell our house. My wife and I are surveying this daunting task and were in decision paralysis on where to start. We decided that the first thing to do was start cleaning.

While I was straightening out my “yoga room” I came across an old Pune strap that my mentoring teacher Ray Madigan gave to me many years ago when I first started on my assessment path. Back then the strap was slightly used from the studio. Now, as seen above, it is ripped in half and heavily stained.

It reminded me of my Karate training early in life. When I was young, like 7 or 8 years old, my father enrolled my brother and I in Karate classes. We were given fresh, white belts. The theory with the karate belt system is that as you progress and practice, your belt gets stained. So the progression is white, yellow, green, purple, brown, then black (at least that was our system in the school). The “black belt” is that way because of blood, sweat, tears, and a bit of grass stains over many years of ardent practice.

So as you can see above, I am probably a yellow/green belt in yoga (using the same belt system). Obviously this took far beyond 200 hours which is the current standard of most yoga schools.

Another thing about Pune belts is that they are extremely durable. They are a light weight cotton corduroy, so to break one takes repeated beatings. I am fairly gentle with my props, so the above strap is a product of time, pressure, and repeated use. I remember the day it ripped when I was going between halasana and sarvangasana. It made me a bit sad.

Interestingly enough, I have been studying the second pada of the Yoga Sutras. This week I am focusing on II.11 dhyāna-heyās tad-vṛttayaḥ, or the states of mind produced by these klesas (ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and fear to death) are eliminated by meditation. Vyasa, a famous commentator, likens removal of kleshas to washing clothes by hand. First you shake the clothing removing the large dirt particles, then you scrub the clothes in soap and beat them against a rock to remove the finer dirt. If the clothes are stained so badly, you burn the garment. As meditation “burns” the seeds of kleshas and samskaras, it purifies the being. I will definitely not burn this stained strap as it is more of a marker of my progress.

As change is the only constant in life, I will be better off in not being attached to my house, or yoga room, or straps and just surrender to what is in front of me. Perhaps the years of hard work it took to get my Pune belt it that condition will help me in this next phase of my adulthood. I wonder how many years it will take me to get a “black belt?”

 

Practice…an old friend

Everyone’s sadhana has its different seasons. There are times when “all is coming” and there are other times when the plateaus are like a desolate mesa in the desert. And there are times when poses which came so easily are no longer available to you. It takes years of mature practice to not get caught up in “progress” but rather be grateful that you still have a practice at at all.

I have been listening to series of talks from David Godman who is a devotee of Ramana Maharshi and has written extensively on his teachings. From time to time Godman talks about his own practice. He reflects on his meditations at Ramana-ashram where Maharshi taught:

I think what I got from sitting here apart from a lot of peace, a lot of quiet, is a cultivation of a presence inside me. You can call that presence “Bhagavan” (term of endearment of Ramana Maharshi) you can call it “grace,” you can call it whatever you like. It’s like having a recognition of an old friend inside yourself. You know its there all the time. For me that is the concrete result of doing Bhagavan’s practice in this hall.

That captures the same feeling when I get to do my own practice after I teach my morning class in the Manoa studio. This is the studio where I had my first teacher training class many years ago. This is the studio where I stood in back of class and just observed my teachers conduct class during my apprenticeship. This is the studio where I stumbled through my first assessment jittery and nervously under the hawkish eyes of three senior assessors. This is the studio where I got my first job as an Iyengar Certified Teacher. This is the studio that almost went down in flames when the neighboring nail salon had an explosion. And this is the first studio that I have grown a crop of my own students to become better practitioners.

Because of my life events in taking care of my inlaws and working a full time job, I have decided to postpone my Junior Intermediate I assessment for another year. That gives me a bit of relief to take care of family and work. Most importantly, it gives me more time to develop my own practice and teaching skills further. There may even be a trip to India in my future.

