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Yoga Article:
the sap is the essence of the tree

by Marla Meenakshi Joy, CMT

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time"
-T.S. Elliot

The great sage Patanjali who lived around the 3rd Century BC maps out the inner journey of the spiritual aspirant in a series of sutras (threads).

In the second part of this great work he puts forth the idea of "8 limbs" of Yoga, or the "Astanga (asht-aanga)" path, which is an interesting metaphor for seeing the path of Yoga as a tree. When you see a tree you can clearly see that each limb has it's basis in the trunk.

When I first started studying these sutras in India, I had many days where I would take long walks in the Himalayas, and marvel at the mountains and the trees. It seemed obvious that the health of each tree branch depended on the state of health of the earth the tree sat on and rooted to.

I remembered a field trip that I went on as a child to collect maple syrup from the trees. I was amazed that when we tapped the trees, out came this syrup, and in some trees, sap. I was told that sap runs through the whole tree, in the same way that blood runs through our veins.

If we explore each limb of the 8- limb system, we end up at the essence of the tree itself, at the essence of Yoga which is complete Unity consciousness.

We live often in a maze of ideas, concepts, belief systems, "do's and don'ts" and "right and wrongs". While the Yamas offer guidelines on how to improve our thinking, the Niyamas guide us inward towards mental purification.

We can never reach the sap of the tree if the bark or moss on the surface is too thick. The Niyamas help us to clear away the layers or fibres that have thickened over the years of mental conditioning, and help pave the way to a clearer perception of life AS IT IS.

Sauca (Sh-ow-cha) translates as cleanliness, or purity. When we clear up the mess in our external environment we notice our mind becomes clearer. When we eat better we have more energy. When our house is clean we can sit and meditate easier because our external space is uncluttered and so our internal head space can expand. When we clean our house what do we do? We take everything out that is non-essential for our lives at the moment and store it away. In our minds, to see things clearly we need to do the same thing and remove what isn't essential for our mental well-being.

Sauca also refers to simplicity. Sometimes we hear people (or ourselves) say "I wish I had a simpler life!", but that can happen right here, right now! If we work to simplify in our heads each experience and just see things for what they are, life becomes simpler. Instead, we want to project a million things from one interaction with someone which takes us off on a tangent and leaves us confused, frustrated and unhappy.

This leads us directly to Santosa (Santosha), or contentment. Santosa comes from the root "tush" meaning to "be pleased".

Santosa is the ability to be comfortable within ourselves with who we are; what we have and what we don't have, here and now.

To be able to "take everything as it comes" is true contentment, and it leads our consciousness again to seeing what is, and not wanting or craving what is not. With contentment comes happiness, and true happiness is a state of mind independent of circumstances, and not dependent on any external condition.

A good mantra of a sadhaka (spiritual aspirant) full of santosa or ease is "what comes of itself, let it come".

Tap or Tapas means literally "to burn", and so the heat in our asana practice is a good example of tapas.

In ancient times tapas gave rise to many forms of penances and austerities to aid in the ego's process of dissolution. I find that one of the most powerful forms of tapas is to face my own ignorance. To be able to see clearly where I separate and create duality, and let that go in the face of desiring more awareness of the Self , which is Oneness, is a powerful working method of tapas. It makes me take responsibility now for what I am creating with my thoughts.

All of these observations of our own perceptive mechanism are forms of Swadhyaya (Swaadhyaaya), or study. Adhyaya means to study, and Swa means the Self. Swadhyaya is the study of the Universal Absolute Self through the study of scriptures, spiritual texts , mantras,etc. for the purpose of liberating the "small self" or individual self. First I find we need to observe our minds and evaluate if we are "paying attention" to what we are thinking! What we think, we create, and it's said that what we put out in our thoughts come back to us a thousandfold!! On a very simple level, to study the results of our actions can be a powerful tool to evaluate how next to proceed in any given situation, that will both benefit you and others around you.

Finally, if we trace the limb of the tree right back to its source of sap we would see that the branch would not be able to live without the nourishment of the sap. In the same way, we wouldn't be able to practise the Yamas or the Niyamas without that great Divine force or Isvara (Eeshvara). Isvara Pranidhana (Eeshvar Praanidhaana) means to surrender to God or the Absolute consciousness.

When that Divine Being describes Himself in the Bhagavad Gita, He says: "Of all creations I am the beginning, the end and also the middle"(10:32).

Without that life-Source we would not be able to do anything. Even the pen moving on this paper would cease, immediately if that life force was withdrawn. So, Isvar Pranidhana is devoting all our actions to the subtlest and most refined level of life, the substratum of existence, knowing full well that our ability to act comes from that infinite well, and the results of all our actions ultimately return there.

The Niyamas provide the context to direct our consciousness inwards and remove any mental obstacles in the way of living a free, open , honest and truthful life, at One with the Source of all of life, and fully in harmony with Nature. Then, which is here and now, we can arrive "where we started, and know the place for the first time".


 Copyright © 2005 SWAHA

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