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The intent of this course is to provide a very practical, yet thorough overview of the systematic process of traditional Ashtanga Yoga. Our approach is essentially three-fold: First, the most essential foundation principles are introduced and explained. Second, the eight rungs (ashtanga) are each explained. Third, explanations are given on what to do with the eight rungs in conjunction with those foundation principles. This journey includes practical principles on the outcomes of the practices, and the levels of direct experience that come as a result of practicing traditional Ashtanga Yoga. The course is meant for a wide range of practitioners, including those who are new to Yoga, and those with years of experience who wish to explore the subtler, more interior aspects of Yoga.
We are passionate about these principles and practices and offer these to you from the depth of our hearts. May your Ashtanga Yoga practices bring you peace, happiness, and bliss.
In loving service,
Swami J and Ma Tri
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a classical text describing Hatha Yoga. It is said to be the oldest surviving text on Hatha Yoga. Swami Swatmarama, a disciple of Swami Goraknath, wrote the text in the 15th century CE, drawing upon previous texts and his own experiences.
Traditional Hatha Yoga is intended to lead to Raja Yoga, the Royal Yoga, the goal of which is the highest state of consciousness known here as Samadhi. Raja Yoga is summarized in the Yoga Sutras and is also known as Ashtanga Yoga, referring to the eight rungs which are outlined there.
The eight rungs of Ashtanga Yoga are summarized in the Yoga Sutras. The attached Resources include:
Yoga comes after preparation: This introductory sutra suggests that after our many actions in life, and whatever preparatory practices we might have performed, now, we are finally ready to pursue the depths of self-exploration, the journey directly to the center of consciousness, Atman, or Self, our eternal and True identity.
Discipline and learning: To practice Yoga requires cultivating discipline and following a systematic method of learning (anushasanam). This has more to do with the quality or conviction in one's practices than it has to do with the quantity. This is described in greater detail in sutras 1.21 and 1.22.
Yoga comes after preparation: This introductory sutra suggests that after our many actions in life, and whatever preparatory practices we might have performed, now, we are finally ready to pursue the depths of self-exploration, the journey directly to the center of consciousness, Atman, or Self, our eternal and True identity.
Discipline and learning: To practice Yoga requires cultivating discipline and following a systematic method of learning (anushasanam). This has more to do with the quality or conviction in one's practices than it has to do with the quantity. This is described in greater detail in sutras 1.21 and 1.22
When translated poorly or misunderstood, Nirodhah can sound like the suppression or repression of thoughts and emotions, which is definitely not what Yoga is about. Rather, it has to do with a process more like coordinating and setting aside what is not significant or not-self (2.5). It means finding the jewel of Truth that is underneath or behind all of the other activities in the mind-field. This comes through a self-training program dealing with the relationships, senses, body, breath, and mind. Ultimately, the meaning of nirodhah, and thus, of Yoga itself begins to emerge experientially through doing the practices.
Vrittis are operations, activities, fluctuations, modifications, changes, or various forms of the mind-field (chitta).
The word drastuh means seer or witness. The word seer does not give you a theological or metaphysical description or definition of who you are. This is one of the beautiful qualities of Yoga and the Yoga Sutras. There is nothing in the word seer to believe or not believe. By saying that the seer rests in its true nature after transcending the many forms of thought patterns in the mind field (1.3), one can simply do the purifying practices and personally experience the results. In English translations, the word drashtuh is often given meanings such as Self, Soul, or Atman. This provides some clarity or speculation of the nature of this seer, but it is useful to remember that Patanjali is not actually telling you what is the nature of your true self, but that the seer will be experienced in itself, in its true nature, whatever or however that is ultimately experienced and described by each person
Three ways to attain correct knowing: The first of the five kinds of thought patterns described in sutra 1.6 is pramana, which is real or valid cognition, right knowledge, valid proof, seeing clearly. In sutra 1.7, three different ways are described about how one acquires that correct knowing. These are direct perception, reasoning, and validation. Each of them are valid, and standing alone can provide correct knowing, though you want the three to be in agreement. This description of correct knowing applies both to mundane ways of knowing, such as seeing objects in the external world, and to spiritual insights on the inner journey.
