Eight Limbs of Yoga (Patanjali)

The Eight Limbs of Yoga is widely known and used in various ways and by diverse schools, some traditional and some even anti-traditional or anti-spiritual. The eight precepts consisting of abstentions, observances and yoga practice are concerned with the practices and requirements for any person that aspires to the yoga of knowledge. The Eight Limbs of Yoga forms a small portion of the whole body of works that make up the Yoga-Sutras. It is frequently made subject to erroneous interpretations and is used in ways that dilute and denature the intended meaning and use. We will therefore provide here a non-sectarian commentary based on the ancient texts and doctrine, without any ‘social’ or humanist distortions.

Vishvavajra or double vajra yoga powerThe yoga of Patanjali, based on the Shankhya cosmology, is by now the central hub of our methodology, a hub capable of analogous transposition with the true spiritual centre of the world even at a time when humanity is losing touch with the very essence to which it owes its existence. The Yoga-Sutras attributed to Patanjali express a timeless wisdom. Patanjali is a family name and does not indicate an individual author. The science of yoga already existed for thousands of years before the Patanjali school wrote down the Aphorisms. At that time, thought to be around two thousand years ago, our world was passing through considerable changes. According to tradition, humanity then entered the final phase of the Kali Yuga or Age of Darkness. There was a pressing need to write down knowledge that was once passed on orally to preserve it for posterity. As in the present times we now reach the end of the final phase of Kali Yuga, the Great Work of initiation and spiritual realisation requires a restoration of the traditional means of knowledge so that the seeds of the entire Manvantara or Cosmic Cycle can be carried through to the next and initiation, for those souls that still carry the possibility latent within them, is still possible.

Eight Limbs of Yoga

The yamas, though they are called ‘abstentions’, are practices in effect and when properly understood they are simply an expression of the truth of any individual being. The niyamas, called ‘observances’, are similarly what is ‘seen’, as an outward attitude to the beginner, while knowledge of these reveals them as the simplest, most natural state of the being.

1. Yamas: harmlessness; truthfulness; non-stealing; continence; non-covetousness
2. Niyamas: cleanliness; contentment; fiery aspiration; self-study; self-surrender (to the path, which is God)
3. Asana (seated posture)
4. Pranayama (control of breath)
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses)
6. Dharana (concentration, fixation)
7. Dhyana (true meditation with sustained concentration)
8. Samadhi (union with God—the goal, which is yoga)

The first two yamas and niyamas are commonly referred to, even by so-called experts, as moral requirements, and sometimes even as social ethics. However, although that is certainly how they appear to the uninitiated, they are really nothing of the kind. These are practical requirements so that the goal of yoga is achievable and as such they have no relation with society or any morality; all morality is arbitrary by definition. The timeless wisdom does not change with the expedient requirements of any social order.

The ancient commentaries of sages on the Yoga-Sutras are emphatic that ‘harmlessness’ is not to be interpreted as Jainists and others do. Jainists must walk very carefully lest they step on an ant and if they find a flea in their bed they might have to move to another bed. The sages insist that one must not harbour thoughts that involve harm to another being. Obviously that also includes deeds but extreme interpretations are heterodox and do not accord with the primordial and universal tradition.

Truthfulness can be taken as far as the level of understanding goes. With greater knowledge, greater exactitude is required. One must not speak falsehood merely because it will please someone.

Non-stealing includes not stealing the thoughts or words of other persons, and this is subtler than it appears because there can be thoughts of a ‘collectivity’, such as popular opinion, what one might read in a newspaper or some form of social media—if one would read such things, which would then contradict ‘truthfulness’. Stealing also includes thoughts of envy, resentment of others. One should not claim gifts or favours from others and even when they are freely offered one should not always accept something; for example if it is given by a person with an unclean or evil mind.

Continence is sometimes construed as sexual abstinence, which is sufficient for many persons. A more complete understanding involves the conservation of all energy for the Great Work. This includes speech, such as idle chatter, and thought.

Non-covetousness is self-explanatory once it is realised what misery and suffering is caused by attachment to objects of desire. To desire or yearn for objects that belong to someone else is also a subtle form of stealing.

Of the niyamas, cleanliness includes purity of mind, so that all thoughts that are harmful to the path are eliminated. Most especially, even if evil thoughts enter the mind, they must not be retained so they become afflictions.

Contentment is acceptance of the path, and the level of attainment. From discontentment is bred the untruth of imagining that one is much further along than one really is. That is an impediment to yoga. With contentment comes tranquility, which is necessary if the yoga practice is to advance beyond the veriest beginning.

The fiery aspiration brings forth virya, a special kind of faith, strength and endurance that is built up through continuance of right practice. Nothing can be achieved without fiery aspiration.

Self-study means constant vigilance and discrimination—which is an exact science. It also means developing a reflective attitude of mind. It must not be construed ‘psychologically’, which involves development of a mentality that is totally anti-yogic as it encourages tamas and tends towards the asuras or demonic nature.

