Dear Yoga Students, I am reminded of the 8 limb path that is described in the Yoga Sutras II.29 for guidance in getting through difficult periods in Life. There are many paths, tricks, etc, to help us along, but the yogic path is clear to understand and Time-tested for 5,000 years.. When we know we are “off” we can look to the 8 limbs and find one or more of the limbs to help us nudge back into balance.
The 8 limbs are not rules to follow to the letter, and if we try, all that is gained is rigidity of ego personality. That is probably what got us into trouble in the first place. How the 8 limbs work are only through application and effort on our part. Here is the list:
- universal abstentions: Yamas nonviolence, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t cheat at love, don’t acquire unnecessary possessions. The yogic path considers these a Great Vow, and no one is exempt.
- personal observances: Niyamas cleanliness, contentment, austerity, study of personal divinity, devotion to personal divinity.
- asanas: they should be steady and comfortable.
- pranayama: regulation of the breath brings sensory control and mental quiet
- pratyhara: deeper sensory withdrawl and deeper mental concentration
- dharna; concentration if the fixing of the mind in one place
- dhyana: meditation is one -pointedness of the mind on one image
- Samadhi: meditation shines forth and there is no separation between what is seen and the one seeing.
Without going into any imaginary scenario, take a look at your life as it is , right now, today. How is it going? Can you look at the above list and see a dark spot? A bright spot? Can you honestly and sincerely work on all 8 limbs, not just asana? It is a big task to take FULL responsibility for all that is happening. But when we do, with the help of the ancient ones, the ancestors in yoga lineage as well as other great spiritual leaders, we will be helped. We will transform our consciousness, and it will be genuine. And it will last our whole life long.
Have a good summer, see you in class.
The Timeless book, The Bhadavad Gita, reminds us of the power of unity. Not just the power of being nice, or a surface toleration, but a deep and unwavering experience of unity that re-establishes our feet back on higher ground. The beginning chapter, The War Within, sketches Arjuna as the confused and distraught man whose Life has come “to this”. On the eve of war, killing his cousins, or being killed by them, either way he reasons, the social fabric of Life and the personal fabric of family will be thrown into chaos, and this has caused him to drop his bow to the ground, fall to his knees and say, Help me.
CHAPTER ONE: THE WAR WITHIN
Arjuna: “Standing between two armies, Arjuna saw fathers and grandfathers, teachers, uncles, and brothers, sons and grandsons, in-laws, and friends. Seeing his kinsmen arrayed against him, Arjuna was over come by sorrow. Despairing, he spoke, O Krishna, I see my own relations here anxious to fight, and I am unable to stand, my mind seems to be whirling. My will is paralyzed and I am utterly confused. Tell me which is the better path for me. Let me be your disciple, I have fallen at your feet, give me instruction.”
However, he wants to be told what to do! He wants the mighty Krishna to tell him either to go into battle or walk away. Krishna is wise and the wise do not fall for solving someone else’s dilemma. Instead of telling him what to do, he tells him what it is to be The Illumined One. Thus the second chapter, The Nature of Reality, is revealed by Krishna.
CHAPTER TWO: THE NATURE OF REALITY
The Illumined One has singleness of purpose: awareness of the non-dual. The Illumined One has experienced the true Nature of Reality to be non-changing. The Illumined One does not deny that day changes into night, nor health changes into Ill-health, nor, one’s mind can travel from stable to erratic in a flash. The Illumined One sees every experience in a continual process of coming into being and passing away. AS Eswarren writes: “the sages brought together the world of changing phenomena outside and the world within the mind. There is no barrier between these two worlds, they realized, because the object as it is perceived cannot be separated from the the act of observation. Sense and sense-objects are bound together, the seer, the thing seen, and the act of seeing are aspects of a single event in consciousness.” Arjuna says, “what???” He does not understand a thing Krishna is saying. Krishna continues to explain that the world we experience is a construct of how our mind and nervous system perceive, and there is a method to study the mind by the mind to go beyond the mind, and it is called meditation. Now Arjuna knows about concentration, he is a highly skilled and trained archer. He does not know about meditation. Most of us don’t. In the Bhagavad Gita, meditation begins with withdrawing the senses from the outside world (think of your self in malasana, kurmasana, savasana) And adding in a focus point within in the mind. Think of your breath in the above poses. As we stay in a still and focused state, all kinds of mental states arise for our viewing; anger, pain, hatred, love, agitation, quiet and on and on. This is the study of the mind by the mind. This process continues unceasing to the point where the question, “Who am I,” pops up out of nowhere, and we are left even letting this go.
Pure Awareness remains, unfolds, all consciousness retrieved f rom the sense. At this moment we have no body, no eyes to see or ears to hear, no time to track. Only space. Only direct awareness of a world that is one, undivided, infinite, radiant. Now, when you experience this for your self, you understand Chapter Two.
Here is the direct quote from Chapter Two that sums this up: The impermanent has no reality: reality lies in the eternal . . . You were never born, you will never die, you have never changed, you can never change. Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die, when the body dies. It is easy to see how Arjuna has been swept to the brink of despair, he has never touched this place of unity, and now he is crazy with indecision (2:16, 20).
