The Work of the Light: All Roads Lead — Where Buddhism, and the Yogic Path Intersect
“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting natural state” —Sharon Gannon, 2012
“Let the practice release your heart from fear. Let the quieting of your mind and the clear seeing of the truth release you from confusion and clinging.” —Jack Kornfield, 2012
Yoga can be regarded through as many lenses as their are human eyes, for what one views as yoga is wholly dependent upon one's life experience. Through my own lenses, ground and smoothed by my life's course, I view yoga as both a “being” and a “doing”: as the enlightened state, as well as the process of clearing the shadows. The physical practice of yoga -— asana — has become a conduit for what is essentially a practice of, and on, the mind. The eight limbs of yoga, of which the physical practice is only one, are ultimately a tool. A complete practice of yoga is a means by which the suffering-inducing patterns of the mind can be untangled, and rewoven in ways that better serve one's ultimate goal: union with one's joyfully self-accepting higher Self.
From this perspective, a yogic practice can be informed by not only classical yogic texts, such as Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, but by other philosophies, such as Buddhism, that also address the construction of the mind. The Dhammapada, the collected wisdom of Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha, and "the most beloved of Buddhist texts," as writes Buddhist thinker Jack Kornfield (2012, p.2), provides a lens through which yogic philosophy can be clarified, and the application thereby strengthened.
That there are parallels between the texts is with reason; both texts — each the composite of wisdom predating their transcription — hail from relatively the same period and place: second to third century India, B.C.E. Ultimately, both Buddhism and Yoga are both technology more than philosophy. Just as pencil and pastel may sketch the same figure, though with different tone and shape, so too do these two mediums offer different ways of viewing what is ultimately the same subject. Both ultimately seek to offer means to liberate the self from suffering, thereby uniting with the higher Self that knows no suffering; the following pages explore these parallels.
Addressing the Mind State
Perhaps the most appropriate point of departure in examining how the Dhammapada parallelsclassic yogic principles as outlined in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, is in comparing each text's first lines. The Dhammapada opens with this statement on the construction of the mind:
All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, made by mind. Speak or act with a corrupted mind, and suffering follows as the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.
All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, made by mind. Speak or act with a peaceful mind, and happiness follows like a never-departing shadow. (Verse 1-2)
The mind, therefore, is the source of all feeling, as it is the mind that constructs the experience from which emotion is derived. Patanjali echoes similar sentiments in defining yoga as "the mind which has ceased to identify itself with its vacillating waves of perception" (Sutra 1.2). The state of Yoga — the "being" — is a mind which has ceased to be, as the Buddha describes, "corrupted" by the "vacillating waves of perception," as Patanjali writes, and therefore no longer experiences suffering.
Oh! But if only the recognition of these truths was enough! If only we might say, as yogic philosopher Swami Sukhabodhananda writes, "Oh mind, relax please!" (2002) and the mind would abide! And so presents one of the most perplexing ironies of being human—by virtue of the constructed ego, the very mind that supports the process by which we might free ourselves from suffering is, also, the source of suffering! As the Buddha suggests, "The mind, hard to control, flighty—alighting where it wishes—one does well to tame. The disciplined mind brings happiness" (Verse 35). Central to the teachings of the Buddha is the notion that, given an undisciplined mind, the ego attaches vehemently to pleasure; it is this craving for good sensation, and aversion to unpleasant sensations, that is the root of all suffering, the mind's vacillation.
Thankfully, as subsequent paragraphs will examine, both Patanjali, and the Buddha have outlined the process by which we might disentangle the mind from its own patterns. And yet, even offering their guidance, both teachers would agree that it is, fundamentally, an individual path. Certainly, no other being can do the "doing" of the yogic process — somatic and psychic cleansing — for another. As the Buddha suggests, “By oneself alone is one purified” (Verse 165).
First and foremost, one must commit fully to that purification process, whether it be of the body or the mind. As the Buddha says, “Rouse yourself! Don’t be negligent! Live the Dharma” (Verse 168). "Through effort, vigilance, restraint and self control, the wise person will become an island no flood can overwhelm" (Verse 25). Patanjali might describe these tenets as crucial aspects of one limb of yoga, the Niyamas, or means by which we relate to ourselves. In particular, tapas, often defined as "discipline," or "burning enthusiasm," (Farhi 2001) speaks to the vigilance that is essential if one is to recognize one's true state. "With steady effort," says the Buddha, "one should do what is to be done because the lax renunciant stirs up even more dust" (Verse 313). Both the Buddha and Patanjali would agree that one must practice with fierce commitment if one is to succeed on this path! The ego is clever, and will do what it must to preserve hegemony over the mind's construction! Only vigilant dedication to the purification process will herald the ego's destruction. As the Buddha says, and as Patanjali would undoubtedly echo, "Wisdom arises from [spiritual] practice; Without practice it decays. Knowing this two-way path for gain and loss, conduct yourself so that wisdom grows" (Verse 282).
