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The Yoga Sutras begin with: 

“Now instruction in Union.”  

The word “union” in Sanskrit is yoga. That union is between consciousness and divinity.  That is all Yoga really means: to re-unite, restore what was separated. It is the same meaning as the root word that we find in Latin, religare, from which comes the word religion.  These words describe the science of uniting what was separated within us: our consciousness or soul was separated from god, divinity. The longing to restore that separation is what we feel as interest in religion, spirituality, mysticism, etc. We call it our “spiritual inquietude.”

The separation of the consciousness from divinity is explained in the scriptures of every great spiritual tradition. In the Bible, Adam and Eve committed a sin, they broke the law, and therefore they caste themselves out of happiness.  That state of happiness in Hebrew is called Eden,  which literally means “bliss, pleasure, enjoyment.” Through Adam and Eve’s choice they were expelled out of that experience of blissfulness. 

That story is not a literal story of two individual people.  It is a symbolic myth that explains to us how our inner nature was separated from divinity.  In the beginning of that story, Adam and Eve walked and talked with divinity and had complete contentment and happiness: no fear, no pain, no suffering.  They existed in a state of absolute contentment, but because of the temptation to experience pleasure through eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, they broke a command and through that action discovered suffering. This is simple cause and effect.  They produced an action and the result was suffering.  Humanity, each one of us, has repeated that mistake daily.  We continue to repeat the same mistake as described in that allegory.

The Yoga Sutras explain the same thing in its own way. It continues: 

“Now instruction in Union (Yoga).  Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of consciousness.  Then awareness abides in its own nature.  Otherwise it is identified with the modifications.”  

So as you see in this short passage that defines the purpose of yoga, it really has nothing to do with stretching the body.  It has nothing to do with postures and positions, wearing yoga pants, etc., but it has to do with the condition your true nature, which is the consciousness.  In Western terms we call the consciousness “soul.” It is that in you which perceives and understands.  It isn’t the body, the personality, your name, your history, your culture or your language.  It is the eternal heart of your true nature, and in us unfortunately it is identified with modifications.  We, unfortunately, think we are the body.  We think we are the education, culture, language and history that we have experienced in this body and that is all we think we are.  We are, in other words, identified with modifications.

“Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of consciousness.  Then awareness abides in its own nature.  Otherwise it is identified with the modifications.”

On the Tree of Life those modifications are represented by: 

  • the body – Malkuth
  • the energy of that body – Yesod
  • emotions – Hod
  • thoughts – Netzach
  • willpower – Tiphereth

Our consciousness is identified with the modifications made upon it by the body (Malkuth), energy (Yesod), emotions (Hod), thoughts (Netzach), and willpower, urges, impulses (Tiphereth). Because of this the consciousness does not abide in it true nature, but it hypnotized, confused, and the thus acts wrongly, and those mistaken actions create consequences: suffering.

What is the most profound element that hypnotizes us day-to-day?  Pleasure.  We are always seeking what pleases the body, what pleases the tongue, what pleases the heart and mind.  We are hypnotized by illusions that make us believe that if we can just get to “a certain place in life,” or have “a certain thing,” have certain possessions or a certain spouse or a certain amount of money in the bank, then finally we will feel content and happy.  But, we never get that “certain thing,” and even if we do, it proves unsatisfactory, and some other desire takes its place.  

We are identified with modifications, and because of that we are not abiding in our own true nature.  We are deeply confused, and so we suffer.  

We suffer not having what we want, and even if we get what we want, we suffer because we are afraid we are going to lose it.  Someone will steal it or our spouse will die, our kids will die, our kids will suffer, we will lose our wealth, the Government is going to take everything away from us, there is going to be a big war or we are afraid of some other country, some other people, some corporation… whatever.  We have so many fears about our little fragile place.  

We suffer because we do not know when we will die and we suffer because we do not know what happens when we die.  

We suffer because of pain – physically, emotionally or mentally.  

All of this suffering rotates around this simple thing: our awareness is not abiding in its own nature.

Yoga is not about training the body.  It is about training awareness, and training our consciousness to become perceptive of divinity, to recognize divinity, to experience divinity, and then in that experience to finally understand our true nature.  When we have that understanding there is no more fear because then we know; we know who we are, we know why, we know where we are going.  And that is what we see reflected in all the stories that we admire so much about the great saints, prophets and masters.  They had so much confidence, so much serenity, so much love, and no attachment to physical things, temporary things.  All of them only exude the purest and most beautiful love for others.  This reflects our true nature. 

Yoga is just about learning to recognize the modifications that afflict the consciousness so we can abide in our own nature and thereby develop it, perfect it, expand it, become something more.  That is the whole purpose of every religion in history no matter what we call it.  At the beginning they all had exactly that same purpose, even though they all degenerated to some degree or another.

The Steps of Yoga

Another important structural thing to know about Yoga is that it is very scientific, and it has a very specific set of steps.  This is something else that the so-called “yogis” of the modern era completely ignore, or they modify it to suit the pursuit of their own pleasures.  

As you know, with any scientific endeavor, if you do not follow the steps, you will not achieve the results.  This is basic cause and effect.  For example, if you want to make bread, at the very least you must use flour, water, and salt, and sometimes yeast if you want leavened bread.  For unleavened bread you need at least those first 3 ingredients.  But what if you were to say, “I am going to be the first one in history to make bread without those elements.”  Well, it would not be bread.  It might be something else, but you won’t make bread because bread is made from those basic elements. 

It is the same if you want to grow a garden.  You plant the seed and that seed must have nourishment from the soil, water, the sun and the air.  It is an exact science to grow a vegetable or a flower and you cannot skip any step.  If you do, you will either grow nothing or what you do grow will not be what you intended.  Yoga is exactly the same: the consciousness, our true nature, is part of nature, and it is governed by laws in nature, and no matter what our beliefs or theories are, those are irrelevant.  It is the laws of nature that manage the growth and development of all things, including the soul, including the consciousness.  This is why in all religions, in all traditions, the very first thing you always learn is ethics.  It is inescapable and unavoidable.  If you want to know what divinity is, you must stop committing harmful action … period!  You cannot come to know divinity if you are committing harmful action whether against yourself or others, because when you commit harmful actions, you create consequences that afflict you.  That is Nature, it is simply Nature. 

So, in Yoga the first two steps are about that.  

The first step is Yama, which simply means “self-restraint.”  Yama has five fundamental aspects that are explained in detail by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.  

The second step of Yoga is Niyama, which means “precepts.”  So in the first aspect you stop harmful actions, and in the second you adopt beneficial actions.  These are pretty much universal – do not kill, do not steal, do not take intoxicants, do not lie, and things like that.  Do not commit sexual misconduct.  

In Yama there is an aspect called Brahmacharya.  This word means chastity, sexual purity.  It does not mean celibacy.  It means that one must use the sexual energy in accordance with the teachings.  Every religion gives instructions about how to use the sexual energy, and those instructions are given in levels, according to the degree of the practitioner, according to the level of education and level of preparation that person has received.  The beginners are taught to be single, restraining that energy and transforming it through exercises that they use to elevate that energy within themselves.  Rather than have it drive them mad with lust, this energy is recirculated back into the body and purified.  This is what creates the ecstasies of meditation and prayer.  The more advanced students who master that are then taken to the next level where they learn to use that same essential fundamental energy but with a spouse.  This is why the first miracle of Jesus was at a wedding, where we find the symbol of transforming the sexual waters into the wine that inebriates the consciousness, and that can only be done through a marriage.  In all the ancient Christian traditions there is this teaching about a spiritual marriage that Paul commented upon in his writings about how to be married as though you are not.  This is how you take the tradition of the monk and nun into the marriage to continue preserving that energy and giving it to God; not to lust, but giving it to God.

So this what is required in the beginning steps of yoga, which set the foundation for yoga.  However, as you already know, none of the so-called “yogis” in the modern world are practicing brahamcharya: sexual purity. They skip this. They might act spiritual, smile, and bow and say “Namaste,” but inside they lustful and arrogant, and therefore are not practicing even the first steps of yoga.  They skip Yama and Niyama because they are not studying yoga to awaken consciousness.  They only want to fulfill their pleasures.  They have no genuine interest in God, liberation from suffering, real yoga — not really.  They want to be envied, they want to be lusted after, they want to be admired, they want to make money, etc. but none of that is yoga.  

Real yoga is about the longing of the soul to know divinity.  For the soul to know divinity and achieve yoga, which is the union of the soul with God, these steps cannot be skipped, because through the action of Yama and Niyama the quality of the soul is changed.  The atmosphere, the energy, the experience of our moment-to-moment is different when we are practicing Yama and Niyama.  This is what sets the foundation up for yoga to occur.  This is what we have explained in all the previous lectures. 

sivananda meditating

The third step is Asana, and that simply means to take your posture.  In this image we see Swami Sivananda, a really amazing instructor of yoga, who is showing us a very simple posture for meditation.  Here he is obviously very relaxed, very serene, no effort, just sitting.  This is what Asana is all about.  Of course, the modern “yogis” think Asana is being a circus acrobat. Listen: God does not need acrobats. What God need is pure souls: people who are free from lust, anger, pride, envy, etc. Therefore, the posture that you really need is one in which the body is perfectly relaxed so that you can forget it because, again, yoga is not about the body.  The reason the yogis learned those postures and positions and learned to stretch and work the body and exercise it, is to keep it strong and healthy so that when they went to meditate, the body could relax and would not be in pain.  When your body is fit and strong and flexible, it will sit quietly in a relaxed way in meditation for as long as you need it to.  That was the purpose of Hatha Yoga.  It was a preparation for meditation. Hatha Yoga is not the entirety of yoga, it is just a preparation, like when you were a child in school you went out to play ball: by playing ball you activate and use the body, so that when it is time to study you can.

The fourth step of yoga is Pranayama.  In Pranayama we harness the conserved sexual energy that we are withholding through the practice of Brahmacharya.  In our chastity, in our retention of the sexual energy, in our ethics, we set that foundation in our daily lives.  Then when we go to meditate we take our Asana, our position, and then we do a practice of Pranayama.  This is a simple type of exercise, of which there are many varieties and in which we learn to concentrate, visualize and pray and transform that sexual energy in the body by raising it up the spinal column to the brain and then down to the heart.  This is the most common variation, and with this what you are doing is taking the most powerful energy in the body and directing it through the nervous system, particularly to the brain and heart so that they become saturated with energy. They become serene and calm and the consciousness becomes very energized.  So in the context of a Meditation session this is what Pranayama is doing, it is taking the energy that is available to us every day and putting it to good use.  This allows us to be so relaxed and have all the energy focussed in the nervous system and concentrated so then we can suspend our exterior senses. 

The combination of all these steps leads us to be very relaxed; only then can we access what is called Pratyahara, which is step five of yoga.  Here, what is perceived externally becomes abstract, somewhat distant, not specific.  In other words our mind is no longer labelling what is perceived.  We might hear a sound, but we are no longer actively engaged in investigating the sound, labelling the sound, interpreting the sound, or trying to hear the sound.  It is there, it is playing, but our concentration is not distracted away from what it is focused upon.  This is what Pratyahara is like. We have some concentration on our focus, while other perceptions are becoming abstract, distant.

From that state, if we persist in our meditation, we can access Dharana (step six), which is actual concentration.  Here the concentration deepens more, and whatever it is we are concentrating on becomes vividly perceptible without break, very focused.  

If we deepen our practice further, we can then access Dhyana, step seven.  This is actual meditation.  The phase of Dhyana is when all external things become so abstracted and our concentration on that object becomes so intensified that we can say we “become” that thing.  We can fully, actively and consciously perceive the thing that we are concentrating on without any interference at all, and in this sense you could say that you lose the “sense of self,” that sense of “I.”  It is here that the physical body has become completely distant. 

If we persist further in that absorption, we can access the actual purpose of yoga which is called Samadhi, step eight.  This is a super-conscious state of bliss; we can call it an “ecstasy.”  The word for that in Hebrew is Eden, “bliss,” of the consciousness, unmodified. This is yoga itself.

“Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of consciousness.  Then awareness abides in its own nature.”

In all the previous stages, one through seven, there is still a sense of “I.”  The deeper we go in our meditation practice, the more the sense of “I” goes away.  In the stage of Dhyana, the sense of “I” is very subtle.  When you access Samadhi that sense of “I” is gone.  Samadhi is a state of the consciousness fully extracted from the ego.  It is the experience of our true nature absolutely liberated from selfishness, lust, anger, pride, envy, greed, gluttony, fear.  What we experience in Samadhi is the actual true nature of the consciousness, which is blissfulness, contentment, insight, intelligence, knowledge, wisdom.  This is innate in every single one of us, but obscured because we are identified with all the layers of modifications that we have built over time. 

These steps of Yoga are called Ashtanga which means “eight-limbed.”  So Ashtanga Yoga is literally “the union of eight limbs.” These steps outline in a very simple way how to meditate.  If you can memorize that, if you can really understand that, you can learn to meditate on your own and master it.  This simple outline provides steps that you can follow.  Those series of steps are essentially the same that are taught in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as Shamatha, the nine stages of meditative serenity.  The Buddha did not come to wipe away the Hindu Dharma.  He came only to clarify the dharma (law).  Just the same as Jesus came and said, “I did not come to wipe out the law.”   He came only to clarify the Torah, which means “law.”  They did not come to wipe out or contradict the teachings, but to refine them.

The steps of Yoga have a terrific significance in The Bhagavad-Gita, a discussion that happens between Krishna who is the Hindu equivalent of Jesus or Christ giving a teaching to Arjuna who is like one of us.  In part of that teaching he says, 

“Remember Me [divinity] at all times and fight! When mind and wisdom-faculty are fixed on Me, you will undoubtedly come to Me… With the mind yoked by the Yoga of practice and not going astray — one goes to the supreme divine Spirit…  He who remembers that ancient Bard… with unmoving mind, yoked by devotion and by the power of Yoga, directing the life-force properly to the middle of the eyebrows, comes to that supreme divine Spirit.”  

This passage synthesizes the eight steps in a very beautiful way.  All eight steps are there in a synthesized form.  

yogi pranayama

In this image a Yogi is practicing Pranayama, taking that root energy up the spine into the brain, and through that exercise preparing for meditation. 

To remember divinity at all times means that we have to be actively making the effort to not be identified with the body with its wants and needs, with the mind in its wants and needs, with the heart with its wants and needs, but instead in all things, in all places, in all ways, contemplating the nature of the Divine.  Even when you are in the bathroom, even when you are doing the laundry, or at work, or driving your car, even when you are in an argument with someone and you are raging mad, to remember God, because in that remembrance you can start to recognize that “this affliction of my anger is not divinity thus I am not that.”  This is how we start to break the suffering that afflicts us.  So that is what is explained in the steps of Yoga and is explained in the Bhagavad-Gita. 

Specifically, this passage points out two important aspects.  

Step one of yoga, Yama, has five parts; I have already mentioned that Brahmacharya is the preservation and sublimation of the sexual energy, to renounce animal lust and instead remember divinity and to take that energy and give it back to divinity; to devote that to our spiritual wellbeing instead of to lust.  

Then in step two of yoga, Niyama, one of the precepts is Ishvara-Pranidhana, which means the remembrance of God in all things.  Here we train ourselves to be constantly looking for the presence of the Divine in everything, especially in the things that we do not want to see it in, like the person who makes us mad, the person who is making us suffer, the person who has something that we want, the person who is doing something that we do not want them to do.  

We need to learn to see that in the entirety of our experiences, divinity is actively showing us ourselves.  The problem is we do not want to see ourselves.  We do not want to recognize that when someone is making us angry, they are offering us the most precious experience we can possibly have, which is to see the cause of our suffering.  The cause of our suffering is not that person, it is the anger that they are pulling out of us.  It is our anger that makes us suffer and they are giving us the gift of showing us our anger, showing us our pride, showing us our lust.  If we do not see it, we cannot be free of it. So when we see our anger, right then is the opportunity to change, to recognize: “oh! that is a modification.  That is an affliction that is causing suffering for myself and others.  Now is my chance.  Thank you for making me mad!  Thank you for making me have this problem, because you are showing me the thing I need to change so I can be free of it forever.”  You see there is a different attitude there?  A completely different attitude that is in opposition to society.  That is why real yoga has nothing to do with the yoga that is taught in the streets, nothing at all. 

