Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, gives us this definition of Yoga:
Yoga Sutra 1.2 – Yogash-chitta-vritti-nirodhah – “Yoga is the mastery (or control) of the modifications (fluctuations) of the mind-field.” For practical purposes, this sutra can be translated as; “yoga is the ability to remain calm in all situations in life”. When considering “all situations in life”, it implies that no matter how critical or desperate any situation may appear, yoga teaches us to learn how to stay calm and peaceful in spite of the disturbances (thoughts – both gross and subtle) occurring in the mind. A calm mind is a prerequisite to handling even the most difficult situations in life, effectively and efficiently. The opposite is also true; if we allow the mind to get unsettled, then any decision we make (or action that we take) will likely be ineffective, in fact, it may even be self-defeating and bring about negative results. In (sutras 1.12-1.16), Patanjali talks about the “two pillars of yoga practice” that will help us achieve that state of mental calmness that we are seeking; abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment).
Sutra 1.12 – abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah – “These mental modifications (fluctuations of thought patterns) are restrained (stilled, quieted) through practice and non-attachment.”
Patanjali’s definition of practice (abhyasa) Sutra 1.14 – sah tu dirgha kala nairantaira satkara asevitah dridha bhumih – “Practice becomes firmly grounded when done for a long time, without a break (or interruption), and with sincere devotion.”
Note the three qualifications for “practice”:
1. Long time – long time could imply this entire life-time, but in a more practical sense, and because the purpose of yoga practice is to control the modifications of the mind, regularity is the key.
2. Without interruption: For example, if you plan to practice 2-3 hours per day when your current lifestyle may not permit that on a consistent basis you will probably have an intermittent practice and the regularity will be broken. It would be much better to pick an amount of time (and time of day) when you can maintain your regular practice religiously and without interruption. A shorter practice done on a regular basis is much more beneficial than to wait for a day or so when you can dedicate hours to continuous practice.
3. With sincere devotion: You need to be fully committed to the practice in order to fully appreciate the benefits that it will bring. Swamiji says: “As you choose your proper level of practice, and decide to do that daily, the attitude will come more easily. It is like having a little flame of desire in the heart for the fruits of meditation, and then slowly starting to experience those benefits. That little flame starts to grow slowly and consistently into a burning desire to guide your life in the direction of spiritual realization.”
Patanjali’s definition of non-attachment (vairagya) Sutra 1.15 – drista anushravika vishaya vitrishnasya vashikara sanjna vairagyam – “When the mind is free from the desire even for objects seen, heard or described in a tradition (or in scriptures), it acquires a state desirelessness which is called non-attachment (vairagya).”
The Sanskrit word Vairagya is derived from the word Raga which is defined as the attraction (or desire) which arises due to pleasure associated with any object. Therefore Vairagya would mean the absence of any attraction towards (or desire for) objects which give pleasure. Vairagya also may include repulsion or dislike (dvesha) which arises as a result of distaste (or loathing) for any object. Both raga and dvesha are powerful disturbing forces which create the modifications in the mind-field, so it is extremely important for the practicing student or yogi to understand the significance of non-attachment as it is nearly impossible to achieve chitta-vritti-nirodha unless one can eliminate (or at least remain unaffected by) raga and dvesha. So, even to achieve a state of vairagya, continuous practice (abhyasa) is needed.
There is much more to be said about non-attachment (vairagya), but that will be discussed further in a future blog article.
Yoga Sutra (1.15) – drista anushravika vishaya vitrishnasya vashikara sanjna vairagyam. Drista means seen or perceived. Anushravika means revealed, heard (from others). Vishaya is objects, subjects or entities. Vitrishnasya is of one who is free from desire or craving. Vashikara means supreme, mastery or total control. Sanjna means awareness, consciousness or knowing. Vairagyam is non-attachment, indifference, dispassion or neutrality.
Translated this means…When the mind loses desire even for objects seen or described in a tradition or in scriptures, it acquires a state of utter (vashikara) desirelessness that is called non-attachment (vairagya). Or in other words: dispassion (or non-attachment) results from a balance in (or mastery of) the consciousness, and when the desire for all things that we see or have heard of is extinguished.
