Why Yoga Means Union: The Spiritual, Historical and Psychological Reasons (And Why Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras Had nothing To Do With It)

Via on May 9, 2011

It is commonly understood that yoga means union, oneness, bliss. It is not so commonly understood, however, that Patanjali, the so-called originator of Classical Yoga, had nothing to do with it.

Patanjali, who’s philosophy of the Yoga Sutras is becoming increasingly influential in Western yoga circles, never emphasized yoga as union, but rather described yoga as suspension, as restriction, as duality.

Yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein remarks in his book The Encyclopedia of Yoga that Patanjali’s dualistic philosophy never quite took hold in devotion-oriented India, where yoga as union, bliss, even love, has had a prominent place for thousands of years. At least since the time of Krishna, whom Feuerstein suggests was a historical person, and whom some scholars estimate to have lived about 1500 BCE.

In Krishna’s Bhagavad Gita, the great yogi warrior and Godhead of the Indian bhakti movement, emphasizes that yoga is union, love, the source of all things:

He who is rooted in oneness
realizes that I am
in every being, wherever
he goes, he remains in me.

When he sees all beings as equal
in suffering or in joy
because they are like himself,
that man has grown perfect in yoga.
(BG 6.29-32)

Quote from: Gita in a Nutshell #4: Each of Us Is Already Infinitely Wondrous, Divine If You Prefer.

Krishna speaks here from deep inside the theist guru-tradition, in which the guru (Krishna) God (Brahman), and the World are in union. Krishna says so in a language reminiscent of the mysticism of the Greek neo-platonic wisdom-teacher Plotinus and Christian sages such as Meister Eckhart.

Fast forward 3500 years and we encounter the contemporary book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihali Csikszentmihalyi (yes, that’s indeed how his name is spelled), and we will find a remarkable congruence of thought between the ancient yoga of Krishna and contemporary psychology.

Flow, says Csikszentmihalyi, is experienced when we are in a state of deep, concentrated enjoyment, when we are absorbed in an activity that leaves us in a state of effortless and unselfconscious buoyancy and control.

Contrast that to Patanjali’s most famous yoga sutra—Yogah Citta Vritti Nirodahah— which is translated as follows by Georg Feuerstein:

Yoga is the restrictions of the fluctuation of consciousness.

Not much mention of flow or unity here. Feuerstein’s translation gives us a sense that yoga is a discipline to chastise the mind into submission. And that’s not Feuerstein’s personal intention. It seems to be Patanjali’s.

Feuerstein’s translation is indeed a lot closer to the literal meaning of Patanjali’s words than most other translations I have read. Because, as some writers on yoga have pointed out, many “translations” of this particular sutra reflects an attempt at making it sound more tantric, more heart-centered, more nondual, union-and-flow-like than what the words seem to imply.

There are no phrases indicating “heart” or “unity” or “oneness” in Patanjali’s original sutra. According to contemporary tantric yoga philosopher and Sanskrit linguist Anandamurti, who interprets this sutra much like Feuerstein, Patanjali’s intent was that a yogi must suspend his or her “mental tendencies” (vrittis) in order to find peace.

But, says Anandamurti, someone in a coma has also suspended his or her mental tendencies, someone in a dreamless state of sleep is not experiencing any mental expressions; but these inward states of “emptiness” are not exactly the same state as yoga.

It appears, then, that in this sutra Patanjali describes some of the psychological effects of yoga rather than the inner revelation and feeling that the deep meditational practice of yoga evokes.

Anandamurti reminds us that the idea that yoga means unity, that yoga is a devotional concept and the path of the union between heart and mind; that this profound concept does not originate from Patanjali. In other words, the idea that yoga means union seems to be absent in the Yoga Sutras.

Rather, the idea that yoga means union he attributes to Shiva, the so-called King of Yoga. Shiva allegedly said that yoga means the unity between the individual soul and the cosmic soul, the unity between our heart and the cosmic heart, the unity between oneself and the Other. The Sanskrit transliteration of Shiva’s saying is: Samyoga yoga ityukto jivatma paramatmanah.

The Sanskrit word yoga itself has two meanings, writes Anandamurti. It originates either from the root verb yuj with the suffix ghain and thus means “addition,” or from the root verb yuinj and the suffix ghain and thus means “unification.”

The ancient gurus Shiva and Krishna and Csikszentmihalyi, the contemporary psychologist, have thus similar ideas about what the inner, experiential state of mind of a yogi is, and that state seems to contrast with what Patanjali had in mind.

For Patanjali, if we take him at his own words, yoga meant the “suspension of our mental tendencies” or “the restrictions of the fluctuations of consciousness.” Patanjali wants us to control those vrittis in the citta, in the mind, and that process, he says, is what yoga is.

