Chapter 1 Book 3 of Yoga Sutras Simplified

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January 31, 2022
  1. The binding of the perceiving consciousness to a certain region is attention (dharana).

Emerson quotes Sir Isaac Newton as saying that he made his great discoveries by intending his mind on them. That is what is meant here. I read the page of a book while inking of something else.

At the end of he page, I have no idea of what it is about, and read it again, still thinking of something else, with the same result.

Then I wake up, so to speak, make an effort of attention, fix my thought on what I am reading, and easily take in its meaning. The act of will, the effort of attention, the intending of the mind on each word and line of the page, just as the eyes are focussed on each word and line, is the power here contemplated. It is the power to focus the consciousness on a given spot, and hold it there Attention is the first and indispensable step in all knowledge. Attention to spiritual things is the first step to spiritual knowledge.

  1. A prolonged holding of the perceiving consciousness in that region is meditation (dhyana).

This will apply equally to outer and inner things. I may for a moment fix my attention on some visible object, in a single penetrating glance, or I may hold the attention fixedly on it until it reveals far more of its nature than a single glance could perceive. The first is the focussing of the searchlight of consciousness upon the object. The other is the holding of the white beam of light steadily and persistently on the object, until it yields up the secret of its details. So for things within; one may fix the inner glance for a moment on spiritual things, or one may hold the consciousness steadily upon them, until what was in the dark slowly comes forth into the light, and yields up its immortal secret. But this is possible only for the spiritual man, after the Commandments and the Rules have been kept; for until this is done, the thronging storms of psychical thoughts dissipate and distract the attention, so that it will not remain fixed on spiritual things. The cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word of the spiritual message.

  1. When the perceiving consciousness in this meditative is wholly given to illuminating the essential meaning of the object contemplated, and is freed from the sense of separateness and personality, this is contemplation (samadhi).

Let us review the steps so far taken. First, the beam of perceiving consciousness is focussed on a certain region or subject, through the effort of attention. Then this attending consciousness is held on its object. Third, there is the ardent will to know its meaning, to illumine it with comprehending thought. Fourth, all personal bias—all desire merely to indorse a previous opinion and so prove oneself right, and all desire for personal profit or gratification must be quite put away. There must be a purely disinterested love of truth for its own sake. Thus is the perceiving consciousness made void, as it were, of all personality or sense of separateness. The personal limitation stands aside and lets the All-consciousness come to bear upon the problem. The Oversoul bends its ray upon the object, and illumines it with pure light.

  1. When these three, Attention, Meditation Contemplation, are exercised at once, this is perfectly concentrated Meditation (sanyama).

When the personal limitation of the perceiving consciousness stands aside, and allows the All-conscious to come to bear upon the problem, then arises that real knowledge which is called a flash of genius; that real knowledge which makes discoveries, and without which no discovery can be made, however painstaking the effort. For genius is the vision of the spiritual man, and that vision is a question of growth rather than present effort; though right effort, rightly continued, will in time infallibly lead to growth and vision. Through the power thus to set aside personal limitation, to push aside petty concerns and cares, and steady the whole nature and will in an ardent love of truth and desire to know it; through the power thus to make way for the All-consciousness, all great men make their discoveries. Newton, watching the apple fall to the earth, was able to look beyond, to see the subtle waves of force pulsating through apples and worlds and suns and galaxies, and thus to perceive universal gravitation. The Oversoul, looking through his eyes, recognized the universal force, one of its own children. Darwin, watching the forms and motions of plants and animals, let the same august consciousness come to bear on them, and saw infinite growth perfected through ceaseless struggle. He perceived the superb process of evolution, the Oversoul once more recognizing its own. Fraunhofer, noting the dark lines in the band of sunlight in his spectroscope, divined their identity with the bright lines in the spectra of incandescent iron, sodium and the rest, and so saw the oneness of substance in the worlds and suns, the unity of the materials of the universe. Once again the Oversoul, looking with his eyes, recognized its own. So it is with all true knowledge. But the mind must transcend its limitations, its idiosyncrasies; there must be purity, for to the pure in heart is the promise, that they shall see God.

