2.25.2012 How to Know God; The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali
In this book we are given the teachings of Patanjali, with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood. The book is arranged to first explain the aim of pursuing a spiritual path, then delves into the specific practices that can take us to closer to self-realization -- a conscious, active connection with our higher self or the Atman, and ultimately with the undifferentiated form of God known as Brahman or nirvana. Patanjali teaches in the form of jnana yoga, which uses the power of discrimination, or the understanding available through contemplation and focus of the mind, to go beyond the mind. Several participants in this bookclub were quite happy to feel that they had come to another level of understanding in reading the book at this time, when earlier in our paths it had come across as ‘too complicated’ or ‘too technical’ and not nearly as accessible, understandable and just plain enjoyable as it did today.
The last paragraph of the book summarizes the devotion and love expressed in the book. Jnana yoga is not dry, but quite juicy! “We shall let Swami Vivekananda have the last word: “Nature’s (Prakriti’s) task is done, this unselfish task which our sweet nurse, Nature, had imposed upon herself. She gently took the self-forgetting soul by the hand, as it were, and showed him all the experiences in the universe, all manifestations, bringing him higher and higher through various bodies, till his lost glory came back, and he remembered his own nature. Then the kind Mother went back the same way she came, for others who have also lost their way in the trackless desert of life. And thus is she working, without beginning and without end. And thus, through pleasure and pain, through good and evil, the infinite river of souls is flowing into the ocean of perfection of self-realization.”
We hope you get as much enjoyment from our notes as we derived from the call.
We noticed that several of the books we have already finished were referenced in this book. In a very fun way, we are seeing that it is no accident that we have already read and are building upon ‘The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna,’ ‘The Bhagavad Gita,’ ‘The Crest Jewel of Discrimination’ by Shankara, and ‘The Great Path of Awakening.’ There is a thread here, and all the books are starting to merge together.
A clear theme in the book is that we are all ‘in process.’ There is a lot of comfort in knowing that the journey is the process. We need to be present with what is going on in our lives.
It is interesting to have learning so much of this information directly from Rama through transmission. We didn’t need to have these detailed explanations, it was just transferred in blocks of understanding. Clearly, we have many lifetimes of understandings still to come, but what a wonderful gift it was that he shared with us, and with so much heart and compassion.
One reader noted that the book addressed some things she was uncertain about – specifically around non-attachment and practice. “You can’t have dry, arid practice. The thought waves have to be turned with passion, love and devotion. You can become a little strange if you don’t apply those qualities.” Page 27 details that we can’t just force control of the thoughts of desire without the heart, love and compassion for ourselves and others.
Rama taught us to actively control our thoughts. He always balanced that with the compassion and love. That is a critical component for successful meditation. Then, he had us focusing our mind all day long, to strengthen it. We used that to develop a focus on a higher goal – the true nature of our beings – the Atman. Page 154 expresses both of these. “33. To be free from thoughts that distract one from yoga, thoughts of an opporsite kind must be cultivated.” (Rama: “Always be positive.”) “34. The obstacles to yoga… may be directly created or indirectly caused...; but they never cease to result in pain and ignorance. One should overcome distracting thoughts by remembering this.”
The idea reminded one reader of Shankara’s notion that ‘evil’ is any thought that takes us further from our knowledge of connection to the Atman, and ‘good’ is any thought that takes us closer to the Atman. Patanjali takes it further by sharing that all thoughts create suffering, because even the good experiences create anxiety on some level, because we know that good experience will wane, as all things are change in this temporal realm.
On page 136, “18. The object of experience is the three gunas… from these the whole universe has evolved together with the instruments of knowledge (mind, senses, etc.). The universe exists in order that the experiencer may experience it, and thus become liberated.” We are here to have this experience. We are here to dance in this lila.
And yet, what great stories this book contains about the liberated souls that also got caught in the maya. The story about Shankara was great—that he had won part of a debate, but was challenged to continue the debate on his knowledge of sex, so he had his disciples protect his body for a period of time and he took up the body of a King who had just died, so he could experience sex. Then, he got so lost in that experience that his disciples had to come and sing to him as minstrels in the court to remind him that he wasn’t the King, but Shankara experiencing life as the King. The King then dropped dead and Shankara returned to his body.
