Yoga Sūtra verse 1.1

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Definitions

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.

Translation

“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”

Commentary

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.

———-

Pdf: the story of dhruva maharaja

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Yoga Sūtra Verse 1.2

July 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

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Definitions

yogaḥ – a means, expedient, device, way, manner, method [this def. gives us a better sense of how Patañjali is using this all important word. It is used this way in the Mahabharata and in the Kāvya literature as well as the Bhagavat Purana]
citta – [chitta] to perceive, fix the mind upon, attend to, be attentive, observe, take notice of; thinking, reflecting, imagining, thought; [poetic: the sea of vṛttis (the accumulation of the mind’s activities)]
vṛtti – mental habits -cyclical permutations of the mind (impressions generated as we rotate to and from what we want and don’t want, i.e. creating grooves)
nirodhaḥ – to stop the momentum (prevent further growth of vṛttis). It can also be understood as redirecting or reversing, from the word rodha, which means to grow or move in a particular direction and nir from nis meaning away from.

Translation

“Yoga is the re-channeling of the impressions and habits of the mind”

Commentary

What if you woke up one morning in the most technologically advanced city you had ever imagined? Seemingly unlimited possibilities surround you. Tantalizing pleasures await you. But slowly, you come to realize that all is not as it seems. You are in fact, a prisoner of a divinely diabolical place.

This place is in fact, the gilded cage of your mind. Your mind is creating this reality and your perception of it. Your mind creates a seamless holographic experience. An illusory experience so exhaustive it is the seen, the seer, and the cause of the seen, all at once.

Unlike the majority of captives in this gilded cage however, you want to escape. You are determined to discover what lies beyond the boundaries of this mesmerizing penitentiary and this is what makes you a transcendentalist. This is why yoga matters to you.

The yoga sūtras are a kind of map of this prison. They are a blue print for escape. They sūtras also show how challenging it will be to escape mind’s influence. You will need much determination and persistence. The cornerstone to the mind’s defense is the false ego, called ‘ahamkara’ in Sanskrit (literally ‘the I maker’). By design, the false ego will convince you that you-your body, your thoughts, your desires, your possessions-are real. It is the false ego that hides you from your true nature. The rest of the mind, your intelligence, your senses and your unconscious, all work with the false ego to make this place feel real. So your material life becomes real, because it feels real. So the real world is not an illusion, it is illusory. Like a dream or a movie it actually exists, it’s just not Reality.

If you could overcome the illusory influence of the mind, everything would change (as the next verse describes.) Yoga is the process of overcoming the very bad habit we all have of accepting matter as the ultimate reality. Through repeated exposure we have become conditioned to turn our attention to matter and away from the nature of consciousness.

In the process of focusing on material life, you have given up control of those things that you can control, such as discipline, attention, perspective and your emotions. Instead, you focus on those things that are out of your control such as outcomes, results and the emotions of others. The result is unnecessary suffering and anxiety.

Yoga is a revolution of the mind. As you will discover on this sūtra journey we have embarked on, yoga is not about quieting the mind but rather turning the table on an entire enterprise dedicated to your impoverishment. In yoga you will bring the fight directly to the source of your misery and fears. Yoga is a deeply confrontational and assertive process. Yoga asks that you not only face your fears but also hunt them. Through yoga, you will discover how to turn your enemy, the mind, into a friend. Yoga teaches you to stop accepting the roles of your life as your identity and recognize them as parts you play. This is the revolutionary path of the modern yogi.

As you deliberately learn to overcome the habits of the mind, you will feel your capacity for contentment grow. You will become a grounded, peaceful warrior. You will be in a place to do much good for your fellow humans.

If you have the interest and the courage to stay the course yoga can improve your life. I look forward to continuing on this journey with you. And I promise that while I cannot change you overnight, I can change you forever.

