Yoga Meditation, Introduction,
A Mandelbrot metaphor of yogic technique
The Mandelbrot-set is a formula named after the late mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot. Its geometrical representation is called a fractal, a complex pattern that looks the same or nearly the same from however far or close you watch it. Through the advent of powerful computers we now can watch on the web so-called Mandelbrot-set zooms. If you have never seen one I recommend watching some of them to understand this metaphor (and its great fun to watch them, too). As you zoom deeper and deeper into the fractal, the same or similar patterns are repeated over and over again. The same all over structure and architecture of the fractal is repeated in every minute detail. Similarly to fractal geometry as you zoom deeper and deeper into it so are the same patterns repeated on all levels of yogic technique.
Asana for example is only effective if exercised in combination with bandha (energetic lock), yogic breathing, focal point (drishti), concentration (dharana), etc. We find the same pattern repeated once we zoom deeper into pranayama. Pranayama is to be executed within asana, while applying bandha, drishti, mantra (soundwave), mudra (energetic seal), etc. Once our zoom has reached the next deeper layer, called pratyahara (independence from external stimuli), the same pattern holds true. Pratyahara is achieved by applying all yogic ancillaries together. It is performed in asana, during pranayama, by applying bandha, mudra, mantra, visualization, etc. When zooming deeply into pratyahara, the sixth limb of yoga, dharana (concentration) is revealed. Dharana, too, is a set of techniques that takes place with asana, pranayama and pratyahara and includes mantra, concentrating on chakras, bandha, mudra, drishti, etc. The final two limbs of yoga, dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption) are again not separate practices but are nothing but deeper zooms into the existing lattice of yogic technique that reveal the same patterns and details over and over again.
While meditation methods such as Buddhist, Vedantic or Vipassana meditation are noble pursuits in their own right, if you want to harvest the fruit of your asana and pranayama practice you need to combine them with yogic meditation, that is meditation that repeats the same structural elements and architecture as your posture and breathing techniques already contain. In that case you will use the skills you acquired in your asana practice to swiftly progress in meditation. Similarly to the Mandelbrot fractal, all yogic techniques were designed according to the same structural formulae.
In this book I am describing the meditation layer and mental aspect of the physical and respiratory disciplines of yoga that I presented in my earlier books. Yogic meditation has fallen into disuse, hence the many attempts to import unlinked meditation techniques into yoga. With this book I am intending to usher in a renaissance of yogic meditation as described in yogic scripture.
Why is this method so powerful?
Yogic meditation is a highly scientific method. It derives its power from the fact that it systematically and step-by-step suspends the entire processing capacity of the subconscious mind and diverts it towards meditation. The processing power of the subconscious mind is a multiple of that of the conscious mind. We don’t know exactly how much but it may be 100 or more times as powerful as the conscious mind. Simply watching breath or watching awareness only encompasses your conscious mind. For quick and effective concentration the entire power of the subconscious mind has to be harnessed. This is the secret of yogic meditation.
I have watched with some concern that modern yogis, dissatisfied with teachers that only offer asana (posture) go on to incorporate into their yoga practices unrelated meditation techniques. Today often the word yoga is used to mean posture and meditation is taken as an entirely separate discipline. That was not how it used to be in traditional yoga. According to yoga meditation has a physical, mental and spiritual component and each of those have several sub-components. The most important passage in yogic scripture on yogic meditation is the panchakosha (5 sheaths) model describe in the Taittiriya Upanishad (II.2–II.5). The Upanishad talks about the five layers or sheaths of which the human being is made up. The fifth and innermost layer, the core (Anandamaya kosha), constitutes the peak experience of ecstasy after one has mastered the outer four layers. The fourth layer (Vijnanamaya kosha) entails the understanding of divine law, sacred knowledge of the order of the universe and the cognising of the master plan according to which all universes unfold and divine creativity expresses itself as the world. This layer leads to mastery of life and it enables one to make a significant and lasting contribution to human society and life on Earth.
While these two innermost sheaths deal with a high level of mastery, it is the three outermost layers that yogis have to initially concern themselves with. These three layers are Annamaya kosha (the body), Pranamaya kosha (breath and pranic sheath) and Manomaya kosha (the mind). These three layers are intricately linked and it is here where the obstacles to yogic practice and spiritual freedom are located.
Did you ever ask yourself why you sometimes are full of enthusiasm to start a new way of life and making the resulting life style changes only to find after some time that all vigour has gone out the window? This is due to the fact that most systems other than yoga address only one of the three layers in which obstacles are located. Some systems work mainly with the body by using asana or types of physical disciplines. Other methods focus exclusively on the mind by using meditation etc. Others again use breathing methods. For this reason it is understandable that modern yogis look for more than just posture. But there is no need to look elsewhere for meditation but yoga itself contains the most powerful meditation system ever conceived. For it is yoga that uses not only all three, that is the physical, pranic and mental level, but it uses them in a way that they are interlinked by replicating the same founding principles in every single one of these layers.
