For most of us suffering is a fact of life. It seems inevitable despite all our attempts at consolation. The fundamental dissatisfaction of human beings has been the central concern of all religious and philosophical systems. Faced with our inability to remain happy, all the great teachers have adopted the most practical approach.
The Buddha for example, discouraged his followers from depending on anything external; leaders, dogmas, or unrealistic beliefs. Nor would he expound comforting metaphysical theories; he held that these were irrelevant. Instead he presented his students with a straightforward and rational analysis of their predicament. He pointed out that all things are impermanent, that our lives are short, restricted, and ultimately unsatisfying. On its own, this uncompromising diagnosis of the human condition would have been dismal indeed. But happily the Buddha prescribed the cure. He called it “the path that leads to Enlightenment”. This is a re-statement of a perennial teaching that he had verified by his own experience.
This teaching is known as yoga. According to yoga we suffer because we live in ignorance. We are ignorant of our real nature. Our true nature lies beyond the restrictions of our careworn and humdrum existence, ecstatically free and untouched by suffering.
The beginnings of yoga can be traced back to over five thousand years ago where its roots began in India. Then in 200 AD Pratanjali wrote the famous yoga sutras, which organise much of the ancient Indian philosophy into an identifiable system and doctrine. These sutras make the yoga philosophy far more accessible and remain the classic basis of yoga practice to this day.
Like the eight fold path of Buddhism, the yogic path is made up of eight steps. These are known as the eight limbs of yoga, which offer a path of awakening, a course through which higher and deeper understanding of the self can be obtained. The first four limbs are concerned with external practices or studies and these are known as Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama. The second four limbs known as Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, are concerned with internal practices. Working through the limbs from start to finish, leads the rare master into spiritual bliss. However for most of us, focusing on the many aspects within a certain limb, gives us a chance for personal and physical development.
Yamas – ethics
Niyamas – self discipline
Asana – physical posture practice
Pranayama – controlled breathing
Pratyahara – sense withdrawl
Dharana – concentration
Dhyana – meditation
Samadhi – self-realisation
Over the next 10 months we will be exploring one aspect of the five Yamas and Niyamas per month here on this blog. Please join the community to comment and share.