Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 7: Living In Freedom

Here is my last selection of quotes and extracts from Light on Life. In this final chapter, he’s writing about ethics, conceptions of God, truth, together with the full meaning of yoga.

The yogi is utterly disinterested but paradoxically full of being engagement of compassion. He is in the world but not of it.

Spiritual maturity exists when there is no difference between thought itself and the action that accompanies it. If there is a discrepancy between the two, then one is practising self-deception and projecting a false image of oneself.

Yogic knowledge is a centripetal force, for ever discarding the irrelevant in order to invest in search for the core of being where enduring truth resides.

Savasana is about relaxation, but what prevents relaxation? Tension. Tension results from clutching tightly to life–and in turn being held by the myriad invisible threads that ties us to the known world, the known ‘I’, and the known environment in which it operates.

To relax is to cut tension. To cut tension is to cut the threads that bind us to identity. To lose identity is to find out who we are not. Intelligence is the scalpel that cuts away the unreal to leave only the truth. As you are lying on the earth in savasana, do you not when the posture is harmonious and balanced, feel both present and formless? When you feel present yet formless, do you not feel an absence of specific identity? You are there, but who’s there? No one. Only present awareness without movement and time is there. Present awareness is the disappearance of time in human consciousness.

If you try to imagine time without using spatial concepts you will find it extremely difficult.

As a length of time, the present simply does not exist. How then can we live in the present? It is a paradoxical impossibility.

Dharma is about the search for enduring ethical principles, about the cultivation of right behaviour in physical, moral, mental, psychological, and spiritual dimensions.

The earliest Latin root of the word ‘religion’ means to be aware, and absolute awareness will never perceive difference or conflict.

The yogi cannot be afraid to die, because he has brought life to every cell of his body. We are afraid to die because we are afraid we have not lived.

One’s spiritual growth is only ever demonstrated by one’s actions in the world.

Ethics is the glue that binds earth to heaven. One cannot serve two masters. The only way human beings can reconcile the paradox of the demands of earth and soul is through the observation of ethical principles.

Cheats always lose. They are unmasked because they are transparently dishonest, deceive themselves, and fail in their human duty.

Action mirrors man’s personality better than his words.

It is better not to believe in God and act as though he existed, than to believe in God and act as if he did not exist.

Normally when we question anyone about whether he believes in God or not, we reduce God to a material thing. We reduce him to the level of matter, to something that can be believed in. Therefore it becomes a matter of belief. As the universe, which is beyond the reach of our consciousness, is unknown to us, so the entity that is God, which is beyond the reach of our consciousness, is unknown to us.

As has one increasingly feels the existence and pull of the divine, one’s actions more easily align with the ethical impulse of the absolute.

Spirituality is not playacting at being holy but the inner passion and urge for self realisation and the need to find the ultimate purpose of our existence.

Truth is an absolute of staggering power.

As yoga practice develops and the afflictions and obstacles to yoga interfere with us less, we begin to have some inkling of the glory of truth.

We should not use truth as a club with which to beat other people. Morality is not about looking at other people and finding them inferior to ourselves. Truth has got to be tempered with social grace.

Love is an investment, lust is a waste.

Ego is on an elastic and will always pull you back. Only the practice of meditation will eventually erode the attraction between ego and self-identity.

Surrender to God is not surrender to what you think God wants. It is not surrender to your conception of the will of God. It is not God giving you instructions. As long as ego persists, your interpretation of God’s wishes will be fragmented by the distorting prism of ego.

The ultimate reach of yoga is the total transformation of consciousness that pervades our whole being with awareness and that knows no frontiers.

My body and mind are the servers and followers of the soul. The unity of these three gives me the right to call myself a yogi.

The complexity of the life of the mind comes to an end at death, with all its sadness and happiness. If one is already free from that complexity, death comes naturally and smoothly.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 6: Bliss – The Divine Body – Part 2

This full-on section relates to samadhi. Here are some extracts I selected from this second half of the sixth chapter:

From cosmic intelligence sprouts cosmic energy and consciousness, and from these devolves ego or the sense of self.  From the one root comes duality (which is the ability to separate), from duality comes vibration (which is the pulse of life beginning), from vibration comes invisible manifestation, and from the invisible comes the visible in all its glorious and horrendous diversity and multiplicity. This end product is what we take the world to be–our playground, our paradise, or our hell and our prison. If we misapprehend nature, take it at face value, through ignorance, then it is our prison.