Seek experience, not mere belief: In the oral Yoga tradition, it is said that you should not believe what you hear, but should seek direct experience. This is the meaning of the first of these three ways of knowing. The second part is that of reasoning, whereby you want that experience to be understood in the light of your own inference or reasoning. The third part is that you seek the validation through some respected authority or testimony. This might be a textual authority, such as the Yoga Sutras, or some respected person who has first hand knowledge.
Getting these three to converge: When you can get these three to converge, meaning that experience, reasoning, and authoritative validation all agree with one another, then you know, and you know that you know, in regard to any particular aspect of the inner journey. Thus, this sutra is an extremely practical tool for the inner journey.
Keep practicing: One of the most important principles of living yoga meditation is that of continuing to practice without a break. Often a meditator gets started, practices for a few weeks or months, and then stops for a while due to some life situation. Then, he or she starts over again. While it is good to start again, it is better to choose a level of practice that you know you can maintain without a break. If, for example, you try to practice 2-3 hours per day when you are well aware you do not consistently have that much time in your current lifestyle, it is a set up for breaking practice. It's far better to choose an amount of time that you can consistently practice.
Develop attitude: The attitude satkara contains the principles of devotion, sincerity, respect, reverence, positiveness, and right choice. As you choose your proper level of practice, and decide to do that daily, the attitude will come more easily. It is like having a little flame of desire in the heart for the fruits of meditation, and then slowly starting to experience those benefits. That little flame starts to grow slowly and consistently into a burning desire to guide your life in the direction of spiritual realization.
It all rests on attention: Throughout the science of Yoga meditation attention is a critical principle to practice. This sharp, clear, assiduous attention (asevitah) is essential if you are to develop the attitude of conviction for practices over a long time, and without a break as described in this sutra. "Attention, attention, attention!" is the formula to follow, though done in loving kindness towards yourself
Two core principles: Practice (abhyasa, 1.13) and non-attachment (vairagya, 1.15) are the two core principles on which the entire system of Yoga rests (1.12). It is through the cultivation of these two that the other practices evolve, by which mastery over the mind field occurs (1.2), and allows the realization of the true Self (1.3).
They work together: Practice leads you in the right direction, while non-attachment allows you to continue the inner journey without getting sidetracked into the pains and pleasures along the way.
Supreme Non-attachment: Gradually, non-attachment expands to the depth of the subtlest building blocks (gunas) of ourselves and the universe, which is called paravairagya, supreme non-attachment (1.16). Eventually the three gunas resolve back into their cause during deep meditation, leading to final liberation (4.13-4.14, 4.32-4.34)
Nine kinds of distractions come that are obstacles naturally encountered on the path, and are physical illness, tendency of the mind to not work efficiently, doubt or indecision, lack of attention to pursuing the means of samadhi, laziness in mind and body, failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects, incorrect assumptions or thinking, failing to attain stages of the practice, and instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained.
From these obstacles, there are four other consequences that also arise, and these are: 1) mental or physical pain, 2) sadness or dejection, 3) restlessness, shakiness, or anxiety, and 4) irregularities in the exhalation and inhalation of breath
Preparing for subtler practices: Stability and clarity of mind are necessary before being able to experience the subtler meditations or samadhi (1.40-1.51, 2.12-2.25, 3.4-3.6).
One-pointedness brings fitness for meditation: The specialized training of an olympic athlete rests on a solid foundation of generalized physical fitness. Similarly, generalized training in one-pointedness is necessary so that meditation practices can advance. The particular methods suggested in these Sutras relate to the removal of obstacles through one-pointedness, as suggested in the previous sutras (1.30-1.32). Here are suggestions of Sutras 1.33-1.39:
Don't skip the basics: Skipping such basic training of the mind is tempting, but is a serious mistake for a student of meditation, and might result in meditation becoming nothing but a fight with your mind
Questions about the Foundation Principles, derived from the first major section of the course. These questions are intended to be extremely easy and to serve only as reminders, not to 'test' you to see if you 'pass' the course.
Non-injury or non-harming (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), abstention from stealing (asteya), walking in awareness of the highest reality (brahmacharya), and non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (aparigraha) are the five yamas, or codes of self-regulation or restraint, and are the first of the eight steps of Yoga.
Cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha), an attitude of contentment (santosha), ascesis or training of the senses (tapas), self-study and reflection on sacred words (svadhyaya), and an attitude of letting go into one's source (ishvarapranidhana) are the observances or practices of self-training (niyamas), and are the second rung on the ladder of Yoga.
