Self-Realization through Yoga Meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra

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Yoga Sutras 2.26-2.29: 
The 8 rungs of Yoga
are for Discrimination
(Previous Next Main)

Click here to return to the main page of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.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:

  1. Yama: codes of restraint, abstinences (2.30, 2.31)
  2. Niyama: observances, self-training (2.32)
  3. Asana: meditation posture  (2.46-2.48)
  4. Pranayama: expansion of breath and prana (2.49-2.53)
  5. Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses (2.54-2.55)
  6. Dharana: concentration (3.1)
  7. Dhyana: meditation (3.2)
  8. Samadhi: deep absorption (3.3)

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:
Coordinating the Four Functions of Mind

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2.26 Clear, distinct, unimpaired discriminative knowledge is the means of liberation from this alliance.
(viveka khyatih aviplava hana upayah)

  • viveka-khyatih = discriminative knowledge (viveka = discriminative, discernment; khyatih = knowledge, correct cognition, clarity, awareness)
  • aviplava = undisturbed, without vacillation, uninterrupted
  • hana = of removal, of avoidance 
  • upayah = the means, way, method

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:
Coordinating the Four Functions of Mind

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2.27 Seven kinds of ultimate insight come to one who has attained this degree of discrimination.
(tasya saptadha pranta bhumih prajna)

  • tasya = to one, to such a person
  • saptadha = sevenfold
  • pranta = final, ultimate
  • bhumih = stage, level, degree
  • prajna = discrimination, insight, wisdom, cognizing consciousness

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

  1. The deep inner sources of future suffering, which would have played out as karma, have been identified, and the mind is no longer drawn towards those thought patterns.
  2. The root causes or deep impressions providing the potential for that karma to play out have been removed, with nothing more needing to be done with them.
  3. Through the mastery (nirodhah) attained by deep absorption (samadhi), the wisdom of realization has been attained.
  4. Discrimination has brought sufficient discriminative knowledge that nothing further remains about which to inquire.
  5. Buddhi, the higher discriminative aspect, has fulfilled its purpose and stands alone, with nothing more to do.
  6. The activities of buddhi, no longer needed, come to rest as a stone, which has rolled down a mountain, having no need to arise again.
  7. Pure consciousness, Purusha, stands alone, in its true, eternal Self.

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2.28 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.
(yoga anga anusthanad ashuddhi kshaye jnana diptih a viveka khyateh)

  • yoga-anga = rungs of yoga (yoga = yoga; anga = rungs, limbs, accessories, components, steps, parts, members, constituents)
  • anusthanad = by the sustained practice, observance, performance
  • ashuddhi = impurities
  • kshaye = with the elimination, destruction
  • jnana = of wisdom, knowledge, 
  • diptih = light, brilliance, shining, radiance
  • a = until, up to
  • viveka-khyatih = discriminative knowledge (viveka = discriminative, discernment; khyatih = knowledge, correct cognition, clarity, awareness)

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).

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2.29 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).
(yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhi ashtau angani)

  • yama = codes of restraint, abstinences, self-regulations
  • niyama = observances, practices, self-training
  • asana = meditation posture (from the root ~as, which means "to sit")
  • pranayama = expansion of breath and prana, regulation, control
  • pratyahara = withdrawal of the indriyas (the senses), bringing inward
  • dharana = concentration
  • dhyana = meditation
  • samadhi = meditation in its higher state, deep absorption of meditation, the state of perfected concentration
  • ashtau = eight
  • angani = rungs, limbs, accessories, components, steps, parts, members, constituents

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:

  1. Yama: codes of restraint, abstinences, self-regulations (2.30, 2.31)
  2. Niyama: observances, practices, self-training (2.32)
  3. Asana: meditation posture (from the root ~as, which means "to sit") (2.46-2.48)
  4. Pranayama: expansion of breath and prana, regulation, control (2.49-2.53)
  5. Pratyahara: withdrawal of the indriyas (the senses), bringing inward (2.54-2.55)
  6. Dharana: concentration (3.1)
  7. Dhyana: meditation (3.2)
  8. Samadhi: meditation in its higher state, deep absorption of meditation, the state of perfected concentration (3.3)

The next sutra is 2.30 

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This site is devoted to presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of the Tradition of the Himalayan masters in simple, understandable and beneficial ways, while not compromising quality or depth. The goal of our sadhana or practices is the highest Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is one and the same with the Absolute Reality. This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which complement one another like fingers on a hand. We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti Yoga, as well as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha, and Tantra Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer finally converge into a unified force directed towards the final stage, piercing the pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the Absolute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Yoga Nidra Meditation CD by Swami Jnaneshvara
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Swami Jnaneshvara