“Take my Yoga and learn from me, because my Yoga is easy!” (Jesus)
The aim of this little essay is neither to sing praises to the one of the multiple self-improvement methods nor to convert blindly every human being to the other religion; but to provide a brief analysis, given below, of the system, which is the quintessence and the essence of all the practices and paths of self-improvement of a man.
Nowadays, when the number of yoga followers is constantly growing (up), it is particularly pity to find faction among them. In order to sort out the matter and exhaust the disputes on the practical value and weight of this or that yoga school and yoga method, let’s ponder over the topic.
First of all it is necessary to answer the question, what is it, the self-development and where this path leads (to)? I tend to believe that for the majority of the readers does not face such a question. No doubt it leads to the God, no doubt to the realization of the Self, liberation from material and spiritual captivity (Maya
), it leads to Absolute reality and Immortality. It is worth noticing that people not practicing yoga can also pursue the same aim. Sometimes they are not so far from the common laws and values enunciated in yoga as we and they think.
Nobody would deny that the process of embarking on the spiritual path begins with the pious behavior. This is the very beginning, the cradle and the basis of the future spiritual growth, a universal formula for all seasons, for all the existing and future civilizations. Acquisition of physical, moral and spiritual purity obliges a man to respect certain rules of behavior in the daily life. Kindness, honesty, non-violence, non accumulation of material wealth, mercy are maxims of the pious life are known to everybody from the very childhood. Ideally, vegetarianism, moderateness in eating (mithara
), and sexual temperance (brahmacharya
) – all these qualities put together form obligatory basic “packet” of good qualities which serves as a pass from the world of pashu
(human-animal) to Divyaloka
(the abode of the Gods). These are the first two steps of Ashtanga yoga - Yama
, aren’t they? “There can be no spiritual empire without Yama and Niyama. Without Yama and Niyama it is not possible to reach the spiritual heights”.
(BKS Iyengar, “Light on Ashtanga Yoga”). Ahimsa
(“religious vows”, following the devotional duties), tapas
(asceticism, repentance, sadhana
). Does only Hinduism contains these notions? Ardent compliance with these rules sooner or later brings a person to the understanding of the destination of the human body as the God’s temple demanding careful and attentive attitude to it, demanding shaucha
(keeping it physically and spiritually pure): “Healthy body - healthy spirit”. “First remove the physical impurities of the body and then begin the spiritual practices!” Asana
, physical and breathing exercises (3d and 4th steps of Ashtanga Yoga) in this case become a natural need of the body in order to keep the body pure. Improving the sadhana
(we will now use exactly this word for our systematic exercises), the person acquires the necessary control of the mind and body and becomes their sole master. Absorbed by the beauty and the riches of the inner world, the mind distracts more rarely to the objects of the external world, the concentration is acquired easier and more often the practitioner chooses the beloved and inspiring image of the God as the object of the concentration. We are not the same as we were before: the features become more delicate, the body - fragrant, the mind find peace and harmony… we are more often surrounded by pleasant people, we are satisfied with little and this simplicity of life attracts. “What our meditate (thoughts), that we become”
. In Ashtanga yoga these steps of the spiritual growth are named Pratyahara
, exactly this practice (distraction of attention from the external world and concentration) finally disciplines and help to hold the spiritual path (Dharana
is derived from the word “dhri”- hold). Only that person can be called bhakta
(the true devotee of the God) who learned the practice in perfection. Actually from this very moment the real work at self-development begins (Sanyama
, the practice of the 3highest steps of Ashtanga Yoga). This is the time of new discoveries and revelations, inner struggle and exhausting pilgrimage in the depth of the Self. Unbearable mental strain, yearning of the soul for the freedom, the source of which is hidden in itself and on the one hand can give us powers to keep on going further, till our karmas
won’t exhaust, till the memory of our “animal” past won’t burn in the fire of asceticism and till the cool light of Atma
won’t glimmer through the stratum of the flesh.”On the way to the light, lighter becomes more and more”. Every time we get deeper and deeper in our consciousness in search of the desired tranquility of the mind. The flesh doesn’t attract us any more; the only thing we see in it is the source of sufferings. “To him who possesses discernment, all personal life is misery, because it ever waxes and wanes, is ever afflicted with restlessness, makes ever new dynamic impresses in the mind; and because all its activities war with each other.” “Through purity a withdrawal from one's own bodily life, a ceasing from infatuation with the bodily life of others.”
(Yoga Sutras 2:15, 2:40). We persistently seek the solitude, sometimes the solitude from ourselves, from continuous stream of consciousness. Our only desire is the desire to the Liberation. This is the seventh step of Ashtanga Yoga - meditation or Dhyana
. We are in the end of the journey. Just think about it. Only seven seconds of the tranquil mind (the 8th step - Samadhi
) separates us from the Eternity now! But what a long and thorny path it was, how many lives it took us to get this final destination, to this moment.
