8-fold Path of the Yoga Sutras & The 8 Steps of Self-transformation
I wrote this article to show you how the “8-fold path” of the Yogasutras (Also know as 8 rungs of Yoga Sutras)and the “8 steps of Self-transformation” written by Swami Rama in his book “The Path of Fire and Light 2”, beautifully complement each other. When you initially read these two outlines of practice it may appear as if they are two different paths, and you have to choose one or the other. But my hope is that after reading this article you’ll see that they can both be implemented in your practice.
ON THIS PAGE:
| top |
YOGA SUTRAS AND ITS 8-FOLD PATH
The Yoga Sutras contains an 8-fold process; by applying this process to the movements within the mind-field the kleshas are gradually removed, thus increasing the level of non-attachment. This process makes the function of buddhi sharper, more sattvic, so it can then be applied to the more subtler levels within Prakriti. The goal of the Yoga Sutras is to be able to set aside (nirodhah) all movements in the mind-field, which happens when one becomes non-attached to all the vittis (=movemetns) within Prakriti. This includes the gunas—the most fundamental building blocks of Prakriti—thus also sattvic buddhi itself; then the Seer will rest in its true nature and this is called Yoga.
What is the 8-fold path?
Here are the names of the steps:
Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. The last three together are called Samyama.
Rungs or limbs
It is said that these steps are like rungs on a ladder; one step at a time is taken in sequential order. But these 8 steps have also been called limbs (of a tree or a body), viewing them in this way, they all work together and each gets stronger by practicing them all. Holding rungs as both limbs and steps will help you in practicing the 8-rungs.
| top |
The Yamas are commitments toward the apparent external manifestation and how you relate to it. It starts with ahimsa. Practicing ahimsa is gradually moving your whole being, internally and externally, to a stance of complete non-violence toward yourself and your surroundings. Practicing being mindful of others and to not hurt them or push against them. This does not mean that you allow other people to use you or to walk all over you, because you do not want to hurt them. In other words, it doesn’t mean that by allowing others to live their life, in the sense of not pushing, you allow yourself to get hurt in this process, this is not ahimsa. In ahimsa there is a balance between selflessness and taking care of yourself, between supporting others in their processes and being mindful of your own. This balance between ahimsa toward yourself and the external world will establish itself over time. This means you will progressively be able to not hurt others or push against others, while being gentle to yourself. Also when you practice this 8-fold path, you will increasingly enjoy a stance of non-attachment, in which less of “your” desires need to be fulfilled and selfless service naturally happens. Sometimes ahimsa means that you lovingly guide, correct, or interfere with someone’s behavior in a way that may appear as himsa, as pushing or harming, but it is done in the spirit of ahimsa (you have a stance of non-violence in your heart). This is just like a mother who can lovingly but sometimes strongly interfere with the child, to assure its safety and growth. Ahimsa is a way of living that can be felt in the heart and establishes a relationship between you and the manifestation around you, and how you interact with it.
Gradually, this relationship is expanded by applying the practice of living in Truth (satya) and living in non-stealing (asteya). Practicing, these three Yamas in your life will have an influence on the degree you are able to be in constant awareness of Brahman (brahmacharya). Seeing everything in and around you as Brahman, you will naturally gain a stance of non-possessiveness (aparigraha) toward the manifestation around you and all the aspects of yourself. Thus all five Yamas are commitments to improve your relationships with others, who are all appearing as manifestations within Brahman. That is why Brahmacharya is also in this list; when you go through life and its relationships you remember and walk in Brahman consciousness. Then how can you hurt another? Or lie to another? Or steal from another? Or possess anything? It is all Brahman…
| top |
When your relationships in the external worlds are in balance, you can then dive into the inner world, hence the Niyamas come after the Yamas. The Niyamas are five commitments related to you; they will intensify your inner process. It starts with purity (shaucha); which is the result that naturally comes when you are reasonably grounded in all the Yamas, and can be practiced along with the Yamas. For example, your body will become more balanced and pure when you practice ahimsa related to food by not eating food that hurts the body, or by not having thoughts in the mind-field that are harmful and thus impure. Shaucha is practiced both mentally and physically. Purity (shaucha) is the starting point for where all the other internal practices take off.
