The eight rungs or limbs: The art and science of Yoga is systematically described in eight (ashta) rungs, steps, or limbs (anga). Thus, this section of the Yoga Sutras is also called Ashtanga Yoga. The eight rungs of Yoga are summarized in sutra 2.29, and explained in the next section (2.30-2.34). Subsequent sutras further describe the benefits and methods of working with those eight rungs (2.35-2.45, 2.46-2.48, 2.49-2.53, 2.54-2.55). The links below will take you directly to the descriptions of each of the eight rungs:
The 8 rungs are for discriminative enlightenment: The reason for practicing the eight rungs of Yoga (2.29) is to develop attention as the tool for discriminative knowledge, which is the means to discriminative enlightenment and liberation. It means using razor-like attention (3.4-3.6) to separate the seer and the seen (2.17), so as to break the alliance of karma (2.12-2.25), and to get past the four mistakes of ignorance, or avidya (2.24-2.25), which are: 1) confusing the temporary for the eternal, 2) the impure for the pure, 3) misery for happiness, and 4) the false self for the true Self (2.5). Resulting from this systematic discrimination, the seer or Self is eventually experienced in its true nature (1.3).
Discerning three aspects of an object: To understand the principle of discernment presented in these current sutras it is critically important to recall and understand the three aspects of an object described in Sutra 1.42, which have to do with the name of the object, the specific object, and the underlying essence.
Discrimination allows subtler introspection: This one-pointed attention and discrimination, which comes from the practice of the eight rungs, is used for examining, exploring, and attenuating the colorings of the subtle impressions of the mind field (2.10), so as to go beyond, inward to the pure, eternal center of consciousness.
The first 5 rungs sharpen the razor: If it is razor-like attention that is the tool for discrimination, then it is the first five rungs of the Yoga Sutras which are honing the edge of that razor. Then, the finer, sharpened tool is the last three rungs, which are concentration, meditation, and samadhi, which are collectively called samyama (3.4).
See also the article:
Clear, distinct, unimpaired discriminative knowledge is the means of
liberation from this alliance.
Removing avidya or ignorance: The last section dealt with the process of breaking the alliance of karma (2.12-2.25), particularly through causing an absence of ignorance (avidya) (2.24, 2.25), which is of four major forms (2.5): 1) regarding that which is transient as eternal, 2) mistaking the impure for pure, 3) thinking that which brings misery to bring happiness, and 4) taking that which is not-self to be self.
Discriminative knowledge is the means: Here, in this current sutra, discriminative knowledge is introduced as the key to liberation from this alliance to ignorance (avidya). Discriminative knowledge is the key to the entire science of Yoga (Here, the term "knowledge" does not mean mere intellectual knowledge. Rather, it refers to the higher insight of direct experience). Through discrimination, one gradually, systematically separates the seer from the seen (2.17, 2.12-2.25), until the final realization of the true, eternal Self dawns (1.3, 4.22-4.26).
What is discrimination?: Discrimination is a process of sorting out between this and that. This sorting out process may begin at the most external level of our relationship with the world, such as in practicing principles such as non-injury or truthfulness (2.34). It may include purifying the gross colorings of the mind (2.1-2.9), or the more subtle colorings (2.10-2.11). Over and over, this razor sharp discrimination (3.4-3.6) cuts ever deeper into the levels of false identities (1.5) habitually clouding the true Self (1.4).
Discriminative enlightenment: Through the repeated process of attaining discriminative knowledge through those many gross, subtle, and subtler levels of our being (1.17), comes discriminative enlightenment (4.22-4.26). It is an ongoing process of discriminating between Self and non-Self, until the Self is seen to stand alone (1.3).
See also the article:
Seven kinds of ultimate insight come to one who has attained this degree
Many insights are revealed: As that discriminative knowledge unfolds (2.26), there is a tremendous amount of insight or wisdom that comes. Though it is not realistic to count them all, Patanjali states that seven types of ultimate insight come as a result of the intense practice of discrimination through the rungs of Yoga (3.4-3.6).
Seven types of insight: The commentator Vyasa describes these seven insights briefly. It is important to understand that the insights are meant to be indicative of the final stages of discriminative knowledge, not that these are to serve as a checklist, or goals of powers to attain. These seven are a reflection of the consequences from the whole process of Yoga described in the Yoga Sutras
Through the practice of the different limbs, or steps to Yoga, whereby
impurities are eliminated, there arises an illumination that culminates in
discriminative wisdom, or enlightenment.
Reason for the 8 rungs or limbs: The reason for practicing the eight rungs or limbs of Yoga (2.29) is to develop attention as the tool for discriminative knowledge (viveka-khyatih), which is the means to liberation or enlightenment.
Discriminative enlightenment: Discrimination (viveka) means using razor-like attention (3.4-3.6) to separate the seer and the seen (2.17), so as to break the alliance of karma (2.12-2.25), and to get past the four mistakes of ignorance, or avidya (2.24-2.25), which are confusing the temporary for the eternal, the impure for the pure, misery for happiness, and the false self for the true Self (2.5). Through that discriminative knowledge comes discriminative enlightenment (4.22-4.26).
The eight rungs, limbs, or steps of Yoga are the codes of self-regulation or
restraint (yamas), observances or practices of self-training (niyamas),
postures (asana), expansion of breath and prana (pranayama), withdrawal of
the senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and
perfected concentration (samadhi).
Steps versus rungs: The science of Yoga, as described in the Yoga Sutra is also called Ashtanga Yoga. The word ashta means eight. The word anga has two meanings; it means both rung and limb. As rungs, it means that the eight rungs are done sequentially, like climbing the steps of a ladder, wherein you must do one before the other. As limbs, it means that the eight limbs are like eight branches coming out of the same level of the trunk of a tree, wherein you do the eight simultaneously.
Practice as both steps and rungs: In practice, the eight angas of Yoga are done both sequentially and simultaneously. Advancing with one rung helps with the next, while at the same time, all of the limbs are practiced within ones current capacity.
(It is important to note that the phrase Ashtanga Yoga has recently become known as a system of physical postures, which was never the ancient intent of this name.)
The eight rungs or limbs: The eight rungs or limbs are each described in separate sutras through the links provided below:
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