INTRO / ON BRAHMACHARYA / THE ESSENCE OF YOGA | THE PROBLEM | ON PREPARATION ON MEDITATION
ON INNER DIVINE LIGHT | ON AUM | ON THE 4TH PRANAYAMA | ON SAMADHI
Then pratyahara, in which the senses finally imitate and follow the mind, likewise withdrawing themselves from their objects.
From pratyahara, supreme mastery over the senses.
Pratyahara is reversal of the life force up the spine instead of down; away from the senses instead of down through the senses and towards their world-projections. With the onset of pratyahara, the breath is taken away, the heart stops, and the first stage of samadhi unavoidably dawns.
Sabija samadhi is accompanied by gross thought, subtle thought, bliss, and the sense of "I am."
In sabija samadhi exists thought, knowledge related to words, and based on further sense perception, plus divine knowledge in mixed states and the mind alternates between them.
Now the Yoga-Sutra lays out two general kinds of samadhi. The first is sabija which means "with seed." Then it lists four categories of mind contents found in sabija samadhi. Another word for sabija samadhi is samprajnata samadhi. "Seed" refers to three things:
-- The meditator may retain a meditation object that he continues to focus on.
-- The meditator is experiencing things, dualistic things, including the highest things up to and including bliss itself and the barest sense of "I exist."
-- The meditator is left with impressions or samskaras -- dualistic impressions albeit very high and pleasant ones -- of these dualistic experiences. In the context of higher samadhi even bliss is a dualistic experience, leaving bliss impressions.
In sabija samadhi the yogi may remain aware of his meditation object or alambra -- his mantra, the guru, divine light -- or he may perceive and grasp hold of new ones as he enters in. He may hold onto these. One of these can be bliss itself or the bare "sense of I." Have you ever started to faint or black out? One of the tricks for getting through that experience without losing consciousness is to start thinking "I am, I exist, I am, I exist." You will find that will often keep you from losing consciousness. You can lose hold of everything else, but if you hang onto that alambra, you can often remain standing. That is because "I exist" is the last thing that has to go before mergence in God.
In sabija samadhi the religious person is experiencing something, including the very highest and satvic things that can be experienced. In sabija samadhi there remains a thinker and the thought; the experiencer and the experience, the Seer and the seen.
Sabija samadhi with vitarka
The Sutra lists five things that can be present in sabija samadhi. The first is vitarka, sometimes rendered as "reason," "argumentation" or analysis but best rendered as gross thought about grosser objects. These are not the grossest material objects of waking consciousness such as stones, cars, weather or women -- but grosser objects such as we experience in dream. There is an object or experience of some kind; the object is being pondered, contemplated, analyzed, with verbal associations present. An "I" also remains who is experiencing.
We might think this is the form of contemplation that all people engage in whenever they are concentrating on a problem. However, the verse refers to a form of samadhi, which is not the normal state of consciousness that all experience when concentrating or contemplating a thing in the waking state, but a degree of inwardness-while-conscious than most never experience in their lives. We can understand it easily however when we think of the dream state and especially more "lucid" dreams. In sabija samadhi the religious person literally breaks his way into the dream state while wide awake.
In a lucid dream you are not aware of the world, but you are aware of things. You see and experience things. You respond to them, you may reason about them, explore them, and seek them. During the dream state you find yourself perceiving objects and thinking about them. However, this is samadhi, so it refers to a state like sleep but you are not asleep. Indeed, acquiring samadhi is the process of learning to go into the sleep state while still conscious.
Pandit Usharbudh defines vitarka as "gross thought." Leggett renders vitarka as "verbal associations." If you are in a dream state and can think in English (or your worldly language) about what you are experiencing -- you are in the realm of gross thought about grosser things. They are more subtle than the things of the normal waking experience, but in the range of samadhi these astral objects are gross objects.
Sabija samadhi with vichara
Pandit Usharbudh renders vichara as "subtle thought." This is the form of "thought" that most of us experience in lucid dream states. We experience objects, and may examine or interact with them, but find it difficult to think about them in words, or to even bring back words for these objects into the waking state. This is increasingly true as the objects we are experiencing become higher and higher such as Causal objects. We are experiencing subtle objects of the astral planes, many of these objects being the astral counterparts of things we experience in the gross conscious state. The difference now is that the things we are experiencing are beyond the description of our earthly lexicon or our rational waking mind though we may come back with vivid memory about them.
Sabija samadhi with ananda
Ananda means bliss and it is also translated as ecstasy. We have blissful experiences in the dream states and in religious worship. In sabija samadhi we experience this bliss more directly and consciously. It is a "seed" because he may concentrate on that bliss, and because an "I" is experiencing it as something different than himself, and because it is leaving him with an impression or samskara of bliss. The yogi is then developing deep bliss-experience and bliss samskaras which make it continually easier for him to slip back into those bliss grooves and states, just as a skip in a record easily makes the needle go there again. Likewise, experience of wealth will make wealthy future lives inevitable; the experience of fame will make future famous lives repeat, etc. The grooves of human samskaras, for the religious person, finally deepen unto bliss and finally Pure Consciousness. This happens most powerfully through the religious experience of samadhi.
Swami Hariharananda in his "Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali" has perhaps the best commentary on the above sutra. He states that each preceding level gives way to the next level and is supplanted by it. Thus, once subtle thought (vichara) arises, gross thought (vitarka) gives way to that and has been passed. Once concentration on ananda arises, there is no more gross or subtle thought. He writes: "Concentration on bliss is free from Vitarka or Vichara." This is basically like divine drunkenness. When one is drunk he cannot carry on much of a coherent conversation or even think coherent thoughts.
However, I do not think it is all as neat and orderly as that. Note verse 1:42 (above) and what it says about samadhi-with-seed:
"In sabija samadhi exists thought, knowledge related to words, and based on further sense perception, plus divine knowledge in mixed states and the mind alternates between them."
The samadhi-lands can be as messy as your dreams and as wild as conscious out-of-body states. In fact, realize that the mastery of conscious astral-projection and conscious dreaming states is synonymous with the development of the first two stages of sabija samadhi -- involving the perception of gross and subtle objects. The difference with the samadhi yogin is that he can enter that subtle planes at will and begin to develop a systematic approach to it and relationship with those planes. Also, through the mastery of pranayama in the form of kevali kumbhaka (discussed later), his entry into it is more complete, decided, and conscious than the average semi-conscious astral projection student.
Sabija samadhi with asmita
The last seed listed in samadhi-with-seed is asmita, which means the "sense of I-ness" or "I exist." Hariharanda writes lucidly about this last reach of samadhi-with-seed:
with Vitarka and
Vichara is dependent on and relates to knowable objects. Concentration
based on a feeling of felicity relates to the organs of cognition [the
organ being the mind], while that based on pure I-sense relates to the
knower. As the latter relates only to the cognizer, i.e. to conceptions
like "I am the cognizer of the bliss,' and thus concerns only the 'I',
it is free from the touch of bliss. This implies a state
beyond the feeling of bliss and not the lack of it."
"Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali," Swami Hariharananda Aranya, p. 44
The samadhi experience bestowed upon me by the Indian siddha Karunamayi fit the description of sabija samadhi with asmita. It was the higher reach of sabija samadhi since I retained the "I am" alone, while experiencing the ananda layer briefly on the way through up and down.
The question now arises: Where do the forms of samadhi called savikalpa and nirvikalpa fall along this spectrum? Yogananda define savikalpa samadhi as a samadhi in which consciousness of the world is lost, as in sleep, with the cessation of breathing and heartbeat. The yogi cannot function in the world. He said that nirvikalpa samadhi was a higher attainment, and that it's distinguishing feature was the ability to still perceive the gross material world and function in it. This is perhaps the most powerful position in terms of the power of thought, but lacking the overwhelming feature of the lower bliss.
From this it is clear that nirvikalpa samadhi refers to the higher asmita (I am) stage of samadhi-with-seed, along with the seedless variety, about to be discussed in the next sutra. The unconscious savikalpa samadhi refers to the three prior stages of perception of gross and subtle astral objects, and absorption in bliss. In both savikalpa and nirvikalpa samadhi the heart does not beat and there is no need to breathe. That is to say, both the state that is non-functional in the world and trance turned, and the state of worldly functionality feature no heartbeat and no breath. Before going on to the seedless samadhi, it would be well to discuss sabija samadhi a bit longer, as it is the form of samadhi that makes up the bulwark of yogi tales and the accounts of God-seekers of both Hinduism and Christianity. You may say, indeed, that savikalpa samadhi-with-seed is the "fun part" of religious life. It is also the realm in which siddhis, or miraculous powers, necessarily begin to develop. One commentator on the Yoga-Sutra states 'Now the yogi will sport and play in the field of siddhis for a long time.'
Samadhi is not a state of daydream, absent-mindedness or even mere keen concentration although success in keen concentration is what brings it. Contrary to what some modernes think, yogic samadhi is something distinct beyond these everyday things. In all states of sabija samadhi the yogi becomes able to consciously leave the body and play in this gross material realm (if he cares to keep it erected) or other astral realms. This is a blissful state and the devotee will have grateful tears upon leaving it. In this samadhi is the experience of the blissful God Isvara, God of creation. This is His nearer realm. This samadhi is called sananda, or joyous. In this samadhi the ahamkara, or ego, still exists just as you may have experienced yourself performing actions and thinking as yourself during so-called "lucid dreaming." In the three lower forms of sabija samadhi the religious person plays in the kingdoms of God and has a closer interaction with Isvara, the Lord of Creation, as a devotee to his King.
Reference to the state of dreams in sleep continues to have utility in explaining the lower samadhi states. We have a dreaming or astral self that is much more knowing and has richer experiences nightly than the little ego-self called "Julian" or "Martha" or "Mr. Smith" who lives in this world. Normally Mr. Smith is carried on the back of astral self, during dream adventures, as if a younger brother is carried on the back of his big brother, but he normally naps. Occasionally as we spiritually develop the little brother awakens during his older brother's astral adventures. At that time he will be generally be wide-eyed, flabbergasted, and both awed and shocked by what he sees. Usually he will go right back to sleep as if in a feint, overwhelmed by it all and unable to take in very much. However with the development of vairagya (dispassion) and fearlessness in the waking life of the little brother, he becomes able to cope with these experiences and stay "awake" to them for longer periods. Further, with his facility in entering that state without going to sleep at all -- while conscious -- his experience of the realm grows and he becomes braver. Then he becomes more capable of doing things that have a relationship with his waking life and the world he has "left behind," which still exists in him as a mere blueprint of that world in an unmanifested state -- a set of samskaras -- during his astrally awake state.