These steps and that attitude apply not only in our daily lives but also in the context of practicing meditation.  What happens when we practice meditation?  We want ecstasy, we want spiritual experiences, we want to see divinity, we want to talk with God, but instead we have a pain in our body or we have some thought which just keeps repeating, or some song that is stuck in our head, some memory that will not leave us alone, some desire or longing or some trauma, some pain, and we become frustrated.  So you see, that precise experience is exactly the thing that we need to be meditating upon, because it is the thing that is afflicting us in that exact moment. When we are frustrated, we should be meditating on that frustration. When we are disappointed, we should be reflecting upon that disappointment, to look inside of it to find out what it is and where it came from, because we made it, we strengthened it, we fortified it, we protect it, and it is a cause of suffering. Rather than trying to satisfy it, we should be seeking to unravel and disempower it. So this same approach, this same attitude has to be applied not only in our daily lives, but also during meditation.  

Why Do We Suffer?

In the previous lectures we explained those steps of Yoga and we explained the process of meditation.  Now we need to discuss the afflictions and the basis of our suffering.  Why do we suffer?  This is explained in a simple way by Patanjali in these passages, 

“The afflictions are Avidya [ignorance], egoism, attachment, hatred, and clinging to life.  Avidya [ignorance] is the field of those (afflictions) that follow, whether they be in a dormant, thinned out, overpowered or expanded condition.”  

We suffer because of the condition of our consciousness.  The condition of our consciousness is the result of our previous actions.  Our actions were committed in a state of ignorance.  When we commit actions in a state of ignorance we produce suffering.  It is that simple.  

That is all the Buddha came to clarify.  The Buddha came to say this in his first teaching:

  1. There is suffering.
  2. There is a cause for suffering.
  3. The cause of suffering is desire. 
  4. There is an antidote for suffering, and that is the Eightfold Path.  

It sounds similar, right? The Eightfold Path of the Buddha and Ashtanga or the Eight Limbed Yoga.  It is the same teaching.  They are organized slightly differently, but essentially expresses the same point.  Both of them point out that the cause of suffering is desire, and the root of that is ignorance.  This is what is explained here and what is explained in Buddhism.  It is explained in the Bible as well. 

The important thing to grasp from these passages is that Avidya or ignorance is the field in which all the other defects emerge.  It is the atmosphere in which suffering is created.  If the ignorance was not there, the other problems could not happen.  If we can address ignorance, we can change the field.  

Now, if you think about this like a general who is facing a battle, you will know that a simple strategy that always works is that if you can control the battlefield, you can control the war.  If you can control where the fight will be fought, you can control who will win.  It is as simple as that.  That’s what the scripture is saying.  If you can change Avidya, you can change everything else. But, if you start trying to address everything else — the clinging, the hatred, the attachment, the egoism — but you do not address Avidya, you will fail.  This is what we see in most religions.  Most people approach their spiritual life out of fear, out of longing, out of avoidance, out of desire, but rarely do we find anyone addressing their ignorance of reality.  How do we best do that?  We have to first clarify the reality.  If you want to know the truth, then you have to acquire knowledge.  Knowledge is the opposite of ignorance. 

This word Avidya is Sanskrit, and the root is vidya, which means “knowing.” When you add the letter ‘A’ at the beginning, that ‘A’ negates, it means “without.” This is exactly like Greek.  The english word know, knowledge, comes from Greek.  In Greek it is gno.  Look at the word “ignorance” — within it we find “gno.”  That is why we use the word gnosis, knowledge. So, if you do not have knowledge, then add the letter a to the beginning, and you have agnostic.  People now use that word these days to say they are not making a choice, “I am agnostic.  I am indifferent.  I do not choose sides”, but what they are actually saying is, “I am ignorant.  I do not know.” They truly are ignorant, not knowing that “agnostic” literally means in Greek to not know, to be ignorant.  So it is strange that people now wear this badge of agnostic proudly because they are really calling themselves ignoramuses.  This is very odd, but that is how people are today.  Avidya is essentially the same as agnostic or ignorant: it means to not have knowledge.  So that is actually very interesting.  It actually gives us hope, since admitting our ignorance is the first step towards acquiring real knowledge.  To say someone is ignorant in our modern language sounds like a cruelty.  It sounds like we are belittling someone or demeaning them to say that they are ignorant, but actually it isn’t at all in the meaning of the word.  It just means that person does not know. That is our condition.  We do not know, and the worst thing is that we do not know that we do not know.  We think we know, but we really do not.  The state of our world proves it: this world is a mess.  It is a disaster, and it is getting worse, because we are so convinced of our wisdom but we are idiots. That word also sounds like a curse, but it isn’t.  It means someone who is foolish, and we are very foolish because of our ignorance.  So to fight that we need knowledge.  We need vidya, which means knowledge.  We need gnosis, which is Greek for the same thing, and in Hebrew it is called Daath: knowledge.  Daath is on the Tree of Life, at the level of the throat. 

daath body

If you lay this graphic of the Tree of Life over your body, Daath is in your throat.  This region of the throat has a magnetic centre related with the thyroid gland, and that gland is related to the perception of sound that is not physical.  It is how you hear God.  So “to know” is to have Daath, to hear the voice of God like the Prophets.  To get inspiration, to get knowledge from divinity, you need this in the throat – Daath, knowledge. 

Vidya, knowledge, is not intellectual knowledge.  It has nothing to do with the intellect, and that is provable also by looking at our society.  Society nowadays worships the intellect, yet remains incredibly stupid. Every so-called brilliant invention of the intellect also brings terrible sufferings with it. We do not like to see that, but it is true. Intellectual knowledge has a place, it has its usefulness, but has nothing to do with the full development of our abilities or comprehending our true nature.  The intelligence that we need, the knowledge that we need has to do with knowledge of the heart. 

The next passage says: 

“Avidya [ignorance] is taking the non-eternal, impure, painful, and not-self as the eternal, pure, happy Self.”  

