This course is based on two of the main scriptures of Yoga.
The first — probably the most famous — is called The Bhagavad Gita (“The Song of the Lord”) and is presented in the form of a dialogue between Krishna (Christ) and Arjuna (the human soul, the sephirah Tiphereth).
The second is called The Yoga Sutras, and is attributed to the author Patanjali.
Yoga has become world famous, but people think Yoga is only stretching and manipulating the physical body. We have been giving this course in order to explain the real meaning of Yoga, what it really is, what it is really for, so that we can take advantage of our moment to moment experience. That is what Yoga is really about: it is about us, who we are now, and who we are becoming. Yoga is about how we use each moment, and the results of each action we perform. If you consider that carefully, you will realize it is truly an incredible responsibility.
This is the sixth lecture of this course. We have progressed through only about half of the first chapter of The Yoga Sutras, and compared with a few short passages of the Gita.
The Yoga Sutras are a short scripture with only four chapters. Almost nothing in it is about postures of the body. In fact, the scripture has been largely ignored; even those who love Yoga and study Yoga have probably never heard of it, even though it is a root scripture of Yoga.
We need to understand that the Sanskrit word yoga literally means “union.” It does not mean “stretching.” The word yoga does not have anything to do with postures. Instead, it means "to unite.” It implies a type of union that has nothing to do with the physical body, or at least very little to do with it.
योग yoga: “union, total, yoke, mixture, joining, sum, addition, junction.”
The word Yoga implies something about truth, something about reality.
"Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of consciousness." —Yoga Sutras 1:2
"Perform action, dwelling in union with the Divine, renouncing attachments, and balanced evenly in success and failure; equanimity is Yoga." –Gita 2:48
When we look at the use of the word yoga in the ancient scriptures, one quickly discovers that this term yoga rarely has anything to do with physicality. Instead, it is always concerned with consciousness. This points out the significant misunderstanding in modern culture about Yoga.
The human soul or human consciousness is not our body (Sanskrit: Annamaya Kosha. Kabbalah: Malkuth), it is not our vital energy (Sanskrit: Pranamaya Kosha. Kabbalah: Yesod), it is not our emotion (Sanskrit: Manomaya Kosha. Kabbalah: Hod), it is not our thoughts (Sanskrit: Vijnanamaya Kosha. Kabbalah: Netzach). It is our essence (Sanskrit: Anandamaya Kosha. Kabbalah: Tiphereth), our cognizance. It is a part of us that does not have our terrestrial name. It does not have our tastes, interests, habits. It is that part of us that is the root of perception and understanding.
Observe yourself right now, in this moment.
You can feel your physical body (Sanskrit: Annamaya Kosha. Kabbalah: Malkuth). You have the capacity to observe that body. That body is not “you,” your “self.” How do you know? Because you leave the physical body every night. When you dream, you use a different body. When you die, you leave that body; yet, the “self” goes on.
Inside the physical body you feel your energy (Sanskrit: Pranamaya Kosha. Kabbalah: Yesod), your relative energetic state: you are a little tired, a little active, a little sleepy, a little sick, a little unhealthy, a little healthy, full, cold, hot — all the types of energetic qualities that you can feel. But those energetic qualities are not your identity, either.
You can also observe emotions (Sanskrit: Manomaya Kosha. Kabbalah: Hod). Emotions come and go, seemingly on their own. They also are not your true self, because emotional qualities are constantly changing, constantly unreliable, fluctuating in according with the impressions that are hitting against it. So, you cannot find self or real identity in emotions.
You can also observe thoughts (Sanskrit: Vijnanamaya Kosha. Kabbalah: Netzach). Thoughts come and go, sometimes subtle, sometimes strong. But, thoughts are always contradicting each other. The thoughts that come and go have no consistency or reliability, either. So, thoughts are not “self.” They are just thoughts. The self is there even when thoughts are not. So, you cannot find self or real identity in thoughts.
In this manner, as you observe everything observable, and you back away from all the observable phenomena in yourself, you eventually start to center in on something that is immutable, something that is always there, that is ever-present. That is: the ability to perceive, and the ability to understand what is perceived. That relates to the element we call the human soul, consciousness, Essence (Sanskrit: Anandamaya Kosha. Kabbalah: Tiphereth). That part in us that we really do not pay much attention to, but is not the body, is not energy, is not thought, is not emotion, but it is will. That has a source, what gave it light, what gave it the ability to be in this body and to experience energy and thought and feeling. When that can unite with its source, that is Yoga.
That is what is depicted in this image from The Mahabharata, the great epic poem from ancient India. This virginal, pure woman perceives Surya, the sun god, the solar divinity. She represents the primordial purity of the soul-consciousness, which in Hebrew is called Geburah, and in other languages is called variously Buddhi, Helen of Troy, Sita, Guinevere, etc. Surya the sun god represents the light of the Ain Soph, Amitabha (Buddhism). That limitless intelligence gives rise to all living things, and in that way gives rise to her, the human soul, us, ourselves, in our heart of hearts. This image depicts her seeing her root nature, unblemished, unconditioned, unfiltered. Most people see this type of image and they think it is some myth of a woman seeing a god come down out of the clouds.” That is the literal level, but that is not the meaning. The real meaning is that this image represents an experience of the soul seeing its true nature. Yoga is that. It is that experience.
The purpose of Yoga is to help us understand firstly (1) how to experience that for ourselves, so we do not have to believe in it or theorize about it, but know it personally in our own experience. And then, secondly, (2) how to sustain it, how to make it our permanent state. How to find what is preventing it from being our normal state. That is what Yoga is about. Real Yoga. Establishing that union on a permanent basis.