Deliberately not going into details, skipping difficult aspects of the Teaching, I wanted to make it clear: Ashtanga Yoga is not an artificial method of the self development, once made up by somebody, but gradual evolutionary process (or rather involution, regarding the way to the God as the way home, process Nivritti
), that happens with each of us, no matter what doctrine we follow. Each of us is on this uneasy way to the Self, is self developing on one of the 8 steps of Yoga. Sooner or later we are destined to pass these 8 steps to the God. God grunt us to do it in this life.
Further to the written above, I would like to say a few words about the peculiarities that can help to identify that you follow this path. Every other step deals with the more and more subtle body (kosha
), the longer the memories about the results achieved are kept the more subtle the kosha
is (we would remind you that, 5 koshas
are distinguished: annamaya
). And the first two of them destroy after death and can transmit the information to the other more subtle bodies only indirectly as sumskaras
(the imprint of the previous life experience). Thereby, following the rules of pious behavior require strict and constant (hourly, daily) their observance throughout the hole life. This is just a necessary propitious soil. The “memory” of the physical body also requires regular work at it; otherwise there will be lack of elasticity of ligaments and muscles. The work with a more subtle pranamaya kosha requires at list once in three days make pranayama (breathing exercises), thus maintaining the cleanness of the Nadi (energy canals) and centers. The mind, withdrawn from the external objects to the inner world, is the evidence of a certain success in pratyahara
, which calls you to practice more and more frequently. If you are a success in dharana
, by recitation mantras and making japa
, you won’t lose it even if you left the practice for years, the memory of the subtle body involved in the practice is so strong that it will bring the fruits of the practice as soon as possible after you begin it again. The incomparable with something else gift of meditation (dhyana
), which is the fruit of the laborious sanyama
practice, indicates that you entered vijnyanamaya
and anandamaya kosha
and that this experience will pass (or has already passed) to the next life. “The yogi, who acquired the wisdom of concentration, will repeat again and again the samskara of this wisdom”
(Vyasa Bhashya 1:49). And at last the only moment of Samadhi
that deals with the Shivamaya kosha
won’t lose the imprints of the experience throughout the centuries.
Summarizing written above, these 8 steps can be characterized as successive steps of purification and transformation of all the system of bodies (from the physical one to the most subtle) that takes place till the moment, when the idea of these subtle bodies and illusive ego won’t disappear in the ecstasy of Samadhi
. That is all! We are free! You are That! Budha, Purusha, unborn and eternal at the same time…
People often ask me the question: how can such religious and philosophical groups be regarded in the frames of Ashtanga Yoga, such as the flight of thought of Advayta Vedanta, the “atheism” of Gaudapada and the words of Buddha, Non-method of Kashmiri sages and the moment of self recognition of Pratyabhijna, who also successfully lead their followers to the self realization? – I don’t see any contradiction in that, but the best confirmation. Ask yourself, did the Prince Gautama embark and finish that long and exhausting path , by exposing his body and spirit to the difficulties and never lasting challenge (yoga-tapasya
) and only after that set under the tree in Padmasana, concentrated and after said that he is ready to leave his false ideas of the mind and the body?! Wasn’t Shri Punji a passionate worshipper (bhakta
) of Krishna, who had repeated the Mahamantra million times, before understanding the unity with Him?! And who knows how many lives did Sri Ramana Maharisi spend near Sivalingam in Arunachaleshwar so that he stopped breathing and the mind found eternal Peace! 8 steps to the God is the path followed during many lives (it doesn’t matter whether you know about it or not), unstoppable flow of dharmas
and good karmas
each time crystallizes in more and more sweet fruits of Jnana
(true knowledge and wisdom). You can successfully practice bhakti
or any other yoga you like, being the follower of Kashmiri Shaivism, or even the practitioner of the method which is completely different from the canons of the Hinduism. Being a yogi, nath, tantrist, Buddhist.., fire worshipper.., but you won’t evade 8 steps to the God - the Self-existent system of the self development which is the essence and which is hidden in the great number of the incarnations, and that is why it is not obvious to many people.
Ashtanga Yoga is not just the oldest method of yoga, not the sect and especially not a new competitive trend of the fitness centers, but it is natural form of any spiritual development in general, universal model and the axiom of the gradual transformation, the one of the illusive self to the Divine Self, one and eternal. Appeared in the first century B.C. in the Sutras of Rishi Patanjali, Ashtanga Yoga acquired the status of the independent philosophical system, one of the six schools of Hinduism and became a powerful method in the minds of those who understand and accept the simplicity of its Truths. As I, you do accept…