The posture (asana) for Yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and motionless, as well as comfortable, and this is the third of the eight rungs of Yoga.
Once that perfected posture has been achieved, the slowing or braking of the force behind, and of unregulated movement of inhalation and exhalation is called breath control and expansion of prana (pranayama), which leads to the absence of the awareness of both, and is the fourth of the eight rungs.
Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses (indriyas) of cognition and action from both the external world and the images or impressions in the mind field (2.54). The senses are said to follow the mind in the same way the hive of bees follows the queen bee. Wherever she goes, they will follow. Similarly, if the mind truly goes inward, the senses will come racing behind. Pratyahara is rung 5 of the 8 rungs.
Concentration (dharana) is the process of holding or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place, and is the sixth of the eight rungs.
The repeated continuation, or uninterrupted stream of that one point of focus is called absorption in meditation (dhyana), and is the seventh of the eight steps.
When only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if devoid even of its own form, that state of deep absorption is called deep concentration or samadhi, which is the eighth rung.
Questions about the Eight Rungs, derived from the second major section of the course. These questions are intended to be extremely easy and to serve only as reminders, not to 'test' you to see if you 'pass' the course.
Samyama: Samyama is the collective practice (3.4) of concentration (dharana, 3.1), meditation (dhyana, 3.2), and samadhi (3.3), which are the sixth, seventh, and eighth of the eight rungs of Yoga.
Going past avidya or ignorance: This process of discrimination allows the yogi to gradually move past the many forms of the four types of ignorance or avidya, which are: (1) regarding that which is transient as eternal, 2) mistaking the impure for pure, 3) thinking that which brings misery to bring happiness, and 4) taking that which is not-self to be self. (2.5
There are five kinds of coloring (kleshas): 1) forgetting, or ignorance about the true nature of things (avidya), 2) I-ness, individuality, or egoism (asmita), 3) attachment or addiction to mental impressions or objects (raga), 4) aversion to thought patterns or objects (dvesha), and 5) love of these as being life itself, as well as fear of their loss as being death.
A most important practice in Yoga: Cultivating self-awareness of the five kleshas is one of the most important foundation practices in the entire science of Yoga. Note that in Chapter 1 of the Yoga Sutra, the first four sutras describe or define Yoga, and that the very next sutra (1.5) introduces the concept of the many levels of thought patterns being either klishta (colored) or aklishta (uncolored). Now, in this current sutra (and Kriya Yoga in general), the concept is expanded, describing the nature of the five individual kleshas. In Kriya Yoga, the gross level of coloring is dealt with (2.1), while the next few sutras begin the process of dealing with the subtler colorings (2.10-2.11, 2.12-2.25). It works in stages, first reducing the gross, and then the subtle. To be aware of the practice of self-awareness or witnessing of the kleshas of our own mind is a very useful thing to do
2.5 Ignorance (avidya) is of four types: 1) regarding that which is transient as eternal, 2) mistaking the impure for pure, 3) thinking that which brings misery to bring happiness, and 4) taking that which is not-self to be self.
Avidya is the ground for the other colorings: Avidya is like a fabric, like a screen on which a movie might then be projected. It is the ground in which comes the other four of the colorings described below. Avidya (ignorance) is somewhat like making a mistake, in which one thing is confused for another. Four major forms of this are:
Latent impressions that are colored (karmashaya) result from other actions (karmas) that were brought about by colorings (kleshas), and become active and experienced in a current life or a future life.
Cycle of karma: The word karma literally means actions. Here, the word karmashaya is the repository of the effects of those actions. Usually, those individual impressions in the repository are called samskaras. There is a cycling process whereby the samskaras in the karmashaya rise, cause more actions, which in turn lead to more (or stronger) samskaras in the karmashaya.
Colorings or kleshas: The reason for the cycling process of deep impressions and actions is the coloring or klishta quality described in sutras 1.5 and 2.3. It bears repeating and reflecting on many times that it is this coloring or klishta quality that is the key to removing the blocks over Self-realization (1.3).
Karmashaya or repository: This karmashaya or repository of deep impressions is in the latent part of the mind, and later springs forth into the conscious part of the mind, as well as the unconscious processing part of the mind. These impressions cause the mind as manas to carry out the actions or karmas in the external world, doing so through the karmendriyas. (See the article on levels and domains of consciousness.