Yoga examines in order to know, like science, but it wants to know in order to penetrate, to integrate, and to reconstruct through practice and detachment the perfection of nature’s original intention. In other words, it wants to reach the root and cut out the intervening turbulence. It does not want to be hoodwinked by nature’s appearance, but to adhere to its original motivation.

So many people approach spiritual growth as if it were a lottery. They hope that some new book or new method, some new insight or teacher will be the lottery ticket that allows them to experience enlightenment. Yoga says no, the knowledge and the effort are all within you. It is as simple and as difficult as learning to discipline our own minds and hearts, our bodies and breath.

When we are in the suspension of breath in the deepest meditation – a spontaneous, as it were, God-willed retention – we enter the black hole, the vortex of nothingness, the void. Yet somehow we survive. The curtain of time, time that inexorably brings death, is parted. This is a state of nonbeing, but a living nonbeing. It is a present devoid of past or future. There is no self, no meditator, no longer even any breather. What comes out of that black hole, that nothingness? Information. What is the information? The truth. What is the truth? Samadhi.

For the beginner, samadhi is an alluring subject. But there are reasons not to get fixated on it. The beginner can only conceive of samadhi as a glorification of the self he knows.

It is said that the meaning of life becomes apparent only in the face of death. At this point in practice the ego dissolves, or rather it gives up its impersonation of the true self.

In meditation, consciousness faces the soul itself. Samadhi is seeing soul face to face. It is not a passive state. It is a dynamic one in which the consciousness remains in a state of equilibria in all circumstances. The disturbances of the mind and emotions fade away, and we are able to see true reality.

After significant effort, a yoga practitioner reaches a state where some are some asana poses are effortless. What we achieve here externally is achieved through samadhi internally. It is an effortless state, where one experiences the grace of the self. This is a state of great bliss and fulfilment.

If anybody says, “I am teaching meditation,” then as a student of yoga I say, “It is rubbish,” because meditation cannot be taught it can only be experienced.

Sabija means ‘with seed’. What this means is that although the experience of bliss is felt, the seeds of desire remain in the ego as future potential. Even after the experience of samadhi, these seeds can sprout again and cause a relapse. The ego has not been entirely purified by the fire of the experience. This particular point on the yogic journey, although so elevated, is one of danger as it can become a wasteland in which the practitioner gets stuck. This state is called manolaya, which means an alert, passive state of mind. But in this context, it implies a complacency with what has been achieved and a tendency to slacken efforts to complete the final step of the journey. The yogi cannot rest on his laurels but must press on to the higher states of samadhi in which even the seeds of desire are burnt out from the ego forever and can never sprout or trouble him again. This is known as nirbija samadhi (seedless) in which the feeling of bliss is not dependent at all, even on a vestigial eager. This is the bliss of the absolute void, of nonbeing transformed into the light of being.

I can assure you that everyone seeks samadhi, and most of us seek shortcuts to get there.

People seek somebody through drugs, alcohol, the danger of extreme sports, the romanticism of music, the beauty of nature, and the passion of sexuality. There are 1000 ways and they all involve the transcendence of the suffering ego in a blissful fusion with an entity much greater than ourselves.

Change leads to disappointment if it is not sustained. Transformation is sustained change, and it is achieved through practice.

Dreams of the divine union, however high their aspirations, contain an element of fantasy. They may not be sustainable. We must have spiritual aspiration not spiritual pretension.

Yoga is solid. It is the path I know, the path I trod, the path I teach. Everyone desires relief from both the restrictions of personality and its impermanence. Everyone desires samadhi. From the dawn of his history, man has sought dangerous, shoddy shortcuts as well as noble ones. Called the hard, sustained progress of yoga a long cut if you will, but if it is a long cut, then so is the flight of an arrow.

