Transcript: Yoga Sutra Talk (part 1)

Dr. Shelley Thomas: Okay, so thank you, Andrew, for bringing David to my attention. And how do you guys know each other?

Andrew Hewson: Well, hey, everyone. It’s good to see you all again. Everyone’s in for a real treat today.

I met David formally over the screen probably a year and a half ago, or maybe a little bit longer than that. I’m not very good with time, through a mutual friend that we have named Dorothy Rowe and David and I both have a similar interest in describing higher stages of development in conscious awareness and beyond. And yes and through that through that connection we and other unseen connections, we sort of came together and have been having regular recorded talks on this subject matter.

David is someone I would consider a friend these days and he’s also well respected in the spiritual community. He’s been a practitioner of the tradition or the tradition from which yoga has sprung and he’s actually a yoga practitioner in the truest sense of the term for over 45 years and he has a master’s degree in Vedic science and is extremely knowledgeable in these subjects on an experiential level.

So he has actually realized the truths that were being written in many scriptures and is working to bring those to light in modern day language through his blog. He has a wonderful book called Our Natural Potential and he is an amazing being.

Of course he’ll be the first one to tell you that it’s not him, that it’s through him getting out of the way that all of this is able to take place and that is of course true as you guys are learning through this course. So it’s my honor and privilege to introduce him and I look forward to hearing what he has to say on the yoga sutras.

David: Well thank you Andrew, I appreciate the introduction.

As you mentioned I’ve been studying this for a long time and both in a theoretical way but also in a practical way. I learned meditation I think in 1974 and so forth.

Yoga is fundamentally the foundation of spiritual unfolding and enlightenment. That’s its subject matter. It’s considered one of the six primary systems of Indian philosophy from the Vedic tradition that Andrew mentioned. It’s also, these six systems are also known as the darshanas or the upangas.

This is in your handout, some of the main points. Vedanta is another one of the of the darshanas.

It’s also useful to understand the context in which yoga comes to us. The Yoga Sutra, the Indian philosophy, was an oral tradition for a very long time before it became written down. Most historians date these texts to when they were written down, not when they originated.

But in the tradition, yoga comes from what’s known as the Treta Yuga or the Silver Age. The basic idea in the Vedas is that consciousness moves in these large cycles of time of rising and falling consciousness. We’re currently in a rising age but the Yoga Sutra was was drafted in a beginning of the falling age as they were leaving the Golden Age and needed to try to sustain the collective consciousness so that a lot of the features are [not] lost. So you’ll find in the text that there’s references to things like special abilities and the way it describes awakening in a somewhat different way than it’s usually experienced in the current time.

I shared a draft version of the text I work with. I quote from the Yoga Sutra fairly regularly in my writing and so it became much easier just to have something I can cut and paste from and I’ve been polishing it over time as I’ve worked with it and studied it further. The text itself is not long, it’s four short books or or gatherings of 30 or 40 sentences.

Sutras, they’re called. So sutras are kind of like these core thoughts. And so I’ll talk about the main points from each book and some of the key ways in which it sometimes differs from, I think, where the understanding– there’s misunderstandings in the current time.

The first book, the topic is Samadhi, which is another word for transcendence. This is a reference to a fourth state of consciousness, along with waking, dreaming, and sleeping. In the Upanishads, they call this Turiya, literally meaning the fourth. It’s a state of restful alertness, where we’re alert, and yet the body is in a state of deep rest. In scientific research, that’s been found to be twice as deep as deep sleep.

But we probably, before we get too far along into that, I should define Yoga itself. When I use the word yoga, you usually probably think about somebody doing stretching exercises, but actually yoga, the Yoga Sutra defines yoga as the complete settling of the activity of the mind. Then the observer is established in their own nature. In other words, when we’re able to settle the mind, all the noise and babbly stuff going on in our head, then we become aware of our own nature as the observer, as consciousness itself.

This state of experience is known as Samadhi, the name of the book. And Samadhi is a compound word. “Sama” means evenness and “dhi” means intellect. So it’s evenness of intellect. When the mind becomes settled… so when we’re ego associated as most people are, the intellect associates with the mind and the mind gets tossed around by various emotions and experiences and so on like that and the intellect gets tossed around with it.

