- Obstacles in Meditation and How to Overcome Them

Obstacles in Meditation and How to Overcome Them

Hurdles

From a photo by Tejo Coen.

Part 10 in the Commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, by Swami Nirmalananda Giri

27. His designator [vachaka] is ‘Om’ [Pranava].

Usually, vachaka means that which is denoted by speech, in this case meaning that Ishwara is designated by the Pranava–by the sacred syllable OM. But it can also mean the spoken form of something that has a very real connection with the object of which it is the vachaka–and sometimes is the same as the object. This is the case with mantras, and that is why it is often said that God and His Name are really the same thing. Om embodies Brahman.

Further, this verse can legitimately be considered to mean that Ishwara projects the creation through the vibration (“utterance”) of Om, that Ishwara “speaks” or projects the creative Vibration that is Om, and in this way all things come into existence, Om being the seed of all things.

28. Its constant repetition and meditation on its meaning.

It is a mystery as to why this verse is so terse. Does it mean that the japa and meditation of Om are to be done continually, or is it being recommended as a temporary or occasional practice only in relation to the following verse?

29. From it (result) the disappearance of obstacles and turning inward of consciousness.

This is quite clear. Now Patanjali enumerates the obstacles and their effects on us.

30. Disease [vyadhi], languor [styana], doubt [samshaya], carelessness [pramada], laziness [alasya], worldly-mindedness [avirati], delu­sion [bhranti-darshana], non-achievement of a stage [alabdhabhumikatva], instability [anavashtitatvani], these (nine) cause the distraction of the mind and they are the obstacles.

These are too important to not look at closely. After the definition of each I will give I. K. Taimni’s comments from The Science of Yoga.

  • Vyadhi:

Disease of the body. “This is obviously a hindrance in the path of the Yogi because it draws the mind again and again to the physical body and makes it difficult to keep it directed inwards. Perfect health is a necessity for treading the path of Yoga and that is, no doubt, one of the reasons why the author has included Asana and Pranayama, two practices of Hatha Yoga, in his system.”

  • Styana:

Dullness; languor, debility; drooping state. “Some people have an apparently healthy physical body but lack nerve power so that they always feel below par and disinclined to take up any work requiring prolonged exertion. This chronic fatigue is in many cases psychological in origin and due to the absence of any definite and dynamic purpose in life. In other cases it is due to some defect in the Pranamaya Kosha which results in an inadequate supply of vital force to the physical body. Whatever its cause it acts as an obstacle because it undermines all efforts to practice Sadhana.”

  • Samshaya:

Doubt; suspicion. “An unshakeable faith in the efficacy of Yoga and its methods is a sine qua non for its successful practice. Such faith is needed in achieving success in any line of endeavor but more so in this line because of the peculiar conditions under which the Yogi has to work. In the Divine adventure which he has undertaken the objective is unknown and there are no clearly defined standards by which he can judge and measure his progress. Doubts of various kinds are therefore liable to arise in his mind. Is there really any Reality to be realized or is he merely pursuing a mirage? Are the methods he is using really effective? Are those methods the right methods for him? Has he the capacity to go through all the obstacles and reach the goal? These and other doubts of a similar nature are liable to assail his mind from time to time especially when he is passing through the periods of depression which come inevitably in the path of every aspirant. It is at these times that he needs Sraddha–un­shakeable faith in his objective, in himself and in the methods which he has adopted. It may not be possible to avoid these periods of depression and doubt especially in the early stages but it is his behavior and reaction to them which show whether he has true faith or not. If he can ignore them even though he feels them, he comes out of the shade into the sunshine again and resumes his journey with renewed enthusiasm. If he allows these doubts and moods to interfere with his Sadhana and relaxes his efforts, they acquire an increasing hold on his mind until he is completely side-tracked and abandons the path altogether.”

  • Pramada:

Carelessness; fault; guilt. “This is another obstacle which besets the path of many aspirants for the Yogic life. It has the effect of relaxing the mind and thus undermines its concentration. Some people are careless by nature and when they come into the field of Yoga they bring their carelessness with them. Carelessness is a weakness which prevents a man from achieving eminence in any line of endeavor and con­demns him to a mediocre life. But in the field of Yoga it is not only an obstacle but a great danger and the careless Yogi is like a child who is allowed to play with dynamite. He is bound to do himself serious injury sooner or later. No one should think of treading this path who has not conquered the habit of carelessness and learnt to pay careful attention not only to important things of life but also to those which are considered unimportant.”