 

 

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 6: Bliss – The Divine Body – Part 1

Selected extracts from the first half of the sixth chapter:

Let us therefore sift through everything, says yoga, every component of a human being that we can find and identify–our bodies, breath, energy, sickness and health, brain and anger, and pride in our power and possessions. Above all, yoga says, let us examine this mysterious “I”, ever present and conscious of itself, but invisible in the mirror or on any photograph.

What yoga means by ignorance can perhaps be best translated as nescience, which simply means not knowing. So to Hindus, the archenemy is a state of not knowing. What don’t we know when we are ignorant?  The answer is this: you don’t know what is real and what is not real. You don’t know what is enduring and what is perishable. You don’t know who you are and who you are not. Your  whole world is upside down because you take the artefacts in your living room to be more real than the unity that connects us all, more real than the relations and obligations that unite us all.  Perceiving the links and associations that bind the cosmos in a seamless whole is the object of yoga’s journey of discovery.

We are not required simply to adjust our vision, but to turn it inside out as well as outside in, a complete reversal. It means that ultimate truth is inconceivable in normal consciousness.

Only a life built on spiritual values (dharma) is based firmly in truth and will stand up to the shocks of life.

It is this the egoic “me” that does not want to die. This impersonation of soul by ego is at the base of all human woes, and this is the root of avidya (ignorance).

No lovers, servants, riches, cars, houses, or public acclaim can salve the wound of a dysfunctional relationship with our origin. Know your father, said Lord Jesus. By this statement he was directly addressing the problem of not knowing (avidya).

We all know the phrase concerning death: you can’t take it with you. This is true. I cannot take my ego beyond the grave, and I certainly can’t take my car, my land, or my bank account.

There is nothing wrong with shedding tears for ones we love, but we must know for whom they are shared–for the loss of those who remain and not for those who have departed.

We conclude that we must perpetuate ego at all costs, through dynasties, fame, great buildings, and all immortality projects aimed at cheating the grim reaper. What rubbish, says yoga.

Look for the light. Ego is not the source of light. Consciousness transmits the divine light of origin, of the soul. But it is like the moon; it reflects the light of the sun. It has no light of its own. Find the sun, says yoga, discover the soul. That is what Hatha Yoga means.

Discover what does not die, and the illusion of death is unmasked. That is the conquest of death.

We have to keep on questioning ourselves, or else transformation will not take place. Advance with faith, yes, but always call yourself into question. Where there is pride there is always ignorance.

Inside the microcosm of the individual exists the macrocosm of the universe.

The eyes are the window of the brain, the years are the window of the soul. This is contrary to popular wisdom, but when the senses are withdrawn (pratyahara) this is the true experience.

When we can play with the elements within our own bodies, with their own renewal and disproportion and rebalancing, then we are aware of nature at a level that is not apprehend double in the normal way it is supranatural, as normal consciousness is blind to it.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 5: Wisdom – The Intellectual Body – Part 2

Selected extracts from the second half of the fifth chapter:

This is not yoga by the body for the body, but yoga by the body for the mind, for the intelligence.

The intelligence we are now developing depends upon emotional and moral maturity, the ability to value truth and respect ethical conduct, the capacity to feel love in its more universal sense as compassion.

The role of awareness is to fill the gaps that inevitably exist between the physical and organic sheaths of our bodies when we practice yoga.

The power we generate through yoga practice must become a coherent and indissoluble whole.

Energy and awareness act as friends. Where one goes, the other follows. It is by the will of awareness to penetrate that intelligence, is able to move into and occupy the darkest inner recesses of our being.

We say intelligence has insight. We should complement that by saying that soul has ‘outsight’;  it is a beacon shining out.

Considerable achievements also bring in their wake considerable dangers. An obvious one is pride–not satisfaction in a job well done, but a sense of superiority and difference, of distinction and eminence.

Yoga is an interior penetration leading to integration of being, senses, breath, mind, intelligence, consciousness, and Self. It is definitely an inward journey, evolution through involution, towards the Soul, which in turn desires to emerge and embrace you in its glory.

The pursuit of pleasure through appearances, which I connect here to superficiality of intent, is quite simply the wrong way to go about things. To pursue pleasure is to pursue pain in equal measure. When appearance is more important to us than content we can be sure we have taken the wrong turning.