But when we’re able to settle the mind, the intellect also becomes settled or even so hence Samadhi. Samadhi itself is thought to be rare but it turns out that the right technique brings it regularly and the key there with Samadhi is effortless.

When you’re trying to control the mind with the mind you’re kind of in a bit of a fool’s errand, because you can’t really control the mind with itself. The mind inherently, when it’s identified with the ego, inherently wants to control. That’s how it feels it’s safe and it can manage life and so on like that, when it feels like it’s in control. And so trying to control the controller is kind of an error.

Whereas if you take on an effortless meditation practice, then the body automatically settles. As I mentioned, twice as deep as deep sleep, the body is able to purify and because of that deep restful state and settle, many of the experiences we’ve had that have been unresolved are able to clear.

And we’re in the mind, quietness when we reach that state of Samadhi, state of yoga, inner union. They’ve done various tests with people in meditation practice and they found that the EEG brain coherence, or rather, the brain EEG becomes coherent. All the various parts of the brain begin working together in synchrony. They’re not all functioning separately in a normal way, but begin functioning together. And they discovered this is also a feature of high-performing athletes, musicians, and business people. So it’s actually culturing a higher performance ability in the mind.

The book itself describes levels of Samadhi from having that settling with some mental babble and down and into quieter levels where there’s no content and then quieter levels where there’s a seed of impulse to have thoughts arise and that’s purified and so on right down into what’s the Nirbhija or the seedless state.

And when that purification settles and we’re in that very deep state it can become so deep that the breath itself stops. The body is so settled that there’s no need to be breathing in and out. The lungs shift into a kind of a fine vibration and just enough to bring a bit of oxygen.

And as that becomes really established and we have a number of experiences of Samadhi, it cultures it in the physiology so the body is able to sustain that even outside of meditation. and where then, we begin to be able to have thoughts without disturbing that silent awareness. In other words, we can have samadhi along with our day-to-day experience. It begins to become blended.

There’s a few quotes from this book I wanted to highlight too, from like verse 32. It says, “obstacles can be removed by repeated experience of the one reality.” In other words, when we go in and we taste that inner sense of self, that expanded consciousness we have within ourselves, we purify the obstacles that are existing in our mind, emotions, and physiology.

Another interesting quote is verse 16. It says, “Avert the danger which has not yet come.” From the yoga perspective, danger arises from those impurities in our system and the uneven intellect. And so then what happens is we make mistakes based on our past impressions and the shadows of those unresolved experiences.

Another thing that can happen as Samadhi is cultured was we begin to have episodes of witnessing. This is when there’s a sense of being consciousness itself, being a detached observer. And it’s kind of like we’re sitting back here watching our body and our body work and our mind think and so on like that and then we can recognize from that experience that we’re not actually the ego, we’re not actually this individual person, we are that larger consciousness and this is most obvious in deep sleep because there’s a sense of witnessing even when the body is asleep we notice the body go to sleep, but the awareness is maintained. Now of course, if the body is in deep sleep, the senses go to sleep as well, so we’re not sensing anything. We’re simply there in consciousness, kind of like a long meditation.

When they’ve done studies of people who are witnessing sleep, they find that there’s that the alpha EEG of alertness is overlaid on the delta of deep sleep.

Another quote is verse 38, or 48 rather, is “there resides the intellect that knows only truth.” Again, that quality of stable intellect that’s able to discriminate clearly, then it knows the truth of whatever circumstances are arising. It’s not distracted by our unresolved baggage.

The second book is called Sadhana, basically meaning practice, as in the practice of meditation or asana postures and so on like that. But there’s a really important caveat to make about this text and that is it’s not describing techniques.

In the Vedic tradition, techniques are always taught directly. They’re experiential techniques and so it’s really important to be guided through your experience so you understand correct practice. Like I mentioned, effortless before, so you’re not trying to control your experience or get in the way of it in some way. The ego is a little troublesome that way. It gets involved.

The text is essentially describing the results and the benefits of samadhi, of yoga. And as I mentioned at the beginning, what you’ll notice at most yoga studios is a form of exercise rather than what I’m talking about and how Yoga Sutra defines yoga.

The second book talks about what’s known as Ashtanga, which means the eight limbs, and then it lists the eight limbs and the first two have sublimbs you could say, observances and so on. But again, these are often taken to be practices, so people will see them and think that they have to practice being content or happy, in which case, that readies them in order to do yoga postures and eventually get to samadhi.