This is the root of ignorance.  In plain English it means we see things wrongly.  We perceive things in the wrong way.  We look at the body, our feelings, our thoughts, as self, and they are not.  We take our culture, our language, our history, our traditions, as part of our self and they are not.  They are all temporary.  They are imperfect, they are impure, they do not last, they really cannot be relied upon.  They can all be contradicted, so they have nothing to do with the eternal pure happy self. This becomes easier to understand when we look at the Tree of Life.  

When we study the Tree of Life, we see that there are levels and levels in Nature. Although we look at this Tree in a vertical form, it really isn’t vertical in Nature.  These symbols are mapping levels of density that are happening right now inside of us.  

tree of life psyche

The most dense that we can perceive physically is here, Malkuth, the physical body.  It is this body which we are using right now and it is energized by Yesod which is the energetic aspect of the body.  These two are very closely related with each other.  

Inside of Malkuth and Yesod we have our emotions and thoughts which are Hod and Netzach.  

Inside of our emotions and thoughts there is a will, human consciousness or human soul and that is Tiphereth.  

Inside of that willpower are Geburah and Chesed, which in Hinduism are Buddhi and Atman. These are spiritual, very subtle, and most of us have no experience of them at all.  We only have theories and beliefs, but rarely, if ever, have experienced those things.  They are increasingly subtle and simple. 

These levels are here and now within us. When we practice meditation, we are trying to remove modifications.  Remember the 1st passages of the Yoga Sutras:

“Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of consciousness.  Then awareness abides in its own nature.”  

If we stop being identified with the modifications, and retreat back into the awareness itself, we can then access our true nature.  This is what meditation is for. This is why we have the eight steps of yoga.  

1-2: We perform good actions with the body so it can feel content and happy without stress and fear, without tension.  

3-4: We take a relaxed posture and we do our breathing exercise to transmute the energy so we can relax deeper and have energy in the consciousness so it can leave the modifications behind.  

5: We abstract the senses in Pratyahara so that we are no longer distracted by anything external.  

6: From that abstraction we concentrate on one thing.  Today we concentrated on a fire in the heart.

7: When we become very concentrated, we access Dharana or deep concentration.  If we go deeper into that, then Dhyana where everything falls away and we start to really become that thing…

8: We access Samadhi.  Here all the modifications fall away, the body is left behind, its energy is left behind, no emotions, no thoughts, no ‘I’.  It is here, Tiphereth, in the middle of the Tree of Life that we can then begin to access the truth, the consciousness in its natural state, our true nature, no modifications.  This is where real yoga begins.

So you see, the eight steps take us to enter yoga, samadhi. That is where real spiritual life begins. The eight steps are preparation, nothing more.

In the experience of Samadhi we realize and experience what the primordial Adam and Eve represent: a state of absolute innocence, purity, perception, contentment, happiness, joy, no fear, no pain, no longing except to know God more.  This is what is described in the Yoga Sutras:

“…the eternal, pure, happy Self.”  

That begins in Tiphereth.  That experience, however, is only a reflection of light that comes through Geburah/Buddhi, emanated from Chesed/Atman, which is the light that comes from the trinity above it: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva or Father, Son, Holy Spirit which is the same thing.  

This is why meditation is so important.  

Meditation is not hard.  It only requires that we free ourselves from modifications – body, energy, emotions, thoughts, no ‘I’.  This is why this passage says, 

“Bliss is the essential nature of man… Man’s essential nature is divine, the awareness of which he has lost because of his animal propensities and the veil of ignorance.”  

Again: ignorance is simply not knowing the truth.

Now if you learn meditation and you dedicate yourself seriously to freeing yourself of the modifications, you will experience divinity because it is your true nature.  If you have not experienced it, it is because you are not practicing meditation correctly or some karma is interfering and for that you just need to do a lot of good deeds, pay your debts.  If you are doing a lot of good deeds, you are paying your debts, you are practicing meditation accurately, then inevitably you will experience your real nature, you will acquire that knowledge, then you will understand what you need to do then which is to destroy the ego.  Destroy those elements that emerge in the field of Avidya - ignorance, egoism, attachment, desire.

With the Tree of Life, in order to have knowledge, we need to experience the reality.  What I am explaining to you is theoretical until you have experienced it.  When you have experienced it, then you will know for yourself and that is the only thing that has any real meaning.  All of this that we are explaining can be experienced if you work hard on yourself.  You do not have to believe anyone, follow anyone, pay anyone anything.  You just need to establish the conditions in your life and perform the actions that result in those results.  Simple as that!  Cause and effect.

Our Real Self

The Tree of Life maps the entirety of ourselves.  It looks a bit overwhelming, but it is actually quite simple when you study it and you become accustomed to it.  

tree of life sanskrit

Starting at the top we have the Primordial Emptiness and in all religions it has different names.  At the very beginning of the Bible everything was formless and God created, the Elohim created the heavens and the earth.  That Primordial Emptiness is Ain in Hebrew and it is all the way at the top.  It is a nothingness, a potentiality, it is beyond Spirit, it is beyond matter, it is beyond energy, it is even beyond consciousness.  It is a state from which everything can emerge.  If we say it is space, it isn’t.  It is more abstract than that so if you think you can conceptualize the infinite space, go beyond even that to what that space comes out of and that is the Ain.  

From that Primordial abstraction emerges a Light and that is called the Ain Soph Aur and that Light in Greek is called the Chrestos, Christ.  This is the first existing thing, the first manifesting thing, the purity of the initial beginning of all things.  

