Ravi Ravindra was born and received his early education in India before moving to Canada. He was a Member of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton in 1977, and a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study at Shimla in 1978 and 1998. He was the founding Director of the Threshold Award for Integrative Studies (1978-80), and pilot Professor of Science and Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies in 1989.
At present Dr Ravindra is Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada, where he was Professor and Chair of Comparative Religion, Professor of International Development Studies and Adjunct Professor of Physics. Recipient of many fellowships, awards, visiting professorships and research grants, he is the author of more than a hundred and twenty papers in Physics, Philosophy and Religion, and a number of books.
Throughout history, there has been only one serious concern of all spiritual searchers: How can our whole being be in harmony with universal Truth? This is not only a question for the mind; it is not a question of figuring out the Truth, but it is the central question of our life: How can we become a suitable instrument for the Truth to be expressed? This Truth has been variously labelled Brahman, Allah, God, the Holy Spirit, the Absolute, Ultimate Reality, the Sacred, or simply That. There are many other names, but none of these captures the Real, for as the Tao Te Ching says, 'The Tao that can be named is not the Eternal Tao.'
All spiritual traditions point to a reality which cannot be expressed. Each of these traditions speaks of this reality differently - they use different languages, different approaches, and different metaphors to call us to orient ourselves to this reality. Differences in expression are natural, for the traditions have arisen in different places and at different times. The language used and the metaphors which make sense will depend upon the context and upon our own background. It is useful to study different traditions in order to be free of attachment to anyone way of expressing what is beyond expression. Different expressions can help us go beyond all expression. Sages of every spiritual tradition have insisted that the subtle vibrations which constitute the level of reality we call the Real are always present and that they pervade all space. The place where each one of us is now, is filled with the Holy Spirit or the Buddha-mind. In general, we do not experience this, but if we had a properly tuned instrument, that is, if our organism were rightly aligned and truly sensitive, we would be in touch with the Absolute.
All spiritual traditions, whether of the East or of the West, recognize that God or Truth is radically different from anything we know or can know and other than anything we can project or imagine. However useful philosophical or theological discussions, or icons and idols, or dancing and chanting may be in focusing our attention and in pointing the way to the Truth, a glimpse of the Real far supersedes any idea, any image or any feeling. 'There the mind recoils on itself in wonderment,' says an Upanishad. In every spiritual tradition, God is wholly Other, Totaliter Aliter. As Meister Eckhart said, 'If there were a God of whom I had any idea, it would not be worth having him as God.' Our idea of God is always a projection of our own mind and therefore limited. What we can truly say about God is that God is indescribableand unknowable. But although we cannot know God, we can be known by God and we can experience the Real.
Although the Real transcends all forms and is wholly other than anything that has been conceived or can be conceived, and it is radically different from myself as felt or known, the great mystery is that the Unknown and Unknowable God, Brahman, is also the Real I, the Atman or Purusha, which dwells deep within myself.
The outstanding feature of the Indic spiritual traditions is the assertion that the Wholly Other is Intimately Myself. This is resoundingly affirmed by all the sages in India, from the most ancient to the contemporary masters. The philosophical articulations may be different, the practices suggested by them may vary in emphasis, but they all speak of the 'fundamental Oneness of all there is. This is true of Dirghatamas, Yajfiavalkya, Kapila, Pataiijali, Gautama Buddha, Mahavira, Krshna, Nagarjuna, Sankara, Ramanuja, Kabir, N~naka, Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, Krishnamurti, and all the sages in the long line of Indian rshi-s, and seers. Ramana Maharishi put it very succinctly, 'There are no others.'
All our effort in spiritual search, which is what yoga is, is to allow ourselves to become more and more transparent to the Real, which is eternal and present everywhere, both within ourselves as well as outside ourselves. In the language of Pataiijali, this Real is Purusha, the Transcendent Being in each person. Purusha is the real knower and the sole knower. Anything that can be known is not Purusha. The search for God is also the search for our deepest self. It is the search to allow ourselves to be seen and known by Purusha, the only Real Seer. That vision is not only of the sacred but from the sacred.
In the Yoga Siitra-s, Pataiijali emphasizes that Purusha knows not with the mind but through the mind, a realization echoed by William Blake when he said, 'I see not with the eyes but through the eyes.' The mind, the instrument of perception, interferes less and less as it becomes freer and freer of subjectivity. The progressive freedom to be attained in yoga is an increasing freedom not for myself but from myself. Then the mind can become a proper instrument of perception and can act in the service of the Real.