As you become more and more pure, contentment will arise, which is the second niyama; santosha. One may think that contentment is one of outcomes of the practice of meditation, but you will see as you go through the rest of the 8-fold path that contentment is mentioned far before meditation is mentioned, meditation is rung number 7. From this platform of contentment you can really start to do the deeper practices. When we use a metaphor of a lake, shaucha has made the water clearer and santosha can be seen can be as the diving board from where one can dive deep into the inner world, to one day reach the bottom of the lake; Pure Consciousness. Within this purifying process of shaucha and resting in the contentment of santosha you will see that the senses are the biggest distraction. The senses constantly pull you upward to the surface of the lake to indulge themselves in the manifestation. They constantly crave sensory impressions and want to express themselves. Thus, the next commitment is related to the senses, and is called tapas.
Whenever a desire awakens it has a power of wanting; depending on the degree of attachment, this power can be strong or weak. When this desire is mindfully not being fulfilled by ignoring it, it will create resistance. Have you ever stopped doing something, for example, stopped drinking coffee in the morning which has been a habit for the past 20 years? The first few days you will encounter the power that this desire, this habit, contains, but you do not give into it. Yet the desire for coffee persists and seems to resist your efforts to ignore it. To withstand this resistance, to maintain your conviction, to not indulge into this active desire because of the commitment to purify yourself is tapas; training of the senses. This process is experienced as going through the fire since it feels like you are burning off the attachments of the desires. This fiery process is the purification of the senses themselves. By which you will learn to control the senses, because you will control what to do and what not to do.
This fiery process will allow you to direct the senses to more subtle levels of yourself. It also calms the senses so that when you hear the teachings you can comprehend them better. With a pure mind and calm senses you can really study and inquire into the nature of the Self, using the sacred texts to guide you in this process. This is called Svadhyaya. And then… ooh, how wonderful… when you start to comprehend these teachings, when the nature of the Self is embraced in understanding, a process of surrendering into the creative source can happen, which is the last Niyama, called Ishvara pranidhana.
You may think this is a complete process in itself, which in a sense it is! Actually if you are able to accomplish of any one of these Yamas and Niyamas completely, it will lead you all the way to Self-realization. There is incredible depth in each one of them standing on its own, but there is beauty in their order and therefore we gradually practice them all together.
| top |
The 10 commitments are done while you are moving around in the manifestation, but can also be practiced while you are settling in for this third step of the 8-fold path. Asana is a steady, stable, and still meditation posture that is at the same time comfortable.
What if you were able to be in a stance of non-harming when you sit in your meditation asana? Holding on to tension could be viewed as a way of harming yourself, which is not ahimsa, so let go of all the tension. If you would be honest, truthful, practicing satya, you would not hide any discomfort from your conscious mind-field, or lie to yourself; is your posture truly stable and steady? Another suggestion for asana is to make the body still, without motion. If you are still moving while you sit for meditation you are stealing your own time (asteya). Being aware of Brahman (brahmacharya) will help you remember that the body is not who you are; thus you need to go beyond it, which can happen if you make it still, steady and comfortable. So, do not possess the body (aparigraha) it is not who you are. Purifying the body will help release the tension. Contentment supports the process of being okay with just sitting still for a while. Also control of the senses (tapas) supports the meditation asana; for example, you want to be able to control the karmendriya of motion, so that you can sit still. Svadhyaya and Ishvara pranidhana have an effect on your meditation posture, because they will lead you beyond the body. Conclusion- all the 10 commitments together will lead to “sthira sukham asanam”; a stable, steady, and comfortable meditation posture.
Unfortunately, because the majority of the yoga practitioners think that yoga is purely a physical practice for the body there is a general misconception on this third rung. They think that this rung means doing yoga asanas only; and that these asanas are mentioned in the Yoga Sutras. But asana here is only related to your meditation posture. You could say that all the other asanas are part of shaucha, purifying the body by doing yogasanas. Then it is also worth mentioning that if you purify the body in a different way (say by walking, swimming, Pilates, or joints and glands practices) you do not necessarily need to do yogasanas. It all depends on your preference of what you like to do to purify your body so that it can sit comfortably, stable, steady and still.
Question: how can I attain a good meditation posture?
Answer: according to the Yoga Sutras; practice the yamas and niyamas.