From Shiva’s tantric perspective yoga would be experienced as follows: when our individual mind has calmed its tendencies of boredom and anxiety and its focused, yet dynamic flow dips into the infinite flow of consciousness (paramatma), then, he says, we experience yoga as a feeling of union, a feeling of flow.

Hence, while Patanjali does not use the term union, there may be a link between his Yoga Sutras and the other two great sources of yoga—Shiva and Krishna. And that link may lie in the way that Flow or Union or Yoga is achieved.

The state of flow, or, for our purposes, the state of yoga, Csikszentmihalyi claims, exists in a dynamic space somewhere between anxiety and boredom. We humans often fluctuate between these three states. We are anxiously tapping our fingers when contemplating the fear of the future or the guilt of the past. We are bored into limp inaction when contemplating our dismal present.

But, voila!, we enter a state of flow the moment we engage in challenging but rewarding activities such as music, art, writing, gardening, sports, and, of course, yoga and meditation, activities that let us enter a more challenging and rewarding state of flow.

Why? Because we shift our attention from the distracting chatter of the mind, the parts of the mind that is either anxiety ridden or stiflingly bored.

In that state of flow, the fluctuations of the mind that Patanjali is talking about—those vrittis of desires, guilt, hurt, pain—no longer sidetrack us, no longer produce feelings of either anxiety or boredom. In that state of flow, we enter the world of union, an inner awe of concentrated bliss, we enter the state of being Krishna is talking about in the Gita, the state of union Shiva exemplified as an inner revelation of oneness. If not the full-blown spiritual states of union, or Samadhi—which are rather rare in yoga—we experience at least a psychological resemblance of it.

What do I mean by that? There are doors, mirrors, or stages of perception. And as these are “cleansed” through spiritual practice, to use William Blake’s famous metaphor, we experience deeper and deeper states of yoga.

In other words, there are stages of union. Our feelings of awe and mystery are just the beginning stages of the journey, until we ourselves become one with the mystery, with the cosmic soul itself, which represent the ultimate union Krishna often speaks of in the Gita.

To understand these stages of union, it is instructive to take a look at the “yogic mind model” of Anandamurti, which differs form the older Vedantic model of the koshas, or sheets of being. There are, in addition to the body, five states of the yogic mind. The three first stages in this model roughly correspond to the Jungian psychological model:

  1. Conscious mind (kamamaya kosha): this state of mind has three functions: to sense external stimuli, to have desires based on those stimuli, to materialize actions based on those stimuli.
  2. Subconscious mind (manomaya kosha): this state has four functions: memory, contemplation, experience of pleasure and pain, dreaming. There may be temporary feelings of deep union and awe at this stage.
  3. Unconscious mind (atimanas kosha) is the state of intuition and creative insight; the mind of sublime poetry, art, inventions, psychic awareness, etc.  For yogis, there will often be an experience of prolonged periods of union during meditation at this stage.
  4. Subliminal mind (vijanamaya kosha): this level of mind has two main functions—deep discrimination between what is “truth and untruth,” and detachment. It is in this state one starts to experience a near continuous flow of freedom, wholeness, and union, as well as a host of other attributes, including ecstasy, grace, undisturbed attention, spiritual success, etc.
  5. Causal mind (hiranmaya kosha): this is the last or highest stage of inner yogic union, the feeling that there is only a thin veil between our self and the Divine. It reflects the mindset of many great yogis and gurus, while the greatest of them, the enlightened beings, can also pierce this last veil and permanently rest in the Cosmic soul itself.

When the veil between the yogi’s mind of the hiranmaya kosha, the fifth stage of the above model, and the cosmic mind of Brahman becomes nearly absent, the result is a near constant perception of great clarity, wisdom and bliss. Metaphorically speaking: the below has become one with the above; the doors of perception have been cleansed.

Another way of looking at this is that the above mind model represents the jivatman, the individual soul, and when our individual awareness pierces the veil of the last and fifth stage, the jivatman merges in the paramatman, the Cosmic Soul, or Brahman. And, it is said, that the Jivanmuktis, the liberated souls, the enlightened beings, live in this realm, on this threshold between the two worlds of being.

And that stage of awareness, in reality, is what we mean by yoga as union, the union between the personal soul (jivatman) and the Cosmic soul (paramatman). It is also in this stage of unity that the yogi truly feels (and not just thinks) that the above has become the same as the below, that heaven is indeed within.

In other words, Patanjali’s, Shiva’s and Krishna’s ideas about yoga are not the same. They are at most complimentary.

