Monday, July 11, 2011

Yoga: The Other Eightfold Path (Part II of II)

Yogi Seven (Wisdom Quarterly)

Raja Yoga is the other Eightfold Path. Patanjali defines "yoga" as “yogash citta vritti nirodha” (Sutra 2). This may be translated as, "Union [oneness] is the cessation (nirodha) [or restraint and control] of the mind-stuff (citta) from taking various forms (vrittis)." In brief, it is the quieting of the mind through samadhi (concentration or super-consciousness). T.N. Sethumadhavan explains more fully.

1. Restraints (Yama)
Patanjali speaks of five restraints: 1. nonharming (ahimsa), 2. honesty (satya), 3. non-attachment or nonstealing (asteya), 4. self-control (brahmacharya), and 5. contentment or non-hoarding (aparigraha; -parigraha means "grabbing all around" hungry for consumables, and the opposite of this is a-parigraha).

To harm (injure) or hurt (distress) anyone, either physically or mentally or verbally, under the influence of the passions (greed, anger, delusion) is himsa or violence. Ahimsa is harmlessness, non-violence, and non-injury. It is a heart/mind of loving-kindness and compassion towards all sentient beings.

Ahimsa is the best self-restraint. The other four are followed to reinforce it.

Honesty (satya, truth) means describing something exactly the way it has been seen, heard, or comprehended. In the greatest Indian epic (Mahabharata), truth that is beneficial to human beings is elevated to a higher plane.

To acquire something by theft or against the tenets of dharma (a more general Sanskrit term than the specific Buddha-Dharma) is known as steya. Nonstealing or healthy non-attachment means neither being attracted to the possessions of others (greedily coveting) nor nursing a desire to possess them (greedily envying).

To keep control over one's sensual desires is called brahmacharya (literally, the way to the supreme, or best way of living). Compared to other senses, sex increases physical desires most. Celibacy is not the goal for everyone, but self-restraint is, which means not abusing sensuality (through sexual misconduct, gluttony, or overindulging in the five strands of sensual pleasure).

Non-hoarding or contentment (aparigraha) is not desiring to amass consumables in excess of one's requirements.

2. Observances (Niyama)
Patanjali describes five niyamas or rules in his Yoga Sutras: shaucha, santosha, tapas, svaadhyaya, and Ishvara pranidhana.

Purification rituals (shaucha) can be of two types, external (cleaning one's body, clothes, and the place of practice, keeping the body pure and healthy by diet and by practice of yoga postures) and internal (renouncing negative thoughts and habits and adopting what is profitable, beneficial, and positive, which includes adherence to friendship, compassion, joy, and impartiality, and abandoning negativity and hate).

Contentment or satisfaction with what is sufficient (santosha) is being happy rather than hankering after more possessions. When the burning desire for material wealth dies down, the yogi's mind soars high. Non-contentment and dissatisfaction are suffering and lead to more suffering.

Austerities (tapas) are means of controlling the body, the life force (prana, breath, subtle energy), organs, and mind just as a skillful rider guides a wild horse. [The Buddha described sane ascetic practices (dhutangas) so practitioners would avoid the extremes many Indian yogis were infamous for, such as severe fasting and harmful penances]. Restraining the outward flow of energy from the body, accumulating it, and giving it upward mobility is the purpose of beneficial "austere" practices. Tapas means heating up or burning off, and dhyanas (jhanas, or purifying absorptions, zens) are the best means of doing that. Practice enables one to brave hunger, thirst, heat, cold, and helps one remain calm in the face of adversity of all kinds.

Contemplation (svaadhyaya) means study and inner-reflection on what one is learning. Studying sutras (spiritual discourses) and commentaries (explanations) is one form of contemplation, as are recollecting death and other things to ponder that can help us now even though we usually avoid them like they were out to kill us. Chanting OM (to quiet the mind and bring peace to the heart) or some such sacred mantra helps. The emphasis is on sva (self), rather than seeking someone outside ourselves to fix us; the aim is to understand our inner-selves.

