Yoga Sutra 1.2
Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness. (translation by Georg Feuerstein)
The most commonly known authoritative text on Yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yoga sutras are a series of short and clear aphorisms about the workings of the human mind, written sometime between 500BC and 500AD. In the Yoga Sutras the goal of Yoga is defined as Kaivalya or liberation, and the means by which this is achieved is the cessation of mental activity. In other words the goal of Yoga is achieved through reducing mind to a minimum, mind less ness. Why is that? Is Yoga just the stilling of mental activity or is it what happens when mental activity is stilled? Of course most people practice yoga simply as a means to feel good and stay healthy, and may not be interested in the notion of final liberation. If you are a yoga practitioner, do you practice Yoga to feel good or to achieve enlightenment or freedom? If yoga is just a way to feel good and stay in shape then it is no different to Pilates, or any other well thought out exercise program, an alternative to going to the gym. However Yoga is or was a method of achieving enlightenment, it is said that Buddha was a Yogi. In that case it shares a platform with Buddhism, Sufism, Zen, and a host of other “spiritual” practices. This article is about that aspect of Yoga, the one that gave rise to its name, Union. The philosophical basis of Yoga is the Samkhya philosophy, which holds that all existence boils down to two basic entities, a non changing spectator and an ever changing show, or even simpler, that which changes, and that which recognizes change. Yoga is the method by which we can become aware of the non changing spectator. Mind is probably the most changeable thing in the whole universe, and so it definitely belongs as part of the show, not the spectator. In fact mind IS the show, whatever we call nature or reality or life, are in fact mental projections, concepts and ideas. So another way of explaining Yoga is to say that it is the attempt to use the mind to see what is beyond the mind. In one of the lovely ways that nature shows us the truth through its own operation, the mind is like a lake, brain waves are like ripples on the surface of the water. As long as there are ripples, then the water does not reflect anything, all you see is the waves, all you see is mind, there is no clarity. When the surface of the lake becomes still, it reflects like a mirror. So it is with mind, when it becomes still, it reflects the light which shines upon it, the light of the Soul. That light comes from beyond mind, and so beyond time and space and anything else you can think of. That is how it is and that is why ultimately Yoga is about being Mindless.
It should be noted that the consequences of achieving the mindless end state of Yoga is that one becomes more mindful in ones daily life. It is fear which creates the mental agitation and inability to focus and constant search for stimulation and attention that characterizes modern life, the fear of the insignificant human being in the face of the vast and unpredictable ocean of reality. This fear is without basis in fact and is a result of our identification with mind, confusing it with being. When we achieve mindlessness, we realize the truth of being which is beyond mind, absolute safety and freedom, so our mind relaxes and is able to perform without distraction. Like the other spiritual attributes such as non violence, compassion, non attachment, equanimity and love, mental presence is a by product of mindlessness, an effortless state of being, to be contrasted with the forceful attempts to become mindful or compassionate through the act of will and discipline.