There are a slew of workshops coming up and I am looking forward to the intensity of them. Workshops always have a way of converting my predominant tamoguna into sattva guna through the fire of rajas from the senior teachers who visit. But as the wise words of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras say, at one point we have to go beyond all the gunas to reach the ultimate liberation:

IV.34 puruṣārtha-sūnyānāṁ guṇānāṁ pratiprasavaḥ kaivalyaṁ svarūpa-pratiṣṭhā vā

Until then, I will continue steadfastly on my Junior I syllabus.

 

 

The Yamas and Niyamas of Śāṇḍilya Upanishad

upanishad

If you give any depth of study to Patanjali, you will find he is often quoted as a “codifier” of Yoga. He was a journalist of the highest order writing down all the practices at his time and also referencing practices of the past. He was quite diplomatic in the Yoga Sutra-s giving a nod to all the different practices. And he put all the practices in terse format, so it would be easier to memorize for generations through the millennia.

One of the references that Patanjali may have drawn from come from the Śāṇḍilya Upanishad, an Atharvavedaic text dating back between 1000-1500 BCE (Patanjali existed around the second century BCE). This is a short treatise that mentions eight limbs of Yoga. It begins with a teaching between Arthavan and Śāṇḍilya:

Śāṇḍilya: “Please tell me about the eight angas of Yoga which is the means of attaining Atman.”

Artharvan: “The eight Agnas are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Of these, Yama is of ten kinds and so is Niyama. There are eight Asanas. Pranayama is of three kinds. Pratyahara is of five kinds; so also is Dharana. Dhyana is of two kind and Samadhi is of one kind only.”

The ten Yamas of this Upanishad are:

Ahimsa (not causing pain of anyone both physically and mentally)

Satya (Truthfulness)

Asteya (Not coveting)

Bhramacharya (Celebacy)

Daya (Kindliness)

Arjava (equanimity of mind in actions)

Kshama (Patience)

Dhriti (Preserving firmness of mind in periods of gain or loss)

Mitahara (Taking of only oily or sweet food leaving one fourth of the stomach empty)

Saucha (Both internal and external cleanliness)

There are also ten Niyamas:

Tapas (Empanciation from the body through penance)

Santosha (Contentment)

Astika (Belief in merits or demerits of actions set forth in the Vedas)

Dana (Charity)

Isvarapujana (Worship of God with a pure heart)

Siddhanta-Srivara (Inquiry of the significance of Vedanta)

Hrih (Shame when straying from actions set forth in the Vedas)

Mati (Faith in the paths laid out in the Vedas)

Japa (practicing the Mantras)

Vrata (Regular observance of Vedic actions, and non observance of actions that are not in the Vedas).

The text then expounds on Asanas and Pranayamas. Perhaps that will be another blog post. The scholar/historian in me is fascinated by this text. I find it comforting and reaffirming that these practices have been around for thousand and thousands of years. The fact that we can still access this text in 2015 shows that it is true enough to stand the test of time.

 

Several approaches to the eight limbs of Yoga

Patanjali35

When one first reads the eight limbs in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s, there are many questions that arise. Are the eight limbs practiced sequentially, like rungs in a ladder, or are they practiced all together? That really depends upon your point of view and also which tradition you follow. This post assumes one has read the eight limbs. If not here is a link to review them. I will provide a few points of view from my training and personal practice on following the eight limbs.

Say like you are a sincere practitioner and want to follow the eight limbs sequentially like a staircase–not proceeding to the next limb until you have “mastered” the previous. Then you meet a formidable challenge like the Yamas. The first Yama is ahimsa (non-harming). On your way to your practice, you accidentally step on a bug, injuring it. Can you proceed to the next limb? What about telling the truth (satya), not stealing (asteya), staying sexually continent (brahmacharya), and not being greedy (aparigraha)? Then what about the Niyamas of saucha (internal and external cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (ardor for practice), svadhyaya (self study), and Ishvara pranidhana (complete surrender to God)? If you had to master one limb before proceeding to the next, it would most likely take several lifetimes to qualify for Asana!

