Samyama, you’ll recall, refers to practices that help us understand ourselves and how we fit in the universe. It is a process of coming closer to truth. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali gives us many ways to gain self-knowledge.
With Self-Knowledge, We Can Obtain the Strength of Elephants!
By samyama on the strength of elephants and other such animals, their strength is obtained. (sutra 3.25)
What does this mean? Well, if we observe the strong beings, we can learn from them. We can become strong as well. While it may seem odd that Patanjali specifically mentions elephants here, the elephant is only an example. Whenever we pay attention to a being, force, or anything else in the universe, we can learn something that may apply to our own lives.
If you want to be enlightened, sutra 3.26 suggests looking within:
By samyama on the light within, the knowledge of the subtle, hidden, and remote is obtained.
This verse reminds me of mysticism in all faith traditions. Mystics seek self-knowledge (that is, of the higher Self) and truth by going within. With silence, meditation, and prayer, they come closer to God.
By samyama on the sun, knowledge of the entire solar system is obtained. (sutra 3.27)
If you are a physicist who wants to understand the solar system, you look at what powers it—the sun—because that is the best way to understand how the system functions. In the same way, Patanjali tells us, we can gain knowledge of how stars align by samyama on the moon and knowledge of how the stars move by samyama on the pole star (the star that does not move).
Samyama and Self-Knowledge
Now what if you want to understand yourself as a human being? The next few sutras tell us how. Specifically, we can
- Focus on the solar plexus to understand our body’s constitution.
- Focus on the throat to manage (ideally subdue) hunger and thirst.
- Use the nadis—the energy centers of the body—to achieve a state of stillness and deep meditation.
- Focus on the crown of the head to achieve higher consciousness.
- Learn to trust our intuition, which often comes even when we don’t seek it.
- Look to our hearts to understand the inner workings of our minds.
Patanjali reminds us that we need to understand the difference between the intellect and the truth we use our intellect to understand. Truth—or purusha—exists whether our minds comprehend it or not. Our intellect is a tool for understanding, but we cannot rely solely on our minds. As accomplished yogis, we learn to apply samyama to gain higher knowledge.
And then, Patanjali says, an amazing thing will happen.
From this knowledge arises superphysical hearing, touching, seeing, tasting, and smelling through spontaneous intuition. (sutra 3.37)
Imagine how different your understanding of the world would be if you used your intuition more often and your “logical” mind less frequently. You’d begin to operate on a level beyond the physical. You’d be closer to enlightenment and more aware of your spiritual nature.
Keep up your yoga practice, and one day it will happen!