Sāṁkhya philosophy is often correlated with philosophy of yoga. Kṛṣṇa considers both of them as a single entity in Bhagavad Gītā and call it as Sāṁkhya Yoga. He talks about Sāṁkhya Yoga in the second chapter of Bhagavad Gītā. The union between the Self and the self happens through yoga (yoga means yoking or joining) for which knowledge is needed and this knowledge is imparted by Sāṁkhya philosophy. Like Sāṁkhya philosophy, yoga philosophy also advocates that Brahman is someone different from jīvātaman-s (empirical souls). The theory of Sāṁkhya philosophy is put into use for practical applications by yoga philosophy. Thus, both advocate the same principle, former through knowledge and the latter through practice.

When we speak about yoga, what comes to our mind is Sage Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras. His Yoga Sūtra-s are arranged in four chapters in the form of aphorisms. This great epic is classified under Rāja Yoga, which predominantly deals with the mind (Hatha yoga deals more with physical exercises. However it also teaches prāṇāyāma and samādhi). At the end of Rāja Yoga, one should not only affirm with conviction that He is Brahman, but also should affirm that the entire universe is Brahman. As far as Brahman is concerned, there is no difference between individual consciousness and universal consciousness. Everything is His consciousness alone, His exclusive quality of omnipresence. Concentration and contemplation are the two important aspects of Patañjali Yoga. Patañjali says that breath along with contemplation and certain postures lead to trance or samādhi. Samādhi is possible only if the vṛtti-s (default character of the mind, wavering) of the mind are completely stopped and as a result one’s consciousness becomes pure. Consciousness is always one and it cannot be segregated. When consciousness is covered by vṛtti-s (thought processes), it loses its purity, and when this impurity is removed by certain manoeuvres, the glow of consciousness is realized. Consciousness always radiates and it alone is self-effulgent. Patañjali has prescribed eight parts that one has to practice to reach the state of bliss and ultimate realization. This is called aṣṭāṅga yoga.

Aṣṭāṅga yoga of Patañjali consists of yama, niayama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi. These are the eight limbs of aṣṭāṅga yoga of Patañjali. He has arranged these chapters in such a way that one has to begin with yama and end up in samādhi, where ultimate realization happens. The first five are related to the external world and the next five are related to the inner experience.

1. Yama consists of ten subdivisions and they are – not injuring others verbally or physically (non-violence), speaking truth at all times, being without desire, upholding the values of marital relationship, charity within one’s means (charity should always be done within one’s means and to the right person or persons and any actions contrary to this will cause bad karmas), straightforwardness, following the path of equivalence (behaving with everyone with the same bent of mind. This is called kṣama), firmness of mind (sthitamati), bland and balanced diet and external cleanliness.

2. Niyama also has ten subdivisions and they are austerity, happiness, following the path of dharma, benefaction (This is different from charity discussed under Yama), devotion (worshipping some form of god in the initial stages of spiritual path), listening to spiritual discourses or listening to the teachings of Guru, not following a path that is not approved by Vedas (Vedas convey both gross and subtle meanings), faith on spiritual activities, japa (mental recitation of mantras) and vṛtta (virtuous and good conduct as ordered by Guru or as prescribed Vedas. The latter arises only if one does not have a Guru).

3. Āsana is the right posture for sitting, walking and even while sleeping. The proper positioning of the body is directly related to the mind. One should learn to sit erect without any movements at least for half-an-hour for meditation. Though there are many prescribed postures, the best posture is the one that is very convenient to the practitioner (sthirasukham āsanam - Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra II.46, the posture that is firm and pleasant). Whatever the posture one adopts, he should ensure that there is no bend in the spine, head is slightly pushed back and there is enough space for the abdominal contraction and expansion to sync with exhalation and inhalation.

4. Prāṇāyāma is manoeuvring breath, which includes inhalation, exhalation and holding breath both internally and externally (kumbhaka).

5. Pratyāhāra is withdrawal of senses from external objects. Mind gets addicted to external objects causing too many thought processes in the mind. This can be achieved by practicing nāḍi śuddhi prāṇāyāma, also known as nāḍi śodhana prāṇāyāma (breathing in and out through alternate nostrils). Three verses in Yogacūḍāmaṇi Upaniṣad (verses 98 – 100) explain in detail about nāḍi śodhana prāṇāyāma. The main purpose of this breathing is to cleanse the nervous system. Prāṇa traverses through the nervous system and if there are energy blockades in the nervous system, they obstruct the free flow of prāṇa, causing discomfort while meditating. Blockades also cause obstructions in the path of kuṇḍalinī, which ascends automatically based on the depth of devotion and ultimate love for Him.