What is especially not found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra about what yoga is, says Anandamurti, is juice, flow, dynamism, the idea that life, when lived to its fullest, is vibrant; that the cosmos itself is one vibrating, ecological, pulsating organism. Thus the idea that yoga is union with that flowing organism; the idea that yogic union resonate with the saying of the great alchemists: as above, so below.

And for Krishna, for Shiva, the center, the source of that flow, that rasa, that lila, is God, is Bhagavan. And not surprisingly, quantum physicists talks about the cosmos in much the same way.

“Every living entity, every animate and inanimate entity, is dancing according to the flow of that rasa (flow), according to the vibrational expression of that rasa,” writes Anandamurti.

When movement is the nature of life, how can yoga be without flow? More to the point, the nature of the whole universe is flowing, dynamic, and pulsating.

So, rather than suspending our vrittis, our mental tendencies, we embrace them, we love them, and then we surrender them to the cosmic flow. Thus, we try to make all our ordinary tendencies spiritual, sacred, and flowing.

Hence, the simple yet profound idea that yoga means “I am That.” I am one with That; I am one with God, I am one with Krishna, with my higher Self, with that transcending flow that runs and pulsates through and within everything. When that profound idea, that feeling, is available to us at any moment, while doing any form of action, then we experience yoga; we are in the flow of yoga.

Yoga, then, is attraction toward That ultimate flow. Yoga is thus not revulsion away from what we do not like (as Patanjali seems to imply in several sutras), not disgust for, or suppression of our basic desires.

Rather, yoga is much more psychological, much more elegant: yoga does not turn attraction into repulsion by saying NO to life, yoga says YES to life by seeking and seeing the bright side of everything, by seeing the wisdom, and ultimately union as an available source of inspiration in everything.

Yoga is thus about seeing union, seeing God, consciousness, oneness, sweetness, love in everything we are, in everything we do.

But yoga is not theory, yoga is practice, yoga is living and being. “It is not enough to know how to do it,” Csikszentmihalyi writes, while acknowledging that yoga is an “enormously sophisticated” way to experience flow, “one must do it, consistently, in the same way as athletes or musicians…”

And, so, in that light, yoga is practice, yoga is discipline. And the more sophisticated the practice and the discipline, the deeper the flow, the deeper the state of mind and focus, the more overwhelmingly meaningful our sense of union with the Other, with That.

And what are those commonalities between the psychology of Flow and the spiritual practice of yoga:

  • Flow is concentration—as during meditation and asana practice
  • Flow is increasing sophistication and challenge—as during the practice of more advanced asana and meditation techniques
  • Flow is unselfconscious behavior—as during bhakti yoga singing, or in deep meditation, or simply right now!
  • Flow is being in the present moment—as during mantra/breath recitation while walking, biking, eating, loving

And, there is another commonality between the yoga of union and Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: the way to happiness lies not in mindlessly following our hedonist desires, but rather in flowing with our call for mindful challenges.

So what are the signs that we are experiencing yoga in our life?

Bill Walz, a meditation and mindfulness teacher at the University of North Carolina writes: “True spirituality requires experiencing a self-transcending connection with Life and with others, but when we live trapped within this disease of self-absorption, the truly spiritual experience is impossible.”

And the eminent psychologist Abraham Maslow said: “The sacred is in the ordinary…to be looking elsewhere for miracles is a sure sign of ignorance…everything is miraculous.”

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes was born in Norway and lived for nearly three years in India and Nepal learning directly from the masters of tantric yoga. He has written extensively on tantra, yoga, culture and sustainability, and his articles have appeared in books and numerous magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US. His forthcoming book on Tantra will be published by Hay House India soon. He is currently contributing editor of New Renaissance and a columnist for Fredrikstad Blad, a Norwegian newspaper. He lives in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Visit his blog here: Eight Fold Path. His book Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit: A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra can be purchased here.

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42 Responses to “Why Yoga Means Union: The Spiritual, Historical and Psychological Reasons (And Why Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras Had nothing To Do With It)”

  1. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi Ramesh,

    The translation I prefer is:
    "Yoga is the cessation of the mental modifications."
    Then what you write here…
    "someone in a coma has also suspended his or her mental tendencies, someone in a dreamless state of sleep is not experiencing any mental expressions; but these inward states of “emptiness” are not exactly the same state as yoga."
    … takes on a different meaning, because the comatose, or deep sleeper still has the 'tendencies'. They are merely suspended. However, if they are ceased fully, then it is a different story. This I believe also to be the difference between full Samadhi and the temporary kind… and let's face it, deep sleepless state is a temporary Samadhi is it not?! Coma I cannot comment on however :)

    • Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

      Good point, Ben. But, as you know, there are different states of samadhi, and one may experience samadi due to cessation or suspension of one's samskaras, one's vrittis,. Mere suspension indiactes, as you say a temporary state of samadhi and cessation a longer term state. However, one is not to assume that all samaskaras have ceased to exist in an enlightened being, otherwise that being would not be able to function, think, feel, act, be in a physical body. So complete cessation in the human frame is not practically possible. hence, the point of my article–the idea that the lower and higher states of yoga is a state of flow, of union, of merging into a greater whole rather than being separated from something, being severed from something. hence, I basically do not like the version you prefer either. That's just my take on it.

