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The purpose and basic doctrine of yoga
Brahman is literally everything. It is unchangeable and eternal. Atman is one's inner being, akin to the ‘soul’. Atman is identical with brahman, but its true nature is obscured by the physical and subtle bodies that surround it (as the air inside a balloon is the same as the air outside it, separated by a membrane). These bodies create physical, mental, chemical and other barriers to moksha (liberation). The atman empowers these bodies to perceive external objects in order to create the phenomenal world, but this is, in fact, illusionary and non-existent (maya).
Awareness of the self (vidya), derived from personal insight and self-attainment leads towards this brahman-atman realisation.
Yoga includes several paths towards (and beyond) the process of self-realisation and provides a framework to the universe which is consistent in all states of awareness.
However, the mind is incapable of comprehending the higher awarenesses, the self-realisations are beyond logic, being experiential and not logical or explainable from the position of duality (dvaita). They are also beyond learning (it is more a question of ‘unlearning’), being innate in all of us, available instantly when we simply (!) switch off our mental and emotional biases and conditioning and realise advaita.
Yoga practices are designed to lead through the process of self awareness and provide the discipline needed when advaita is achieved. The often overlooked preliminary steps of ashtanga yoga (yama and niyama) are seen in a different light from the position of advaita.
Once advaita and lower forms of samadhi have been realised, samyoga practices lead further towards the brahman-atman realisation. The three bodies surrounding the atman must be purified one at a time and, finally, the transcendence of the causal body brings discriminative knowledge (viveka-khyati). There are seven levels of discriminate knowledge, the final one being ‘the knowledge of one reality’ (kaivalya jnana) which results in the final state of super-consciousness (nirvikalpa samadhi). At this stage of self awareness the liberated person can step out of samsara forever or chose to remain on earth, fully liberated, and continue to work towards becoming a perfect being (siddha) and attaining a divine body (divya deha).
As embodied souls (jivatman) we continue to die and be reborn on the wheel of conditioned existence (samsara) until we realise our true nature and attain liberation (moksha). These cycles of birth and death (avagamana) are controlled by various karmas. When the subtle and causal bodies that surround the atman are reborn (they survive the death process) they retain their karma but have no memories of their previous lifetimes and existences. The bound soul receives more false dualistic concepts which create further delusions, desires, avoidances etc., and create further karma.
These concepts are expounded below.
Yoga and the universe
Brahman is the eternal everything, it is indescribable and unknowable. To describe ‘the unknowable,’ brahman is broken down into down into three lower states of consciousness which are knowable: ishvara, hiranyagarbha and virat.
Ishvara is the highest of the three lower states of consciousness. Often translated as ‘god’ it is the ‘Great Cause of the Universe’. This state creates and destroys everything with its own illusionary power (maya). Maya is the phenomenal world, illusionary and in reality non–existent, appearing real only because the mind perceives external objects.
Hiranyagarbha, the ‘Luminous Totality of Creation’, binds the universe and all of creation together – akin to some universal non-physical glue.
Virat is the lowest state of universal consciousness and is referred to as the ‘Universal or Cosmic Form’. This is the universe at the gross level, which we perceive as real, visible and coherent.
Yoga and time
Yoga recognises three systems for measuring time: yugas, periods of manu and saptarshi.
A yuga (age) measures time in aeons. There are four yugas of unequal length.
The first is satya yuga, the ‘Golden Age’, which lasts for 1,728,000 years. It is followed by treta yuga, the ‘Silver Age’ of 1,296,000 years. Next is dvapara yuga the ‘Copper Age’, of 864,000 years and finally kali yuga the ‘Iron Age’ has a duration of 432,000 years.
These four yugas together make up one mahayuga, which lasts for 4,320,000 years. There are 1,000 mahayugas in one day or one night of brahman. According to the yoga scripts all life is destroyed during a night of brahman, to be recreated during the next day of brahman. There is no agreement on which yuga we are presently in, the most popular theory (but not necessarily correct) is that we entered kali yuga 3000 years ago.
Periods of manu
Manu was the first man, and apparently he blinked his eye in 0.088 seconds, which is the value of one nimesha. One shvasa (breath) is about four seconds.
One day comprises of 30 muhurtas each of 48 minutes duration. Six masas (months) make up one ayana (solstice) and two ayanas make one varsha (year).
A day (or night) of brahman is one kalpa (4,320,000,000 years).
