The ultimate aim of Yoga is the expansion of consciousness and eventual enlightenment. Yoga is the path of evolution into self realization.

The Yoga sutras of Patanjali clearly define the eightfold path known as Ashtanga Yoga. (Not to be confused with the Hatha Yoga method taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois commonly known in the west as Ashtanga Yoga.)

The Yoga Sutras

The word sutra means thread. There are eight main strands which map out the path of yoga and from this the word ashtanga is derived meaning eightfold path.

The eight strands are listed below but remember they require careful thought and contemplation as so often they can be misinterpreted and misunderstood. It is important that we always remember that yoga is not a religion it is simply a way of life that can enhance our existing beliefs and make our lives meaningful and whole.

  1. Yamas (Universal ethics)
  2. Niyamas (personal observances)
  3. Asanas (postures and physical practice)
  4. Pranayama (Awareness and directing of Prana through breathing techniques)
  5. Pratyahara (withdrawal from the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration/contemplation)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi. (Enlightenment)

We will look at the Yoga Sutras and Yogic methods of meditation in more depth at a later date and Saturday workshops are available in West London for those wishing to learn more. (See newsletter for dates)

In the meantime a friend of mine who is a Buddhist monk has written a short introduction to basic Buddhist meditation practice.




Buddhist meditation

From the personal perspective of a Buddhist monk.

Firstly find a comfortable posture, ideally sitting on a cushion but remember ideals are just ideals and generally not attainable, which is probably just as well because Buddhist meditation is more about letting go than controlling or gaining!

What we are really looking for is a posture that is naturally balanced, so if you are on a cushion, envisage a tripod, knees on the ground and buttocks on the cushion with a strait back, (does a camera tripod use energy to stay to stay balanced?) We also can be very balanced and alert without forcing or struggling.

Of course you can sit on a chair and meditate, again in a balanced position; in fact we need to practice meditation in the four postures e.g. sitting standing walking and lying down.

It is said, while standing just stand, while walking just walk, while lying down be aware of the body and its sensations.

There are various methods, one of them being (samatha practices) developing peace and calm through sustained attention, included in this is (anapanasati) mindfulness of breathing.

One method is to sweep the body which means, place your attention on the crown of the head and then become aware of that place, maybe letting it relax but not proliferating about it for any reason.

Now move your attention centimetre by centimetre, always Knowing with bare attention if your mind is present or not, continue though the whole of the body.

As you can imagine it could take a long time to work through the whole body down to the toes,

So sweep at a speed that suits you, perhaps the most important thing to remember is the mind will wonder because that’s its nature plus that’s what we have conditioned it to do. So when the mind does go off on a journey or gets stuck in views and opinions just become aware of that and let the mind return to the particular area you were sweeping.

Whatever you do don’t make value judgements about the thoughts or the fact the mind wont stay on the object for more than maybe a few seconds, to make judgements, is just like putting petrol on the fire.

As mentioned above mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) is a very common form of Buddhist meditation, there are many techniques: you can watch the breath at the tip of the nose, entering the nose, filling the lungs or the diaphragm, again what is most important is that you do not interfere with the breath (if its long its long if its short its short) its just the way it is, perfect!

Another method is to count the breaths, say counting one on the exhalation, just watching the inhalation and counting two on the next exhalation, counting up to ten.

Now the important thing here is just that you know when the mind wanders, so supposing you count to three breaths and the mind goes off, when you notice just return to counting from one again.

It really does not matter how high you count to, what matters is you are aware and can start again, without judging or commenting, remember its not about achieving or gaining but trusting the way it is!

There are many variations on mindfulness of breathing techniques so experiment to see what works best for you.

When some degree of calm is seen these techniques can be let go of and practice can be more in the stile of (vipassana) ‘Insight Meditation’ to me the two methods are not exclusive, but they support each other.

Insight meditation is more like, just being aware of the thoughts as they arise, being aware of the feelings and emotions as they are, not interfering, but getting to know the heart mind as it is, thus gaining confidence and faith that you don’t have to interfere and try to sort things out.

Perhaps the main difference is that from the more peaceful mind one gets to know the silent thinker

This is from the heart mind that is not subject to the ignorance in the idea that we are a separate, permanent self.

This is the place to look at the Buddhist teaching of the four noble truths:

  1. Suffering
  2. The cause of suffering
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The path leading to the end of suffering

A quick summery: We suffer because we believe in the world we create in our mind. The cause of suffering is clinging to desires, desiring to become, to take rebirth into something else, be a happy person, an enlightened person, a rich person, it goes on and on. And the desire to get away from, much the same as above but in the negative e.g. suppressing feeling emotions, or believing that if I give this or that up I will be a happier person. There is nothing wrong with these things but if they are clung to it will be like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic! If these clinging beliefs are seen for what they really are, they are seen as empty of the reality of the way things really are! The eight fold path, right thought, right speech right action etc, etc, the important word here is right! Right can only truly come from the heart mind that has seen through the illusion of a dualistic mind. There are many helpful ways of discovering this pure presence: Tuning into the sound of silence, Or noticing the space between objects instead of the objects them selves, or asking your self questions like. What am I before I was born. These questions bring the mind to a stop, look at that, get to know what it is that can look at that and still function respond and be in harmony with life as it really is. Sometimes I have used imperative words like you need to but its just because I have been asked to write something, I suppose for me Buddhist meditation is just about doing things for there own sake with nothing to gain, just being in the immediacy of this moment, just the knowing awareness! I titled this a personal view of Buddhist meditation because although I have used some doctrine I have interpreted it from my own experience. So please forgive me if it is not in line with tradition or it offends anyone.