ASHTANGA YOGA SERIES
What if someone told you there was a simple set of practices that could help you manage every aspect of your daily life, and at the same time take you to a level of human potential beyond your wildest imagination? Would you be interested? Most people would at least be curious.
That is in fact an accurate explanation of the practices of Yoga, but most people don’t realize it. Yoga includes a holistic set of practices for overall self-development and the well-being of the body, mind and soul. A few thousand years back, the great sage Patanjali compiled the current yogic practices of that time into a simple framework consisting of eight parts or limbs, and that framework is still used today. It is known as Ashtanga Yoga.
But the practices of Yoga have evolved since Patanjali was alive, in response to the needs of the time and especially during the last 150 years. So in this series DAAJI explores each limb of Yoga in the light of the modern day yogic practices of Heartfulness. He shows us how to integrate inner spiritual practices with living in the world and refining our personality, so as to create that true state of Yoga – skill in action and integration of the spiritual and worldly as aspects of life.
Niyama is the second of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yogic practice. DAAJI shows us how we need more than Yama for right living – the other side of the coin is the cultivation of nobility of character through the positive duties and inner observances of Niyama.
Let us say that you are already perfecting the ‘five vows of a seeker’ of the first limb, Yama. In the process you give up many negative traits and tendencies, thus clearing so many complexities from your system, the thorns and bushes from the spiritual path. The practice of cleaning removes the load of samskaras that accumulate in the heart, and the tendencies and the emotional patterns that accompany them can also be removed with sincere efforts. So Yama is effectively the removal of all the ‘don’ts’, and this is one part of yogic psychology.
But is Yama enough? We have to go further in our refinement of character, and for this we take up Niyama, which involves cultivating and molding nobility of character. It includes all the ‘dos’, the virtues, the positive duties and inner observances. Niyama is about finding some sort of order to establish and intensify life itself. It provides us with the focus to mold our living to such a high level that we are able to radiate the fragrance of the inner state. It is about self-refinement towards subtler and subtler states, both inner and outer. It is about inner gentility, elegance and etiquette. It will eventually result in living a life in such a way that we are in tune with our Divine Nature. In essence, it is about resolving within to follow a regular system of life so that one day the body consciousness resonates well with the mind in an automatic fashion, and where following a certain rhythm brings about automatism. In Nature, as we see, there is tremendous order. The higher the goal, the greater the order required.
To follow Yama and Niyama is the pious duty of every seeker of spirituality. Just as Yama denotes destruction of all that is unwanted, Niyama is the embracing of the required qualities in the heart. What are those required qualities? In traditional Yoga, the five Niyamas are:
The first Niyama is shaucha or purity. All great spiritual teachers have extolled the importance of purity, which is a natural result of perfecting the Yamas. So in a sense the Niyamas continue on from the culmination of Yama. To my heart, purity is akin to God. The essence of Reality is purity. Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur once said that purity weaves our destiny with the Ultimate. That is a very profound thought, and highlights the importance of purity.
Swami Vivekananda said, “The sages have said that there are two sorts of purification – external and internal. The purification of the body by water, earth or other materials is the external purification, as bathing etc. Purification of the mind by truth, and by all the other virtues, is what is called internal purification. Both are necessary. It is not sufficient that a man should be internally pure and externally dirty. When both are not attainable the internal purity is the better, but no one will be a Yogi until he has both.”1
As we evolve, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and all the habits with which we are born must slowly be adjusted to our level of evolution. We evolve not just from within but in our manners and in our lifestyle. A complete transformation is necessary so that purity permeates every level of our being from inside out.
The second Niyama is santosh. What is it that most of us want in life? The commonest answer given by people of all walks of life and cultures is that we want happiness and contentment. Such a state of contentment allows us to accept whatever situation we may be in. We remain grateful to God. And what brings happiness? Perhaps it is a wonderful relationship, a great career, children whose lives are fulfilled, a comfortable lifestyle and some peace and calm. But even with all the others, without inner peace we will not be happy. Why? Because happiness is found within.
