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Essential Yoga

The abstract below is the essence of the Yogic school of philosophy. 'Atman' means God and Spirit, or Self, or soul and spirit, by other sets of terms:

To the followers of Yoga, meditation is a great power. Yoga can be practised by a person whose mind is not shaky. The person who meditates - like a log - the soul is stationed in the heart. He sees the Atman in the Atman. It has no source of origin and it is immortal. They call it minuter than the atom, and greater than the greatest.

What else can be the characteristic feature of Yoga? One who sees thus perceives the unageing great Atman.

(Brahma Purana 135:47-65, abstracted kernels, passim).

"The Sanskrit literature contains numerous compound terms ending in -yoga." (Chap. 12). Feuerstein goes on to list forty yoga approaches or features of the path. Item number 32 on his list is "Samputa-Yoga: The unitive discipline of sexual congress (maithuna) in Tantra-Yoga." No. 36 is "Siddha-Yoga: The unitive discipline of the adepts, a concept found in some of the Tantras." (Feuerstein 2011, Chap. 12). "There are numerous books available on Yoga, very few reflect that astounding richness." (Feuerstein 1990:xiii).

"The yogic work of self-transformation [is a] path to inner freedom, peace, and happiness. It puts us in touch with what Abraham Maslow called "being values," without which our lives are superficial and ultimately unfulfilling." (Feuerstein 2011, Chap. 4.)

"Upon enlightenment, when the mind is free from obscurations, neither pleasure nor pain will diminish our inner freedom." (Feuerstein 2011, Chap. 3.)

Patanjali Yoga Highlights

Patanjali Yoga may not be good enough for you: there are even better forms of yoga-meditation. Note:

  • Patanjali Yoga hardly specifies that general spiritual development, bhavana, is the great gift of sensible yoga, and that is is won by carefully harnessed influx of vitality (power), for one thing, whereas Patanjali speaks of stilling the mind and focus it. The "influx for sound development" needs to be underscored. This is explained further down.
  • The other drawback is that the ashtanga yoga of Patanjali speaks of eight limbs of yoga, and that practice of physical and moral sides of the system could be at the expense of the higher yoga, the meditation parts.
  • At its best, meditation fosters spiritual development, bhavana, and it does not come naturally. There are traditional ways for it that are not dealt with by Patanjali as far as I recall: "Listening in to Aum" may be half of what is needed, subtleties of the practices left aside.

This suggested, let us see what Patajali tells of, to see what his approach contains in main outline.

Meditation, dhyána, and "prolonged, deep meditation", samádhi, is an integral part of the ancient ashtánga yoga (eight-limbed yoga), which is the Patanjali yoga system. It is also called classical yoga and raja yoga, royal yoga. Patanjali yoga is mainly concerned with cultivating the mind by meditation (dhyána) to be liberated, as it is called. The system is laid bare in a brief primer. It aims at reaching a state of yoga, in part by yoga postures, asanas, and even more by meditation. There is more on it further down.

Patanjali's yoga is akin to Yajnavalkya's yoga, which is similar to it, but broader. It encompasses much more.

Buddhist meditation in a nutshell

The term Buddhist meditation refers to the meditative practices that tend to be practised by Buddhists. Core meditation techniques have been preserved in ancient Buddhist texts. Buddhist meditation is practised to get Awakened (Enlightened) in the state called Nirvana, which is a joy-state. The earliest tradition of Buddhist meditation practice - preserved in the collection of early Buddhist texts in the Pali language, including the Sutta Pitaka ("the basked of discourse") - was also the focus of early Buddhist schools, and has been incorporated to a greater and lesser extent in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and many East Asian Buddhist traditions.

What is more, early Buddhist texts describe meditative practices and states that had existed before the Buddha in the Vedic civilisation that Buddha blossomed within, as well as those that were in time diversified within Buddhism.

Early Buddhism incorporated meditative absorption states. The most ancient sustained expressions of yogic ideas is found in the early sermons of Buddha on four jhanas, dhyánas. Buddha taught that meditative absorption was to be combined with liberating cognition, based on the practice of mindful awareness.

As Buddhism got on and branched out somewhat, Yogacara Buddhism (Yogacara (Sanskrit: "yoga practice") provided a path of the bodhisattva – but such a path is not told of in extant, old sermons of Buddha.

Also, yoga is central to Mahayana, Vajrayana or "Tibetan Buddhism" in particular.

Hindu yoga - glimpses

In Hindu literature, the term "yoga" first occurs in the Katha Upanishad, where it refers to control of the senses and the cessation of mental activity, leading to a supreme state.

Vedic Yoga goes into pranayama ("mind-breath-forms"), mantra, and dhyána (meditation). There are varieties of each of these three.

Prana relates to motions of the mind, and may be used for concentrating and stilling the mind. Advanced pranayama involves mindful regulation of prana; for beginners it is controlling the breath.

Further, dhyána (meditation) is not merely for getting a quiet mind and deriving great anti-stress benefits from it, though relaxing and calming can be a significant achievement: the Bhagavad Gita uses the term 'yoga' extensively in a variety of ways. The goals of doing yoga are varied and range from getting suppler and perhaps improving health, to achieving freedom, moksha, in which you realise Supreme Brahman (Spirit of All).

