The Innermost Quest
So, admittedly the last couple of weeks have been difficult to decide what to write on. Our reading in Light on Life has turned an interesting corner and one that I know feels foreign to many of you, but does cover some important concepts to understand as we progress in our practice of yoga. My goal with these blogs is to highlight some of those concepts and hopefully make them a bit more clear, so keep reading!!!
The Iyengars differentiate the 8 limbs of yoga into external (bahiranga), internal (antaranga), and innermost (antaratma) quests. For me, though there is of course some overlap within the 8 limbs, I think it is a more tangible way of looking at our practice and its layers. We have already been discussing the bahiranga and antaranga stages – the external being obviously Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama. Pratyahara is a “bridge” limb of practice that has aspects of the external drawing closer to the internal.
The end of the 5th Chapter is dealing mainly with the Antaratma Sadhana, or the innermost aspects of our practice: Dharana (which is also a “bridge” limb), Dhyana, and Samadhi. These three limbs of yoga draw us nearer the awareness of our consciousness and intelligence of our Self, but can only be truly experienced by you alone.
- Dharana – Concentraion – “True concentration is an unbroken thread of awareness.” There is still a matter of external will imposed on the mind, but turns the many waves of distraction into one big wave of understanding, “bringing all the disparate elements under control of one flow of intelligence.”
- Dhyana – Meditation – Don’t be confused by the terminology! Most of what we consider “meditation” in common vernacular is not what yoga considers “meditation”. When time and trying is no longer evident, meditation happens, uninterrupted.
- Samadhi – Ultimate Freedom – “When the object of meditation engulfs the meditator, self awareness is lost.” (Yoga Sutra III.3) When “YOU” are no longer doing or experiencing. Iyengar will probably lead us more down that path of understanding in the next chapter, so stay tuned.
All of these three aspects of yoga can only be done internally and only be done by/with the mind, so knowing the “qualities of the mind” can also be helpful in understanding how we reach the states of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
FIVE QUALITIES of MIND
- Dull – unable to be brought to alertness
- Distracted – unable to focus
- Oscillating – sometimes focused, sometimes not
- Single-pointed – having the ability to concentrate
- Restrained and absorbed – timeless and ego-less state
Culturing the intelligence and understanding these fluctuations and qualities of our own mind is the way we will slowly develop sensitivity and depth in our practice of yoga. BKS Iyengar reminds us that this is not always a pleasant process. The goal sounds appealing – to be free, to transform, to completely understand our Self – but it is a deep dive into the unknown and as BKS Iyengar says “requires real guts”. It is the reason, he points out, that “all spiritual philosophies seem to harp on the negative – grasping desires, weaknesses, faults, and imbalances.” In order to be truly successful, we have to go to the root of our selves and not just work on “appearances”. (read the first paragraph of the Impurities of Intelligence section as I think it highlights this issue perfectly).
All of this work is to drive us closer to acting from our own CONSCIENCE. And I think the differentiation that BKS Iyengar makes between “intuition” and “conscience” is an interesting one. Intuition might act as an “inner voice” that is cultured intelligence, but conscience is the closest thing to the act of the Self. Conscience pulls us toward Oneness and Unity, so typically shows up as the “hard” or “painful” decision that HAS to be made despite all the worldly evidence to the contrary. It is truly the “voice of the soul”.
But don’t go asking your teacher to tell you about YOUR SOUL or YOUR consciousness. BKS, and all the Iyengars for that matter, make it very clear that our own best teacher is our self. Yes, a teacher in front of you can see your body to remedy habits that might be hurtful or injurious, they can even see some of the physical manifestations of your mental and emotional states, maybe drive you out of some amount of fear and build courage to push you to limits that you may not know exist for yourself. They are definitely a guide along the way, but in the end, you have to decide to dive in for yourself to know your Self completely.
Choose to take that Innermost Quest and reap all the benefits that yoga has to offer!