So that is why the opening lines of the Yoga Sutras say:
“Now, instruction in Union. Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of consciousness.”
The modifications are filters, influences or veils that prevent Yoga.
"Then awareness abides in its own nature. Otherwise it is identified with the modifications."
Our true nature is not outside of us. Our true nature cannot be found in a school or a group, or a master, or a god. It is not in a book. Our true nature is in us, spontaneously, naturally, already. We just do not see it, because we are identified with what modifies our consciousness. This is the key that sets up the entire Yoga Sutras, and it is what Krishna is explaining in the entire Bhagavad Gita. And, it is the basis of the entire Mahabharata, which is the greatest epic in world literature. The Bhagavad Gita was taken out of The Mahabharata; it is an excerpt. The whole Mahabharata, which means “The Great Warrior,” is an epic symbol of how psychological modifications (represented by the demons, the enemies, the blind king, etc) prevent us from experiencing and knowing our true reality (represented by the heroes and the solar divinities).
The modifications that obscure our perception have many names, many ways of describing them. But we can synthesize them to this: they are anything that obscures awareness's perception of itself.
So practically speaking, what does that mean? In this exact moment, what do we perceive? And how do we interpret what we perceive?
All of us are in our physical bodies and most of us, by far the majority of us, have the assumption that this physical body is who we are. And we from moment to moment and day to day we succumb to the illusion of “I am this body and its characteristics define me.” That is a lie. It is not true.
When you take your spiritual life seriously and you start to really work on awakening consciousness and clearing it of misperceptions, you start to experience being awake in your dreams out of our body. Then you have various experiences and begin to realize, “The physical body is not me, because in my awakened dream I was someone else…” Maybe the opposite gender. “I was in another country, I had another name. I had a whole other experience, a whole other life.” You then you start to really question, “Who am I? Truthfully, substantially. What is the reality?” You start to remember other lifetimes, other experiences just as real as the life you have in this body now… yet you were someone else, somewhere else. So, if we are not who we appear to be physically, then who are we? If we have been in multiple bodies, in multiple lives, in various times, then which one is the real me? The modifications of physical appearance, energetic quality, emotional and intellectual life, are all just veils that mask the source of life within us. To see who we really are, we have to remove the veils. In Sanskrit, those veils are called “koshas,” which means “sheath.” Each one is like a skin or layer that gives an appearance, but is not fundamentally real or long-lasting. They are not the life or fundamental truth of a living thing.
Yoga is about that: stilling the modifications, letting everything come to rest psychologically in us, so we can see clearly. As we are now we are a chaos, psychologically speaking. Most people who come to these types of classes have tried to learn to meditate. And those who approach meditation for the first time quickly discover that they cannot make the mind be quiet. They sit, they adopt the posture, they place their attention the way their instructor tells them, but the thinking will not stop. The pains in the body will not stop. The fantasies, the daydreaming, and the voices that we hear in our heads will not stop. That indicates our psychological situation. Psychologically we are dealing with a chaos, a mind that is out of control. That chaos is the activity of these modifications. They are not still, they are extremely active and out of control.
So to learn Yoga, we have to recognize these things and calm everything down. When we learn that and begin clearing a space of serenity within us, then the awareness starts to become capable of being aware of itself and its true nature, and experiencing that and being able to sustain that. Yoga presents a series of steps to make that happen. That is what the first five lectures of this course were about.
Steps of Yoga
- Yama: self-restraint
- Niyama: precepts
- Asana: posture; relaxation
- Pranayama: harnessing of life force
- Pratyahara: suspension of senses
- Dharana: concentration
- Dhyana: Meditation
- Samadhi: super-conscious state, blissfulness, ecstasy
People who study Hatha Yoga may have heard a little bit about these things, but they generally do not take them very seriously. They skip steps one and two of Yoga: Yama and Niyama. Pretty much every Yoga school in the world skips them nowadays, even though they are the first steps. This is as if you want to be a doctor but do not want to learn your language, your ABCs, you do not know how to do even basic math or know how to read, you do not want to learn how to do any of that “beginner” stuff, you — at five or six years old — just want to skip all the grades of school and go straight to medical school to become a doctor. Life does not work like that! A doctor needs to mature first, to grow up, to know her language, how to read, how to function in society, etc. Yoga is like that too. You cannot skip the steps of Yoga if you want to reach the experience of Yoga. You need to mature and you need a very profound education, not in worldly matters, but in matters of consciousness.
The steps outline a very scientific process through which anyone who takes it seriously can learn how to still the modifications that prevent awareness from realizing what it really is, from experiencing its true nature.
So let me explain a little bit what that true nature is. We as a human soul, as a consciousness, are a spark that comes out of divinity, like the first image we saw of Surya, the sun god, that beautiful light, and that beautiful woman gazing at that light. That woman in the image represents the purity that we have within us that we do not perceive. We are not aware of it, because it is so obscured in the chaos of our day to day living.
When we learn these steps, we learn in the first two stages to stop performing actions that cause the chaos of the mind. We learn to stop doing things that create the unsettled mind. That is what Yama and Niyama are about. In the third step we learn to take a posture and be fully and completely relaxed, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. So just in the first three stages someone who really is taking that seriously, can make a great deal of progress becoming calm, serene, relaxed. Then in the fourth stage we learn to harness energy and use it to help advance our relaxation and serenity. By placing attention, concentrating, we learn to hold attention by willpower.
The human soul's defining characteristic is willpower, concentration, the ability to pay attention. With all these prerequisites in place — we have not been doing harmful actions (1-2), we are relaxed in our posture (3), we are harnessing energy (4) and focusing it with our willpower to pay attention and concentrate, from there we start to withdraw attention from the senses (5). Pratyahara, the fifth stage, is related to the ability to pay attention to one thing and let the rest become abstract. Gradually, concentration deepens to the sixth stage. When the concentration deepens and becomes really persistent, that deepens in to what is actually called meditation (dhyana). That is the actual state of meditation; everything before that is subjective, illusory, and unreliable.