Gradually through the little brother's waking experiences on the back of big brother, the two brothers merge into one.
Without detachment, a sense of deep faith in God, and some gradual experience the astral plane is full of surprises and confusions that are upsetting to the inexperienced "little brother." He may even develop, through premature or forced entry into that realm, grave fears of that realm and of things and creatures encountered there. This will hamper his development. Thus it is best that entry into the astral planes be accomplished gradually in combination with a developing earthly faith and fearlessness, combined with the technical skill brought by meditation, pratyahara, and sabija samadhi. With constant practice plus faith in God these developments will come of their own. If you are developing rightly as a yogi, you will not care about any things, persons, creatures, or places in the astral world even tough they are far more interesting and attractive than anything in the outer material world. If you are developing rightly, you will prefer bliss, Aum, jyoti -- and even the very thought of God -- to any of these experiences. Upon finding yourself conscious in astral planes you will say to yourself: 'This bores me. I have no interest in it whatsoever.' This attitude is, itself, a part of the path of the yogi laid out in the Yoga Sutra. However, conscious experience of astral planes gives impressions (samskaras) and further such experiences will naturally unfold through familiarity with them. This is inevitable. These experiences then give special abilities that flower during the waking state. One reason for this is that the planes above the gross physical world are more real, and the things found here are based and rooted there. The astral plane has control over the gross physical plane. A yogic adept gradually learns this. However, the true yogic adept will not care, but rather continue his purification and God-quest with a deepening God-love, letting Purusha plus his own purification take care of the messes and conundrums of this world. However, the flowering of siddhis are inevitable on the religious path, as Jesus indicated.
"With seed" has a third important meaning. In sabija samadhi the yogi is receiving impressions (samskaras) of experience. They are no longer the impressions of the gross waking world as it was, but impressions of the higher worlds or, as it happens, this world from that state. It is samadhi-with-seed because he is having experiences.
The other variety is Nirbija samadhi which contains only the subtle impressions (samskaras) of the first.
In this state pure satva and the "idea of stopping" from the first samadhi is the focus. There is only a consciousness of being. It is like the state of deep, dreamless sleep, yet ineffably blissful because conscious.
In one whose citta-vrittis are almost annihilated, fusion and entire absorption in one another of the cogniser, the cognition and the cognised occurs, as a transparent jewel placed near an object takes on that object's colors.
In Nirbija samadhi, all forms have vanished, memory is purified, the essence of the object alone shines forth.
By what has been said, the same two experiences, in the cases of meditation on subtle objects have also been revealed.
The province of subtle objects extends all the way up to the indissoluble level of prakriti.
The purity of Nirbija samadhi being attained, one knows pure light and prasad.
He has direct knowledge of
things, different from knowledge based on testimony, inference.
His consciousness is truth- and right-bearing.
The samskaras produced by nirvikalpa samadhi overwrite other samskaras.
With the suppression of even the samskaras of sabija samadhi, one becomes established in Nirbija samadhi.
His yogic mastery extends from the finest atom to infinity.
Metaphysics of the Yoga-Sutra
I use the term "metaphysics" to refer to broad systems of belief, whether practically realized or merely theoretical, about the structure of the universe and the laws of manifest existence. The Yoga-Sutra expresses a system of metaphysics, or understanding of the mechanics of material reality and karma. Some of it tallies with statements of the Upanishads; some appears to be unique to the view of Patanjali. Some statements are at variance with the Non-Dualistic views expounded by Sankara. Much of the metaphysical content is in the fourth and final chapter, but such references are found scattered about the Sutra. A lot of it deals with the nature of karma or samskaras and embodiment processes. I have gathered them together for this section.It is very good to have a metaphysical vision when entering into the more occult side of religious development.
The functions of the mind can always be known because of the constant nature of the Seer, the Lord, Purusha.
The transformation into another
body (for another incarnation) is
effected by the flow of prakritis; the jiva gets the
body natural and appropriate to it.
Actions are neither white nor black in the case of sages, in the case of others they are of three kinds.
Having the three kinds of samskaras, they fruit variously as conditions become appropriate.
Jati-desa-kala-vyavahitanam apy anataryam smrti-samskarayor ekarupatvat.
among the samskaras there
This is one of the most fascinating metaphysical statements, for me, that the Sutra makes. It is saying that samskaras (impressions) that we carry have an influence on one another.
And samskaras are without beginning because the will to live and desire for well-being are eternal.
This is a confusing verse and doesn't fit nicely into the metaphysics we have on hand in Hindu thought, so it requires some analysis. Some commentators use "desire is eternal" for this verse. Most translators use "beginningless" or "without beginning." The mind, on reading the verse, tends to add "without end" because if a thing has no beginning, yet exists, it has no end.
It is similar to the Buddhist statement "samsara has no head nor tail." Does it mean samskaras have no beginning -- or end? But it is the jiva who experiences samskaras. Neither Nirguna or Saguna Brahman can be said to experience samskaras. Thus these have to be relative to the jiva. Yet the suffering and limited jiva is a delusion that yoga aims to dissolve. How can the jiva, slated for dissolution, possess something that is eternal, and that being the worst part of him?
Or is it just that jiva may have started out on a timeline, but we can't really cipher out where his story started any more? This evokes statements by Vasistha in the Yoga-Vasistha: 'I have tried to to see where it all begins, and it can't be seen.' Could it be that since the jiva has the power to manufacture and invent pasts, for this reason there is no way to find a beginning for the vasana hairball?
And whose "will to live" is under discussion? That of the jiva, who at that primordial encountering God fears self-annihilation in Brahman? Or is it Isvara's will to live that's at cause? Is our "will to live" only Isvara's, beating in our own hearts?
The verse coming next says that samskaras are destroyed when their locus or substrate is destroyed. Thus the two verses will seem contradictory. Are samskaras only eternal from the point-of-view of a mind not yet dissolved by samadhi, just as a small boy who plays in the outdoors can get endless dirt upon himself? Is it that one's own samskaras and power to create them, within the context of one's own jiva-mind, are beginningless and endless?
Or does it relate to the power of the Pure Consciousness, Brahman, to generate infinite thoughts and vision?
Does in relate to some master dump of all creatures' samskaras, which are continually increased as deluded souls continually take birth? Some imprint in prakriti?
This is one of the more difficult verses of the Sutra. In Hindu metaphysics there are kosas or sheaths, related to an individual identity (jiva) which contain the storehouse of samskaras or conditioning. Samskaras relative to this physical life are stored in the body and brain, the samskaras of the astral life in the astral body, etc. It is not considered that Brahman, the infinite Pure Consciousness, is a like a storehouse of samskaras. Rather, as pure consciousness, the "uncarved block," any notion, story, or conception can arise in Brahman. And why couldn't an "endless a vasana dump" be included.
Theoretically Saguna Brahman has access to all minds, all bodies, and all time -- and that would include the samskaras of all. We could say that as long as any material creation exists, since the material creation is nothing but samskaras, a great storehouse of same exists. The world-appearance containing mountains, seas, stones, earth, and sun are all nothing but samskaras.
Further, theoretically one person, able to connect with the samskaras of others, could get their samskaras tangled up with others, with those becoming his own, sort of like a pile of hairs becomes tangled together or a pile of paper clips become connected in tangles. There is a great deal of content in the Yoga-Vasistha that suggests this. The sage Vasistha relates tales in which he, or another person, decides to enter the body of another. Or they look upon another creature at some key moment and find themselves incarnated as that other creature. Then it happens that the original person forgets his old state and gets drawn into the stories and conditions of that new body, this being absurd, pathetic, or merely routine as the teller tells it. This would be a case one man's karma becoming continuous with that of others. Yoga-Sutra commentators have also asserted the prospect of a yogin enjoying the good karma of other people, that being listed as a kind of siddhi. This makes perfect sense considering the Sutra verse about the yogin occupying and living through several bodies simultaneously.
Then again in the long span of Hindu cosmology there is the "Night of Brahma" in which the creation is folded up into an unmanifest state. Certainly at that time there is an end to samskaras, at least accessible or present in any created body.
So the verse leaves some loose ends. Likely it means that for the jiva-mind, as long as his world exists, samskaras are endless just as a small boy who plays in the outdoors is able to get new dirt on him each day. But there is one more view.
In hard-core non-Dualistic Vedanta the very creator Himself, whether styled as Isvara or Brahma, is considered to be one more deluded soul. The greatest of all, and omnipotent in His creation, yet deluded like us. He himself has an outward-going mind, thus he keeps creating the universe. (My view is that God the Creator is much more comparable to a nirvikalpa yogi; outward turned at times, but capable of samadhi and knowing the Brahman reality as well, and the statements of Krsna comport with that idea. Indeed, why wouldn't God, king of the Universe, also be Enlightened since even human creatures can be. This never occurred to Sankara. But let's stay with the idea.) Thus in this verse the will to live and desire for well-being could belong to Isvara, whose breath breathes in us and whose heart beats behind ours. Patanjali may be referring to His will to live, and desire for well-being, and that being eternal, at least as eternal as a Day of Brahman. Then also His power to create endless conceptions which then become conditioning (samskaras) in the great "I" of God just as we little "I"s similarly trap ourselves -- that is endless. In this case, Patanjali may be taking Sankara's view of our very Creator Himself as the ultimate deluded Person.
Perhaps the real kernel of this verse is: "Don't bother to think about finally destroying all samskaras. As long a the mind and jiva-mind exist, there is an endless supply. Dissolve the substrate of samskaras instead, which is the individual 'I'" This may be Patanjali's intent, because the very next verse says this:
But as they are bound together by cause, effect, substratum and support, samskaras are destroyed when those are destroyed.
The verse says that one's samskaras can be destroyed when the the thing in which they are embedded is destroyed. "Substratum" here probably means the jiva along with it's kernel of unique I-ness, plus the bodies it possesses, the linga sharira (astral body) and causal body, and what we call the mind. Some commentators say "support" means the objects of perception that caused the original vasana or which may cause them now. When the substrate carrying the samskaras -- mind, body, and jiva -- are dissolved the samskaras have to go with them. Samskaras even exist in the physical body, a thing that "body workers" and emotional healers know. As a clear example, when the body dies and dissolves those emotional impressions embedded in it, a form of vasana, dissolve with it.
This raises the immediate question: Can samskaras not be destroyed in the aspirant while living in the body? Or at least changed? The answer to that is: Yes, they may be both destroyed and altered. The lack of mention of this is, in my view, of flaw of the text. Grace doesn't happen all at once in the form of samadhi, but we incrementally move into grace and more satvic lives by our yoga. Concomitantly with that, the samskaras must necessarily become more satvic, or "upgraded" if you might.
