Tag Archives: Yoga

Astanga Yoga: The Eight Steps Towards Divine Union

— 49-50 —

O Emperor, the All-Attractive being of all beings is he who is now among us in the form of fateful time. He deletes the existence of those who trouble the gods. He accomplishes his mission for the gods with time to spare. All of you can stay in this world for as long as the master.

Nārada makes several points in texts 49 and 50:

  • The All-Attractive Supreme Being is always among us in the form of fateful time.
  • Fate exists to squash the evil tendencies of living beings, through a system of punishment and reward.
  • Śrī Kṛṣṇa is this same All-Attractive Supreme Being.
  • He apparently incarnated to protect the gods and the godly by squashing evil beings.
  • While he remains on earth, so too do his eternal associates, like the Emperor, and his eternal paraphernalia, like his city Dvārakā.

Yudhiṣṭhira is not yet aware that Kṛṣṇa has already departed from the Earth, taking his city and most of his associates with him. Now it is time for the rest of his associates to depart as well. Nārada is hinting that this is why Vidura has come to take away Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Gāndhārī, and that soon King Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers will also need to depart from the world in a similar manner.

Next Nārada will tell Yudhiṣṭhira what is happening and what will happen in the near future, with his uncles and aunt.


Dhṛtarāṣṭra has gone with his brother and his wife Gāndhārī to the place where sages reside in the southern Himalayas; a place called “Sevenfold” because there the Ganges splits into seven branches, creating seven islands for the seven sages.


He bathes and invokes the sacred fires exactly according to rites. Eating only water, by now he will have attained self-pacification and abandoned all desires.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra practiced what we call aṣṭānga-yoga (“the eightfold path to divine union”). Of the eight steps on this path, the first two are yama and niyama (“prescriptions” and “prohibitions”). Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s bathing and invocation of fire according to the regulations is how he practiced yama. Abstaining from all food except water is how he practiced niyama.

The result of succeeding in yama and niyama is to become self-tamed.

Most people who are “into yoga” manage to skip or not even know that these two steps come before one can derive any significant benefit from sitting in various stretches and postures.


He will master the postures and the breathing. He will withdraw his six senses and absorb them in Hari; overcoming the impurities of nature’s passions, peace, and ignorance.

The third step of the eightfold path to divine union is āsana (“postures”). The fourth step is prāṇāyāma (“discipline of the breath”). The fifth step is pratyāhāra (“withdrawal of the senses”).

There are six senses. The obvious five are sight, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. The mind performs the sixth sense: “contemplation.” All six senses must be withdrawn from normal activity before one can reach divine union.

The six senses cannot be kept inactive; their very nature is to act and sense. So immediately after the fifth step of withdrawing them from normal behavior, one must go to the sixth step and engage them in paranormal behavior. This sixth step is dhyāna (“meditation”). Dhṛtarāṣṭra will perform the sixth step by absorbing all his contemplation, vision, hearing, etc. upon Hari, the All-Attractive Godhead.

The seventh step occurs when meditation becomes deep, uninfluenced by the distractions of material energy. Material energy has three modes of operation: rajas agitates us to endeavor, sattva makes us seek peace and calm, tamas makes us want to relent and forget. These three forces constantly pull the six senses by the ropes of habit, dragging them back into mundane activity. In the fifth and sixth steps, the yogi must engage in a tug-of-war with these ropes, making all efforts to keep the six senses withdrawn and focused inward upon Hari. When the yogi gradually becomes very successful at sustaining meditation on Hari for extended periods of time, he or she takes the seventh step towards divine union: dhāraṇā (“steady meditation”).


Totally united to perfect self-knowledge, destroy the knower of the body by merging it into the pool of spiritual being, like the air within a pot merged into the sky.

Nārada now begins to define the eighth of the eight steps towards divine union, samādhi. The first characteristic is the absolute loss of the limited ego. The limited ego is kṣetra-jña, the identity linked to a self-centered field of activities. When progress towards divine union becomes complete, we will feel the limited ego dissolve. It is just like placing a jar of water into a pool and opening it, or breaking an empty pot under the open sky – the contents of the container become one with a much larger container. When self-knowledge is complete, the false else dissolves into the amorphous reservoir of false-ego from which it was borrowed once upon a long forgotten time.


When nature’s impurities are overcome and their after-effects subside, the causes of desire will cease. All acquisition is stilled, immovable, and fixed. There is no further obstacle. All deeds are completely given up.

Nārada here completes his description of samādhi, the final of eight steps towards divine union. There can be no more obstruction to one’s unity with the divine, because even the causes of the things which cause such obstacles have ceased to exist within us. Renunciation of ordinary activity is absolute. Acquisition of supra-ordinary activity in relation to the All-Attractive Hari is equally absolute.


O King, he will probably give up his body in five days from now. It will become ash.

