Putting Gurudeva's Teachings to the Best Use, Part 3

Bodhinatha continues his Gurudeva mahasamadhi observances class with this part on ashtanga yoga, which is the teaching of our Nandinatha Sampradaya's Kailasa Parampara. When you go to study yoga somewhere what do you do? Asanas! But asanas (postures) are the third step. Where are steps one and two? We're coming out with a book called Yoga's Forgotten Foundation, a reprint of the chapters from Living with Siva on the yamas and niyamas. Gurudeva's lengthy insights on the yamas and niyamas are very special. If you don't start with the first step, spiritual progress through yoga is not going to work. We need to focus on a foundation of philosophical understanding and good character. Then, when that is there, we can talk about other things. We need to start with our low points, improve on them, and then we can move on in spiritual life.

Click below to listen.

Real Audio --- | --- MP3 (Quicktime or Download)

Questions? Bodhinatha is the successor of "Gurudeva," Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. If you have questions on subjects about spiritual life you will find answers in Gurudeva's books and teachings. Learn about ways to study these teachings by visiting The Master Course site or writing to mastercourse@hindu.org.

Unedited Transcript:

How many found at least one thing you were not following? Maybe if you follow that, all your problems will go away.

This is from the introduction to 'Living with Siva', talking about the Master Course, leading into it. Then, it goes through the Ashtanga Yoga, eight steps. Does everyone know the eight steps of Ashtanga yoga? Does anybody not know the eight steps? Okay. Ashta, does anybody know what ashta is? Eight. Okay, and anga? Limbs. Yes, exactly eight limbs.

It has eight steps: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. In English: Yama - virtuous conduct, restraints, Niyama - religious observances, Asana - posture, Pranayama - regulating the breath which also means regulating the prana, the energy. Pratyahara means turning within, sense withdrawal, Dharana - concentration, Dhyana - meditation and Samadhi is samadhi, experience of God in one degree or another.

Gurudeva says, "The Master Course trilogy, is a detailed summary and explanation of Ashtanga Yoga according to the traditions of our lineage, the Nandinatha Sampradaya's Kailasa Parampara." and then he goes on to explain.

There is a nice story too, if I recall it correctly, if it is incorrect well then, such are stories! Don't have to be accurate in stories. My understanding of the story is that Gurudeva went to Yogaswami's hut, there was just one book on the book shelf and that was Patanjali's Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga is another name for Ashtanga Yoga, means the same thing. So they talked about it. It shows it was an important book to Yogaswami, the only book he had. Outline of the eight steps is very similar to the outline of the steps in charya, kriya, yoga and jnana. It is the same idea. It is just a different set of terminology.

I think Gurudeva put Ashtanga Yoga here because it is more broadly known in today's world. You talk about Saiva Siddhanta and the four padas - charya, kriya, yoga and jnana. How many people you know have a clue? Not very many. You talk about yoga and yoga postures, ashtanga yoga. Oh yes, lots of people can relate to that terminology. Gurudeva was using the more popular terminology and pointing out the obvious.

When you go and study yoga somewhere, what do you do? You do the asanas right? You walk in the door and all of a sudden you are doing asanas. What step was asanas? The third step. So what happened to step one and two? Where did they go?

We are coming out with a book on that. It is called 'Yoga's Forgotten Foundation'. Really, we are reprinting the chapters from 'Living with Siva' that go into the yamas and niyamas. You know they are such beautiful chapters. Gurudeva was really inspired to bring all this wonderful insight, at length. Insight into the yamas and niyamas, there in 'Living with Siva'. You don't find this anywhere else and it is very special material. We thought it was so special, we repackaged it in the same spirit of the Ashtanga Yoga and called it 'Yoga's Forgotten Foundation'. It is in-process, in Malaysia getting printed. It should be done in a month or two and we will ship it over and promote it. So that is a way to get Gurudeva's teachings on this subject, out to a broader group, a group that is interested in yoga.

