Teachings of Shri Mahayogi:
The Actual Process of Meditation
Testimonies from Actual Practitioners:
• What is Yoga? Part 3: Who am I?
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Teachings of Shri Mahayogi:
The Actual Process of Meditation
Translation of Satsangha
February 8, 2014
The Ashrama, Kyoto
Exactitude in the Practice of Viveka, or
Discriminative Discernment and Self-Inquiry
Nine disciples are gathered for Satsangha at the Ashrama today, with male attendees being in the majority.
“I would like to ask a question regarding meditation.” Takafumi was first to speak up. He continued by saying that until now he has been meditating on the Truth that Shri Mahayogi realized, utilizing his form or his way of being as an entry point. However, one day, while meditating upon the object, “what is existence?” he realized that the meditation he thought he had been doing had become a mere routine of just sitting for a given length of time. He expressed that he understands that the object of meditation should not change daily and that one cannot concentrate unless the object of meditation is an issue of utmost urgency, and then asked if it is still possible for the object of meditation to change naturally or spontaneously on its own.
At times they may change, but that is not the point. The point is [that your meditation is evaluated in terms of] its content, such as how close you were able to get to the core, that is, the essence, and how deeply you were able to experience unity with it. Therefore, remaining at [the level of] chasing after the object of concentration is out of the question. The object of meditation is only the gateway. So, what was the core, the substance of your meditation?
Takafumi: The substance was…(he smiles with a grin of embarrassment)…there are days when I can concentrate, and there are days when I cannot.
MASTER: No, the point is not about whether you were able to concentrate or not. The extent to which you grasped its substance or got closer to it, the extent to which you were able to experience its essence concretely, that is what is crucial in meditation. Just now you said “existence.” What did you get from meditating on it?
[In meditation,] I am still stuck in the inquiry into what existence is.
I’m not asking about that. What I am asking you is, since you are using the word “existence,” what does the word existence indicate?
If I were to use the words of the teachings, I immediately think of that which is forever unchanging, that which continues to exist; and in meditation it is still hazy, but I kind of feel it in someway.
Part III of the Yoga Sutra is called Vibhuti Pada, roughly translated as the chapter of the supernatural powers, or the chapter of the paranormal powers. In this chapter, more than thirty siddhi, which are like mysterious abilities or intuitive discriminative insights or wisdom, are explained; and also the three psychological states of concentration, meditation and samadhi are explained as the preliminary stages that precede them. One of the sutra mentions that by sanyama, which includes concentration, meditation and samadhi—referred to in one word as meditation, one can interpret the voice of any creature. Or there is a sutra [which states] that by concentrating on a word, what that word indicates is revealed. Although words are often used casually [without thorough consideration], and the mind accepts them as the concepts it has blindly formed, or it thinks that it understands [the meaning of the words], in actuality, the words and the essence of what the words indicate are entirely unable to be grasped. Let’s pick one word, for example, love. If ten people concentrate on the word “love” and meditate on it, the substance of their understanding of “love” may differ. In no way can these [understandings] be considered to be its essence since they are only ten people’s individual interpretations that are based on being filtered through the impressions of their minds’ experiences; therefore, you can say that they are not the pure essence. Be that as it may, through sanyama in Yoga, one is able to know the pure essence that is untainted by individual experience.
In this sense, even when it comes to the word “existence,” there is [this notion that] the word is commonly understood to mean something, in other words, what you just mentioned [to be the meaning of the word “existence”] is based on hearsay—something you have heard or learned as such. So first you need to think and ponder deeply upon what existence is, in your own way. Existence means “to exist.” If it “exists” and if it eventually disappears, then it will cease to exist at a point in time. Therefore, if something comes into existence or ceases to exist within time, it does not perfectly represent “existence” in the strictest sense of the word. Engaging in this kind of inquiry into all the various things in the world [will lead you to the conclusion that] matter, knowledge or the various feelings and emotions of the mind, as well as the [various] notions of cognition—none of them continue to remain constant. Furthermore, because the mind itself is subject to continuous change, sometimes the mind is dormant (as in during sleep), or it is interrupted from time to time [such as when one falls unconscious], or when one dies; so, what happens [to all of those ideas and feelings] then? When you pursue it in this way, you come to reach the conclusion that, indeed, the mind’s concept of existence is not really “existence.” Therefore, strictly speaking, “existence” becomes something that the mind cannot grasp the essence of. Yet, through Yoga, one is able to know the true Existence, or rather than knowing, one can experience that one’s own self is That.
