The Conditioned, Intellectual, Mental Sheath of our Being
the Wisdom Mind, our Personality
As you can see from the title of this page, I struggle to translate the Vijnanamaya Kosha into english. The first three koshas are so simple… Body, Energy, Sensory Mind. But now we’re at a level I’ve seen described in so many different ways. How does the conditioned mind connect to the wisdom mind? How can they be the same thing? The conclusion I’ve reached is that our wisdom has been overshadowed by our conditioning. We see things through the lens of our past experience–rather than how they really are–and operate from habit and conditioning rather than from clarity and wisdom. So our work at this level is purification. We have to clean up our habits of perception. We have to focus our minds and learn to see things clearly. We have tolearn to differentiate between our story and our Self. How do we allow the voice in our head (referred to by various teachers as the neurotic roommate that keeps telling us the same stories over and over again) to dictate our actions? A question my teacher Robin often asks is how do we become skilled at changing the internal channel we’re listening to? Our exploration at the level of vijnanamaya requires that we go deep into our conditioned mind and ask ourselves: Why are we the way we are? Remember, the practice of yoga is about finding union with our True Self, so we don’t ask “Why are we the way we are” in search of excuses to let us off the hook, but to find the stories that keep us “hooked” so that we can begin the work of de-linking our identity, attitude, and behavior from them.
The 1st two pages are handouts we work with before the practices, so please have them printed out before you push play on the live teachings below. The 1st has to do with the 5 aspects of vijnanamaya and the 2nd with your bhavana and dharana.
And, of course, we have the art piece highlighting the teachings from the Taittiriya Upanishad regarding the vijnanamaya kosha.
There’s also a journal exercise that asks you to explore the stories that you tell. This is an important reflection experience. Don’t skip it!
And finally, there’s a fun little fill in the blank page (I’m exploring these instead of glossary pages…) to work through as you listen to the teaching on sutras 1.30-40 regarding the obstacles that keep us from reaching the state of yoga and the objects of meditation that can help us overcome them.
Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi, part 3/chapters 15-20 (this is SO good…)
The Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar chapter 14
A student asked a great question about chanting in the live class that I wanted to share with you all!
TEACHINGS: THE VIJNANAMAYA KOSHA
LIVE TEACHINGS: INTRO & JOURNALING
You’ll want to have the 5 aspects of the Vijnanamaya Kosha handout ready!
In support of your journaling, here’s some of the text from the teaching on the Vijnanamaya Kosha:
5 aspects of Vijnanamaya:
First, there is sraddha—our faith. That which supports us. Can you remember a time you made a difficult decision, yet you had full confidence in your choice? That confidence was sraddha; your inner faith. That faith that leads you into action.
The second aspect is Satyam. The root of this word, sat, means truth. Satyam is our personal truth. How do you communicate your story with the world? What’s the quality of your self-expression?
The third aspect is Rtam, which is our ability to recognize the order and harmony underlying everything. How do you live in harmony with the world around you? How do you perceive the cosmic order of the universe and your place within it?
The fourth aspect is yoga, which as we know, is a state of mind. From the perspective of the vijnanamaya kosha, yoga is a clear, present mind, able to perceive the truth and to communicate that truth clearly and honestly.
The final aspect of vijnanamaya kosha is Mahat, which is the great intelligence. There is an origin story that says there was a moment when consciousness and matter met. The big bang. Or the big OM. It was the meeting of purusha and prakriti and from this meeting came Mahat, the great intelligence that allowed being to come into existence. On a personal level, the level of our own vijnanamaya kosha, mahat is our deepest conditioning. What unique DNA and karma do we bring into this life? We are shaped by the biological imperatives of survival and reproduction. We are shaped by family stories. We are shaped by societal stories. And if you’ve ever spent much time with babies, you’ll know that each of us comes into the world with certain traits and particular tendencies that make us, us. Together, all these things that shape us form the great intelligence, mahat, of who we are and what we know.
So on the vijnanamaya level we have faith, truth, order, clarity, and intelligence.
This practice, which I’ve adapted from one my teacher Gary created, includes the practice of inquiry meditation designed to help you move more deeply into yourself.
LIVE TEACHINGS: MEDITATION
You’ll want to have the bhavana/dharana handout ready before listening to this teaching. The resources below support and add to everything discussed in this teaching. They will all help you prepare for the 2nd practice found at the very bottom of this page (it’s a good one, don’t miss it!).
YOGA SUTRAS 3:1-3
We practice yoga through yama (restraint in outward behavior), niyama (daily self observances), asana (physical health), pranayama (physiological health), and pratyahara (detachment from sense cravings) with the goal of settling the mind into stillness—with the ultimate goal of linking our identity with our Essential Nature.
The mind doesn’t just settle into stillness. Lasting and transformative inner stillness comes AFTER you’ve done all the work of cleaning up your relationships, behavior, body, energy systems, and sensory habits. Yoga is an ongoing practice that continues to deepen overtime.