So in other words, they’re seeing the limbs as steps on a ladder that you follow progressively and you develop over time. But actually, you know, if you think of the limbs are like a table leg, you know, you grab a table leg and you pull it, the whole table comes along with everything else.

And as we saw in the first book, samadhi is the key thing to understand about the Yoga Sutras. This is all about samadhi. And if you culture samadhi, then it brings everything else along.

The last four of the limbs are essentially all about meditation. Not separate practices, but the process and effect of meditation. The retirement, the steadiness, the developing focus, and the transcendence or samadhi. And then in traditional practices, generally speaking, it’s advised you do some yoga postures and then some breathing exercises as a preparation for the meditation. So in that sense there’s a bit of a sequence but it’s not as steps on a ladder.

And you know, so I mentioned in the first verse that the intellect knows only truth so that will clearly culture one of the observances, truthfulness.

Whereas if you try and fake truthfulness, it’s kind of like the mind trying to manipulate the experience.

Just going over my notes here a little, make sure I’m covering these points.

Yeah, so again it’s describing the results and the process but not defining the practice itself. Quite often when you learn meditation from a traditional – not, traditional is the wrong word – a more recent yoga teacher, a common yoga teacher, will often direct you into a concentration type technique where you try to control the mind, you try and stop the thoughts, you try and manipulate the experience. But the key, as we’ve noted, is samadhi, is transcending the mind, not making it stronger.

Now the focus and concentration can certainly develop that skill, but if the goal of yoga, if the goal is yoga, then it’s going beyond that, [not] to make it stronger. It’s relaxing those resistance, restrictions, not increasing them. And indeed, with an effortless practice, this cultures that state of samadhi and becomes a very regular thing in every meditation, in degrees of clarity, and sometimes clear and sometimes not so much but the practice itself cultures it and then as a result it cultures all these other aspects.

Another one that’s quite widely practised in spiritual circles is practising detachment. But detachment is in effect when we drop our identification with being this me person, and that results from recognizing our deeper nature as consciousness, and that results from samadhi.

It’s the same with renunciation. Renunciation is a really common practice in India. It’s kind of, there was a time when renunciation and the practice of becoming a monk basically died out in India and the famous Sage Shankara came along and revived the renunciate tradition. But renunciation is being, becoming a monk is something for a very small minority of the population. It’s not really, most of us are what are known as householders. We’re here to have work and get married and have a family and do all those sorts of things that most of us do and letting go of personal control is really important but we don’t do that with the thing that is doing the controlling. It’s through, it’s going beyond the source of that control into our deeper nature and then the ego trying to control it will let go automatically, because then the ego has the confidence in that deeper nature.

It’s also the same with equanimity. A number of spiritual groups recommend you practice equanimity and yet if we’re still identified with the mind we’re still going to be pulled around by various emotions and experiences coming up and our equanimity is going to be disturbed.

But if we culture that deep inner peace of infinite consciousness, then equanimity develops automatically as part of this process. So it’s kind of like flipping a little bit compared to how it’s often taught, but it’s much more effective this way.

One of the niyamas, one of the, in the limbs of yoga is brahmacharya. Brahmacharya means student of brahman or student of the source beyond consciousness. That’s a little more advanced but but so often brahmacharya is translated as celibacy and that kind of reinforces this idea that you’re supposed to be a monk and renounce the world and so on like that to make spiritual progress.

But the idea here is more about balance. By having a meditation practice, adding a meditation practice into our life, and adding samadhi, we’re able to culture these qualities and develop spiritually without leaving the world. And then we gain these enhancements for quality of life and have a much more beautiful experience.

Moderation is probably a much more suitable word to use in terms of brahmacharya. Yoga is not reserved for monks and if you’re trying to become a monk when it’s not your nature then it just leads to problems from suppression and we’ve certainly seen that in many traditions both east and west. Celibate priests, where you’re trying to suppress that energy and it kind of leaks out sideways and into other kinds of expression.

So the core idea is that you go for samadhi and it brings everything else along.

Yeah, the verse 46 defines asana, the yogic postures that are more commonly equated with yoga. It defines asana as steady pleasantness. In other words, doing yoga asana should produce happiness. If it’s not, then the technique isn’t quite correct. And this is where, again, effortless comes in. It’s so important not to be… this isn’t about trying to go as far as you can in a posture or stretch, it’s about relaxing into it and giving the body a bit of a flex so that it can more easily throw off the contractions and unresolved experiences it’s carrying.

