Teachings of Shri Mahayogi
Satsangha, New York, February 2020
• The Atman of Yoga and the Nirvana of Buddha
• Purity of the Mind
• Learning Love
• The Role or Importance of Satsangha
• The Use of Sexual Energy: Tejas and Ojas
• The More Deepened Your Spiritual State Becomes,
the More Smooth Your Relationships Will Become
• Practice in Difficult Times
• Using the Teachings of Yoga in Accordance with the Phases of Life
• Even with a Thick Veil,
With an Opening the Size of the Eye of a Needle,
The Light Will Surely Shine Through
Testimonies from Actual Practitioners
* * * * * * * * * *
Teachings of Shri Mahayogi
Translation of Satsangha
Saturday February 29, 2020, 3 p.m. The Still Mind Zendo, NY
Shri Mahayogi has been in New York for the past three months and will be leaving to return to Japan early the next morning, a few days earlier than expected, as the world health situation has begun to change rapidly and unpredictably. Since the Sadhana Program with Shri Mahayogi has been cancelled, originally scheduled for the next day, this is the very last opportunity to gather together with Shri Mahayogi during this visit. A number of attendees have arrived unexpectedly, perhaps recognizing the importance of this moment, and the space is filling with the familiar faces of both newer and older attendees.
The Atman of Yoga and the Nirvana of Buddha
(Chris, who has been studying Buddhism, is in attendance after some time of absence. He has noticed a difference between Buddhism and Yoga in the way of understanding the existence of the Self and begins the Satsangha by asking Shri Mahayogi to help clarify this difference.)
Chris: Shri Mahayogi, in the past I believe that you have referred to the “true Self.” And one of the Buddha’s teachings is “no-Self.” So, my question is, is this a difference in terminology or are these different teachings?
MASTER: It is true that what Hinduism and Buddhism say about this is completely different. In order to understand it correctly, you need to understand the historical situation of the time in which these teachings were taught.
Around 2,500 years ago, spiritual paths or religious practices were very active in India. Further back, one thousand or two thousand years before that time, the rituals, which were sacrificial rituals performed by brahmin, were the main practice. And, on the other hand, there were also ascetic practices, which you can see being practiced in India even to this day; for example, the practice of standing on one leg for one’s entire life, the practice of burying the entire body beneath the ground except for the head—well at that time many very severe practices that tortured the body were very popular.
What you can say is common between these two methods is the desire to receive the fruits of these actions and efforts in the great beyond or in the next life, whether it be rituals or ascetic practices—in other words, the desire to receive a happy life in the next life. However, there have been no reports from anyone who went to Heaven after ending this life, (some laugh) nor have there been any reports from anyone from Hell. However much they practiced rituals or asceticism, they could not find out what happened to the soul after death. In the midst of this time when these religious disciplines or rituals were vigorously practiced, the Yogi and Buddha appeared. [The question was whether all these religious practices until then were ever beneficial or not? And on the other hand, the brahmin also actively said that “Only Atman is the Truth,”—Atman meaning the true Self—even so, none of them had had the direct experience of it, they were merely saying the words from the scriptures. The Yogi deeply thought it over, contemplating whether these practices were truly effective or not, and then entered into meditation.
Then, the Truth that they found was: depending on one’s own actions one can become good or bad, meaning that Heaven and Hell depend on the actions of the person—in other words, the Law of Karma. That was the Truth that they discovered then, and at the same time, they discovered the cause that creates karma and the wisdom to eliminate it. The cause of karma is attachment to desires, and its root cause is ignorance, not knowing the Truth. And then, they taught the way to practice in order to eliminate the ignorance itself: to study the Truth and to improve one’s own actions. In other words, this means eliminating ego, which is ignorance. They say that by seriously practicing these teachings, one will definitely be able to realize the Truth. The Truth is the true Self, which is Atman—it is the Immortal Existence. And, because the Existence recognizes its own existence, it is also the Pure Consciousness. Actually, there is neither name for this Existence nor form. If you accept the need to express It, Atman or Brahman are the words that indicate It. Well, the word God can be added as well.
