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Lions Roar : July 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2008 49 but in overcoming ignorance, one had to transform oneself and one’s own perceptions. Even as ascetics clustered around charismatic and compelling seekers like the Buddha and the Jain Mahavira, the prevailing ethos was self-empowering. Regardless of background, liberation was within one’s grasp. Ironically, the spreading tent of Hinduism eventu- ally came to enclose the unorthodox praxis of yoga, linking Patanjali to Visnu and installing his teaching as one of Hinduism’s six orthodox philosophical per- spectives, or darsanas. Yoga, however, is primarily a path rather than a philosophy, and the Yoga Sutra is more road map than treatise. It is often forgotten that Patanjala-yoga shares not only the same basic medita- tive approach but also the spirit of independence of the Buddha’s path, rejecting spiritual authority based on revealed texts like the Vedas or residing in any one class or gender. Even as the Hindu traditions—eventually including hatha yoga—came to regard the Yo g a S u t r a as the essential expression of yogic truth, the radical nature of its meditative roots has largely been buried by the intervening centuries and layers of tradition. What Is Yoga? Patanjali begins the Yo g a S u t r a by defining yoga and the universal misperception it resolves: Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness. Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature. Otherwise awareness takes itself to be the patterns of consciousness. Stilling reveals something generally not seen (avidya) by human beings: that what actually knows nature in all its manifestations is a timeless, subjectless, uncon- ditioned awareness. Although the mind can imagine and express this awareness as having both a divine universal (isvara) and individual (purusa) perspective, knowing is not an entity or point of view at all. It lies beyond the reach of the mind and its insistence on lo- cation, orientation, temporality, and attributes. What is important for a suffering being to realize is that it is this imperturbable witnessing that knows—and not one’s perceptions, feelings, or thoughts. Every one of these conscious experiences issues from body-mind phenom- ena that are in constant flux. When the pure, unchanging awareness of purusa is mistaken for these shifting contents of body or mind, we do not see things as they are. This is the great discovery of the ancient Indian yogis: though our bodies and their surroundings may be real, all we can actually know of them are representations ap- pearing as consciousness, citta. Each distinct display, also called citta, is a fleeting shadow play involving one of the six types of phenomena: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile feelings, or thoughts. Even though separate and sequential, these cittas unfold so rapidly that we usually misperceive them as an unbroken, simultaneous flow we call “reality,” “self,” and “other.” This makes it almost impossible to distinguish between mind and matter, or between events and our reactions to them. So, our pat- terns of perception and volition are largely determined, automatic, and nearly inescapable. HowtoDo,HowtoBe Under ordinary circumstances, this illusion of a me navigating myself through a seamless life is virtually impenetrable. But when attention is focused on the processes of body and breath, which orient the yogi in what Patanjali calls yoga, or “yoking,” consciousness begins to settle spontaneously and become transparent and reflective, like the ocean growing calm. The meditative intentions that move yogis down this natural path to tranquility are twofold. First, yogis train themselves to keep returning to the point of focus and sit with it. This intention, called abhyasa (“sit fac- ing”), is the basis for sustained practice and begins with witnessing the current stream of bodily sensations. As yogis keeps noticing and returning from distraction, they quickly come face-to-face with conditioned habits of thought and reaction. No matter how numerous or overwhelming these distractions, though, they always dissolve. As they continue to practice, yogis may soon begin to sense a developing aptitude for remembering the focus, a power that starts to grow stronger than the penchant for forgetting. As this aptitude is cultivated and concentration—samadhi—begins to coalesce, yogis will require only occasional, subtle prompts to direct and train awareness on the object, and the need even for these will drop away as samadhi ripens. If meditation is to move from doing to being, the other intention one must keep in mind is softening. Again and again, the yogi unclenches, relaxes his psy- chosomatic grip on the moment, and allows events to be just as they are. Success is proportionate to one’s willingness to let each new impulse to control or im- prove simply appear, bloom, and fade. As a result, it becomes ever clearer that each bodily contraction was conditioned by a mental contraction, arising from de- sire, aversion, or simply holding a self-image in mind. JULY 46-51.indd 49 JULY 46-51.indd 49 4/25/08 11:40:03 AM 4/25/08 11:40:03 AM