This non-attachment is not suppression nor detachment as these are both pretentious and a case of “doing” something. This non-attachment is instead a “non-doing” sort of thing. It means that your attention does not hold (or grab onto) any impression that appears in the mind in the first place. Non-attachment is cessation! If attachment does occur (whether appealing or aversion), and attention fixes itself on a deep mental impression, the subsequent non-attachment comes from the cessation of mental clinging, not from an act of forcefully prying attention away.
Patanjali further explains that non-attachment (vairagya) applies to progressively deepening levels of our being. While we might begin with our more shallow level attachments, such as the objects and people encountered in daily life, this practice is intended to deepen to include all of the objects or experiences even those we might have only heard about, including the many powers (siddhis) or experiences of the psychic or subtle realm. We gradually come to witness that even these are nothing more than distractions on our journey to Self-realization, and we learn to let them pass by as clouds in the sky.
Yoga Sutra (1.16) – tat param purusha khyateh guna vaitrshnyam. Tat is “that.” Param is higher, superior, supreme, transcendent. Purusha means pure consciousness, Self. Khyateh means through knowledge, vision, discernment. Guna represents the elements, prime qualities, constituents or attributes (three gunas of sattvas, rajas and tamas). Vaitrshnyam is that state of freedom from desire or craving (for the gunas)
This sutra can be translated to mean…Indifference to the subtlest elements, constituent principles, or qualities themselves (gunas), achieved through a knowledge of the nature of pure consciousness (purusha), is called supreme non-attachment (paravairagya). Or put another way: The highest state of desirelessness (unsurpassed non-attachment – paravairagya) arises from the experience of the true Self and in this state even the most basic elements of nature lose their power over us.
Supreme non-attachment (paravairagya) to the gunas (the three primal elements that the yogis refer to as the prime constituents of both manifest and unmanifest matter (prakriti) includes non-attachment in relation to not only the gross physical world, but also to the entire subtle, psychic and astral planes, as well as the causal realm out of which they arise.
Paravairagya comes after Self-realization and is described in these sutras as where non-attachment ultimately leads, that is, once you have the tool of samadhi and direct experience of the Self.
Practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya) are the two foundational principles on which the entire system of Yoga rests. Through the cultivation of these two principles, all other Yoga practices evolve and eventually mastery over the mind field (chitta) occurs, and allows the realization of the true Self (Atman).
Regular practice keeps you headed in the right direction, while non-attachment provides you with a means to continue your inner journey without getting sidetracked by the pains and pleasures encountered along the way.
Abhyasa and Vairagya go hand-in-hand as companion practices, and they are the tools for mastering (nirodhah) the many levels (fluctuations) of the mind, thus allowing the experience of the true Self.
In order to properly practice and cultivate non-attachment, it is necessary to become consistently better at discriminating between which actions, utterances, and thoughts take you toward the goal of union, and those which tend to separate and divide. Developing this increasing discrimination is both a foundation practice and a subtle tool for advancing the inner journey.
Practice means having an attitude of persistent effort to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility. Non-attachment involves learning to let go of the many attachments, aversions, fears, and false identities that are clouding the true Self.
Yoga Sutra (1.12) – abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah. Abhyasa means practice (also cheerfulness). Vairagyabhyam is non-attachment, indifference (or dispassion). Tat means this (of those). Nirodhah in this context, means control, regulation, restraint or mastery.
Translated this sutra means these thought patterns are controlled via a balance between cheerful practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya).
Yoga Sutra (1.13) – tatra sthitau yatnah abhyasa. Tatra means “of these two” (abhyasa and vairagya). Sthitau represents stability, consistence and undisturbed calmness. Yatnah is effort, persistent exertion or sustained struggle. Abhyasa means with (repeated) practice.