Buddha was quite careful when he was preaching this teaching. That is because if you accept using the word Atman, the mind is affected by it. Therefore, he taught that in order to realize It truly, one must realize and be in that state, therefore you must discipline yourself to practice [in order to reach it]. He pointed out that the state of Satori is Nirvana; it is the state in which ego has been eliminated, the state in which the mind is as if it is empty—and at the same time, it indicates the state of realizing the Truth. However, to prevent the mind from getting brainwashed, he purposefully neither accepted or denied the Atman. But, [he emphasized the need to] carry on the disciplines of practice earnestly and steadfastly, and by doing that you yourself will come to realize It.
Yoga also takes the same stance as that of Buddha. In the Yoga Sutra, “Yoga is to completely restrain the activity of the mind.” “Then, the Seer remains in Its natural State.” “In all other cases, it seems as if the Seer is being involved in the mind.” This expression of the Seer is very psychological, and at the same time scientific. The Consciousness, or the Pure Consciousness actually means Atman; it is the Consciousness that is truly seeing or witnessing the mind. The mind is the seen, just like we’re seeing this body. (smiling)
Therefore, to answer your question, that teaching of Yoga, that teaching of Buddha, or the state of Satori, and the True Existence are one without a second, there is no contradiction between them. (smiling)
Sadhya: When Shri Mahayogi said that when the mind accepts the word Atman, the mind is affected by that—what does Shri Mahayogi mean?
MASTER: According to the psychology of Yoga, the mind has three pillars. They are intellect, ego-consciousness, and ideas. Now, the danger can be that by [being introduced to] that word, [Atman,] the intellect or the mind takes in the idea and works with it. Then, as one deepens one’s meditation, it becomes very tricky to know whether that which you may think you intuit is truly coming directly from the Truth or whether it is only the idea coming from a memory in the mind. Therefore, there is no need to overload the mind with so much information. Rather, intuition, or I should rather say your sense of “Yes!”—such power of intuition is what is correct.
Meditation is, at first, thinking and concentrating using ideas. Then, the mind enters more and more into the objects of concentration. And, in the further state, or in its ultimate state, you will experience something that is as if the mind melts into or becomes One with that object of concentration—that is called samadhi. At that time, the essence of that object is grasped. And as you are coming back from meditation, an impression of the true Wisdom of that intuition is left in the mind. This correct knowledge—this true Wisdom—has the power to destroy ignorance. Meditation can provide various other powers.
In any case, [using] mere words, or intellectual knowledge is like when in order to remove a thorn, you bring another thorn to use to get rid of it, so to speak. Once the first thorn that gave you the pain is removed, then you don’t need the second tool, which is thorn-like, either. Satori is not intellectual knowledge at all. It is truly simple Existence itself. (smiling) We Exist, or “I am”—truly that is it. (smiling) You may be able to recall the words from the Bible, “I am That I am.” Therefore, Atman and Brahman are merely maps. But you know what, once you can find the wisdom and the method to get to the goal, you don’t need a map, as long as you have a guide.
Sadhya: Regarding that intuition, can we have that intuition even from a momentary samadhi?
MASTER: (immediately) It’s possible.
Sadhya: So that true intuition only happens through [samadhi]?
MASTER: In the middle ages in Japan, there was a monk named Hakuin. This Zen practitioner said thus: one reaches the big Satori by going through and accumulating the experiences of many small and medium satori. Therefore, if you have a small recognition you can recognize it as a small satori even if it is momentary. Eventually these accumulations will reach to the all-encompassing big and complete Satori (smiling).
Sadhya: And these may happen even we are not in seated meditation but any time throughout the day, even in our daily activities.
MASTER: Exactly. Indeed, truly anytime, anywhere, (smiling) regardless of postures or positions, it happens. What is important is having eliminated the intentions, the attachments of the mind, and always keeping the mind light and empty. Indeed, that is the most important thing (smiling).