Attentiveness is surrender to a higher power (Ishvara) or even to what is "divine" (best, supreme) in oneself. It means generating attention (pranidhana), respect, love, submission, and dedication towards the ultimate, whatever that is for the devotee. It is the act of dedicating karma (action), body, and mind to one's Ishvara.

3. Postures (Asana)
The goal of physical yogic exercises is to be able to hold the body motionless for a chosen length of time for meditation. The poses -- which people regard as synonymous with "yoga" -- are physical massage of internal organs, joints, and other bodily structures. They should be done slowly, in tune with the breath, and held until they are comfortable and the body is wieldy, vibrant, and easy to maintain. Health and unblocked vital energy is the basis of ease in meditation that brings bliss to the body. There is a principle of sthira-sukha or firmness-softness, forceful-yielding, hard-soft, assertive-passive, yin-yang. The poses build the body and soften it. That is, they bring about flexibility, which is much stronger than rigidity. If rigidity is death, as in rigor mortis, vibrant life is about being flexible. How many poses are there -- 1008, an infinite number, just two? -- and how many are necessary? A flexible mind does enough to make the body flexible.

4. Energy (Pranayama)
Prana means subtle life-energy ("breath," spiritus, chi), and yama as we have seen means restraint or control. Cellular respiration (usually but not exclusively from inhalation-exhalation) or transpiration begins soon after conception; that is gaseous exchange in the amniotic sac. Breath marks cessation, death being our final breath. or may always be going on -- energetic, ionic, catabolic, but breathing is not always going on. [There is a meditative attainment in Buddhism during which there is no apparent breathing* (fourth jhana). It can go on for a long time without dying, suggesting there is still sufficient transpiration going on. One is probably able to leave off breathing because one has pooled up such a reservoir of prana through meditative-absorption, which makes "magic" possible.] We can live without food or water [by feeding on sunlight (manna) or joy (piti, manas), some yogis lives decades without tangible nourishment]. But prana is essential for survival. By the control of this subtle-energy, one can master the body's life force.

5. Withdrawal (Pratyahara)
The five senses [mind being the sixth] make the mind fickle. Withdrawing (or secluding) the mind from distracting or subverting sensory stimulation, the body is pacified. The mind is then free to reach a greater degree of attention and penetrative-strength. Attention merges like a laser. Undivided attention goes inward, and what is normally invisible [such as material particles (kalapa) and psychological moments/processes (citta), or form and consciousness] is made visible. [The purpose of doing this in Buddhism would be to practice insight-meditation (vipassana)]. The goal for Patanjali and yogis is to still the thought waves or modifications of mind (vrittis), which in yoga is called cessation or control of thought waves (in Sanskrit, citta-vritti-nirodha).

6. Practice (Dharana)
(This term is usually translated as concentration). With mastery of the external senses no longer draining attention, undivided energy is focused internally. Collecting, concentrating, and maintaining means the mind is beginning to place intensified, undivided attention on a focal point. That may be any object such as a chakra ("wheel," nexus of subtle energy in the body). The mind may wander on its way to profound stillness. Practice is the attentiveness, dedication, and devotion of persistently bringing it back to its object of meditation. Attentiveness in a sense means yoking (yoga, uniting, binding, fixing) the mind to a particular object.

7. Meditation (Dhyana)
Dhyana or jhana is so important that in Buddhism it has come to be called "meditation." But meditating or cultivating the mind/heart can mean many things. Dhyana/Zen is synonymous with, not the practice to get there but, actually getting there. Rather than the body sitting still (jhaneti/zazen), which is important, it is the mind/heart sitting still.

Letting go of the effort of practice (dharana) -- that is to say, the repeated application of attention -- the mind is suddenly effortlessly attentive.

The Buddha gives the example of a large bird wishing to soar alighting from a branch. It must first leap and clumsily flap its wings before it eventually glides effortlessly and majestically.

