Sutra Study Group
An ongoing exploration of yoga principles as expressed in The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. The group chants and discusses one or two aphorisms each week. All are welcome! No prior knowledge is required. (No fee.)
Join us for Sutra Study on Fridays, 2:30-3:45pm at the Manhattan Institute.
February 27, 2015
“By directing the light of cognition, one obtains knowledge of subtle, concealed, and remote things.”
bhuvana-jñānam sūrye saṁyamāt
“By performing saṁyama on the sun arises knowledge of the different realms in the universe.”
–translations by Edwin Bryant
“By integration of the inner light, that is, the insight of the soul, a yogi develops super-sensitive powers of perception. Such insight brings the power of seeing things which are subtle and fine, concealed or at a distance..” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.26
“The mind enables us to understand tangible, visible, and accessible realities…. To attain realities out of its grasp, the mind must submerge itself in the intelligence of the heart. According to the Hindu tradition, the heart is where God dwells in human beings. And this aphorism signifies that a divine vision enlightens the mind.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.25
“As the microcosm represents the macrocosm, man’s body epitomizes the entire structure of the great universe. The fourteen worlds are represented in the various regions of the body from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet…. Within the aerial regions are the seven major cakras. They are mulādhāra (seat of the anus), svādhiṣṭāna (sacral area), maṇipūraka (navel), anāhata (heart), viśuddhi (throat), ājnā (eyebrow centre) and sahasrāra (crown of the head). There are other cakras, such as sūrya (corresponding to the sympathetic nervous system), candra (parasympathetic nervous system) and manas (seat of the mind). All these are interconnected, like the solar system. The light that shines from the seat of the soul is the sun of life.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.27
The following ten sūtras focus on the cosmos and on the subtle body. As Mr. Iyengar says, the microcosm represents the macrocosm, and as the light of awareness unfolds, subtle, concealed, and distant subjects are revealed.
• Mr. Iyengar says the poses that create jālandhara bhanda (like sarvāṅgāsana, setubandha, viparīta karaṇi) rebalance the the heart center and the intellectual center. How do you experience these poses?
• Are there different qualities of perception required for different elements of practice?
• In your experience, what is the insight of the soul? What is the inner light?
• Has yoga practice helped you sense subtle, concealed, or distant objects you were not aware of before?
February 20, 2015
“[By saṁyama] on friendliness, etc.–strengths.”
etena balesu hasti-balādini
“[By saṁyama] on strengths–the strength of an elephant, etc.”
–translations by Vyaas Houston
“This sūtra offers a wonderful way to better our own life and the lives of others. By performing saṁyama on a desirable quality, such as friendliness, we can attain its benefits. Spiritual history is filled with stories of sages and saints whose mere presence mysteriously changed the lives of others. Often , without intent or effort, they transmitted these virtuous qualities, just as the sun, without intent, automatically radiates warmth and light.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.24
“The effects of maitri in the form of moral and physical strength are mental stability, grace, endurance and a memory like that of an elephant….True health covers physical, moral, mental and intellectual provinces. People have lost their sensitivity to be able to work intelligently with the body, which is the soul’s support. Through application of maitri, karuṇā, muditā and upekṣā, we can attain harmony within ourselves. Sensual enjoyment and pleasures have become the fashion of the day in place of the true culture of physical, moral, mental, and emotional harmony. Therefore, I am particularly referring to the body’s ethics: morality begins by looking after the soul’s prop or the envelope–the body–in order to make life noble and worth living.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras, p. 90-91
“Character is not storing in one’s behaviour-patterns attribute after attribute of what the mind describes as virtue. It cannot be built up. It arrives when the effort and the maker of the effort ease, so that there comes a vision of the innocent and the incorruptible virtue. The new mind permeated by the influence of this vision is truly virtuous. And so Patañjali says that as one communes with virtue there arises an inner strength which is not the product of the earth but a gift of heaven. This gift is available to all in the discontinuous interval of the timeless moment, in the non-dual experience of communion.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 327
The objects of saṁyama here are virtue and strength. Maitryādiṣu (“friendliness, etc.”) refers back to chapter one, and the four great practices of sūtra I.33: maitri (friendliness) toward happiness, karuṇā (compassion) toward pain, muditā (joy) toward virtue, upekṣā (equanimity) toward vice. These correspond to the Buddhist brahma-vihāras.
• In what ways has practicing the four virtues helped you in your relationships with others? Do you practice them toward yourself?
• Have you become more sensitive to the needs of your body?
• Have you experienced virtue as a process of removal of reactive tendencies (as Rohit Mehta says)? What does that look like, feel like?
• What aspects of the elephant do you admire and/or emulate? Are there other animals that inspire you?
February 13, 2015
sopakramam nirupakramam ca karma tat-saṁyamād aparānta-jñānam ariṣṭebhyo vā
“Karma is either quick to fructify or slow. By saṁyama on karma, or on portents, knowledge of [one’s] death arises.”
-–translation by Edwin Bryant
“The effects of action are immediate or delayed. By saṁyama on his actions, a yogi will gain foreknowledge of their final fruits. He will know the exact time of his death by omens.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.23
“Every action, or rather volition, leaves behind a corresponding trace or ‘seed’ in the depth of consciousness where it awaits its fruition in the form of volitional activity. The term karma can mean three different yet related things, viz (1) volitional activity, (2) its action-deposit (karma-āśaya) and (3) the fruition (karma-vipāka) thereof. Fruition again is said to be of two types; it can be either in the process of actualization or it can be latent (deferred). Through constraint [saṁyama] on the pool of subliminal activators, the yogin can gain insight into the patterning of his individual life and, in particular, foresee its end. Such knowledge can also be obtained by omens. Augury has been a highly developed art in Ancient India.” –Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, commentary on III.23
“Life and death are two aspects of creative forces. One cannot stand without the other. Hence the process of life cannot be understood without knowing the process of death, and vice versa….At every moment, tissues, cells, body, and senses are passing through life and death processes, but due to inadequate experience an unenlightened person does not understand them. But when he concentrates on the light of Puruṣa, Brahman, he understands the drama of nature and the experience of life and death processes with attending events.” –Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati, The Textbook of Yoga Psychology, commentary on III.23
The object of saṁyama here is the progression or sequence (krama, from kram, “to step”) of actions; in other words, how do the events of life unfold? From this saṁyama comes knowledge of the ultimate end (aparānta, from apara, “extreme,” + anta, “end”), which is understood here to mean death.
• Have you come to see patterns in your actions? Have some of these patterns changed with practice and intention? Do you see lifelong patterns?
• Have you become better at seeing short-term consequences of your actions? Long-term?
• How do you stay in the present in the face of death?
• Have you been present at the death of a person or animal? What were the signs of death?
February 6, 2015
“By saṁyama on the form of the body–and upon the suspension of the power of its perception and the separating of the eye from light–a placement within (or invisibility).”
etena śabdādyantardhānam uktam
“In the same way, the placement within of sound and the other senses is explained.”
“By control over the subtle body, the yogi can suspend at will the rays of light emanating from himself so that he becomes invisible to onlookers. He may again make himself visible by bringing back the power of perceptibility….In the same way, as described above, he is able to arrest sound, smell, taste, form and touch.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.21 and 22
“It is possible to attract more or less attention. One can disappear, like a chameleon, by imitating the dress, behavior, and personality of others, or stand out by being different. Unless there is interest in the thing seen, there is no perception. Interaction between the eye and the object registers the view, but the mind has to send out its intention to perceive the image. A person can attract another’s eye to a greater or lesser extent by playing on the spectator’s interest.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.21
“A person may be in the midst of a crowd, and yet may be so withdrawn within that his presence there is just physical, the psychological counterpart having moved on elsewhere. By this meditation a person may retire into complete solitude even when physically in a crowd. The invisibility here is not physical but psychospiritual…. In these two sūtras, Patañjali speaks of communion with the Formless and the Soundless….He suggests that there must happen constantly the phenomenon of withdrawal and return. He alone who constantly withdraws, can return refreshed and therefore undertake the task of effective communication. This withdrawal is the act of making oneself psychologically invisible and inaudible. This is the internal state arising out of meditation on the body of form and the body of sound.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 322-23
Commentators generally interpret this sūtra to be about a literal power of invisibility. The word for invisibility is antardhārana, which comes from antar (“within”) + dhā (“to place,” the same root as dhārana). It also means “hidden from view,” “concealed,” “placed within.”
• Do you tend to stand out in a crowd or be overlooked?
• Has yoga led you to have more or less control over others’ perceptions of you?
• Has your practice helped you see under the surface, or beneath the form, of things?
• What, in your experience, is a benefit to placing the awareness within?
January 23, 2015
“By communing with the thought-expressions of the other, one can understand how his mind functions.”
na ca tat sālambanam tasyāviṣayī-bhūtatvāt
“This, however, does not enable one to know the motivating factors which sustain and support those thought-images.”
–translations by Rohit Mehta
“That principle by which objects are known is called pratyaya. By samyama on the process of the psychic mechanism, modus operandi of mindstuff, there arises knowledge about others’ minds. The process of the psychic mechanism consists of the laws of the mind, how the mind operates. These mental laws are not corporeal. They are incorporeal, but they move the entire body, which is corporeal, in a particular way. Every inner feeling will move the body in its own way. … Everyone can read others’ minds to some extent. We see that mothers, teachers, and psychologists can imagine something about the minds of their children, pupils, and patients respectively. Penetration is the nature of the mind, but when it is especially trained in samādhi, it can know others’ minds accurately and exactly.” –Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati, The Textbook of Yoga Psychology, commentary on III.19
“Before we examine another person’s mind, we must become conscious of the factors that condition us. We must first know and accept ourselves, so that we are sufficiently calm. Then, the image of the other can be reflected on the calm surface of our mind. When we are calm and listening, and accustomed to seeing the influence of fear on our own attitudes, breathing patterns, and facial expressions, we will be able to feel another’s fear. If we have not gotten over our own fears, we are likely to see only our own fear in another. This is the same for all human feelings.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.19
“One can know how the mind of the other person works, but not why the mind functions that way.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 320
Patañjali states that through samyama on thoughts, one gains knowledge of another’s mind. However, he cautions that there is a limit to that knowledge.
• Do you consider it useful to contemplate another’s thoughts?
• Is there a danger to focusing on another person’s thoughts? What is it?
• Do you resist interpreting what others say?
• Have you come to understand your own thinking better–where your thoughts arise from, how they connect to your feelings?
January 16, 2015
“Through direct perception of his subliminal impressions, the yogi gains knowledge of his previous lives.”
–translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“By turning our attention inward, directly observing subconscious impressions, and noting when, how, and why they manifest, we will see themes, keynote thoughts–the essential plot line around which our current life was formed. When we directly perceive these themes through saṁyama, we will find that they originated from past actions and latent impressions of previous births.” -The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, commentary on III.18
“With this aphorism, Patañjali proposes we look our own conditioning squarely in the eye: atavistic, hereditary, family, educational, social, professional, and so on….Knowing more about our origins enables us to make new choices and get a fresh start.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.18
“The operative nature of the past resides not in events and happenings but in tendencies and reactions that are imbedded in one’s consciousness. And so the past in its real sense is not away from us, but is there in the very situation in which we are. The past is in the present, and this can be comprehended by communing with the present. This means seeing one’s own tendencies, habits and reactions without any explanation or interruption. Then they themselves tell us the nature of our past. Once again it is only the new mind that can cognize the real nature of one’s past.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 318
The term saṁskāra derives from sam (“together”)+ kṛ (“to do”); it refers to the impressions left on the citta by past thoughts, feelings, experiences. Here, Patañjali describes direct perception of the saṁskāra themselves.
• Do you look at the patterns of your mind without judging them?
• How is your past in your present? Does practice teach you about your past?
• In Light on Life, Mr. Iyengar says, “Perform āsanas each time with a fresh mind and with a fresh approach.” What strategies do you use to try and do this? Can you combine increasing knowledge of the āsana with the “freshness” Mr. Iyengar talks about?
• Might deja vu be related to the saṁskāra? Have you had an experience of deja vu that you relate to yourself, your nature and history, rather than to “something” happening again?
January 9, 2015
śabdārtha-pratyayānām itaretarādhyāsāt saṁkaras tat-pravibhāga-saṁyamāt sarva-bhūta-ruta-jñānam
“The confusion of words, meanings, and pratyaya [arising thought] is due to the super-imposition of one upon the other. By saṁyama on the inherent distinctness of these, there arises knowledge of the sound of all beings.”
–translation by Vyaas Houston
“From the Yoga perspective, the advanced yogi is able to perform saṁyama on any sequence of sounds and gain access to the meaning and idea present … even if the language is unknown. This, according to the commentators, would appear to include the sounds of any creature.” –Edwin Bryant, The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, p. 343
“Very often there is a gap between the words we use and what these words really mean, because our inner and outer experiences color them. Something that sounds like a compliment might really be expressing jealousy that the speaker seeks to hide even from him or herself. The first stage, then, is prolonged observation of the possible gap between our own words and what we are really saying, given our situations, our experiences, and our emotional and mental states. It is a matter of knowing what we say, why we say it, and in what circumstances we say it.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.17
“Speech is the most powerful means of communication. And yet much misunderstanding is created by the spoken word resulting in unhappy relationship. If one could go behind the verbal meaning and cease projecting ones’s own meanings on words that are spoken by the other then life would be much simpler causing no strain in relationship. But how is this to be done? Only by an act of communion, which means noting the movement of one’s own mind when one listens to the words uttered by others.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 316
Here, Patañjali describes saṁyama on language. Consider this sūtra together with I.9.
• Has yoga helped you become a better communicator? Can you understand someone who speaks another language? How well do you listen to animals?
• Are there gaps between your own words and what they “really mean”?
• This sūtra asserts that there is a distinction between words and the objects they describe. Have you experienced an occasion when words obscured your perception or clouded your judgement?
December 5, 2014
“Observing these three axes of change–form, time span, and condition–with perfect discipline yields insight into the past and future.”
–translation by Chip Hartranft
“In this sūtra, Patañjali begins to identify the accomplishments which come to the aspirant who has advanced in yogic discipline. The first is the awareness of time. The yogi’s consciousness has crossed the frontier of time: he sees time as ever flowing.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.16
“The seeming stability of experience is an illusion, as are the enduring qualities of objects. In fact, the universe is unfolding, expanding, advancing through time–not just as stars, planets, and gas clouds hurtling outward from their explosive beginnings, but also in our molecules, fibers, bodies, families, communities, and species. The universe’s unfolding can even be sensed in our consciousness, whose flux is displayed before awareness moment by moment.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 50
“As we have already seen, the culminating point of the threefold transformation is an awareness of silence in the midst of noise. This is the awareness of the Transcendent in the Immanent, or of the timeless in the sequence of time…. The timeless moment is the Infinite Rest even as the flow of time is Infinite Motion. Motion becomes meaningful only in the context of rest. It is the timeless moment which gives significance to time. The new mind born in the moment of communion knows the secret of the time process because it comprehends the mystery of the timeless moment.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 308
“Saṁyama is a way of obtaining knowledge through experience: direct perception of the highest order. There are no intermediary words, biases, blind spots, faults of logic, no history, no agendas–just the mind confronting an object head-on, penetrating it to its core. The knowledge brought by saṁyama is therefore different from that obtained by the study of books or everyday experience, which is usually clouded to some degree by the factors mentioned above.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.16
This week’s sūtra is the first of a beautiful and rich list of deśa, places to hold the awareness. Grammatically, it sets a template for many of the sūtras of chapter III. From the practice of saṁyama (which is in the third case, indicating source) on a focal point or place, there comes an attainment or understanding. Sutra III.16: From saṁyama on change comes understanding of time.
• Are you satisfied with your progress in yoga? What do you consider to be signs of progress?
• How do you feel about aging? Has yoga practice affected your experience of aging?
• Can direct perception cut through bias or preconception? What is an example of that in your own experience?
November 21, 2014
kramānyatvam pariṇāmānyatve hetuḥ
“Successive sequential changes cause the distinctive changes in the consciousness.”
–translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“In yoga practice a regular sequence [krama] must be followed…. There is a logic to the involutionary spiritual journey, just as there is in the growth of a plant from seed, to stem, to bud, to flower, to fruit. The original, pure consciousness which we trace through Patañjali’s method is the seed of transformation in oneself. Our own self is the maker of our own spiritual destiny.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.15
“The moment you do sālamba śīrṣāsana, with the centre crown of the head on the mat, then a dome shape in the upper arms and a triangular shape from the lower arms to the upper arms takes place and as a result the legs turn and come closer to each other. If you enhance the inner rotation of flesh and skin in the legs, the compactness comes, energy flows uninterruptedly and intelligence gets alerted immediately. Here comes communication from the intelligence to commune with energy, moving it to flow with rhythm everywhere. This type of energy-flow brings intelligence of the soma for right adjustments. Here, one does not adjust the psyche, but the soma transforms into psyche and adjustment takes place instantaneously. … In the practice of an āsana, apart from these elements–which connect the soma to psyche and psyche to soma–the connecting of the mind to intelligence, intelligence to consciousness and consciousness to conscience in the sequential order is essential. Then the āsana performed is like the archetypal icon. This is the sādhana krama or the sequential ascension in sādhana.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Aṣtadala Yogamāla, Volume 3, pp. 62-63
“Different methods produce different changes. … To acquire a certain level in a foreign language, for example, one might take classes, individual lessons, or a correspondence course, or one might stay in the country where the language is spoken. The rate of learning differs according to the method used. The method must also suit a student’s aptitudes and temperament. For example, a gregarious person who is not so fond of books and solitude would learn more with a maximum of human contact and, therefore, might prefer to spend time with native speakers of the language.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.15
“When time-succession is seen without the comprehension of the the timeless moment then the former makes no sense whatever. It appears to be a frustrating process moving in a seeming aimlessness. Rabindranath Tagore states this beautifully in his book Sadhana: ‘If we do not see the Infinite Rest, and only see Infinite Motion, then existence appears to us a monstrous evil, impetuously rushing towards an unending aimlessness.’ … It is only when the manifest drops away that the Unmanifest can be seen in all its glory. And the dropping away of the manifest is the cessation of the thinker and the thought. In this utter silence of consciousness the timeless moment conveys the secret of time; it is in this timeless moment that the meaning of the Time-sequence is comprehended.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 306-7
The word krama derives from kram, “to walk or step” and refers to sequence or progression. This sūtra can be read as a reflection on cause and effect–even on the metaphysics of nature and time. It can also be understood on a practical level, as a statement on method, in particular the order or progression of learning.
• Do you tend to repeat or vary the sequence of practice? What are the benefits of repetition? Variation?
• Do you recognize that a method that you value might not be right for another person? What is an example of that?
• Has yoga practice affected your experience of purpose or meaning?
November 7, 2014
etena bhūtendriyeṣu dharma-lakṣaṇāvasthā-pariṇāmā vyākhyātāḥ
“Consciousness evolves along the same three lines–form, time span, and condition–as the elements and the senses.”
“The substrate is unchanged, whether before, during, or after it takes a given form.”
