Category Archives: Vedas

Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga

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Yoga

Yoga (union of soul and Para Brahman/God) is not limited to hatha yoga nor pranayama yoga, which are only 2 of the 8 limbs of Patanjali’s teachings of philosophy. Therefore, it cannot be sufficient. It is a shame that so many schools of yoga in the US do not teach the full 8 limbs of yoga. Many of them do not even know that the teachings are spiritual practices to help one’s soul to liberation.

Philosophical roots and influences

The Yoga Sutras incorporated the teachings of many other Indian philosophical systems prevalent at the time. Samkhya and Yoga are thought to be two of the many schools of philosophy that originated over the centuries that had common roots in the non-Vedic cultures and traditions of India. The orthodox Hindu philosophies of Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, as well as the non-orthodox Nastika systems of Jainism and Buddhism can all be seen as representing one stream of spiritual activity in ancient India, in contrast to the Bhakti traditions and Vedic ritualism which were also prevalent at the same time. The VedantaSramana traditions, and Vedic rituals can be identified with the Jnana marga/path, Bhakti marga and the Karma marga respectively that are outlined in the Bhagavad Gita.

The Eight Limbs

According to Patanjali, the eight limbs of yoga are:

  1. “Yama” — Sanskrit for “moral discipline”
  2. “Niyama” — Sanskrit for “moral observance”
  3. “Asana” — Sanskrit for “body posture”
  4. “Pranayama” — Sanskrit for “breath control”
  5. “Pratyahara” — Sanskrit for “withdrawal of the senses”
  6. “Dharana” — Sanskrit for “concentration”
  7. “Dhyana” — Sanskrit for “meditation”
  8. “Samadhi” — Sanskrit for “bliss”

The physical practice of yoga, asana, is only one step on the path toward a meaningful and purposeful life. These eight steps provide guidelines for moral and ethical actions, self-discipline, and personal spiritual direction. The effects of the eight limbs are cumulative, as each stage prepares you for the next.

Yama

A yama (YAH-mah) is one of a set of ethical standards that offers guidance on how we act toward others. “The Yoga Sutras” lists five yamas:

  • “Ahimsa” — Sanskrit for “non-harming”
  • “Satya” — Sanskrit for “refraining from dishonesty”
  • “Asteya” — Sanskrit for “non-stealing”
  • “Brahmacharya” — Sanskrit for “wise use of sexual energy”
  • “Aparigraha” — Sanskrit for “non-possessiveness”

Niyama

Similar to the yamas, the niyamas are also codes of conduct for living — only this time, what matters is how you treat yourself. A ni’yama  is one of a set of moral observances toward oneself. Turning your awareness inward helps prepare you for the later, more internally focused limbs. “The Yoga Sutras” lists five ni’yamas:

  • “Saucha” — Sanskrit for “purity”
  • “Santosha” — Sanskrit for “contentment”
  • “Tapas” — Sanskrit for “self-discipline”
  • “Svadhyaya” — Sanskrit for “self-study”
  • “Ishvara pranidhana” — Sanskrit for “surrender to a higher source”

Asana

Literally meaning “seat” or “sitting posture,” asana refers to a body position used in a yoga practice. Through practicing asanas, you learn discipline and concentration which are necessary for the later limbs. Moving and stretching your body also helps you prepare for long periods of seated meditation.

Pranayama

Although prana’yama  can be translated as “restraint of the breath,” it refers to more than simply holding your inhalations. In yoga, the life force energy is called “prana.” Practicing prana’yama includes yogic breath control and regulation techniques. These exercises are intended to manipulate the flow of prana in order to bring about steadiness of mind and changes in consciousness.

Through these first four limbs, you learn to control your “outer” world of personality and senses. This emerging awareness of your true self helps to prepare yourself for the deep, inner journey of the next four limbs.

Pratyahara

Literally meaning “withdrawal of the senses,” pratya’hara  is the practice of tuning out the distractions of the outside world. Focusing your mind inward allows you to detach from the trials and fluctuations of life and see their challenges in a new light. You can view your habits and patterns more objectively, becoming aware of things the way they are, instead of reacting to the world.

