Sunday, 29 July 2012

Raja Yoga

Review of Chapter II, Sadhana Pada,
“Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”,
Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda

Yoga practice, to a layman, is the hatha yoga and pranayama for keeping the people healthy and stress-free. The real study of yoga is for the mastery of mind. It consists of mainly 4 branches- Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Raja Yoga.

Here for the review I have chosen Raja Yoga as in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Chapter II. As the name suggests Raja Yoga is the king over all other branches of Yoga encompassing other branches as well in its practice. The hatha yoga and pranayama which are the most common things practiced in yoga classes are also part of Raja Yoga.  It employs practical methods to bring mastery over the mind and one day reach the highest Samadhi. I have chosen only the Chapter II for book review as I am more interested in the practice of Raja Yoga. The other chapters can be read for knowledge sake, in my opinion. Any student inclined in Raja Yoga path may do the same.

The primary text of Raja Yoga is called the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (sometimes also called Patanjali Yoga Sutra or Yoga darsanam). Sutra literally means “thread,” each Sutra being the barest thread of meaning upon which a teacher might expand by adding his or her own “beads” of experience or example, etc for the sake of the students.

There are almost 200 Sutras, traditionally divided into 4 sections. The first is the “Portion of Contemplation,” (Samadhi Pada with 51 sutras). It gives the theory of Yoga and a description of the most advanced stages of the practice of Samadhi or contemplation. The second sutras in this chapter, Yogascitta vritti nirodhah – the restrain of the mental modification is yoga , summarises what Yoga’s goal is. Rest of the sutras are the extensions of this key sutra. The second is the “Portion on Practice,” (Sadhana Pada with 55 sutras). There is philosophy is this section also, but of a more practical nature. And the first five basic steps out of the traditional eight limbs of Raja Yoga are expounded, along with their benefits, obstacles to their accomplishments and ways to overcome the obstacles. The third section is called the “Portion on Vibhuthi Pada”, (on Accomplishments with 56 sutras) and discusses the final inner steps of Raja Yoga plus all the powers and accomplishments which could come to the faithful practitioner. The final section is called the “Portion on Absoluteness,” (Kaivalya Pada with 34 sutras) and discusses yoga from a more cosmic, philosophic point.

It is not known exactly when Sri Patanjali lived, or even if he was a single person rather than several people using the same title. Estimates of the date of sutras range from 500 B.C. to 300 A.D. In any case he did not in any sense ‘invent’ Raja Yoga, but rather systematized it and compiled the already existing ideas and practices. Since that time he has been considered the “Father of Yoga” and his Sutras are the basis for all of the various types of meditation and Yoga which nourish today in their myriad forms.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with Sri Swami Satchidananda’s commentary is a simple and easily understandable explanation of the Sutras. Sri Swami Satchidananda, the founder of Integral Yoga and disciple of Swami Sivananda, has been a beautiful instrument to guide us in the study of Raja Yoga. This book is unique commentary on the Yoga Sutras in that it is based on Swamiji’s informal exposition of the Sutras at lectures and yoga retreats. It was not written for any scholarly or intellectual purpose, but it is the recorded conversation of a yoga Master to his students in true Sutra exposition tradition.

The “I” perspective – How am I affected by the Raja Yoga Sutras?
Few years ago I had read and perused Yoga Sutras, out of personal enthusiasm. The experience was life- changing. I felt like I was not reading the Sutras, it became my sadhana (personal practice).  Each sutra absorbed into my body and mind and turned me inside out. It was a deja-vu feeling. It dawned upon me that the knowledge in the Sutras resonates with my true self or that I must have read them in my past lives. It has been taking me closer to the Truth. Then onwards there is space between the thoughts to realize if a thought is from the present, past or future. Each time I refer some Sutras again, they gave a different meaning, plus an insight into my true self. Hence the review of this chapter is a re-visit to find a little deeper meaning of the Sutras and to keep my mind’s attention inward so that this book review also becomes my sadhana to establish myself in the Truth, rather than an intellectual exercise.

Yoga practice as mentioned in the 2nd sutra of chapter I, is intended to restrain the mental modifications of the mind. I felt that by studying Raja Yoga or the Ashta-anga Yoga (8 limbed yoga), I am practicing control over the body, mind and senses. It is allowing me to control the gross substances such as the body or the breath to control the subtler levels of being such as my mind and the senses. I felt as mentioned by Patanjali in the 2nd Chapter the 8 limbs represent 8 stages; by practicing the yogic values, Yama and Niyama, then moving on to the asana (controlling and making the body supple to be sit comfortably in one posture) and thereafter learning pranayama (practicing retention of breath in the prescribed ratio both naturally and as an exercise), helps to sit in meditation in a posture for prolonged period (2 ½ - 3 hours). This meditation would automatically lead to Samadhi. Therefore as Swami Satchidananda says self-realization is our birth right and everyone has the potential to realize in this birth itself if we can practice Raja Yoga.

