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Ashtanga Yoga
Yogic Path of Attaining Absolute Truth

These teachings of yoga are described in the Yoga Darshan by Maharishi Patanjali, the main scripture on the philosophy and practical teachings for perfecting the state of nirvikalpa samadhi.

They are the practical application of the path of jnana. They purify the mind and prepare the body for meditation. Ashtanga yoga has eight steps or "limbs". These limbs are:

  1. Yamas -- restraints for one's external tendencies or behavior:
    1. Ahimsa -- non-violence in thought, word, and deed
    2. Satya -- truthfulness, honesty
    3. Asteya -- non-stealing
    4. Brahmacharya -- celibacy, continence
    5. Aparigraha -- non-possessiveness
  2. Niyamas -- self-control over one's internal tendencies
    1. Shauch -- Internal and external purity
    2. Santosh -- Contentment
    3. Tapas -- Austerity
    4. Swadhyaya -- Scriptural study
    5. Ishwar pranidhan -- Surrender to God
  3. Asana - physical exercises
  4. Pranayama - breath control
  5. Pratyahara - withdrawing the mind
  6. Dharana - concentration
  7. Dhyana - meditation
  8. Samadhi - absorption in satvik meditative trance

The final goal of ashtanga yoga is for the mind to be established in a state of nirvikalpa samadhi and to realize the truth of the soul's divinity.

Through meditation, the yogi crosses the mayic qualities of tamas, rajas and sattva (which manifest as emotions, attachments and attraction to the world). He also crosses the five material elements, and ahankar, his conscious "self", into the totally pure state of the quality of sattva.

This state is called kaivalya in the Yoga Darshan, and is the end of yogic practices. This may happen only after many lifetimes of faith practice of jnana and yoga.

Because the kaivalya state is still mayic (material), the yogi still has not gone beyond Maya. As on the path of jnana, there are still two more barriers of Maya that must be crossed. The yogi is still only part of the way to a divine attainment.

Beyond these are two more stages that the yogi can't conquer or eliminate on the base of his own efforts. These are only eliminated through devotion and grace.

  1. Mahan or mahat tattva -- initial subtle manifestation of the universe
  2. Prakriti or Maya -- the original material power

It is imperative for a yogi, if he desires to attain absolute truth, to surrender to God to receive His grace. For example, the Yogshikhopanishad (2/23) states:

The most authentic commentary on the Yoga Darshan was done by Veda Vyas, who reintroduced all the prime scriptures of Hinduism on this earth 5,000 years ago. Referring to Samadhipad, Verse 23:

He said submission (bhakti) to "Ishwar" (God) while practicing samadhi, facilitates and ensures nirvikalpa samadhi, and also guarantees divine realization and liberation, which is impossible without God's grace.

Samadhipad, Verse 24 defines what is "Ishwar" (God):

He is "purushottam", which means the personal form of God. By using the word "samyati-shayair-vinirmuktam" earlier in this verse, he is indicating that Ishwar means Krishna. This is the same phrase he used for Krishna in the Bhagwatam (2/4/14).

Samadhipad, Verse 28 describes the form of this remembrance:

The Bhagavad Gita (8/13) indicates the same philosophy.