Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Root of Integral Yoga (third part)
by Advaita Mihai Stoian
The Spiritual Journey as a Practical Pursuit
In the first verse of the second chapter, Patanjali explains the Yoga of Spiritual Action that will naturally lead to an evolutionary process within the frame of daily existence. Validated by the daily life, spiritual results therefore become an achievement that is no longer lost through the waves of life.
This involves the self-assumed discipline, Tapas; self-introspection reflected through the validation of the sacred texts Swadhyaya; and Ishwara Pranidhana which is the devotion toward God or the Supreme Being. This last one represents one of the most delicate concepts presented in this work, a subject of controversy and innumerable speculations in the modern interpretation of this fundamental work.
Not being biased by any anarchic attitude toward a Supreme Spiritual authority – as many people are today, without even realizing it – Patanjali is introducing the notion of the Supreme Being, Ishwara, that should be the support of the individual aspirations, ideals and devotion.
It makes one smile to see how keen many authors are today to demonstrate that Patanjali could not talk about God in his work and that Yoga has nothing to do with the belief in God … But this very attempt to remove God from this work through all kinds of linguistic speculations is only an expression of the anxiety the existence of a Supreme Being always creates within an ego-centered individuality.
As for the path of Yoga described by Patanjali, this is shown to be a very simple combination between individual efforts (self-assumed discipline tapas and deepened self-observation correlated with all the scriptures, swadhyaya), and an openness toward the Macrocosm. This openness is obtained and maintained through the gesture of devotion toward the Supreme Absolute Being, Ishwara. Patanjali is therefore not interested in debating who Ishwara is or entering into any ontological or metaphysical views upon the subject, but only to point out the essential role the Supreme Absolute being is playing in the evolution of the individual human being. Isn’t that amazingly modern? It makes the modern new age gurus, those who are full of anxiety every time they have to explain the “G” word, look like rigid fanatics. Compare this simple and universal perspective from the debut of the second pada with the desperate attempts of today’s wellbeing “masters” to strip the yoga practice of any connection with a Divine Source in order to make it fit into the atheistic paradigm that has been forced upon humanity by its ignorant “architects of deception” leaders. It makes the Yoga Sutras even more valuable as a fundamental work of spiritual practice.
Some are even hiding behind the argument that Ishwara refers here to the individual Supreme Self, Atman. But even so, there is no contradiction in itself because at the ultimate level of the spiritual path one will realize the identification between the individual Supreme Self Atman and the Supreme Absolute Being ParamAtman or Ishwara. And furthermore it is a proof of ignorance regarding spiritual practice to differentiate between a state of devotion toward the individual Supreme Self Atman and a state of devotion toward the Supreme Absolute, Ishwara. The problem will not be different unless one is using this “individual” aspect of Atman as an excuse to hide there the ugly face of a “spiritual” ego, transubstantiated after all the spiritual efforts into a form of personality that can pose as the spark of Divinity within the human being. In reality this becomes the scheme of saving the ego from the purge of the spiritual practice, a genuine “Schindler’s list” for the ego and his family to pass into the realm of spirituality. This is why an individual God is accepted whereas a Universal God is feared and becomes a source of anxiety and fanatic reactions.
The second chapter is called “Sadhana Pada” and rightly so. The word sadhana is a conjunction of “Sat” and “Dharana”, or literally, “Truth fixation”. Sadhana stands for spiritual practice, the actions that are done in order to crystalize the understanding and teachings into one’s individual existence. Sadhana is not a purpose in itself (as it often becomes when the basics are misunderstood) but a sum of all methods to achieve the goals of the spiritual pursuit.