Now, how can you experience That? Only chasing the word “existence” is meaningless. The place where true Existence resides is concealed behind the mind or within the depths of the mind. By tracing it back using the [notion of] “I”, that is, I-consciousness, as the point of entry, the false I-consciousness—that is, the ego, which is a component of the mind—disappears, and the true Existence emerges. That is why it is meaningless to concentrate and meditate on [the word] “existence.” That is something that needs to have been resolved logically through applying rigorous and thorough discrimination before aiming for meditation. So regarding the concrete method of inquiry, since “I” is consciousness itself, you ought to meditate as if you were diving into that consciousness.
Now, you just said that the external forms, the objects of your concentration, differ. The essence of this (the Master points to his physical body,) is also That, therefore there is no difference. You mentioned [concentrating upon] my way of being or something to that effect as an entryway, but instead, you need to direct your concentration to the Essence. I teach that the three objects of meditation are: inquiring into who am I?; that which is called God; and Truth; and these three are one and the same. These objects are differentiated in words [that are provided here] as a clue, but they are the same, the One without second.
As I just mentioned, to discriminate exhaustively means that you resolve [all of this] until the mind is no longer bothered or attached to anything, because once that happens, the mind has nothing to depend on—meaning that you chase the mind into such a predicament that the mind cannot even intend to meditate or contemplate what existence is. And even in that state, the I-consciousness still remains, because it is something that does not disappear easily; so [at that point], you should use it as a clue.
In Yoga, because it was influenced by Samkhya philosophy, or actually Samkhya philosophy, in turn, was a reflection of the result of the yogi’s mastery, obtained through their own experiences—it is explained that the mind is composed of three pillars. One [of them] is the same as the buddhi, the very first part of what are called the twenty-four principles, and buddhi is called mahat in relation to the macrocosm. It is the principal element in regards to cognition such as discernment and determination. And then [there is] ahamkara, or I-consciousness—the individual consciousness was born [out of buddhi], and it is through buddhi and ahamkara, that the condition of objective cognition, such as discrimination and differentiation, is established. The [last] one is manas, that is, emoting or thinking; the mind’s function of thinking or feeling one way or anther. These three are mentioned as the main factors in the activities of the mind. In addition to them, there is the faculty of memory, which functions, in a manner of speaking, like the [all-encompassing] container of the entire mind. Thanks to memory, buddhi and ahamkara can continually recall the I-consciousness without pause and store within that memory the materials [relied upon] for decision-making. This is yogic psychology or the analysis of the mind. But these are merely tools needed for us to live in this world and have nothing to do with good or bad. However, with the addition of ignorance, that is to say, if we liken it to different software installed on a computer, [these tools—buddhi, ahamkara, manas and memory] develop various desires, then, attachments, and finally karma (the cause and effect of actions). This is where good and bad are born, which leads to an increase or decrease of karma.
No matter what issues we are engaged with in discrimination, in the end, everything leads to the “I.” Until then, I suppose that it is still in the realm of thinking, but going deeper, and only when the essence is felt in actuality, only then does the transformation of the mind occur, isn’t that so?
In a broad sense, the transformation of the mind already occurred upon finding Yoga, upon beginning to practice it. And it will continue to transform as the practice of Yoga deepens.
That means that when trying to solve a particular problem through discrimination, at times thought and analysis alone may not suffice, and therefore it can only be resolved after grasping the essence, is that right?
Indeed. You must transform your mind until there is nothing left that can be transformed. Transforming it means that there are still things that are temporary existences which remain in there.
I didn’t quite get that, would you please teach me the process of discriminating on existence in the pre-meditation process one more time?
Ponder upon what exactly existence is in the strict sense, and then discriminate what the word “existence” indicates. By doing so, you will come to understand that there is nothing in this world that can be called “existence.” So then, if you ask who is thinking about it, then the answer is your own self. To be precise, it is one’s own mind. So, if it loses its meaning in this world, even the mind which thinks or ponders upon it loses the significance of its existence. But still, “I,” the individual consciousness, ought to remain.