The 8 rungs are for discriminative enlightenment: The reason for practicing the eight rungs of Yoga (2.29) is to develop attention as the tool for discriminative knowledge, which is the means to discriminative enlightenment and liberation. It means using razor-like attention (3.4-3.6) to separate the seer and the seen (2.17), so as to break the alliance of karma (2.12-2.25), and to get past the four mistakes of ignorance, or avidya (2.24-2.25), which are: 1) confusing the temporary for the eternal, 2) the impure for the pure, 3) misery for happiness, and 4) the false self for the true Self (2.5). Resulting from this systematic discrimination, the seer or Self is eventually experienced in its true nature (1.3).
Discerning three aspects of an object: To understand the principle of discernment presented in these current sutras it is critically important to recall and understand the three aspects of an object described in Sutra 1.42, which have to do with the name of the object, the specific object, and the underlying essence.
Discrimination allows subtler introspection: This one-pointed attention and discrimination, which comes from the practice of the eight rungs, is used for examining, exploring, and attenuating the colorings of the subtle impressions of the mind field (2.10), so as to go beyond, inward to the pure, eternal center of consciousness.
The first 5 rungs sharpen the razor: If it is razor-like attention that is the tool for discrimination, then it is the first five rungs of the Yoga Sutras which are honing the edge of that razor. Then, the finer, sharpened tool is the last three rungs, which are concentration, meditation, and samadhi, which are collectively called samyama (3.4)
The three processes of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi, when taken together on the same object, place or point is called samyama. Through the mastery of that three-part process of samyama, the light of knowledge, transcendental insight, or higher consciousness (prajna) dawns, illumines, flashes, or is visible. That three-part process of samyama is gradually applied to the finer planes, states, or stages of practice. (tasya bhumisu viniyogah)
The finer states naturally come forward: When the practice of samyama is applied to the finer states, the subtler aspects naturally reveal themselves during the deeper practices. It does not necessarily mean that you will know the details of those ahead of time. Rather, the inner journey itself reveals the subtler aspects.
The finer states are set aside: As those finer states come forward, they are explored with the razor-sharp attention of samyama, and are set aside (3.38) through the process of discrimination (2.26-2.29). They are each seen to not be the truth, reality, or eternal Self that is being sought (1.3). This is an ever finer application of the process of non-attachment (1.15-1.16).
Stages are usually not skipped: Typically, the stages are experienced one after the other, as they reveal themselves, without skipping any of the stages of subtle experience along the way.
We need not experience all the stages: Even though the subtle states naturally come forward in a systematic order, it is not essential that we seek out and experience each and every one of the stages. If one is practicing the higher practices, such as with AUM and Ishvara (1.23-1.29), it is not necessary to seek out the lower practices, such as the psychic powers from the subtle realm. The sage Vyasa explains that samyama may not be needed on all of the stages because proficiency might be attained through the gift of grace. He points out that, "Yoga is to be known by Yoga, and Yoga itself leads to Yoga." Through the higher practices, along with grace or gift of higher consciousness, God, or guru, both the lower and higher revelations may come without going step by step through the subtle stage
When you are not doing the Yamas and Niyamas: What do you do when you are not acting, speaking, or thinking in the way you know you want, when not following the suggestions by the Yamas (2.30) and Niyamas (2.32)? For example, you want to practice ahimsa, which is non-harming. But what do you do when you have a harmful, or angry attitude towards somebody else? The suggestion is to go in the opposite direction, which means reminding yourself to go away from that the anger. This is further described in the next sutra (2.34).
What does opposite direction mean?: When thinking of anger or hatred, for example, it can seem that one should cultivate love, which is a good idea. However, you may have noticed how hard it is to cultivate love for one with whom you are intensely angry. The word opposite is used here to suggest that rather than going into, or getting caught up in that anger, we move away from it, in the opposite direction, which is not quite the same as saying we should cultivate love. Recall the foundation principle that consciousness wraps itself around the thought patterns in the mind field (1.4), and that this is the cause of suffering. When we unwrap our attention from those thought patterns (1.2), we rest in our true nature (1.3). This is the meaning of moving in the opposite direction; it means moving away from the entanglement of the negative. By moving away, we naturally experience the love. While the example of ahimsa (non-injury) and love were used here, the same principle applies to the other Yamas (2.30) and Niyamas (2.32) as well.