–translations by Chip Hartranft
“With appearances, everything changes. The paper I am reading was once a tree and one day will be recycled or burned. My gold ring was once ore in the soil. What will it become in the hands of my great grandchildren? It is the same with our physical forms and psyches, which change constantly within the fields of our potentials. Three successive specific states have been presented [in sutras III.9-12]: the transformations toward stability, contemplation, and one-pointedness…. Such changes appear in one’s body and in one’s relationship with the surroundings. In this way, health and physical form and possibilities evolve along with the way one perceives the world, acts, thinks, and behaves.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.13
“If clay, at a particular point of time, is made into a pot, it assumes the characteristics of being a pot rather than of being a cup or saucer, and its function in the grand scheme of things is that it is a container for substances. The pot is thus a specific dharma that is potential in the clay, and the same clay can assume different dharmas by being transformed into other things such as saucers and cups….The lakṣaṇa, or state of an object, is understood as its situation in time– a pot can exist in the present, it could have existed in the past or, if yet to be made, exist at some point in the future. The avasthā…is taken to refer to the condition of the pot–whether in the past, present, or future, it could be a new pot in good condition, or an old pot, etc.” –Edwin Bryant, The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.13
“The inherent characteristic quality of nature (mūla-prakṛti) has three properties; pacified or calmed (śānta), manifested (udita) or latent (avyapadeśya)…. Consciousness, being a part of nature, is bound by the spokes of the wheel of time…. The import of the sūtra can be used to practical advantage while practicing āsana, prāṇāyāma, or meditation. If we observe the various scattered dust cells lying latent in the body, and charge them so that they cohere (lump of clay), we can feel the inner unity and transform body, breath, and consciousness into designs in the form of different āsanas and prāṇāyāmas, as the potter forms his clay into a variety of shapes. In āsana, if the energy of the body is harmonized to a ‘point zero’ whilst in a state of tension, we reach precision. The same can be applied to the intake of breath, its distribution or discharge in prāṇāyāma, and in meditation. The combining of single-pointed attention with all-pointed attention at the core of one’s being is the essence of this sūtra. ‘Point zero’ indicates the point of balance and harmony at which we can unlock and liberate the knotty confusion of matter and emotion. It also conveys the importance of finding the exact centre of the meeting points of vertical extension and horizontal expansion in body, breath and consciousness.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.14
Having described the types of changes that practice brings to the consciousness, Patañjali reintroduces the general theme of change in nature (see sūtra II.15). The word dharma, which is used in many contexts to mean “duty” or “role,” here means the essential characteristic or form of things. Dharmin (dharma + -in) means that which possesses the forms (as a yogin possesses yoga). That is, dharmin is what underlies the world of forms: the substratum, the ground, or, perhaps, the core of being.
• Have your body, your attitudes, or your relationships changed since beginning yoga? Have there been changes you have had to correct?
• What effect does having a more stable consciousness have in your life?
• Has yoga helped you understand your individual nature (your dharma)?
• From your own experience, what is “point zero”? How would you describe it?
October 31, 2014
tataḥ punaḥ śāntoditau tulya-pratyayau cittasyaikāgrata-pariṇāmaḥ
“Then again, when the quieted and the arisen are the same pratyaya [thought], there is one-pointedness transformation of citta.”
–translation by Vyaas Houston
“The above sutra speaks of śāntoditau tulya-pratyaya. It means that the pratyaya or the content of the mind remains tulya or unchanged whether there is the subsiding of distractions or emergence of distractions. A mind that is undistracted experiences silence in the noise itself. The silence that comes from the cessation of noise is superficial; it is only the silence that is discovered in the midst of noise that has depth; in fact, such silence has enormous depth…. Communication from the base of silence never fails.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 301, 303
“Ekāgrata, as explained earlier, has two meanings. One is concentration on a given object: at this external level, it has the same meaning as dhārana. The other is ‘one without a second': that is, the soul. This level of transformation of the consciousness is the highest. I feel, therefore, that Patañjali’s meaning is this: ekāgrata-pariṇāma is the final phase of the transformation in which consciousness is uplifted to the level of the soul, and is one with it.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.12
“Following contemplation is transformation to one-pointedness, in which one experiences with equanimity both mental peace and the return to a less coherent former state…. This aphorism describes a state in which we no longer pass judgment, but fully accept our own reality, whatever it may be. At this point, success, or the lack of it, no longer directly influences the direction we choose. That does not mean it is an immobile state free of questioning, but a state that perpetually evolves toward a stable course.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.12
The word pratyaya derives from prati, “toward,” + i “to go.” Translated as thought or idea, it carries with it a sense of movement. It is in the nature of citta to move, to perceive. This final type of transformation describes an organizing of the movements of citta.
• Have you experienced silence in the midst of noise? What resulted from that?
• What does it mean to you to communicate from the best part of yourself?
• How do you respond to success and failure? What disturbs your equanimity more?
• Is your practice bringing you to more acceptance?
October 24, 2014
sarvārthataikāgratayoḥ kṣayodayau cittasya samādhi-pariṇāmaḥ
“The disappearance of all-objectness and the arising of one-pointedness is samādhi transformation of citta (the energy field of consciousness).”
–translation by Vyaas Houston
“Citta takes the form of any object seen, observed or thought of. It can spread itself as much as it desires. When it spreads, it is multi-faceted; when it remains steadily focused, it is one-pointed. When it is scattered, distraction and restlessness set in. This restlessness can be subdued, but nothing which exists can be destroyed; it can only be transformed: made to disappear or fade by thoughtful attention, enabling the stream of conscious restfulness to flow steadily…. In nirodha pariṇāma, the emergence of thought-waves is restrained and stilled. In samādhi pariṇāma, the intervals between the emergence and the restraint of thoughts and vice versa are studied. From this study emerges a stillness which leads to silence.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.11
“One of the dictionary meanings of samādhi is silence. And since this transformation of the mind is described as samādhi pariṇāma, one can define it as awareness of quiet. Nirodha pariṇāma is the awareness of interval while samādhi pariṇāma is the awareness of quiet…. To bear the silence of an interval is hard enough, but to experience the silence which arrives with the cessation of noise is harder still. It is this which is indicated in the transformation of the mind known as samādhi pariṇāma…. As stated earlier the transformation of the mind cannot be brought about. It occurs in the moment of communion. This transformation is to prepare the new mind for the task of effective communication. Agan this transformation occurs when the old mind lies dead in the moment of communion. The old mind cannot be trained for effective communication, for, it lives in the past and projects that past into what is. The new mind is extraordinarily sensitive, but its sensitivity has to grow in range and extent.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 299-300
“Samādhi brings significant changes in the mental environment. It’s almost like renovating a house, adding a new floor, more rooms, windows, and closets. We see fresh vistas through new openings and suddenly find storage places for everything. Our newly refurbished house impacts our lives on many practical and emotional levels. Similarly, the mind undergoing the transforming process of samādhi begins to operate in a state of heightened receptivity that opens it to subtle influences, knowledge, and experiences.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.11
In the last two sūtras, Patañjali described a transformation of citta that comes about at the moment of nirodha (stilling or calming of the thoughts). Here he describes a transformation that comes from the experience of samādhi (absorption). Sarvārthata (sarva, “all,” + artha, “purpose,” + ta, “-ness”) disappears; ekāgrata (eka, “one,” + agra, “first, foremost, goal, point” + ta, “-ness”) rises.
• What object of attention do you consider foremost for your practice? For example, as you practice āsana, you may choose a succession of points of focus. What are important points? What is the foremost point?
• In the movement of the mind from many objects to one purpose, what objects do you let go of first? In other words, what thoughts interrupt your focus the most?
• In what way does practice shift your priorities? What is an example of that?
October 17, 2014
vyutthāna-nirodha-saṁskārayor abhibhava-prādurbhāvau nirodha-kṣaṇa-cittānvayo nirodha-pariṇāmaḥ
“Study of the silent moments between rising and restraining subliminal impressions is the transformation of consciousness towards restraint (nirodha-pariṇāmaḥ).”
tasya praśānta-vāhitā saṁskārāt
“The restraint of rising impressions brings about an undisturbed flow of tranquility.”
–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“Between each inbreath and outbreath, we experience the cessation of breath for a split second. Without this gap, we cannot inhale or exhale….The yogis who discovered prānāyāma called this natural space kumbhaka, and advised us to prolong its duration. So, there are four movements in each breath: inhalation, pause, exhalation and pause. Consciousness, too, has four movements: rising consciousness, a quiet state of consciousness, restraining consciousness and a quiet state of consciousness.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.9
“There is a transformation in which the mind is aware of the interval between the cessation and the re-emergence of the thought process…. To put it differently there is an interval between two thoughts. And the transformation that takes place during saṁyama or meditation is of that nature where there is an awareness in the mind of the interval between two thought-processes. Such awareness is described as nirodha paṛināma. An interval between two thoughts may, at first, be difficult to understand. But surely one can be aware of an interval between two sounds. When a bell rings there is an interval between two ringings. Ordinarily we are not aware of this interval between these two expressions of sound, because the mind projects a continuity whereby we hear only the continuity of sound. The awareness of an interval demands a great sensitivity of the mind….The mind that can be aware of an interval, even if for a split second, has undergone a great transformation in the very quality of its functioning.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 295-96
“It is apparent that practices such as meditation, prayer, study and self-analysis develop nirodha. But nirodha really gains momentum when we create the inner environment in which nirodha thrives in practical terms, this means looking to principles of sacred wisdom as the standard by which we make choices and by which we adjust our perception of life and the world. By adopting sacred standards as our guidelines for living, we create an inner universe where fears, anxieties, and restlessness are diminished by faith, compassion, and clear steady focus.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.9
Saṁskāras might be described as imprints on the consciousness. They make a pattern that shapes the flow, the nature, and the quality of our perceptions. Formed by thoughts, they then affect our thinking. Here Patañjali describes that yoga practice brings a transformation in the saṁskāras themselves (see also I.50).
• How do you experience nirodha? What translation of the word nirodha speaks to you?
• Has your practice brought you awareness of “a silent moment,” an interval, between movements, breaths, thoughts? What is the significance of the moment of interval, for you?
• Do you cultivate tranquility other than in practice? How?
October 10, 2014
trayam antar-aṅgam pūrvebhyaḥ
“The three (dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi) are inner compared to the five outer instruments.”
tad api bahir-aṅgam nirbījasya
“But even the three are outer compared to the seedless.”
–translations by Rohit Mehta
“Patañjali is describing a process of interiorization that begins with one’s relation to externals, then to self, body, breath, orientation of attention, focus, absorption…. Even though all eight limbs are interdependent and simultaneous, the thresholds to which they apply grow increasingly interiorized….When interiorization deepens, consciousness begins to reflect the fact that awareness is not actually regarding an object per se but rather conscious processes representing the object.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 41
“When we can play with the elements within our own bodies, with their renewal and disproportion and rebalancing, then we are aware of nature at a level that is not apprehendable in a normal way. It is supranatural, as normal consciousness is blind to it. We are discovering evolution through a journey of involution, like a salmon swimming back up the torrent from which he was born to spawn again….The force that is expressing itself welcomes our journey, even though it seems to obstruct it.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, pp. 206, 211
“Here the word nirbīja is not to be confused with the nirbīja samādhi, which we have already discussed in the first section of the book dealing with Samādhi Pāda. In the context of the present sūtra, nirbīja means just seedless signifying an unmanifest state…. Therefore dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi, when expressed and defined, are outer compared to that which is seedless or unmanifest. But they are inner compared to the five outer instruments of Yoga. The experience of communion is not what is expressed in words. We have to remember that the description is not the described. The word samādhi is not the experience of samādhi. A name or a word is something outer compared to the actual experience. It is only like a finger pointing the way. The finger is not to be mistaken for the way…. The word is not the thing.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 289-91
The discipline of yoga brings our attention to the external and internal, and the eight limbs themselves connect out and in. Patañjali here states that the process of dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi is internal compared to the previous five aspects he has described. The three limbs are interdependent and work as one. In this threefold process, our awareness spreads to encompass our own citta, its movements, its “story”; a luminosity of clearer perception comes, both in and out; an experience that is beyond words unfolds.
• Do you allow yourself to experience your practice without judging it? In what ways do you judge it?
• What parts of your yoga practice do you consider external? Internal?
• Does it help you to observe more accurately if you are aware of your own apparatus for observing? What is an example of that in your own experience?
• Mr. Iyengar describes yoga as a process of involution, a return to the source. Do you consider this a physical process?
September 26, 2014
trayam ekatra saṁyamaḥ
“The group of three (dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi) together as one, is saṁyama, the perfect regulation of citta.”
“Owing to the success of that (saṁyama), the brilliance of prajña, insight.”
tasya bhūmiṣu viniyogaḥ
“Its (saṁyama‘s) application is in stages.”
–translations by Vyaas Houston
“Patanjali has coined a special word for dhāraṇā, dhyāna, and samādhi. It is saṁyama, or total integration. Dhāraṇa means attention or concentration. It is a way of focusing the attention on a particular chosen path, region, spot or place within or outside the body…. When oil is poured from one vessel into another, it maintains a constant, steady and even flow. Likewise, the flow of attention and awareness should remain stable and constant. This steady awareness is dhyāna. Dhyāna is the way of discovering the greater self. It is the art of self-study, observation , reflection and sight of the infinite hidden within. It begins with the observation of physical process, then involves watchfulness of the mental state, then blends the intelligence of the head with that of the heart to delve deep in profound contemplation….To spread the soul equally from the heart of its abode toward its frontier is the meaning of samādhi.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, The Tree of Yoga, pp. 129-30
“Meditation [saṁyama] comprises this threefold process of awareness, attention and communion [dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi]. The three together constitute the wholeness of spiritual experience. They are a whole. It is only for the clarity of mental understanding that one may examine the three separately…. Samādhi or Communion is indeed the experience of the Formless. But such an experience comes only in a flash, in the Timeless Moment. It is in the vision of the Formless that one sees the quality of things, the intrinsic significance underlying all manifestation. There comes a perception of what is. This is right perception and this alone is the starting point of right action or right communication.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 281-2
“People seek samādhi through drugs, alcohol, the danger of extreme sports, the romantics of music, the beauty of nature, and the passion of sexuality. There are a thousand ways, and they all involve the transcendence of the suffering ego in a blissful fusion with an entity much greater than ourselves…. Some methods of escape are obviously harmful and unsustainable, like drugs or alcohol. Great art, great music, or great works of literature, can also begin the work of transformation in the heart of humankind. But I can honestly teach only from what I know. Āsana was my school and university, prāṇāyāma was where I earned my doctorate, and it is these yoga practices that I have learned for the path to the blissful fusion.” –B.K.S Iyengar, Light on Life, pp. 223-4
Patañjali groups the last three limbs of yoga together and gives them one name, saṁyama (sam, “all,” + yam, “regulate”), translated by different commentators as “integration,” “meditation,” “perfect discipline,” “perfect mastery.” Patañjali calls the knowledge that comes from this threefold process prajñālokaḥ: it “shines forth with light.”
• Is there a pursuit that has brought you a feeling of transcending the individual self, or that you feel has expanded your consciousness or cleared your perceptions? Is yoga like it? Different?
• Why is saṁyama a threefold process? What are some of the ways we might understand it to take place in “stages” or on different “planes”?
• Would you say yoga has brought you insight? Is there a particular quality to that insight?
• What does integration mean to you?
September 19, 2014
tad evārtha-mātra-nirbhāsam svarūpa-śūnyam iva samādhiḥ
“When the object of meditation alone shines in the mind, as though the mind is emptied of its own form–that is contemplation [samādhi].”
–translation by Bernard Bouanchaud
“When a musician loses himself and is completely engrossed in his music, or an inventor makes his discoveries when devoid of ego, or a painter transcends himself with color, shade and brush; they glimpse samādhi. So it is with the yogi; when his object of contemplation becomes himself, devoid of himself, he experiences samādhi.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.3
“If the goal of the practice of meditation is to gain knowledge of the object of meditation that is immediate, unbiased, and whole then the mind has to reach a state where it completely, even if temporarily, gives up whatever form it is holding in favor of that of the chosen object.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, p. 168
“To watch the movement of inattention is to watch the activity of the knower of the field. It has to be understood that the thinker can be watched only in the movement of thought and not away from it. In this watching the thinker relates his own story, and when it is heard without any interruption then the thinker comes to a state of quiet. It is in this quietness emanating from the focal point, that there comes a deep silence which is indeed the condition of total attention. It is only in such a state of attention that seeing is possible. This seeing or right perception is described by Patañjali as Samādhi or communion… In this awareness, and there alone, one communes with the intrinsic significance or the quality of things or persons. The timeless moment is a flash…. The next moment the stream will move on. But it is in that timeless interval that one can have the enthralling vision of Reality, a regenerating touch of the Intangible. This is the moment of Love, of communion, or Samādhi. Love and Samādhi are not two different things.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 274-79
The word samādhi comes from dhā, to put or place. Sam means “with” or “all,” ā is an intensifier. Thus samādhi is “putting all together.” Patañjali defines samādhi as a kind of pure perception–the object alone is seen. One’s own form is “emptied” (śūnya). It is as though the perceiver has no identity.
• What activities engross you most completely?
• In your experience, how does the “emptying” of the mind happen?
• How do you know when you come into the right perception of things?
• What is your understanding of why Rohit Mehta says, Love is Samādhi?
September 12, 2014
tatra pratyayaika-tānatā dhyānam
“A steady, continuous flow of attention directed towards the same point or region is meditation (dhyāna).”
–translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“With prolonged focus on one object, concentration becomes meditation, in which the grasp of the object is direct–instantaneous, new, and unforgettable. This interaction between subject and object leaves a deep impression that replaces understanding that is based on memory and the past.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.2.
“In āsana, there is a centrifugal movement of consciousness to the frontiers of the body, whether extended vertically, horizontally or circumferentially, and a centripetal movement as the whole body is brought into single focus. If the attention is steadily maintained in this manner, meditation takes place. Similarly, in prāṇāyāma, the flow of in- or out-breath is sensitively measured and sustained, resulting in total involvement with the self. During retention, when the breath, cells of the torso, consciousness and soul are brought into unison, meditation occurs. In short, when attention, reflection and contemplation in action and observation are steadily sustained, dhāraṇā evolves into dhyāna.”–B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.2
“Dhyāna is the state of watching the flow of thought without any interruption. To observe the movement of the mind in a condition of extensive awareness is, according to Patañjali, the state of dhyāna…. It is necessary to realize that distraction is the language through which the mind tells its own story. We have never listened to the mind, in fact we have treated mind as something alien to us. The non-listening to the story of the mind makes distraction into such an enormous problem in all approaches of meditation…. Meditation is indeed the emptying of the mind of all its contents. But the mind cannot be emptied, it empties itself. And this emptying happens when the story of the mind is listened to without any judgment or evaluation…. When the mind empties itself, the thought process automatically ends. The cessation of the thought process is a state of silence. And it is only in the silence of the mind that the focal point can be looked at.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 259-65
It is in the nature of citta (consciousness) to flow, and a pratyaya (prati, “towards” + i, “to go”) is a movement of citta toward an object. How does that movement become sustained, without interruption? Patanjali says that that sustainment is dhyāna, the seventh limb of yoga. The word is derived from dhyai, “to think,” though commentators generally describe dhyāna as a state of “not-thinking.”