Happiness does not actually depend on outside things or people, although external circumstances can fortify the inner states. As long as we have the basics, no amount of money, pleasure, friends, success or possessions will bring happiness. The philosopher Schopenhauer defined true happiness as the complete satisfaction of all desires. You could say that the happiness of a person can be described mathematically as:
So if we have ten desires and five are fulfilled, we have fifty percent happiness; if ten are fulfilled, we have one hundred percent happiness. The more desires we have, the harder it will be to fulfill them all, and so the less happy we are. Happiness is inversely related to the number of desires.
What happens when we have no desires at all? The denominator becomes zero. Any number divided by zero is infinity. When we have zero desires, our happiness will be limitless. By minimizing our desires from more to less and finally to zero, we make peace with ourselves.
But is it possible to finally arrive at zero desires? Is it practical? Instead, we can try to fulfill our duties in the most appropriate manner, which then do not fall under the category of ‘desires’ that become a burden.
And how can we remove desires? In Heartfulness this happens as a result of a complementary set of practices:
First, we learn to ignore the pull of thoughts during meditation, so they no longer control us. Instead we develop mastery over the thinking process, and that process deepens to where we also transcend the pull of feelings and emotions in the heart. Transmission provides the necessary support for this to happen.
Second, we remove the underlying impressions or samskaras that provide the hooks in our subconscious minds for our desires, and this is done through the daily cleaning practice. This is critical, because many of our desires have a subconscious root that we cannot work with in our conscious mind. Cleaning removes the subconscious root.
Third, at bedtime we connect to our own Source through a prayer in which we acknowledge the barrier caused by our wishes. Then we offer our hearts to that Source, our inner Divinity, to help remove our wishes. Instead of trying to remove desires with our lower ego-consciousness, we take the direct route of engaging our highest consciousness.
Fourth, we have a set of simple guidelines for living, known as the Ten Maxims. They hold those spiritual secrets that have previously been passed down from heart to heart. They have come from direct perception, from the study of Nature, and are revealed by means of vibrations or shruti. Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur expressed them in words so that we can learn how to bring them into daily life.2
Fifth, is that we allow the meditative state acquired during meditation to simmer in the background during the day, and this is known as constant remembrance. In this state, part of our attention remains inward and the remainder flows outward in order to complete our daily duties. In such a state, it is impossible to form impressions, and so the state of purity can be maintained.
The next Niyama is tapas – penance, or the inner burning, the inner fire that brings higher and higher purification and refinement. It brings mastery over the senses. It is a manifestation of the fire of Divinity within us, and this we associate with the awakening of chakra 3 in the Heart Region, the fire point. Tapasya brings discipline, love, enthusiasm and a burning desire to reach the spiritual goal. It also burns away any habits and tendencies that may block our progress, and it develops willpower. At the physical level, tapasya relates to those practices like fasting, which help us to remove debris from the physical body through autophagy.
It does not mean mortification of the body or running away to the jungle, as has commonly been misunderstood. In fact, it is all about embracing life and facing up to everything in life. It also means sacrificing our available resources for the welfare of the Godly creation.
Swadhyaya means ‘study of the self ’. The need for self-observation and self-analysis in the journey of Yoga is paramount, otherwise we cannot be conscious of our intentions and actions. As thoughts are the expression of our inner state, observing thoughts helps us to study our inner state. In order to streamline our inner state to resonate with the Higher, we need to work on our character and bring those habits and tendencies to light that limit our personalities, in order for them to go. This can be tricky, because often we become very judgmental with ourselves and develop feelings of guilt and shame. This is not the approach of Yoga, where self-analysis is used for continuous improvement and refinement with self-acceptance.