When that Light begins to become, it first manifests as Kether in Hebrew which in Christianity is called the Father, in Hinduism it is called Brahma.  It is utterly simple, it is utterly perfect, utterly incomprehensible.  In Buddhism they call it the Dharmakaya.  It means “vehicle of the Law” or “vehicle of the Truth” and it is the first Ray that comes into existence at the beginning of everything.  That Ray explodes into activity, the one becomes three.  The Trinity creates.  The Trinity creates by splitting into two which is Daath.  This is where we see the great Divinities become the Primordial couple in all religions.  The couple that creates.  For instance, in Egyptian mysticism we have the beautiful Osiris and Isis and their son, Horus, and that son is Chesed or the Son of God in Christianity, which in Hinduism, is represented by Ganapati / Ganesha.

This, in total - this upper section, the Trinity and that Light - we can call Christ as a unified thing.  It is one but it expresses in different ways according to what needs to happen.  Sometimes it is three, sometimes it is two, sometimes it is one, because it is God.  It isn’t limited, but it has laws and that is why we can say really the Tree of Life expresses “monotheistic polytheism.”  Wrap your intellect around that … Monotheistic polytheism.  The one is many and the many are one.  

This is what the Tree of Life expresses to us, and it does so because in meditation when you escape the dense corporal level of the body and you begin to investigate the more subtle aspects of your own inner nature, you will discover that these beautiful mysteries can all be organized here in this simple structure.  

To create, the trinity expresses as a couple, god and goddess, and their offspring is called by many names: Chesed in Hebrew, which is also Abraham (the “father” of all the western religions). In Hinduism it is called Atman which means “Self.” In Buddhism, it is the Buddha or Yidam within us.  

That "self" is “…the eternal, pure, happy Self.” It is the divinity that walked in "Eden." When the soul (Adam) knows divinity, it is in Eden (bliss). That is yoga: union. In that state of consciousness, there is no suffering, doubt, fear, anger, pride, lust. These symbols depict for us the inner state of a self-realized person: a master, someone who truly knows their inner Self.

We return to Eden by remedying the mistake that cast us out of bliss: by removing the modifications that afflict the consciousness. 

Now here, if you have studied religion, you might think this is a contradiction, because many people think the Buddha said there is no Self (no Atman), while the Hindus say there is a Self (Atman).  So how can we say that Buddha and Atman are the same thing? Firstly, the Buddha did not say there is no self; rather, he said that Atman does not exist independently, which is true. 

Abraham, Atman, was created by the upper trinity, God. Abraham, Atman, Chesed, is what we call “spirit” or “breath.” Whereas the upper trinity is divine, universal, selfless, it is in Atman / Abraham / Chesed that something like “self” begins to appear, a kind of spark from the universal fire. That element is the beginning of something that we can call individual, something that we can call Self.  The problem that Hinduism had all those centuries ago was that they were studying the scriptures and believing that this Atman or Self, was a permanent, eternally existing, unchanging thing.  Then the Buddha came to say, no, it is not permanent, eternally existing, unchanging, independent.  “It”, that Self, is not permanent and eternally existing as that one thing.  It depends on the Light that it comes from.  In other words, “this” is interdependent upon “that.”  

Our physical body is interdependent, relative to the circumstances that gave it life, and if those circumstances change, it dies.  We all know that.  This interdependence of Self is what is so important to understand in order to acquire knowledge, in order to combat Avidya.  This interdependence of Self is what can give you tremendous insight.  

Start with this basic simple thing.  Here we are in our bodies.  We believe these physical bodies are ourselves, our identity, but that is not true.  Even a shallow investigation of our true circumstances can reveal this to us.  Who are you when you dream?  When you dream, look at yourself.  When you dream become aware of dreaming and look in a mirror.  Imagine a mirror in your dream and look at yourself in that mirror.  You will not have the face that you have now.  So who are you if you are not this body?  If you are someone else in your dream, then who are you?  We have probably all had that experience where we dreamed we were someone else.  So if you are not this body and you are not the one in the dream, then who are you?

The relativity of Self, and the interdependence of every part of ourselves, starts to show us we are not who we think we are.  We are something much deeper, much more profound.  

That Light that emerges from above, that shoots like a lightning bolt into the density of matter, also retracts, thus we have life and death.  When the body dies, the light is taken from it.  Where does it go?  This physical matter is not everything.  For instance, we see a boxer in a ring, in a fight.  What are we observing there?  Three important factors:

  • Matter: the physical bodies in motion.  
  • Energy: that is making that body active, fighting.  
  • Consciousness: the willpower directing that body.  

If that boxer gets punched and knocked out, what happens?  Immediately the consciousness is taken out of that body so that the active energy, the kinetic energy, becomes static immediately, and that body collapses to the floor, seemingly dead.  Where is that person now?  

What about a near death experience?  What about when someone dies?  The same exact phenomena happens.  The consciousness is taken out, the kinetic energy of the body is converted to static and the body collapses.  It cannot move.  The consciousness is not there.  The body is an empty shell.  It serves no function, no purpose.  It is not an identity, it is a vessel, that’s all; a vessel which is no longer occupied whether permanently or temporarily.  So that shows us that we can take the physical body (Malkuth) off the table as something reliable and real, something pure and eternal.  It is not.  It is temporary, it is impure, it is unreliable. 

We have the idea that the body is impermanent and unreliable, but we do not comprehend it AT ALL. If we did comprehend the incredible vulnerability and unreliability of the body, we would live our lives VERY differently. 

Furthermore, as we look within ourselves, we see that each part of what we consider “our identity” is in fact temporary, unreliable, and totally dependent on factors beyond our control.

Energy (Yesod, the ethereal body) is the same: it is temporary, unreliable, vulnerable. It is not our real self. 

Emotion (Hod, the astral body) is the same: no matter our loves, hates, likes, dislikes, beliefs or disbeliefs, all of that is temporary, unreliable, vulnerable. It is not “…the eternal, pure, happy Self.”

