Yoga Sūtra verse 1.1
July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
atha – now, moreover, since!, certainly… (an auspicious and inceptive particle, atha is not easily expressed in English)
yoga – to engage the individual soul with the totality of Consciousness, i.e. to gain full awareness of Spirit (Puruṣa)
anuśāsanam – (from anuśās to teach or instruct) instruction, direction, command, precept; here anu precedes śāsanam (to teach or govern) indicating that he is continuing the teachings related to yoga.
“Now you have reached a stage in your development as an awakening eternal being where you are ready to learn the mystic practice of Yoga”
The teachings on the subject of yoga are not ancient – they are timeless.
According to the Sanskrit/Yogic/Vedic model of reality, we are not humans that have evolved from matter. We are instead, beings of pure consciousness that have devolved into matter. From the yogic perspective you do not have a soul, you are a soul. As a soul, you are a being of pure consciousness. As consciousness, you are infinite in nature; hence, timeless. If you are timeless, then any instruction manual about you must also be timeless.
So, now that you are ready to learn about your true nature and you are ready – according Patañjali because you are seeking- you are ready to learn about the path of the yogi. According to Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gītā, the path of the yogi is higher than the path of the Sanskrit Scholar, the self-denying hermit or the ritualist. While all these paths share the common goal of overcoming the influence of the material energy, aka prakṛti; what makes the yogi’s path the higher path? Part of the answer is because yoga includes aspects of all paths, but more significantly, because all other paths involve working with the mind through the refining of knowledge. Yoga, however, focuses on overcoming the mind, which helps one to avoid being mislead by knowledge, which is ultimately a faculty of the mind.
To overcome the mind’s influence, Patañjali’s yoga uses a dialectical process. This process continually pushes the yogi into increasingly paradoxical experiences of reality, with the result being that the yogi cannot cling to a reality based on knowing or not knowing, but rather on the maddeningly elusive experience of just being. For this reason, the path of mystic yoga or raja yoga described by Patañjali, should appear quite impossible to the modern reader. If the ‘Eight Limbed Path”, as it is also known, does not shock the modern reader and leave them with a sense of impossibility, then they have not understood yoga as described by Patañjali.
Truly careful reading should reveal that meditative yogic journey essentially means the complete loss of all mental faculties, or what is commonly known as going insane. In other words, Mystic yoga is, in fact, tantamount to losing your mind and several of the pre-mystic yoga texts meant to prepare the yogi, such as Shiva Samhita, and Gherand Samhita, indicate as much. Accordingly few aspirants would complete such an arduous and risky process.
In fact, I know of no one alive or available to the public today who could be considered an adept who has mastered the eight limbs of Raja Yoga. One of my teachers, Swami Rama of the Himalayas, who during the 2oth century traveled the breadth and width of India, also said as much. One simply has to hold any claimant up to the symptoms described in the yoga texts for it to become readily apparent that while there are many very interesting and advanced personalities roaming the earth, none come close to the super-human qualities possessed by the fully accomplished mystic yogi.
Hmm…Well that’s cast rather a pall on the proceedings. Why then should we bother with a text like the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali? Because Yoga, the practice of realizing one’s true nature, is not a static phenomena. Yoga is a process that adapts to time and circumstance. Yoga is fully available to all of us in the modern era. We must simply realize that we are in a different time in history than the yogis being addressed by the original text.
To make Patañjali’s sacred text applicable to us, we must see the word yoga in the light of our present condition. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root yuj. This root has multiple meanings depending on context. Patañjali’s original application of the word had more to do with the idea of contemplation meaning that the yogi would disengage from materialistic activities, focus the mind intensely on the ever elusive moment of being and prepare to go insane. Thus, he would contemplate the nature of the true self (puruṣa).
Unfortunately, (or fortunately) leaving everything we know, going to the forest, and finding a fully accomplished yogi to teach us the practice of controlled insanity is not an option. (This is the inverse of the maxim, ‘when the student is ready the teacher appears’. Since there are no students ready to lose their minds for yoga, no teachers have appeared.) So let us consider a different application of the Sanskrit root yuj – ‘to engage’.
The yoga of engagement, is still about overcoming the mind’s influence, but we practice it while we stay in the material-work-a-day world. The yoga of engagement (which I will refer to as modern yoga), is about interacting with the world in a way that repeatedly overcomes the influence of the world. In other words, one remains in the world but not of the world.
Being in but not of the world still uses yoga’s maddeningly difficult dialectical approach, but modern yoga makes it easier by basing it on two simple and accessible ideas: attention to the unknowable and service. So now, there is no need to sit still, barely breathing with matted hair for decades. Instead, we go about our lives being attentive to the mystery all about us and looking for opportunities to serve.
This modern approach to yoga is possible because of the one thing available to anyone who is seeking liberation: devotion. If you love the inconceivable, mysterious nature of consciousness and you love being of service, modern yoga will come very easily to you.
By using this framework for exploring and discussing the yoga sūtras of Patañjali, we will find that they are a treasure trove of information about the nature of the mind, and what we can do to overcome its influence.
In the next 195 verses, Patañjali will describe in great detail how the yogi can liberate her or himself from the mind’s influence. And I will be right there with you to explain how to apply his terse but saturated statements into ideas and practices we can use in our daily modern lives.