  1. By mastering this perfectly concentrated Meditation, there comes the illumination of perception.

The meaning of this is illustrated by what has been said before. When the spiritual man is able to throw aside the trammels of emotional and mental limitation, and to open his eyes, he sees clearly, he attains to illuminated perception. A poet once said that Occultism is the conscious cultivation of genius; and it is certain that the awakened spiritual man attains to the perceptions of genius. Genius is the vision, the power, of the spiritual man, whether its possessor recognizes this or not. All true knowledge is of the spiritual man. The greatest in all ages have recognized this and put their testimony on record. The great in wisdom who have not consciously recognized it, have ever been full of the spirit of reverence, of selfless devotion to truth, of humility, as was Darwin; and reverence and humility are the unconscious recognition of the nearness of the Spirit, that Divinity which broods over us, a Master o’er a slave.

  1. This power is distributed in ascending degrees.

It is to be attained step by step. It is a question, not of miracle, but of evolution, of growth. Newton had to master the multiplication table, then the four rules of arithmetic, then the rudiments of algebra, before he came to the binomial theorem. At each point, there was attention, concentration, insight; until these were attained, no progress to the next point was possible. So with Darwin. He had to learn the form and use of leaf and flower, of bone and muscle; the characteristics of genera and species; the distribution of plants and animals, before he had in mind that nexus of knowledge on which the light of his great idea was at last able to shine. So is it with all knowledge. So is it with spiritual knowledge. Take the matter this way: The first subject for the exercise of my spiritual insight is my day, with its circumstances, its hindrances, its opportunities, its duties. I do what I can to solve it, to fulfil its duties, to learn its lessons. I try to live my day with aspiration and faith. That is the first step. By doing this, I gather a harvest for the evening, I gain a deeper insight into life, in virtue of which I begin the next day with a certain advantage, a certain spiritual advance and attainment. So with all successive days. In faith and aspiration, we pass from day to day, in growing knowledge and power, with never more than one day to solve at a time, until all life becomes radiant and transparent.

  1. This threefold power, of Attention, Meditation, Contemplation, is more interior than the means of growth previously described.

Very naturally so; because the means of growth previously described were concerned with the extrication of the spiritual man from psychic bondages and veils; while this threefold power is to be exercised by the spiritual man thus extricated and standing on his feet, viewing life with open eyes.

  1. But this triad is still exterior to the soul vision which is unconditioned, free from the seed of mental analyses.

The reason is this: The threefold power we have been considering, the triad of Attention, Contemplation, Meditation is, so far as we have yet considered it, the focussing of the beam of perceiving consciousness upon some form of manifesting being, with a view of understanding it completely. There is a higher stage, where the beam of consciousness is turned back upon itself, and the individual consciousness enters into, and knows, the All consciousness. This is a being, a being in immortality, rather than a knowing; it is free from mental analysis or mental forms. It is not an activity of the higher mind, even the mind of the spiritual man. It is an activity of the soul. Had Newton risen to this higher stage, he would have known, not the laws of motion, but that high Being, from whose Life comes eternal motion. Had Darwin risen to this, he would have seen the Soul, whose graduated thought and being all evolution expresses. There are, therefore, these two perceptions: that of living things, and that of the Life; that of the Soul’s works, and that of the Soul itself.

  1. One of the ascending degrees is the development of Control. First there is the overcoming of the mind-impress of excitation. Then comes the manifestation of the mind-impress of Control. Then the perceiving consciousness follows after the moment of Control.

This is the development of Control. The meaning seems to be this: Some object enters the field of observation, and at first violently excites the mind, stirring up curiosity, fear, wonder; then the consciousness returns upon itself, as it were, and takes the perception firmly in hand, steadying itself, and viewing the matter calmly from above. This steadying effort of the will upon the perceiving consciousness is Control, and immediately upon it follows perception, understanding, insight.

Take a trite example. Supposing one is walking in an Indian forest. A charging elephant suddenly appears. The man is excited by astonishment, and, perhaps, terror. But he exercises an effort of will, perceives the situation in its true bearings, and recognizes that a certain thing must be done; in this case, probably, that he must get out of the way as quickly as possible.

