For the modern day man, lost in the bondage of his daily material worries, it is tough to reconcile the various strains that pull him and harmonise his energies towards a desire for god realisation.
A guiding path, leading the way to Tapasya, to advance towards spiritual progress, is the salvaging grace to keep him on track towards this goal, which leads to Shiva.
Tapasya is explained variously. Most simplistically speaking it means heat. Elucidated further this alludes to burning desires by a systematic disavowal of bodily pleasures, and gradual but persistent effort towards practicing austerities. This self directed discipline, enables the practitioner, known as the Tapasvin to slowly but surely, disentangle from the grip of the body & mind and realise his higher purpose in spiritual realms of consciousness.
Few elements on the pilgrim’s progress include as stated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras on Ashtanga Yoga, elements like Niyam, Yama, Asanas, Pranayam, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana & Samadhi. For the purification of the body these are the vital cues to spiritual evolution. Niyama & Yama shape the character of a person. Asanas facilitate the maintenance of a healthy body. Pranayam is useful in cleansing the emotions. Pratyahara takes the person towards his divine indweller. Dharana propels the mind in the right direction. Dhyana, develops heightened awareness & finally Samadhi or the ecstasy of divine consciousness is realised which closes the gap between intellectualizing about Shiva versus actually partaking of his immortal ambrosia & experiencing oneness with God.
A little more on Yama & Niyama may be described as follows. Yama entails codes of restraint. Some of its key ideas include Ahimsa (non violence), Satya (no deception in words, action or deeds), Asteya (not taking that which is not given), Brahmacarya (sexual restraint & avoidance of unnecessary chatter), Aparigraha (non-covetousness or unnecessary acquisition).
Niyama involves observances like Santosha (contentment), Saucha (cleanliness & purity of thought), Tapas (austerities), Swadhyaya (self study of scriptures), Ishavar Pranidhan (surrender to one’s god & guru).
Asanas, the next element, involves mastering bodily postures. There are apparently 84 such postures which prepare the body & simultaneously affect psychological & physical well being for higher spiritual ascent in Yoga.
Pranayama focuses on controlling the life force. By regulating the breath one can work gradually towards controlling one’s life force. This largely entails Puraka (inhalation), Rechaka (exhalation) & Kumbhak (retention). This gradually purifies the nadis or psychic nerve channels and paves the way for awakening the electromagnetic force or Kundalini, at the base of the spine. This is vital to progress to the following stages:
Pratyahara results as the yogi, progresses on the path and his attention turns inwards & there is a withdrawal from the senses or activities involving worldly pleasures. This helps in building ojas or vital energy for spiritual advancement.
With the constant practise of Pranayama techniques & Pratyahara, the yogi begins to develop concentration, which is the faculty of exclusive attention. This is known as Dharana. At this stage, the yogi, is still conscious that he is concentrating. Hence, the separateness exists between him, the object of focus (God) & the act of focusing.
As concentration deepens, the Yogi loses consciousness of the fact that he is meditating or focusing. This stage of meditation is called Dhyana. Here only consciousness of the Yogi & his object of meditation (god) remains. He loses awareness of the fact that he is meditating.
Finally, after much practise sometimes over lifetimes, he arrives at a more advanced stage where his ego dissolves to such a degree of tranquility that he loses consciousness of the difference between himself & his object of concentration (God). He enters into a state of Samadhi. This is god communion, where he merges into the absolute or infinite Brahman.
This ecstasy, which develops to more refined states, is the ultimate purpose of man’s sojourn on earth. It is the final goal of the long winding path to god realisation. The flowering of this divine wisdom & union with Shiva is what we ought to seek – blessed be those on the path pursuing Asthanga Yoga