The last book of the yoga sutras is mostly random later additions. Only the first sutra (sentence) struck me as meaningful from a cultural perspective as it deals with altered states of consciousness. Altered states of consciousness is something everyone ties to achieve in some way. Exercise, sports, art, alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs, marijuana (a big issue in US culture), are all ways that people seek to alter thier states of consciousness everyday. So, the fact that this was a big issue 2000 years ago I find to be VERY interesting.
The following is an extract from book 4 from "A Zen Commentary On The Yoga Sutras";
4.1 Psychic powers arise by birth, drugs, incantations, purificatory acts or concentrated insight.
The belief here, as must have been common in the culture, was that simply being born can make you a psychic (like the Oracle of Delphi in the Ancient Greek culture), austerity could make one psychic, meditation (concentrated insight) could make one psychic and drugs could too. Except for “birth” all the acts for mental enhancement involves altering perception in some way. In our western culture alcohol, caffeine, energy drinks, sugar and smoking cigarettes is a more culturally acceptable way of altering perception though cigarettes seem to be on the decline. No matter what history shows that cultures seek to alter their perception in some way through outside agents through oral consumption and the yoga sutras clearly had some acceptable drugs of their own, whatever they,may have been.
Cultural correlation: In the ancient Vedic religion their god Indra is known to have attained powers through drinking Soma. A drug concoction of some sort. So this belief must have been prevalent in the culture of the time. It also arose in western culture as well with the movement of the 60’s and the research and books of Timothy Leary and Aldous Huxley who did extensive research on LSD before this research was banned by Nixon. Timothy Leary showed a self-improvement rate on prisoners using LSD which has never been matched since. Much of that research is still available today. Clearly, the fascination of human beings with drugs and their effects to alter perception goes back to ancient times. More conventionally meditation, self-hypnosis and hypnosis is used to alter perception in the “new age” segment of our culture which has gained considerable public and psychiatric acceptance in the last few decades.
With the current debate in our culture on drugs, particularly marijuana, I thought I should point out the writings of scientists that became illegal despite promising results (experiments with torture as the basis for exploration continue to be legal despite there being no evidence than the feelings of animals aren't the same as the feelings of humans, i.e. anger, love or sorrow… not to mention the fact the torturing animals as a basis for scientific research says allot about the mentality that exists within western society that is reminiscent of the monks with their self flagellation. I have to wonder if science had emerged in a non western Christian culture, would it be as sadistic? As study for another time maybe);
Timothy Leary came up with a model of the mind based on personal experimentation on a scale that is really quite impressive. One of his co-explorers by the name of Robert Anton Wilson has written about it in detail, available online at http://deoxy.org/8circuit.htm called “Timothy's Leary Eight Circuits of Consciousnesses” where he writes about “circuit 5”:
The opening and imprinting of this circuit has been the preoccupation of "technicians of the occult"—Tantric shamans and hatha yogis. While the fifth tunnel-reality can be achieved by sensory deprivation, social isolation, physiological stress or severe shock (ceremonial terror tactics, as practiced by such rascal-gurus as Don Juan Matus or Aleister Crowley), it has traditionally been reserved to the educated aristocracy of leisure societies who have solved the four terrestrial survival problems.
About 20,000 years ago, the specific fifth brain neurotransmitter was discovered by shamans in the Caspian Sea area of Asia and quickly spread to other wizards throughout Eurasia and Africa. It is, of course, cannabis. Weed. Mother Mary Jane.
Elsewhere, online, there is a summary of brain circuits with its related stimulants;
Wilson suggests how certain drugs may activate the various circuits, something like the following:
1st circuit: Comfort foods- sugar, dairy products. Sedatives may deaden alarm sensations and produce a sense of security - alcohol, for example.
2nd circuit: Stimulants in general, as well as alcohol in large amounts (the classic aggressive drunk)
3rd circuit: Stimulants, possibly, and no doubt 'Smart drugs' would fit here.
4th circuit: Ecstasy, as well as many others - generally any drug which defeats social inadequacy programming.
5th circuit: Sex is the big one, when it goes from being mere satisfaction of physical drives and becomes oceanlike ecstasy. Otherwise, marijuana, and most hallucinogens in moderate doses.
6th circuit: LSD
7th circuit: Psilocybin, Peyote, possibly LSD, many of the natural psychedelics.
8th circuit: Ketamine? Excessive doses of many drugs may produce this, as well as those which produce near-death experiences.
People smoking marijuana have noticed an increase in creativity while studies have shown the part of the brain affected most is the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is what separates us from the apes. The fact that marijuana affects this most creative - and human - part of the brain is interesting at the very least. What’s more interesting that, taking into account the creativity/thought boost, after some time of use people have shown that even the slight disruption in motor skills (compared to alcohol) become evened out to where there are no longer discernable from non-high states. All of this information was covered in documentaries on CNN and it doesn’t even include the medical benefits (not relevant to the sutra).
Related blog posts:
Bhakti Yoga: The Source Of Jesus's First Commandment? (Extract from the book "A Zen Commentary On The Yoga Sutras")
Benefits Of Marijuana (Hemp)- It Can Boost The Economy (Create New Business) In Textiles, Nutrition, Plastics, Paper, Houses, etc.