As Patanjali the ancient author of the Yoga Sutra has explained, for success in yoga it is important to purify the conditioning (Yoga Sutra I.50-52). Imagine for a moment that you want to install on the computer of your mind the latest operating system. Let’s think for a moment that the new operating system is your yoga operating system whereas the one you want to get rid of is the one that contains your past including hurts, humiliation, rejections, guilt, fear, pain, doubt, etc. Patanjali says, ‘When memory is purified, the mind appears to be emptied of its own nature and only the object (of meditation) shines forth’ (Yoga Sutra I.43). He wishes to express that if you want to experience the world as it truly is you need to first delete your past conditioning as its sits like a filter on top of your senses and makes everything new look like the past.
In order to experience the world afresh you need to do so without conditioning and therefore delete it. This is also confirmed by the Hatha Tatva Kaumudi of Sundaradeva (III.26). Let’s imagine for a moment that in order to get rid of your old conditioning you are deleting the hard drive of your mind-computer but just as you want to install your brand new yogic/meditative operating system free of fear of rejection, etc you find that the old operating system has quickly and unexpectedly reinstalled itself. You then find out that the old operating system has two back-up drives that it uses to reinstall itself whenever it gets deleted. For purpose of robustness the human our conditioning is stored in three entirely separate locations, not just in the mind. This is why we encounter so much inertia when we want to change. The three locations are the ones that have been mentioned in the Taittiriya Upanishad and they are body (Annamaya kosha), breath (Pranamaya kosha) and mind (Manomaya kosha). If you do want to let go of your past and give birth to the new you, you need to purge conditioning from all three individually. It is exactly this what interlinked yogic asana, pranayama and meditation do. They purify body, breath and mind. After having described the methods to purify body and breath in my earlier books, in this text I cover meditation, method of choice of the yogi to purify the mind, third and last of the three outer sheaths (koshas).
All yoga one
As the four Vedas were originally one, so all yoga in the beginning constituted one single system, sometimes called Maha Yoga, the great yoga. The separation into Bhakti, Karma, Hatha, Raja Yoga etc. is artificial, as they are only aspects of the one yoga. This book firstly shows how the various aspects of Hatha Yoga constitute nothing but the physical aspects of meditation. They are the groundwork and supports on which the structure of meditation is erected. It then describes the mental discipline of yoga, called meditation or Raja Yoga. After that are discussed the results or fruits of physical and mental yoga – the spiritual aspect or Bhakti Yoga. This process finally merges into the conclusion of yoga, the Jnana Yoga, which should only be attempted after all of one’s duties in life and towards society have been fulfilled.
In the Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna said that the original yoga was lost due to the lapse of time. It is for this reason that today we find the original yoga splintered into many petty techniques and schools that by themselves cover little terrain. If individual yogic techniques are practised out of context, there is a low probability of success. Patanjali says that all eight yogic limbs need to be practised for yoga to succeed. It follows that practising asana is not enough. There is absolutely no evidence within the body of yogic scripture that asana alone will get you to your goal. On the other hand, with each limb or ancillary of yoga that you add to your yogic tool box you potentialize the power of the practice and the probability of its success.
Many yogis today are stuck at asana because they think they need to reach an unrealistic level of performance before integrating higher limbs. But life is too short to entertain that thought: in order to have a realistic chance at succeeding with yoga you need to integrate the higher limbs as early as possible. The earlier you start some form of basic pranayama and meditation, the earlier you will experience inner freedom. If you dedicate even 10 minutes per day to each, this will enhance all other aspects of your life and practice. Do not wait until you have achieved some mythic level of achievement in asana that probably will never come. Some people have invested 30 years of daily practice in asana but in the end have found themselves with nothing but a trim body. Believe it or not, this trim body will, despite all of your asana practice, fail you and go six feet down (or up the chimney depending on your preference). Do not invest all of this time in nothing but asana: in order to derive any lasting fruit from asana you need to combine it with pranayama and meditation.
Patanjali calls the architecture or structure of yoga ‘Ashtanga Yoga’. This Ashtanga Yoga engulfs and involves all other aspects and schools of yoga. While my previous books have explained Patanjali’s yogic limbs of yama and niyama (ethical precepts), asana (posture) and breath work (pranayama), this volume deals with Patanjali’s limbs five and six. He calls these limbs pratyahara (independence from external stimuli) and dharana (concentration), and this text describes their essential and important techniques.