Or a comet, unheralded, appears in the sky like a flaming sword. The beholder is at first astonished, perhaps terror-stricken; but he takes himself in hand, controls his thoughts, views the apparition calmly, and finally calculates its orbit and its relation to meteor showers.

These are extreme illustrations; but with all knowledge the order of perception is the same: first, the excitation of the mind by the new object impressed on it; then the control of the mind from within; upon which follows the perception of the nature of the object. Where the eyes of the spiritual man are open, this will be a true and penetrating spiritual perception. In some such way do our living experiences come to us; first, with a shock of pain; then the Soul steadies itself and controls the pain; then the spirit perceives the lesson of the event, and its bearing upon the progressive revelation of life.

  1. Through frequent repetition of this process, the mind becomes habituated to it, and there arises an equable flow of perceiving consciousness.

Control of the mind by the Soul, like control of the muscles by the mind, comes by practice, and constant voluntary repetition.

As an example of control of the muscles by the mind, take the ceaseless practice by which a musician gains mastery over his instrument, or a fencer gains skill with a rapier. Innumerable small efforts of attention will make a result which seems well-nigh miraculous; which, for the novice, is really miraculous. Then consider that far more wonderful instrument, the perceiving mind, played on by that fine musician, the Soul. Here again, innumerable small efforts of attention will accumulate into mastery, and a mastery worth winning. For a concrete example, take the gradual conquest of each day, the effort to live that day for the Soul. To him that is faithful unto death, the Master gives the crown of life.

  1. The gradual conquest of the mind’s tendency to flit from one object to another, and the power of one-pointedness, make the development of Contemplation.

As an illustration of the mind’s tendency to flit from one object to another, take a small boy, learning arithmetic. He begins: two ones are two; three ones are three-and then he thinks of three coins in his pocket, which will purchase so much candy, in the store down the street, next to the toy-shop, where are base-balls, marbles and so on,—and then he comes back with a jerk, to four ones are four. So with us also. We are seeking the meaning of our task, but the mind takes advantage of a moment of slackened attention, and flits off from one frivolous detail to another, till we suddenly come back to consciousness after traversing leagues of space. We must learn to conquer this, and to go back within ourselves into the beam of perceiving consciousness itself, which is a beam of the Oversoul. This is the true onepointedness, the bringing of our consciousness to a focus in the Soul.

  1. When, following this, the controlled manifold tendency and the aroused one-pointedness are equally balanced parts of the perceiving consciousness, his the development of one-pointedness.

This would seem to mean that the insight which is called one-pointedness has two sides, equally balanced. There is, first, the manifold aspect of any object, the sum of all its characteristics and properties. This is to be held firmly in the mind. Then there is the perception of the object as a unity, as a whole, the perception of its essence. First, the details must be clearly perceived; then the essence must be comprehended. When the two processes are equally balanced, the true onepointedness is attained. Everything has these two sides, the side of difference and the side of unity; there is the individual and there is the genus; the pole of matter and diversity, and the pole of oneness and spirit. To see the object truly, we must see both.

  1. Through this, the inherent character, distinctive marks and conditions of being and powers, according to their development, are made clear.

By the power defined in the preceding sutra, the inherent character, distinctive marks and conditions of beings and powers are made clear. For through this power, as defined, we get a twofold view of each object, seeing at once all its individual characteristics and its essential character, species and genus; we see it in relation to itself, and in relation to the Eternal. Thus we see a rose as that particular flower, with its colour and scent, its peculiar fold of each petal; but we also see in it the species, the family to which it belongs, with its relation to all plants, to all life, to Life itself. So in any day, we see events and circumstances; we also see in it the lesson set for the soul by the Eternal.

  1. Every object has its characteristics which are already quiescent, those which are active, and those which are not yet definable.

Every object has characteristics belonging to its past, its present and its future. In a fir tree, for example, there are the stumps or scars of dead branches, which once represented its foremost growth; there are the branches with their needles spread out to the air; there are the buds at the end of each branch and twig, which carry the still closely packed needles which are the promise of the future. In like manner, the chrysalis has, as its past, the caterpillar; as its future, the butterfly. The man has, in his past, the animal; in his future, the angel. Both are visible even now in his face. So with all things, for all things change and grow.

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