The obvious point is - Wait a minute! Why is everyone teaching us the third step, without the first two steps? Isn't something wrong here? It is like mathematics. If you don't learn the first step and then the second step, you certainly won't be able to handle algebra, right? You can't start with algebra, we all know that!

So, how can it work here in yoga? It only works if you are just interested in yoga as a physical practice, which is all some teachers teach. You know the physical benefits of yoga. In fact , 'Time' magazine had that - physical benefits of meditation. Which is good, we don't speak against that. But there are those who practice yoga and do so for spiritual reasons. They want some spiritual benefits. They are not here just to get healthy or just to be able to be more limber. They are wanting to make some spiritual progress.

If you don't start with the first step, it does not work spiritually. That is the point. Why is that? Because you need a foundation. Meditation is a subtle practice and unless you have a foundation there, you won't be able to sustain it. We'll go into that a little bit later.

Let me continue reading.

"Often the uninformed prefer to start on their spiritual path at steps seven and eight, " Oh, not even three!, " ignoring the other six, and more than often wonder why no immediate and lasting results are obtained. Drawing upon over half a century of teachings and explaining, the trilogy articulates in no uncertain terms, why you must begin at the beginning, with a firm foundation of philosophical clarity and good character, and proceed from there."

So, philosophical clarity and good character - that is the way of describing the foundation. For some reason, I wasn't on the program but on the European Innersearch, Gurudeva came back and of course, I think, he wrote this after he came back. That was a strong theme in his mind for some reason. In terms of how we teach, we need to focus on the foundation of philosophical clarity and good character. Get that in there first. Then, when that is there, we can talk about other things.

Said another way, everyone loves to hear about the higher chakras. If you want to fascinate a group pull out a chart. There is the chakra man, spinning chakra. Look at that! All these higher chakras, all this possibility and so forth. All the great possibility in meditation. Of course, that is true. But when people come, particularly people who aren't studying or just read Gurudeva's books and start asking me questions about meditation, chakras and this and that. Which happens, and I say, "Well, you know, it is just like learning to dance. What you need to focus on are the things you do worst, your problems, your weaknesses. This is the strength here, this shows the potential. But if we are still getting angry, if we still go into fear, if we still speak unkindly to other people, those are the qualities we need to focus on. Let us not worry about spinning the higher chakras."

Sometimes people come in, "How can I spin my highest chakra?" And I say, "By not spinning your lowest, that is how!"

That is the idea, because we need a foundation of good character and philosophy. Once that is in place, then we can make progress. But definitely when you are dancing, the teacher does not show you all these pictures of dancers and probably by that say, "That movement is wrong. Practice! You are off balance, get on balance." Points out all the things you are doing wrong, right? All the weaknesses.

So, the spiritual path is like that and a guru will do that to some extent, and you need to do that too. Be aware of your weaknesses. Of course, don't condemn yourself for them, that is not the point. This is not, "I am a frail person, who always does things wrong. I am terrible."

No, you are a divine being. You made a few mistakes. But we can compensate for our mistakes and move on and not feel bad about them. It is in the spirit of - if we can improve our low points, then we move on naturally in our spiritual life.

Another example I give is the bathtub analogy, to someone who is meditating, practicing meditation and other deeper practices. The stopper is in, water does not go out, water is coming in. It is increasing actually. But if we have problems, we periodically get angry, we periodically do things we should not, it is like the stopper is not there. The water is coming in, but what happens? It is going out the bottom. It is going out, our emotional outbursts are dissipating the spiritual power we built up during our practices. So we are not making any progress. Water is coming in, we are doing our sadhana, we are doing this, we are doing that. Water is going out the bottom because we don't have a good foundation. We still get angry, we still do this, we still do that.

Consequently, obviously if you spend all your time focusing on meditation, if you don't have a foundation, you are not making any progress and missing the point. Let us get that stopper in, so that the energy that we do bring forth, the spiritual energy, is not lost by inappropriate actions. If we have a good foundation then whatever comes in we maintain. That is the idea.