The cluster of Yoga Sutras that talks about asana (2.46-2.48) gives us two suggestions to get to “sthira sukham asanam”; a stable, steady, and comfortable meditation posture. Namely:
1) relaxing or loosening of effort,
2) and allowing attention to merge with endlessness, or the infinite.
The first one speaks for itself, as we already talked about it, that of letting go of the tension and becoming still, by reducing effort. The second one is fun to experiment with. Expand your awareness from the edges of your body forwards, backwards, side ways, up and down as far as mind can stretch, all the way until infinity. You will find out for yourself if this instruction of the Yoga Sutras works to get a stable, steady, comfortable posture!
| top |
After the body is put in its position, the breath needs to be regulated. The Yoga Sutras give the instructions how to do this; by slowing, decelerating, or braking the force behind the inhalation and exhalation, and by regulating the movement of inhalation and exhalation, this is called breath control and expansion of prana (2.49). Also, it mentions that inhalation, exhalation and the transitions between them are regulated in place, time, and number, with the breath becoming slow and subtle (2.50). What is right place of breathing? The diaphragm! You can focus the attention on the breath, either at the diaphragm, up and down sushumna, or the bridge of the nostrils. Controlling the breath in its time and number means that you gradually slow down the breath, making it smooth, quiet, without pauses and in a ratio of two-to-one. According to the Yoga Sutras, this will lead to an expansion of prana.
Breath is only the vehicle for prana, but by first regulating the breath you will get access to the flow of prana. You can “feel” this when the breath becomes so slow that you are barely aware of your breath but you still feel something “flowing” or you feel a presence of energy. When you dive into this feeling you leave the breath behind; you dive beyond the breath. You are now in the field of prana itself, where you are not aware of the movements that happen on the surface; which are the waves of inhalation, exhalation and the transitions between them. This can only occur when sushumna is awakened. To open sushumna nadi, prana needs to be regulated enough so that it leaves pingala or ida (the right and left channels) and is willing to flow in sushumna nadi; which happens when you make the breath slower and slower, in a ratio of two-to-one. This is what is meant when the Yoga Sutras talk about the fourth pranayama; where you dive beyond the movements of the breath into the depth of prana itself. Now you will be able to direct your attention toward a chosen object.
Yoga Sutra 2.52 tells us that by practicing this fourth pranayama the veil of karmasheya thins, or even vanishes. This means that by calming the breath, which is the means through which you can start to regulate prana, the veil between the conscious and unconscious mind thins. This thinning of the veil will increase the access you have to all the movements behind the veil and everything that is stored in the deep unconscious.
| top |
Number 5 on the list, pratyahara, happens automatically when you start to regulate prana, it is a result of number 4. It is mentioned in the Yoga Sutras that when number 4—pranayama, is done well, number 6, concentration, occurs. It doesn’t mention number 5, pratyahara, because pratyahara is the result of pranayama and therefore not a separate step to be taken. It doesn’t include an action, but happens on its own when pranayama is done correctly. Pratayahara means the withdrawal of the senses. During step number 4 one first regulates the breath and then prana itself. All of the sensory experiences that are not used in this training will naturally fall away during this process of moving toward concentration. When you feel the breath at the bridge of the nostrils, the only sense you need for this concentration is the jnanendriya of touch, all the other 9 senses (hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, speaking, grasping, moving, procreating, and eliminating) will fall away if concentration truly becomes one-pointed. Normally the mind shifts incredibly quickly between all the senses, but when you direct your attention, you are asking the mind to only use this one sense, then the others are not being used and recede back into chitta. Thus, regulating the breath will lead you to a state of concentration as it leads the mind and the senses inward.
If you focus your attention on the breath, then the breath is the “object” of concentration. Everything else will fall away, only the feeling of breath is left, the rest is gone which we call pratyahara. Let me quickly mention here that in our systematic meditation sequence we allow mantra to become the “object” of meditation. Attention follows the mantra all the way into formless meditation, as attention is directed toward the silence after the AUM (or other bija mantra, seed mantra), which is leading attention to the Seer. In this way everything but the Silence after AUM, which is Turiya, the Seer, Pure Consciousness, will fall away. Thus all senses fall away, mind itself falls away and eventaully buddhi falls away, then the Seer rests in it True Nature (1.3) and this is called Yoga (1.2).
There is not much mentioned on pratyahara; because it is something that occurs naturally when mind becomes concentrated on an object.
