The Self Beyond the Mind

4637246812_975a3157fc_mThe main goal of Yoga, Samkhya and Vedanta is to realise the spiritual conciousness, or Self, as distinct from the mind. These three philosophies, although displaying differences in their approach, all accept that pure consciousness is our true nature and the source of true happiness. This is distinct from the everchanging body/mind complex that we have become identified with and through which we customarily attempt to make ourselves happy.

Unless we are born Yogis, we will need to practice yoga disciplines to be able to distinguish the soul from the mind. Yoga texts explain how this can be achieved. If we only want to practice asana then most of these texts become irrelevant; the Yoga Sutra, for instance, only has 3 out of 196 verses that refer to asana.

The basic tenet of Yoga is that the mind has to be purified and silenced in order to clearly distinguish the Self from the mind. If we have many external difficulties and conflicts, if the body is not still and comfortable, if we have restless energy (prana) the mind will be disturbed and will not settle down.

So, yama and niyama are disiplines that protect us from unhelpful external influences.
Asana will reduce the bodies restlessness and remove illness so that we can sit still.
Then pranayama will balance our energy and purify the mind. Pratyahara will cut off the senses from external objects. Then we can work inwardly with our own mind, through meditation, for example.

The basic parts of a human being from gross to subtle are body, senses, mind and soul (Purusa). The body is a product of our parents and the elements of nature. This body is impermanent and Hindus cremate it after death in order to detach fully from it. The elements and geneaology do not continue with the subtle body and soul after death.

The five senses link the external world to the mind. In yoga the mind has three aspects, manas, ahamkara and buddhi. Manas processes the sensual inputs, ahamkara is the ego and reacts to the sense inputs and buddhi assesses this process. In the normal mortal state, buddhi is identified with ahamkara so we go about operating from this perspective. The buddhi, purified by yoga practice, will see the distinction between itself and Purusa. Satva buddhi and Purusa as pure consiousness then become distinct. Maintaining this realisation the mind dissolves and Purusa is free from the compulsion to observe the mind.

Buddhi is the key to the realisation of the Self. So we must take the neecessary steps: detach from external distractions, still the body, energy and senses and then the ego.
The ahamkara (ego) aspect of the mind is where the emotions reside. The nine basic emotions are love, joy, wonder, courage, calmness, anger, sadness, fear and disgust.

Calmness, or peace (santa rasa), is the condition favourable to yoga and the only one that supports realisation. Pure love and sadness, in its positive form of compassion, will be the best emotions to dominate in daily life. Once the whole being is peaceful and still and the buddhi is satvic (pure) the understanding of the self becomes clear and this in turn results in moksha, ultimate liberation.

Thus, it is important not to practice asana alone as this will lead to more body attachment and even increase lust. Yama/niyama must be followed and pranayama is required. Anuloma Ujjayi pacifies the body, Viloma Ujjayi the mind, Pratiloma Ujjayi the emotions. Mudra also pacify emotions. The whole system will be peaceful for contemplation following these efforts.True happiness then arises.

(c) Steve Brandon

(Image courtesy of Amanda Hirsch on Flikr Creative Commons.)

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