Now commences a greater discussion of austerities, the prime technique of religion and yoga.
More about austerities
This is the king of all austerities, especially for men who, in this day, whose spiritual interiors are revolutionized by it immediately. Chastity is not really an austerity because it immediately brings gain to the body and mind, and reduces the suffering of creative loss in the male, immediately. In most austerities, something is renounced or done without. In chastity, the male immediately becomes filled and fed by his own growing inner creative surfeit, which transmutes itself through his body and mind. Though chastity is not harsh like other austerities, it's importance is such that it should be listed as an austerity, and the very first.
Meditation is the queen of
The man who loves God best comes
to love solitude more than company.
Fasting is a very effective
austerity. It is listed here right after
meditation, which is a more esoteric subject, because it is simple,
available to all, and a powerful purifier. Fasting also has a special
place in the Christian tradition. Christ fasted 40 days and nights. The
yogic scriptures also affirm fasting as a valid austerity. Though it is
not explicitly named in the Yoga-Sutra, "austerities" generally are
named as the first basic action of yoga. And certainly fasting is a
mainline and classic austerity.
on Miraculous Powers
Now to the Yoga-Sutra's famously strange Chapter three on miraculous powers, such as those displayed by Jesus Christ which are almost a commonplace of yogic saints in India going back centuries. The books "Miracle of Love" about the yogi Neem Karoli Baba as well as "Autobiography of a Yogi" are a good place to learn that they were never unique to Jesus Christ. The word siddhi is often translated as "perfections." Siddhis are occult powers possessed by God-knowers. The subject is first broached in Chapter Two:
Kāyendriya-siddhir aśuddhi-kşayāt tapasah.
impurities in the body and
This verse has a great similarity to the statement by Jesus Christ, performer of many yogic siddhis, after he cast out some demon in His world-dream. The disciples asked Him why they couldn't manage. He answered, 'This type cometh not out except by prayer and fasting.' In other words, more tapas was required for it.
I have moved this section for the last because it is the least interesting, in terms of the verses themselves, and the chapter that should be of least interest to God-seekers. Soon you will see why. But it is fit to commence a discussion of miracles and occult powers generally.
The central technique behind most siddhis listed in the Third Chapter is the perfection of meditation, or samyama. It is by fully merging with an object or idea, then transferring that idea to other objects, such that an interaction or mixing of ideas and objects occurs, that most of these siddhis are obtained.
However, siddhis are personal and a fruit of one's personal conditioning combined with the faith principle. Thus the existence of this chapter in the Yoga-Sutra proves one thing:
The yogis who compiled it did not understand their own siddhis and why they arise.
The existence of so many published "commentaries" on the siddhis chapter of the Yoga-Sutra proves a second thing: There are an awful lot of fool contenders and brazen poseurs in this world!
This subject connects to the Christian idea of the power of prayer. Working impacts by prayer is nothing but a kind of siddhi. Because we are like our Father Isvara, and have desires and loves, it is natural that we should want to protect loved ones with prayer, benefit the deserving, and punish the wicked. This is human and it is also, from the point of view of Saguna Brahman, a trait of the Divine Lord.
Siddhis Are One's Own
Siddhis are an expression of one's own well-cultivated law, formed by faith and conditioning in the religious person or yogi, powered by the transcendental power of God or Aum that can power any mental creation one fancies. They are his own play of the mind, whether they end up seen by one other, a hundred others, or a thousand.
Siddhis evolve personally. Thus the technique that works for one might be different for another. The best way to explain this would be to launch right into comments on a few samples from the siddhis verses. It will become clear.
By samyama (perfect meditation) on the light in the head (bindu), the yogi gets the vision of the Siddhas.
This particular yogi wanted to see the siddhas, so when he mastered penetration of the inner bindu, the jyoti, he saw siddhas. Or, he already had karma or conditioning for seeing siddhas in the bindu. The truth is, anything at all can be seen inside the bindu. But this yogi, somewhere in time, happened to see siddhas there at least once, so he wrote about it, and it became one of the Yoga-Sutras.
By samyama on the pit of the throat, the cessation of hunger and thirst.
Now, this yogi happened to end his hunger and thirst (and get inedia) by perfect meditation on the pit of his throat. Now, he might have instead meditated on a spot within his belly and achieved the same thing, had he had that predilection and faith. But, this particular yogi reasoned to himself, and had faith in the idea, that his samyama on the throat (because it is where food comes in) could feed him. Thus it worked.
He might have meditated on "all the fruits on the sides of the hills of Vrindavan" and that might have worked for him, if he'd had the right mental conditioning. Or "meditation on Divine Mother's breasts." Or "birds eggs" (if the yogi was fond of eggs). If the yogi was partial to barley we hight have ended up with a Sutra verse that said: "Cessation of hunger by samyama on fields of grain." Or meditation on "a luminous orb that satisfies" etc. But this particular yogi's statement made it into the Yoga-Sutra. There is nothing particularly eternal, or woven into the fabric of creation, to this particular yogin's technique. Such is the nature of siddhis. They are personal and they are mind-play. I will give another example:
By samyama (perfect meditation) on the heart, knowledge of the mind.
This is taken to mean the ability to find out the content's of one's own mind (such as past lives), plus the contents of other minds. "Heart" is usually taken to mean the area in the chest, though some yogis such as Nityananda use "heart" to refer to the center of the forehead. But it really doesn't matter, see. If you have faith plus conditioning for ending up knowing thoughts of others by focusing on your chest, that's what will happen. Yogananda developed other conditioning and personal laws: He cultivated his heart as a "reception" area in which he could receive messages from others. That was the siddhi he liked. This fits, in a way, the experience of the yogi who wrote this verse. However, one could develop the knack of reading minds by meditating on some other place, or even some external place -- should he have the predilection. For example, another hapless yogi might get the power of reading his mother's mind back in New Hampshire by thinking of her favorite poodle which she thinks of a lot. Another might get a power of knowing the past actions of others by concentrating on their hands, etc. All according to his faith and conditioning for such doings in past lives.
One of the more fanciful Sutra siddhi listings, one looking like a creative technique by some yogi, deals with the power of invisibility. His involved meditation on his own physical form. This yogi got the strong notion that if he imagined his own body clearly enough, as a picture, it would make him invisible, and it worked. Such is the power of samyama. More importantly, he had it worked out in his head, a metaphysics in his head, about why this should work. He probably also had "conditioning" for this going back incarnations (related to his theory). The God-soaked mind empowers whatever notions you give it! Why he managed to give himself invisibility with this method was a function of his own conditioning and karma. The yogi might have effected invisibility by some other plan, such as meditating on himself as clear glass, etc.
Now do you understand? All material existence is conditioning and self-hypnosis. Siddhis evolve according to the adept's own mind and predilections.
A great many could have been added to this chapter, as endless as the imagination, and some that are there seem rather arbitrarily included.
Once you start to experience siddhis you understand this. My view is that the yogins who participated in the siddhis compilation in the Yoga-Sutra were unfamiliar with the Non-Dualistic Vedanta understanding of phenomena. According to that understanding, expressed in the Yoga-Vasistha:
"However the mind conceives 'the Order' to be, the order becomes."
That is, however you fancy the metaphysical laws of manifestation to work, if your mind is powerful enough, your conditioning (for it) thick enough, and also connected to the Transcendental Power -- 'the order' becomes. They are not necessarily a universal technique for all, but were their personal creations.
Thus it is ignorant to list the Yoga-Sutra siddhi verses and comment on them as if they are some universal law. Many fools have done so. Or just as foolishly, some opine that they are not real experiences in worldly terms, but only metaphorical, etc.
The mind is its own law-giver, this is the real basis of siddhis, so all siddhis have a personal dimension relative to the experiencer of them. There are a few exceptions: The sutra does list some techniques that, should they be practiced by a great many yogins would likely yield their results easily. Siddhis are partly a manifestation of individual conditioning and partly on laws others could follow.
It is interesting that the Sutra left out the siddhi of multiplication of food, the one displayed by Christ. This is such a common miracle in Indian religious life that the power has a name, annapurna. Say "annapurna" to an Indian and they know it means "the miraculous multiplication of food." So what might the Sutra have given us had it listed this particular power?
Again, it would have depended on which yogi happened to report his happenings. Here are some ways it might have been written:
"By performing samyama on the idea of abundance, such as a lobster full of eggs, or a catfish with a swarm of babies, or heavy-laden fruit trees, then that idea merged with a bit of food, multiplication of food is obtained."
On the other hand, a yogi who'd had a fruitful wife who'd had ten children might have achieved the same by performing samyama on her in the pregnant state, combined with the bit of food, etc.
A yogi can invent his own tricks if his own mind and conditioning support them, as all creation is self-hypnosis.
One of the siddhis, in fact, is listed as the fulfillment of "any desire." Thus if one yogi wishes to float through the air by performing samyama on rockets instead of on "light things like cotton down," that's his deal.
The real basis of siddhis is the fact that the world is of the nature of a dream, simply moving more slowly and appearing to be more inert and intractable before the mind. In the end siddhis come down to who has the most influence and control over his particular world-dream. Ego-bound people are of the nature of an unreality. The yogi is contacting the Reality. The Reality has lordship over the unreality.
The Factor of Concentration
This has already been brought out: Samyama or the steady flow of the mind towards one object. This includes clarity of vision.
The Factor of Emotion
All average persons occasionally have occult impact on their surroundings by the power of their emotions. If perfection of concentration is combined with strong emotional feeling, siddhis are inevitable. The entire manifest cosmos is an expression of the unimaginable emotional nature of our Creator, Isvara. So think of how much emotion is there, thus how limitless siddhi power must be.
The Factor of Aum
There are powers inherent in pranava and also inherent in pranayama and kumbhaka. These unfold naturally to the religious person according to his imagination, his creativity, his notions, and his predilection. For example, instead of meditating one one's throat in order to be fed, as one nameless yogi of the past happened to do, one can meditate on various phases or letters of Aum in a particular way. Or, upon smelling the divine smells, they can become as food to the religious person, should he or she wish to receive them in that way. And it goes on.
All this is written here to teach my people the truth and lift them up into the highest yoga, as well as to regenerate Christianity and preserve the beautiful churches, places where our ancestors spent their best for places devoted to God-worship and true bhakti-yoga.
The Factor of the Transcendental, Grace
Many siddhis happen associated with God-seeking persons outside of their control or intention. Through the God-seeking person, God likes to play.
These are obstacles in the way of samadhi, powers when the mind is outward-turned.
