Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga

Before I start, I would like to declare that every blog on Yoga that follows is what I have learned from the many lectures and teachings of my Guru Swami Sri Dayananda Saraswati and his disciples.

“Om Sri Gurubhyo Namaha – My salutations to the Guru.

There is a Guru-Shishya Parampara (“Guru” – the one who clears the darkness of ignorance and reveals the truth; “Shishya” – the disciple; “Parampara” – the tradition). The importance of understanding this concept is that, though the information is available in the Pramanas (the Vedas and Upanishads), it cannot be completely imbibed without being taught by the Guru. This is an Oral Tradition, starting long before writing was conceived. It is passed on orally from one generation to the next.

Ashta” – Eight, “Anga” – Limbs/Branches.

Yoga existed before the time of Patanjali. This saint was the first one to formalize yoga into a discipline, to be practiced in the pursuit of self-realization. What we call yoga in the Western world is just Asanas (postures), one of the eight limbs of Yoga.

Before we discuss the eight limbs, let us elaborate on the introduction that Patanjali presents. This introduction is in the form of 3 sentences or statements.

Atha Yoganushasanam.

Yogaschittha vrtti nirodhaha

Atha Drshtuhu Swarupe Avasthanam.

The first statement is Atha Yoganushasanam. The word ‘Atha’ is equivalent to the word ‘Om’. Both are sacred words. These are interchangeably the words that the Lord is said to have uttered when he was ready to manifest as the world.

World as a manifestation

The world is a manifestation, not a creation. The pot maker creates a pot out of clay, not out of himself. This is a creation. A manifestation however, includes the Maker, which makes sense since if the Lord is Whole and Complete, the world has to be included in him, and cannot be separate from him. Therefore, the Maker and the Material are One.

“The world is a manifestation, not a creation.”

“Atha” – Now

Yoganushasanam Yoga is meant to know and understand the truth about oneself. The practice of Yoga as is prescribed by Patanjali will result in the realization that there is non-duality, there is only One and that is Atman/Brahman, the Awareness Absolute. Yoga therefore dispels the ignorance of duality or plurality, which is what we see when we look at the world around us. We see various and countless objects around us. We see the world as an object. It is not. It is a phenomenon.

6914189161_f7ac7cd3ee_o-2The world (Jagat) as a phenomenon

To best illustrate this, let us consider the example of a wave in the ocean. Is the wave an object or a phenomenon? If it is an object, I should be able to pick it up and bring it to you. I cannot, because a wave happens in a certain space, over a certain period of time. In other words, it is an event that is bound by space and time. One of the fundamental tenets of Yoga is that “Anything that is bound by space, is inevitably bound by time.” And, anything which is bound by space and time is limited, temporary, evanescent. And, equally importantly, anything which is temporary cannot be the Truth. A wave is therefore a phenomenon which occurs in the background of water, much like tide, bubbles, froth, breaker etc. The truth of all of these phenomena is water.  Water is therefore the underlying substratum on which every one of the phenomena such as froth, wave, breaker, tide etc occur.

Anything that is bound by space, is inevitably bound by time. For anything to be true, it cannot be limited by space and time.”

The Sanskrit word Jagat (Gachhadi iti jagat) means “that which changes, that which moves, and therefore that which is not permanent”. The world was born sometime ago and will cease to exist sometime in the future. It is, in the vision of the Vedas, as much of a phenomenon as is the wave, the only difference being the infinitely longer duration of time over which it occurs as compared to the wave. Conditioned as we are to think of the world as full of objects, it is very difficult for us to comprehend this.

What is Truth?

For anything to be true, it cannot be limited by space and time. Let us take the example of a Pot. The weight of the pot is the weight of clay, the size of the pot is the size of clay and the shape of the pot is the shape of clay. Pot is therefore clay. Pot cannot exist without clay, although clay can exist without the pot. Clay is therefore the truth and pot is only a phenomenon, limited by time and space. The only difference between the untruth of the wave (the truth of the wave is water) and the untruth of the pot (the truth of the pot is clay)  is the difference in the duration of existence between the wave and the pot. Looking at the world, and following the same example, the world is also a phenomenon; it began some billions of years ago, and it will cease to exist at some future time.  

“But the world is so real?!”

True, it does appear real, but only because we use our senses in seeing and relating to it. But it is actually a phenomenon. Of course, in our day-to-day life, we have to transact with the world and therefore a sense of “as though reality” is attributed to it. As long as we are alive, we have to relate to it. But with the UNDERSTANDING that it is all a myth and the only TRUTH is you, the Atman, the Infinite and all-pervading Reality.

“The only TRUTH is you, the Atman, the Infinite and all-pervading Reality.”

Therefore, in the first statement Patanjali states that Yoga is intended to learn the truth about oneself. Why is it important to know and understand oneself? Because you are the only Truth. Everything else is unreal. Understanding this truth will liberate you from the thraldom of Samsara. Both the beggar on the streets and the King in the palace have the same cycle of joys and sorrows. The only difference is that the king has golden shackles whereas the beggar has iron shackles! They are both bound by their desires, wants and insatiable needs.

More on this in the next blog

~ Hari Om.

Tirun Gopal

Tirun Gopal MD, is the Medical Director of the Department of Ob-Gyn at St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco. He is devoted to enhancing the health of the average American through lifestyle changes, dietary modifications and Eastern Herbology, and providing Complementary Care through Acupuncture, Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Yoga and Meditation.   Follow him on Facebook.

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