- Meditation: Returning Home for the New Year
The coming blogs on meditation will explore the practices that enhance your meditation and facilitate your progress. The very next blog will examine the “ethics of love” which is the essential foundation for meditation and offer some practical guidelines for a meditation practice
Director, Prama Institute
Inspirational poems for the New Year:
Be silently drawn
By the strange pull
Of what you truly love.
It will not lead you astray.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Journey- Mary Oliver
You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.
So many are alive who don’t seem to care.
Casual, easy, they move in the world
as though untouched.
But you take pleasure in the faces
of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
who grip you for survival.
You are not dead yet, it’s not too late
to open your depths by plunging into them
and drink in the life
that reveals itself quietly there.
From: Rilke, Book of Hours
- Silence and Meditation
Silence and Meditation
I am looking for a place on the land surrounding the Prama Institute to meditate with the minimal sounds of nature. I find a spot on a cliff overlooking the French Broad River beneath giant Hemlock trees. I sit on a carpet of moss surrounded by ferns.
Slowly settling in, I close my eyes. I let go of the images of the French Broad River below and the evergreens around me. I become aware of the cool fresh air entering my nostrils. Taking a few deep breaths I remove my shoes and adjust my body to sitting in a half lotus posture. I feel my back straighten easily in this posture, placing my clasped hands in my lap.
I feel exhilarated to let go of the world and bring my attention to my breath. Focusing on the detail of breathing, each breath is growing slower now. I begin releasing many thoughts. The thoughts fliter by like birds jumping from limb to limb then disappear in the air. Grasping for and holding onto the fleeting “now” I sense the chatter of my mind slowly dissipating but not going away. I begin reciting my personal mantra that means “The Beloved Only” or “I Am the Beloved”. The repetition of this thought and listening to the sound of the mantra and its deeper meaning replace many of the thoughts that had persisted in my mind.
Some thoughts return but yield to repetition of the mantra, listening to the sound of the mantra and immersing myself in its meaning. Slowly the thoughts give way to the mantra and for moments there is only the sound of the mantra and I am suspended in a blissful mood beyond thoughts. Of course the thoughts return but through the struggle to overcome them I have achieved moments of true peace of mind and I feel reassured that I could repeat and extend this growing success of meditation with continuing effort.
The Prama Institute offers five days of silent walks in nature, moving and sitting meditation, yoga, self reflection, and moving together with other like minded participants to help you achieve similar results as described above. This result is similar to the experience for many beginners or those who have different levels of experience with these approaches to meditation. This shared results of many meditators and the resilience of our monkey mind’s chatter helps dispel one of the greatest myths about meditation- that during meditation you should eliminate all thoughts. The nature of the mind as long as we are alive is to seek an object or thought to focus upon. The goal of meditation is to reduce the level of internal chatter and with effort over time find moments of bliss and peace of mind beyond the ordinary buzzing confusion of everyday thought and reality. This effort at spending time in a practice of meditation creates a greater intuitive feeling of connectedness with yourself and your total environment. With continuing practice of meditation our perception of the ordinary is expanded into glimpses of the harmony and unity that is possible in our inner and outer lives.
We invite you to come and experience your birth right of greater harmony with self and others through this concentrated experience of silence and meditation that can help deepen your existing practice or help you develop a new practice that is self affirming.
Sid Jordan- Director, Prama Institute
- Patanjali and Tantra: A Short, Complimentary Overview
Patanjali and Tantra: A Short, Complimentary Overview
By Ramesh Bjonnes
A young, female yoga teacher once told me: “I came to the deeper understanding of yoga by starting out thinking yoga was only about physical flexibility.”
She quickly learned that yoga was so much more than physical exercises. She learned that yoga was both about flexible bodies and flexible minds moving together, moving together toward spirit.
In India, around 200 years before Christ, Pantanjali wrote in one of his famous yoga sutras that the goal of yoga is “the cessation of mental propensities.” (In reading his text, you will not find any information about perfect anatomical alignment or sculpted hips.)
Patanjali’s main focus remained mostly beyond bone and flesh, and to help people to reach this goal of spiritual tranquility, he systematized Ashtanga Yoga based on already known yogic wisdom and practice.