Without purity, austerity and inner contentment, self-study can take a back seat. Why would an impure mind resort to self-study? A person who has not gone through some level of austerity will not generally be inclined towards self-study. Why would a discontented mind resort to systematic self-study? Swadhyaya is completed with meditation on the divine principle. Can an impure mind meditate? Can a discontented heart meditate? Can a person meditate who has not simplified his life through tapasya? We need to ask ourselves these fundamental and vital questions.
In order to streamline our inner state
to resonate with the Higher,
we need to work on our character and
bring those habits and tendencies
to light that limit our personalities,
in order for them to go.
Heartfulness facilitates self-study in a number of ways, even when we lack those traits of purity, simplicity and contentment. In any case, if we already have all these qualities, why would we need meditation? Why shave eggs?
First, through meditation we learn to be the observer so as to observe our inner universe keenly. That way, when any inner turbulence arises, we are quickly aware and can do what is necessary to remove it through the process of cleaning. We don’t need to be entangled in the emotions of what we see in ourselves.
Second, we are encouraged to write a journal, so as to better sensitize ourselves to the inner condition. We cultivate self-observation, self-acceptance and self-empathy. As a result we are able to change more easily.
Third, through our connection with the Source in prayer, we are better able to listen to our heart and become sensitive to its higher wisdom.
Fourth, through the practice of constant remembrance, we remain constantly connected with the inner wisdom that can help us study and refine our self.
Swadhyaya also includes the reading and study of sacred literature. These texts provide a reference point for our own inner journey, so we know where we are going and how we are progressing. Through reading, we receive the wisdom of those who have already traversed the path and this inspires us to keep moving forward. In these sacred texts there is always layer upon layer of meaning and understanding, and as we progress in our own journey these layers of knowledge unfold.
The final Niyama is Ishwar pranidhan, meaning surrender to the all-pervading God. This also leads to self-surrender and self-acceptance, and is reflected in our attitudes and behavior by the utmost humility and sense of innocent wonder. This state is the natural outcome and culmination of faith.
Acceptance brings about surrender in the most natural way. Love makes us do things in the most beautiful way for our beloved. In love, where there is total acceptance, the idea of subservience or forced surrender does not even enter the equation. In contrast, a heart imbued with hatred, disgruntlement, confusion, violence, impurities and complexities cannot do anything to promote joy for himself or others. So is an impure mind capable of acceptance or surrender?
In surrender, the burden of ego dissipates, leaving us free to soar higher, allowing consciousness to expand limitlessly. The energy that was suppressed now finds immediate expression, so we feel completely at peace with ourselves, and we find bliss within. Accepting everything allows us to surrender to the entire existence. It is no longer a selective process of acceptance and surrender. Surrender is not an individual or group effort, but the result of our endeavors in the spiritual arena under the guidance of a capable Guide.
We can also learn about Niyama from Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Niyama results in surrendering the fruits of all our actions to the Divine with dedication and devotion. It includes selfless action and dissolving any ego-attachment to those things that we think, say or do. As a result it brings skill in action, as Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna.
As a result of these five Niyamas, the mind will not wander in any direction, as beautifully explained by Swami Vivekananda.3 There will only be one focus, and that is the inner goal. Concentration will be the natural outcome, so these practices naturally lead to the fifth limb of Ashtanga Yoga, Pratyahara.
CULTIVATING THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TOWARDS NIYAMA
What is the best way to cultivate these Niyamas? Often they are done in an enforced or mechanical way, as imposed practices, but discipline cannot be at the cost of love. Love means joy, because love elicits joy. If in discipline there is no joy, it is no less than self-torture.
If something is imposed on a person against their wishes, it is dictatorial or adverse. Enforced discipline, either upon ourselves or upon someone else is like imprisonment. So imposed Niyama cannot become the means of liberation.