This same type of investigation and analysis can be carried out up through the Tree of Life - through every single sephirah, all the way up.  Each one depends on the ones next to it to exist.  This is what is called in Buddhism “interdependence.”  No one thing exists independently on its own.  In other words in Western philosophy, “no man is an island.”  

We all like to think we are independent, we are non-conformists, we do not need anyone, but every single thing that you have was made by someone else.  Every meal you eat, everything thing you drink, even the air you breathe, came from some other living thing.  You created none of it and you are alive because of other things. 

The soul is the same.  The soul only exists and has the experience of being in the body because of all these other structures are active inside of us about which we ignore.  This is why we suffer: because we do not have knowledge of this.  

When you learn to meditate accurately, scientifically, you learn to leave the body and experience the energy, the emotion, the thought, the will, in their respective levels and comprehend them through your personal experience and in that knowledge, fear evaporates.  It is like when you go to school for the very first time and you are terrified, but your mother forces you to go, and then after an hour or so you come to adore school because everybody there is your age and you make friends.  Death is the same: we are terrified of it because we do not understand it.  It is just a change, and if you approach it with wisdom, training, and with knowledge, it does not have to be a terrifying prospect, because you can prepare for it.  When your physical body is taken, the consciousness can remain active through the process of dying.  You just need the training.  If you do not have the training then, yes, death is terrifying because you won’t have any control over what happens.  None!  It is the same as you experience now when you go to sleep at night.  You leave your body, but you do not know where you go or what you do.  In the morning you remember a few vague, weird things, but that is it.  The process of sleep and the process of death are exactly the same thing, which is why the Greeks depicted them as twins.  Exactly the same!

The point is, through meditation, through working with the consciousness, you can gain knowledge of all these levels.  Start to comprehend that your true nature is not the body, or the energy, or emotion, or the intellect and even here in human consciousness, it is not your true nature.  Your true nature is way up the top at the very height.  It is that Light of Love, of sacrifice, of generosity, of profound insight and intelligence.  That is the true nature of every living thing.  This is what we need to come to know by freeing ourselves of the modifications that afflict us.  If you meditate daily, then you are learning to do that.


So the next line in the Yoga Sutras says, 

“The method for the removal of ignorance is the continuous practice of Vivekakhyati.”  

This word is a compound.  Viveka is the root and that means “wisdom, discernment, insight, investigation, knowledge.”  That term corresponds to this whole upper region of the Tree of Life in levels.  

Real knowledge is not in the emotion or the intellect.  These are very limited.  Real knowledge, real wisdom is in the heights of the Tree of Life.  Chokmah in Hebrew means “Wisdom” literally.  Binah in Hebrew means “Intelligence” literally.  These are the Intelligence and Wisdom of the gods and that is what Vivekakhyati really points towards.  So what we need is to start working with this type of discernment here and now and this is not an intellectual thing, it is intuitive.  It uses the power of the heart.  It is how you start to listen to the voice of the divinity inside of you, not the voice of the mind. 

Vivekakhyati is a power of the consciousness to see reality. It is discernment of the truth. That discernment is not acquired through books, lectures, ideas, beliefs, or acquired through initiations or memberships, but emerges only as the consciousness is freed from modifications. When the consciousness awakens, it begins to see clearly. When it sees reality, it discerns the truth. 

When you consciously experience a moment of spontaneous, radiantly clear perception of your own behavior as completely mistaken and a cause of suffering, that is Vivekakhyati: “wisdom, discernment, insight, investigation, knowledge.” That does not come from books or imitating others, but only from being aware of yourself in the moment, and catching that behavior when it emerges in yourself. 

It is that capacity, expanded and developed, that carries us all the way to complete self-realization, absolute liberation from suffering. 

To acquire Vivekakhyati and work with it is important because as the Sutra says this is the way you remove ignorance; with discernment.  What are you discerning?  The real from the unreal.  The Self from the not self.  We start here and now, you observe yourself and you see, “this body is not my identity.”  But it is not enough to say that or think that.  You have to acquire the experience that proves it, and you can only acquire that experience through awakening your consciousness, transmuting your sexual energy, saturating your nervous system with that energy and meditating, because in meditation you liberate the consciousness from those modifications, and that is the only way it can experience the reality.  

You cannot see the cage whilst you are inside of it. If you really want to see the cage you are in, get out of the cage and then you will understand it.  As long as you are in the cage and you feel comfortable – you know there are people who get put in prison for 10, 20, 30 years and suddenly the door is open and they do not want to leave - you have heard these stories, right?  People who get locked up for years and years, or they were enslaved in labour camps or in work houses their whole life and then they are set free, the body may come out but the mind does not because it was the mind that was always caged, and that is our situation.  The mind in us is caged.  We need to come out of the mind in order to see the cage for what it is.  If we have the courage to do it, we can.

The cage that makes us suffer is our collection of egos: our false image of ourselves. We believe we are saints when in truth we are filled with filthiness. We believe we are beautiful when in truth we are filled with anger, selfishness, and cruelty. Until we become honest about the truth of ourselves, we can never know the truth of anything in life. Jesus said:

"Woe unto you, scribes [intellectuals] and Pharisees [believers], hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity."

People like to interpret this story literally, as if he was talking to only a few people at the time, yet in truth it is an exhoration for us, now. All the people of this world are this way, just like you and me: we make ourselves appear clean and pretty, meanwhile our minds are filled with terrible things. We ignore the stark truth: that everything in nature is governed by laws: a mind that is filled with impurity brings what impurity brings: suffering. If we want to be free of suffering, we need to clean ourselves of what brings it to us. That means we need to learn to see ourselves as we truly are: to discimrinate the false from the true.

