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Awakening from a yogic point of view

Posted: Wed Apr 07, 2010 3:51 pm
by Plorel
Hey everyone

I recently finished an intensive training as Yoga-teacher and having dealt with a lot of philosophy during the course, I thought you might be interested in an overview on how the path of life and the path to awakening is seen from a yogic point of view (as we were taught).

The tradition of our yoga-path is the tradition of Swami Sivananda (1887-1963), one of the grand yogis of the past century. One of his greatest achievements was the combination of the six main Yoga-ways, picking so to speak the raisins from the yoga cake. He published over 200 writings, contributing to a great extent to the propagation of Yoga in western society. Also being a clear opponent to the caste system in Indien he didn`t bother to spread the "yoga-secrets" of the Brahman caste among society, which didn`t suit the orthodox people too well. In 1963 he achieved Mahasamadhi (he died as a liberated human being).

There are six main yoga-ways, namely
  • Karma-Yoga (the yoga of action)
    Bhakti-Yoga (the yoga of devotion to god)
    Jnana-Yoga (the yoga of wisdom)
    Raja-Yoga (the Yoga of mastery over the mind)
    Hatha-Yoga (the Yoga of body control)
    Kundalini-Yoga (the yoga of life energy).
Each of the Yoga-traditions has its own Sadhana (spiritual praxis) but all of them leads to the same result which is enlightment, or rather liberation as a human being. The six Yoga-ways rest upon three pillars, which are 1. Vedas 2. Yoga-Sutras 3. Tantra.
1. Vedas:

The Vedas consist of four orthodox scriptures, which are said to be giving to some sages of India in deep meditation.

1.1 Vedanta
First there was Vedanta, an orthodox philosophical system. Vedanta means as much as the end of knowledge, which indicated that its a closed philosophical system which unlike the Tantra leaves no open questions. Part of it are the Upanishaden, which deal with the nature of Brahman and Atman.

From the Upanishaden Jnana-Yoga is derived. Its Sadhana is to first "hear" the holy scriptures, to contemplate them, to meditate over them and to realize truth in the end.

1.2 Smritis
The second part of the Vedas are the Smritis, which are law guidelines for people. The problem was that ordinary people didn`t understand the highly complex texts of Vedanta. Therefore the Smritis were extracted from it to give people comprehendible guidelines on how to live an ethic life.

1.3 Puranas
The third part are the Puranas, which are tales of gods. To give people a more vivid, colorful teaching, stories of gods were told to show people how to live. For that purpose the absolute (Brahman) is given expression through Shiva (the god of destruction and transformation), Vishnu (the god of preservation) and Brahma (the god of creation) and their many incarnations. Interestingly these gods have humanly characteristcs to serve as an example for people. One story goes that Vishnu accidentially gave a demon the power to destroy everything he would touch with his hands. Realizing his mistake and fearing the demon might dissolve the whole universe into dust, Vishnu begs Shiva for help. Shiva then turns into a irresistebly buff woman and dances for the demon. The demon in his ecstasy follows the movements of the woman for her promise to get more intimate with him after that. In the course of the dance he touches his head with his hands and dissolves himself into dust. (Don`t ask me for the moral of it :D ).

From the Puranas, Bhakti-Yoga is derived. Its way is the total devotion of life to god. Its Sadhana is nine-fold and culminates in the complete self-surrender to god.

1.4 Ithihasas
The fourth part are Ithihasas, the heroic epics. For people not being able to identify with gods too well, those heroic epis were written. They deal with stories of heroes and their relationship with gods, who teach ethic action in context of the nature of reality. The most famous part of the Ithihasas is the Mahabahrata, the great (maha) story of the human dynasty of the Bahrata. The narration culminate into the Bhagavat Gita (song of god), a dialogue between the hero Arjuna and the godly incarnation Krishna. On the edge of a battle, Arjuna, the military leader of one force refuses fullfill his Dharma (his destiny) to start the battle as he sees many relatives among the enemy. In 18 Chapters, Krishna teaches Arjuna the nature of god, action, Karma, and Dharma until Arjuna is ready to start the battle in the end to fullfill his dharma.

From this scripture, Karma-Yoga (the Yoga of action) is derived, as we are given a detailed description how to act in the context of the absolute.
A foundation for Karma-Yoga in the concept of Karma. Karma is the law of cause and effect. There are three kinds of karma, Sanchita (the store), Prarabda (the harvest) and Agami (the seed). Each action with motive adds Karma to Sanchita, which later has to manifest in ones life. The goal of a Karma-Yogi is not to create new Karma and to get rid of stored Karma. Therefore his goal is it to act without motive (without the "I") but through god. When all Karma is gone, the Yogi is free.

1.5 The philosophical foundation:
The teaching of Vedanta is non-dual. Brahman, the absolute, is all there is. And yet in Brahman manifests Jagad, the Universe and Jiva, the individual. Though both are not seperate from Brahman and never can be, an energy arises from Brahman which is called Maya, the power of Illusion. Seperation is thought to be real and the driving power are the three gunas, the attibutes of nature. In the universe, they manifest as Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. In the individual they manifest as Sattwa (wisdom and purity), Rajas (passion and activity) and Tamas (darkness and dullness). When Brahman manifests through an individual form (us) it is called Atman. Atman can be compared to a drop of water, which essentially consists of the same water as in the ocean but takes on a relative level an individual form. In the individual the atman is enclosed in three bodies, which consist of five shells. They are:
  • Sthula Sharira (physical body) ----> contains the Annamaya Kosha (aliment shell)
    Sukshma Sharira (astral body) ---> contains the Pranamaya Kosha (energy shell) , Manomaya Kosha (shell of the mind), Vijnanamaya Kosha (intellectual shell)
    Karana Sharira (causal body) ---> contains the Anandamaya Kosha (shell of bliss)
Of those three the Anandamaya Kosha is the most transperent shell (closest to atman) and the Annamaya Kosha the densest shell. The Pranamaya Kosha in composed by the five Pranas (life energies), including the Chakras (energy centers) and Nadis (energy canals) and includes the five institutions for action (mouth, hands, feet ...). The Manomaya Kosha is composed by Manas (mind), Chitta (subconciousness) and the five institutions for perception (eyes, ears...).
The Vijnanamaya Kosha is composed by Budhhi (the intellect) and Ahamkara (Ego, I-awareness). The Anadamaya Kosha is the experience of bliss through deep sleep or Sarvikalpa Samadhi.

For the Yogi to reach freedom he has to break the identification with shells and realize the eternal Self behind them. To transcend them, the Yogi uses various Sadhanas, such as Asanas, correct nutrition, Pranayama (breathing techniques), singing, Mantras, Meditation, selfless service, studying scriptures, rightly questioning (who am I?) and Samadhi.

From the Vedas we have the three classical yoga-tradition Bhakti-Yoga, Karma-Yoga and Jnana-Yoga

2. Yoga Sutras

2.1 background information
The Yoga-Sutras were written by the sage Patanjali (ca. 200 v. Chr). In 195 verses in four chapters, he describes the essence of the yoga-way. Unlike the Baghavad Gita, the Yoga-Sutras have no background story but get right to the core. We were told that solely the first verse contain the essence of the whole script, which is Atha (now). But it is not easily understood, after all it took Eckhart Tolle a whole book to explain. Therefore there are 194 further verses in 4 Chapters, which extend the subject.
In the first Chapter is a description of the mind and how to calm it by means of concentration and meditation.
The second Chapter deals with the cause of suffering and introduces the first five steps of the eight-fold path of raja yoga.
The third chapter introduces the last three parts of the path and additionally deals with attaining siddhis (spiritual powers) through concentration
The forth chapter finally deals with the liberation of Self through Yoga.

2.2 Eight steps of Raja Yoga
The eight steps of Raja Yoga are:
  • Yama - rules for behaviour in dealing with others
    Niyama - rules for behaviour in dealing with oneself
    Pranayama - Mastering life energy
    Pratyahara - withdrawing of senses
    Dharana - concentration
    Dhyana - Meditation
2.3 The philosophical foundation
Pantanjali assumes a dualistic nature of reality. One the one side there is Prakriti, the nature, which is eternal but in constant motion through the three gunas. On the other side there Purusha, the absolute. Both exist uneffacted by each other. But in order to experience itself, Purusha creates Chitta, the mind, in order to establish a connection to nature. In viewing Prakriti through Chitta, the absolute gets lost in identification with nature and the mind and forgets its true nature. The absolute seeks itself in nature and in mind but as both are constantly changing, suffering is ensued as long as identity is seeked for in the external. In that sense, Raja Yoga is a way for the absolute to know itself again.