This sutra can be translated as: Practice (abhyasa) involves applying the chosen effort, and doing the actions necessary to bring a stable and tranquil state (sthitau). In other words – It means resolutely and consistently adhering to one’s practice of yoga until stable and undisturbed calmness is attained.
A note on Sthitau as a stable form of tranquility: This stability is more than just a matter of regaining your peace of mind when it has been lost, it is taking the extra steps when planning your life to support meditation; no only when meditating formally (like sitting meditation) but also when in “the marketplace.”
Yoga Sutra (1.14) – sah tu dirgha kala nairantaira satkara asevitah dridha bhumih. Sa means the same, that (practice). Tu is but or in any case. Dirga Kaka (Dirgha = long. Kala = time). Nairantarya is continuous; uninterrupted. Satkāra means seriousness; care. Adara is respect; consideration for others. Asevito (from asevita) means practiced, followed or continued. Drdha means sound, well founded. Bhumiḥ (from bhumi) basis, foundation or earth.
Put together all these words mean: When that practice is done for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation. In other words – Success can definitely be achieved through a sound and continuous practice over an extended period of time, when carried out in a serious and thoughtful manner.
Because consistency is such an important part of practice, choose a practice to which you commit yourself. Rather than be overenthusiastic when establishing your practice and taking on more than you have time (or energy) for, it is better to start by choosing a level of practice that you know you can maintain without a break. As your lifestyle changes to give you more time for meditation you can increase your time to include a session of longer duration.
Next in this series, Part 5 (Practice and non-attachment, cont.), Yoga Sutras 1.15 – 16.
There’s numerous ways to define yoga, but each of the definitions are ultimately all about connection. In Sanskrit, the word ‘yoga’ is literally translated as “to join” or “to unite” and is used to signify any form of connection. So yoga means “union,” and the purpose of yoga practice is to connect. We can connect in many ways. We can connect with others or with a higher power. We can also connect our minds with our hearts; with our thoughts reflecting our feelings and vice versa. In fact, we need to connect our minds with our hearts first, because before we can connect to another, whether a thing, person, sentient being or higher power, we need to connect our brains to our emotions.
In its highest philosophical sense, yoga means conscious connection of the individual self with the highest Self, where you feel “at one” with the rhythms and cycles of the cosmos, God or the Universal Divine.
Yoga is first and foremost a science, a system of consciously practiced techniques and processes that enable you to be fully present and to realize your highest Self (aka Atman) which is inherently connected to all that is. Hence there is no dogma or belief system attached to yoga. Yoga simply instructs you to do a certain practice, to feel the effects and then to discover your true Self through that practice. For example, if you practice pranayama and breathe slowly and in a relaxed manner you will notice your heart rate slows, your mind becomes calm and focused, and deep insights are the result.
Whenever you totally experience this connection you are in the state of yoga; a balanced, blissful and life affirming state of being united and no longer a separate ego-based entity.
Love can also be “Connection”
Ironically, romantic and personal love both have their agendas, but “connecting” has no agendas. In order for love to truly be “connection” it must be universal and unconditional, it cannot exclude or choose a specific object (or person) to love. Have you ever noticed that when you love something, you feel connected to it? You start to observe the things you have in common rather than the differences that would tend to separate you. This is a beginning, a starting point where practice can help that love to expand, to become more and more inclusive.
Here you may observe your ability to love goes through different stages where the feeling of connectivity happens on multiple levels. At first you may notice that you wish for your love to be reciprocated, and as that wish is gradually replaced by feelings of selfless love, a new sense of freedom (or expansion) is experienced. This is where yoga practice and the development of selfless love meet.
As you begin to consciously practice love in a broader, less selfish and more expansive way, you’ll feel unity, or connectivity is beginning to dissolve the drama of your separateness and your ego-centered activities are abandoned in favor of a more compassionate approach. So continue to practice yoga and selfless love until you feel that your heart is so big and the love so infinite that you can hold the whole universe in your heart.
The Bhagavad Gita recognizes the synchronous nature of creation and the underlying Divine/cosmic unity. The Hindu term, Brahman, refers to the fundamental connection of all things in the universe. The appearance of this Universal Oneness in the soul is called Atman.