In this comprehensive system, yoga postures, or asanas, forms only one of eight parts: yama and niyama (ethics), asanas (yoga exercises), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), pranayama (breathing exercises), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (spiritual peace).
This system, often termed Classical Yoga by Western yoga scholars, built upon much earlier forms of yoga, including Samkhya philosophy, Tantric (Shaiva) meditation practices, and also on Vedanta.
The goal of yoga, said Patanjali, is not just to attain control of the body, but rather to tame the mind. The final spiritual goal of yoga, he said, is reached when the mind is free of thoughts, desires and needs. This system of yoga is also often called Raja Yoga.
Two important aspects of Patanjali’s philosophy are Purusha (Consciousness) and Prakrti (Energy). In Tantra, they are referred to as the cosmic consciousness of Shiva and the cosmic energy of Shakti, and they are entwined like the embrace of two cosmic lovers.
Shiva’s cosmic consciousness is inherent in everything, says Tantra—in the body, in the soul—while Shakti’s cosmic energy is that which metaphorically takes Shiva by the hand and creates everything, the body and the soul. These philosophical twins were also known as Purusha and Prakriti in the philosophy of Samkhya.
Metaphorically, these “opposites” are two sides of the same androgynous being; two dualistic sides of the nondual Oneness of Brahma. And they were figuratively expressed in ancient art in the androgynous Ardhanarishvara statue.
This ancient Tantric concept of yoga appeals to our contemporary, ecological sensibilities: everything is One, everything is interconnected. Where there is Energy, there is Consciousness. Where there is Consciousness, there is Energy.
In Tantra, the goal of yoga is explicitly both Spirit-centered and Body-centered. Because Shiva and Shakti are one. Tantric Yoga is therefore a practice of both earthly balance and spiritual union.
First a yogi attempts to harmonize body and mind, then to live in harmony with the world. Ultimately, he or she seeks samadhi, or spiritual union—the union between the human soul, or jivatman, and the cosmic soul, or paramatman.
But that’s not always the case. Not all yogis have viewed the body in the same positive light as Tantra.
The goal of yoga’s physical exercises in Tantra, for example, was to create a healthy body and mind and thus a conducive environment for spiritual practice—for meditation. The physical exercises are part of a nested continuum, from body to mind to spirit. That why it was emphasized in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika that Raja Yoga, the yoga of Patanjali, and Hatha Yoga should be practiced hand in hand.
And that is perhaps why B. K.S. Iyengar, the modern Hatha Yoga Master par excellence, said that he wished he had started to meditate when he was younger, not at 60 plus.
The body is thus a springboard from which a self-inspired and sustainable spirit can soar. Many of the fitness yogis and yoginis of today may not see it the same way. For them, a beautiful, healthy body and an alert mind is more likely the main goal.
In other words, if yoga makes me more flexible, more relaxed, more beautiful, so that I can be more efficient, more powerful, more attractive, why ask for more? Why ask for more, if the body simply is a springboard from which a dazzlingly successful me will ascend?
Many of the yogis of old, however, did indeed ask for more. The intertwined distinctions they made between body, mind and spirit is a brilliant insight of yoga practice and philosophy.
Yoga teaches us that any improvement on the physical or mental levels can never be perfect, can never be ultimately fulfilling, and will always leave us shortchanged. Truth is, that perfect body will never quite be perfect enough. Patanjali understood this point acutely.
Tantra walks that fine balance beautifully by explicitly embracing both body and soul, both Shakti and Shiva, both Prakriti and Purusha, both the inner and outer world.
The physical realm of our existence is indeed limited. The body will finally age. It may start to ache. Disease may come. So some yogis of old would agree with visionary poet William Blake: “He who binds to himself a joy does the winged life destroy. But he who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternity’s sun rise.”
I am not this body, the spiritual yogi would say. I am not this mind. I am That. I am Divine.
Behind the sensuous gloss on the covers of today’s yoga magazines, we see glimpses of the deeper, subterranean flow of the yogic wisdom and practice that Patanjali talked about. We also see various expressions of Tantra emerging.