Another interesting verse from this book is “when non-theft is established, all jewels rise up.” In other words, when there’s no impulse to thieve or to grasp at what others have, then wealth rises naturally. It comes naturally to you.

Another nice verse is, “From contentment, unsurpassed happiness is obtained.”

So the book itself goes into a little bit more detail on like non-theft and contentment or others of the limbs.

The third book is known as the Siddhis. Siddhis essentially mean abilities or perfections. Some translate them as miracles or some special supernormal abilities, often. But again this text is from a higher age when humans had more capability. And so they’re a little more natural in a higher age.

But if we culture that samadhi and heal the physiology, then these things become much more possible. And in fact, it’s quite common for some of these to arise spontaneously on the path, as we’re going along with our spiritual practice.

So we’ll see, you know, start to remember past lives, for example, or we’ll be surprised to discover that we can understand what an animal is trying to communicate, or a different language when we’re traveling another country. We’ll get a sense of what they’re saying, even if we don’t know the language itself.

And in such a case like that, where the Vedic tradition talks about speech having layers, there’s the surface speech, there’s the mental impulse to speak, and there’s a quiet, the fine impulse before there’s a flow towards speech, and then what’s known as the para or transcendent value of the speech. And when we’re able to function on those quieter levels, we’re able to feel those impulses in consciousness, and thus can pick up the meaning behind the language and even if we don’t understand the language itself.

That’s just the little mechanics of that one.

Many of these verses could have a whole chapter written on them because there’s a lot of material. The key with the third book to understand is what’s called samyama. Samyama is a word that combines the last three of the limbs in ashtanga. So it’s essentially being able to have a steady focus of attention, not concentrating, but just being able to focus, with an intention, while we’re in samadhi. So in other words we’re sitting there in quiet consciousness, we’re able to have a thought and have a steady attention on it. If the mind is running off on thoughts then samyama isn’t going to work.

And these things are there if you go to any spiritual bookstore you’ll find multiple copies of various translations of the Yoga Sutra. It’s widely understood. Everybody knows how to do all these abilities that are written in these books, but because people don’t have that key with samadhi, they’re not able to do samyama, and they’re not able to be effective with these sutras from this book.

So most of this book basically lists about, something like 50 different formula or intentions and what the result will be, what’s predicted the result.

But it’s also important to understand here the intention is not for personal accomplishment. I mean there are people who famously practiced a specific sutra for you know many many years and and became an expert at the one thing, but that’s not really the ideal way to spend your life.

If you develop instead from that level of yoga, you develop samadhi, then basically they all come along. Of course it helps, different people will have different energy channels that are open, and other ones that are not so open, they’ll have natural affinities with certain styles of things and so on. But as the text itself in verse 5 says, “Through mastery of samyama, the splendor of complete wakefulness dawns.” So the idea really of the third book is that by practicing these things with samadhi, by practicing samyama, it helps open up the different channels of the energy physiology that underlies our physical body.

The most famous of these sutras in this book is yogic flying. This is essentially the ability of human flight. This isn’t exactly like superman style, this is more like somebody sitting cross-legged who can fly around.

There are a number of documented examples in history from, there’s like Saint Joseph of Cupertino who was a Christian monk and there was a Persian woman, I’m blanking on her name, who flew. There’s a Tibetan monk who flew and they have done a number of studies on this in a number of ways.

One of the things they’ve done is EEG coherence that I mentioned before. When somebody does the sutra, there’s a response and the body tries to lift off, even if it’s not ready to fly yet. They describe, not in the Yoga Sutra, but in some of their texts, describe stages of flying. The initial is an inner impulse, and then the next stage is you get a kind of a hopping effect where the body lifts off and and falls down again. And then you kind of get to the point of floating and then being able to fly at will. But those are pretty advanced stages that aren’t very common because most people in our current age have a lot more shadow in the physiology to clear. So it takes time.

There’s another text from the tradition known as the Yoga Vasishtha. It comes from the Ramayana. The Ramayana is a story of a famous person’s life, of King Rama from India. But in the Yoga Vasishtha, it talks about group practice of yoga flying for raising collective consciousness. So in other words, you take a group of people and put them together in a space and have them practice yoga flying together, it raises collective consciousness because it stirs consciousness awake within.

