Eight Spheres of Union by Brahmi Ishaya
Practicing the Presence
About 2500 years ago, the Maharishi Patanjali distilled essential wisdom about the union of individual awareness with universal consciousness into 195 pithy statements known as the Yoga Sutras. They succinctly compass the physiological, psychological and subtle body aspects associated with Union (Yoga). It is unlikely that any single translation or commentary will ever compass their subtle profundities, because they are simple declarations. They are subject to interpretation, but not subject to dispute.
In the second division (pada) of the Yoga Sutras, he detailed the eight anga of consciousness: observances, actions, postures, breathing, and withdrawal of attention, focus, resonance and samadhi.
One meaning of anga is limbs. They came to be taught as tools for structuring yoga, maybe because limbs of the body have particular functions and so might be thought of as tools. Also, they began to be taught as steps or a sequence of actions which, being perfected, lead to Union. Either error says these functions (expressions) of consciousness can be isolated from each other and from the totality. They can’t; they reflect and support each other and rise to perfection together, for they comprise the totality of life—from the gross to the most refined.
Patanjali gave a straightforward unveiling of human nature and natural law, unattached to tradition or religion. The Sad-guru, the Eternal Teacher, is the Lord, all-inclusive Brahman, the Source. There is no indication that belief in, or devotion to, a guru, teacher, religion or gods is necessary to unveil full human consciousness. Indeed, he makes it clear that individual passionate commitment is the primary requisite. It is a pity that his description of an uncomplicated unfolding has become interpreted as a weighty and intricate undertaking. The observances and actions have been codified as vows and samadhi presented as the goal/result of the preceding seven.
The shift of emphasis nourishes the notion that suffering is needed to end suffering, thereby tilting awareness toward inherent weakness rather than inherent strength. Even now, Eastern and Western traditions both perpetuate duality by dividing life into sacred and secular. When life is taken up as a seamless garment, experience naturally transforms.
Another meaning of anga is subordinate divisions, departments or spheres. Of course, the One has none of these. But, if, for the sake of communication, the Eight Spheres of Union are accepted as aspects of Unity, they can be approached with clarity. The spheres are not self-generating energies, but lie as if dormant, covered by impressions and thoughts, until awakened. They are the Treasure of Grace: Divine Order functioning and knowable in the body, and as they are drawn into experience, their extensive interlacing discloses the Unity of Life. Consciousness doesn’t rely on them for fulfillment; they require conscious attention in order to be enlivened in the phenomenal world.
There are no group tours to enlightenment. Every person is an infinite, sovereign creator of his own world, whether he recognizes it, or not. In setting intent, it is ordained, Let there be… and behold! it is so. The creator determines quality of life in his world that is populated with his mind-born children. Each human life, then, is a universe: six and a half billion people on planet Earth mean six and a half billion universes.
By habitual thoughts, life is situated in heaven or hell; but the mind is not absolute. Thoughts will come, because they are a part of life, but it’s always possible to choose the type of thought that is entertained. The mind’s sovereignty over life is illusory; without direction, it is helpless to know peace. The final say belongs to Intellect, which has the discernment needed to train the mind to appropriate service. Mind is subtler and therefore more powerful than the body; intellect is subtler and so more powerful than the mind. The Source is more subtle still. Intellect is Soul, the seat of awareness in the body.
Cultural patterns show the collective investment in maintaining the status quo. An infinite Source must have infinite expressions, but humans generally perceive life through the lens of cultural patterns. Ideas are unfruitful without supportive action, and habitual actions without a solid foundation sabotage the fulfillment of potential. Innocence is the springboard from which experience leaps over the walls of tradition. Without innocence, understanding stays at the level of theory, opinion or belief.
Replace the word understanding with substance (sub=under; stance=standing/position), and the primary meaning surfaces. True understanding integrates essence with form: the Nature of everything is known as pure consciousness. Belief systems structured by the mind rely on sensory evidence, yet essential Nature is beyond the reach of the senses. Impressions shade perceptions but are powerless to affect Reality. Even one unfiltered encounter with the Unchanging can be enough to wipe out what is without substance.
discrimination, or knowledge, discloses the splendor of wisdom.”
Practice, applied to the anga, designates a profound commitment to Life, the practice of the Presence of God. There is no implication that human nature needs reconstruction or even modification; or that choices contrary to Nature are entailed.
