The eight limbs of Sādhanā in spiritual life

Sage Agastya tells Sutikshana about the eight limbs of Sādhanā-Bhakti which are helpful in attaining Bhagavān Śrī Rāma.

तत्प्राप्तिसाधनान्यष्टौ तानि वक्ष्यामि तच्छृणु ।
यमो नियमसंज्ञश्च आसनं च तृतीकम् ॥
प्राणायामश्चतुर्थश्च प्रत्याहारश्च पञ्चमः ।
धारणा च तथा ध्यानं समाधिरिति सत्तम ॥
(अगस्त्य संहिता)

tat-prāpti-sādhanāny-aṣṭau tāni vakṣyāmi tac-chṛṇu ।
yamō niyama-saṃjñaśca āsanaṃ ca tṛtīkam ॥
prāṇāyāma-ścaturthaśca pratyāhāra-śca pañcamaḥ ।
dhāraṇā ca tathā dhyānaṃ samādhiriti sattama ॥
(Agastya Samhita)

“Oh best among sages ! There are eight limbs of Sādhanā (spiritual practices, sadhana bhakti) to attain Bhagavān Śrī Rāma, listen them I am telling those, they are — Yama, Niyama, Āsana, Prāṇāyāma, Pratyāhāra, Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna and Samādhi.”

Aforementioned limbs of Sadhana-Bhakti are collectively called as Aṣhṭāṅga Yoga in Yoga Shāstras (Upanishads) and other scriptures. “Yoga (योग)” is to unite self with Brahman (or Bhagavan).

Each of these eight limbs are now being described in detail with their characteristics —

Yama (यम i.e. restraints)

अहिंसा सत्यमस्तेयं ब्रह्मचर्यं दयार्जवम् ।
क्षमा धृतिर्मिताहारः शौचः चेति यमाः दश ॥
(अगस्त्य संहिता)

ahiṃsā satyamastēyaṃ brahmacaryaṃ dayārjavam ।
kṣamā dhṛtirmitāhāraḥ śaucaḥ cēti yamāḥ daśa ॥
(Agastya Samhita)

Ahiṃsā, Satya, Astēya, Brahmcharya. Dayā, Ārjava, Kshamā, Dhriti, Mitāhāra, Shauch — These ten (10) are Yama (restraints [for the right living]).

These ten Yamas with their characteristics:—

1. Ahimsa (non violence) — Harming (causing pain to) no Jiva from the words, mind and actions is called Ahimsa (non violence) by sages.

(Ahimsa is Param dharma for all Vaishnava.)

2. Satya (Truth) — As seen or heard something, if it is told same again, then it is called Satya (Truth) by great ones.

A devotee should inculcate Truthfulness in self.

3. Asteya (non stealing) — Not stealing anything even a grass of others is called Asteya by sages.

4. Brahmacarya — Forsaking copulation with woman in actions, thoughts, and words is called Brahmcharya.

Same is for a Brahmcharini (woman with Brahmcharya), she should forsake copulation with man in actions, thoughts, and words.

For a Grihastha (householder), restrained physical-relation with one wife or husband only during proper time is also allowed within Brahmcharya.

(One should discard all secret talking with opposite sex, and become pure at heart.)

Kama (lust), Krodha (anger) and lobh (greed) — are three gates to hell (Naraka). [ - Gita ]

5. Daya (pity, compassion, mercy) — Upon seeing the Dukha (distress, grief, sadness, pain etc) of someone, feeling of this is my Dukha, and after this trying to remove them is called Dayā (pity, compassion) by wise sages.

A Vaishnava has daya like his Bhagavan, and he has a tender heart, having incapacity to withstand the suffering of others.

6. Aarjav (Straightness, rectitude, tenderness) — leaving Kutilata (crookedness, guile, deception, dishonesty) in thoughts, words and actions is called Aarjav (Straightness, rectitude, tenderness) in conducts and behaviors.

A devotee should inculcate this tenderness and straightness in self.