When acting, speaking, or thinking against your values: The Yamas and Niyamas give superb suggestions for living and being. However, the most important suggestion is on what to do when you are not acting, speaking, or thinking in the way you know you want, when not following the suggestions by the Yamas and Niyamas. For example, you want to practice ahimsa, which is non-harming. But what do you actually do when you have angry emotions towards somebody else?
Remind yourself, "This is not useful": When you know that your actions, speech, or thoughts are not what you want, the suggestion is to repeatedly remind yourself that this anger (or other example) is going in the wrong direction, and will bring you nothing but unending misery. It can be as straightforward as silently repeating the words to yourself, "Mind, this is not useful; this is going to bring me nothing but more suffering, and lead me into greater ignorance of truth. Mind, you need to let go of this."
Going in the right direction: This contrary training will gradually lead the mind in the right direction. It is done gently and lovingly with yourself; it is not suppression or repression of thoughts or emotions. This is further described in the next sutra (2.34)
Yoga Sutras 1.17-1.18: The deep absorption of attention on an object is of four kinds, 1) gross (vitarka), 2) subtle (vichara), 3) bliss accompanied (ananda), and 4) with I-ness (asmita), and is called samprajnata samadhi.
(vitarka vichara ananda asmita rupa anugamat samprajnatah)
The other kind of samadhi is asamprajnata samadhi, and has no object in which attention is absorbed, wherein only latent impressions remain; attainment of this state is preceded by the constant practice of allowing all of the gross and subtle fluctuations of mind to recede back into the field from which they arose.
(virama pratyaya abhyasa purvah samskara shesha anyah)
What is an object?: We normally think of an object as something you can touch, or hold in your hand. However, an object need not necessarily be material in that sense.
Transition is an object: Think of a car, which is a material object. When it is driving down the road, there is the kinetic energy of motion. That motion itself is also an object of sorts; it is some-thing, though having no molecules of its own. Now, imagine that your car either accelerates or decelerates. The change, shift, or transition is, itself, a separate object, though quite related to both the car as object, and the motion as object.
Thoughts have transition: Similar to the car above, thoughts are also objects. However, the thoughts in the mind field not only interact with one another; they also come and go. Just imagine for a moment that you had mastery over that process of the coming and going of the thoughts, the transitions. With mastery over the transition process itself, you would gain tremendous insight and mastery over the thoughts themselves, as well as the subtlest inner transitions of mental process. Those subtle transitions are also objects themselves, subject to exploration and witnessing, as well as to setting aside through non-attachment (1.15).
Three subtle transitions are witnessed: You become witness not only to thoughts as we normally think of thoughts, but also to the transition process of how they are coming, being, and going.
Nirodhah: You become witness to the process of transitioning into mastery over thought patterns (nirodhah-parinamah, 3.9, 1.2), since that transition is an object.
Samadhi: You become witness to the process of transitioning into the higher state of meditation (samadhi-parinamah, 3.11), since that transition is an object.
Ekagra: You become witness to the process of transitioning into one-pointedness of mind (ekagra-parinamah, 3.12), since that transition is an object.
Mastery of transition brings mastery of thoughts: By mastering these three types of transition process, mastery can be gained over all of the particular thought patterns subject to these processes. It brings mastery over the life cycle process of the countless objects of the mind field. Samyama was introduced as the finer tool (3.4-3.6), and this process of dealing with transitions is a finer use of that tool. In this way, we come to see that purifying the mind does not mean a detailed psychological analysis of each thought, but rather, gaining mastery over the life cycle of those thoughts.
The transitions are later transcended: The inner journey of Yoga systematically encounters and then moves through layer after layer of experience, each time moving past another level of ignorance or avidya (2.5). While the mastery of the subtle transitions described in this section brings such a new level, it too is only a stage to experience. In the most subtle stages of practice, even these transitions are transcended through dharma-meghah samadhi. (4.32
Chapter 4 of the Yoga Sutras is entitled Kaivalya Pada, which means the chapter on final liberation. Chapter 4 explains how the mind is constructed and veils the inner light of the Self. It describes how the yogi deals with the natural breaches in enlightenment, and how the primal building blocks of the mind resolve back into their cause, allowing final liberation.