At this stage (6) the concentration becomes absorbed completely in what we are observing, nothing can distract us, and we are completely absorbed in that focus, in that concentration. This is a very specific experience that anyone can have if they learn these stages. When we access that absorption, we can then go deeper so the consciousness can access what is called Samadhi (7). That is when the awareness, the consciousness, the human soul, is completely liberated from the modifications and experiences its reality. That is why we call it “ecstasy, blissfulness.” In that state there is no fear, pride, lust, anger, etc., since those are unnatural qualities resulting from our mistaken perceptions. Instead there is serenity, acceptance, peacefulness, wisdom, joy, love, understanding. Those are the natural qualities of the human soul.
The consciousness is naturally and spontaneously altruistic, diligent, loving, kind, at peace. It is content, it is happy for others, it is able to work very hard without very seeking reward. These are the natural qualities of the consciousness when it is unmodified, when it is free.
That is why the ancient scriptures describe primordial ancient humanity (Adam and Eve, etc) as being innocent and beautiful, “naked,” meaning the consciousness was not covered or obscured by the modifications. The consciousness was free, clear, radiant, perceptible. Adam and Eve were innocent in the Garden of Eden, in perfection, talking with Divinity directly, because there was no modifications on the soul preventing them from experiencing their true nature.
All of us have that potential within us, but unfortunately we have no clue about it, because we are deeply buried in modifications, traumas, pains, sufferings, desires, anger, pride, lust, envy, greed, gluttony, and the list goes on and on. Sadly we think all of those modifications are real and that they means something; we love our sufferings and traumas, we love our stories and resentments, we love our flaws and desires, and we clutch to them all as if they define who we are. We are identified with all of it: we find our identity in it. This is why we do not experience Yoga, because we are identified with illusions, with lies.
Krishna in The Bhagavad Gita says:
"Perform action, dwelling in union with the Divine, renouncing attachments, and balanced evenly in success and failure; equanimity is Yoga." –Gita 2:48
This sentence sums up the message of the Bhagavad Gita. It is saying the union occurs when we have an equanimity, psychologically speaking. You could also say "equilibrium." You could also say "balance." All these words indicate a state of perception, a state of understanding, a state of consciousness. This does not refer only to when you are trying to meditate. Yoga is not something you do only an hour a day. Yoga is a lifestyle. It is a way of being.
This equanimity we need depends upon "renouncing attachments." Most people interpret that as "I cannot be attached to my car, my house, my clothes, my job, my kids." It does mean those things, but more significantly it means that you cannot be attached to your false identity. Not attached to your complaints, sufferings, resentments, justifications, blaming of others, to all of the psychological habits that we have that produce the experience that we have. To not be attached, to be balanced instead, evenly between success and failure, means that whatever happens in life — whether things go well or things go poorly — we are the same person, balanced, serene. We are neither jumping for joy nor drowning in tears. We experience emotion, we experience life, but with balance, with equilibrium, with control, awareness, consciousness. Equanimity provides understanding that all things are impermanent and all things are outside of us are unreliable, and that things will never go the way we dream they will go. Thus, equanimity gives peace, understanding, balance throughout the highs and lows of life.
When in a state of equanimity, we have our attention on the greater goal, which is union with divinity. When our attention from moment to moment, day to day, is on divinity, we are not affected so much when the bus is running late, when someone is angry, or someone is sad, someone disappointed in us, someone is blaming us, gossiping about us. We do not take it that seriously. We act appropriately in each situation.
It says in that passage: "perform action…” In other words, act properly. That is what Yama and Niyama are about. With equanimity, we do not become identified, we do not lose touch with who we truly are.
So, equanimity is a way of transforming impressions, a way of dealing with life, in which one has a broader perspective of things. The term that is used here in Sanskrit is samatva, which means “equality, balance, indifference, undisturbed.”
When I said that Yoga is a way of life, what I am trying to point out is that if you really want to experience divinity, you have to learn how to meditate. And if you really want to meditate, you have to be training yourself for meditation all day, every day. The training time for meditation is not just that ten minutes or half an hour that you practice meditation. The training time for meditation is the entirety of your daily life. That is when you prepare for meditation. If all day long you are relaxed and attentive, then when you sit for formal meditation you are already prepared. But if all day long your mind is in chaos and you are constantly tossed between emotional states — disappointment, excitement — and being identified with all the dramas of the day, then when you sit to meditate you will be exhausted, your mind will be crazy, you will not be able to relax, you will not be able to concentrate. It will be frustrating. Eventually you will give up trying to meditate. That is what happens to most people who try to learn to meditate. They give up precisely because they were not training and preparing during the day.
This picture of Swami Vivekananda nicely demonstrates a beautiful, simple quality of serenity and relaxation. When you study meditation, that is the experience you want to have. You want to be able to sit for meditation and feel serene, balanced, and relaxed. Just understand that you cannot hope to gain that state if you are only seeking it during the few minutes of your meditation practice. You have to be aware all the time, 24 hours a day, relaxing your three brains, transforming impressions, and actively not becoming identified with all of your experiences. Instead, deal with things equally.
If we are identified with the modifications that are influencing us from moment to moment, then we cannot experience our true nature. Awareness, consciousness, is the root of what we are here and now. It is the root of what we can experience and feel as our inner reality, our inner nature. But let us analyze that.
