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YOGA SUTRAS

Considering the high degree of skill and commitment needed to follow Patanjaliís regimen, it is curious to see so many commentaries begin with lengthy definitions of the term "yoga." The explanations are often so detailed that there is more than a suggestion that the reader is considered unfamiliar with the subject and its demanding requirements.

An old yacht salesmanís quip comes to mind: when someone ventures into the showroom and wants to know the price of a yacht, he says, "If you need to know how much it costs, you canít afford it." Anyone who is so far from the spiritual mainstream that he requires rudimentary information about Yoga is probably not ready to begin negotiations.

Yoga is related to the English word yoke (Proto-Indo-European root *yeug = join, unite) and what is to be yoked is the man to God.

Being united with God means being divorced from the allurements of the material world. Mircea Eliade describes the process: "Let us point out that it is by stages that the yogi breaks his bonds with life. He begins by eliminating the least essential habits of living: comforts, amusements, the futile waste of time, the diffusion of his mental energies, etc. Then he endeavors to unify the most important functions of life: breathing, consciousness. Disciplining his breathing, giving it a rhythm, reducing it to a single type - that of deep sleep - are tantamount to the unification of all the varieties of respiration." The regimen continues until a state of hyperconsciousness is reached - which is ultimate liberation.

Not only must a beginner be willing to do the difficult work of the regimen and make the necessary physical changes in his lifestyle, but also he must be sufficiently dissatisfied with his material world existence to detach himself from it. He stops being emotional about any and all persons, places or things and strives to cultivate the attitude of benign indifference - technically called "Holy Indifference." His dissatisfaction with the material world must not, however, be such that he rejects it in total disgust. Disgust with the world may inspire a person to seek spiritual solutions, but if it is too strong a revulsion, he may not be able to cultivate the necessary benign indifference. In the spiritual quest this would be a critical failure.

How, then, do we free ourselves from our emotional bondage to the material world so that we can pursue spiritual liberation?

Freedom does not consist in escape. The chains that bind us are mental constructs. We do not free ourselves from the material world by changing our location in the material world.

Therefore, when Professor Eliade asserts, "Deliverance cannot take place unless one has first Ďdetached oneselfí from the world" the detachment of which he speaks is psychological, not physical. It is foolish to believe that retreating to a hermitage or a monastery is a salvific necessity. It isnít. Again, if a man cannot get control of his emotions at home, where he daily encounters those to whom he has been emotionally and presumably hellishly bound, he is not ready for yogaís way to liberation.

Evidence against physical isolation and, on the other hand, the absolute need for self-control acquired in the midst of a domestic environment comes directly from Patanjali himself. There are Eight Limbs on Yogaís Tree of Life - and the first of these limbs deals precisely with social interactions - which would hardly be of value to an ascetic. A hermit does not have to worry about being nonviolent, truthful, celibate, honest, or jealous. "One cannot be delivered from existence (samsara)," writes Eliade, "unless one knows life in a concrete way."

Removing a man from the source of the problems does not solve his problems. Heaven and hell exist and they exist within the manís mind, and unless heís been decapitated, he carries his heaven and hell with him wherever he goes.

Unlike many other eastern philosophies, Patanjaliís yoga prescribes an intimate relationship with God; and to accommodate this closeness, it requires a strict ethical regimen as well as mastery of the disciplines of breath, sensory control, diet, and exercise in order to facilitate meditation and other states of higher consciousness.

The Eight Limbs of Patanjaliís Yoga can be listed in groups following the order in which they should be acquired:

The first four should be commenced immediately;

(1) The Yamas (the donít of yoga): donít be harmful - which includes a vegetarian diet, donít lie; donít engage in sexual mis-behavior; donít steal; donít be desirous of anything in the material world. This requires an understanding of the working model of the psyche given in our last segment. We need to have insight into the archetypes-instincts and their influence on our behavior.

(2) The Niyamas (the doís of Yoga): do be clean in body and mind; do be contented with what you have; do embrace austerities such as cold showers and sugarless beverages (training in "the opposites"); do study the sacred texts; do keep the awareness of God in your mind - a task that is helped by the use of a mantra and a constant awareness of the Lex Talionis, the divine law of retribution.

(3) The Asanas: Practice the postures of Yoga (Hatha Yoga).

(4) Pranayama: Control of the Breath which requires a knowledge of the nadis or meridians (the nonphysical channels through which prana is circulated throughout the body) and "embryonic" breathing.

The next two should be started when we ae settled;

(5) Pratyahara. Practice control of creating or ignoring sensory data - which is helped by a knowledge of the Tattvas.

(6) Dharana: Perfect the ability to concentrate - which includes the various music and sound concentrations.

And the final two are the goal of the main regimen;

(7) Dhyana: True Meditation which includes a knowledge of the chakras and, for men, all the various techniques of seminal retention.

(8) Samadhi (divine union).

Upon completion or perfection of Patanjaliís regimen, a variety of siddhis (spiritual powers) are gained by the yogi. The program would be well worth the effort if it delivered a practitioner to true meditation (Tattva #5) and knowledge of the psychic energy centers (the Chakras or Microcosmic Orbit); but it delivers more than that for, in fact, if anyone who follows the program assiduously attains true meditation, he is certain to push through to Divine Union (Tattva #4) Since Satori (Tattva #3) and Divine Marriage (Tattva 2 & 1) are spontaneous "gifts" they may be hoped-for events, but they cannot be achieved through specific practices. There are a few techniques which may help to facilitate the advent of spiritual androgyny, but these are closer to being "tips" than learned techniques.

