Thursday, June 21, 2012

sutra class 3

Patanjali’s definition of yoga, as yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ, is the basis of the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Guruji used to say, if you cannot control the mind, you need to practice step-by-step Ashtanga Yoga for mental and physical purification.

We have looked at a few different perspectives on how the human being is constituted. According to yoga philosophy we are in essence Sat Chit Ananda – truth, pure consciousness and bliss.

Yogis have described the human being as having five bodies or sheaths, which fit one within the other – first, the body of food (annamaya kosha), second, the pranamaya kosha, the body of prana, the body of vital energy. Manomaya kosha is the third, the body of discursive, lower or animal mind and sense organs. vijnanamaya kosha is the fourth, which is the body of intellect, the body of knowledge and decision-making. And the anadamaya kosha, which is called the body of bliss or causal body is the fifth - it also contains the samskaras or karmas, which cause future reincarnation. The food body and the prana body taken together are called the physical body, the manomaya and vijnanamaya koshas together are known as the subtle body (or body of mind) and the anandamaya kosha is known as the causal body (it contains the material cause for all manifestations of our experience).

This Sat Chit Ananda, consciousness, or true identity of the human being, is thought of as being completely pure, untouched by the experiences that we have in this physical incarnation. The Self is the “light” of consciousness and the subtlest aspect of mind has the capacity to reflect this light. In a certain sense you could say that the higher mind is like a mirror and through receiving this light and energy, it animates what we experience as mind and body. According to yoga, our sense organs, our thinking, our intellectualizing, our remembering, all these take place because of the connection with the Self - the Self is the energy, the electricity or current, which allows these processes to happen. Just as electricity causes a light bulb to glow, so the Self animates the bodies. When the filament of the bulb burns out, the current ceases to flow.

We conceive of these two elements: matter (prakriti) and spirit (purusha), as being of a completely different nature. Through being incarnated into a physical body, our experience as purusha is dulled down, diminished. It is as if a blanket of darkness, known as tamas has covered the light of the Self.

But, in addition to his physical body, man has a mental body (manas) connected to the sense organs and the organs of action, and this body is governed by the quality of rajas – movement. Tamas covers the essence. As a result we feel lost and disconnected from the source. But in its act of covering/veiling, tamas creates a screen onto which rajas then projects sense impressions, thoughts, feelings, desires etc. The screen can be seen both as internal and external: when we perceive an object we only see its superficial form and we project metadata based on past experience to complete our understanding which would otherwise be only partial. When we look internally we only see the mind/body sheaths which cover the Self – so we erroneously superimpose thoughts of I and mine on the mental states and activities.

A third element – buddhi or higher mind, the faculty of cognizing, remembering and decision making is predominantly sattvic in nature, however it is often obscured or diminished by the activity of rajas or the dullness of tamas. By purifying and transforming the physical and lower mental states we allow buddhi and sattva to manifest more strongly.

What happens, if we think about it quite concretely? You are sitting here looking at me, listening to me. But what is actually happening? Light is reflected from my face into your eyes and sound vibrations travel through the air and enter your ears.

Then, once these impressions have been received by the sense organs, they are transformed into electrical impulses, which transmit information through a nerve into the brain, and somehow these are processed and projected onto a screen inside the mind so that I can see, Felice, and Alex, sitting there. But I do not actually experience them directly, my experience is mediated by the environment (through which sense data has to travel), my sense organs and my own mind, which gives particular form by way of recognition to what I perceive.

To further illustrate how we are removed from “reality” we can consider that light takes time to travel as does sound. Our perceptions are thus always of a past moment and never of the present. Our experiences are always mediated and never direct. As we associate our past experiences with what we (almost) presently experience, we find ourselves stuck in our conditioning. And so, lost in ignorance, we project our hopes and fears onto what we perceive as reality and claim ownership of the mind as the Self.

What we experience on this movie screen of the mind is called Chittavritti. Consciousness is called Chit. But as this consciousness and light is reflected in the mind, we call it chitta, because it goes through transformation. And vritti means movement, the movement of chitta, the activity of the mind..

So Patanjali says yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ, tada drashtuh.., vriti…. (YS 1.2-1.4) Yoga means stopping the fluctuations of the mind. It also means eliminating the tamasic vrittis, which don’t seem like fluctuations, but the experience of dullness or inertia. And by restraining these thoughts, feelings and experiences, the Self is naturally experienced as our underlying nature. It is the substratum of our experience but is obscured by the noise and dirt of the mind. The mind has to become completely tranquil and clear, otherwise, we do not experience the Self, we experience identification with the vrittis.

Patanjali says that the vrittis are klishta or a-klishta - that means they are either afflicted or un-afflicted. Vrittis, which are supportive of yoga and Self-realization, are non-afflicted but other vrittis lead to further suffering.

According to yoga, every time you have a perception, thought or experience, an impression is made on the mind and this impression then sinks into the unconscious. This latent impression, or samskara is charged, conditioned by our associated past experiences, thoughts etc.. When another similar experience arises, the samskara is re-awoken and the associated thoughts and feelings are provoked once again. This is a continuous cycle. Samskaras combine with each other into what are called vasana, vasana means tendencies, or particular characteristics.

