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Liberation from the Afflictions which Cause Suffering:

To use Swami Vishnudevananda’s example, if we have a vasana for french pastry we may go for weeks without it bothering us until we pass a certain pastry shop and catch a glimpse of a familiar pastry in the window. Then either we rush in and make an impulsive purchase, or we are disturbed for the rest of the day with frustration or even anger as the imagination dwells on thoughts of the tempting pastries. If we manage to repeat the pleasure of consuming the pastry again, the impression of raga or attachment becomes stronger and we may find out daily route soon altered to regularly pass by the pastry shop. If we are not mindful, the pastry attachment can become an addiction. The pastry itself does not bring happiness or unhappiness, but the mind through delusion of attachment becomes convinced that happiness lies hidden in the pastry.

The potent antidote for all the kleshas is unbroken discriminative knowledge (viveka khyati). With awareness, we can catch the mind from falling into negative habit energy of attachment and fear. With awareness, even if we slip into the pain-generating habits, we learn to practice vairagya or letting go, and the whole afflictive drama is nipped in the bud. However, to maintain unbroken discrimination requires purity of mind and one-pointed concentration. These skills are extremely difficult for the untrained mind and must be developed step-by-step.

The first five steps or angas of Patanjali’s eight limbed (ashtanga) yoga provide a foundation of emotional strength to become the master of our mind rather than a slave to negative emotions. The scattered and dulled rays of the mind are gathered back into the concentrated state. The higher practices of yoga then refine the concentration into meditation and finally to the highest states of samadhi. Yoga is not just doing attractive postures and temporarily feeling more healthy and relaxed; it is a precise formula for transforming our entire lives ” from ignorance to truth, from darkness to light, and from a life identified with the impermanent material objects to spiritual immortality”.

These five steps are:

  1. Yama– ethical restrictions including non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (sat yam), non-stealing (asteya), continence (brahmacharya), and abstinence from greed (aparigraha);
  2. Niyama– practices to develop internal purity including cleanliness or purity (saucha), contentment (santosha), austerity (tapas), study of scriptures (swadhyaya), and self-surrender (ishwara pranidhana)
  3. Asana– posture
  4. Pranayama– breath control and
  5. Pratyahara– abstraction of the senses.

Each of these accessories to concentration and meditation give yoga practitioners not only survival techniques for emotional crisis, but tools to permanently transform negative emotions into their positive potential of pure joy, discriminative knowledge and freedom (pratipaksha bhavana).

Each of these practices is simple, but essential to bring about physical and emotional health. Yama or ethical discipline is the base. In raja yoga, it is called the Great Vow, (Maha Vrata). Starting with ahimsa or nonviolence, the brutal habits of the mind are curbed. Knowledge of the unity of life is cultivated. The goal of ahimsa is to disarm all hostilities in one’s life, by becoming a friend to all beings. By mastering the vow of truth (satya), the practitioners will becomes harmonized with the Divine or collective will, and whatever he or she things or speaks turns out to be true. By mastering non-stealing (asteya), one becomes a benefactor to the world and the world naturally supports its benefactor. Renouncing the tendency to objectify and exploit the world one becomes thankful for the countless gifts of life. Gratitude attracts wealth. By the establishment of celibacy (brahmacharya) life is empowered with inner strength and vigour. By abstinence from greed (aparigraha), the mind quietens down and an understanding of the purpose of birth is obtained.

……to be continued next week!

Srinivasan is the director of the Sivananda Yoga Ranch in Woodbourne,NY, and a direct disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda, having personally served and lived with Swamiji for many years.