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YOGA MATTERS -Yoga Chitta Vritta Nirodha

Feb 21, 2013

These humble four words are the fundamental mandate for practitioners of Yoga and those yoga teachers who would formulate practices for their students.  The definition of these words is truly the definition of Yoga as a whole.

 

Patanjali’s framework provides a translation of the mandate of Yoga into simple, actionable, repeatable and concrete phases to bring about spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is the ultimate goal of Yoga practices. Yoga destroys ignorance along the way.

 

This article is the first in a series of articles examining how Western students deeply enter into spiritual practice starting with Yoga.

 

Preparation

To begin anything, especially something as deep as Yoga is, one must do the following:

1)    Know What You’re Getting Into

2)    Know Where You Are

3)    Prepare for Getting Into It/Find A Teacher

4)    Serve, Love, Give, Purify

5)    Meditate, Realize; Evolve, Transform

6)    Teach: Contribute to others by translating or advising on practices that result in transformation

Truly, Yoga is like a pot into which one climbs and is therefore “cooked”. The contents of the pot are forever changed, but the pot itself remains unaffected by the heat applied or the nature of the contents inside.

 

Barriers to Removing Modifications: The Modern Student

Translated, ‘Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha’ simply means ‘Yoga is the practice of removing any and all modifications of the mind’. Patanjali’s 8-step process is intended to operate upon this mandate. Each of the 8 limbs (or ashtanga) of Patanjali’s framework is what he termed the evolution or practice of “kriya yoga”, or ‘cleansing action’.  

 

What is being cleansed is the mind, as this mind sits at the very center of all Yogic practices.

“Mind is the cause of bondage, mind is the cause of freedom.”- Swami Vishnu-devananda

 

Pantanjali’s formulations of the Ashtanga Yoga are, essentially, an observation of the common layers of focus that assist aspirants in removing barriers; practices that result in the removal of modifications of the mind; resulting in total; a balanced left/right brained, non-theistic recognition of Reality.  These practices result in an increasingly mature outlook on this Reality.

 

 

Qualifications of A Sincere Aspirant

In my experience as a teacher, I have used the Sadhana Chatushtaya (the qualifications of an aspirant) as my touchstone for how to proceed through the spiritual path. Swami Venkatesananda, one of Swami Sivananda’s longtime disciples, speaking about my guru,  said it thusly:

Swami Sivananda accepted the supreme and vital need for what is known as Sadhana-Chatushtaya. Whereas the orthodox Rishis, sages, Yogis or holy men waited for the ripe seeker (one who was ready, who had disciplined himself, who had prepared himself) to approach them, Swami Sivananda said that it is perhaps too much to expect a person living in the modern world, assailed on all sides by distractions and temptations, to develop discrimination and dispassion. He said that even in the case of a person who runs away from failure it is possible to find a spark which could be fanned into a big flame. Sometimes if the spark didn't exist he even ignited it. That was the extraordinary beauty in Swami Sivananda.

One of the methods adopted by him was massive dissemination of spiritual knowledge. It was absolutely and totally indiscriminate. Viveka is often translated into discrimination. Here was a master who performed indiscriminate charity and undertook indiscriminate dissemination of spiritual knowledge in the hope that one of these pamphlets or books, dropping into the hands of a man at a certain psychological moment, might ignite true Viveka, true aspiration, in him.

 

I have taken a similar compassionate and yet informed approach with my teaching method. This article is written from that point of view.

 

The challenge is greater in today’s ultra-modern materialistic society than it was in 1930’s India. Our method of learning in the West is largely the English method of teaching, rooted in a time well before the modern era and it’s flood of information.

 

Left/Right Brain In Yoga

Modern life is very left-brained and focused on technical, separate, imbalanced and historical information- leaves us unprepared for Yoga’s balanced left/right approach to learning and the extremely right-brained experiences found there. As a result, we are often overwhelmed by a sudden shift in context brought about by this integrated method.  The right-brain-world is ENORMOUS in it’s context, and feels very like being given a million separate facts to process, but this is not actually the case.

 

The right-brained approach is important, and yet can be disorienting, as the right brain doesn’t recognize ANY of the differences we’ve been trained since birth to look for.  This can overwhelm us. For an incredible description of the left/right brain, see Jill Bolte-Taylor’s Stroke of Insight:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9wjQy3Mnjc

 

For those on the spiritual path (even affiliated with any world religion or genuine teacher), classical Ashtanga yoga is an integral framework that gives one context and confidence to proceed and deconstruct the layers of belief in thoughts that arise in the mind. The mind is merely a thought-production machine, and it’s very nature is to produce thoughts. Knowing this, one can begin to disconnect from thinking each one is so important.

