I am going to begin posting some of the material from elsewhere that deserves to be here, by moving it onto this blog. Here is an essay on the Yoga Sutras of Classical yoga, as collated by Patanjali. Enjoy:
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are one of the world's great spiritual treasures. It is a collation of pithy statements containing no grammar -- they were meant to be recited and still are passed orally from teacher to student. Scholarly opinion attributes the writing anywhere between 200 B.C. and 400 A.D.. This is well after the life of the Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha. Scholars are divided as to whether some of the sutras have been added in direct defense against Buddhist philosophy, especially in Pada 2, or Chapter 2 -- the word Pada means foot and there are 4 feet in the sutras.
I have given seminars on the sutras which have lasted six to nine months. When my students ask me the meaning of the entire text I tell them that it is contained within the first word, Atha. Many scriptures begin with this word and end with the word Om. They are so to say, the alpha and omega of Sanskrit. The word Atha doesn't translate well into English because of its emphatic nature. The closest single word in English would be now, but more like NOW!!!
All impressions are shocks, some delicate, some strong. Some impressions do not rise to the level of introduction into consciousness, and remain recorded on the unconscious and subconscious rolls. But the word Atha is to be said forcefully, almost as if one would shout Eureka or HA!.
It is a shock meant to wake one up, and it is followed by the phrase rendered into English as NOW, the exposition of Yoga. Yoga is a word that has about 28 meanings, perhaps even more but the meaning we are interested in is exactly the same as in the word religion, which comes from the Latin and means to attach again (re-ligare). In our interest in Yoga we are interested in reconnecting with the Self with a capital S..
Each word in the yoga sutras is extremely important, and the word sutras is where we get the word suture which we use in surgery -- it means the finest thread upon which an idea can be strung, so the yoga sutras are pithy, and usually require explanation by the teacher, and there are many famous commentaries upon this work of Scripture.
Below I have rendered in English translation of the first four sutras: NOW, the explanation of yoga. Yoga is a restriction or a cessation of whirlpools in the consciousness. When these whirlpools (Vrttis) are made to stand still, then the Self radiates forth in its August Majesty. At all other times the self ( with a small s) mis-identifies itself with the movements within consciousness -- that is, with the vrttis or whirlpools in the consciousness.
The rest of chapter 1 is irrelevant at the moment. For those who know, this has been enough. And the rest of the chapter explains some of the workings of discrimination and consciousness. Now we come to chapter 2, or the second foot -- which is called Sadhana Pada, or chapter of practices.
The first sutra proclaims that through a burning desire and an ascetic devotion; self study and reflection of one's own self, profound religious meditation upon one's personal God are considered the yoga of action. A very interesting section is from this chapter, which delineates the eightfold limbs usually called Ashtanga, which means literally eight limbs. Some people consider them as a ladder or staircase, where one must do the first one first followed by the second, etc., but the actual sutras described them as the eight limbs of a single being. They are in the following order:
One: the restraints or vows which are fivefold: harmlessness, truthfulness, non-stealing, chastity, and a rejection of gifts coupled with self-restraint.
Two: the fixed rules or precepts: cleanliness or purity (this conforms to the first striving), contentment, religious fervor or a burning desire, study which leads to the knowledge of the self, surrender to God and making God the target of concentration and all other established observances.
Three: the learning of Asana, which oddly enough comes from the same root as the word for your behind upon which you sit, the ass. This seated posture should be firm fixed steady steadfast and lasting, bringing happiness and delight. This then includes all of the Hatha yoga postures, each of which is designed to show a different potential which is man's natural birthright, and each of which brings with it certain powers called Siddhis, which translates pretty well into English as perfections. But the main goal of this third limb of yoga is to put the body in a position to be able to sit for a long time in order to do the essential work, which is a strong activity within silence.
