Yoga Sutra Verse 1.4
July 12, 2012 § Leave a comment
vṛtti – habits, fluctuations, impressions, mental activity, waves of the mind
sārūpyam – identification, aware of one’s form
itaratra – otherwise, at other times, instead
Otherwise you will identify with the habits of your mind.
The moon is bright and clear in the night sky. A passerby notices the moon’s reflection on the surface of the river. The moon appears to be rippled, distorted and shifting, as if it has lost all its original properties. It appears to the man that the river is consuming and destroying the moon.
The man thinks that life as he knows it has come to an end. He rushes home to tell his wife. She listens, smiling inwardly. When he is done, she explains to him that he has misperceived reality. The moon is not, in fact, the least disturbed by the influence of the river. She goes on to tell him that although the moon’s reflection is distorted by the river, the moon itself, remains untouched by the experience.
Because she is very wise, she goes on to use the experience as a metaphor to teach her husband about the nature of the mind. She explains that the moon is very much like the spirit or soul in each person and the river represents the mind. Because the soul has come to identify with the mind, it only sees the mind’s reflection of itself as distorted, shifting and seemingly temporary. In this way, the individual experiences only the mind’s version of reality and like the moon that vanished at daybreak, we appear to be constantly dying and being reborn.
After hearing his wife’s explanation, the husband goes on with life much relieved and a little wiser.
In this verse Patañjali is stating the yogic maxim – ‘Your worst enemy will hide in the last place you will ever look’.
How real is the threat posed by the mind? Imagine you are sitting on the banks of a calm clear pond. As you look upon the surface of the pond you see the most beautiful apple tree, its branches filled with ripe, delicious apples. Filled with desire and longing to taste these beckoning beauties, you dive into the water. Sadly, whether gliding in quietly or thrashing about wildly, you will always come out empty-handed.
How many times will the mind trick you? Infinitely – the mind deceive you into chasing false apples an infinite number of times. Some of you will grow increasingly anxious, others will become dully apathetic. But all of you will keep trying. At least, until you decide that there is no one and nothing in this material world that will fulfill you, or give you lasting happiness.
This is the message of this sutra – the bad news following the good news of the previous verse. This sutra is the warning label on the package of life; “Failure to overcome the influence of the mind will result in perpetual anxiety!”
To defeat your enemy, you must know both them and your true nature. The teachings of Sun Tzu remind us that:
“So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”
The good news is that with practice and study, you can come to know and understand both the enemy mind and your true nature and you can overcome the habits of the mind. You can choose to redirect your attention away from the distorted identity you have been perceiving as yourself and instead, choose to pay attention to the paradoxical experience of spirit.
A practical way to defeat the enemy mind is to focus on wordless experiences like the sensation of weight or the feeling of breath entering and exiting the body. This practice leads to knowing both your enemy and your true self because every moment spent in wordless experience strengthen your consciousness. In these moments you shift from being the identifier with the body-mind to the experiencer of the body mind.
Finally, Patañjali encourages us to move on and learn more about the nature of the mind; which is what he begins to explain in the following verses.