Which is the best Yoga?

There are so many kinds and versions of Yoga. Both Traditionally and also in the contemporary era we see so many thoughts and schools of Yoga. Which among them is the best? What kind of an approach will lead us to the best Yoga?

Do they Yoga texts have any inputs on this? Yes they do.

The Next verse from Sage Vyāsa’s commentary found in the Sūtra 1.48 – ṛtaṁbharā tatra prajñā offers an answer .

Vyāsa speaks about Uttama Yoga or Best Yoga in the Sūtra on ṛtaṁbharā prajñā.  ( ṛtaṁbharā tatra prajñā ॥ 1.48 ॥ ṛtaṁbharā  prajñā – is that state where the mind is brimming with clarity about the Puruṣa  – awareness/consciousness, who is ṛtam or the Truth, with very little distraction of the mind).

The verse on Uttama Yoga is as follows –

आगमेनानुमानेन ध्यानाभ्यासरसेन च।

त्रिधा प्रकल्पयन्प्रज्ञा लभत योगमुत्तमम् ॥

āgamenānumānena dhyānābhyāsarasena ca।

tridhā prakalpayanprajñā labhata yogamuttamam ॥

By knowledge attained from the Scriptures and the teachings of the teachers (āgama), by using the faculty of inference (reasoning) and also by the joy experienced by the practice of Dhyāna, the mind has to be prepared to attain Uttama yoga (the great Yoga – clear knowledge about Puruṣa -conciousness ).

In Tattvavaiśāradī, vācaspatimiśra suggests the following on the verse above āgama – refers to (the vedāntic self realization method of) śravaṇa – listening to teachings. anumāna – tallies with Manana and dhyāna is cintā (nididhyāsana) – contemplating or meditating and abhyāsa refers to practice of these again and again.

vijñānabhikṣu vārttika also adds the very useful input in connection with this verse – he states – In sabīja state (a state of Samādhi – absorption where refined single pointed-flow of thoughts exist) one has to refine one’s intellect with these three tools. The intellect thus refined coupled with higher vairāgya (Sūtra 1.16)(para-vairāgya)leads a person to the best yoga – Nirbīja-samādhi

It is very interesting to look at the well balanced nature of the three tools suggested to attain best yoga.

Firstly, Śraddhā (firm faith) about the Yogic Scriptural teachings,

then, using inference and applying one’s own reasoning faculty to ascertain the teachings. It does not end with ascertaining the truth with the one’s intellect.

It has to be experienced by practice. By practicing Dhyāna and the limbs of Yoga that will lead to the Joy of Dhyāna Experience. These are the tools that make our ordinary (laukika) Yoga – Uttama Yoga.

If we observe the three steps we can understand that these three are in accordance with human growth and development.

In Ancient times, Initially, children in Gurukulas received teachings (and follow it as it is), then, as their analytical faculty blossomed as they proceed in age, anumāna unfolds – they reflect on the teachings that they have received and the way that they are practicing it and then finally, in due course their abhyāsa/practice, changes into abhyāsa-rasa – blissful, meaningful and mindful practice of teachings (on every aspect of life) received. That culminates into anubhava – experience.

That is why we see so many thinkers, scholars and intellectuals emerging in ancient India and insight fully contributing to various disciplines.

Interestingly, in the current day Yoga we start with practice (abhyāsa) at the level of the body and the breath. If we are able to gradually build in the other two elements of āgama and anumāna – we are certain to reach Uttama Yoga.

Scaling the citadel of Clarity

Series 1 Post 3

The next verse that is quoted in Vyāsabhāṣya occurs in sūtra 1.47. nirvicāra-vaiśāradye’dhyātma-prasādaḥ.

It is a well known fact that – Yoga bestows clarity by regulating our thought processes – citta-vṛtti-nirodha.

There is a constant inflow of information through our senses. In the current era of Smart phones and social media, information inflow – in the form of news – fake and real, views – good and not so good, is at its unprecedented peak. We are always bombarded by constant messages on various networks and platforms online.

There is very little time to be free from their influence and think. Also, there is very little time to assimilate what we have received. The very need to assimilate what we received itself is not felt. Simply the share button is pressed and a sense of having done some social service, albeit virtually, is achieved.