7. Kshama (forgiveness) — They who have done Apakara (misdeeds, offense, harm etc) to us, and still treating them in friendly manner is called Kshama (forgiveness).

A Vaishnava like his Bhagavan should forgive offenses done by others to him.

And He is the best who forgives even before someone seeks forgiveness for his misdeeds and offenses.

8. Dhriti (Fortitude i.e. mental and emotional strength, steadiness, self-command) — Dhriti is the sense of determination to do duty even under averse situation, even while body and senses are dispirited, without desiring and making efforts for the matters happened in the past.

9. Mitahara (taking moderate food) — Eating only in moderate quantity, what is sacred (Shuddha-Satvik) as well healthy for spiritual life is called Mitahara.

When Ahara (food) is Shuddha-Satvik, then Antahkarana becomes pure and one gets the firm remembrance, and firm remembrance of Bhagavan brings union with Bhagavan and liberation from this material world.

Food should not be very hot, bitter, sour, etc. Food should be sacred and healthy, should have been offered first to Bhagavan.

Food should not be very hot, bitter, sour, etc. Food should be sacred and healthy, should be offered first to Bhagavan.

10. Shauch (cleanliness, purity) — Freedom from or Removing the dirt of body by washing the body properly and the impure thoughts from one's antahkarana (mind/conscience) is called Shauch (cleanliness, purity).

These are 10 Yamas.

Niyama (नियम i.e. religious observance, discipline, rule)

तपश्च तुष्टिरास्तिक्यं ईश्वराराधनं तथा ।
सिद्धान्तवेक्षणं चैव लज्जा दानं मतिस्तथा ॥
जपो व्रतं दशैतानि सुतीक्ष्ण नियमाः स्मृताः ।
(अगस्त्य संहिता)

tapa-śca tuṣṭir-āstikyaṃ īśvar-ārādhanaṃ tathā ।
siddhānta-vēkṣaṇaṃ caiva lajjā dānaṃ mati-stathā ॥
japō vrataṃ daś-aitāni sutīkṣṇa niyamāḥ smṛtāḥ ।
(Agastya Samhita)

“Oh sage Sutikshana ! Tapa, Tushti, Āstikya, Īśvar-Ārādhana, Siddhānt-Vekshaṇ (Shravaṇ & Manan), Lajjā, daan, Mati, Japa, and Vrata — these are ten (10) Niyamas.”

Description of these ten Niyamas -

1. Tapa (austerity) — With proper regulative principles in accordance of the Vaidic injunctions, effortlessly not eating the food is called Tapa (austerity).

Tapa is the word which is used in Upanishads in very broad sense. Upanishad relates the word Tapa with Brahman (Tapa is Brahman Itself), Svadhyay (self-study of scriptures), Brahm-gyan-sadhanam (practices for attaining the knowledge of Brahman), and Brahm-Upasana. Upanishad says drying the body by following the (severe) Vratas like Krichhra, Chaandraayan, Dvaadashi etc by avoiding (not eating) the food is called Tapa (austerity). Tapa enables us in doing the Brahm-Upasanas, It is in itself Brahm-Upasana.

Manu says ‘Service to and following the words of Mother, father and Guru is the highest Tapa (austerity).’

2. Tushti (contentment) — My life is not for Tripti (gratification or satisfaction or say worldly fulfillment), and this life is not even a waste or in vain without Tripti (gratification or satisfaction or fulfillment), living with this in mind is called Tushti (contentment).

3. Astikya (believing, theism) — having belief over the principles of the Vedas and Vedic scriptures is called Astikya (believing, theism).

4. Ishvar-aaraadhan (Propitiation, adoration, worship of Bhagavan) — Everyday in three Sandhyas (morning, afternoon and evening) or at least once in morning, doing archana (worship) of one's Ishta-deva is called Ishvar-aaraadhan* (Propitiation, adoration, worship of Bhagavan).