Even if we chase the mind into a corner, in which this world is truly insignificant, the consciousness of I still remains…
It’s not that the world is insignificant. Rather, it is not “existence.”
Does it mean that it is not perfect existence?
No, regardless of perfection or imperfection, if you delve strictly into the word “existence” itself, you will conclude [that there is nothing that can be called “existence” in this world.] “The impermanence of all worldly things” and “the lack of Self in all of the world” are famous old sayings among the words of ancient Buddhism. The world is not eternal. There is no Atman here [in the world] or it is not Atman. In other words, nothing qualifies as “existence.” However, this Yoga is not a pessimistic viewpoint in any way. Falling into pessimism or nihilism is not an option at all, because they turn into one of the attachments that the mind will try to depend on, so those things need to be calmly eradicated. On the other hand, optimism is not beneficial either. In a way, whatever emotions and thoughts the mind harbors are to be completely eliminated, through right wisdom and correct discrimination. Then you subdue the mind into a state in which it is transparent and no longer fettered by anything. That is transformation.
That means that the mind must be shattered by correct wisdom, doesn’t it?
Exactly. Because the mind is truly attached to something and it is habitually grasping for that something, it’s difficult for the mind to become independent. Thinking about something indicates a relation in which the mind is leaning on something as an object, so it is very difficult to let it go, clear it out, and let the mind become independent. That is the extent of how deeply the mind is habitually conditioned. So discrimination is a very important step to create the state of independence as well.
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Meditation on the True Self and the State of Emptiness
Ms. Morioka said that she was taught in the Meditation specialty class [led by Sanatana in Kyoto and Osaka] that the true Self is Sat Chit Ananda, and it is the state within which it is as if bliss permeates the void. When she tried to meditate on that, she recalled the space within the Ashrama during Satsangha with Shri Mahayogi.
I tried to concentrate intently on Sat Chit Ananda, but I do not understand how to get closer. Please advise me on how I can try to get closer much more proactively.
Sat Chit Ananda, what you were concentrating on, goes by other names: Atman, the true Self. They are translated as: Sat, meaning existence; Chit, meaning Consciousness; Ananda, meaning Bliss. Therefore, the true Self itself is That, it is best to go deeper using the [sense of] “I” as a clue in meditation.
Does this mean that I should meditate on “That is ‘I’?”
The best way is to meditate on, “Who am I?” If you superficially say, “I am Sat Chit Ananda” [in meditation], that can be like being hypnotized, and there is a danger of getting stuck in the idea, precisely speaking. So you should put the idea [of Sat Chit Ananda] aside; Sat Chit Ananda is there without a doubt, however, the process by which to attain It, or the process for realizing It is what is important after all. Through persistent inquiry into, “who am I?” and if you really continue going deeper, then the “I” will cease, become nullified, and at that that time, the true Self emerges. It is a bit tricky, but this is a fact. So you must continue your self-inquiry with perseverance.
The emptiness you mentioned at the beginning is also a state of the mind. The condition when the mind is not attached to anything, even ideas, and not bothered by anything, is called “Empty.” When such a state of mind is established, it is as if the sense of bliss, like Ananda, wells up from within—that is more like being filled up than being empty. You will feel this sense not just in the way of filling up your tiny body, but you may truly experience the feeling of being replete with the sense of cosmic existence. Perhaps that is why there is a word, Voidness, which is often used in Buddhism to indicate the Truth. It is śūnya (shunya) in Sanskrit, literally translated as the Void in the sense of space or emptiness. I suppose that this is why this word is used to express such a state. Śūnya (Shunya) is sometimes used in the Yogic scriptures of the Middle Ages.
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Pain-Bearing Obstacles—What Does the Mind Hold onto?
Can we remain in the state of limitlessness and fearlessness by grasping the mechanisms of the mind to the point where the mind can’t help but exist within time, space and the laws of causality, then proceeding to destroy the mechanisms of the mind?
