Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Root of Integral Yoga (part two)

Dec 17, 2020 | Spirituality, Yoga

To read part one in the series: “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Root of Integral Yoga” click here

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is divided into four sections, or Padas. Even if the structure described in it is a holistic one, each part has its role just like the organs in the body have their particular role while fulfilling their general place in the whole. Since the definition of the whole in itself becomes quite difficult, Patanjali does not get to talk about Ashtanga Yoga, the Yoga of Eight Limbs, until the 29th verse of the second Chapter “Sadhana Pada”. And even there it is only a sketch because, without the right context and preparation based on direct experience, such a complex system will easily become only a self-limitation and the suggested methods a doctrine.

The “whole” will become a separate category that will exclude its component parts, a fortress that is heavily defended by the zealots of such a concept in their attempt to keep it away from the waves of diversity that are coming from everywhere. THE WHOLE risks to become an isolated-distinct dot in the ocean of EVERYTHING.
This is a widespread symptom among today’s practitioners of different spiritual systems, especially those imported from the ancient Orient. Many are those claiming to have invented a holistic approach to spiritual evolution. They are so fast and keen to affirm their “holism” that they lock themselves into that concept. Busy to find new ways to display their broad views upon spirituality, they ignore the basic elements of evolutionary mechanisms. This mainly appears when we want to make a system that can be easy for everyone, without requiring much personal effort therefore not producing much transformation either.

On the other hand, in his YOGA SUTRA, perfectly attuned with the modern quantum view of the world, Patanjali starts the presentation by defining the goals in yoga practice, right in the opening chapter “Samadhi Pada”. Instead of trying to reveal an oversimplified path that allegedly requires no personal efforts for the transformation to appear, Patanjali shows where the real  aim is, anything less proving to fall short on this spiritual journey to perfection.

This approach not only creates clarity about the goals, but it also positions the beginning of the path as the source of all evolutionary processes, and not the other way around, as we all too often believe today. It is the Spirit that generates all the existential means and not the other way around. Here the author deals with the prerequisites of Yoga practice while already setting course for the final destination from the very beginning. From a practical perspective, the structure of the work describes, from the core towards the periphery, different zones of human existence and their way back to a state of perfect balance and supreme unity. The closer we are to the center, the more direct is our path and the simpler the methods. The further we go from the center of our own being, the more complex and technical the path and longer the evolution. The whole first section is a Yoga unto itself. In fifty-one verses, Patanjali deals with what many call Samkhya Yoga, Kriya Yoga or even Jnana Yoga.

Patanjali also enunciates a form of Yoga cosmology within the “Samadhi Pada”. It is however fundamentally different than other works that reveal a certain cosmogony because it is all encrypted within a very practical exposure of the “mechanisms” of the consciousness in the process of becoming, thus only being accessible for those who have the practical direct experience while keeping away the superficial speculations. Such a direct approach – truly esoteric we can say – serves only those who make the needed steps in the direction of evolution and only according to their integration effort. From another perspective, also depicted in this simple yet very accurate model, evolution is viewed as an ascendent spiral that unfolds its cyclic movements around a position of neutrality (the axis of the human being, sushumna nadi, that exists in every human being at the subtle level in the middle of the spine, and which is the representation of  the axis of the world – Axis Mundi or Mount Meru). This cyclic movement of evolution that unfolds in spirals has been discovered by today’s science at the foundation of all that exists in the physical universe, from the vibrating strings (spirals) of energy in the core of the elementary particles that form the very fabric of the universe, to the clusters of galaxies that are spinning around the central core of the known universe (taking a shape that is amazingly similar to the mythical Iggdrasil, The Tree of Life from the Nordic traditions).

At their core and contained within the simple verses of this amazing text, the Yoga Sutras give a depiction of this universal pattern of the universal evolution starting already from the first chapter. Directly stating that the very essence of the human being is a spark of the Supreme Consciousness of God, the Supreme Being, the text sets the course for the final destination: finding through direct experience this godly essence that is in fact the very source of existence in the first place. From this wise perspective, evolution is revealed to be an amazing journey that begins and ends in the same “place”, as seen in the later representations of this process such as in the Wheel of Becoming (from the Tibetan tradition) or the famous Ouroboros serpent that is eating its own tail. The entire godly Creation is all just a spontaneous game (Lila) of the Supreme Consciousness in a Self discovery/reflection process, that is known as Maya.