Self-surrender to God (and so the path itself) cannot be done without faith (saradha) and as a consequence the virya that comes about through the practice of yoga and discrimination. The profane or uninitiated person does not comprehend this at all and imagines it to be a sort of passivity that he can only see as ‘negative’. Self-negation on the other hand does not require mortification, as that is in fact only an inverse form of conceit or flattery. The self, through the senses and mental impressions, is a superimposition upon the Real or True Self. Any sacrifice is only what appears from the point of view of ignorance. From the point of view of the Self, freedom is gained from the misery and suffering of countless afflictions.

The last six limbs of yoga are the practice itself, commencing with seated asana or posture, which does not involve, as some like to think, difficult or even impossible or unnatural contortions of the body.

Likewise with control of the breath, which when properly understood is the direction of prana or subtle vitality.

The withdrawal of the senses here refers to the physical senses of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting and smelling, for at the beginning it is valid to concentrate the mind on the subtle (tattva) elements. When seated for meditation one closes the eyes so the sight is transferred within.

Concentration means to hold one object in the mind and no other. When this is sustained, then dhyana or true meditation is possible, and knowledge can be gained of any object.

Samadhi or union with God, sometimes called ‘transcendence’, is the goal of yoga. The word ‘yoga’ is inclusive of both the means and the goal.


This article, The Eight Limbs of Yoga, is from our book, Thunder Perfect Gnosis.

© Oliver St. John 2023

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Psychism and the Subversion of Knowledge

We have never advocated psychism as such. However, our past curriculum, as published in various textbooks, contains a great deal of what can be termed as magical or even ‘psychic’ applications of Hermetic Science.[1] Skrying, for example, if properly done, involves the yogic concentration on a symbol so that a ‘flow of knowledge’ (dhyana) comes about. ‘Skrying’ means ‘seeing’, and is comparable to the Sanskrit darshana, which means literally ‘a window’ or ‘point of view’. Rising on the planes, if correctly understood, is a Hermetic form of tantra-yoga, making use of symbolism as a support to gaining samadhi, the goal of yoga, with the equivalent of mantras (words) and yantras (images).[1]

Psychism and Subversion of Knowledge: the MoonSo long as we keep the goal in sight, which is identical to that of yoga in the real sense, we should not go too far astray. Unfortunately, it is very rare now to find anyone that can make use of such magical practices without incurring harm to their self or to others, and this owes to the widespread lack of any true knowledge of the principles involved. There is also a risk of over-developing the psychic faculty and becoming excessively reliant on it, even to the exclusion of all else. It is not intended that results of the psychic order should be given objective validity. It goes without saying that neither are such results to be counted in any way as being important or significant in the scheme of things. The psychic realm has nothing to do with the spiritual realm, as by definition that which pertains to the psyche is strictly limited to the body and mentality of the individuality and reaches no further—a matter we shall come back to.

Psychism, on the other hand, is a very different thing, and we have always spoken out against this. Psychism is a branch of the occult that originated as recently as the latter part of the nineteenth century. It should be noted in passing that public knowledge of this is non-existent—for opinions are guided by ‘news’ and ‘information’ that reduces everything to the most simplistic and grossly material level. While it is obvious that mediums and charlatans have used the tricks and illusions of stagecraft to produce manifestations, what is not so obvious to an easily deceived public is that the exposure or debunking of this usually rests on a confusion of the psychic realm with the material realm. A psychic occurrence cannot, by definition, even though it exists on the most inferior of the subtle planes, exist on the material plane, where it can be subjected to all the ‘tests’ and ‘proving’ of profane science. Those who write or speak about this with total confidence in their superior understanding in fact know absolutely nothing about the subject whatsoever, for to them the psychic realm has no existence, let alone the spiritual. The irony that these same commentators are wholly deceived by the tricks and illusions of so-called ‘science’ escapes them completely. We are not then denying the existence, relative though it is, of psychic phenomena.

Psychism and Subversion: Séance Psychism, which has no doubt captivated the interest of many persons that are perfectly sincere—though that is no justification in itself—admits no real knowledge. It reduces everything to the psychic level and even the infra or sub-human levels of manifestation, though it knows not the real source of its ‘visions’ and ‘spirit-guides’. Psychism is the habitual and passive resort to the lowest of the subtle levels. Its advocates frequently embrace or claim to practice many elements of the Occult Science though not understanding them at all, reducing them to their most inferior level of manifestation. The use of the law of correspondences, for example, which has traditionally served to train the mind, is translated into a vague search for ‘signs’ and ‘omens’, not only in what passes for a form of magick but that is also extended into every area of life so that it becomes a matter of habit. While the person cannot coherently explain the meaning of such ‘coincidences’ they nonetheless insist on treating them as if they had some profound, even spiritual import. The products of psychism are illusory and meaningless.

There are, however, even worse and more degraded forms of psychism than those described above, such as ‘channelling’. The agents of confusion and subversion that adopt this mode will even claim that the reams of quasi-mystical gibberish they produce derive from a source of ‘higher wisdom’. It is evident that such advice comes from a source much nearer to the limited imagining of the channellers than any extraterrestrial or trans-mundane source. The banal content is invariably heavy with illiterate New Age jargon, popular clichés and faux-psychology.

Quietism is really a further form of psychism of a very low order. Although the term ‘Quietism’ fell out of use long ago, the attitude it describes has persisted and increased within the field of what now passes for spirituality.[2] Quietists also admit no knowledge but pretend, by implication, belief and behaviour, to all knowledge. They take refuge in a complete distortion of the non-action doctrine of the East, refusing to do anything at all so that all comes to them ‘miraculously’, dropping into their lap as manna from heaven, not seeing in any way that this ‘manna’ consists of nothing but flattery and vain pretensions. These will often form loose alliances with professional psychics, mediums and channellers for mutual flattery and to increase the spread of their poison to the gullible and poorly educated. In fact, the so-called education of everyone by now is no more than a matter of enforced acceptance of a profane outlook on all things, for that is even a requirement to achieve ‘qualifications’, whether at school or university level.

The growth of psychism in all its forms was aided and abetted by the Theosophist movement and those influenced by it. It eventually opened the floodgates for the full onset of the anti-spiritual and anti-initiatic second level of the occult revival that took place from the 1950s and onward, replete with well publicised ‘witchcraft’ poseurs and sham Golden Dawn revivalists. The degradation was made complete by the New Age movement that emerged from the 1970s and onward. This hungrily devoured all the remnants of traditional knowledge, including various forms of Shamanism, and quickly subverted them towards wholly profane ends.

It has become increasingly difficult for our students and members—many of whom were born at a time when subversion of all previous knowledge was more or less complete—to know anything about the spiritual realm at all. It has been sealed off by the ‘plan’ that Guénon wrote of 70 years ago now.[3] By subverting all spiritual knowledge, or to put this more accurately, its symbols and doctrines, and relegating everything to the realm of the psyche, the individual and the ‘material’, a hard shell was formed across the ceiling of human intellect—and this even impacts, as Guénon has revealed in the aforementioned work, upon the cosmic and terrestrial environment. Once the sealing shut of the upper worlds is accomplished, only the psychic realm remains for refuge. Although the spiritual domain is completely out of reach of the profane—for to them it does not exist—the psychic realm can be reached and manipulated by profane governance, which is in turn controlled by the anti-spiritual force in man.

The psychic plane can also be reached and manipulated by individuals and organisations with pretended spiritual aims. The ways are closed off by now to most people in the world but it is still possible for an initiatic organisation to open them. So long as real initiation takes place, such an organisation is able to support further initiation. The reception of a spiritual influence makes it completely immune to the attacks made on it from the outer darkness. However, the prospective candidates must totally eradicate from their minds all allegiance to social or political strategies, resisting every lure to engage in the artificial constructs of hypnotic media technologies or to believe in, let alone partake of, the products of fake sciences.

A doctrine exists in all traditions regarding an incursion of the Qliphoth at the end of time.[4] The incursion is made possible by fissures opened in the human artificial construct from below. As mankind has effectively sealed off that which is ‘above’, no spiritual influences can neutralise the mindlessly destructive power of infernal forces. The use of the word ‘infernal’ here is meant to specifically describe the realm of the infra-corporeal or of sub-manifestation, which is to say that such agencies exist at the most inferior level possible, for any further degree would render them completely non-existent. Their existence is only relative but their effect is real enough in the corporeal and psychic realms, which is the limit of their reach.

That which was implemented in our world from the spring of 2020 and onward is undoubtedly the greatest deception of all time. Though the ‘plan’ was prepared long ago, this latest phase is a vast acceleration towards the final dissolution at the end of the present Great Age. The sweeping ‘measures’, including population control and genetic modifications, could only be accepted because human intelligence is degenerating at an exponential rate. This has been aided and abetted by the confusion and subversion of all traditional knowledge.

Psychism and Subversion: Notes

1. Yoga means, in the traditional and real sense, ‘union’ and more particularly, union with God or to put it in the terms of Advaita Vedanta, realisation of Atman and Brahman.
2. ‘Spiritualism’ is another term rarely used now but which is descriptive of an anti-spiritual movement that has sought to substitute inferior forms of psychism for ‘spiritual contact’, as if there was no difference.
3. ‘Fissures in the Great Wall’ and associated chapters in The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times [Sophia Perennis].
4. The orientalist Kenneth Grant incorporated this in his writings but as with so much else he inverted the symbolism. He thus confused the spiritual with the demonic or infernal to such an extent that his followers and others influenced by the same stream have unwittingly worked on the side of self-destruction and anti-initiation.

From the book, Nu Hermetica—Initiation and Metaphysical Reality.
© Oliver St. John 2021, revised 2023 for the Second Edition.

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