In yoga studios all over the world, harmoniums and tablas are placed before outstretched yoga mats. Yogis in tight clothing are loosening up their bhakti souls to Indian chants. Some are even dusting off Krishna’s urging for karma yoga by doing selfless service or social change activities.
Ayurvedic massage and herbs are integral healing modalities of many yoga studios. Many yoga teachers end their classes with at least rudimentary forms of meditation.
Popular yogis such as Seane Corn see karma yoga, or service, as a way to heal, express gratitude, and to stay centered.
These are all signs of a holistic tapestry being woven together from all the integrated strands of wisdom yoga can offer. These are all signs that Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga and Tantra are complimentary paths, and, on a deep level, they are based on the same tradition, and they aim for the same truth—the liberation of body, heart and mind.
- Remembering Aparigrapha During The Holidays
In a recent post, we talked about Patainjali and the 8 limbs of yoga. Two of those limbs are Yama and Niyama, a guide to human conduct. I find them to be great tools for living and understanding life. One that stands out to me during these times is Aparigraha. It is defined as non-indulgence in the enjoyment of such amenities and comforts of life which are superfluous for the preservation of life. How I say it is simply to my children is–not taking more than you need. There is a place for all of the Yama and Niyamas in everyday life, especially at the time of holidays.
Yes, it is time for the holidays. Chanukah is fast approaching and each year signs of Christmas seem to appear earlier and earlier. Just yesterday my son asked if we could take out our Christmas decorations. When I told him it was too early, he said “All the stores have their decorations out!” In our culture, come November–whether you celebrate the holidays or not–it is right there in front of you with all of its shiny wrapping, the positive and negative.
As I recognize all of the pressure to consume money, resources, food, and energy in a culture that does not have a lot of these to spare, I also see the magic. I see myself as an optimist that grew up in a “Christmas Tree Christian” family. I, of course, remember all the excitement and pleasure that went with opening gifts and eating sugary foods, but it was not just that. My mom is a lover of “the most wonderful time of the year”. For her, it was about the traditions that were created. When she buys a present, she loves to think about the person and imagines something they will truly love; she gets so much joy from wrapping their present, and seeing their surprise and delight. This time of year always had a special feeling beyond the food, money, and presents. My brother and I would have a wordless agreement to get along and leave our differences behind us. We would get together with family and have special outings and be grateful for what we had. Each season has something special, and winter’s qualities are unique.
Once I had my own family, I had to decide how I would merge my spiritual ideals, my childhood memories, and the pressure of our culture. One way we have merged these ideas is a personal Advent calendar that consists of my children opening up a little paper with a message of an activity of the day. Each day is based around an activity such as crafting, cooking, rendering service, an outing, a book, or a movie. This made the holidays feel more like an experience than consumerism and stress, especially on the days when we were doing service.
Over the years, when it came to gift giving, we have tried a few different things, such as only buying homemade gifts from local craft fairs or etsy.com. For a few years we only gave homemade gifts–it was wonderful to see how creative we could get. We would purchase things that did not cause waste, like a gift certificate for a massage. We also love the idea of service. One of my favorite charities is AMURT. They have an annual gift catalog called Gifts from the Heat where you can buy a gift in the name of a family member or friends. You can make a donation for things such as a backpack filled with school supplies for an orphan in Thailand, fruit trees for a family in Haiti, or breakfast for 125 homeless people in Los Angeles.
I find I have to keep the idea of Aparigraha in my mind or it is easy to consume things that we do not need. Recently I read an article called “The Gift of Not Giving A Thing: Why I don’t want any more presents for my boys” by: Christella Morris. In the article, she talks about having too many toys. She says, “Instead of buying my boys a toy lion, why not take one (or both) of them to the zoo to see a real one? To spend some time with a family member or friend would mean so much more to them than another toy.” My children have spent countless hours playing with trains, blocks, legos, cars, trucks, and play dough. Toys are wonderful learning tools but again, it is good to think about what is actually a necessity. How much of the delight is the toy and how much is the experience. I believe my son loves legos not just because of the joy of building, but also because of the hours that he has spent creating with his Dad. When giving gifts, we can also give experiences or service. Robert Pagliarini gives lots of examples in his article on CBSnews “10 Great Christmas Gifts That Won’t Cost You a Dime! Some great ideas are to take someone on a special outing to a park, teaching them to play a sport, giving them a voucher for shoveling their driveway, raking their leaves, or babysitting.