The word 'yoga'. There are many definitions of what yoga is, as 'yoga' is a word with several meanings already from antiquity. One may say, initially, that 'meditation' is part of the more encompassing term 'yoga,' and you do not have to belong to a church and cult to practice yoga and meditation. Wikipedia's article "Yoga" says that "The Sanskrit word yoga has many meanings, and is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, to control, to yoke or unite. Translations include 'joining', 'uniting', 'union', 'conjunction', and 'means'. Also, "the word yoga may be derived from . . . 'yujir samadhau', which means contemplation or absorption."

Yoga, a many-sided system. Rooted in a very long Indian and Tibetan tradition, 'Yoga' suggests a many-sided system that can suit a many-sided development, not only Tantric Sex Yoga to be practiced in some higher forms of Buddhism and Hinduism.

Meditation is a key stage in the yoga system of Patanjali. Buddhism and Hinduism share in yoga training. Meditation, or dhyána, is part of such systematic fares, and said to be essential for higher development, bhavana.

The mind can be calmed and clarified by meditation, depending on methods, the quality of the practice and the general conditions for meditation and having a good life in general. To progress includes more than just calming down; in deepening meditation fit bhavana training sets it.

The term bhavana can mean development", "cultivating" or "producing" in the sense of "bringing about, bringing into existence." and "dwelling", and so on. When used on its own here, bhavana signals 'spiritual development'. Another wording: 'development in deep meditation, dhyana. In Buddhist practice (patipatti) the word bhavana appears in phrases like:

  • citta-bhavana: development or cultivation of the heart/consciousness/mind.
  • panna-bhavana: development of wisdom/understanding.
  • metta-bhavana: development/cultivation of benevolence/lovingkindness.

Good conditions and excellent methods may be had by careful study of crucial elements and research finding, rather than jumping headlong into some sect that uses yoga and meditation as baits also. So, sound discernment can be helpful, also when it comes to self-unfoldment and the use of our free time, and so on. Winning free time is good, and good use of it is much to go for. For the lack of healthy and good use of it, one may get bored or deranged, though. Consider what forms of very handy and practical yoga could suit you and bring benefits too. TM (Transcendental Meditaton) can suit many.

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras yoga state

Patanjali goes into stilling the mind and applying that mind for benefits through holding to specific ideas and images. It is a bit akin to deep-going visualisation, which has documented effects in sports, for example.

Bhavana fills in a need for development of oneself at this point or stage: (1) Meditate for spiritual development first. (2) Then affirm, visualise or use other sides to mental training with that clarified, deepened mind. (3). Thirdly, try to assess what blossoms (changes, that is).

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras begin with the statement yogas chitta-vritti-nirodhah (1.2), "Yoga limits the oscillations of the mind". Translators understand the old, Sanskrit definition a bit differently, though. It could be of some help to see how the term is explained in yoga traditions, and what some able translators have come up with. Then, by cross-combining most of the translation options of most elements in the sentence of Patanjali, we may end up with scores of nuances and variants of meanings. However, I give you just some central definitions of each part of Patanjali's catch-phrase. You may "combine" them if wish (further down). Here are two more all right English translations to begin with:

Vivekananda translates the sutra as "Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Citta) from taking various forms (Vrittis)."

I. K. Taimni translates it as "Yoga is the inhibition [nirodha] of the modifications [vritti] of the mind [citta]."

Put simply, Mind-yoga calms fluctuations of the mind, and this is essential for higher forms of meditation à la Patanjali. Carefully focused thought may lead to such states of mind.

Going further, a well focused mind is able to transcend thoughts, in time. Mantra yoga includes means of reaching the beyond, of transcending, and one mantra method system, ◦Transcendental Meditation, TM has lots of good side effects, according to much research on it. It is worth noting that some good methods get results in less time of practice than other methods. For example, meditation may be practiced for 15 (and 20) minutes twice a day in the Transcendental Meditation programme (for beginners).

Now for Criss-Crossing Meanings of Patanjali's Phrase

A. Citta, chitta

Citta: (Skt., 'that which has been seen', i.e., belonging to consciousness also called Chit). In Hinduism, the reflective and thus conscious mind; in Buddhism, an equivalent to manas (reflective mind) and vijnana (continuing consciousness). It belongs to all beings above the level of plant life.

How citta is understood, received particular analysis and emphasis in Yogacara, the Cittamatra, Mind Only school of Buddhism.

In Abhidhamma (Pali; Skt., abhidharma, 'special teaching'), there is reflection on the meaning of Gautama Buddha's teaching. Abhidhamma talks of 121 types of citta, and each of them may be combined with any one of fifty-two cetasikas (accompanying qualities of experience), thus producing a large variety of mental events.

B. Vritti

'Vritti' means fluctuations, modifications – also livelihood, conduct, character, treatment, inclination, functioning, appearing, thoughts, modes, waves.

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras lists five types of mental activity. They are: valid cognition (pramana), misconception (viparyaya), imagination (vikalpa), sleep (nidra), and memory (smriti).