It is to be noted that the pillars of the Kriya Yoga practice as described by Patanjali are found in the last three Niyamas or ethical observances of the second phase of Ashtanga Yoga. The term “Kriya Yoga” used by Patanjali should not be mistaken with the system of Kriya Yoga that has become popular among Yoga enthusiasts today. Some of those practices are only body actions or so-called Kriyas from the Hatha Yoga system, Prana Kriyas or breath modifications together with some distortion of the Laya Yoga Kriyas or Kundalini Kriyas. They are often only a quick adaptation for the increasingly thirsty market for spirituality that has emerged in the void left by the falling of the traditional religions, especially in the big civilization centers. They are sometimes just a severe mutilation of the integrality of a genuine spiritual system, a state that becomes detectable only when putting it near Patanjali’s concept of Kriya Yoga. And since few are instructing themselves today about the basics of their spiritual practice, the fraud goes on undetected and sells a lot of dreams of evolution to a crowd that might mistake feelings of vibrations moving along the spine with the rising of the cosmic energy Kundalini and some phosphenes with the pure Spirit of God.
Patanjali’s Kriya Yoga is based on the practical validation of gradual experimentation, a path of development following the natural evolutionary stages described by the Sutras. It is not just a certain yoga style or a specialized set of yoga methods designed to obtain a specific result. This Kriya Yoga can be considered the fundamental mechanism of spiritual practice in itself without any limiting goal, just like a manual of principles of thermodynamics would be the foundation from which any type of car engine could be built.
Defining the spiritual practice through the foundation of the stages that a human being naturally encounters while evolving shows the most profound understanding of human nature. The Sadhana pada chapter creates the frame of all yoga methods that would be needed on the path of spiritual evolution.
About Ashtanga Yoga and the Concept of Integral Yoga
The description of the Eight Fold Path of spiritual evolution actually only commences at the 28th Verse of the Sadhana Pada, where Patanjali states: “Through adherences to the Eight Limbs of Yoga and with continued destruction of a – Yogic impurity, there comes about the realization of the state of discrimination and discernment.”
Until this stage we are given the basic guidelines that will constitute the frame of the entire spiritual practice afterwards.
Patanjali then enunciates the Yoga of Eight Limbs in Verse 29 by simply stating: “Yama – Niyama – Asana – Pranayama – Pratyahara – Dharana – Dhyana – Samadhi are the eight limbs.”
The omission of any of these limbs of Yoga in the yoga sadhana would compromise the entire cosmic edifice that the practitioner is building within his/her being. Often perceived with the mall mentality, these limbs of Yoga are somehow considered optional, just a lot of yoga “goodies” that Patanjali is exposing to make the book more interesting. It is for this reason that many of the Yoga studios today are choosing one of these limbs of Yoga as expounded by the great sage, forming their yoga “style” after that. When understanding their nature, we can see that these limbs of yoga are just the evolutionary stages that are contained within each other. They cannot be considered even as a staircase where you can choose to climb for some steps and stop at a certain moment. Even the first step, the Yama rules of moral restraint, will not successfully work if not practiced in view of the following steps or limbs of Yoga. Only trying to observe the Yamarules of behavior without the aspiration to fulfill the other yogas deprives the aspirant from any viable purpose and eventually blocks the perfecting of these moral rules altogether. Morality without higher spiritual purpose becomes the foundation of tyranny.
That is why these limbs should be instead modeled as rays coming out of a central sun with each of them containing within the essence of all the other seven rays. This is a holographic model and hence the name of Integral Yoga that is rightfully given to the Yoga of Patanjali.
Yama is moral restraint and has five aspects: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing or modesty, perfect control over energies, non-accumulation. They are the preparation for the yoga sadhana that will be crowned with effectiveness. No matter what kind of practice the aspirant employs, the inner attitude always plays a major role in the effectiveness of this practice. And the training of this rightfulness in life is provided by the observance of the yama frame of a moral life.
Niyama is ethical observance which also has five aspects: purity, contentment, spiritual austerity or tapas, self-observance and validation or swadhyaya, devotion toward God or ishwara pranidhana. They are deepening the morality of an attitude with the fundamental qualities that a soul needs in order to make the spiritual sadhana fruitful. In absence of these inner qualities, all that the subsequent practice will do is increase the self-deceit and the impression of being something or somebody else. The niyama rules are the filter that keeps the illusion out of the yoga sadhana and gives it its power to truly liberate the practitioner from the chains of the cosmic illusion maya.