What do you experience when you are frustrated? Think about that. Remember a moment when you were frustrated. Remember how that makes you feel physically; it changes how you feel physically. You may feel tense, sick, you might feel like you need to run and do something or you want to hit somebody, you want to choke somebody. Your emotional state changes. Your mental state changes. Not only that, everything you perceive is perceived through the frustration. This is what a modification is: it filters perception.
Frustration is a simple example. We all get frustrated, such as when we are stuck in traffic, stuck on the bus, stuck on the train or in a long line. We may be frustrated at our job, or because we do not have one. We may be frustrated in our relationship. We can be frustrated with our kids, with our income level. We may be frustrated with so many things… politicians, the system… our spiritual life… In other words, in so many cases, we are identified with frustrated desires. We want things to be a certain way but they are not. So, our perceptions are filtered by frustrated desire: anger, irritation.
What about envy? Our friend or our neighbor or somebody we see on TV has things that we want and we feel we deserve, and it frustrates us. We feel we deserve what they have. “Why can I not have that? I should have that. I want that.” Then we think, “How can I get it? How can I get what that person has?” We want fame, wealth, status, recognition, respect, sex, love, a marriage, kids, a house, etc. That is envy. Sometimes, that desire then pushes us to interfere with what that person has: if they have a new love interest, we may spread harmful gossip about them in order to interfere with their relationship. We may even try to seduce the new love interest. Desire is very crafty, and convinces us that we are doing good.
In those states, just talking about frustration and envy, our consciousness is not experiencing its true nature, because its true nature is acceptance, contentment, peace, serenity, and it is perfectly relaxed, and does not need anything outside of itself. It is content with itself. So when we feel frustration, we are identified with a modification, we are not abiding in our true nature. We are not in a state of Yoga.
If we are honest, we can see that most of lives are spent identified with some modification or another. How many years are we identified with the pursuit of the sensations of lust? Not only the physical sensations related to lust, but the emotional and mental sensations. Most of humanity is chasing after those sensations, most of the time. Everyone is trying to satisfy those desires, and even if we manage to satisfy them for a moment or an instant, a few minutes later, few hours later, it is back, stronger.
What about pride? We always want to be praised, loved, envied, admired. When someone is gossiping about us, talking bad about us, we do not like it, we want get revenge, we want to “set the record straight.” We feel that we are not getting the recognition we deserve, so we sabotage others, gossip about others, always call attention to ourselves, put others down and put ourselves first, etc.
We are constantly pursuing so many different desires, and never realize that in our true nature right now the contentment is already there, but we do not see it, because we are identified with these modifications that are filtering our perception. This is what Yoga is about - recognizing those things for what they are.
"The mind becomes still by cultivating habits of friendliness, mercy, gladness, and indifference towards happiness, pain, virtues and vices." —Yoga Sutras 1:33
This sounds like a very strange thing to say, “be indifferent to virtue, be indifferent towards pain.” The animal mind immediately rushes to extreme situations, "Well, if I am getting tortured, I should be indifferent to it?” Or “I shouldn't be trying to be patient? Isn’t that a virtue?" This is not what is meant here. We have to go into the significance of what is stated, not the literal interpretation of these words, but the quality of consciousness it is pointing towards. It does not mean that we should not care about our vices and virtues. We absolutely have to care. What matters is our inner attitude. The inner attitude, the position of the consciousness. This passage is about being identified.
"The mind becomes still by cultivating habits of friendliness, mercy, gladness…”
When they are sincere, these qualities emerge from our true nature. By accessing these virtuous qualities, our psyche becomes calm, relaxed, still.
On the other hand, we described earlier how we are identified with a range of desires that we have inside, many types of frustrations and desires: envy, pride, lust, greed, gluttony, etc. When you reflect on the course of your life, you will see that your mind is always swinging between extreme states, in a chaos, driven by chasing after elusive qualities but never able to settle down.
We work for years and years to get our education, and then we are happy for a few minutes, and then we face having to get a job and start a family and all the other factors of life, and we are unhappy again. What happened to those years of work towards the goal? We get to the goal, and then after a moment or contentment —hours, days— we are again dissatisfied, anxious, afraid.
We work for years to get a promotion, and we finally get it, and then we have a whole new set of problems, so we are still not happy.
Or we seek for years to get married, we finally get married, then we discover we are suffering even more than before.
Life is like that when you are identified. When you take the perception of the outer world as reality, you will suffer, because our limited senses and conditioned consciousness cannot perceive reality.
Everything outside of us is unreliable, impermanent, fleeting, and ultimately without stability. So, because all external things are fundamentally so elusive and insubstantial, when you are attached to them or depending on them for happiness, it is like trying to hold smoke or steam in your hand. In that sense, they are not “real.”
When we can center ourselves in the consciousness, establish equilibrium in that, we can then see all these qualities for what they are —pain, pleasure, victory, defeat — that they only mean what we believe they mean, and if we do not believe in them one way or another, then they have no power over us. With that point of view as a consciousness, we stop being a victim of circumstances. That is when we can really have a sense of direction in our lives, because when you are centered in your true state, your true nature, you get guidance from your inner Divinity. Contrary to that, when you are identified with anger, lust, and pride, you can only hear what those qualities are telling you. When those qualities are strong, you cannot hear divinity.
When you are angry, you are frustrated, you are really chasing after that person that you really want, you cannot hear anything else, especially divinity. It is only when the mind is serene, still, like a beautiful lake that you can see the stars reflected in it. When that stillness is present in you from moment to moment, you then see the reality of what's going on all around you. And you can respond to it intelligently, not randomly, not chaotically, not driven by karma and desire, but by will.