  2. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    I would also add that Csikszentmihalyi's (thank god for copy + paste!) Flow is more likely a state of heightened concentration as opposed to Samadhi. It is undoubtedly a 'Peak State' of consciousness, but I don't beleive it can be compared really with Samadhi. After all, many people experience this frequently – it's known as being 'in the Zone' right? – but it's usually during sports, or sex, or work, or play, and therefore the state passes when the 'focus' is lost…
    Just some thoughts…

    • Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

      Csikszentmihalyi's (the paste and copy guy!) nor i never intended to say that any state of flow equals samadhi. So, yes, hightened state of concentration, awareness or peak states of consciousness are what he terms states of flow. So, yes, I basically agree, and it is an important distinction as any old kind of awe state is not the same as higher states of samadhi, which is why i used the various koshas as a model to illustrate the various stages. But this can of course be illustrated in a myriad ways, as complexities abound…and language is a limited medium, and so is blogging.

  3. Rit Squailia says:

    Somehow there is a tinge of agenda in your arguments here. Given your background, it seems that you are looking for a rationale and not Truth. Tantra must be the correct path since it is what you know best and all else is there to be taken down. In contrast, many follow the truth that there are many paths to Unity, Nirvana, Kaivalya, etc. Scholarship is no substitute for direct experience in Yoga, regardless of the flavor you prefer.

    • Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

      The agenda in the article was to point out that yoga as union is a concept linked to Shiva, Krishna and others, not Patanjali…also, if you read carefully, you will notice that I emphasize practice over theory several times–that was also my agenda in the article. My agenda, however, was not to say that tantra is better than any other path, in that regard i agree with you: there are many paths to the mountain top…

  4. oneunitysourceyoga says:

    Love it! "Paths are many, truth is one" ~ H. H. Sri Swami Satchidananda http://www.lotus.org/docs/paths_are_many.htm

  5. Brilliant essay, Ramesh. I always want to give the Yoga Sutra its due, and I believe it is entirely consistent with one of the four major paths in the Gita–the Yoga of Meditation .

    But that said, your essay explains in some detail why I personally prefer the Gita over the Yoga Sutra, and have made it my personal mission, one that puts me in the "flow", to help the Gita become more accessible and loved in Western Yoga.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

    • Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

      Update for the readers: When I got the idea for this essay, I asked Bob to supply some appropriate quotes from the Gita, which he graciously did right away by saying it was an "easy" assignment. Bob, as you might know, is a Gita devotee. While I share his feelings for the yogic spirit of the Gita over the Yoga Sutras, I do not share his vast knowledge of its content. So, thank you, Bob. Krishna must be laughing and playing his flute from his abode in the land of everlasting FLOW!

  6. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  7. Open Source says:

    So, you think you know what yoga means? http://yogawiki.co/AYogaBook/ShadesOfGrey

  8. Kelly W. says:

    I always thought of it as actually yoking the vrittis- getting control of the monkey mind. The five vrittis are correct knowledge, incorrect knowledge, conceptualization, memory and sleep, not pain and guilt- am I missing something? Also, I thought Patanjali was all about seperating pure consciousness from what it isn’t, not anything to do with disgust and revulsion, things he’d put as obstructive to yoga, and that at the end of the yoga process the pure consciousness is timeless and equivalent to Ishvara, but just not necessarily absorbed into Ishvara. This finality is so far away, its seems much ado about what really isn’t that much of a difference. I mean, are dualists bad or something?
    Maybe I’m reading too much into it but is there some grudge against Patanjali for some reason? It just seems like some personal emotional baggage is being put on it…

  9. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Kelly W: The great thing about Elephant is that we writers receive informed and challenging responses such as yours. Thank you! As a practitioner of the eight fold path, or kriya yoga, or tantra, or ashtanga yoga, or raja yoga, or whatever name you may want to call someone who practices these limbs, I have a lot of respect for Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras. Still there are aspects of these sutras that do not appeal to me for the reasons outlined in this essay. Other than that, I am a big fan. But I also think it is important to discuss these classical yoga aphorisms both to gain deeper understanding of them and to see where other teachers/classics differ in approach. Finally, it comes down to what approach appeals to us on the yogic path.
    Yes, you are correct about those five vrittis as obstacles on the path, but the way I understand and use the word vrittis, there are many more, vrittis such as hatred, anger, backbiting, etc, these also needs to be stilled. In Tantra these vrittis are connected to the various chakras… but I digress,,, so to put the record straight, I largely agree with you, but I still do think there are problems with dualism philosophically and spiritually, which is in part why I wrote the article.