IMPORTANT: note that if the senses fall away, also the karmendriya of speech falls away. It is very important to note that with pratyahara the inner formation of words has to have fallen away. We have to cease the process forming words in our minds. We also have to be aware that the word “thoughts” may have different meanings for each of us. Thus, we need to explain how we use the word “thoughts” here, so we can use this meaning during the rest of the article. Normally with thoughts people refer to the words and pictures that are floating in mind-field. Yet this is a very gross expression of thoughts. Thoughts are any movement in the mind-field, which are called vrittis. When a samskara or instrument bubbles up from the latent unconscious it is now an active movement in the mind-field and is a vritti, a thought. When a samskara is active it is called an active desire, kama, but it does not yet have to be expressed with the senses. It does not yet have to have form words or form an image in the mind-field. This is a really important concept; these wordless image-less movements in the mind-field are also thoughts. These movements continue to arise even if we have successfully ceased to use the instruments of the senses (= pratyahara). For now we have to understand that during this process of the 8 rungs we have to stop talking inside, including eventually mentally repeating mantra (which may be used to first stabilze the mind, but eventually we follow it into silence). It will become more clear as we continue this article.
| top |
6+7+8) SAMYAMA (DHARANA, DHYANA, SAMADHI)
So far, the body is made still with the help of the Yamas and Niyamas, the prana is regulated and flows in sushumna channel, which all results in a concentrated mind that is willing to dive inward. Thus number 6, concentration or dharana, is already explained. From this point the concentration can be directed to anything within Prakriti, depending on the object on which you started to concentrate or what shows up in your mind-field.
The Yoga Sutras give many options to which you can direct your attention, but the general instruction is given to direct samyama to ever more subtle levels of our being (3.6). The process of samyama starts with concentration (dharana). Let us pick an example: after you have opened sushumna the object of earth can be chosen (3.45). If you direct your attention toward to the element of earth, you first practice sustaining that attention, for it will be interrupted many times. When attention is not interrupted and every thought is related to earth, this concentration has become meditation (dhyana, step number 7). Eventually you will be so engrossed in directing your attention to earth only, that observer, observed and the process of observing will collapse into one and only earth will be experienced. Previously, the process of observer, observed, and observing are three separate parts within the process of concentration and meditation. With sustained meditation these three collapse into one, only the observed (object of meditation) remains. This is called samadhi (step number 8). In this example it is samadhi on earth, or playfully said; earth-samadhi.
Concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and samadhi together is called samyama. This process of samyama will remove the kleshas. In the example of earth the colorings around earth will fall away. With samadhi on earth it will instantly become clear (viveka, discernment, wordless clarity, knowing) that the element earth has nothing to do with who you really are. The result is non-attachment toward the element earth. The Yoga Sutras also mention that certain powers will come from this process of samyama on earth. But it also tells us in sutra 3.38 that these could be seen as attainments or obstacles. These powers are obstacles when your goal of practice is to move beyond Prakriti to experience Purusha standing on its own. When your is goal is to gain powers, your attachments to Prakriti will only increase, it keeps you involved with Prakriti en doesn’t bring you beyond it.
Thus, this process of samyama is applied to the different vrittis within Prakriti solely to remove their kleshas. This will increase the level of non-attachment to all the vrittis. Then, applying the process of samyama to different aspects within Prakriti becomes a process of elimination; not this, not this, not this. This makes buddhi sharper. A sattvic buddhi can lead us to the higher knowledge of the discrimination between the seer and the seen. Eventually even the gunas will be set aside. What is left is the Seer standing on its own.
The process of the 8-fold path is a tool and therefore not the end, it is applied to the levels of your not-self to lead you or prepare you for the moment where “you” are able to let go of all vrittis by a process called nirodhah, and as a result Yoga happens.
| top |
8 STEPS OF SELF-TRANSFORMATION BY SWAMI RAMA
Swami Rama gives us 8 steps to Self-transformation in his book “Path of Fire and Light volume 2”. This process is not the same process as described by the Yoga Sutras. It contains different steps that are not mentioned in the Yoga Sutras. Are these two different paths? Do we have to choose between the two? Or do they complement each other? If so… How? Let us find out!