Meaning of Kaivalya: The fourth chapter of the Yoga Sutras is entitled "Kaivalya Pada." The word "Kaivalya" literally translates as "isolation." It is usually taken to mean liberation or enlightenment. However, the way in which "isolation" is a quite effective term is that pure consciousness or purusha is now standing alone, separate from all of the manifestations of prakriti, including literally all of the manifestations or swirlings of all levels of the mind field. In Sutra 1.16 supreme non-attachment is mentioned as a stage beyond the many other levels of attachment. Sutra 4.32 explains how the primary elements called gunas have finished their purpose and recede in perfect equilibrium into that from which they arose. These are aspects or byproducts of the process of the isolation (kaivalya) of pure consciousness (purusha).
Yoga Sutra 3.51: With non-attachment or desirelessness even for that supremacy over forms and states of existence and the omniscience (3.50), the seeds at the root of those bondages are destroyed, and absolute liberation is attained. (tad vairagya api dosa bija ksaya kaivalyam)
Yoga Sutra 3.53: By samyama over the moments and their succession, there comes the higher knowledge that is born from discrimination. (ksana tat kramayoh samyamat viveka-jam jnanam)
Yoga Sutra 3.56: With the attainment of equality between the purest aspect of sattvic buddhi and the pure consciousness of purusha, there comes absolute liberation, and that is the end. (sattva purusayoh suddhi samye kaivalyam iti)
Yoga Sutra 4.34: When those primary elements involve, or resolve themselves back into that out of which they emerged, there comes liberation, wherein the power of pure consciousness becomes established in its true nature.
(purusha artha sunyanam gunanam pratiprasavah kaivalyam svarupa pratistha va chiti shaktih iti)
Keeping it simple: A funny thing happens with Meditation—it is both very complex and utterly simple at the same time. Both the Beginning and Advanced stages have their own forms of simplicity to the process.
It is the middle ground, the Intermediate stages, where it can get confusing. In the very Beginning one simply sits, does a few basic practices, and experiences some degree of peace of mind. It seems pretty simple. Then, we start learning about philosophy and many other practices; it gets complicated, or so it seems.
The good news is that at the Advanced end of the spectrum, we return to simplicity, but of a much higher order. We come to see that all material objects are made only of fundamental elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space (and the more primal elements or gunas of sattvas, rajas, and tamas). We come to see beyond the vast contents of mind, to the fact that the instruments of mind and senses are not really so complex after all.
Soon, we come to see that all of the complexity comes down to a few simple principles, which merge into the Bindu or point of convergence, and thus to kaivalya, or liberation. We come to see that the point of convergence is one and the same with the original point of divergence. Pretty simple. Not easy to do, but simple
Dhyana (meditation) and Vichara (contemplation) are different, but complementary practices. With dhyana one suspends the inner use of language, the formation of words. With contemplation one utilizes language to ponder or reflect on principles. Gradually, however, meditation and contemplation work together and merge into one unified awareness of consciousness itself, standing alone. This was introduced here as being the drashtuh, the seer, and finally this realization leads to kaivalya, or absolute liberation, as previously discussed.
Throughout this and other courses, articles, and videos, you will see our ‘circle chart’ symbol used in a variety of ways as described in this video and in the download in Resources.
Questions about What to do with the Eight Rungs, the last of the three major sections of the Ashtanga Yoga course. These questions are intended to be extremely easy and to serve only as reminders, not to 'test' you to see if you 'pass' the course.
YOGA is a WHOLE LIFE process. Although each of our courses has an individual emphasis, they go hand-in-hand with the others as one process of Yoga. We presently have 9 online courses published through Udemy, including 8 in English and 1 in Dutch.
Abhyasa Ashram is a monastery and yoga meditation center which practices universal meditation and contemplation as taught by the ancient tradition of yogis of the cave monasteries of the Himalayas, especially as transmitted through the lineage of Swami Rama. The tradition has no name, and is not affiliated with any of the institutions or religions of the plains of India or other countries surrounding the Himalayas, although individual meditators may personally align themselves with a wide variety of religions or institutions. We may refer to the tradition as "the tradition of the Himalayan masters" or "the Himalayan tradition", but that is for the sake of convenience, and is not a style or brand name as is popular these days.
Our methods of meditation and contemplation involve systematic awareness of all levels of our being, including actions/senses, body, breath, mind, finally resting in the awareness of the Self (atman) which is one with the universal Self (brahman). At Abhyasa Ashram we have aspirant training, not teacher training. Our approach to training is mostly individual or group coaching, as Yoga meditation and contemplation has been traditionally taught for thousands of years. Aspirants with various degrees of experience naturally teach others within the context of their own lives and modes of service.
