An Interview with Acharya David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri)

Many westerners are first introduced to Yoga through asana, the practice of the yogic postures. As one’s practice deepens, it can lead to an interest in further exploring aspects of Yoga. In this interview, we talk with Dr. David Frawley—considered to be an acharya, a scholar and authority on yogic, Vedic and Ayurvedic sciences—about what it means to develop a Yoga sadhana, a formal practice of classical Yoga.

Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): What is “sadhana” according to classical Yoga texts?

David Frawley (DF): Traditionally, Yoga is a sadhana, and a sadhana implies a daily practice, lifestyle, routine and regimen. If you want to employ Yoga at a deeper spiritual level, then you employ Yoga as a sadhana and you are called a sadhak, one who is engaged in sadhana. The term sadhana is from the root “sadh,” from which we get the word, siddhi, which means to accomplish, perfect, realize, manifest or to make real. Sadhana is a way of completing or perfecting a work. So many people define Yoga as a workout, wellness system or therapy and we need to introduce it as a sadhana in which we work to raise our consciousness

Traditionally, Yoga is defined as a sadhana in the sense of Atma siddhi: Self-realization or God-realization, union with Ishvara. It entails a whole procedure. The second section of the Yoga Sutras is called Sadhana Pada. It follows the first section, Samadhi Pada. Sadhana Pada introduces Kriya Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga and a whole range of Yoga practices in order to realize the goal of Yoga. So, Yoga, in the traditional sense, is primarily a sadhana.

IYM: Why does Samadhi Pada come first in the Yoga Sutras?

DF: Samadhi Pada comes first for those who can directly enter into samadhi, which is very few. Then comes the sadhana practice to prepare us to enter into higher states of consciousness. Sadhana is also a means of preparing oneself, perfecting oneself and making oneself better.

IYM: Patanjali begins Sadhana Pada with Kriya Yoga. What is the relationship between sadhana and the three components of Kriya Yoga?

DF: Kriya Yoga is the Yoga of action, but this refers to an internal rather than an external action. The internal action of Yoga is a sadhana that is comprised of tapas, svadhyaya and Ishvara pranidhana. Tapas comes first because it’s what ripens or prepares us. Tapas means heat, gestating, preparing and ripening. All the Yoga practices are types of tapas because they involve the application of heat, pressure, energy, motivation and aspiration to bring about a change in our being and our consciousness. Sometimes tapas is wrongly translated as austerity or asceticism. However, tapas refers more to the application of energy or aspiration, like the inspiration that underlies an artist’s work. Without tapas, your sadhana can degenerate into a kind of routine or mechanical thing you do because you want to get something. Tapas is that inner fire, the inner agni, that tejas that really drives one’s sadhana.

Ishvara pranidhana—the alignment of oneself with the divine presence within—has been already mentioned in the first part of the Yoga Sutras as a direct means of samadhi that doesn’t necessarily require an action or purification. It can exist in itself. But it can also be seen as an aspect of sadhana, because sadhana is not something done by our ego as the motivating force. It’s not a type of attempt to take control or take power over from the standpoint of the ego. It’s the alignment of our inner motivation with the Divine, or Ishvara. Ishvara pranidhana is an aspect of tapas. If Ishvara pranidhana is not there, then tapas becomes merely self-discipline for any egoistic pursuit.

Svadhaya refers to knowledge of one’s Self, studying the teachings that are related to one’s own constitution by way of the doshas, gunas and karmas. It implies an adaptation of the teachings at an individual level. As a knowledge component it also reflects vairagya and viveka, the factors of detachment and discrimination. Tapas is always done as a factor of svadhaya because it has to be adapted at an individual level, otherwise it can be just a form of effort or discipline that one has taken up externally. These three components taken all together help us understand the action of Yoga and Yoga sadhana. They are also the kernel that is later expanded into the eight limbs of Yoga, including the five yamas and five niyamas in which the factors of Kriya Yoga occur. Tapas is reflected in all the eight limbs and the other two components of Kriya Yoga. . .

Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2011 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.