Swami Chinmayananda speaks about culture as the special individuality or fragrance emanating from a group of people living together for a long time in a particular geographical area and sharing / upholding certain values.
The cultural background of a people really reflects the essential characteristics of the people. Despite the continuous political and dynastic changes happening in different parts of India at different times, ancient India possessed a unique unity of culture, which has sustained even to this day.
"Culture" in India is referred to as "Samskriti", which means "refined, purified, transformed, sublimated and perfected". Indian culture is a refined one.
The salient features of Indian culture cover the social, religious, economic and philosophic aspects of Indian life. These aspects span over subject matters like
- the Purusharthas or goals / ends of life
- the Law of Karma or Cosmic Justice
- Dharma or the ethical principles
- the social institutions of Chatur Varnas and Chatur Ashramas
- place of women in ancient Indian society, etc
Understanding these features will provide a fairly good idea of the way life is viewed and lived in this country. This understanding enriches a person's foray into the theoretical and practical aspects of Yog
Sankhya Philosophy is one of the oldest orthodox Indian philosophies founded by sage Kapila. The term "sankhya" refers to "right knowledge" as also to "numbers". It is predominantly intellectual and theoretical.
To understand yoga and yogic practices it is important to understand the following:
- Sankhyan theory of Causation
- the theory of gunas
- the theory of evolution and involution / dissolution (liberation or kaivalya)
- the characteristics and functions of the various evolutes in man's life
- bondage and liberation, and
- the place of God in Sankhya philosophy
Sankhya is referred to as theoretical Yoga because Yogic practices are based upon Sankhyan metaphysics. The question, "Why we do what we do in Yoga?", is answered by falling back upon Sankhyan philosophy.
Yoga cannot be appreciated fully without understanding the Sankhyan philosophy. It becomes necessary to examine in detail the Sankhyan concepts.
The PYS contains 195 sutras and is divided into 4 Padas or chapters. These are Samadhi Pada (51 sutras), Sadhana Pada (55 sutras), Vibhuti Pada (55 sutras) and Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras).
"Sutra" means a 'thread' into which are woven the flowers for making a garland. In PYS, the sutra refers to a beautiful garland of ideas. The Sutra style provides logical continuity with minimum width to a subject. It is marked by utmost economy of words or even letters and non-omission of any essential.
PYS starts with the definition of yoga as :
yogaha chittavritti nirodaha" i.e. "yoga is restraint / cessation of vrittis (modifications) of the chitta (mind)". Kaivalya or liberation happens when the mental modifications are stopped completely
In trying to provide a discipline / model for achieving this goal, Patanjali propounds the Ashtanga Yoga or the Raja Yoga (the royal yoga). The ashtangas are
- Yamas (restraints)
- Niyamas (observations)
- Asanas (Body postures)
- Pranayama (control of Prana, through control of respiration)
- Pratyahara (drawing inwards of the senses i.e. indriyas)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (realization of the essence or Reality underlying the subject)
- Each of these angas or limbs is explained / defined, its significance / effect given, the way of practicing / mastering it clearly brought out. PYS deals with such concepts as the panch Vrittis (5 types of mental modifications – pramana, viparyaya, vikalpa, nidra and smriti), Klesas or inborn mental afflictions (avidya, asmita, raga, dvesha and abhinivesha)
- the nine antarayas or acquired existential afflictions (vyadhi, styana, sanshaya, pramada, alasya, avirati, bhrantidarshana, alabdha bhumikatva and anavasthitatva), the Vikshepa Sahabhuvas or incidental afflictions (dukha, daurmanasya, angamejayatva and svasa prashvasa), ways and means of eradicating these afflictions, the unique characteristics of Ishwara, the Pranava or AUM and method of chanting the same
- the techniques for pacifying / calming / stabilizing the mind, the qualities of the Seer and the Seen, the types of Samadhis,Kriya yoga techniques, types of Pranayama, etc
Patanjali's Yoga can be considered as Raja or supreme Yoga because almost all other systems of Yoga (Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Hatha, Mantra, etc) have their fundamental tenets incorporated in very subtle ways, in seed form in Patanjali's Yoga. While Hatha Yoga emphasizes on the physical aspects, the Ashtanga Yoga emphasizes on the mental aspects. Both lead to the same goal. Understanding the first two chapters of PYS i.e. the Samadhi Pada and the Sadhana Pada becomes extremely essential
An understanding of PYS provides a proper perspective towards various Yogic practices clarifying in the process several misconceptions and misunderstandings. It is indispensable for following the Yogic way of life
This theory of human personality is elaborated upon in the Taittiriya Aranyaka Upanishad.