  • Alasya:

Laziness; idleness; apathy; sloth. “This is another habit which results in a distracted condition of the mind. Although it results in the same kind of ineffectiveness in life as in the case of languor it is yet different. It is a bad mental habit acquired by continued yielding to the love of comfort and ease and tendency to avoid exertion. If we may say so, languor is a purely physical defect while laziness is generally a purely psychological condition. A restoration to health automatically cures the former but a prolonged discipline based on the execution of hard and difficult tasks is the only means of curing the latter.”

  • Avirati:

Hankering after objects; non-dispassion; sensual indulgence; lack of control; non-restraint. “The worldly man is so immersed in the interests pertaining to his outer life that he does not get time even to think about the real problems of life. And there are many people who pass through life without having ever given any serious thought to these problems. When a person takes to the path of Yoga as a result of the dawning of Viveka and of his becoming alive to the illusions of life the momentum of the past is still behind him and it is not so easy to shut out the interests of the worldly life suddenly and completely. These hankerings after the objects of the world still continue to trouble him and cause serious distraction in his mind. Of course, all depends upon the reality of the Viveka. If we really see the illusions which are inherent in the pursuit of worldly objects like wealth, honour, name etc. then we lose all attraction for them and naturally give up their pursuit. But if the Viveka is not real–is of the pseudo-variety–the result of mere ‘thinking’, then there is constant struggle between the desires which drag the mind outside and the will of the Yogi who tries to make the mind dive within. Thus, worldly-mindedness can be a serious cause of Vikshepa.”

  • Bhranti-darshana:

Delusion; erroneous view. “This means taking a thing for what it is not. It is due generally to lack of intelligence and discrimination. A Sadhaka may, for example, begin to see lights and hear sounds of various kinds during his early practices. These things are very spurious and do not mean much and yet there are many Sadhakas who get excited about these trivial experiences and begin to think they have made great progress. Some think that they have reached high states of consciousness or are even foolish enough to think that they have seen God. This incapacity to assess our supernormal experiences at their proper worth is basically due to immaturity of soul and those who cannot distinguish between the essential and non-essential things in spiritual unfoldment find their progress blocked at a very early stage. They tend to get entangled in these spurious experiences of a psychic nature and are soon side-tracked. It is easy to see that the unhealthy excitement which accompanies such undesirable conditions of the mind will cause great distraction and prevent it from diving inwards.”

  • Alabdhabhumikatva:

Non-achievement of a stage; inability to find a footing. “The essential technique of Yoga consists, in the earlier stages, in establishing the mind firmly in the stages of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, and after Samadhi has been attained, in pushing steadily, step by step, into the deeper levels of consciousness. In all these stages change from one state to another is involved and this is brought about by persistent effort of the will. Sometimes this passage is easy and comes after a reasonable amount of effort. At other times the Yogi seems to make no progress and a dead wall appears to be facing him. This failure to obtain a footing in the next stage can cause distraction and disturb the perfect equanimity of the mind unless the Yogi has developed inexhaustible patience and capacity for self-surrender.”

  • Anavashtitatvani:

Unsteadiness; instability of mind; inability to find a footing; mental unsteadiness. “Another kind of difficulty arises when the Yogi can get a foothold in the next stage but cannot retain it for long. The mind reverts to its previous stage and a considerable amount of effort has to be put forth in order to regain the foothold. Of course, in all such mental processes reversions of this nature are to a certain extent unavoidable. But it is one thing to lose one’s foothold in the next stage because only practice makes perfect and another thing to lose it because of the inherent fickleness of the mind. It is only when the instability is due to the inherent unsteadiness of the mind that Vikshepa can be said to be present and special treatment is called for.”

31. (Mental) pain [dukha], despair [daurmanasya], nervousness [angamejayatva] and hard breathing [shvasa-prashvasa] are the symptoms of a distracted condition of mind [vikshepa-sahabhuvah].

Dukha is pain; suffering; misery; sorrow; grief; unhappiness; stress; that which is unsatisfactory. Daurmanasya is despair, depression etc., caused by mental sickness; feeling of wretchedness and miserableness. Angamejayatva is shaking of the body; lack of control over the body. Shvasa-prashvasa is hard breathing; inspiration and expiration. These are the symptoms of a mental state that is outward-turned and impelled toward–and absorbed in–externalities.

32. For removing these obstacles there (should be) constant practice of one truth or principle.

The meaning of this is so simple that most commentators miss it. Yet both Vyasa and Shankara comment that it means the practice of meditation on the One, and continual awareness of the One outside of meditation. This will unify the mind which is the producer of the problems listed in the previous sutra when it becomes fragmented or scattered by being divided by sensory experience. The only cure for this is unifying the mind by means of meditation. When practiced for a sufficient amount of time, the state of unity can be maintained in the mind even when dealing with the multiplicities of ordinary existence.

More on the Yoga Sutras.

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