“The mind becomes still by cultivating the habits…” This phrase "cultivating habits" means we need to transform the way we pay attention. Right now our habits of attention are very much about “me, myself, what I want, and how I can get it.” That is how our mind functions in its current quality. “I want what I want and I am going to do whatever I have to do to get it. If I have to lie I will lie. If I have to steal I will steal. I will do whatever it takes. Meanwhile, I will make everybody think I am a saint. But inside I will manipulate things and change things to get that desire, to fulfill it.”
When instead we are practicing Yoga, we are cultivating a new attitude, a new inner attitude. With that inner attitude we are no longer focused on the desires of the mind, the desires of the ego, but instead we are focused on Yoga, establishing inner stillness so we can see the reality of what is really going on. That is an attitude, it is an action. It is a type of behavior in which we use the consciousness to be here and now at all times, and perceiving here and now at all times.
As we are now, ruled by desires, we see other people as tools we can use to fulfill our desires. The ego sees people that way. The ego sees others as ways to satisfy our lust. We do not see a person. We do not see a human being. We see a measurement of how that person relates to our lust.
When we have a lot of craving for money or craving for power in our job or whatever, when we go to work, we do not see human beings at work, we see “stepping stones.” We see how each person fits into our scheme, our strategy, to get ahead. "That guy works in the mail room, I do not have to talk to him, he cannot help my career." We all do this on some level, depending on the nature of our own modifications. We treat people according to how our desires function. When you go to work, you are polite around your boss. But you ignore or are rude to the people who are ranked lower than you. Who cares what they think? We do this around people with money, too. When we are around someone who has money or power, we smile and nod, hoping to gain their favor. But when we are around people who are in a lower station than our own, we hold our nose high in the air and keep them as far from us as possible.
Instead if we develop this mind of a Yogi, this first habit of friendliness is toward all people, all creatures, all living things, equally. No exceptions.
Jesus would treat everyone exactly the same. Moses, the Buddha, Krishna, etc. see the human soul in each person. They do not see through the filters of ego and desire. They see the reality. They see that each person is suffering. They see that each person has problems, traumas, pain. They see the reality of those people. They do not see them as a tools.
That word friendliness is translated from Sanskrit, maitri:
मैत्री: friendship, close contact or union, friendliness, equality, benevolence, good will, kindly feeling
Imagine if we all had a good way of perceiving everyone and looking at everyone as being the same as ourselves. Imagine if all of us treated each other this way, and were no longer influenced by ambition, envy, greed. Not trying to compete with others, to step over others. What if we were sincerely friendly with everyone, and everyone was sincerely friendly with us? What if everyone around us looked at us as a true friend, an equal, and treated us with kindness and respect? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? What if we ourselves set that example? That is yoga.
Often times the things that we do that we think are so good, are evil. We do not realize it, because we do not see the truth. We do not even think to consider that, to question ourselves and our behaviors. It does not even occur to us. The way we behave has a tremendous impact on everyone, including ourselves. What indicated in these passages is this need to question ourselves, and learn to behave in a better way.
The second quality mentioned in that passage is karuna.
करुणा karuna: compassion, empathy, kindness, action, holy work
We want others to treat us with compassion and kindness, therefore it is our duty to treat others with compassion and kindness. If we treat others with indifference, coldness, and even cruelty, how can we expect kindness in return?
Moreover, we know that the ultimate expression of religion is compassion and kindness, therefore we should be actively attempting to make karuna our defining characteristic, our chief quality, our atmosphere and way of being.
The third quality mentioned here is mudita.
मुदित mudita: joy, gladness, delight, rejoicing in
This is the virtue of being happy for others, and wanting them to be happy. This is the virtue of putting the happiness of others before our own. A parent feels this for their children: a parent wants their children to be happy, and sacrifices their own desires in order to serve the happiness of their children. If we were to expand this quality towards all living things, this world would become a paradise. Observe the lives of the great masters, and you will see they all have this quality: they take joy in making others happy, not themselves.
In general, these three qualities mean that if we abandon pride, anger, greed, and the qualities focused about you and yourself, me and myself, and exchange that for a more expansive perception, a more loving attitude towards others, an attitude that sees the suffering of others and wants to help others escape from suffering, then not only do we bring happiness to others, but our mind also becomes steady, calm, serene, at peace.
All of this sounds like it is about our terrestrial life, and it is in the first degree. When we are working with the first stages of Yoga (Yama and Niyama), we are learning to improve our behaviors in our physical life and our interactions with others. But these qualities are only really developed when they become cognizant, conscious, internal. To fully develop them, these attitudes must be spontaneous and natural, not something we have to remember to do, or imposed on us like a restriction or discpline, but as qualities that just happen, because we are just that way.
You see the difference: to really be a loving person is different from acting like one. We all know that. You probably know a person who always smiles, but you know it is fake. They always say, "Hey, how are you doing?" But you know they do not care at all about you, you know it is all fake, they just do it because they have to for their job, or they want something, or they are simply a fake person. On the other hand, have you ever met a person, who for no need or reason, was so sincerely kind to you and so sweet to you that you never forgot it? They had no need to be that way. No reason, they did not want anything from you. That is just how they are. That is what we need if we want to learn Yoga and meditation.
"The mind becomes still by cultivating habits of friendliness, mercy, gladness, and upeksana [indifference] towards happiness, pain, virtues and vices." —Yoga Sutras 1:33
The Sanskrit word upeksana is a little difficult to translate to English. Most the time you see upeksana translated as "indifference." And to us, we hear the word "indifference", and we think it means we do not care. We interpret indifference to mean coldness or cruelty. That is not what is meant here. What is meant by this term is to not have a preference one way or the other. It is not a cold attitude, it is not ignoring, it is not cruel, it is simply to not have a preference one way or the other. It is an attitude of acceptance, as "it is what it is." Sometimes it said "as it is." This is a way to remind oneself of how to position the consciousness for meditation, but also for self-observation and self-remembering. "As it is" means you see it as it is and do not try to change it. You just observe it. You are aware of it. But you do not have a preference for being one way or the other way.
