1.29 tatah pratyak chetana adhigamah api antaraya abhavash cha
Bouanchaud: It is then that one understands the self and gradually clears inner obstacles.
Desikachar: The individual will in time perceive his true nature. He will not be disturbed by any interruptions that may arise in his journey to the state of Yoga.
Swami J: From that remembering comes the realization of the individual Self and the removal of obstacles.
Okay, so here we are – sitting on our collective cushions, reciting OM (or other mantra) in our quest for the state of yoga – stilling the fluctuations of the mind so we can see (become?) God without distortion.
Are you there yet?
Apparently, there are some obstacles to attaining the State of Yoga. I think I’ve hit all of them at least six times, and that’s just since the New Year. Next week, I’m going to start looking at some of the specifics of these obstacles. Here’s the key point: all of these obstacles that I’ve encountered and continue to face have a solution. There’s a key to the lock, a button that reveals the passage around the obstacle. That key is mantra repetition – not rote, mindless, babbling of strange sounds. It needs to be sincere, committed, thoughtful resting of the mind in the meaning of the mantra.
Since I’ve embarked on the yoga experiment of incorporating mantra repetition into my personal practice, I’m rather astounded that I didn’t do it before. I’m not sure if I’m comfortable enough with it to use it when I’m teaching or in any kind of public setting. There’s still an element of me that thinks “Gee, this is silly”. I guess to some degree this reluctance or even a sense of social embarrassment arises from the fact that I don’t understand the mechanics behind it.
I may never understand the mechanics of it. There’s lots in yoga that I don’t “get” but it’s still useful for me. Over the past couple of weeks of my mantra experiment, I’m really enjoying the experience. It’s a very useful technique for deepening the state of meditation. And let’s face it – ‘the state of yoga’ and ‘the state of meditation’ are the same place. Yoga is synonymous with mediation which I think has been Patanjali’s point all along.
Before I leave mantra behind and move onto obstacles, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned about mantra in the past couple of week. Most of this is taken from a reference book I return to time and time again. It’s by David Fontana and it’s The Meditation Handbook: The Practical Guide to Eastern and Western Meditation Techniques (Watkins Publishing, London, 1992). In it, Dr Fontana gives the possible derivation of the word mantra as “a combination of the first syllables of the Sanskrit words manna (thinking) and trana (liberation from the bondage of appearances). Mantra is therefore liberation from thinking (pg 212). Over time, the word mantra has come to mean ‘that which protects’.
As a technique, mantra has a lot of advantages. One, and not to be dismissed lightly, it’s easy to learn and it’s very effective. We’ve all had that moment in the bank where a new mother is trying to conduct some business and the baby is getting fussy and restless, so she dangles and jiggles her keys, or retrieves some noise making object from the depths of the diaper bag to buy her the five minutes she needs to finish her transactions. We’re like the baby and the mantra is the keys. It keeps the chattering ego mind busy while we get down to the business of meditation.
Mantra practice also trains the mind to associate it with the feeling of peace and well-being. I’ve found in the weeks I’ve been experimenting with this technique that when I’m somewhat exasperated by all that is life in the 21st century (traffic jams, photocopier jams and a broken jar of jam on the floor, etc), just taking a deep breath, letting my mind go to neutral and letting the mantra arise rests the dial on the stress-o-meter.
Of course, all of this is meditation on form, using an object as the means of focussing the mind. With time and practice, as my skill set develops, I’ll be able to leave the objects behind and move directly into to formless meditation. I have glimpses, split second fragments, of what that might entail but I think I have a lot of practice ahead of me before I’m there.
Next week, we work on the obstacles that everyone faces. Until then, thanks for reading and Namaste,