What are the main differences between these yogic virtues:
Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dhyana, Dharana, Samadhi.
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The Devi Bhgavatam's 7th book's 35th chapter talks about these details of Yoga and Mantra Siddhi. Yoga is known to have eight limbs namely: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
Yama includes non-injury, non-stealing, continence, compassion etc. Niyama includes Tapasya, Santosha (contentment), Astikya etc. Asanas are the Yogic postures like Padma, Swastika, Vira etc. Pranayama is about controlling the breath or Prana. Pratyahara is detaching the senses from their respective objects. Dharana is fixing the Prana at various points of the body. Dhyana is meditation and Samadhi is the ultimate step of Yoga signifying union of Jiva with the Paramatma.
Quoting the necessary verses from the aforementioned Purana:
- Himâlayâ said :-- "O Mahes'varî! Now tell me the Yoga with all its Amgas (limbs) giving the knowledge of the Supreme Consciousness so that, I may realise my Self, when I practise according to those instructions. 2-10. S'rî Devî said :-- "The Yoga does not exist in the Heavens; nor does it exist on earth or in the nether regions (Pâtâla). Those who are skilled in the Yogas say that the realisation of the identity between the Jivâtma and the Paramâtmâ is "Yoga." O Sinless One! The enemies to this Yoga are six; and they are lust, anger, greed, ignorance, vanity and jealousy. The Yogis attain the Yoga when they become able to destroy these six enemies by practising the accompaniments to Yoga. Yama, Niyama, Âsana, Prânâyâma, Pratyâhâra, Dhâranâ, Dhyâna, and Samâdhi, these are the eight limbs of Yoga. Yama includes Ahimsâ (noninjuring; non- killing); truthfulness; Asteyam (non-stealing by mind or deed); Brahmacharya (continence); Dayâ (mercy to all beings); Uprightness; forgiveness, steadiness; eating frugally, restrictedly and cleanliness (external and internal). These are ten in number. Niyama includes also ten qualities :-- (1) Tapasyâ (austerities and penances); (2) contentment; (3) Âstikya (faith in the God and the Vedas, Devas, Dharma and Adharma); (4) Charity (in good causes); worship of God; hearing the Siddhântas (established sayings) of the Vedas; Hrî or modesty (not to do any irreligious or blameable acts); S'raddhâ (faith to go do good works that are sanctioned); (9) Japam (uttering silently the mantrams, Gâyatrîs or sayings of Purânas) and (10) Homam (offering oblations daily to the Sacred Fire). There are five kinds of Asanas (Postures) that are commendable: Padmâsan, Svastikâsan, Bhadrâsan, Vajrâsan and Vîrâsan. Padmâsan consists in crossing the legs and placing the feet on the opposite thighs (the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh) and catching by the right hand brought round the back, the toes of the right foot and catching by the left hand brought round the back the toes of the left foot; sitting then straight and with ease. This is recommended by the Yogis (and by this one can raise oneself in the air)
Taking in the breath by the Idâ (the left nostril) so long as we count "Om" sixteen, retaining it in the Susumnâ so long as we count "Om" sixty-four times and then exhaling it slowly by the Pingalâ nâdi (the right nostril) as long as we count "Om" thirty-two times. (The first process is called Pûraka, the second is called Kumbhaka, and the third is called Rechaka). This is called one Prânâyâma by those versed in the Yogas. Thus one should go on again and again with his Prânâyâma. At the very beginning, try with the number twelve, i. e., as we count "Om" twelve times and then increase the number gradually to sixteen and so on. Prânâyâma is of two kinds :-- Sagarbha and Vigarbha. It is called Sagarbha when Prânâyâma is performed with repeating the Ista Mantra and Japam and meditation.
21-30. Now comes Pratyâhâra. The senses travel spontaneously towards their objects, as if they are without anyone to check. To curb them perforce and to make them turn backwards from those objects is called "Pratyâhâra," To hold the Prâna Vâyu on toes, heels, knees, thighs, sacrum genital organs, navel, heart, neck, throat, the soft palate, nose, between the eyebrows, and on the top of the head, at these twelve places respectively is called the "Dhâranâ." Concentrate the mind on the consciousness inside and then meditate the Ista Devatâ within the Jîvâtmâ. This is the Dhyâna. Samâdhi is identifying always the Jîvâtmâ and Paramâtmâ. Thus the sages say. (Samâdhi is of two kinds (1) Samprajñâta, or Savikalpak and (2) Nirvikalpak. When the ideas the Knower, Knowledge and the Thing Known, rernain separate in the consciousness and yet the mind feels the one Akhanda Sachchidânanda Brahma and his heart remains, there, that is called Samprajñâta Samâdhi; and when those three vanish away and the one Brahma remains, it is called Asamprajñâta Samâdhi). Thus I have described to you the Yoga with its eight limbs.
The entire Sarvollāsatantram 15th Ullahasa is dedicated to yoga.