3 Tantra
3.1 Tantra in generell
Tantra is an expression for a religious community, an exercise system and an underlying philosophical system. The Agamas (Vedas) are the foundational scriptures of Tantra. Therefore the underlying Shiva-Shakti philosophy is also non-dual in its nature. The religious community can be seperated into the Shaivas who contemplate conciousness and transcendence, the Vaishnawas who are devoted to Vishnu and the Shaktas who revere Shakti as the female power in the Universe. Of those three only the Shaktas are concerned with the practise of tantra.

3.2 Tantra as an excercise system
Tantra as an excercise system is based on the script Hatha Yoga Pradipika (light of Hatha Yoga). It was written by Svatmarama in the 14th century and is the basis for the remaining two Yoga tradition Hatha Yoga (Yoga of body mastery) and Kundalini Yoga (Yoga of energy) as refinement. There are three kinds of Kundalini Yoga, which are white tantra, red tantra and black tantra. Each form of tantra can be praticed with Sattwa (purity, wisdom), Rajas (passion, activity) or Tamas (dullness, darkness). White tantra is the pratice of energy awakening through pranayama, hatha yoga, shakra concentration etc. Red tantra is the tantra of passion between men and women as a way to set energy free. Black tantra is the tantra of stuck energy forms and is often associated with occultism.
Yet all can be used as way to liberation if praticed in Sattwa.

3.3 The foundational philosophy system
The underlying philosophy is the Shiva-Shakti philosophy which is in its nature non-dual. Shiva can be associated with Brahman, the absolute while Shakti is the creative energy of the universe. The goal of the practise of Yoga is the reunion of Shiva and Shakti to overcome the apparent seperation. It is said that the human form is the only life form in which Shakti is available as static energy form. Through praticing Yoga, the dormant Kundlini-energy (Shakti-energy at the bottom of the spine) can be awakened for it to rises through the main chakras (energy centers) of the body until it reaches the Sahasrara Chakra (crown-chakra) on top of the head, which symbolises the connection to Shiva, the absolute. In that the Shiva and Shakti are united and the human being is free as a result.

These are the six Yoga-ways including their origin. Sivananda tradition now suggests to use them all in some way to overcome the restricting attributes of nature and the own limitions set by mind.
I might have gotten some of the fact wrong since I did most of it from memory. Please let me now (of anyone does read until here at all :D )

All the best

Re: Awakening from a yogic point of view

Posted: Wed Apr 07, 2010 8:00 pm
by Sighclone
Thanks, Stephan. Whew -- what a lot of history and arcane traditions! Makes my mind spin. Which path to take and how am I doing on the path? Gotta keep checking and reading.

Now, Stephan, I'm being facetious, but not cruel. The problem, even within the Advaita Vedanta tradition is the complextites that the Indian subcontintent cultures add. Even reading Ramana is a bit of a challenge with all the Sanskrit words and the subtle distinctions in meaning. In a way, it gives strength to another group who miss the mark, in my opinion, the "radical nondualists." (Just "be" and you are enlightened.)

Stephen Bodian was the Editor-in-Chief of Yoga Journal for many hears. He wrote a simple clear book a couple of years ago called "Wake Up Now." It' s a powerful sword, cutting through the complexities of the yogic path. You might like it.
I've met him, and there are YouTube videos of him -- he's very pleasant and approachable.

None of this is to discount the rich tapestry of tradition of Yoga or its wonderful masters -- Yogananda was huge for me, many years ago.


Re: Awakening from a yogic point of view

Posted: Thu Apr 08, 2010 12:02 am
by Plorel
Hey Andy.

I understand and share your scepticism of this yoga-approach. Having been away from the forum for about a month, the first post I came across was one of Kiki, quoting Eckhart on "enlightment being the natural state of felt oneness with life". What a huge relief to read that after one month of struggling to understand nirvikalpa samadhi, maha samadhi, liberation, karma etc.