All of life is troubled by the notion that human nature is fallen; it is part of the belief in duality. The wonderful truth is that human nature is the nature of the Self, the nature of God. The idea of impurity comes in viewing it through the dust raised by the flurry of ideations; the clear experience of Beauty is clouded. Only mention impurity and thoughts about morality and feelings of guilt surface. Moral qualities are not involved. Impure describes the condition of living without insight into the nature of Reality. If the Natures of the self and the Self were distinct, then duality would be real and Union, impossible.
The five inner disciplines (yamas: deaths) are ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha. If they are approached as obligations, rather than as natural companions in Life, latent self-judgment is awakened, demanding harsh physical testing. Opening of consciousness can be and should be gentle. These disciplines are without opposites in reality. Patanjali never implies they are difficult to know. Yama does mean deaths, but in this context, rein, curb, or forbearance is appropriate and, perhaps, clearer. They are not perfected by making a mood that satisfies the surface level of the mind, because transformation is not instigated from the surface level. The mind, unaided, has neither desire nor capacity to modify its patterns. It accesses transforming power when it is directed by Intellect, which has the necessary ability to discern.
The first inner discipline is ahimsa: harmlessness. Just as lava is belched into the atmosphere from the depths of a volcano, the self-violence that seethes in the caldron of the sub-conscious explodes into the world. Self-violence is always born of compromise, the denial of the heart, from fear. The fear reveals itself as judgment, unforgiveness, control issues, harsh words and brutal acts, and escalates to unresolved factional and international conflicts.
Compromise has been turned into an expression of love by the mind (which always justifies and defends its perceptions), when in fact compromise is a subtle, virulent poison transmitted from one generation to another. It comes from the idea that love can be lost. Willingness to find a middle ground is taken as an expression of love or goodwill. One or both parties accept less than they do want—or even what they don’t want—in order to get at least a part of what they would like to have. Eventually, the complete expression of life is compromised.
Personality is a limited, unbeneficial configuration built and maintained by the mind. Taken as a definition of being, it is certain to clash with other personalities, each of which has its own definition of being. Understand that the multiple human expressions of the Infinite are not personalities; by definition, personality indicates an entity separated from all others. Even babies have distinctive traits; from birth, interaction with their world lends reality to the coloration called personality that shimmers on the surface of the mind. Forms are distinct; there is one essence for all.
The reverse of personality is innocence, or harmlessness: if the mind is not held to a specific identity with its likes, dislikes, habits, responses and history, then the possibilities for joy increase beyond imagining. The usual experience of life is a string of compromises, in which memories and expectations are permitted to steal the moment. Control, even when administered with the softest words and sweetest smile, is violence. (I do not speak about the training of small children: they should be directed toward wholeness. Training based in the caretakers’ own skewed perceptions predictably incorporates emotional, if not physical, violence.)
Impersonal Nature is not violent. Violent behavior comes from unclear thoughts, and it is not certain that below the human level, thoughts, as such, exist. A few experiments have seemed to indicate that subtler levels of interaction can be enhanced in some animals. Still, hunger or the protection of offspring drives one animal to kill another. At the cellular level, through natural design, white cells destroy others. Tornados, tsunamis, earthquakes and other so-called acts of God are intense physical manifestations, but they are not punishments by an angry God. With good reason, Paradise is pictured as a temperate environment not subject to extremes: if the highest level of awareness on Earth belongs to humans, the collective consciousness is mirrored in the physical world. While the reality of human Nature goes unrecognized, we will find the environment violent; as awareness evolves, the world experience will reflect the changes.
Ahimsa’s power in the unseen realms is more obvious if it is translated as innocence, or harmlessness. Innocence is not weakness; harmlessness is not helplessness. Indeed, ahimsa is a subtle quality corresponding to purity of Life, which violence can’t touch, or threaten. The experience of samadhi, through unfailing return of focus to the Unity of the Self, wipes out perception of otherness that could threaten. Harmlessness not only avoids doing injury, but also is incapable of doing injury at any time, to any being. Then, we can see that as awareness goes beyond the personal level, the possibility of harm at any level ends.
