In its second chapter, near the beginning of the classic, the Gita gives a definition of yoga in terms of samadhi, the peak of yoga-in-meditation:
When your higher mind (buddhi),
Turning away from the jungle of words,
Will stand motionless in samadhi,
Then you will have attained yoga (II.53)
Those who are beginning to have a sense of restriction in the body-mind complex, usually begin their search for expansion by reading and listening. The books or talks stimulate an impulse to transcendence, and a feeling that it is possible. The scent of freedom can seem a sort of freedom itself, and some remain satisfied for a time. They read avidly the writings of mystics and seers, and ponder all the significant things they said. But it begins to wear thin. There are differences: so many things are declared to be ‘the one thing that matters’. Some people become embittered at having been misled, as they illogically feel. They often talk against spiritual ideals, in order to cover up their secret disappointment with themselves. Others, unwilling to give up comfortable routines for actual practice, rule it all out as sadly unattainable in this life.
But those with higher voltage, so to speak, realize that theory without practice is bound to be sterile, turn away from the endless discussion to take up definite experiments on one line. The previous reading and listening was not useless; it made him feel there was something there. But the time has now come to do something. In the same way, someone might read about the wonders of Italian art, go to lectures, collect pictures, and generally long to see them. But the time comes when he makes a resolution, begins to save, gets a guidebook, plans a trip, and finally buys a ticket. He leaves behind all his books and pictures and departs. When he comes back he will look at the pictures and read the books with new enjoyment; he has seen what they are talking about. In yoga at the time of meditation, the jungle of words has to be ignored and finally altogether forgotten.
A Yogin follows one narrow straight path cutting through the tangle of words to what is beyond words. When he comes back, he reads the words of the sages in a new light: he now knows what their words are pointing to. By continued practice of meditation, the roots of the mind are gradually changed. A first step in meditation would be to press the forefinger lightly on the spot between two eyebrows, or use the fingernail or even a light punch to produce a sharper feeling. Then with the help of the after-sensation one can hold one’s attention to the point for at least one minute. In this practice, there is at first sporadic interruption by other thoughts and sensations. These arise from impulses and reactions rooted deep in the seed-bed underlying the mind. They are words and ideas: they are not real things.
In time, the seed-bed becomes thinned, and interference dwindles. Later the mind can be made steady and kept steady almost at will. If the practice is prolonged, and attention held firm at the point, the practitioner will become aware of a calm unflickering awareness. Normally it would take at least six weeks, practising fifteen minutes each day to glimpse that awareness. It is also necessary to live a life of restraint during the period.
Yoga is practised in activity also, as the Gita points out:
Standing on yoga, do the actions giving up associations,
Being the same in success and no-success,
Evenness is called yoga (II.48)
The Sanskrit original is yoga-sthah, or yoga-stance. The steadiness attained in meditation is at first blown away by the first gust of the wind of worldly associations and reactions. In the same way, a beginner on skates loses his precarious balance at the slightest push. He falls. But in time, he comes to feel how to grip the ice with his skates when necessary. Then he can adjust his balance in a storm or even a polo game. Finally, instant recovery becomes automatic.
Similarly, a yoga student loses balance sometimes, but is less and less disturbed by trivial things. Facing real difficulties, he may still become upset at times, but with practice, he finds himself recovering more and more quickly. One well-attested sign is this: when yogins know that they are going to have to face some experience which has always frightened them, they find welling up in themselves a sort of calm, a realization that this is not so terrible after all. The pictured arena of the crisis, which used to fill the whole inner awareness, widens out. It is seen to be a small thing under a wide blue sky. Such an experience does not happen every time. But when it has come once, it is a great incentive to practice. The yogin feels that he can hope for it, and then that he can rely on it. Now he can be said to ‘stand on yoga’.
© 2000 Trevor Leggett