“Each life is like a slow blink of the eyelids of Universal Consciousness… expanding widely at the beginning and closing in at the end”
I wrote these words after spending a week with my 86-year-old mother last month, helping her get back into a comfortable routine in her home after three months in hospital and rehab facilities (she is doing very well by the way). I was reflecting on how the typical human life begins with a very narrow sphere of awareness where food, safety, and the proximity of caring parents are about all we are aware of… Then through childhood and our formative years, our world keeps expanding widely and rapidly as we accumulate experiences and eventually, if we are not victim of some premature death by accident or illness, the body ages and our sphere of awareness starts to shrink gradually…
Like most people, the older I get, the clearer it becomes to me that our life is very short, very much an amazing gift, and that we should do our absolute best to live it in the most meaningful and purposeful way possible. Therefore, this image of universal consciousness peering momentarily through the manifestation that we are, made me dive into sutra to 2:27 where Patanjali discusses seven states of consciousness. My hope being that if our sphere of awareness is bound to shrink as we get older we can at least strive to refine it and experience more subtle states of consciousness while the window of our personal Universal blink is open….
With that in mind, I turned first to B.K.S. Iyengar and his commentary “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” because he organizes Patanjali’s teachings in useful tables and graphs which my visual mind loves!
Now I realize that depending on the device used to read this column, the table may very well be impossible to read, so here are the 5 columns in English only. First, he presents the 7 states of consciousness as described by Patanjali and 2 other sources:
Vyasa (One of the traditional and most cited commentators of the Yoga Sutras)
Yoga Vasista (Another seminal philosophical text of yoga)
And he also includes what he presents as the corresponding levels of knowledge and integration
Stages of Integration
And then I went to Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (PRT) and his commentary on book 2, “The Practice of the Yoga Sutra” where he elaborates on the 7 states of consciousness as well, but he also mentioned some of Vyasa’s contributions to the study and understanding of this sutra and that is what really caught my attention in this passage:
“Commenting on this sutra, Vyasa makes a point of dismantling widespread confusion about yogis and their achievements. Long before Patanjali, and up to this day, poorly informed spiritual enthusiasts have been fantasizing about high-caliber yogis sitting in caves with their eyes closed, completely unconcerned with the outside world. Contrary to this stereotype, Vyasa calls the accomplished yogi kushala, one who is skillful. A yogi is skillful, for she knows the true nature of the world; the true nature of her body, mind, and senses; and the true nature of her core being. A yogi is free from all illusions, including the illusion of expecting more than what this world can offer. At the same time, a yogi is able to identify the wonderful gifts contained in the body, mind, and senses, as well as in the phenomenal world. Therefore, a yogi is able to discern, decide, and act in the light of her prajna*. Because she is operating at the level of pure and penetrating wisdom of inner reality, she is confident about the appropriateness of her actions and their consequences.
While living in the world, a yogi is as active as—if not more active than—anyone else. The only difference is that the actions of an accomplished yogi are free from doubt and fear, whereas our actions are contaminated by them. An accomplished yogi is comfortable while performing actions and equally comfortable when refraining from action. A yogi’s accomplishment is characterized by freedom, not by action or the absence of it.”
*prajna = intuitive wisdom
Let’s first take a moment to appreciate the awesome fact that PRT chooses to use the feminine gender quite often in his commentary when talking about what a yogi is. And then, I don’t know about you, but I find great inspiration and aspiration in the level of skillfulness he describes! And that is the stuff that keeps me practicing and wanting to explore such texts with others…
If you like this type of exploration, please stay tuned to find out when we will roll out the next session of the Lilananda Yoga Sutras Study Group and tackle the second chapter entitled “Sadhana Pada”. The planned format is to meet virtually on Sunday nights at 7PM using the Zoom video conferencing software which allows you to join the discussion on a computer, tablet, smartphone or regular phone line.
IMPORTANT: Everyone is welcome to join, whether or not you participated in the first book session last fall. Watch the Lilananda site and space for registration details.
With much love and gratitude,