This is an analysis of chapters 5 & 6 of the book Yoga and the Luminous
Chapter five of Professor Christopher Chapple book deals with Patañjali’s take on Meditation or the “Undoing the thinking Self.” He acknowledges the ‘ordinary’ person to be a thinking being, with societal encouragement using your thoughts, and to even have reverence for said thoughts. Sage Patañjali takes another tack arguing that thought should be suspect and otherwise used sparingly. Ordinary thought moves one toward the ego and away from the higher plan of true existence. Patañjali agrees the highest thing a human can achieve is self-mastery of thought, thus his definition of Yoga is “suppression of thought, the restraint of mental fluctuations” (61).
To attain a true stability detaching from thought is accomplished within the yogic system organized in the Yoga Sutras by Patañjali. The sutras contain the eight limbed path or ashtanga yoga in which numerous techniques are unfurled. The aforementioned suppression of thought is the goal and as Chapple states this process “involves the joint application of practice and release from desire, a diligent distancing that reminds aspiring yogis not to forget the goal of quilling thought and advises a holding back from throwing oneself into passionate activity” (62). The two part systems of ethics, yamas and niyamas are also found in the “earlier renouncer systems” of Buddhism and Jainism.
To get a handle on the five varieties of thought defined as, “true cognition, error, imagination, sleep and memory” the five disciplines of ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha are employed to mitigate excessive entanglements with daily life, “reminding one that true identity” cannot be sought in external stimuli and satisfaction of desire. With dedicated practice the knots of attachment will unravel and eventually the yogi begins to ascend to a higher consciousness which is the promise of the yogic path. Brahmavihāra means to have a mindset of non-separation from others found in the yoga sutra and in Buddhist teachings as well. We find equanimity in all things, recognition of individuality, happiness for the successful, compassion for the wounded and for those not acting appropriately cultivating feelings of “non disgust.”
In the eightfold scheme, the niyamas are also a set of five observances to further the goal of stilling the mind. They are śauca (purity), santosa (contentment), tapas (austerity), svadhyaya (spiritual study) and isvara pranidhana (devotion to a higher ideal). These practices are done in concert with the aforementioned yamas and in fact as one ascends the eightfold path each layer begins to merge into each other. As the practitioner a leads life of virtue guided by the yamas and niyamas, the body as a temple or vehicle of transformation is then toned in the third stage of asana. Breath regulation or prānāyamā is now possible with a fit physical system allowing facility to withdraw the mind from sensory experience. This withdrawing experience contained in the the fifth stage is where significant power of the yogic system can be discerned. Chapple writes when disengagement or attachment to the things of the world asserts “energy centers of the heart, throat, forehead can be felt, power is gained that is no longer theory, notion or opinion, but a direct experience that can inspire the reconstruction of self-identity” (64).
The “inner limbs of yoga” are the last three layers of the path. Dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi. This phase starts with the capacity to become super concentrated. Dhāraṇā derives from the verbal root of dhṛ meaning “to hold.” Through this process of concentration one begins to develop a relationship with the object of concentration. An intimacy is cultivated, and the mind enters a state of meditation or dhyāna. The author explains this state is an “unspeakable sense of focus” (65), a state where distraction is not present, zero mind turbulence. At this level of practice one achieves the state of samādhi. Patañjali defines this state of being as “the diminishment of mental fluctuations, like a precious or clear jewel assuming the color of any near object” (65). This stage is the culmination of Patañjali eightfold path. Samādhi itself contains differing levels of absorption. Chapple characterizes engagement with “gross object (savtarkā), free of gross object (virvitarkā), with subtle object (savicārā), and free of subtle object (nirvicārā)” (65). Moving further into the psychic structures of the mind (buddhi) a mind purification process is completed and one is now in the state of nirbīja samādhi.
In chapter six, entitled Luminosity and Yoga, Professor Chapple teases out themes of light and luminosity connected through the four pādas in the yoga sutra. Light is seen as a “root metaphor for the process of yoga attainment” (71). The main thrust of this chapter asks the questions can one stay actively entangled with worldly affairs? Is the world compatible with nirodha (restraint) and kaivalyam (isolation)? Chapple states the yoga sutras present a more robust account regarding these questions than generally is acknowledged and yoga’s ability to blunt one’s karmic load while “seeking a state of transparency and luminosity” (72).