The impact of satya is deeper than the usual translation of truthfulness implies; literally, it means having the quality of the Eternal, which puts it precisely at the foundational level of Life. The best efforts to live in truth fail while the mind acts without direction. Beliefs about truth are not the experience of truth; and they are mutually exclusive: one can hold onto ideas, or one can directly know. A Greek word, hamartia, translated as sin in some versions of the New Testament, means missing the mark. In aiming for a mind-created target, (even if that target is enlightenment or heaven) one can’t be certain of hitting it smack on, because it is located in the constantly changing, outer realm of duality.
Truth and untruth seem to belong to the many pairs of opposites that afflict life, but truth has no opposite. Consider: the unreal is not; it has never existed and never will. Regardless how many people support an idea, belief doesn’t modify reality. The Earth looks flat, the sun seems to rise and set, roads appear to come to a point in the distance, and separate forms give the impression that consciousness is fragmented. The organs of sense are tools for physical life, yet they don’t function at optimal effectiveness. First, they act within a limited range of vibrations; second, emotional quality colors physical experience.
The value given to an experience is determined by the belief that the mind is capable of effectively ordering life. Any kind of thought at all may show up at any time; if it is not invited to stay, and fed, it will disappear. Thoughts that flow in harmony with truth produce speech that is aligned as well; harmonious actions are the natural consequence. When the mind enjoys the quality of the Eternal, it infuses all of life with that quality.
Asteya: non-stealing, is not limited to material goods, or even more subtle goods, such as reputation, hopes, dreams, credit for success, responsibility for failure, and more. The impersonal energies of Nature—creation, maintenance and destruction—weave a tapestry of circumstances that offer endless options for experience. The mind does its very best to tidy up the possibilities, but is bound to fail. It takes responsibility for matters out of its reach: other people’s emotions; the results of actions; precise knowledge of the future. In short, it tries to direct the entire unfolding space-time field of human life.
The mind is not intended to direct Life, but to serve it, and like every servant, it needs to be trained by an authority with a clear understanding of what is suitable. In the Book of Proverbs, it is said that three things disturb the earth; one is a servant when he rules. A servant guided appropriately becomes efficient and valuable, and finds the opportunity for service much greater than imagined. Intellect (Soul) has the discernment needed to bring the mind into faultless service.
The ultimate application of asteya is not robbing God. One might wonder how anything could be stolen from the Eternal, which is not subject to gain or loss. Certainly, nothing real can be taken from or added to it; still, in the context of relative life, God is robbed when anything is taken as personal. Those who believe that they have a private life rob God. Those who take credit for success and responsibility for failure rob God. Those who believe that thoughts and actions originate with them rob God. Those who judge anything of life as imperfect rob God. In other words: wherever an individual I is exalted as having independent existence, or whenever the value of any expression of Life is deprecated, God is robbed. Appreciation for the gift of the present moment soon uncovers the unity of Life.
In India the charyas are students, from the verb char, which means both occupied with and wandering, roaming about. As part of their renunciation of the common pleasures and comforts of life, they often traveled about, perhaps with a teacher, sleeping where they found shelter, begging for food, and without marriage or sexual relationships. The common understanding of brahmacharya has become celibacy or self-restraint. The purpose is to control sexual activity, and thereby end addiction to sensory pleasures. Sex is just the tip of the iceberg of sensual addiction. A repressed craving will pop up in another form in another part of life until satisfied or transcended. Unless and until a deeper delight is introduced, any pleasure is hard to relinquish. Even when the desire for appetitive satisfaction ends, the habit of action may continue. Inertia functions at all levels of life.
Nobody wants life to be out of balance. However it may seem, everyone does the best he can to cope with the challenges of life. The search for increasingly dangerous thrills is at heart a distorted step toward transcendence, a flawed way to live in the moment. No dilemma can be resolved until a quality is introduced that can cut through perceptions, lifting life to a higher level of understanding. Physical compliance can be forced, but the inner experience doesn’t change without surrender of former ideas.
Attention on the Infinite, the quality of being engaged with the Infinite, and the practice of the Infinite as translations have the spirit of brahmacharya. Restraint is covert violence that can quickly become overt. Re-channeling or re-directing energy is gentle and more effective to create stability, because it uses approach rather than avoidance. In avoidance, an eye must be kept on what is to be avoided, instead of what is wanted, and it is possible to end up in an equally undesired condition.