Sadhya: Thank you Shri Mahayogi. (bowing)
Karuna: My question has to do with purity. I recently asked you about how one prepares the mind for meditation, and Shri Mahayogi mentioned that we must become qualified in order to be loved by God. This also means that we are thinking about coming close to that which is purest. So, if the mind is not fully pure, how can we discriminate what is pure and impure? If the mind is not pure, how can we distinguish the mind itself as being pure or impure? And relating that to the topic we are talking about, when one is looking for the object of meditation, how does one make sure of its purity so that that meditation can be very, very pure?
MASTER: By learning the Truth, and then by applying the teaching of the Truth into action, you will come to discern [between them, even if the mind is not yet pure].
True Existence already exists naturally within your heart. Even so, if you haven’t realized that then that means that something is covering it up. Those are the various activities of the mind. Discrimination is the task of removing all the junk in the mind completely.
Karuna: Are yama and niyama the tool?
MASTER: Of course, that is so.
(Ross raises his hand. Originally he saw a flyer about Shri Mahayogi and attended the Satsangha in early February for the first time. He expressed that after the Satsangha that day, he was very moved by Shri Mahayogi. He came again today to the Satsangha for the second time and his face is bright and shining.)
Ross: Shri Mahayogi, when I met you a few weeks ago, you advised me to clean up my negative emotions. It’s only been a short time but I thought of you often, and I feel lighter…and I am lighter. It’s a wonderful feeling, please tell me more. (laughter from all)
MASTER: (With a full smile) I am so pleased to hear such words. (smiling)
Well, then from now on, meditate more and more, proactively. When you do that, it will be good that you study a bit of the Truth, and then think on that. By practicing this way, you will become more and more light and more empty.
Ekanta: I read in Pranavadipa where Shri Mahayogi is talking about Buddha and the teaching to a young woman. It was about death—the fact that we cannot avoid that. And then Shri Mahayogi goes on to say that the teaching of what Buddha spoke was actually nothing extraordinary, and rather it was actually an obvious thing, a very practical thing. When I read that I was a little shocked (shyly smiling) to hear that Buddha actually didn’t teach anything extraordinary, but just obvious things. Shri Mahayogi goes on to say, we actually don’t understand the teaching of Buddha because we are delusional. So, then I thought of the teaching that Shri Mahayogi gives us that we are not the mind and we are not the body, but we are the Pure Consciousness—and that we are actually witnessing the mind and the body. And I think that this is also not an exceptional teaching, but rather an obvious fact. So, my question is, why are we so quick to accept some obvious things like that we will burn ourselves in a fire or that we should not cross in front of a car, but on the other hand, the mind has such a hard time embracing other obvious things like the fact that we are going to die or the Truth that we are not the mind or body?
MASTER: That is the cause of ignorance. However, once you realize it, then ignorance is removed. (smiling) To make the mind never be affected by ignorance again and to maintain the pure mind is important. If you discipline yourself this way, then the mind will do what must to be done without being selfish, and will perform right actions.
Ekanta: Thank you. (bowing)
Cheng Ying: Shri Mahayogi, I have two questions. One deals with love, and the other deals with compassion.
When I say love, I understand the importance of removing all our attachments. So nowadays, I only eat vegetables and I don’t even sleep on a bed anymore and I feel pure calmness. But, the love between man and woman, to be precise—I feel like I am totally ok to get rid of all my attachments—but I can say my last major concern is regarding love [in this sense] because I even used to write romance and love stories. So, my concern is, when we reach the final status of Satori, will we just become this pure Bliss, like a numbing pure Bliss? Should we stop thinking positively about dating with guys…because it’s bad? Should we prepare ourselves for that? So, the first part of this is a very practical question.
The second part has to do with compassion. I want to know the true, ultimate purpose behind why we need to have compassion. When I do meditation on compassion, I feel all the blockages inside of me disappear, because my heart is full of love for everybody else. When I feel compassion, love for other people, automatically whatever negativities I have, like frustration, are just gone. But I wonder if that’s the true purpose, whether there’s other bigger reasons behind this compassion.
So, my first question is, is romantic love bad?
