Samkhya is one of the oldest of six schools of Indian philosophy and one of the four theories upon which yoga is built. Understanding Samkhya is beneficial to developing both meditation and yoga practices. It provides a framework for the creation and manifestation of both the universe and the self. In simpler terms Samkhya deals with matter, consciousness, intelligence, I-am-ness, elements of stability, activity, lightness, the mind and cognitive and active senses as well as the five elements. I will provide a brief overview of Samkhya as well as examine its main features known as Purusha, Prakriti and The 3 Gunas. This will provide a brief understanding of this complex philosophy.
Samkhya is dualistic. The two parts which comprise Samkhya can be described as the mind and body or the real self (Purusha) and matter (Prakriti). Purusha also known as pure consciousness and Prakriti known as nature are the two fundamental factors or realities which create cause and effect within us and the universe. It should be noted that this theory suggests that the effect is always bigger than the cause. Like a drop of water into a pool, the first drop may not be that large however the ripples may travel for eons. Most importantly Samkhya states that both Purusha and Prakriti are equally real and important.
Purusha is the efficient cause of the world. It is the supreme spirit and the first principle of Samkhya. Purusha is neither produced nor does it produce, it just is. Purusha is everywhere and everything.
Prakriti or rather matter/nature is the none self and is known as the second principle of Samkhya. It lacks consciousness and is unintelligent. Prakriti is influenced by the Purusha and although it is not produced it still produces. Therefore, Prakriti is only able to manifest itself from the various objects of experience of the Purusha. Prakriti is the ultimate cause of all physical existence and is known as the material cause of the world. Prakriti is comprised of three different qualities or natures which are known as Gunas. These Gunas which cannot be separated possess different features and therefore at different times a different Guna will be more predominant than the others. The predominance of a particular Guna can be evident in persons’ thoughts and emotions. However it should be noted that the Guna’s effect can be experienced by all of the worlds objects not only humans but also material objects.
The three guna’s are:
Satva - Happiness, Knowledge, Clarity, Friendliness.
Rajas - Restlessness, Activity/Motion, Loss of desire, Pain.
Tamas - Inertia/Inaction, Delusion, Anger, Hatred, Negligence, Ignorance, Indifference.
(Gunas are also present in the Five Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether).
Changes in the Gunas take two forms:
1. HOMOGENOUS – Homogenous changes do not affect the state of equilibrium in Prakriti and as a result worldly objects are not produced.
2. HETEROGENOUS – Heterogenous changes involve radical interactions among the three Gunas. This disturbs the state of equilibrium and is the primary catalyst for evolution
It should be noted that the Gunas are not only influenced by Prakriti but by the world as a whole.
Finally, the most interesting aspect regarding Samkhya is that it is atheist. Samkhya does not discuss God because it is thought that Purusha is perfect. Therefore nothing influences Purusha and therefore there cannot be a god. This aspect of the philosophy is quite substantial as most of philosophical theories are based or encompass some religious ancestry.
Although it is a complex theory developing an understanding of Samkhya philosophy is very beneficial to the yoga or meditation practitioner. Samkhya provides the theory or framework for the manifestation of both the universe and the self. Yoga then provides a concrete way to apply this theory.
I have previously described the common obstacles to achieving yoga, known as the Kleshas. However, I would like to further examine one particular Klesha in greater detail.
This Klesha, known as Abhinivesa, describes the feeling and emotion known in the western world as fear. Fear is possibly one of the most illusive of all the Kleshas as it is difficult to identify.
Why? Because often our fears are so deeply programmed into our thought processes during our childhood and through years of cultural conditioning we cannot recognize them. Therefore, it takes some real honest soul searching to uncover what they truly are.
So why does it matter if we have these fears? Well it doesn't matter as long as you want to continue living life not understanding why you continue to come across the same obstacles. However, if you do wish to understand your thoughts, actions and behaviours, I suggest you have a look at your fears.
Many people have fears surrounding money, being alone or of not being good enough. This causes people to often pursue situations which do not serve them or avoid certain situations altogether. Fear has been described by many of my yoga teachers, as one of the most powerful catalysts causing people to act or non-act in life.
Therefore, by becoming aware of the underlying currents or rather the fear which drive us, we are empowered to refine our thoughts, behaviours and actions and can work towards becoming the creators of our own destiny.
Over the past weekend I was lucky enough to live yoga every day whilst assisting Athill Singh from Happy Buddha Retreats with his residential weekend. The weekend retreat held in Killcare, is the perfect place to achieve peace, clarity and reconnect with your inner voice.