That is logically true. Basically, you just have to become empty, to make a long story short. (Everyone laughs.) Remain unattached to anything. In most cases, the mind is attached to something. Practicing meditation on death can be one way to see [your mind, for example.] If you suppose that you will die in the next moment, or you are dying and examine whether you can die happily without any regrets, or examine what regrets or attachments are left in the mind, something might come of it. It may simply be a fear of dying, or it could be the anxiety or fear of losing something you hold onto, and thus you might be able to find things that the mind is dependent on, whatever they may be. That is why it is better to concretely scrutinize [the workings of] your mind [and see the attachments]. You mentioned time, space and the laws of causality, but these are abstract. And everything operates within these laws. Rather [than doing it that way], through concretely examining your mind, you can clean it up. Then the happiness that you can hold onto in this world, since there is no doubt that everyone is seeking happiness, will be something in which you are able to recognize the reason why you feel that sense of happiness, and you will be able to identify that the mind is attached to something, whatever that may be, some object the mind might be holding onto.
The mind clings to something immediately.
That is why I think it is better to think about the Truth than about the mind, yet, discrimination needs to have been practiced seriously and properly applied.
It is a crucial practice to go through [until the very end, so that you are well-prepared]. And this will make the transformation of the mind more likely. There is no need to hold onto the Truth, because the essence is the Truth itself. It is so simple that it will be sufficient if you intuit and recognize the Truth, but you do not need to dwell on it any more than that. For example, you do not need to memorize the words from the Sacred Scriptures, and in fact it is better if you do not remember them at the moment [when you intuit the Truth, so that your intuition is pure and uninfluenced by ideas]. This is the same as the metaphor in the story of the thorn. In order to extract a painful thorn, you need something like another thorn. But if the thorn that is causing the suffering is removed, then the second one has to be discarded as well. If that [second thorn] is still left inside, then it becomes suffering…that’s the way it is.
This means that, for example, I have to find out the attachments that I might have at the time of death, then empty the mind by thoroughly and exhaustively applying discriminative discernment in order to be well-prepared beforehand. Is that right? So, after all this, who is doing all of these [things]? The ultimate conclusion is that it is the I-consciousness, so then that leads to the necessity to inquire into it…
Well, I think that the Yoga Sutra is very concise and it expounds on the teachings quite clearly. In Part II, there are parts that explain the pain-bearing obstacles and ignorance. In short, this is about the causes in the mind that create karma. Pain-bearing obstacles veil the Truth, so if those obstacles are removed, then the mind is extinguished. It is a very simple configuration: the true Seer stands alone, yet the tasks involved are very cumbersome. These obstacles are divided into five main types. I am sure you remember, [the first one is] ignorance (to Yohei), and then what comes next?
Ego-consciousness, the tendency to avoid suffering, desires for pleasures, the clinging to life.
That is not the perfect answer, but it is basically what you’ve said. As I said earlier, you might identify regrets within the mind through practicing meditation on death, and these regrets are reflections of these five [pain-bearing obstacles]. What you might be holding onto as the object of happiness, whatever it may be, is the attachment toward pleasures and the means to get them. This is one of the pain-bearing obstacles. There is one more, and that one is counter to this [last] pain-bearing obstacle, the pain-bearing obstacle of the attachment to the avoidance of hate, suffering, and that which causes them. This is attachment too. [So is] clinging to life: the attachment to the life of flesh, the attachment toward the physical existence within this world. It is said that these pain-bearing obstacles have a strong base. Meditation on death reveals how much the various pain-bearing obstacles still remain—and it brings them to the surface from the subconscious, the deep parts of samskara. At the same time, you will arrive at this conclusion—the correct understanding of death: death is not to be feared, [because] it is simply about casting off the physical body, which is not the true Self; the true Self—the Essence, is never born and never dies, it is Eternal Existence. So, in the same sense, the meditation on, “Who am I?” also brings forth these things that surround the “I”—various objects of attachment, or any of the aforementioned obstacles that are clinging to the “I.” In conclusion, practicing discriminative discernment precisely and thoroughly, for which meditation on death can be one of the important approaches, too, and thereby removing the obstacles from the mind, is essential.
Is it correct to understand that meditation on death and removing the pain-bearing obstacles that I am attached to and loving God are the same?
Yes, it is. Since emptying the mind, put in another way, means to open up one’s mind and surrender to God, and to become one with that which is Divine, it is the same.
That means that I must try to complete what I am able to complete using the intellect.