The mind is loyal, even when untrained. It looks for happiness everywhere in the material world, and, having chosen for one thing, continues mechanically considering whether another option might be better. In its ignorance that pleasure and pain are not different as to source or qualities, it keeps on moving, keeps on moving from one thing to another, one activity to another, one possession to another. The body, by its inability to cope with incessant mental activity, is brought to a deep level of fatigue. That fatigue interrupts its smoother performance, all the way to the cellular level.
Why should mental activity tire the body? In the womb and after birth for a while, what look like haphazard movements of a baby are in fact Nature’s way of creating linguistic ability. Every phoneme produces a particular muscular response. In time, with growth, the movements become too subtle for the unaided eye to notice, but they don’t stop. The mind works primarily through concepts and concepts require words. While the mind is busy with thoughts—most of which are inconsequential—the body responds with the ingrained muscular responses. Even when just sitting, it is not at rest if the mind is active. With one-pointed awareness, the mind quietens and the body comes to a deep level of rest, even though involved in physical activity!
Through a regular meditative-contemplative practice, the mind reaches the supreme Joy of unity, thereby satisfying its natural function of increasing the experience of happiness. Concurrently, by familiarity with samadhi the bodily appetites are naturally brought into balance without strain.
Aparigraha is non-grasping, the final inner discipline. Stinginess, greed, compulsive buying or collecting, and co-dependent relationships are a very few of the ways grasping shows itself materially. Less obvious are stubbornness of belief, clinging to memories (good or bad), idolizing traditions, and the tendency to quickly make territorial claims. Have you noticed that in regularly scheduled meetings by the second gathering many attendees have chosen “their” seats, and really don’t like it if someone else happens to sit there? Grasping is a kind of lust which can apply to any form, any object at all—even one as trivial as the seat in a meeting. Of course the natural ebb and flow of life is hampered! Of course daily life becomes burdensome!
Desire grows inordinate from repression and from indulgence. Where is steadiness to be found between joyless denial and joyless excess? Appetitive impulses are not evil in themselves; they are natural functions to serve life. Suffering comes with personalized impulses and the certainty that “ownership” is a valid and desirable state, as well as a possibility. Happiness based on possessing is short-lived; the distress it brings is ongoing. What isn’t owned can’t be lost. This doesn’t mean that objects of life or family and friends can’t be or shouldn’t be enjoyed – certainly not. But it is true that people begin by having objects and eventually the objects have them. Impersonal being neither gains, nor has, nor loses; impersonal desires flow in complete harmony with each other to increase the universal experience of happiness.
The niyamas: outer disciplines echo and reflect the inner disciplines, but their power is directed to dissolve the challenges of ordinary circumstances that come from the afflictions (kleshas): ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, obstinacy of daily life (habit). The outer disciplines are shaucha, samtosha, tapas, svadhyaya and ishvara pranidhanani: purity, contentment, austerity, study of the Self and the willingness to surrender to the Lord. Remember, the afflictions are movements of mind, they are not Self-existent energies; the niyamas describe the natural state which should be humanity’s consistent experience.
The quality of shaucha: purity, is impersonal, therefore not connected to morality. The idea of morality has its origin in the desire for union, but guidelines always seem to turn into laws, promises of fulfillment become commandments and morality replaces purity.
Hydrogen and oxygen combine to produce water, which can take three forms; yet they stay unchanged. Ink or dirt added to water hides its clarity, but the water itself continues pure. The essence of everything is consciousness, from the smallest, subtlest throb of energy to the unimaginably immensity of Space. It can’t be increased, decreased, altered or destroyed; yet an accretion of impressions can hide it, exactly as very, very tiny particles go unnoticed until they build up in sufficient quantity to take on a collective identity—dust—and prevent clear perception of the surface on which it lies. An accumulation of impressions is called personal life and impurity lies in the accumulation’s ability to shade the truth.
From purity of focus, the senses lose their power to distract and the field of action is emptied. Purity of Life blesses all creation.
Does samtosha: contentment imply passivity, impotence or lack of spontaneity? On the contrary, it is the fullest appreciation for and enjoyment of what is, exactly as it is. The mind rests in the joy of being. We could say that it is praise expressed through silence: the present is complete; nothing is left to ask for.
