How Yoga Can Prepare Us for Death
óLindsey Swope, Twisp, WI
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that when the fluctuations of consciousness cease we have the experience of our true nature, which he calls the drastuh. The closest English equivalent we have for drastuh is the Witness, or Seer. In other texts it is called the Atman or Soul. Ultimately, all of the techniques of yoga are designed to facilitate this experience of soul, or Essence. When we are fortunate enough to have this experience, we begin to realize that deep within us is an awareness that is unconditioned and eternal. This realization is a crucial step in preparing for death because it allows us to make the distinction between the Seer and the Seen. The mind, the body, and the emotions are all part of the seen, which has only a temporary existence and is highly conditioned by our experience. If we attach ourselves to these things, wittingly or unwittingly we are inviting suffering because they will all come to an end.
The key to practicing a highly physical discipline like hatha yoga without becoming more attached to our physical form is to recognize that the intention of this practice is the refinement of awareness. asana and pPranayama are forms of tapas (which is translated literally "to burn")--physical practices that are done for the purpose of purification. Patanjali tells us that tapas eliminates impurities and cleanses and strengthens the Indriyas (the organs of perception), which include the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and mind. When the Indriyas are clean and strong, our discriminative faculty is greatly enhanced. We can move easily and clearly distinguish between the Seer and the Seen.
We begin to recognize that we are not the form we animate, but the force of animation itself. We have a body, but we are consciousness. The body is born; it grows, ages, and dies. The seer watches this process dispassionately. Pattabhi Jois says, "The body is just a rented house." Through the practice of hatha yoga, we keep the body clean and healthy so it lasts a long time, and at the same time we refine our awareness so we can realize that what dies is the outer covering. Essence endures.
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