Yoga means “union with the Divine.” This union with Bhagavan cannot be attained through effort alone – it only occurs through God’s grace. All that exists is God and all exists because of God. In an absolute sense nothing is separate from Bhagavan. All is God’s divine play. If one is to attain liberation, then that would only be as a gift from Bhagavan. All is God’s to give or not, anyway.
There are two yogic paths (or margas). Maryada Marga; the lawful way – where the yogis’ own discipline and self-effort bring him/her to the goal, and the Path of Grace or Pushti Marga. Both paths can only bring the practitioner to the doorway of liberation; however it is Bhagavan who ultimately and gracefully carries the devotee across the final threshold. You cannot ‘DO’ yoga. Yoga is who you really are. Yoga cannot be attained through effort alone – it arises gracefully. Grace, however, can only arise after the mind has been purified through much effort.
Patanjali opens his discourse on Yoga by stating in the Samadhi Pada or the Chapter on Ecstasy that Yoga occurs effortlessly, when the mind has become purified and concentrated. Yogash chitta vritti nirodha 1:2. (When you stop identifying with your thoughts, the fluctuations of mind, then there is Yoga, identity with Self – Bhagavan, which is Samadhi.) According to Patanjali, the most direct method to bring about nirodha or Yoga, is by surrendering completely to God. The one step method is: Isvara pranidhanad va.1:23 (By giving your life and identity to God- you attain the identity of God). Some souls, due to past karmas, may be able to follow a path of total surrender as suggested in Samadhi Pada. By “letting go, and letting God” in graceful sadhanas like satsang, kirtan, japa, or seva one can live a life of devotion – cultivating bhava, the intoxicated mood of love for the Divine.
But the graceful path is not for everyone. In the second chapter of Yoga Sutras, Patanjali described a three-stepped method: Tapa Swadhaya Ishwara Pranidhani Kriya Yogah II:1. Here Patanjali provides the practical means of purifying and concentrating the mind, so that nirodha is possible, for those who cannot surrender everything to the Lord. Some feel that they must ‘do’ something, and some minds are restless, doubtful, and easily distracted. These aspirants can find solace in the Sadhana Pada. Patanjali is compassionate for souls who are unable to surrender themselves to Divine grace alone, and provides a chapter describing more detailed sadhana.
This sutra suggests to the aspiring yogi or yogini that, not only is effort essential, but it must be the kind of effort which is unrelenting. Tapa means to burn. One must have a passionate, burning desire, to undergo whatever discipline is necessary in order to purify thoughts, words, and deeds. When we let go of all self-cherishing, ego-driven, or selfish desires, then the yogi is able to concentrate on Svadyaya; the study of the Self. Svadyaya means to focus upon the Lord in all circumstances without any distraction. To study something means to give it your unwavering attention. These two kriyas (tapas and svadyaya) will render one able to surrender to God, expressed as Ishvara Pranidhani, the third part of the three step system.
Then Patanjali notes the hindrances, which may cause the practitioner difficulty in adhering to the 3-step plan. He lists and describes these kleshas, along with the underlying karmas, which allow obstacles to arise. From a place of seemingly tireless patience, Patanjali provides an eight-step method for those of us who still need more practical “how-to” direction in the ways to untangle ourselves from the dukha (suffering) which bind us. Since many of us feel that our unhappiness is caused by the actions of others, the eight- step plan begins with the Yamas (the Dont’s). The Yamas address our relationships with others. The first Yama suggests that as long as you perceive others and not the One, then whenever you interact with another do not cause them harm. Treat others with kindness. The other practices of Yama follow – Do not lie to others; Do not steal from others, Do not use your sexuality to degrade others, Do not hoard – share what you have with others.
The Niyamas (the Do’s) are the second step of the eight limbed system. The Niyamas are practices directed toward one’s personal world. They are comprised of the 3 steps of Kriya Yoga (already described above) preceded by Saucha; the practice of cleanliness and Santosha; the practice of contentment. The third limb – Asana addresses our physical presence in the world. Patanjali suggests that this relationship to the world should be mutually beneficial – it should be steady and joyful. The fourth limb focuses on the life force – Prana; that invisible force which permeates all of life. To learn how to restrict the flow of Prana in ones own body is to learn how to control one’s own mind and thus free one’s mind of whatever may be restricting it from divine ecstasy. The fifth limb – Pratyahara deals with the discipline involved in drawing the senses away from outward hankering and redirecting our attention inward toward independence and the Self. Through these practices the content of one’s mind becomes more and more purified. Eventually, all which seemed to hold the aspirant separate from Bhagavan is dissolved into grace.