I have been told that “yoga” means “union” and that union is the goal of yoga. My question is, union with what? The body with the soul? Union with consciousness?
The central focus of yoga is not the soul and not the body—it is the mind. The body is external and the soul is internal, but the mind, which stands between the body and the soul, is neither completely internal nor completely external. You have probably also been told that consciousness is all pervasive and lies at the core of your being, but until you catch hold of the mind, this is just another sweet statement. Problems are not created by consciousness and they are not created by the body. Problems are created by the mind, and these problems can only be solved by the mind. That is why the scriptures say, “Mind is the ground for both bondage and liberation.”
The central focus of yoga is not the soul and not the body—it is the mind.
While it is true that the literal meaning of “yoga” is “union,” for all practical purposes “yoga,” as defined by the great master Patanjali, refers to the attainment of mastery over the dynamic forces of the mind. Mastery begins with cultivating a peaceful and concentrated mind. Normally the mind vacillates, jumping from a disturbed state to a state of distraction, and from distraction to stupefaction. These three states lead us nowhere. A disturbed, distracted, and stupefied mind is unable to employ the body and senses to undertake a purposeful task. A jumpy monkey mind has no chance to accomplish anything or even to figure out what is right and what is not right. With such a mind you cannot work with your body, you cannot work with your consciousness, you cannot work with your relationships, you cannot even work at your job effectively. More to the point, such a mind fails to claim its innate right—mastery over the body and the surrounding world. That is why, before we can learn to unite the mind with either the body or with consciousness, it has to be purified, disciplined, and made one-pointed.
How does working with the mind bring about the experience of union?
When the mind is calm, harmonious, and concentrated, you gain right understanding of yourself and others. Your comprehension expands, enabling you to see the world and your place in it in a light charged with appreciation for what you truly are. Your list of complaints begins to dwindle. You are no longer uncomfortable with others or with the circumstances of your life, and so you begin to bask in a positive and joyful atmosphere, both in your internal world and outside yourself.
A tranquil and one-pointed mind is purposefully creative. With such a mind, you get more done in less time and, what is more, because it is done with clarity and purpose, the work you undertake is not a burden and does not become a source of misery.
A tranquil and one-pointed mind is purposefully creative.
A confused mind is not fit to follow any path. It is not even in a position to tell the body and senses what is good for them and what is not. That is why we go on complying with the urges of the body and senses whether or not these urges serve any purpose. A confused mind also fails to recognize its own inherent potential. Lacking complete understanding of itself, it fails to summon the power of will and determination—the two forces necessary to accomplish any task, sacred or mundane. Such a mind has no way of deciding what it should unite with or what it should separate from; this confusion is what causes a person to live a purposeless, meaningless life.
In contrast, a peaceful, one-pointed mind has a natural ability to see itself—its role and its place in relation to both body and soul. This ability allows the mind to command the body to discharge its duties to hear and heed the voice of the soul. The practices that help us acquire a one-pointed mind are called “yoga.” Reaching that state is the goal of yoga.
I don’t understand why these changes come about just because the mind is still.
The mind is comprised of four distinct faculties: the first faculty simply thinks, argues, and debates; the second identifies itself with the objects of the world and with its own thought processes; the third, the decisive faculty, discriminates between that which is good and useful and that which is unwholesome and meaningless; the fourth faculty is the retentive power—the power to recollect and string together different segments of information in proper order. These four distinct faculties work together only when the mind is one-pointed and concentrated.
This linking process is called “yoga.”
When these different aspects of the mind are not linked, there is no continuity among thought, speech, and action. You say one thing and do the opposite, because the various aspects of your mind are not working in coordination. There are gaps and inconsistencies in your thought, speech, and action. But when you are able to link these three so that there is a continuity of awareness from thought to speech and from speech to action, you become a yukta, a person growing in yoga. You trust yourself and others trust you. This linking process is called “yoga.”
When the four aspects of the mind are not linked and there is no continuity among your thought, speech, and action, the mind is disturbed, distracted, and stupefied. Such a mind has no faith in its own perception or in its own decisions. It knows it is disturbed, dull, and incapacitated, and this recognition undermines its trust in itself. And this lack of self-trust forces it to turn to sources outside itself for right comprehension (although it does this only half-heartedly).
After all, if the mind cannot trust itself, how can it know whether it has chosen a reliable outside source? That is why, in the search for self-realization, we go on knocking on one door after another—moving from one teacher to another, one therapist to another, and consulting various self-help books. Only when the mind becomes still does it begin to see itself and the reality inherent within it.
When the mind becomes still, what happens?
Tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam—you simply see yourself as you are (Yoga Sutra 1.3). When the mind becomes still, it withdraws all its illusory projections and your perception is no longer distorted—you perceive yourself and the objects of the world as they are, not as you imagine them to be. And once the mind has become still, you begin to see that it is as pervasive as consciousness itself—in fact, you come to know that the mind is an evolution of consciousness. From a place of stillness you can see that the mind is a tool endowed with unlimited capacities.
So make your mind one-pointed. And then sit on the firm ground of that still, composed mind and watch the world. From that vantage point you will see that nothing in life is disappointing. Everything has a purpose. When you participate in the world and worldly activities skillfully and wisely, their meaning becomes apparent—they are the tools and means for fulfilling a higher purpose: the attainment of ultimate freedom.
So make your mind one-pointed. And then sit on the firm ground of that still, composed mind and watch the world.
With a calm, one-pointed mind you can enjoy the world’s short-lived pleasures without being ensnared by them. You can use the objects of the world to derive pleasure, then study the nature of these pleasures with a tranquil, concentrated mind and see how much they cost in terms of time and energy. What did you really get in return? Once you have seen that, you can decide if you want to repeat these pleasures ten thousand more times, or be free from them and devote your energy to attaining that which brings lasting joy.