THE PSYCHOLOGY OF YOGA

 

I.INTRODUCTION

1. CONTRAST WITH CHINA. India: history of mystical, supernatural life patterns. Land & climate alternately benevolent and overpowering. China: Practical, matter of fact. Land and climate reqiring diligent constant effort.

2. DISTINCTION: YOGIC, HINDU, & BUDDHIST THOUGHT. In some ways they interpenetrate, in some ways they are quite different.

Hindu: roots in Dravidian (pre-Aryan India.) Some of the Indian gods and goddesses are related to this ancient period, such as apparently Hanuman, the fierce monkey-god of selfless service, and Ganesha, the elephant-god that is also the deity of scholars. Also heavily influenced by the Brahmin teachers who were the highest caste that developed after the Aryan invasions.Later Hindu teachings arose as reforms and became more psychological in character.

Yogic: disciplines of personal development largely or entirely independent of any religious tradition, some yogis being atheists, some agnostic, and some Hindu or Buddhist.

Buddhist: With roots in yogic thought and Indian culture, a systematized, analytical approach to personal development. Buddha was not interested in questions about gods or metaphysics. The approach was meant to help people live happier lives & decrease suffering. Later, Buddhism split into several currents, some keeping th original spirit, some becoming formalistic.

3. CYCLICAL NATURE OF BEING. A contrast with western linear ideas.

4. ACTION VS. CHARACTER. Western ethics generally aim at teaching how to act: Eastern ethics at forming character. A good character will no doubt act rightly, or refrain from action, according to circumstances.

5. FORMS OF YOGA

Hatha yoga: Yoga of the body

Raja yoga ("royal yoga") Yoga of meditation. Includes yoga of everyday awareness practice.

Bhakti yoga: Yoga of devotion

Tantra yoga: Yoga of raising the kundalini powers in each of the chakras

Karma yoga: Yoga of service

Jnana yoga: Yoga of knowledge and wisdom.

Sri Aurobindo Ghose adds Purna (integral) yoga, which combines all the other paths above.

Brief commentary: Both bhakti yoga and karma yoga place a particular emphasis on loving kindness. Hatha yoga is properly practiced only when it includes elements of raja yoga and samatha yoga. Otherwise it's training the mind while leaving the body and spirit untouched. Jnana yoga is sometimes misinterpreted as the yoga of knowledge, period. This leads to egocentric closed-mindedness. Properly, Jnana yoga is seen as knowledge as a path to the development of wisdom. Raja yoga is often referred to as the most important of all yogas, for without an element of meditative practice, there are grave pitfalls in all the other yogas. Bhakti yogis tend to be strongly dedicated to their guru, and to practice methodologies (chanting etc) designed to induce divine bliss, but may easily fall into the "my path and my guru are better than yours" trap. Samatha yoga is the application of elements of raja yoga in the moment-by-moment action and experience of daily life.

6. DHARMA (duty) to be fully what one is (Hindu). Ideal: justice made alive. To follow the path described in the teachings (Buddhist.) To do what the circumstances demand of one. (All.)

7. SAT: The radiance of being which shines through the man or woman executing perfectly part of the dharma. Ref:In Murphy, pages 43-4. Is-ness.

II. HISTORICAL

I. PREHISTORY AND EARLY HISTORY

1. Earliest evidence of yoga activity: There is evidence that a yogic tradition existed in Dravidian, pre-aryan India. At Mohenjo Daro, there is a seal showing man seated in lotus posture, flanked by two worshippers with raised and folded hands. Behind each worshipper a half-reared snake. Another seal, man in lotus pose on pedestal, surrounded by elephant, lion, buffalo, rhinocerous and pair of deer. Other figures, eyes closed in meditation. Similar figures at Harappa, Dated to between 2000 and 3000 B.C.

According to one telling, there is no evidence that yoga had a wide following in Dravidian India. It was too much of a discipline. Probably followed only by a minority.

According to a different telling, Dravidian (pre-Aryan) India was part of a past golden age which is best known by the ruins found on Crete (Minoan civilization) and is also represented by the I.Ching, reputedly written by the ancient "Yellow Emperor" of China, and said to be the oldest book in the world. What's clear is that Dravidian Indian religion was deeply and profoundly a nature-oriented religion, and that yogic practices did exist at that time.

