All Yogic Approaches Involve the Replacement of Old Habit Patterns with New Benign Patterns

Part 11, the final installment, of “How Do You Qualify Yoga?” (a series I originally posted and have converted to a permanent page).

“Everyone has weaknesses. Wise is he who acknowledges his weaknesses and works steadily to remove them and replace them with the essential virtues that strengthen him and make him brave, fearless, and truthful.”

Swami Rama: “The Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita”

There are so many ways to approach this qualifier of a Yogic approach (all of which I have discussed in previous posts): the eight-runged path of the Yoga Sutras, a discussion on samskarasdeveloping the skill of witnessing, and uncoloring.  Even better, a combination of the four (although a scholar can illustrate innumerous examples of this being the purpose of the practices).

In this Tradition, classically, one did not begin with meditation directly.  One began with developing a dharmic lifestyle.  This is seems at conflict with the Western concept of Yoga being almost amoral (not immoral)–as if anything goes.  The difference between the morality of Yoga and many other belief systems is the morality is intrinsic; it is morality for the sake of morality.  It arises from the understanding that we all are One; the integrity of a Yogi is not due to fear of retribution from a deity.  The early teachings of Yoga sought to develop this inner compass, then the aspirant would move into a seated meditation practice.

After moving into meditation, we begin to notice that thoughts come and go constantly. As we spend more time in this space we begin to notice that thoughts have trends.  Perhaps we discover we have a trend towards judgement, craving of material items, or feelings of unworthiness.  These trends can be thought of as being grooves that are etched into our mind-field–the Yogis called these samskaras.

The initial goal of Yoga meditation is to become AWARE of these patterns, NOT to critique or engage with them.  Early meditation is not psychoanalysis, it is accepting that all minds are capable of all types of thoughts: good, bad, and neutral.  But, thought is not who we are, it is what we are doing.  The art of witnessing is allowing the mind to naturally unfold without interfering with the process.  This reduces the emotional attachment to the thought, it uncolors them.  It is easier said than done.

Over time, the more practiced meditator begins to take a dispassionate stance and without judgment seeks to teach the mind to cultivate thoughts which bring them closer to harmony.  A practiced meditator explains to their mind (yes, I know how that sounds; but, dialogue with one’s own mind is essential if you want your mind be sharpened) this thought is useful and this thought is not useful.  Over time the mind entrains towards thoughts which create equanimity.

So after writing this series, what have I learned: I need to meditate more!