This verse is often interpreted as meaning the conscious exercise of siddhis should be avoided. However, that's not exactly what the verse says. It simply says they are powers when the mind is outward, and that they can't be enjoyed or exercised consciously at the same time that one is in samadhi. The verse does not say it is actually possible to avoid them in the outward state. And I believe that it is, in fact, not possible for an advanced yogi to to avoid having siddhi-impact on his environment when in the normal world-turned state, even should he at times wish not to have such impact. He has to, in fact, learn to control it. For example, he may have to learn to strenuously avoid entertaining angry thoughts toward anyone he loves -- no matter what.
This verse benefits from clarification. The unavailable forms of samadhi due to the momentary phenomena-turned mind can only refer to the higher range of sabija samadhi (asmita/"I am"), and to the highest nirbija samadhi. range The lower forms of samadhi are in fact phenomena-turned states.
"Obstacles in the way of samadhi" means simply that one can't be outward turned or engaged at all and also be in those two levels of samadhi. This is, at least, what it ostensibly means. Thus the verse might just as well say: "Mashing potatoes is an obstacle to samadhi" or "typing a letter is an obstacle to samadhi."
But for the advanced religious person or yogi, esoteric powers and impacts on the gross world are inevitable in the outward-turned state. As long the religious person cares about any created thing, he or she will not be able to avoid impacting his environment. We can take it further and say that as long as the jiva even sees or looks upon any created thing, he cannot avoid impacting those things with his mind. That is, until supreme vairagya is reached and stabilized, men and women will exercise siddhis even despite themselves. And even after that they will continue to impact their environment without their intention, by God's grace. This is the meaning of the state of "dharma-megha-samadhi" mentioned in the Yoga-Sutra, or the "raincloud of virtue." A person established in that state pours blessings out on his environment even while oblivious to that environment. Thus there is no way that a religious person will avoid exercising these occult powers. For example, should they think of another person with anger for a moment, there will be an affect. When they imagine another person with love or positive thoughts, there will be an impact whether they wish it or not.
Now, the the "warning" part of this verse is in the fact that attainment of siddhis makes the world even more interesting than it was before. The religious person may be tempted into further engagement with the samsara as he discovers his powers. This is where the term "obstacles" has a warning and many yogis such as Ramakrishna and Nityananda were very negative towards any conscious expression of siddhis. Ramakrishna considered that an aspirant was fortunate if he never experienced siddhis; that this was a sign of special grace and favor by God. The state of the asura, the wizard, the demigod, etc. can be seen as the great tide pools containing those who got caught up with the possibility of powers in the samsaric world, their journey slowed and complicated.
However, the verse above is probably misleading. The kind of samadhi it refers to -- to which siddhis are antithetical -- is the highest or nirvikalpa and the higher range (asmita) of savikalpa. This brings me to a more involved explanation of how special powers express. One assumes that the experiencer of siddhis is always in his normal state of consciousness. That is not necessarily true. He may be in an altered consciousness. The verse above also implies there is a strict dichotomy between the state of samadhi and the outward-turned state. This is also not true. When we ponder the following things we will understand siddhis better.
In the movie "Brave Heart" the hero is being tortured before a mob. He begins to die. As he dies, he sees his long-dead wife in the crowd below, coming to him. What was happening was his outward-turned consciousness was becoming mixed with his higher or astral perceptions. He was in both worlds. One commentor on the Yoga-Sutra spoke of death omens. He stated that some see omens that death is approaching. These may appear a year before, a month before, a day before, or an hour before. But they take the form of unusual things and persons, seen in the ordinary world, but which should not be there. What is happening is that his earthly consciousness is being mixed with his astral awareness as the last karmas holding him in the body are being spent. In American automotive terms, his earthly karma is "running on fumes" and his higher vision is starting to open up.
What these sutras pass over is the fact that as a yogi begins to experience samadhi over time, with its vision of the astral planes, he begins to carry some of that awareness forward while in the outward-turned state. He begins to be in both world at the same time. Thus at times some of the siddhis he experiences will be be experienced when he is is this mixed state of being, of seeing both. Just as the approach of death may produce strange, fantastic, and miraculous things in the environment (such as the wife in the audience), habitual samadhi will also give miraculous perceptions while basically outward turned. The yogi will sometimes see things others don't see, etc. In like manner, his siddhis sometimes will happen as he is in those states.
Now, if you experience a miraculous thing, and nobody else sees it but you, that was a statement of your karma. You didn't have the karma for "I was involved with a miracle and Bob and Jane also saw it."
If one other person experiences it, that too is from your conditioning. If ten see the miracle along with you, again that's a function of your karma. And so-on with 100 witnesses, a thousand, etc. If one has karma (samskaras) for "I effected a miraculous thing and 10 others saw it," then that's the report that will be there when the thing is over. When has it ever occurred, anyway, that every man, woman, and child on earth saw a reported miracle? Or any one thing? Perhaps 10 saw it, or 100. But all people will never see the same thing. Thus the siddhis a man or woman experience, and the attending conditions on them such as witnesses, etc, are all part of his or her own karma and conditioning. "A miracle happened, 100 saw it. Wow!" Siddhis are karma.
Abridging this, to open the mind up further, we need to discuss Sankara and the nature of karma: You believe there is a downtown, with certain streets and shops, because you went there yesterday. You believe it is there because you have a memory of it. But is it really still there? You are not experiencing it now. Likewise in the dream state, we are utterly convinced that we are experiencing a certain place, then the scene changes, or we wake. Does that place still exist? Or did we just have the karma to experience that much of it, for that much time?
It is no different with the "shops downtown" that you are sure exist. You can reason that at some point in time they will no longer exist. They were not there back in 1700, and some day downtown will be ruins, overgrown with wilds. In that way, at least, you can accept that downtown will at some time no longer exist. But consider that that just as with the dream, when you had only temporary karma to be experiencing "the spectral blue waterfall" or the "fields of flowers" -- your experience of a "downtown" was also only what your karma allowed. It's there when you are there. But when you are not there, it's really only a memory and a notion. You don't know for sure that it's still there. You merely believe it is.
If you go and check it out (verifying it's still there), and find that it is, that's because you still had some karma for another "downtown" experience. Let's say that you are suddenly swept away, you must leave your town, and end up in a small rural area where there is no downtown. Similar to how you were swept away from the "blue waterfall" or "flower fields" (of dream), your karma for "downtowns" is suddenly exhausted. Yet you still believe that the old downtown, which someday will certainly vanish, is still there. Why do you believe it? Conditioning. Perhaps you get a letter from a friend telling you about his times downtown, and saying "Wish you were here." So you are convinced, "Downtown is still there." However, what you just experienced there was not the downtown, but some different karma: "Friend writes me letter telling me tales about a place I once knew." That's what you experienced, not the downtown. So you don't really know downtown is still there; you are not experiencing it any more, in any case. What you are experiencing is a letter and a friend giving reports. And why are you experiencing that? Conditioning, karma for "letters" and "reports."
Now, all of this is necessary to understand the context in which siddhis happen, which is the context of the world-dream. I experienced a stone that was handed to me in the state of dreams (well asleep, in bed, at night, in a dream) that was present with me the next day. (Right in my pocket.) I showed the stone to one other person, and they touched it. But no other person saw it, and then it disappeared mysteriously. This was a case of an occult phenomenon happening in which some person, but not everybody, saw it. Such is always the case with siddhis. Not everybody sees them, but some may. I note, too, that my consciousness was part here, part there when this happened. I was not fully in the outward-turned state. There was a mixing of the dream state or astral ream, with this one. If I had had the karma or conditioning for "10 touching the stone" it would have been "ten" when I returned to normal consciousness, rather than just one.
In summary, siddhis are just one more part of the world-dream, they are personally experienced, others may see them but never do all see them, and that is all karmically determined. Further, some happen in the normal state of consciousness and others in a partially inturned state. My estimation is that the majority of the siddhis mentioned by the Yoga-Sutra would happen in a partially in-turned state.
This is my own offering to the Yoga-Sutra:
Siddhis are a fruit of samskaras and are experienced in the realm of karma.
Along with the karma-story of "I experienced this miraculous power/event" comes "Ellen and Bob saw it too," or "nobody but me saw it," or "100 other people testify to it." That's all part of the karma, too. Disappointed? You want "mass siddhis" and "peer reviewed studies" of the phantasm? If you could see "everybody" floating around like balloons (even though you can never see "everybody"), or you think it's "everybody" because you saw a lot of them on TV, or think it's "most people" because the New York Times newsprint said "90 percent of people now float around like balloons on any given Thursday afternoon" --- would that make you happy? No, only God's infinite bliss makes you happy. All the rest is cheap thrills.
Siddhis are of the realm of duality; they happen in the samsaric realm. Messing around with siddhis on purpose will only drag you into endless samsaric dream. What then should one's attitude be?
Your attitude should be to pray for who you want to pray for, but merging in God should be the number one interest. Once I read in a yoga book that if I concentrated on the tip of my nose, instead of the place where my guru had told me to concentrate, I could smell astral smells and also get contact with devas associated with the earth element. That night I began to try it, and immediately I saw in my mind's eye, as in a vision that looked like a real thing, a strange earth deva. That night falling asleep, however, I had a clear vision of my guru and he was making a very displeased face. I was shocked by the clarity of the vision and I got his message immediately. I stopped messing with meditation on my nose. In the end, I ended up smelling the astral smells and got nectar-of-the-nose anyway. So all things come to those who love the Lord. My guru did not want me playing around with earth devas.
Esoteric powers come to all who love God. One should understand them and when they arise, use them to fuel one's bhakti or devotion for the Lord, unto samadhi. That is, be in thanks, feel worship and delight over them, let them be your inspiration for love-talks to God, for your encouragement on your path, and the confirmation and firming up of your power of faith. That is their value. To seek to become a tinkerer in the messy garage of samsaric dualities is for the ignorant. The best siddhi, which one should pray for and practice austerities for, is samadhi. The second is the power to manifest a general world-upgrade rather than targeting particular things. In other words, can you wake up tomorrow and watch grotesque and dark shadows in this world start to lift through your self-purification? That is, ugly conditions besetting all of your world? There's a siddhi worth attaining. The thing is, your general purification and cleaving to God, with chastity, will bring this about on its own. Watch all holes be filled, all ships rise, and all uglies become beautified. What better siddhis could there be than this? Learn astrology if you want to be able to watch it clearly. But having the mind on even these kind of world-thrills is a crass downgrade from having the mind on God. The religious person, the yogi, understands this. It is all paltry.
Some yogis developed siddhis, not understanding how siddhis actually arise and how personal they are, and decided to write down their experiences. These random happenings of a few impressive yogis writing down their mind-inventions, not having insight into how their mind-inventions became lawful, got passed on into this literature and ended up as the third chapter of the Yoga-Sutra.