What happens when we enforce Niyama on others? There is an enforcer and an enforced being, and they remain opposed to each other. Then there is no joy in being together. Likewise, if my conscience or a brief moment of inspiration temporarily causes me to prescribe myself the discipline of Niyama, the fun begins when the initial inspiration dries up. I will be torn between my earlier resolution to be disciplined and my later weakness, unpreparedness, lack of interest, lack of joy or lack of love. A common example of this happens with New Year resolutions. Once the inspiration wanes, the resolution becomes a chore.
I end up giving birth to two of me. One wishes me to do something and one resists, the one that cajoles or taunts. One of me says, “I feel enslaved and need to rest a little more. I can always postpone what I am supposed to do.” The other says, “You had better wake up and do what you promised yourself.”
When discipline is backed by joy, we look forward to a certain rhythm. For example, when a person who is used to exercising every day cannot go to the gym for some reason, his body feels the difference and he misses it. So when there is joy in doing something, such joy in its trail establishes discipline. And such discipline is enriching, ennobling and showers freedom, as it is done out of joy.
Yoga means union – union of my lower self with the higher Self. It also brings with it the art of listening to the Self. When the Self imposes rules versus someone else imposing rules, the outcome is very different. When we are united with the Higher, integrated with the Higher, life is guided by conscience (con-science) and not by fixed or limited knowledge and dogmas. Then our integrity oozes joy, arising out of following the inner conscience. We can easily then be a disciplined individual, who is now fit to become a disciple.
This gives us some insight into another word, ‘confusion’ (con-fusion), which arises when too many things are mingled together, but there is no fusion or union with the higher Self.
Think for a moment of walking on a trail versus cycling versus driving on a single-lane road versus driving on a multi-lane freeway versus traveling by plane versus soaring in a rocket. In which of these would we have the greatest freedom to move or travel? You probably think it is a rocket, but is it? While walking we are bound by very few rules. We can stop and start whenever we wish, change direction and go faster and slower at will. On a bicycle we have a few more rules. In a car there are more and more rules in order to keep everyone safe, and the more lanes on the road and the faster the speed, the more careful and disciplined we need to be. A pilot in a plane has even less freedom than the driver of a car, and those in a rocket have their freedom completely curtailed, including what movements they can make, what time they eat, sleep and work.
So the higher we go, the more discipline we need, and the more joy we need so that it is willing, loving discipline.
Let’s compare two scenarios. In the first a person wakes up early in the morning to go to the airport at 5 a.m. to fetch his beloved. In the second, that same person is required to wake up to clean the house at 5 a.m., which is something he resents. What will be the difference in his attitude?
Similarly, which attitude will be productive in following the Niyamas? They must be followed with tremendous joy and, more importantly, without feeling enslaved. Otherwise they will not serve the purpose of bringing about a higher order, a higher level of osmosis with the Higher Being.
Commonly there are two types of acts: the first arising out of suppression, and the second arising out of excessive indulgence in the name of freedom. Both are against the evolutionary scheme and both violate true freedom. True freedom is to do what is right, and how do we decide what is right? That capacity comes with the first of the four sadhanas in Yoga, which is called viveka, meaning the ability to discriminate or make wise choices. Unless we have understood that first step in Sadhana Chatusthaya, we will not be able to choose what is right.
In Reality at Dawn4, Ram Chandra describes the qualities of all the four sadhanas, starting with the first two, viveka (discrimination) and vairagya (renunciation). He says, “Viveka and vairagya are states of mind developed at different stages by constant practice of certain yogic sadhanas, for example, remembrance, devotion or love, etc.
“Viveka in the true sense never develops unless the senses are thoroughly purified. This happens only when the mind gets properly regulated and disciplined, and egoism (or ahankara) assumes a purified state. Thus it is that viveka is in fact the result of practices followed in order to bring about the desired results.” He then explains how vairagya is likewise the result of viveka.
At this point, Ram Chandra introduces an innovation to the traditional approach that is possible because of Yogic Transmission. He explains that the yogic practices of Heartfulness automatically result in the development of viveka and vairagya, rather than them having to be done first. He says that they “are not treated as sadhanas but are left aside to be developed automatically by an aspirant during his progress.”
