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Teaching Context

Understanding how the practice of yoga fits into the scheme other traditional practices can bring depth and sensitivity to your teaching.

By Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati

The Three Pairs

These six classical darshana can be described as forming pairs, each pair consisting of an experiential method and a method of intellectual rationalization. Each pair feeds the two main areas of human life, knowledge (jnana) and action (karma). These philosophies are part of a progressive and systematic process in which each pair takes us to a higher and more complete vision of human existence, just as the view from an airplane is much more complete than the view from the ground.

Each philosophy builds on the other and expands our awareness of who we are. For example, we use Nyaya to develop a logical mind in order to be able to pursue correct method in philosophical enquiry. Vaisheshika allows us to understand the material world we live in, which is the basis for deeper enquiry. Therefore, this first pair, Vaisheshika and Nyaya, relate to the study of the visible world of matter.

Yoga and Samkhya

Yoga and Samkhya form the second pair. Yoga and Samkhya relate to the invisible world, the subtle and more permanent realms of existence. Samkhya is the theoretical aspect and Yoga is experiential method, the application of techniques that allow us to experience the subtle. Yoga is an exploration of the microcosm, the inner realms of the living being which are a reflection of the macrocosm described by Samkhya.

Yoga is not an ultimate philosophy in itself, but part of a larger scheme of study and practice designed to take us further and further towards an experience of truth and an understanding of how life operates. Yoga is a process of refining our awareness by disconnecting from limited sensory perception and opening to the higher and more powerful awareness beyond the senses. Yoga refines the mind into a powerful instrument, and then teaches us to absorb the little mind into the Self via exalted states of Samadhi.

Yoga teaches us how to develop the dormant parts of ourselves, to develop the latent instruments of higher knowledge, and to develop various skills and abilities which lie within the brain and the subtle bodies. When these dormant areas are developed, they allow us to explore this amazing body-mind in which consciousness resides. Without conscious self-development, we are unable to see past the veil of matter, are caught in a very limited existence, and may feel trapped by life. By working on these subtle structures--for example, the third eye, Ajna Chakra--we are able to refine our perception and expand our awareness so as to see and experience more and more of life. We begin to develop a sense of purpose and understanding of our place in the scheme of existence.

Samkhya provides a model, a framework which describes the spectrum of human and macrocosmic existence from the most gross to the most subtle. It describes the various components of the human being from the gross elements that make up the gross body to the more subtle elements, including the organs of perception and the organs of the mind, all the way up to consciousness. Samkhya gives us a framework to organise our practice.

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