For the past few weeks we have been focused on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, certainly one of the most useful texts to study if you are interested in coming into the fullness of your being. The eight limbs that Patanjali lists lead us to meditation. And he very clearly and inspiringly gives us an understanding of who we are, how we work and how to go about managing our minds and lives to be able to live in fullness.
Last week we spoke about OM. I would like to share a section of the Yoga Sutras with you to discuss. There will be more here than we can cover in an hour though (especially with my slow typing).
Swami Satchidanand's translation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras verses 27-40 of Book One, The Portion On Contemplation...
27. The word expressive of Isvara is the mystic sound OM.
28. To repeat it with reflection on its meaning is an aid.
29. From this practice all the obstacles disappear and simultaneously dawns knowledge of the inner Self.
30. Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained – these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles.
31. Accompaniments to the mental distractions include distress, despair, trembling of the body, and disturbed breathing.
32. The practice of concentration on a single subject [or the use of one technique] is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments.
33. By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.
34. Or that calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.
35. Or the concentration on subtle sense perceptions can cause steadiness of mind.
36. Or concentrating on the supreme, ever-blissful Light within.
37. Or by concentrating on a great soul's mind which is free from attachment to sense objects.
38. Or by concentrating on an experience had during dream or deep sleep.
39. Or meditating on anything one chooses that is elevating.
40. Gradually, one's mastery in concentration extends from the primal atom to the greatest magnitude.
We covered verses 27, 28, 29 last week, but did not look at the details of what Patanjali lists as to what the obstacles are for us, and what accompanies them, verses 30 & 31.
The list in 30 - disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained, are states of mind that keep us from being in the balanced equanimity which allows our mind to clearly reflect our true nature of blissful peace. And these disturbed states of mind lead to what accompanies them - distress, despair, trembling of the body, and disturbed breathing. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with what he is detailing here, but I expect that you, too, like the rest of us, are quite familiar with all of this.... but you may not have considered it in this way.
Before detailing this, Patanjali explained that repeating OM with awareness of what it is would remove these obstacles. He wanted us to know there is a way to get free of these. And then he goes on to share that there are other ways to come to this state of equanimity, and even how to stay there once you arrive.
In verse 32 you find what many recognize as the yoga approach to meditation... “The practice of concentration on a single subject [or the use of one technique] is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments.”
We are to choose something upon which to focus our attention and mind, and then keep steadily focused upon that. Two weeks ago we spoke of the final three limbs... Dharana/Concentration, Dhyana/Meditation & Samadhi/Absorption. Sticking with what we have chosen is Dharana. Patanjali tells us that this is the best way for us to avoid being caught up in those obstacles and what comes about from them.
I am going to hold discussion of verse 33, known as the locks & keys, for a future session since it is worth taking extra time. But note that in verse 33 we are told how to live steadily in that obstacle-free way without losing the equanimity.
He then gives a list of some things you might choose to focus upon. Let's look at his list...
The controlled exhalation or retention of the breath. Please note that even though how we inhale is important, the inhalation is not what moves our mind into that stillness. It is a controlled exhalation or time with the breath paused (retention) that really gets us there. Make note. Patanjali suggests using focus upon the breath like this as a good way to come into that stillness and then remain in that state.
Concentration on subtle sense perceptions. Your awareness may become subtle enough to have your sense experiences heightened... your vision, hearing, smelling, touch may move into a place where it is actually easy to distinguish one particular sense perception, a particular sound upon which you can focus your attention, or a smell, or even a feeling. Panatanjali lets us know that this makes an effective object upon which to focus our attention.
Concentrating on the supreme, ever-blissful Light within. Once you develop an inward awareness and focus, often you “see” that inner Light which is ever present and infinite and is the radiance of your very essence. This, too, is a great object to focus upon. You may notice it initially by directing your attention to the center of the head within. At first it may appear as a light like a round circle, sometimes colored somewhat, sometimes glowing with an outer ring about it. And as you settle you attention there it can become a pool of Light opening into the ocean of infinity.
Concentrating on a great soul's mind which is free from attachment to sense objects. This is not just someone you think highly of or admire. You may have found someone who is in the role of divine guru for you. Of course, focusing on your Guru's mind is perfect. But you need not have yet come into such a relationship to use this suggestion. You might choose the mind of Jesus, or the Buddha, or any great sage who you feel has attained that realized state. You can tune into that mind and let it be the focus of your meditation. Once you tune in it will become clear whether or not this is working for you. But you may be surprised at how easy it is to tune into such a mind and how wonderfully it takes you into that clear, still place, too.
Concentrating on an experience had during dream or deep sleep. Sometimes while asleep we may come to a state or have an experience or vision that, when we wake, is very clear and inspiring. Focusing on such an experience will hold your mental attention easily and take you into the zone. Here Patanjali has given us another good suggestion.
This has been quite a list with a lot of variety. People of almost any taste might find something that appeals and works for them. But Patanjali ends his list with the most wonderful finale: Or meditating on anything one chooses that is elevating. There you go, pick whatever you like that you find elevating. Enjoy your meditations.
The final verse mentions that this works for you and gets you there as you keep practicing regularly: “Gradually, one''s mastery in concentration extends from the primal atom to the greatest magnitude.” It can take some time.
Be patient. Be steady. Have fun.