In this installment of Yoga Living Project Austin Richman shares a blog on the 4 phases of yoga history inspired by the writings of Gregor Maehle. If you have dipped your toes in the deep ends of Yoga philosophy and ever wondered how to make hay from any of it this little piece of info just might be the helpful hint you have been waiting for to help you to navigate the depths. We encourage you to listen and read as they both contain some different info so please enjoy and let us know what you think, in fact you will have the perfect opportunity this week as Austin will be holding a community satsang on February 28th, 2019 at 7pm both at Cambio Yoga and on Facebook live. The event is donation based but watching online doesn't cost you anything, but only those in person will have their chance to speak, share and ask questions.
4 Phases of Yogic History and Why It Matters for Teachers and Students of Yoga
What's up everybody I want to talk about the different phases of yoga history according to Gregor Maehle, so if you've ever read the book Ashtanga Yoga by Gregor Maehle you may be familiar with this concept that I am about to talk about, however this book is dense and not only have I had it for years, I have read it several times and the brilliance of it always shines a light on something different each and every time through. In the third part of it, ‘the history and lineage of yoga’ he expounds the idea of the four phases of yoga history and I think it's really interesting and have not found anything like this in any other book. Now of course some of you are familiar with the different the epochs of cosmic evolution in yoga known as the yugas and you may also be familiar with the phases of life as a human as it relates to yoga known as the ashramas, but this is really cool because it tracks out the history of humankind’s psycho-spiritual evolution over the last several thousand years. After all yoga despite how much emphasis we in the modern age put an emphasis, especially in the West on the physical aspects of yoga it always was and remains first and foremost a psychology of the mind.
Up, up and away
Before we continue let’s define a few terms, evolution in yoga is different than what we may think of in terms of science, in science we think of evolution as something that's good, something that's adapting, and mechanism of survival and in yoga this isn't necessarily not the case, it's more focused on evolution as moving outward and downward and in general all yoga practice is meant to reverse that operation a process called involution which is meant to bring our own mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical development inward and upward.
All Natural, No Additives
So the first phase of yoga history is what he calls “naturalism”. Naturalism was in a time long ago when the first yogic texts were just beginning to be transcribed, up until this time the knowledge of the great teachers was only transmitted verbally and experientially, these first transcriptions were known as the Vedas, meaning to know. The sages, rishis, masters and yoga teachers of that time were sometimes known as nirodhas as the over-arching state of mental quality at that time was known as nirodha chitta, meaning suspended mind (for more on nirodha, see Suzanne’s blog from last month in our Yoga Living Project history). These teachers spent much of their time in this unified state of mind, what we know of today as samadhi, what we in modern times consider a very difficult and esoteric state to achieve. Even Krishna Das, an authority of yoga in the world today, says that there's maybe five living Masters or what we would call enlightened beings on planet earth. The capital “T” Truth that these teachers were witness to were made evident by ways and means that became outdated by many years of evolution. It was this evolution that forced man to find ways for yoga to evolve with them.
Into The Mystic
What Maehle describes as the second phase of yoga history is mysticism. As society evolves naturalism evolves in kind. The old methods of yoga no longer work for the now more modern age and as external pressure increases the answer lies in changing the way in which the yogi must practice to accommodate this new environment. In the age of mysticism the early Upanishads become the go to texts for the seekers as the Vedas seem esoteric and perhaps outdated. The Upanishads take the same central messages of the Vedas but expand on them in new ways that meet yogis where they are. This era is marked by the state of mind known as ekagra chitta, or single pointed mind. This era necessitates a two step process to get through all the muck that seems to be obstructing one from peace of mind, a focused and concentrated mind is required for students to be able to interpret ascended teachers or enlightened ones, the nirodhas. At this time it was still necessary for an aspirant to go through great pains to find proper tutelage as the nomenclature of the texts of the time suggest. Upanishad means “to sit near” and these great teachers were now becoming more difficult to find, so one would have to go into the forest with great uncertainty, putting their life at grave risk, and leave all else behind to undertake their education in what one might imagine as a wild university. Upon finding one of these ashrams the long road of demanding and disciplinary initiation processes begin and only once completed would these nirodhas reveal these now secret truths.
I Think I Can, I Think I Can
As society starts to become evolved, expanding outward and downward, there's a need for a new step to reach the great goal of yoga and Maehle call this era the phase of philosophy. This is where the outburst of concepts and ideas overflow dawning the birth of Buddhism, Samkhya philosophy, the greatest puranas containing the mythological fables, the Mahabartha containing the Bhagavad Gita, and of course we get Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras from this phase as well. During this time the idea is that people can no longer spontaneously reveal certain truths from nature, and that meditation alone is insufficient to bring a yogi closer to their divine source so once again new practices are created for new needs in a new time. This is one of the most beautiful things about yoga, that it reaches out to us to meet us where we're at. Maehle says that the overriding quality of mind during this time is vikshipta chitta, which means distracted mind.
Agriculture and assimilation through empiricism is in full swing that it's more and more difficult for people to live simply and in balance with harmony of nature so more effort is required for people to separate themselves from the distractions of this modern life. The main takeaway here is that as philosophy becomes the salve for modern man’s suffering they still will depend on a teacher of ekagra mind or single pointed mind to make sense for them the greater teachings of a nirodha.
The final phase that we are currently living in is the phase of Technology. Tantra directly translates to technique or technology and this becomes the golden age of Tantra where in the beginning we get texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, The Gheranda Samhita, the Shiva Samhita and all the way up to current methodologies and popular yoga styles we all know and love. This state of mind Maehle refers to as the muddha chitta or infatuated mind. Obsessed with wealth, with vanity, power, control, all that which is within the physical realm. All that we see in the modern world around us is an obsession and we are infatuated with trying to control a little piece of that physical reality so that we can have some sense of security and stability in this otherwise out of control and very temporary reality. Now as yogis, a three-step process is required to find our way back to the roots of what the intents and purposes of yoga are. We must use tantra to prepare our mind for the deeper regions of philosophy so that once mastered we can then focus the mind n a sincere and clarified way so eventually we come full circle to samadhi or a suspended mind.
Yoga is a Subtractive Process
This is essentially what Gregor Maehle talks about in terms of the concept of involution versus evolution of the mind over the four phases of yoga history. But why does it matter now to us in this age? Because if we go back and begin to look at texts like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras we need to remember that we were not his intended audience. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go back and study sage words of Patanjali or like those found in the Upanishads but that we must use a sequential and intentional process of filtering the information through the way in which our mind has evolved over time. This upward and downward direction that man’s mind has traveled must be tempered ny the ways in which we as yoga students do the work to experience for ourselves that the path ahead of us lay upward and inward.