The Aryan conquerers were by most accounts a more brutal, primitive group of invaders from the north. Eventually there was a gradual interpenetration of Dravidian and Aryan currents. . The orgins of the caste system may date back to this time, with the invaders taking the higher caste.

2. Throughout recorded history, India has had a strong tradition of yogis, rishis, wandering forest philosophers. Independent free-thinkers respected for being outside the framework of established religions. This tradition called Sramanism. Yogis and other independed teachers: Sramanas.

II. VEDIC AGE.

1.During this period, India was dominated by Aryans, who had already established caste system with Brahmins at head. Priests were all-powerful until Upanushadic age. Earliest scriptural period. Vedas were the literature of Brahaminism. Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda, and Artharva-Veda. Aryan religion has been characterized as brutal and materialistic. Rituals involving horse sacrifice went on for 3 weeks.

2. Caste system rigid and oppressive. A means for the conquerors to keep the conquered suppressed. Brahmins wielded great power.

3. The Vedas: Scriptures of the Aryan conquerers. Hyms, mantras, prayers, and psalms dealing with religious ceremony and ritual, and their use in rites and holy occasions. Almost unreadable today. These are the most ancient of extant Hindu scriptures. The earliest Veda is commonly ascribed a date of around 1500 B.C., but some recent scholars believe that it dates back as far as 6000 B.C. or even 12,000 B.C.

4. Each Veda divided into two sections. SAMITAS were mantras, prayers, and psalms dealing with religious ceremonial and ritual. BRAHMANAS analyses and commentaries on the samitas, describing their use for particular occasions and rites.

5. Brahmans jealously guarded their monopoly of the knowledge contained in the Vedas. In one telling of the story, the Sramanas apparently viewed the Vedas as so much mumbo-jumbo. Moved away from population centers, settled in forests, collecting round them a few students and disciples. Became known as rishis, or forest philosophers.

III. UPANISHADS.

1. The Sramanas were characterized not only by independence from established religious forms, but also by practices of austerity, meditation, non-violence, and yogic breathing and physical exercises. Some were atheist, some agnostic, some theistic. Some held more strongly than others to the twin doctrines of reincarnation and karma.

2. Early Upanishads produced by yogis and other Sramanas. They attempted to discredit the formalism and narrowmindedness of the priests in the eyes of the rulers and other castes. Literally, upanishad means "secret teaching."

3. Upanishads are sometimes called the fourth part of the Vedas, but in fact the represent something quitedifferent, indeed a reaction against much of the the Vedic tradition Sramanas (yogic and other independent teachers) were tolerated when Brahmin priests were not strong enough to eliminatethem, but were hunted down, killed or driven away when the priests had full control. It appears that the kingsor other rulers were sometimes not so happy about the heavy control exerted by priests. (Even the kings were of the kshatriyas, or warrior caste, which was defined as inferior to the Brahmins.) Sort of like periods in pre-reformation Europe when Catholic Priests had great secular power, but perhaps even more so. In the Upanishads we see some kings quite willingly and readily being converted to theYogic teachings. There was almost certainly a political as well as a spirtual dimension to all this.

4. Many of the Upanishads were in form of dialogues between kings and yogis, occasionally with Brahmins joining in. Some of the dialogues included women. Some of the later upanishads were written by Brahmins. By that time the sramanic tradition had heavily influence orthodox brahminism.

5.Upanishadic thinkers, distinguished among manas, or mind, buddhi, or discriminative intellect, and self, or atman, or spirit. The Atman, sometimes translated as "self," refers to the divine spirit that is present in everyone and every living being and that we can, if we pay attention and develop an appropriate practice, find within ourselves as well. Through the Atman we are connected with all beings.

(Religious scholars will recognized this as a conception of God as immanent, or present in all living beings, in contrast to the conception of God as transcendent, or "the big man in the sky," as in Judaism and Christianity. In the contemporary Hindu tradition, the divine presence is conceived of as both transcendent and immanent, and western religions are critiqued as theologically naive to view it as transcendent only. Scholarly Hindus clearly deserve a point or two for being more sophisticated in dealing with such questions.) 

