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Our True Nature: Sat Chit Ananda

Last month we finally finished exploring the 8 Limbs of Ashtanga yoga and we discovered that the purpose of yoga is Samadhi (pure consciousness).  We have talked about the aim of yoga is to discover our true nature.  To discover who we truly are.  When we are in this true state of pure consciousness, we say that we are in a state of yoga.  So the spiritual journey one takes up when they start yoga is all about finding out who you truly are.

Yoga is a state.  It is not an activity.  We tend to think of ourselves as ‘doing yoga’ as we are physically moving our body or attending a yoga class so we often see yoga as an activity.  In fact, it is a state of being.  The Sanskrit term yoga in fact is translated to mean ‘to join’ or ‘to unite’ and so is often translated as ‘union’.  So what or who are we united with? When we are in a state of yoga, we are in a state of pure consciousness, or self-realisation.  We are united to the Self (often described as the Atman).  And so what is the nature of the ‘Self’? Our true nature is: Sat Chit Ananda (Absolute Bliss Consciousness)

So we can comprise the Self in three elements:
Sat – translated as ‘being’ (or absolute non changing truth)
Chit – translated as ‘consciousness’
Ananda – translated as ‘bliss’ or ‘joy’

So our true nature is a state of absolute blissful consciousness.  We are said to share this true nature with the divine, or God.  We do not become God, however we share this divine nature with God.  We are said to be all sparks of the divine, just in human form.

This state of yoga is one that is experienced and so it can be difficult to describe it in words.  However some may relate to this state of oneness or unity in other experiences in life.  For example, playing a game of squash – there’s the ball, racket, court, player… all together the player experiences a state of oneness.  The player feels one with the ball, court and racket when playing squash and doesn’t see them as separate entities when engrossed in the game.  Performers and entertainers have also described this sense of oneness when performing on stage in front of an audience where they describe their state as being one with the music or the stage.

In order to experience this state, one must practice.  Yoga is not about talking about yoga.  It is about doing it.  Pattabhi Jois (the guru who is responsible for bringing Ashtanga yoga to the Western world) has been quoted often as saying that yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.  You can talk about yoga for 30 years; it doesn’t mean you will experience it.  Pattabhi Jois encourages all to just simply practice, practice and practice.  Don’t over think it, or analyse it.  All will come if you practice.  That has certainly been my personal experience.  I just roll out my mat each morning, and do my practice.  All will come.  Whether I feel tired, under the weather or distracted; I just try and have no other intention, except to practice.  Everything else will evolve and change.  It doesn’t matter.  As long as I roll out my mat each morning, I am practicing yoga – union with my true nature.

Om
Bhur Bhuvah Svaha
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi
Dhiyo Yo Naha Prachodayat

The Dawning, the Day, and the Dusking
Those most excellent daughters of the Sun
The Radiant forms coming from the Gods
I meditate upon you and reach to you.
This is my offering.

 

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The Eighth Limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

Last month, we covered the seventh limb of Ashtanga yoga – Dhyana (meditation).  All previous posts can be found on the YWG GRACE-MAIL archives.  Now we are going to explore the eighth and final limb:  Samadhi (absolute consciousness).

 Just a reminder that the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observances)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

 This month’s focus: SAMADHI

If you walked the streets and asked people what they think the purpose of yoga would be, many would suggest that yoga is about flexibility, strength, fitness and health.  As much as this is true and these are definitely by-products of practicing yoga; the ultimate goal of yoga is not about touching your toes and feeling healthy.  The main purpose or goal of yoga is self-realisation.  Pure consciousness.  Samadhi.

According to Patanjali, this eight fold path of yoga leads to a full experience of samadhi, which is the realisation of pure consciousness.  It is a supreme experience where through acute sensuous perception, one has direct knowledge of an object in truth of its own nature, completely free from the distortions of our imagination.  In other words, one generally distorts their sense perception based on preconceived ideas and beliefs, hence samadhi is the full experience of seeing things for what they are, not what one thinks they ought to be.  This is where one uncovers the union of yoga; union between humanity, unity between human and nature and union with God.  Samadhi can be seen as a state of emptiness of the human mind and language and fullness in itself.

So yoga shows the way to Samadhi.   Yoga is not simply an accumulation of asana or devotional practices, but rather a transformation of body and spirit which aims for completion of the whole person.  Samadhi can be described as a state of ‘enstasy’.  We are all familiar with the term ‘ecstasy’ where one is in a state of outward joy or bliss.  However, Enstasy is described as an inward state of joy or bliss.  The term enstasy was coined by Mircea Eliade to describe the state of Samadhi as ‘standing inside oneself’ as opposed to the Western term ‘ecstasy’ which is a state of ‘standing outside oneself’.   So the joy or bliss one experiences in a state of Samadhi is derived from within us, not outside or external sources.  Yoga engenders an inward blissful state… a state of complete awareness…Samadhi.  It is a state so complete that it is indefinable beyond speech.  It is experienced.

So now that we know the purpose of yoga, how do we achieve this state? Well over the past few months, we have looked into detail at Patanjali’s eight fold path which leads to Samadhi.  Quite simply though, avoid over thinking it…start with the here and now.  Get on your mat, breathe, move and be mindful.  Do your yoga practice and all will come!

 “Practice, practice.  All is coming.” Pattabhi Jois

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Who is your Guru?

In the month of July, it is tradition to acknowledge our gurus.  The word ‘guru’ is the Sanskrit term for “teacher”.  ‘Gu’ means darkness, ignorance, that which obscures beauty and truth.  ‘Ru’ means ‘that which removes’.  So guru is interpreted as one who removes ignorance or darkness. 

 In the West, the concept of guru can seem mysterious and difficult to accept.  You may be asking, “How do I find my guru?”.  A guru is a teacher who imparts insights and revelations to you about Yoga.  A guru may also help one to come to know truth.  We are each other’s gurus and you can be your own guru! Traditionally (and still present today), yoga is a tradition that is passed on from guru to student.  In the West we have established teacher training courses and in just a couple months, one can be certified as a yoga teacher! Tradition however saw a much closer relationship between guru and student whereby the student develops a respect and love for the teacher with the same respect and love they have for the Divine.  In this tradition, knowledge is passed on over many many years and it is only after years of dedicated and loyal practice as a student that a guru may bestow the honour of ‘teacher’ to their student. 

 Yoga teachers must uphold the moral and ethical principles of yoga.  Three necessary criteria for a good teacher are:

Lineage: the teacher should have had direct transmission of knowledge from his or her own teachers.  The teacher also should have been blessed to teach by his or her teachers. Practice: the teacher must have a regular daily practice.
Love:
the teacher must love the students so much that he or she is willing to sacrifice anything to serve them.

I often think of my best teachers as being demanding, yet gentle where the asana (posture) practice becomes a mere structure for the real work, which is transformation.  

In my case, I feel blessed to have had extraordinary teachers over the years of my yoga practice and especially blessed for my guru of 9 years, Eileen.    You continue to ‘remove the darkness’ even though my body is far away from you.  I pay homage and respect to all the extraordinary teachers I am blessed to have had and continue to have and I bow in devotion to them and my teachers’ teachers and their teachers… This is my lineage.  To the late Patthabi Jois, Guruji.  You are our Ashtanga father and are greatly missed.  Namaste. 

 “The guru said to the disciple:
You have three jobs.  Your first job is to find me.  Your second is to love me.  Your third is to leave me”  ~Indian Proverb