  10. samgeppi says:

    "somehow there is a tinge of agenda in your arguments here. Given your background, it seems that you are looking for a rationale and not Truth. "

    "there some grudge against Patanjali for some reason? It just seems like some personal emotional baggage is being put on it…"

    Agreed.

    Most see no contradiction between Dual and Non-dual approaches and i wonder why the need for the author to assail Patanjali when many yoga masters of India reached self illumination from these principles, conveying these truths to their students as well.

    The author wrote:
    "Yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein remarks in his book The Encyclopedia of Yoga that Patanjali’s dualistic philosophy never quite took hold in devotion-oriented India, where yoga as union, bliss, even love, has had a prominent place for thousands of years. "

    Oh, this is just not true. Raja Yoga is alive and well in India and very highly regarded. Ever hear of Swami Sivananda and other hatha Yoga and raja Yoga masters of India.. teaching the yoga of synthesis. India is not just "devotion-oriented", it is also very "scientific-oriented".. with a vast array of Vedic Sciences. Devotion and Science are not two separate things in the Indian Scientific systems.

    The author wrote:
    "Patanjali, who’s philosophy of the Yoga Sutras is becoming increasingly influential in Western yoga circles, never emphasized yoga as union, but rather described yoga as suspension, as restriction, as duality."

    If you go beyond Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodaha (the very first sutra in the text) you get that "once the thoughts waves are stilled the being rests in his true nature".. and many other concepts of surrender, devotion etc..

    Identifying the modifications is what the mind that created them must first do – that's all.

    The author quotes the first sutra as if it is the culmination of the Yoga Sutras. Not very authentic and reveals an obvious bias.

    In my opinion, the authors need to base their personal philosophy on opposing Patanjali is unnecessary and misses the mark, continuing a worn out (and false) struggle between Bhakti and Jnana, Dual and Non-dual.

    How DUALISTIC.

    After all, authentic Tantra must also include dualism.

  11. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Sangeppi,
    yes, you are right tantric nondualism includes dualism–that is the whole point and beauty of tantric yoga and in part the article. Moreover, as I have pointed out in numerous articles before, having opposing arguments is part of the Indian tradition, part of jnana yoga, part of the study of scriptures, hence I am not just promoting bhakti yoga, but all the paths of yoga. The myriad expressions of ypga–karma, jnana, bhakti, etc is to be celebrated.

    As Bob points out above, the Yoga Sutras describes the path of Raja Yoga, tantra, kriya, etc, the path of meditation for the most part–and this is its central core teaching and strength, and i practice it myself, but I also see its limitations and the lack of bhakti and its dualism are some of those few flaws. That's all.

    I also pointed out that Patanjali's dualistic philosophy never quite took hold in India, I did not say that Raja Yoga did not take hold, nor did I pit Bhakti yoga against Jnana yoga. I am well aware of the blending of science, devotion and philosophy in the Indian traditions–that, as you say, is an integral aspect of the Indian sacred traditions, but it is not the core teaching of the Yoga Sutras. My article really had a very narrow focus and that was to contrast Patanajaliyoga's with some of the other schools such as Tantra.
    I also did not argue that the first sustra is the culmination of the yoga sutras, that is your bias, I simply used it as a definition of Patanjali yoga and i contrasted that definition with the tantric definition.

  12. samgeppi says:

    "I also did not argue that the first sustra is the culmination of the yoga sutras, that is your bias,"

    ??

    It is "my bias" that you only discussed the first yoga sutra?.. I said you did not correctly represent the Yoga Sutras by ONLY discussing the first one.. and wow, Here you are saying the same thing.

    You said:
    "I simply used it as a definition of Patanjali yoga and i contrasted that definition with the tantric definition."

    Right, as I said, you took the first sutra and (mis) represented that as "a definition of Patanjali yoga" (it is not, it is the BEGINNING POINT) ,.. then (in your words) contrasted that definition (which is actually just the beginning point) with the tantric definition."