Ignorance and Self-Realization

Qualitatively identifying Atman (the Supreme Reality within the human being) with Purusha (the Universal Spirit in Manifestation) and placing Jivatma (the manifested Self or the Soul) in correspondence with Prakriti (the essence of Life in Nature) at the individual level, the yoga system directly taps into the very source of power that creates all phenomena: POLARITY. Later on, this becomes the fundamental basis for Ha-Tha Yoga, the yoga of the harmonious union between the two polarities. With simple axioms, Patanjali already describes in direct ways the essence of all spiritual practice, the principle of correspondence that states: “what is up is similar to what is down, and what is down is similar to what is up, in order to fulfill the miracle of the Whole” (from the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus). This fundamental principle is the very reason why, when assuming a body position that is archetypal, one can have the experience, at the human level, that corresponds to a fundamental cosmic experience. By revealing this simple principle, Patanjali offers the key to all phenomena that animate spiritual practice and the path of evolution from individual to cosmic consciousness. After revealing this fundamental principle, the final stage of deification or Self – Realization will consist in the identification between Atman and ParamAtman, a stage that naturally appears as the result of the Yoga practice.

The experience of the union of Atman – ParamAtman by the living soul, Jiva, is the very root of the supreme state of godly ecstasy or samadhi, the supreme state of consciousness that the individual can have access to through the right spiritual practice. In fact, the first chapter, Pada, could be taken as the brief, and somehow cryptic, presentation of the mechanisms behind Yoga itself, the Yoga of re-absorption or re-unification into the Supreme Immortal Self or Atman. However, at the same time we can see it as a form of Jnana Yoga, a Yoga of manifesting the state of godly discernment and wisdom within the daily existence, meant to outline for us that the flaws of our nature only keep us away from discovering the real Self that is already perfect within our being.

The wise Patanjali begins his fundamental Yoga work by stating that Avidya, or ignorance, is our main problem, and only the complete removal of this ignorance can lead to Self-Realization. Ignorance itself is an option of the Supreme Consciousness and does not have an objective consistency in itself. Analogically, if we walk with a small stone in our shoe for long enough we might get an awful wound, which could easily get infected. That small stone generates an entire life condition for us … but only because we choose to ignore it. However, we could very well stop and remove the stone when we set off, eliminating all the not-manifested-yet trouble. Ignoring the stone is in fact at the root of the future trouble it brings with it.

In this respect, in some traditional oriental works of wisdom we find the classic story that reveals deeper this mechanism of our ignorance.  In the story a person rush into a semi-dark room where on the floor there is a rope. Due to the conditions of the room (semi-darkness) and the condition of the observer (rushing, being superficial, ignoring the details)  the rope is mistaken for a snake and the person is getting genuinely scared. The previous experience with snakes and the act of superficially glancing over the floor of that room might give us the impression we are threatened by a real snake. Removing the ignorance within this complex situation would result in an objective experience and will help us remove the illusion/suffering/false life. We will see the object on the floor and will not suffer from the illusory image of a snake. However, there are several inner blockages or pre-existing conditions  that cause such an action of our lucidity to be delayed, making us getting scared of the snake before we have time to objectively realise that what we see is just a rope. Yoga is that system of practice that restores the state of awareness that allows immediate action to remove ignorance, that help us to eliminate the pre-conditions that makes us see the snake there where it is not.

Contrary to most of the competition based systems that point out today what one can or should achieve, even in regard to spiritual evolution, suggesting that we are the ones creating the superior states we can achieve, Patanjali reveals and therefore restores the natural, wise view on evolution: by removing what creates disharmony it allows harmony to manifest freely because it is harmony that is inherent to the universe, and disharmony is just an exception, or an “impurity”, as he calls it. All the godly achievements we can aspire to are in fact already pre-existing within the essence of our being and all we can actively do is to remove the illusion that keeps them away from our daily experiences. This is a great revelation and essential paradigm shift for the over-achieving culture that humanity is drowning itself into.  