It needs to be described in detail in a separate page, there are various components of Ishvar-aaraadhan. One should maintain the Niyama, doing daily regular worship of Bhagavan in a constant disciplined manner.

5. Siddhant Vekshan or Shravanam and Mananam — looking into the principles of or Tattvas expounded by Vaishnava-agamas, Vedas, Ramayana, Gita etc through the attentive hearing Guru i.e. Shravanam, and then thinking it again and again to imbibe his words into heart i.e. Mananam, and in the middle and the end of the attentive hearing (Shravan), having vision or understanding of Tattvas is called Siddhant-Vekshan or Siddhant-Shravan by Tattvadarshis (seers).

Shravanam, Mananam and Nididhyasan are the path of Vedic Upasana, these are to be done again and again.

One should try to hear, ask and read (do svadhyay) more and more about the revealed as well as secret leelas of Ishta-deva Bhagavan Shri Rama to make him most dear to self, to have limitless love for Ishta-deva. This results into being absorbed (immersed) constantly in Ishtadeva i.e. Nididhyasan.

6. Lajja (shyness, modesty) — What is censured or forbidden or treated or considered as some lowly-act (or the action of abominable nature) in Vedas or in this world, refraining from doing those things from mind, speech, and action is called Lajja (shyness, modesty)

7. Daan (donation) — Giving something from earned money through right means, for the sake of Bhagavan or guru or Satpatra (some deserving person) is called donation.

Even while donating to Satpatra, only Bhagavan should be in mind, and thinking It is my duty, and in the mind while donating there should be no thought of reciprocation (the return of the favors) from whom we donate. When there is consideration of some returns or favors or gifts or fruits, or consideration of returning some favor done by someone earlier, then it is not gift or donation, it is a business.

One should donate on the auspicious days and in the morning.

8. Mati (understanding, intellect) — the knowledge of the essence after knowing Sat and asat i.e. real and unreal, good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate through discrimination is called Mati (understanding, intellect).

9. Japa (chanting) — गुरोर्लब्धस्य मन्त्रस्य शश्वदावर्तनं हि यत् The constant (again and again, incessant) repetition of mantra(s) received from Gurudeva, is called Japa (chanting).

Mantra(s) must be received from Gurudeva.

Bhagavan says in Gita, among Yajñas I am Japa Yajña.

When Mantra (take it as one fire stick) is rubbed again and again against the heart (another fire stick), then Bhagavan reveals himself from heart just like fire is revealed from rubbing two fire sticks.

Repetition of Mantra received from Gurudeva, by keeping heart in the mantra is called Japa (chanting).

Japa should not be scattered, but disciplined, constant and love-soaked, as scattered things are not so effective.

One should take a Niyama (rule) for a minimum number of regular chanting of Mantra daily, only by chanting with this Niyama, prema appears in the heart.

10. Vrata (vow) — Accepting the religious observances (e.g. Upavasa) to do with proper Niyamas (rules and regulations) is called Vrata (vow).

Almost all of these ten (10) Yamas and ten (10) Niyamas are also counted by Bhagavan in Gita 16.1-3 as the Divine Natures present in Dev-purushas (devotees, great souls).

अभयं सत्त्वसंश‍ुद्धिर्ज्ञानयोगव्यवस्थितिः ।
दानं दमश्च यज्ञश्च स्वाध्यायस्तप आर्जवम् ॥ १ ॥

अहिंसा सत्यमक्रोधस्त्यागः शान्तिरपैश‍ुनम् ।
दया भूतेष्वलोलुप्‍त्वं मार्दवं ह्रीरचापलम् ॥ २ ॥