There are several other periods of manu not listed here.
The saptarshi is a time keeping system which measures the movement of the Great Bear constellation, which rotates once every 24 hour hours.
Yoga and the human states of consciousness
The waking state
The waking state (vishva) is the normal state of human consciousness, which perceives the ‘real world’ via the five senses and other subtle perceptions.
The dream state
In the dream state (taijasa) the senses are ‘switched off’ and ‘dreams’ occur within the body, based on previous experiences and mental constructs.
The dreamless-sleep state
In the dreamless-sleep state (prajna) consciousness withdraws into itself and neither the senses nor the subconscious mind operate. There is no concept of ego in this state.
Yoga and the human experience
A human being is an eternal soul (atman) encased by three bodies: the ‘causal’, ‘subtle’ and ‘gross’ bodies. Ultimately atman is one with brahman but before this is realised atman is identified with a body and mind and, for emphasis, it is called the jiva or jivatman.
In order to transcend their limitations these bodies must be purified and most yoga practices (especially pranayama) are directed towards this purpose.
Devas only have subtle bodies and do not need to be liberated.
The atman is often called the microcosm, and brahman the macrocosm.
The Causal Body
The sheath that surrounds the atman is called the causal body (karana sharira). It is chitta in a constant state of bliss due to its close proximity to brahman – atman and it is also known as ‘The Sheath of Bliss’ (anandamaya kosha). The causal body is eternal, surviving the death process that the gross body continues to experience while subject to reincarnation (avagamana).
The Gross Body
The gross body (sthula sharira) is the outer, physical body of flesh, bones, nerves and bodily fluid, also called ‘The Sheath of Food’ (annamaya kosha). It is subject to death and is not reborn. It decays or disintegrates according to the environment after the death process.
The Subtle Body
The subtle body (sukshma sharira) is a luminous body that operates in the dream state of consciousness. It is composed of three sheaths: the mental body (manamaya kosha), the psychic and higher mental body (intellect) (vijnanamaya kosha) and the vital energy body (pranamaya kosha). These three sheaths give rise to knowledge, intellect, the mind, the senses, the subtle elements (tanmatras) and the five pranic airs. The intermingling of these subtle elements, thoughts, intelligence, emotions and sensations create the ego that keeps us locked into samsara.
The Pranic Body
Prana is the energy that powers everything in the universe. Cosmic prana (mahaprana) is the vital energy of the universe. How mahaprana manifests depends on the entity that is receiving it, prana will match the vibratory rate of the recipient.
The prana of the human entity is divided into two main types: vital energy (prana shakti) and mental energy (manas shakti). The pranic body (pranamaya kosha) comprises prana particles and the network of fine tubes (nadi) that carry them. The pranic body permeates all five sheaths surrounding the atman and both prana and nadi must become increasingly fine and more subtle as they approach the atman.
The pranic body comprises five different pranas: Vyana covers the whole body and acts as a control and energy reserve for the other four pranas and muscular movements. Udana, located in the arms, legs and head, is responsible for all nervous and sensory systems. Prana, in the chest cavity above the diaphragm, controls the lungs, heart, breathing, swallowing and blood circulation. Samana, located between the naval and the diaphragm, controls digestion and the digestive juices and balances prana and apana. Apana is located in the pelvic region and controls the bladder, kidneys, intestine, excretion, the reproductive organs and childbirth.
In ayurveda there are three regulating systems (doshas) in the body that control seven essential ingredients (dhatus: blood, bone, muscle, fat, marrow, semen and digestive juices).
The wind dosha (vata) controls motor-neurone activity, the five senses, digestion, food–nutrient circulation and excretion. The sun dosha (pitta) controls food digestion. The moon dosha (kapha) lubricates the body, producing and controlling saliva, mucous, spinal fluids and other bodily fluids.
There are 72,000 nadis, of which 14 are considered principle.
The main nadi (sushumna) runs the entire length of the spinal cord between ajna and sahasrara chakras.
Ida nadi runs from the left side of mooladhara chakra in a spiral path through each chakra and terminates on the left side of ajna. Pingala nadi runs from the right side of mooladhara in a spiral path mirroring ida and terminates on the right side of ajna. These two nadi represent the opposite flows of energy in the body. The feminine, passive, introverted ida nadi is also called the moon (chandra) nadi. It governs mental energy and sleep and is cooling and constructive. The masculine, active, extroverted pingala nadi is also called the sun (surya) nadi. Pingala governs the body’s energy and digestive systems and is warming and destructive.