6. Dhāraṇā is turning the mind inwardly, withdrawing consciousness from the external world. The entire human body is made of five principle elements (pañcabhūta); from toes to knees – earth element; from knees to navel - water element; from navel to neck – fire element; from neck to ājñā chakra – air element; and from ājñā chakra to the top of the head (sahasrāra) – element of ākāśā. It is always better to concentrate on ājñā chakra whenever one meditates, irrespective of whether it is kuṇḍalinī meditation or not. Just behind the ājñā chakra pineal gland, which is also known as the spiritual gland, is situated. By doing so, one can develop perfect concentration. Unless the first six are perfected, the next two cannot be practiced effectively. It is better to attain perfection in the first six before proceeding to the last two.

7. Dhyāna is meditation. This is the first step in spiritual path and the last step in ritualistic path. This is the point where all external worships culminate and inner worship actually begins. Only dhyāna leads to samādhi, the state of trance and realisation can happen only in samādhi. The forerunner to realization is the bliss, which one experiences. When meditation is perfect, the intensity of bliss becomes very powerful and during that intent blissful state, realization happens. Dhyāna is the most important aspect in spiritual realization. In a perfect meditation, one dissolves his ego, ignorance, desires, hatreds and fear. This is the signification of a perfect meditation. Bliss can be experienced only if the meditation is perfect. It is the quality of the meditation that alone counts and not the duration of the meditation. Even without meditating, bliss can be experienced.

8. Samādhi is the last part of aṣṭāṅga yoga and is also known as trance. This is the final stage in spiritual realization as per Rāja Yoga. Unless the earlier seven parts are perfected, entering into the state of samādhi is not possible. Samādhi is the description of pure state of consciousness of a person, where his individual soul stands merged with the Supreme Soul and the practitioner completely forgets his mind and body. Everything is dissolved into the Supreme Soul, however to come back to the conscious stage again.

But, what is the benefit of practicing aṣṭāṅga yoga? This also leads to realization, like any other philosophy. Realization at the end of samādhi is known as kaivalya.

Kaivalya is the final stage of life of a living being. Nobody is there with that being during that time. He is all alone without any help around and he has to achieve on his own. This is the final stage of one’s evolution. The soul is about to leave its present body and getting ready to merge with the Brahman. Kaivalya is liberation or salvation and hence it is called the final stage. This final stage can be reached in two ways. One is the mundane stage associated with desires and attachments where soul gets ready for rebirth. The other stage is the stage of samādhi, where the soul gets ready for its union with the Brahman not to be born again. The latter is kaivalya.

There are four types of consciousness. They are sālokya, sarūpa, samībha and sāyujya. Beyond this is kaivalya. Sālokya is the stage where one performs ritual worship, worshipping idols or portraits of gods. In sarūpa he leaves idol worship and does not differentiate himself from god. In samībha he goes near the god and in sāyujya stage he merges with god. These are the stages of one’s consciousness that finally lead to kaivalya. One has to progress from one stage to another and this progression happens depending upon the level of spirituality. By being spiritual does not mean one has to be religious. Spirituality transcends religious affinities, though religion forms the foundation of spirituality.

To conclude yoga is a science which has four divisions – karma yoga, bhkati yoga, Rāja yoga and jñāna yoga. All these yogas lead to realization to become one with Brahman. There are hundreds of interpretations and thousands of classes for yoga. The true understanding of yoga rests beyond all these interpretations, lectures and classes. Yoga has everything to do with the mind. One should not waste his or her precious by dwelling on rituals. Nobody can work on others minds and cleansing of mind is possible only be self efforts. This alone is the basic necessity to attain God. The state of perfection can be understood from one’s love for all other beings and experiencing inexplicable joy. These two are the precursor to realization and the ultimate realization could happen at any moment, either during samādhi or even while waking, eating, working, etc. When the time has arrived for realization, no matter what one does, he is emancipated.

(to be concluded)

Further Readings:

Patanjali Yoga Sutras