• Do you watch the movement of your consciousness when you practice āsana? How would you describe that movement? Where does the movement go? What happens during prāṇāyāma?
• What happens for you when the mind drifts away from the area of focus? What is the nature of your response? What is your relationship with your mind?
• After a session of practice, do you feel you have “heard” your mind? Have you “listened to its story”?
• Do you feel your practice has brought you a more direct perception of things?
September 5, 2014
deśa-bandhaś cittasya dhāraṇā
“Fixing the consciousness on one point or region is concentration (dhāraṇā).”
–translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“Most people, even most yoga practitioners, are under the impression that āsanas are merely external and physical. This sūtra removes that misconception. Patañjali defines concentration as the focusing of attention either within or outside the body….. External objects should be auspicious and associated with purity. Internally, the mind penetrates to the soul, the core of one’s being: the object is, in reality, pure existence.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.1
“The mind is not in the habit of attentively focusing on one point. It wants to run here and there, and does. Many times during a meditation session, the mind will quietly slither away, initially undetected. Each time the mind’s wandering ways are discovered, the practitioner lets go of of the wayward thoughts and refocuses on the object of meditation.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 166
“Deśa means a territory or an area, or in the present context a range. … Let the mind move freely in this realm where the focal and the marginal areas have been defined. Very often the mind will move on and linger in the marginal area. Let this lingering happen without losing sight of the subject of focal interest. It is not necessary to hold on tightly to the subject of focal interest. But if there is no resistance to the marginal stimulations then the mind will oscillate between the focal and the marginal. There will come into existence a right relationship between the focal and the marginal which will take away all strain and tension.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 236, 248
Chapter 3 of The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali begins with the definition of the last three of the eight limbs of yoga. These are said to represent the inner, most subtle aspect of the journey of yoga, or in Rohit Mehta’s language, the return. The act of choosing a place to hold our attention is at the heart of the practice of yoga.
• Have you experienced strain or tension in efforts to hold your attention? What has helped with that? Have you experienced failure?
• How do you choose a focal point?
• Do you experience dhāraṇā as constraint or freedom?
• What happens in you when your attention drifts?
June 20, 2014
dhāraṇāsu ca yogyatā manasaḥ
“It prepares the mind for the state of dhāraṇā, or awareness.”
sva-viṣayāsamprayoge cittasya svarūpānukāra ivendriyāṇām pratyāhāraḥ
“When the senses imitate the mind in its act of withdrawal then it is called pratyāhāra or Abstraction.”
tataḥ paramā vaśyatendriyāṇām
“From this comes the greatest resilience of the senses.”
–translations by Rohit Mehta
“Pratyāhāra is the culturing and civilizing of the senses of perception. In much of our life, memory supersedes intelligence. Memory triggers the mind, and because the mind is triggered by memory we go for past experiences only. Memory is afraid that it may lose its identity, so before the mind has a chance to call upon the intelligence, memory comes in and says, ‘Act! Now! Immediately!’ That is known as impulse, which commonly governs our actions. … [The] act of going against memory and mind is pratyāhāra. With the help of intelligence, the senses commence an inner journey and return to their point of origin.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Tree of Yoga, pp. 60-61
“In the presence of something new the mind’s security is naturally threatened, for under its impact the mind is compelled to revise its own conclusions. And it is this which the mind all the time wishes to avoid. It is safe for it to remain entrenched behind its own conclusions and judgments….This process has become so much a part of our lives that the senses all the time depend upon intimations and directions from the mind. The intervention by the mind has resulted in the vast areas of the universe remaining shut off from our ken. We live in a universe which is stereotyped and monotonous. Through the intervention of the mind, we are allowed to see only that which the mind considers safe for us to see….To reeducate the senses is to allow them to function freely without the interference of the mind.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 207-8
“Pratyāhāra typically arises as one focuses on the indivisible sensation fields that were the objects in the two previous limbs of yoga, sitting (āsana) and breathing (prānāyāma). To maintain awareness of these fields, attention must narrow its scope from the kaleidoscopic panorama of mutlisensory inputs to just those impressions that evoke the felt sense of the body quietly seated in āsana, then in the more circumscribed field of breath energies…. Only when external distractions have been completely transcended can concentration and absorption develop enough to reveal that one is always observing one’s consciousness of an object and never the object itself.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, pp. 42-3
Patañjali concludes Chapter Two with the fourth limb of yoga, pratyāhāra. Derived from prati (“back or return”) and hṛ (“hold”), the word means retreat or drawing back. Mr. Iyengar says pratyāhāra is the threshold to the internal quest and the last three limbs, which Patañjali will introduce at the start of Chapter Three.
• What does it mean to you to turn the senses inward?
• What senses do you rely on most?
• Have you come to discover habits in how you perceive?
• Has yoga made your universe larger?
June 13, 2014
“The fourth type of prāṇāyāma transcends the external and internal prāṇāyāmas, and appears effortless and non-deliberate.”
tataḥ kṣīyate prakāśāvaraṇam
“Prāṇāyāma removes the veil covering the light of knowledge and heralds the dawn of wisdom.”
–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“The fourth type of prāṇāyāma goes beyond the regulation or modulation of breath flow and retention, transcending the methodology given in the previous sūtra. When the movement of the breath functions without one’s volition or effort, the fourth stage of prāṇāyāma has been reached. The movements of the mind and consciousness cease. The flows of vital energy, intelligence and consciousness come to a standstill except for subliminal impressions.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.51
“The purpose of prāṇāyāma is to bring a clarity of perception. Patañjali says that prāṇāyāma enables one to dispel the clouds which prevent a clear perception to arise. The word used is prakāśa āvaraṇa, meaning the clouding of perception. Now it is the function of of the brain to form clear percepts just as it is the function of the mind to form clear concepts. It is quite obvious that prāṇāyāma renders the perceptive work of the brain smooth and efficient. Under this, the brain feels lighter, being free from congestion. And it is this which enable it to come to a clear perception of things.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 207-8
“Steady observation alone is enough to bring about unforced changes in the breath’s shape and texture. Indeed, no form of conscious, deliberate effort can make the breath as soft and unhurried as it becomes spontaneously through sustained mindfulness. And as respiration grows inconceivably spacious and subtle, it ceases to be a suitable environment for agitated mental states.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 41
“The body reaches equilibrium through posture practice. Through breath control, the mind itself reaches equilibrium.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 140
Having presented the technical and outer form of prāṇāyāma in II.50, Patañjali here describes its metaphysical aspect. He defines its purpose with a beautiful metaphor: from prāṇāyāma, he says, the covering of the light is destroyed. Kṣīyate (“is destroyed”) is one of the few verbs in the Yoga Sūtras.
• What has been your experience with exercising control over the breath vs. letting go of control and volition? What is the interplay between effort and non-effort when bringing awareness to your breath?
• What does your breath teach you about your body, mind, emotions? How does the breath affect your sense of identity?
• What is the light?
• Have you gained greater clarity of perception through practice? What tends to cloud your perception? What is an example of that?
June 6, 2014
tasmin sati śvāsa-praśvāsayor gati-vicchedaḥ prāṇāyāmaḥ
“Prāṇāyāma is the regulation of the incoming and outgoing flow of breath with retention. It is to be practiced only after perfection in āsana is attained.”
bāhyābhyantara-stambha-vṛttir deśa-kāla-saṁkhyābhiḥ-paridṛṣṭo dīrgha-sūkṣmaḥ
“Prāṇāyāma has three movements: prolonged and fine inhalation, exhalation, and retention; all regulated with precision according to duration and place.”
–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“Our breath is interrupted and flows in a zigzag manner. Patañjali suggests the sādhakas to regulate the in-breath and out-breath by listening to and maintaining a smooth, steady sound along with a soft flow…. Throughout prāṇāyāma practice, it is important to hold the seat (the buttock bones) as if the tail of the spinal column itself is performing tāḍāsana. Correct positioning of the spine enables the the torso to function without distraction, contraction or refraction in the flow and rhythmic movements of breath.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras, p. 155
“All vibrating energies are prāṇa. All physical energies such as heat, light, gravity, magnetism, and electricity are also prāṇa. It is the hidden and potential energy in all beings, released to the fullest extent as a response to any threat to one’s survival…. [It] is usually translated as breath, yet this is only one of its manifestations. According to the Upaniṣads, it is the principle of life and consciousness….We live with our individual consciousness with its limited intelligence, often feeling lonely and puny, when there is a conduit available directly to cosmic consciousness and intelligence. Through this conduit flows prana, joining each individual among us to the highest original principle of Nature.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 66-68
“Philosophically speaking, inhalation is the movement of the self to come into contact with the periphery: the core of being moves with the breath and touches the inner layer of the skin–the extreme frontier of the body. This is the outward, or evolutory process of the soul. Exhalation is the return journey: it is the involutory process, where the body, the cells and the intelligence move inwards to reach their source, the atma, or the core of the being….In kumbhaka, the self becomes one with the body and the body becomes one with the self.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Tree of Yoga, p. 57
Prāṇa is energy, breath; āyāma (the same root as yama) means to extend or regulate. The fourth aspect of yoga, prāṇāyāma can be translated as breath control. In its fullest sense, it is the creation, distribution, and maintenance of vital energy. It involves the most subtle movements of the skin, the organs, and the nervous system. Where prāṇa moves, says Mr. Iyengar, it carries awareness. It is a vehicle for consciousness.
• In your experience, how does āsana practice prepare you for prāṇāyāma? Have you ever felt unprepared for prāṇāyāma? What obstacles have you faced in the practice of prāṇāyāma?
• What does awareness of your breath bring to your āsana practice? To daily life?
• Does practice of prāṇāyāma bring you energy?
• What is your experience of the three components of prāṇāyāma–inhalation, exhalation, retention? What has helped you move toward the qualities of prolongation and fineness?
May 30, 2014
“From then on, the sādhaka is undisturbed by dualities.”
–translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“When body, mind and soul unite in a perfect posture, the sādhaka is in a state of beatitude. In that exalted position, the mind, which is at the root of dualistic perception, loses its identity and ceases to disturb him. Unity is achieved between body and mind and mind and soul. There is no longer joy or sorrow, heat or cold, honor or dishonor, pain or pleasure. This is perfection in action and freedom in consciousness.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on II.47
“Balance is the state of the present–the here and now. If you balance in the present, you are living in Eternity. When the intellect is stable, there is no past, no future, only present. Do not live in the future; only the present is real. The mind takes you constantly to the future, as it plans, worries, and wonders. Memory takes you to the past, as it ruminates and regrets Only the Self takes you to the present, for the divine can be experienced only now. The past, present, and future are held together in each āsana as thought, word, and deed become one.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 43
“Infinite, unmanifested origin is one. Duality is two. Duality is the idea or concept of separation, of division, but alone it cannot manifest in phenomena. Three is a wave, a sine curve, a vibration like light or sound. When two waves collide, a new phenomenon is created. That is the creativity inherent in nature. Even at the subtlest level, that of vibration and infra-atomic particles nature’s built-in wobble sets it on an endless cycle of creation, destruction, and recreation. From three comes many.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 44
“It must not be just your mind or your body that is doing the āsana. You must be in it. You must do the āsana with your soul. How can you do an āsana with your soul? We can only do it with the organ of the body that is closest to the soul–the heart. …Many people try to think their way into an āsana, but you must instead feel your way into it through love and devotion. In this way, you will work from your heart, not your brain, to create harmony. The serenity in the body is the sign of spiritual tranquility.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 63
Sutra II.48 flows out of and connects to the two previous sūtras on āsana. Here Patañjali says that performance of āsana prevents harm (anabhighātah) from the dualities (dvandva). The dualities could refer to any pair of opposites: up/down, right/left, in/out, pleasure/pain, good/bad, success/failure; the term could also refer to the philosophical entities prakṛti (nature) and puruṣa (the seer).
• What different ways are pairs of opposites significant to āsana practice?
• How is your sense of identity altered by the practice ? Have you experienced no identity?
• Does yoga help you live in the present moment? What aspect of the practice helps you most with this?
• What is your experience of doing āsana from the head? The heart? How do you move toward serenity in a pose?
May 23, 2014
“Āsana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit.”
“Perfection in an āsana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.”
–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“In āsana, we are trying to broach the mass of our gross body, to break up the molecules and divide them into atoms that will allow our vision to penetrate within. . . . Initially we need to exert ourselves more as resistance is greater. Of the two aspects of āsana, exertion of our body and penetration of our mind, the latter is eventually more important. Penetration of our minds is our goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat. When effort becomes effortless, āsana is at its highest level.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 45
“It is difficult to speak of bodily knowledge in words. It is much easier to experience it, to discover what it feels like. It is as if the rays of light of your intelligence were shining through your body, out your arms to your fingertips and down your legs and out through the soles of your feet. As this happens, the mind becomes passive and begins to relax. This is an alert passivity and not a dull, empty one. The state of alert repose regenerates the mind and purifies the body.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 32
“Posing means action. Pose is assuming a fixed position of limbs and body as represented by the particular āsana being performed. Reposing means reflection on the pose.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Tree of Yoga, p. 52
“Whatever āsana one performs, it should not distort the normal or original structure of the anatomical body. Each and every part of the joints and muscles must be kept in their natural shape and form. Each one of us must study the distortions that take place while performing the āsanas, and at once correct them. For this, the mind and intelligence must be made to involve and to observe by remaining in contact with each and every joint, bone, muscle, fibre, tendon and cell so that the attentive consciousness not only radiates focused awareness but also tastes its flavour.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras, p. 148
Āsana, or posture (literally, “sitting”), is the third of the eight limbs of Patañjali’s yoga. The physical body, in Mr. Iyengar’s view, is where the yogi must embark on the inward journey. From our first tadāsana, he says, we begin all aspects of yoga practice, and, “As we perfect āsana, we will come to understand the true nature of our embodiment, of our being, and of the divinity that animates us.”
• What has been your experience of effort and relaxation in āsana practice? Has it changed over time?
• What has āsana practice taught you about sukha (happiness, ease, delight)? What have you learned about duhkha (pain) through āsana practice?
• How does stability and strength in the body affect your mind and attitude? When you have suffered injury, feel tired, stiff, weak, or unbalanced, what is the effect on your mind and spirit?
• In what way do you experience the intelligence of the body? How does āsana connect you to the Infinite?
May 16, 2014
“Surrender to God brings perfection in samādhi.”
–translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“The fifth niyama is īśvara praṇidhāna, which means devotional surrender to God. This is the most theistic of all aspects of yoga. Īśvara is Divinity in a general and nondenominational sense. What it definitely does not mean is using the ego to second-guess the will of God. It is, on the contrary, the surrender, through meditation (dhyāna) and devotion (bhakti), of the ego itself.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 261
“Patañjali says that while making effort, while training, while studying, become aware that there is a principle permeating everything. Toward It, have an attitude of surrender–otherwise you might mistake yourself as this master of your body and master of the cosmos or the universe. You are in a limited form and all your actions are limited. You have to work in a conditioned, limited structure, so whatever you do has limitation. But there is an unlimited, all-pervading principle that is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent–these three beautiful terms explain everything that is indicated by the word īśvara. There is no other meaning to the word īśvara as far as Patañjali is concerned.”” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 37
“Īśvara or Reality is not in some one direction. It is all-pervading. So right orientation means opening oneself to Reality, and therefore living in the open spaces. It is a condition of an open mind, not open to something or in some direction, but just open. It is a state of openness.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 183
“Pupil: ‘Sir, can one see God? If so, why can’t we see him?’ Sri Ramakrishna: ‘Yes, he can assuredly be seen. One can see him with form, and one can see him also as formless.'” –quoted by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, p. 158
Īśvara praṇidhāna (literally, to “place before” God), the fifth niyama, is introduced by Patañjali in chapter one. There, it is itself a means of attaining the goal of yoga (see I.23). Patañjali lists it as one of the three main components of kriya yoga at the start of chapter two, and here he again connects it with the ultimate end of yoga: samādhi. It corresponds to the path of bhakti yoga, as described in the Bhagavad Gita (chapter XII). It is the way of devotion, surrender, love, worship.
• What do you devote your practice to?
• How do you surrender your ego?
• Has yoga practice brought you to a state of openness? When it fails to do so, what might be a reason for the failure?
• What form does God take for you? What is faith for you?
May 2, 2014
kāyendriya-siddhir aśuddhi-kṣayāt tapasaḥ
“The perfection of the body and sense organs is due to tapas [intensity in spiritual practice], being the elimination of impurities.”
“Owing to svādhyāya [self-study], there is union with (one’s) beloved deity (source of inspiration).”
–translations by Vyaas Houston
“The third niyama, tapas, sustained practice, corresponds to pratyāhāra, the hinge between the outer and inner aspects of yoga practice. It implies that cognitive awareness is bent inward with a view to self-knowledge (svādhyāya). It directs one toward the core of being and, like the blacksmith’s bellows, it must always continue to heat the heart of the fire of practice, otherwise the alchemical transformation through extreme heat will never take place. The fire will burn merrily, but it will not turn lead into gold.”–B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 263
“Tapas is not mortification. No suppression, no repression, no denial–but it is an austerity….Tapas is to educate the body–āsanas, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, etc. You educate the body in speech, in ideas, etc., so that it can set itself free of the clutches of conditionings. You cannot destroy conditionings, but you can release yourself from their hold, their domination, their clutches.” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 28
“Self-study refers not only to the regular, independent study and recitation of wisdom teachings but also more broadly to the way one applies them to one’s own life. It is not enough simply to arrive at an intellectual, conceptual grasp of the ideas associated with tradition. One must ‘walk the talk’ by actually taking action.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 36
“We are made up of three tiers and five sheaths, ranging from the gross body to the causal body and from the anatomical sheath to the spiritual sheath of bliss. To know the total functioning of these three tiers and five sheaths of the human being is svā-dhyāya, study of the self from the skin of the body to the core of the being.”–B.K.S. Iyengar, The Tree of Yoga, p. 51
Tapas, “fire,” is discipline, zeal, intensity of practise, persistence, austerity. Svādhyāya, literally “self-study,” has been understood traditionally to mean study and recitation of sacred text, the study, therefore, of authoritative teachings on the Self. It can also be interpreted as the observation and exploration of one’s own nature, the process of mindfulness and the awakening of the intelligence (buddhi). In Light on Life, Mr. Iyengar says that “to know oneself is to know one’s body, mind, and soul.”
• Is a quality of fire necessary in practise? (How do you kindle that fire? How do you help it burn steady?)
• What has brought you transformation–physical, psychological, or spiritual? What “conditionings” do you most need release from? How does practice help with that?
• Has svādhyāya helped you trust yourself more? Has it brought Self-reliance?
• Is there a form of the divine that is dear to you? What is your source of inspiration?
April 25, 2014
santoṣād anuttamaḥ sukha-lābhaḥ
“Owing to santoṣa–contentment, there is an unexcelled attainment of happiness.”