It sounds strange to tell you to finish it quickly, but the parts you can finish by intellectual examination, you should do so, and in order to remove your obstacles thoroughly, you must practice intense meditation and, consequently, establish the state where obstacles do not exist and you are not caught up with them any longer. In the teachings of Bhakti Yoga (Devotion to God) by Ramakrishna, he always said that, above all else discriminative discernment and renunciation are absolutely necessary. No matter how one may want to advance solely in bhakti, if there are obstacles still remaining in the mind, one cannot make any progress. They are like two wheels on a car so to speak. If one wheel spins, the car will just go in circles unless the other wheel also moves. In order to move forward, both wheels need to spin. Therefore, discriminative discernment [on one side] and bhakti on the other side can be practiced simultaneously.
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Go Close to the Essence
We have heard that when Shri Mahayogi meditated on the Buddha, the word Buddha was the clue that was used. Some time ago, when you were teaching us about meditation, you told us that it would be good for us to ponder upon, for example, the feeling of when Buddha left the castle, and to get closer to the Buddha like that. In the case of Shri Mahayogi, the mind is not stirred by worldly things, so Shri Mahayogi can go to the essence directly, but in our cases, especially at the beginning, I feel that we cannot go beyond our imaginary realm.
Is that so? I think you can. Surely, there must have been a motivation for him to leave the castle and renounce the world, according to the legend. So, what prompted him was that he was a prince living in abundance and comfort, yet he could not find happiness in that. Rather, he perceived that these things would turn into suffering and pain some day—that everything changes and there is no substance in them. He perceived that all the wealth, lifestyle, and luxury he had could not bring happiness in the true sense [of the word]. Rather, when he saw the pristine, sacred appearance of a holy being in whom, despite living in honorable poverty, he perceived the presence of true happiness, he decided to realize it himself. That was simply it, he aimed for Enlightenment. Because of that, he was able to complete discriminative discernment on everything else right at the same time. So he left the castle.
To decipher, feel and intuit these things from the legend of Buddha like this—what you extract from it—that is the essence. Then, he renounced the world. It is said that although he lived a life of austerity, he could not attain complete Enlightenment by doing that, and that by entering into the state of meditation, he realized the Truth. So [it is crucial to inquire exhaustively into] what he realized. That is the core of Enlightenment. That is the essence. Tracing back his form is only a clue. What exists there is that Essence. That’s why I say that you must meditate on that. In order to perceive the essence, you can contemplate on knowing or feeling his form, how his appearance was, how he walked, spoke, ate, slept, and how he was, and you can get close to all of those things in meditation.
It means that through the form of a sacred being, I should get into his or her mental state, and enter into [his or her] essence through the mind. Does it not?
Yes, it does. The mental psychology is useful only to a certain level. At the point of his renunciation [of the world], he no longer had any psychological states and was empty. This is because, in the case of Buddha, following [his renunciation,] his essence was in Truth [and he no longer dwelled in the mind].
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Think that You are Already Dead
Some time ago, I sensed the feeling of Buddha when he was meditating sitting under the Bodhi tree, so I reported it to Shri Mahayogi. Then Shri Mahayogi told me that that is the beginning of the meditation on death. Even now, I still have the strong drive to eliminate or end the life of the mind. Is it possible to continue meditation on death during daily life while performing daily actions by staking my life on them, or by performing actions with the feeling that I am sacrificing my life for the person in front of me?
No, that is a difficult [thing to do]. Since this life is composed of actions and deeds in this world, life is the opposite of death; therefore, if you continue to practice meditation on death in this world, you will get somewhat confused. Meditation on death should be practiced in solitude, in other words, it is easier to do it in that way. Instead of meditation on death, you may be able to practice performing day-to-day actions beyond death. For example, you will be able to deal with difficult situations or you will be able to deal with things in challenging times by thinking that you are already dead.
So it is not about perceiving the essence of death…
That is actually a different matter.
Instead, I should perform my tasks while thinking that I am dead already…
It means transforming the mind in an instant. Thinking that you are already dead truly has the powerful potential to transform the mind. Though this might not be possible to do unless enormous pressure is applied to the mind, at times, various situations in work and life present that pressure. The mind may think something is utterly impossible, or situations can occur where the mind simply goes into denial, but in order to make the mind think that it must perform the task by itself, it has to feel that it is already dead. Thinking that you are already dead means you become a different person, so if you at once abandon the personality that you yourself do not like, or the characteristics of your mind itself, and you tackle the situation as if you were reborn, renewed and in an immaculate state, and all the while thinking that you are dead, you can do anything. The point is the way in which you shift [the attitude of] the mind, [an action] which is not completely unrelated to death. You ought to at least be able to practice that in daily life.
