Saturday, May 19, 2007

A consideration of kriyāyogaḥ in the the yoga sutras (10)

Before any more “progress” can be made with respect to sharing my understanding of the yoga sutras (YS), some review is necessary. It is my opinion that the fourth “book”, part, section is a later addition. I cannot prove this, but, to me, the Sanskrit is slightly different. However, no true understanding of the 4th section can come about unless the first three sections are clearly grasped.

The first section clarifies one special thing in particular: citta (mind/consciousness) is obscured by vṛtti (conceptualizations, notions, pre-conceived ideas, that absolute certainty that you knew what you were talking about, when it later turns out that you did not). YOGA is that condition in which the citta has been freed from the influence of vṛtti. Freeing, in this case is nirodha which means stopping or ending. When the vṛtti have been ended, then the citta mind or consciousness functions freely.

The usual image is mistaking a rope for a snake. The vṛtti tell us that we are seeing a snake. The heart rate increases, the adrenal glands fill the bloodstream with sudden vitality to get away. It is, as it were, as if the vṛtti were filters between the sense-doors and the perception (citta). The vṛtti are the lies we believe when we look but do not see.

If we try to read the first section of the YS as meaning that we have to stop the activity of mind, then we have taken a useless turn that will only lead to discontentment. Simply put: if you were able to stop the activity of your mind, how would you turn it back on. How will you say to yourself wake up, wake up, don’t be dead, Dude? When the mind stops there is no more perception. This is not good.

The second section of the YS deals with kriyā. This should not be read in the sense of a predetermined “method”. It should not be confused with the teachings of Yogananda also called Kriya Yoga. In the way that kriyā is used in the YS, we need to understand kriyā more as the means or way we work this out for ourselves. However, the author or redactor who may or may not have added the 4th section, gives some very specific guidelines that, apparently, he felt were vital. These are usually passed over and ignored by practitioners who, then, fail to make headway in the third section of the text.

The third section is generally felt to be about gaining or cultivating magical or supernormal “powers”. Since this particular vṛtti exists, the way the third section is read, like the problem with the rope/snake, becomes obscured and corrupted leading to nothing of any particular value.

The third section does not deal with what we think magical or supernormal “powers” might be. It does not deal with what we imagine, suppose or want. It deals with very specific means to clarify the direct experience of citta. I am very much indebted to Paul Mason for his exacting and perspicacious insight:

As a human I have far more use for cheerfulness and confidence than for supernatural powers.

I think the author or redactor of the YS would wholeheartedly agree. If you have supernormal powers, whatever they might be and do not have clear and direct experience of mind, then you might as well not have supernormal powers. You would be no more than a thoughtless child playing with matches. Public figures who do not make good decisions seem to be fair game for comedians and satirists. I am sure that to many un-sophisticated individuals the President of the United States might appear to have supernormal powers. Would it be so great to be George Bush? Would it be great to be able to zap the people you don’t like or approve of?

If you think that supernormal powers would be a terrific way to get our own way and show other who’s boss, then you have not understood the second section of the YS. You certainly have not understood the very important caveat from the Christian New Testament: what does it profit you to gain the whole world yet sacrifice the vital thing that makes you who you are. [My paraphrase.]

I take exception to ending the second section in the midst of the explanation of the eight limbs of yoga. This, I feel, is someone’s error. The third section ought to begin with “the three together (or “as one thing”) is saṃyama”. The misunderstanding is that the three refers to the last three limbs being described. But the last three limbs are one thing in a progression, namely, attention progressing through the three states or limbs, as explained. This illustrates three conditions of awareness or attention. But, like water, how would you have all three states at once (as one thing), gas, liquid and solid?

The supposed ‘sidhi’ sutras the Mahesh sells as something that is just so great is something I feel is deceitful and misleading on his part. Something certain to deprive you of the direct experience of that vital thing that makes you who you are. They are not powers that turn you into superman/woman, they are means for you to certify the holism or unity of who/what you are, your sense perceptions, and what is perceived.

But further progress cannot be made until the second section of the YS is carefully examined, which comes next.

A consideration of kriyāyogaḥ in the the yoga sutras (11)

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