In pāda one of the yoga sutra, Patañjali sketches a theory of knowledge to guide the practitioner. His emphasis is abhyāsa (practice) and the cultivation of dispassion or vairāgya. With the numerous tools of yoga Patañjali suggests, constant practice and dispassion the aspirant can discern puruṣa. Chapple notes we see a distinct theme occurring throughout the text, where things are nothing more than the differing combinations of the gunas. First starting from heavy (tamas), quickening with the passions of rajas and into the lightness of sattva. In the moment the gunas are transcended, “a disassociation” from “this lightest state of purity is achieved with the goal of luminosity shines and prakṛti is held in abeyance and, the witness consciousness stands alone” (72). Chapple goes on to explain four other instances where the witness consciousness is revealed.
In the second padā, sādhana padā, Patañjali essentially summarizes the Sāṃkya philosophical system. Chapple lays the groundwork in this section in connecting the relationship between the “process of seeing, the seer and luminosity.” This interplay between seer, seen and objects existing only for the benefit of the seer is at the heart of the Sāṃkya system. As he says the “seer is to literally cast a light upon the things of the world” (74). In a truly juicy piece of philosophy, Chapple explains that in Sāṃkhya and Yoga, the steering currents of karma “exists in the seen, not in the seer” (75). The ego claims its prominence dictating personality, but personality can only be uncovered in the presence of the “unseen seer.” The second pāda also contains imagery of light. Purity or śauca, and breath control in prānāyamā, the fourth limb in the the system “holds the distinction of bringing one to the point of perfect sattva (75). To purify means to discontinue engagement of things that are physically attractive, with this upgrade comes a panoly of benefits, which create a feedback loop moving the practitioner into the realm of the luminous. The student increases her range of sattvic influences, generally flourishes on a deeper plain, masters the sensory inputs, and finally finds “fitness for the vision of the self” (75).
In pāda three: The Shining, we travel into the world of samādhi. “When the purpose--that is, all things exist for the sake of providing experience to the seer--is known, then a crystalline luminosity, a seeing-things-as-they-really- are takes place” (76). When samādhi is bolstered with dhāraṇā and dhyāna it “is referred to as saṃyama.” The application of saṃyama allows the seer to tap into numerous powers or siddha-s that the author describes as “helpmates” to those who practice yoga. Professor Chapple describes philosophical elements of the sutras in terms of a distinction between “pure puruṣa and perfect sattva” while acknowledging puruṣa cannot possess anything, even knowledge at this level of samādhi. He says this distinction “allows a process of alluding to an elevated state of consciousness without allowing anyone to claim it” (76). In the later portion of pāda three, the discussion swirls around the practitioners increasing sattvic nature, dovetailing with ever subtler stages of samādhi such as nirvicāra samādhi where saṃskāras are held in check. The seeker continues to level up in each stage of samādhi, mastering one's senses, mind and emotion until the seeker reaches kaivalyam. “In the sameness of purity between sattva and puruṣa, there is perfect aloneness (kaivalyam)” (78).
In the fourth pāda: Luminosity, Professor Chapple details the inverse process of evolution leading to luminosity proposed by Patañjali. Patañjali describes the concept of prayojakam, “The initiator”, that is described as a “special relationship” between a purified sattva of prakṛti and puruṣa. This is a type of dance between prakṛti and puruṣa where the mind, buddhi is bathed in sattva which is in prakṛti form. Patañjali describes this beautifully by saying “the one mind among many that is distinct from activity” (78). This portion of the dance is associated with kaivalyam. Chapple then states “All mind is in some sense active but this “one mind” is like puruṣa and hence pure.” Professor Chapple continues the discussion by invoking a classic proof given in the Samkhya Karika, giving proof of puruṣa and tying it back to Patañjali. Patañjali suggests the minds attitude toward objects is but “anticipation” or a “projection.” This give and take between the object seen and the seer, reveals that the object has no capacity to illuminate, but only through the seer can the object take shape. Patañjali states “The fluctuations of the mind are always known due to the changelessness of their master, puruṣa” (79). The recognition that one really does not see, the reflexive grasping ceases, and in turn the ego is eliminated. In a heightened state of awareness, this letting do and “cultivation of self becoming”, the yogi attains a liberated state called dharma-megha samādhi. This is a state where all the “unvirtuous activities” have been eliminated, and what Vyāsa referenced as “living liberation.”
Chapple concludes this chapter by asking the question does this state of living liberation entail a rejection of the world? The practices of yoga has provided the tools to ascend through the layers of the two lower gunas into a beautiful sattvic state, but does this mean rejection of materiality as many commentators of Hinduism proclaim? He writes, “Yoga does not reject the reality of the world, nor does it condemn the world, only the human propensity to misidentify with the more base aspects of the world.” (82).
Chapple, Christopher. Yoga and Luminous: Patanjali's Spiritual Path to Freedom. State University of New York. 2008.