Perhaps Patanjali was himself one of these. It is possible to have siddhis yet lack insight into how they arise. Do these miraculous powers exist? Certainly. Almost all have experienced them, whether in his own life or witnessed in the lives of others. Anything is possible in one's world-dream.
The question with siddhis becomes: How much is your mind imbued with the Universal Power of God? If well imbued, you can invent the siddhis you like, which may indeed become usable techniques for others. (Whoever's mind is most with the Ground of Being becomes a lawgiver.)
In some cases the techniques given probably have metaphysical validity for many, such as the meditation on the heart area leading to reception of the thoughts of others. In other cases, it is clear to me that particular yogis have merely reported their own odd mind inventions which did work for them, but which were nonetheless their personal invented techniques."
Once the reality of siddhis is understood, the question arises: Should this chapter have even been written? My view is that the inclusion of the chapter on siddhis, in the Yoga-Sutra, is one of its embarrassing flaws. Not because of any unreality for siddhis, but because it betrays lack of understanding about the true nature of siddhis and had to create confusion. It also appeals to the wicked.
Signs of the activation of
Western Confusion about Yoga
Yoga is an Address to the Mind, not the Body
You will notice that the 195 verses of the Yoga-Sutra, authoritative text on yoga and source of the very word, contain only four verses that touch the body. These three from the Taimni version:
Verse 2:46 "Posture (should be) steady and comfortable."
This is taken by yogis to refer to the best posture for meditation, not postures done for their own sake. See how simple and unexotic the verse is. There is not even a reference to an erect spine. One does not need to sit like a Buddha, or curl his fingers in a circle, or even sit at the top of dangerous and distracting mountaintops!
Verse 2:47 "By relaxation of effort and meditation on the Endless (posture is mastered.)"
Leggett uses "Infinity" instead of "the Endless" and states that actual samadhi should be done on infinity. So even in this verse, the central act is mental and the physical aspect involves relaxing and letting go of the body.
Verse 2:48 "From that no assaults from the pairs of opposites."
These are what the Yoga-Sutra contains about the body or body per se or bodily postures. (Then another I'll get to later, Verse 3:46.) Immunity from "the pairs of opposites" means the devotee becomes impervious to heat and cold, wetness or dryness, hunger and satiety, and I suppose even up and down. That is, that by relaxing bodily effort and meditation on the Infinite, occult siddhis are obtained! This is not your mother's yoga studio.
How did yoga, a discovery of males directed at the difficult feat of mind-mastery for God-knowledge, become the province of women who pay to sit in groups and do multifarious bodily postures for health, beauty, and socializing? Basically, the westerners who went over to India and picked up the hatha side of yoga misrepresented it to the west, or represented it only partially. It then was sold to American women as a health and beauty aid. That's the short summary of what happened. In time the obvious spiritual and religious content of yoga became impossible to ignore even for these, and thus "yoga studios" became also a strange kind of religious scene. Only one was not to call it "religious," but "spiritual." Then it became more of a mess from there.
One's interests and desires, should one want to master real yoga, must be these:
-- God knowledge
-- The end of suffering for one's self and others
-- Knowledge about the mystery of creation; how it arises, how it subsides, how it improves, and how it degrades.
-- All these through conquering mind, source of the external dualistic world-miasm.
All the rest, the body-oriented thing they now call yoga in the west, I will refer to as yoguh from now on in this text, and genuine yoga will be called yoga or yogah. I used to call it W.A.B.Y. (Women's American Body Yoga) but that seemed unkind, plus it misappropriated the word yoga again. Suffice it to say I don't respect yoguh too much. What led me, anyway, to the study of yoga? God-search! It was clear to me from the moment I opened my first Yoga-Sutra that yoga was actually religion, and the very essence of religion and religious questing. It was also clear that the Christian saints practiced many forms of it, under their own nomenclature. How can a fellow sit well with seeing the word and many of its ancient ideas turned toward vanity, the body, cosmetics, and worldly goals like "getting a husband" or "socializing with the women"?
Now, some sincere people believe that the mind is brought under control by applications to the body. They have, at least ostensibly, an interest in calming the mind and may even go to the yoga studio for the feeling of peace and well-being that body yoga (and other related techniques used there) brings to them. There is some validity to the view. When mother strokes her child's head or wife stokes her husband, she soothes him and calms his mind. When husband rubs his wife's feet, her mind becomes calm. When we go to sleep and experience utter relaxation we go into unconscious savikalpa samadhi (the dreaming state) and then unconscious nirvikalpa samadhi (the dreamless state). In pranayama the yogi slows down his mind by deliberately slowing his breathing; and makes his mind quiet by holding the breath. Likewise certain physical efforts, mudras and asanas have a beneficial calming effect on the mind. Combined with thought, these even activate occult spiritual energies and mental energies. Thus we have a dimension of yoga, a legitimate and ancient one, called hatha-yoga. This hatha-yoga is a God-search technique with a strong bodily emphasis along with the meditative principles. It uses many asanas, mudras, and pranayamas to bring about the pacification of mind and samadhi.
However, even the most venerable text on hatha, the Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika, states that these things are worthless "without raja yoga." That means without the yoga of austerities, meditation, and devotion described in the Yoga-Sutra. Hatha-yoga is properly considered an addendum or supplement to the yoga of God-meditation.
We can easily ask the question: If one pursues hatha-yoga but has no interest in the stilling of his mind, or in finding the Deity within, will those bodily postures and activities bring that person samadhi and God-knowledge? The answer is no. To still the mind, one must want to still the mind. To get God-knowledge, one must want God-knowledge. How often one can be doing an asana, doing an exercise, but her mind is all over the place. You know it's true. To get a grip on the mind, you must go at the mind directly, with hatha as a supplement to that task. Hatha without meditation and the other basics sorted later, such as chastity and God-devotion, is verily not yoga.
One yoguh teacher popular in the west is B.S. Iyengar. I saw something odd in one of his books. He said that the body was like the root of the mind. That we must address the body to get at the mind. But the yogis say exactly the opposite: That the body is a creation of the mind. When the mind is fully under control the body becomes the mind's plaything.
These facts were further driven home to me when I began to experience the phenomenon of yogic-kriyas. I was never one who to take much interest in physical exercises. I didn't enjoy gym class. Never messed much with any sport. Never went to a health club, went running, or lifted weights. However, I did love reading religious scriptures, and practicing meditation in hopes of coming to know about God and the great mysteries of religion. Somehow by God's grace I ciphered out from many scriptures that meditation, chastity, and the devotional thought-of-God were some kind of Fundamental Religion. (Fundamentals are good in all fields; you get nowhere without fundamentals.) I took to chanting. I took to reading the Bhagavad-Gita and Gospel of Ramakrishna. I imbibed the bhakti attitude. Finally I understood the guru principle (much cited in the Yoga-Sutra), and claimed a great saint as my teacher. Lo and behold, my body began moving in strange ways one night.
The mudras and asanas that we know and which are associated today with yoguh, yoga studios, and coffee table books are actually a natural emanation of the kundalini-shakti. The very first one was the slow movement of my head from right to left, in a velvet smooth motion reminiscent of the swaying of a cobra. Also my left hand began to pull back and up, taking a form I had seen in many religious paintings and sculptures. A devotee will begin to go into these positions spontaneously, perfectly and without will or effort, through the practice of the genuine yoga of meditation, bhakti, and chastity. When this occurred my body began to go into these ancient yogic positions called mudras and asanas, with no prior study on my part and no will of my own. At the time I had no knowledge about them, but soon found a book by Swami Muktananda where they were explained.
The truth is this is where the knowledge of the hatha-yoga postures and mudras actually originated from: Devotees practicing the real yoga, becoming the dawning places of Goddess Shakti, began to display them. There is no doubt about this. Since that time I have seen others who pursued the simple path of God-worship and meditation experience the same phenomenon, including beautiful movements and postures lost to time and no longer present in the texts.
(More on the phenomenon of spontaneous yogic movements in the Chidakasha Gita commentary.)
This is the true source of the hatha-yoga we now see practiced by women in "yoga studies." (Funny how the texts say yoga must be practiced solitarily!) Who? Me? I had never been within 100 yards of a yoga studio or a book on hatha-yoga, but there I was doing classical yogic movements and some difficult postures. All brought about by the yoga specified in this text, in particular the yoga specified in Verses 2:1 and 2:32. The movements were distracting to my meditation, but I accepted them as a sign of Goddess Shakti. Now they have subsided and only come about when I feel fresh and strong devotion (bhakti). In reality, contrary to the ideas of B.S. Iyengar, the bodily change comes in response to the inner state; the inner state is not brought by the bodily state. One can sit in perfect posture with his mind roiling like a storm. But meditation on the guru and chanting the mantra: Now this is yoga. The body will follow; the body will follow. Which brings me to the last Yoga-Sutra verse bearing on the body. The Sutra has this odd verse:
Verse 3:46 "The perfection of the body is grace, splendour, power and diamond hardness." -- Leggett
At first glance it could be seen as the crass goals of the modern yoguh studio. But context is everything. This comes in the section on siddhis (occult powers), and after Verse 3:45 in which the very elements are mastered by practicing complete concentration on them. This mastery of the body is an occult mastery stemming from mind mastery, then meditation on the elements. Taimni puts the verse this way:
"Thence, the attainment of Animan etc., perfection of the body and the non-obstruction of its functions (of the body) by the powers (of the elements)."
The power of "animan" is the power of making one's self as small as an atom. The non-obstruction by the elements, in this yogic bodily perfection, means that the body can go through objects, be unaffected by fire or water, etc. This is the sort of perfection intended. Not being buff or muscled or pretty. "Grace" and "splendour" in Leggett's rendering refers to literal splendor as in luminosity, and an ineffable splendour of divinity and not the conformations of fashion magazines or the western body cult.
In practical usage the word 'yoga' has two correct meanings:
The state of God-union (the
state of yoga), and
The practices of yoga all address the mind and emotions, and only incidentally the body as the body is an emanation of the mind.
Women and Real Yoga
A woman is on as strong a footing for yoga and meditation as a male who has no more than one male period monthly, and such men are rare. The average male today is far more incontinent than the average female, who is constrained by nature to have no more than one loss of life force per month.
On the other hand, the nature of the male sexual energy itself, and the way it influences his mind, makes him uniquely fitted for austerities and concentration. My view is that women don't fundamentally take to austerities. That is why modern-American so-called yoguh is body oriented and oriented toward worldly gain, not austerities-oriented, and those who pursue it have little interest in the Yoga-Sutra or the material here.
On the other hand, women are natural bhaktas, and bhakti-yoga is highest yoga and the most important aspect of all that is written here. She is naturally devotional. She is also intuitive and imaginative, and both intuition and imagination play important roles in yogic breakthroughs and technique.