From the perspective of our meditation tradition, each person is perfect, pure consciousness (atman, purusha, shakti) at the core of her or his being. The entire process of yoga sadhana (meditation and contemplation practices) is to reduce the colorings of attractions, aversions, and fears that usually veil that realization (often called Self-realization). This is done by systematically receding inward through senses, body, breath, conscious and unconscious mind. The final barrier is removed through a transmission of grace, which is known as shaktipata, the bestowing of the pure consciousness of shakti. It is also known as guru kripa, grace of guru. In our tradition guru is a force field of consciousness, and is not any person, although that grace of guru can flow through a person.
At Abhyasa Ashram the word "Yoga" is used in its traditional meaning, rather than the revisionist meaning of Yoga as merely a gymnastic or physical fitness program. Yoga means “union" of the individual consciousness and universal consciousness, Atman and Brahman, Jivatman and Paramatman, as well as Shiva and Shakti. It is pure consciousness (Purusha) standing alone from primal manifestation (Prakriti).
Yoga is traditionally taught, practiced and learned through close relationships in a community of noble friends, known as kalyana-mitra. Guru is a stream of knowledge of direct experience which, though it may operate through a person, is itself not a person. While some participants in ashram activities have a theistic (god) orientation and others a non-theistic orientation, we virtually all intuit that there is only one, nondual (advaita), absolute reality even though it may appear to be dualistic.
Our purpose is to share with people who have an interest in the principles and practices of the Himalayan masters, including traditional Yoga Meditation, Vedanta, and internal, meditative Tantra. Our community of meditation and contemplation is devoted to serving those who deeply long for the direct experience of union with the eternal, pure center of consciousness, the bliss of being that is one with the absolute reality, as the wave who seeks to remember it is one with the ocean. One word for that union is "Yoga."
The word "Abhyasa" means "practices." Abhyasa is purposefully choosing to do that which leads to "sthitau," which is a stable, steady, undisturbed inner calmness or tranquility. Abhyasa is one of the twin foundations of Yoga, along with Vairagya, the mental stance of non-attachment (Yoga Sutras 1.12-1.16). The root of the word Ashram is "shrama," which means "effort" or "striving." The hermitage, home, or training center of a swami or other person serving people in their efforts towards inner peace and awakening of consciousness is often called an Ashram. Thus, our community of meditation, contemplation and learning is known as Abhyasa Ashram. More than any physical location, it is really a place of the heart, an inner sanctuary of silence.
In loving Service,
Swami Jnaneshvara (Swamiji, Swami J)
Swami Ma Tripurashakti (Ma Tri, Ma)
Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati was born in 1948 in Ohio, USA, spent most of his youth in Florida, and later lived in several other states, including California, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Texas. His education includes a BS in Management from Florida State University and an MA in Consciousness, with emphasis in Transpersonal Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, in California. He previously worked in advertising, retail store management, counseling and psychiatric social work. He was never married and has no children.
Spontaneously practicing meditation and other yogic practices from early childhood, Swami Jnaneshvara has been a student of the Himalayan Tradition of yoga meditation since 1986 when initiated in meditation by Swami Rama (10 years to the day prior to Swami Rama leaving the body). Several months later he met Pandit Usharbudh Arya, through whom supplemental training was given from time to time during the next few years. Swami Jnaneshvara was given novice monastic initiation in 1990, was ordained as a monk (swami) of the Himalayan tradition and the order of Shankaracharya in 1993 by Swami Rama, and was given one of the highest yogic initiations of direct experience in 1996, with final teachings and instructions being imparted shortly before Swami Rama left the body in November, 1996.
In 1998 and 1999 Swami Jnaneshvara received training, practices and grace from the venerated sage Naga Swami Hanuman Giri at the cave hermitages in the high Himalayas beyond Badrinath and Mana (He left the body in 2002). In 1999, initiation as Dandi Swami (a most honorific swami initiation in the Shankara tradition, in which a Danda, or staff is bestowed) was given at the bank of the Ganges in Haridwar, India by a highly revered Acharya (teacher) of Dandi Swamis, Acharya Dandi Swami Indradev Ashram. In 2000, the sage Vratti Baba of Kalimath, Himalayas passed on his initiatory transmissions at the time of his dropping the body (Vratti Baba was a long time friend and spiritual brother of Swami Rama). Swami Jnaneshvara has also been invited to be initiated as Mahamandaleshwar, said to be one of the highest leadership posts within the swami orders. The invitation has been respectfully declined so as to remain focused on the service work at hand.
