Bringing Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras to Daily Life

Aug 15th, 2017
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Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras consist of 195 sutras and are considered the most important text for any serious yoga practitioner. Yoga Sutras as I learnt from my yoga philosophy teacher James Boag is the manual of enlightenment – a practice manual. Everything that Patanjali explains in yoga sutras can be experienced by the self and put to test.

Sutra 1.6 pramana viparyaya vikalpa nidra smritayah

Now Patanjali tells us that there are only five places where the mind goes and all thought patterns can be classified into these. So the five vritti (thought patterns) he explains are:

1. pramana: Correct perception
2. viparyaya: Incorrect perception
3. vikalpa: Imagination
4. nidra: Deep sleep
5. smrtayah: Memory

These are natural states of mind. The work of a yoga practitioner is to observe these states of mind as they arise, but not identify with them. While observing we can say to ourselves “it thinks”. It is not the self that thinks in a certain way, it is the mind. So when we see anger or frustration arising in us, we just have to observe it and say to ourselves “it feels”. We do not have to identify with it and let it take over us. These states of mind are natural in human existence. They give us an opportunity to expand our awareness to make a little more progress on the path of yoga.

Today while observing the states of my mind, I will observe and let go while classifying what state of mind I am currently living in.

Sutra 1.7 pratyaksha anumana agamah pramanani

Patanjali now describes these five vritti(s). The first vritti is pramana : proof that the mind seeks all the time for correct perception. In this sutra pramana is referred to as fixed ideas, pre conceived notions, prejudices that we cling to, which reinforce false identification and ignorance. Wanting to see proof for everything is just a conditioned way of thinking– an activity of the mind. The mind seeks proof in the following three ways:

1. Pratyaksh: Direct perception. Something that is obvious. A banana peel lying in front of me is garbage. I know it is garbage to be disposed. A cow seeing the same banana peel perceives it as food. So what I see as garbage, is it an absolute truth?

2. Anumana: Inference. Something that is not so obvious but can be guessed. You see food particles dropped on the floor so you infer that someone may have eaten there even though you did not directly see anyone eating there.

3. Agamah: Testimony of teacher or scriptural authority. So an example that ties all these three methods of mind’s way of perceiving things correctly is: the belief that the world was flat, based on observation (direct perception) that the horizon was flat, followed by inference – that the Earth was flat, which was confirmed by the ruling ideologies (testimony).

Proof is connected with logic and logic has its limitations. Anything that can be proven can also be disproven. God can neither be proven nor disproven.”Self” is beyond this proof. Self can only be experienced as a feeling. The yoga practitioner cannot “know” the self through proof nor prove it to anyone else. Sri Sri Ravi Shanker says ‘The feeling of “I am and I exist” is beyond proof’.

So the mind thinks it knows and feels sure when it has proof and logic to support. This is one of the five ways in which the mind (vritti) works.

Sometimes my direct perception of something is completely different from someone else’s direct perception of the same thing. What correct understanding comes down to, is if I can connect to the present moment and perceive without bias. This is a lifelong practice, but within it, I get freedom. I can learn empathy and compassion in new ways and I can seek to understand, rather than be understood. I connect to the divinity of each moment rather than the fallacy of ego. Today I will practice perception without bias. I will breathe into my ego clinging, and I will seek to be set free.

1.8 viparyayah mithya jnanam atad rupa pratistham

The second way in which the mind functions is by seeing something that does not exist. A classic example is of perceiving a rope lying on the ground as a snake when one is walking in the dark. So we impose our own ideas, feelings on situations or other people. This activity of the mind is called “viparyay”. Sometimes when we don’t respect ourselves enough and suffer from inferiority complex we believe the other person to be arrogant. In reality the other person is not arrogant, it is just that we do not respect ourselves enough and so believe that the other person does not respect us. This tendency of the mind which is also natural in our lives is viparyay. When viparyay (incorrect perception) dominates then proof becomes useless. Proof does not survive and logic crashes because the mind is more active on the second vritti- the second modulation. “Only incorrect information sticks on.” (Sri Sri Ravi Shanker) Today I will pause before believing anything my mind tells me. I will adopt “pause” as my mantra for the day.

1.9 shabda jnana anupati vastu shunyah vikalpah

The third tendency of the mind is “vikalpa”. Vikalapa is hallucination, baseless fear in the mind or fantasies. There may be some thoughts but it is not true. One worries what will happen if they have an accident and fall in the grip of fear. Or one begins to fantasize how life would be if they won a lottery and what they would do. The mind launches into a commentary. Words stimulate something in our mind, we imagine something when we hear a word. This commentary playing in the mind has no value. “Vikalpa” is the power of language to create something in our mind. It refers to dwelling in the future.

Today I won’t pursue insanity. Instead I will seek truth beyond my thoughts.

1.10 abhava pratyaya alambana vritti nidra

This is the state of deep sleep, where the mind is characterized by the absence of content. It is a dreamless sleep. So there are no thoughts that are arising from no correct knowledge, no incorrect knowledge, imagination or memory. In deep sleep vrittis are quiet but we are not aware. It is also explained that to enter such a state consciously where the mind is quiet is the practice of yoga nidra.

Today I will take a moment to really breathe. At the end of each inhale and each exhale I will pause and recognize the peace of presence.

1.11 anubhuta vishaya asampramoshah smritih

The next vritti that Patanjali tells us about is “smritih” (memory) – remembering the experiences one has had. This refers to dwelling in the past.

I prefer light hearted and kind memories and not the dark and angry ones. Today I will consciously make memories. I will choose to remember my life as happy joyous and free.

So during the course of a day we are seeing things correctly or incorrectly, or we are in the realm of imagination, or we are in sleep, or we are in the realm of the past. If we are in one of these states we are not in a state of yoga! So how do we work towards a state of yoga? In the following sutras Patanjali answers this question and explores the means of knowledge that he considers valid. (To be continued in the next issue)

Acknowledgements:

Personal study with Sanskrit Scholar and Yoga Teacher James Boag (www.Jamesboagyoga.com)
The Essential Yoga Sutras by Michael Roach and Christie Mc Neally
Patanjali Yoga Sutras by H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
The Wisdom of Yoga Sutras by Ravi Ravindra
Yoga by Kyra deGruy (Affirmation/Reflection on each sutra) (www.breathebalanceyoga.com)
Traditional Yoga and Meditation of the Himalayan Masters (www.swamij.com)

About the Author
Swati Pandey is a keen student of Yoga. She also completed her teacher training from Anahata. Swati finds her calling in the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and is most influenced in her approach and understanding of yoga by her teacher John Scott. She finds great learning and guidance from her yoga philosophy teacher James Boag and greatly reveres Yogi Shri Dharma Mittra.

Swati Pandey

Bio

Swati Pandey is a keen student of Yoga. She has completed 400 Hrs Teacher Training from Anahata Yoga, Hong Kong and continues to pursue further Teacher Training and workshops with Manoj Kaimal, founder Manasa Yoga, Kualalumpur. Swati is passionate about sharing yoga and teaches regularly in Kualalumpur.

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