The Gita introduces the following Sanskrit words: Samadhi . . . the direct experience of reality when the mind is still, in which we see life as whole, all, indivisible unity. This will be Arjuna’s future path as he moves from concentration into meditation. Atman . . . the divine ground of existence can only be experienced and not described. It shows up in our actions. Our own personal discovery of the unified state brings an inner presence greater than our personal personality. But through our actions, we automatically express the depth of our understanding: the body draws its strength from his place and puts others before one’s self. The senses draw their activity from this place, and are brighter, keener and wiser in their observations, the intellect draws its strength from this place and learns discrimination, and lastly, the heat draws its capacity to love from the experience of being in this place. The sages have called this presence, Atman, pure consciousness that is the bedrock of our spirit.
I hope this is a positive and clear start into a vast subject, the Nature of Reality. I am still digesting this chapter and feel I will be the rest of my life. Sometimes I “get it” and sometimes I go, like Arjuna, Huh?
CHAPTER THREE: THE END OF SORROW
Arjuna asks Krishna, tell me about the one who is established in unity? How do they talk, sit, and move about? (2:54) Krishna explains that until we have found our own center of gravity in the unified field, then we will be manipulating those around us to bring about our own fulfillment. This gets Arjuna ‘s attention and he listens more intently: The Illumined One has the right to work but no right to claim the results. The Illumined One has evenness of mind, so when results are favorable or full of failure, the mind remains steadfast. The Illumined One draws his senses inward at will. The Illumined One is not deluded by changes: the same person inhabits the body through childhood, youth and old age, so too at the time of death he attains another body. The body is mortal but that which dwells in the body is immortal and immeasurable. Arjuna has asked for wisdom in each action, each moment. To end the sorrow, he is experiencing, the Experience of separation dissolves and anger subsides and becomes love, Fear subsides and becomes courage, greed becomes compassion, and jealousy becomes respect. The separate self cries no more for its condition, and joy arises.
One quote from Chapter Three: Selfish action imprisons the world. Act selflessly without any thought of personal profit . . . every selfless act, Arjuna, is born from Brahman, the eternal, infinite Godhead: he is present in every act of service. Therefore, strive to constantly to serve the welfare of the world, do your work with the welfare of others always in mind (3.9, 15, 19-20).
This is the famous phrase: action in inaction: from the still unified state you have touched, witnessed, AND know for your self through and through, you release immense energy in service of all.
CHAPTER FOUR: LEVELS OF PERSONALITY
When we identify with the body beautiful and strong, and our minds sharp or dull, our emotions strong or wavering, we make decisions that are all tangled up in the changing circumstances of whim, fancy and fantasy. We cement the layer of “I” and keep separateness in full view. What a dis-organizing mistake.
CHAPTER FIVE: THE STICKY ILLUSION OF SEPARATENESS
The Bhagavad Gita explains we have come to identify with the changing world because of our biology, our karma, our predilection for being driven by greed, hatred and ignorance and lust. These qualities are existent in all of our minds, and maya, the magic spell of illusion, makes us feel that the stronger the reaction the more “true’ it must be.
Hence the emphasis on withdrawing the senses. Having a practice of discipline that includes a method to touch the quiet, not the drama.
The Sanskrit word used here is APOHATA, breaking the mold we have of our self. This will come with resistance. We want to see ourselves as loving and compassionate, but as long as the illusion of separateness and the strength of our self-will are running our choices and behaviors, we will do harm to ourselves and to others. The gift of Chapter Five is we learn that we are the root cause of our suffering! Not the war without, but our war within between our mind and our mind identifying with the mind. When we know who we are, we don’t get attached to the body or the senses or the mental states, we do still experience them, but there is a deep and long lens that sees them in the unified state.
CHAPTER SIX: THE MEANING OF YOGA
USE DISCIPLINED PRACTICES TO HEAL THE SPLIT OF OUR CONSCIOUSNESS
HOW? Like Arjuna, we want to know, too. Our behaviors run through us to our very core. We look to our actions for personal feedback of how we are doing. When actions are reactions out of resentment the war within points to our own un –explored dance with inadequacy and insecurity. When we want to “yoke” our entire self to wholeness, are we clear this does not mean our personality and our likes and dislikes? Do we get it we are yoking our self to the Atman, the unified state and using our body and mind as instruments to live this truth? Krishna describes three paths of yoga where we can apply our skills in everyday life.
- Karma yoga: selfless work for the welfare of others, based on no separation between oneself and the other.
- Jnana yoga: wisdom and knowledge of the unified state is direct and clear and informs all actions
- Bhakti yoga: a way of devotion that extends into all of life.
Arjuna begs and pleads with Krishna to tell him which path he should follow, and yet Krishna knows that the long view, the bigger picture, the reality of not mistaking the impermanent for the permanent, must be introduced NOW, and drilled into Arjuna’s awareness so that he can make his own choice.
And this chapter ends with the big drill: MEDITATION. Meditation is the drill that Krishna leaves us with in the quote: “Meditation is superior to asceticism and the path of knowledge. It is also superior to selfless service. May you attain the goal of meditation, Arjuna!” (6:46).