Nārada estimates that it will take Dhṛtarāṣṭra only about five days to complete the eightfold yoga process and abandon his body in perfect samādhi. This unusual swiftness is probably due to his excellent association with his saintly brother and renounced wife, and the excellent spiritual atmosphere generated by the honest sages of the ashrams of “Sevenfold.”

Nārada says, “He does not need your help in any way. Not even for a funeral. His body will turn itself to ash.”


When that saintly wife sees her husband’s body engulfed in flames inside a shanty hut she will follow into it.

Yudhiṣṭhira would protest, “My uncle does not need me, but his wife will sorely need me when he dies!”

Nārada replies that she will also take care of herself completely and will reduce herself to ash without any need for Yudhiṣṭhira’s involvement.


But when Vidura sees this amazing sight he will leave that place, pushed by feelings of both delight and grief, and again wander on pilgrimage.

Yudhiṣṭhira would again protest, “Then certainly Vidura will need me?”

Nārada says that Vidura will be gone. He will be delighted that his brother and sister (in-law) succeeded in liberating themselves from the cycle of birth and death, but morose naturally at the loss of their company and the various misfortunates and mistakes associated with their life.


After saying all this, Nārada and Tumburu ascended to the heavens. By keeping Nārada’s words in his heart, Yudhiṣṭhira could let go of all worry and grief.


The Perfect Carefree Musician


Those with hearts troubled by the ceaseless hunger of the senses for sensual objects can cross that oceanic depth on the boat of hearing about the activities of Hari. I have seen it myself.


Following the rules of yoga can also destroy tenacious lust and greed, but does not truly satisfy the soul as does loving service of the Lotus Faced.


I’ve said all this to answer your questions, sinless one. These secrets behind my birth and activities will also bring you satisfaction.

As Nārada prepares to depart Vyāsa’s company, he leaves him with the most important instructions, “You are depressed because you feel you haven’t truly fulfilled your vow of truly helping humanity, despite your legendary efforts. You have even presented wonderful mystical and philosophical paths (Yoga, etc.) which can alleviate pain, but cannot grant positive pleasure. Your efforts are still incomplete because you have not yet adequately stressed the importance of divine love, which is cultivated and experienced through loving discussion of the glorious name and fame of the All-Attractive, Hari. That is how I became free from sadness and immersed in joy. That is how you will also overcome your depression and incompleteness and experience bliss, as will all of humanity.”


Sūta said: having said all this, the learned and blessed Nārada Vāsavī’s-son began playing his vīṇa and left to go wherever he might. Ah! The sage of the gods is so fortunate! He delights in playing this instrument and singing the kīrtan of the Bow-Carrier. Thus he brings pleasure into the world of distress.

Sūta expresses his honest and natural admiration of Nārada, whose sole duty is to go wherever he likes playing a divine musical instrument and singing in a manner that brings pleasure to a world otherwise thoroughly beset with distress and anxiety. Many musicians are envied by those who work hard, but none know the secret as well as Narada. To be the perfect carefree bard and musical genius, and to thus bring the highest joy constantly to oneself and one’s audience, one must sing the name and fame of the All-Attractive.

According to Vedic martial sciences, the finest human bows cannot match the weight and size of the bows of heaven, and in turn those heavenly bows cannot compare to one unique bow called Śārnga, which is the sole property of Vishnu. One name for Godhead therefore is “Bow-Carrier.”

English: Lady with Musical Instrument in Bengal

Bengali Lady Plays a Vina


How to Acquire Divine Love

We pick up the story just after Suta explained why devotion to the Supreme Person, which is developed through hearing about and discussing him, is the most beneficial thing for humanity and brings complete joy to the soul. Suta’s conclusion [1.2.14] was, “one should therefore always hear about, glorify, remember and worship that Supreme Person.”

Some sages, who follow much more arduous and difficult paths for purification, must have felt incredulous towards Suta’s declaration that the supreme welfare can be achieved simply by loving discussion of the Supreme Person. “How could emotion and discussion alone liberate a person from the complex clutches of miserable karmic action and reaction?” They might have asked.

Suta replies [15]: “The meditation which arises spontaneously with a person who hears and discusses Godhead in a loving manner becomes like a sword, with which that wise soul slices to pieces all the hard knots of karmic bondage.”

Some of the sages expected some sort of difficult meditation and yoga and austerity to be required for liberation. Suta explained that by loving devotion, powerful meditation, intimate connection, and willingness to forego anything and everything for the sake of the beloved naturally and automatically arises. Therefore one need not cultivate such things individually. Merely by cultivating love of Godhead through hearing and chanting, such things automatically manifest in an uncommonly powerful form.

The vast majority of Suta’s audience is now back on board and ready to pursue the concept further. They are all agreeable that devotion to Godhead is the most beneficial and valuable thing for a human being. Now they would like to know how to do it; How does one acquire the yoga of devotion?

Suta begins with a rhetorical question: “So who would not be attracted and interested in such discussions about the Supreme?”