6 Restraint, or self-discipline, is a central upanishadic current, especially restraint in the senses. For upanishadic thinkers the "senses" the indriyas, include both cognitive and executive organs: including speech, manipulation, walking, evacuation, and reproduction. A person without understanding will have his mind and acts unrestrained, like wild horses running out of control. The one who restrains his speech in the mind, restrains the mind in understanding, and restrains the understanding in the self or spirit, reaches shanti, or tranquillity and peace of mind.

7. Some yogis of the Upanic period were settled householders, most often when an enlightened king kept the power of the Brahmins under control.

8. The abstraction and speculations of the Upanishads arrived at by practices of raja joga and jnana yoga. The Chandogya Upanishad asks, "Is there anything higher than thought? Yes, meditation is higher than thought."

9. Each upanishad transmitted by a different rishi, so there is much repetition. Written at different times, over a span of at least a thousand years.

10. Of the 108 Upanishads collected by the scholar Shankara (Sankara), he considered 16 to be authoritative and to contain the substance of all the others. He selected 10 as unique and of lasting value,and wrote lengthy commentaries on them. These 10 are known as the Principal Upanishads.

( Read aloud excerpts from Upanishads in Vivian Worthington's History of Yoga.)

11. The Upanishads placed a heavy emphasis on renunciation. Turning inward. Independence from passion. My appraisal is that here is a place where the yogic tradition went astray by pushing the principle too far, just as western philosophy went astray in deifying the thinking mind and vilifying emotion. In both cases, emotion & passion are the enemy. What's left out is learning to live with our emotional life being a full & rich, but not an overpowering and debilitating part of who we are. There is no place for Zorba the Greek's approach to life in Upanishadic Yoga. It was to take seven or eight hundred years until Tantra Yoga appeared on the scene for this insight to develop, and even today many contemporary yogic practitioners still adhere to the old tradition of attempting to develop utter passionlessness.

IV. JAINISM

1. Another Sramanic current, active at same time as Upanishads. Developed around the same time as the early Upanishads. Parsva, a semi-mythical figure, is said to have been the founder, but Jainism awaited the later appearance of its greatest teacher, Mahavira, who was a contemporary of the Buddha, to gain wide influence about 250 years after Parsva. A member of the Kshatriya caste, Mahavira.joined Jain order as a monk, spent twelve years in self-mortification and utmost austerity. After 13 months, discarded his clothing and all his possessions and taught for the rest of his life. Died in 476 B.C. (Lived about the same time as Buddha)

2. A radical nonviolence (shanti) was the first, most central precept. Don't harm even an ant or fly. We may imagine that ultimately in some manner he influenced Gandhi. 

3. The universe is a living being, just like the human body, in the Jain view. This concept of the living universe with its various functions was part of the whole Sramanic philosophy, but most fully articulated by the Jains. "As every single part of it is sacred, and worthy of reverence, even down to rocks and soil, one must not do violence to any of it. So the Jain monk moves deliberately, and treads everything gently."

4. Karma was also centrally important to the Jains. We come into the world with certain kinds of karma, but can eliminate old karma and allow new karma in. If a soul is making progress, the new karma will be more subtle. Every act produces karma--the process of living is by definition the process of producing karma. From lifetime to lifetime, influencing the form in which we are reborn. But we can also make good use of the idea in this lifetime, as a doctrine of causality and responsibility. We are constantly emptying ourselves of old karma, and filling ourselves with new. The color of our "life crystal" changes throughout life as the karmic debt changes. One (but not the only) central reason for bad karma, and obstacle to creating good karma: Pride, which makes us refuse help, or to be incapable of enjoyment. We come into the world with certain kinds of karma, but can eliminate bad karma through good deeds and self-cultivation. Our acts have wide-reaching implications, they react back on us, and they affect us also through their influence on our own character.

5. Jains view the universe as a living thing, just like the human body. This concept of the living universe with its various functions was part of the whole sramanic philosophy, but most fully articulated by the Jains. "As every single part of it is sacred, and worthy of reverence, even down to rocks and soil, one must not do viooence to any of it. So the Jain monk moves deliberately, and treats everything gently."

6. Jains have always had monasteries where they could practice disciplines. Not separate from the wider Jain community. Lay members fully involved, and urged to adopt as many of the practices of the monks as compatible with everyday life.

