ii.46-48 Postures favorable for meditation
2.46 Asana, or comfortable postures
Asana means a steady and comfortable posture. By and large these next sutras highlight the importance of Hatha Yoga. Today this “body-positioning yoga” is what one considers “all-things-yoga” to be in today’s body-obsessed culture. Yet, Patañjali had more in mind than glorifying body positions and its accompanying overt-pridefulness. This is good news for those searching for that “balanced” stance needed for meditation. Those brothers and sisters who are overly attached to their zazen posture might find this sutra an affront to their over-zealous position in stressing zazen as the be-all of everything. While zazen can be a chosen means for meditation, one would hope that the adept in this regard is indeed experiencing this “Asana”, or comfortable position—comfortable in the sense that it does not inflict any undue stress on the body and mind. Patañjali accentuates moderation in this regard; one’s posture should be supple rather than rigid. Sri Swami Satchindananda, in his edition of the Yoga Sutras, offers the following little story:
There once was a tiny weed and a big tree that grew along the bank of a swiftly running jungle river. One day, the tree looked down at the tiny weed and said, “Hey, you puny little creature, why do you stand by me? Aren’t you ashamed to be by my side? See how great, how big, how tall I am? How sturdy and strong? Even an elephant cannot move me. But look at you. Hah! You shouldn’t have come here. People will see the difference and laugh at you. Why don’t you move somewhere else?”
The weed bent her head, “Sir,” she said, “what can I do? I didn’t come here purposely. I just happen to be here. I know I’m not as strong and stiff as you. But please pardon my presence.”
“All right,” boomed the big tree, “but just remember your place!” This conversation happened during the rainy season. The very next day a heavy rain came, inundating the jungle and causing a terrible flood. When a river floods, it erodes the banks and pulls down anything in its way. Coming in such force, the water pulled down the great tree instantly. But the weed bent down, flattened herself completely and let the water run over her. When the flood passed, she rose up again. Looking this way and that, she wondered, “What happened to the great tree? I don’t see it.”
From far away she heard the tree’s reply. “I’m being pulled down by the water. I should have been humble and simple and supple like you. Now I’m being destroyed.”
That was quite an appropriate little parable. Think about it. Is it always best to remain straight as a board with your ass in a “rigid-lotus” position? In the long run that’s going to be detrimental to your lower back and legs. This particular sutra emphasizes to find the “Right Posture” that is best and comfortable for you. There’s no sense in afflicting pain and distress upon yourself. If you’re more comfortable sitting with your back erect in a chair rather than in a full-lotus position, then so be it. As long as you can maintain an attentive spirit, then seek out the means that is best for you.
2.47 By settling-down the restless monkey mind through right meditation on the Unborn, then Right Posture is mastered.
Staying still, in a mental-posture of Mahasunya (the Great Deathless Void), empowers one to center a restless mind by entering into the sanctum sanctorum of the Unborn Mind. This posture empowers the yogin to masterfully Recollect the Absolute Deathless Center of the Unborn.
2.48 Right-Centeredness assures the end of all dualities.
Being unhindered and centered in the Unborn assures the cessation of the Bifurcated Mind with its incessant opposing dualities.
*One other anecdote is offered by Barbara Miller concerning Asana:
Posture (āsana) is the relaxed positioning of the body that is necessary for practicing breath control and meditation. Patanjali compares it to resting like the cosmic serpent on the waters of infinity in the calm interval between cycles of universal creation and destruction. Ananta, “the infinite,” is the cosmic serpent on whom the god Vishnu lies sleeping when the world dissolves at the end of each cosmic cycle, before the beginning of the next. Ananta may also refer to “the infinite” in a more abstract sense. This is the interpretation of the Yogabhashya commentary, which states that posture becomes perfect when effort to that end ceases, so that there is no more bodily movement, and when the mind is transformed into the infinite—that is, recognizes infinity as itself.
[Miller, Barbara (2009-10-05). Yoga: Discipline of Freedom: The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali (pp. 28-29). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]
I just read about your running mishap on the Zennist’s Blog…so sorry to hear about that; hope your ankle is doing better.
This series on Patanjali has proven to be most edifying for me; am learning so much every day. His sutras provide that crucial balance in the spiritual-life. For instance, I step-away from blogging in mid-May for three months in order to recharge my spiritual batteries. Then, around mid-August, I’m rejuvenated to begin anew. This is truly what my life is about now. When dedicated and focused, accompanied with daily spiritual-exercises, it’s truly a blessing to see just how much “spiritual-juice” is available.It’s truly inspiring to share.
Ha ha ha, I don’t blame Patanjali! In fact, though it was an awful sprain, I am nearly completely healed. It was a lesson from mind, and I received it as such, and equinamity is restored. Thank you for your concern.
Amazing meditation this morning. My son came in afterwards (he is four) and he pointed to a stream of grey smoke rising from the incense brazier, and he said, dad, look at all the colors!
If I may make just one more observation, because it is relevant to the suppleness of body and spirit and my last post about my son’s perceptions. No space for detail but he is an advanced being and has always amazed me with his gentleness, wisdom and mirth — including relating in detail one day his past lives. This childlike nature is evident in the faces of genuine spiritual masters, and we lose this, normally, over time as we become rigid and fixed in our minds and bodies.
I asked him yesterday, after our exchange:
Me: Where does happiness come from?
Son: From life.
Isn’t it odd that with 8 billion people on the planet, so few reach adulthood with this simple and profound realization, but instead get lost in total ignorance and futility?
Thanks for this…
Could you expand upon “including relating in detail one day his past lives.”
I asked him to remember as far back as he could, before there was us, before this house, before mom and dad, before the womb. He thought for a long time and seemed to be struggling with it and said: “It’s hard.” So I desisted and changed the subject, not wanting to stress him out.
But a few days later I asked him again, in a light hearted way, and it came out in a flood. I had read in some Tibetan teachings about how small children, being close to birth, and lacking the content of adult minds, can sometimes recall other forms of existence. I asked him if he could remember before he was here.
He proceded to give me a detailed account of what seemed to be two or three lifetimes, recalling specific details. When I challenged him on these small details he became upset with me, but he was very consistent. He went back and forth quite a bit. It was hard for me to follow and piece together what happened. He seemed upset that I didn’t understand the bits and pieces as he described them. At times he didn’t have words for what he was describing and got frustrated.
Some things he said he had no way of knowing, and I was very careful to avoid prompting him. I just listened casually and accepted what he said, once in a while asking for more information about this or that when he paused, like it was no big deal.
He talked about his daily life, tools he used,his work, stuff he’d seen, things/people he liked, food he ate, that sort of thing. There were some mystical/religious moments, some details related to his death, and most were very mundane. He sometimes mentioned people from this life being there.
Sometimes he just said “i don’t know” when I asked for more information and got upset, so I didn’t push him. Everything seemed very vivid to him, and he was very matter of fact about it. When he was done that was it, he wouldn’t say any more.
While I don’t ignore the possiblity he invented it or compiled iit from information in this life, a few of the things were way beyond knowledge of a three year old or stuff he had any way of knowing about, as far as I know. I treat it without fixed conclusions.
But he’s always been remarkable and has said things, even at two, that astounded me with his depth of wisdom and an inate understanding of things beyond what would seem age-appropriate knowledge.
For example, he drew an anatomically correct bacteria (including fimbriae around the edge and a sqiggly chromosome) when he was three, and named it as such (calling it a bacteria). I am rarely surpised by such things now. He is an amazing being.
I’m reminded of lines from Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood“:
…Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
How fortunate you are to observe the wonders from your child’s lips before those Shades of the Prison-House settle-in. Much thanks!