Energy flow in these major nadi corresponds to the air flow in the nostrils. When the left nostril is used ida is active and when the right nostril is being used then pingala is active. When there is the same air flow through each nostril then sushumna is active.
Most people breathe through one nostril at a time, usually switching every 90 minutes or so. You can alter the flow of air in your nostrils, and therefore in the nadi, by raising one nostril above the other, with the uppermost becoming open. If you lie on your right side, with left nostril uppermost, then the body is cooled and mental energy is available. If you lie on your left side with your right nostril uppermost, then body is warmed and energy is available to aid digestion.
Breathing through both nostrils produces a calm mind and there is the possibility for sushumna to be opened.
Pranayama techniques work with the three main nadi by altering the air flow through the nostrils.
Where two nadi cross there is an increase in energy and locations where many nadi cross are termed chakras (wheels). There are hundreds of chakras in the body and usually seven are considered major. Those that can see chakras describe them as spinning vortices of energy, varying in shape and colour according to their current ‘health’. These spinning vortices are traditionally depicted as lotuses in yoga.
Mooladhara is the root chakra, located in the perineum. It is the centre for primitive instincts and emotions and is partly responsible for energy levels in the body. Modern teachings emphasise rooting to the earth, or grounding through this chakra.
This chakra houses Brahma granthi (the knot of Brahma) the first of three ‘psychic gates’ in the body. When Brahma granthi is open, kundalini shakti, which lies dormant in mooladhara, can rise.
Traditionally mooladhara is depicted as a deep crimson, four-petaled lotus. Inside the lotus is a yellow square, reference to the Earth element and inside this is an elephant carrying a downwardly pointing red triangle, a symbol of shakti. Inside the triangle is a Shiva lingam, with the kundalini serpent coiled around it.
It is an important centre for yoga practices, as the three main nadi (sushumna, ida and pinga) have a terminal here (the other terminal is ajna chakra)
Swadhisthana chakra, located at the base of the spine, is the basis of human existence, controlling mooladhara chakra, basic animal behaviour and the reproductive and urinary systems.
Traditionally it is represented as an orange/red, six-petaled lotus. Inside the lotus is a crescent moon, representing the water element.
Manipura chakra is the body’s energy centre, located on the spinal column behind the navel. Prana is taken in and redistributed by this centre, which also controls willpower.
Traditionally this chakra is represented as a bright yellow, ten-petaled lotus. Inside the lotus a red triangle symbolizes the fire element.
Anahata chakra is located on the spinal column in the region of the heart.
Traditionally it is symbolised by a green, twelve-petaled lotus.
This chakra is the location of the second psychic knot, Vishnu granthi – the knot of Vishnu. It is said that if the kundalini shakti can reach anahata then it will not descend to the lower chakras.
Heart energy is unconditional love in truest sense, an energy emanating from the chakra that is without mental or other attachments. Heart energy is tangible, though few seem to have the ability to project it, it can be felt by anyone.
The minor chakras in the palm of each hand are linked directly to anahata.
Vishuddhi chakra is the purification centre based in the spine at throat level. This is a communication centre, but also the energy of unattached openness, allowing things to be what they are, without mental construct obscuring.
Traditionally it is depicted as a blue or purple-blue, sixteen-petaled lotus.
It is an important centre for sound vibrations and mantras.
Ajna chakra is the ‘third-eye chakra’, located in the medulla oblongata and associated with the pineal gland.
Traditionally this chakra is depicted as a purple, two-petaled, lotus. Inside the lotus is depicted an ‘om’ symbol and a Shiva lingam.
This centre is a doorway to the astral and spirit dimensions and when awakened ajna chakra can acquire knowledge without the aid of the senses.
The third psychic knot, Rudra granthi – the knot of Shiva is located in ajna.
This chakra houses one terminal of the three main nadi (sushumna, pingala and ida), the other terminal being in mooladhara chakra.
Sahasrara is the crown chakra, located at the top of the head. Traditional yoga teaches that this is not a chakra, but a connection with ‘totality’; a concept that is beyond thought and reason.
This chakra is depicted as a white, thousand-petaled lotus, with the petals turned downwards, covering the top of the head,
Head energies and processes
The atman empowers the sheaths around it to create maya, the illusionary phenomenal world that we perceive as real.