It means completely ignoring all thoughts or ideas. Does it not?
But still, the mind naturally has the power to make thoughts attach to it.
Practice must be thorough to the point that nothing can attach to the mind. That is why it really is like you died once and then came back to life again. Through exhaustive practice, if you can shift your mind absolutely, or make your mind transform that much, then you can do anything.
Does it mean that no matter what actions one performs, no thought arises in the mind?
If the unshakeable mind or unwavering mind is already established, it is good. What I was talking about now was that [until you establish the mind in these states], the mind can get shaken up sometimes. There may come a time when you feel like running away due to some overwhelming pressure. I was only talking a little about the attitude of the mind when such extreme situations arise. However, if the unshakeable mind is already established, issues [like that] no longer occur. And that is really the best way. It is truly best to already be prepared beforehand. That is why it is really good to practice the discipline of Yoga daily and empty the mind, being free of attachments, and to already have the state where you can deal with anything, whatever may come. If not, truly, all of your daily life might be flustered.
I suppose that acting from the thought that I am already dead is scary because nothing is predictable. Isn’t there a fear like that?
Not at all. Rather, it is the state of non-fear, where there is no fear of anything. You should practice being empty at all times so that there is not even an inkling of anxiety or worry, regardless of what shows up or what happens.
I have heard that practitioners must receive the gaze of the guru (Master). Does the guru’s gaze become a clue in meditation as well?
Rather than a clue, it confers indisputable guidance and blessing, and through that guidance, strength is also transmitted.
(Questions and answers continues very actively. When it reaches a point where there are no more questions, silence ensues naturally.)
In the end, Shri Mahayogi asks them to apply themselves to what they have learned today and strive harder and further, saying, “Today there were very concrete teachings to apply.”
We must verify the way toward meditation revealed by the Master on our own—through diving into the depths of the mind, until we get the true answer that we seek.
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Testimonies from Actual Practitioners:
What is Yoga?1 Part 3: Who am I?
Translation from article by Norio Shimada2
Kyoto, Japan November 2014
At the end of the previous article, I wrote about my turning point from the path of karma to the path of Yoga—religious awakening. These intense experiences, which cause one’s values and ways of thinking to be dramatically transformed, occur when one sees through the mechanism that is responsible for the creation of karma, and when religious awakening arises, prompting one to vow to convert the course of one’s life entirely to walking the path of Yoga, which brings about strong feelings of conviction akin to those of being awakened or reborn.
When one begins to walk on the path of Yoga with this strong religious awakening, the first opponent that one has to battle is the mind. And it is quite a formidable enemy. Most of the time you dedicate to practicing Yoga will be spent on battling this obstinate mind.
In this article, we will each come face to face with our own minds. It may be somewhat complicated and confusing, but bear with me as you observe your own minds with the utmost care.
First, let’s think about the existence referred to as “I,” which I will now explain. What really is this “I”? Some of you may like this kind of philosophical inquiry, and some of you may get a headache as soon as you encounter it. Whether or not philosophical inquiry has any use in daily life, this is something we can all consider.
In the first place and in its essence, what is this “I” that is constantly pursuing happiness or finding itself at the mercy of impermanence and the law of karma? Is it the mind that thinks of “I”? Or is it the body?
I think that, generally, the “I” is somewhat perceived as a synthesis of mind and body, and that we feel that the “I” goes through various experiences and activities. However, when one begins to learn Yoga, the first teaching that is encountered is that the “I” is neither the body nor the mind.
So then, what is this “I” really?
In order to begin confronting the mind and controlling it, one [must] start by making an attempt to understand this teaching: that the existence, “I,” is neither the body nor the mind, it is “something” beyond them both.
The mind is not myself!
To acknowledge this fact may perhaps be shocking and unacceptable to many.
