April 17, 2015

Using the Yoga Sutras to Tame the Ego.

Flickr/Andreas Ivarsson: https://www.flickr.com/photos/andreasivarsson/4893861972

Before teaching a class recently, I felt nervous.

Would I know what to say? Would I be able to help the students get what they want? Would I guide them appropriately?

Just writing this now, I see how many ‘I’s came into my thought processes of the morning.

So much for the basic practice of yoga moving us away from the ego!

The yoga sutras state the cause of suffering as avidya, which refers to incorrect comprehension. In other words, all suffering that we experience as humans stem from us not seeing clearly, not seeing the truth.

My teacher once explained this to me in relation to Dorothy and her friends in the land of Oz, where everyone was made to wear green glasses. This made them see the whole land of Oz completely differently to its reality. It wasn’t green at all! Back in the real world, we have four branches that work to cloud our perceptions, acting as our own set of green glasses—ego (asmita), attachment (raga), aversion (dvesa), and fear (abhinivesa).

Humans have a deep desire for a sense of belonging, and the fear (abhinivesa) that we get from losing that sense of belonging is a pivotal cause of suffering.

When we separate ourselves from others, even in our own minds, and consider ourselves somehow different from anyone else, we set up a sense of entitlement for ourselves…like we somehow deserve something different from somebody else. The problem is that our society has built a generation of people who are taught that we are special and we are unique, when really we should recognise that we are all one; the divine in me is the same as the divine in anyone else.

The word yoga means yoke, which is to unify. We often think this refers to the unification of body, mind, spirit, and breath (and it is), but maybe it’s more than that too. Maybe it’s unity between us and everyone else.

We need to strip away the sense of separateness and instead treat anyone and everyone with compassion, regardless of who they are, where they come from, or what they have done. Their inner light is the same as anyone else’s inner light. They were born into a body, and over the course of their life underwent experiences that changed their perception of the world (as did we).

These experiences have set up what we see through our “green glasses.” It’s those perceptions that lead any given person to act the way that they do.

But it doesn’t change their inner light.

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer stated that “If an action has as its motive an egoistic aim, it cannot have any moral worth.” Schopenhauer’s doctrine was that morality is based on compassion. (1)

What a yogi he was!

So I return to my original point. I was thinking a lot about me as I headed out the door to teach this lesson. I was thinking about how well I would do at teaching the class, not because I was concerned that I wouldn’t be asked back to teach again, but more because I wanted my students to get out of the practice all the wonderful offerings that yoga can bring.

While I can see that my ego created a form of suffering (in the form of nervousness) for me, it wasn’t to such an extent that I was incapable of carrying out my task—thankfully, effectively.

They had a great practice.

In future, I hope I will be able to recognize nervousness or any other sensation for what it is: avidya. I need to work on identifying this, and learning to quash the cause of that suffering before it gets out of control. I need to learn to take off the green glasses! But above all, I need to show compassion (for both myself and others) in all that I say, do, and think.

This is something I hope my yoga practice will help me to achieve.

Have you ever identified avidya at work and managed to change your thought process accordingly?





1. Schopenhauer, Arthur; translated with an introduction and notes by A.B. Bullock (2005). The basis of morality. Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications.





Yoga Unveiled: A User’s Guide to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.



Author: Tanya McNaughtan

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Flickr/Andreas Ivarsson

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