Asana deals apparently with body postures and the right attitude of the body. It is however the training of the inner discipline of an attitude in itself. At the level of asana, the aspirant is perfecting the relaxed dynamism, eliminates the effort from the firmness and learns the power of renewed effort without which asana becomes sooner or later an inertial and sleepy caricature of yoga. The physical body serves only as a support for the training of an attitude that will prove invaluable when traveling the tricky paths of one’s inner universe. He who still falls to sleep in asana will not even stand a chance to wake up from the self-inflicted dream of the mental agitation. At this level, the inner discipline of consciously maintained occult resonances is completely established and perfected.
Pranayama is the control of energies starting with the control of the breath. It is the first level where the true freedom of choice and control is truly experienced firsthand by the practitioner on a systematic basis. All that was until now the idea of control resembles more closely the capacity to choose to stay out of the path of the angry bull. At this level the practitioner learns how to take the bull by the horns and have the strength to control it. The consciously maintained occult resonances that were learned before will be amplified at will, thus it becomes possible for the first time to efficiently modify predominances, and thus the character of the practitioner.
Pranayama methods grant access to another level of energy for the daily activities, creating the possibilities for a completely different level of achievement in various life activities. From here, the determination and spiritual aspiration that is oriented toward the spiritual goals (that were built in the previous stages) will play an essential role in order to keep the aspirant on the path without falling into temptations that are now greatly amplified.
Pratyahara is sense withdrawal and sense containment. At this stage one learns how to exclusively focus upon a certain aspect, withdrawing the attention from anything else. Without this stage, any attempt at concentration will be doomed by the variety of life’s experiences, making any deepening of experimentation almost impossible. Concentration will not sharpen anymore because we will not have the time to exert it, being all the time interrupted by exterior calls. This is the stage that prepares the last elements of a constant and repeated practice, the only way to get to realizations. Steadiness in the capacity to focus upon the subject of choice ensures the achievements of any kind. This steadiness is rooted in the capacity to realize the absorption into the subject of our focus.
Ultimately this stage represents the training of choice since while exclusively focusing the attention upon something of our choice we will constantly have to choose to ignore all the stimuli that tend to steal our attention away. Withdrawal of our attention from anything else will not only consist of passively ignoring anything else but in actively choosing to repeatedly focus upon the chosen subject. And this is a great exercise, especially today!
Dharana is defined as Yogic concentration. It represents the capacity to sustain concentration upon a chosen subject. It is the orientation of our attention that will need training and therefore it will use all the previously built capacities. Without the disciplines that were trained in the other stages of Yoga, concentration will be just like a car with a good engine that runs but with only a crazy monkey for a driver. And that monkey likes to drive! Many concentration exercises fail not because of their difficulty, but because of the heaviness, agitation, and incapacity to control the energies that remain at the mental level from previous unfulfilled stages. If the previous stages are correctly fulfilled, Dharana will become a joyful and very easy practice, with great results awaiting us at each stage of perfection.
Dhyana is Yogic meditation and consists of “the uninterrupted flow of attention toward the subject of meditation”. In other words, when Dharana becomes effortless and continuous, Dhyana emerges. All that was said before about concentration will be perfected here. There are, however, some secrets of the achievement of a Dhyana state that are gradually revealed within the second and third chapters of Yoga Sutras.
Samadhi is the ecstatic state of Cosmic Consciousness in which the conscious principle of the yogi merges with the subconscious mind in order to create the supraconscious awareness. The ego-centered individuality now dissolves into the Universal ocean of Consciousness just like a figurine made of salt will dissolve into the salted water of the ocean. The false impression of separation vanishes and the yogi is directly realizing the Cosmic Consciousness. In the state of Samadhi, the meditation is no longer an act but becomes an expression of the inner nature that is now shining freely from within the being of the practitioner.
Having said this about these eight limbs of Integral Yoga, which one do you think can be left out without jeopardizing the whole yoga sadhana?