The 8 steps are:
1. Regular practice
2. Internal dialogue
6. Letting go
Let us remember that the process described in the 8-fold path of the Yoga Sutras is a tool for our development. Because it is a tool, it needs to be applied! We will now go through the 8 steps of Self-transformation (by Swami Rama) to see how this tool can be applied, and how the 8-fold path complements the 8 steps of Self-transformation.
| top |
1) REGULAR PRACTICE
It starts with a regular practice. To want to know yourself starts by showing up for that journey, so regular practice is the most important thing to begin with! Regularity creates a consciously built habit and when this habit get stronger and deeper it will start to help you. Because if you show up every day at the same time at the same place, you will eventually go automatically to that place at the time every day. Or at least going to that place at that time is not a struggle, because all other desires know that this time and place is for practice. After a long time of doing the same thing the constant negotiation disappears; the whole mind knows nothing can convince you to fulfill another desire than to do your practice.
| top |
2) INTERNAL DIALOGUE
Once you show up for practice, willing to dive deep within, with the intent to have the direct experience of the Center of Consciousness, Brahman, or Tripura, you do not immediately start with meditation. Internal dialogue is done first, so that your mind becomes a friend. With this relationship you can uncover and discover many things about yourself that otherwise stay hidden in the unconscious mind. You can also find out how the mind functions and can solve many problems and questions by practicing internal dialogue. Here you may still use the karmendriya of speech to entertain those thought that need attention.
Yamas & Niyamas and Internal Dialogue
Practicing internal dialogue can be used to increase your awareness toward the Yamas and Niyamas. You can literally ask your mind how to practice the Yamas and Niyamas. You can ask the mind to use the Yamas and Niyamas to balance and refine your actions, thoughts and sadhana. For example, you can ask your mind to show you in which areas you are unconsciously doing himsa (violence) to yourself or others. Allow the mind to give you suggestions how to move toward to ahimsa (non-violence). You can ask the mind to make you aware of little lies you tell to yourself or others (related to satya), or where you are stealing (related to asteya). Ask your mind to be less involved with the world and to be more absorbed in Brahman (brahmacharya). You can explain to your mind that you cannot really possess anything. Thus, you can ask the mind to release the grasping it does toward the manifestation (aparigraha). Ask how you can purify yourself (shaucha), or why there is not always a state of contentment (santosha). Ask which desires are not useful, and explain to the mind that the fire that comes from this purification is something we have to go through (tapas). Svadhyaya can be practiced by asking your mind to show you everything that is happening in the mind-field and allow the mind and inner wisdom to explain the teachings to you. Finally, you tell the mind, explain to the mind, that truth is beyond the mind itself so that the mind becomes comfortable with this idea and is willing to surrender itself into the creative source (Ishvara pranidhana).
| top |
The third step is to develop a meditation posture that has the qualities of being stable, steady and comfortable. I did not write this article to make absolute statements, but just to show you where there may be parallels. If you keep this in mind, you can easily see that this step is similar to step 3 in the 8 rungs of the Yoga Sutras.
| top |
This step is again similar to the fourth step in the 8-fold path of the Yoga Sutras. Remember that the Yoga Sutras tells us that this step thins the veil between conscious and unconscious. This thinning is needed for the last 3 steps of this Self-transformation outline. To be able to do the last three steps determination is needed, which is mentioned next.
| top |
After you have shown up on time for your practice (step 1), you have spoken with the mind in an internal dialogue (step 2) and you have prepared the body and breath (step 3 and 4), is it now very important to make a firm determination to be completely undisturbed, uninvolved, and undistracted by whatever comes up into the mind-field. This stance of determination is a mental posture, a mental asana. You put the mind in this posture of determination. You need determination to be able to deal with the thoughts coming forward from the mind-field.
Samyama on body
You could say that you first did samyama on the body, by directing your attention to the body. The body is the object of meditation, it is kept still and attention is directed to body only. The body is a vritti in Prakriti too. By directing your attention to it your attachment to the body will decrease. You will gain non-attachment to the body, so that you can let any awareness, sensation, or identification related to the body go nirodhah. In your practice you want to be able to dive beyond body, so that you can dive into the next step; the breath. If you see the body as a vritti within Prakriti, it will need to go through the same process of samyama, as the element earth, as described above. Maybe not all the way up to samadhi on body, but enough of the process of samyama to reduce the kleshas, so that we can dive beyond body.
