Last time (Happy Circle January 23: Chariots and Mountains) we talked about the analogy of the chariot used to explain meditation or what I refer to as “yoga meditation” of the classical texts. The chariot is the body, the horses the senses, the reins are the mind, and the charioteer is the intellect in some commentaries and consciousness in others. Learning to rein in, train the unruly horses, and keeping the chariot on track through all the rough and smooth patches is the process of yoga. The word “yoga” has multiple meanings–it is used as a term to describe the training process, the path, as well as the goal which is a particular state of being.
The more the word “yoga” is used now, the more restrictive and less understood it seems to have become. So what is this yoga? Very briefly, in the classical text of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it is a combination of eight (ashtanga) components. Note that the most fundamental and basic components have no meditation, no mindfulness, no sitting practice and there is no reference to contorted postures or stretches.
The foundation is about the universal values of strong morals and ethics, developing a strong compass and following it to avoid unnecessary problems in personal life and within communities. There are five social behaviors (yama) to follow: non-violence, honesty/truthfulness, non-stealing or not taking taking what is not ours, responsible and proper sexual behavior, not being greedy or coveting. Some call these the don’ts.
The next is personal conduct (niyama): cleanliness of body and mind (hatha yoga gives detailed practices), contentment, simplicity in living, self-study, and surrendering to a higher purpose. Some refer to these as do’s.
Without this foundation developing mindfulness and meditation is very difficult as we keep stepping in our own way, creating unnecessary turmoil and conflict in our lives, and being consumed by them.
The third step (asana) is cultivating a sustainable, comfortable sitting position for meditation. Fourth (pranayama) is studying the breath, increasing the breathing capacity, and learning to regulate the breath. The fifth (pratyahara) component teaches sense withdrawal–how to withdraw the mind from sensory perceptions and distractions (reining in the horses). This leads to the sixth stage of focus (dharana), learning to focus on a single object. The fifth and sixth we know as mindfulness training. The seventh is paying attention (dhayana) or meditation. The final eighth is Self-realization (samadhi) or know Thyself.
In Happy Circle, we are learning the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth components–sitting, basic understanding and regulation of the breath, sensory withdrawal, and focus. Our talks are part of self-study. We strive to become independent thinkers and broaden our perspectives. Our perspectives light the lamp of awareness, illuminating our understanding and awakening to a greater sense of being. We need to own the meaning of our own lives by direct, personal experience and understanding. Someone else’s meaning, interpretation, or insight, may not be as effective as the ones we gain for ourselves. No one can fully give us the experience of what it is like to drink a glass of cool water when really hot and thirsty. We have to know this ourselves. An important part of what I do is to explain what we do and why we do it. It must make sense to you as there is no expectation of blindly following anything.
Now before we begin our practice, there is another analogy of the chariot worthy of thought as we often ask the question: Who am I?
This is a conversation between the Indo-Greek king Milinda and the Buddhist master Nagasena explaining the concept of anatta (no-self). Nagasena asks Milinda about the chariot the king rode.
Nagasena asks if the pole of the chariot is the chariot. Answer, no. Nagasena asks if the axel is the chariot or if the wheels are the chariot. Answer, no. Nagasena asks if the reins are the chariot. To this and further questions about the parts, the answer is no. Nagasena explains that the chariot is not something other than these parts. Yet the parts are not the chariot. Nagasena states that chariot is just a word, it exists, but only in relation to the parts. The concept “chariot” does not have an intrinsic, inherent value or place as something permanent. It is the same with the self. We certainly exist, just as a chariot exists, but it is more in terms of conventional language as opposed to absolute language.
Later, Greek philosophy had a similar simile; a thought experiment known as the Ship of Theseus. It was created by Plutarch, who was a Greek philosopher who lived in the first century CE.
According to the story, one by one parts of the ship were changed out as they went bad. Planks of wood and other material were replaced with new parts. Eventually, there were no original parts left. Is it still the Ship known as Theseus? This was the thought experiment. All parts have been changed, but yet there was still some continuity, some continuation that it is still known by the same name. It is the same ship and it also not the same ship; there is no permanent entity there, but yet there is some continuity through continuation.
Audio tracks (free) for our practices today are: