Patanjali’s Eightfold Path
I’ve been reading (and still am) Dean Radin’s book Supernormal and I’m finding it fascinating. There’s so much in this book that I want to look into more. I find so much of what he says astonishing and hard to believe at first, but he backs it up with so many published papers and studies that I start wondering why we haven’t been told this before (one of the points of Dean’s book). In this post, I’d like to explore what I found in his chapter 6, “Yoga Sutras”.
Yoga Sutras is a book written about 2000 years ago by an Indian sage called Patanjali. Before this, yoga was practiced for a long time with the knowledge passed on from generation to generation. Patanjali’s book is considered to be one of first written documents to collect this knowledge in written form.
What really interested me here is where Dean Radin describes Patanjali’s eightfold path. Apparently, this is about the practice of yoga and how it is used to “break out of the destructive habits that distract the mind and in turn create suffering”. The eightfold path is summarized as;
- Restraining from harmful behavior – including violence, injury, telling falsehoods, stealing, lasciviousness, greed – and generally adopting ethical and virtuous behavior.
- Developing beneficial behavior – including cleanliness, austerity, cultivating an attitude of gratitude and contentment, and being engaged in a disciplined practice of focus, devotion and self-study.
- Development of physical postures – assist the mind and the body in relaxing – develop strength, steadiness and flexibility – prepare the body to withstand the rigors of meditation
- Conscious breathing techniques – further the mind’s ability to focus – energize the body
- Withdrawing from ordinary sensory perceptions and limiting focus to a single object of attention – fostering tranquility of mind
- Developing a steady, sustained concentration – similar to that experienced in high-focussed intellectual work
- Developing prolonged levels of concentration on an object – deeper absorption and greater sustained alertness – sometimes referred to as meditation
- Unity of mystical absorption with an object of attention – awareness frequently described as ecstatic – accompanied by intense, non-sensual pleasure
What really struck me when I read about Patanjali’s eightfold path, was not only that it was very interesting and seemed like a good path to follow, but I realized that I’d somehow stumbled onto this path (at least the first 5 steps) without even knowing it. Restraining from harmful behavior and developing beneficial behavior is something I was taught when I was very young and my tendencies in these directions has intensified in recent years. Development of physical postures is something I was trying to do even before getting into yoga, but now I’m doing that properly (I hope). Conscious breathing techniques are something I’ve been doing regularly for a while, ever since a good friend convinced me to start meditation and gave me a guided audio track (you can stream this below or go here to download). And, step 5 is something I’ve been doing because I found the practice of contemplating a candle in the back of Christina Brown’s Bible of Yoga interesting and worth doing.
So, somehow, I seem to be progressing along this path and am just starting to explore steps 5, 6 and 7, without even knowing I was following Patanjali’s eightfold path. It was amazing to realize this. Maybe this is a natural path for humans to take? Maybe that is the magic of yoga, that it has observed (over centuries of analysis) the natural way for humans to develop and progress and put that into a practice that people can follow.
It’s also interesting to consider how Patanjali’s eightfold path matches up with this quote from Buddha,
Without doing any harmful act,
Abundantly perform beneficial acts,
Completely tame your mind,
That is my teaching.
This lends more weight to the possibility that Patanjali’s eightfold path is actually a very natural path to follow that we can explore.
What do you think of Patanjali’s Eightfold Path? I’d love to gain more insights from you. Please leave a comment below. Thanks.
- Supernormal : Science, Yoga, and the evidence for extraordinary psychic abilities
- Quotes page
- Christina Brown’s Bible of Yoga
- Meditation track – Following the breath and observing the body (free download)
- this track lasts 30 minutes
- just get yourself into a relaxed, comfortable position and listen to the track
- The track tells you everything you need to know
- if you like, you can stream the audio just from here