"The mind becomes still by cultivating habits of friendliness, mercy, gladness, and upeksana [indifference] towards sukha, dukha, punya, apunya [happiness, pain, virtues and vices].” —Yoga Sutras 1:33
In Sanskrit this is poetic, rhyming. In English these mean "pleasure and displeasure, virtue and vice", "happiness and pain, good and evil." The passage is not saying that we should not care about good and evil. It is not saying that we should be a cold or cruel or not care about whether we are good or bad or someone else is good and bad. It is not saying that. It is saying we need to learn to observe things as they are and not have a preference for one or the other, because when we do have a preference, we cloud our judgement. We no longer see the truth. When you want things to be a certain way and they are not, you ignore the reality and you become frustrated. We all know that. So this passage is significant for meditation practice, for the effort to develop meditation. This is precisely that inner attitude that one has to have to establish Pratyahara, Dharana, and Dhyana. It is this quality of indifference. So what does that mean practically speaking?
After the lecture we will meditate. So, you will take a position, you will relax your body, you will close your eyes, and simply pay attention. But, your body will complain. You will feel discomfort. You will feel bored. You will want to go eat. You will want to go out. Your leg will hurt. Your arm will fall asleep. Your back will hurt. Whatever it is - all kinds of sensations happen. Somebody will be talking in the next room, and you will hear them, and become distracted, annoyed. Or an irritating song will be repeating in your head and it will not stop. All kinds of different phenomena will happen. And if you are not indifferent to it all, and not remaining concentrated on the meditation practice you are supposed to be doing, you will become frustrated. But, if you have this quality upeksana, equanimity, indifference, then you can observe at all of those phenomena and remain undisturbed, undistracted, as if saying to yourself in a manner of speaking - "so what? It is what it is. So my knee hurts. So someone is talking. So I can hear the bus. So I can hear the train. So that person next to me smells terrible. So what? It is what it is."
Equanimity means to be attentive and withdraw from identification. Otherwise, you will start thinking: "Maybe I should get up and go out there and tell them to shut up? Maybe I need to tell that smelly person to go home and take a shower? Maybe I should stretch my legs out? Maybe I can scratch my itch?" All of those responses reveal identification with an impression. The mind is no longer under will of consciousness. The mind is in control. The mind is saying: "I do not like this. I want to change it. Let's go! Let's get out of here!" That is a mind pursuing a desire.
In both in our terrestrial life and in our meditation life, it is necessary to take back the power from the desires that control us right now. Through developing this new attitude, we begin to accumulate power in conscious will. That is how we develop willpower. It is the power of the human soul to be in charge of our life.
In the Bible that is represented by David, a little boy who does not have anything but faith. He remembers God; that is all he has. That remembrance, that attentiveness is what gives him the power to conquer the Philistines. We all have that. The Philistines are the desires, those very powerful enemies that are in our minds. Our pride is not our friend. Our anger is not our friend. Our lust is not our friend. They are our jailers. They are what cause us to suffer. If we really want to escape suffering we have to break free of the prison that we ourselves made.
In the context of meditation, it means that you, as the meditator, have to take the power away from those desires, distractions, etc. This is through developing equanimity. Equanimity is when we center the power from moment to moment in acceptance, in cognizance, being here and now, not letting external or internal influences choose our behaviors. Instead, we choose how to behave, purposefully and with intelligence.
When we sit to meditate, we are in the physical body, which here on the Tree of Life is represented by Malkuth, our physicality. We close our eyes. Anyone who really wants to learn to properly reach Dhyana, which is the actual state of meditation, begins by withdrawing from the physical senses. That means you place your body in physical posture, you relax it, and then you leave it be. Your posture has to be good. You need a posture where your body can rest and not bother you, not be in pain, and not be a needy baby always calling for your attention: "I am hungry, I am thirsty, my knee hurts." None of that. You have to be in control of your body. Be in charge of it. Put it to meditate and make it stay there, not with tension, but relaxed and obedient, and withdraw attention from the senses. If there are sounds in the room — you might hear them, you might not — you do not care. You are indifferent. It might be too cold, it might be too hot, there might be somebody talking. So what? You withdraw from the senses, and withdraw the power of those influences to control you.
We do the same with the Astral Body, the body of emotion, which is related with the sephirah Hod. Emotions come and go. Not only emotions, but dreams. Have you ever noticed that when you start to take a nap, relaxing, after few minutes images start to drift in and before you know that you are dreaming? That is Hod. That is related to the Astral Body. The same happens when you meditate. When you become relaxed, really relaxed, then images start floating by. You have to also develop the capacity to see that for what it is and not become identified. We start daydreaming about this and that, and we should go here and there, and all these things that we want and do not want, and soon enough meditation is over and we didn't do anything but daydream the whole time.
If you can learn to see those things for what they are and not be identified with them, then you can go even deeper, to where the thoughts are flowing. That is Netzach. Again, withdraw attention, not becoming distracted, not becoming identified with any thought. Thought comes and passes. This takes concentration. It takes awareness.
If you can successfully disengage from thinking as well, then you are centering yourself here in Tiphereth, which is will, which is human soul, which is perception. This is just willpower, concentration. The person who is working in this way effectively withdrawing attention from all of those distractions and centering in concentration will pass through Pratyahara, Dharana and Dhyana.
The one who is able to sit in meditation paying attention without being distracted at all, having attention placed on what they place it on for the length of their meditation time, they have established concentration. They have reached Dharana.
