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Published: 8 months ago
 

The Eight Steps of Yoga


 

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Follow closely, because here is the central teaching of Patanjali:

Yam, niyam, asan, pranayam, pratyahar, dharana, dhyan, samadhiya ashto angani. 

This is the whole science of yoga in one sentence, in one seed. Many things are implied. First, let me tell you the exact meaning of each step. And remember, Patanjali calls them steps and limbs, both. They are both. Steps they are because one has to be followed by another, there is a sequence of growth. But they are not only steps: they are limbs of the body of yoga. They have an internal unity, an organic unity also, that is the meaning of limbs. 

For example, the hands, the feet, and heart -- they don't function separately. They are not separate; they are an organic unity. If the heart stops, the hand will not move then. Everything is joined together. They are not just like steps on a ladder, because every rung on the ladder is separate. If one rung is broken the whole ladder is not broken. 

So Patanjali says they are steps, because they have a certain, sequential growth -- but they are also angas --> limbs of a body, organic. You cannot drop any of them. Steps can be dropped; limbs cannot be dropped. You can jump two steps in one jump, you can drop one step, but limbs cannot be dropped; they are not mechanical parts. You cannot remove them. They make you. They belong to the whole; they are not separate. The whole functions through them as a harmonious unit. So these eight limbs of yoga are both steps, steps in the sense that each follows the other, and they are in a deep relationship. The second cannot come before the first -- the first has to be first and the second has to be second. And the eighth will come to be the eighth -- it cannot be the fourth, it cannot be the first. So they are steps and they are an organic unity also.

Yam means self-restraint. In English the word becomes a little different. Not a little different, really, the whole meaning of yam is lost -- because in English self-restraint looks like suppressing, repressing. And these two words, suppression and repression, after Freud, have become four-letter words, ugly. Self-restraint is not repression. In the days when Patanjali used the word 'yam' it had a totally different meaning. Words go on changing. Even now, in India also, samyam, which comes from yam, means 'control', 'repression'. The meaning is lost. Many words have lost their originally intended meaning.

THE EIGHT STEPS OF YOGA ARE: YAM = Self-Restraint; NIYAM = Fixed Observance; ASAN = Posture; PRANAYAM = Breath Regulation;
PRATYAHAR = Astraction; DHARANA = Concentration; DHYAN = Contemplation; SAMADHI = Trance.

This is the whole science of yoga in one sentence, in one seed. Many things are implied. First, let me tell you the exact meaning of each step. And remember, Patanjali calls them steps and limbs, both. They are both. Steps they are because one has to be followed by another, there is a sequence of growth. But they are not only steps: they are limbs of the body of yoga. They have an internal unity, an organic unity also, that is the meaning of limbs.

For example, the hands, the feet, and heart -- they don't function separately. They are not separate; they are an organic unity. If the heart stops, the hand will not move then. Everything is joined together. They are not just like steps on a ladder, because every rung on the ladder is separate. If one rung is broken the whole ladder is not broken. So Patanjali says they are steps, because they have a certain, sequential growth -- but they are also angas --> limbs of a body, organic. You cannot drop any of them. Steps can be dropped; limbs cannot be dropped. You can jump two steps in one jump, you can drop one step, but limbs cannot be dropped; they are not mechanical parts. You cannot remove them. They make you. They belong to the whole; they are not separate. The whole functions through them as a harmonious unit.

So these eight limbs of yoga are both steps, steps in the sense that each follows the other, and they are in a deep relationship. The second cannot come before the first -- the first has to be first and the second has to be second. And the eighth will come to be the eighth -- it cannot be the fourth, it cannot be the first. So they are steps and they are an organic unity also.

Yam means self-restraint. In English the word becomes a little different. Not a little different, really, the whole meaning of yam is lost -- because in English self-restraint looks like suppressing, repressing. And these two words, suppression and repression, after Freud, have become four-letter words, ugly. Self-restraint is not repression. In the days when Patanjali used the word yam it had a totally different meaning. Words go on changing. Even now, in India also, samyam, which comes from yam, means control, repression. The meaning is lost.

You may have heard an anecdote. It is said about King George I of England that he went to see St. John's Cathedral when it was built. It was a masterpiece of art. The builder, the architect, the artist, was present there; his name was Christopher Wren. The king looked at him and complimented him. He said three words: he said, "It is amusing. It is awful. It is artificial." Christopher Wren was so delighted with the compliments... but you will be simply surprised. Those words don't have the same meaning anymore. In those days, three hundred years before, amusing used to mean amazing, awful used to mean awe-inspiring, and artificial used to mean artistic.

Each word has a biography, and it changes many times. As life changes, everything changes: the words take new colors. And, in fact, the words which have the capacity to change, only they remain alive; otherwise they go dead. Orthodox words, reluctant to change, they die. Alive words, who have the capacity to collect a new meaning around them, only they live; and they live in many, many meanings, for centuries. Yam was a beautiful word in Patanjali's days, one of the beautiful.... After Freud, the word has become ugly -- not only the meaning has changed, but the whole flavor, the whole taste of the word.

To Patanjali self-restraint does not mean to repress oneself. It simply means to direct one's life -- not to repress the energies, but to direct, to give them a direction. Because you can live such a life, which goes on moving in opposite directions, in many directions -- then you will never reach anywhere. It is just like a car: the driver goes a few miles to the north, then changes the mind; goes a few miles to the south, then changes the mind; then goes a few miles to the west, then changes the mind; and goes on this way. He will die where he was born. He will never reach anywhere. He will never have the feeling of fulfillment. You can go on moving in many ways, but unless you have a direction you are moving uselessly. You will feel more and more frustrated and nothing else.

