I wrote this short piece many years ago. While there is a depth to yoga disciplines that go far beyond what Crowley discussed, I do still agree that his simplified adaptation of the 8 Limbs is a good basic primer on practical yoga exercises to achieve a well rounded practice in ones daily work.
Many western practitioners neglect the most fundamental aspects of meditation and calming the body, much to their disadvantage. The need to be able to concentrate, visualize, calm the body, increase energy, and so on, are essential techniques in western ritual that are used for every practice. Crowley’s introduction to the Yoga Sutras at the very least gives the westerner a simple way to get started and begin seeing benefits of practice almost immediately.
While Eight Lectures on Yoga is in no way a substitute for in depth training and practice for those that would go deep into the path of yoga, it is without a doubt good basic instruction in the fundamentals of practice that anyone can begin with. If limited only to his instruction, one would certainly see plenty of benefits in all aspects of their daily life.
“Yoga means Union.”
|— Aleister Crowley, Eight Lectures on Yoga.|
Eight Lectures on Yoga. In discussing the teachings of the “Great Men” of the past, Crowley writes in Book Four:
|The methods advised by all these people have a startling resemblance to one another. They recommend “virtue” (of various kinds), solitude, absence of excitement, moderation in diet, and finally a practice which some call prayer and some call meditation. (The former four may turn out on examination to be merely conditions favourable to the last.It is by freeing the mind from external influences, whether casual or emotional, that it obtains power to see somewhat of the truth of things.|
Even more succinctly, in Eight Lectures on Yoga, Crowley outlines the “whole of the technique of Yoga”:Sit Still. Stop thinking. Shut up. Get out!The brilliance of Crowley’s adaptation of yoga is the disposal of countless unnecessary superstitions, cultural trappings, and misinformation to reveal the pristine glory of systematic set of physical and mental exercises which will aid the magician in concentration, control of force, and increased vitality and health.The Yoga Sutras, written by the sage Patanjali, first outlined the path of ashtanga or “eight limbed yoga” as a set of guidelines on how to live one’s life, with attention to diet, self- discipline, and ethical and moral considerations. The first limb is yama, a set of five ethical standards to be followed: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (speaking the truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (sexual continence), and aparigraha (non-attachment). Crowley redefined yama to reflect the changes in consciousness and responsibility which humanity has progressed to, by saying “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. That is Yama.”The second limb is niyama, traditionally interpreted as five observances of self-discipline and witnessing of the sacred in one’s life. These are saucha (cleanliness); samtosa (contentment); tapas (spiritual austerities); svadhyaya (introspection); and Isvara pranidhana (surrender to God). In Eight Lectures on Yoga, Crowley interprets this limb generally as “virtue,” expanding them from five to seven virtues which correspond to the seven sacred planets of the ancients. Saturn represents the virtue of discipline and endurance, and embraces the Trance of Sorrow; Jupiter shows the “vital, creative, genial element of the cosmos” as the selflessness of universal love, and the Trance of Joy; Mars stands for the virtue of energy, the ability to conquer the obstacles on the path, in particular the physical obstacles, as well as courage and passion; unto the Sun is ascribed the virtue of harmony, the “centralization of the faculties, their control, their motivation;” to Venus is given the “ecstatic acceptance of all possible experience and the transcendental assumption of all particular experience into the one experience;” Mercury represents the virtue of adaptability and indifference, the adroitness and flexibility that is requisite in both the mind and body of the yogin to master the path; while finally, the Moon evinces the purity of aspiration, as well as the many siddhis or magick powers which will arise. Crowley also adds two further planetary associations, for Uranus and Neptune. The niyama for Uranus is “the discovery of the True Will,” further stating that this “is the most important of the tasks of the Yogi, because, until he has achieved it, he can have no idea who he is or where he is going.” To Neptune, he attributes spiritual intuition, the “imaginative faculty, the shadowing forth of the nature of the illimitable light,” as well as a strong dose of humour.Finally, of Pluto we are told that he is “the utmost sentinel of all; of him it is not wise to speak,” after which he explains that this is because “nothing at all is known about him.” (Perhaps it is for some future yogin to discover the niyama of this distant chunk of ice!)The third and fourth limbs of ashtanga are asana, the various postures necessary for meditation, and pranayama, the control of breath. Whereas traditional yoga utilizes several sets of asanas for practice and mastery, Crowley recommended selecting one position and mastering it. “The real object of Asana is control of the muscular system, conscious and unconscious, so that no messages from the body can reach the mind.” He points out the many health benefits of asana, including
|The conquest of Asana makes for endurance. If you keep in constant practice, you ought to find that about ten minutes in the posture will rest you as much as a good night’s sleep.|
Crowley defined pranayama as “control of force,” again cutting through profuse amounts of mystic obfuscation in the traditional literature by describing the process thus:
|This simply means that you get a stop watch, and choose a cycle of breathing out and breathing in. Both operations should be made as complete as possible. The muscular system must be taxed to its utmost to assist the expansion and contraction of the lungs.|
He also describes the classic results of pranayama practice: perspiration, automatic rigidity, buchari-siddhi (“jumping about like a frog”), and levitation.The fifth and sixth limbs are pratyahara, the withdrawal of senses, and dharana, concentration. The former is described in Eight Lectures as “introspection, but it also means a certain type of psychological experience,” citing the direct experience of feeling that you do not have a nose as an example. Going into much more detail in Book Four, Crowley describes the process of simply watching the mind think. With dharana, we move into concentration proper. Here Liber E gives several practices for training the mind to concentrate one-pointedly, such as visualizing the elemental tattvas for a minute or more, and eventually working up to more complex images. Other practices given in Eight Lectures for concentration include Liber Astarte, Liber III vel Jugorum, and the practice, “useful when walking in a christian city,” of saying “Apo Pantaos Kakodaimonos,” with an “outward and downward sweep of the arm,” whenever passing a person in “religious garb.”Dyana and Samadhi, the seventh and eighth limbs of yoga, are traditionally associated with “meditation” proper, and ecstasy, respectively. One necessarily leads to the other, and samadhi is the crown of the system, the charisma of the yogin. In dyana is a development of the introspection of pratyahara and the concentration of dharana, resulting in the single minded force of dhyana. This process, taken to conclusion, results in the ecstasy of Samadhi. In The Soldier and the Hunchback (Liber 148), Crowley writes of this experience:
|Not what Christians call faith, be sure! But what (possibly) the forgers of the Epistles — those eminent mystics! — meant by faith. What I call Samadhi!Ah, say the adepts, Samadhi is not the end, but the beginning. You must regard Samadhi as the normal state of mind which enables you to begin your researches, just as waking is the state from which you rise to Samadhi, sleep the state from which you rose to waking. And only from Sammasamadhi — continuous trance of the right kind — can you rise up as it were on tiptoe and peer through the clouds unto the mountains.|