Yoga Sūtra Verse 1.3

July 13, 2012 § 4 Comments

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Definitions

tadā – from that, in consequence of that, for that reason, consequently, so, as a result…
draṣṭuḥ – from the objective genitive case of draṣṭr meaning one who sees; the seer, the experiential observer; [more importantly is the connotation that this seeing is absolute (unfiltered by the influence of matter). Hence we have the idea of the experiencer of life as opposed to the body-mind complex which is an object to be experienced by the conscious being]
svarūpe – sva = one’s own; rūpa form, nature, character; best understood as one’s original nature or essence; cf. sanatana dharma (eternal nature)
avasthānam – from ava+sthāna (to stand or be fixed) n. standing, taking up one’s place; situation, condition; residing, abiding, dwelling; stability

Translation

“Which results in the experiencer of the mind/body  being free to be in  his/her original form of pure consciousness”

Commentary

You, your sense of identity, everything you hold as true and real will be destroyed and what remains will be an inconceivable, inexpressible experience of your Self as a conscious being. This is the message of Patañjali’s all important third verse.

This verse offers the keys to the kingdom. It describes the ultimate offer available to humans – liberation from the material experience. Now before you call out ‘give me those keys’, let’s consider what liberation really means.

Achieving liberation from the material experience is much harder than you might imagine, because the attachments you have to your current sense of identity run deep. For example, believing that someone in this material world can make you happy is a belief so deeply ingrained, it cannot be easily dislodged. Similarly, the belief that material success will make you feel fulfilled is not  easily removed.

You can, if you are courageous, choose to develop an emotional attraction to a life free of the pursuit for material certainty. In Sanskrit this is  Shraddha – the enviable sense of joy and wonder that accompanies the start of a new adventure or journey. In this case it is the journey of Self-discovery.

If you accept this offer and push forward, you may, however, risk disturbing those closest to you. In relationships, people often rely on the illusion of control.

Let’s say, you work on yourself and remove your attachment to having a significant other. So, now, you do what your loved one wants out simply out of the pure desire to please them without needing anything back from them. This choice, is no longer an ego driven decision. Now you’re acting out of altruism or unconditional love.

Acting out of unconditional love, just because it is the right thing to do however, may seem like a positive choice. But it removes something from the equation that your loved one has come to depend on — the illusion of control. This illusion comes from their false, but essential sense that you are responding to them on their terms. If you remove this illusion, they will certainly feel it and this is potentially disruptive to your relationship. As you have taken a step towards personal growth, you basically force your loved one to decide whether they can grow with you.

So, are you willing to risk changes in the nature of your present relationships and become a living example of unconditional love? If so you can become an inspiration to others not in what you say but in the way you are. You will become the kind of person who can raise the consciousness of others just by showing up.

You simply need the courage to step into the unknown. The keys to the kingdom are available to you if you decide now that embracing the mysterious and inconceivable nature of consciousness is your greatest priority. This new-found love of the unknown is the next step in your journey of Self-discovery.

As you approach life’s many challenges you have the opportunity to choose to embrace everything life has to offer you. Most people do not know about this opportunity because they are afraid of discomfort, they want to embrace only pleasure. You, as the sincere seeker however, are brave and unafraid so you can take advantage of this opportunity — you can choose to feel comfort and discomfort equally and let go of
the need to control outcomes. You can choose to embrace instead, the ups and downs of the journey equally and in this way, begin to liberate yourself from this material existence.

The trick is to start small. Look at the petty annoyances in your life and see them as moments you are will experience without resistance to the emotions that go with them. Before you react or repress — choose to feel. And do not be afraid to feel the uncomfortable emotions. Do not resist life’s discomfort. Resistance keeps you trapped in a fear based existence.

First step – know you are not your body or your emotions. Now step into the role of the willing experiencer of both for body and your emotions and you step away from ego and towards consciousness. Is this both scary and exciting to you? Can you push forward with determination? If so you are well on your way to being a modern yogi warrior.

