The True Nature of Yoga: Stretching the Boundaries of Consciousness by Dr. Barbara Steinman

• The state of yoga is accomplished by a meditation technique that transcends physical and mental activity and allows one to experience the state of restful alertness or pure consciousness
• During this state, the body gains deep rest and the brain functions with greater coherence
• All that’s required is correct meditation practice—the technique of effortless transcending

Although yoga is a household word and yoga asanas are practiced by millions, many people are unaware of what yoga really is. The Sanskrit word yoga means ‘union’ and refers to the union of the individual self (jiva) with the higher Self (Atman) and, ultimately, with the supreme Self—Paramatman, or Brahman. More than simply a path, yoga denotes the goal of spiritual practice: union of the individual with the totality of cosmic existence, union of human life with the totality of Natural Law, or those who prefer religious language might call it the Divine.

Revival of ancient wisdom: Fifty years ago, when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi first began traveling around the world teaching his Transcendental Meditation technique, yoga was virtually unknown in the West. Time magazine ascribes the explosion of interest in yoga in the United States to Maharishi’s revival of the ancient Vedic wisdom in this country. In fact, Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation program is deeply rooted in the timeless wisdom of yoga, which is derived from the ancient Vedic literature of India.

To most Americans, yoga means physical postures (asana), which tone the body and promote health and well-being. But this is just a small part of yoga as revealed in the ancient Vedic text, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Maharishi explains that throughout the ages, Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga (literally, ‘eight-limbed yoga’) has been greatly misunderstood.

While Patanjali clearly speaks of eight limbs of yoga, all interconnected just as the limbs of the body form one whole, commentators in India and the West have interpreted Patanjali’s yoga system as a series of eight stages or steps, culminating in samadhi—the state of yoga, the Atman, the Self. Aspirants were therefore advised to begin at the bottom rung of this imaginary ladder and work their way up, slowly and tediously, until some day the goal of samadhi is attained. Among the eight ‘steps’ of this viewpoint, asana, or physical postures, has eclipsed the others and come to be known as ‘yoga’.

Maharishi’s profound insight into the Vedic wisdom turns this false interpretation of yoga most fittingly on its head! Using the analogy of a table, Maharishi explains that all the limbs of yoga are connected like the legs of a table. When you pull on one leg, the whole table follows. But some legs are easier to pull than others, and if you are wise, you will pull the simplest leg and accomplish the goal in least time and with least effort.

The body is a heavy, somewhat stiff, material object. Bending the body, as in the practice of yoga asanas, requires patient effort and training and may take a lifetime (if you’re lucky) to reach the ‘superfluid’ state of pure consciousness, or samadhi.

The mind, however, is infinitely flexible. We all experience in our thoughts or imagination that we can go anywhere in the twinkling of an eye; we can accomplish anything. The mind is ethereal, without substance. It is therefore very easy to ‘bend’ the mind in the direction of its source—pure, self-referral consciousness. With its innate flexibility, the mind naturally and instantaneously moves toward samadhi once it has learned the proper technique.

Transcendental Consciousness—the true state of yoga: The Transcendental Meditation technique is such a practice. The TM technique makes use of the mind’s natural tendency to seek greater happiness. The technique effortlessly turns the attention within and gently, systematically leads the mind to quieter, more refined levels of thinking. The meditator transcends even the finest level of thought and reaches a state of absolute silence, peace and inner contentment—a field of unbounded bliss. In this state of samadhi, all the fluctuations and diverse tendencies of the mind merge into unified wholeness, the yoga state of consciousness. Through this effortless, enjoyable practice twice daily, the meditator hits the target and the supreme level of yoga is achieved.

The Eight Limbs: Once yoga (samadhi) has been stabilized through regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, all the other limbs of yoga naturally, spontaneously follow. Just as the legs of a table move in unison, all eight limbs of yoga develop simultaneously through repeated experience of samadhi, the highest or foremost limb. Maharishi likens this to ‘capturing the fort:’ you capture the fort on top of the hill, and all the riches of the territory automatically belong to you. This principle of the ‘highest first’ reveals the secret of all success in life: first establish yourself in the state of yoga—Transcendental Consciousness, the Self—and then, functioning from your full creative potential, you have the wherewithal to more effortlessly achieve all that you desire. This is why the Bhagavad Gita, also called the ‘text of yoga’, advises:

Yogasthah kuru karmani
‘Established in yoga, Transcendental Consciousness, perform action.’
And:
Yogah karmasu kaushalam
‘Yoga is skill in action.’

The regular alternation of deep silence (meditation) and daily activity stabilizes the awareness in the state of yoga (samadhi), so that throughout all the changing phases of life, one remains unshakably established in the Self. At the same time, Maharishi’s Vedic Science promotes all the limbs of yoga through its specific approaches, including neuromuscular integration (asana); neurorespiratory integration (pranayama); the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi Programs—an advanced Transcendental Meditation practice, which incorporates the three ‘highest’ limbs of yoga: dharana, dhyana, and samadhi; and, finally, through other approaches of Maharishi’s Vedic Science, which cover the areas corresponding to yama, niyama, and pratyahara. So even as all the limbs are automatically nourished* through one simple practice—the Transcendental Meditation technique—they are further enlivened through the specific approaches that comprise Maharishi’s holistic comprehensive Vedic Science.

