Monday, March 5, 2018

Yoking The Mind IS Yoga....

This mind is like a fish out of water that thrashes and throws itself about, its thoughts following each of its cravings. Such a mind is unsteady, attracted here, there, and everywhere. How good to contain it and know the happiness of freedom.

Yet, how unruly still; how subtle the delusion of the haphazard thoughts. To calm them is the true way of happiness.

Putting a bridle on the wandering mind, single-mindedly the practitioner restrains her thoughts. She contains their darting waywardness and finds peace.

With the fetishization and hyper-valuation of asana (the postural practice of yoga) in the contemporary “yoga community” it seems many, if not most, practitioners haven’t been told that the original meaning of yoga; the original practice of yoga was meditation, often described as a bridling or yoking of the mind. In fact, the word yoke is a cognate of the Sanskrit yoga, both tracing back to the Proto-Indo-European word yeug meaning “join.”

Now there have been many yoga practitioners who have taken this teaching about yoking the mind to go as far as saying that the best outcome would be to stop all thinking. In fact, many have translated the second aphorism of The Yoga-Sutra in just this way: “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness.” Even many buddhist yogis see deep states of non-conitive samadhi as some kind of end-goal and this has led to a pernicious anti-intellectualism in much popular, contemporary Buddhism and yoga.

However, intellectual rigor, study, and debate were always part of the various yoga traditions and it may be helpful to remember that “right thinking” is, after-all, the second of the eight limbs of the noble eightfold path of yoga practice taught by the Buddha.

We can take this teaching from the Dhammapada as pointing out that most of the thoughts that arise throughout our day are indeed of a scattered, wasteful, conditioned pattern of a mostly not very useful nature. Through meditation, in particular satipatthana or mindfulness-meditation, we can become more intimately familiar with our thinking so that we can contain the wasteful thinking in order to create a more stable and calm mind with which thinking can become more directed, skillful and creative.

It’s not too farfetched to say that the world is in the shape it is because very few ever get a chance to actually stop and investigate the nature of the mind. And so, people are mastered by their thoughts instead of them mastering their thoughts. The first important step in containing the mind is to first take an honest look at the mind that is unrestrained and untrained. When we take the time to do this, we can begin to see how much of the thinking that goes on causes us – and those around us – so much suffering. Training the mind, we can begin to create the peace in the world we say we seek.

All we need is to begin. Sit down comfortably in a suitable space where you won't be interrupted and just rest your attention on your breath. Soon enough, the mind will wander. Gently, free of adding any agitation or self-criticism, bring your attention back to your breath. And do this every time you mind wanders. Seeing how much the mind wanders is the first insight. Later, you can begin an inquiry into what kinds of things your mind wanders to. And all the while, each time you gently guide your attention back to the breath, you are cultivating the yoking skill of concentration.

Why not try it now?


  1. What do I need to do when, during meditation, I realize my mind keep going back to a suffering of the past and present?

    1. First of all, please avoid any self-recrimination. The untrained mind is -- as this passage above points out -- quite active, like a fish out of water! It is the nature of mind to wander from our meditation object.

      SO, what do we do when we see the mind has gone to some memory of past suffering? The same thing we are practicing when it goes to a past memory of joy, or a thought of planning or ruminating over something that is happening, has happened or might happened: simply, gently return your attention to your breath (or mantra) or whatever object you are working with in your meditation.

      The act of going back again and again and again, without giving in to self-judgement -- is the practice and cultivation of concentration.

      AND, if the mind seems just too agitated, maybe participating in a more active practice: prostrations or sun salutations. Take 15-minutes and do something physical and then sit again with your attention on the breath which will be rapid and shallow, and watch it settle.... Often, the settling of the breath coincides with the settling of the mind.

      Finally, if that hasn't helped, try Metta-Bhavana. Basic information on the practice can be found here at my blog from June 2011:

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