MASTER: Really, to love people is such a wonderful and beautiful thing. (smiling)
In India, there are several stories about the creation of the universe, and one of them is: before the beginning of the universe, there was only the Existence of the Truth, True Existence. He, in order to enjoy more, and in order to taste the Bliss more, divided himself into two; there men and women were born, and further from there, many animals, plants, and different living beings came to be born. If you understand this mythology, it expresses that all living things are the manifestation of that True Existence. And, the reason for all living things being born is simply to enjoy. Well, it could be love, or it could be compassion. Just that, here there is neither suffering nor sadness.
So then, from where does the suffering arise in the course of romantic love? The result of suffering comes from the differences in the two people’s minds; they clash and quarrel, and the result is suffering. If both of them keep taking actions for the sake of the partner’s happiness, such arguments cannot occur. Yet if you look around the world, in almost 100% of the cases, romantic love is a temporary heightening of emotions. That is because there is selfishness, that is, ignorance, at work—“me,” “mine,” “I want it to go my way.” As mentioned earlier, this is separate from the development from the Existence of the Truth. Therefore, if you can eliminate ignorance, and only devote love for the sake of others, for the sake of the happiness of the other person, then that love will surely become true Love.
Cheng Ying: So, is it correct to say, romantic love is an illusion and we better be through with it as soon as possible for our own benefit?
MASTER: Yes. The beginning of romantic love is still just a small love. Yet it might be part of a process of learning about true Love. True Love is also Compassion, since you dedicate yourself not to the benefit of your own self, but to the other’s happiness.
Cheng Ying: Okay… But should people even get married? Or should we just try to practice Yoga and meditate by ourselves? If we don’t have to, should we try not to get married or involved with the other sex?
MASTER: Strictly speaking, precisely so. (laugher from all)
Chang Ying: Thank you very much! (everyone bursts into laughter) I can do that! (all continue to laugh heartily)
MASTER: Do you know why we are born? People are born to reap karma from past lives. The content of this karma is very different between people. Some might have had enough with romantic love or marriage in their past life, and choose to walk only on the spiritual path in this lifetime. However, in most cases, people fall in love first of all, get married, and perhaps fail. Well, that too can be understood as an occurrence that is on the way to reaching perfection. At least, all of you who are listening to me speaking here today, must have been born after having already gone through spiritually excelled levels.
Cheng Ying: Thank you very much.
Chris: So, with all of this in mind, about relationships, is there a particular function or purpose to relationships of any kind on the path to Awakening, both with the sangha and also universally?
MASTER: Yes, through experience, one is cultivating the power of intuition to see what is not the Truth and that which is seeking the Truth.
Ross: Shri Mahayogi, how do you see the role or importance of Satsangha like this?
MASTER: Literally it is translated as “the gathering of the Truth.” Concretely, to be blessed with the teaching from the Guru. And through that, one is given the blessing and spiritual inspiration. This is far beyond gigantic when compared to studying and practicing the disciplines alone.
Sadhya: Now that we are all very inspired to live a life without marriage, I have a question about sexual energy and using that strong energy for the purpose of Awakening. And Shri Mahayogi has taught that this is the strongest energy that we have and that it is to be used for Satori. My question is that, as one retains that sexual energy, and it is directed upwards, does that happen intentionally or naturally.
MASTER: If one continues to both study and to apply the teachings of Truth in action, it will occur naturally. For example, if one practices yama and niyama, asana and meditation firmly and daily, then the mind and the body will come to be very purified. After ten years, one will become such that one can’t even touch other people’s bodies, quite naturally. At the same time, one will be completely indifferent to one’s own body. That is a siddhi as a manifestation of the result of the teachings in niyama, namely, being pure, as well as what is called tapas. Well, when the word siddhi is used, it may sound and feel like a kind of superpower, yet it’s quite a natural thing and it is a natural power.
Sadhya: It is also said that this energy turns into ojas and tejas.
MASTER: Yes. That is so.
Sadhya: I am wondering…I don’t know much about it…could Shri Mahayogi tell us what is the result of that? What does that even mean?