Samyama on breath
The same counts for the breath; the breath is the second object to which you direct your attention. You first make it still, smooth and very slow in a ration of two-to-one, so that you can direct your one-pointed attention toward the flow of breath. This can be seen as doing samyama on breath. This process will remove the kleshas and increase your non-attachment to breath itself. If you are able to observe the breath, means that you are the observer. The observer is you and the observed is the breath, so you are different or separate from the breath. Realizing that you are not the breath makes it possible that your awareness and identification related to the breath can go nirodhah. (note; the body and breath will still exist, you will not literally stop breathing or drop your body, but your awareness has gone beyond body and breath, as if body and breath are now external).
Samyama on mind
What is subtler then body and breath? The mind! Focusing on mind itself is more overwhelming, busy, intense, or pick your word, than focusing on the body and breath. This is why determination is mentioned in step number 5 and not before step number 3 and 4. Now, you really need a firm determination as we are now going to meditate on mind itself.
| top |
6) LETTING GO
“Letting go” means that you allow the mind to move however it wants to move by allowing all the thoughts to come forward. This process is the preparation to be able to do samyama on the stream of thoughts. Where your attention is directed not to a particular object/thought, but to the whole stream of thoughts itself. Eventually in step 8 we become the witness of the stream of thoughts, where the mind is moving in its own speed, uninterrupted by the veil of the unconscious mind. This means that eventually there are no active thoughts hidden behind the veil of the unconscious mind. Everything happens in the conscious mind-field. Another way of saying the same thing is that the veil between the conscious and unconscious mind field is temporary gone.
Remember that we talked about the word ‘thoughts’ in the section on Pratyahara. In our practice we need to cease using the senses. We allow thoughts to rise from the latent unconscious, but not express them through the senses. It may sound odd or impossible, but yet with experience you will come to know for yourself that it is possible to have movements in the mind that we can call “thoughts”, yet have no words or pictures. We don’t even have to know what they are. We learn to allow them to move while being undisturbed by them.
To move toward this step we fist have to invite the unconscious to come forward. We have to become comfortable with the thoughts popping in and out of the conscious mind field. We do this by cultivating a stance of being undisturbed, unaffected, and uninvolved. When we are in this stance is doesn’t matter what comes forward, we are not dragged into the stream of thoughts. We are able to remain the observer of the stream of thoughts. When we get better at being in this stance (which happens with determination) more and more thoughts will come forward and the experience is that the stream quickens. By allowing the stream of thoughts to quicken, we move into the direction of step number 8.
Thus, step number 6 focuses on allowing the thoughts to come forward, becoming comfortable with the thoughts entering and leaving the conscious mind without doing anything with them. While you do not identify with them, not pushing them away (talk about ahimsa!), not analyzing them and not even ignoring them (as this too is an action and you need to make contact with something to then ignore it). You literally don’t do anything with them…. just being.
To give the mind something to hold on, to focus on we allow the mind to rest in a space. Either the space between the nostrils, between the breasts or the eyebrows. Then all we need to “do” is to keep the mind in this space and the process describe above of ‘letting go’ will happen automatically. The training is to learn to do nothing, no movement or action is needed to just rest in a space! This will simultaneously make the thoughts flow and cultivating a mental asana of being undisturbed, unaffected and uninvolved.
The allowing of thoughts to come forward and allowing them to go decreases the coloring of the samskaras. Whenever a thought moves into the conscious mind field and is left alone, and nothing is done to or with it, it will fall back into chitta. Because you have not identified with it, it loses part or all of its coloring, and it becomes more or completely neutral. This will have the effect that it will cause less disturbance, or not disturb you at all in your practice, as only colored samskaras will disturb you on your way inward.
There is another way to un-color thoughts called introspection.
| top |
When you are able to let the thoughts come and go on their own, you may add step number 7. This step is an extra step, which can help you in uncoloring the kleshas of the vrittis that move through the conscious mind-field as described in step number 6.
Technically, if you would cycle through a heavily colored thought many times, eventually all coloring will be removed, and number 7 is not really needed. But to quicken the process step number 7 is added. If, and only if you are able to allow a certain thought to come up by itself and again goes away by itself, again comes up by itself and again goes away by itself, comes and goes, comes and goes, and so forth, then you may apply step number 7 to it. Which means to push the pause button whenever it pops up into the conscious mind-field again.