"To be full of oneself, to have false images of oneself, fantasies of oneself, is to be in the inferior levels of the Being. One is identified with oneself when one thinks that one is going to have a lot of money, the beautiful, latest model car, or to think that one’s fiancée loves him, that one is a great person, or that one is a sage. There are many forms of becoming identified with oneself. One has to begin by not becoming identified with oneself, and afterwards, not becoming identified with external things...

"... we... astutely conceal what is convenient for us; to hide our perversities and smile like saints. This is what the fallacy of the ego is. This is the habit of deceiving. One part of the myself can hide another part of the myself. Is this something unusual? Does not the cat hide his claws? This is what the fallacy of the ego is. We all carry the Pharisee within us; we are very beautiful from the outside, but we are very rotten on the inside...

"We need to have an exact concept of ourselves. Each person has a false concept about himself. To reencounter our own selves, to correctly self-know, re-self-educate and re-self-evaluate ourselves is unpostponable. The mind bottled up within the ego ignores the authentic values of the Being. How could the mind recognize that which it has never known? Mental freedom is only possible by liberating the mind. The false concepts of self-identity bottle up the mind. The exterior is merely the reflection of the interior. The image of a person gives origin to his exterior image. The exterior is the mirror where the interior is reflected. Any person is the result of his own mental processes. The human being must self-explore his own mind if he wishes to correctly self-identify, self-evaluate and self-imagine himself." —Samael Aun Weor, The Revolution of the Dialectic

The Bhagavad-Gita says about that, 

“The knowers [who] behold Reality will teach you knowledge—having known which, you will not again succumb to confusion… Even if one is the most sinful of all sinners, one shall yet cross over the ocean of sin by the raft of Self-knowledge alone. As the blazing fire reduces wood to ashes; similarly, the fire of Self-knowledge reduces all bonds of karma to ashes...”  

Remember that the divinity that is giving this teaching is Krishna.  This picture illustrates Krishna in the centre who is an embodiment of Vishnu. 

krishna arjuna Mahabharata Kurukshetra1

Vishnu is none other than the expressive aspect of this upper Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.  Brahma is at the top, Vishnu is Chokmah and Shiva is Binah.  Vishnu is Chokmah (that word literally means “Wisdom”) and the name “Vishnu” comes from a root that means “to cut through.”  It is the same as wisdom.  Vishnu is that wisdom embodied in Krishna and Krishna offers that wisdom to Arjuna who represents us. This image depicts Arjuna seeing his true self. That is within you, too!

What is the essence of all of this: self-knowledge reduces all bonds to ashes.  If you want to overcome ignorance then learn about yourself, the divinity in you, and the only way to really do that accurately is to master meditation.  It does not require anything outside of you.  You can be rich or poor, male or female, from any country in the world, any level of education, it does not matter.  If you are a living being and even if you have no arms or legs, you can still meditate, you can still learn this so do not feel pity for yourself like your situation is so terrible, that you are the exception and you cannot learn meditation because that is a lie.  You can. 

Develop this discrimination.  Learn to meditate and at the same time, cut through appearances.  Start studying the interdependence of things.  Start studying and looking for the real self.  

Remember the passage stated that “ignorance is the field of all the afflictions.”  Ignorance is to see the impure as pure, to find the self in something that is not the self.  So to overcome ignorance you have to start seeing that in you.  Where is it that I am finding identity, a sense of self, but it is not?  We all do this.  Young people now, they find self in friends, music, fashion, politics, but all of that is illusion.  There is no self in that.  The young person thinks, “if I dress this way that’s me, that’s my identity” and that is a lie.  There is no identity in your clothing.  There is no identity in your hairstyle.  There is no identity or self in the car you drive, or the job you have, or your politics, or your parents, or your spouse, or your friends, or your name, or your language.  There is no identity there, there is no self there.  There is no self in your bank account, or lack of one.  None of that is pure, nor is it eternal or reliable.  So this type of discrimination has to start cutting away these wrong attitudes, wrong views, to acquire something reliable.  

Furthermore, it is not enough to simply look at your physical life and start cutting at these things – we need that, but what you ultimately need is to experience what your real self is.  Without that experience, this will remain a theory.  This is why meditation is so important.  It is only in meditation that you can experience your real identity, your real self. And you can only have that experience by mastering meditation. For that, you must meditate every day.  Not superficially, not in a shallow way, not in a lazy way, but with all of your devotion. Mastery is a long, long road.   Start now. Take a step every day. Do not turn back. Dedicate yourself to knowing the truth about your real inner nature, and for that you have to caste off all of the modifications that afflict your consciousness.  Sit in a quiet place and resolve to come to know the truth.  Leave your body still and silent, withdraw from it.  Withdraw from the senses, withdraw from emotions, withdraw from thoughts, withdraw from your name, your desires and your fears.  Centre deeper and deeper into the awareness itself with that enquiry into God.

We have taught many techniques about how to do that.  Practice that every day and you will come to know.  If you follow and develop this intuitive ability of discrimination, it is that which guides you all the way to the end of the path, to the heights of the Tree of Life. 

Vivekakhyati is the ability to discriminate between the true and the false, between the real and unreal, and that is a power in the consciousness, nowhere else.  The intellect cannot do it – personality cannot, the body cannot, the senses cannot and emotion cannot.  It is only the consciousness that can discriminate the false from the real. 

“Avidya [ignorance] is taking the non-eternal, impure, painful, and not-self as the eternal, pure, happy Self.”

As far as exercises, learn to develop that discrimination daily, and continue the exercises we were doing in the previous lectures, primarily meditate every day and be sure to include pranayama as the preparation for your meditation.