While success in dharana and pratyahara can be measured in a quantitative way, limbs seven and eight – dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption) – are qualitative limbs that are the result of pratyahara and dharana being practised precisely and to a deepening extent.
Meditation is only yogic meditation if it is built on certain yogic principles. During more than 30 years of research and practice I have identified 18 laws of meditation, which are described in this book. With this number I have, of course, also paid respect to the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita, which contain 18 chapters. This is the tradition in which I grew up spiritually. In saying this I do not mean that this tradition has a monopoly on truth. The opposite is the case. I am offering modifications to this method that may enable practitioners of other traditions to practise it without experiencing any conflicts.
There is one underlying truth in all religions and spiritual philosophies, and that is the experience of divine love (whether it be called by these words or not). If that love is experienced we can make a contribution to human evolution and society. We can contribute to a life in unity despite diversity and in harmony with divine law. Spiritual illumination and divine revelation are not something remote that only a few chosen can attain. On the contrary it is our birthright and divine duty. The meditation technique described herein has the power to deliver it. On the face of it this may sound like a bold claim, but if you practise the techniques associated with the 18 laws you will find out for yourself.
How to use this book
The 18 laws of meditation described in this book are arranged in three parts, each part containing six laws. Six of the laws pertain to Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is the physical dimension of meditation and generally identified as yoga consisting of posture (asana), breath work (pranayama) and purification exercises (kriyas). This first part explains how these physical techniques are linked to the practice of meditation and how they support it and bring it about. If you have read my previous books and practised their techniques, and are keen to start meditation as quickly as possible, then you may skim over the exercises in part 1 – apart from those in chapters 3 and 6, which are new. Although part 1 is in some ways a summary of my previous books, it does offer many new angles, particularly aimed at the subject of meditation. These themes are covered:
• so that meditators understand that Hatha methods are not weird practices unrelated to meditation techniques but that they do constitute important preparations for meditation and Raja Yoga;
• to show Hatha Yoga’s connection to meditation and spiritual yoga (bhakti) so that asana and pranayama practitioners understand them and move on to integrate yogic meditation into their existing practice.
All physical yoga techniques, including asana, are not designed to build or beautify the body or increase self-worth through proficiency in asana: their sole purpose is to prepare for meditation, and meditation is the technique to realize the Divine (within but also outside of yourself).
Similarly, health is not the purpose of asana but is a by-product of being in harmony with cosmic forces, and that harmony supports and enables realization of the Divine.
If you have never done Hatha Yoga before, and come to this book merely from the angle of meditation, it will be very helpful for you to understand exactly how all Hatha Yoga techniques support meditation. Meditation is much more likely to bring about spiritual revelation if supported by Hatha Yoga. The mind does not exist by itself but is interlinked with body and breath in manifold ways. The Hatha Yoga laws explain how a solid physical and pranic base is created from which the mental process of meditation can succeed.
The second part of this book, dedicated to Raja Yoga, contains the core teaching of Patanjali’s pratyahara (independence from external stimuli) and dharana (concentration). Raja Yoga is the mental dimension of meditation. This part first explains the scientific foundations of yoga meditation and then introduces its technique. You will also find information on the importance of Kundalini as support for meditation and the factors that make it rise, such as chakra and Sushumna visualization, mantra and breath. Chapter 11 presents the complete method of how pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga, is mastered – by harnessing all the processing power of the subconscious mind, thus preventing the outgoing of the senses.
As the mind is a master sense or presenter of sensory data, it has five sensory components. In order to harness the subconscious mind for spiritual evolution, all of these five aspects of mind need to be bound to their respective objects and not just the entire mind to the breath. As previously explained, the three outer layers of the human being (body, breath and mind) contain the obstacles to yoga and need to be purified. Whereas the body is generally purified through asana, the pranic sheath through pranayama and the mind through meditation, the complex catalogue of pratyahara in itself addresses all three layers. Chapter 12 then shows how this mastery of pratyahara is used for dharana, the sixth limb of yoga, explaining by the use of various examples how dharana works and the methods it employs.
The third part of the book finally presents Bhakti Yoga or the spiritual dimension of meditation. Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of divine love, is the fruit and result of the previously described methods and aspects of yoga. The text first explains how the chakras represent evolutionary stages of brain and mind development. Chakra meditation, if done in a sophisticated, high-powered way, will propel the evolution of the brain and mind of the practitioner and the awakening of higher (sattvic) intelligence. Chapter 13 presents an outline of the evolution that we can undergo as individuals and as a collective. Development up to this point is only the beginning of the possible future evolution of humanity. The fourteenth chapter then explains visualization of the Divine during spontaneous internal breath retention, whereas the fifteenth introduces the ignition of Kundalini during external breath retention. Chapter 16 offers the technique that ultimately produces lasting success in meditation and the vision (darshana) of the Divine. Chapter 17 then integrates Jnana Yoga as the ultimate goal of yoga, which, however, should not be attempted before each and every individual has fulfilled their svadharma, that is their contribution to the life of others and to human society.
