THE DIFFICULT ART OF HAPPINESS, AND THE NIYAMAS OF PATANJALI
Presentation by Korina Kontaxaki, at the Yoga Step by Step by Dr Swami Gitananda Seminars. The presentation is based on the article by Dr Swami Gitananda on happiness. Translation from Greek by Eleni Cosma.
There is an old Zen story:
There was once someone who was searching for something in the streets. A neighbour saw him and asked:
“What is wrong?’’
He answered, ‘’I have lost my house keys and I am looking for them.’’
The neighbour decided to help him look. After a while, he asked:
‘’Where did you last see your keys?’’
To which the man answered, ‘’I was in my back garden, it probably fell there.’’
The neighbour exclaimed, ‘’Why are we then searching in the streets?’’
And the man replied, ‘’Because here, there is light. In the back garden, it is dark.’’
The same thing happens with happiness. We search in the wrong place because this is where everyone is searching, because this is the seemingly easier place to look.
Let us agree on what happiness is NOT:
- Happiness is not the constant gratification of the senses. If we base our happiness on this, we will become ill.
- Happiness is not materialism. Although we may all have experienced the fact that ‘’shopping therapy’’ only ultimately makes us stressed, we still continue to buy things in order to fill the ‘’void’’. Why? Because that is where the light is!
- Happiness is not our surrender to the emotional, bipolar world. It is a law of nature that the world of emotions has two sides, both opposites. What we feel instantly gives birth to its opposite. Observe what happens in our lives: If our memories were not so selective, we would note that all moments of joy are equal to moments of sadness. This occurs in the three-dimensional world in which we live, in order for disorder to be steady. If we cannot see this, it is because optimists remember only the positives and pessimists only the negatives. The glass is neither half full nor half empty, but half full and half empty!
- Happiness is not the achievement of our goals. This is the responsibility of the ego is not interested in our happiness. The ego wants the materialisation of its desires. If we (again) did not have selective memories, we would quickly realise that the moment one goal is achieved, the ego is immediately lining up the next one, leaving no time for happiness. The ego will never be happy. It is not the ego’s job to be happy. The ego is a logical businessman. The ego is not interested in happiness the same way the soul is not interested in remaining alive. The soul on the other hand, is condensed peace. So happiness can only be achieved through the soul. Through this we can draw the conclusion that every type of sadness has to do with the ego and the survival instinct. Ananda – bliss, is the nature of the soul.
Therefore for every instance we must choose: Do we want to be happy? Then we must approach the soul. Do we want to achieve our goals? Then we must approach the ego. If we choose the Ego, then we tune ourselves with its three-dimensional, bipolar world. Then happiness and sadness both exist, along with love and hate, intensity and passivity, all of the opposites. If we choose the soul, then we tune ourselves with the transcendental world where there are no opposites, only the centre and there are no emotions only states of being which are permanent, which do not change according to the circumstances, simply because the soul is above the influence of situations (even above the influence of death.)
‘’Happiness exists beyond the Ego. We can begin our search into the mystery of happiness by recognising that the real pursuit of happiness is by its nature opposed to the gratification of sensual appetites.’’ (Dr Swami Gitananda)
In order to be able to process the above, I would like to ask you to find examples in your lives where your senses were gratified to the full, or where you achieved some great goal, and to tell us whether this gave you the happiness you expected. If yes, how… if not, why?
But… how can we approach the soul? We have been given millions of ways of approaching the Ego. In fact, all of our training from the moment we are born is a constant feeding of the Ego. Otherwise we would not be able to survive in society, even in our material bodies.
The following chart maps out the responsibilities of the Ego and the Soul, so that we can begin to understand the ways in which we can tune ourselves accordingly.
Personal goals Transcendental goals
Discrimination Unity with everything
Tension/Exhaustion Complete relaxation
Selective memory Truth
Variable moods Steady neutrality
‘’I want’’ ‘’I need’’
Feelings/ Body Discipline
‘’Only in the deepest states of inner relaxation, of total surrender through self-discipline, does the real transcendent, trans-personal experience begin. Then we KNOW what happiness is.’’ (Dr Swami Gitananda)
Swami Gitananda considers both relaxation and discipline to be vital prerequisites of our connection with the soul. If we study the above chart, we can see that relaxation is a fundamental trait of the soul. This occurs because the soul has no fear of death, and no concern towards achieving goals. The soul therefore has no need for stress. Contrary to this, the Ego must be in constant stress, or else its very existence is threatened.