The key learning about asana and pranayama for me, using RajaYoga sutras is that- cultivating the habit of being comfortable in one of the meditative asanas such as padmasana , sidhhasana, swastikasana,etc is enough to reach the meditative state and later on Samadhi through dharana and dhyana. Nothing more is required for an advanced yoga practitioner, is a consolation and an amazing learning curve for my mind. My mind has the tendency to desire to study more asanas and different styles, then the way I comfort my mind is to remember this key learning point from the Raja Yoga sutras. Patanjali has not mentioned any other asanas in the whole of Yoga Sutras.

Choosing one yama and Niyama (yogic values) is a beginning step to practice the theory of Yamas and Niyamas in our daily life. Swami Satchidananda in his commentary explains how even sticking even to one yogic value can make us a saint with the example of one of the saints, of 63 Saivite saints or the Nayanars. The fear of death could not deter them from their chosen value hence they all realized before leaving the body. I deeply enjoy this inward journey possible by this review. The meanings I perceived in my initial study of these sutras have shed off. Now there is a realization in me that some of the sutras are not for the mind, they come from a higher consciousness and it is above the understanding of the lower minds.

In the first sutra of the Chapter II itself Patanjali emphasizes practice of Yoga is nothing but austerity, self-study and surrender to God. This will lead you to self –realization. But there are 5 obstacles namely ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion and fear of leaving the body, in the order of this sequence. These obstacles prevent us from knowing our real –self. In the Yoga Psychology class too we learnt that it is when there is modification of the mental state that we face these obstacles and they veil our knowledge of the real self(Purusha). In the twelfth sutra, there is a beautiful representation of the forms of obstacles – the future Karma, present Karma and the past Karma. The sutra goes on to say our present and the future Karmas are controllable, whereas the past karmas cannot be controlled easily. Here Swamiji Satchidananda’s explanation with the analogy of 3 types of arrows in the archer’s quiver is also interesting; one arrow has already left the bow (past Karma), another is in the bow (present) and the other is still in the quiver (future). We, as archers can controlled the last 2 types of arrows but the one that has already left the bow (past actions) cannot be controlled.

In the Sutra 14, it is clearly mentioned that happiness or unhappiness in this life time is due to our own Karmas, so if we remember that we will not blame anybody else for the difficulties in our life.
Another important lesson for a spiritual seeker is that pain and pleasure are unreal so a yogi uses his spiritual discrimination for detaching oneself from all worldly pleasures, then only the ultimate bliss can be experienced.

In sutras 17 to 23, it is stated how we can mis-identify Prakriti as Purusha, then a clarification is given that Prakriti is not an enemy; it is there to give us experience and ultimately liberates us from its bondage. As in Jnana Yoga, using viveka and vairagya, we can be a liberated person then the prakriti (nature) is destroyed, and such enlightened ones can serve the world but be unattached to it. In Sutra 24, Patanjali says after Prakriti unites with the Purusha, that individual would laugh at his own ignorance of how I have forgotten myself?

The Sutra 25 and 26 are similar to that of self- enquiry in Jnana Yog. Once the individual asks questions such as who I am and who is happy etc, the junction created by the ignorance is removed, and then the Seer (Purusha) rests in his own nature. “Aham Sakshini” – I am the eternal witness is realized.
The Sutra 27 is a gauge to see where we stand in the spiritual path. It explains Purusha’s different stages of attainment as he gradually goes upwards to rest in his own nature. Referring to the Saptada buddhi (7 wisdoms) mentioned here we can ask ourselves where we are: have we lost the desire to know more, the desire to do anything, etc.

The same ideas given in above Sutras are structured by Patanjali in Sutras 29 to 55. These sutras systematize the method to develop discriminative discernment, thereby leading to self-realization. He has summarized them as Ashtanga Yoga or 8-limbed Yoga. The 8 parts or the steps are namely, yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and Samadhi. In the chapter II only the first 5 limbs are covered, because they are the external or the bahiranga yoga. When we practice these limbs sincerely, the last 3 steps (dharana, dhyana and samadhi) happen on their own.

Summing up, I believe, Raja Yoga principles if followed systematically, as mentioned by Patanjali is applicable even now to realize our true self. Once again, as mentioned by Swami Satchidananda in the commentary, self-realization is our birth right. Once we practice this highest type of Yoga, we all can reach the highest Samadhi in this life time itself.

I dedicate this work to all my teachers and God, who gave me this opportunity to analyze these Sutras and there by analyze myself through this book review.

May all beings realize in this life time!

Hari Om!

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