We have to keep in mind that the aim of Yoga is to still the citta. So living in observance of these ethical guidelines is highly conducive for stilling the mind. Imagine doing the exact opposite. What if you harmed others, lied, steal from others, had multiple sex partners, and were stingy and greedy. Your mind would be all over the place.

My point of view is that the first four limbs of Yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama are things one can do externally to still the citta. The next two limbs: pratyahara and dharana are things one can do internally to still the citta. The last two limbs: Dhyana and Samadhi are what Yoga does to the practitioner who correctly and steadfastly practices these concepts.

The first four limbs, Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama, are called the bahiranga (the pursuit of external purity), pratyahara (detachment form the senses), and dharana (concentration) are called the antaranga (the pursuit of internal purity), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (illumination) are called the antaratama (the pursuit of the Soul).

In the West we like “goals.” Rather than viewing the eight limbs as a goal with Samadhi being the prize, I like to view the eight limbs as a toolbox one can use to get the mind to quieten. If there are any sincere “goals” of yoga, they would be to practice daily, and not be attached to things of with the ego identifies itself (abhyasa and vairagyam).

What if you were not able to practice Asana? Your practice would be to follow the Yamas and Niyamas to create stillness in the mind. What if your mind was too busy to focus on Pranayama?  Your practice would be Asana. These are examples of slotting in and slotting out limbs like gathering tools from a toolbox to quiet the mind.

Can you practice several limbs at once? Of course! When doing a sincere pranayama practice, you are already following the Yamas and Niyamas easily. You are in supported Savasana or a seated position and are therefore practicing Asana. B.K.S. Iyengar used Asana as a focus point to amplify the other limbs, just as Gandhi used the Yamas of ahimsa and satya to liberate India from the West.

The take home message here is whenever the mind is not quiet, Patanjali says you have access to many tools to make it quiet. Then you can see your true self and all your splendorous radiance.

Have a great weekend!

If studios taught Yoga classically, they’d probably go out of business

aghori-sadhu-with-skull

In preparation for my next level of assessment, my mentoring teacher asked me to summarize the first Pada of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and relate it to my own experience thus far in my practice. Each time I read it I get more insight into what it really takes to study Yoga. Not Asanas, but Yoga.

Patanjali pretty much says unless you were born under divine intervention, the practitioner has very little chance of actually stilling the mind. Only through supremely intensive practice without attachment to the outcome will one still the mind just enough to get a glimpse of one’s true nature. Only then the path of Yoga can begin.

Fast forward to 2015.

I saw on today’s Facebook page that yoga studios in Colorado are protesting a proposal to have the state regulate them. Many are up in arms about how it will put their studio out of business. There are also plenty of studios advertising “advanced” teacher trainings for just $2,000 USD to “further deepen” one’s practice. In short, all of Yoga we see around us is about making money or not going bankrupt. Very little in modern Yoga is about practicing and not being attached to the outcome.

I’m not decrying this. We live in a modern society and have bills to pay. I even work in a studio that has those bills to pay and will go out of business without my and my teacher’s efforts. However, my observation is that there is so much emphasis put on Yoga as a means of making a living in the West, that much of the true Yoga teaching has been distorted or lost.

Under what conditions would we be able to teach classical Yoga? In India, Sadhu-s (holy men) go without homes, leave their families, barely eat just to follow the classical teachings. Not to say that all of these men are legit, but the commitment to the system is there.

My gut feeling says that studios in Colorado and other states will be regulated, studios will go out of business, “advanced teacher trainings” will be the new Amway, and Yoga as it is being taught in the West with endless 200 hour certification programs will be one of those things people will have remembered about the 2010s that won’t necessarily be around in the next 20 years.

However, classical Yoga will never die as long as there are human beings crazy enough to try to still their mind to get a glimpse of their true selves.

On that note, have a great weekend!