Paramahamsa Satyananda has defined yoga as the gift of peace for humanity. In our own way we are all trying to experience the state of peace and harmony in our lives, but in this search we come across certain problems. We do not know the reason for disturbance, in our lives and, therefore, we cannot discover how to attain peace.
Peace and harmony are states of mind and there are many factors which can disturb the equilibrium of the mind. Without dealing with the disturbed states of mind, we are trying to find a method to attain peace externally. It is here that yoga comes in with definite concepts about the human personality. Yoga say that instead of isolating ourselves from the mind, we should try to discover the reason for the imbalance within ourselves, and then we will find peace very easily. With this idea in mind, yoga has evolved the different practices of Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Karma Yoga, etc.
The mind is recognised as the main factor governing our entire life. We can even say that the mind is the basis of life and that the body extends externally from this basis in the manifest dimension. The experience of the manifest nature, the knowledge of the manifest world, is the superficial extension of the mind. The world of name, form and idea, the world of senses and objects, is the external experience and manifestation of mind. The world of spirit, of psychic experiences and knowledge is the internal manifestation of the mind.
In the yogic tradition, the mind has been given a place of high importance and all the practices of yoga evolve around managing the mind. The second sutra of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras says that yoga is control of the mental patterns, and this is what people generally understand yoga to be. But the first sutra is of the utmost importance: "Yoga is a form of discipline." Here Patanjali brings our attention to the aspect of discipline, not only mental or internal, but also physical, social and external. As a result of that acquired discipline he says that it becomes possible to control the modifications of the mind, and after that it becomes possible to realise the inner nature.
These three statements are of the utmost importance in the yogic system. In fact the systems of Hatha and Raja Yoga, and the other systems of yoga, revolve around them. We can come to a conclusion that firstly, yoga is a form of discipline which we must try to develop in our lives, and that secondly, we have to learn how to manage our mental expressions and experiences.
What is self-discipline? One has to look at it from the physical, psychological and spiritual angles. Patanjali's original meaning was to govern the different expressions of human personality, and to govern the body, mind and psyche is known as yogic discipline.
Discipline does not mean a self-imposed daily routine. Governing the body and mind begins with an effort to harmonise the various functions of the body and mind. We continuously and constantly identify with our body as the main tool of our expression in the manifest dimension. Although our interactions take place through the senses and the body, we do not take proper care of our body.
For example, we purchase a car and after driving a certain number of kilometres we Deed to take it for servicing, and we do this regularly. Our body is like a car. How often have we taken it for servicing since we were born? Maybe never. In this way we have created a great imbalance in our physical system and as a result we experience different illnesses and diseases which represent a malfunction, a lack of service to our physical structure. To provide the service, yoga has the practices of asana and pranayama for harmonising the physical, external activities of the body.
The practices of asana and pranayama are known to everyone. There is another system of Hatha Yoga practices for purification, the shatkarmas, which are just as important, if not more important than the practices of asana and pranayama. These six practices are neti, cleansing of the nasal passages; dhauti, cleaning of the upper digestive tract; basti, cleaning of the lower digestive tract; nauli, activation of the pranic centres in our physical structure; Kapalbhati, purification and stimulation of the brain; and trataka, focusing the mind by isolating it from the world of the senses. These practices aim at harmonising the subtle functions of the physical structure, and combined with asana and pranayama they all become a powerful system for inner harmony.
The aim of yoga is meditation, but yoga has not isolated the meditative process from the body. Yoga says that the meditative state is a state of body as well as mind, and asana, pranayama and shatkarma lead to the physical meditative state. In this context meditation means awakening and using the natural faculties of body, mind and spirit. When we have been able to regulate the physical activities and to harmonise the functions of the inner body, the effect of physical harmony and balance influences the mental behaviour. Then we begin with the practices of concentration which specifically deal with the mind.
The mind has been viewed in two parts by the yogis. The manifest mind is known as ashuddha, the impure mind. It is impure because of its distractions in the world of senses and objects. Due to these distractions the mind does not have the ability to naturally express its qualities and, therefore, experiences stress. Thoughts remain unclear. There is no clear direction for our actions and motivations. As a result we are influenced by the likes and dislikes, and we are aware of the surface currents which disturb our entire life process.
The shuddha, or pure mind, is the developed, harmonised, concentrated mind. This pure mind relates more to the spiritual dimension and its interaction with the external world. In order to provide the experience of the inner mind and the ability to harmonise the external mind so that you are free from the stresses of life, yoga speaks of the techniques of pratyahara, dharana and dhyana.
The aim of yoga is meditation. Meditation is realisation of the mind, not the mind as an independent unit, but rather as part of the physical structure and the spiritual dimension. This should be understood carefully. Most of the time, the mind is relating to the external world and when we try to become aware of the inner dimension it takes a lot of effort and we encounter certain states which we are not able to understand rationally.
However, it is not just a question of understanding the mental states in meditation. One has to make the effort to bring that higher realisation into the daily activities. That realisation manifests in the form of refined qualities, refined behaviour and interaction with the world and a deep understanding. When we have these things in our life and we are experiencing them, then that state is similar to the state of realisation. This spiritual realisation is the system of Vedanta where one does not only relate to a state of experience intellectually, one lives it.
The systems of pratyahara, dharana and dhyana enable one to come to that level of understanding and realise and apply that experience in normal life. In pratyahara we begin to gradually observe the activities of the mind in relation to the external world. We learn how to avoid the stresses and tensions which affect the sensitivity of our personality and nature. When we reach this point of managing the external interactions of the mind, we move into the practices of dharana. Dharana means gaining the ability to focus our attention at one point without distractions. After we have attained perfection in this state of meditation we move into dhyana. In dhyana we begin to change the nature and quality of the mind, and once the nature and quality of the mind changes, its manifestations in the external life become different. Samadhi means total inner harmony and union with the inner self so that the external nature and the internal nature are in harmony with each other.