MASTER: Ojas indicates the content of a more pure form of prana. Tejas indicates the content that is even more subtle, like light, so to speak. Therefore, you can consider that the body of yogi and yogini have been transformed as such, and that you can say that for both the body and the mind. You can imagine that as one advances in this way, then how subtle, deep and real one’s concentration and meditation in this condition can be.
Imani: I have a question pertaining to personal relationships. How do you break unhealthy attachments with others and purify these relationships, if that’s possible, because you can purify yourself but how do you do that in challenging situations with people you are in contact with…?
MASTER: In Japanese, there is a saying to “[generally] associate with others lightly.” “Light” in this sense doesn’t mean the way of associating too closely, but rather it’s the opposite, a simple, dry relationship. Through this, a sort of boundary is created, so that you don’t step into the other person’s mind, and neither is your mind stepped into by the other person. I think that that is the most skillful way to associate in public.
Imani: What about…either mending relationships or clearing out karmic relationships…in order to create a better flow between two people?
MASTER: That too can be the same way of associating that I just mentioned. And, I am sure that the more deepened your spiritual state becomes, the more smooth your relationships will become.
Dimitris: What is happening in the world, like with this virus and the environment and…what are your thoughts? It seems that we are going through difficult times.
MASTER: Well, that is how the world is. I think that it has been so in every age. Therefore, there is no need to become excessively pessimistic. If you throw a stone into the lake, waves arise. However, in time the waves subside gradually and the lake becomes calm again. The world, and the mind too, is the same, it is always changing without pause. What’s important is to accept its nature and discipline yourself to not be ruffled by it.
(Silence ensues for some time.)
Prapatti: I have had it suggested to me to focus on an ideal in my life or to find my ideal. But other than my passion for all the practices of Yoga, I don’t know how to choose. So, I am not sure if I need to concentrate on something or dedicate my life to something. When I think about what I want to dedicate my life to, the question that comes to me is “What is life anyway?” And so then I am led to meditate on life and death. But I cannot find another way, so I don’t know if I should do that. For example, should I focus intensely on karma yoga, specifically while I practice asana and meditation, and always focus on karma yoga as much as I can, for example? Is that suitable for me…or I don’t know what I should think about. Shri Mahayogi teaches us [the importance of finding out] about the ideal and how to be…maybe other people may have the same question.
MASTER: (immediately) First, the purpose of life is to realize the Truth. And [next,] you should not attach to the things that are not the Truth. Now, in Yoga there are various teachings, and you can take different actions according to specific phases. There are yoga that stabilize your own mind to realize the Truth—that could be jnana yoga or raja yoga, and there is bhakti yoga also. Karma yoga on the other hand, is always practiced towards others within society or the world. Everyone should have internal and external ways of daily life. Therefore, you can use the types of yoga that are appropriate to each phase of life accordingly, in a well-balanced way.
Prapatti: And Shri Mahayogi said to strengthen the mind from the last Satsangha too. Is there an appropriate practice that I can do other than asana and meditation, whenever I can do it?
MASTER: This too is to tell your own mind the teachings of the Truth firmly. Educate the mind. [Because] the Truth is truly powerful.
Prapatti: I have found that sometimes it becomes an obsession. (smiling)
MASTER: Well, actually you can rather progress faster if it becomes pathological to such a degree. (everyone bursts into laughter) Long ago, a holy man said thus: “The world is full of mad men. I am also mad. But my madness is a little better than yours, (some laugh) because I am only thinking about God.”
Taraka: Thank you Shri Mahayogi. The Yoga Sutra uses the term “viveka,” which translates into “to discriminate things.” Could you explain what discrimination is, and how one practices discrimination?
MASTER: When you observe the mind, there is knowledge and there are ideas that are influenced by various words that have adhered to the mind. Everyone believes that one’s own mind is correct. However, you must validate whether these are correct or not while viewing them from the teaching of the Truth. And then, think and contemplate on this. In time, this becomes concentration, and then that becomes meditation, and then eventually it becomes samadhi, in which you will come to grasp the essence of that object. By doing this, whether the words and ideas that are held by your own [mind] have an eternal nature, a universal nature, or Truth, will be checked and verified. This series of processes that I just explained now is called viveka. Viveka means discrimination. If you practice with the content that I just mentioned, then the wisdom and the power that you gain from this discrimination have absolute power. As its result, incorrect thoughts, and ideas are destroyed and disappear.
