Monday, 27 January 2014

Shadanga Yoga

(adapted from Swami Paramarthananda’s talk “Ashtanga Yoga”)

Ashtanga yoga of Patanjali Maharishi consists of eight limbs:
1)    Yama - the five restraints or the "don'ts"
1)  Ahimsa - Non-violence,
2)  Sathyam – Truthfulness and avoidance of telling untruth
3)   Brahmacharyam - Celibacy and avoidance of indecent and inappropriate attitude towards other sex.
4)  Asteyam - Non-stealing
5)  Aparigraha - Non-covetousness and not having a feeling of possessiveness.
2)    Niyama - the five observances or the "do's"
1)    Saucham - Purity, cleanliness
2)   Santoshaha - Contentment
3)   Tapas - Austerity
4)    Swadhyaya - Self-study, study of scriptures
5)    Ishwara Pranidhanam - Surrender to God's will
3)    Asana -  Steady physical posture
4)    Pranayama - Control of prana or life force
5)    Pratyahara -  Withdrawal of the senses
6)    Dharana  -  Concentration
7)    Dhyanam -   Meditation
8)    Samadhi – Total absorption in meditation.

Of these 5 don’ts of Yama, and 5 do’s of Niyama, had been the subject of an earlier lecture of Swami Paramarthananda, or Swamiji in short, under the title “Ten commandments of Hinduism”.  The other six, namely asana, pranayama, pratyahra, dharana, dhyana and samadhi, are the subject of the present lecture under the caption ‘Shadanga yoga”, the yoga with six limbs. In an earlier lecture, Swamiji has discussed ‘What is yoga?’  In the present talk he briefly recalled some points from his earlier talk, as a prelude to the present discourse, that is given in next para.
Yoga is derived from the word ‘Yuj’, that means union, merger.  As per scriptures it is the union between Jivathma, individual self, and Paramathma, the cosmic self.  This Ikyam, called Moksham, is also called parama purushartha, Supreme goal of life.  After initially speaking about Ikyam, scriptures later point out that union is not  necessary as Jivathma and Parmathma are one only and only upadhis are different and upadhis give an appearance of separation.  Jiva in his delusion labours under the notion that Jivathma is different from Paramatma and seeks union with Paramatma. The scriptures talk of this union (yoga) also as separation (viyoga) from our delusion that Jivathma and Paramathma are different and the notions that arise out of the delusion of separation.  Removal of this notional division through Jnanam is called Jivathma Paramatma Ikyam. So, this Ikyam is called Sadhya Yoga as it is the ultimate goal of life and all the other yogas that lead to this Ikya Jnanam, are called Sadhana yogas.