The development of this freedom requires the cultivation of a steady and impartial attention as well as a growing discernment (viveka) which can distinguish between Purusha and what is not Purusha. The cuitivation of a steady attention, or of 'total attention' in the language of 1. Krishnamurti, is the first aim of yoga as taught in the Yoga Siitra-s. Levels of attention are intimately correlated with levels of consciousness and levels of being.
There are many qualities of attention from the most superficial and personal to the level in which God's attention works through us. St. Paul said, 'I live but not I, Christ liveth in me.' In the language of Pataiijali, Purusha attends through the purified mind which itself is a part of Prakrti.
The Yoga Siitra-s is a brief text which has had an immense influence on the spiritual traditions in India as well as on Sufism and perhaps on early Christianity. It is the earliest known systematic statement of the philosophical insights and practical psychology that define yoga. It is dated by scholars at some time between the third century BCE and the third century CE. Pataiijali, the great sage, is regarded as the compiler of these aphoristic remarks gathered from a longstanding tradition. The siltra (literally meaning 'thread') literature is a genre in which teachings are expressed in abbreviated and mnemonic form which need to be made our own by wrestling with them, standing under them and being open to their profundity.
In the Hindu Divine Trinity, Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver and Siva is the awakener. Siva is the Lord of dance, of theatre, of music and of grammar - all different ways for the transformation of our being. He is the Lord of Yoga, embodying stillness and total attention. In the images of Siva dancing, he dances on Muhyalaka, the demon of forgetfulness. The interpret- ation of Siva as the destroyer results from the role he plays as he destroys inattention, heedlessness, attachment to the transient and addiction to the identification with our small isolated self. Siva destroys what impedes transformation into a greater life. The union of Purusha and Prakrti is the union of Siva and Sakti, of eternity and time, of heaven and earth. Salutations to Siva, the Awakener from Above!
In the yoga tradition, Patafijali is regarded as an incarnation of Sesha Naga, the mighty serpent, embodying strength, energy and wisdom. Philosophy is for Pataiijali, as poetry is for John of the Cross, a way of expressing a vision from on high. Patafijali is not interested in argument; he says what he sees. Philosophy for him is an experiential science. Pataiijali's Yoga Sutra-s is a teaching of a psychological practice based on a spiritual vision, the vision of a still mind. He is a teacher who gives practical instructions for yoga, the work required in order to be more and more related to the Real.
The teaching of Patafijali, as expressed in the Yoga Sutra-s, is transformational. To the extent we can understand it - if we can stand under the benediction of the teaching - and practise it, we can also participate in the third eye vision which Pataiijali brings and a yogi aspires to. 'You have eyes but you do not see', is one of the very few remarks of Christ to be found in all the gospels. Pataiijali shows us who or what in us the real seer is, and assists us to look from that level.
In what follows, we will explore the Yoga Siitra-s in order to gain insight about the various levels of attention within ourselves and about the possibility of cultivating a steady, impartial and free attention which can relate us to subtler levels of reality. Although the Yoga Siitra-s is the text to be studied, the primary purpose of this exploration is self-study so that depths within may be discovered.
Great texts can inspire us, and call us. Since they come from a higher level of understanding, they cannot be understood by us as we are. What we understand is within our ken. We need to be disturbed by the great texts and scriptures which can provide practical aid for the transformation of our consciousness, of our being, of our lives. By wrestling with these texts, and not by argumentation, we gain understanding.
It is hoped that the readers will have an existential engagement with this study. Some suggestions are made for a practical exploration to aid the search for self- knowledge; these are gathered in a separate section at the end of the book.
Each verse of the text is considered, not for the sake of a textual exegesis of the Yoga Siitra-s, but in order to gamer the wisdom of the yoga tradition expressed in these sutras. The Yoga Siitra-s make a call and if we can respond with willingness, effort, gratitude and humility, a connection with higher levels of reality is facilitated. The commentary is accompanied by a new translation of the Yoga Siitra-s which is intended to help illuminate this text. This translation has been influenced by a careful reading of the original Sanskrit, by the insights of the sages and by a feeling of respect for the radical teaching for transformation contained in the text. The original Sanskrit is included in the Devanagari script, along with the Latin transcription for each surra. The appropriate diacritical marks, following the usual scholarly conventions, are used in the transliteration, but when Sanskrit terms are used throughout the commentary, the words are spelled phonetically.
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