Our true identity is pure consciousness (purusha) but we attach our true selves to our mind (antakarana) and body, creating ego in the sense of ‘I-am’ (ahem), ‘I-exist’. This process of attachment is called ahankara.
Memory is a function of chitta, which itself is a mixture of consciousness and emotional energy. Chitta also creates ignorance (avidya).
Buddhi is the part of the mind responsible for discrimination, ‘intellect’.
Manas is the mind acting as an intermediary between the senses and the intellect.
Egotism (asmita) drives our desires and avoidances, the ‘I-want’ ego (or ‘I don’t want’, ‘I-need’).
Whilst these processes are listed separately they can, and do, all work together. Most people have a ‘running commentary’ in their heads as they plan ways of achieving their wants/likes/desires/avoidances. I term this active mind ‘monkey mind’ and it is a blend of many elements, but driven by egotism (asmita).
There are two major chakras in the head. Sahasrara connects the body with all of ‘totality’. Ajna chakra is called the third eye, and it is an eye shaped gland. The third eye is the doorway to the spiritual realm, inhabited by beings without a gross body (spirits). It is also the gateway to the astral realms, which we visit in our dream states (though we can train ourselves to visit the astral while conscious). Our dreams are associated with ajna.
Karma is manifest in the causal body as the subtle leshya, which accumulates in the subconscious as impressions. Leshya is characterised by the three gunas: sattvic, rajasic and tamaric and the continual influx of these substances change the colour, smell, shape and size of the auric bodies. Karmas effect how the doshas function
Every action will yield the corresponding good or bad, unless that action is desire-less or ‘non-karmic’. Non-karmic actions are completely devoid of all ego, personal interest, desire and attachments, All actions carried out in a dualistic mind set on this phenomenal earth are subject to karma. A karmic debt is built up as subtle influences in the subtle body, and is retained through the death and rebirth of the gross body. Karmas are classified according to when they ripen; some will only ripen in future lifetimes and some in the current lifetime may have been collected in previous ones.
The karmic debt determines into which body the soul will reincarnate.
The death process
At the onset of the death process the flow of prana in the body is disrupted. The body’s earthly elements lose cohesion, bodily fluids dissipate, the fire goes out and the body cools and with the last breath the air elements leave the body and the death process is complete.
The causal and subtle bodies remain and gain a new gross body at their re-birth
The cycle of death and rebirth (samsara)
Reincarnation is called avagamana ('coming and going'). We are embodied souls (jivatma) on the revolving wheel of mundane existence (samsara). Karmas control these cycles of birth and death into the various realms.
When the subtle and causal bodies are reborn they retain their karmic debt but have no memories of their previous lifetimes and existences. The bound soul receives more false dualistic concepts which create further delusions, desires, avoidances etc., and create further karma.
Paths through yoga
Yoga is a vast subject which offers several paths towards self-realisation. Identity with self and a dualistic mind set are the main obstacles to advaita and samadhi and both can be overcome by the loss of egotism. It doesn’t matter how you achieve advaita as long as the mental delusions cease.
Bhakti yoga is the path of devotion, is the complete surrender (of the self) to a deity (or guru).
It is the belief that everything happens according to god’s will and the same source will provide all.
Once again the purpose is to lose egotism.
Bhakti yoga is still a tool, which will become redundant once advaita – samadhi is realised. It is not a path for everyone, but it is generally considered to be one of the easiest ways to self-realisation.
Karma yoga advocates cultivating a selfless attitude performing right action (ultimately, free from karma). It is good training towards having no egotism. It is possible to surrender to the moment, looking for nothing outside of yourself or the present moment.
Jnana yoga is the path of knowledge, an intellectual attempt to achieve self-realisation. It is not a path for all, and is considered to be the hardest approach to self realisation.
The yogis say that the mind is the great enemy and must be defeated in battle. Using the mind to achieve that which is not knowable or understandable by the mind is a difficult task.
Kundalini yoga utilises a variety of pranayama and energy techniques to raise kundalini energy from mooladhara chakra to sahasrara chakra, which results in samadhi. It is not a path for all and can be dangerous in not undertaken correctly, or under expert guidance.
Raja yoga is another term for ashtanga yoga. This path follows the teachings of Patanjali, as introduced in this manuscript.
Sri vidya is a rare form of yoga, practiced by few who thoroughly understand the microcosm and macrocosm.