Lately, I have been thinking about Aparigraha as the unrequested Christmas catalogs show up in my mailbox. It can be a challenge to think of simplicity in a culture that is over consuming, but if I focus on the other Yama and Niyamas and the other 8 limbs of yoga, they have a way of supporting each other. I feel the beauty of the all of the Yama and Nimayas can be utilized during the holidays. I intend to keep them in my thoughts during this season and throughout the year.
Rachel Maietta lives in Marshall, NC with her husband and two sons in a great community. She has a passion for uplifting the lives of others. She has had an array of social work jobs and graduated with a degree in Developmental Psychology. When not working happily in the Prama Institute and the Prama Wellness Center office, she is striving to find a balance between her beautiful family, her spiritual path.
- Eight Limbs of Yoga
Astaunga yoga, meaning “eight limbed yoga”, was derived from the ancient tradition of Tantra Yoga that was systematized and taught by Shiva over seven thousand years ago. It was refined by the collective spirit of Shiva’s wife, Parvarti, asking Shiva questions (nigama) and Shiva replying (agama). These ancient oral scriptures are part of the Tantra shastras and were finally written down about 1500 years ago. Patanjali penned the Yoga Sutras two hundred years before the birth of Christ, and he is credited with being the first to codify the ancient tradition of astaunga yoga. This astaunga or tantric yoga was originally a science of intuition pre-dating the integration of yoga into the religious traditions of Buddhism, 3500 years ago and Hinduism 2500 years ago. Thus yoga today remains largely a non-sectarian tradition although disputedly “owned” by later religious traditions.
The tantric tradition of astaunga yoga focused on the eight limbed practices while the Vedic tradition focused on rituals and yoga philosophy. The confluence of these two great streams of yogic practice and philosophy occurred around 4500 years ago subsequently influencing the development of both yogic and religious traditions of today. These two influences are evident in many religious traditions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. In many of the modern expressions of astaunga yoga both Tantric practice and Vedic philosophy are evident but with the emphasis on practice supported by universal philosophy and de-emphasis on dogma.
We find that the eight limbs of astaunga yoga were developed as a system to guide the yoga aspirant towards self realization or unity with pure consciousness or Spirit, a nondualistic goal amounting to returning “home” to the nucleus of creation, a place of eternal bliss, the Supreme Subjectivity. This unity with pure consciousness was not erected as a goal but is the results of the first seven practices of astaunga yoga. While in the body the practitioner who applies themselves to these seven practices is capable of acquiring a glimpse of this blissful state associated with the transcendental eighth limb. Let us now explore briefly the eight limbs of yoga.
We have introduced the first two limbs, Yama and Niyama, of these eight limbs previously in this series as the foundation of yoga. These two limbs constitute the ethics of yoga, Yama, five principles of social balance and Niyama, five principles of personal balance. Without these guides as a rudder, the mind remains frenetic and direction-less, un-guided by an awakened conscience. Thus the agitated mind lost at sea finds it difficult to meditate or make the fine discriminations needed to apply our thoughts, words and actions to benevolently caring for others and ourselves.
The third limb, asanas, encompasses the science of yoga exercises which creates a more subtle body leading to the development of a subtler mind. Besides increasing our flexibility and all the direct physical benefits of asansa, the underlying science of the asanas is the neurohormonal regulation of the nervous and hormonal systems to achieve emotional and psychic balance. The proper applied asanas produce a balanced body-mind that is prepared to acquire the self-knowledge of the inner most spirit through meditation. All of the practices of yoga: ethics, asanas, breath control, mindfulness, concentration, withdrawal of the senses and meditation are to acquire the ultimate self knowledge with leads to the realization of our true identity and oneness with that true self.