–translation by Vyaas Houston
“You know how electricity is produced: water flows like a waterfall onto turbines which rotate under the action of the water to generate the current. So also, when we are performing āsanas, we make the blood fall on every one of our cells like water onto a turbine, to release the hidden energy of our body and bring new light to the cells. When that light comes, we experience santoṣa–contentment–which is the second principle of niyama.”–B.K.S. Iyengar, The Tree of Yoga, p. 50
“Contentment comes from mental well-being (saumanasya) that moves us to consider the positive in all beings and situations. Often our frustrations come from regrets, agitation, suffering, or comparing ourselves with others. Focusing on what others have–or don’t have, for that matter–instead of nourishing gratitude, leads to everlasting discontent. Contentment is a dynamic and constructive attitude that brings us to look at things in a new way. It calms the mind, bringing a flowering of subtle joy and inner serenity that are independent of all outside influences and perishable things. It is essential for self-confidence, for succeeding in our personal endeavors, and for relationships, education, teaching, and therapy.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 126
“So long as man thinks his happiness lies outside, in external happenings, he is destined to remain unhappy, for he can have no control over the external factors. To be psychologically self-contained is to find happiness within.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 178
The second niyama is santoṣa–contentment. It can be understood to be a result of the practice of the first niyama, sauca (cleanliness), but it is also itself a principle to be practised. The sages describe a process of finding contentment within. See the Bhagavad Gītā, verse VI.20.
• Does the practice of āsana bring you contentment? Are there times when the principle of santoṣa has helped clarify for you your goal in practice?
• Is adrenaline a fuel for you? Anxiety? Worry? How might contentment itself be dynamic?
• Do you see the good in all beings?
• Do you experience a link between self-confidence and contentment? (Do you compare yourself to others?) What supports, for you, feelings of satisfaction, abundance?
April 18, 2014
śaucāt svāṅga-jugupsā parair asaṁsargaḥ
“By purification, the body’s protective impulses are awakened, as well as a disinclination for detrimental contact with others.”
“Moreover, one gains purity of sattwa, cheerfulness of mind, one-pointedness, mastery over the senses, and fitness for Self-realization.”
–translations by the Reverend Jaganath Carrera
“As a temple or a church is kept clean each day, the inner body, the temple of the soul, should be bathed with a copious supply of blood through āsanas and prāṇāyāma. They cleanse the body physically, physiologically and intellectually. The body, having its own intelligence, develops its potential to change its behavioral patterns. It helps the sadhaka to detach himself from sensual desires, and guides him towards the holder of the body, the soul.”–commentary on II.40 by B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali
“As a result of physical purification, the body’s protective instincts become fully awakened and alert. Unhindered by the influences of entrenched toxins, they become engaged in the business of warning us away from foods, drinks, and activities that are detrimental to our health. And, just as important, our immune systems can now work at their optimum level, improving the body’s defense against disease.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 147
“One must be able to listen to the call of that which transcends the body and the mind, in other words, one must be able to listen to the Voice of the Silence. This is possible only when one is just by oneself. This retreat need not necessarily be in the physical sense, although a physical retreat is conducive to a deep experience of solitude. It has however to be remembered that if the physical retreat does not help in the renewal of the mind then it is of little value. A retreat fundamentally has a psychological significance so that the mind is able to throw off the burden of the past and is completely refreshed. It is meaningful only if the body is refreshed and the mind renewed. This indeed is purity in its real sense.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 175
The niyamas are the inner disciplines, and the first of them is saucha, cleanliness. Patañjali makes clear in II.40-41 that this yogic purification refers to the mind as well as the body.
• Do you feel your yoga practise has uncovered the intelligence of the body? Has it helped you get better at protecting and caring for your body?
• When is practice most like a retreat for you?
• What is refreshment or renewal of the mind? What does it feel like? What is an example of it in your life?
• Do you make a conscious effort to spend time alone? How do you listen to the Voice of the Silence?
April 11, 2014
“Upon a foundation of aparigraha–non-possessiveness–the understanding of the wherefore of birth.”
–translation by Vyaas Houston
“When one is steady in living without surplus possessions and without greed, one realizes the true meaning of one’s life, and all life unfolds before one.”–commentary on II.39 by B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali
“The more one owns, the more one needs to protect it. Accepting more than is necessary and acquiring more and more goods, knowledge, relationships, and mystical states, clutters the mind and keeps it from grasping the source of things and the motivations and reasons for our life.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 123
“It may be noted that aparigraha is not non-possession, but non-possessiveness. To understand the distinction between the two is absolutely essential. Non-possession is comparatively easy for it involves the discarding of things that one may have. While non-possession may imply the giving up of the home, non-possessiveness indicates the rendering of the mind completely homeless. So long as the mind clings to a conclusion and acts from that centre it has not been rendered homeless….When man acts from no centre of the mind, then truly he is enabled to know the how and why of life. The try purpose of life is revealed to one only when one refrains from projecting one’s own concept of end and purpose. Life has its own purpose.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 170
Aparigraha comes from a-, “not,” pari-, “around,” and the root verb grah, “to grasp,” so literally has a sense of “not-grasping-all-around.” It is translated as greedlessness or non-possessiveness. It is the fifth yama. Mr. Iyengar says it is the most subtle aspect of yama.
• What do you tend to hold on to? What do you feel you cannot live without?
• Do you accumulate things, people, or accomplishments?
• Are there any ideas or beliefs that you are rigid about?
• How does projecting your own purpose on to a situation prevent you from understanding it?
April 4, 2014
“When abstention from stealing is firmly established, precious jewels come.”
“When the sādhaka is firmly established in continence, knowledge, vigor, valor and energy flow to him.”
–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“When a man becomes free from all feelings of covetousness he no longer experiences the lack of anything; he is therefore in the same situation as the richest man on earth.”–Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, p. 149
“What are the psychological possessions which one feels one is in danger of losing? Surely that which is acquired can be lost, whereas that which is inherent can never be lost. One need not cling to them as if someone is going to take them away. One seeks to acquire because one feels a psychological incompleteness with oneself.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 166
“The life-force which finds sexual expression also serves to find the warmth of our emotions, the passions of our intellect and our idealism. As our physical essence is sperm or egg, so our spiritual essence is the soul. Their relationship should be based on co-operation.”–commentary on II.38 by B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali
“Brahmacarya is commonly translated as celibacy, but this is not its real meaning. It really means the cessation of the frittering away of one’s energies. One’s energy is frittered away through resistance and indulgence.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 166
Asteya is non-stealing. Brahmacarya, defined as celibacy, continence, or moderation, is also the time of life when a student devotes himself or herself to studying sacred literature. It literally means “to move or walk with Brahman.” Brahman is not a specific god or goddess, but is the name for Ultimate Reality, Cosmic Soul, Pure Awareness.
• Do you look to things outside yourself for completion? Do you envy others?
• Have you ever had an acquisitive attitude about practice itself?
• What do you consider continence in relationships to be? Is it possible to be sexually but not emotionally continent?
• Do you guard your energy? In what way? What happens when you don’t?
March 28, 2014
“For one established in truth, the result fits the actions.”
–translation by Bernard Bouanchaud
“For one who lives with genuine honesty, without deviation between actions, thoughts and speech, accuracy and precision are the rewards.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, The Core of the Yoga Sūtras, p. 146
“What is the condition of non-falsehood? Surely it is that state where one perceives what is and not what one has projected. It is our projections that create falsehood and the projections arise out of the incomplete past. Why is one not able to see what is? It is because the past seeking fulfillment creates a screen so that one is not enabled to see anything directly.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga and the Art of Integration, p. 163
“In several traditions, truth is with God–in the Gospel, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, the Life’–in Chāndogya Upaniṣad, truth is Being, that is, God. Truth is a fundamental concept. Respecting it is an exacting discipline that requires perfect fidelity and coherence among intention, speech, the action, and its results.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 120
The second yama is satya, truth. (Sat means “being,” -ya is a suffix that makes an abstract noun–so, satya could be understood to be “being-ness,” what is, reality.)
• What is truthfulness in practice (for you)?
• What true thing in your life has it been difficult for you to see or accept? What has helped you accept it?
• Are you direct in your communications with people? Do you have a tendency to gossip?
• Does the practice of satya lead you to speak less or more?
March 21, 2014
ahiṁsā-pratiṣṭāyāṁ tat-sannidhau vaira-tyāgaḥ
“Being firmly grounded in non-violence creates an atmosphere in which others
can let go of their hostility.”
–translations by Chip Hartranft
“You have to create love and affection for your body, for what it can do for you. Love must be incarnated in the smallest cell of the body, to make them intelligent so that they can collaborate with all the other ones, in the big republic of the body.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 59
“A commitment to nonharming, or ahiṁsā, brings about peace in our internal environment as we become more sensitive to the ways we do subtle violence with our minds and bodies. Ahiṁsā also generates a powerful external effect, making it safe for all around us to put down their weapons and defenses.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 34
“Wild beasts may be temporarily cowed with whips, but they can only be rendered harmless by the power of genuine harmlessness, as every good trainer knows. A lady who was accustomed to handle deadly snakes used to explain: ‘You see, they know I won’t hurt them.’ ” —Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, p. 148
The first of the yamas is ahiṁsā, non-harming or non-violence. In Light on Yoga,
B.K.S. Iyengar says ahiṁsā is more than a negative command not to kill but has
“a wider positive meaning, love” (p. 31).
• What particular situations lead you to become violent inwardly? Outwardly?
• Have you witnessed violence leading to violence in your behavior toward
• What are the subtle forms that violence can take?
• Have you discovered more love and affection for your body through the
practice of yoga? Has the opposite sometimes happened? What do you do
March 14, 2014
“When harassed by doubt, cultivate the opposite mental attitude.”
vitarkā hiṁsādayaḥ kṛta-kāritānumoditāḥ lobha-krodha-mohapūrvakā
mṛdu-madhyādhimātrā duḥkhājñānānanta-phalā iti
“Cultivating the opposite mental attitude is realizing that it is our own impatience,
greed, anger, or aberration that leads us to think, provoke, and approve
conflicting thoughts, such as violence. The intensity of such thoughts may be
weak, medium, or strong, but their consequences, ever self-perpetuating, are
always suffering and ignorance.”
–translations by Bernard Bouanchaud
“Some people give an objective interpretation to the sūtra and maintain that if one is violent, one should think of the opposite, or, if one is attached, then non-attachment should be developed. This is pratipakṣabhāvana. If a person is violent, he is violent. If he is angry, he is angry. The state is not different from the fact; but instead of trying to cultivate the opposite condition, he should go deep into the cause of his anger or violence. This is pakṣa-bhāva. One should also study the opposite forces with calmness and patience. Then one develops equipoise.”
—B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.33
“Turning the mental attitude in the other direction does not merely replace a feeling with its opposite (for example, replacing violence with nonviolence). Rather, it has us swim against the current to go back to its source and accept the evidence of its negative, perpetual effects. It then becomes possible to envisage another attitude or option while there is still
time, so we can be positive, efficient, and peaceful.”
—Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 117
“When one is assailed by thoughts of violence, it is necessary to explore the content and implication of one’s own concept of non-violence. When thoughts of hatred come it is essential for one to inquire into the nature of one’s love. One is reminded here of the words of the great mystic, Mencius:
‘If you love men and they are unfriendly, look into your love; if you rule men and they are unruly, look into your wisdom; if you are courteous to them and they do not respond, look into your respect.’ ”
—Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp.156-7
One will experience negative and harassing thoughts that run counter to the
principles of yama and niyama. In this situation, Patañjali says, practice
pratipakṣa-bhāvanam (literally, “opposite-side-realizing”)
• How do you cultivate the qualities of yama and niyama in your life? For
example, how do you cultivate non-violence? (What is pratipakṣa-bhāvanam
• What does it mean to you to go to the source of your behaviors and
motivation? Do you find this useful? Do you contemplate the consequences of
your actions? Is that useful?
• Do you take the time to explore both positive traits in yourself and negative?
• What brings calmness and patience to the process of looking at yourself and
your behaviors? Does practice help? How?
March 7, 2014
“Non-violence, truth, abstention from stealing, continence, and absence of greed for
possessions beyond one’s need are the five pillars of yama.”
ete jāti-deśa-kāla-samayānavacchinnāḥ sārva-bhaumā mahāvratam
“Yamas are the great, mighty, universal vows, unconditioned by place, time, and class.”
“Cleanliness, contentment, religious zeal, self-study and surrender of the self to the supreme Self or God are the niyamas.”
–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“True ethics are not absorbed from outside conditioning. The innate goodness of a
horse, for example, or a dog, derives from its nature, although some training and
guidance are necessary especially during youth. Morality and ethics come from inside
ourselves and are a reflection of consciousness….Spirituality is not playacting at being
holy but the inner passion and urge for Self-realization and the need to find the ultimate
purpose of our existence. Yama is the culture of self-restraint.”
—B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 250-51
“When we choose to follow the yamas, we are in effect repudiating the natural human
wish, seen from infancy, for the immediate gratification of all our desires through
external things. Although we learn throughout childhood to check our impulses in
accordance with society’s codes of behavior, every culture condones some form of
violence, deception, appropriation, hedonism, and acquisitiveness. Taking the ‘great
vow’ of the yamas sets one apart from the rest, therefore, in allegiance to a higher
standard.” —Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 33
“Ordinarily freedom and discipline are regarded as contradictory, and therefore mutually
exclusive. But the fact of the matter is only he who is completely free can be truly
disciplined. Without freedom, discipline is an imposition whether from outside or inside.
Often a person says that he does not accept any discipline that is imposed by an external
authority, but such a person forgets that the so-called internal authority is also a product
of conditioning factors. The inner authority is really a product of social and cultural
forces that impinge upon an individual either from society or from the ideological group
to which one belongs. Freedom demands a complete elimination of authority, external
as well as internal. It is only then that the individual, being on his own, takes complete
responsibility for all that he does.” —Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp.139-41
The first two limbs of yoga are the yamas and niyamas, the outer and inner rules for behavior.
The first governs our relation to the outer world, to other people, to places, to things; the second governs our relation inwards, to our self.
• What guides you in your practice? An outer authority? An inner authority? No authority?
• What guides your ethical behavior?
• What immediate gratifications have you learned to postpone?
• Has yoga practice led you to a higher standard of behavior for yourself? What is an
example of that?
February 28, 2014
There will be no meeting this week. The next Sutra Study gathering will be on Friday, March 7, when we will continue to look at yoga discipline with the study of the yamas and niyamas. We hope to see you there.
February 21, 2014
yogāngānuṣṭhānād aśuddhi-kṣaye jñāna-dīptir
“By dedicated practice of the various aspects of yoga impurities are destroyed:
the crown of wisdom radiates in glory.”
“Moral injunctions (yama), fixed observances (niyama), posture (āsana),
regulation of breath (prāṇāyāma), internalization of the senses towards their
source (pratyāhāra), concentration (dhāraṇā), meditation (dhyāna) and
absorption of consciousness in the self (samādhi), are the eight constituents
–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“The problem of discipline seems to be closely related to all questions
pertaining to spiritual life, and yet there is no subject on which such
confusion prevails as on this subject of discipline….[Spiritual discipline] is
like the river which, in the very act of flowing, creates its own discipline in
terms of the two banks. The banks are not created in advance. One may
create such banks and may find that the river has taken a different course
altogether. This is equally true of the river of life. If its flow is kept
uninterrupted then that very flow creates its own discipline. When the flow
is obstructed, disorder starts. It is the mind of man with its conclusions
and vested interests that creates obstructions in the flow of life.” ——Rohit
Mehta, Yoga,The Art of Integration,pp.139-41
“Notice the sequence of events: The practices of the limbs of Yoga
remove impurities. Yoga practices do not bring anything new; they
remove what is unwanted or unnecessary. As the impurities dwindle,
wisdom emerges, indicating that wisdom is already within.” —The
Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on II.28
“I call the aspects of aṣṭāṅga yoga petals (dalas) because just as a flower
unfolds all its petals simultaneously, so the eight aspects of yoga have to
bloom at the same time. This makes the flame of the soul light the mind,
intelligence and consciousness so that they bloom together.” —B.K.S.
Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.29, p. 143
Chapter II of Patañjali’s yoga sūtras is called “On Practice.” Thus far, Patañjali
has focused on why we practice yoga, and on the most profound level, what is
happening when we practice. In this week’s sūtras, he introduces the eight limbs
(aṣṭāṅga) of yoga and begins his exposition on how to practice.
• What has been your experience of discipline other than yoga?
And in yoga?
• Are there any qualities from another discipline that you bring to your yoga
• What is the interplay in your yoga practice between constraint, correction, and
• Do you experience yoga as a process of acquirement or removal?
February 14, 2014
viveka-khyātir aviplavā hānopāyaḥ
“An uninterrupted awareness is the only way to the dissolution of avidyā or
tasya saptadhā prānta-bhūmiḥ prajñā
“This awareness must cover the totality of one’s being.”
–translations by Rohit Mehta
“Viveka is not an all or nothing phenomenon. It develops in stages, not unlike learning to read. For example, one doesn’t have to be a scholar to recognize that a row of letters on a page might be meaningful. Even a young child can identify individual letters and perhaps decode a few short words. In the same way, as discrimination develops, one begins by noticing that certain thoughts, sensations, or feelings are simply what they are and lack intrinsic awareness or permanence. Meanwhile, most other thoughts, sensations and feelings continue to feel like “me.” As discrimination deepens, more and more elements of our experience can be seen as they are, and there is a growing sense that the awareness underlying all such appearances is separate from them.” —Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 29
“This awareness has to be not merely with cold intellect, but with emotions and also the sensorial mechanism of the body. It must penetrate the entire fibre of one’s being. It must not be that of a witness who looks at the flow of continuity from a distance. A witness can be aware only from the outside and such an awareness from a distance is of no avail. To be a participant and yet to be a witness, this alone can be called total awareness.” —Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on II.27 !
“There are seven states of awareness of the human consciousness, which are dealt with differently by different traditional authors. For me, the seven states of knowledge (prajñā) are either on a perceptible level or on the levels of integration (saṁyama). On a perceptible level are: knowledge of the body, including organs of action and senses of perception (śarīra), knowledge of energy (prāna), knowledge of the mind (manas), clarity of intelligence (vijñāna), experienced knowledge (ānubhavika), absorption of the flavour of experienced knowledge (rasātmaka), and the knowledge of the seer (puruṣa). On the levels of integration are: the body, senses, energy, mind, intelligence, consciousness and self.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.27, p. 139
Viveka is “discernment” or “awareness.” As yoga practice unfolds and develops
over time, awareness spreads and deepens.
• Have you become more aware of what causes you suffering? What creates
problems for you?
• Has discernment brought you healing or more freedom in any area of your life?
• What does it mean to you “to be a participant and yet to be a witness”?
February 7, 2014
sva-svāmi-śaktyoḥ svarūpopalabdhi-hetuḥ saṁyogaḥ
“The connection between the observer and the phenomenal world causes a
misperceived identity between active power and its master.”
tasya hetur avidyā
“The cause of this connection is ignorance.”
tad-abhāvāt saṁyogābhāvo hānaṁ tad -dṛśeḥ kaivalyam
“When there is no ignorance, there is no such connection—the freedom of the observer lies in its absence.”
