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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.



By Ramana Maharshi


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What are the limbs of yoga?

Master: Yama, niyama, asana, ,pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Of these:

1. Yama: this stands for the cultivation of such principles of good conduct as non-violence (ahimsa), truth (satya), non-stealing (asteya), celibacy (brahmacharya), and non-possession (apari-graha).

2. Niyama: this stands for the observance of such rules of good conduct as purity (saucha), contentment (santosha), austerity (tapas), study of the sacred texts (svadhyaya), and devotion to God (Isvara-pranidhana).*

3. Asana: Of the different postures, eighty-four are the main ones. Of these, again, four, viz., simha, bhadra, padma, and siddha** are said to be excellent. Of these too, it is only siddha that is the most excellent. Thus the yoga texts declare.

4. Pranayama: According to the measures prescribed in the sacred texts, exhaling the vital air is rechaka, inhaling is puraka, and retaining it in the heart is kumbhaka. As regards 'measure,' some texts say that rechaka and puraka should be equal in measure, and kumbhaka twice that measure, while other texts say that if rechaka is one measure, puraka should be of two measures, and kumbhaka of four. By 'measure' what is meant is the time that would be taken for the utterance of the Gayatrimantra once. Thus pranayama consisting of rechaka, puraka, and kumbhaka should be practised daily according to ability, slowly and gradually. Then, there would arise for the mind a desire to rest in happiness without moving. After this, one should practise pratyahara.

5. Pratyahara: This is regulating the mind by preventing it from flowing towards the external names and forms. The mind, which had been till then distracted, now becomes controlled. The aids in this respect are (1) meditation on the pranava, (2) fixing the attention betwixt the eyebrows, (3) looking at the tip of the nose, and (4) reflection on the nada. The mind that has thus become one-pointed will be fit to stay in one place. After this, dharana should be practised.

6. Dharana: This is fixing the mind in a locus which is fit for meditation. The loci that are eminently fit for meditation are the heart and Brahma-randhra (aperture in the crown of the head). One should think that in the middle of the eight-petalled lotus*** that is at this place there shines, like a flame, the Deity which is the Self, i.e. Brahman, and fix the mind therein. After this, one should meditate.

7. Dhyana: This is meditation, through the 'I am He' thought, that one is not different from the nature of the aforesaid flame. Even, thus, if one makes the enquiry 'Who am I?', then, as the Scripture declares, "The Brahman which is everywhere shines in the heart as the Self that is the witness of the intellect," one would realize that is the Divine Self that shines in the heart as 'I-I'. This mode of reflection is the best meditation.

8. Samadhi: As a result of the fruition of the aforesaid meditation, the mind gets resolved in the object of meditation without harbouring the ideas 'I am such and such; I am doing this and this'. This subtle state in which even the thought 'I-I' disappears is samadhi. If one practises this every day, seeing to it that sleep does not supervene, God will soon confer on one the supreme state of quiescence of mind.

*The aim of yama and niyama is the attainment of all good paths open to those eligible for moksha. For more details see works like the Yoga-sutra, Hathayoga-dipika.

**Siddhasana: Left heel should be placed over the genital organ and over that, the right heel. Fixing one's gaze between the eyebrows one's body should be motionless and erect like a stick.

***Although it is true that the lotus in the crown of the head is said to have a thousand petals, it also may be described as having eight petals because each of these eight consists of 125 sub-petals.

Copyright Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai, India.



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This page was published on Realization.org on June 9, 2000.

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