Taraka: Thank you, Shri Mahayogi.
Even with a Thick Veil,
With an Opening the Size of the Eye of a Needle,
The Light Will Surely Shine Through
Aniruddha: I have been trying to figure out how to ask something. But I figure that I will try to explain the situation.
There was a dream I had last night, in which I was speaking to someone, and this person has a very strong Christian belief. And Shri Mahayogi was there. And Shri Mahayogi explained something. I was speaking to this individual about the Truth. And as Shri Mahayogi was trying to lift the veil for this person to get a clue of the Truth, he said “This veil is thick and strong, it does not allow the Truth to come in.”
So, my question then is, how does one come to break down that veil so that one can see the Truth?
MASTER: (after some silence) Well, there are various people in the world, and that indicates that there are various karma, and also that there are people at various levels, or with various levels of spiritual practices. The majority of cases are people who believe in dualistic religions, that is, that there is man and there is God, or Truth, and they are two different things. And sufferers simply seek salvation from that Truth or that God [which is separate from man]. This distance [between man and God, or Truth,] never becomes closer. Even so, it may perhaps bring temporal relief or healing for them. And progressing some more, there are those people who have begun to realize that that Truth or God is within everything and it is the essence of everything. Yet, there is still a sense of distance between [man and God, or Truth,] in this state, since they believe that they are a part of it, and they are still imperfect. Progressing from there even further [is the level] that is just like what the phrase “My Father and I are One” indicates—that the Truth or the Existence of God is nothing but the “I,” the “Self,” and that there is no duality there, only the Truth exists. This [level] is placed at the ultimate pinnacle of learning in all religions and spirituality. Therefore, it would be wise not to debate with people of a dualistic nature. Even so, one day, with even this thick veil too, if an opening the size of the eye of a needle opens up, then a light will surely shine through.
Imani: I just have a question about intuition. And I guess I have another question about prediction. What is the source of intuition—does that come from Pure Consciousness, or is it something that is formed in the mind?
MASTER: When the mind is in the pure state, it is called the quality of sattva, and there are times that one receives or feels these sorts of powers when the mind is in that condition.
(Recognizing that the time to end the Satsangha is approaching, a quietness comes across the attendees. Then, some of the disciples attending the Satsangha begin to express their gratitude for Shri Mahayogi’s visit to New York and all the precious moments spent together in the presence of the Master. Flowers are offered on behalf of the New York Sangha, and all express their hope that Shri Mahayogi will be able to return to New York soon when conditions become more stable.)
MASTER: Since last year, keeping with my promise to you, I have come [to New York] three times. I will make an effort to come back again soon. All of you, be well until then. And put your promises to me into action! Thank you.
(The disciples, led by Anandamali, begin to sing “Wahe Guru” to Shri Mahayogi and the atmosphere, filled with joy and tears, becomes full. After all bow to Shri Mahayogi, Shri Mahayogi lingers a few more moments in the space, as if saturating all the attendees with grace before his departure and allowing everyone to savor just a few moments more of the brilliant presence of Truth.)
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The Truth of Shri Mahayogi’s Asana: Part 2
Sthira Sukham Asanam
May 2019, New York
Asana—the 3rd limb of the eight limbs of raja yoga is actually a very small part of what Yoga is. In fact, it is not even mentioned in the Yoga Sutra, one of the principle texts of Yoga until Book 2, verse 46, which says: Sthira sukham asanam. The words literally translated are still, ease, & posture or cloth carpet. But what does that actually mean? With any scripture, the words are mere symbols of something that holds within a much more profound meaning. However, if we take the words at face value, then we are likely to miss the meaning altogether and only take them for what we want to take them for, rather than allowing them to reveal the meaning, as is the nature of the word as symbol.1
If you go to any number of yoga schools or search up this aphorism on the internet, you are likely to find translations like “easy sitting pose” or “the seated position” or “steady and comfortable seat.” In fact, these are the translations that I was introduced to here and there and they are what shaped the relationship of my understanding to what the purpose and meaning of asana was according to its mention in one of the principal scriptures, the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. I never questioned them or dug any deeper into the meaning. I just accepted what I heard and that’s that.