A male body and it's sexual drive, because of the significance of sublimating that, is fortunate for the pursuit of real yoga. On the other hand, a great yogi with much yogic development can easily happen to be born into a female body, such is the nature of samsara. We have the example of tremendous yogesses, actual siddhas, who are women. One of these is Ananda Mayi Ma, another is Karunamayi, and there are others in history. But woman finally has no disadvantages in yoga, and makes a more natural bhakta. Further, woman has a special path into the mysteries of yoga that is unique to her, a principle that is illustrated in the Yoga-Vasistha tale of "The Sage in the Rock." In that tale the husband of a good wife turned to austerities and God-search, and that annoyed her because she naturally preferred the life of the world. However, she was devoted to him, thus received all his same yogic development. This is a mystery available to women and also the core mystery of that same bhakti-yoga which gives union with the Lord. By devotion alone, one receives all the highest possessed by the object of their devotion. Which brings me to another matter:
A modern woman may sometimes be found saying: "Julian, you keep talking about God as a male and a father, but I want God to be a woman." This comes more from bristling male-like ego than from wisdom and especially the female wisdom.
If you have understanding, you see that those born into a world in which God is featured as the opposite sex are the lucky ones. (Oh, how lucky women never knew they were prior to being induced to destroy all the good things they had through the stoking of endless desire and abandonment of natural duty. Oh, how much she devalued and threw away the good things what men and the world were giving to her.)
Bhakti-yoga is the highest yoga, and the real cream of Patanjali's yoga too. Did you know that men tend to be able to cultivate the strongest feelings of devotion for a female idea? Such as a mother or wife? Isn't it the same with women? Western men, actually, are at the disadvantage in a culture having a God characterized as male. Most of them are estranged from their fathers and not fond of them. The Father God feels more distant to them than the Divine Mother worshiped by many Indian men. It is absurd for you to chafe and complain about a masculine God when most of you (if not lesbians) get the highest feelings of affection for male figures during your life, or your father. This business of western women complaining about a male God simply shows spiritual ignorance and an approach to life that bristles with ego-pride rather than wisdom. In any case, picture God in the form and sex that appeals to you most, because God will always take the form that suits you best. As for me, my father was the honest one; my mother dishonest. My father was the religious bhakta; my mother disinterested in religion. My dad was the one willing to do any thing for his family, and who hurt the most over his family, and a compassionate and warm man, as well as noble. Thus I am comfortable with the Father God. Convert my verbiage to the terms you prefer. God transcends sex, but from compassion he takes the form that attracts us. So let it be as you need.
There, I just removed that affliction for you, that of being all cockeyed about the western Father God. The western women -- including your grandmothers -- were the lucky ones, and here you didn't realize it.
Yogic Topics Left Out of the Yoga-Sutras
The Yoga-Sutra assumes a lot of things about the reader. It is a text that arose from a yogic culture; not an introductory text to the yogic culture. Because it fails to mention certain things does not mean that they were not known, assumed, or ever part-and-parcel of that yogic system. Now that the text is available and even receiving attention from various and sundry, it is inevitable that it will have influence on peoples. This is a different age, in some ways much darker, and in other ways full of opportunity. The topics I will list here are topics that I believe could have easily been included in the Yoga-Sutra, but were left out either because they were viewed as not fundamental enough for such a text, or were assumed, or were of the nature of secrets.
The Sutra says nothing about meditation on space or akasa as a meditation object. In the ripest metaphysics that the Upanishads can hand you, akasa is only the 3rd evolute from Brahman, with prana itself first, then faith, then akasa. So infinite space (akasa) is very near to God. In fact, in practical application prana and akasa become synonymous. Thus space is one of the best meditation objects.
Part of my own good karma in this life was being born Christian and spending time in the Christian churches which are built in such a manner as to evoke akasa (space), God's third evolute (after faith). Then also, lucky enough to be a child under Isvara's great sky and see many cloudscapes, the play of light, the night sky and stars, and stories by scientists about the apparent infinity of even the material cosmos. All these, starting with the Christian churches with their exquisite reverb (again evoking akasa), helped me to comprehend space later as a meditation object itself. (Indeed, listening to a Gregorian chant within the beautiful reverb of a Christian church, or singing one as a monk or nun, puts the mind into awareness of akasa and this is no doubt why the White Europeans developed all these things, even if subconsciously.)
Indeed, space is a powerful meditation object. Patanjali lists a number of meditation objects, but leaves this out. With the inclusion of "experiences of dream" and "Meditation on whatever appeals" as meditation objects, it could have well been listed. Akasa is a common meditation object in yogic traditions. It is synonymous with prana and one of the first evolutes of Isvara. Infinite space could have been mentioned as an approach to meditating on the infinite Lord. I believe that this meditation object might have easily ranked with meditation on an experience from sleep or even ranked above it in value.
-- The Sutra says nothing about the phenomenon of shaktipat.. It also make no mention of kundalini which is an aspect of shaktipat. It is likely that these were well known but were considered secrets. This was likely considered secret. It is my opinion that most of the knowledge and experience that the Yoga-Sutra describes will be accompanied by shaktipat.
Questions from White Men
I have sometimes heard White racialists (those trying to preserve the European peoples) raise this objection about this yogic path and mysticism in general:
"A yogi or Hindu-type becomes inward, that would mean that he can't care about his race, work for causes, etc."
This is not correct. A man on this path continues to have duties, to know what his duties are, and continues to do his duty. If anything, it makes him more free to do his duty by disentangling himself with worthless sensual engagements, plus makes him more effective in his duty because of the freedom from addictions and their vitiating effects. This path also makes a man more fearless to do his duty no matter what it is. I think it also leads him to see with the eye of naturalness, thus he considers it natural for races to stay with each other; and unnatural to race-mix, etc. He perceives the latter (as I do) as a mere expression of sensuality by those who have jaded sensibilities and a disassociation with their natural psychology and roots. Those who seek the novel are those whose "eyes and ears have waxed gross" in Christ's words, and who continually paw through the material world seeking for thrills.
"It seems meditation isn't doing anything. It's not doing anything for your community, etc. It's a waste of time."
First, those who meditate become more effective at whatever they do seek to accomplish. Most men spend a great deal of time watching the news, or surfing the internet, or reading history books. To trade some of that time for a discipline that will give you insight into the origin of phenomena, plus more influence over the phenomena (instead of merely reading about phenomena), is a wise direction.I had a lot of experience with practitioners of Transcendental Meditation in Fairfield, Iowa. (I used to live in Iowa..) An unusual feature of their spiritual program is that one spends just 15 minutes a day at meditation. Some people spend more time on a crossword puzzle. (It might be 15 minutes twice a day, but I don't recall.) One of the outstanding characteristics of the young TM people of Fairfield was their external productivity and success. It seemed that little town was economically revolutionized by their presence, and a great many businesses were always being launched by these people. Many of their businesses thrived. These 15-minute-a-day meditators, the bulk of them young White Europeans/Americans, seemed highly creative and effective wherever they directed their energies -- moreso than the average population. Further, they attributed their noticeable creativity and productivity directly to the meditation technique. The teachings they followed -- by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi -- contained a metaphysics that explicitly stated that this increased fruitfulness, success, and "coherency" came from their short daily meditation periods. None of it was happenstance. A small amount of meditation greatly improved their worldly effectiveness, and they even prosecuted studies to prove it.
The goal of human life is really contentment. What a good man wants for his people, finally, is their contentment. It's only those men who have found inner contentment for themselves who have a true offering for their people. What good, anyway, is the preservation of our race if they don't know the way to happiness, contentment, and knowledge about the truth behind the external manifestation? Become the best kind of gift-giver and path-guide to your people. Lead them to the true water.
Lastly, an advanced meditator can do more with his mind in an hour than a material man can do in a year by running around and re-arranging the inert material world by egoic effort. One who has not pursued that may look askance and doubt it, but this is the prospect inside of true religious knowledge. One only knows by effort and discovery on this path. Better to know 2 percent about how phenomena actually arises (the good and the bad) than merely run around trying to patch up the phenomena externally without any genuine clue why and how it arises or how and why it changes. One legitimate motive for meditation is, in fact, world-mastery.
"Your path advocates celibacy, but we need to increase our birthrate."
My path advocates chastity before marriage then chastity or an attempt at continence after having children. Don't you know that if you can managed to be continent for just one month it will be good for you and revolutionize your life? Then there is still 11 months to get your wife pregnant. Try at least a week of celibacy! (lol) Must all men be unrestrained bleeders?
I always hear this from the chronically childless who spend their sexual energy in every direction but where it's supposed to go. So do you have a family yet? Do you have children yet? I had four. The average sexer-male today will have at least 1,640 orgasms between the ages of 20 and 50. (That's assuming a debacle, or male period, once-a-week.) Let me spell that out: One thousand six-hundred and forty times. Yet it only takes six orgasms to have a family of six children. What a big family is six children! And he can have them all between the ages of 20 and 30.
-- Show me a man striving for traditional morality -- only expressing sex with a wife -- and I'll show you a man motivated towards marriage.
-- Show me a man who has sex only with his wife, and I'll show you a man having plenty of children.
-- Show me a society with a conservative view of sex and I'll show you a country with a high birthrate.
-- Show me a country that contains a celibate priestly order and I'll also show you a country with a high birthrate.
-- Show me a country that is liberal regarding sex, has porn freely available, and where the men are sexual libertines, and I'll show you a country with a birthrate that is low or negative.
The attempt at continence by young men = Marriages and high birthrates.
After a fellow and his wife have the number of children they want, the more the man pursues chastity the better father he will be and the more prosperous will be his family. Then it becomes a question of the spiritual aspiration of his wife and whether she can come along with him on the path to God.
Western Commentaries & Translations of Yogic Literature
Generally speaking one cannot translate or comment well on the yogic literature of India, and that includes the Upanishads, without being a devotee and practitioner of the religious subject matter they cover. This is, of course, one of the great flaws with most western translations and commentaries. Even with those ostensibly showing respect for the eastern heritage (or even ostensibly fawning over it), a background attitude seems to be: "We are westerners. We are more advanced. A lot of these ideas are antiquated. Certainly there is no real need for chastity. Besides, I like sex." Further, much of the attitude is "Oh, look at the quaint and charming little stories by these primitive peoples who didn't even have Ipods, carhells, and Prozac." But usually the moderne -- including the wide-eyed Yoga-Studio or W.A.B.Y. maven -- has no idea what he is really reading about, because the texts are deliberately obscure and often metaphorical.