Nor is it a question of resignation. Such an attitude quickly becomes a toxic pool of bitterness. The best the mind can do is to imitate the actions it thinks belong to contentment. It can’t decide to be content; it continues trying to generate happiness. Until it unites with the supreme Joy, it is bound to move.
Contentment meets Life spontaneously. Having erased the past and unconcerned about the future, it experiences change as moving from perfection to perfection.
The next action, tapas, may be the most misunderstood. It is safe to say that the violence perpetrated as a way to union is directly linked to that misunderstanding. Austerity is the usual translation, one that can lead to inducing all kinds of physical discomfort or actual pain in order to overcome the body. Harsh living conditions, stringent diets, lashings and other self-imposed torture—the list of brutalities inflicted and accepted is long.
Useful boundaries is a rendition that allows for a more positive application. Relatively few people have learned to love themselves truly; the best most can manage is self-pity, which is the root of self-indulgence. Destructive habits and relationships are rationalized because of the secret satisfactions that they bring—satisfactions that go unrecognized because they apply at unconscious levels. When it is seen that self-pity is a twisted form of Love, it takes less effort to turn the energy given to destructive choices toward expansive ones. Useful boundaries are helpful to narrow focus and unleash power that was formerly dispersed through outward movements.
Literally, tapas means heat. Understanding it as the flame of love prevents the distasteful inferences that might come from other translations. What is done for love is so much easier, so much more delightful than what is done from obligation! The energy of love flows to align with the object of desire, in this case, the Self. Love for the Divine is a heat that burns away whatever stands between the Lover and the Beloved.
Sometimes we think of the individual as the Lover and the Divine as the Beloved. The opposite is also true. If Divine Love were not the Source of Everything, such a thought would be beyond the mind’s aptitude, impossible to conceive, because it would be outside of the nature of Reality.
It is not unusual to find duty mistaken for love. Possibly that happens because of the collective belief that love is demonstrated by persisting in an action or relationship that has become arduous. See how much I suffer? See how much I love! is a common attitude. To call it commitment is like putting makeup on a corpse: the body may look a little better, but the reality of its condition hasn’t been changed in the slightest. Dogged continuance with anything out of a sense of duty or from fear of what others might think is injurious to the one who does so, and dishonest toward the object of duty. Eventually it causes physical illnesses, or erupts in hostility, even against a stranger.
Love carries no burdens. To determine whether duty or love is the basis of an action, only one question needs to be answered: Does the commitment expand joy, or diminish it?
The study of the Self, svadhyaya, is not the scholastic work of putting time and energy into learning about anything, whether a physical or mental practice; however, it is closer to the study of dance, music or an art form, in that it can only be learned by doing. For most of human history, information was preserved orally. Even after writing developed, a miniscule part of the population could access written records; everyday matters continued to be transmitted through speech. Beginning around the turn of the 20th Century, in Western culture at least, literacy of the general population became nearly universal. Since then, technology has allowed the quantity of information available to proliferate beyond anything that our ancestors could have imagined.
As with most aspects of duality, the abundance of written words is two-edged. It offers endless options for distraction; and it provides a fast way to learn about possibilities. While a possibility remains outside the frame of reference, if it should happen it might well be ignored, or misinterpreted, or explained away. Then, too, words of sages can shake habits of thought. Even so, union depends on individuality’s movement for change. That is the opening declaration in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Now begins instruction with regard to what happens when intent is set toward unity of individual awareness with universal consciousness.
The study of the Self is direct experience of the Self, corresponding to the fourth inner discipline, brahmacharya. With svadhyaya, unity is brought into the physical level to function in activity. It is the point where the filter of shared experiences is let go and a person—for himself, by himself—applies to his life the Beauty which alone has value.
In one experiment, five monkeys were put in a cage with a ladder in the center leading up to a huge pile of bananas. When one of them started up the ladder, the rest of them were given electric shocks, with the result that very soon any monkey that tried to get to the bananas was attacked and beaten by the others. Soon, the temptation of the bananas wasn’t enough to make any of the monkeys try to climb the ladder. Then, the researchers replaced one of the monkeys with a new one. He immediately went for the bananas, and the others quickly pulled him down and beat him. A second one was substituted and the same thing happened, with the first substitute enthusiastically taking part in beating the new one. A third one was changed and the same sequence took place again. One by one, they were all replaced until five completely “innocent” monkeys that had never received electric shocks were in the cage. Even so, if any one of them tried to get the bananas, the rest of them violently prevented it. The bananas stayed untouched. If the five new monkeys could be asked why a monkey going for the bananas was beaten up, it’s a good bet that they would say, “I don’t know. That’s just what’s done around here.”
