By Paul David Thomas
An old Indian man sits in the form of a pretzel chanting unintelligible phrases inside of a cave high atop the Himalayas in the middle of winter. He balances himself on the tip of his right eyelash and performs the most inconceivable bodily contortions. What the hell is he doing? He is personifying the stereotype of yoga. True Yoga is not about these ridiculous antics; rather it is about realizing our divinity through mental and physical control. Yoga, which translates as union in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, teaches spiritual liberation by controlling the body and ultimately the mind. The discipline of Yoga leads to a state of consciousness interpreted by saints and prophets as a union, or communion, with God. Yoga is essentially the passionate uniting of opposites in one’s consciousness. Therefore, the ultimate Yoga is the uniting of the individual consciousness with the entire universe, otherwise known as God. Many people think that Yoga is a religion, but in fact, Yoga is a science that leads to religion. (Crowley; 8 Lectures, 3) This approach to Yoga has been labeled by Aleister Crowley in the early nineteen hundreds as Scientific Illuminism. The central theory is that the Infinite, the Absolute, God, the Oversoul, or whatever you may prefer to call it, is always present, but veiled or masked by the thoughts of the mind, just as one cannot hear a heartbeat in a noisy city. (Crowley, Magick; 42-43)
The most prominent system of this ancient science is called Raja Yoga, or Kingly Union in Sanskrit, and was developed in the second century B.C. by a Hindu philosopher named Patanjali. The theory of Patanjali, expressed in his life’s work, the Yoga Sutra, holds that the central reality of self can be reached only by the control of mental activities. Raja Yoga is a system that leads to the stilling of the thoughts and is broken down into eight parts, or limbs. These limbs are Yama and Niyama (restraint and assertion), Asana (posture), Pranayama (control of Prana), Pratyahara (obliteration of senses), Dharana (focused attention), Dhyana (concentration), and Samadhi (super-consciousness). (Mathew 217-218) By approaching these limbs step by step and with a scientific attitude, one can attain to the summit of this science and experience what the ancient Hindus called enlightenment or the realization of Truth.
The first two limbs of Raja Yoga, Yama, and Niyama, are moral regulations. Yama consists of the following virtues: non-killing, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-receiving of gifts. The regulations of Niyama are austerity, study, contentment, cleanliness, and worship of God. The observance of these guidelines help to calm the mind and can allow the yogi, or student of yoga, to harvest the fruits of his work. Patanjali taught that for one to be successful in Yoga, one must not harm any living thing, steal, lie, receive gifts, or allow the animal desires to go unchecked. In addition, it is important to study and learn, resist greed, be clean in body and mind, and always worship God. These rules or guidelines are a bit out of date and unpractical. Of course, during the time of Patanjali, these regulations were very effective, but now they must be changed to suit our current needs. Each must discover for themselves those habits that cause distraction and eliminate them. (Crowley; 8 Lectures, 11) This is the most
difficult limb of Yoga to develop and can never be fully mastered. Most people spend their entire life in the hunt for material objects, and they completely neglect the spiritual side of their being. It is not easy to give up the pleasurable experiences in order to calm the mind and reduce mental excitement. I still find myself searching for pleasure instead of trying to keep the desires closely controlled. The Yamas and Niyamas evolve as the yogi discovers which stimuli to avoid and which are beneficial. Just as Yama is the restraint of certain of negative tendencies, Niyama is the assertion of positive tendencies. To have success in Yama and Niyama, one must eliminate those habits that cause uneasiness in the mind, and arrange life in a way that produces the least amount of distractions. (Vivekananda 87-89)
Good posture is essential in any aspect of life. Asana, as the Hindus call it, is a task that results in the control of one’s body. To be able to sit still for long periods of time, without any distractions such as itching or fidgeting, is an asset that is necessary in the path to controlling the mind. In his Yoga Sutra, Patanjali states that “disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, sloth, worldly-mindedness, false notion, missing the point, and instability, are the causes of the distraction of the mind, and they are the obstacles.” (Visnu-devandanta 21) Asana is said by the Yoga Masters to correct and prevent these issues. The method is simply to choose a posture (sitting with legs crossed is most common) and prevent the body from moving. Shortly after beginning, one will find that this is exceedingly difficult. Persistence and perseverance are the only keys to this limb of Yoga, as eventually the itching, fidgeting, and cramping will suddenly disappear and one will have succeeded. Once Asana is mastered, the yogi can be sure that the body will no longer be a distraction to the mind. Aleister Crowley, the infamous but knowledgeable master of this science, has stated that the pain and discomfort felt in Asana will suddenly vanish and the fact of the presence of the body will be forgotten. (Crowley; Magick, 16) Crowley also notes that the success of this practice is marked by the ability to balance a saucer of water on the top of the head for one hour without spilling a drop. (609) This ability is important in the advanced stages of Raja Yoga, and it marks a definite attainment, even in such a preliminary stage, that most people who attempt never accomplish. (Rovelli, 2001)
In Hindu philosophy, Prana is described as the fundamental force of all life. In the third limb of Yoga, the yogi aspires to achieve control of this Prana through an exercise called Pranayama. The breath is the most basic and subtle movement of Prana in the body. Therefore, controlling the breath is the most effective method of controlling the Prana. In Magick, Crowley explains that since the object of meditation and Yoga is to still the mind, a useful preliminary may be to still the consciousness of all the functions of the body. (18) To perform Pranayama, one should sit in Asana and concentrate the mind on the rhythm of the breath. Using a stopwatch or other timing device, the breath is regulated in the following manner. The inhalation should last five seconds and the exhalation should last five seconds also, with the breath being full and complete, expanding the lungs to full capacity, and expelling the air completely. During this cycle, one must alternate the closing of each nostril. Physical exertion is the indication that the technique is proper. Once this becomes very easy, a holding of the breath is added. The duration of each stage in this cycle increases gradually until one reaches a time of 10-second inhalation, 30-second holding of the breath, and 20-second exhalation. The results of the successful practice of Pranayama are the profuse sweating even in cold climates, uncontrollable muscle spasms, and the automatic rigidity of the body. When these results occur, one will have absolute control over
the Prana and can be assured that while in higher stages of meditation, the functions of the body will not disturb the mind. (Crowley; Magick, 634-642)
With the physical obstacles to silencing the mind accomplished, we can now focus on the main theme of Yoga and learn how to begin analyzing the mind. Pratyahara is the first process in the mental part of our mission. While the meaning of Pratyahara is the obliteration of the senses, the means and the outcome are a bit more complex. Here we generally examine the contents of the mind that we desire to control. (Crowley; Magick, 24) The first lesson is to sit for some time and let the mind run on, all the while observing the thought patterns that naturally arise. We must prevent our mind from attaching itself to the external stimuli that it is constantly bombarded with. (Vivekananda 69-70) On a personal note, I have experienced the elementary signals of the onset of Pratyahara. While in Asana, my mind running free, I very briefly lose all perception of outside distractions. My outward attention is withdrawn, and I am unaware of time, hot and cold, noises, or smells. During stages of Pratyahara all consciousness of the body is absent, but this should have been accomplished while mastering Asana. In conclusion, Pratyahara as a practice involves ignoring external stimuli and objectively observing the thought patterns of the mind. This results in the complete obliteration of the senses, and a calming of the mind. This limb of Yoga is essentially the link between the physical and mental realms of consciousness, and its importance cannot be overstressed.
Every preceding stage has been mere training for the meditation of Yoga. The last three limbs, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi, are commonly grouped together under the title of Samyama. Samyama is one unbroken progression with varying degrees that mark the specific results. It can be logically deduced that focused attention will lead to concentration, and concentration will, in turn, lead to a super-conscious experience. Patanjali defines Samyama thusly: “Dharana is holding the mind onto some particular object. An unbroken flow of knowledge in that object is Dhyana. When that, giving up all forms, reflects only the meaning, it is Samadhi.” (Crowley; Magick, 30)
Dharana, as we know, is the practice of focusing the attention of the mind, and begins with the yogi, relaxed and in Asana, attempting to sustain images in the screen of the conscious mind. (Mumford, 59) One may begin by visualizing simple shapes and colors in mind, striving to keep the image from distorting or altering in any way. Once this has become effortless, more complex images are integrated, such as a swinging pendulum, or a piston rising and falling. Again, one should strive for regularity and control of these visions. Finally, living objects are imagined and sustained. The most significant hindrance in this effort is the invasion of unwanted thoughts. The focused attention is broken whenever the image is lost or distorted. Only endurance and watchfulness can aid the Yogi. The steady work of Dharana has practical uses as well. (Crowley; Magick, 610) The powers of concentration in everyday life are a validation of Dharana. (Rovelli, 2002) I find myself with ever-increasing capacity to memorize text and dialogue, exceeding what I could achieve without my routine Yoga practice.
Dhyana, or concentration, can be thought of as an involuntary Dharana. In the latter, there are multiple thought waves that compose the image, but in Dhyana, this multitude gives way to a single wave. (Vivekananda 91) At any given moment, our consciousness consists of two things:
the subject and the object, the seer and the thing seen. When Dhyana is experienced, these two separate entities unite and become one. There is no distinct method for attaining Dhyana because it is the experience of a result, a noun not a verb. During Dhyana, the thought waves flow unceasingly toward the selected object, and the ego of the yogi is abolished. Time, space, and causality are nonexistent. The yogi and his image are one. This experience is beyond description even by the masters of language, and so as not to confuse the reader, this author will not attempt the impossible. (Crowley; Magick, 30-36)
Nothing could be more difficult to elucidate than Samadhi. As the summit of Raja Yoga, Samadhi is the culmination of all the exercises that come before it and is in many ways identical to Dhyana. The difference being that in the former stage, all forms of the image are gone and only the subtle meaning remains. Samadhi can be safely defined as the passionate and violent uniting of opposites in consciousness, destroying both so that only one quintessence remains. Duality of any variety is abolished as the Ego is united with the Non-ego. Crowley, who has spent the majority of his life researching Yoga and Mysticism, has concluded that Dhyana and Samadhi cannot be attained using trivial objects. Only those images that produce a natural wonder or bewilderment can be used to these ends. It is for this reason that the masters of Yoga have formulated for themselves one symbol to represent the entire infinite universe. Samadhi on this symbol would result in the annihilation of that universe in the consciousness of the yogi, or in the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness, again destroying both so that only the union remains. (Crowley; Magick, 37-41)
Crowley, Aleister. Eight Lectures on Yoga. Studio City: O.T.O., 1969
Crowley, Aleister. Magick. York Beach: Samuel Wiser, Inc., 1994
Mathew, Roy J. The True Path. Cambridge: Perseus, 2001
Mumford, Dr. John. A Chakra and Kundalini Workbook. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1962
Rovelli, Paul Joseph. Private Lecture to the Author. San Jose, 20 Sept. 2001
Rovelli, Paul Joseph. Letter to the Author. San Jose, 10 June 2002
Vishnu-devananda, Swami. Hatha Yoga Pradipika. India: OM Lotus, 1987
Vivekananda, Swami. Raja Yoga. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1956