Thank you also for your recommendation. I have allready read Stephan Bodians "Wake up now". Together with Jac`s "Born to be free" my favourite book on awakening and non-duality. Compared to the gentle simplicity of the their approach its truely easy to get lost in all the Sanskrit-terms and definitions of the Yogic tradition. What it did for me however, it broadend my intellectual understanding and put things into a wider intellectual scheme. Not usefull for awakening I guess but interesting at least :)

Thanks for going through it anyway


Re: Awakening from a yogic point of view

Posted: Thu Apr 08, 2010 4:25 am
by Sighclone
Plorel - Ahem. You are much too young to sound so wise! :) I'm pleased you have perspective on all the labyrinthine yogic maze. There are many conceptual dead-ends there, as with other traditions. The yogic techniques, however, overlap siddhis and can produce disarming somatic events. All distractions....


Re: Awakening from a yogic point of view

Posted: Thu Apr 08, 2010 4:44 am
by Ananda
Jnana all the way for me, it is the core of Advaita :)

Re: Awakening from a yogic point of view

Posted: Thu Apr 08, 2010 5:01 am
by kiki
Jnana all the way for me, it is the core of Advaita
Same with me. I remember when I first heard about jnana way back in the early 70s; I was convinced there was no way that I could ever be successful with such an approach. Meditation was what I focused on because it seemed straightforward and simple, but that became a dead end for me because without realizing it I had become totally entangled in the "idea of me", especially the meditator. Then when I read ET I could understand what jnana really was. Jnana wasn't what I had thought, arriving at some mental state, a kind of super intelligence and understanding, but was instead the dismantling of identification with the "idea of me". This is a very direct method of awakening, which goes to the very core of illusion, the mind.

Re: Awakening from a yogic point of view

Posted: Thu Apr 08, 2010 4:04 pm
by Plorel
Jnana all the way for me, it is the core of Advaita
Same here too. Though I don`t think anyone is exclusively Jnana- Karma or Bahkti Yogi. Surrendering control to god (which seems like an essential part of nonduality also) could be considered Karma-Yoga while praying and singing Mantras would be Bahkti Yoga. I guess in the end it doesn"t really matter if we categorize our path in order to know where to go, but rather trust the higher intelligence within to lead us where we are supposed to go.

What do you think of the concept that our Atman is surrounded by different engergy-shells, which have to be transcended first for us to realize our true nature? I guess from the non-dulistic view point this is only a thought/believe which arises in conciousness and which has therefore only reality for us if we chose to believe in it (like the concept of Karma). But after all something keeps most of us from simply being enlightend, does it not?!

Re: Awakening from a yogic point of view

Posted: Thu Apr 08, 2010 8:01 pm
by Sighclone
Tim Freke speaks of a holarchy of states of consciousness, like nested Russian dolls...
Higher states of consciousness are predicated on lower states...
That's from p. 188 of "How Long is Now" -- highly recommended.


Re: Awakening from a yogic point of view

Posted: Thu Apr 08, 2010 8:09 pm
by enigma
Plorel wrote:
Jnana all the way for me, it is the core of Advaita

What do you think of the concept that our Atman is surrounded by different engergy-shells, which have to be transcended first for us to realize our true nature? I guess from the non-dulistic view point this is only a thought/believe which arises in conciousness and which has therefore only reality for us if we chose to believe in it (like the concept of Karma). But after all something keeps most of us from simply being enlightend, does it not?!
I'd say all such ideas are ways of talking about what happens, and there's a direct relationship between the complexity of the story and the understandability. It may seem odd that complexity implies mental comprehension but mind operates in this world of concepts and images and the more concrete and detailed, the more mind feels it has a grasp. This is why religions tend toward storytelling; not because it's closer to the Truth but because mind can more easily grasp. There is, however, an inverse relationship between conceptual grasping and the actual experience or realization.

I don't just mean Truth realization, but even the genuine comprehending of things like karma and transcending. As far as I know, there are no actual energy shells, but we could say there are 'layers' of ignorance to be transcended, which doesn't present such a clear image. We could also say that everything we can think is really an invention of mind that arises out of nothingness (including the ideas of mind and nothingness) and never actually becomes a something, and therefore cannot say anything about our true nature prior to any concept, and this is perhaps closer to the truth, but it leaves nothing for the mind to grasp.

This is not 'mind friendly' so most will have no interest in such ideas and will ignore them, and so stories that are more comprehensible will be told, but it's important to realize that the stories themselves must also be transcended.

Re: Awakening from a yogic point of view

Posted: Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:41 am
by Sighclone
All true - thanks enigma!


Re: Awakening from a yogic point of view

Posted: Fri Apr 09, 2010 9:53 am
by Plorel
ah, thank you for that clear input, enigma