Preparation—both long term and short term—are key components of meditation. Long term preparation for mental clarity and stillness come through regular commitment to practice. Short term preparation comes in the way you put together your regular practice. In my lineage you don’t just sit down to meditate. First you move your body and calm your breath. You do everything you can to set the stage for stillness to arise in the mind!
The mental state of meditation isn’t something that can be forced, or even practiced. It just happens (or it doesn’t). The final 3-limbs of the 8-limbed path aren’t practices in the same way the first 5 (especially the first 4) are. And they aren’t really separate limbs, but are deepening states of the mind.
The mind is an instrument of perception and cognition. We take in information through our senses. We see something and our mind interprets the vision and helps us make sense of the sight. Of course, how our mind interprets the vision is deeply dependent on everything we’ve ever seen in the past. Our cognition isn’t clear. It’s deeply colored by our conditioning. We see things based on the ways we’ve been taught to see them. And based on the ways we’ve seen and experienced them or similar things in the past. Meditation is the practice of trying to see an object clearly. Of working to clear our mind of our conditioning so that we can truly experience the object.
The final 3-limbs of yoga are the stages we travel as we move from distraction and conditioning to clarity and wisdom.
Yoga Sutra 3.1: “When the attention is held focused on an object, this is known as dhāranā.”
In this stage, we’re working to hold our mind on one object. As we know, the sensory mind is constantly being tossed to and fro and in our world of constant distraction, meditation can help us retrain the mind’s ability to focus—and stay focused—in one direction. This type of mind training involves the practice of concentration (dhāranā). We choose an object and we bring our attention to it. Every time the mind wanders, we notice, and redirect our attention back to the object of our meditation. We do this over and over again (even 1,000 times) for the entirety of our sitting practice. This is where most of us are working in our meditation practice.
Yoga Sutra 3.2: “When awareness flows evenly toward the point of attention, this is known as dhyāna.”
Maybe, at a certain point, distraction no longer arises and our mind just rests on the object. We are no longer having to call it back again and again. There’s a relationship between meditator and object—the awareness simply flows without effort to the object. This is meditation (dhyāna).
Yoga Sutra 3.3: “When the object of meditation alone shines in the mind, as though the mind is emptied of is own form—that is samādhi.”
When awareness experiences nothing but the object, one has reached the state of absorption and sees the object clearly—rather than through the meditator’s conditioned mind.
CHOOSING THE OBJECT OF MEDITATION
Throughout this teaching I have been saying, “You have to choose the object of your meditation!!”over and over and over again. Here’s a way to think about choosing your object:
If you don’t know where you want to go, it’s highly unlikely you’ll end up there… 😉 In other words, you have to know your reason for practicing. Why do you practice yoga? What intention are you trying to move from? What goal are you trying to move toward? Without a clear intention and goal you won’t have any perimeters to help you decide whether or not a particular object of meditation will be useful.
So, revisit the teachings from module 2 about crafting your intention (bhavana) and figure out the intention you want to focus your meditation practice on.
Once you determine your intention, start to brainstorm ideas that will help you move in the direction you want to go… And choose an object that will help you get there.
Here’s an example from my own practice:
Through honest self-reflection I realized I needed to transform a habit I had of harsh self-judgment. I needed to believe that vulnerability didn’t mean failure. As my dharana (the object of my meditation) I chose the phrase: “I am worthy of self compassion and kindness.” I built an entire practice around this dharana that included mantra, ritual, a reading on vulnerability by David Whyte, and a series of movements, mudras, and breath woven with four different sets of affirmations that supported the dharana. The practice ended with seated meditation where I repeated the dharana phrase over and over in my mind for at least 10 minutes. I worked with this practice for a long time and I did experience a softening of my inner critic.
I share this example to highlight how all the tools of yoga can be used to intentionally support our efforts toward transformation. Design your practice on purpose! Let it support and comfort you.
And here are some of Patanjali’s ideas:
In the first chapter of the yoga sutras, our ancient teacher describes nine obstacles that stand in the way of us reaching our goals. As an antidote to these obstacles he recommended that we focus our mind in one direction. And he gave us a wonderful list of ideas of where to focus our minds. This teaching is from Module 2, but I’ve repeated it here to support your efforts to choose an object of meditation. As you listen to the teaching, I invite you to think about your own conditioned mind… From all the practices and reflections of this module, what are you learning about your own conditioning? Do you see any connections between your conditioning and the common obstacles that Patanjali lays out? If so, how can the objects of meditation that he proposes be useful to you?
You might want to print the fill in the blank handout from the packet so you can take notes as you listen to this teaching:
MEDITATION PRACTICE: In the Cave of the Heart
Before beginning this beautiful practice, have an object of meditation picked out for yourself.