January 23, 2011

Yoga Will Never Make You Enlightened (Unless You Become a Buddhist!)

…or start putting as much energy into a daily meditation practice as you put into your posture yoga practice. Period.

Why does yoga superstar Rodney Yee call himself a yogi yet encourages people to practice Buddhist meditation? Why do so few yogis practice yogic meditation?

The simple reason is that the renaissance men of modern posture yoga, such as B. K. S. Iyengar, put little emphasis on yogic meditation practices. Consequently, the Western teachers that eventually followed in his footsteps, from Brian Kest to Seane Corn, never emphasized nor have the knowledge to teach the higher lessons of yogic meditation.

Hence, my fellow yogis, if you desire Enlightenment with a capital E, then you better join a Buddhist Sangha where they spend time sitting instead of moving. Or, you can seek out one of those Indian yogis who still knows the art and science of pratyahara, pranayama, dharana, and dhyan—all those teachings you have heard of in class, but most yoga teachers do not have a clue about how to actually teach.

I am not talking abou paratyahara as sense withdrawal practice by staying away from watching too much sensationalist news on TV, see too many gratuitous violent movies, or surf the net at all odd hours of the day.

I am talking about pratyahara as part of your meditation practice, an inner technique in withdrawing the mind from the external world, so that one may enjoy the mind as it is blissfully reflected in the lake of its own inner essence.

I am talking about the process in meditation that prepares for and precedes your focusing on your breath and your mantra and your carefully chosen chakra. In other words, the process of meditation that distinguishes yogic meditation from TM meditation, for example.

That is, the process of meditation which enables the mind to withdraw the senses from the external world before you actually start meditating. In TM, you simply meditate by repeating a mantra. In yogic meditation—the way Patanjali intended but not prescribed in any detail—you prepare the mind through pratyahara before you actually commence the deeper process of meditation on your mantra, which is then synchronized with its inner meaning, its sacred sound, your breath and your chosen chakra (istha chakra).

That’s yogic meditation. That is at least one important aspect of yogic meditation. And you won’t learn that process in most yoga studios. Because most yoga studios do not teach the spiritual and meditative aspects of yoga.

Most yoga studios teach posture yoga. And the goal of posture yoga is not Enlightenment with a capital E. The goal of most posture yoga is to have better abs, a slimmer body, experience deeper relaxation and more general wellbeing.

That said, many yoga studios do teach pranayama, which is also part of the yoga of Enlightenment. However, the hatha yoga pranayama taught in most yoga studios is not intended for Enlightenment either, it is intended to energize the body and control the bodily airs, or vayus. Its main purpose is to increase wellbeing and health.

Spiritual pranayama (also termed raja yoga or rajadhirajayoga pranayma), as it was taught by Astavakra (ca. 400 BCE) and the tantric sages that preceded him, uses mantra and concentration synchronized with the breath to achieve sublime states of bliss.

It has a different goal than hatha yoga pranayama—its goal is to merge breath and mind in the ocean of Cosmic Consciouness. Its goal is not to exert mental force to control the body but rather to synchronize body and mind so that mind can merge with Spirit.

Because such techniques are not taught in most yoga studios, those yogis who seek Enlightenment, those who seek the deeper spiritual experiences of life, they go elsewhere to seek self-transformation. They become Buddhists, for example.

Yes, why is it that so many yoga students who have spiritual aspirations frequently quote teachers who hardly, if ever, spend time doing headstand and peacock posture—people like Thich Nath Hanh and the Dali Lama? Simply because you don’t need a yoga mat or a Rodney Yee yoga video to pursue the path of spirituality or to become Enlightened.

But you do need some form of spiritual practice.

Indeed, many of the great saints of yoga and Buddhism—people like Ramana Maharshi, Ananda Mai Ma, Milarepa and Marpa—they spent very little time doing yoga postures.  Instead they spent a whole lot of time meditating. An amazingly whole lot.

Milarepa locked himself in a cave for many years until he looked green from eating nothing but nettle soup. In other words, he had to do his home work before being considered the greatest yogi this side of the Buddha.

Ramana Maharshi meditated in his cave until ants started eating at his butt so fiercely that some of his disciples had to remove him and tell him he had better things to do—such as teaching others the art of spiritual Enlightenment.

However, there are other Enlightened yogic sages that took a more heart-centered approach to Enlightenment, such as poets Kabir and Mirabai. They danced and sang their way to Enlightenment, but not with any less fierceness as these other yogis. They often spent sleepless nights singing or chanting their bhakti hearts out to their chosen Beloveds, namely Rama and Krishna.

The point is, then fellow yogis, if you want more than what you got, if you desire more than what you got beneath your organic yogi pants, then meditation, either in half or full lotus, will have to become more frequently practiced than the yoga poses you have been used to doing.

Moreover, you’ll have to seek out a teacher or guru who knows how to teach you the lessons required to bring the mind beyond the body and into the realm of Spirit. Unless you just want to read your way into Enlightenment, which most yogis worthy of their sacred mantras would say is next to impossible.

Or, like so many other yogis, you can become a Buddhist. Or a Sufi. But why pick another path when yoga already has all you need? And more!

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