Many of these charged memories and tendencies of character are unwelcome in the practice of yoga. So part of the process is to uproot these samskaras, which are considered to be a little bit like seeds, which are planted in the mind. And each time one has a pertinent perception, this waters that little seed, and it sprouts up and presents itself and says hello. So, part of the process of yoga is to progressively take these seeds and remove them, or burn them, eliminate them.

Samskaras and vasanas combine to create karma: whatever we think or speak, and whatever acts we perform have consequences. If we don’t resolve those consequences in this life, we will experience them in future lives. There is an absolute cause and effect.

The vrittis can be klishta or aklishta, they can be afflicted or un-afflicted. The vrittis that do not cause suffering are promoting us on the path of yoga. The ones that cause pain continue to re-enforce the cycles of suffering.

Patanjali talks about five different types of klesha (afflictions), but there is actually only one, which is avidya (not knowing), the source of all suffering. Number one equals avidya, ignorance. Number two is ego, 3 and 4 desire and aversion, and the fifth one is the fear of death. Of the causes of suffering, ignorance is the foundation, but the two aspects that continue to cause immediate suffering for most people on a day-to-day basis are desire and ego.

What does Patanjali mean by avidya? The fundamental cause of all suffering is that we are unable to see, understand or know ourselves. In the absence of clarity we project values onto what we perceive and experience which do not belong there, this is the darkness of ignorance.

According to yogis what we really desire is samadhi, we are desiring the highest bliss and happiness. But because we do not know where to look for it, we are seeking it through the pleasures of the senses. And for a little while we may feel happy through obtaining a coveted object or experience, however this is always short lived. The stress on the modern mind, leads us to find different avenues for releasing, and when the stress of the mind is released, we experience a little bliss or at least some relaxation. It doesn’t last very long because the happiness is not a result of obtaining the object, the happiness is the result of relaxing the mind from its stress. So a new object must be obtained to get more mental relief. But true happiness comes from knowing the Self.

Ego, asmita, is really at the crux, at the center of this error. Bhuddi, or intellect, is called the power of seeing. It is the faculty, the means by which the Self is able to perceive. The Self has no activity whatsoever. It is completely passive, completely receptive. Asmita is the feeling that the mind is actually the author, is actually the identity, is actually the real person, actually the soul. But according to yoga this is just a projection, the mind is a tool, an instrument or limitation of the Self.

If you take a bucket of water and put it out in the sun, if you look at the reflection of the sun in the water, you know it is just a reflection. The light of the Self, reflected in the imperfect mind of man appears as a distortion. This is taken for real, or for the complete and accurate picture. As the mind is purified it becomes a better and better reflector of the Self, and by reducing identification with the mind we reduce the projection of ego.

One could say that our experience of life functions a bit like a movie theater: images are projected on the screen of the mind using a light source (the Self). When we enjoy a movie, we identify with the characters, and when the hero is in danger, we feel in danger, when the hero is happy or successful, we feel happy or successful. In a similar way we identify with our experience and suffer or enjoy as a result. But yoga reveals that this identification is the cause of bondage and represents an error in our understanding. And the way to overcome this mistake is to end the conjunction between who is seeing (the Self) and by what means an object is being seen (the mind). How it is being seen is the way the mind is acting, and the one who is seeing is detached from the mind, a separate entity – our true identity.

Patanjali describes a process called viveka khyateh. Viveka means discrimination, this is discrimination between what in my experience is essentially me, truly me, my true Self, my true spirit and what in my consciousness is an element of mind - an element which is produced by this life experience, or a previous life experience. And this is another way we can view the whole process of yoga - as discrimination between Self and not-Self. And this is to be achieved through practice of the eight angas of Ashtanga Yoga.

This is another of Guruji’s favorite quotes:
yogāṅgānuṣṭhānād aśuddhikśaye jñānadīptir āvivekakhyāteḥ - YS 2.28

Through the practice of the limbs of yoga, there is a diminishing of the impurities and cultivation of the light of discriminating wisdom (between Purusa and Prakriti)

The vrittis are reduced by abhyasa and vairagya. Abhyasa means practice, and raga means desire, this is one of the klesha (afflictions). Vairagya means to move away from desire, to redirect our attachments to external objects towards an internal object (the Self). Passion is translated into something different, it becomes a passion for the divine, a passion for truth. So we shift the focus away from the external towards the internal. You cannot eradicate desire, you have to re-select the target.

They often say in India that the mind is like a caterpillar that will not detach its hind legs until it has attached its front legs to something new. The mind has to attach somewhere before it will leave its attachments to other things. So the process by which we go through transformation, by which we are able to move towards vairagya, is progressively to attach ourselves to objects that further our evolution and thus remove them from objects or activities that we know are dragging us down.

We can see an example from practicing asanas - once you start doing asana practice, many things naturally start to change: our desires for certain types of foods start to diminish naturally etc. Naturally they move away from what causes suffering.