From 1996-2012 Swami Jnaneshvara fascilitated month-long retreats at Swami Rama's Rishikesh, India ashram. Currently he resides at his Abhyasa Ashram in Florida USA, with far less travel than previous years. He has a significant presence in spreading traditional Yoga practices through internet, while serving a small number of visitors to the ashram.
Many share a similar story, is it not new, nothing special, but probably recognizable… There is a hunger, a longing, experiences in early childhood. An itch that won't leave you alone. A intuition that leads you on your way to freedom that keeps bringing you closer to your ineffable goal if you just keep following it… Not always easy, but with every step you know you have to take it. These were my steps…
Within a week after meeting Dandi Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (March 2009) I knew that I had finally found the one person that understood what I was longing for my whole life, and who was able to guide me to realize my longing. A whole life searching had brought me to this moment, it was an incredible moment to realize someone understood me completely and could help me. I had met Swami Jnaneshvara in Rishikesh – India, in his three week intensive meditation retreat at Sadhana Mandir Ashram (founded by Swami Rama; Swami Jnaneshvara's teacher). The result was that after that week I told him I was going the leave everything behind to knock on his door in Florida as soon as possible. Within 6 weeks after returning from India I was on a plane to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, US to knock on the door of Abhyasa Ashram, founded by Swami Jnaneshvara.
Since early childhood I intuitively felt the presence of something beyond this manifested world; non-duality. Growing up in a world that didn't seem to acknowledge this, I hid the longing to understand this feeling in my heart, just waiting for the right time to be expressed and pursued. My inner journey started approximately at 17, with Art school (although it actually starting when I was a few years old; like many of us we cannot really pinpoint the exact moment as it has been always a part of life). Here the foundation was laid of many principles, later to be understood yogic and tantric principles. But this did not satisfy my longing, so I kept looking.
One of my most precious memory of that time was when I was 19 years old. I was sitting with friends. We were sharing with each other what we would say if we had a few minutes in which the whole world was listening. What would be our statement, passion, truth? That night I wrote myself a letter that I would give myself 7 years to find this out, as I did not know how to formulate my passion, my longing, as it was a intuition without words. It was in the same month 7 years later that I met Swami Jnaneshvara. I knew what I found most important in life; Self-realization, to be free! Free of all attachment that bind you to the temporary, so that I can play in the temporary while being constantly aware of the Eternal, the True Self, Pure Consciousness, Tripura! I still have this letter as a reminder that guidance is present even when we don't consciously experience it.
At 21 I “officially" encountered Meditation (Yoga) for the first time. Along the journey it became clear that throughout my life I had many meditative experiences but did not know at the time what they were. Which is nothing special as I have met several people with stories like this, which is wonderful! I knew at this time that I had found a better way to deepen the understanding of the longing that lived in my heart. After first learning and teaching the merely preliminary steps of Yoga, I got to know a teacher that introduced me to the non-dual teaching of Vedanta; the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita at the age of 23. This teacher was not able to provide me a way of living I longed for (without yet knowing it existed). Full of reverence and gratitude I still love this teacher, as the teachings were pure and formed a foundation from which I later could receive the teachings of Swamiji. Somehow at that time the mind did not yet know of the existence of the path of renunciation, of swamis. The mind was waiting for this introduction (to the phenomenon of renunciation) until I met Swamiji, which took another year. After meeting Swamiji everything became clear, and with joy I understood that the path of renunciation was the path I was longing for all those years…
On March 15 2009 I was initiated as a novice swami, and on November 13 2012 I took sannsaya at the banks of the Ganges, this diksha was given by Swami Jnaneshvara… from now I carry the name Swami Ma Tripurashakti Bharati (Ma Tri, pronounced as “Ma Tree“) Now, I travel around the world between different places that are all one Home, to practice, serve, and share the teaching I received from Swami Jnaneshvara, the teaching of the Himalayan Tradition that are given to us by Swami Rama, that embrace the teachings of Yoga, Vedanta and Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra.