Essays on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
Essay ~ Yoga Sutras 1:3 & 1:4
Tada Drastuh Svarupe Avasthanum
Vrtti Savarupyam Itaratra
Paraphrasing these two sutras: The clear mind is able to perceive directly without the distortion of one’s own experiences and history (i.e., that which gives rise to conditioned mind) clouding the perception. Otherwise, the perception is altered by these projections of the mind.
The true essence of the Self can emerge through Yoga. The beginning is the very first moment that we realize that we possess a matrix of mental fluctuation and self-generated projections. We move toward the point when we reach or at least approach complete clarity. In between is an ongoing series of awakenings. For some of us the intermediate process takes a very long time. In my own experience, I can feel the difference of “what used to be true” as opposed to “how it is now” for me in certain situations. I can feel how I am less reactive, less apt to ‘know’ what the other person is doing or thinking. However, there are many many situations where I am still very stuck despite deliberate and vigorous effort to let go of an idea, feeling or hurt. WHY?? I guess because I am human.
SO the process that we call Yoga is, from the first moment of understanding, becoming more able to identify when I am not in clear perception, whether I can untangle it or not, at least I can see more often and more reliably when or how or where I am stuck. But every moment I wake up from the moment before (when I am fortunate) and so I must remain humble that what feels like ‘awake’ today may look very asleep from tomorrow’s vantage point. Yoga is very simply, continuing to actively seek these awakening moments, to be in union with that reality beyond the conditioned and deluded mind.
For many, the fluctuations mostly can be subsumed into two opposed but complimentary categories. The first is an exaggerated, inflated, aggrandized version of one’s role and importance in the world. Sometimes we DO know something and can put a useful suggestion or action forward to improve the situation. So sometimes it IS clear or altruistic, but sometimes it is not. Often we end up suffering in the form of feeling superior, unyielding, aggravated, indignant and frustrated.
The other direction of mind fluctuations is in the category of a diminished, powerless, self-serving and self-centered, self-protective perspective on life. The suffering generated by this attitude is depression, doubt, fear, self-denigration, self-denial, shame, guilt etc. I think it is safe to say that all the distortions of the conditioned mind can eventually be distilled into a form of one of these two directions.
So, being human is a challenging struggle: to be in neither one of these extremes very frequently, the less the better. When my mind is clear I accept that I have to work hard to ‘be good’ in some situations (which are connected to my unique karma) and when I am not clear I resent and resist all the signs that are telling me to move in a certain direction EVEN when my rational mind knows it is the best direction.
I think this is a very close approximation of ‘abiding in one’s true self,’ given the limitations of the human form and the human lifetime: Being a good & helpful person without exalted needs of self-recognition, with the ability to keep one’s self healthy and safe and use the majority of one’s remaining energies to contentedly serve the common good through whatever one’s Dharma happens to be. That is about the best and truest recognition of dwelling in the Self that we humans, except for a very few blessed by grace, get to experience– if we so choose.
Essay ~ Yoga Sutras 1:12 through 1:15
The practice of yoga is defined along a continuum. Sutra 1:12 defines the extremes: perseverance and non-attachment. While these qualities could be polar opposites, in this context they are actually complementary and necessary to balance each other. The seeming irony or contradiction is that the more one moves toward one aspect, the more one needs the corresponding pole of the spectrum to balance. In other words, too much non-attachment can lead to disinterest, apathy, uncertainty, doubt, vacillation, or pure and simple laziness. Luckily, this is balanced by perseverance. Too much perseverance can lead to a forceful, aggressive, ambitious, ego-driven practice. Luckily, this is balanced by non-attachment. So, when present in roughly equal measures, the two qualities form the perfect balancing dynamic tension. Together they always draw the practitioner forward toward progress, but with patience for the journey, not grasping.
Perseverance is the quality that fosters constancy and consistency. Perseverance builds steadiness through the times when any challenge arises. Challenges to my own practice are mainly: ‘too busy’. I get up in the morning & I want to start on my projects or chores, rather than get into my practice. Even though I know that the effectiveness of my work and my outlook improve considerably when I practice!
Perseverance is also the ability to keep the long view with faith and trust, in order to overlook and overcome momentary or temporary adversities. It is as if there is an inner reservoir, it is never completely filled by the practice, and it is never completely emptied by life’s needs and efforts that draw on it– but it is wiser to keep it topped up. The practice builds and adds to the inner reserves of equanimity, energy, peace, and calm. Constancy and perseverance build a momentum that makes obstacles and challenges easier to surmount.
Detachment keeps us able to take a perspective, to see the trees instead of only the forest. Circumspection inspired by detachment helps us to identify ways we can change to improve and adapt, rather than unknowingly becoming stuck and stagnant in a practice that was right at a certain time or place but is no longer appropriate. Attachments are easy to identify in the form of objects, achievements and the like. Attachments are more challenging to identify in the form of spiritual goals, or personal internal qualities. At the same time as we move toward these inner qualities and goals, attachment to them will be counterproductive. Attachment can cause us to become excessively single-minded about the fruit of the practice, and thus it can obscure from our view the present reality that is, and prevent us from making the appropriate adjustments.
So, lack of persistence and excessive non-attachment end up being roughly equal, in terms of the detrimental effect on the practice. Excessive persistence and attachment similarly have a net negative effect. The genius of Patanjali’s is in having discovered or formulated the unique combination that fully supports the singular practice of fully unfolding the Self, that we know as Yoga.