    Here is a translation of Yoga Sutras at the Sacred Texts website: (For anyone interested) http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/yogasutr.htm

  13. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Samgeppi,
    oki, doki my friend. there are many different interpretations of the Yoga Sutras and BonGiovanni's is but one of many. He translates Yoga as Union, but it is not clear at all that this is what Patanjali means with his concept of yoga. This idea, that the Yoga Sutras are dualistic is not something i just made up, it is an understanding shared by many yoga scholars. In other words, while the sense of union males sense in some schools of vedanta, in tantra as well as in the pre-classical traditions such as the Gita, it does not make sense in terms of the Yoga Sutras. One may, as you do, read the idea of union into the texts, but the text itself does not logically promote that view. There is no mention of a union with a transcendental reality in the sutras in any clear way, and there certainly is no clear way to read that the ishvara of YS is that which one is united with through devotion which then leads to the cessation of the vrittis, which is the process of union, or yoga…. this idea, which clearly would indicate a practice, a philosophy of union is simply not there, not clearly developed, it is read into it.. In the words of Georg Feuerstein: "Given Patanjali's dualist metaphysics, which strictly separates the transcendental Self from Nature and its products, this would not even make any sense."

    Hence the point of my article: that if you read union into your understanding of the Yoga Sutras you make up your own version of it by borrowing from other nondual sources, such as Vedanta, the Gita and in particular from Tantra. As a practice, as a worldview of your own, I have no problem with that–if it works, it works–but do not claim that Patanjali said that the yoga Sutras promote that view. it does not hold up.

    But, hey, if one reads the sutras, not as logical philosophy, not as a complete text, but as individual koans, as poetry, as metaphor–one can read all kinds of truths into them. Whatever works for you! It is practice that counts….

  14. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Samgeppi,
    in other words, the practice of dualism promoted in the Yoga Sutras is the idea of discernment, of separation between the self and the non-self, between what is real and what is not real. Then having understood this, the yogi seeks to withdraw from that which is not real, from the body, from the vrittis, the mental tendencies and so on. Then, through this process of separation, the yogi, presumably and finally understands or perceives the transcendental entity. This process is not the same as the union found in vedanta, the gita or tantra, in which the practice of I am That truly signifies a uniting of self and Self, of me with Brahman, of Shakti with Shiva, and so on. This process of unity is most elegantly expressed in Tantra as the idea that Brahman is the unity of Shiva and Shakti, that the Transcendental entity is composed of Consciousness and Energy, of male and female, of this and that. The same idea of unity is not clearly expressed in the Yoga Sutras.
    In other words, we are speaking of different outlooks, different approaches to life, and I would also argue that it has certain advantages to love this world rather than negate, to see the Divine in everything, which is the idea central to tantra, rather than thinking that this is not divine, that is not divine, which dualism tends to promote. Anyhow, that is my preference, that is my bias, as you said.

  15. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Hillary, this is an interesting question, but not one with an easy answer. I do have my own opinion (which in some corners on this glorious Elephant is also called an agenda, or a bias, especially if it is different than majority yoga opinion) based on the last 6 years of research within this area. It is not so easy to know why one philosopher's idea differs from another, but there are some sources to draw from in order to have an educated opinion about it.

    Swami Abhayananda maintains in his book The History Of Mysticism that the idea of a Mother (Shakti) and Father (Shiva) God goes back in India to at least 2500 BCE, which would be at least 2000 years before the Yoga Sutras. He also maintains that the yogis understood these concepts to be two aspects of Brahman, thus nondualism. As quoted in my article above, Anandamurti would agree. The people living in the Indus Valley at that time, already had their own, as of yet unknown, script. There are others, such as Anandamurti, Prasad Lalan Singh, etc. who maintain that the idea of this union goes back even further within tantric or Shaiva circles. We do also know that the Samkhya philosophy is the first yoga philosophy, the oldest in the world (some say almost 3500 years old, that is 1300 years before Patanjali. Although Samkhya includes the idea of Prakrti (Shakti) and Purusha (Shiva) it is a dualist philosophy, but also very much rooted in Tantra. So within tantra you have both dualist and nondualist ideas. Most scholars say that nondualism is rather recent. if that is the case, which I doubt, then the idea that dualism had to do with "educated people" i.e. more literate people, then that would not make sense.
    So here's my take on it. Dualist and nondualist concepts are both as old as the hills. BUT nondualism as yogic philosophy is fairly recent, probably no more than 3000 years, so older than Patanjali, but in sophisticated form, even within tantra, this idea did not become important before some time after Patanjali. So why did some philosophers endorse dualism and some nondualism, that I do not know. I do know however, that in order to produce philosophy, which by its very nature is logical and rational, well, for the most part, one needs a certain, shall we say, sophistication or education or literacy or rationality. So, there has been an evolution in philosophy to some extent, and I think (so here comes my bias and my agenda) that the nodualism of tantra is the most sophsiticated and refined of all the yogic philosophies. Why is that? I don't have an idea. Why does the Buddha and Adi Shankara, both supposedly enlightened beings come up with very different philosophies? Well, apart from different personal psychologies, karmas, experiences, outlooks, what else? The main reason is simply, I think: no two people can explain the unexplainable the same way. Still, some philosophies makes more sense than others, are more useful and benign than others, and i do think nondualism of the tantric kind is more so than dualism of the tantric or any other kind. But to explain how that came about, I do not know, Lindsay. But we do know that there is an evolution in human thought as well as in nature…and in yoga the nondualism of tantra, according to Ken Wilber and others, is the most balanced, integral, sophisticated. But if you (anyone of you reading this) don't like ken Wilber, you might just write it off as his agenda…