7. "Yoga fully acknowledges its debt to Jainism, and Jainism reciprocates by making the practice of yoga part and parcel of its spiritual life." (Murphy or Worthington)

V. LATER YOGA

1. SAMKYA. Founder: Kapila, a 9th century BC teacher ofhistory. Essentially atheistic. Concepts included purusha (spirit), prakriti (matter) , and the three gunas., which later found their way into the Bhagavad Gita.

2. The Bhagavad Gita is the most widely-read scripture in India. It is part of the Mahabharata epic. Maha means Great, and Bharata is an ancient name for India, so the name means "Great India." Most scholars date its composition somewhere between the fifth and second centuries B.C., and believe that it originally existed independently of the Mahabharata and was later incorporated into it. The Gita brought together threads from the Upanishads, Samkhya, and Jainism. The many gods of the Hindu pantheon, and also the two basic elements of the cosmos, purusha and prakriti, became viewed as less important in favor of the one God Brahman-Atman. It brought all atheistic and dualistic threads together with Brahmanism's theistic-monistic threads.

In the Gita, Lord Krishna is involved in helping out the members of one side of a fratricidal war, and his commentaries in the midst of the battle contain a variety of spiritual themes. Arjuna, the leader of the Pandavas, watching his kinfolk being slaughtered in a battle and speaks of his doubts to his charioteer, who reveals himself as Krishna, a reincarnation of the Hindu trinity, Brahman (the Creator),Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer). 

Krishna told Arjuna that pleasure and pain, defeat and victory are of equal worth. The wise fulfill the duties of life in a joyful manner, doing the work well, without attachment. The Gita places special emphasis on not being attached to the results of our actions. We give a matter our best thought and action, and then what happens happens. At that point it is very nice if things go as we wished, but since we did our best, there is no point in berating ourselves if they don't. Here the conceptions of karma yoga and nonattachment are combined. Gandhi echoed this theme with his emphasis on the means as well as the ends. The Gita advises a yoga of reununciation and nonattachment. Renunciation is to give up all actions motivated by desire, and nonattachment is to renounce the fruits of the actions.

The practic of Yoga is brought down into everyday life, an active yoga of everyday living which complements the traditional ascetic and meditative yoga. The results are to be social and psychological, not transcendental. It is a yoga of selfless action, which makes use of the ancient concept of dharma. Here we find a definitive statement of karma yoga.

Krishna points out that the supreme being permits and takes delight in the many ways of mankind, and permits every kind of faith and creed. He sees mankind wrapped in maya (illusion), but does not intercede to ennlighten them. The whole process is leela (play.)

Various chapters of the Gita deal with renunciation and meditation. Whoever works according to his dharma but cares not for the fruits of his actions is a true yogi. If he is anxious over the future he is no yogi. Yoga is not for one who overeats, or sleeps, or fasts too much --he must be moderate in all things. One who seeks to unite the self with Brahman is greater than those who practice austerities of have great knowledge. The Gita advocates the development of a mystical union with Brahman: "I am everything that man can conceive of. Worship me at the center of your being.

The Braman-Atman equation was arrived at by yogic meditation, which bypassed the thinking process by introspection and contemplation. The mind is encouraged to go inward beyond itself, stopping processes of by looking within, and cultivating the "witness,"

Tamas (the force of inertia), Rajas ( the force of action) and (Sattwas) the force of mind & enlightenment, which are called the "three gunas" get considerable play in the Gita.

2. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. (written after Buddha, and probably after the Bhagavad Gita)

Starts with the simplest efforts at mental discipline, moves from there to how to attain the heights of samadhi (if you're using this as a guide to how to get there, good luck!) Then on to

Principles of Yoga, Disciplines of Yoga and Miraculous Powers.

Sutras 1-33 are about what we might call the full realization of our potential. 34-56 deal with "miraculous powers," but Patanjali sys, "The yogi does not regard these powers as ends in themselves. Dwelling on them becomes an obstacle to higher samadhi." In other words, if you develop some special ability through yogic practice, don't get hung up on how cool you are or it becomes just another ego trip--back to square one.