तेजः क्षमा धृतिः शौचमद्रोहो नातिमानिता ।
भवन्ति सम्पदं दैवीमभिजातस्य भारत ॥ ३ ॥
(गीता १६.१-३)
abhayaṃ sattva-saṃśuddhir-jñāna-yōga-vyavasthitiḥ ।
dānaṃ damaśca yajñaśca svādhyāyas-tapa ārjavam ॥ 1 ॥

ahiṃsā satyam-akrōdhas-tyāgaḥ śāntir-apaiśunam।
dayā bhūtēṣv-alōluptvaṃ mārdavaṃ hrīr-acāpalam ॥ 2 ॥

tējaḥ kṣamā dhṛtiḥ śaucam-adrōhō nāti-mānitā ।
bhavanti saṃpadaṃ daivīm-abhijātasya bhārata ॥ 3 ॥
(Gītā 16.1-3)

Śrī Bhagavān said —
“Oh Arjuna, the son of Bharata ! Abhayam (fearlessness), Sattva-saṃśuddhi (Purity of mind/conscience), Jñāna-Yōga-vyavasthitiḥ (situating [engaged] in Jnana and Yoga, Jnana is the right-knowledge of Tattvas received from Guru and Vaidic scriptures, and Yoga is process of realizing them in self, or the devotion to meditation on Bhagavan is Yoga), dāna (donation [of earned money through rights means to some deserving one, without desiring any return, as per one's ability]), dama (self-control, removing the mind from sense objects), yajña (Ishvar-āradhana i.e. worship, adoration of Iṣhṭa without desire of the fruits), Svādhyaya (Repetition of Mantra received from Gurudev, hearing Vaidic scriptures from the mouth of guru i.e. Shravan and then thinking again and again over what is learnt to imbibe in self i.e. Manan, for Manan self-study of Vaidic scriptures after being taught, or study of self, all these are called Svādhyay), tapa (austerity, penance), ārjavam (straightforwardness [oneness, simplicity] at mind, words and action; leaving all Kutilata [dishonesty, guile etc]), ॥ 1 ॥

ahimshā (harmlessness, causing pain to no Jiva from mind, words and action), Satya (speaking truth i.e. speaking again the same things as they are what you have known or heard or seen), akrōdha (Absence of anger i.e. absence of thoughts of doing harm to someone when being offended or abused), tyāga (renunciation i.e. absence of attachments in family, friend, home, fruits, etc at mind level; giving up Vāsanas, egoism and desires for the fruits of Karmas; abandoning everything which is opposite to the spiritual elevation of the self), śānti (serenity of mind/conscience arising from practice of restraining the senses from their sense-objects), apaiśunam (refraining from telling others faults to someone, backbiting, slandering, talking malicious about someone behind their back), dayā (kindness, mercy, compassion to the beings in dukha [suffering, distress, grief], and then trying to remove their dukha), alōluptvaṃ (non-covetousness i.e. being free from the desires of the gratification from sense-objects), mārdava (gentleness, tenderness of heart i.e. absence of harshness; non-hardheartedness to be fit to associate with Sadhu like people), hrīr (modesty, shyness i.e. shame felt in or refraining from doing those things which are censored or forbidden or considered abominable acts in vedas or in society), acāpalam (absence of inconsistency and fickleness; being free from making efforts for sense-objects to enjoy), ॥ 2 ॥

tējaḥ (brilliance, not able to be overpowered by wicked souls), kṣamā (forgiveness i.e. absence of hostility for even those who have done offenses or injury to oneself), dhṛti (Fortitude i.e. mental and emotional strength and firmness to keep doing one's duty even in adverse situations or even while body and senses are dispirited), śaucam (cleanliness, purity, the removal of external as well as internal impurities), adrōh (freedom from hatred, non interference i.e. not interfering into others' actions), nāti-mānitā (absence of over pride, false or misplaced pride) — these qualities or characteristics born to the one who is destined to have divine destiny (divine nature).॥ 3 ॥”

Here Bhagavān counted total 26 qualities or characteristics of divine nature, the qualities born to one who is for divine destiny.

