How to do the cessation “thing”?When to do that?Why to do that?
Been busy with work recently, but I wanted to add to this question asked in another thread, which is actually a damn good question. Understanding the ‘Why’ to do Yoga is actually a very crucial prerequisite, and makes the difference between a successful practice and a non-successful one. Most people begin their practice of Yoga with a very vague notion of why they are doing Yoga, the most common goals being: Improving flexibility; destressing; fighting disease; increasing intelligence; weight loss and toning up. A few are interested in the spiritual dimension to become more spiritual, to find peace and calm.
However, what is the actual ‘why’ in the Yoga tradition. In other words why was Yoga developed in the first place at all? In order to answer this we need to look at the first four opening sutras of the Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras is the defining text of the Yoga school, and Patanjali is considered the first major Yoga scientist. This is because he is the first to scientifically describe the entire Yoga practice, covering especially the what, how and when.
Note: I will cite several translations so we can get a wider grasp of the meaning. Not all translations are equal, but reading several will bring one to a more approximate understanding of the actual meaning. In addition, it also helps to read the entire Yoga sutras itself and intertextual references, to get a contextual understanding. This will make the meaning even clearer.
Yoga Sutras 1.1-1.4
Now, instruction in Union.
Union is restraining the thought-streams natural to the mind.
Then the seer dwells in his own nature.
Otherwise he is of the same form as the thought-streams.
Yoga in the here and now: an introduction to the study and practice of yoga
When you are in a state of yoga, all misconceptions (vrittis) that can exist in the mutable aspect of human beings (chitta) disappear.
For finding our true self (drashtu) entails insight into our own nature.
Lacking that, misconceptions (vritti) skew our perceptions.
Here follows Instruction in Union.
Union, spiritual consciousness, is gained through control of the versatile psychic nature.
Then the Seer comes to consciousness in his proper nature.
Heretofore the Seer has been enmeshed in the activities of the psychic nature.
Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.
Yoga is the control (nirodhah, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, stilling, quieting, setting aside) of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field.
Then the Seer abides in Itself, resting in its own True Nature, which is called Self-realization.
At other times, when one is not in Self-realization, the Seer appears to take on the form of the modifications of the mind field, taking on the identity of those thought patterns.
NOW begins the teaching of yoga.
Yoga occurs when the field of consciousness is liberated from its patterned and restrictive various instabilities and spinning. Then the mind abides in the domain of innate clear essentiality – in clarified spaciousness devoid of any conditioned bias, tilt, or spin.
Then the seer abides in the unbiased primordial all pervading clear light consciousness, which is our true nature.
At other times the mind identifies with discrete and fragmented objects.
The important verse here is the first verse itself, “NOW, begins the teaching Yoga” The word ‘NOW’ is telling us that after some preparation we are now ready to begin practice. The best analogy to explain this sutra is like studying a theory in say chemistry class. Then when you have studied the theory, the teacher shows you the experiment to show the theory at work. The same is true with Patanjali, except Patanjali barely covers the theory at all. It is already assumed you already know the theory of Yoga. Patanjali gets directly into the experimental and practical side of things itself.
It is very clear what the Yoga Sutras is a treatise on: Meditation. Every translation above brings this point out that Yoga is to do with stilling/restraining/controlling the activities of the mind. It is thus a Manuel for a mediator. A practical psychology a meditator can use to assist their personal practice. Thus we can surmise another definition of what Yoga is: Yoga is the science of meditation. The aim of the science is to still the activities of the mind, so that after they have been stilled, only a pure awareness remains. Otherwise, awareness is identified with the activities. Everybody of us who have meditated know exactly what this means: The single most hardest pursuit in meditation is keeping the mind focused on its object of meditation, for often we find we become identified with the myriad of sensations taking place within us and around us, absorbed in thoughts, memories, speculations, start daydreaming or completely lose consciousness and fall asleep. Even keeping the mind focused for a single min is a herculean task.
Patanjali, a master meditator himself is aware of how difficult this is, hence why he has written the Yoga Sutras for us, and prescribed us many techniques that will help us still the mind. He also delineates exactly what stages of meditation we will go through if we are able to keep the mind still for an extended period of time. He identifies all the common obstacles that we will encounter in our practice of meditation and remedies for them. He identifies the mechanisms by which the mind works, so we know exactly how to spot the minds activities.
But we still have not answered the why - why still the mind? The answer to this question is not explicit in the Yogasutras, because it is already assumed you know the theory behind Yoga. The theory behind Yoga is Samkhya, and thus a clear grasp of Samkhya is assumed. It is highly recommended that all yogis/yoginis read and understand the Samkhya philosophy. The best way to do this is simply read the primary and definitive text of the school itself: The Samkhya Karika. Then, it will become clear, why exactly you need to still the mind and what benefits you will attain. This is made clear in the Karika opening sutra:
- A permenant solution to curing the three kinds of pain is inquiry. Other means only offer temporal relief.