Then there came a time when I started to wonder about this aphorism. I had revisited these powerful words of Shri Mahayogi that I had read about in the Testimony of Pranavadipa Vol. 29, written by Anandamali, that “this is the first time that true asana is being revealed to such an extent” and was struck with wanting to know what this could possibly mean.
Just what exactly is asana? What is Shri Mahayogi really teaching us in regards to asana? What does it mean when Shri Mahayogi says that asana has not been revealed to this extent before?
I began to wonder what is actually said in the scriptures and thought that surely there must be something that hints at the true meaning of what asana is, and what Shri Mahayogi is teaching us when he is teaching us asana. So, in trying to understand, I decided to turn to the Yoga Sutra.
Sthira sukham asanam — I searched for the meaning of these words in Sanskrit. I didn’t want to read a translation or someone else’s interpretation or commentary. I wanted to understand on my own from the original Sanskrit itself and my own experience of asana.
There were two main reasons that I was being drawn so strongly to look only at the elemental Sanskrit words and steer away from an English interpretation.
One has to do with the learning and experience I have been gathering through involving in translation and editing works with the Mahayogi Yoga Mission publication team for a number of years. I have come to understand through that participation that translation is nothing easy and translation of scripture is in fact extremely delicate, requiring one to walk a fine line between two languages, often grasping for the essence beyond the word in order to find the appropriate word or expression to capture that essence as it was initially expressed. Often times, one of the most helpful tools is to go back to the most literal and bare-bone translation in order to try to sense what was being expressed and how. If we don’t do that from time to time, it is easy for us to paint the translation into the interpretation of our own mind. This is exactly what makes translation of scripture so delicate— if we add too many words or a feeling of our own interpretation into the translation, then we can essentially limit the meaning and the understanding for all those who encounter these translated words. It is therefore most essential to always stay as true as possible to the original essence of the words without adding our own coloring.
The other thing that was bringing this wondering to mind had to do with study of Sanskrit in the form of the Guru mantra, Shri Mahayogi’s stotram, and other simple chants of the name and praises of God. I had been learning for some time now that when one chants or sings, it is not enough just to pronounce the words, or sing with a pleasing tone or melody. Rather what is most essential is to feel and unite with the meaning, or the essence, of each word. As I practiced this with Shri Mahayogi’s stotram in particular, I began to feel that the translation made to fit the English ear and mind, although indeed touching and beautiful, actually didn’t hit my heart in the same way that reaching for the raw meaning, the raw vibration and feeling of each word, as it is laid out in Sanskrit, seemed to do. Perhaps this way of understanding and feeling the meaning of the words did not make much sense to my mind, but it made most sense to my heart.
So with this, I decided to explore the Sanskrit words that made up this one small sutra about asana.
What I discovered was:
Sthira – still
Sukham – opposite of dukkha, or suffering, meaning “filled with ease”
Asanam – carpet/cloth or posture
In Sanskrit, these words are not linked together grammatically to form any kind of nice sentence with a set structure. Instead these words are simply standing together, like a clump of clues. So it is up to the reader to dive beyond the words.
When I learned the meaning of sthira (still) I immediately thought of the famous quote from the bible, “Be still and know that I am God.” This stillness of mind is the state of Yoga itself. So it means that true asana cannot exist without this stillness.
Moments in asana came to mind when I would start to touch a state of stillness. It could be the feeling of complete lack of necessity to breath, or eyes fixed so strongly that blinking, or any movement whatsoever, seems impossible—the vast quietude of the world of asana.
