Patanjali has given us a unique short notebook which offers no new philosophy but is
a reformulation and compilation of what has been given in Upanishads .Upanishads
tell us that the purpose of man’s life is the realization of the real Self but a false
identification with the ego’s temporary sensation of happiness betrays him. In order to
know the real Self one has to go deeper inside and for this the thought waves have to
be controlled. How this can be done is the summum bonum of the Vedantic philosophy.
Controlling the thought waves, however, is not easy. Even for great sages this has been
an arduous job. Shri Krishna confirms it in Gita and says to control the mind (which is
made up of manas, buddhi and ahamkara) is like protecting a lamp from strong winds.
Nonetheless He gives two weapons for help, one is practice and the other is non-attachment.
Patanjali has prescribed eight spiritual disciplines for this purpose known
as ashtaang yoga which forms the foundation of teachings of many a spiritual gurus
because it is the most scientific and very practical guide and enables one to progress
step by step not only on one’s spiritual journey but also helps in attaining the highest
possible peak of perfection in one’s personality. The inner and the outer merge in one
colour of purity.The eight limbs of Patanjal yoga are – yama, niyam, asana, pranayama ,pratyahar,
dharna, dhyana and eventually samadhi.
Abstaining oneself from evil doing is yama .How can one meditate after quarrelling,
beating up or murdering somebody? Different religions have laid emphasis on different
codes of conduct in order to channelize and purge the evil currents. For example, Hindu
religion on Truth (inner and outer), Christianity on charity, Buddhism on compassion,
Jainism on ahimsa, Sikhism on sewa and almost all religions on love for all. The beauty
is that the practice of one automatically ropes the other in.
Niyams are purity, contentment, tapa, study and devotion to God. Purity is wiping the
dirt off from both body and mind. Contentment is accepting and remaining happy in
all circumstances. This comes when we have nurtured complete faith in the justice
of God and know that whatever happens, happens for our good .Tapas in Sanskrit
means heat or energy which should be conserved inside. Abuse of senses is diffusion
of inner energy and subsequently diffusion of inner strength .This however, should not
be confused with self torture. A deep understanding and realization has to be cultivated
that the path of riches, beauty, power, glory leads only to the grave: its magnificence has
to be enjoyed but making these the prime aim of life is not worth the bargain. Brooding
on the truths revealed by literature and philosophy that help us in solving the mystery of
life, death, self, Nature and God and the relation between these, is studying. Satsang,
kirtan, performing rituals, japam, and pilgrimages are also a part of it and strengthen our
conditional and unconditional bond with the Lord. This is Bhakti Yoga which has been
highly praised by Shri Krishna in Gita. Meera Bai, Shri Chaitanya, Sufi saints reached
their destination by singing the glory of Lord.
Asana or right posture is important so that body does not become a stumbling block in
the natural flow of the currents of life force during meditation .Perfect asana helps one
from coming out of one’s body consciousness. This means if lotus posture is difficult, sit
upright on a chair (The touch of ground, however, has its own importance).
Pranayam is controlling the prana. Prana is life force or in simple language breath.
By controlling the breath the activities of our heart and therefore, of entire body slows
down and we benefit physically – by adding days and years to our lives (it is said our
breaths are counted and not years), — and spiritually because in those small periods
of breathlessness the currents of life force, free from the physical activity, enter into
the spiritual centers of spine. Mind becomes tranquil to meditate deeply and we snatch
blissful moments of super consciousness. For pranayam various techniques have been
suggested but the aim is one— by controlling the breath, to send the vast mass of
energy stored up at the base of spinal cord upwards to the crown of the head.
Pratyahar is withdrawing attention from the objects of sense organs. It does not mean
that life should not be enjoyed. Life is a gift from God: it should be celebrated. But as
Paramhansa Yogananda says one has only to dislodge the enemies of the senses
“which keep the soul imprisoned, forgetful of its omnipresent kingdom.” In this context
the frequently quoted example of lotus is very apt: it remains submerged in the muddy
waters but keeps its leaves and flowers unstained by mud.
Total concentration on one desired object is dhayan: it is fixing our consciousness on
kutastha. Kutastha is a little upwards between the two eye brows. One can visualize on
this center the image of one’s deity, or light. Gradually when the concentration becomes
intense, a star appears. Perhaps this later guides one to the abode of Lord, the way the
three magi were guided by the star to the stable in Bethlehem. In the stillness of thought
waves one also gets flashes of intuitive insight. Perhaps this is the akaashvani the
ancient sages tell us about.
Unbroken and intense dhayan changes into dharna. The body consciousness
evaporates, only the object of desire remains .The situation is best explained by Kabir
Das who says in this narrow space there is room for only one: when I am there Lord
departs and when Lord comes in, the “I” has to leave. The consciousness of self melts
into the larger consciousness and becomes one with cosmos. That is why Shyama
Charan Lahiri feels the suffocation of hundreds of drowning men into the far -off sea;
Shri Ram Krishna feels the starvation of poor people on his way to Kashi and Meerabai
gladly drinks the poison which loses its deadly property in her hands.
A sincere attempt in following these spiritual techniques consequently leads one
to Samadhi -said by sages and seers to be a state of absolute peace. We the
lesser mortals only have to imagine that blissful state of nirvana which Buddha calls
“Shunyata”, Hindus know it as “Ananda” and others see it as the cool radiance of
millions suns. After attaining Samadhi nothing remains to be known, nothing remains to
be realized. The tiny drop of the sea melts into the mighty sea.
Upanishads give us an illumined perception of the rishis on the Truth of the Spirit;
Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras shapes the evolutionary movement of the human race in
the mould of their vision. The eight limbs of Yoga act like a staircase which takes one
upwards through different levels of consciousness. One’s circumscribed consciousness
gradually begins to expand with greater love, knowledge, power and bliss. When nature
attains its fullest stature, divinity manifests itself. Patanjal yoga is relevant in all ages for
all religions. This is its enduring power: it can catapult anyone from matter to Spirit.