Should we not stop and reflect? Should we not take two steps away from the flow of info and develop clarity!

It is in this context that Yoga becomes Vital. Basically, our daily session of Yoga practice, apart from the health benefits, helps us also to remain with ourselves and allows to look at our own self and understand where and how we are in life. It is in Yoga sessions, so to say, we are able to think. It gives us back to ourselves.

Simple practices of āsana, prāṇāyāma and a little chanting are themselves like an oasis of freshness and clarity amidst the dry flow of never ending information.

Higher states of Yoga that are achieved by systematic progress in Yoga in the long run – promise more clarity.

When we speak about very high states of clarity, one might feel that these are not applicable to me.

But don’t we hear this phrase “aim at the start and shoot at the sky” – only when we have a higher aim, can we progress to some level. If aim is very low, then there is every possibility that we always stay where we are and miss out manifesting the high potentials as human beings.

Further, there is also a possibility that we might deceive ourselves to believing that the clarity that we currently posses is the highest possible. Hence, it is worthwhile to look into textual wisdom that speaks about higher states of clarity, though not immediately achievable, that can be scaled by human intellect through Yoga.

Of course, it is stated as a disclaimer, that this star-gazing is to be done with our feet firmly placed on the ground (i.e being regular in our daily practice of Yoga)

So much for introduction. Now – the verse that is being presented in this post is quoted by Vyāsa to the sūtra that speaks about the excellent clarity of the mind that a Yogi reaches when mastery is reached in the state of  Nirvicāra Samādhi.

One may be aware that in the first chapter of Yogasūtras – four states of Samprajñāta-samādhis are stated –

  1. Savitarka – having any gross object (made up of five elements) as focus – where there is an admixture of word,object and (associated)knowledge.
  2. Nirvitarka – having gross object as focus – where only the object shines forth – bereft of word and associated knowledge.
  3. Savicāra – having subtle objects (beginning from Tanmātras to Prakṛti) as focus where there is an admixture or word, object and (associated) knowledge
  4. Nirvicāra – having subtle object as focus – where only the object shines forth.

As can be seen from the above, in Nirvicāra state, focus is at its pinnacle and distraction is at its nadir. Sattva is very dominant and Rajas and Tamas are highly weakened. Then prajñā – clarity – emerges.

This clarity that the mind experiences is beautifully described in the verse quoted by Sage Vyāsa –

प्रज्ञाप्रासादमारुह्य अशोच्यः शोचतो जनान्।

भूमिष्ठानिव शैलस्थः सर्वान्प्राज्ञोऽनुपश्यति ॥

prajñāprāsādamāruhya aśocyaḥ śocato janān।

bhūmiṣṭhāniva śailasthaḥ sarvānprājño’nupaśyati ॥

 A blissful, enlightened person who has scaled the citadel of clarity, sees very clearly the others who are in suffering, like a person on a summit watching others down below on the ground.

Thus far a Yogin had a notional understanding of the suffering of the world. This is the expression of direct perception about that. This strengthens his resolve to move towards Kaivalya and also to help others in the path.

It can be stated that the compassion of all our Yoga Acharya’s to the students stems from this level of clarity.

To overcome Monotony and Distraction in Yoga !

Svādhyāya and Yoga

Series 1 – Post – 2

This is the second post in the series of Verses from Sage Vyāsa’s commentary to Yogasūtras. In the previous post a unique invocation to Sage Patañjali was presented with paraphrased meaning.

The next verse that appears in the commentary of Sage Vyāsa is in Sūtra 1.28 – tajjapas-tadartha-bhāvanam . This presents a unique method to keep the mind always focused in the state of Yoga.

Sometimes while practicing Yoga – monotony sets in. The same āsana , Same set of prāṇāyāmas and so on. Monotony itself is a distraction. Monotony leads to boredom, lack of interest and ushers lack of mindfulness. And this defeats the purpose of Yoga – mindfulness. The verse given below gives hints to overcome monotony in the practice of Yoga.

