This is a fast-paced culture and getting faster all the time. Due to necessity we often want to know the "bottom line" so that we can quickly understand a message and move into action or move on to the next thing. The Sutras are very modern in this way: Chapter One gives us the bottom line. It gives us yogic practices to follow and outlines obstacles that can impede our progress. It names and describes the potential fruits of our yogic practices: levels of super consciousness (Samadhi). Amazing! In 51 short verses we are tantalized by powerful bits of wisdom that can not only change our lives but guide us in our process.
For today let's start at the beginning.....in sutra 1 Patanjali makes the announcement to all that the study of this most auspicious and all-encompassing subject is about to begin. I can hear the trumpets heralding this event and the conch shells letting the gods know what we're up to:
I.1. Atha yoga 'nushasanam: NOW the study of yoga will begin
This sutra hints that the subject, Yoga, and its reputation precede Patanjali's compilation. This is true. Yoga is one of 6 major schools of philosophy in the East Indian culture and had been practiced for at least 2500 years before Patanjali came on the scene in the third century BCE. He codified this knowledge into short verses, leaving ample room for lively verbal discussion in a culture that has a history of passing
down its most precious sacred texts through an oral tradition.
Patanjali quickly gets to the heart of Yoga in sutra 2 by telling us the purpose/definition of Yoga:
1.2: Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah: Yoga is the cessation/control of the thought waves/mental modifications
How can this possibly be done? How can we actually direct and control this thinking machine called the mind? Broadly Patanjali gives us the answer in 1.12:
1.12: Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan nirodhaha: [the modifications] are controlled by practice and dispassion. Much more is to come about these practices.
From an early age we are trained to hone our skills to create a life in the world, emphasizing the use of our outward going (pravritti) mind. Yet sometimes in our lives, usually painful times like during a bitter breakup or unexpected trauma, we question the road we're on and ask ourselves 'what am I doing?' 'who am I?', 'what do I really want?'. Finding an answer requires our minds to flow inwardly (nirvritti), shutting out the world so we can hear our own answers to these questions. We are momentarily freed from the limitations of our outgoing mind, catching a glimpse of untapped potential. Baba Hari Dass's commentary points out that both directions of mind, pravritti (outward) and nirvritti (inward), are observed and utilized in the study of Yoga: we use the mind to cut through illusion and discern what truly IS: Sat Chit Anand -
Truth Consciousness Bliss.
Until next week-