Furthermore, the soul develops only through discipline, otherwise the senses and the body (representing the Ego) would render themselves out of control, taking over.
What brings us complete relaxation and discipline? The obvious answer amongst any Yoga group, is asanas, pranayama and meditation. This is extremely valid, however there are other methods, besides the practices of Yoga, which relax us and bring us into contact with the soul. Sometimes, it is necessary to prepare our system, particularly if it suffers from a great deal of tension, with something more tangible, before moving to visualisations in relaxation. A walk in nature, barefoot walks, a cold or hot shower, a swim in the sea, dancing, music – all of these are direct ways to relieve stress and then continue with a more specific relaxation technique.
As your second exercise this week, find and share with us the actions which directly relieve stress for you in your lives. Also, find and share the disciplines you have chosen in order to exercise and train the senses/body/emotions. .
An obvious prerequisite in order to achieve deep relaxation and discipline are the yamas and niyamas. The yamas help us prevent the creation of stress, and develop a field of discipline, while the niyamas will endorse our relaxation and discipline. Essentially, the niyamas are a clear and certain path to communication with the soul, and with bliss.
We will explore the niyamas, through examining the ‘’supernatural abilities’’ (sidhi) which evolve once we perfect each of them. (according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)
1. Saucha (cleanliness) – The perfection of this niyama, brings a feeling of neutrality regarding the body and the bodies of others. You are not afraid of your body, of illness, you do not feel disgust or desire for the bodies of others. => This occurs because the impure physical/mental/emotional layers disperse, and we experience the essence of the inseparable – a quality of the soul (=> bliss)
The more impure our system is (body/mind/emotions), the more we identify ourselves with it. This is how much we feel that we are our bodies, our emotions and our thoughts, and we thus feel separated from the others. When our system is cleansed, only then do the layers that separate us from the others and from the Self, disperse, and we feel unity with everything. The sense of the inseparable activates the thymus gland and the immune system, making the body strong and resistant to illness.
Additionally, when the blood is alkaline, then any form of bacteria or virus cannot survive within us, Remember: the acidic blood is the favourite environment for sickness (particularly cancer). The sense alone of the alkaline blood makes the individual feel less afraid. The absence of fear in turn makes our body alkaline, even if at times our diet or our emotions may turn us ‘’sour’’.
‘’Sour habits’’: Ignorance, jealousy, fear, useless stress, animal based diet or ‘’dead’’ food, processed food, impure air, FOOD THAT DOES NOT AGREE WITH OUR SYSTEM, BUT WE EAT IT BECAUSE IT IS LABELLED ‘’HEALTHY’’.
2. Santosha (contentment) – The perfection of this niyama brings BLISS.
This Niyama directly delivers the bliss that we seek, and thus the connection with the soul. Santosha is the ability to be satisfied here and now by little things. This sounds simple, but is not practices by most people, therefore Patnanjali considers it a ‘’supernatural skill’’, simply because man, driven by the ego, has learned to fulfil desires and then proceed to the next ‘’want’’, without leaving the space for gratification. The divine instinct of gratitude is deactivated, and yet it is gratitude which lays the groundworks for more good things to happen.
3. Tapas (discipline, and the ability to use the misfortunes of life for our development) – The perfection of this niyama perfects the senses and the body – when the senses and the body do not dominate, then the soul does --- BLISS.
When we succeed in training ourselves with the difficulties instead of wallowing in despair, then the senses and the body (which, when left untrained, are attracted to the pleasant and repulsed by the unpleasant) are perfected.
4. Swadiyaya (Self-knowledge) – The perfection of this Niyama brings connection with the soul or God ---BLISS.
The model of the universe (God) is US. If we cannot understand how our complex minds work, we will not be able to understand the soul, which is simply our parallel self, without the kleshas (layers)
How do we know that we are communicating with our soul?
1. When we love ourselves. Only through love can we see the truth.
2. We are not hurt by negative criticism, nor are we excited or dependent on positive feedback. Observe those who do not have a clear image of themselves, how disturbed they are with negative criticism and how excited they become with the positive. This is because they expect others to tell them who they are.
3. The divine instinct of Discrimination is activated=> we do not make mistakes about others or about our lives. We are able to make quick and correct decisions.
5. Iswara Pranidhana (surrender to the higher) => the perfection of which brings Samandi (connection with God) --- BLISS!
Third home exercise:
Evaluate yourselves according to the Niyamas, through observing the sidhis (supernatural abilities) of each Niyama, and assessing to what extent you posess them.