According to KaliKaKulSrvaVe:
यम-नियमासन-प्राणायाम-प्रत्याहार-ध्यान । धारणा-समाधि--योगाद्गाष्टानि पार्वति ॥ ५ ॥
Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dhyana, Dharana and Samadhi is itself the "AstaAnga yog". (8 fold yoga to be precise). From the same text we find the 'yama' & 'niyama' lakshanam:
आदौ यमलक्षणम् अहिंसा सत्यमस्तेयं ब्रह्मचर्य॑दयार्जवम् । क्षमा धृति रमिताहारं शौचति यमा दश । दशधा लक्षण प्रोक्तं योगाड्स्य यमस्य च ॥ ६ ॥
'Non-violence' (अहिंसा) , 'truth' (सत्य) , not doing theft (अस्तेय), 'Bhramahachari' (ब्रह्मचारी) , 'pity' (दया) , 'sincere' (आर्जव) , 'sympathy' (क्षमा), 'determination' (धृति) , 'habit of moderate food' (मिताहार) , 'Defecation' (शौच) are the Yamas.
अथ नियमलक्षणम् तपः सन्तोषमास्तिक्यं दानं देवस्य पूजनम् । सिद्धान्तश्रवणञ्चैव ह्रर्मतिश्र्च जपाहुतम् । दशधा नियमं प्रोक्तं योगाङ्गस्य च पार्वति ॥ ७ ॥
Similar to Yama there are Niyama, as listed: 'Tapas' (तप), 'satisfaction' (संतोष), 'Astikta' (आस्तिकता), 'donation' (दान), 'worship' (देवपूजा), 'siddhanta-sharavan' (सिद्धांत श्रवण), 'Hreem' (ह्री), 'intelligence' (मति) and 'Aahuti' (आहुति) are the Niyamas.
The Sarvollāsatantram says there are many Asanas of which 5 are of prime importance. They are : The 'PadmAsana', the 'SawastikAsana', the 'BhadrAsana', the 'VajraAsana' & 'VeerAsana'.
According to Tripurasar:
पूरकोऽपि भवेद् ब्रह्मा कुम्भकोऽपि हरि: स्वयम्। रेचकोऽपि स्वयं रुद्र: प्राणायामं गुणत्रयम् ॥ २१ ॥ कनिष्ठानामिकांगुष्ठैर्यन्नासापुटधारणम् । प्राणायाम: स॒ विज्ञेयस्तर्जनीमध्यमे बिना ॥ २२ ॥
Performing the 'Purak' which is Bhrama, 'Kumbhak' which is Vishnu and 'Rachak' which is Rudra himself is Pranayama. To do Pranayama use little finger, ring finger and the Thumb.
According to Niruti:
निरुत्ते--प्राणायाम द्विषट्केन प्रत्याहार: प्रकीर्त्तित:। प्रत्याहारद्विषद्केन जानीयादू धारणं शुभम् ॥ २७ ॥ धारणं द्वाद्ं प्रोक्तं ध्यानं ध्यानविशारद: । ध्यानै्द्दादशकैरेव समाधिरभिधीयते । समाधेरथ कर्माण करोति न करोति वा ॥ २८ ॥
12 times Pranayama is Pratyahara. 12 times Pratyahara is Dharana. 12 times Dharana is Dhyana and 12 times Dhyana is Samadhi. Doing karma or not doing karma in samadhi is one and the same.
It's not strictly accurate to call these virtues - they are limbs of the eightfold yoga path, called aṣṭāṅga-yoga. Aṣṭāṅga-yoga is described in the Bhagavad-gītā along with other yoga paths, and is also described in the Yoga Sūtra of Pātāñjali.
Taking the Sanskrit terms at face value, a simple definition of these aṅgas or limbs as described in Bhagavad-gītā is as follows:
yama - following rules, or things one should do, for example śauca (cleanliness)
niyama - following restrictions, or things one should not do, such as asteya (not stealing), ahiṁsā (non-violence), mauna (avoiding unnecessary speech), brahmacarya (celibacy), etc.
āsana - practice of sitting positions
prāṇāyama - practice of breathing exercises
pratyāhāra - withdrawal of the senses from sense objects. In the Gītā, Śrī Kṛṣṇa gives the example of a tortoise withdrawings its limbs within its shell.
dharaṇā - fixedness or steadiness of the mind
dhyāna - actual meditation, fixing the consciousness on an object of meditation, usually the Paramātmā form of Bhagavān Viṣṇu residing within the heart.
samādhi - the ultimate stage of absorption in one's object of meditation. In the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Dhruva attains perfection via utterance of a mantra given to him by Sage Nārada and achieves utter absorption in his meditation on Śrī Viṣṇu. samādhi is a perfectional stage which is achieved usually after long and difficult practice. Adept yogis who achieve this state may appear to exist in a state of suspended animation.
So it's not really accurate to call these virtues - they are really steps on a progressive path, and they are certainly all virtuous. For serious yoga practitioners, these are really elements of a lifelong practice and commitment.