Preparations for studying the Sûtra’s of Patañjali.
Patañjali’s Sûtra’s consists out of four sections or chapters. In this article, you’ll read my suggestions about what to do in order to understand them. Chapter two is the most accessible chapter and hence a good place to start. Chapter two is called Sadhana Pada and explains ‘external yoga’, the preparatory path the leads us to true yoga practice.
Sûtra’s or aforisms are short, concise statements containing a message of wisdom. Yogis have made an attempt in the past to summarize their spiritual experiences using the limited means of words and language. That is why these texts can be interpreted in different ways. When the reader himself has experienced the experiences that are being described, the texts provide clarity for the practitioner and are a confirmation of his experience. When the reader hasn’t experienced the described experiences, the interpretation and translation are purely speculative and/or a literal translation of the text, loosing the deeper dimension of the words because the interpreter’s frame of reference is limited.
This article explains the undercurrent which makes the ideas of Patañjali easier to understand, enabling us to understand the Sûtras more easily.
Purpose of the Sûtras
In the second chapter of Patañjali a practical path for the practitioner is being laid out. Here, the first five steps of the eight-folded path of yoga are discussed extensively to give the student insight into the methods and purpose of this path. This chapter gives the pupil directions on how life could be lived the yogic way and how this would impact the practitioner’s life if these instructions are followed. For one person this path might come across as dogmatic yet for another it could act as a roadmap enabling him/her to choose his/her intensity and speed of the start of his/her practice. How much and at what speed could you integrate its teachings?Yoga is the oldest self-study method available; yet a teacher is there to help you, however you’re the one driving your own progress and taking responsibility to discuss your obstacles. The teacher will wait patiently until you come up with your questions.
Before the student begins to study the Sûtras, it is good to understand the undercurrent of this philosophy. Patañjali has fully mastered the undercurrent or the philosophy of this Vedic knowledge, which formed the basis of him being able to write these beautiful Sûtras. Taimni describes this very concisely in the last Sûtra of the second chapter.
2.55 ‘Tatah parama vasyatendriyanam’
Then follows the supreme rule over the senses.“First of all, the emotional disturbances caused by moral defects in a person’s nature must be eliminated by the practice of Yama-Niyama. Then, by practicing the Asana, the disturbances that arise in the physical body will be eliminated. After that, disturbances caused by irregular or inadequate flow of life force in the Prāna sheath are removed by the practice of Prānayama. And finally Prānayama also removes the main source of disturbances coming from the sensory organs. Thus the outward [outer] Yoga, Bahiranga, is brought about and then the Sādhaka can enter the advanced stages of inner Yoga, Antaranga.”
Causality of emotions
Firstly we need to understand what the causes of the disturbances mentioned above, are. The cause of all areas are our emotions. Here I try to give a concise explanation of the source from which the emotions originate.What is the mind [manas] and what are thoughts? Mind means waves of consciousness, and waves of consciousness are what we call ‘thoughts’. When breath (active energy) and thoughts (psychic energy) work together, emotions appear in your heart. Emotion has an intrinsic power that forces you to take action. This force in emotion is the result of both consciousness and active energy. The breath is your active energy and your senses are active through your breath. Your mind is called a cognitive power, so when active and cognitive forces join together, emotions appear in our hearts that force us to act.
When universal consciousness illuminates our intellect, nature becomes active.
The light [consciousness] enters your brahmachakra, which is called the seat of the intellect. Then movement, life, consciousness and the I-am feeling appear in your body; individuality manifests. When nature becomes active, there are two movements that start in our heart: the movement of breath and thought. When we talk about the heart in the scriptures, it is not the physical pumping heart, but the yogi heart that is under the crown chakra, called chidakasha. Love is the property of this heart. We also call this same love ‘ emotion’. The pure form of emotion is universal love. When love is related to God we call it devotion, when love is related to worldly things we call it emotion. To realize to the divine or the universal within ourselves, we need knowledge. Without knowledge one can not become aware of the universal causality, emotion can not become a devotion. Emotional being is not bad, but uncontrolled emotions are a source of suffering.
Effects of emotions
Whenever we have a desire that is not being fulfilled, disappointment arises, then grief arises, then irritation, then anger and then aggression. This sequence repeats itself time and again when a desire is not fulfilled. However, if the desire ís fulfilled, then greed arises and increases, from an attachment to the experience which then has to be repeated over and over again.When your love is related to your loved one, lust arises, when your love is related to your children it becomes affection, when it is related to eating and drinking it becomes desire, when it is related to opulence and luxury it becomes greed, when it is related to your enemy, it becomes aggression; all these forms come from the same form and that is Love. Emotions thus create limitations and that which creates limitations becomes the causality of attachment. Because we focus our senses on the world, we create a source of nourishment for our emotional attachments.
The battle of the servant and the prince
The mind [manas], where the thoughts and emotions are in their comfort zone, is in a constant battle with the intellect for the sovereignty of life. The intellect seeks knowledge in the long term and wants to focus on the higher universal self. The mind, on the other hand, is only interested in the rapid satisfaction of the sensory desires. As long as the intellect can not dominate the mind, it will be the servant of the mind. There is a beautiful story of a prince who was raised by a servant. In the beginning the servant told the prince what he should or shouldn’t do, the prince was at the mercy of the servant’s temperament. As the prince grew older, he discovered that he was the child of the king [consciousness] and the queen [nature]. This increased his confidence and developed his own inner strength; that of a true king. He realized that he was not the slave of the servant, but powerful as a lion. When the servant saw this happen, he knew that he would have to go back to fulfilling the role of a servant. With great dedication he became the actual servant and friend of the prince.Thus we see that the mind will act according to its nature until the intellect really gets up to claim its role in life. This is the battle between the lower self and the higher self.
The cause of tension
`There is a reason for us automatically directing our efforts to the world. We believe we should seek happiness and love in the world, hence we focus outside ourselves, partly because this is the nature of our senses. The goal, however, is beyond the objects or persons with which interact and which whom we are interwoven in life. We seek an effect that will do us good. However, it’s not the objects or people in the world we are seeking, they are merely the effects that you are striving for. If these effects do not come, you will leave and release the persons or objects over time.Within the web and networks of tensions within us, we try to maintain a manageability through which we continue to function as well as possible. It does not require much explanation that if there is a constant ‘excess of tension’, this has an effect on the emotional and mental, but ultimately on the physical functioning. The body is the final frontier in which all tensions are stored, whether ready or not ready to be eliminated. In short, in the event of an ‘over-tension’ of tension, disturbances and stagnations occur on all levels, which in their turn bring physical limitations or complaints. As a result, for example, the breath is disturbed or slowed down, or the muscles tense up, resulting in stiffness or other discomforts.
What to do with sensory stimuli
The flow of sensory stimuli can best be restrained by the higher self [intellect], but we have to take into account the fact that the lower self [mind / manas] allows everything to come in if it produces satisfaction. We can develop sensory control by giving direction to our lives, by setting goals and by giving values to life processes. The moment we pursue a goal, we can base all further choices on that. Because the outside world becomes less important to us and to decreases our desires, so that we can sit undisturbed in meditation.
Now that we understand the undercurrent of philosophy, you can start practicing with the second chapter of the Sûtras.