  16. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  17. luke says:

    What the article seems to want to contrast are the practices of removing-what-you-aren’t with becoming-what-you-are/becoming-more, but only to show the latter as better. In so doing, the author misrepresents the ys, which are not about developing or practicing revulsion (let alone from “what we do not like”) but dispelling ignorance to reveal bliss. Devotion to the Lord (isvara-pranidhana) gets a significant platform in the ys, but is entirely ignored in the article. The article initially complains about “restriction”, but ends lauding discipline, which the ys also gives significant thumb-ups to, so while trying to distinguish two uses of the same term, the article confuses others; in one sentence, nirodha is “restriction”, and the next is “suspension,” as if these were the same (and “transliterate” doesn’t mean what the author thinks it does). Despite the sincerity of these overstatements, the author back-peddles on all these points in the comments, leaving this reader to wonder what exactly in the article was not overstated, and how this reflects on the benefits of “flow”.

    The vrittis in the ys are more subtle than the “desires, guilt, hurt, pain” the article misrepresents them as. In its first chapter, the vrittis to which the second sutra say are of the mind and to be restrained are given as the experience of the evidential, the erroneous, the conceptual, sleep and memory. These are substrates in which desires etc. are able to color existence. In the second chapter, five afflictions, namely ignorance, and the egoism and clinging to pain, pleasure, and life that follow it are refereed to as vrittis, but are all still substrates that puts desires etc. as icks.

    Patanjali imo uses ‘yoga’ to mean ‘yoke’/’joining’- joining the various things that are not the seer so that reality can be experienced. A yoke restrains, it does not destroy or suspend, a point I think supported by 4.18 which says that the citta-vritts are always experienced. Restraining the various states of the mind -including sleep- is the point, so that the confusion failing to distinguish the seer from the seen, and the ignorance and suffering this causes can be eliminated.

    Misrepresenting one side to make the other “better” only makes the “better” side the lesser- why not just skip the hill-king stuff altogether. While their approaches are different, the goals of the ys and “higher path” tantra are remarkably similar- bliss and reality. Both offer opportunities for abuse and cruelty to one’s own person and others (“flow” for instance giving license to be an ass (something I’ve had the displeasure of being on both sides of), or just as an excuse for hedonism; “lower path” tantra is almost synonymous with abuse and cruelty). Both inform each other, and have habitual, significant overlap. They offer different approaches for different folk.

    • Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

      Oh, well, Luke. I did not say that one cannot reach the same goal… that was not the point of the article, nor is it my opinion. Of course there are different approaches for different folks. That was in part my point. But mainly that patanjali's path is not the path of union, but of discernment, discrimination, contemplation, etc. Yes, there are plenty of pitfalls in Tantra, too, depending on the tantric path you follow…

  18. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Samgeppi, yes, I understand you are "not feeling me here." And i frankly don't know what to do about that but to suggest to try again by seeing these paths as different approaches. Patanjali's path is not a purely bhakti path, for example. Can you see that?
    These different approaches, the dualist and the non-dualist, may reach the same goal but their paths differ, their outlooks differ. That's really all I am saying.
    The danger of nondual tantra? To get caught up in the world, being entangled in the world… while being aloof from the world seem to be Vedanta's challenge… each path has challenges, of course.

  19. matt helmick says:

    I appreciate this article, Ramesh, because it serves as a reminder to us Westerners that yoga did not begin with Patanjali.

    In fact, I think many are excited by the Yoga Sutras because it is often many readers first contact with derivative ideas from Jainism, Buddhism and Tantra, to name a few.

    This, of course, is not to take anything away from Patanjali’s synthesis.