Four: Pranayama. This is very widely misunderstood. Prana is the life force within the body, something like Qi in Chinese alchemical medicine, or Rauch to the Jewish, or Pneuma to the Greek. And the term yama here has a double meaning, not just control or restriction but actually expansion into the entire physical body as well as second and third bodies. The physical gross breath is just a handle, like the handle on a hammer or screwdriver. Hatha yoga specifically uses the body because it is easiest to grasp and utilize hydraulically. The real aim is much more sublime. This is one of the reasons why Mr. Gurdjieff spoke so poorly of those fashionable exercises from books, which can do more harm than good. One of the greatest Yocic Scriptures is called the Hatha Yoga Pradikipa by Svatmarama, written in the 15th century CE. When he talks of pranayama he declares the following: the breath should be tamed as if it were a lion or Tiger -- slowly, and with great caution, lest it rend the practitioner and kill him (or her). It then describes various forms of practice along with the results.
Five: withdrawal of the sense organs from their contact with the external objects, and drawing them inwards towards the self. This is usually described as the action of a tortoise, who pulls his head and limbs into the shell. It is also what is referenced as "Turning the light around" in the Secret of the Golden Flower. One can separate each sense into three parts, the organ of sense, the object of its attention, and the invisible secret tether between those two. Drawing the sense organs back is the act of Pratyahara, the fifth step of classical Yoga.
Now we reach a real turning point. All of the previous steps have been outward -- working on do's and don'ts, the physical body and the life force represented by the breath. Now with step five we begin what are called the Antara sadhana, or inner practice -- I suppose you could say that from now on our yoga conforms to what is called the "quiet work" in the Work -- conforming to the sittings and the other inner exercises given by Mr. Gurdjieff and his earliest followers.
Six: and now we have even come to the end of that previous chapter and move to chapter 3 which is called Vibhudi Pada, and we begin with developing the concentration. This is called Dharana, or "concentration". Mr. Gurdjieff speaks of three qualities of concentration or attention; free or unfettered attention, which is our enemy, because it wanders all over the place with no self-control. Then there is attracted attention, such as when we read a good book or go watch an interesting movie -- the object of the senses hold us in thrall. This is also half harmful and half beneficial. Finally we have directed attention, which requires effort -- the kind of attention we utilize when we are studying or trying to solve a problem.
Now with this sixth step we begin the inward limbs of yoga -- this can be with seed (kalpa) or without seed, that is, we may have an object of contemplation -- it might be the candle, or an Apple, or our preferred deity. No matter what the subject matter, this is called samkalpa, that is, with seed. Concentration on its own at this point is almost out of the question -- but it would be called Nirkalpa, without seed. Sometimes at the very beginning of the Work, a man or woman is told to simply sit and experience the current of life which attempts to pull them out of the chair, in order for them to "do something". So in the beginning, not doing is the most powerful and only doing that we can actually accomplish, at least for a couple of moments. It is heartily recommended. Now this concentration is likened unto water being poured onto an object -- whatever is being contemplated. If you pour water on to something you will notice that it breaks into small pieces as the water falls. This is the initial stage of concentration, which will be interrupted, and which like a small child who has wandered off, should be brought back to the object of concentration with great gentleness, compassion and love. There is absolutely no need to scold the attention which up until now has been pretty much given free reign.
Seven: now we come to what is called meditation proper, and the word for it is dhyana. This is defined as a steady, continuous flow of attentive awareness direct it towards the same point or region. This is likened to the pouring of oil on the object, which because of its viscosity, pours upon the object without breaking up as did the water. This is meditation and the difference between the previous step and this one is quite powerful. This step actually begins a process concerned with the elimination of fluctuating thought waves in order to achieve a single pointed concentration. Now we establish the maintenance of a single steady and profound contemplative observation. This brings in its wake profound knowledge of those objects being contemplated, and if one maintains this meditative practice one moves automatically to the eighth step, which I will describe next.