To create a self-restraint means, first, to give a direction to your life energy. Life energy is limited. If you go on using it in absurd, undirected ways, you will not reach anywhere. You will be emptied of the energy sooner or later -- and that emptiness will not be the emptiness of a Buddha; it will be simply a negative emptiness. nothing inside, an empty container. You will be dead before you are dead. But these limited energies that have been given to you by nature, existence, God, or whatsoever you like to call it; these limited energies can be used in such a way that they can become the door for the unlimited. If you move rightly, if you move consciously, if you move alert, gathering all your energies and moving in one direction, if you are not a crowd but become an individual -- that is the meaning of yam.

Ordinarily you are a crowd, many voices inside. One says, "Go to this direction"; another says, "That is useless. Go to this." One says, "Go to the temple"; another says, "The theater will be better." And you are never at ease anywhere because wherever you are, you will be repenting. If you go to the theater the voice that was for the temple will go on creating trouble for you: "What are you doing here wasting your time? You would have been in the temple... and prayer is beautiful. And nobody knows what is happening there -- and, nobody knows, this may have been the opportunity for your enlightenment and you have missed." If you go to the temple, the same -- the voice th at was insisting to go to the theater will go on saying: "What are you doing here? Like a foolish man you are sitting here. And you have prayed before and nothing happens. Why are you wasting your time?" And all around you will see fools sitting and doing useless things -- nothing happens. In the theater who knows what excitement. what ecstasy was possible? You are missing.

If you are not an individual, a unitary being, wherever you are, you will always be missing. You will never be at home anywhere You will always be going somewhere or other and never arriving anywhere. You will become mad. The life which is against yam will become mad. It is not surprising that in the West more mad people exist than in the East . The East -- knowingly, unknowingly -- still follows a life of a little self-restraint. In the West to think about self-restraint looks like becoming a slave; to be against self-restraint looks like you are free, independent. But unless you are an individual you cannot be free. Your freedom will be a deception; it will be nothing but suicide. You will kill yourself, destroy your possibilities, your energies; and one day you will feel that the whole life you tried so much but nothing has been gained, no growth has come out of it.

Self-restraint means, the first meaning: to give a direction to life. Self-restraint means to become a little more centered. How can you become a little more centered? Once you give a direction to your life, immediately a center starts happening within you. Direction creates the center; then the center gives direction. And they are mutually fulfilling.

Unless you are self-restrained, the second is not possible -- that's why Patanjali calls them steps. The second is niyam, fixed observance: a life which bas a discipline, a life which has a regularity about it, a life which is lived in a very disciplined way, not hectic. Regularity ... but that too will sound to you like slavery. All beautiful words of Patanjali's time have become ugly now. But I tell you, unless you have a regularity in your life, a discipline, you will be a slave of your instincts -- and you may think this is freedom, but you will be a slave of all the vagrant thoughts. That is not freedom. You may not have any visible master, but you will have many invisible masters within you; and they will go on dominating you. Only a man who has a regularity about him can become the master someday.

That too is far away still, because the real master happens only when the eighth step is achieved -- that is the goal. Then a man becomes a jina, a conqueror. Then a man becomes a buddha, one who is awakened. Then a man becomes a Christ, a savior, because if you are saved, suddenly, you become a savior for others. Not that you try to save them: just your presence is a saving influence. The second is niyam, fixed observance.

The third is posture. And every step come s out of the first, the preceding one: when you have regularity in life, only then can you attain to posture, asan. Try asan sometimes; just try to sit silently. You cannot sit -- the body tries to revolt against you. Suddenly you start feeling pain here and there. The legs are going dead. Suddenly you feel, on many spots of the body, a restlessness. You had never felt it. Why is it that just sitting silently so many problems arise? You feel ants are crawling up. Look, and you will see there are no ants; the body is deceiving you. The body is not ready to be disciplined. The body is spoiled. The body does not want to listen to you. It has become its own master. And you have always followed it. Now, even to sit silently for a few minutes has become almost impossible.

People pass through such hell if you tell them to just sit silently. If I say this to somebody he says, "Just to sit silently, not doing anything?" -- as if "doing" is an obsession. He says, "At least give me a mantra so I can go on chanting inside." He needs some occupation. Just sitting silently seems to be difficult. And that is the most beautiful possibility that can happen to a man: just sitting silently doing nothing.

Asan means a relaxed posture. You are so relaxed in it, you are so restful in it, that there is no need to move the body at all. In that moment, suddenly, you transcend body.

The body is trying to bring you down when the body says, "Now look, many ants are crawling on," or you suddenly feel an urge to scratch, itching. The body is saying, "Don't go so far away. Come back. Where are you going?" -- because the consciousness is moving upwards, going far away from the bodily existence.

Hmm?... the body starts revolting. You have never done such a thing. The body creates problems for you because once the problem is there, you will have to come back. The body is asking for your attention: "Give your attention." It will create pain. It will create itching; you will feel like scratching. Suddenly the body is no longer ordinary; the body is in revolt. It is a body politics. You are being called back: "Don't go so far away, be occupied. Remain here" -- remain tethered to the body and to the earth. You are moving towards the sky, and the body feels afraid.

Asan comes only to a person who lives a life of restraint, fixed observance, regularity; then posture is possible. Then you can simply sit because the body knows that you are a disciplined man. If you want to sit, you will sit -- nothing can be done against you. The body can go on saying things... by and by it stops.

Nobody is there to listen. It is not suppression; you are not suppressing the body. On the contrary, the body is trying to suppress you. It is not suppression. You are not saying anything for the body to do; you are simply resting. But the body does not know any rest because you have never given rest to it. You have always been restless. The very word asan means rest, to be in deep rest; and if you can do that, many things will become possible to you.

 

 

 
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