    Ironically, a local hot yoga studio advertises that they teach “the asanas as taught by Patanjali.”

    Bikram appears to be Patanjali’s latest incarnation.;)

  20. [...] Why Yoga Means Union: The Spiritual, Historical and Psychological Reasons (And Why Patanjali’s Yog… [...]

  21. yogihenry says:

    ramesh, I have read your article and all of the comments and answers. For what it’s worth here are my conclusions:
    Although samgeppi seems to get angry with you; he makes valid points and your responses were not very convincing,;
    Luke also gave a good counter to your article.
    I suggest you might like to read a translation of the YS by Alistear Shearer; a post graduate Sanskrit scholar. His translation of Patanjali may help you understand that Patanjali promotes the exact opposite of “disgust” and other negative descriptive words you use in your writing.
    For example; 2:33 advises that “when negative feelings restrict us, the opposite should be cultivated”. 2:34 “Negative feelings are damaging to life”. “Their fruit is endless ignorance and suffering. To remember this is to cultivate the opposite.” So, with this translation, Patanjali would not use words promoting disgust or other negative feelings. He leaves it to the aspirant to cultivate the opposite which could be love, kindness, charity, etc…he leaves that up to the yogi. As for me, I will not recommend this teaching as it unnecessarily puts down others in an unkind, egotistical way. sorry, ramesh.

  22. [...] We all have this inherent instinct to connect with others because, fundamentally, we know we are all One. But before we can fully grasp this, we must find that connection within. This becomes a challenge [...]

  23. [...] to the kitchen; it is also the feeling of a warm bath. Umami is a feeling of perfect balance. In yoga, we call this the neutral mind. Simplicity and [...]

  24. [...] most stinging ironies hidden within the word “yoga” itself. As any teacher will tell you, the common translation of “yoga” is “union,” derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” which means to yoke or join. The irony is that most [...]

  25. jiivadhara says:

    Also, when it comes to flow imagine the past is gone and can't be changed, the future not there but we plant seeds, the present moment has no duration and is already past and all what is left is thus incredible flow of life. Then we get ourselves out of the way and broaden the river of live and the cosmic flow comes through rather freely. Flow on…. in this Rasaliila…

  26. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Very well put!

  27. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Yogiclarebear, thanks for your astute comments. I do not mean to imply that Patanjali's Yoga, or Classical Yoga, or Asthanga Yoga, "regards yoga as a revulsion." That would indeed be to read to much into them. What I and also Matthew Remski referred to and discussed in another blog was a certain sutra (2.40) making that implication. In that sutra we referred specifically to the word jugupsa, which means disgust. Others disagree with us and read a different meaning into it. But my larger point is, if you live by a dualist philosophy, then it is easy to fall prey to a kind of nihilism, a kind of separation from the world… that is the potential shadow side of dualism, and I think the shadow side of dualism expressed itself in that sutra… That said, there are many many incredible sutras and wisdom teachings in that sublime text. .
    Does that make sense?

  28. yogiclarebear says:

    It absolutely makes sense. Thanks for clarifying and for summarizing your point on dualism. I've always felt that the "kill the ego" teachings didn't make much sense to me. Is that kindof what you mean when you talk about seperation from the world? Rather, I more appreciate the "in the world but not of the world" concepts maybe?

    Anyways, language is so hard and interesting. How can we TRULY know what the true tone of jugupsa was in the time and context it was used in?

    I guess it all comes down to sharing our ideas in a meaningful way and staying open to knowledge and experience of ourselves and others…thanks again.

  29. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Yes, exactly, embrace the ego! No need to kill it. No need to kill the Buddha on the road, embrace him! These are metaphors for what in the Indian yogic context is tantric nondualism as opposed to vedantic nondualism. In tantra the world is seen as God/Goddess, in vedanta the world is seen as illusion. So, these three schools are important yet distinct in yoga: patanjali, or classical yoga (dualist), tantra (nondualist) and vedanta (nondualist). They all have a distinct flavor and all influenced yoga and Indian culture in their own particular way.
    It is true, we cannot know for certain exactly how jugupsa was intended by Patanjali, but we do know he is not saying that the body is Brahman/God, and here is the importance of religious/spiritual metaphors–they do effect the way we think and act..

  30. yogiclarebear says:

    This is awesome Ramesh. I have not delved into tantra studies yet, but will start soon when I begin 500 hour yoga teacher training next fall. I'm getting more excited and again, appreciate all the knowledge that you offer.

  31. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    All the best on your tantric journey!

  32. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Samgeppi: Hopefully my article 3 Ways To Enlightenment will give you a more satisfactory answer:
    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/05/3-ways-to-….

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