Atma Samyama Yoga According to the Bhagavadgita

Atma Yoga

by Jayaram V

Atma Samyama Yoga (The yoga of concentrated meditation) has many similarities with the classical yoga. In this essay we will explain the meaning, importance, practice and techniques of Atma Samyama Yoga according to the Bhagavadgita.

Atma samyama yoga is the practice of restraining the mind and the senses for concentrated meditation, which culminates in the state of self-absorption. Atma means self. Samyama means restraint. Atma samyama yoga means the yoga of self-restraint to control the mind, cultivate equanimity and stabilize it in the Self for union with it.

In this yoga, the body is disciplined and purified, the senses are firmly restrained, and the mind is withdrawn and firmly established in the Self. By its regular practice, a yogi remains immersed in the contemplation of the Self or God, while his mind remains stable, free from distractions and modifications.

The purpose of atma samyama yoga is twofold. Firstly, it is to overcome desire-ridden actions, attachments, dualities, attraction and aversion, instability, delusion, egoism and such other impurities. Secondly, it is to integrate the mind and body with the Self to achieve oneness and liberation. As the Bhagavadgita affirms, the yoga is helpful to align the (lower or physical) Self with the (higher of spiritual) Self, remove the impurities of rajas and tamas from the mind and body, and thereby facilitate self-purification, equanimity, concentration, stability, and sameness towards all.

Its practice consists of renunciation (sanyasam), desireless actions, even mindedness or sameness (samatvam), detachment, the control of the mind and body (jitaatma), concentration and contemplation of the Self (paramatma samahita). In addition, contentment (tripti), celibacy, concentrated restraint of the mind (samyama), celibacy (brahmacharya), balance and moderation, practice of self-absorption (Samadhi), truthfulness, discernment, and devotion to God are also important. The yoga is not for weak people who cannot control themselves, or whose minds are fickle and turbulent. The yoga becomes easier for those who have practiced it in their past lives, and who have earned great merit. They are irresistibly drawn to it.

Discipline is at the root of this yoga. Without discipline neither the senses nor the mind can be controlled. A disturbed and unstable mind is the enemy of the Self. Only a yogi who controls his mind and strives hard attains the state of equanimity or sameness. Thus, discipline and restraint are the foundation of atma samyama yoga.

Discipline is at the heart of spiritual life. The mind cannot be tamed without it. While a person may achieve success in worldly life without discipline or virtue, in spiritual life it is not possible, because the very success of the practice depends upon physical and mental purity and self-discipline. Therefore, the Bhagavadgita recognizes the importance of self-discipline and declares that a person who cannot control himself is his own worst enemy.

The Practice of atma samyama yoga

The sixth chapter of the Bhagavadgita is entirely dedicated to the practice of atma samyama yoga. It states that atma samyama is important to sharpen the mind through the practice of buddhi yoga. The practice of both are important to achieve self-realization. The following are a few important aspects of how atma samyama yoga should be practiced.

1. Renunciation

Renunciation is the foundation of yoga. What people consider renunciation is but yoga only. A renunciant becomes established in yoga only when he renounces all desires and intentions. Renuncation is also important to restrain the mind.

2. Self-effort

Self-effort is important in the practice of the yoga because one has to control oneself. The Bhagavadgita states that a person becomes his own enemy when does not restrain himself and becomes his friend when he practices self-control, restraint and discipline to stabilize his mind and body to achieve self-realization.

3. Self-purification

The yoga of self-restraint cannot be successfully practiced without self-purification (atma suddhi) and without cultivating equanimity, stability and sameness. One has to be equal to the pairs of opposites and treat alike both friends and foes, and saints and sinners, without judgement. For that, one should cultivate sattva.

4. Right environment

The yoga requires suitable environment and prior preparation. For its successful practice, one has to choose a clean place, and arrange a firm seat covered with a cloth, deer skin or kusa grass. Then he should sit upon it, holding his body, head and neck straight, and closing his eyes, he should concentrate his attention upon the tip of his nose.

5. Mental stability

As he practices unwavering concentration, he should keep his mind, senses, and activities under firm control, and remain seated with a tranquil mind, without fear, with his thoughts restrained, his mind chaste, and his consciousness absorbed in the Self.

6. Self-absorption

Resting in the self alone, freed from all desires, when he is established in the yoga of equanimity, he realizes his hidden Self and becomes satisfied in the Self (Ch6:20). With that, he finds unlimited happiness, and with the help of his pure intelligence, he develops an understanding of the transcendental state, whereby he remains immobile to all sorrow. In the self-absorbed state, he enjoys the extreme bliss of union with Brahman and develops the unified vision of the Universal Self, seeing the Self in all and all in the Self (6.21-29).

7. Balance

Balance and moderation are important in the practice of the yoga. There is no place for extremities (6.16-18). The yoga is neither for a voracious eater nor for a non-eater. It is not for one, who eats too much or sleeps for too long nor the person who does not eat or sleep well. It is for the yogi who controls his eating and enjoyment, restrains his mind and leads a balanced life.

8. Removal of impurities

The mind is unstable because of impurities, especially rajas and tamas. The scripture states that supreme happiness comes to him whose mind is pure and calm and fixed in Brahman or the Self, whose desires are under control, in whom the mode of rajas is suppressed, who is pure, and who thinks of nothing except the Self.

9. God vision

The practice of atma samyama leads to universal and unified vision and a direct rapport with God. In that state, yogi sees God everywhere and all things in him. He worships God as the dweller of all things, irrespective of his surroundings and circumstances. God does not cease to exist for him and he does not cease to exist for God.

10. Remedy for failure

Since the mind is fickle and difficult to control, the yoga is very difficult to practice. However, there is no downfall or destruction, here or hereafter, for those who fail (6.40). They may not attain liberation, but upon rebirth they are born in pious families and return to the practice and strive more seriously than before.

Atma samyama yoga and Ashtanga yoga

Those who succeed in the practice of yoga because of the merit gained in the past and the effort made in this life go to the highest world of Brahman. According to Lord Krishna, the yogis who practice it, restraining their minds and bodies, are superior to those who practice austerities, or perform obligatory duties or pursue knowledge. Even among them, those who worship God with their minds drawn inwardly are considered the most skillful.

From the above discussion, one can notice that atma samyama yoga shares many common features with classical yoga of Patanjali. Both recognize the importance of restraining the mind and body to achieve self-purification, concentration and self-absorption. Even the terminology used in both cases are also mostly common. However, Atma samyama yoga is more theistic. It believes in the existence of both individual Self and Supreme Self and emphasizes the importance of devotion to the latter, whereas Ashtaga yoga speaks about the individual Self only.

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