Athill’s retreats aim to promote a sense of sharing and community whist incorporating the philosophical teachings of yoga. During the weekend there are five yoga classes, a meditation workshop, a vedic chanting lesson, a drumming lesson as well as free time to go to the beach, go bush walking or just relax. In addition, all the food provided on the retreat is 100% organic.
During the weekend I taught two yoga classes as well as the chanting lesson. The two yoga lessons were very different. The first being a strong, breath focused hatha vinyasa flow and the second being a slow, soft, restorative hatha practice. The second practice was taught on the Sunday morning after the previous day of three yoga lessons. As a result the group was quite tired and therefore benefited from a restorative practice. The contrast of these two practices clearly demonstrates how yoga can be adapted to suit the specific needs of the group.
It was a beautiful weekend sharing my love for yoga with Athill and the people on the retreat. I highly recommend this retreat to anyone who wants to learn more about yoga and meditation whilst being in the midst of beautiful surroundings.
Love, Luck & Light
There are numerous obstacles which can inhibit your ability to achieve Yoga. Some of these may affect your body on a physical level. However, more often than not it is the mental obstacles which cause problems. These mental obstacles are known in yoga as the Kleshas. The Kleshas are five different mental filters which can obscure your perception, therefore impacting on your ability to respond to an event in an appropriate manner.
The five Kelshas are:
1. Avidya - Ignorance or rather incorrect knowledge. Often Avidya is accumulated through a person’s cultural conditioning. Avidya is present when we make assumptions and decisions based on untrue knowledge.
2. Asmita - Ego or I-am-ness. This occurs when people see themselves as distinct individuals who must be competitive rather than act as a collective group. Common thoughts influenced by Asmita include, “I know I am right,” or “I am better than that person.”
3. Raga - Attachment. Raga presents itself when people are attached to particular stories about themselves or are attached to the idea they must acquire certain material things in order to achieve happiness.
4. Dvesa - Avoidance. Dvesa is present when someone has a bad experience and are afraid of repeating it again so they avoid the situation, place or people in which that experience occurred in.
5. Abinivesa - Fear. This can be described as doubts, uncertainty and or avoidance and occurs on many levels of human functioning. Abhinvesa can cause a person to either act or not act out of fear.
Despite the power of the Kleshas there are ways to limit their effect on your perceptions. Firstly, identify and acknowledge a Klesha when it comes into your mind. This process of reflection encourages self awareness, self understanding and self knowledge. You begin to discover why you developed particular Kleshas and how they are creating suffering in your life today. Self awareness is best developed through your yoga practice which should consist of both an asana and meditation.
Yoga is much more than a physical exercise, it requires the mind, body and breath to work together in harmony. When this is achieved the practitioner experiences clarity of mind or in simpler terms focus. The yogic journey is made up of 8 stages, known in yoga as the 8 limbs of yoga. The 8 limbs of yoga are quite comprehensive and provide the practitioner with a framework of how they can best interact with themselves and the world around them, in order to cultivate mental clarity. Each of the 8 limbs contains sub-categories which provide more in-depth explanations of how to achieve this. The eight limbs are:
1. Yama: How we interact with the world around us.
2. Niyama: How we interact with ourselves.
3. Asanas: Postures.
4. Pranayama: Breathing exercises.
5. Pratyahara: Control of the senses.
6. Dharana: Concentration.
7. Dhyana: Continuous concentrated communication
8. Samadhi: Complete union.
Currently, Western society primarily focuses on asanas, which is only one of the eight limbs of yoga. This reinforces the perception that yoga is a physical exercise rather than a mental one and as a result many people are not receiving the full benefits of their yoga practice. If you are interested in learning about the 8 limbs of yoga as well as the different paths to achieving yoga I recommend you read the book “The Heart of Yoga” written by T. K. V. Desikachar. In addition I also recommend watching the DVD "Yoga Unvieled."
May the divinity in me, shine to the divinity in you!
This past weekend was the annual Bondi Yoga Festival! Although the weather was terrible I still had an amazing time!
This year I decided to volunteer at the festival in a customer service role. The benefits of this was that after 2pm I received 2 FREE VIP passes which allowed myself and a friend VIP access to any class or music event held at the festival for the rest of the day. Volunteering at an event like this is really worth it. You get involved in the event from the other side and get the opportunity to chat with the teachers and event organizers. All who were very approachable, friendly, informative and enjoyed a good laugh!
Overall it was a truly wonderful day. The experience of having the Bondi Yoga community coming together to share their love of yoga was really beautiful. I will be attending the festival again next year and I highly recommend it to others. For all newcomers to yoga it is a great way to try different styles and find out what resonates with you.