The Key Aspects Leading to the Goal of Ashtanga Yoga
“Athaanushaasanam Yoga” or “And now the instructions on Yoga” is one of the verses in the Yoga Sutras by Sage Patanjali. By saying “and now,” the great Sage is implying that, once we have completed the preliminaries, we can go deeper into ashtanga yoga practice.
Before we delineate the prerequisites, let us take a look at the goal of Yoga. Patanjali says, “Yogashchittavrittinirodhah” (Yoga Sutras, 1.2), i.e. “Yoga is blocking or controlling the modifications of the mind stuff.” This is done through concentration and invoking ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ or the eight limbs of yoga. Eventually, the practice culminates in a state of intense concentration called ‘Samadhi,’ or oneness with our divine Self (Purusha).
“When we want to rein in the mind or “bring the remote control of our minds into our hands”, an example that Amma often uses, three things are involved: concentration, purification and inwardness. So, restraining the mind doesn’t involve just concentrating the mind but also purifying it and turning it inward.
The early stages of mental concentration can be attained by performing spiritual practices such as archana (chanting the thousand names of the Divine Mother), singing bhajana (devotional songs), performing puja (ritualistic worship) and japa (chanting the mantra given by the spiritual master).
The mind has to be purified. What are the impurities of the mind? They are desire, anger, greed, delusion or confusion, pride and envy. The scriptures call these the ‘shad vyathis’ or the ‘six afflictions of the mind.’ To remove the six afflictions, we need to do karma yoga, the path of selfless action.
This is why Amma emphasizes seva (selfless service). Without purity of mind, it is very difficult to gain deep concentration. That is why so many people become discouraged and frustrated in their attempts at meditation. Work should be done with equanimity of mind—not being overly jubilant in success, and not falling into depression in failure. We should see ourselves as an instrument of the Divine—“as a paint brush in the hands of a painter”.
When we perform work in this manner, the mind slowly becomes purified. But without a proper mental attitude, or by working with an ulterior desire for power and position, even a seeker who has been leading a spiritual life in seclusion for a long time will not reap the benefits of seva. Conversely, a worldly person can transform their career into karma yoga by applying the principles of karma yoga.
The mind has to be turned inward, i.e. it has to become dispassionate towards the world. Our attachment to sense objects creates disturbances in the mind, making it difficult to gain one-pointedness. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna tells Lord Krishna:
“Chanchalam hi manah Krishna pramaathi balavadriddam. Tasyaham nigraham manye vaayoriva sudushkaram.” (Gita, 6.34)
“The mind is restless, turbulent, strong and unyielding; it would be as difficult to control as the wind.”
Lord Krishna replies:
“Asamshayam mahabaho mano durnigraham chalam. Abhyasena tu kaunteya vairagyena ca grahyate.” (Gita, 6.35)
“Undoubtedly, the restless mind is difficult to control, but through practice and dispassion, it can be restrained.”
Sage Patanjali, the master of the yoga tradition says, “Abhyaasavairaagyaabhyaam tan nirodham” (Yoga Sutras, 1.12).
“Control of the mind is brought about by persistent practice and dispassion.”
So, both Lord Krishna and Sage Patanjali use the same two words: ‘dispassion’ and ‘practice’. We acquire dispassion by listening to spiritual talks, studying scriptures, reading about the lives of saints and sages, and following the advice of our Guru.
Thus, we need to acquire some single-pointedness of mind, purity of mind, and dispassion or detachment which are the key aspects in the practice of Ashtanga yoga. We gain these by performing spiritual practices, converting our actions into karma yoga, and studying the scriptures.
When done in unison, we can attain “chittavritti nirodhah,” and acquire the ever-so-elusive limbs of dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (establishing in consciousness).
(”chitta” means mind, ”vritti’‘ refers to the monkey mind of our thoughts constantly jumping around and ”nirodhah” means cessation. So taken together the phrase means the transformation of the agitated mind to a calm, peaceful mind.)
Author: Brahmachari Sanjit
As always, thoughtful comments are invited and appreciated. Share your reflections with us! See below to leave a comment.