Those who have studied the Tibetan Buddhist stages of meditative concentration, Shamatha, know this relates to the higher of those nine stages. It compares very clearly with this. I am showing you those stages on the Tree of Life. All of them say the same thing. Center attention in willpower. Tiphereth, willpower, needs to become our center of gravity. Contemplate what that means. To have a center of gravity means to be balanced.
Let us visualize that we are on a tight rope. Just imagine that feeling being on a tight rope. You need to be very relaxed. If you tense up or have a big reaction, you will fall. If you become emotional, you will fall. If you become distracted, you will fall. You need to be very relaxed. So that tight rope is this moment. The rope is the path of Yoga. But it is not a rope, it is a razor blade. So if you think about standing on a razor blade over an abyss - that is a dramatic scene. And if you are standing on a razor blade and you are really heavy, you will be hurt. Heavy, meaning filled of desires, full of materialism, full of thoughts of myself and my pleasures, and what I want. But if you are very light, empty, not attached, present, relaxed and contented, you can walk. Carefully, step by step. That is why the Yogis call this “the path of the razor's edge.”
The consciousness must be in a very specific position in order to meditate. Contemplate this little further. You are standing on a very delicate, sharp edge, balanced — how many different ways can you fall? Any direction, right? Any direction! But where is your center of balance? In one place. One! There are no options. If you are balanced on that very narrow, very sharp edge, you can lean left or right, or forward or back. You have to be exactly positioned, but very relaxed. This imaginative tool conveys the precise position of the consciousness that is necessary for you to develop in meditation. It is extremely precise. It is not vague, it is not open to interpretation. You cannot just get there figuring it out on your own. It is a science.
Nowadays people that study meditation and yoga think that they can “figure it out on their own” and make up their own technique. It is if they want to cure cancer by going into the pharmacy and picking up whatever they want. They are dying of cancer and they do not want take all those other medications. They only want to take the one that tastes like cherry flavor, the one that has a lot of sugar in it. Spirituality does not work like that. Medicine does not work like that. If you want to cure your condition, there is an exact cure. It has to be applied precisely or you will not be cured. Yoga is like that. That position is here: Tiphereth. That single point of balance leads to liberation. You can call the path anything you want. You can call it Yoga, Dharma, gnosis, or religion. They all mean the same thing. They are all coming from the same place, through expressing the same thing. Equanimity, equilibrium, psychological balance, to have a permanent center of gravity in the human soul, which is Tiphereth, which is here and now in the consciousness. It is not in the future, it is not in the past. It is here and now. It is to be actively present and engaged, but in a very balanced way.
To develop that in oneself is not easy. It is not easy. It takes a lot of training. But if you are fastidious with the science, you can learn it. That is point of balance, the center of gravity that we need. It is not outside of us. It is not in anything, anywhere in the universe, except right here, right now. That is where we have to always be focused. In the present moment, developing this inner equanimity. From that point of balance we observe everything around us and learn to discriminate. Learn to interpret. Because, you see, the consciousness is the basis of perception, but it is also the basis of understanding. It is how we understand, how we comprehend what we see.
Real meditation starts in Tiphereth. Everything up to that point is preliminary.
Make this concept practical. Find what causes you to lose equilibrium. What causes you to become identified? Learn to become indifferent towards the things that make you identified.
"The contacts of the senses with the objects, O son of Kunti, which cause heat and cold and pleasure and pain, have a beginning and an end; they are impermanent; endure them bravely, O Arjuna!
"That firm man whom surely these afflict not, O chief among men, to whom pleasure and pain are the same, is fit for attaining immortality!
"When a person completely casts off, O Arjuna, all the desires of the mind and is satisfied in the Self by the Self, then is one said to be of steady wisdom!
"One whose mind is not shaken by adversity, who does not hanker after pleasures, and who is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a sage of steady wisdom.
"One who is everywhere without attachment, on meeting with anything good or bad, who neither rejoices nor hates, has wisdom fixed.
"When, like the tortoise which withdraws its limbs on all sides, one withdraws the senses from the sense-objects, then wisdom becomes steady.
"The objects of the senses turn away from the abstinent one, leaving the longing (behind); but one's longing also turns away on seeing the Supreme.
"The turbulent senses, O Arjuna, do violently carry away the mind of the wise though striving (to control them)!
"Having restrained them all one should sit steadfast, intent on Me [the Innermost]; wisdom is steady in one whose senses are under control.
"When one thinks of objects, attachment to them arises; from attachment desire is born; from desire anger arises.
"From anger comes delusion; from delusion the loss of memory; from loss of memory the destruction of discrimination; from the destruction of discrimination he perishes.
"But the self-controlled, moving amongst objects with the senses under restraint, and free from attraction and repulsion, attains to peace.
"In that peace all pains are destroyed, for the intellect of the tranquil-minded soon becomes steady.
"There is no knowledge of the Self to the unsteady, and to the unsteady no meditation is possible; and to the un-meditative there can be no peace; and to the one who has no peace, how can there be happiness?
"For the mind which follows in the wake of the wandering senses, carries away his discrimination as the wind (carries away) a boat on the waters.
"Therefore, O mighty-armed Arjuna, knowledge is steady in one whose senses are completely restrained from sense-objects!
"That which is night to all beings, then the self-controlled is awake; when all beings are awake, that is night for the sage who sees.
"One attains peace into whom all desires enter as waters enter the ocean, which, filled from all sides, remains unmoved; but not the one who is full of desires.
"The one attains peace, who, abandoning all desires, moves about without longing, without the sense of mine and without egoism.