Maybe the efforts that should be done for achieving Self-Realization might look the same for the superficial viewer … but in reality this fundamental and we can say original angle, as revealed  in the Yoga Sutras, simply “reverses gravity”, allowing evolution to take its natural godly course without needing the egoistic push that requires so much effort to cancel its effects towards the end. When we are told today in some new-age yoga studio that we should do nothing for the Self-Realisation and that effort is egotistic … it is only half of the Truth. And half of the Truth is a lie, one of the most cunning forms of a lies. The wise Patanjali reveals in practical terms that efforts are needed in order to remove the idea that we need efforts. And this scheme will be repeated in smaller details of the daily path: fear is oriented only against fear, ignorance is ignored … 

By aiming to realise the essence of godly Reality, the yoga practitioner realises in fact that he/she can fly – analogically speaking – by first of all letting go of the rocks he/she is clinging to, for it is in the essential nature of the being to be lighter than anything else therefore to fly.

It is interesting to note here that this is also the fundamental pattern that modern science is discovering nowadays as the background of the entire known universe, being somehow the “fingerprints” of the mysterious Intelligent Designer who made everything perfect and all we need in order to regain that original perfection is just to remove what we have added afterwards, that fundamentally represent the illusion of imperfection, the impurities or the freely chosen ignorance. The Yoga Sutras delve deeply into this problem by enunciating the Pancha Klishtha, or the Five Afflictions that restrict us in our development, keeping us away from realising our intrinsic godly perfection. He details the problems of misconception, superior cognition, dualist conceptualisation, false memory and sleep.

The wise men openly states that when our mind (Chita) is mostly in a state of agitation (as it is the mind of the immense majority of people today), it holds us back from a state of unified living, a state that is described by the deep meaning of the word YOGA. It is in fact keeping us from fulfilling what many scientists speak about today: whole-ism, but at a Cosmic level. In the second verse of the first chapter, the sage Patanjali states: “The science of Yoga is attained by controlling the fluctuations of the mind.” This in itself can become a genuine personal goal for most of people today, a profound yet simple solution to immensely many problems humanity is facing. Eliminating the fluctuations of our consciousness and especially of our attention would reshape the entire inner reality and when this happens with enough people on the planet, the very fabric of the consensus trance is dissolved by the inner light and truth that spontaneously comes forward and eliminate all the “snakes” that terrify the majority of people. 

The whole first Pada is made up of simple indications regarding how to sublimate the hindering energies, how to overcome and transform pain and depression, and how to keep the mind in a state of effortless focus on the Universal background energy, the Pranava AUM. By sheer discipline, obtained through gradual training and choices rather than by any kind of blind belief, one can obtain a unified Cosmic Consciousness, the experience of oneness with the Supreme Absolute, with God. 

One of the greatest problems with these notions is that as simple as they are, one cannot imagine the difference that it makes when achieving these simple steps described by Patanjali straight from the beginning. One cannot even imagine the difference of his/her life experience when the attention is perfectly still and without any agitation, when the inner dialogues are gone, when the sensorial experiences are unfiltered by our reactions and labelling thinking! We got used with an almost static inner world, seeing ourselves as the result of some unknown forces that cannot be controlled, victims of a destiny that cannot be modified. But the ancient science of life reveals that we can remove all these illusions and we can regain our godly abilities. It starts with being curious and at least experience the cessation of all fluctuations of inner attention … at least for a while, in order to see if there is anything beyond that. And then we all do the same: being amazed that it was that simple, that this amazing godly life with all its fascinating perfections was just only stray thought away from us … all the time. 

It would be of a great help for new Yoga students, and would save them from making unnecessary efforts, if they would study in-depth the simple statements of Patanjali in the first Pada as a genuine pre-Yoga practice of what he then later enunciates to be the Ashtanga or the Eight Limbed Yoga. Instead of building a strong ego in the beginning, in order to obtain certain effects that are afterwards consumed in order to dissolve the ego that brought them there, he or she who correctly starts with a basis in the first chapter from the Yoga Sutras, will only gradually remove the ties and allow the Godly Nature to come forth in their being and life. (to be continued)

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