To enhance the practice of asanas and meditation we apply the fourth limb of astaunga yoga, pranayama, to give us breath control, allowing for the proper utilization of prana, the vital energy associated with the breath. Pranayama can be applied to asanas by pausing following exhaling for a few seconds when contracting the body in a pose and pausing for a few seconds after inhaling when straightening or opening the body. These pauses of the breath make the mind more subtle, allowing the mind to experience the stillness and subtly of a pause in activity. The same stillness of the mind occurs when we use the pause of the breath when reciting a mantra following inhalation with one syllable and exhalation of another syllable of the mantra. It is during these pauses that clarity of perception and assimilation both physically and mentally occurs. Rapid breathing with little pause between breaths creates an agitated body and mind often associated with stress. Pranayama practices with physical exercise and meditation lead to the reduction of stress and better utilization of our physical and intellectual capacity. At a psycho-spiritual level pranayama improves our intuition and ability to raise the spiritual energy (kundalini) to the higher levels of our mind/chakras.
The fifth limb is pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses and mind from the material world. This withdrawal allows the mind to focus on the more subtle layers of the mind and eventually to have the mind unite with the spirit. This effort to let go of the preoccupations with the world, our body and the everyday chatter of the mind results in the development of our inner being and living in the present beyond the buzzing confusion and attractions of everyday life.
Achieving some degree of withdrawal towards our inner life allows us to take the next step toward deep concentration or dharana, the sixth limb of astaunga yoga. Dharana is achieved by directing our attention toward a mantra or a chakra. Focusing on a positive idea like a mantra or internal psychic center like a chakra, which contains our karma, creates alternatively quieting and burst of energy. Contrary to the myth that meditation is all about relaxing the mind and body, the power of a personal mantra stirs the unexpressed karma or samskarsas and brings the needed reactions to the surface sometimes with a jolt to the body-mind. This personal mantra, as discussed in a previous entry of this series, is given by an experienced meditation teacher along with a systematic method of performing meditation including very often a chakra to focus upon. Thus mindfulness of the breath and concentration on a mantra is part and parcel of the meditation process taught by a teacher.
The seventh limb of astaunga is dhyana which translates as maintaining a steady flow of the mind. This flow of the mind can be likened to a steady stream of oil flowing from a cup. This implies that the mind’s flow state is steady and relatively uninterrupted. This is made possible as the concentration now is upon an image that represents the divine to the meditator. In most traditions this image is that of the preceptor, guru or teacher of the tradition followed by the practitioner. The image of this preceptor serves as a bridge to union with pure consciousness. It is important to recognize that the true guru is none other than the inner most self and not an external personality. In tantra or astaunga yoga the true guru is unqualified pure consciousness. The external guru is a mirror of the true guru which is none other than the internal pure consciousness or our own true self.
The eighth limb is samadhi, the final results, rather than goal, of astaunga yoga. This transcendental state occurs as the result of practicing the first seven limbs and involves having surrendered all desires and attachments to the divine in the practice of dhyana. This personal relationship witb the divine is the bridge that unites us with pure consciousness. The first level of experiencing this transcendental state is called savikalpa samadhi, which is described by Yogananda in his book autobiography of a yogi. In this state the meditator experiences blissful imagery and bodily sensations as the mind goes beyond ordinary consciousness into realms of the super-conscious mind. When the individual returns to the conscious mind they remain in a blissful state and a bit disoriented for some hours. When experiencing the more advanced state of Samadhi, nirvikapla Samadhi, the individual experiences a non-qualitative state during the Samadhi, remembering nothing associated with the loss of consciousness. Upon recovery the individual reports a very deep state of bliss and usually requires more time to recover normal consciousness.
Surrendering everything to the divine is the path to achieving this final state of transcendence and self-realization. One can achieve this state of mukti or liberation during savikalpa samadhi while in this body and return to a normal stare of mind. The second state of nirvikalpa Samadhi is associated with moksa or salvation. This moksa can be temporarily experienced or associated with the death and dissociation with the body as the final act of salvation. Moksa implies having exhausted all of ones karma and remaining in eternal bliss rather than undergoing another cycle of reincarnation.
This cycle of birth and death associated with karma and reincarnation will be the subject of our next article on meditation.
Sid Vishvmitra Jordan