Because you’re essentially taking that consciousness within and adding an intention, so you’re moving that silent consciousness. And they’ve done a number of studies in various parts of the world on this, that suggest the square root of one percent of a given population practicing together has an effect on the entire collective consciousness. So for example the crime rate goes down, hospital admissions go down, car accidents and so on. It shifts the whole thing.

They’ve actually done this where they’ve taken groups of yogic flyers and they’ve sent them into war zones and stopped wars by having the right number of people practicing together. But of course, maintaining a group of people like that doing spiritual practices in a war zone it’s not ideal. So they’ve usually just done short-term experiments of that to demonstrate what’s possible. It’s kind of out there, I know, but this stuff has been published in scientific journals. Actually, the challenge is that most people don’t have, scientists included, don’t have this kind of idea in their…doesn’t fit their worldview so they don’t really accept that.

Verse 55 is another nice one I liked from this book. “When the intellect becomes as pure as consciousness, enlightenment dawns.”

So book four, the last one, is called Kaivalya, which means singularity and essentially it’s talking about awakening itself. In the current time though, enlightenment takes place when the Self wakes up to itself through this body-mind. So in yoga we’re having those steps, we’re going beyond the mind and experiencing our nature as consciousness deep within. As we repeatedly experience that, we prepare the ground for a spiritual awakening.

We don’t, practices don’t cause awakening, but they prepare the ground for it so that when grace happens, when the Divine visits, so to speak, it can trigger an opening or a shift spiritually. And by doing spiritual practices, we’ve created a physiology that can essentially support that shift so that it’s not just a passing experience, it becomes sustained.

And it’s also worth noting that you as a person don’t become enlightened. We wake up from being a person, from the limitations of being an identified ego. We don’t, the person doesn’t go away, it’s just we we gain a different perspective of the person. We realize that we’re actually consciousness within experiencing this person.

It’s kind of like sometimes we feel we can experience ourselves as being this body, that I am this body, and sometimes we experience ourselves as being the mind observing the body. And this is kind of like a stage further back where we’re consciousness itself observing the mind and the body and the emotions and they’re kind of happening but they’re not who we are, they’re just part of our functioning including our person.

In the current time it’s at a much later stage when we recognize that it’s the point value that woke up to its wholeness, that kaivalya that’s described in the Yoga Sutra.

They’ve done brain EEG coherence studies along this as well, where that inner effect in meditation, of samadhi, they can notice where samadhi takes place in meditation because there’s that expansive coherence of the different parts of the brain and people who are, have been meditating for a little time can push a button to, when they come out of this because you kind of dip into samadhi and then you come back out again and on the way about you can kind of you notice it and can push a button. So they’ve done these various studies around that kind of thing.

And in this closing verse of the fourth book, “in the absence of activity, the gunas, the purpose of purusha is fulfilled.” In other words, the purpose of our soul, essentially, is fulfilled, and what remains is the singularity, the infinite power of consciousness is established in its own nature. This is how Yoga Sutra defines a clear awakening, a clear spiritual Self-Realization.

Other common texts will call it things like Sat Chit Ananda, which means absolute bliss consciousness, because when we’re established in that infinite absolute consciousness, the lively surface of that consciousness we experience in the body mind as happiness, bliss, and that becomes an ongoing process.

Now from my perspective this is the first stage of seven stages of enlightenment and that’s kind of the topic of my book that Andrew mentioned. So that this is primarily about this stage and the reason why there’s multiple systems of philosophy in India is because different philosophies are designed for different stages. Vedanta, for example, is designed to explore later stages.

If you find the broader topic of Eastern spirituality and its influence on the West interesting, there is a book by Goldberg called American Veda that explores the major proponents who came from India to the West and spoke over the last hundred years roughly and how that’s influenced Western thinking.

Like in a Christian approach, the priest is seen as the liaison with the Divine. We go to them to speak to God, whereas in an Eastern perspective, through techniques like I’m describing, we can gain a direct access to the Divine. And so we don’t need an intermediary.

And the idea of evolution and growth of consciousness like this is also another idea that’s come to us from Eastern philosophy.

[end talk – Q&A part 2]

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