As a house is built slowly, with attention at the beginning to more mundane steps such as earthworks, this text attends to the foundations first. As the chapters go on, however, it reaches a crescendo in part 3. It is therefore good not to judge the text by the initial chapters but to persist to the end. If on the other hand you rush ahead too quickly you may find it inconceivable how you could experience states such as those described in part three. As putting on the roof is the logical conclusion to the process of building a house, so are spiritual revelation and divine love the logical conclusions to the process of yoga – if it is done with the right elements and in the right order.
How to learn yogic meditation
You may think at first that the meditation technique described here sounds complicated or difficult, or that it makes your mind busy. But it is or does that only if your mind rushes ahead and tries to achieve stages that it is not yet ready for. In truth it is a meditation technique that naturally grows with you.
In a similar way, the teaching of yogic posture may look complicated. But it is complicated only if you want to rush ahead and practise postures that you are not yet ready for. On the other hand if you do not add new postures when you are ready, your physical practice will be stunted. Similarly your spiritual practice will remain stunted if you do not add new layers to your meditation when you are ready for them. If you only ever watch the breath without making your meditation more demanding, your intellect will remain torpid. But the Divine wants us to awaken our intelligence because we are a manifestation of that divine intelligence and only a fully developed intellect can realize the Divine. In Sanskrit the term intelligence (buddhi) is derived from the verb root budh – to awaken.
Look, then, at this meditation technique as you would at your posture practice. Only ever take on a new, more demanding, layer when you have mastered and integrated the previous one. If you try to jump ahead you will not succeed.
This book is the result of my 35 years of meditation experience, combined with as many years of study of scripture and 15 years of direct instruction from Indian masters. It is essential for a Kali Yuga yogi like me to base any writings not on personal whims but on the teachings of the ancient sages. As Sir Isaac Newton said, ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.’
What I have done here that is new is explain the actual meditation technique in a structured fashion. In yogic scripture this technique is often called Bhutashuddhi (elemental purification). While it is most effectively performed during breath retention (kumbhaka) it is good to learn it during inhalation and exhalation, which is much easier but still very powerful, especially if the breath is slowed down more and more. Those who wish can insert it into kumbhaka once they have mastered that pranayama technique.
In the past, spiritual teachers have often talked in a way that veiled important content from the uninitiated. In Sanskrit this is called sandhya, twilight language. I feel that I do not have the luxury of continuing with this approach. It is apparent that, within the next few generations, humanity will destroy its host planet if no major shift occurs. To manage this shift, the attainment of knowledge by every single person counts.
Some say everything is predetermined, including whether humanity destroys itself or not. Others, like the Rishi Vasishta, say ‘For those of true self-effort there is no predetermined destiny.’ In other words they do create their own destiny. This is the spirit in which I am presenting this text. May humanity, by means of true self-effort, create a destiny of unimaginable splendour!"
© Gregor Maehle 2012
Workshop dates 2013:
Byron Bay, Australia, 9 -15 February 2013, at http://www.8limbs.com/yoga/workshops
February 2013, commencement of teacher trainings in Melbourne, Perth and Gold Coast, Australia, at http://www.8limbs.com/teacher-training/information
Brussels, Belgium, 11- 12 May 2013, http://www.flowingyoga.be/
Groningen, Netherlands, 17 - 20 May 2013, http://www.ashtangaingroningen.com/
Eindhoven, Netherlands, 21 - 26 May 2013, http://www.puresilence.nl/
London, UK, 29 May - 4 June, 2013 at http://indabayoga.com/
Hamburg, Germany, 7 – 12 June 2013, at http://www.shenar.de/
Barcelona, Spain, 13 - 19 June 2013, http://www.sarriayoga.cat/
Bali Teacher Training, Indonesia, 24 June – 21 July 2013, http://www.8limbs.com/teacher-training/bali
Sydney, Australia, 26 – 28th July 2013 at http://northsydneyyoga.com.au/
Austin (TX), USA, August 23 - 25 2013, http://www.castlehillfitness.com/
Fort Pierce (FL), USA, September 5 – 11, http://oneyogaplanet.com/
New Orleans , USA (LA), September 12 – 15, http://www.balanceyogawellness.com/
Charlotte (NC), USA, September 18 – 24, www.yogaflexnc.com