Yoga Sutra Verse 1.4

July 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

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Definitions

vṛtti – habits, fluctuations, impressions, mental activity, waves of the mind
sārūpyam – identification, aware of one’s form
itaratra – otherwise, at other times, instead

Translation

Otherwise you will identify with the habits of your mind.

Commentary

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:

故曰:知彼知己,百戰不殆;不知彼而知己,一勝一負;不知彼,不知己,每戰必殆。

“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.

Yoga Sutra Verse 1.5

July 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

yoga_sutra_verse_1.5

Definitions

vṛttiayaḥ – habits, fluctuations, impressions, waves
pañcatayaḥ – five ways
kliṣṭāḥ – molested, tormented, afflicted, distressed,connected with pain or suffering
akliṣṭāḥ – untroubled, undisturbed

Translation

The impressions and subsequent mental habits [vṛttis] of the mind are created five ways and can be uplifting or degrading

Commentary

Thoughts, fantasies, material desires, remembrances, ideas, knowledge, and other mental activities are all the products of perception. They do not arise spontaneously in a vacuum, but represent a pattern of stimulus and response. A wave (i.e vṛtti) is the ocean’s lapping upon the shore, but it is not some unique and arbitrary phenomena. It is the habitual result of conditions (i.e saṁskāras) within the ocean itself.

Even thoughts that are seemingly constructed on demand are a product of earlier inputs. In other words, thinking you are original is very unoriginal. Mental activity is a habit. A self-reinforcing habit that appears to have no beginning and no end. Yoga is about overcoming the habits of the mind, which is in fact, thinking and anything else your mind is busy spinning out.

Some habits are hard to break, others are easier. In general, bad habits are harder to break because they have more inertia. Good habits are easier to overcome so Patañjali will suggest that developing good habits, which support yoga practice, are beneficial. Not because they will help you overcome the mind, but because a mind made up of good mental habits will be easier to overcome.

Your character, or dharma, are what create the habits of the mind. That is to say, your mental habits in and of themselves are not problematic, but rather the intent or conditions (saṃsāra) you created them with will make your mental activity/habits either helpful (akliṣṭa) to your yoga or harmful (kliṣṭa). If your intentions or efforts are virtuous (virtues are kindness, courage, honesty, humility, forbearance, etc…) they are considered dharmic. If the underlying conditions of your mind give rise to unhealthy, irresponsible, or dysfunctional mental habits, then you are adharmic. For example if you are always angry, sullen and quick to violence, then you can see how your internal state ,or perception of reality, leads to a certain  type of mental activity. This in turn, leads to different types of behavior (which means more karma).

Karma is different from dharma. Karma is the cyclical law of action and reaction. In your life you will create multitudes of karma in the form of every action you take. And, you will experience a long history of karma that produced the life you are living now. In other words Karma is a self-reinforcing feedback loop. According to the great yogis the karma you perform in this life blossoms in the next life. You cannot do much to change the karma you are born with but you can change your perception of it and you can stop creating more of it. Changing your perception of it is a function of dharma. This involves taking what you got and doing something virtuous with it. Think of it this way – karma is what you are born with and dharma is what you do with it. Stopping the creation of karma is a function of bhakti (aka love of spirit). This involves doing everything for the sake of unconditional love. You will learn more about this as we proceed through the sūtras.

So your behavior creates your internal conditions, and your internal conditions create your mental activities. Patañjali categorizes all mental activity into five categories. These are in the next verse, yoga sūtra 1.6.

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Yoga Sūtra Verse 1.6

July 10, 2012 § 2 Comments

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Definitions

pramāṇa – evidence of your senses [as in proving something is real or exists], a posteriori, epistemology, source of right knowledge, sense perception, scientific method, testimony, inference
viparyaya – error, misperception,
vikalpa – imagination, fantasies
nidrā – sleep,
smṛtayaḥ – memory

Translation

“[These five vṛttis (mental habits) are] 1) evidence of your senses, 2) misperception, 3) imagination, 4) deep sleep, and 5) memories.”

