May 17, 2011

The Yoga Sutra – KISS

Looks like Patanjali is becoming everyone’s favorite punch bag on Elephant Journal. Patanjali’s yoga is not Union, Patanjali is against the body, are some wise views we have got to read lately. So much has been the impact of these articles that some of my students who have steadily and carefully worked on building their self esteem through path of Patanjalis Yoga Darshana were in disbelief after reading these articles, even in a state of disgust about themselves and the path of Yoga.

I think this ambiguity is because of the condensed nature of the sutras, highly contextual meaning of words in Sanskrit language and lack of experiential wisdom and oral tradition. I still remember the words of my teacher when I was pestering him about some specific details of Sutras, He smiled and told me “My son, Lord Shiva has on purpose spun a net of words and language to filter the seekers. Those who get stuck in the word of the philosophy will be trapped, those who live the philosophy and find the silence will find Him in their Hearts”. Things that Patanjali says are on one hand very simple, just reading the lines can make us work towards a better life. And these simple things also have the capacity to raise the level of awareness to encompass the Higher consciousness. These are the simple things I am interested in.

So, after paying my homage to the “scholars” let me present a layman’s perspective of Yoga Darshana here. Honestly, how does Patanjali’s take on union or no-union help me in paying my bills, managing my relationships and dealing with my emotions? Yes, I do agree sometimes I have a very practical view of yoga philosophy, that’s because I believe Yoga is here for making our lives better and not just for some intellectual gymnastics. It’s not me who’s saying this; it’s the Samkhya Karika itself.

If we believe that Patanjali was influenced by the Samkhya school, then let’s trace the origin. If we read one of the most authoritative books on Samkhya, that is the Samkhya Karika, we will understand that in the first paragraph itself it has been made clear that the reason for propagating this philosophy is to make a person find permanent solutions to three types of sorrows, “dukkhatraya”. Since all other means have not shown permanent results the Samkhya thought was created by Kapila Muni. The basis of this philosophy is so simple and practical, are we forgetting this somewhere in our preoccupation with micro details of the sutras?

Secondly, why the hullabaloo about Union? Teleologicaly Prakrit has two goals according to Patanjali, one is for enjoyment (bhoga) and other one is for liberation (apavarga). So basically Prakriti is a facilitator of these two experiences for the Purusha. This could be likened to a real life scenario. A successful professional called Purusha who has “arrived” in life, with money, success and popularity still feels empty from within. So he decides to take a sabbatical from his professional life and travel. He engages a travel agent by the name Prakriti. Ms.Prakriti suggests a great travel plan for Mr.Purusha and sends him on an adventure tour to different lands, across cultures, languages, economic and social divides. Because of this tour Mr.Purusha realizes that he is much more than a bored successful professional, he realizes that he is an individual in himself but with completeness. His life has changed because of Ms.Prakriti who made him go through enjoyment (bhoga) and liberation from his wrong self-identity (apavarga). This coming together for a cause in this story is the “union” of Purusha and Prakriti in the Yoga Darshana, there is an association (union) with a purpose, and after the purpose they stand by themselves.

Somewhat like the movie ‘Body Guard’ starring Whitney Huston and Kevin Costner. At the end He continues his duty as a body guard and She continues being a singer, but they do initially ‘Unite’ and go through experiences together and that’s why we have the movie, even though some of us may have wanted them both to get married and have children.

And, what is the “chitta Vritti Nirodaha” confusion?. Did he really knock himself out to stop his mind fluctuations? (This was a question asked to me by someone who read one article/debate on the Vritti Nirodaha topic). Well, honestly I don’t know. Because as many scholars suggest Patanjali had reached a state of “no thought = no mind” then who thought of writing the Sutras?

For me it is simple (and if the Sanskrit terms sound complicated just ignore them while reading), or maybe I am myopic and just can’t see it in its “philosophical” detail.

Patanjali talks about Chitta Vritti in the sense of thoughts rooted in ignorance (avidya) and non self (anatman) because of wrong Self-identity. Through yoga praxis as prescribed by Him ( pratiprasava ), with sincere efforts ( abhyasa ) and non-attachment ( vairagya ) psycho-spiritual impurities are removed and “spiritual discernment/cognizance” ( viveka khyati ) is cultivated, the Purusha starts seeing things, including himself ( svarupa ) as they are and not as what the various states of conditioned mind ( vrittis ) make him perceive, this gives him a sense of autonomy ( Kaivalya ) and independent confidence. This inner confidence makes him deal with the three sorrows in a balanced way (referring to samkhya karika) thus making his life truly hassell free.

In this way Yoga Sutra is a gospel of inner independent strength, peace and empowerment in all its simplicity.

I chose to see it this way, we all have a choice to see (darshana) the way we want. But what is important is to put it in practice. For me this practical interpretation has helped to make my life happier and easier and as I teach I also see my students making their life happier and easier. The choice is ours. Patanjali managed to condense the Big wisdom in short sutras, now its our turn to keep them simple and put them in practice.

So the next time you see The Yoga Sutra, just KISS – Keep It Short and Simple.

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