–translations by Barbara Stoller Miller
“The potential for objective vision is always present in us. But, being too involved in ourselves, we clutter it with our subjective views. Our projections, emotions, and sentiments lead us astray. This imperfect condition has a positive aspect. It pushes us to evolve with greater lucidity toward correct action and awareness of the two entities and their respective roles. This aphorism emphasizes that through our mistakes, we make progress.” —Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on II.23
“If we want to experience heaven on earth, we have to grasp the qualities of nature, the guṇas, that is to say the polarity of rajas and tamas, the eternal pulse of nature between movement and stillness, and the higher balancing state of sattva. …If we understand the flow of these forces, we can reach balance, and from balance go on to true freedom. If not, we are swayed from one extreme to another, between pleasure and another pain. Yoga, says Patañjali, is the way to harmonize ourselves at every level with the natural order of the universe, from the physical to the most subtle, to reach the total health which brings stability, to cultivate the mind with real understanding, and to reach out ultimately to undifferentiated infinity.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.25
“Pure perception indicates seeing things as they are. If we know life as it is at any moment without any projection of the mind then we shall know the secret of right relationship with that life.” —Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on II.25
Yoga practice is sometimes described as a process of removal. In sutras II.23-25, Patañjali describes the discovery of the conjunction between the seer and the apparatus of seeing. With the removal of avidya, or not-knowing, a freedom arises—kaivalya. This beautiful word derives from kevala, which means “alone, pure, uncovered.” It is the state of emancipation or oneness, in which one sees directly, sees things as they are. Compare sutras II.5 and 6.
• Are you able to accept when you are wrong?
• How do you listen to those who disagree with you?
• Are you able to learn about yourself from how others respond to you?
• What brings you to greater clarity? What does freedom look like?
January 31, 2014
draṣṭā dṛśi-mātraḥ śuddho‘pi pratyayānupaśyaḥ
“Pure awareness is just seeing itself; although pure, it usually appears to
operate through the perceiving mind.”
tad-artha eva dṛśyasyātmā
“In essence, the phenomenal world exists to reveal this truth.”
kṛtārtham prati naṣṭam apyanaṣṭaṁ tad anya-sādhāraṇatvāt
“Once that happens, the phenomenal world no longer appears as such, though
it continues to exist as a common reality for everyone else.”
–translations by Chip Hartranft
“Soul, the Supreme Seer, the absolute knower … is the pure essence of
consciousness beyond words. Though the soul is pure, it tends to see
through its agent, the intelligence (buddhi) and being carried away by the
influence of nature, it loses its identity.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the
Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.21
“Objects enjoy an existence that does not rely on any individual’s
perception of them. The tree outside my window exists whether or not I
perceive it, since any person walking by my home will experience the
same tree. So this sutra is not talking about the destruction of the
universe. It is describing a change in the realized yogi’s relationship with
the universe.” —The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga
Sutras, commentary on II.22
“Man normally establishes a relationship of usage with the world in which
he lives, whether physical or psychological. …Usage is possible only with
something that is static or stationary. So in order to have that relationship
the living has to be transformed into an image [“the observed,” in other
words, conceptualization].” —Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration,
commentary on II.22
Patañjali continues to describe the Seer and leads us to question what is pure
awareness, beyond the use of words or the formulations of the mind.
• What has the practise of āsana and prānāyāma taught you about your
perceptions? For example, is there a shift in your perspective before and after
practise? How does your emotional state affect what you see?
• How does language influence your perceptions? What is an example of that
• Has yoga practise brought you more awareness of your “relationship of usage”
with things and people?
December 13, 2013
draṣṭā dṛśi-mātraḥ śuddho‘pi pratyayānupaśyaḥ
“The stages of the guṇas are specific, nonspecific, defined, and undifferentiated.”
prakāśa-kriyā-sthiti-śīlam bhūtendriyātmakam bhogāpavargārtham dṛśyam
“The Seer is nothing but the power of seeing which, although pure, appears to see through the mind.”
–translations by the Reverend Jaganath Carrera
“These are the principles of prakṛti. The five elements, intelligence, senses of perception and organs of action are distinguishable, that is, physically manifest in concrete form. The other parts, the five subtle manifestations of the elements and the ‘I’ consciousness (ahaṁkāra) exist in a non-distinguishable or vibrational form, being non-primary and
unevolved matter. Yet all these revolve around the three guṇas of nature: tamas, rajas, and sattva.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.19
“The vastly greater part of creation is, in fact, undifferentiated energy that is invisible to the senses. The rest of nature is manifest, or differentiated, with only a small portion composing consciousness. In turn, conscious experience consists both of indistinct properties such as the sense of ‘I’ and distinct phenomena like perception and thought.…Pure awareness,
on the other hand, does not correspond in any way to the categories or behaviors of nature. It never changes, nor can it be regarded as manifest or unmanifest. It is witnessing alone, devoid of content.” —Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 27.
Patañjali explains that the guṇas operate at the most visible, material levels of Nature (prakṛti) and in its subtlest, invisible realms. The Seer (puruṣa) is distinct from even the subtlest forms of nature. See Table 9 in LIght on the Yoga Sūtras.
• Has yoga practice brought you greater awareness of subtle aspects of your
being? How would you describe that?
• Has your experience of awareness changed with yoga practice?
• Does working with the “physically manifest” elements in practice—or releasing
them in śavāsana—bring awareness of the separation of the nondistinguishable
• Do you identify with your mind?
Note: This Friday is the last meeting of Sutra Study before a winter break. Our next session will be January 31, 2014. Happy Holidays!
December 6, 2013
draṣṭṛ-dṛśyayoḥ saṁyogo heya-hetuḥ
“The preventable cause of all this suffering is the apparent indivisibility of pure awareness and what it regards.”
prakāśa-kriyā-sthiti-śīlam bhūtendriyātmakam bhogāpavargārtham dṛśyam
“What awareness regards, namely the phenomenal world, embodies the qualities of luminosity, activity, and inertia; it includes oneself, composed of both elements and the senses; and it is the ground for both sensual experience and liberation.”
–translations by Chip Hartranft
“It might seem paradoxical that Sri Patañjali cites ‘the union of the Seer and seen’ as the cause of pain. After all, isn’t union—Yoga—what we’re seeking? This sūtra seems to suggest that Oneness, instead of bringing the end of ignorance and pain, is the cause of suffering.” —The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on II.17
“The seat of the ego or small self is the seat of the brain, and the seat of the great Self is the spiritual heart. Though intelligence connects the head and the heart, it oscillates between the two. This oscillation ceases through right knowledge and understanding. Intelligence is then transformed: free from polarity, pure and unbiased. This is true meditation, in which ego dissolves, allowing the great Self (puruṣa) to shine in its own glory.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.17
“The commentators correlate the illumination, prakāśa, noted here, with sattva (the light inherent in buddhi); activity,kriyā, with rajas (all movement and effort); and inertia, sthiti, with tamas. These three guṇas are always in flux, as long as the world is manifest, and their nature is to assert themselves in various proportions and then ebb away, thus giving rise to the ever-changing world of manifest forms.” —Edwin Bryant, The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.18
Having said in the last sūtra that suffering can be prevented, Patañjali here states that that suffering is a conflation of the Seer and the seen (notice the similarity to the definition of the affliction asmitā, in II.6). He proceeds to describe the nature of the seen, that is, the nature of Nature (prakṛti).
• Has yoga helped you become a better observer of yourself?
• Have you observed in yourself an “oscillation between the head and the
heart”? What does that mean to you?
• Can an understanding of the flux of nature and its constituent parts bring
equanimity? What is an example of this in your own life?
• How do light, activity, steadiness, inform your āsana and prāṇāyāma practice?
November 22, 2013
pariṇāma-tāpa-saṁskāra-duḥkhair guṇa-vṛtti-virodhāc ca duḥkham eva sarvam vivekinaḥ
“The wise see suffering in all experience, whether from the anguish of impermanence or from latent impressions laden with suffering or from incessant conflict as the fundamental qualities of nature vie for ascendancy.”
heyam duḥkham anāgatam
“But suffering that has not yet arisen can be prevented.”
–translations by Chip Hartranft
“Patañjali is saying that yoga is a preventive healing art, science and philosophy, by which we build up robust health in body and mind and construct a defensive strength with which to deflect or counteract afflictions that are as yet unperceived afflictions.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.13
“The First Noble Truth of Buddhism, sarvam duḥkham, all is suffering, consists of the exact same terms adopted by Patañjali. Indeed, the other three Noble Truths are predicated upon the first (that there is a cause of this suffering, that there is a possibility of putting an end to suffering, and that there is a path to accomplish the removal of suffering)….This sūtra is actually the pivot of this chapter, which in turn, is the heart of the entire
text.” —Edwin Bryant, The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.15
Patañjali states that to the person of discernment, all is suffering. From the very movement of the guṇas, pains arise: change, loss, the imprints of past pains, bring suffering.
• How have the physical or mental benefits of the yoga practice helped you face
• Has yoga practice brought you greater sensitivity to the suffering of others
(consider sutra I.33)?
• In what sense might it be important to bring pain in to greater awareness?
Past, present, future?
• Are there circumstances where denial of pain is important?
November 15, 2013
sati mūle tad-vipāko jātyāyur-bhogāḥ
“As long as the root of actions exist, it will give rise to class of birth, span of life and experiences.”
te hlāda-paritāpa-phalāḥ puṇyāpuṇya-hetutvāt
“According to our good, bad or mixed actions, the quality of our life, its span, and the nature of birth are experienced as being pleasant or painful.”
–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“According to the law of karma, all conditions in the nature of our birth and life stem from our past actions, and are responsible for the experiences, pleasant or otherwise, which we meet in life.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.13
“Vyāsa dedicates a long commentary to this sūtra. He begins by reiterating that karma can bear fruit only when the kleśas exist. Just as grains of rice can germinate only when they are not burnt and when they are connected with the husk, and not when the seeds are burnt or removed from their husks, so karma cannot fructify when burnt or removed from its husk or its root, mūla, of the kleśas.” —Edwin Bryant,The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.13
“As long as thoughts and actions are rooted in disturbances, three kinds of conditioning are imposed:
– the form of our existence—our nature and social and cultural behavior, which reflects our values;
– time—both the subjective perception of passing time, and the objectively measurable duration of an experience;
– pleasure or the lack of it—the way we experience events. …
“Patañjali thus links our intentions, our actions, our well-being. He once more questions our natural tendency to think that unhappiness comes from others and suggests we be very careful about our real motives in the present, for they condition our future.” —Bernard Bouanchaud,The Essence of Yoga, commentary on sutras II.13-14
Patañjali continues the discussion of karma and describes how actions rooted in the afflictions fructify.
• Do you believe your happiness is your own responsibility? In what way?
• Punya means a good, virtuous, or pure act. What do you consider to be virtuous or non-virtuous action? skillful action?
• Has the practice of yoga helped you appraise the consequences of your actions more clearly? Your motives? What are examples of that?
November 8, 2013
klēśa-mūlaḥ karmāśayo dṛṣṭādṛṣṭa-janma-vedanīyaḥ
“Acts stemming from mental disturbance leave imprints that always show themselves in some form or other, visible or invisible.”
–translation by Bernard Bouanchaud
“‘What goes around comes around.’ Karma is the universal law of cause and effect; action and reaction. Actions and experiences are linked….All experiences of pleasure and pain are and have always been in our own hands.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 115
“Afflictions and actions intermingle and interact, and the cycles of birth and death roll on. Actions rooted in desire, greed, anger, lust, pride and malice invite affliction, just as those which are free from the spokes of the wheel of desire lead towards the state of bliss. The effects of both types of action may be visible or invisible, manifest or latent; they may surface in this life or in future lives.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.12
“When mental disturbances (kleśa) cause our actions they produce effects that themselves produce other effects. This mechanism is unavoidable, whether we are conscious of it or not and whether these effects are immediate or sometime in the future. A conditioned and historical way of reacting is handed down from generation to generation through atavism, heredity, and imitation. The infinite chain of causality stops when we act in a way that is pure, thoughtful, and not engendered by suffering.” —Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 89
Patañjali introduces karma, the principle of cause and effect, and relates it to the afflictions. We will continue this week to reflect on pratiprasava and dhyāna.
• How might the practice of pratiprasava or dhyāna change a habitual way that you act? What is an example of that?
• Bouanchaud mentions historical ways of acting handed down by generations (see excerpt above). Do you see yourself as undoing any such patterns in your behavior in the present?
• What do you consider a pure action?
November 1, 2013
te pratiprasava-heyāḥ sūkṣmāḥ
“Subtle afflictions are to be minimized and eradicated by a process of involution.”
“The fluctuations of consciousness created by gross and subtle afflictions are to be silenced through meditation.”
– translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“In the performance of āsanas two avenues or paths are involved. One is the evolutory, expressive or exhibitive path, taking the self towards the body, towards the pores of the skin, towards the periphery. The other is the involutory, intuitive or inhibitive path, where the vehicles of the body are made to move towards the self. The union of these two paths is the divine marriage of the body with the soul and the soul with the body. It is meditation.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Tree of Yoga, p. 64.
““The Lord Buddha is stated to have told his disciples that if they wanted to untie a knot, they must find out how the knot was tied. The above sūtra [II.10] is akin to that instruction. If one wants to find out how the mind can be unconditioned then all that one must do is to see how the mind gets conditioned. The prati-prasava is indeed a process of going back.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 117
“Ordinarily we answer the call of aversion by fleeing from painful perceptions. This psychosomatic tendency manifests itself both internally in the individual and in our modern culture, which teems with commercial and political messages subtly promoting the view that life can and should be uninterruptedly pleasant. Turning to the perception itself, though, and letting awareness stabilize in it, is the essence of nonreaction, or vairāgya, and transforms our experience of both the perception and the perceived object. As we observe them, we come to see that their contents and qualities are in flux.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, p. 24
Patañjali now gives two means for overcoming afflictions: dhyāna (meditation) and pratiprasava (involution). The verb prasu means “to flow forth” and the prefix prati means “back,” “counter”; thus there is a sense of reversing the flow of our consciousness.
• In what ways do you experience yoga practice as a “counter-flow”? As a movement “toward the self”? What does “involution” mean to you?
• What shift in the consciousness does a movement outward, say, to the pores of the skin, bring? What has helped you move your awareness in?
• When you experience difficulties, do you tend to reflect on them directly or do you tend to try to forget about them? What role does your practice play?
October 25, 2013
sva-rasa-vāhī viduṣo ‘pi tathārūḍho ‘bhiniveśaḥ
“The will-to-live, flowing on by its own momentum, is rooted thus even in the sages.”
– translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“Love of life is sustained by life’s own force. This urge for self-perpetuation is so strong that it does not spare even the wise, and is an affliction for them and the ignorant alike….While practicing āsana, prāṇāyāma or dhyāna, the sādhaka penetrates deep within himself. He experiences unity in the flow of intelligence, and the current of self-energy. In this state, he perceives that there is no difference between life and death, that they are simply two sides of the same coin. He understands that the current of self, the life-force, active while he is alive, merges with the universe when it leaves his body at death. Through this understanding, he loses his attachment to life and conquers the fear of death.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.9.
“It is one of the strangest things of life that man seeks security and continuity for that which is forever in flux.…Life can be experienced, it cannot be held. Abhiniveśa is an attempt to hold life in the framework which the sense of I-ness has created. In other words, it is an attempt to catch life in the network of the mind. It needs to be realized that what is caught and held is something dead—it has no quality of livingness in it.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, The Art of Integration, p. 115
“Change, even if it is beneficial, can be stressful. Yogis need to be prepared to let go of any conceptions of who they are and what life is about. They need to be primed for the transformation that results from the yogic life. They are like snakes constantly shedding their skins, being reborn as new and better beings.” –Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 114
The final kleśa (universal affliction) is abhiniveśa, the will to live, fear of death. The term derives from a verb that means to “enter, dwell, occupy”; its literal meaning could be understood to be “toward continuing to dwell.”
• Consider the pose śavāsana. What is the experience of it for you? What is it like after standing poses? Backbends? Forward bends?
• How do you react to change? What are the physical, mental responses?
• How does yoga practice affect your experience of the life force in you? What is the shift of intelligence or perspective that it brings?
• Has yoga practice influenced your views of death?
October 18, 2013
“Unhappiness leads to hatred.”
– translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“Dveśa (aversion) is an emotional repulsion and flight from pain, manifesting as prejudice and hatred and making it impossible for us to learn from life’s hardships and our own mistakes.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 200
“When we are harmed by another’s actions, it is wise to recognize the harm, to rectify it, and to avoid future harm. Aversion (dveśa), on the other hand, is not seeing (avidyā) the distinction between awareness and the self and thus reflexively carrying the hurt forward by becoming identified with it. It becomes part of ‘me,’ and the one who harmed becomes the ‘hurter.’ Mired in these identities, both we and they will have a more difficult time moving forward from a painful experience. Righteousness and guilt can seem worthwhile and may certainly appear to promote personal or social goals, but they actually prolong suffering. Neither is the same as clear awareness, the true foundation for taking responsibility.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjal, p. 23
“Resulting from the same mechanism as attachment (II.7), though the opposite, aversion may lead one to isolation or conflict. It is an active negative attitude of rejection and is one of the chief causes of failure in family, professional, and personal relationships.” – Bernand Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on II.8
The fourth kleśa (universal affliction) is dveśa, aversion, hate, dislike. It comes from the root dviṣ, to hate.
• How can an attempt to flee pain lead to more pain (in your experience)?
• When you have an experience of dislike or aversion, how do you experience it physically? What does it teach you?
• How does hatred prevent full awareness and understanding? Can it bring more understanding?
• Do you lean toward righteousness or blaming others? Do you identify with being a victim? Do you have frequent feelings of guilt or shame? How hasyoga practice or life experience affected these tendencies?
October 11, 2013
“Pleasure leads to desire and emotional attachment.”
– translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“Rāga (attachment or desire) is an emotional bondage to any source of pleasure, manifesting in extreme forms as an inability to let go of anything, a sort of addiction to the furniture of life rather than a celebration of the joy of life itself.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on LIfe, p. 199
“It is in the nature of pleasure to want to renew it….Attachment shows itself not only with regard to material possessions (food, sex, honors, power, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and so on), but to spiritual ones as well (tossing aside responsibilities and taking refuge in badly interpreted spiritual values, or excessive attachment to the spiritual endeavor in question).” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on II.7
“Our life is based on the pleasure principle in which is included the ceaseless effort to avoid pain. In fact, in all pleasure-seeking there is always cast the dark shadow of pain. And so even in the midst of pleasure, one is concerned about avoiding pain.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on II.7
The third kleśa (universal affliction) is rāga, commonly translated as attachment or desire. It comes from the root raj, to be colored, to be pleased or excited.
- How do you balance caring and commitment with non-attachment?
- Has yoga practice affected your experience of your emotions? How?
- What is the relation between feeling and rāga (for you)?