According to Patanajali abhyasa means the effort to establish steadiness (of the mind) – tatra sthitau yatno'bhyāsaḥ YS 1.13 - in other words to make the mind fit for Samadhi.
Guruji used to say you have to practice for a long time, a very long time. Patanjali says you have to practice for a long time without interruption with the purpose of understanding and manifesting the truth (satkārāsevito YS 1.14) - without this purpose in mind you cannot really call it practice as per Patanajali or Guruji.

Question: Can you talk a little about the 6 poisons and purification, I know practice helps, but how do you move away from anger and greed and….

Guy: The Self, which is said to reside in the cave within the mind which is located in the center of the heart is of the nature of light, but this light is obscured by six poisons – greed, envy, sensual desire, laziness, anger and delusion – these poisons need to be eliminated through following the four external limbs – then, as Patanjali says the covering over the light (of the Self) is diminished.

There are a number of ways to help directly; one is by changing diet. The impact of certain foods is far more profound than people generally understand. Changing the diet may reduce negative thoughts, words and actions. Recognizing negative thoughts when they arise and trying to identify from where they arise, tracing them back to their source. This helps to reduce the incidence of compulsive thoughts and actions. Patanjali says

vitarkabādhane pratipakśabhāvanam YS 2.33

which means to eliminate unwanted vrittis, cultivate the opposite. So, if you are prone to anger, cultivate love and compassion. If you are prone to jealousy cultivate generosity.
As we change our basic perspective on life, our values start to eliminate these poisons. These impurities are based on personal thoughts about oneself, in relation to others or in relation to the world, so transforming the way you think about life will change these things also.

Felice: When you say change the way you think about life, what do you mean by that?

Guy: Well, it is a natural process, I think, when you become involved in yoga practice and studying these kinds of philosophies. We start moving from a belief that its all about getting as much as you can out of life and screw everybody else, and thoughts like that. Changing the way you eat, how you think about the environment, how you think about other people: are they there to serve you, or are you honored that they are there for your communication, or do you feel like they owe you this or owe you that?

As the Yama and Niyama become perfected in social relations, this will change the way we see things. It is just a natural part of the process if you are on the spiritual path - I am sure everyone has seen these changes happening. For many people, of course, they will just be stuck in their way of being. My first teacher was not a yoga teacher, he was a western philosopher, I was very influenced by him in many ways. He said, for every step of progress in your spiritual path you have to make 3 steps in your external behavior. Because we can think, oh we are progressing very well in yoga practice, but unless you start to change your life and really make those concrete steps in the external life, the internal progress is still far off.

Elise: can you talk more about the idea of being a householder but also following the elements of the yoga sutras, because they don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Guy: Last week I spoke about the different ashramas -the different stages of life. It is traditionally thought that a young person up until the age about 28-30 who is not married and doesn’t necessarily have work responsibilities, can do intense practice and be totally involved in it. This stage is called the brahmachari stage. Afterwards, once you get married and have children, then your responsibilities are especially to your immediate family. Then you become a grandparent and have further responsibilities towards society as you get older. Then once those responsibilities are over, it was traditional to withdraw into the forest usually with one’s husband or wife and just follow a complete spiritual practice. So if you are talking about following the spiritual path as an exclusive agenda, those two periods of life, youth and old age, are times you could completely devote yourself.

But you have to take care of your karmas, your responsibilities and we have to live pragmatically, we cannot follow ahimsa perfectly. Even outside of family life you cannot follow ahimsa perfectly, there is always going to be some impact through your words or actions. The more spiritualized your thoughts, words and actions become, there’s a greater and greater chance that any harm you cause to other living creatures, will not impact them so much. If you have the chance of realization, it is said they will actually be carried with you. So by having consumed or harmed them, they will get liberated with you.

We have to have an intention, a goal, somewhere we are going towards, but we can’t do it 100% today. You can’t always be truthful. When you have children, sometimes you have to be a little deceptive to get them to do something. This is completely practical, and likewise sometimes when you communicate, there is a danger you will cause more suffering, so it is better not to say things in such a way that is not supportive and maybe you have to lie to do that in special cases.

Family provides enormous opportunities for understanding the yama and niyama. It is also a very fertile field for seeing anger, jealously and all those other poisons arise.

But there are many things we can do to help ourselves come closer to experiencing the higher states of yoga. One is to choose times of day for practice, where sattva is dominant, which is the half hour before sunrise and before sunset. Nighttime is a time in which tamas, the force of inertia is at its strongest. We fall asleep, we feel heavy. Daytime, when the sun is rising, and reaches a peak at midday, is a time of rajas, a time of work and activity. And the two sandhis, dawn and dusk (there are actually 4 sandhis, midnight and midday as well) are also considered special times for meditation and pranayama. And if we sit at those times of day, it is taking favorable conditions of nature into consideration, to support our meditation practice.

Other ways in which we support ourselves is using the right food, having the right diet. We are not only concerned about the physical process of digestion and assimilating food, but also about how that food impacts the mind, which is actually much more powerful than we generally understand. So we are looking for foods, which produce a tranquil peaceful state of mind, foods which support asana, pranayama and meditation practice. 

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