It is a cure for pain - all kinds of pain: physical pain, emotional and mental pain, and spiritual pain. Inquiry in terms of Yoga is meditation. The promise then is that when one is able to successfully still their mind they will become liberated from every kind of pain and suffering. In other words they will become full of joy/happiness/bliss which is the actual true nature of pure awareness when it is no longer occluded by the minds activities.
The Karika further clarifies much later:
- Thus consciousness is never actually really entangled, is never liberated and never transmigrates. It is matter(includes mind) which is entangled, liberated and transmigrates. Consciousness merely becomes misidentified, but when discriminative knowledge appears the misidentication is reversed.
In Samkhya matter basically means everything other than consciousness, thus mind and its various parts like intellect, ego, sense organs, motor organs is also matter, and so are atoms, quarks, electrons, protons, neutrons, molecules, rocks, plants, animals, humans, planets, suns etc. It is all just matter. Thus what Samkhya is making clear to the Yoga mediator that the myriad of activities they witness during meditation taking place inside and outside the body or inside the mind is just material activity(guna activity), and has nothing to do with oneself - or rather awareness.
The misfortune is despite the fact that our awareness is not at all conjoined either with the world, body, or mind, it acts as if it is because it is misidentified with them. This is according to Samkhya the real cause of pain and suffering. The antidote is to come to awakening or knowledge that we are not that, which Yoga gives the practical solution of meditation for. As we systematically witness the world, the sensations inside and outside the body, our thoughts, emotions and desires, or cognitions, we begin to weaken the identification and eventually remove it altogether.
The Karika continues:
- Matter binds itself through the 7 forms(virtue, vice and the rest) and releases itself with 1 form of truth.
- Thus from the practice of truth the wisdom is produced, “I am not”, “Nothing is mine” and “not I” which pure, free of error and doubt and absolute.
- By means of this knowledge consciousness realises itself as the pure witness(not agent) and beholds the true reality of matter, which now ceases from evolving forms, giving consciousness a pure and clear vision of reality.
- The consciousness acts as if, “I have now seen it” and the matter acts as if “I have now been seen”
- When perfect knowledge dawns, all conditioning is lost and one becomes pure, but continues to inhabit the body to release the remaining karmas, like the potters wheel continues to spin under the momentum even after the potter stops spinning it
- When then the consciousness finally departs from the body it attains full and final liberation and freedom
- This difficult and subtle knowledge via which one can attain full liberation through discriminative knowledge between consciousness and matter was first described by the Sage Kapila.
Thus the why is fully answered, leaving no scope for doubt. The goal of Yoga is total and final liberation and freedom of ones consciousness(moksha) through systematic dissociation of consciousness with every vritti, not a single one spared. Note that the Samkhya considers not just vice, but even virtue as binding. Thus even virtue is considered a vritti in Yoga - ultimately we must become completely liberated from any kind of patterning or activity of the mind, even those that seem benign.
Now what can seem more benign than watching a beautiful sunset, with a feeling of calmness and beauty and a smile on your face? Surely this is not a vritti(disturbance) or a vritti like this needs to be preserved rather than extinguished? Patanjali answers this in this 5 broad categories of vrittis. The vritti of correct perception. This is the most principal and insidious vritti, because we do not recognize it as a mental activity, but as something right, or natural, or objective. However, it is a mental activity, because the mind has to work to cognize the sense impressions coming from the sunset and coordinate them into the coherent image we receive, this is turn is personalized according to our personal likes and dislikes by the ego-filters and then signals are sent to the body that produces pleasant sensations and smile on your face. In other words there is tons of activity going on behind the scenes as we watch that beautiful sunset. The mind may seem still consciously, but unconsciously it is in violent activity.
Today, we understand the actual physical side of what happens when a sense perception takes place a lot better, in terms of how signals are received by the senses, the processing in the brain and how it is outputted. Sense perceptions are definitely not natural, but constructed by the brain and this puts a huge strain on our nervous system. Hence, why there is such thing as “overloading” your senses. Any kind of sense activity uses up our energy. To remedy this Patanjali prescribes Pratyhara(sensory-withdrawal) as part of his Ashtanga yoga practice.
To summarize: Why do we need to still the activities of our mind? It is because without doing this we cannot liberate our consciousness. If we do not liberate our consciousness then we will continue to be subject to pain, suffering and transmigration. Thus, one who fully understands the WHY and becomes full of doubtless conviction and steadfastness of the necessity to still the mind(sharadda) and with great zeal begins their practice and quickly attains success in Yoga.
The real starting point of Yoga is beginning with that intellectual conviction. So as long as we are unclear about the WHY our practice will not be successful, due to conscious and unconscious doubt. Until that intellectual realization - Eureka - does not happen, ones practice is doomed to failure. Hence I reiterate again, a clear grasp of Samkhya is essential for every yogi/yogini.