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Yoga As Spirituality – Its Historical and Philosophical Underpinnings

When I was taking yoga classes some years ago, I was never quite certain how the asanas (postures) and breathing practices related to spirituality. Then I started reading the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (probably the foremost historical authority on yoga), and it opened a new perspective.

Samadhi is sometimes considered the culmination of yoga practice, where in deep meditation there is no longer a sense of the self as individual who is looking out upon an external world. Instead, there is just a disembodied sense of perception — of being — that is not associated with an embodied person. This state is sometimes described as bliss — satchitananda in Sanskrit.

A deep samadhi is said to arise when we are no longer observing the world as an individual, but merely reflecting what we see in our own minds, without distortion. The distorting influence of one’s own memories is one of the central dilemmas of life. It is by this effect that we deal with another person, not for who they are, but for the person we project onto them, according to past experience. Most of us do this unconsciously, projecting unprocessed experiences with others from our past onto the present. This is precisely what Taoist philosophers like Chang Tzu and even Bruce Lee (the martial artist, who was a dynamite philosopher!) counsel us not to do. It is only by renouncing this self that we can see the world and its people for what they really are.

Patanjali uses the label samskara for these memories that resurface from time to time. Very simply, samskaras are memories of our past — both “learned” memories (things we’ve experienced) and ancestral memories, which are passed on biologically through the generations. Western philosopher John Locke has suggested that it is precisely these memories that provide the sense that our “self” has continuity over time — i.e., that the person we were yesterday and the person we are today are the same person. commercial shoring contractors

Many traditions attempt to weaken the effect of these memories by helping us process the past. Psychoanalysis encourages us to share our memories with a professional. Scientology employs a process they call auditing. In certain religions, confession is used for a similar purpose, and the popular twelve-step recovery programs involve taking an inventory. Any way you slice it, it is only by accepting and becoming one with our past that it loses its distorting influence on our interactions with the world.

This is one of the secrets of a fulfilling life, to see the world, not as an external observer, but as an integral part — at one with others, with nature, with the cosmos. This is what yoga helps to achieve through practices of postures and breathing — a letting go of the tension stored in our bodies, which reflect the tensions stored up in consciousness — so that our mind can at last let go of its inhibiting influences, slow down, and become clear like a pond that perfectly reflects the sky. This is our true self, “the undimmed mirror of the world,” as Schopenhauer put it. We become the world — no longer artificially separated from — so the infinite self and its infinite peace permeate all being. This is peace — this is yoga.

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