The current upswing of yoga around the world testifies to the growing awakening in world consciousness. Whether you are a devout yoga practitioner or an armchair yogi, through the Transcendental Meditation technique you can realize the ultimate goal of yoga—enlightenment.

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Do We Have a Soul? A Scientific Answer ~Robert Lanza, M.D.

Does your cat or dog have a soul? What about a flea?

In the last century, science has undergone several revolutions, with profound implications for answering this ancient spiritual question.

Traditionally, scientists speak of the soul in a materialistic context, treating it as a poetic synonym for the mind. Everything knowable about the “soul” can be learned by studying the functioning of the human brain. In their view, neuroscience is the only branch of scientific study relevant to one’s understanding of the soul. The soul is dismissed as an object of human belief, or reduced to a psychological concept that shapes our cognition and understanding of the observable natural world. The terms “life” and “death” are thus nothing more than the common concepts of “biological life” and “biological death.”

Of course, in most spiritual and religious traditions, a soul is viewed as emphatically more definitive than the scientific concept. It is considered the incorporeal essence of a person or living thing, and is said to be immortal and transcendent of material existence.

The current scientific paradigm doesn’t recognize this spiritual dimension of life. The animating principle in humans and other animals are the laws of physics. As I sit here in my office, surrounded by piles of scientific books and journal articles, I cannot find any reference to the soul or spirit, or any notion of an immaterial, eternal essence that occupies our being. Indeed, a soul has never been seen under an electron microscope, nor spun in the laboratory in a test tube or ultra-centrifuge. According to these books, nothing appears to survive the human body after death.

While neuroscience has made tremendous progress illuminating the functioning of the brain, why we have a subjective experience remains mysterious. The problem of the soul lies exactly here, in understanding the nature of the self, the “I” in existence that feels and lives life. But this isn’t just a problem for biology and cognitive science, but for the whole of Western natural philosophy itself.

What we have to understand is that our current worldview −- the world of objectivity and naïve realism — is beginning to show fatal cracks. Of course, this will not surprise many of the philosophers and other readers who, contemplating the works of men such as Plato, Socrates and Kant, and of Buddha and other great spiritual teachers, kept wondering about the relationship between the universe and the mind of man.

Recently, biocentrism and other scientific theories have also started to challenge the traditional, materialistic model of reality. In all directions, the old scientific paradigm leads to insoluble enigmas, to ideas that are ultimately irrational. But our worldview is catching up with the facts, and the old physico-chemical paradigm is rapidly being replaced with one that can address some of the core questions asked in every religion: Is there a soul? Does anything endure the ravages of time?

Life and consciousness are central to this new view of being, reality and the cosmos. Although the current scientific paradigm is based on the belief that the world has an objective observer-independent existence, real experiments have suggested just the opposite. We think life is just the activity of atoms and particles, which spin around for a while and then dissipate into nothingness like a dust funnel. But if we add life to the equation, we can explain some of the major puzzles of modern science, including Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the double-slit experiment, entanglement, and the fine-tuning of the laws that shape the universe as we perceive it.

Importantly, this has a direct bearing on the question of whether humans and other living creatures have souls. As Kant pointed out over 200 years ago, everything we experience — including all the colors, sensations and objects we perceive — are nothing but representations in our mind. Space and time are simply the mind’s tools for putting it all together. Now, to the amusement of idealists, scientists are beginning dimly to recognize that those rules make existence itself possible. Indeed, experiments suggest that particles only exist with real properties if they are observed. One point seems certain: the nature of the universe can’t be divorced from the nature of life itself. If you separate them from each other, reality ceases to exist.

We are more than the sum of our biochemical functions. Even the tiniest flea is an incredibly complex living creature, with mouth-parts adapted to feeding on the blood of your cat or dog. They have long legs that allow them to jump up to 13 inches (200 times their own body length, making them one of the best jumpers of all known animals). They have little eyes and antenna, and possess sensory cells that transmit messages to the brain. In fact, they possess all the structures that coordinate sense perception and experience (they can even be trained to perform amazing tricks).

Whether person or flea, the experimental findings of quantum theory suggest that the content of the mind is the ultimate reality, paramount and limitless. Without consciousness, space and time are nothing. From this viewpoint, by virtue of being a living creature, you can never die (see “What Happens When You Die?” and “Is Death the End?”). And the same thing goes for your little dog, too.

Voltaire, the great enlightenment writer and philosopher, once said, “Nobody thinks of giving an immortal soul to a flea.” Now, nearly 300 years later, the mass of accumulated scientific evidence suggests we may have to.
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Robert Lanza, M.D. has published extensively in leading scientific journals and has over two dozen medical and scientific books, including “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe.” You can learn more about his work at http://www.robertlanza.com.

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