In Heartfulness we start with the third sadhana, known as shat-sampatti. “The first of these sampattis is sham, which pertains to the peaceful condition of mind leading to a state of calmness and tranquillity. When we practise it, viveka and vairagya follow automatically. … No practice is really of any avail if it does not naturally result in viveka and vairagya. The real form of viveka is when a man begins to realise his own defects and shortcomings and at the bottom of his heart feels repentant for them.”
So by doing the Heartfulness meditative practices sincerely, the heart is purified and we are able to dive deep within its vastness and tap into the universal wisdom. In this way viveka develops naturally, without undue effort or enforcement.
Let’s go back to the two common types of act. Acts of suppression promote inner slavery, and this limits the expansion of consciousness. Acts of uninhibited indulgence sow the seeds for desires to further flourish, and these enslave us in a different way. Both aversion and indulgence are culprits. They are the likes and dislikes that create the impressions that accumulate in our heart, forming heaviness and taking us away from the source of our being.
How to rise above aversion and indulgence? That is why Niyama has to be established in our lives.
“Let your heart express itself in any event, do not restrain it.
It must play its role in your Earthly existence;
it embellishes it, it gives it its letters of nobility.
The latter will outlast this incarnation.
They will remain imprinted on the tables of time.”
To let the flow of the river of life keep moving towards the infinite ocean, checked by two banks that guide us to our destination. Imagine a river without the banks that define it!
The Heartfulness practices prepare us to respond to all sorts of situations in life that require discipline and refinement of character, including rising above our weakness, working with our ego, making wise decisions, self-analysis, solving problems and conflicts with others, and our own continuous improvement. No longer do we make rules without understanding the consequences of what we are doing. In everyday life, the rules of discipline can be of various levels. For example, military discipline flourishes with patriotism, courage and obedience; religious discipline flourishes because of the carrot of liberation or heaven, and the stick of fear of death or hell; while true discipline must flourish out of love and joy, otherwise it becomes slavery. When Yogic Transmission connects the seeker with the Guide, it can magnify the effect of positive suggestion, known as sankalpa, and this can bring about miraculous results. For example, when the Guide or a Heartfulness trainer makes a subtlest thought, “May such-and-such a quality develop in the seeker,” if the seeker cooperates, then that Niyama is established.
But ultimately, “The perfection of human nobility lies in the devotee being always within the sphere of devotion,” as Ram Chandra has said in his sixth maxim. Not even a capable spiritual Guide can infuse noble qualities into us if the heart is not prepared and willing to nurture them, and in osmosis with its higher calling. And Ram Chandra gives us yet another hint about how to cultivate Niyama5:
“This stay on Earth is a determining stage in your evolution; do not let your chances be lost in the turbulence of the days. The vagaries of life must be useful to you; your good or bad experiences must help you progress, be enlightened on the reality concealed behind all these tribulations.
“This succession of moments lived in the spirit, characterising you now and resulting from wisdom acquired over the days, makes your life a permanent enlightenment. Be receptive to all that can occur; do not disregard any detail, everything is important. Signs – which mark your way – are given to you; it is up to you to decode them.
“Let your heart express itself in any event, do not restrain it. It must play its role in your Earthly existence; it embellishes it, it gives it its letters of nobility. The latter will outlast this incarnation. They will remain imprinted on the tables of time.”
1 Swami Vivekananda, Raja Yoga, Chapter 8, ‘Raja Yoga in Brief’.
2 Ram Chandra, 2015. Commentary on the Ten Maxims of Sahaj Marg. Shri Ram Chandra Mission, India.
3 Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 6, chapter ‘Concentration’.
4 Ram Chandra, 2015. Reality at Dawn, chapter 9, ‘Realisation’. Shri Ram Chandra Mission, India.
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