According to Patanjali, constancy in maintaining attention gives rise to meditation (dhyana). In meditation, the mind is not preoccupied with objects of sense (sense desires). It is contented with the superior and mysterious bliss that results from meditation [prīti, rapture, bliss, joy]. As concentration increases, so does a profound sense of wellness.

If maintaining attention (dharana) may be compared to poured water, which is choppy and broken as it falls, then meditation (dhyana) in like the smooth, unbroken flow of poured oil. Peaceful persistence pacifies the body, and meditation pacifies the mind. Negativity -- desire, anger, ego and attachment [delusion] -- is removed. Eventually it becomes possible to remain in tune and harmonious even when mindfully engaged in daily chores.

8. Concentration (Samadhi)
(This term is commonly translated as enlightenment or thought of as attainment, accomplishment. But surely that is "yoga" (union with the all or oneness, with Brahman, with divinity). Samadhi is a means to yoga. In Buddhism, the Buddha defines "right-samadhi" as the first four levels of dhyana/jhana, absorption).

When meditation matures and approaches perfection, focus remains absorbed on the object. Physical nuisances do not distract the mind but become immaterial. As salt and water combine into a single amalgamation, the soul [atman or "self" (in Buddhism understood to be a composite rather than a compact or single entity] and the mind (manas) merge and unite resulting in samadhi, the height of divine consciousness.

[It is many things, and it is a wonderful thing, but it is not nirvana, which the Buddha designated as the ultimate and which he taught yogis who were not familiar with it. If they had been familiar with what a buddha (supremely enlightened teacher) meant by "nirvana," there would be no reason to begin a teaching movement set in motion the Wheel of the Dharma so that people could go beyond right-samadhi [the first four absorptions, the fourth one stilling the breath*] to insight (vipassana) to enlightenment and final liberation.]

Anyone who got to samadhi by practicing yoga would surely be a long way along the path to nirvana. And if that individual met with the Buddha's teaching, then it would be possible to become a stream enterer or fully enlightened in this very life, as many yogis in ancient India were when they were open to what the Buddha taught.

The reason they would never get there on their own without the teachings the Buddha made known (unique to buddhas) is that the central tenet of yoga, Vedic Brahmanism (Hinduism, Jainism, Christianity, as many other religions) is the wrong view concerning self/soul. The crucial difference between a person who enters the first stage of enlightenment and everyone else in existence is penetrating this fundamental truth (anatta) that no teaching but Buddhism even talks about realizing -- but which must be realized to glimpse what Buddhism means by enlightenment and nirvana.

What we call "self" is real (an aggregation of aggregate groups composed of DEPENDENTLY ORIGINATING and ever-changing elements), but it is illusory. It is not what it seems. And by identifying with this or that or anything else, we are not freed from suffering, not freed from disappointment. But liberating-insight via the Eightfold Path the Buddha made known before Patanjali uproots ignorance and gives rise to enlightenment.

*Meditators can stop breathing and live?
The answer is a resounding yes. The goal for Patanjali is to stop the vrittis or undulations, movements, disturbances, or modifications of mind. The stillness of the fourth absorption (jhana) purifies the mind, so that emerging one is able to fruitfully practice insight-meditation and gain enlightenment. The Buddha says: "And I have also taught the step-by-step cessation of formations:
  1. When one has attained the first jhana, speech has ceased.
  2. When one has attained the second jhana, [the effort of] applied attention and sustained attention [or discursive thought and evaluation] have ceased.
  3. When one has attained the third jhana, rapture (gross blissful joy in the body) has ceased.
  4. When one has attained the fourth jhana, in-and-out breathing has ceased" (Rahogata Sutra, SN 36.011).
Our friend Frank Kuan suggests that "in-out-breath" is the kaya sankhara [bodily formation], supporting scholar-monk/meditation-expert Pa Auk Sayadaw's teaching that mastering the fourth jhana is Step 4 of mindfulness of breathing meditation (anapana-sati). Frank concludes that breathing stopping is the natural limit of Step 4's “calming bodily formations.”]

No comments: