The Psychology of Yoga

Written by kalabin. Posted in Articles


All ways are similar: they lead to nowhere… Does the way have a heart? If it does, it is a good way; if it does not, there is no sense in it. One way makes traveling joyful: no matter how long you may travel, you and your way are inseparable. The other way will make you curse your life. One way gives you power, the other one destroys you. (Carlos Castaneda. “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge”)

The notable peculiarity of Don Juan’s Teachings is the presence of thoughts which are simple for understanding and strong in point. “The way of the heart”: these two ordinary words being united give the sense of life. For thousands of years, people have been looking for the sense of their existence: they invent predestinations or state that life as it is has no sense, but there is a sense in the quality of its living. But everything genius is notable for its simplicity. The main features of the heart’s way are easiness and burst of energy. On the right way of life, there is no place for hesitation, breakdown, fear, ambitions. Difficulties inspire but do not drain one’s spirit. You feel what ‘living your own life’ means.

You must know the feeling: a person goes through incredible difficulties, and it is really hard, but at the same time the person feels that he is doing work really dear for him. The way of heart is not the easiest way in the ordinary understanding of irresponsible ‘doing nothing’. This way is often going against the stream. This is the way you feel it’s yours. You often have to do your favorite work simultaneously with non-favorite one; or you have to face the lack of understanding by your surrounding. But the thought that you are doing just your own work makes you happy.

If you don’t work according to your vocation, the job can turn into torture. Whatever easy the work can be, you will feel its senselessness. And when you start doing something following your vocation, the sense will appear; and no matter how hard it can be physically and no matter how the surrounding people try to make you change your mind, you will feel that you live just your own life.

It is easy to live without working, but if a person at the age of 30 doesn’t work and depends on his relatives while explaining it as ‘searching for oneself’, it is not the heart way, it’s escape from problems. Later, when the person appears to lack his relatives’ financial support, he suddenly realizes that he neither has found oneself nor become independent in life, as he was looking for easy ways not the way of heart.

If the person accepts the problems, isn’t afraid of them and, despite everything, starts to work according to his vocation without being afraid of new problems, in the course of time one will notice that things will sort themselves out. And there will be more time for creative self-expression in one’s favorite business.

Carlos Castaneda and his teacher Don Juan are our contemporaries. But since ancient times there existed people who were searching and found the ways of tuning their perception that helped to fully realize their creative potential during their lives. They considered the concentration and ordering the World self-consciousness inside themselves as their main and single mission.

These human Beings developed the way to reach the consciousness state they were looking for that had a number of advantages as compared with the everyday one. It was they who introduced the term ‘yoga’ and let the following generations look for the definitions corresponding to that Sanskrit word. It is poly-semantic, but all the meanings except one have later origin. We are interested in the direct translation: ‘yoga’ is ‘bridle’ or ‘curb’. There are only two definitions accepted by all the schools and directions as the canonic definitions of ‘yoga’.

“Hard possessing the feelings – this is called yoga. That is the knowledge disclosed by Death” (“Katha-Upanishada”). Pay attention: the first text, where the term ‘yoga’ is clearly determined, does not give the authorship of the definition to Krishna or Shiva: they in turn were ‘the yoga lords’ at later times according to the change of the predominating social-political tendencies and according to the will of ‘the society rulers’ who always were good at mass speculations of the crowd’s emotional attachments. In fact, the first was Yama who was responsible for death. We can cite Castaneda: “Death is the best advisor…”

Trying to find the very first definition of yoga, we find it in Upanishadas, the ancient texts carrying the basic information about the Universe through ages and thousands of years. This knowledge hasn’t been changed significantly; only corrections have been introduced in applying this information to the society. There, some Yama, the god of death, discovers the meaning Yoga to a boy named Nachiketa. Nachikete’s father, Vadjashravas, was going to give out all his possession as a religious exploit. To his son’s repetitive questions: “Whom will you give me to?”, he answered: “I’ll give you to Yama”.

Nachiketa went to the kingdom of death and acquired an invaluable gift: the mystery of life after death. Yama tried to draw Nachiketa from acquiring the desired gift, but in the end he had to give in as Nachiketa desired knowledge and wasn’t tempted with the earthy enjoyments offered to him. Yama revealed to Nachiketa that Yoga is the skill of controlling all one’s emotions.

Several thousands of years ago, controlling oneself was only restraining one’s emotions because a person was mostly actuated by instinctive mind. The uncontrolled emotions were the most serious obstacle on the way of Yoga. At first, a person had to cope with one’s animal instincts. At that time, nobody knew about the meaning of Yoga as one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy – the deep contemplation, unity with the Almighty, etc.

The meaning of the word as “the unity with the highest sense” appeared later as the result of practical developing the methods of self-perfection — after Christ, after Patandjali; and then it was used in its first meaning: yoga is ‘a bridle, curb or restraint’, or, if translated into the modern terminology, it is ‘control’. So, the first definition of Yoga is: ‘control’ is the ability to control all one’s own emotions’.

“The behavior of mind is restrained by a bridle” – that is Patandjali’s definition given in the paper dated to about the second age B.C. and known as “Yoga of Darshan” or “Yoga of Sutra” (“yogah-chitta-vritti-nirodhah”: the first and most direct translation of the word – yoga is curb; chitta – mind, consciousness, psychic; vritti – behavior, activity; nirodha – restraint, as a judicial term – deprivation of freedom). In the second definition we are dealing with a state of consciousness which is achieved by means of ‘yoga’ as ‘curb’. Thus, ‘yoga’, already at the level of its basic definition, is not a self-purpose or some separate thing, but a method of controlling the behavior of mind.

This definition is a later definition than the first one. It has a solid base – twenty or thirty ages of using the practices of controlling the mind behavior since the moment of formulating the first definition. That is why here, beside the solutions of the most important problems of self-control and perception control, there is the control of thinking process, the creative functions of consciousness and attempts ‘to single out’ the original state of ‘empty mind’ in its pure form. The everyday motivations of a human being are stipulated by the hormone-animal predomination of instinctive mind. This fact makes the problems of self-control and perception control the most vital.

It is obvious that in both definitions we are dealing with ‘curb’, not ‘a bridle’. Patandjali defines the key term of his paper and lets the reader understand what it is dealing with the phrase: ‘yogah-chitta-vritti-nirodhah’. While translating the phrase from one language into another, it makes sense to translate all the words. Let’s translate this phrase without digressing from the meanings given by the Sanskrit-Russian Dictionary compiled by qualified specialists: ‘behavior of mind being restrained by curb’.

Using a more modern terminology, we can try to translate the word ‘yoga’ as not ‘a bridle, curb’ but ‘control’. At those times, when horse transport was the only possible way of moving (except walking), a bridle was the direct association with what is now understood as ‘control’.

So, ‘yogah-chitta-vritti-nirodhah’ is ‘mind behavior which is restrained by a bridle’. Or ‘control is controlling the mind activity’. In this way, Patandjali allows to understand that, while saying in his paper about ‘control’, he means ‘controlling the mind activity’. Yoga is ‘a bridle, curb’, that is ‘control’ or the ‘instrumental’ state of consciousness – the sphere of perceiving and processing information. That is the beginning of using consciousness in its new quality – the tuned and sub-controlled by conscious will. The achievement of control state reduces to the method of tuning instrumental means which can be used by the consciousness living in a body.

Patandjali describes the standard style of human perception work in the following way: “Mind behavior is restrained by a bridle. In this case perception is carried out from the level of self-consciousness. In other words, it corresponds to the level of mental activity”.

The process of self-consciousness is impeded by “the emotional-mental white noise” consisting of the senseless fuss, thoughts and mental forms which are hardly controllable. Without any control (‘yoga’ or ‘curb’), a person is unable to perceive oneself. The person perceives only the senseless behavior of one of the instrumental aspects of one’s essence – the mind fuss, and one takes it as oneself. Some combination of motivations determined by three main animal instincts (self-protection, stock continuation, kind preservation), which is embodied in this or that hormone background, gives birth to certain wishes which correspond to these or those emotions. Human mind readily “slants” the corresponding brain processes (in certain quantity-quality combinations) in favor of them

It is understandable that any motivation appearing in the process of this fuss is perceived as the guide for action: “I want!”. In fact, it is the body motivated by instincts that ‘wants’, not ‘I’.

Patandjali names “five components of mental activity causing and non-causing sufferings”: understanding, delusion, fantasy, dream, reminiscence. “Understanding originates from direct experience, speculation or explaining. The illusion of understanding based on the information irrelevant to reality is delusion. The stream of empty images having no real base is fantasy. The reflex mental activity without understanding is dream. The exact reproduction of what was perceived is reminiscence.”

It should be noted that, while speaking about dream, Patandjali doesn’t assert that a body should sleep for carrying out ‘reflex mental activity without understanding’ by the brain. You can ask the question: do a lot of people you know are in the state of 100% wakefulness? The situation gets worse by the fact that Patandjali defines ‘the stream of continually repetitive thoughts formed by previous impressions as the material objects which do not exist in nature”.

So, being uncontrolled, all the five kinds of mental activity impede the adequate self-consciousness of “I (Ego)” by hiding the picture of the more or less objective reality behind the mantle of images, thoughts, associative rows, emotional reactions, etc. And only without that ‘mantle of mental fuss’ we can comprehend that our ‘Ego’ and “the mantle’ are different in essence, and behind ‘the mantle’ there is ‘something more’ that can be perceived by our ‘Ego’ as it is, and not ‘through the mantle’. But it is possible only when ‘the mantle falls down’, that is when the brain fuss stops.

The only way to tune the mind so that it could understand itself is the control over mental activity, the removal of mental fuss. In that case, there happens the transition from the normal average-man state of hormone-conditioned mental fuss to the state of conscious control over the mental activity and understanding of motivations in our behavior.

This is a qualitatively new, effective state of mind concerning the tuning of the creative thinking process. The creation of an abstract idea and its certain implementation in an intellectual or material product, or the creative action is the highest manifestation of consciousness activity. Among the endless variety of protein structures, only a human being is able to create things individually and consciously.

Everyone among us who live here and now is the centre of the Universe, the concentration point of self-awareness of the World. And our main responsibility in any of embodiments is the responsibility before oneself for the development of one’s own free awareness. To develop the awareness, it is the creative action that is necessary as it is only in such a way that the creative feature is aware – the creation feature of the World’s being. That is why our main responsibility before the World here and now is the responsibility for the maximum development and full realization of those talents and skills of creation which are put into us since our birth.

The results of our creation can be used by other human beings in their creative actions directed into the awareness development. Only in this way we can really help them in their Way. This is the essence of compassion which, as well as freedom and creation, cannot exist without a human Heart. The only thing which can really help the other in their real development is the results of our creation which is also impossible without Heart.

Only the creative approach to every action, every thought and every word can teach awareness. Only the maximum awareness at every moment of life develops awareness. Only the continuous development of awareness at every moment of life lets us fulfill the main and single mission of our life – the concentration and development of the self-awareness of the World within ourselves.

The first and the most important step in this way is ‘taking off the cover’ in order to see the processes occurring in our mind as if aside and understand that our self-awareness and the mind fuss are not the same. Just that is why Patandjali names estrangement, or the absence of craving for the wish objects perceived directly or known from description, as the necessary basis for controlling all the fife kinds of mental activity.

According to Patandjali’s statement, just the estrangement gives birth to the possibility of ‘the self-awareness of oneself irrelative to the triple nature of being’. It is ‘triple’ because the functional dynamics of nature (‘prakriti’ Sanskrit) is defined by the interaction of basic Powers or ‘beginnings’ (‘gun’ Sanskrit, the names of those three Powers – ‘tamas’(minus), ‘rajas’(plus) and ‘sattva’(stable dynamic balance of the first two ones). ‘Sattva’ is isolated as a separate ‘beginning’ as sattva isn’t a mechanic balance – a balance of the mutual annihilation of plus and minus.

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