Commentary

Altogether, these five states of mind represent what Yoga theory considers all the things the mind can do. So think of anything you can do with your mind and it will fit into one of these five categories. Basically you can either;

  1. be aware of what is actually in front of you,
  2. mistake what is in front of you,
  3. imagine or fantasize something (there is a difference),
  4. be unconscious, or
  5. remember something.

Some mental activities overlap categories. Dreaming, for example, combines numbers  2, 3, and 5. Remembering something incorrectly, combines 3 and 5.

Here, Patañjali is introducing very importantly, how you think about the world, which is different from what you think about.  Since overcoming the mind’s influence is the goal of yoga, Patañjali is introducing us to the different ways in which the mind works. If you are more aware of how the mind functions, you will be in a better position to break the bad mental habits the mind has foisted on you.

These five actions of the mind aren’t inherently bad, they are simply they way the mind leads you through your experience of life. Four of the five actions are crucial for your material survival. It is important to remember that everything your mind is capable of doing, it does to keep you trapped in this temporary reality known as maya, or in popular parlance, the matrix. The reality that you are experiencing is a constructed reality.  This construction is a seamless experience; courtesy of the mind’s influence.

So your mind has trapped you here; you need to overcome the mind’s influence, but you cannot survive if you do not have a mind. That is quite the conundrum. How do you defeat an enemy that is inherently more powerful than you and has unlimited resources? The answer is, you don’t.

Victory over the mind by brute force is not a possibility for anyone. You must instead, figure out a way to use the mind’s considerable influence to your advantage. You must make a friend of the mind. If the mind becomes your ally in your journey of self-discovery you will gain considerable traction. While it may seem impossible to gain the support of your mind to aid you in its eventual demise, I can assure you that it is possible, because the all-powerful mind believes that almost anything is possible, except its own demise. The mind simply does not believe it will ever stop to exist. This hubris, is your silver bullet. You can use the mind’s own sense of immortality and omnipotence against itself. You can befriend the mind in pursuit of self-discovery or liberation because it thinks these things will add to its power and capacity. Even if you tell the mind outright that your intention in requesting its friendship is for the sake of overcoming it, it will not really believe you.

So go ahead, invite the mind to become your friend. Treat the mind like a person. Become the experiencer of your own mind.

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Yoga Sūtra Verse 1.7

July 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

yoga_sutra_verse_1.7

Definitions

pratyakṣa – n. perception, present before the eyes, visible, perceptible; litertaly (prati) before (akṣa) your senses (opp. to [paro’kSa]
anumāna – the act of inferring or drawing a conclusion from given premises, inference, consideration, reflection
āgamāḥ – learning from authority, reliable testimony
pramāṇāni – the means of obtaining correct knowledge or  evidence about the nature of matter

Translation

“You obtain material evidence  by 1) your senses, 2) through inference, or 3) from a reliable source”

Commentary

Patañjali is explaining to us the nature of the human mind and how it works. Understanding the nature of the mind is key to overcoming its influence.  The mind  is how ‘matrix you’ – the material sense of  you (the false ego), navigates matter. Matter is what confines your consciousness, because even though your consciousness is infinite and eternal, it can still be overcome  by matter.

How is it possible for you, as infinite and eternal consciousness, to be overcome by matter? It is possible because there are different orders of infinity. Matter is a type of infinity that is many orders greater than you as a conscious being. However, the totality of consciousness is of an order of infinity many times greater than matter. This is why Patañjali and all yogis or sages for that matter, will direct you to turn your attention to matters spiritual because spiritual engagement overcomes the material energy. The key to overcoming the mind’s influence therefore, is to focus on the nature of consciousness.

Focusing on the nature of consciousness is something you can begin to do now; even while you are learning about the nature of the mind from the yoga sūtras.

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