High intelligence brings the gift of power, and we all know that power corrupts. When intelligence is corrupted it brings woe upon ourselves and upon the world.

If we live outwardly virtuous lives, it is easy to convince ourselves that there is nothing else wrong with us. Often this is the besetting sin of the puritan or religious fanatic. We often both suppress the truth and suggest the false. Ego aids and abets all flaws of intelligence.

Conscience hurts, it causes us pain. We say we are pricked by conscience. … That is because it lies of the paradox of what it means to be a spiritual being living in a physical body in a material world.

Paying attention in yogic terms is not concentration. True concentration is an unbroken thread of awareness.

In a perfect asana, performed meditatively and with a sustained current of concentration, the self assumes its perfect form, its integrity being beyond reproach. This is asana performed at the sattvic level, where luminosity infuses the whole pose.

I am practising asana but at a level where the quality is meditative. The totality of being, from core to skin, is experienced. Mind is unruffled, intelligence is awake in heart rather than in head, self is quiescent, and conscious life is in every cell of the body. That is what I mean when I say asana opens up the whole spectrum of yoga’s possibilities.

I have often said that yoga is meditation,  and meditation is yoga. Meditation is the stilling of the movements of consciousness. It is bringing the turbulent sea to a state of flat calm. This calm is not torpid or inert. It is a deep tranquillity, pregnant with all the potential of creation.

The yogi is journeying from the world of things and events, which are so joyful, painful, baffling, and unending, back to the point of stillness before the waves were ruffled.

Do not confuse aloneness with loneliness. Loneliness is separation from the cosmos. Aloneness is to become the common denominator of the cosmic all.

Is this the end? Are we there yet? No. There remains the ego, the self, the known self, the impersonator of the soul. He is the last actor to leave the stage. He lingers even for the very final handclap of applause. What forces him off the stage? Silence and retention of the breath.

Just as the cessation of the movement of thought brings purity to intelligence, so a motiveless retention effaces ego. What the practitioner eventually experiences is not that at some point he suspends the breath. He is no longer the subject, the agent. The breath breathes him. What this means is that at the highest level of meditation the cosmos breathes you.

The unpremeditated retention of breath after exhalation opens the gap in the curtain of time. No past, no future, no sense of passing present. Only presence.

The end of duality that comes from meditation is the end of separation and the end of all conflict. The yogi stands one and alone.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 5: Wisdom – The Intellectual Body – Part 1

Selected extracts from the first half of the fifth chapter:

Our individual intelligence, though an essential rudder to guide us, is merely a puny offshoot of cosmic intelligence, which is the organising system of the universe. This intelligence is everywhere and like air we constantly bathe in it and imbibe it.

Intelligence is the operating system of cosmic awareness.

You can force a piano up three flights of stairs but you cannot force the febrile human mind to be still. All you can do is train it to be vigilant toward all that disturbs its equilibrium.

Memory for past, imagination for future. Squashed between the two,  we lose the ability to use direct perception on what really is–i.e. now, the present.

‘If it feels good, do it’  is not a maxim to be trusted in the long run. All philosophies recognise that a pleasure seeker will end up as a pain finder. The ancient Greeks said that moderation was the greatest virtue.

When awareness is linked to intelligence we are able to see with absolute honesty. When brain and body are moving in harmony there is integrity.

A cleansed memory is one that does not contain undigested emotions from the unconscious but that deals with feelings in the present as they arise.

If one feels heavy and dull after sleep then that sleep has been tamasic. Disturbed, agitated sleep is rajasic.  Sleep that brings lightness, brightness, and freshness is sattvic.

Peaceful deep sleep, experienced while alert and awake, is samadhi. When the mind is controlled and still, what remains is the soul.  The absence of ego in the state of sleep is akin to samadhi,  but it is dull and without awareness. Samadhi  is the  egolessness of sleep combined with the vibrancy of intelligence.

If we feed our minds on violent images, thoughts, and words, our unconscious will regurgitate them in disturbed dreams. Just as right imagination opens the creative mind, right sleep exhilarates the mind and brings alertness.

Often as students do savasana  or attempt meditation they drift into an agreeable torpor, as if they were swaddled in cotton wool. This is not the prelude to samadhi but to sleep.

Good sleep makes consciousness brilliant. Poor sleep leaves it tarnished.

We say,  “If only I’d known then what I know now.” But what we know now does not seem to stop this from making more mistakes. The yogic blueprint says that right knowledge and erroneous knowledge are two modifications, or states, of consciousness. By the practice of yoga we can lessen and eradicate misperception and wrong knowledge and again accurate perception and right knowledge.

An opinion is yesterday’s right or wrong knowledge warmed up and re-served  for today’s situation. So opinions are rooted in the past and our examination of memory has shown us that the past can be a minefield.

When what is wrong is discarded what is left must be correct. As intelligence expands in consciousness then ego and mind contract to their proper proportions. They no longer rule the roost but serve intelligence.

We are seeking to cultivate wisdom, to transform mental dexterity or cleverness, which all people possess in some degree, into the penetrating clear light of wisdom.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 4: Clarity – The Mental Body (Manas)

Quotations I’ve selected from the forth chapter of Iyengar’s Light on Life.

You cannot hope to experience inner peace or freedom without understanding the workings of your mind and of human consciousness in general.

With right perception and understanding of our minds the door opens to our liberation, as we go through the veil of illusion into the bright day of clarity and wisdom. The study of mind and consciousness therefore lies at the heart of yoga.

Yoga points out how we generally react to the outside world by forming entrenched patterns of behaviour that doom us to relive the same events endlessly in a superficial variety of forms and combinations.

The historical change from killing with stone clubs, to swords, to guns, to nuclear weapons is clearly no change at all, and it’s certainly not evolution.

What we call consumer choice is not choice at all but selection. It offers only an illusion of freedom.

Lao Tzu: “Know yourself. Know what is good. Know when to stop.”

A bowl of rice is good. A full belly is desirable. But should it be full all day? Do we really want “more is better” to be the epitaph of the human race?

Every time we say the word “I” we feel something hard and monolithic inside us, like a great stone idol. … Whatever the shape of our “I”, however defenceless and permeable we allow ourselves to become, a separation between self and other continues in normal consciousness.

Overweening pride is the symptom of the diseased self.

Ego has been compared to the filament in a bulb, which, because it glows with light, proclaims itself to be the light’s source.

The soul is a separate entity and should not be confused with with any form of “I” consciousness.

The soul is democratic; if in us then equally in others. It is not personal; if anything it is we who belong to it.

From our ignorant identification with our ego and its morality arises man’s creativity and his destructiveness, the glory of culture, the horror of his history.

Consumerism is an ineffective and temporary balm against mortality.

The egoic self is an exhausting companion, forever demanding that his caprices be pandered to, that his whims be obeyed (though he is never satisfied), and his fears be calmed (though they never can be).

Intelligence does not chat. It is the quiet, determined, clear-eyed revolutionary of our consciousness.

The ego is comfortable rearranging the same old furniture in the same old room and standing back and saying, “Doesn’t it look different?” Does it? Yes. Is it? No.

Freedom is the innermost desire of all our hearts.

Yoga has the ability to take us further, to an unconditioned freedom, because yoga sees even good habits as a form of conditioning or limitation.

Direct action stems from direct perception, the ability to see reality in the present, as it is, without prejudice, and act accordingly.

The yogic action is an action that is absolutely unfettered by past habit and without desire for personal reward in the future. It is the right thing in this present moment just because it it right and is colourless or taint-free.

The yogi knows that pleasure leads to pain and pain to pleasure in and endless cycle.

Our consciousness increasingly becomes what we feed it.

When breath is calmed and attention focused on its inward movement then consciousness is no longer jerked by outer stimuli.

Time heals. It does but only if we allow it to.

While mind reacts to memory, intelligence interrogates memory. … Memory consulted by intelligence gives completely different answers to memory consulted by mind.

When intelligence is awakened in the cells then instinct is transformed into intuition and the past loses its deterministic grip on us, as our inner intelligence tells us what the future requires.