Om Mani Padme Hum

Om Mani Padme Hum  is one of my favorite mantras. Translated directly, it means something like: the jewel is in the lotus flower. One of my teachers explained this metaphor to me: if we peel away the layers of our identity (much as one might peel away the many petals of a lotus flower), we reveal our true nature (the jewel inside). If we let go of the transient labels we by which define ourselves (and they’re all transient), we uncover our inner light. We can find moksha, freedom.

We can begin to peel away these layers in meditation by questioning the pieces of our identity: Who would I be if I lost my job title? Who would I be if I lost a leg? Who would I be on mood-altering drugs? Who would I be if went through gender reassignment surgery? You may find that even after you’ve whittled down to the bare bones of your identity, there’s still a conscious observer who can ask the question, Who am I now? Once you can’t think of any more pieces to dismiss from your identity, ask yourself, How is who I am different from who anyone else is? Underneath all of the layers that separate us, you will find that which connects us all.

Om Mani Padme Hum came to my mind today while I was reading fellow students’ tributes to one of my most influential and beloved teachers, Jacques-Andre Larrivée, who recently passed away. One person’s tribute quoted something that he always used to say:

Qui es-tu pour penser que tu peux changer le monde?
Qui es-tu pour penser que tu peux changer?
Qui es-tu pour penser?
Qui es-tu?

Who are you to think you can change the world?
Who are you to think you can change?
Who are you to think?
Who are you?

This same peeling away of ayers as we can do in meditation, as described above. But in this case we deconstruct a dharma, a purpose: changing the world. The amazing thing about this deconstruction is that if we get to the point that we can answer, “Who?” (independent even of identity) we unearth our enormous power:

Who? The continuity of the universe,…
Who are you? —a significant and dynamic scope of it—
Who are you to think? …expressed as an intelligent system…
Who are you to think you can change? …whose identity is more a matter of perspective than one of reality…
Who are you to think you can change the world? …and who simultaneously takes part in the world, contains the world, and is the world.

That’s who you are to think you can change the world.

Om mani padme hum.

What is the path to enlightenment?

Q: What is the path to enlightenment?

A: According to Putanjali’s Yoga Sutras, enlightenment is attained in seven stages. Including the final stage, these form the Eight Limbs of Yoga:

1. Yamas: Hindrances (Nonviolence, Truthfulness, Nonstealing, Moderation, Non-possessivenes)
2. Niyamas: Oberservances (Purity, Contentment, Self-discipline, Self-study, Surrender)
3. Asana: Poses
4. Pranayama: Control of life-force through breath
5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses
6. Dharana: Concentration
7. Dhyana: Meditation
8: Samadhi: Non-dualistic consciousness

The last three limbs are so similar and seamless that Putanjali groups them together as samyama (perfectly controlled). Still, they are distinct stages:

Concentration (dharana) is binding the attention of the mind to a single object, place, or idea. Meditation (dhyana) is the continuous flow of consciousness toward an object. Samadhi is deep absorpotion on the object without thought of the self. Then, the essential nature of the object shines forth. (3.1-3.3) Through mastery of samyamah, knowledge born of intuitive insight shines forth. (3.5)

Even in the workout-focused yoga classes of the West, breadcrumbs that lead you along the path are still there. In public yoga classes, the focus is often on asana, the poses, and sometimes pranayama, the breath, but if you listen carefully, the other limbs of yoga are often threaded through many teachers’ cues. When yoga teachers suggests you avoid pushing so hard that you’re gasping for breath, they are talking about non-violence, one of the yamas. When they remind you to be happy in your variation on the pose, rather than grasping for the variation the person beside you is taking, they are talking about contentment, one of the niyamas. When teachers tell you focus the eyes and the mind on a drishti, a focal point, during balancing poses, they are talking about pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses. When you hear cues about detaching yourself from mental chatter and keeping your focus on your breath during savasana, corpse pose, your teachers are talking about samayama, the last three limbs.

All of this said, Putanjali’s system is only one way to journey toward enlightenment. There are many other paths.