That was very reassuring, as we all have felt like we have failed to remember our task at times in our lives, and we aren’t necessarily nearly as evolved as Shankara. It raises some forgiveness and comfort for our own forgetfulness and process.
Another great story was how Indra became a pig. He ended up having piglets and caring so much for them. The gods and goddesses had to come down and rescue him from forgetting that he had chosen to take on the body of the pig, and he was still a God within. What a great image is that!
The moral is that we’re all in process. And we are here to remind each other of our divinity, as well.
Another aspect that the book brought out was a clarification of the role of Ishwara – God worshipped in form. We can’t describe Brahma and capture that essence, because it is formless. So we turn to forms of God to be able to relate to them. Ramakrishna loved being in love with the Divine Mother… He didn’t want to lose the sense of being with her and separate. When he was absorbed in nirvana, it didn’t matter, but she was the form that he could relate to while not immersed in nirvana. By focusing on her, he kept his mind connected to that formless realm… He didn’t want to let go of that bliss.
The purpose of the spiritual path is to be able to experience the ultimate enlightenment while in this lifetime. Some of us need this physical experience of God – that carries us into a state of rapture. We are here to come to experience our ultimate non being. On page 109, it expresses a very interesting difference between Christianity and Hinduism: For the Christian, sin is an act against a form of Ishwara – an external being, while in Hinduism, sin is anything that lowers your own state of consciousness from being immersed in that bliss. And at some point, the form version of God has to be transcended, as well.
Ramakrishna had this great love “ Every time that I gathered my mind (in the lower state of Samadhi), I kept coming to the Divine Mother”. He finally had to cut her from his mind to go beyond salvikalpa to nirvakalpa Samadhi. Rama used to say, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, slay him.”
There were a number of references in the book to “work as yoga.” When we can keep our mind on the highest, brightest and happiest, even everyday events can be opportunities for enlightening experiences. There are spiritual connections available in our everyday lives. On page 52, the book expresses that there is no reason why we should not achieve enlightenment within a single second… that no effort, however small, is every wasted. We each have to keep going. Rama said that a bit differently, but he often quoted Bilbo… “the road goes on forever.”
Fundamentally, one reader felt that they didn’t understand the path of discrimination. What she learned in this reading was a rediscovering that it is all a dream. “I thought that that was the path of mysticism, not the path of jnana. Sometimes when I am driving, I will realize that there is no past, no future… I am writing the movie. Now I realize that that is a piece of the path of discrimination.”
Another reader expressed, “I always thought it was for people with stronger brains than me. That has changed.” On page 164 it states that jnana is just “The way of finding Braham through analysis of the real nature of phenomena.” It seems much simpler now.
On the same page, it quotes the famous phrase, “Not this. Not this.” One reader had a realization around that after hearing it for 30 years, that it wasn’t just a sword of discrimination saying “this doesn’t have reality and this doesn’t have reality” but that “I” am “not this,” and “I” am “not this.” I am the eternal Atman. Unchanging. Untouched by any of this.
There is an entire section of the book that we call “Samyama’s Cookbook.” Samyama is a concentration practice and Patanjali lays out an entire cookbook of the results one can achieve from focusing on different things. Obviously, Patanjali did a lot of study of his own mind to come to these understandings. This is a great resource and several people expressed interest in experimenting with some of the recipes.
We’re so glad we’re reading this book. We’re all creating this movie. It is all so freeing! We want to free ourselves of imaginary needs and desires. We can control these desires by identifying them and releasing them.
“I don’t really have to have a pizza tonight! That is just a thought form.”
Rama had us use substitution to change our thoughts and behaviors. If we wanted to root out a behavior or negative thought, then we were to find a thought or behavior that we could substitute when the other came up. The idea was to replace and reprogram our thoughts. One reader came to understand that freedom (to change one’s thoughts) through a free-floating feeling that she didn’t have to identify closely with the things that she associated or defined herself with. We all have that freedom.
Our next Bookclub will be March 31st (2012)
Mysticism: Carlos Casteneda – Journey To Ixlan
Note: Most of the books that we are reading, and their specific translations are available free on filestube.com. This specific version of ‘How to Know God” is available at scribd.com.
Future Mysticism (Spring) Books: Tales of Power, Power of Silence; Stephen King – The Talisman;