Much of human behavior has the same basis: it is done because that’s what is done. Power is handed over to some indeterminate they, some tradition, some belief system. What they decide usually introduces violence into relationships (as with the monkeys) and prevents enjoyment of natural desires (the bananas).
Joy is directly proportionate to the awareness with which life is lived.
Ishvara pranidhana means surrender to the Lord. In the Brahma Sutras of Badarayana, the Upanishads, other ancient texts, Ishvara: the Lord refers specifically to Brahman. It designates the universal consciousness that is the only Reality; the infinite Self without attributes, so far beyond anything accessible by the senses that it alone is worthy to be called the Lord. No imagery attaches to the title, even though it is said, He.
Pranidhana is attention given to; directing thoughts toward; profound contemplation; meditation upon; placing in front of. It is not to be understood as submission to exterior force or pressure! That is obvious because of the particular form used: pranidhanani means the willingness to surrender.
Saying I am willing, I am willing…, and yet doing nothing, is all too common. In true willingness, in true surrender, nothing is held back. If a suicide mission needs five volunteers, and 7 respond, even the two who don’t go have essentially laid down their lives. Patanjali draws attention to a subtle level, well below observable activity, in the Heart. It takes surrender at this level to bring about radical change.
The difference between the form used here and the form used in the first Pada is important. There, the context for surrender was inactivity contrasted with action. Here, he emphasizes that union necessitates dropping below the mind’s directives so that the Self becomes the Lord of Life.
Surrender is about laying everything of life—feelings, thoughts, actions, impulses, beliefs, habits, attachments and aversions—before the Lord (although He is not a person, not even an infinite one). Returning life to Life calls for letting go of personal perspectives. Nothing is lost by yielding them up; they are powerless anyway to produce peace and joy. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna encourages Arjuna’s surrender to Him, not as the Infinite-in-form, but simply as the Infinite. No other option is viable, for union.
Of the hundreds of thousands of people practicing yoga asanas, few seem to use them as other than postures with varying degrees of difficulty to help release stress. Knowledge of what they represent goes missing. Those who use them in conjunction with meditation, reach profounder levels of stability in life, even if they are not directly looking for union. The significance of the word asana is not limited to the traditional postures, but includes as well halting, stopping, encamping, abiding, dwelling, from the Sanskrit verb as: to do anything without interruption.
People constantly assume mental and emotional postures that are bricks in the walls of their castle: their personal life. The positions they take give importance to their individuality; it is not exaggeration to say that the idea of vulnerability terrifies the mind. It’s easy to see the link between non-grasping and this sphere of consciousness. When a mind-based stance is held for an extended period, subsequent movement becomes awkward, sometimes painful, just as happens in the physical realm. From the willingness to flow with Life by dwelling in the experience of the Self, the currents of Natural Law carry us forward with ease and grace.
Patanjali recognized the asanas’ power to effect major changes in awareness. They do augment flexibility, and the aptitude for holding a pose easily for longer periods grows with practice. While the mind remains active, restlessness of the body is unavoidable. Facility in the asanas is an outward, visible expression of an expanding ability to give single-pointed attention to the unseen. Their practice is a meditation without words that helps to stabilize all of the other limbs.
Pranayama means both the restraint or death of breathing and the observance of the life force, or vital air. It also is wordless meditation by the instrument of the body. Focus turns inward, while air moves into and out of the body; thoughts stop. Familiarity with the Infinite comes with stilling the mind’s movements.
The belief that the body sickens and dies without proper breathing is true at ordinary levels of awareness. Breath is vital to bodily processes: oxygen is brought in to be distributed to the brain and other organs; and carbon dioxide, a product of metabolism, is taken away. Improper breathing takes its toll on the body, lending support to all manner of illnesses, which in turn further disturb the breathing; it is a downward cycle, but one that can be interrupted and rectified.
At deeper levels of knowledge, it is seen that life does not depend on respiration. In meditation metabolism slows, and the breath along with it. In profound meditation, while the attention remains in pure consciousness, respiration may stop; and then start again as the mind resumes activity.