Patanjali Maharishi propounded this ashtanga yoga in his Yoga sutras.  This has two parts: 1) philosophy called yoga dharsan and 2) a scheme of spiritual disciplines i.e. ashtanga yoga called yoga sadhanas.  Yoga dharsan, which talks of the existence of Iswara as supreme Purusha and spells out the aim of Yoga  as fusion or merger of individual soul with the supreme Soul is not acceptable to advaita vedantists but yoga sadhana is accepted as a means of controlling and focussing the mind and internalising the Brahma Jnanam gained through Sravanam and consolidated and made doubt-free through Mananam.  
Patanjali Maharishi defines Yoga as चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः,chitta vritti nirodaha,blocking mental vrittis, which is interpreted as regulating the mental functions, curbing involuntary thoughts and making all thought patterns satvic.  Our mind is a powerful internal organ.  Its greatness is that it is a main instrument we have for achieving all purusharthams. It is associated with the activities of all organs. And it is also a primary instrument as well, for through its thoughts it can shape one’s attitude and make hell out of heaven or heaven out of hell. That is why chitta suddhi, purity of mind, is insisted in all sadhanas.  Yama and Niyama help in attaining chitta suddhi.  But our mind has involuntary thoughts as well where thoughts happen on their own, besides voluntary thoughts which are deliberate and under our control and in a pure mind only voluntary thoughts become pure and satvic.  Special efforts are required to keep the involuntary thoughts in check and also pure and satvic.  If not, the involuntary thoughts can proliferate and cause emotional disturbances like stress, depression, anxiety etc. that will be an obstacle to progress in spiritual sadhanaShadanga yoga helps one to address this problem, retrieving the mind from the hold of involuntary thoughts and bringing back the mind under sadhaka’s control.
Asana is taking up a steady and comfortable physical posture that consciously relaxes the body makes It supple and flexible, balancing the different nerve impulses.  A healthy body facilitates having a healthy mind that can be groomed to bear the opposites like pain and pleasure, heat and cold with equanimity.  Pranayama involves regulation of breadth. Talking about Prana and mind, Ramana Maharishi in Upadesa saar states: शाखयोः द्वयि शक्तिमूलका sakhayoh dvayi sakthimoolaka, two branches stemming from the same power. So you control mind through control of Prana.  Asanas and Pranayama together help in owning up the mind and snatching it, as it were, from the grip of involuntary thoughts.
Pratyahara is the next step where the mind is kept under one’s control denying involuntary thoughts their food by turning the focus of sense organs inwards.  This is what Sri Krishna states as one of stithaprajna lakshnas in Gita (2-58)  
यदा संहरते चायं कूर्मोऽङ्गानीव शर्वशः।  Yada samharathe chaayam kurmonganeeva sarvasaha  
इन्द्रियाणीन्द्रियार्थेभ्यस्तस्य प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्टिता॥ Indriyaneendriyarthebhyah tasya prajna prathishititha                 
When he withdraws his senses from the sense objects like a tortoise, which draws in its limbs from all directions, his mind is stable. 
Dharana is the next step where the mind is given a job like Japa or chanting a prayer slowly with awareness to keep it voluntarily engaged and to maintain control so that it may not stray away into involuntary thoughts. In Dharana concentration is tried to be maintained for five to ten minutes only.  Dhyanam is simply an extension of Dharana, where one is able to maintain a smooth unfluctuating control over the mind not letting it stray into involuntary thoughts for quite a length of time.  Vedantic dhyanam is on one of the Mahavakhyas.  The increased attention span one is able to attain, leads one gradually to the total absorption stage of Samadhi in course of time with constant regular practice and in Samadhi one effortlessly moves into Dhyanam at will and stays for a length of time.  Where effort is involved in doing Dhyanam, Samadhi is attained without effort, at will.  Whereas increase in attention span is achieved in Dhyanam, depth in attention is attained in Samadhi.  When one is conscious of one’s surroundings in Samadhi time, it is called Savikalpa Samadhi. The stage of total absorption where even the triputi of meditator, object of meditation and the process of meditation is also not there in mind, making one appear as dead to one’s environs, is called Nirvikalpa Samadhi. This is the highest state to which all these sadhanas should lead to.  These eight steps are so designed as to gradually lead a spiritual sadhaka to the Nirvikalpa Samadhi.  People like Sri Ramana Maharishi are exceptions who could go to this stage straightaway due to their purva janma vasana aided by divine grace and they cannot be taken as models by spiritual aspirants.

A spiritual aspirant should make a strong resolve, Sankalpa, to reduce the involuntary thoughts.  This can be done through a three-fold strategy -1) resolve firmly and renew the resolve every morning after getting up, 2) alertness during the waking hours by doing all actions consciously and 3) review every night before retiring - aimed at reducing the frequency, intensity and resilience of involuntary thoughts.   Doing action consciously means keeping the mind focused in the action one is doing and such a focused life is called alert life. When one acts consciously, the efficiency and efficacy of the action also increases, besides arresting the mind-wandering which is the cause for involuntary thoughts.  These steps besides Shadanga yoga will help one to win the war over involuntary thoughts, which is necessary to get established in the Ikya Jnanam and mature as Brahma Nishta.


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