In Patanjali as in the Upanishads, Passionlessnes is seen as a goal of practice. Gardner and Lois Murphy, commenting on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (about 300 BC, 200 years after Buddha) "It seems to us that there is a constant emphasis upon passionlessness, which means, upon close analysis, the lack of all positive affect. At times pain, in the sense of unpleasantness or "negative affect," seems to be the only affect considered. At times the teaching seems to favor getting free of all affect. There are, nevertheless, references to joy, in a context which seems to imply that the jogin has joy or is pursuing joy as part of his training. It seems to us that Patanjali is saying, as many in the West have done,that peace or serenity is both affectless and also joyful; and we can make sense out of this only if lifefor Patanjali is aciomatically regarded as painful."

3. Again, back to Zorba as a reference point. The bliss of the ancient yogis, as best we can read it, had little room for enjoyment as most people think of it. It explicitly put down sensory pleasures as obstacles to liberation. (I think the obstacles is not the pleasures, but getting hung up in them, in having to have them.) In yoga the goal is nirvikalpa samadhi, which involves "bliss consciousness", achieved through bringing our energy up to the crown chakra. It is a state customarily achieved only by dedicated advanced yogis.

4. DETACHMENT, OR NONATTACHMENT. "Letting go," from the starting point of noticing how we're holding on--to things, possessions, people, circumstances in our lives, people, etc. Much of our unhappiness is viewed as holding on to things we can't hold on to. For some yogis this is an absolute ideal. The wonderful example is the monkey-trap--a cocoanut with a piece of banana inside and a hole big enough that the money can put its hand in to get the banana but not big enough to pull its hand back out clenching the banana. A rope is attached to the cocoanut, and the trapper can then go up and catch the monkey. All the monkey has to do is let go and it's free--but it's a rare monkey that lets go. Most keep holding the banana and get caught.

The trouble, it appears to me, comes when we make it an absolute. It is possible to get too attached to the ideal of nonattachment. I don't want to be nonattached to my family, for example.

5. Renunciation is a central theme in later as well as in early yoga. Murphy & Murpy: "Renunciation is a great word in the religions of both Europe and Asia, but in Europe it is almost active. Except to advanced mystics, it means abandoning a natural attitude and deliberately assuming another which it is difficult to maintain. Something similar is found in India in the legends of those ascetics who triumphed over the flesh until they became very gods in power. But it is also a common view in the East that he who renounces ambition and passion is not struggling against the world and the devil but simply leading a natural life. His passions indeed obey his will and do not wander here and there according to their fancy, but his temperament is one of acquiescence, not resistance. He takes his place among the men, beasts, and plants around him and, ceasing to struggle, finds that his own soul contains happiness in itself."

6. MONKEY-MIND -- in both cognition and action. Monkeys are getting a bad rap here, but this refers to someone whose mind (or actions) jump in first one direction, then another. The goal is equanimity and peace of mind, being able to choose how we wish to feel and think and act, cultivating this quality through meditation.

VI. TANTRA YOGA.

1. In the West we tend to think of Tantra as just a yoga of sex. REALLY GOOD SEX. Oh, yeah--intercourse that lasts forever. Harmonizing the breathing of the partners. (A favorite Tantric position) is both sitting cross-legged, the man beneath, the woman in his lap with her legs curled around his back. Actually Tantra dealt with all the chakras. There were Tantra yogis who specialized in a given chakra (exploring the Tantra of Power, or of Loving Kindness, or of communication, etc.). The fullest tantra yoga involved mastery and enjoyment of all the chakras. Currently popular "kundalini yoga" is a tantra yoga that involves attempting to move body & spirit energy (kundalini) up the spine through all the chakras and into the cosmic consciousness or crown chakra. (Not recommended unless you have very close supervision from a master in the tradition.)

2. The chakras:

7th or crown chakra: cosmic bliss/consciousness

6th chakra (third eye, in middle of forehead) intuition, awareness, curiosity, seeing-into

5th chakra (throat): communication

4th chakra (heart): love

3rd chakra (stomach): power

2nd chakra (genitals): sex

1st chakra (anal sphincter): security. (Most frequent last words on the recorder when a pilot realizes his plane is going to crash: "Oh, shit!)