This is a reference to the first stage of developing devotion, bhakti-yoga. Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī divides the progress of a bhakti-yogi into nine stages. The first is śraddhā – which means that your heart naturally becomes interested in the topic. Suta enumerates this stage here in the 15th verse, with the words tasya ko na kuryāt kathā-ratim, “[Since the process of devotion, encapsulated succinctly in hearing and chanting about the beloved, is so delightful and efficacious] who in their right mind would not develop some interest in it?”

[16] “A person who does have significant interest in deeply hearing about Vasudeva’s Son (Krishna) is a great soul – a mahātmā. We should purify ourselves by pilgrimage to such purified persons, and should do whatever we can to care for and assist them.”

This is now a reference especially to the second stage of bhakti-yoga: Keeping the company of excellent devotees, sādhu-sanga. The summary of this stage is that, once we have some interest in divine devotion (śraddha) we would then naturally seek out those who have more experience with and accomplishment in it. Seeking such persons, who have more interest in divine love of Krishna than we do, is the second step in bhakti-yoga. How shall we associate with them? We must try to be helpful in a humble manner and assist and serve them in whatever capacity they might want or need. That will quickly make us as pure as they are.

[17] “When you yourself begin to feel the urge to hear Krishna’s words and virtues, you will become even more purified. Such words will carry Krishna, your dear friend, into the core of your heart, which will therefore become cleansed of all impurities, illusions, and inauspiciousness.”

Here Suta refers to the third and fourth stages of bhakti-yoga. The third stage is to execute devotional practices (bhajana-kriyā). The fourth is to become purified of all inauspicious undesirable impurities (anārtha-nivṛtti). The way to actually practice bhakti-yoga is to eagerly hear and discuss Krishna’s own words and words about him. Purification takes place next, on a more profound scale than before. One becomes pure from the inside out, because those words of Krishna carry him into the heart, and all inauspicious and undesirable things flee therefrom.

[18] “When almost all impurities have been cast out from your being, you will become very firmly fixed in bhāgavata-seva – hearing the messages about the all-fortunate and all-attractive Krishna, and humbly serving those who hear such messages. The beautiful poetry describing all-attractive Krishna will then cause very extreme devotion to manifest in you.”

Now Suta refers to the fifth and sixth/seventh stages of bhakti-yoga. The fifth stage is niṣṭhā, “fixation on bhāgavata-seva.” This steady engagement in hearing about Krishna and serving those discussions comes about my way of being purified via more occasional engagement in the same. Once we attain steady engagement in bhāgavata-seva we begin to experience serious glimpses of extreme bhāgavata-bhakti, devotion. These initial extreme stages of bhakti-yoga as a practice are the sixth and seventh stages according to Śrī Rūpa’s way of looking at it: ruci (taste) and āsakti (addiction).

[19] “As a result of extreme devotion to poetic descriptions of Krishna, the contaminating facets of material illusion – ignorance and ambition and their concomitant anger and greed will be unable to affect your mind. Instead only the pure facet of existence will caress your being.”

Existence has three facets: tama, rajas, and sattva – darkness of ignorance, coloration of passionate ambition, and the crystal purity of awareness. Extreme devotion to hearing and chanting about Krishna form an impenetrable shield around one’s mind and perception. One can no longer perceive a situation in a way that gives rise to anger or greedy desires, because the selflessness and understanding of pure loving devotion encapsulates and caresses him. Therefore only the sattva facet of existence continues to affect the bhakta-yogi at this level.

Here, Suta has described the eighth stage of devotional yoga: bhāva. At this stage only pure sattva affects our existence and in that crystal clarity our true nature as a spiritual individual in relationship to the all-attractive Godhead begins to become tangible and empirically real.

[20] “Your being thus caressed by this pure energy of existence manifest due to your union with pure and selfless love for the all-attractive Krishna, the next development is that you become emancipated entirely from all material bondage and directly experience, face-to-face, your divine all-attractive beloved.”

Now Suta comes to the ninth and final stage of progress in bhakti-yoga. It is called prema. The characteristic of Prema is direct tangible perception of Godhead via the delightful bond of love, which of course cannot be had without incidentally destroying all bonds to selfishness and illusion.

[21] “The knots tied around your pure heart are no now sliced to shreds and you are free from all confusions and misgiving. The chain of your destiny has come to an end, completely fulfilled as karma terminates once and for all. Your self is now directly seen with your master.”

Here glorious Suta completes his explanation of how hearing and discussing Krishna causes the most desirable and auspicious outcome and destroys the knots of inauspiciousness. He now describes what occurs after the nine stages of development in bhakti-yoga. The fulfillment of bhakti yoga occurs after it destroys all the ropes binding our inner soul, blows away the haze and thick fog of all our confusions and delusions, and terminates the cycle of destiny we have created by selfish actions and their inescapable reactions. The fulfillment of bhakti yoga is to attain direct interactive relationship with the beloved, Krishna. “The self is seen now only in terms of the beloved master. The self exists to be seen nowhere else.”