MAHARISHI PATANJALI’S MAHA SAMADHI
I have a very dear and very opinionated friend who lives in the San Francisco Bay area. He has been trudging along the spiritual path since the 1970’s. One day he was bemoaning the fate of the practice of yoga in the modern world.
“Maharishi Patanjali would be spinning if he saw what’s become of his yoga practice.”
Naturally I was curious. “Really?” I asked.
Shaking his head he continued, “Yoga has become just another fad for body builders who want to look beautiful.”
At the time I accepted his words as a statement of fact. It can seem that way. Yoga has the dubious privilege of being among the new “billion dollar” industries in the world, and it’s growing. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/16/how-the-yoga-industry-los_n_4441767.html
It’s true that of the 196 sutras in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra treatise on Ashtanga Yoga, only three actually relate directly to yogasana. It’s also true that almost no one even seems to know, or care to know much about what’s in the other 193. Maybe the west really is just perverting this ancient sage’s words for its own material ends–the very antithesis of his original intent!
Recently, I’ve been pondering the validity of my friend’s statement.
LIVING IN THE WEST
The predominate thought in western society right now is that happiness is something to acquire. You work hard for it. In fact you have to work really hard for it. Society peddles the ideal life as one where we all have a lot of things that make us happy, and then keep us happy.
These of course must include a house and its stuff, good looks and good health. We have a lot of money so we can do things and go places. If we have all this we’ll live happily ever after. There don’t seem to be a lot of other choices for most people. Either you’re in the game or… what?
What else is there to become? There is a cost to playing this game though.
If we ever reach any of our goals we don’t sit back and relax, finally content. Instead, we promptly make new ones and then stay on the treadmill of life. Where’s the time to ask what it’s all for? Once we are in the game, it’s too hard to step away, so we eat on the run, we study on the run, we talk on the run, we raise our kids on the run. We even run on the run.
And the truth is, living life like this is killing us.
THE WAY WE USED TO BE
I recently read Jared Diamond’s ‘The World Until Yesterday’. He says that hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, strokes, alcohol, cigarettes and drug abuse are what kill people today.
He has spent the last two decades living and working with people who live in traditional societies and these modern phenomena are almost unknown to them.
According to Diamond, we are choosing to die from these diseases because of the way we are choosing to live. Stress, he says, is the real killer of the modern age. Then the question is, do we really have to live like this?
WELCOME TO YOGA
Questions like this one often are often what interest people in yoga.
At first, the practice of yoga attracts most people because they want good health and fitness.
They want relief from stress, and yoga is awesome, seemingly too good to be true. By practicing regularly, people really do feel better.
Every day I see a man in his 70’s who lives nearby me. We smile and wave when we see each other. As we passed each other one day, he called me over. Looking around, he leaned into me as if to relieve himself of a great secret. He said with a big grin, “I have no cholesterol and no blood pressure, and no heart problems … everything is perfect! The doctors are amazed.”
Naturally I congratulated him and then he continued, “You know what I do?” he whispered, again looking around. Then, he answered his own question, “Twelve Surya Namaskarah daily!”
So here is this elderly gentleman who had been a bank manager and raised a family and lived a busy and full life, but he finds himself in his twilight years in a state of perfect health. He knows it’s because of yoga. We should be so lucky… and we can be.
YOGA FOR THE BODY
There is certainly something special about yoga. It’s not like going to the gym to work out.
The correct practice of yoga asana is just the right combination of asana, the breath, and the mind. It’s not just stretching the body, but it’s imbuing it with freshness and energy. It can feel like recapturing a taste of our youth. Any regular person off the street can learn how to hold their body in a certain way for a few seconds and how to use the mind to direct the breath into that posture. Perhaps a 20 year old would like yoga because she gets added strength, fitness and stamina; while someone like me (almost 50) will more likely be grateful for having more energy, better health, and flexibility.
The 20 year old and I will share a new found feeling of well being, a sense of gracefulness, and balance in the body and experience a kind of glow coming from within.
YOGA FOR THE MIND, TOO
We all carry around toxic emotions, like worry, fear, tension, depression, loneliness, anger.
These are unconsciously held in our bodies. Even though we don’t want them, we have no way to get rid of them. Medications cover symptoms but do not relieve the causes.
We say that body is really an outward manifestation of the mind. By harmonizing and balancing the body’s energy, yoga can also harmonize and balance our mind. In fact, everything that yoga does for the body, it also does for the mind, like focus, stamina, strength, flexibility, energy, stability, clarity, and enthusiasm. At body and mind level people can begin to enjoy a new feeling of inner balance. This is doubly true if the practitioner also begins to adopt healthier consumption habits. A healthy lifestyle is the foundation of a solid yoga practice.
YOGA AND SPIRIT
There is always more in yoga though; it can always go deeper.
As thoughts become more and more positive, the mind becomes less and less distracted. We start to become aware of a new feeling of happiness. The truth is that this refined feeling of happiness we feel from yoga is not really “happiness” at all, at least not in the way we normally think of happiness.
In Sanskrit this is called “ananda”. It’s not a pleasure that we get from something. It is a simple, subtle feeling that arises from within and stays present with us, noticed or not. In fact it is often called ‘presence’. It’s a free feeling and it’s nurtured by the practice of yoga. We become noticeably happier, more natural, spontaneous, more respectful and caring to ourselves and to others.
The interesting thing is that as we become more balanced and happy, we begin to see how out of balance and unhappy everyone else is. We find we have more inner resources to really be there for our children, our partner, family, friends, and colleagues. We find ourselves able to be more compassionate toward others. We are able to take responsibility for our own happiness. We don’t let others tell us what will make us happy, because we already know!
HAS YOGA REALLY LOST ITS SOUL?
While most will be initially attracted to the physical benefits of yoga, many deepen their practice through the mental and the spiritual sides as well.
What I like about Amrita Yoga is that it focuses not only on these first two elements, but also very heavily on the spiritual aspects of yoga.
It may be true that yogasana forms only three out of the entire 196 of the Yoga Sutras, but the real truth is that yogasana has become an open gateway to the spiritual path for tens of millions, who, as they continue to deepen their practice, will surely be exposed to the wonder of the other 193.
I think Maharishi Patanjali would be elated, because his philosophy of yoga is the most popular means on the planet for all people, regardless of who they are or where they come from, to be able to choose to live a happy life.
And it’s become a clear choice for the millions who are already practicing.
May all beings in all the worlds be happy!
Author: Stuart Macindoe Haran