As it was already mentioned above yogic path is closely connected with changing attitudes. As our “normal” attitudes are basically the outcome of kleshas that are hidden deeply in our unconscious mind and have to be removed or dissolved on the way of liberation, it is clear that if the roots have to die, the whole tree has to die. It means that the whole tree of our “normal” attitudes has to die and to be substituted with another tree growing out of other roots of clear vision and contact with divine. So changing attitudes and advancement in yogic path are two unseparable processes, even more they are one complex process.
However different systems of yoga developing the ladder to liberation place changing attitude at different levels. Some of them recommend to start the yogic path from it and after attaining mastering in it start other practices. Other systems of yoga advise to start other practices, observe how your attitudes change naturally and then also naturally introduce specific work on changing attitudes.
Let us start to discuss the systems which recommend aspirants to start their yogic path with precise work on changing attitudes. One of these systems is raja yoga as it is described by PATANJALI in his YOGA SUTRAS. Patanjali depicted yoga as an eight-fold path leading to liberation. These eight steps on the way are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. The first two steps on the ladder, as they are described in Chapter Two: Sadhana Pada, are YAMA and NIYAMA. Yama is a social code, self-restrains or the rules how to organise our behaviour in society in a way conductive to yoga. Niyama is personal observances or the rules how to organise our behaviour in regard to ourselves also in a way conductive to yoga. Both yama and niyama constitute direct work with attitudes preparing the soil for other practices.
Why can it be important to start with attitudes? Because our in appropriate behaviour guided by improper attitudes or our moral imperfections, clog our mind with negative patterns, such as guilty feelings, inner conflicts, emotional disorders, which are stored in unconscious mind and manifest afterwards with even more negativity. Negativity makes our mind restless and agitated. However for higher practices it is necessary to pacify mind, make it calm and stable in order to be able to transcend it and to see our true self behind the mind. This type of attitudinal work helps to pacify the mind first.
Patanjali outlines five yamas and five niyamas. Actually it is the smallest number of yamas and niyamas among other systems of yoga, but even this is a lot to start with. Every system of yoga orients on the needs of the society and the time when it was composed and recorded. Patanjali wrote his Yoga Sutras approximately 400 B.C For that time this approach, i.e. starting the yogic path with just a few yamas and niyamas, most probably was the best.
What are the yamas recommended by Patanjali? They are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (honesty and non-theft), Brahmacharya (sexual control) and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Let us have a closer look at each of them. Patanjali actually intended the practices of raja yoga for people who devoted their life to seeking realization and who probably isolated themselves from society. But his yamas can be also used by modern seekers of mental peace living worldly life. However yamas can be accordingly interpreted for this purpose.
AHIMSA (non-violence) should be practiced as far as possible not only physically, but also in thought and words. However for modern society it can be interpreted in the following way:” if someone causes you trouble and you have to fight, then do so, but without hatred or malice if it is possible. Just accept it as something you must do. A highly evolved person will do his duty (dharma) even if it means harm to others.”1
SATYA (truth) also should be practiced as far as possible because lies and the covering up of lies involves much mental strain. “Most people who tell lies are also under a constant fear, perhaps, unconsciously, that their lie will be revealed to others. This subject covers various forms of lies such as pretending to be more than you are, richer then you are, hiding facts by only telling half the truth and so on.”2 At the same time covering truth under certain circumstances, for example, not telling a patient that he is going to die soon, can be also considered as a duty.
ASTEYA (honesty and non-theft) : in the same way as satya is explained, thieves will always feel mental or emotional disturbances, manifest or unmanifest as a result of dishonesty. Besides there are very few people inclined to do yoga that means seeking the truth, who do not realize that without being honest with other people and with oneself it is not possible to discover ultimate truth.
BRAHMACHARYA (sexual control) was absolutely necessary for those who devoted their life to self-realization. Why? Because with a sexual act we lose immense amount of vital energy which is needed for advancement in spiritual way. If this energy is redirected towards spiritual and meditational experiences, they will be highlighted and expanded. For modern people this rule can be interpreted as having sexual life to a reasonable extent, or as little as possible (if you consider yourself a true yoga seeker), or at least having sexual life only with one partner (as changing partners lead to increased loss of energy).
APARIGRAHA (non-possessiveness). This rule counteracts attachment to outside objects that is why yogis usually have only a bit of clothes and a vessel for water. However for modern people this rule can be interpreted in the following way: “you can have belongings, but you must try not to be attached to them. Think of the unhappiness is your life that has been caused by the loss or damage of a prized possession. Consider also a continual fear you have that you might lose or damage your possessions. The overall result is that your mind is continually plagued by tension, perhaps consciously, though probably subconsciously. You can be a very rich person, yet if you have this attitude of non-attachment you will be unburdened of many worries and tensions of the mind.”3
Now what are the niyamas recommended by Patanjali? They are Sucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Swadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (self-surrender). Same like yamas they were meant for hermits. I will try to give them modern interpretation.
SUCHA (purity) applies to the body as well as to the mind. As far as our body is concerned one should keep the body as pure as possible by regular bathing and also by eating food that is as pure and nutritious as possible. If you don’t you will be more susceptible to diseases and besides your mind will not be sensitive enough to respond to the subtle vibrations. Both are great hindrances to meditational practices. This rule also applies to the purification of the mind from disturbing thoughts and emotions, which can be done through practicing yamas and niyamas.
SANTOSHA (contentment): “it is essential to develop the ability to withstand daily problems without being deeply affected, to be contented no matter what circumstances beset one.”4 Otherwise the mind is constantly fluctuating with happiness and unhappiness and in this way is not suitable for meditation. Not external contentment to impress other people, but inner contentment that requires acceptance of whatever comes to you.
TAPAS (austerity) is intended to strengthen one’s willpower. “Willpower is absolutely necessary in yoga as the mind is like a kitten which wanders here and there without purpose. It will try to make you do things you don’t want to do.”5 However tapas doesn’t mean suppression of the mind as this can do more harm than good. For modern people undergoing small austerities such as fasting, maintaining a vow of silence for a few hours, etc. will do a lot of good.
SWADHYAYA (self-study) generally means that one should continually watch one’s actions and reactions with more awareness to find out how one reacts to different situations and why one becomes happy in one situation and unhappy in another, what are one’s attachments, etc. In this way one will gradually find out how the mind works or at least become more aware of the things that disturb one’s mind. This rule also includes studying manifestations of one’s mind in meditations, as these manifestations will tell one the deep-rooted negativity in one’s mind. And it is only is when one knows these deep-rooted problems that one starts to remove them and further improve one’s ability to experience deeper mediations, which these deep-rooted tensions hamper.
ISHWARA PRANIDHANA (self-surrender): “this means to surrender your actions to God, the supreme consciousness, existence, or whatever name you have for that which drives you through life. Your every action should be a dedication of worship. You should try, by constant practice, to lose your individuality, your ego and realize that your actions are nothing but a manifestation of the supreme consciousness. It is our ego that causes much of our emotional and mental problems. It is our ego that makes us hate, fight, become attached to objects and so on. If we reduce our ego a little, our mind becomes correspondingly less disturbed and more tranquil. If we can totally lose our ego, which is not easy, then our meditations will automatically take us to reality. karma and bhakti yoga, selfless action and divine devotion respectively, are a great help in this respect.”6
The modern reader may find these yamas and niyamas impractical, even a little “heavy” for modern world. However it is an excellent tool to get attuned with real needs of our true nature. Some people may say that these yamas and niyamas are contrary to their nature and therefore will cause even more mental problems. However consciously the individual may feel he is only doing what comes naturally, but conflict occurs in the subconscious realms, which are attuned with the qualities that yamas and niyamas are supposed to develop, and this cause mental disturbances of the type that the individual feels consciously but does not know what the cause is. It is in this form that most mental problems occur in our modern society. There is a conflict between what one actually does and what the subconscious really wants to do. However to start one’s yogic path with yamas and niyamas now is a great challenge and one will find a lot of difficulties with it. That is why the advice here is to be gentle with yourself, tread slowly and gently.