Next, the word sukham. I never thought of the relationship between sukha and dukkha, before someone pointed out to me that these two words are often used to describe opposing conditions. I was familiar with the word dukkha coming from the scriptures. Dukkha most often is translated into English as “suffering.” And, as my brother disciple and scholar of Buddhism explained once to me, dukkha actually does not have a very accurate translation into English since the word “suffering” has so much unnecessary connotation that goes along with it, and in fact the word dukkha simply indicates the state in which one is “not at ease”—which could arise from any number of conditions or circumstances, both seemingly positive and negative.
The fact that sukha is in opposition to dukkha, hit me so strongly that I stopped in amazement upon realizing it. Could it mean then that this sutra has nothing to do with “comfort” or “being comfortable in a seated position” like I had once thought, but rather could it be about the state of being “at ease,” the state of being without dukkha? If that is the case, then this is more about the mind than anything to do with the physical body or its position. The vast meaning of this came over me like a deep ocean wave. This sutra is indicating something much deeper than anything I had imagined before. And since I hadn’t stopped to take the time to try to understand it myself, through my own experience, I was shocked and amazed by these three simple words and the way in which Shri Mahayogi is seamlessly guiding us to their true realization. (Only a TRUE MASTER can do that!)
Asanam could mean posture or position, but it also has the meaning of cloth or carpet. This other meaning was a curious addition for me to hear and it pressed me to think of the time in which the Yoga Sutra was recorded. Looking at paintings of the ancient times, often the yogi are depicted sitting upon some kind of rug or cloth. In more modern times too, it seems that when it comes to spiritual tradition, often times there is a rug depicted. Well, what does one typically do on a rug? Sit! Perhaps this is where the common interpretation of “seated position” comes from. Originally asana may have indicated the position in which one is sitting. Though nowadays, as times change, asana may indicate any number of positions – as long as the other two conditions are also present: sthira and sukham.
Sthira sukham asanam—when the mind is still, one is filled with ease, in any position.
If the mind is still and one is filled with ease, the position of the body should not have much importance – there is indeed no need to think of it. If the mind is still, one is automatically filled with ease, and the body simply follows the condition of the mind.
As I pondered this and tried to feel its meaning with my entire being, I started to feel that this sutra does not necessarily have one set direction from which it should be read. In fact, this is the beauty of the absolute simplicity of the sutra just being these three words, without anything else connecting it or forming it into a neat sentence. It is like the stitching of a needle and thread. If we look at one side of the cloth, we see only short dashes of thread, but we know that there is only one thread and all of these little dashes are connected, regardless of whether or not we see the entirety of the thread.
So it means that if one is filled with ease, then naturally the mind will be or become still.
But, because it is not so easy to just feel “filled with ease” or to bring the mind to a state of stillness, asana, or positioning of the physical body is used as a tool. As the body becomes conditioned through regular and ongoing practice, and if one has been diligently practicing to train the mind to fix itself on the breath, the various positions one takes naturally become more filled with ease, as the condition of the body changes and the mind steadies in its responses to the various “pleasant” or “unpleasant” circumstances created by practice of asana.
So no matter which way the sutra is read:
Sthira – sukham – asanam
Asanam – sukham – sthira
All meanings have value, as these three conditions exist interdependently. And, indeed, as the condition of the mind transforms through the practice of the various disciplines of Yoga (even beyond asana), then the mind becomes more readily able to enter a state of steadiness or more stillness, is more readily filled with ease because of the increased level of steadiness (moving towards stillness), at which point the position of the body is quite secondary and does not seem to make much of a difference.
The Lord Buddha and Shri Mahayogi both say that there is no reason to believe something blindly, that it is important for us to practice and verify the truth of the teaching through our own experience of it.
The discovery of this sutra, which has just begun, makes me see how easily I may take things that I read or hear at face value and simply accept them. But in doing so and in not trying to understand for myself through my own experience, my understanding can only remain in a state of being limited by someone else’s words or someone else’s understanding.
Shri Mahayogi, as a true Master of Yoga, no matter the teaching, is pouring into it an unfathomable depth of knowledge and understanding, conveying nothing less than the Truth itself. It is now up to me and up to each one of us to practice, to experience, and to keep trying to uncover more and more of the Truth that is inherent within any teaching offered by such a Master.