|AHYMSIN NEWSLETTER, ISSUE - May 2019|
Silence, Svadhyaya and Steadiness of Mind
by Jim Fraser
I used to crack a joke that by the completion of the HYT Teacher Training Program the students are expected to attain samadhi. Now I’m not so sure it is a joke.
There is the pedagogical side of the course where you are taught how to teach and there is the more subtle aspect of adhikari which teaches self-criticism and to know what you know clearly so you can communicate it both rationally and intuitively. There are levels of adhikari all the way from developing confidence in oneself as a teacher to communicating from mahat. So the TTP does more than teaching how to teach, it teaches adhikari by the development of sadhana for personal transformation. This adhikari is given a boost on one’s own in silence practice.
I had spent twenty days silence under the direction of Swami Ma Radha and a further twenty days left to my own devices. I was busy: three meditations; a purashcharana of 125 000 japa; Joints and Glands; relaxation exercises; Yoga Sutras study. I had read the Samadhi Pada commentary by Swami Veda previously and listened to the recordings of his lectures. Reading it again in the ashram was quite different as I had no interruptions and with the support of the other practices it spoke to me a bit more clearly.
I have a history of trying to understand the Yoga Sutras. I had read several commentaries and settled on the commentary by Swami Hariharananda Aranya (HA). It turns out I was in good hands, Swami Veda says of him in the introduction to his commentary on the Sadhana Pada, ‘Our work is complementary to HA whom we know almost next to Vyasa because he wrote in his meditation cave from the clarity of experience.’
Reading HA I came to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that Sutra 1:17 is the key as it deals with the levels of samadhi so I was excited as I reached that sutra in the recorded lectures by Swami Veda. But then Swami Ji says that he would pass over it together with the following two sutras as they are too difficult.* When the Indians invented Snakes and Ladders I’m sure they had such trials and tribulations in mind. It’s like a Himalayan mountain with yet another failed attempt. I got snowed off, there was an avalanche, I fell down, I got tired, I got lost, I got chased by a Yeti. All these failures over the years were to some extent at least an exercise in tapas. And it occurs to me that tapas rests on the belief and faith that something will come out of it. Such faith is shradda. However it is more than self-belief. In the commentary to 1:20 we read: ‘It (shradda) is the happy and pleasant feeling that comes with the intention to achieve discernment (HA)…Shradda is a feminine word, expressive of a gentle quality, associated with humility and reverence, and not over-assertiveness or fanaticism.’
I had a plan during the silence which was to read the entirety of the Samadhi Pada with the exception of 1:33 to 1:41 which did not explain the levels of samadhi which was so important to me from my earlier trials. Then back home I studied the parts I had missed. These discuss the attainment of stability of mind, rather like keeping a firm footing on a rock face, mindful of the breath to keep steady. Now I am drawn to these sutras.
Japa was an important part of learning to appreciate stability of mind. The habitual practice for forty days pushed the mind back into itself. Everything else would be moving and the mind still. I had great fun sitting in the dining hall and doing a practice similar to what you can find in the Vijnāna Bhairava Tantra whereby I would notice something and then watch my mind being drawn to it. Because my mind had got used to sitting at the back as it were I was able to stop the thought in its tracks and notice the energy of what might have been a thought rising in its absence. In the commentary to 1:41 Swami Veda says: ‘One whose mind is trained through abhyasa, purified through vairagya, and brought to stability through chitta-parikarmas (1:33) now begins to view not the objects as the principal constituent of a cognition but rather the cogniser as the principal constituent.’ So I was playing about with that.
Silence, japa, study and finding steadiness of mind all combine to create a different awareness. This is the really interesting part of yoga where the practice opens up a new vista as happens when you get to the top of a mountain and can look around.
And this is where steadiness of mind comes in – there are words, there are commentaries, there are experiences and there is a mind which remains watchful. Watchful of doubts, maybes, hopes and frustrations and that mind is always there. What is interesting is that that same mind reaches a point where it comes to itself in itself and crosses from the variety of uncertainties to be sure of itself in itself regardless of thoughts.
The silence practice made all the difference as I followed the suggestion of Swami Ritavan that I study the Yoga Sūtras in the second part of the silence practice. Here I was practising Svadhyaya as I had read about, but never had the opportunity to do so. Japa, study of texts and self- study and the ever-present reminder at the ashram to practise Atma Tattva Avalokanam. As a result I came away with a different awareness, a steadiness in yoga that I can build on hopefully.
The teachers and the ashram provide this wonderful opportunity. And all those that help with seva and the staff cannot be forgotten. The gardeners work so hard to make the place so pleasant. I kept an eye on them moving a huge bank of earth in front of the Shankaracharya statue with just shovels and a barrow. Gardening is a good yoga exercise as it reduces the mind to the activity alone. The gardens around the ashram are a special care.
* Swami Veda gave a series of lectures on these sutras to the gurukulam students, and these are available through AHYMSIN. Inquire at Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust (HYPT): email@example.com.
Jim teaches yoga in Scotland.