- What are the objects of your attachment? Are they material (people, places, and things); artistic and intellectual; spiritual (perhaps spiritual practice or signs of accomplishment)?
September 27, 2013
“Egoism is the identification of the seer with the instrumental power of seeing.” – translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“The Sanskrit words used in the above sutra are dṛg-śakti and darśana-śakti. These are perceiver and the instrument of perception respectively. To regard these as identical is obviously to be caught in false identification.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on II.6
“Ego has been compared to the filament in a light bulb, which because it glows with light, proclaims itself to be the light’s source, electricity. In reality the light that shines from I-consciousness devolves from another and deeper source, one unknowable in daily life, but which mankind has always felt intuitively to exist.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on LIfe, p. 120
“Asmita, our unique and stainless individuality, can, through the saddening and obscure years of life, harden into an exclusive shell of selfishness, of me, of pride. this pride lies in difference, not in equality.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on LIfe, p. 194
In last week’s sūtras, Patañjali declared avidyā (ignorance), the first affliction or cause of suffering, to be the field out of which the other afflictions grow. From avidyā, then, grows asmitā. The word derives from asmi (“I am”) and the suffix –ta, which makes the verb an abstract noun. Thus it means “the sense of ‘I am.’”
- How well do you listen to others? How can asmitā stop you from listening well? What aspect ofasmitā helps you listen better?
- Do you suffer from superiority complex or inferiority complex? What role do asmitā and avidyā play here?
- How has āsana practice affected your sense of who you are? Prāṇāyāma? Dhyāna?
- Do you locate a kind of pride (in yourself) that you consider to be healthy? (Note that Patañjali introduces asmitā as a stage of samādhi in sutra I.17.)
September 20, 2013
avidyā kṣetram uttareṣām
“Not seeing things as they are is the field where the other causes of suffering germinate, whether dormant, activated, intercepted, or weakened.”
“Lacking this wisdom, one mistakes that which is impermanent, impure, distressing, or empty of self for permanence, purity, happiness, and self.”
–translations by Chip Hartranft
“Patañjali speaks of ignorance as a condition of mistaken identity. The transient or fleeting is regarded as Eternal, the impure or the compounded is regarded as Pure, that which is unreal is regarded as Real. In the course of time, man builds up an acquired nature. This is the product of mind’s reactions and resistances. The acquired nature assumes such importance that it completely overlays the original nature….To regard the habitual nature as the original is avidyā or ignorance.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on II.5
“These statements about Ignorance are challenging. There are various ways to explain them. They are mostly so revolutionary that they require the use of paradox. The Lord Jesus explained it well. He said that if you build a house on sand, it will founder. If you build it on a rock, it will stand firm. This means that a life must be built on a foundation of reality that is firm. Unfortunately, what seems firm, that is to say the things of life that offer us security, wealth, possessions, prejudices, beliefs, privilege, and position, are not solid at all.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on LIfe, p. 192
In sutras II.4-5, Patañjali further describes the causes of suffering (the kleśas) and defines the first of them, avidyā, ignorance or not-knowing. Avidyā is a noun that comes from the prefix a (“not”) + the root verb vid (“to know, perceive, feel, learn”).
- Continue to reflect on what you consider to be your afflictions. How do they relate to avidyā, as Patañjali has defined it? (What does avidyā “want to say to you”?)
- Has yoga practice affected how you learn, how you feel, how you see? What truths about yourself has it revealed?
- Have you experienced a form of suffering—perhaps a sorrow, a jealousy, a resentment–that you considered past return again? What do you make of that?
- What foundational beliefs have you built your life on?
September 13, 2013
samādhi-bhāvanārthaḥ kleśa-tanū-karaṇārthaś ca
“Its purposes are to disarm the causes of Its purposes are to disarm the causes of suffering and achieve integration.”
“The causes of suffering are not seeing things as they are, the sense of ‘I,’ attachment, aversion, and clinging to life.”
–translations by Chip Hartranft
“The goal of yoga is not to obtain something that is lacking; it is the realization of an already present reality. Yoga practice does not bring about samādhi directly–it removes the obstacles that obstruct its experience.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on II.2
“We are like a man who has put his shirt on inside out and back to front. The only way he can rectify his error is to take it off, work out how it should be, and start again. Through yoga, we take off the shirt of our ignorance, study it, and put it back on correctly, as a shirt of knowledge.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 193
“The word kleśa which has been translated as affliction really means both suffering and the cause of suffering. The preliminary discipline of Yoga enables one to understand the cause of suffering, and this surely is necessary if one is to find freedom from sorrow.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 108
In these two sūtras, Patañjali threads back to chapter one, to the goal of yoga, and deftly states the fundamental predicament of our lives.
- Looking back to I.5-6 and I.30-31, what connections do you make between the vṛttis, the obstacles, and the kleśas defined in II.2?
- What do you consider to be your afflictions?
- Has your yoga practice led to a thinning out or reduction in afflictions? Which ones?
- How do you know when you are experiencing avidya?
September 6, 2013
“Burning zeal in practice, self-study and study of scriptures, and surrender to God are the acts of yoga.”
–translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“Action in yoga is tapas. This term stands also for zeal or passion for the subject. Extending and expanding the intellect of the head with the intelligence of the mind in the practice of āsana, prāṇāyāma and dhyāna is svādhyāya. Making the core of the being to come in contact with, intermingle and make his presence felt in the cells of the body is īśvara praṇidhāna.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras, p. 111
“The path to realization, or sādhana, is of no use unless one travels it. Action, or kriyā, is required for most of us…. For Patañjali, discipline, or tapas (literally, “heat”) provides the energy; self-study (svādhyāya) serves as the road map; and pure awareness, as exemplified by the divine īśvara, is the destination.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 22
“In this section, Patañjali gives a detailed map of the land of Yoga for those spiritual aspirants who wish to traverse that land. … Yoga requires instruments which are precise and delicate like physical science. But while science deals with matter, a comparatively inert substance, Yoga is concerned with mind, which is intensely dynamic and therefore tremendously elusive. The genius of Patañjali has, however, transformed Yoga into a veritable science where the elusive mind is rendered an effective instrument, utterly precise and extraordinarily delicate.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 105
The second chapter of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras concerns Practice. In the first sutra, Patañjali describes a threefold aspect to this practice: tapas (discipline), svādhyāya (self-study) and īśvara praṇidhāna (surrender to the core of being).
- How do the three aspects of practice—tapas (discipline), svādhyāya (self-study) andīśvara praṇidhāna (surrender to the core of being)—balance each other?
- Are you more attracted to one of these aspects?
- How does yoga practice affect your actions in the world?
June 21, 2013
“A subliminal impression generated by wisdom stops the formation of other impressions.”
tasyāpi nirodhe sarva-nirodhān nirbījaḥ samādhiḥ
“When the turnings of thought cease completely, even wisdom ceases, and contemplation bears no seeds.”
–translations by Barbara Stoller Miller
“It would be an illusion to try to live without any habits at all. It is preferable to replace negative conditioning little by little with positive attitudes….Remaining available, present, and open enables one to see clearly—immediately.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on I.50
“Even this distinctive knowledge of insight (I.50) has to be restrained, subdued and contained. Then, as a flame is extinguished when the wood is burnt out, or as rivers lose their existence on joining the sea, all volitions and impressions of the unconscious, subconscious, conscious and superconscious mind cease to exist. All these rivers of consciousness merge in the ocean of the seer.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.51
“Patañjali says in the sūtra that sarva-nirodhan nirbīja samādhi, meaning that the nirbīja samādhi can come only when there is a total cessation of the functioning of all reactive centres with not even a subtle centre of identity remaining. There is absolutely no centre to which impressions of experience can cling. It is a state of experiencing without accumulation. The mind in this condition is ever fresh and vital. It is able to meet life anew from moment to moment.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on I.51
In the final sūtras of chapter one, Patañjali describes the ultimate progression of transformation in citta. Truth-bearing knowledge gives birth to a saṁskāra that checks the formation of new saṁskāras. Then that saṁskāra undergoes nirodha: seedless samādhi is realized.
• In what ways have you experienced yoga as a progressive process? For example, has there been a progression in your practice of vairagya (detachment)?
• Are you aware of having removed or lessened an old samskāra (habit of mind)? Have you prevented any new samskāras from forming?
• Has yoga brought you freshness of perception?
• What is nirodha?
Note: We have completed this Spring’s study, and this Friday will be the last meeting before a summer break. We will begin Pada Two in September. Have a wonderful summer!
June 14, 2013
ṛtambharā tatra prajña
“When consciousness dwells in wisdom, a truth-bearing state of direct spiritual perception dawns.”
śrutānumāna-prajñābhyām anyaviṣayā viśeṣārthatvāt
“This truth-bearing knowledge and wisdom is distinct from and beyond the knowledge gleaned from books, testimony, or inference.”
–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“This wisdom is gained through insight. It is a special, direct knowledge arising from the soul, not from the perception of the senses or from the ordinary intellect. Hence, it has a peculiar property of its own. The knowledge that springs from one’s inner self is intuitive knowledge. It is also known as ‘listening to the inner voice.’” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.49
“Truth is the intrinsic existence of things—not dependent existence. It is the original nature of things, and to see things as they intrinsically are is Wisdom in its purest form.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on I.48
“Hundreds of people might sit in front of someone and he might talk for hours and hours about God. They might sit and listen for hours and hours, but it’s all nonsense. Yes. He has said nothng about God, and they have heard nothing about God. He has only said something about the God that he could fit into his own mind, and they have only understood the God that they could grasp with their own minds. That’s all. Nobody has said anything about the real God. It’s unexplainable. So, in that ṛtambharā prajña you transcend the mind and gain a knowledge that is realization. For that, the mind must be completely silent.”
– Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, commentary on I.49
In Sutra I.7, Patañjali states that right knowledge can come from direct perception, inference or authoritative testimony. Here he describes the primacy of direct perception, and a falling away of dependence on intellectual analysis and the teachings of others.
• Have you become more aware of and do you rely on an “inner voice”? How does yoga practice help you listen to that voice?
• What does direct perception look like, what does it feel like? That is, what are the conditions in your body and mind when you are perceiving more directly?
• How has a reliance on reasoning and analysis, on the teachings of others helped you develop your practice? Have you experienced letting go of that reliance?
• Has yoga practice brought you more acceptance of others? Yourself?
June 7, 2013
tā eva sabījaḥ samādhiḥ
“All these samādhis are sabīja [with seed].”
“In the pure clarity of nirvicāra samādhi, the supreme Self shines.”
–translations by the Reverend Jaganath Carrera
“It is interesting to note that the six samāpattis mentioned so far belong to the functions of the brain. The source of analysis (savitarka) or absence of analysis (nirvitarka) is the frontal brain. For investigation and examination (savicāra) or absence of the (nirvicāra), the source is the back brain. The source of joy (ānanda) is the base of the brain, and of individuality (asmitā), the top of the brain.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.46*
“The ‘seeds’ are the subconscious impressions remaining in the mind. They can sprout at any time, given the proper time, place, circumstance and karma. When they do sprout, they can deprive the mind of the intuitive knowledge of samādhi and reopen the door to the influence of ignorance and egoism.” – Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on I.46
“One cannot go to Truth. Truth comes to man, but only when the consciousness is rendered completely empty, where not even a seed of thought remains. It is only when there is existence without identity that spiritual illumination comes. An illumined person is a nameless being.”
–Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on I.47
The classic commentary of Vyāsa divides samādhi in to seven stages. See Table 5 (p. 100) in Mr. Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sūtras to see a summary of these stages. Commentators on the text, however, do differ in their interpretations of the stages of samādhi and in the meaning of sabīja.
*In his most recent book, Core of the Yoga Sutras, Mr. Iyengar locates vitarka (analytical mind) in the left hemisphere and vicāra (synthesizing) in the right.
• Continue to consider vitarka and vicāra. How are they alike? How different? Observe your own perception.
• What is the physical manifestation—in your own body—of employing the analytical mind? the synthesizing mind?
• Observe the use of words in your practice. When and how do you employ them? How are they a useful tool in undoing habit and refreshing the perception? How have they limited your awareness?
• How does shifting your attention from the gross to the subtle affect your sense of self? What is it to be a “nameless being”?
May 31, 2013
etayaiva savicārā nirvicārā ca sūkṣma-viṣayā vyākhyātā
“In the same way, coalesced contemplation [samāpatti] of subtle objects is described as reflective or reflection-free.”
“Subtle objects can be traced back to their origin in undifferentiated nature.”
–translations by Chip Hartranft
“Transformation of the consciousness by contemplation on subtle objects such as the ego (ahaṁkāra), intelligence (buddhi) or the counterpart of the elements (sound, touch, sight, taste and smell), or the qualities of luminosity, vibrancy and dormancy of nature, conditioned by space, time and causation, is savicāra samāpatti. … In nirvicāra samāpatti, the sādhaka experiences a state without verbal deliberations. … He is free from memory, free from past experiences, devoid of all past impressions. This new state of contemplation is without cause and effect, place or time. The inexpressible states of pure bliss (ānanda) and pure self (sāsmitā) rise to the surface….” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.44
“The province or field of samādhi that is connected with the finer objects extends beyond the manifestation of the guṇas (the forces of nature) to the formless (aliṅga) state of subtle energies, that is to say, up to prakṛti or supreme nature.” –Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali, commentary on I.45
To understand the Sankhya philosophy that underpins the commentary for these two sūtra–in particular, the idea of “subtle objects”–see Table 9 in Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, B.K.S. Iyengar (pp. 132-33).
• In your yoga practice, what do you consider the gross elements? The subtle?
• Have you become aware of more subtle layers of perception through yoga? What is an example of this shift of awareness?
• How does a contemplation of the gross and the subtle affect your sense of self?
May 24, 2013
Note: Sutra study WILL NOT meet on May 24. The next Sutra Study class will take place on May 31.
Also, as many of you know Yogathon is coming up on June 2nd. One of the great community events that will be happening that day will be 15 minutes of chanting (from 1:45-2:00 p.m.). The chanting is free and open to all, and we hope all of you new and returning Sutra Study participants will take part! View the full schedule of Yogathon events here.
May 17, 2013
tatra śabdārtha-jñāna-vikalpaiḥ saṁkīrṇā savitarkā samāpattiḥ
“Savitarkā samāpatti is the samādhi in which one apprehends physical objects of the universe by means of the mixture of word or sound (śabda), meaning (artha) and direct feeling vibration, knowledge (jñāna), together.”
smṛti-pariśuddhau svarūpa-śūnyevārtha-mātra-nirbhāsā nirvitarkā
“Nirvitarka samādhi is experienced when memory is purified and the mind is able to see the true nature of the physical objects of the universe as they are directly, without distortion, without the mixture of words and meaning (śabda and artha).”–translations by Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati
“There is the external reality of a cow, the word ‘cow’ that we use to think about matters bovine, and ideas about cows—that they moo, give milk and chew their cud. We are not normally aware of the three distinct factors. We just ‘see’ a cow, and all sorts of related ideas appear in the mind. In savitarka samādhi, the mind gradually learns to isolate and focus on the object itself, leaving behind the relatities of our knowledge of it and its name. This prepares the mind for the next step in samādhi nirvitarka.” –Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 87
“Memory is the recollection of past thoughts and experiences. It is the storehouse of past impressions. Its knowledge is reflected knowledge. The sādhaka should be aware that memory has tremendous impact on intelligence. By perseverence in yoga practices and persistent self-discipline, new experiences surface. These new experiences, free from the memories of the past, are fresh, direct….” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.43
“Kant maintained, quite rightly, that the ‘thing-in-itself’ cannot possibly be known by the senses or the reasoning mind, since the senses and the reason can only present us with their own subjective reactions. ‘It remains comepletely unknown to us,’ he wrote…. Patanjali tells us that there is a higher kind of knowledge, beyond sense perception, by which the ‘thing-in-itself’ can be known. And this is, of course, the fundamental claim made by the practicing mystic of every religion.” – Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, p. 81
In the upcoming sūtras, Patañjali presents samādhi as progressive. Review the vṛttis defined in sutras I.7-11. Compare sūtra I.43 to Patañjali’s definition of samādhi in III.3.
• Has yoga practice helped you see the apparatus of your mind? Are you aware of distortions that your mind introduces?
• How is the memory purified?
• In your experience, does āsana and prāṇāyāma practice bring a freshness of perception? Mr. Iyengar writes that in āsana practice, spiritual understanding “begins with the inner skin.” What does he mean?
May 3, 2013
paramāṇuparama-mahattvānto ‘sya vaśīkāraḥ
“Mastery of contemplation brings the power to extend from the finest particle to the greatest.”
kṣīṇa-vṛtter abhijātasyeva maṇer grahītṛ-grahaṇa-grāhyeṣu tat-stha-tad-añjanatā samāpattiḥ
“The yogi realizes that the knower, the instrument of knowing and the known are one, himself, the seer. Like a pure transparent jewel, he reflects an unsullied purity.”–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“This sūtra describes how the ordinary mind is transformed into a super-mind, able to penetrate the boundless regions of space, and the deepest regions within.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.40
“A tree has millions and millions of leaves. Each leaf is different, yet they are all part of the same tree. You also have numberless leaves in your various thought-waves, actions, reactions, fluctuations, feelings, failings and restraints, but they are all connected to the same root, the core of the being. You should aim to see yourself in totality, to see the tree in totality without naming it as flower, fruit, leaf or bark.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, The Tree of Yoga, p. 71
“Samāpatti is not an altered state but rather a clearer, more accurate view of experience. It means ‘when everything falls together’ and is a completely natural way of being that arises sooner or later from the process of settling (nirodha).” – Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, commentary on I.41
“The fusion of the jewel with the colour of the surface on which it rests is not a characterless condition. In fact, such a jewel has a great integrity of character. What after all is character?… [It] is that which shines in a condition of complete vulnerability. That which is afraid of being vulnerable lacks character altogether. It is the acquired nature which seeks to remain invulnerable. It is the intrinsic nature which prefers to remain completely vulnerable, for it has nothing to protect due to the fact that it has no accumulations or accretions. The mind that is free from all accumulations is indeed a transparent mind.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, The Art of Integration, p. 7
• Has yoga increased your ability to attend to details? To perceive subtlety?
• Does yoga help you keep a wide perspective?
• In what way—in your experience—might a willingness to be vulnerable bring you to a clearer perspective?
April 26, 2013
“Or, by recollecting and contemplating the experiences of dream-filled or dreamless sleep during a watchful, waking state.”
“Or, by meditating on any desired object conducive to steadiness of consciousness.”–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“Meditation on knowledge that comes in the form of dreams or during sleep brings evolution and stability of the mind.” –Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati, The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.38
“The mind is like an iceberg, for only a small portion of its functioning is on the surface while the major part is below the surface. The subliminal layers of the mind reveal the real motivations of the conscious mind. … Dream indicates the functioning of mind immediately below the conscious level, while sleep signifies the mind functioning at a deeper strata of consciousness.”–Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 70
“On the face of it this sūtra [I.39] is simple: it describes meditation on a pleasing object. Its deeper, hidden meaning is harder to comprehend. Having explained various methods of meditation with support, Patañjali now comes to subjective meditation. The most ‘pleasing’ object of meditation is in fact one’s very existence, the core of the being. Patañjali advises us to trace the seed of that core, the living spirit that pervades everything from the most infinitesimal particle to the infinitely greatest.”