“I am a woman.” “I am a father.” “I am Japanese.” “I am the president of a corporation,” etc. etc. These concepts that define “I” are like ID numbers that categorize one’s physical characteristics or the characteristics that come from experiences within a given environment. Seven billion human beings all have this first person ego [referred to as] “I” and, in fact, each and every one of them is an individual, one-of-a-kind existence.
At the same time, we all distinguish the rest of the 6.99…billion others as “you” or “he” or “she.”
I remember when I was a small child, I wondered whether I was the only one who had the thought of “I,” and I wondered about that man walking over there, or that young woman riding the bus…do they also have the feeling of “I” and think various thoughts and perceive other people? I vaguely felt as though all the people around me were like extras in a movie. The subject of an individual physical body is “I,” but Yoga presupposes that the true “Self,” which is not the “I” that acts as the subject of our material, experiential existence, exists as the essence.
What is meant by non-material existence in Yoga is the eternal Existence.
It is not too difficult to discern that the mind and the body, which are physical substances, are not the “I.”
Let’s examine each and everything that we might think of as the “I.”
First of all, how about your flesh, your physical body? There is a big difference between the body of a newborn that’s rapidly growing and an adult body. Since they are ever-changing, it may be difficult for someone who knew me as a child to recognize this “I” if we meet again after decades of not seeing each other. Also, gender, family and societal roles, situations and status are physical and social characteristics and they also change; therefore, it is rather precarious and too short-sighted to define “I” based on them.
So, what about the mind, which will most likely be the first thing to be considered [as the “I”]?
The mind is an accumulation of thoughts. Various impressions you received from past environments and experiences become tendencies of the mind and are etched deeply into memory. These subliminal, residual impressions within the mind are called “samskara.”
Because people have different environments and experiences, their samskara vary, and thus the creation of various types of minds follows—just as ten people have ten different colors. Going further back, it is said that samskara passed on from past lives influence the individual’s tendencies of mind, resulting in the current physical and psychological temperaments. This accumulation of the mind’s memories influences the sum total of our personality and characteristics, including such traits as timidity or boldness, nervousness or insensitivity.
People live their daily lives by responding with feelings of liking, disliking, fearing and so on, as a result of recognizing the information perceived by the sensory organs—such as the eyes, ears or nose—through the mind’s colored lenses, samskara. What is generally referred to as personality, or an individual’s characteristic tendencies, indicates one’s disposition, and the subject that thinks of itself and recognizes itself through that state of mind with personal tendencies is called the “ego”. This means that it is through the ego that we interpret the world’s phenomena in our own way. There are thoughts that feel comfortable and advantageous to the ego, and, on the other hand, there are thoughts that occur that are painful and unbearable. These diametrically opposed impressions in particular end up strongly etched into memory and become powerful samskara. And then, whether good or bad, every time one encounters an experience similar to that one which created the original samskara, that samskara grows bigger and more powerful. Indeed, such monstrous existences are bred within the mind.
Please recall what we learned earlier about [the truth of] impermanence, and remember the rule of, “As you sow, so you shall reap,” and the law of karma. The ignorance of seeing that which is impermanent and ever-changing as permanent, and then becoming attached to it, and the ignorance of the mechanism of karma, that is, that all selfish actions will eventually come back to oneself, these two types of ignorance are the causes that give birth to this monster and nurture it into a giant, and that is quite clear!
If this complicated, changeable ego happens to be the “I,” then we can easily imagine that the existence of “I” is very unstable and changes rapidly. The ego is the idea of self-consciousness (the thought of me and I) and it is not the “I” of Pure Consciousness. It can be neither universal nor eternal. Upon delving into yourself for less than five minutes, you could discern that the universal, eternal “I” which is described in Yoga is neither the body nor the mind.
Be that as it may, what is crucial is to internalize this in the mind and remember this continuously. Because even if we think we understand this, if our understanding is intellectual, superficial or if we do not go through this process [of internalizing it] and then stick to it, without realizing it, we quite often tend to revert to the incorrect thinking that the ego is the “Self.”
The universal, eternal existence in Yoga is “That,” and there is nothing other than “That.” It is without beginning or end—The One and Only Existence.