 

Even so, following the Sadhana Chatushtaya provides the framework for how to prepare the mind to proceed along the eight-armed path properly.

 

What little we are taught is quite clearly left-brain oriented, concerned with details and even the English language is better at explaining technical concepts than spiritual ones, whereas Sanskrit is far better at encoding spiritual concepts. Even a single three-letter word “sat” requires en entire sentence to describe it. Hare Om Tat Sat requires a whole page to describe in English. Thus we see that the context of the philosophy Yoga evolved in teaches us to think more three dimensionally, and to understand more clearly the deep wisdom of Vedanta.

 

Our cultural reference is so far away from classical Yoga and Vedanta methods as to make them seem even impossible to accept, and we tend to unconsciously contextualize a genuine teacher and practices into our separate way of thinking, taught to us for so many years oof the English method. Thus the necessary steps of accepting a Yoga or Vedanta teacher who will introduce you to your own mind is an even more challenging prospect. Yet, it is exactly this sort of right-brained practice many are longing for, without being able to identify it properly.

 

We are further challenged by our own lack of understanding this new right-brained context and even when we accept a teacher, we give over a control of ourselves to them in an overly idealized way; like a rock star or celebrity. There are too many stories in the past to warrant further discussion.

 

It makes sense, then, that Modern yoga practices tend to be overly focused on the body or some non-integrated sense of self in our materialistic society.  Thus, we can see that a number of barriers exist to learning yoga in the deep, integrated way that the gurukula system has been designed to work.

 

Yoga Destroys Ignorance

The gurukula system and Patanjali’s Yoga is a system designed for one purpose: to destroy ignorance.

 

The ignorance of what?

Your true nature as Brahman, or undifferentiated consciousness.

 

Since we’re in the business of destroying ignorance, then, it follows that one will be eventually forced to deal with the barriers in the mind that one has built due to the following factors, in diminishing order:  

1)    Past life influences/genetics

2)    Parental Influences

3)    Cultural Influences (television, writings, religion)

4)    Personal Ethics, Choices, Grief/Loss

 

Many practitioners, ignorant of the larger nature of Yoga- and it’s difficult struggle to deconstruct unhelpful and selfish thought patterns; belief in, and attachment to thoughts and ideas- will silently believe Yoga is the pursuit of “feeling good”, blissfully unaware of the reasons why one feels peaceful; or how to deepen that feeling.  Merely chasing after a “good feeling” is an approach that yields some short-term benefits, but can become it’s own barrier over time.

 

Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha is a beautiful pointer to the deeper aspects available in Yoga to those who are ready. This article has been written for those who might be ready to look deeper and stop believing their thoughts.

 

Often the above past factors can harden and form into literal walls in the mind. These walls are built from repeated thoughts, reinforced by the past (a left-brain activity).

 

Yoga, however, takes place only in the present moment. When one spends one’s present thinking of the past or future, one is emphasizing the left-brain. Yoga is, at the beginning, connecting the breath, the movement and the awareness together. These are all right-brain acitvities.

 

Only thoughts that are believed can create such walls. Experience, yogic training and especially Vedantic understandings can bring these walls down. Knowing that every part of the practice of Yoga is to prepare the mind for tearing down these left-brained walls, and the attachments that go with them, we connect with the right-brain and find peace.

 

Someone once asked the Buddha: “What have you gained through meditation?” The Buddha replied, “Nothing at all.”

“Then, Blessed One, what good is it?”

The Buddha said: “Let me tell you what I have lost in meditation: greed, hatred, delusion…”

 

Yoga practices (and Buddhist practices that are largely based upon Yoga) address the ego directly, the ego being merely a long-believed-in construction of thoughts in the mind. Stop believing “your” thoughts, and you are on your way to the goal of Yoga practice. Each practice of the 8 limbs of Yoga will bring about another chance to connect to the right-brained connection to the true Self. Then, the various side-effects of this practice: peace, love, happiness, calm, clarity of purpose can arise in the mind, informed by the right brain.

 

"Are you unselfish? That is the question.  If you are, you will be perfect without reading a single religious book, without going into a single church or temple.”- Swami Vivekananda 

 

 

 

- An interest in all things computers led circuitously to DurgaDas (Regis) Chapman beginning on the path of Yoga in California. He is a 500+ hour RYT in the Sivananda lineage teaching in Nanaimo, BC at the Silent Motion Vancouver Island Yoga Vedanta Centre and is reachable at http://silentmotionyoga.com or at durgadas@mac.com.



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