This, then, is a summary of the requirements of this extremely complicated program: There must be a detachment from the material world; an attitude of Holy Indifference to the problems of the people, places and things of the material world, a knowledge of the mind sufficient to give insight into the motivations and behaviors of ourselves and of those with whom we come into contact; a knowledge of the "psychic nadis" or "meridians"; a knowledge of the physical principles (tattvas) of the material world; high standards of ethics and personal hygiene and an attitude of contentment. Additionally, scripture study and god-awareness are required. All this comprises Yoga's daily regimen.

The amount of work that must be done is staggering. Anyone who promises a spiritually interested person that the program is simple and pleasant is trying to sell a program - not deliver a soul to the egoless state. It is entirely possible to excel in the physical aspects of Hatha Yoga, but this would make the person an adept at the asanas - not a yogi. Meditation, likewise, can be learned but without the ethics and Holy Indifference and divine union of true Samadhi, we have a person who is an adept at meditation - not a yogi. We return to the example which Mircea Eliade began his examination of Patanjaliís sutras: Haridas, the fakir who was buried alive for forty days and who was no more a yogi than Harry Houdini.

Ahimsa

"Primum non nocere," the great Roman physician Galen admonished his disciples. "First, do no harm!" Doing harm is easier than the average person supposes.

Doctor Galen lived in an era when omens - the configuration of a heap of goat entrails or the branch of a tree a bird chose to land upon - played a significant part in the diagnosis of illness. Such problematic symptomology, especially when it was coupled with the eraís trial-and-error medical treatments, did not always bode well for the prognosis. The good Doctor Galen, believing that his patients already had enough trouble to overcome, did not want his disciples to add to the problems.

Just so, Patanjali opens the Yamas with the order: Do no harm!

Many commentators insist that Ahimsa (Harmlessness) is the single most important of all the Yamas and, further, that all other "sins" arise from the violation of this prohibition. And this is easy to see.

First there is the harm done in the name of the rule, itself. The term "reaction formation" may not have been known to Galen or Patanjali, but the sadism of holier-than-thou persons who torture and torment in the name of their own righteous goodness, surely was.

For example, people who love animals so much that they will skewer and roast any human being who eats an occasional lamb chop seem always to forget that human beings are animals, too. We humans are omnivores; and it is, no doubt, the variety of comestibles that got us to the top of the food chain. But this is of no concern to those who suppose that vegetarianism is their passport to Nirvana. Most Buddhists, and we among them, keep a vegetarian diet; yet we cannot overlook the cruel deaths of countless birds and animals that occur when their habitats are destroyed in order to clear and prepare land for farming. On every continent, farmers have not only felled vast areas of woodlands to plant commercial crops, but they kill numerous creatures when plowing their fields and using pesticides on the crops. And, people who live in areas not suitable for agricultural purposes, such as scrub desert or arctic regions cannot grow vegetables. They either eat meat and fish or they starve. This is a survival issue, not an ethical issue. It becomes an ethical issue only when the animals that are hunted or commercially raised are mistreated.

Distinctions between classes of animals are also arbitrarily applied when it comes to enforcing ahimsa. The same person who gasps in horror at the prospect of killing a chicken will smile pleasantly at the termite exterminator who makes his montly call.

Also, when we discuss "harmlessness" we must remember that we are political creatures, active members of society. A society requires the participation of all members; and when the protection of our person, our family, or our nation is required, we must serve in the cause of that protection. Being a lover of peace is not a good and sufficient reason to refuse to answer a call to arms. Non-combatant status on a battlefield, such as being a medic, satisfies conscientious objection; but staying home to reap the freedom, profits, and other nurturing benefits gained from the sacrifices of those who did serve is worse than cowardly.

Common sense is sometimes all we have to countermand the theologic profusion of discretionary and often contradictory mores, taboos, commandments, decrees, prohibitions, precepts, etc. Rules that are necessary in one environment are often impractical in another. There are always exceptions which a merciful Providence expects thinking human beings to make.

Even more, in consideration of the Lex Talionis, which we have discussed in other pages, harmful thoughts directed against others will boomerang and return to produce harmful effects upon oneís own psyche.

In view of all this, we have to ask ourselves what, in the final analysis, constitutes harm? Is psychological pain included in the kind of harm we are vowed to refrain from committing? Contrary to the old maxim, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me," we know that words can hurt a person far more than a physical assault.

Physically mature people seldom have to worry about inflicting physical pain. Ahimsa, especially to vegetarians, is often considered a pointless rule, superfluous and inconsequential. But the same person who will not eat chicken must also restrain himself from making sarcastic or other rude comments which are designed to offend someone. All the rules of Right Speech are included under the Ahimsa's umbrella. In like manner, we cannot choose which international conflicts are permissible under the rule and which are not. The person who invokes Ahimsa when he opposes war in one area cannot clamor to engage in combat in another area.

We have commented elsewhere about the scent of anger. Often someone will enter our environment who has just been very angry and who has not cleansed himself of those body secretions associated with anger. He has an immediate and somewhat inexplicably unnerving effect upon us. We find ourselves becoming irritated and quick tempered. If we are the individual who has lost his temper and become enraged, we need to consider the effect we're likely to have on others. Ahimsa mandates a retreat or any course of action that prevents us from launching those pheromones of anger into an unsuspecting atmosphere.

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