The “Self” is the same as that which is referred to as the Pure Consciousness (Purusha), and it is that which is referred to as the true Self (Atman). Atman is the origin of all thought. Only the true Self (Atman) has consciousness. We are deluded into thinking that the mind has consciousness, but the fact is simply that by attaching our experiences to the ego, we mistakenly think as if the ego has consciousness. What we think is the “I” in our daily lives is nothing more than a conglomeration of thoughts; and it is without any substance, like a mirage. It is a fictitious “I” that constantly changes in a whirl, depending on unstable factors such as physical condition, date, time, location, and preferences.
Truth, true Self, Pure Consciousness, God: these words all indicate the same thing. The Truth is only one, it never changes and will never cease to exist. That, indeed, is the “True Self” that Yoga teaches.
The yardstick that practitioners of Yoga use as a measure by which to practice discernment is this Truth. It is the grand basis of all decisions. If the internalization of this fact is not sufficient, or if one’s understanding is unstable or shifts slightly, no matter how much one practices Yoga, the practice along with the practitioner’s state in Yoga does not deepen. From now on, when you make a mistake or when you get lost, you definitely need to return to this foundation.
For example, one may gain strength through Yoga, such that the mind seems light or strong, more resilient, one’s work goes smoothly, or one becomes invincible against rivals. However, these abilities are merely the pursuit of ease and comfort for oneself within society. When this is happening, the subject, or the self, is not the true “Self” but the ego. It is shallow-minded and wasteful to use the powers gained through Yoga only to get ahead in life. First of all, that is not even close to the original purpose of Yoga. It is beyond the state where the ego possesses all these worries that the true “Self” exists. To realize this “True Self,” the Truth, is the original purpose of Yoga.
Now, where is this “True I” or the “True Self”? How can we find it? It is said that this existence is the one that we have felt, the one that always seems to be exerting the first person “I” from deep within the mind; the Pure Consciousness (Purusha). It is the existence that simply sees the ego, the “I.” It is That which sees; it is the true Self (Atman). To realize what is inherently within oneself, or rather, to realize oneself as the true Self, Truth, Pure Consciousness, or God in a literal sense, is called Liberation—it is one of the destinations or goals of yogi and yogini.
After this realization, how will one see and feel things, and how will this world be compared to the way it was perceived before? It must be something vast and magnificent [beyond the mind] that words fall short of describing. Will everything become clear, just as if we were to awaken from a dream and realize that we have been asleep?
I want to know! No matter what, I want to feel this.
We might say that the history of Yoga is the history of this continuous inquiry. The method by which to find that answer lies in controlling the mind.
“Yoga is the restraint of the activity of the mind.”
Yoga, at times, starkly and boldly explains the workings of the human mind and body as if it were an owner’s manual.
The Yoga Sutra, a sacred scripture of Yoga, clearly states, as it indicates in this sutra, that if one can control and restrain the mind’s activity completely, one can find the “True Self” within.
In order to subjugate this monster called the mind, which is cunning and lacks substance, Yoga, instead of abruptly waging an all-out war against the mind, begins by strategically attacking the breath, which is closely related to the mind’s state. This includes the autonomic nervous system, which governs automatic breathing: the more one’s state is excited or anxious, with higher body heat, the more one’s breath is irregular and quick. And most of the time when this happens the mind is also agitated. Yoga practitioners noticed this weak point of the enemy (the mind).
As one breathes deeper, longer and slower, the mind follows suit and settles down. It is said that when the breath is controlled and the mind’s activity is restrained, just as when the surface of a lake without waves becomes calm like a mirror and the perfect moon becomes reflected on the surface of the lake, the Pure Consciousness, which is the “True Self,” emerges.
Perhaps you will then say, “So all I have to do is breathe slowly?” But the mind will not truly quiet down with deep breathing alone. Let’s sit down quietly with our eyes closed. Within five minutes, the mind begins to stir and our concentration does not last. The body shakes, the nose itches, and before you know it, you may have fallen asleep.
In order to change the habits and depth of breathing and to be able to maintain a still and tranquil state of mind, let us start from the physical discipline so that we can build it up.
In the next issue, we will finally move into the physical practice that you are familiar with.
Click here to read What is Yoga? Part 1. Click here to read What is Yoga? Part 2.
2 Mr. Shimada is a devoted disciple of Shri Mahayogi in Japan who has practiced with MYM since 2010. He is a single father to a teenage son and works a full-time job.
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