C. Nirodha

Cessation, neutralisation, restraint, from the root rudh, to obstruct."

By combining essential meanings with a view to the sources and the living tradition, we may come up with such as:

(Good, able) yoga in its higher forms are for stilling the mind well, so that you get into higher, interior mind states at will in periods, and very easily of them too.

Now there has been done non-damaging brain research of people who meditate, both Tibetan Buddhists, Zen Buddhists, and other meditators. Some of the findings show even dramatic changes of brain waves and their patterns, strengths (amplitudes), and synchronised patterning.

It could pay to study prominent and good research findings and choose the best methods available to practice at home.

Lessons about added influx

There are other variants of yoga and meditation than Patanjali's. Yajnavalkya's yoga has been referred to already. It is broader in scope, but rather similar. Now for other yoga teachings:

To develop a lot, it may barely be good enough just to still the mind. Development in yoga could depend on extra influx of energy - called Aum, wind and prana and other ancient Sanskrit words with somewhat different understanding in any case. In good meditation such influx is had. Then make wise and proper use of it for general spiritual development, bhavana. The old teaching can be halfway glimpsed in ancient Upanishads too. You get vitalised, more alive by good meditation. It is all right. If you choose to funnel such vitality into a thing to focus on, then you may develop things, bring about things, manifest things - inwardly and/or outwardly. The very best use is held to be spiritual development by steady, advancing focusing (heeding). Don't just still the mind; advance to charge yourself also. It is a nice point.

Bad, unsuitable and possibly damaging mantras harness the added influx for bad, wheras good mantras gently steer such influx like a horse led by the muzzle. There is much lore on mantras too. Mantras are said to be sound-forms of great idea-complexes with marked qualities - in other words, mantras are sound-form-bodies of gods or goddesses. The theory is that one is helped by some goddesses by attuning to them by their various mantras - and can be seriously harmed by others.

Another form of yoga is tantric yoga. It uses the sexual instincts to ride on them too. Tantra is described in a vast body of literature too. So yoga does not have to be austere.

A Possibly Wider Perspective

The last three limbs of Patanjali's Eightfold Yoga are called dharana (focus), dhyána (contemplation, deep meditation), and samádhi (yogic absorption). These "phases" contain thought and direction of thought, and the rinsed, well unified mind can then be used for well-directed focus that assists subtle attainments and other attainments by sanyama, which is sustained, well relaxed focus with a unified or undivided mind. Patanjali enumerates deep successes from the practice.

There is a tradition that holds these views and practices, and little research on them. Thus, the area belongs to the area of "try maturely and well and observe for yourself" - sort of. After fifty years of painstaking effort the time may be fine for a personal round-up, if not earlier. And if we are observant, maybe we heed good gurus more, those who say that the powers are not the main things to go for in meditation, but the Divine.

Another matter: It happens that some powers come to the meditator, even unasked for. How to deal with it? Some honorable persons may say you should desist from harnessing them and drop them, and others tell you to use them only with the utmost discretion. There may reason for them appearing, so it may be very unwise to discard all the powers that manifest - in fact, you could need them! Add that to the list of how to deal with occult powers.

It is not an either-or topic, though: One may spend for example 93% of one's best time wisely on bettering one's meditation with no preconceived goal in mind, and the added 7 % on mental focus on good results one may like (by sanyama-focusing).

Dharana (focus, gathering attentiveness) and dhyána (deeper meditation) are related, and not always easily discerned from one another.

The word mantra is derived from the verbal root 'man', which means 'think' (and is also in manas, "mind"). The suffix -tra, means tools or instruments. So a literal translation is "instrument of thought". Mantra yoga often involves sound, word, or phrase that is repeated and is believed to have great powers to elevate and in time purify and rescue the mind (for a while) into another level - if the mantras are suitable and carefully chosen and the practice is fine. There is a vast body of knowledge in these matters (WP, "Mantra").

Mantra can be practiced aloud and whispered. But the most profound effect on the mind comes from silent repetition of mantra, that is, 'japa'. Manu Samhita says something that could apply just poetically (not accurately) to the drift of increased efficaciousness as we move from loud to whispered and on to silent mantra repetition (japa):

An offering, consisting of muttered prayers, is ten times more efficacious than a sacrifice performed according to the rules (of the Veda); a (prayer) which is inaudible (to others) surpasses it a hundred times, and the mental (recitation of sacred texts) a thousand times. [Manu Samhita, 2:85]

A mantra that is silently repeated, is put to the best use accordingly.


Meditation tips, Literature  

Feuerstein, Georg. The Deeper Dimension of Yoga: Theory and Practice. London: Shambhala, 2011.

⸻. Encyclopedic Dictionary of Yoga. London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1990.

Grimes, John. A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy: Sanskrit Terms Defined in English. New, rev. ed. Varanasi: Indica Bookis, 2009.

Mohan, A. G., tr. Yoga Yajnavalkya. 2nd ed. Svastha Yoga, 2013.

Sands, William F. Maharishi's Yoga: The Royal Path to Enlightenment. Fairfield, IA: Maharishi University of Management Press, 2013.

Shastri, J. L., ed. Brahma Purana: Part 3. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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