–B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on I.39
“Though the practitioner is a subject and āsana an object, the āsana should become the subject and the doer the object, so that sooner or later the doer, the instrument (body) and the āsana become one.”
–B.K.S. Iyengar, The Tree of Yoga, p. 53
Sūtras I.38 and I.39 conclude the list of “ors,” methods to bring clarity to the consciousness and overcome obstacles.
• Do you reflect on dreams and sleep as a practice?
• What knowledge have you received from dreams?
• What is the object of your awareness in āsana practice? Do you consider your āsana practice to be a meditation?
• What benefit comes from considering the āsana a subject and the “doer” an object (see above quote from Tree of Yoga)?
April 19, 2013
viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī
“Concentration may also be attained by fixing the mind upon the Inner Light, which is beyond sorrow.”
vītarāgaviṣayam vā cittaṁ
“Or by meditating on the heart of an illumined soul, that is free from passion.”
–translations by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood
“Here, the concentration is on the innermost core of the heart, wherein alone the sorrowless, effulgent light glows. That is the seat of the soul.”–B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on I.35
“Let your mind dwell on some holy personality—a Buddha, Christ, a Ramakrishna. Then concentrate upon his heart. Try to imagine how it must feel to be a great saint; pure and untroubled by sense objects, a knower of Brahman.” — Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, p. 74
“‘How does he who is steady in wisdom speak? How does he sit? How does he move?’” –Arjuna, The Bhagavad Gita, II.54 (translated by Winthrop Sargeant)
Sutra I.37 can also be interpreted as picking an object for contemplation that does not create attachment (rāga).
• Is there an object or place that conveys to you a sense of “sorrowless light”?
• What does fixing your attention on the area of your heart bring you?
• Is there a person in your life that has been a model for you of mental stability or non-attachment?
• Do you tend to rely on the assistance of more experienced people—whether teachers or other authority figures? Are you reluctant to receive such assistance?
April 12, 2013
pracchardana-vidhāraṇābhyām vā prāṇasya
“Or, by maintaining the pensive state felt at the time of soft and steady exhalation and during passive retention after exhalation.”
viṣayavatī vā pravṛttir utpannā manasaḥ sthiti-nibandhanī
“Or, by contemplating an object that helps to maintain steadiness of mind and consciousness.” –translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“One should inhale and exhale slowly and pause, maintaining the retention for as long as is comfortable. This practice ensures a state of consciousness which is like a calm lake.”
–B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on I.34
“This sūtra shows how to develop awareness and sensitivity in intelligence. In so doing, one may gain insight into the phenomena of nature (prakṛti) as well as into the nature of the seer (purusa).” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on I.35
“Senses by themselves do not linger on their objects; it is the coming in of the mind which induces activity of clinging to or holding on to objects. In this the mind, as it were, forcibly takes over the normal functioning of the brain, not allowing the latter to complete its act of percept making.…The mind forces the brain to give instructions for action even before the percept is completed.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integraton, p. 65
Patañjali here introduces the first two of the “ors,” methods to realize citta-prasādanam, a clarified, serene, benevolent consciousness.
• Mr. Iyengar emphasizes softness and passivity in his translation of sūtra I.34. What has finding softness in the breath and attending to the pause after the exhalation taught you about your mind?
• What object have you found to be helpful as a focus of contemplation?
• Has yoga led to a finer attunement of your senses? To greater perceptiveness?
April 5, 2013
maitrī-karuṇā-muditopekṣāṇaṁ sukha-duhkha-puṇyāpuṇya-viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaś citta-prasādanam
“Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favourably disposed, serene and benevolent.”
–translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“If we meet someone who is happy in his way of life, we are inclined to envy him and be jealous of his success. We must learn to rejoice in it, as we take pleasure in the happiness of a friend. If someone is unhappy, we should feel sorry for him, instead of despising him or criticizing him for bringing mifortunes upon himelf. The virtue of others is apt to irritate us, because we take it as a reflection upon our own shortcomings. We are tempted to sneer at it and suggest that it is only hypocrisy. On the contrary, we should delight in it and see it as an inspiration to ourselves to do better. As for the wicked, we must remember Christ’s words: ‘Be not overcome of evil.’” –Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, p. 66
“These two sutras [I.17 and I.33] opened up my thoughts, enabling me to understand the necessity for balance, harmony and concord between the intellect of the head and the intelligence of the heart.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras, p. 16
“We should remember to apply [these] to ourselves. We need to cultivate:
• Friendliness toward our own happiness. This is one instance in life when a little indulgence is good, especially when our happiness has its roots in spiritual acts or values.
• Loving compassion for our own sorrow. Be kind to yourself.
• Joy when we manifest virtues.
• Strength, patience, and equanimity when working to eliminate our weaknesses. Forgiveness plays an important role with this.”
–Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 85
This important sūtra addresses our relation to others and to matters of the world. It can be applied to our inward attitudes as well. It mirrors the Buddhist practise of meditating on the four “stations of Brahma.” Swami Satchidananda says that even if one has no interest in samādhi or Yoga, it will be a benefit to know this one sūtra.
• How do you experience these four principles in your relationships with others? Or not?
• How do you apply these four principles in your yoga practice – in your relationship with yourself?
• When you experience their opposite (distant, frustrated, negative and angry, etc.), how do you get back on track?
• B.K.S. Iyengar will often refer to a point in a posture when “citta prasādanam” has been reached. What do you think he means?
March 29, 2013
“In order to prevent the blocks, the practice of a single truth.”
–translation by Vyaas Houston
“Correct adjustments in the unrhythmic musculoskeletal structure of the body, and the feeling of the non-movement or movement of intelligence in the various sheaths of the body through āsanas, which I practised with single-minded effort, became the keynote in my sādhanā.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on I.32, p. 109
“The word eka-tattva is significant, for it means the principle of oneness. To explore this principle of oneness is what is indicated here. It is not concentrating on a thought, but an exploration of the very condition of oneness. This would obviously mean one-pointed attention.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 56
“Just as we have discussed inner integration within our own bodies, this naturally leads to integration with all other life. Integrity means one. One is the number that can go into all other numbers. The fully sensitive and sensible being becomes not a ‘somebody’ but the common denominator of humanity. This takes place only when the intelligence of the head is transformed by humility and the wisdom of the heart and compassion is kindled.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 58
Traditionally, commentators have understood eka-tattva to mean Īsvara, in the sense that Īsvara is Truth, Īsvara is Oneness. Eka-tattva means “one Truth,” or, literally, “one-thatness.”
• Consider the principle of Oneness in practice and in life. How does Oneness influence your practice? Your relation to others?
• Have you had a specific experience of movement or rhythm being restored to a part of the body?
• What does Mr. Iyengar mean by the movement of the intelligence through the sheaths of the body?
• Have you been able to stay with one practice over time? Do you have a tendency to switch between practices or traditions?
March 22, 2013
“They [the blocks] have the accompanying disruptions of pain, depression, restlessness of the body, inhalation and exhalation.”
–translation by Vyaas Houston
“I think these four can be observed when we are faced with major obstacles and present as symptoms that can be recognized by modern medical science. These are grief or sorrow; mental pain, dejection or despair; shakiness or tremors in the body; and laboured breathing. Like oil to fire, these four factors act as fuel for the main nine obstacles in distracting the practitioner.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras, p. 96
“In life, the obstacles don’t necessarily appear to us as presented in the previous sūtra. Not many practitioners have felt, ‘I am experiencing false perception these days.’ The obstacles are like viruses. We can’t directly perceive their presence in our systems. We need to learn to recognize the symptoms. This sūtra presents the main symptoms of the obstacles.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on I.31
“Freeing ourselves from suffering is one of the basic tenets of yoga. It is often recognizing our lack of well-being that brings us to yoga. Often, we do not know the source of our suffering.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on I.31
• Reflect on the obstacles that you experience most often. Is there one that is at the root?
• Can you identify with clinging to the obstacles? Why?
• What are the “symptoms” of these obstacles? Are you able to recognize them before it is fully expressed?
• How do you use your yoga practice to free yourself from the suffering?
March 15, 2013
vyādhi-styāna-saṁśaya-pramādālasyāvirati-bhrānti-darśanālabdhabhūmikatvānavasthitatvāni citta-vikṣepās te’ntarāyāḥ
“Sickness, density, doubt, carelessness, lethargy, sexual preoccupation, erroneous perception, failure to obtain grounding, and instability are disruptions in citta.These are the blocks.” –translation by Vyaas Houston
“This sutra describes the nine obstacles or impediments which obstruct progress and distract the aspirant’s consciousness. [They] can be divided into physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual [obstacles].” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.30
“We have to find out what mechanisms come into our meditation, how our mind behaves, how the consciousness reacts, how the intelligence reacts, what thoughts come between us and the pure light of the soul, what thoughts come between us and awareness inside and outside.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Tree of Yoga, p. 135
“The first five obstacles arise out of the distractions of the mind caught in tamas, the next four arise out of the conditions of rajas. Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness and laziness are obviously the distracting conditions of a mind steeped in tamas. …Similarly the obstacles of craving, delusion, non-attainment of desired objective and unsteadiness are rooted in the distortions of rajas.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, The Art of Integration, p. 53
• What do you consider your greatest obstacle? Which of this list of nine do you most relate to?
• How would you classify the obstacles that you encounter? Are they physical, mental or spiritual? Are they interconnected?
• Are you more likely to drift toward tamasic distractions or rajasic?
March 8, 2013
tataḥ pratyak-cetanādhigamo’pyantarāyābhāvaś ca
“From that [the repetition of Om] comes the attainment of inward directed consciousness, and also the disappearance of the blocks.”
–translation by Vyaas Houston
“The repetition of the praṇava mantra with feeling and understanding of its meaning leads to the discovery of the Self, and helps to remove impediments of Self-Realization.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.29
“Spiritual realization is the aim that exists in each one of us to seek our divine core. That core, though never absent from anyone, remains latent within us. It is not an outward quest for a Holy Grail that lies beyond, but an Inward Journey to allow the inner core to reveal itself.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 3
“This sutra introduces a key theme in Raja Yoga: the practices do not directly bring spiritual progress; they simply remove obstacles that prevent it.” –Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 72
• This sutra concludes the “direct route” to inward consciousness that Patanjali describes in I.23-I.29 through Īśvara pranidhāna. Has your perspective of OM or your experience chanting it changed in studying these sutras?
• How do you practice “removal of obstacles” when they appear to be outside of you? Do you have a different approach when they appear to be inside of you?
• Do you experience it as a process of removal or an acquisition of something? If so, what is that something?
• When you mentally repeat the sound of OM, where is it? Who is the listener? What is the sound made of?
March 1, 2013
tasya vācakaḥ praṇavaḥ
“He is represented by the sacred syllable āuṁ, called praṇava.”
“The mantra āuṁ is to be repeated constantly, with feeling, realizing its full significance.” –translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“Sound is vibration, which, as modern science tells us, is at the source of all creation. God is beyond vibration, but vibration, being the subtlest form of His creation, is the nearest we can get to to Him in the physical world. So we take it as his symbol.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary of I.28
“Since Om is the whisper of the Spirit it needs a remarkable sensitivity of consciousness to listen to its still small voice. Praṇava represents the Voice of the Silence, the Soundless sound. How can one listen to it without rendering the consciousness utterly pure and infinitely sensitive?” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 50
“AUM stands for the supreme Reality.
It is a symbol for what was, what is,
And what shall be. AUM represents also
What lies beyond past, present, and future.”
–The Mandukya Upanishad, translated by Eknath Easwaran
“Even without your repeating it, the basic sound is always vibrating in you. It is the seed from which all other sounds manifest.” –Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, p. 45
• What role does sound play in your personal practice? Listening?
• How important is repetition in practice?
• How do you balance keeping to a routine and keeping practice sensitive, with feeling (bhāvanam)?
February 22, 2013
tatra niratiśayaṁ sarvajñatva-bījam
“There (in īśvara), the seed of omniscience is unsurpassed.”
sa pūrveṣām api guruḥ kālenāvacchedāt
“That (īśvara), being unlimited by time, is also the teacher of the ancients.” –translations by Vyaas Houston
“In the Bhagavad Gītā, Sri Krishna describes himself as the eternal seed of all beings. Here Patanjali says that īśvara or the Ultimate Being is the seed of omniscience. The seed contains all manifestation, and so the Supreme Being is the container of all that is to be manifested. Described as the very seed of omniscience, He is the container of all that was, is and will be.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 46
“The obstacles, trials and tribulations in the path of Yoga can be removed to a large extent with the help of a Guru. (The syllable gu means darkness and ru means light. He alone is a Guru who removes darkness and brings enlightenment.) –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, p. 28
“This spiritual Puruṣa, the Supreme Spirit, is the first and foremost teacher, neither bound by place, space or time. He is all and all is He.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary of I.26
• Is there a benefit–in your experience–of surrendering to a Source of All Knowledge?
• Have you encountered obstacles in an attempt to “go it alone” — in practice or in life?
• Have you had the experience of a teacher helping you past difficulties or blocks to your learning and growth?
• Can a close relationship with a teacher in itself become a limitation (in your experience)?
February 15, 2013
kleśa-karma-vipākāśayair aparāmṛṣṭaḥ puruṣa-viśeṣa īśvaraḥ
“God is a special unique Entity (puruṣa), who is eternally free from afflictions and unaffected by actions and their reactions, or by their residue.”
–translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“God or Universal Consciousness (īśvara), the universal I-AM, is the supreme ruler and author of the universe. It is of the nature of transcendental consciousness and is unaffected by the afflictions of relative life, actions, and their results.” – Ramamurti S. Mishra, MD, The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali, p. 12
“Man is subject to the laws of birth and death, the laws of karma. Īśvara is unborn, undying. Man is subject to his saṁskāras—the deeply rooted tendencies which drive him on to further actions and desires. Īśvara is free from saṁskāras and desires. He is not involved in the results of action.” –Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, p. 55
“There is a principle permeating everything, due to which there is order in the world, due to which there is harmony in the world, due to which the movement of life becomes possible…. Life is a dance of the nameable and the unnameable, of temporary imbalances and eternal equipoise, or equanimity, of emergence and dissolution. Life is a dance of all that. If we recognize īśvara, the presence of the all-permeating principle, then we understand the dance of Life, the cosmic dance of Life.” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 37
• Do you relate to the concept of īśvara? How would you describe it? Has practice informed this concept in any way?
• Does your practice lead you to a timeless, spacious experience of pure being-ness? How?
• When it doesn’t lead you there, what is getting in the way?
• What effect does an experience of pure being-ness have?
February 8, 2013
Or [samādhi is gained] through devotion to the Lord.”
–translation by Georg Feuerstein
“[Īśvara-praṇidhāna] is the most theistic of all aspects of yoga. Īśvara is Divinity in a general and nondenominational sense. What it definitely does not mean is using the ego to second-guess the will of God. It is, on the contrary, the surrender, through meditation (dhyāna) and devotion (bhakti), of the ego itself.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 261
“The idea of sudden awakening is to be found in all mystical approaches…. Patañjali says that there is an intensity which can be described only by sudden turning towards God. There cannot be any action more intense and swift than this. This is turning in a new direction in the course of one’s spiritual endeavour. God in this context is the Ultimate Reality or the Ultimate Principle of Life.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, The Art of Integration, p. 44-45
“And in the Gita we read: ‘Whatever your action, food or worship;/ Whatever the gift that you give to another;/ Whtever you vow to the work of the spirit:/ Lay these also as offerings before me.’ This kind of devotion requires, perhaps, a special temperament. It is not for everybody. But to be able to feel it is a very great blessing, for it is the safest and happiest way to liberation.” –Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, p. 53
Īśvara-praṇidhāna is an important concept in Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras. The phrase itself occurs four times (I.23, II.1, II.32, II.45), and the next six sutras (I.24-29) expand on its meaning.
• Does devotion assist you with the surrendering process?
• How has your personal sense of Divinity developed over time? Have you ever let go of an image or concept of God?
• Have you experienced “a sudden turning in a new direction”? Would you describe this as an awakening?
February 1, 2013
“The goal is near for those who are supremely vigorous and intense in practice.”
mṛdu-madhyādhimātratvāt tato ‘pi viśeṣaḥ
“There are differences between those who are mild, average and keen in their practices.”
–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“To the door of Reality one must go with an intensity of thought-emotion, for this is like the Lover meeting the Beloved. Patañjali uses the word tīvra-samvega meaning a great intensity of impulse.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 43
“Motivation and action vary according to temperament. Gentle people are slow to start, level-headed, and thoughtful. They are like the tortoise in the fable. Lively people are impetuous and rapid. They hurtle into action, sometimes with great vivacity, like the hare. Moderate types have an intermediate temperament, at times gentle, at times vivacious.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 31
“Theoretically, there is no reason why we should not achieve the state of perfect yoga within the space of a single second.” –Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, p. 52
• Consider your motivation and commitment to practice. How did it begin? What has helped build or deepen motivation?
• Do you experience the goal as near or far? (What is the goal?)
• Can intensity be an obstacle to vairagya?
• How do you maintain cheerfulness about practice?
January 25, 2013
“The last two rewards; bliss (ānanda) and auspicious self (asmita) are no doubt a great success in sādhana. But from these achievements one has to get recharged to continue practice through (a) faith and trust, (b) ethical and mental vigour, (c) unpolluted memory and (d) supreme absorption with devotion and right judgement.” –translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“The attitude of the aspirant is like that of a lover ever yearning to meet the beloved but never giving way to despair. Hope should be his shield and courage his sword.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, p. 25
“Faith is surely not blind belief. It is a sensitive response to the intimations of the Unknown. It has no relevance with regard to the known. It awakens only when the whisper of the Unknown is heard. The whisper of the Unknown can be heard only when the mind is completely silent—not superficially but deeply silent.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 42
“The word śraddhā means ‘faith in God’ and also ‘self-confidence’—in anybody else or simply in life. The loving confidence that parents create enourages a child to become confident, courageous, and full of energy to act.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 29
Mr. Iyengar has described śraddhā-vīrya-smŗti-samādhi-prajñā as the “vitamins of yoga.” They are supports on the path.
• How is faith or trust active in your practice? How does practice affect your feelings of faith or trust? Self-confidence?
• How do you define faith?
• Has your practice brought you strength? Courage? Has this made a difference in your life? In what ways do you consider these important qualities on a spiritual path?
• What is a non-afflicting use of the vṛtti of memory?
January 18, 2013
virāma-pratyayābhyāsa-pūrvaḥ saṁskāra-śeṣo ‘nyaḥ
“Noncognitive (asamprajñāta) samādhi occurs with the cessation of all conscious thought; only the subconscious impressions remain.”
“Yogis who have not attained asamprajñāta-samādhi remain attached to prakṛti at the time of death due to the continued existence of thoughts of becoming.”
