The reading in Light on Life for this past week covers a topic that I find fascinating (I have an older blog about it if you want to read it here). It also highlights the importance of a common language as we talk about yoga. I know it is difficult to learn new languages for most of us, but Sanskrit terms can be so helpful in understanding what we are doing in yoga. A lot of English words do not have the depth or the same meaning, so from pose names to this more complex idea of “consciousness”, I think it can be helpful for us to consider delving a bit deeper into learning some of the Sanskrit terminology.
When we talk about “stilling the fluctuations of consciousness” in regards to the definition of yoga, what does that even mean? If we ask 10 people off the street what “consciousness” is to them, we may very well get 10 different ideas. And then do we even know what the “fluctuations” are? In Light on Life, BKS has covered some of the fluctuation (vrtti) causes – from the negative to the positive. So, now he is giving us the information to have more knowledge of what our “consciousness” is.
CITTA is the Sanskrit term for “consciousness” and it has 3 very specific parts that play 3 very different roles. Understanding these parts and the roles they play is an important step in truly figuring out how we may someday find stillness.
MANAS – the “mind” – Perceptive and active part of consciousness that gathers, stores, and sorts information. It is the simple and immediate response of “repeat pleasure and avoid pain” without reflection. The problem with this aspect of consciousness is the fact that as humans we are playing a long game and need to be more contemplative about our actions and their long-term effects. To ONLY do pleasurable things will lead us toward more pain in the future. And to avoid painful things now, may keep us from learning valuable lessons to ease us into our future.
AHAMKARA – the small “I-ness” that is constantly changing – It is the identifier part of our consciousness that allows me to know I am separate from all “other”. As manas collects and stores, we become attached to all of those parts and pieces and then confuse that small identity with our true Self. As BKS Iyengar puts it, “By choosing to identify with the part of ourselves that MUST die, we condemn ourselves to death. By embracing a false identity, accepting the confusion at face value, man places himself in a position of almost unbearable tension. Yoga calls this state ‘ignorance’ and sees it as our fundamental affliction (Avidya)…” Asmita is then the affliction that comes from ahamkara getting out of hand, becoming an “insatiable, paranoid, vainglorious tyrant”.
BUDDHI – intelligence, translated from Latin as “to choose between” – This is an important discriminator and is the part of consciousness that resides the closest to our true Self. It is quiet and reflective and leads us toward intuitive knowledge and wisdom.
The parts that follow and finish up Chapter 4 are in my opinion VERY IMPORTANT to our understanding of why we do yoga at all! The understanding of Samskaras (deep rooted habits) and memory within our consciousness gets at the roots of our mental fluctuations. The build up of habitual actions and reactions muddy the consciousness and continue to lead us toward false impressions about our self .
Whether we come to yoga to do fancy poses, deal with the aging process, or become fully enlightened, the role of consciousness cannot be downplayed. To do fancy poses requires transformation of body consciousness, dealing with aging requires mental flexibility within consciousness, and to become fully enlightened requires spiritual wisdom and a complete clearing of consciousness.
“Consciousness is potentially in every cell of our body, but most are comatose….Awareness is consciousness and so its light is reaching every cell in areas that previously were dull and unknown.”