स्वाध्यायाद्योगमासीत योगात्स्वाध्यायमामनेत्।

स्वाध्याययोगसंपत्त्या परमात्मा प्रकाशते ॥

svādhyāyād yogamāsīta yogāt svādhyāyam āmanet।
svādhyāya-yogasaṃpattyā
paramātmā prakāśate ॥ 

Meaning of the Verse 

With svādhyāya one should practice Yoga. And with Yoga one should practice svādhyāyā. Only by the combination of the svādhyāyā and Yoga the Supreme consciousness shines forth

Going by the context of the Sūtra- the term Svādhyāya here means Japa. Repetition of Mantras. This underlines the importance of utilization of recitation of mantras in the practice of Yoga. Shri Krishnamacharya and Shri TKV Desikachar are pioneers in integrating Mantras with the practice of Yoga. Chants in the practice of Yoga removes monotony. Brings in more mindfulness. The mind resonates with the vibration of the chants and also the meaning of them. Thus Chanting helps in the practice of Asanas and pranayama.

The vice versa is also beneficial. Rather merely sitting and chanting, it will be more beneficial to synchronize body, breath and mind along with the Mantras. Samantraka practice of āsana, prāṇāyāma and dhyāna have always been preferred over their practice bereft of mantra.

The idea of Samantraka-dhyāna is highlighted by Sage śaṅkara in his commentary as follows –  

In śaṅkara vivaraṇa we see that – the mental Japa of praṇava directed towars īśvara is presented as Svādhyāya and meditation on īśvara is Yoga. This suggestions works in the practice of Dhyāna. Many a time a practitioner sets out to meditate and rather than focusing on the chosen object ends up exhausted chasing various thoughts influenced by his previous Vāsanas. This practice helps overcome it.

Another important input from the same commentary is worth noting. It is stated that – mānaso’bhijapaḥ praśasyate dhyānasyāsannataratvāt – mental repetition of mantras are closer to meditation. Hence by mental repetition of ‘Om’ and then focusing on the qualities of īśvara presented in Yoga-sūtra the goal of Yoga is reached.

Yoga vārttika adds some more insights on this verse. It is stated that – yogajapayorekadā na saṃbhava iti yogasyādyantayorvyutthānakāle japa uktaḥ

Meditation and Japa/repetition of the ‘om’ are not possible to do simultaneously. Hence in the beginning and also at the end of the ‘Yoga’ – meditation, the repetition of Om can be done when the mind will be distracted (before Yoga or after Yoga when mind will be descending into chaos/distraction).

Further, pātañjalarahasya , a sub-commentary to Vācaspatimiśra’s Tattvaiśāradī presents another perspective. A verse is quoted there -“when one is tired of repetition of Mantras (Japa), one should meditate upon śiva (Dhyāna). If one is tired of meditation repetition of  the mantras (Japa) should be done. 

The Bhāsvatī Commentary presents yet another perspective. It is stated that by Svādhyāya – which is continuous repetition of ‘Om’ one should attain Yoga – which is one-pointedness (ekāgratā) of the mind. And by Yoga – the insights attained by the one-pointedness of the mind on ‘om’ one should intensify repetition. In this manner by symbiotic effort between Yoga and Svādhyāya the absolute truth shines forth.

Thus, as can be seen, the two tools Svādhyāya and Yoga used in tandem can keep a practitioner focused on Yoga even when there is wave after wave of distractions and distress caused by our various day to day transactions.

Further a combination of two tools, one aiming at the periphery (Svādhyāya – in the form of Japa) and the other focusing on the core (Yoga – meditation) in tandem can keep monotony in practice of Yoga at arms length.

Svādhyāya and Yoga are two tools shown as a sample. It is an indication that other mutually complementary tools in Yoga can be intelligently used in tandem or in combination to continually maintain focus and sustain interest.

A Rare invocation to Sage Patañjali

Series 1 – Post 1

It is tradition or convention to chant a verse as invocation to sage Patañjali before any theoretical or practical session on Yoga. It is well known that Sage Patañjali is considered the father of Yoga, for having contributed the foundational work on Yoga – Yogasūtra. Generally a verse that glorifies Sage Patañjali as a sage who contributed texts in the field of Medicine, Grammar and Yoga to cleanse our body, speech and mind is chanted. But the verse that is given below is a different one that presents a entirely new approach to salute Sage Patañjali .

