Yoga as freedom
In language roots matter. This is especially true for sanskrit where the same word can have varying meanings depending on the root being emphasized. This is why the study of sanskrit and sanskrit grammar is a rich practice all in it’s own and certainly can be seen as a sister practice to yoga. For the word yoga there are two primary roots that indicate whether the path taken up is one of unification (yuj/ yujir yoge) or freedom (yuja/ yuja samadhau).
In the first case union (yuj) is layed out by various texts with the following terms:
- what principles are moving towards eachother
- how the union is brought about
- the intial benefits
- the final result of the union
Examples are the unification of prana and apana (hatha yoga) , of kundalini and the siva principle (kundalini yoga), of mantra and mind (mantra yoga) and of jivatman and paramatman (bhakti yoga).
Similarly in terms of yoga as freedom/yuja (yuja samadhau) as described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutram the framework is listed as:
- what is yoga
- the final aim described
- the method to bring this about
- the initial results/ intermediary results
- and the alternative route
Yoga is defined by Patanjali in this way as chitta vrtti nirodhah- a complete cessation of the mind’s activities further explained as absolute peace of mind that occurs when we are able to reside in our own true nature (tada drastuh svarupe ‘vasthanam). This is possible in living form and not akin to brain death. Instead, we can look to the definition of the word atman (a relative synonym for the word purusha used in the yoga sutras) coming from the root “adatte iti atma” meaning “one who gathers.” When we are in a state of yoga our mind is completely turned towards the Purusha/Atman or the higher Self. Purusha is described in Samkhya philosophy (the basis for yoga sutras) as the observer and the subject. Typically we associate our identity with the changeable objects around us including the citta vrttis (5 fold categorical activities of the mind: right perception, wrong perception, imagination, sleep, memory) rather than the unchanging and eternal self. Grasping at straws to create an identity for ourselves when we have essentially forgotten who we are causes this misidentification. Through yoga we remove the veil covering the Self so the mind can finally rest with the subject not the objects- i.e. in peace. THis is of course a very cliff notes version. We can look to the yoga sutras to explore this more. So then going back to the root for atman as “one who gathers”: if yoga is citta vrtti nirodhah- it simply means that we are gathering all our mental activities or energies and putting them together in one spot. When they are together they stop running around trying to make sense of eachother. They are at peace with one another and in that space can rest. This is citta vrtti nirodhah. I sometimes think of my family at Christmas. Leading up to the day there is so much running around, chaos really. Everyone wrapping presents, making food, doing regular duties all the while, dealing with holiday traffic and crowded stores. But on Christmas morning we all come together and all the stress and chaos from the weeks before seems to dissapear. We are just with eachother.
This nirodhah when established throughout the remainder of one’s days leads to the ultimate goal of yoga according to Patanjali: kaivalya.Kaivalya is ultimate liberation from samsara. The 4th chapter of the yoga sutras is written for the yogi in nirdohah as a means to encourage staying in that state. Samsara comes from the root Samsr which means “to go around.” This is the cycle of transmigration related to karma. At the time of death the theory is that the the prana bound to unresolved karma leaves the body and due to the weight of karma (results of actions that has not been resolved- good or bad) is pulled back down into another form to go through the lifecycle again. Nirodhah suggests that the mind is so well gathered that karma can be dissolved easily. With no “weight” to bind the prana does not transmigrate. Peace, peace, peace.
As you may imagine this is not something most of us can just decide to do and be done with it. It requires a lot of preparation. As my teacher and many others of the Krishnamacharya lineage suggest the method of preparation is unique to the individual. There is not one way for everyone. Hence the vast and rich quality of the yoga tradition…many streams to the same ocean. For the yogi established in meditation Patanjali describes various methods by which to anchor the mind in samadhi as well as a leveled approach to development (7 levels of samadhi). For those of us not established in meditation the 2nd chapter offers the foundaiton for our actions (kriya yoga) and the 8 fold path to balance the gunas/make th eintellect lighter and more clear and focus the mind towards the goal (ashtanga yoga).
The third chapter offers us insight into the intermediary results called siddhis. I often think of these yogic powers (or siddhis/vibhutis) as the bright and shiny objects. They are more attractive than the objects our mind has previously been focused on yet they are still objects. The goal of yoga here being kaivalya (freedom from bondage), we are meant to be aware of these results and also not bound to them (The alternative route then is to stay with this cycle of samsara and therefore duhkha/suffering). Ultimately the only siddhi that will matter is nirodhah. The power of peace.
as Ramaswami typed this morning on facebook:
Yoga answers a question we do not even ask “Who am I?”
Who am I really? The texts say I am the observer (atman/Purusha), the one who shines eternal when all has gathered and settled down.