Here is how it works: a big part of the practice is to allow the mind to flow in its own speed. In the beginning most of the movements of the mind are hidden behind the curtain of unawareness, in the unconscious mind-field. Gradually you allow the curtain to open and the movement is noticeable within the conscious mind-field. Thus, samyama can be applied to the stream of thought itself. But, if you notice a heavily colored thought and you are able to let it go on its own, again and again, then you may also stop the stream of thoughts and focus only on that particular thought. So, literally, you stop the stream of thoughts by pushing the pause button, so that only this thought is visible. Then you do samyama on this thought to remove the coloring. When you are done with this thought you push the play button and the stream of thoughts continues to flow. Now, you again focus on the stream of thoughts, not on any particular thought. This is how step 6 and 7 can work together to un-color the thoughts.
Now, this is tricky to explain or even talk about, something for yourself to find out over time. How can you direct your attention to a thought when it is not expressed in words or images? When it is not expressed by the senses? Experience and inner wisdom will guide you. Even when senses are not used there is something to “look” at or direct your attention to. As if the essence of the thought can be “looked” at (= can be focused on). Something to explore is Yoga Sutras 1.42, which speaks of three components of an object; a name (= mantra, which is a word, for example “apple”), a specific object (= image, in which you remember a specific image by using inner-sight, in this example of “apple” a specific apple comes up; a big red, or small green), and the essence of the object (in this example of the apple = apple-ness, all the specific apples have essence of apple-ness which is without words or images). Without trying to think your way through this process of introspection allow experiences to guide you.
Yoga Sutras and samyama on the stream of thoughts
The third chapter of the Yoga Sutras gives us many examples to which you can apply samyama. It also shows us the effects or powers that come from samyama on that particular vritti (movements) within Prakriti. It also mentions that these powers can be seen as “attainments” or as “obstacles” (3.38).
Our goal is to go beyond Prakriti. To go beyond the mind-field and all its movements. Any movement in the mind-field can thus be seen as an obstacle. This means that the attainments could create more obstacles. If we would identify ourselves with the attainments these powers become “ours”. They will be colored with “mine”. They will remove ourselves from knowing “I am Pure Consciousness” and thus need to be uncolored. Eventually these powers will have to go nirodhah too!
Thus, let us remember that the tool of samyama in this process offered by Swami Rama is applied first to the body, then to the breath, then to the stream of thoughts itself. Only when needed it is applied to a particular vritti by pausing the stream of thoughts (step number 7, introspection). Our practice is not to do samyama on all the options mentioned in the Yoga Sutras with the sole purpose to gain their powers. Everything we do is done to reduce the coloring. Not to attain special abilities. Yet, some of the options mentioned in the Yoga Sutras will naturally be encountered. For example, there comes a point in practice where you will see how much you are attached to the elements itself. Doing samyama on the elements is extremely useful (3.45-3.47). Through this process you will gain insight about the elements and gain some strength through it. These are signs of progress, but do not allow the ego (ahamkara) to color it with “mine”!
Almost at the end of the third chapter this sutra is mentioned: “By samyama over the moments and their succession, there comes the higher knowledge that is born from discrimination” (3.53). This can be seen as a parallel to the three-fold process of letting go + introspecting + witnessing (step 6+7+8). Swami Rama highlights the path of the Yoga Sutras by offering us the 8 steps of Self-transformation. The Yoga Sutras continue: “This higher knowledge is intuitive and transcendent, and is born of discrimination; it includes all objects within its field, all conditions related to those objects, and is beyond any succession (3.55). With the attainment of equality between the purest aspect of sattvic buddhi and the pure consciousness of purusha, there comes absolute liberation, and that is the end (3.56).”
You will see that in the next step (number 8) called “witnessing” the awareness of the Witness comes forward. This happens when you allow the thoughts to flow in their own speed, by doing samyama on the stream of thoughts. This could be seen as samyama on the moments and their succession. This effect of the Witness coming forward could be seen as the higher knowledge mentioned in 3.53; it is vidya, knowledge of the true nature of existence. Again I do not want to make absolute statements, but just show you where there are parallels between the Yoga Sutras and the 8 Steps of Self-transformation that may be exactly the same or similar to one another.
Moments and succession: Experience usually comes like a movie. It only appears to be an unfolding process, whereas it is actually independent events. It is like the movie film being many independent frames, all of which coexist on the same reel. However, when you look at those frames sequentially, there is the appearance of a uniform and unfolding event or process.
