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Friday, October 28, 2011

Gunas of Prakriti

Sunday 10/16/11 Meditation based upon Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
Saraswati Andrea Lee and Chitra Jessica Sunshine
Starseed Yoga and Wellness of Montclair, NJ

OM Namah Sivaya call/response opening chant led by Saraswati-ji.
 "The essence of a kitten and a tiger is the same." - Master Sivananda

Everything is infinite consciousness:  unconscious, subconscious, conscious, and superconscious = infinite consciousness.  It is this spiritual oneness that is to be realized.  Let us take the example of the ocean, all forms are water and can appear as big or small waves, foam, bubbles, ice that floats, and vapor that clouds.  Different names and forms, but the essence is still water, just different temporary manifestations of the same water.  All things change.  This is Prakriti, or mother nature, any thing that changes.  Everything we consider to be "real" is made up of nature and its energies. In Sanskrit this nature is called the Gunas of Prakriti. Prakriti, which is changeable and mortal, is often referred to as the "seen" as opposed to the "seer" which is our eternal soul, the Purusha.

In Yoga Sutra 2.18 Patanjali states, "The seen is of the nature of the gunas: illumination, activity, and inertia. It consists of the elements and sense organs, whose purpose is to provide both experiences and liberation to the Purusha."

We can break this sutra into its two parts beginning with a description of the three gunas. Prakriti can be broken down into the three gunas which are illumination, activity and inertia. In Sanskrit these terms are sattva, rajas and tamas. They are expressed in everything from our physical body types and personalities to the energetic properties of other animate or inanimate things. Rajas is typically characterized by a frenetic, fiery or passionate energy, while tamas is characterized by a dull, static and dark energy. Sattva is a state of peaceful, clear and even energy, and is the ideal state for meditation practice. We are all made up of each one of these energies however one or two may dominate over the others at any given time. I may wake up one morning feeling lethargic and heavy and ruled by tamas, hear a piece of exciting or angering news midday as rajas moves through, and end my day with a calm feeling of equanimity, a characteristic of sattva. Anything that we can interact with using our senses is produced by the gunas but fortunately we are not completely held hostage by its fluctuations. There are ways to promote and encourage a particular guna based upon the situations we place ourselves in, the practices and habits that we engage in and especially through what we ingest whether it be what we eat, what we listen to or what we watch.

The paradox is that we must use our nature to transcend our nature; this is the second part of sutra 2.18. We can use our understanding of the gunas of Prakriti to provide us with the experiences needed to obtain liberation. The more I know about my nature the less time I spend in ignorance. While sattva may be a temporary ideal, we ultimately need to move past it. But as we travel on this journey of life certainly the more sattvic we are, the easier it becomes to overcome ignorance and recognize the part of us that is not subject to nature's ebb and flow. In our ignorance we think we are only Prakriti. The yogic practices are designed to help us see that we are more than our nature, we are divine spirit, the Purusha. As we are coming closer to this Self realization we can help balance and increase our sattwic energies in ways that prevent and treat diseases of the mind, body and spirit. This is the study of Ayurveda, the "sister" science of yoga. By monitoring what we put on and into our bodies we can live in a pure state that promotes health and well-being. By determining which of the gunas is most prevalent in the body and mind we are armed with the information we need to make lasting changes.

The Three Gunas
Tamas - total darkness, ignorance, inertia
Rajas - restlessness, too much activity, stress/anger
Sattva - tranquility, well balanced

Our mind and body are a part of nature.  It is the mind that gets disturbed or excited and the body that ages, the soul remains constantly blissful.  "Sometimes you say one thing, sometimes you say the opposite.  Are you truthful or are you a liar?  In the same way, when things constantly change, they can't be real.  Once I was called a baby, after a few years I was a boy. Then I was called an adult.  Now they might call me an old man.  What is true then? Which is real?  The name keeps changing." (Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Living Gita, p. 92)  Let us bring back the example of the ocean again to consider the different states of Prakriti.  Just like in the case of the ocean, the mind is the same just in different changing states.  Our mind is comprised of these three states and through meditation we move into sattva.

Tamas - ICE - condensed, frozen, can't move
Rajas - WATER - runs here and there, always travels down
Sattva - STEAM - doesn't swing, always travels up

Purusha - The Soul
The Purusha is the part of us that does not change.  It is the identical spiritual spark within everyone, every animal, every thing.  The nature of the Soul is Satchidananda, eternal, all knowledge, and blissful.  God is closer to you than your own heart.  When you speak, you say, "I am _______."  The blank changes, I am hungry, I am sleepy, I am happy, etc.  This is Prakriti.  The constant here is "I am", this is Purusha.  We even put God's name before our own.  "I am Jessica."  Consider the So-Hum breath meditation.  So-Hum means, I am, that, I am.  I am infinite consciousness.  I am love.  I am light.  I am peace.  I am joy.  It is through the practices of Yoga that we are to realize this unity.  We are more alike than different. 
Practice of Deergha Swaasam Pranayama (Three Part Breath).
Breath Meditation
Today's meditation will be a breath meditation. You may wonder if there is much of a difference between pranayama break work and breath meditation. During pranayama we control the breath in various ways to purify the body, enhance the nervous system and prepare the mind for meditation. We may control how much oxygen we take in or the rate at which we inhale and exhale. This is a most invaluable tool. During breath meditation we use our inhalations and exhalations as our object of meditation. We don't necessarily limit or restrict the duration of our breath and we may focus more on the sensations that our breath produces (warm breath, cool, soft breath, heavy). You can use counting as one way to stay connected to the breath even through our distractions. It is also one method that I find is easiest to use. You can inhale to the count of "one", exhale "one", inhale "two", exhale "two" and so forth until you reach a count of ten. One of the reasons this helps is that if you get distracted and lose count you know you can always return to one again.

Later in your practice you may also choose to combine meditation techniques. One example would be using a mantra that coincides with your inhalations and exhalations. One idea may be So Hum -- or I am That; So on the inhale and Hum on the exhale. OM Shanti is another popular choice. If you want to enhance your breath meditation with a simple visualization, you might choose to imagine inhaling and exhaling a colored light into the body. Try whichever method suits you and one that you think you will stick with. We will begin now and I will signal the end of the meditation with one OM.

Closing Peace Chants
Asaato Maa Sad Gamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityor Maa Amritam Gamaya
Lead us from unreal to Real.
Lead us from darkness to the Light.
Lead us from the fear of death to the knowledge of Immortality.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Lokaah Samastaah Sukhino Bhavantu
May the entire universe be filled with Peace and Joy, Love and Light.

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