The Buddha also speaks to another concept represented in the Niyamas, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras: that of ahimsa, or non-harming of one's self or others. "As a merchant carrying great wealth in a small caravan avoids a dangerous road; as someone who loves life avoids poison; so should you avoid evil deeds" (Verse 123); "All tremble at violence; All fear death. Seeing others as being like yourself, do not kill or cause others to kill" (Verse 129).
The importance of adherence to ethical principles (the Yamas, in yogic philosophy) is also delineated by the Buddha: "One digs up one's own root here in this very world if one kills, lies, steals, goes to another's spouse, or gives oneself up to drink and intoxicants" (Verses 246-247).
Essential to both the yogic concept of yamas and Buddhist ethical tenets is that one cannot only study philosophy, but must take action in life, "off the mat," if you will. As the Buddha says, "One who recites many teachings but, being negligent, doesn’t act accordingly, like a cowherd counting others’ cows, does not attain the benefits of the contemplative life" (Verse 19).
Once one is firmly grounded in these ethical and moral principles, communicates both the Buddha and Patanjali, then one can engage more fully in the work of reworking the mind. What yogic philosophy defines as pratyahara, or "sense withdrawal," may paralleled with the Buddha's suggestion that one must not “be engrossed in the world” (Verse 167).
Sorrow grows like grass after rain for anyone overcome by this miserable craving and clinging to the world. Sorrow falls away like drops of water from a lotus for anyone who overcomes this miserable craving and clinging to the world. (Verses 335-336)
Only by delinking from the things that cause the mind's vacillations can we begin to see our way out of the perpetually vacillating state. It is this very quality of being "the witness" that is essential in the recognition of one's path, or purpose, or Dharma: the unified yoga-like state that the Buddha calls "liberation." Given the context of this assignment, it is also fitting to note that it is that same "witness" quality that is useful in work as a yoga therapist. Only acting as compassionate witness can the yoga therapist create the space so that the client can realize their own Dharma. In order to help the client see his or her way out of the trappings of the mind's dysfunctional habit patterns (the root of suffering), the yoga therapist must remain un-entrapped in his or her client's "story." Indeed, as writes Gil Fronsdale (translator of the edition of the Dhammapada used for this assignment), true liberation is a "...form of spiritual freedom that involves a radical personal change" and can only occur with "the elimination or destruction of one’s mental defilements, attachments, and hindrances" (2012, p.4) It is that very work that both yoga therapist and client are aligning to do—and that yoga therapists must rigorously commit to doing in their own lives before they ever purport to offer to guide another in the process. (This idea is certainly fodder for a more in-depth examination of the "yoga therapist as witness," to be potentially revisited in future assignments.)
According to both the Sutras and the Dhammapada, following the disciplined practice of moral and ethical principles, and after one has sought to actively withdraw engrossment of senses from the world, it is in the act of meditation by which one witnesses the real dissolution of attachments. "Calm in mind, speech, and action and released through right understanding, such a person is fully at peace" (Verse 96). Having prepared the body and mind for the work, meditation is thusly, ultimately, the means by which liberation takes place. As outlined in both the Yoga Sutras and the Dhammapada, in meditation one dives deeper and deeper into oneness — Yoga — with the highest Self. "Absorbed in meditation," says Buddha, "persevering, always steadfast, the wise touch Nirvana, the ultimate rest from toil" (Verse 23). Nirvana, the state of ultimate bliss, is paralleled in yogic philosophy by the concept of moksha, or "liberation." As the Buddha writes of those who have done the work to free themselves from the dysfunctional patterns of mind and action: "Ah, so happily we live, we who have no attachments. We shall feast on joy, as do the radiant Gods" (Verse 200).
Ultimately, and perhaps the greatest take away from any such examination, is that the process itself -- the "doing" -- is not philosophy specific, and certainly not the purview of a select few. The process itself is inherent in every being, for it might indeed be each individual's "soul purpose," if you will, to come into the Yoga, the Nirvana, the "being" of Being.
Farhi, D. (2001) "The Ten Living Principles - Yamas And Niyamas." Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness. United States. Holt Publishers. Retrieved from http://www.healthy.net/Health/Article/The_Ten_Living_Principles_Yamas_and_Niyamas/2410/3
Gotama, S. (2012) The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations. (G. Fronsdale, trans.). Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.
Gannon, S. (2002). Jivamukti Yoga. New York, United States. Ballentine Books.
Kornfield, J. (2012). Forward to The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations. Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.
Patanjali (2002). Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. (M. Stiles, trans). Canada. Red Wheel/ Weiser.
Sukhabodhananda, S. (2002) Oh Mind, Relax Please! Bangalore, India. Prasana Trust.