Certainly if the brahmacharya content is thrown into the alley trash can by the westerner, and the bhakti content viewed as mere charming emotionalism of primitive peoples, there can be little perception into these texts. In truth, we are the primitives on a great many levels at this point. But one must be a practitioner to have insight into these profound texts, not an outside onlooker.
An outstanding case is how authors approach the Chandogya Upanishad. That text gives off the impression of being loaded with phantasmagorical ideas. It will snow the average western mind and he will be convinced it is, as Muller clucks, 'childlike talk.' But in almost every case these are very charming coded references to hard yogic phenomena, perceptions, landmarks, and development placed there by knowing sages. I will place a few examples of this from the excellent translator F. Max Muller whose scholarly translations of a great many Upanishads were published in 1890.
Muller had an obvious respect
for the texts as a mysterious
culture for study, and he appears to take pains to translate the verses
as accurately and truly as possible. But his footnotes in the bottom
pages show his perplexity along with patronizing dismissals of verses
he doesn't comprehend. Indeed, without
the inner sun and the inner udgitha,
much of the Chandogya Upanishad is
incomprehensible and appears like the fanciful talk of children. But
it's the canny talk of sages:
"Now that light which shines above this heaven, higher than all, higher than everything, in the highest world, beyond which there are no other worlds [this refers to the physical sun], that is the same light which is within man. [Referring to the jyoti seen by the religious person.] And of this we have visible proof:
Namely, when we thus perceive by touch the warmth here in the body. And of it we have this audible proof: Namely, when we thus, after stopping our ears, listen to what is like the rolling of a carriage, or the bellowing of an ox, or the sound of a burning fire (within the ears). Let a man meditate on this as the Brahman which is seen and heard. He who knows this, becomes conspicuous and celebrated, yea, he becomes celebrated."
Now read Muller's commentary on the above. From the footnotes below:
"The presence of Brahman in the heart of man is not to rest on the testimony of revelation [scriptures] only, but is here to be established by the evidence of the senses. Childish as the argument may seem to us, it shows at all events how intently the old Brahmans thought on the problem of the evidence of the invisible."
He had no idea what any of it was about. This is a deeply revelatory yogic verse for anyone pursuing the spiritual wealth of the Yoga-Sutra and moksha. It touches on at least four areas of mystical subject matter. It references yogic spiritual phenomena and perceptions. The "audible proof" of God refers to the inner blissful pranava, which sounds like the three thing mentioned. (Delightfully descriptive metaphors, all three.) This is not the assorted body-noise, heartbeat, or movement of bones one hears on stopping the ears. It refers to the pranava in some of its characteristic sounds. (For an avid aspirant, these are heard with open ears as well.) "We thus perceive by touch the warmth here in the body" is also yogi talk. It refers to the very noticeable feeling of heat, from cool heat to searing heat, in the body as the yogis nadis are purified and he receives a plenitude of prana. It does not refer to conventional bodily heat. "Let a man meditate on this as the Brahman which is seen and heard," refers, of course, to meditation on these inner divine perceptions. Why, indeed, should a man become "conspicuous and celebrated" simply because he notices the heat in his body or closes his ears and hears bodily noise? This is the way of the Chandogya through-and-through, as well as the other Upanishads. They are not childish fancies, but brilliant occult utterances carrying information for the God-seeker and yogin.
Oh how long the wise sages of the east have had to bear these kinds of blind insults. To be thorough, let's review all that the verse revealed and which Muller missed:
-- The verse gives us the insight that the outer sun is the very same sun seen within by the yogi as bindu, with the implication that the experienced bindu is a proof of God. For those well-read it also implies that both are synonymous with prana itself.
-- It states that the inner pranic heat felt in the body is another proof of God.
-- It states that the udgitha (pranava) is a heard proof of God.
-- It gives apt descriptions of the nature of the Divine sound, in various forms, to give faith to the devotee and know that he is on the right path (rolling carriage, burning fire, a tone or hum like the ox).
-- In sum the verse is an answer to atheists. In my own life I have often said to atheists such things as this: "You reject God, yet there are so many definitions of God. Which definition are you rejecting? Yoga defines God as ananda or bliss. I feel bliss now. So by that definition I have proof of God. It also defines God as inner divine sound. I hear that sound, thus I have proof of God. You have simply not searched for God in any form, thus how could you have any proof?" Thus the Upanishad is a yogi's answer to atheism.
The westerner missed all, taking the felt things, and the heard thing, to refer to conventional sound and heat because he was not a devotee or a yogi. Similar insensible moments by western translators and commentators are endless. I will give one more from the Chandogya Upanishad. This fascinating scripture opens with these astounding statements:
"The essence of all beings is the earth, the essence of the earth is water, the essence of water the plants, the essence of man speech, the essence of speech the Rig-Veda, the essence of the Rig-veda the Sama-veda, the essence of the Sama-veda the udgitha (which is Om). That udgitha (Om) is the best of all essences, the highest, deserving the highest place, the eighth. 4. What then is the Rik? What is the Saman? What is the udgitha? This is the question. The Rik is indeed speech, Saman is breath, the udgitha is the syllable Om. Now speech and breath, or Rik and Saman, form one couple. And that couple is joined together in the syllable Om. When two people come together, they fulfill each others desire. 8. Thus he who knowing this, meditates on the syllable (Om), the udgitha, becomes indeed a fulfiller of desires."
This verse contains breathtaking revelations; is pregnant with meaning for the yogi and knower of Aum. It speaks of Aum as the essence of speech, and counterpoises that next to prana (breath). It is saying that the yogin should involve himself in an interaction between his breath (prana) and the udgitha (Aum). It likens this to sexual relations. Thus the yogi may breath into Aum or send his breath into Aum. Moreover, the yogi is bidden to draw (pranic) breath from Aum. This is related to attainment of the Yoga-Sutra's 4th pranayama (inner breath). In this way "speech" is interacting with "breath" like a couple. As with sexual relations, such interaction, or pouring Aum into breath and pouring breath into Aum, shall be fruitful. It directly bears on the Yoga-Sutra verse 2:51 on the state of kumbhaka.
The more outstanding aspect of the verse is that the yogi should apply the attitudes of bhakti in his handling of his breath and to the pranava. This bhakti attitude was indeed the attitude revealed by the avadhuta Nityananda when he spoke occultly of inner sound and inner breath. (See "Commentary on the Chidakasha Gita"). More could be said about this but that is enough. But I notice that a recent Upanishads published by Wordsworth (2000) and edited by an Indian, Suren Nakvalakha, completely omits verses 4-8. (See bold numbers above for all that's omitted.) The very best verses are omitted without any explanation. The sense is that the author did not consider them important, perhaps considered them strange, or worried that they were an inducement to "tantrik sex." Yet these verses, placed at the very opening of one of the most extended and sensational Upanishads, gives perhaps the penultimate secret of yogic development -- the bhakti attitude -- plus occult instruction in how to fruitfully interact with the heard pranava. All of this, moreover, directly bears on Yoga-Sutra verse 2:51 about the "fourth kind of pranayama," i.e. the state of kumbhaka.
My observation is that most translations and commentaries by westerners are as unseeing as Muller, cited above. One should read them with that caveat in mind and do not take all authors at their word or assume that they are authorities, no matter the publisher or the name. As the Yoga-Sutras suggests, only those who are devotees, ascetics, practice meditation, and brahmacharya will comprehend the Upanishads.
Generally the real knowers are found among the Indians. However, this does not mean that an Indian always knows either. Now I have to, unfortunately, deconstruct one particular Indian so that yogins will flower brightly both on the continent of India and among the Christian churches:
The Commentaries of Sankara, Observations about Sankara
During the years that I first began to study the Vedic and Yogic literature, I entertained a natural awe of the author named Sankara, formally known as Sankaracharya. This was due to his attainments: establishing the swami orders of India and hermitages, his voluminous commentaries, and the legend surrounding him. Thus upon happening onto his commentaries or writings, I approached them with total respect and expectation. Only in my 54th year did I begin to bite down and analyze the writings of Sankaracharya, however. This started with careful reading of his Upanishad commentaries, especially the Mandukya Upanishad and its Gaudapada Karika insert. There I found that he was an inveterate proponent of the theory or metaphysics of Non-Dualism. By reading his explanations in the Mandukya Upanishad, I began to get a comprehension of that viewpoint. Truly, that is Sankara's forte.
I had been reading the Yoga-Vasistha a long time before that, often with puzzlement but always with great satisfaction. I found that after exposing myself to Sankara's ND explanations, the Yoga-Vasistha was less work and I finally understood its underlying view. It began to effect a wonderful completion of my education in raja-yoga which started with The Gospel of Ramakrisha, exposure to my guru Yogananda, difficult reading of the Bhagavad-Gita, and utterly puzzled reading of various attempts (by various authors) at the Yoga-Sutra.
As I read Sankara I began to sense, you could say, his "personality." I could say humorously that he seemed like the ultimate Prig both in terms of his manner of explanation in which he parsed verses into tiny pieces with explanations of nearly every word, plus his continuous insistence that everything be referred "upstream" to his pristine non-duality. One gets an impression of cold wisdom, and I have once referred to Sankara as "bloodless." This because of his lack of bhakti content (except for his invocations opening and closing chapters). His predilection for the curt expression "that is being said" and "this is being explained" (as in "you want to ask this question? It's already been given, dummy!") -- added to the impatient schoolmaster impression. One thing the reader would be assured of: If you wanted to know how any verse might be hijacked, jerry-rigged, twisted, or illuminated towards a non-dualistic view, Sankara would always come through with the goods.
As I continued to read Sankara I began to observe certain things, and to have questions about him. One observation was that he did not appear to reference bhakti much in his commentaries as an actual component of his path, even when he was commenting on a verse evoking bhakti and expounding on it would be expected. There were his opening and closing invocations, of course, which definitely express a spirit of bhakti. But bhakti was seldom brought in by Sankara as an actual plank of sadhana. It seemed as if these invocations were a kind of formality to him. I soon understood that Sankara would be classed as a "jnani," the sort Ramakrishna often referred to as following the path of "dry reasoning" or analysis. By reading Sankara explain Non-Dualism, I finally began to understand what this jnana path was: A simple practice of analysis in which a fellow, by intellectually analyzing the world, comes to the conclusion that it didn't exist.It is likely, indeed, that Sankara is the watershed jnani of all time.