In order to make things easier for the beginner mind that is in such a rush for practical, measurable results, the compassionate sage Patanjali describes the first five limbs of Yoga as being Bahiranga Yoga or the outer aspects of moral, ethical, attitude and control adjustments in order to become ready for the superior stages of spiritual sadhana. Yet this does not mean that one can only step over these outer limbs and directly approach the heavy stuff, in a kind of adrenaline-rush approach which is so often seen nowadays among the backpackers that fill the ashrams of India in search of high states. For them it would be meaningless to stay at the level of perfecting the Yama or Niyama rules instead of directly performing some circus-like asanas and then moving straight to meditation, Dhyana, where nobody can truly check how you are doing. At least this will seem to give a lot of satisfaction to the deadly bored ego, relieving a little bit the pressure of life from the frail shoulders of the inexperienced adventurer.
Each of these limbs of the spiritual path have several levels and should not be taken at face value, but a deep Viveka or spiritual view of each of their concepts should be patiently developed. One can make use of these teachings only when validating them within the spiritual experience that arises within the intensive yogic sadhana. That is also why the yogic sadhana was often considered to have magic powers.
The higher three aspects of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are termed Antaranga or inner realizations and metaphysical levels of Yoga. We should bear in mind that these higher aspects of the yogic sadhana are all depending on the inferior aspects – here the relationship between inferior and superior is not the same as the one we commonly understand.
Self-realization would have to be understood at a spiritual level as it actually transcends any religious meaning. It is here that Patanjali reminds us that we have a divine universal existence in an orderly Divine universe.
Patanjali also clearly states that the Antaranga (inner) steps are an individual Adhyatmika aspect of Yoga and these three can merge into one another consecutively. This illustrates the two ways yoga can be used:
In order to exit any form of identification with the objects of our senses or mental concepts while remaining in a state of divine ecstasy samadhi. This is where most of the yoga is ending today since even this state of divine ecstasy is diminished by the flaws in realizing the Bahiranga Yoga sadhana. Gradually the experience of inner freedom becomes more intense in the extent the state of samadhi is extablishing within the being of the practitioner, yet the is nothing upon the attention is focused now. It can become the tool for creating at will a state of perfect identification between the knowing subject, the known object and the knowledge that unites them. This is the kind of knowledge that would not leave any imbalance or impurity within the being of the practitioner. Moreover all the qualities of the object of perfect identification would be transfered to the one that practice identification and become available for immediate use. This is the real source of the so-called paranormal powers, about which Yoga Sutra is dedicating an entire section.
Patanjali calls it “Samyama Yoga”. Obviously this Yoga is only for those who have completed the Bahiranga or outer aspects of the Yoga, as well as mastered the Antaranga Yoga, where the body and emotions are purged clean and pure, the lower levers of consciousness calmed by the Abhyasa of Yoga and a transformation into the higher states of consciousness is at hand.
For an advanced practitioner of the integral yoga as described in Yoga Sutras, it becomes very clear that one cannot access the paranormal powers before having reached the state of samadhi and having done so quite regularly. Only after remaining for long enough in this state of divine ecstasy will the practitioner become able to maintain the uninterrupted focus of the attention upon the object of meditation even when the state of divine ecstasy will appear; dharana, dhyana and samadhi become simultaneous, and thus samyama appears. The ego dissolves at this point and the knower, the known and the knowledge become one!
And only after mastering the samyama process will the practitioner be ready to rise above any concept and any form, realizing nirvikalpa samadhi or the divine ecstasy in which all conceptualization and form is abolished.
To show how much ignorance is still surrounding the Yoga Sutras, it is enough at this point to mention that there is a lot of dispute between researchers and even practitioners of Patanjali’s YOGA about interpolations or insertions into the original text. A number of researchers consider the Antaranga Yoga as a later interpolation.
Some hold that the whole Eight Fold Yoga section from Verse 28 onwards in the Second Chapter to be an interpolation. Yet many hold this to be the most valuable part of Patanjali’s YOGA SUTRA, but quarrel only with the term “Ishwara”, or God used in Verse 32.
Meanwhile, integral yoga practitioners find perfect unity and coherence in this ancient text and its effectiveness in validating their experiences guides them along the evolutionary path, making it integral.
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