Who am I? What is the true nature of the Self? These are the questions that have consumed philosophers and yogis for thousands of years.
The yoga practice that we begin because it makes us feel better, or helps with our aches and pains, has its roots in deep contemplation of these questions.
Not everyone is interested in yoga philosophy, but if you are so inclined, further study of the yoga sutras and the Upanishads can be intriguing.
There’s a lot of Sanskrit involved, so hang on to your seats! (I’ve included it for those who are interested and might like to look up the terms – Sanskrit is a fascinating language!)
According to the Mandukya Upanishad – seen by many as the distilled truth – there are four states of awareness:
- Wakeful (jagrata)
- Dreamy (svapna)
- Deep Sleep (nidra)
The fourth is turyavastha – pure consciousness – kaivalya – eternal emancipation or state of oneness with the Supreme Soul.
Sutra 11.26 in Mr Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sutras, says:
“The ceaseless flow of discriminative knowledge in thought, word and deed destroys ignorance, the source of pain.”
BKS Iyengar comments: “The seeds of false knowledge are to be burnt up through uninterrupted yogic practices to maintain an unbroken flow of discriminative intelligence.”
Have you every felt fantastic on the day you’ve practised but cloudy again the day afterwards if you don’t practice? This is why it’s recommended to maintain a consistent yoga practice – to keep cleaning the windows in the house of our consciousness.
Sutra 11.27 goes on to say:
“Through this unbroken flow of discriminative awareness, one gains perfect knowledge which has seven spheres.”
Mr Iyengar comments:
“There are seven frontiers to be integrated between the seen (prakrti) and the seer (purusa). They are: integration of the body, the senses, energy, mind, intellect, consciousness and soul, each realising its own individual identity. Proficiency in yoga will bring this sevenfold knowledge….In other words, by yogic practises, the sadhaka (practitioner) conquers his body, controls his energy, restrains the movements of the mind and develops sound judgement, from which he acts rightly and becomes luminous. From this luminosity he develops total awareness of the very core of his being…” (p131,132)
In his commentary Mr Iyengar says the seven states can be correlated with the four states mentioned above.
In essence, the teachings say that the nature of the Self is bliss. The Self seeks happiness because it is looking for itself, sometimes in all the wrong places! Yoga helps us to find our way back to the true nature of the Self – bliss (ananda) – by developing our powers of discrimination and keeping the windows of our consciousness cleaned.
As Vedanta philosophy says: “Wake up and see! You are full of joy!”
A simple way to experience the bliss of the Self is in chanting AUM.
A represents the state where we are awake.
U represents the dreaming state.
M represents the deep sleep state.
The silence that follows is the turya, the real Self, the Witness.