Dharana

Dhar’ana  is the practice of concentration or complete attention. It’s the ability to focus entirely on a single point — to be completely in the moment. Once you have withdrawn your senses through pratya’hara, you can slow down your thoughts and concentrate on a single thing. Athletes often refer to this mental space as being “in the zone.” You can practice dhar’ ana by bringing your attention to a single sensation, object, or thought. Some examples include focusing on:

  • Your breath
  • The flicker of a candle’s flame
  • An image of a deity, saint, or inspirational figure
  • The repetition of a sound, syllable, or phrase
  • A value or virtue, such as love, compassion, or joy

Dhyana

With dh’yana  you turn your focus entirely inward. This is the practice of deep meditation to attain self-realization. In this second-to-last stage of yoga, you become aware of the flow of all life and existence. Unlike the single-pointed concentration of dharana, dhyana is awareness without a singular focus. Your mind becomes still and your thoughts cease. You simply are.

Samadhi

Literally meaning “a putting together,” sa’madhi is supreme bliss, the highest stage of meditation has three stages. Also understood as spiritual ecstasy or enlightenment, samadhi is the state in which you transcend your lower self and merge with the universe. You become aware of your connection to all living things, to your higher self, and to the Divine. The freedom, joy, and fulfillment brought forth through samadhi creates peace, internally and in the world. It is the ultimate “goal” of yoga.

Spiritual Practice

Practicing the Yoga Path will improve your life.  It does not have to be done excluding the other paths taught in the Bhavadgita nor the Vedic ceremonies.  Sanatana Dharma, the ancient righteous path, has rich traditions for Self-Realization no matter which path or paths we take.

Adi Shankara’s Gems of Wisdom

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Some quotes from Adi Sankara’s Prasnottara Ratna Malika (Question – Answer-Gem Necklace) in Sanskrit, which is meant to elevate the seeker, by providing answers to doubts that may arise in the mind of the devotees:

Adi Shankaracharya - Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam

What is the most desirable for human beings?   Life dedicated to one’s and others’ welfare.
What is Charity? Expecting no return.
What do those who have destroyed dark ignorance specially urge repeatedly?   Charity along with sweet words,

knowledge with humility, courage with patience,

wealth with renunciation.

These four auspicious things are hard to attain.

Particle Fever and Mind

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I was watching Particle Fever, a PBS program about the physicists at CERN trying to get the particles in their huge collider to smash into each other.  This was a huge project of many years to figure out how with the use of magnets to make it work.

Super Symmetry and multiverse.  There was a wonderful graphic showing the multiverse as almost entirely space with occasional universes like ours.  It looked like what the idea of reality could be with only 1/4 of all being made manifest where we are and in other spots.  Super Symmetry is the idea that there is something, some force that is not random keeping the known universe together, otherwise it would disintegrate at some point.

When the physicists discussed the “black holes”, they were positing that they would be made up of particles yet to be discovered.  Clearly, they are unable to imagine anything in the universe that would not be some kind of matter.

Physicists are for the most part materialists, not being able to imagine any alternative.

Yet the Vedas clearly say that Brahman creates matter of varying densities in each Yuga that are expressed in 100 manvantaras of cycles of 3-1/2 billion years, and then an equal amount of time in which the manifest universe has been withdrawn.  We do not have the ability to imagine what an unmanifest field could be, but that does not mean that it does not happen from time to time.  We know that 3/4 of the multiverse never manifests, but we cannot imagine that either.  We cannot imagine in our human state what Brahman is.

Man – Manu, manifest, manvantara.  This is not a coincidence of syllables but rather an underlying concept.  Man in any English or Sanskrit word means mind at its root. The manifest universe is created by Mind.

Man is distinguished from animals by mind, a concept much more encompassing than intellect.  In the Book of Genesis, Jehova/Yaweh/the All in All is said to have created humans in his image.  Brahman is the entire field-without-end of Mind, Consciousness, and we like Brahman are more than animals, we share Mind, Consciousness.

When Jesus says to his followers that whatever he has done (with his siddhis,) they can do greater things, he is talking about the ability of Mind (his and ours) to manifest our desires.  This can be done through directing our shakti at the higher chakras (3-6) by our minds to make manifest. This ability can be used in prayer to make healing manifest, etc.

[Woman is not a word dependent on male superiority, as some Second Wave feminists have thought, but rather mind with a womb.  The circle plus graphic is very clear, as is the male circle and arrow showing life generation potential.]