It was never really explained in this way: But my impression was that Sankara's view may be nothing but an assistant to pratyahara (reversal of attention away from the world); an additional administration to goal of vairagya; an elaboration of Yoga-Sutra 2:15 in which the world is realized to be deficient. Sankara takes it further and propounds that it does not even exist! Could it be that by simply mastering this constant attitude of Sankara's, genuine yogic pratyahara would ensue and samadhi automatically take place? I never saw Sankara explain it this way, but this novel expectation seemed implied in his writings. Does it work? What about the need to actively direct the mind? Did Sankara's path of continuously deconstructing the material creation as non-existent become, for him, a form of dharana that led to samadhi? My view at present is that his approach is one component to a thorough raja-yoga approach, not a complete yoga. And yet, Sankara stands in the middle of every hallway acting as the expert spokesman on every aspect of yoga. Was he? From many of his commentaries it does not appear so.
I mentioned that Sankara rarely exuded on bhakti in his commentaries, yet he seemed to express it well as a happenstance of his bookend invocations. My guru was a bhakta. One of my early questions was this: Could it be that whatever attainment Sankara had came partly accidentally because he was actually a bhakta but did not realize himself the role it played in his own sadhana? I noticed that Sankarian commentaries were regularly included with all kinds of yogic literature, including the Yoga-Sutras. How would a decided jnani be especially qualified to give commentary on verses that dealt with devotion, meditation technique, and things not part of the jnana path per se? Was it all simply a cultural and historical development related to a particular activist's domination of his times, and one with an astounding inclination to write plus a need to assert his authority over the vast Hindu panoply of knowledge?
As I continued to read Sankara, both in scanning mode and drill-down mode, I began to be troubled with him. He appeared to give desultory or watered-down explanations of chastity (brahmacharya). At least in the translations I had on hand. I was particularly astounded by one comment in which he defined brahmacharya as "lack of sexual relations." That obviously left the door open to masturbation or who-knows what other hanky panky. It seemed a bit lawyerly to me. The hard edge defining brahmacharya, for any yogi worth his salt, is certainly lack of any seminal emission. He seemed highly varied in his responses to verses citing brahmacharya, unlike his attitude to Non-Dualism in which every single verse -- from references to apana to the Cosmic Egg -- were so resolutely and without exception brought back and laid on his cold, hard Non-Dualism table. This possible flakiness toward brahmacharya troubled me. I knew that the greater the flaw in brahmacharya, the greater the flaw in knowledge and attainment.
Finally when hitting Sankara's commentaries on the Upanishads I saw surprising signs that he often did not pick up on esoteric and yogic content in a verse that seemed obviously there. It seemed he did not have what could be called yogic development, yet he was writing comments on texts like the Yoga-Sutra that were both picayune and detailed yet lacking in substance. Like chaff without germ.
So many of those verses are obvious, slam-dunk affairs in which the rishis were clearly pointing to yogic phenomena and signposts, setting things of an occult nature right in our faces and easy to recognize by a yogi. At first I thought: "That can't be. He is being circumspect. He is wisely refusing to reveal yogic secrets." Yet often the entire verse was of an occult yogic nature and he would thoroughly ignore that content. Instead, he would spin up a great pile of near-contentless repetition of the verse in parsed form, while turning the verse to nothing but more signposts to his non-dualism in the end. Every verse became a new set of references to the attributeless Brahman. It occurred to me that a canny writer -- and Sankara was nothing if not canny -- could at least make allusions to the esoteric content in a verse. What is the point of a commentary if not to bring out, or at least point to, hidden content in a verse? It seemed to me that the mysterious Upanishad authors themselves were far more generous in revealing yogic secrets than the demigod of commentaries, Sankara, was in his ostensible elaborations of same. I was not sure. The thought simply occurred to me. It wasn't something I wanted to believe. But I often found myself curiously unsatisfied by the commentaries of Sankara, and as I went on, occasionally agitated. Then came a day when I broke out laughing when realizing that this glorified Hindu "acharya" may have simply had no personal experience with much of the verse content he was supposed to be explaining to us. How could this be? This is most apparent with Upanishadic verses that discuss yogic attainments such as inner light (jyoti), divine sound (pranava), and the breathless state (kumbhaka). Now his curt little "That is being said" comments began to be slightly annoying. There is another one peculiar to Sankara, where he ends a commentary with, "That is the idea." The sense is, "Enough on this, class, let's run on." And yet in many cases he has said very little and even failed to even point to chucks of chocolate, honey, and glory in the Upanishadic verse.
But I continued to reserve judgment about him. I understand the vagaries of translations, how translators come up with very different sentences, and often get things plain wrong. Sankara was Sankara. Maybe I was catching his writings at certain developmental stages of his sadhana? I didn't own some of his major works. Maybe there were other texts that showed more mastery or gave more generously. And certainly, his development of the non-dualistic philosophy was masterful and very helpful. The thought occurred to me: Maybe he was not supposed to have the yogic perceptions? Maybe God kept him from those, to force him to completely develop Non-Dualistic Vedanta? Yet increasingly I found him to be lying all over the Upanishads, sort of like a sloppy guest may spread out on your sofa or a lady with a shopping cart make block your way in the market isle. I found increasingly that I preferred to read the verses but not his commentary, only going to his commentary when a verse was confusing in mere terms of sentence construction, in which case he sometimes cleared up a confusing sentence at the trivial level of grammar. Even then, it seemed to me, he would fail to deliver the goods.
From there, I began to pay more attention to Sankara's self-written compositions such as "The Crest Jewel of Wisdom" and "Quintessence of Vedanta." These were a revelation because they revealed his basic worldview; showed the mental sea that he swam in. My impressions from these were two: He seemed like a kind of librarian of Vedic thought and metaphysics. This first touches upon another theme: Sankara seemed to have a personality we could describe as Cancerian. Normally in Sankara's commentary he is applying a rigorous logic and is happy to jettison many things -- even the knowable God-with-attributes Isvara himself -- if it does not have a place in the austere logic of his non-dualistic view. Yet at the same time he would often stop, demure, and proclaim that the statement of a Sruti had to be valid -- no matter how strange or illogical it sounded and no matter if it had no easy place in his lean system -- simply because it was a Sruti. I sensed there a Cancerian personality that revered tradition, and this was at odds with Aquarius-like traits that preferred the coldest logic. His pages would be chock full of every imaginable Hindu tradition, enumerated with glancing mentions, indeed like the report of a librarian of Hinduism. I found, indeed, that reading a Sankara text was like getting an overview of Hinduism from a professor of Hinduism 101.
But although he seemed avid to assert himself as the pre-eminent authority on every aspect of yoga, he failed to deliver the goods. Just as noticeable to me: His verses lacked the ancient rishi voice; the tone and resonance of the Upanishadic verses which are astounding in combining simplicity with pregnant meaning. He felt more like bluster than ancient wisdom.
My basic view at this point is that Sankara was a combination of intellectual, Hinduism collator, dabbler in many yogic traditions, politician-manager, cultural reformer, and master expounder of the philosophy of Non-Dualism. What he attained from this in truth at the end, I do not know. Maybe he attained samadhi from it. Yet I feel his commentaries on the Yoga-Sutra, and many Upanishad verses, is desultory. On the Sutra's verse about "the 4th pranayama" he was simply ad libbing. He missed the message of the verse and changed the subject away from mysterious kumbhaka without saying anything about it. One of many examples of mildly creative and typically assertional statements by Sankara when he really didn't understand the verse he was commenting on. Many other commentators since have struck, in their cars, this metaphysical road litter by Sankara on Verse 2:51 even trying to straddle it (comment on his commentary) in some decorous way, all to no effect, simply because Sankara was Sankara. For the devotee desirous to understand the verse, the commentary of Sankara is like chewing on pulp. Truly, Sankara, great as he was, would have served the dharma better, in a few cases, if he had not tried to comment on verses he didn't understand.Think of it anyway: Why should an expounder of Non-Dualistic Vedanta be the first go-to source for commentary on raja-yoga texts? Why should we ask him to comment on bhakti, bindu, and breath? It seems to me that Sankara's steady approach to verses is to relate every word and every idea to his non-dualistic view. This involves twisting and it involves ignoring their actual content.
I noticed that Sankara is at the root of the view of renunciation and the life of the saddhu as found in India. He seems to be a watershed source for that. He definitely holds the monastic life to be supreme and has little encouragement for the householder except, in some cases, in his librarian role of enumerating Hindu lore and standards. His view of family is negative. He literally encourages fathers to abandon their children. I sometimes wonder if Sankara, in the way that he raised radical monasticism above all, actually did damage to the culture of India just as much as he expanded Hinduism intellectually and philosophically.
Finally, at the worst end of it, I have occasionally wondered in my mind if Sankara may have been incontinent. Or even a homosexual. I raise again his seeming dissembling explanations of brahmacharya. I note that, according to tradition, he exempted himself from his own radical requirement to ditch family, and his particular non-negotiable attachment was to his mother. He does not employ much father-positive verbiage. I note his dismissive and degrading comments about children. Finally there is his characteristic priggish tone.
I am in favor of monasticism. But I am also in favor of family and fatherhood. I do believe, moreover, that becoming a father matures a man, gives him the proper point-of-view as a protector of society later (as a genuine Kyastriya), and teaches him about the very heart of the Lord. One understands how Father-God feels by becoming a father. But then again, Sankara had no use for the knowable God-with-attributes, the emotional God. One cannot be a bhakta unless one has that same emotion of the emotional God. And this may be Sankara's greatest flaw. Yet, look at his invocations. The man is certainly a mystery. However, he may be more founder of monastic orders, champion of pan-Hindu regeneration, portal to the saddhu ideal, and even a kind of politician, but possibly not much of a yogi. Perhaps stories about his cremating his mother with fire emitted from his hand are, like a few religious traditions, something that cropped up as a mythology around and not a siddhi that actually happened in his case? On the other hand, he showed the way to understanding that pasts and past stories are all mental inventions and conditioning in the first place, so it hardly matters.
I could be wrong about anything I have written here. But these are my honest impressions and reactions about Sankara based on his writing. In particular, and in summary, I think it is simply absurd to consider Sankara's commentaries indispensable or even particularly helpful when it comes to a great deal of Indian sacred literature. I think, in fact, that reliance on Sankarian commentary has actually served to obfuscate and clip the wings of many of these verses, or even invalidate some of the most fruitful principles of yoga. It may be that when this is understood, yoga will finally take wing in the west, and may even be revivified in India and blaze up into thousands of new flames.
Notes and Caveats on Yoga-Sutra
Commentaries by Indians and Westerners
And His material creation
from no other technical or material cause than His luminous glory
INTRO / ON BRAHMACHARYA / THE ESSENCE OF YOGA | ON PREPARATION ON MEDITATION
ON INNER DIVINE LIGHT | ON AUM | ON THE 4TH PRANAYAMA | ON SAMADHI
COPYRIGHT 2011 Julian Lee.
All Rights Reserved.