More Light on Yoga: Secrets of Sadhana (practice)
By Yogi Baba Prem Yogacharya, Veda Visharada
In my earlier article, “Myths of meditation: New light on Dhyana”, we explored the first sutra of the “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”. In that article, an exploration of the key word “Nirodhah” was given. It is now time to explore the first sutra of the second book from the yoga sutras. While the first book is on contemplation, the second book is on sadhana or practice, and the first sutra reveals an important formula regarding the practice of yoga.
The first sutra of the second book is:
Tapah Svādhyāyeśvara Pranidhānāni Kriyā Yogah. 2.1
Self-discipline, study of sacred texts and surrender to God is the yoga of action.
Let’s examine the words of this important sutra:
Tapah is tapas, which is commonly translated to mean austerity and is a reference to self mortification, but within the yoga tradition of the sutras, tapas is actually a reference to psychic heat. This heat is generated through the practice of yoga. Tapas is a type of purification, a purification of the nadi’s (subtle channels of the astral body) as well as the physical body. Tapas is not an artificially induced heat, rather it is the by-product of opening the energy flow of the body, as well as a concentrated energy flow within the matrix of the body. This psychic heat not only purifies the physical body, it is an important purification within the field of the mind as well.
Within the sutra, we see a formula revealing itself; the first step being purification through self discipline and cultivation of the psychic heat. In addition to attending yoga classes, tapas requires a daily home practice (sadhana); as any true purification cannot be easily achieved by merely attending or practicing yoga once or twice a week. To truly experience tapas and gain the most benefit, daily practice is required. Daily practice of the same routine is most beneficial and essential to achieve tapas in the most direct and efficient way.
Interestingly, tapas is a form of healing, as we cleanse away the samskaras (impressions) of one’s past, the body and mind gently heal as well--over time. Therefore, it would be correct to say that one must not only cleanse, but embrace healing in the initial practice of yoga.
Svādhyaya is the study of sacred texts. While study of any sacred texts would be beneficial, in reality Svādhyaya is the study of the Vedas, chanting of the Vedas, as svādhyaya is sometimes used as a term to refer to the Vedas themselves. Adhyaya literally means a lesson, chapter or reading. ‘Sva’ can be a reference to heavenly, but can also mean 'handed down as a sacred tradition'. It is important to recognize that Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, was a Vedic Rishi, and the yoga sutras were compiled from the Vedic tradition. This Vedic connection with the Yoga Sutras was recorded later in history in the Garuda Purana which states: 'those learned call the recital of Vedic passages 'Shatarudriya/Pranava’ (Shatarudriya refers to Vedic hymns but more commonly to specific Vedic hymns. These Vedic mantras are a means of purification. Pranava is a reference to a sacred sound such as 'OM') which purify the incarnated being. This is svādhyaya.' G. Purana 1.238.9 At this point a second layer of purification is revealed; if one has the self-discipline, the study of sacred texts, in particular the Vedas will also perform a type of purification. This type of study is not the mere reading of texts or books; rather it is an immersion, an immersion requiring powerful skills of concentration. It involves reading a sacred text repeatedly, and the repetitive chanting of a mantra (japa). Svādhyaya is not the mere memorization of facts; it is an immersion, an immersion where one begins the journey of becoming a knower of truth as opposed to being a regurgitator of facts.
Pranidhana literally means to surrender.
Together these two words join together and literally mean to surrender to God. As surrender is an important act, it is an action of humility. Pranidhana is when the finite (ego) acknowledges that there is something greater or beyond itself—the infinite. Ishvara pranidhana is likely the most overlooked teaching within the sutras, and certainly its translation is the most abused. While these two words often receive the least attention in modern day yoga, it is likely a reflection of issues with Divinity. The result is that some people will go to great lengths to make ‘ishvara’ mean anything but a reference to divinity.
Pranidhana is also surrender to the grace of divinity and to the divine will as well. To work with surrender at this level, one could dedicate all of their actions to divinity. It is interesting to note, that surrender is also a form of purification and a form of healing as well. Ishvara pranidhana takes the healing of the mind to a much deeper level, and aids in removing the obstacles to perceiving divinity.
Kriya is not a reference to the popular yoga system practiced by followers of ‘Kriya Yoga’, but they use the same definition of the term Kriya, which means ‘action’ or more correctly ‘complete action’. The definition of ‘complete action’ is important, as it references the previous three approaches are complete within themselves. Each action is a complete step as are the three combined.
Within this first sutra of book 2, one can see the 3-step formula revealed in the practice of the yoga of action:
3. Ishavara Pranidhana.
With their primary goals being purification and healing, thus opening the doorway more for one to achieve yoga (union) through the yoga of action.
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