Eight: The Sanskrit term for this step is Samadhi, a compound word meaning more or less, "together with" or "simultaneous existence". In this step there is a merging of the consciousness with the object under scrutiny. The consciousness of the meditator appears to be dissolved into the object of its contemplation. Now we have reached a point where the consciousness has become like a laser. In its ordinary state it is like a candle or light bulb, with the lights going out in all directions. After Pratyahara, the removal of the sense organs from their normal objects of desire or a version, the next three steps, concentration, meditation and merging, have one word for the aggregate effects of these 3 -- called Samyama, or as best as it can be described in English, "together with convergence".
Now the third book of the Yoga Sutras includes a mighty list of what are called the Siddhis, or perfections. They read like an unbelievable and absurd set of superpowers, but in fact they are the natural result of Samyama. As an example, if you perform Samyama on an Apple, you then know everything that the Apple knows -- a true gnosis.
There are eight famous Siddhis:
One= to become as minute as an atom
Two= to wax in magnitude ( to become as large as one likes)
Three= to become light (as opposed to heavy)
Four= to become heavy
Five= the power to dominate and obtain what one wants
Six= the freedom of will and attainment of wishes
Seven= supremacy over all
Eight= the power to subjugate anyone or anything
It is said that these powers come unbidden to the Yogi, and they are signs that one is on the right path, but they should never be used, as they are tricks utilized by Great Nature. I will describe how this works: when a man begins to work on himself, he is usually sidelined by the most ordinary things, and nothing more needs to be done. If a man continues to work on himself and begins to achieve something, Great Nature takes notice -- She may send the police, and the man may have an accident or fall prey to some negative emotion or some other such miniscule setback. This usually puts a man right back in his place. But if a man continues to work on himself with unceasing dedication, Great Nature is bent out of joint, so she might begin to entice the man with riches or power or charisma. This will usually cause a man's fall from grace and return things to normal. If however, the man is the sly man or particularly clever or particularly desperate and dedicated and does not turn back from many of these maneuvers, Great Nature begins to take extraordinary measures -- she dangles her own jewelry in front of the man, offering him powers which only Nature herself enjoys. It is a kind of wooing, because She is desperate not to lose any of the sheep. So she offers her own powers to the man. This is a sign of imminent success, but also a desperate plea and a desperate measure which usually works sooner or later when the temptation finally gets to the man's defenses, and he begins using some of these powers. If he uses them for the sake of others only, and only in the most desperate of cases, he may be safe, but if he gloats or uses them for himself, then she has him back in the soup, and he has to start all over again This is not so easy, because once gotten, Great Nature has found his Achilles' heel, and will never let it rest.
The final chapter is called Kaivalya Pada, and kaivalya is an extraordinarily difficult word to translate properly into English -- people have used "absolute and complete freedom"; "perfect aloneness", and other such phrases, but like Nirvana, it remains extraordinarily difficult for one who knows to convey its majesty. Nirvana means "without wind" -- it does not mean extinction whatsoever. What is extinguished is the desire/aversion state, so that a man is awake without the flame of desire or aversion affecting him whatsoever. He is perfectly stable. Kaivalya might be thought of as a synonym -- it literally means complete and perfect imperturbable completeness, and for he who has reached Kaivalya, it is preceded by an astonishing shower of virtue, called the Dharmameghah Samadhih, after which the three forces or Gunas actually unbraid, and he accomplished yogin has reached the end goal, and thenceforth sees reality as it is in itself.
His body will continue living its bodily life; his mind will continue living its mental life, but he leaves no traces requiring reincarnation or recurrence. The yogin is then completely and utterly free -- he may choose to return to Earth, or he may go elsewhere -- wherever he is needed. He then knows all the languages of his organs, can no longer be intoxicated by anything, and has no negative emotional center whatsoever. He can drop the body whenever and however he likes. He may choose a suffering disease or he may just tell his disciples that he will breathe his last next Tuesday at 2 p.m., so that anything they wish to ask him or tell him, they had better do it before then, because, true to his word, the following Tuesday at 2 p.m. he lays down on his mat, takes a final breath of air, sweet and delicious, and then he exhales, and passes through the precious portal of death; without fear, without apprehension, and without regret. He has completed his Work, and moves on.