Pranayamas are specific exercises for consciously inhaling, retaining the breath and exhaling. Superficially, they regulate the normal process of respiration; at a deeper level, they augment the movement of the life force, prana, in the body. Furthermore, they mirror the eternal in-breathing, pause, and out-breathing of the universe.
There are four parts to the word aum (OM): the ‘a’, the ‘u’, the ‘m’…and the silence that follows. There are four parts to the pranayamas: inhaling, pause, exhaling…and stillness, or the Breathless state. There are four states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, sleeping…and turiya, simply known as the Fourth.
Without this sphere, perfection of the yamas and niyamas at least would be impossible. The senses provide the mind with information about the physical world in order to maintain the body in relative comfort and bring pleasure to life. Unfortunately, their reports are inaccurate: first, because a weakness in any one distorts the experience; and second, because colorations from earlier impressions take away innocence. Moreover, the mind gets drawn into movement because desire lies outside, in the objects. The more it follows sensory pleasure, the less real pleasure it is able to bring to life. Most importantly, the senses are unable to take the mind to its supreme Joy: knowledge of the Self.
In pratyahara: withdrawal, the decision is taken to end reliance on the senses’ reports as a basis for action. Automatically, when the mind approaches the Transcendent, it withdraws attention it would otherwise give to the senses; without its support, they are effectively withdrawn, also.
The withdrawal that Patanjali presents is the same as withdrawal of troops from a battlefield: not one is left behind to engage with the enemy. When an army leaves the field of action, its particular application of energy ends. Only the highest commander has authority to give such an order. With respect to withdrawal of the senses, the Intellect alone can decide for this option. The mind depends on the senses feedback to take part in life; it could never implement such a choice.
Another parallel is the withdrawal of the universe back into the Self at the end of ages. In union, individual awareness (a universe) is drawn back into universal consciousness.
Single-pointed awareness: that is focus. Nothing is miraculous about the power of focus to rapidly work wonderful changes, regardless of the nature of the object. Like leavening in dough, it acts involuntarily, without human intervention, fulfilling its nature without regard for subsequent conditions.
While Natural Law supports all choices, individual life is definitely made easier or harder by where attention is put. What gets your attention over time eventually gets you. The power of focus is such that it enlivens any object it touches, although the gross senses don’t immediately recognize it. Only a small part of humanity at any time seems able to focus one-pointedly until a goal is reached. When a desired result doesn’t happen fast enough, attention shifts. Additionally, the mind tends to focus on what is not wanted instead of what is. Both are habits and can be undone.
Focus and the next two limbs, resonance and samadhi, are particularly linked, as Patanjali points out; these three are the most inward spheres of commitment. All of the others incorporate an aspect of physicality; there is some measure of interaction with the body-world. These three spheres entail nothing tangible, and reach to the most subtle levels of human capacity.
All of the spheres are linked, but a particular power emerges from the ability to maintain the three at one time. It is known as samyama: tying up or binding together. Another meaning is destruction of the world. Although it is not one of the spheres of yoga, it is not found apart from them; therefore, more information has been included at the end of this writing.
Asked to describe meditation (dhyana), most people would probably say it involves closed eyes, a particular posture, and using specific words or sounds (mantras) to stop the mind. The word mantra comes from two Sanskrit words: manas: mind and tra: to rescue. It rescues the mind from the thousands of useless thoughts.
A definition of dhyana that allows for more innocence in its practice, and reveals the purpose more clearly is concentration: a distilling of one desire out of many possible objects of desire; the conscious, consistent direction of energy to one object.
Another translation is resonance, reverberation, or resounding such as happens when a sound sent out into encircling mountains in one direction echoes and re-echoes from all around; or, when one tuning fork is struck and others vibrate in consonance with it. In resonance, coherent energies merge to amplify the original vibration. A battalion of soldiers breaks cadence in crossing a bridge because the uniformity of vibrations could cause it to collapse. Resonance has many applications in medicine and industry, as well.
In the subtle levels, power beyond what the mind can comprehend is accessed through resonance. As subtlety increases, so does the vibratory rate. The mechanics of combining focus with concentration is this: attention given to one point enlivens that object; before the energy can dissipate completely, it is reinforced by returning focus to that point; the energies vigorously build there, until no contrary energy remains. What doesn’t serve the singularity of attention disappears from experience. Such is the power of attention directed to one purpose without vacillation. Then life is enjoyed beyond the level of doing or not-doing and desire and fulfillment are not separated.
