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    Practicing the Presence

    About 2500 years ago, the Maharishi Patanjali distilled essential wisdom about the union of individual awareness with universal consciousness into 195 pithy statements known as the Yoga Sutras. They succinctly compass the physiological, psychological and subtle body aspects associated with Union (Yoga). It is unlikely that any single translation or commentary will ever compass their subtle profundities, because they are simple declarations. They are subject to interpretation, but not subject to dispute.

    In the second division (pada) of the Yoga Sutras, he detailed the eight anga of consciousness: observances, actions, postures, breathing, and withdrawal of attention, focus, resonance and samadhi.

    One meaning of anga is limbs. They came to be taught as tools for structuring yoga, maybe because limbs of the body have particular functions and so might be thought of as tools. Also, they began to be taught as steps or a sequence of actions which, being perfected, lead to Union. Either error says these functions (expressions) of consciousness can be isolated from each other and from the totality. They cant; they reflect and support each other and rise to perfection together, for they comprise the totality of lifefrom the gross to the most refined.

    Patanjali gave a straightforward unveiling of human nature and natural law, unattached to tradition or religion. The Sad-guru, the Eternal Teacher, is the Lord, all-inclusive Brahman, the Source. There is no indication that belief in, or devotion to, a guru, teacher, religion or gods is necessary to unveil full human consciousness. Indeed, he makes it clear that individual passionate commitment is the primary requisite. It is a pity that his description of an uncomplicated unfolding has become interpreted as a weighty and intricate undertaking. The observances and actions have been codified as vows and samadhi presented as the goal/result of the preceding seven.

    The shift of emphasis nourishes the notion that suffering is needed to end suffering, thereby tilting awareness toward inherent weakness rather than inherent strength. Even now, Eastern and Western traditions both perpetuate duality by dividing life into sacred and secular. When life is taken up as a seamless garment, experience naturally transforms.

    Another meaning of anga is subordinate divisions, departments or spheres. Of course, the One has none of these. But, if, for the sake of communication, the Eight Spheres of Union are accepted as aspects of Unity, they can be approached with clarity. The spheres are not self-generating energies, but lie as if dormant, covered by impressions

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    and thoughts, until awakened. They are the Treasure of Grace: Divine Order functioning and knowable in the body, and as they are drawn into experience, their extensive interlacing discloses the Unity of Life. Consciousness doesnt rely on them for fulfillment; they require conscious attention in order to be enlivened in the phenomenal world.

    There are no group tours to enlightenment. Every person is an infinite, sovereign creator of his own world, whether he recognizes it, or not. In setting intent, it is ordained, Let there be and behold! it is so. The creator determines quality of life in his world that is populated with his mind-born children. Each human life, then, is a universe: six and a half billion people on planet Earth mean six and a half billion universes.

    By habitual thoughts, life is situated in heaven or hell; but the mind is not absolute. Thoughts will come, because they are a part of life, but its always possible to choose the type of thought that is entertained. The minds sovereignty over life is illusory; without direction, it is helpless to know peace. The final say belongs to Intellect, which has the discernment needed to train the mind to appropriate service. Mind is subtler and therefore more powerful than the body; intellect is subtler and so more powerful than the mind. The Source is more subtle still. Intellect is Soul, the seat of awareness in the body.

    Cultural patterns show the collective investment in maintaining the status quo. An infinite Source must have infinite expressions, but humans generally perceive life through the lens of cultural patterns. Ideas are unfruitful without supportive action, and habitual actions without a solid foundation sabotage the fulfillment of potential. Innocence is the springboard from which experience leaps over the walls of tradition. Without innocence, understanding stays at the level of theory, opinion or belief.

    Replace the word understanding with substance (sub=under; stance=standing/position), and the primary meaning surfaces. True understanding integrates essence with form: the Nature of everything is known as pure consciousness. Belief systems structured by the mind rely on sensory evidence, yet essential Nature is beyond the reach of the senses. Impressions shade perceptions but are powerless to affect Reality. Even one unfiltered encounter with the Unchanging can be enough to wipe out what is without substance.

    Pada II, sutra 28: Practice of the spheres of union removes the impure; discrimination, or knowledge, discloses the splendor of wisdom.

    Practice, applied to the anga, designates a profound commitment to Life, the practice of the Presence of God. There is no implication that human nature needs reconstruction or even modification; or that choices contrary to Nature are entailed.

    All of life is troubled by the notion that human nature is fallen; it is part of the belief in duality. The wonderful truth is that human nature is the nature of the Self, the nature of God. The idea of impurity comes in viewing it through the dust raised by the flurry of ideations; the clear experience of Beauty is clouded. Only mention impurity and thoughts about morality and feelings of guilt surface. Moral qualities are not involved. Impure describes the condition of living without insight into the nature of Reality. If the Natures of the self and the Self were distinct, then duality would be real and Union, impossible.


    The five inner disciplines (yamas: deaths) are ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha. If they are approached as obligations, rather than as natural companions in Life, latent self-judgment is awakened, demanding harsh physical testing. Opening of consciousness can be and should be gentle. These disciplines are without opposites in

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    reality. Patanjali never implies they are difficult to know. Yama does mean deaths, but in this context, rein, curb, or forbearance is appropriate and, perhaps, clearer. They are not perfected by making a mood that satisfies the surface level of the mind, because transformation is not instigated from the surface level. The mind, unaided, has neither desire nor capacity to modify its patterns. It accesses transforming power when it is directed by Intellect, which has the necessary ability to discern.


    The first inner discipline is ahimsa: harmlessness. Just as lava is belched into the atmosphere from the depths of a volcano, the self-violence that seethes in the caldron of the sub-conscious explodes into the world. Self-violence is always born of compromise, the denial of the heart, from fear. The fear reveals itself as judgment, unforgiveness, control issues, harsh words and brutal acts, and escalates to unresolved factional and international conflicts.

    Compromise has been turned into an expression of love by the mind (which always justifies and defends its perceptions), when in fact compromise is a subtle, virulent poison transmitted from one generation to another. It comes from the idea that love can be lost. Willingness to find a middle ground is taken as an expression of love or goodwill. One or both parties accept less than they do wantor even what they dont wantin order to get at least a part of what they would like to have. Eventually, the complete expression of life is compromised.

    Personality is a limited, unbeneficial configuration built and maintained by the mind. Taken as a definition of being, it is certain to clash with other personalities, each of which has its own definition of being. Understand that the multiple human expressions of the Infinite are not personalities; by definition, personality indicates an entity separated from all others. Even babies have distinctive traits; from birth, interaction with their world lends reality to the coloration called personality that shimmers on the surface of the mind. Forms are distinct; there is one essence for all.

    The reverse of personality is innocence, or harmlessness: if the mind is not held to a specific identity with its likes, dislikes, habits, responses and history, then the possibilities for joy increase beyond imagining. The usual experience of life is a string of compromises, in which memories and expectations are permitted to steal the moment. Control, even when administered with the softest words and sweetest smile, is violence. (I do not speak about the training of small children: they should be directed toward wholeness. Training based in the caretakers own skewed perceptions predictably incorporates emotional, if not physical, violence.)

    Impersonal Nature is not violent. Violent behavior comes from unclear thoughts, and it is not certain that below the human level, thoughts, as such, exist. A few experiments have seemed to indicate that subtler levels of interaction can be enhanced in some animals. Still, hunger or the protection of offspring drives one animal to kill another. At the cellular level, through natural design, white cells destroy others. Tornados, tsunamis, earthquakes and other so-called acts of God are intense physical manifestations, but they are not punishments by