Patanjali once again refers to changing attitudes in another chapter of his Yoga Sutras. In Chapter One: Samadhi Pada he describes obstacles in the path of yoga and gives methods to remove them. Patanjali offers a wide range of these methods: obstacles in the path of yoga can be removed by one-pointedness, or by cultivating opposite virtues, or by controlling prana, or by observing sense experience, or by inner illumination, or by detachment from matter, or by knowledge of dream and sleep, or by mediation as desired. What interesting for us in accordance with the topic of the dissertation is how to remove obstacles in the path of yoga by cultivating opposite virtues.
Sutra 33 of Chapter One reads: “In relation to happiness, misery, virtue and vice, by cultivation the attitudes of friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference respectively, the mind becomes purified and peaceful.”7 The point for practicing these attitudes is the same as it was mentioned before : the mind by nature is full of unrest, it cannot become concentrated easily. It is not in the nature of the mind to look within. Therefore when you are trying to turn the mind inside the obstacles and impurities must be first removed. Cultivating these four virtues is a great help for this removal. Further more Sri Swami Satchidananda points out that “whether you are interested in reaching samadhi or plan to ignore yoga entirely I would advise you to remember at least this one sutra. It will be very helpful to you in keeping a peaceful mind in your daily life… sukha, dukha, punya and apunya - the happy, the unhappy people, the virtuous and the wicked. At any given moment, you can fit any person into one of these four categories.”8 Seems that this four-fold attitude can be applied at any situation that is very practical.
Let us see what are usual attitudes towards happiness, unhappiness, virtue and vice and how the alternative approach suggested in Sutra 33 helps to restore balance of mind. If we see a happy person the ordinary reaction will be jealousy, hate, competitive feelings. For example, if one see a beautiful women walking out of a beautiful, expensive car into a beautiful, rich house, the reaction in many cases will be more or less the same. “Why she has all of it, but I don’t? She must be exploiting many people like me, sucking our blood and after she enjoys, doing nothing while we are losing our health working hard…” She just get out of the car and worked into the house, but the observer is burning from inside. Reactions like this create disturbances in the subconscious mind which can manifest in fearful visions and in this way obstruct the mind from being concentrated. However if we apply the attitude of friendliness to this happy person and think something like: “Look, how happy she looks, it is so good that some people can enjoy so much wealth. God, let all of people be wealthy and happy like she is. May be, I will also enjoy the same wealth one day”, then our mental peace will be preserved and balance restored. Being glad for other people’s success and happiness is an excellent instrument to avoid mental disbalance.
For unhappy people we can feel even enjoyment especially if we do not like that person. We can think like “it is good that not only I suffer in this life, and besides he most probably did some bad things before and is suffering now from his bad karma. It’s good for him to suffer.” May he/she is suffering from previous bad karma, but we should have compassion if you can lend a helping hand, do it. Whether our mercy is going to help that person or not, by our own feeling of mercy, at least we are helped.
When we see virtuous people, we tend to find some faults with them and criticize them. If we can’t find real faults we become even angrier and criticize without any real basis to do it. The advice here is don’t try to pull virtuous people down appreciate the virtuous qualities in him and try to cultivate them is your life.
If we see vicious people, the advice here is to keep indifference. Don’t hail their vicious deeds, but also don’t try to advise such people because wicked people seldom take advice. If you try to advise them you will lose your peace. They take it as an insult. They think you are proud of your position. If you sense even a little of that tendency in somebody, stay away. He/she has to learn by experience.
Thus four-fold attitude gives rise to inner peace by removal of the disturbing factors not only from the conscious level, but also from the deepest parts of subconscious.
In the conclusion to this chapter I would like to point out once again that change of attitude can facilitate the yogic way to higher practices like meditation to a great extent. And the great sage Patanjali even places change of attitudes on the first step on his ladder of self-realization. However in the next chapter we will see that there can be another approach to priorities on the way to liberation.
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati, ”Meditations from the Tantras,” p.70.
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati, ”Meditations from the Tantras,” p.70.
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati, “Meditations from the Tantras,” p.71.
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati, “Meditations from the Tantras,” p.72.
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati, “Meditations from the Tantras”, P. 73.
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati, “Meditations from the Tantras”, P. 73-74.
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati, “Four chapters on Freedom”, p.96.
- “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”, translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda, p. 54-55.