As noted above, creative power does not lie within the object of focus. In that respect, where attention is placed is immaterial. It is always the case that more intense focus brings more powerful results faster, whether for good or for ill. In that respect, the chosen object of focus is of primary importance. Although you may not have realized it, your habitual thoughts are a form of focus and resonance, and produce the energy that shapes your life.
What do you want to enliven in your life? No other person or power in the universe can choose your desires or negate your creative power. It lies entirely with you to decide what you want and then bring it to life.
Patanjali called samadhi “the seed state” of consciousness. Every seed has the potential to fulfill its own nature: rose seeds never-ever mature into oak trees. Time is needed for complete revelation of the seed’s nature. Whereas nurture helps the process, which can be slowed or stopped by the environment, no exterior qualities need to be added for completion. In the matter of samadhi, it is a seed with regard to individual experience of it. At the beginning, the connection may be fleeting, but with time, stability brings the same plenitude of consciousness in the individual that already exists in samadhi. That is known as union.
Samadhi is not the goal or the result of the other spheres of yoga. Attempting to practice these spheres before having connected with its power keeps them at the level of physical and mental exercises—a very, very slow way indeed to find Union!
In order for the mind to gain familiarity with samadhi, a vehicle is needed that takes it to the Ascendant level of existence smoothly and easily. Mantras by which the mind is more or less numbed into stillness are plentiful; and there are affirmations that please the mind by producing an expansive mood, but do little to transform life. The ideal vehicle is one that continues to charm through countless repetitive uses and ultimately, in the shortest possible time, enables the mind to satisfy its purpose of bringing maximal happiness to life.
Being unused to stillness, even with such a vehicle the mind will at first quickly return to the superficial level and its habitual thoughts. Still, driven by passionate commitment when it is returned with patient consistency to the subtlest level, it is increasingly captivated, until it finally comes to rest.
Samyama is focus, resonance and samadhi conjoined, a unity that makes possible the next evolutional leap for awareness. The previous one could happen once awareness of the trans-personal, transcendent Self stabilized. Now, with samyama, the forces of Nature themselves are manipulated, and applied to specific elements of life.
Samyama is known as The Three-in-One, a description suggestive of the Holy Trinity and the Tri-murti: the Father/Brahma; the Son/Shiva; and the Holy Ghost/Vishnu. Whatever the names, they represent the impersonal and universal qualities creation, destruction and maintenance. Long, long ago they were personalized as specific eternal beings—gods who demand to be worshipped and must be placated. Humanity still bows before them, their real significance as the forces of Nature forgotten. Thus, it is said that the gods are not friends of mankind, for they would gladly keep humans ignorant in order to assure continued offerings and adoration.
The Father/Brahma is the Knower, or focus; the Son/Shiva, the Process of Knowing, or resonance; and the Holy Spirit/Vishnu, That Which is Known, or samadhi.
Appropriately, samyama is also the name of the City of Yama, the Lord of Death, located on Mount Meru, the Cosmic Center of consciousness. One of its meanings is the destruction of the world. The destructible world is the mind’s space-time creation. Any valid meditative technique carries the mind to the trans-personal realm. It may stay there only for an instant at first; yet even so, in that instant, time, space and the action they involve end. The return to activity is a kind of rebirth: the mind that emerges is not the same one that went in.
By repeatedly going the still point, which Patanjali called the place where the horses are unharnessed, the field of action is abandoned. Horses represent the senses; the chariot is the body/mind. Without a firm hand on the reins, the horses can pull the chariot to destruction; guided by intellect, they carry it directly and smoothly along the appropriate road. When the horses are loosed from the chariot—the bits and bridles and harnesses completely removed—they are free to run through the field, nibble grass, roll on the ground or enjoy whatever they like. When the mind is stilled, it can no longer be pulled first one way and then another by the senses; the senses are freed to accomplish their purpose of enjoyment of phenomenal life. While the body continues, the senses will function, but will not have the power to drag it where they will.
Samyama applied to specific points of consciousness unlocks the so-called magical or supernatural powers, as detailed in Pada III. They only seem so to the waking state mind, but in fact are completely natural to the Self.