There is a whole complex psychology built around Tantra Yoga and the chakras, and this is just a word or two to point out that it exists. Abraham Maslow could have cribbed his hierarchy of needs from it with just a few changes. There are also a number of parallels between Tantra Yoga and the different yogas mentioned at the beginning of this lecture.

Tantra and the chakras deserves a whole lecture of its own (actually there are many whole books about it), and perhaps one of these days I'll get one up on this site.

VII. VEDANTA.

1. "Anta" means end. Later, "Veda" and "Anta" were combined to form word "Vedanta", which means the higher forms of modern Hinduism, which are founded on the end of the Vedas.

2. An attempt by Hinduism to recover ground lost to Tantra & Buddhism. Buddhism in India by then had itself largely fallen into formalism. Began with Shankara's Commentaries on Gita and Upanishads. Sankara's Crest Jewel of Discrimination is the definitive Vedantic text. Shankara (686-719 AD) died at the same age of Jesus, so he was youthful and enthusiastic. Handsome, intelligent, at age 10 debating with learned men in the temples, like Jesus before him.

3. Shankara set out to purify Hinduism by teaching an extreme asceticism and a monism based on the Brahman=atman equation. There is very little that is truly new in his text, which is framed as a conversation between an illumined master and his disciple. It is primarily a repetitive yet poetic recitation of themes found in the Gita, with an emphasis first on renunciation of worldly desires, of interest in enjoyment of the objects of the senses, and second on contacting the Atman within through meditation and an recognition the identity of Atman with Brahman, the divine substance of the entire universe. He has also incorporated a few themes from Buddha's teachings.

4. Here are a few quotations that capture the spirit of Shankara, from the Prabhavananda/Isherwood translation.

A teacher is one who is deeply versed in the scriptures, pure, free from lust. . . He is upheld cntinually in Brahman, calm like the flame when its fuel is cnsumed, an ocean of the love that knows no ulterior motive, a friend to all good people who humbly entrust themselves to him. . . . It is the very nature of these great souls to work, of their own accord, to cure the troubles of others. . . .

A sickness is not cured by saying the word "medicine". You must take the medicine. Liberation does not come by merely saying the word "Brahman". Brahman must actually be experienced. . . .

The pure truth of the Atman, which is buried under Maya and the effects of Maya, can be reached by meditation, contemplation and other spiritual disciplines . . . but never by subtle arguments. . . .

Of the steps to liberatin, the first is declared to be complete detachment from all things which are non-eternal. Then comes the practice of tranquillity, self-control, and forbearance. And then the entire giving-up of all actions which are done from personal, selfish desire. . . . Thus the wise man reaches the highest state, in which consciousness of subject and object is dissoved away and the infinite unitary consciousness alone remains."

VIII. THE HINDU CONTEXT.

Except in Muslim and Sikh regions, India is overwhelmingly Hindu today, so it is difficult to avoid some mixup among yogic and Hindu traditions.

In Hindu teachings, Brahma is "the creator" & lord of all being (Brahma has masculine gender and should not be confused with Brahman which has neuter gender and is seen as the supreme reality underying all life, the impersonal divine ground of being)

Vishnu is "the preserver" (also called "the cosmic force of goodness), who is also incarnated as Rama, Prince of Joy; and as Krishna, who comes to earth to re-establish dharma, or the divine law and duty.

Shiva is "the destroyer", as necessary for life as creation and preservation. Shiva is also the God of Yogis and the conqueror of death.

Shakti is cosmic energy, the Divine Mother, God's feminine aspect. She is Shiva's consort. There are also Radha, who is Krishna's consort, and Sita, who is Ram's consort. Shakti also incarnates as Parvati, as the many-armed Kali, and as Durga, depicted riding on a lion.

There are psychological dimensions to the all the many gods and goddesses, but that's beyond the scope of this lecture. For a (not exhaustive) summary of Hindu dieties, see:

http://www.hindunet.org/god/summary/index.htm

In India many peple are devoted to a particular diety and there are temples devoted to many of them. They are widely devoted not as mythological figures but has having a real existence. In Hindu theology, God is both transcendent and immanent, existing as Brahman, as Atman (the divine Self that is at the center of every person that we can learn to contact), in each of the many Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, and in every living being.