Light on Life
Light on Life is subtitled “The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom” and this sums up the two key themes of the book: the destination of the journey, and the practice of yoga as the means by which this journey can be undertaken successfully.
The book is about progressive integration towards the core of being.
The journey of writing Light on Life started when John J Evans, who first met Guruji in 1978 and has collaborated with him on many projects, and Douglas Abrams, who had co-authored books with a number of spiritual leaders including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, visited Guruji in Pune for about 10 days.
One possible structure for the book that someone suggested to them was to present the yogic journey in the form of an external quest, rather like a medieval knight seeking the holy grail. This metaphor suggests that the goal is always somewhere else and never where you are and it is a metaphor that does not fit yoga. Something that Gita said suggested that they could keep the idea of a journey, but an inward journey, and use the 5 koshas as a structure for the book. By the end of their visit, the structure of the book had been determined: chapters based around each the 5 koshas are preceded by an introductory chapter entitled “The Inward Journey”, and followed by a final chapter called “Living in Freedom”, corresponding to Patanjali’s final chapter, the Kaivalya pàda.
The kosas … include our energetic body (pranamaya kosa), our mental body (manomaya kosa), our intellectual body (vijnaaamaya kosa), and our soul body (anandamaya kosa). When these bodies or sheaths are misaligned or clash with one another, we inevitably encounter the alienation and fragmentation that so trouble our world
The first chapter lays out the yogic journey as guiding us from our periphery (our body) to the centre of our being (our soul). Most people think of the “body” as simply the physical body (annamaya kosha) but in yoga, this is simply the outermost layer encompassing the other 4 subtle bodies.
Spirituality is not some external goal that one must seek but a part of the divine core of each of us, which we must reveal. For the yogi, spirit is not separate from body. Spirituality, as I have tried to make clear, is not ethereal and outside nature but accessible and palpable in our very own bodies.
Guruji goes on to explain how the eight petals of yoga are encountered as we journey through the kosha of the body. He ends the chapter by stressing that this spiritual inward journey does not involve a rejection of the natural world. On the contrary, to a yogi, the path lies entirely within the domain of nature.
Chapter 2, entitled “Stability”, focuses on the physical sheath (annamaya kosha) and consequently talks a great deal about the practice of àsanas. It starts by defining the true nature of health and then goes into a great deal of invaluable detail about how to practise the àsanas. There is a fascinating section on pain and a description of how, whilst striving to reach perfection, yoga practitioners should be content with progressing in small steps. In this chapter, Guruji is exhorting us to practise the àsanas with our souls and to see them as much, much more than physical exercises
Many people focus on the past or the future to avoid experiencing the present, often because the present is painful or difficult to endure. In yoga class, many students think that they must simply “grit their teeth and bear it” until the teacher tells them they can come out of the àsana. This is seeing yoga as callisthenics and is the wrong attitude. The pain is there as a teacher, because life is filled with pain. In the struggle alone, there is knowledge. Only when there is pain will you see the light. Pain is your guru. As we experience pleasures happily, we must also learn not to lose our happiness when pain comes. As we see good in pleasure, we should learn to see good in pain. Learn to find comfort even in discomfort. We must not try to run from the pain but to move through and beyond it. This is the cultivation of tenacity and perseverance, which is a spiritual attitude toward yoga. This is also the spiritual attitude towards life.
The third chapter,“Vitality”, examines the energetic body (pranamaya kosha), and focuses on the practice of pranayama and on pratyahara (withdrawal). As a very young man, Guruji was told by his guru that he was not suitable for the practice of pranayama, but years of intense asana practice adapted and transformed his body so that he became capable of practising pranayama. He points out that pranayama is not simply deep breathing but is a technique for generating cosmic vital energy. He describes in detail the importance and the benefits of pranayama practice and how it is central to dealing with stress and other emotional disturbances. There is an interesting section here in which Guruji draws a distinction between a feeling and an emotion. Only human beings are capable of remembering how they felt at a specific time. When this feeling is petrified and retained in the memory it becomes an emotion. Holding emotions in our hearts can be damaging because the original feelings can return even when the circumstances that created them are long gone. The six emotional disturbances (lust, pride, obsession, anger hatred and greed) are described; in the section on lust, for example, Guruji does not advocate celibacy but describes sexuality as natural and sacred.
Yoga does not use the word power very often. Yet it is implicit in all mentions of the ego. The ego seeks power because it seeks self-perpetuation; it seeks at all costs to avoid its own inevitable demise. To achieve that impossible end, it devises a thousand ruses. Sexuality is essentially the beauty of birds nesting in spring. Is this nature’s joy or is it a sin? But what has ego done to procreation, to the harmonious union of complementary opposites? It has twisted it into an act of egoic self-affirmation. Lust is self-validation through consumption. Control through the exercise of power. When the emergence of the human ego came into the world, it altered the act of procreation. It converted it to an existential proof of being through an act of consumption, not consummation.
In the section on pratyahara, Guruji describes how the energies created by practice (abhyasa) need to be matched and balanced by the prudence of detachment (vairagya), so that the spinning and expanding energy generated by practice does not spin out of control.
Chapter 4,”Clarity”, is about the mental body (manomaya kosha), and in it Guruji talks about the inner workings of consciousness; this is really a chapter about “yogic psychology”. Yoga distinguishes between what Guruji refers to as the I-shape (ahamkara), which is our individual awareness and identification with self, the mind (manas), which has “cleverness” as its specific quality, and the intelligence (buddhi) which is reflexive and capable of discernment. This division of consciousness into three parts is reminiscent of Freud’s description of the id, the ego and the superego, but it could be said that Freud is simply describing three components of mind (manas). The chapter ends with a fascinating section on memory
Memory is useful if it helps to prepare you for the future, to know whether or not you are moving forward. Use it to develop. Memory is useless if it brings about repetition of the past. Repetition means to live in memory. If repetition is taking place, then memory retards the path of evolution. Do not live in memory. Memory is only the means to know whether we are fully aware and evolving. Never think of yesterday. Only go back if you feel you are doing something wrong. Use yesterday’s experience as a springboard. Living in the past or longing to repeat previous experience will only stagnate intelligence.
In Chapter 5, “Wisdom”, Guruji looks at the intellectual body (vijnanamaya kosha); the mind leads to thoughts whereas the intellect leads to discernment and wisdom. He describes how our individual intelligence (buddhi) is merely an offshoot of cosmic intelligence (mahat), which is the organising system of the universe, and how yoga can transform the mind. This chapter also covers the six and seventh petals of yoga: concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana). Guruji stresses that meditation is not something that we should do, but rather something that we should achieve
Where meditation is concerned, I am a purist. I must be; I am a yogi. That does not mean there is anything wrong with attending meditation classes to relieve stress and achieve relaxation. It is simply that as a practising yogi, I have to declare the truth; you cannot meditate from a starting point of stress, or bodily infirmity. Meditation is the Olympic final for yoga.
Chapter 6, entitled “Bliss”, looks at the divine, or soul, body (anandamaya kosha) and talks about the eighth petal of yoga; samadhi.
Samàdhi has to come on its own. It is inexpressible. You cannot even ask someone who has been in meditation,”Did you meditate for two hours?” How could he know? It is a state outside time. Meditation is going from the known to the unknown, and then coming back to the known. It is impossible to say I am going to meditate, or I meditated for two hours. If we know it lasted two hours, we were in self and not in the Infinite where time, in the linear sense, no longer exists. This holds true even more of samàdhi. Nobody can say “I am in samàdhi.” One cannot talk or communicate. Samàdhi is an experience where the existence of “I” disappears. Explanation can only come through the presence of “I”, so samàdhi cannot be explained.
There are problems with samadhi, as there are with every other petal of yoga. For example, if someone asks the question of a saint, “Are you a saint?” there is no truthful answer. As it is an experience out of time and space, with no historical record, what is the answer? If a saint says, “Yes, I am,” he becomes a non-saint, a liar in that moment because he is not in samadhi when he replies. He can reply only from his present self. If he replies “No, I am not,” he is a liar too as he has touched the state of samàdhi and seen the ultimate reality. It is not a question that can be asked or answered
The concluding chapter of the book, “Living in Freedom” explains that samadhi is not a state to be lived in, but rather a transformatory experience, and even after it has been achieved the yogi still has to live in the everyday world. It talks about the first two petals of yoga, yama and niyama, and also has an inspiring section on savasana. Guruji points out that we are only aware of the passing of time because of things moving and changing; achieving complete stillness in savasana frees us from this. The book ends with a few pages describing some asanas that can be done to help achieve emotional stability