The ancient Hindu mystics said everything in the universe was inextricably interconnected, and they used Indra’s Net to illustrate the concept. Stephen Mitchell, in his book The Enlightened Mind, wrote: “The Net of Indra is a profound and subtle metaphor for the structure of reality. Imagine a vast net; at each crossing point there is a jewel; each jewel is perfectly clear and reflects all the other jewels in the net, the way two mirrors placed opposite each other will reflect an image ad infinitum. The jewel in this metaphor stands for an individual being, or an individual consciousness, or a cell or an atom. Every jewel is intimately connected with all other jewels in the universe, and a change in one jewel means a change, however slight, in every other jewel.”
Could you be a Saint, a Guru, a Yogi or a Zen Master? Or maybe you’re just an ordinary decent, moral human being. How would you know for sure? Are there qualifications, or maybe some tests you can take to determine your spiritual growth? Well, yes there are! And “Life” is constantly giving you plenty of ways to test your spiritual development and plenty of circumstances to assist you in evaluating yourself, which will help you evolve spiritually.
Human beings are extremely complex, as is life, but with the right spiritual attitude, the right perspective, you can cut deep into your psyche and reveal those conditions under which you are currently operating. This will help evaluate some aspects of your being that you may not presently be aware of, and that’s where the real test begins; at this point you must be cautious not to judge yourself or the world too harshly. Measuring one’s spiritual nature can be a tricky business. When it comes to internal processes, like accessing the growth of the mind or the spirit for example, there are no fancy growth charts to tack up on the wall.
But, there are also many ways to assess your spiritual maturity proactively. One of these ways is to observe how much time we actually spend serving others in comparison to the time focused on getting results in our own life. You may be seeing the world in an ego-centric way, full of separate people, instead of seeing the world in a non-dual light with all of creation being “one” and having nothing but an interconnected, unified Divine Nature.
Yogi Bhajan once said; “If you don’t see God in all, you don’t see God at all.” So, if we want to grow spiritually, the questions we must ask ourselves are, “Am I serving others?”, and if so, “How am I serving?” Serving begins with ourselves, extends to our immediate surroundings with family and at home and then spreads out to all around us. We realize that we live where we live for a reason and a purpose, to serve others and we need to start serving right there. We then realize just how much we have been blessed, not just for ourselves, but for our opportunity to serve others. When we serve the least, the last, the lost, and everyone in between, we realize that we actually are inherently one with the Divine.
Another way to measure your spiritual maturity is to take some time to determine what you are really passionate about. Are your passions based on the secular/materialistic world or the spiritual world? In today’s “worldly” society there is too much competition for a limited number of rewards, and this competition all too often breeds conflict. But enlightenment has no limits, and just because someone else appears to be enlightened, doesn’t mean you can’t be also. We all have the innate ability recognize ourselves as enlightened beings and this is one of those things you can realize on your own, without worrying about having to wrestle it away from anyone else. So relax, there’s no need to compete, spiritual enlightenment is an infinite, inexhaustible resource. Beware of getting distracted and running around all over the place chasing useless, stupid things. Redirect yourself and get back to the business of pursuing that which is holds the highest purpose for mankind.
Summary: It’s apparent our world is presently being plagued by a number of problems. These problems are varied and can range personal types, such as drug/alcohol addictions and marital disharmony, to problems that society, countries and even international communities are faced with, such as urban violence, wars and man-made disasters. This reflects a state of the world that is primarily due to the fact that both the people and their leaders are predominantly at a lower spiritual level. It would naturally follow that the current state of the world can only be corrected if the average spiritual level of mankind is elevated, and this can only happen if people begin the process of spiritual assessment and practice on a regular basis.
Without evaluating our progress (or lack of it), and without making periodic and honest assessments of our spiritual progress it is unlikely that any real progress will be made. You will know you are advancing spiritually when you begin to see all others as connected to your own Self, and your sense of identity expands to include everything. This may be the best sign that one is maturing (or evolving) spiritually.