This is a rare verse, which is chanted in the Krishnamacharya Tradition – is an invocation to Sage Patañjali  found in the beginning of certain manuscripts of Vyāsa’s commentary. One finds a brief explaination to this verse in Vijñānabhikṣu’s (16th Century CE) sub commentary (to vyasa’s commentary). Whereas older sub-commetator Vācaspatimiśra (10th Century) does not mention this verse. The verse is as follows –

यस्त्यक्त्वा रूपमाद्यं प्रभवति जगतोsनेकधाsनुग्रहाय
प्रक्षीणक्लेशराशिः विषमविषधरोsनेकवक्त्रः सुभोगी।
सर्वज्ञानप्रसूतिः भुजगपरिकरः प्रीतये यस्य नित्यं
देवोsहीशः स वोsव्यात् सितविमलतनुर्योगदो योगयुक्तः ॥

Transliteration

yastyaktvā rūpamādyaṁ prabhavati jagato’nekadhā’nugrahāya
prakṣīṇakleśarāśiḥ
 viṣamaviṣadharo’nekavaktraḥ subhogī।
sarvajñānaprasūtiḥ
 bhujagaparikaraḥ  prītaye yasya nityaṁ
devo’hīśaḥ sa vo’vyāt
sitavimalatanuryogado yogayuktaḥ ॥

The verse is in the Sragdharā meter ( species of the Prakriti metre, a stanza of four lines of 21 syllables, and each line divided into three portions of seven syllables each). Sragdharā – means that which wears a garland ( Srag – garland dhara – wears). In this meter as one chants one might feel words being beautifully stringed as a garland.

Such a garland of words is offered as a salutation to Sage Patañjali.

The meaning of the Verse

The meaning of the verse presented below is based on Vijñānabhikṣu’s (16th Century CE) explanation –

Before the explanation of the verse – the purpose of the Verse is clarified by Vijñānabhikṣu. He states –

nirvighna-grantha-samāptaye yoga-pravarttakam anantam īśvaraṁ smaran śiṣyāṇāṁ śāstra-grahaṇā-(a)nuṣṭhānādāvapy-apratibandhaṁ tata eva prārthayate

For the obstruction-less completion of the text (on Yoga) intended to commenced, and also obstruction-free grasping and understanding (of Yoga tenets) by the students remembering the initiator of Yoga – ananta – īśvara, the following prayer is uttered.

saḥ vaḥ avyāt – Let him protect you – the students.

(Who is he ? )

yas-tyaktvā rūpam ādyaṁ anekadhā prabhavati – the one who incarnates in various forms (in the form of Patañjali , Balarāma <elder brother of śrī kṛṣṇa>) from his previous (divine) form (of śeṣa) as an aspect

jagataḥ anugrahāya – to bless the world

prakṣīṇa-kleśa-rāśiḥ – He is the one in whom the afflictions have dwindled 
viṣama-viṣa-dharaḥ – He has very powerful poison (to remove the evil)

aneka-vaktraḥ  – He is endowed with many heads/faces (to teach many students)
subhogī – He has beautiful hoods
sarva-jñāna-prasūtiḥ – He is the one, from who all knowledge emerge
bhujaga-parikaraḥ – He is the one who has a retinue of serpentine servitors prītaye yasya nityaṁ – to please him always

devaḥ ahīśaḥ – He is the divine Serpant God – Sage Patañjali 

sita-vimala-tanuḥ – His physical form is white and blemishless
Yogadaḥ He is the one who grants (the state of ) Yoga

yogayuktaḥ – while he himself is established in the state of Yoga

In essence

Let the divine serpent God (Sage Patañjali )

– who incarnates in various forms from his previous (divine) primal (as that of śeṣa) as an aspect , to bless the world,

– who is bereft of afflictions, who has very powerful poison (to remove the evil) , endowed with many heads/faces

– who has a retinue of serpentine servitors , to please him always

– whose physical form is white and blemishless

– who abides in Yogic states and grants Yogic state

Protect you all (the students). <This is assumed to have been stated by Sage Vyāsa.>

This verse, by its vivid description of Sage Patañjali helps meditate the physical form and also the purpose of his incarnation thereby helping the student and the teacher of Yoga meditatively align themselves in reverence before commencement of teaching and learning Yoga.