"This is the Brahmic seat (eternal state), O son of Pritha! Attaining to this, none is deluded. Being established therein, even at the end of life one attains to oneness with Brahman." —Krisha, Bhagavad Gita 2
Most people who pursue the study of meditation are pursuing “experiences of states of consciousness” and that is their mistake. That is where things go bad. When we are pursuing an experience, that is a desire. That very pursuit can become an obstacle. Our approach to meditation is different. We describe the states so that we understand them, but we are not recommending that you pursue a state of consciousness, that you chase after it, that you are actively trying to acquire it, because that is how desire corrupts the process.
Our focus should be not on chasing after the state of meditation, but instead finding what prevents it. The state of meditation (dhyana, shamatha, samadhi) is our natural state. Everyone of us, if we were in our original natural state, would be able to meditate easily any time at will. But, we cannot because of the modifications that we created in our psyche. The way to learn to meditate is to find those modifications and break their power over us. That is how we learn to meditate. It is not by chasing after Samadhi, by chasing after Dharana or Dhyana, or these other states. It is instead turning the attention towards what is preventing it.
Questions and Answers
Audience: I understand Tiphereth is the center of the heart, right? So if you do not chase [the state of existence form Tiphereth???] and you work to become equanimous then when analyze all your thoughts and anything like that or, for example, using a mantra Master Samael gave to access akashic records. How does that relate to the desire, you know? Cause, why am I seeking akashic records and when I am searching for it - is that attached to desire? How does that relate to being centered in the heart?
Instructor: That is exactly the conflict you have to work out. Isn't it? It is exactly that! To figure out, “What is it that I am chasing and why? And if I am chasing something, is it because I do not already have it?” You do. We all have it. But we have lost touch with it. So it is a philosophical. You have to invert the way of looking at things. To really become aware of what we are paying attention to and why.
Audience: In your last lecture you talked about principle of quantum physics, about how when you observe something it changes it. Now, sometimes when you try to observe your mind, it is almost like it hides.
Audience: You cannot see what you want to see. And it kind of goes away. That applies to the ego as well when you are trying to observe it. Does it changes it?
Audience: How do we remedy that? And how do we keep the focus on what we want to, what we are trying to figure out?
Instructor: When we pay attention to something, we change it. Specifically, when we try to observe the mind or the go, it hides. So how do we get around that? Well, you have a great advantage as a soul. The ego is 100% mechanical. It thinks it is clever, because it is trapped most of our power and it wants to keep it. But the ego has an incredible weakness, which is that it is rooted in desire. It is ruled by desire. Not God, not the Being. You can use that to your advantage. The way to overcome the trickiness of the ego is to utilize the powers of the consciousness and to be clever in working with how the ego is a mechanical process. So for example, when you try to catch a mouse in your house it is very difficult. If you make a noise, it will hide. But if you are very still and patient, that thing cannot overcome its craving. It will come out, because it wants the food that it is chasing. If you just wait, it will show up. So that is the first way in meditation to really gain the ability to perceive the sneakiness of the ego. It is to be patient and watchful. Sometimes when you chase it, it will only hide deeper. It will only do its best to escape even deeper into the labyrinth. But if you are just patient and just wait there, it will come out. It cannot help itself.
Audience: [inaudible]. So how do you find joy? [inaudible] As a non attachment.
Instructor: The Bhagavad Gita is about the yoga of action, how to act indifferently. In chapter after chapter Krishan addresses that philosophically in such a beautiful way. It is a very subtle thing to understand, because only the consciousness can do it. The mind cannot understand. it. The essence of it is that the consciousness exists in order to act. It does not exist just to be a passive observer of suffering. It exists in order to actively transform life. And that is true for all of us. We are here for a reason. We are not here to just let suffering happen, to let the world decay. We are here to fight, to be a warrior; that is why it is called “the Great Warrior,” the Mahabharata. We need to become that. But we cannot be that if our perception is clouded. So part of having right perception or right view is the ability to perceive things as they truly are and then be able to act accordingly. If we have a preference in our point of view, if we are attached towards seeing things in a certain way or are seeking to see things in a certain way, we cannot see the truth. This is a very subtle point of balance there in knowing how to perceive and then act of that perception. How does one act on the path? Right action always depends on the reality that you are facing. A given action is not always right: it is only right when done at the right moment. That is why we say that sometimes on this path virtues are a good thing and sometimes they are bad thing. You have to learn to act at the right time.
Audience: The joy is not emotion. It is action.
Instructor: The joy that we find is in right action. It is knowing when that action is right action. Only the Being can provide that intuitive knowing, can guide the soul. It is not something the intellect can ever know. It cannot be written in a book. All the astrologers think that is what they are giving you. The astrologers say, "On this date at this time you need to get married, you need to do this and that, this and that." Reality does not work like that. There are influences from the stars, of course, but knowing how to act in the right way at the right time is not mechanical like the movement of the stars. Right action cannot be mapped or predetermined. The intellect does not have that power. The emotional body does not have that power. The vital and physical bodies certainly do not have that power. But the human soul (Tiphereth) does when it is connected to the Innermost. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna explains this repeatedly and repeatedly: to do all action as service to divinity. What is implied there is that if you are going to act on behalf of God, you have to know what God wants. And we in our current condition do not know that. But if we activate the human soul and we make it our center of gravity, we can start to know that. Firstly, intuitively we start to sense it. It is a kick in a heart. You will just know, it is like a sense of right and wrong. It is a subtle feeling. That is how it begins, and eventually becomes very powerful. But we have to make space in ourselves for that sense to be born and to grow.
Audience: Is this practically knowing how to deal with karma?
Instructor: Absolutely. To practically deal with karma, you have to know how to behave and at the right time. When to speak and when not to speak. When to act and when not to act. The ego does not know that; that is why our life is a mess.