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Lions Roar : July 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2008 48 no experience nor experiencer is ultimate, but is only a dewdrop perched on a web of contingencies—dhar- mas—glistening for a moment before evaporating. Does this sound to you like the wandering ascetic Gotama awakening under the Bodhi tree? In fact, this account depicts the ancient Indian sage Patanjali, and describes how he and his followers practiced yoga. This might be a little surprising, not only to Bud- dhists but to most yoga students today, who may be wondering where their own yoga, with its stretching, deep breathing, and perhaps a little perspiration, fits in. Setting aside the clichés familiar from movies and advertising, we must acknowledge that even for many of its most devoted and accomplished adherents, “do- ing yoga” primarily means pouring the energies of body and breath into a series of postures that range from soft to strenuous. Few are aware, though, that this dynamic approach was developed mostly in the last millennium and is the still-evolving baby in the yoga family. Its tenth-cen- tury creators called it hatha yoga, meaning “forceful” or “energy” yoga, to distinguish it from the “royal” or “highest” path, raja yoga—the cultivation of samadhi laid out by Patanjali nearly a thousand years earlier in the Yo g a S u t r a . The oldest surviving hatha text, dating from the fifteenth century, insists that raja and hatha are related and meant to be practiced side by side. This becomes clear not only at the deep end of the yoga pool, but also in the shallows where most of us first dip a toe or two. Yoga does promise—and can quickly deliver—a smorgasbord of enhancements to flexibil- ity, strength, health, and beauty, as well as the possibil- ity of meeting new people in a relaxed environment with few pressures and even fewer clothes. However, it is the peaceful glow that a yoga practitioner is sure to feel even after the first class that usually brings people back. This ineffable sense of contentment, clarity, and presence can awaken us to the possibility of something far greater. What may spring originally from the desire to enhance oneself can be transmuted over time into a quest for what lies beyond the self and its desires. It is then that yogis begin to tap the ancient, medita- tive roots—more accessible in Buddhist practice than yoga at present in the West—and seek to draw on their enormous stores of knowledge. Trunk, Roots, Branches Although tradition claims Patanjali was an important grammarian of the second century BCE, more recent scholarly investigations have revealed several illustri- ous Patanjalis. The author of the Yo g a S u t r a lived hun- dreds of years later, it would appear. This seminal text was probably composed between 100 BCE and 300 BCE, but it is now clear that most of its teachings are even more ancient, based on oral traditions from at least a millennium earlier. They concern contemplative prac- tices prevalent both before and after the time of the Buddha. In fact, if we look back to a time before the Buddha, there is evidence that an inwardly focused meditative tradition existed among some indigenous peoples of the Indian subcontinent a millennium or more ear- lier. This practice tradition was quite different from the externally directed spirituality of the Aryan tribes that infiltrated from the northwest. This more external form of spirituality came to dominate the area and its cultures during the first several centuries of the second millennium BCE. Although initially overwhelmed during the Aryan in- flux, the inward-focused meditation tradition was more than hardy enough to survive the cross-cultural assimi- lation that unfolded over the next millennium. By the seventh or eighth centuries BCE, this introspective sen- sibility was everywhere evident in the widespread phe- nomenon of wandering ascetics, or sramana. Rejecting Vedic authority, with its relentless sacrifices and rigid hierarchies of race, class, and gender, untold numbers of men and women dropped out of conventional society and went forth into homeless spiritual seeking. Their “inner sacrifices,” ranging from harsh austerity to bliss- ful meditation, also began to inform post-Vedic brah- manical teachings such as the Upanisads. The thread that united most of these early yogas was their intense focus on self-liberation from suffering. Whether meditative trance, philosophical inquiry, nat- uralistic observation, extreme morality, or self-mor- tification, almost all the various approaches operated from a belief that it must be possible for individuals to shake the bonds of misperception that shackled them to an unending cycle of birth and death. Since one’s salvation lay not in a relationship to external gods “The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali” in Sanskrit JULY 46-51.indd 48 JULY 46-51.indd 48 4/25/08 11:40:03 AM 4/25/08 11:40:03 AM