–translations by the Reverend Jaganath Carrera
“The samprajñāta-samādhi takes the mind from a passive to an active condition. In asamprajñāta-samādhi the mind comes to a state of pure alertness—not alert in terms of a particular activity. ” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 41
“The nearest we come to virāma pratyaya in ordinary experience are those few moments before falling asleep, when the intellect relaxes its hold on thoughts and objects and the mind becomes silent. … Like a river joining the sea, the mind is dissolving into the self. The moment one loses the feeling of ‘I,’ one is in this state.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.18
“It is beyond and superior to the preceding state of contemplation with an object. It occurs unexpectedly after being immersed over the years in contemplation with an object, and after persevering practice to stop the wandering mind. The believer attributes it to divine grace.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 27
“The principle of individual I-am is transformed into universal I-AM beyond the body and mind, and it shines like the blue sky. This is the natural state of the still mind: ‘Be still and know I am That I-AM.’” –Ramamurti S. Mishra, M.D., The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali
After describing samprajñāta-samādhi (could also be considered samprajñāta-nirodha) in sutra I.17, Patañjali begins to describe an “other” samādhi (or nirodha) that comes after ongoing practice of thoughts toward cessation. Commentators vary in their interpretations of these two sutras. Some see I.19 as a state related to that described in I.17, while others pair it with I.18. There is agreement that sutras I.17-I.21 describe a progression within citta to pure awareness, an awareness not dependent on an object of contemplation.
• Consider the practice of yoga as defined as moving the mind toward nirodha. Are you better able to experience this alone or in a group? With your eyes open or closed? In an activity or in stillness?
• What for you has been the most useful object of contemplation in this process of stilling the mind?
• What does Rohit Mehta mean by “negative mind”? Compare his description of asamprajñata-samādhi to Mr. Iyengar’s or to another commentator.
January 11, 2013
“Samprajñāta-samādhi is the state of cosmic consciousness that is accompanied by inner logic (vitarka), reflection and discrimination (vicāra), bliss and tranquility (ānanda), and the sense of universal I-AMness (asmitā).”
–translation by Ramamurti S. Mishra, M.D.
“It is true that Yoga is a movement beyond the frontiers of the mind, but it is useless to talk of “beyond the mind” unless and until one has developed the mind to its utmost possibilities. One can understand the limitations of the mind only when one has explored the possibilities of the mind.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 37
“Take for example the performance of an āsana, or movements of breath in prānāyāma. In the beginning, these are done at a physical level. As understanding deepens, the body is penetrated internally, its movements are connected with the intelligence, and the āsana is grasped as a single unit in all directions: front to back, top to bottom, side to side. It is absorbed and held by the body’s intelligence for the soul to perceive. One learns that one’s body is the bow, the āsana is the arrow, and the target is the soul. When the āsana is perfected, the target is struck: the field and knower of the field are united. The logic and reasoning of the āsana are fulfilled. The sādhaka, having lost the consciousness of the āsana and of his body, is one with himself. His āsana, his breath, his effort and his very being are one with the millions of cells in his body. He has reached sāsmita, the auspicious state of asmitā.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.17
Sutras I.17-21 describe two types of samādhi: samprajñāta, or cognitive, a state dependent on an object for contemplation, a state tied to the world of objects, and asamprajñāta, a state beyond cognition and free of objects.
• How has yoga practice affected your power of Reasoning? Observation? Concentration?
• Consider how, in āsana practice as taught in the Iyengar tradition, the āsana is an object of contemplation. How might you describe—in your own experience—the different levels or aspects of this contemplation?
• Reflect on the levels of cognitive samādhi Patañjali presents in sutra I.17 and consider your own mind and consciousness: what is the difference between reason and intuition? between impartial observation and compassion? In what way is joyful contemplation its own distinctive state?
December 14, 2012
tat param puruṣa-khyāter guṇa-vaitṛṣṇyam
“At its highest level, nonattachment means having no desire for any of the constituent qualities of nature, because one has become conscious of the spiritual principle.” –translation by Bernard Bouanchaud
“This sutra relates to the ultimate freedom achieved through paravairāgya: here phenomenal nature ceases to exist for us, as the guṇas are transcended, drawn back into their noumenal root.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.16
“To allow the guṇas to function without the intervention of the mind is the highest form of detachment.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 32
“To love someone, even in the usual human manner, is to get a brief, dim glimpse of something within that person which is tremendous, awe-inspiring, and eternal. In our ignorance, we think that this ‘something’ is unique. He or she, we say, is like nobody else. That is because our perception of Reality is clouded and obscured by the external manifestations–the character and individual qualities of the person we love–and by the way in which our own ego-sense reacts to them. Nevertheless, this weak flash of perception is a valid spiritual experience and it should encourage us to purify our minds and make them fit for that infinitely greater kind of love which always awaits us.” –Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, p. 32
In sutra I.16, Patanjali suggests that there are levels, or stages, of vairāgya, nonattachment, and he states that the ultimate stage is a thirstlessness for nature itself.
This sutra concludes a section of Book One that is often looked at as the foundation of yoga principle. On Friday, we will chant the first sixteen as a group.
• What are the stages of giving something up, as you have experienced them? (See Mr. Iyengar’s example of giving up coffee.) What are the stages of desire?
• Is nonattachment indifference?
• Consider the Bhagavad Gita, verse II.70.:
Water flows continually into the ocean
But the ocean is never disturbed
Desire flows continually into the mind of the seer
But he is never disturbed.
He knows peace who does not desire desire.
December 7, 2012
“Nonattachment is the manifestation of self-mastery in one who is free from craving for objects seen or heard about.” –translation by the Reverend Jaganath Carrera
“Detachment brings discernment: seeing each and every thing or being as it is, in its purity, without bias or self-interest. It is a means to understand nature and its potencies.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, p. 17
“Nonattachment is not a negation of the world but the cultivation of the appropriate relationship to the transitory pleasures and pains of the world.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 45
“Dispassion is a condition free from all motives.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 28
“Someone prone to strong attachment, for example, dependent on tobacco or alcohol, frequently becomes attached to religious commitments or a yoga practice. The result is an excess of one or the other, sometimes to the detriment of health and a balanced personality. Even though the new attachments are less destructive than the first and progress is certain, the difficulty is not yet resolved, simply displaced.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, the Essence of Yoga, p. 21
• Are you more attached to material things (things that are “seen”) or to intangible, invisible ones (things that are “heard”)?
• What might it mean, for you, to be “free from all motives,” even in yoga practice? Is this the same as being free from feeling?
• Continue to consider sutra I.14 and the three components to practice becoming well-grounded. What role does time play in learning vairagya? Continuousness? Devotion or cheerfulness?
• What experiences have deepened your understanding of vairagya?
November 30, 2012
Sa tu dīrgha-kāla-nairantarya-satkārāsevito dṛḍha-bhūmiḥ
“Practice becomes well-grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and with enthusiasm.”–translation by The Reverend Jaganath Carrera
“A firmly grounded practice is not simply an ingrained routine of spiritual exercises but an anticipated time of connection to deeper levels of self.”–The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 38
“Practice implies a certain methodology, involving effort. It has to be followed uninterruptedly for a long time, with firm resolve, application, attention and devotion, to create a stable foundation for training the mind, intelligence, ego and consciousness.”–B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, p. 16
“Yoga is not a Path of Woe; it is indeed a Way of Joy. If the effort is prolonged and uninterrupted and yet lacks this quality of joy then it is hardly of any worth at all. The effort must have an element of passion about it, for one cannot go to the door of Reality like a skeleton, completely squeezed out.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 28
• Do you approach practice cheerfully or with a grudging acceptance? What brings you enthusiasm?
• What does it mean to you to practice with devotion?
• What has been your experience of lack of continuity in practice—because of illness, schedule, lack of motivation? Have you discovered approaches to help you be more continuous?
• What role have time and repetition played in practice for you? Have you experienced time bringing no change? Quick change?
November 16, 2012
“The dissolution of the reactive centres of the mind is achieved by Practice and Dispassion.”
tatra sthitau yatno ‘bhyasaḥ
“Practice denotes an effort for the purpose of being firmly established in a state free from all reactive tendencies.”
–translations by Rohit Mehta
“A bird cannot fly with one wing. In the same way, we need the two wings of practice and renunciation to soar up to the zenith of Soul realization.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, p. 16
“Practice without nonattachment can lead to a superinflated ego that relishes using power to satisfy self-interest regardless of consequences. Many demons in Hindu mythology were advanced yogis who fell from the path of righteousness when they succumbed to a tragic flaw, usually a burning craving. On the other hand, without the strength and mental clarity gained from practice, true nonattachment may never really dawn. Instead, the mind can slip into apathy. This faux nonattachment can provide a temporary haven for the fearful—a spiritual façade where they can hide in order to avoid challenges and responsibilities. When fears remain untouched, innate capacities remain undiscovered. We become Clark Kent, never knowing that Superman lies within. It is practice that mines our untapped inner resources.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 35
Patañjali here describes the How of yoga: abhyāsa (practice) and vairāgya (nonattachmnt or dispassion). The word abhyāsa derives from the prefix abhi, towards, and the root ās, to throw or to apply oneself; it could be understood to carry a sense of aiming at something. Vairāgya comes from the prefix vi, away from, and the noun rāga, passion.
• Commentators emphasize the interconnected nature of abhyāsa and vairāgya. What is the interplay of these two aspects of yoga in your experience? Are they sequential or simultaneous?
• Are you temperamentally more attuned to making an effort or to letting go?
• How do you find a a balance between effort and non-effort? What does an imbalance look like (for you)?
• Has yoga practice brought you greater mental and physical stability? Has it improved your perseverence? Your ability to focus? Has it changed your expectations of what a peaceful state of mind might be?
November 9, 2012
“Memory is the recollection of experienced objects.”
–translation by Reverend Jaganath Carrera
“Memory is the collection of correct knowledge, perverse knowledge, illusory knowledge and sleep [the first four vṛttis]. As perception changes, memory too may alter, but correctly used, it enables us to recall experiences in their true, pristine state. This ability is the foundation of the practice of discrimination.”–B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.11
“Memory is basic to Patañjali’s epistemology. No thought is ever lost; rather, it is preserved as a subliminal impression or memory trace. These traces not only allow us to recall past events and perceptions, but they also actively shape future experiences in a never-ending process.” –Barbara Stoller Miller, Yoga: Discipline of Freedom, p. 32
“While memory is indispensable to progress (sutra I.20), it can also be an obstacle, or screen, to perception, because it is linked to prejudice, cultural conditioning, and our own desires.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 16
Patañjali defines memory as holding-on-to (literally, not-allowing-to-be-stolen) past experience. This Friday, we will consider kliṣṭa and akliṣṭa aspects of memory.
• What role does memory play in your yoga practice?
• Has yoga practice brought greater discrimination to your memory? Has it uncovered aspects of memory you were unaware of?
• Have you experienced memory as an obstacle?
October 26, 2012
abhāva-pratyayālambanā vṛttir nidrā
“That mental modification which depends on the thought of nothingness is sleep.”
“Memory is the recollection of experienced objects.”
–translations by Reverend Jaganath Carrera
“In sleep, the senses of perception rest in the mind, the mind in the consciousness and the consciousness in the being.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.10
“Great masters affirm that we return temporarily to God during deep sleep. They explain that after a good night’s sleep, we feel refreshed not from physiological rest, but from the fresh energy that flows to us from God. This energy nourishes thes spiritual, psychological, and physical levels of the human being.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 15
“Memory is the collection of correct knowledge, perverse knowledge, illusory knowledge and sleep [the first four vṛttis]. As perception changes, memory too may alter, but correctly used, it enables us to recall experiences in their true, pristine state. This ability is the foundation of the practice of discrimination.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.11
The last two types of thought-waves are sleep and memory. Sleep, as Patañjali defines it, is a movement of the consciousness toward not-being, or nothingness (abhāva). He defines memory as holding-on-to (literally, not-allowing-to-be-stolen) past experience.
• Continue to consider what states of mind support direct perception. Which support nirodhaḥ?
• Notice the moment of falling asleep, the quality of your sleep when sleeping, the nearness of the moment of waking, your dreams. What do you consider restful sleep? (Thanks to Bernard Bouanchaud for this question.)
• What role does memory play in your yoga practice?
• Has yoga practice brought greater discrimination to your memory? Has it uncovered aspects of memory you were unaware of?
October 19, 2012
viparyayo mithyājñanam atad-rūpa-pratiṣṭham
“Illusory or erroneous knowledge is based on non-fact or the non-real.”
śabda-jñānānupātī vastu-śūnyo vikalpaḥ
“Verbal knowledge devoid of substance is fancy or imagination.”
–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“The consequence of misperception is that mental impressions (vṛtti) that do not correspond to actual facts become stored and treated as true knowledge.” –Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 30
“Imagination uses thought to create nonexistent realities. An architect walking over the land creates a house in his or her mind. A composer writing pages of musical notes hears a symphony in the heart. Although it cannot be seen in the surroundings, imagination lets us glimpse reality in ourselves.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 14
The term Patañjali uses for wrong knowledge is viparyayaḥ. Formed from the root y, “to go or flow,” it literally means “to go away and around.” A viparyayaḥ thus misses or mistakes the object of perception. Imagination, as Patanjali defines it, has no object; it is formed from a concept.
• Reflect on what misperceptions you have “stored and treated as true knowledge.” Have some of these served a useful purpose for you? Have some caused you additional suffering?
• How do you make use of imagination in practise? In life? Have you experienced a downside to fantasy?
• What states of mind take you away from direct perception? Observe instances of denial, disassociation, or distraction.
October 12, 2012
“The sources of right knowledge are direct perception, inference, and authoritative testimony.”
–translation by Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras
“Whatever our senses perceive is right knowledge, provided there has been no element of delusion. Whatever we infer from our direct perception is also right knowledge, provided our reasoning is correct. The scriptures are based on the superconscious knowledge obtained by great spiritual teachers while in the state of perfect yoga. Therefore they also are right knowledge.”–commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God: the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, p. 25
“The practice of āsana brings intelligence to the surface of the cellular body through stretching and to the physiological body by maintaining the pose. Once awakened, intelligence can reveal its dynamic aspect, its ability to discriminate.” –commentary on I.7 by B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali
“Perception is superior to any other sources of knowledge—indeed, the other sources of knowledge are based on it.” –Edwin Bryant, The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, p. 36
In sūtra I.7, Patañjali explains the sources of correct knowledge and lists direct perception first. The tradition of yoga places a high value on the practitioner’s experience, rather than on intellectual inference. Indeed, Patañjali’s text is considered more of a manual for practise than a philosophical treatise.
• Continue to reflect on Patañjali’s classification of thoughts/feelings as being either afflicting or non-afflicting. Which of your thoughts—in your estimation—promote citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ (the calming of the fluctuations of the consciousness). Are you aware of thoughts that take you toward avidya (ignorance)?
• Is any thought that could be classified as “correct knowledge” non-afflicting?
• In your practice this week, notice the role of direct perception. What is the effect of practice on sense perception?
• What inferential knowledge is important to you? Who are your authorities?
October 5, 2012
vṛttayaḥ pañcatayyaḥ kliṣṭākliṣṭāḥ
“The fluctuations [of consciousness] are fivefold; afflicted or non-afflicted.”
“[They are] valid-cognition, misconception, conceptualization, sleep and memory.”
–translations by Georg Feuerstein
“A ‘painful’ wave [kliṣṭa vṛtti], according to Patañjali’s use of the term, is not necessarily a wave which seems painful when it first arises in the mind; it is a wave which brings with it an increased degree of ignorance, addiction and bondage.” –commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God: the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, p. 22
“These five-fold fluctuations or modifications of consciousness are based on real perception, or correct knowledge based on fact and proof; unreal or perverse perception, or illusion; fanciful or imaginary knowledge; knowledge based on sleep; and memory.” –commentary on I.6 by B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali
Patañjali describes the fluctuations of the mind by category and also by their effect: afflicting or non-afflicting, painful or non-painful.
• What do you consider an afflicting thought? Is it simply a thought that is painful?
• Are there thoughts or feelings that you try to avoid?
• In your daily life, observe and consider the categories of thought that Patañjali describes. When do you function from real perception or correct knowledge? Illusion? Imagination? Projection?
September 21, 2012
tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe vasthānam
“Then, the seer dwells in his own true splendour.”
vṛtti sārūpyam itaratra
“At other times, the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness.”
–translations by B.K.S. Iyengar
“Patañjali says that when the very centre of reaction or habit is broken up there comes to view the original nature of man.” –commentary by Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 11
“Let us imagine [citta] to be like an optical lens, containing no light of its own, but placed above a source of pure light, the soul. … worked upon by the desires and fears of turbulent worldly life, it becomes cloudy, opague, even dirty and scarred, and prevents the soul’s light from shining through it.”–commentary by B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali
In these next two sutras, Patañjali elaborates on the purpose of yoga: to reach draṣṭṛ, the “seer” that is within, described by Mr. Iyengar in his commentary as the soul, by Rohit Mehta as the original nature.
• Does yoga take you toward inner illumination? How?
• Does your practice feel like a return, a journey forward, or a discovery of something new?
• What have you let go of in order to recover/uncover what is original?
• Where is home?
September 14, 2012
“Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness.”
–translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“There is built within the mind a chain of reactions. These reactive tendencies become our habits…. Yoga is a state of mind completely free from all reactive tendencies.”
–commentary by Rohit Mehta, Yoga, The Art of Integration, p. 9
“Yoga shows ways of understanding the functionings of the mind, and helps to quieten their movements, leading one towards the undisturbed state of silence which dwells in the very seat of consciousness.” –commentary by B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali
In this week’s sūtra, Patañjali defines yoga and introduces the true subject of yoga: citta. Though often translated as “mind,” there is no good equivalent to this word in English. It comes from the root cit, to perceive, to observe, to know. It is often referred to as the “field of consciousness.”
• Have you learned more about your mind through the process of yoga?
• Have you had the experience of undoing a habit of your mind?
• How are habits of the mind related to habits of the body?
• Has yoga brought you increased freedom?
We hope you can join us this Friday.
September 7, 2012
“With prayers for divine blessings, now begins an exposition of the sacred art of yoga.”
–translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
“This sutra may be taken to mean: ‘the disciplines of integration are here expounded through experience, and are given to humanity for the exploration and recognition of that hidden part of man which is beyond the awareness of the senses.’” –B.K.S. Iyengar, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, commentary on I.1
“The fundamental need of the modern civilization is the integration of man at all levels of his being.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga and the Art of Integration, p. 1
We begin the fall session of Sutra Study at the beginning of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Sanskrit word atha is traditionally used at the start of a treatise. The very sound of the word is considered to indicate auspiciousness, as it is said to be the word uttered by Brahma at the start of creation. It is translated as “now” or “here.”
• What is the significance of the idea of “now” for your yoga practice?
• In what way is yoga for you a discipline of integration?
• Why do you do yoga?
Whether you are new to Patanjali’s work or have a thorough knowledge of the sutras, we hope you will join us. Every new reading brings new discoveries. We hope you will come share your study with us. We will meet Fridays, 2:30 to 3:45.