Āsana (आसन i.e. physical postures)

एकत्रैव स्थिरीभावः पूर्वोक्तनियमैः सह ।
मूलार्पितशरीरस्य एतदासनमुच्यते ॥
(श्री अगस्त्य संहिता)

ēkatraiva sthirībhāvaḥ pūrvōktaniyamaiḥ saha ।
mūlārpitaśarīrasya ētadāsanamucyatē ॥
(śrī agastya saṃhitā)

"'Immobility [of one's body] in a steady posture' as if fixed to the support (or, offered into the meditation on the root-source [Brahm Śrī Rām]), accompanied by the previously said Niyamas*, is called Āsana."

Maharshi Patañjali says ―

स्थिरसुखमासनम् ॥ योग-सूत्र २.४६ ॥

sthirasukhamāsanam ॥ yōga-sūtra 2.46 ॥

"The steady (stable, immobile) and comfortable posture is called Āsana."

How could Āsana be perfected?

प्रयत्नशैथिल्यानन्तसमापत्तिभ्याम् ॥योग-सूत्र २.४७॥

prayatna-śaithilya-anantasamāpattibhyām ॥yōga-sūtra 2.47॥

"[In the Āsana] by relaxation of the efforts (activities), and entering the mind in the supreme-infinite (Anant) [- by these two, the Āsana can be perfected]" (Patañjali Yōga-sūtra 2.47)

An objection or doubt may come up - Is sitting [being] in an Āsana necessary for doing Upāsanā of Bhagavān, especially when it is said to do the Upāsanā (meditation upon, remembrance of the Bhagavān) by the mind in the Shruti? Something mental should not have any restriction on the physical state of the body.

To answer this, Sage Bādarāyaṇa says in Brahm-sūtra ―


[The section in context of doing Upāsanā in sitting position]

आसीनः संभवात् ॥ ब्रह्म-सूत्र ४/१/७ ॥

āsīnaḥ saṃbhavāt ॥ brahma-sūtra 4/1/7 ॥

"Sitting in an Āsana [is necessary], on account of possibility." (Brahm-sūtra 4.1.7)

This Sūtra (aphorism) says "Sitting in an Āsana is necessary for the Upāsanā (meditation, remembrance), otherwise it is not possible to meditate while standing or walking or lying down etc.

Upāsanā is the continuity of the mental-state [mind absorbed into the Ātmā (Brahm)], and such mental-state will not exist when one walks or runs or dance, etc.

ध्यानाच्च ॥ ब्रह्म-सूत्र ४/१/८ ॥

dhyānācca ॥ brahma-sūtra 4/1/8 ॥

"And on account of meditation (Dhyān)." (Brahm-sūtra 4.1.8 )

Since Dhyāna (meditation) is such continuity of the thoughts of the subject (Brahm), it is possible only when body is at rest and the mind is calm.

अचलत्वं चापेक्ष्य ॥ ब्रह्म-सूत्र ४/१/९ ॥

acalatvaṃ cāpēkṣya ॥ brahma-sūtra 4/1/9 ॥

"And in reference to immobility. [Shruti says meditating earth, etc] ." (Brahm-sūtra 4.1.9)

In reference to immobility in the meditation, Chhāndogya Upanishad says "ध्यायतीव पृथिवी ध्यायतीवान्तरिक्षं ...... dhyāyatīva pṛthivī dhyāyatīva-antarikṣaṁ ...." ― the earth meditating, as it were; the space meditating, as it were...

स्मरन्ति च ॥ ब्रह्म-सूत्र ४/१/१० ॥

smaranti ca ॥ brahma-sūtra 4/1/10 ॥

"And also, the Smriti-texts (or the authoritative people) tell .. ." (Brahm-sūtra 4.1.10)

And the Smriti-texts also say the sitting-posture (Āsana) is required for the meditation, and the Yoga-shāstras teach different Āsanas (sitting postures) like Padmāsana, Siddhāsana etc.

In Gītā 6.11, Bhagavān says "शुचौ देशे प्रतिष्ठाप्य स्थिरमासनमात्मन: śucau deśe pratiṣṭhāpya sthiram āsanam ātmanaḥ" - In the pure and clean place, after establishing a stable Āsana for the self, practice the Yoga (of meditation).