These five koshas or sheaths are as follows: The annamaya kosha, the pranamaya kosha, the manomaya kosha, the vijnanamaya kosha and the anandamaya kosha.
The real Self of the human being is enveloped in these koshas – the outermost being the annamaya kosha or the food body and the innermost being the anandamaya kosha or the bliss body. The pranamaya kosha refers to the vital body, the manomaya kosha to the mental body and the vijnanamaya kosha to the wisdom body.
A person has to transcend these koshas, from the outermost to the innermost to reach or identify with his real nature.
This theory is based on the Samkhyan metaphysics. According to it, Prakriti or primordial matter, the uncaused cause of the entire universe, is constituted by the three gunas of sattwa (pure and fine), rajas (dynamic) and tamas (coarse and inert). Every object / thing in the universe including a human being is thus made up of these three constituents called gunas.These gunas have unique characteristics.
The Sattwa guna is the principle of goodness and manifestation. It stands brightness and lightness and for pleasure / happiness in all its manifestations. The Rajas guna stands for the principle of activity. It is fraught with restlessness, pain, avarice, ambition, craving and passion.
The Tamas guna stands for the principle of inertia and lethargy. It stands for darkness, delusion and debasement
The tri – guna theory can be viewed from the perspective of personality development in the human being. The endeavor is to make the personality more and more sattwic.
This theory originates through Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and is elaborated upon by sage Vyasa in his commentary on the said Yoga Sutras. Chitta Bhumi refers to the condition or state of mind in its aspect of concentration. This aspect defines and differentiates between human beings.
Sage Vyasa speaks about five chitta bhumis as follows:
- Moodha chitta
- Kshipta chitta
- Vikshipta chitta
- Ekagraha chitta
The Moodha chitta is forgetful, blinded and possessed of the sleep modification. This chitta possesses the least concentration. The Kshipta chitta is restless and roving. The Vikshipta chitta is one of oscillation between opposites. The Ekagraha chitta is one-pointed or concentrated. The Niruddha chitta is the completely restrained chitta – a "no – mind" stage.
Yoga can commence only with the Ekagraha state of chitta.
Mantras refer to mystic syllables, the chanting / recitation of which protects the mind. Mantras also serve the purpose of prayers.
Some of the important mantras are the AUM, the Gayatri Mantra and the Maha Mrutyunjaya Mantra. The vibrations generated by the chanting of these mantras are as effective as their utility arising from using them as prayers. It is fruitful to enquire into the meaning and significance of these mantras along with their soulful chanting. Mantra chanting creates an environment, charged with positive / sattwic energy, so very conducive for progressing higher on the path of yoga.
- The Gayatri Mantra
"OM. Bhur Bhuva Swaha
OM. Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
Dhiyo Yo Na Prachodayat".
Meaning: "AUM. In each of the three planes of existence, we recollect ourselves and meditate upon that wondrous spirit of the divine Solar Being. May he guide our inner vision".
- The Maha Mrutyunjaya Mantra
"OM. Trayambakam Yajamahe
Mrityor Mukshiya Ma Amrutat".
Meaning: "AUM. We worship the three-eyed Lord Shiva, who is full of fragrance and the nourisher of all. May he liberate us from death and not from immortality, just as a pumpkin is severed from its bondage in the plant".
Pranayama practices refer to the control of prana through the manipulation of breathing practices. Next to asanas, pranayama is the most popular tool of yoga. However, actually speaking pranayama is the most important anga or limb of yoga.
A thorough understanding of pranayama practices and proper practice of the breathing techniques goes a long way in not only ensuring a sound mind in a sound body but also progress on the spiritual path.
Exhaustive discussion on the yogic practice of Pranayama will cover the following topics.
- the place of pranayama in yoga philosophy, definition of pranayama according to PYS and Hatha Yoga
- importance of Prana or the life force, relation between prana and the breath, significance of pranayama practice according to PYS and Hatha Yoga,
- the various types of Pranayama
- preparation for pranayama practice
- importance of posture and awareness in
- pranayama practices
- differences between deep breathing and pranayama
- elements of pranayama
- role of bandhas in pranayama
- varieties of pranayama, and
- the significance of proper guidance for pranayama practices
the significance of proper guidance for pranayama practices.
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