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Lions Roar : July 2008
PRANAYAMA With mental images of the body-as-entity starting to dissolve, the yogi can observe a similar progression unfold with energy, or prana, conceptualized as “breath” in the fourth limb. Becoming attuned to the fl ow, phase by phase, reveals ever-subtler patterns of reaction and resistance that would otherwise trigger more unconscious, automatic patterns. So, pranayama is “breath control” that develops the more the yogi stops controlling. Just yoking to the process and letting it ripen is enough to cause the breathness of prana to drop away, leaving a luminous or vibratory distillation of consciousness, called nimitta, or “characteristic sign,” in Buddhist teaching on jhana. When absorption, or dhyana, fully ripens to its fourth stage, there no longer remains any sense of breathing at all (another phenomenon attested to in the buddhadharma): With bodily effort relaxing, the fl ow of inhalation and exhalation can arrive at a standstill; this is called breath elongation (pranayama). As the movement patterns of each breath—inhalation, exhalation, lull—are observed as to duration, number, and area of focus, breath becomes spacious and subtle. In the fourth dhyana, the distinction between breathing in and out falls away. Then the veil lifts from the mind’s luminosity. And the mind’s potential for concentration can be tapped. PRATYAHARA, THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE SENSES Through observing one’s consciousness of body and breath, energies become distilled into a vibrant epiphenomenon that completely unifi es attention. This temporarily neutralizes the power of external phenomena to distract the yogi: When consciousness interiorizes by uncoupling from external objects, the senses do likewise; this is called withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara). Then the senses reside utterly in the service of realization. Although this factor is listed fi fth, pratyahara signals the ripening of all six meditative limbs, as might already have been gleaned from asana and pranayama. DHARANA, DHYANA, AND SAMADHI Whatever type of object-fi eld has taken center stage, the progression is the same: the more collected and purifi ed the mind becomes, the less hospitable its environment becomes for the usually unconscious patterns of physical and mental contraction. The fi nal three limbs of yoga are a continuum where all names, concepts, psychosomatic images and volitions come to subside, after which only a phenomenon’s bare processes remain: One-pointedness (dharana) locks consciousness on a single area. In meditative absorption (dhyana), the entire perceptual fl ow is aligned with that object. When only the bare qualities of the object shines forth, as if formless, samadhi has arisen. Discrimination and Freedom As the eight factors of yoga mature in samadhi, it starts to be clear that consciousness does not really know, but is merely a display being known. The discriminating insight (viveka) that recognizes this difference is not an idea but something that must be directly seen. This is the crack that will cause the everyday misidentifi cation (avidya) of consciousness (citta) with pure awareness (purusa) to shatter: As soon as one can distinguish between consciousness (citta) and awareness (purusa), the ongoing construction of the self ceases. Consciousness, now oriented to this distinction (viveka), can gravitate toward freedom—the fully integrated knowledge that awareness is other than unfolding nature. This completely non-discursive yoga terminates in the direct insight that suffering is nothing more than an artifact of consciousness. Unconditioned knowing, whether afterward conceived in a divine (isvara) or individual (purusa) scale, is untouched by change, uncolored by suffering, free of self-qualities. One who regards even the most exalted states disinterestedly, discriminating continuously between pure awareness ➢ page 100 SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2008 51 Above: “Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.”