Beyond moments and succession: When samyama (3.4-3.6) is done on the moments and the process of succession, the higher knowledge of what is really going on is revealed. One comes to see the nature of movie production of the mind and virtually the whole of the creation process. This opens the door to the realization of the Truth (1.3).
~ Swami Jnaneshvara commentary on Yoga Sutra 3.53
| top |
When you are able to let the stream of thoughts flow at its own speed, something beautiful happens; you are able to meditate on almost the mind itself. Now, the observed is the whole mind itself flowing at its natural speed, and not merely a part of it. You have allowed the mind to flow uninterruptedly with no interference. This will lead you to a stance of non-attachment toward the thinking process itself. Who is the one that is able to witness the thinking process? This is done from almost beyond mind, from the most subtlest within the mind. Being so subtle leads to the awareness of the Witness, the Seer, or Atman. Step number 8 will eventually lead you to beyond the mind, as it will become clear that you are not the mind. You increasingly realize deeply that you truly are the Seer, and mind can slowly fall away.
Here meditation ends and contemplation takes over, or this is the moment where meditation and contemplation merge. There is nothing to meditate on in the sense of an object. All that remains is allowed to merge into the source out of which all objects emerge. This is done by contemplating on the Witness, Atman, the Center of Consciousness or Tripura.
Playfully, you could say that Tripura will become the last “object” of meditation in which you surrender the little that is left of “you” into Tripura, into that Pure Consciousness that appears to play as the three cities of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. This is meditating on the formless. This is contemplating on the formless. This is being in awe of the formless. With the grace of Tripura, Pure Consciousness itself, a total surrender can happen into Tripura.
Another way of saying the same thing is that by the increasing direct experience of witnessing the totality of the mind, the silence behind the mind gradually comes forward. Remember that in the section on Pratyahara was mentioned that in our meditation sequence we meditate on mantra? Meditation on mantra does not mean merely repeating the words; this is inner-speaking. We allow that what the mantra represents to come forward. With the word apple, the apple-ness will come forward. Then we can meditate only on apple-ness, and we don’t need the word apple anymore. The mantra apple doesn’t merely represent an actual apple, better said it is the object that goes with the mantra. With the mantra AUM, AUM-ness will come forward. We learn to meditate only on AUM-ness, playfully said. What does this mean? What is AUM? What is the object that goes with the mantra AUM? Answer: the whole of the waking, dreaming, and deep sleep state. This means that to be able to meditate on the object AUM, we will also have to be able to meditate on the whole of the mind. As the mind functions and operates in all these three states of Consciousness with its conscious, unconscious and subconscious aspects. Can you see how we thus have to learn to be undisturbed by the whole of the mind if we learn to meditate on AUM? The mind will become active if we meditate on AUM, if we direct attention to AUM! By being undisturbed while the mind moves in its own speed, we un-color the attachment to the mind itself, so that we eventually can go beyond it. How? There is another aspect of the mantra AUM. Namely, the silence after AUM! This silence lies beyond the mind. Thus, directing attention to AUM, allowing its “object” to come forward, the mind will reveal itself and will start to move in its own speed, and then the silence will reveal itself. As nothing in the mind is who we are. Thus, if we learn to remain undisturbed by the mind moving in its own speed and allow attention to follow the mantra into the silence aspect of AUM, we go beyond the movement of the mind. In this way AUM will lead us into Silence, beyond the mind. In the meantime we gradually learn to be a Witness to the movements of the mind by “doing nothing” with the movement; undisturbed, unaffected, uninvolved. Amazing isn’t it!
Hence, the 8-fold path of Yoga Sutras is a big part within the 8-Step practice Swami Rama has given us, in which the process of samyama is used. You use the process of directing our attention. When it intensifies or is sustained it flows from concentration into meditation into samadhi. You apply it to subtler levels of your being: namely, body, breath and the mind itself. But, eventually, even the process of samyama has to be let go of, for meditation on the stream of thoughts will bring you to a stance of witnessing. In this stance you can contemplate on the Witness and surrender into it. This will lead you to the realization “You are That” (tat tvam asi), you are That Pure Consciousness. This is called Self-realization. You are Brahman. You are Tripurasundari…AUM…