by Karl Erb
Yoga is first and foremost a practice, a means, of purifying the heart/mind. The yoga sastra, or source texts, the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, tell us this. Then follows the question, purification towards what end? With the mind purified, the Yoga Sutras tell us “The self abides in its own true nature.” (I:3) Ok, so what is that intrinsic nature, that essence? How is it different from what I see, from who I take myself to be? Why is understanding that essential nature a desirable end? Yoga sastra go on to answer these questions. Meditation prepares the heart/mind for that dialogue.
The ultimate end is to inquire into, and understand, the essence of our very being, and thus the essence of Nature or Creation itself. The yoga sastra conclude that all human suffering stems from an initial erroneous conclusion about the essence of our being; namely that we are limited in space and time, are born and will die; that we are defined by the limitations of our form, the mind, body and senses, that ego equals ‘I am.’ Thus much of life is spent seeking to acquire what we conclude we do not have, and to retain what we conclude we have. Our thought-life and actions are consumed, defined and limited by these conclusions and pursuits, these likes and dislikes. Noting that suffering is undesirable to humans, the yoga sastra and Upanisads offer a solution to negate suffering: knowing who you are. The sastra reveal that our perceptions are not accurate and reveal practices to understand our essential nature, thus resolving all causes of suffering, fear, isolation, unease, insecurity and so on. That is the end, the top of the ladder. Pretty radical proposition, no? So how can this help me today? What does this have to do with meditation?
We need to explore the first steps of the ladder; we cannot start at the top, thereby skipping the first rungs. Start far, we will go nowhere; start near we will go far. Knowledge does not take time, nor occur in time, the preparation does. Moksha, or liberation from confusion and suffering, has a means.
These first rungs of the ladder towards understanding our true nature are: sravana, study of the teachings, the texts, with teachers, manana, assimilation of teachings through action, and nididhyasana, a form of meditation on the self where a cognitive shift occurs through practice of observation, and meditation upon the teachings. Nididhyasana is a practice of training the mind to perceive itself and its patterns, thereby revealing an intrinsic sense of self, our indispensable nature, our essence, beyond likes and dislikes, ups and downs, fears and joys. For this reason, the Yoga Sutras assert that meditation, dhyana, is one of the eight pillars of practice defining yoga, the astanga of yoga. In addition, meditation not only clears the mind,the practice affects our physiology, stress responses and overall physical health as well, even to a genetic level, recent studies show. Those are the side effects.
Pure heart/mind, antah karana suddhi, is necessary to understand and assimilate the teachings of the sastra into daily life. The knowledge of essential nature, or jnana, resolves the misunderstanding; and bhakti, devotion, unclutters the heart, freeing the mind for understanding. The two are not separate and never far from each other. Through
meditation, accurate perception is cultivated, old patterns drop, our essence is uncovered; practices such as #airagya, or ‘dispassion’ are demystified, understood and assimilated. Nididhyasana is that cognitive assimilation, which disproves our false conclusions about our nature, dropping old stories that no longer serve us, similar in practice, yet not synonymous, with what western psychology calls ‘auto-suggestion.’
If we are simply told, “Fear not, there is nothing lost in death, no cause for grieving, you were never born and will never die,” our responses range from disbelief, doubt, spiritual romanticism, and the latent desire to want to believe this to be true, but concluding it cannot be so. “Sounds nice, but c’mon… ” And yet Arjuna is told exactly that at the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita. Krsna asserts that Arjuna’s essence is Wholeness itself, satcitananda. Simply saying so does not bring understanding. The whole dialog between Arjuna and Krsna is the challenging and unfolding of this conclusion. The conclusion has little to do with belief, more to do with understanding. The conclusion cannot be stated, it has to be unfolded through dialog, and assimilated. That you are liberated has to be known. Thus abiding in your true nature simply is – in the rich, complete, adequate glory of ‘I am.’ In addition to inquiry and dialog, a clear heart/mind is necessary for assimilating the understanding. Meditation is part of that preparation. In silence is knowledge, in silence is love.
We will explore this practice of nididhyasana, as well as japa, or mantra meditation, imbued week to week with the key teachings from the yoga sastra in the new Sunday morning meditation practice at 8:30 in the Valencia studio, then bring the experience into the 9:00 am asana class.