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Lions Roar : July 2008
OM: Seed syllable of the absolute 50 The yogi realizes how much of mental life has been en- gaged in reconnoitering for stimulation and gratifica- tion, and how attaining them never produces anything like a lasting happiness. This perceptual re-education, called vairagya, or “non-reacting,” involves entrusting oneself to one new experience after another. As each fresh agitation or stab of resistance is recognized and permitted to settle, one unexpectedly notices that fa- miliar triggers of disturbance no longer have any ef- fect. A profound equanimity has quietly developed. Yoga’s Eightfold Path Like most yogis of his time, Patanjali appears to have been deeply inspired by the Buddha’s teachings, and the Yoga Sutra clearly owes much of its organization and thrust to Buddhist traditions. Patanjali’s path diverges from earlier, non-Buddhist models by adopting the well-known struc- ture of the Buddha’s eightfold path, or attanga-magga, reconfiguring it to be more explicitly about develop- ing dhyana, or in Pali, jhana. YAMA The first of yoga’s eight aspects or “limbs” is yama. In five pithy lines, Patanjali lists “disciplines” that address the yo- gi’s relationship to the world. These depart from the cus- tomary precepts—likely familiar to the yogi already—not only to inspire but to offer benchmarks for progress: Being firmly grounded in non-violence creates an atmo- sphere in which others can let go of their hostility. For those grounded in truthfulness, every action and its consequences are imbued with truth. For those who have no inclination to steal, the truly precious is at hand. The chaste acquire vitality. Freedom from wanting unlocks the real purpose of existence. NIYAMA The second limb of yoga is niyama. These five types of discipline are more internal, yoking different aspects of the yogi’s personal sphere to the process of realization: With bodily purification, one’s body ceases to be compelling, likewise contact with others. Purification also brings about clarity, happiness, concentration, mastery of the senses, and capacity for self-awareness. Contentment brings unsurpassed joy. As intense discipline burns up impurities, the body and its senses become supremely refined. Self-study deepens communion with one’s personal deity. Through orientation toward the divine ideal of pure awareness, isvara, one can achieve samadhi. ASANA As with the Buddha’s, Patanjali’s meditation begins with the body. No elaborate movements are recommended in the third yogic limb, merely a simple sitting posture in which one can relax all physical effort. In fact, asana derives from the root as, which means “to be” and also can connote “sitting here.” With sustained practice, the first benchmark of concentration occurs, as the stream of body sensations is recognized as indivisible from the rest of nature. As even beginning medi- tators can attest, the harsh polarities of self/ other and pleasure/pain begin to soften: The meditation posture (asana) should embody steadiness and ease. This occurs as all effort relaxes and the first attainment (samapatti) of samadhi arises, revealing that the body and the infinite universe are indivisible. Then, one is no longer disturbed by the play of opposites. As this first meditative practice makes clear, yoga’s eight elements should not be thought of as progressive, like rungs on a ladder, but more as limbs that must in- teract to carry one forward on the path. Each can ma- ture to the point of transformation, as here samadhi, the eighth limb, blooms directly from asana, the third. Of course, many modern treatments of the Yo g a Sutra have been written by hatha yoga masters under- standably inclined to interpret Patanjali’s words “stable” and “easy” as referring to the firmness and softness of dynamic postures like triangle pose. Just a few minutes into sitting meditation, though, it becomes clear that the relaxation of effort Patanjali is advocating leads to the discovery of increasingly subtle degrees of contraction, which then can be released as well. As if by themselves, extraordinary qualities of steadiness, composure, and bodily pleasure begin to arise. The Buddha appears to have used similar words to describe this process. SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2008 JULY 46-51.indd 50 JULY 46-51.indd 50 4/25/08 11:40:04 AM 4/25/08 11:40:04 AM