Accepting pain as help for purification, study of spiritual books and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga in practice.
Yoga in the form of action (kriya yoga) has three parts: 1) training and purifying the senses (tapas), 2) self-study in the context of teachings (svadhyaya), and 3) devotion and letting go into the creative source from which we emerged (ishvara pranidhana)
This sutra describes yoga in action. The first of the 3 components is tapas, which is often mistranslated as ‘austerity’. It actually refers to creating heat, which purifies. Tapas also refers to self discipline – taming the monkey mind, the senses and the organs. Satchidananda quotes the Bhaghavad Gita which says that self-torture is an obstacle to spiritual progress, but self-discipline is an aid to it.
Self-study refers to reading some scriptures – these sutras, the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the teachings of Zen Master Dogen – whatever resonates with you.
Surrendering to the supreme being or god is the third part of yoga in action. As a Buddhist and an atheist, I find this type of statement difficult. As with earlier notions like this, I will substitute ‘universal energy’ for the idea of ‘god’. This helpful blog says that the concept of ishvara could mean ‘collective consciousness’ or ‘universal consciousness’, rather than a ‘god’ deity.
This sound [OM] is remembered with deep feeling for the meaning of what it represents.
Repetition of That [OM] means to contemplate the meaning of That.
To repeat it [OM] with reflection upon its meaning is an aid.
Following on from the previous sutra, when we repeat the sound OM, we are practising japa (repetition). Sri Swami Satchidananda says that when you have the habit of repetition, you can think about the meaning (god, according to the sutra).
I must admit I am struggling somewhat with the evocation of ‘god’ in this section of the sutras – I am an atheist Zen Buddhist, and the concept of ‘believing in’ a supernatural deity is difficult. I am trying to widen the meaning to mean ‘universal energy’ or ‘personal inspiration, rather than ‘god’ as such. But is it possible to live a ‘yogic’ life according to the eight limbs without a belief in a ‘god’ of some kind? To try to reconcile this, for my own practice, when I repeat ‘OM’ at the beginning and end of my asana practice, I will try to think about it connecting me with the energy of the universe.
The sacred word designating this creative source is the sound OM, called pranava.
Pranava [Om] is the denoter of That [God].
The word expressive of ishvara is the mystic sound OM [OM is god’s name as well as form].
This sutra is saying that ‘God’ or the supreme consciousness is in the vibrations of the sound ‘AUM’. The sound is not just the name of the supreme consciousness, but is present in the vibratons of the sound itself when you say it. It conveys the exact nature of it.
Sri Swami Satchidananda quotes the Mandukya Upanishad which says that AUM contains seeds of all other sounds. He describes it as a hum, connected with prana (the basic vibration or vital life force), & says that when you meditate, you experience this hum.
This blog explains the visual OM symbol nicely:
The lower curve represents the Gross, Conscious, and Waking state level, called Vaishvanara.
The center curve represents the Subtle, Unconscious, and Dreaming level, called Taijasa.The upper curve represents the Causal, Subconscious, and Deep Sleep level, called Prajna.
The dot, point, or bindu represents the fourth state, the absolute consciousness, which encompasses, permeates, and is the other three, and is called Turiya.
The arc below the dot symbolizes the separateness of this fourth state, standing above, though ever remaining part of the other three.
From that consciousness (ishvara) the ancient-most teachers were taught, since it is not limited by the constraint of time.
Unlimited by time, God is the teacher of all previous teachers.
Unconditioned by time, ishvara is the teacher of even the most ancient teachers.
This sutra stresses the importance of a guru or teacher, even for the ancient teachers. However, it also seems to suggest that the guru is not a ‘god’ , as ishvara is the supreme teacher.
In Zen Buddhism also, lineage is of the utmost importance, to ensure that the teachings of the dharma are accurate and ‘pure’. All monks in Zen buddhism today can trace a clear line of teaching that goes way back.
Devotion to the all-knowing ishvara or supreme consciousness is a form of samadhi (contemplation), obtained (says Sri Swami Satchidananda) through total surrender to the universal consciousness or god).
That creative source (ishvara) is a particular consciousness (purusha) that is unaffected by colorings (kleshas), actions (karmas), or results of those actions that happen when latent impressions stir and cause those actions
Ishvara is a distinguished supreme consciousness untouched by the colored results of actions or the pain of suffering
Isvara is a particular Purusa (consciousness) unaffected by affliction, deed , result of action or the latent impressions thereof
This sutra gives us more detail on ishvara – the Supreme Being or Universal Consciousness. This blog lists the following qualities of ishvara:
- free from the 5 modes of suffering (Yoga Sutra 1.5); ignorance, desire, aversion, fear, Egoism/I-am-ness
- free from the results of karma/action whether good or bad
- free from the anguish of the life-death cycles
- free from the subconscious impressions of Samkaras (karmas from past, present and future)
- Supreme intelligence
From a special process of devotion and letting go into the creative source from which we emerged, the coming of samadhi is imminent
Or from intense devotion and total surrender to Ishvara
Samadhi, or the highest state, will be attained when we show intense devotion and surrender to Ishvara – this could mean ‘god’ or could be a non-religious ideal such as ‘om’.
Here, ‘ishvara’ is explained in a bit more depth. Rather than a superior deity in the clouds, when the Upanishads use the word ‘god’ it is more a sense of ‘universal consciousness’ or ‘self realisation’, rather than our modern understanding of a ‘god’ or the ‘divine’.