Thus, Āsana helps in the concentration, meditation, Jap, Svādhyāy, etc.

Āsana is called the third limb of Aṣṭāṅga-Yōga of Sādhan-Bhakti, after Yama and Niyama.

There are various Yogāsan-s which kill the affliction due to pair of opposites like hot and cold, etc., and keep the body fit and healthy.

Prāṇāyāma (प्राणायाम i.e. the breath-regulation)

तस्मिन्सति श्वासप्रश्वासयोर्गतिविच्छेदः प्राणायामः ॥
(पतञ्जलि योग-सूत्र २.४९)

tasmin-sati śvāsa-praśvāsayōr-gati-vicchēdaḥ prāṇāyāmaḥ ॥
(patañjali yōga-sūtra 2.49)

"(While sitting comfortably) there in Āsana, Controlling (modification, suspension of) the flow of the inhalation (in) and the exhalation (out) of the breath - is (called) Prāṇāyāma."

बाह्याभ्यन्तरस्तम्भवृत्तिर्देशकालसंख्याभिः परिदृष्टो दीर्घसूक्ष्मः ॥
(योग-सूत्र २.५०)

bāhya-abhyantara-stambha-vṛttir-dēśa-kāla-saṃkhyābhiḥ paridṛṣṭō dīrgha-sūkṣmaḥ ॥
(yōga-sūtra 2.50)

"(Bāhya) Outside [Rechak], (abhyantara) Inside [Purak] and (stambha-vṛtti) Paused [Kumbhak] - these (three Prāṇāyāma-s) breathe-regulations - are observed closely (measured) by the place, the duration and the count - are long and light."

Bāhya-Vritti Prāṇāyāma:- The process of complete expiration through nostril and then suspending the breath (Prāṇa) outside is Bāhya-Vritti Prāṇāyāma. It is called 'Rechak'.

Abhyantar Vritti Prāṇāyāma:- The process of complete inspiration inside through the nostril and then suspending the breath inside is called Abhyantar Vritti Prāṇāyāma. It is called Purak.

Stambha-vritti Pranayama: - pausing (restraining) the breath there outside or inside respectively for a bearable duration, is called Stambhavritti Pranayama. This process of stopping the breath is called Kumbhak. If the breath is held outside, it is Bahya Kumbhak, and if it is held inside, it is called Abhyantar Kumbhak.

These three Prāṇāyāma-s are observed closely by the place (how far outside nostril it is exhaled, or how much inside it is inhaled), (for how much) the duration and the count (it is inhaled, paused, exhaled, paused, inhaled...).

ततः क्षीयते प्रकाशावरणम् ॥
(योग-सूत्र २.५२)

tataḥ kṣīyate prakāśa-āvaraṇam ॥
(yōga-sūtra 2.52)

"(By the practice of Prāṇāyāma,) Then vanishes the veil (of avidyā, ignorance) covering the light of knowledge (of the true self)."

प्राणायामैर्दहेद् दोषान् (~ मनुस्मृति ६.७२)

prāṇāyāmairdahēd dōṣān (~ manusmṛti 6.72)

"By means of Prāṇāyāma ‘Breath-suspension’, Destroy the Doshas."

When Shri Rama went in the room of Kausalya to tell the good news of his coronation, at that time she was meditating silently upon Purusha.

प्राणायामेन पुरुषं ध्यायमाना जनार्दनम् ॥
(श्रीवाल्मीकि रामायण २.४.३३)

prāṇāyāmēna puruṣaṃ dhyāyamānā janārdanam ॥
(śrī vālmīki rāmāyaṇa 2.4.33)

"Mother Kausalyā with her closed eyes was meditating upon Purusha, through Prāṇāyāma (breathe)"

Apart from chanting as usually, one should chant mantra during Prāṇāyāma also and meditate upon Purusha. How and when to meditate, one should learn from one's guru.


॥ श्रीसीतारामचंद्रार्पणमस्तु ॥