"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Vedanta: The Teaching of Yoga, or 'Yoking the Mind'

Perhaps the world's most powerful wisdom tradition - or, if not 'powerful,' certainly the most 'thorough' and 'ancient' - is that of Vedanta, also referred to as the 'Advaia Vedanta,' or 'vedAnta.'

With its foundations in the Vedas of ancient India, the world's oldest known spiritual teachings, and the Upanishads, the later but still ancient metaphysical interpretations of the four known Vedas (the Rigveda, Yagurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda), as systematized by the yoga aphorisms of Patanjali some 2,400 years ago, and as expounded by the great Indian philosopher of the 7th-century, Shankara, the Vedanta yields a complete teaching on the metaphysical (as well as physical) reality of 'non-dualism.'

In order to become an Advaitist, and fully grasp the Vedanta's teachings of radical non-duality, however, one needs to cultivate and nurture what Dr. Kuntimaddi Sadananda of the Advaita Academy calls 'the four-Ds' of Shankara, namely:
    • 'Discrimination' between what is eternal and what is ephemeral;
    • 'Dispassion' to reject that which is ephemeral in order to gain that which is eternal;
    • 'Discipline' of the mind to divert it from trivial or ephemeral pursuits in life in order to conserve the energy to pursue that which is eternal; and, finally,
    • 'Desire' strong enough to motivate one in that pursuit without getting discouraged by any type of obstacles that arise.
    Acharya Sadananda
    Dr. Sadananda notes - as excerpted in the on-line magazine, Non-Duality - that "if one does not have these four-fold qualifications, he has not prepared his mind for the knowledge of vedAnta." However, he further notes, "(t)he mind that has acquired these four-fold qualifications is a ‘pure’ mind that is ready to ‘take off’ when the vedAntic teaching is imparted by a competent teacher."

    Dr. Sadananda also suggests that it is the third of these "four-Ds" - the "discipline of the mind" - that is most critical to the would-be Advaitist's progress in Vedanta. It consists, he notes, "of six (all-important) subsidiary disciplines for uncompromising commitment" to the study of Vedantic teachings.

    These "six subsidiary disciplines" are, of course the six branches or "limbs" of yoga that Patanjali explores in his yoga aphorisms. ('Yoga,' which is derived from the same Sanskrit word as the English word 'yoke,' is synonymous with 'religion' in India, and consists of 'yoking' the Atman, or personal 'godhead' of the individual, with Brahma, the ultimate substrate which pervades and supports the entire manifest universe, as well as the unmanifest.)

    "(O)ne has to listen to vedAnta from a competent teacher (shravaNam) and reflect on it until all doubts are fully resolved (mananam) and finally contemplate on this until the teaching has been fully assimilated (nidhidhyAsanam)," Sadananada observes. "Listening to the teacher is sufficient if one has all the pre-requisites. For those who do not have the prerequisites, the other two are required until conviction takes place in the mind - a conviction that what vedAnta says is indeed true to the letter."

    This is, indeed, in line with the teaching of Sri Swami Satchidananda when he remarks, in his exposition of the second of Patanjali's one hundred-plus yoga sutras ("The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga."), that "(f)or a keen student this one sutra would be enough because the rest of them only explain this one."

    "How to Know God,"
    by Swami Prabhavanada
    and Chirstopher Isherwood
    For his part, Swami Prabhavananda (author, with Christopher Isherwood, of "How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali") compares the mind to a clear lake that has become muddied with relentless waves of barely conscious thought. It is in learning to still the mind, so that the sediment raised by the actions of the barely conscious mind settles out, Prabhavananda saysthat one learns to practice yoga, or "yoking."

    But in order to realize and effect this, it is clearly evident that one must learn and practice a 'discipline' of mind in order to "divert it from trivial or ephemeral pursuits in life," as Sadananda says "in order to conserve the energy to pursue that which is eternal."

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