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.
Patanjali says in this sutra that through meditation we can reach enlightenment. He goes on to explain the four states that accompany the process of expansion in awareness:
1. Vitarka: This refers to logic. When something is not right and knowing that it is not right, one still wants to prove that it is right then it is wrong logic. The intention in this case is only to find fault. But the logic Patanjali refers to is “vitarka” – a special logic to pursue in the world and perceive the truth. It is a logic that cannot be reversed. For example, when a movie is over, you know that it is over and everyone walks out. It is obvious. It is known. There are no two opinions on “truth” then.
2. Vichara: In this second state, thoughts accompany a meditative process. A thought could be either disturbing, or it could be something that does not disturb but just hovers around in our consciousness and we are aware of it. In this state too, we are in Samadhi: in an equanimous state of mind. There is awareness. The light of awareness can dissolve thoughts too!
3. Anandanugama:In this state of meditation, the practitioner is in a state of ecstasy.
4. Asmita: This is the deepest state of Samadhi where you just know that “you are” and nothing else
In all of these four states, there is consciousness. There is an outflow of awareness. Cultivating awareness and practising meditation is the path of preparation. Our culture today is inundated with different kinds of meditations. Roach and Mc Neally warn that meditation is a serious tool and using meditation only to feel good for a while is like a surgeon taking the anesthesia himself, leaving the patient to die on the operating table. We should be aware of temporary escapes or mere “meditation traps” as we begin on this path of preparation
It is reassuring to know, from a nonenlightened person’s perspective, that mental logic will come to an end in bliss. Bliss, I look forward to!
So how do we practise meditation? Sri Sri Ravi Shanker says that we can do this by relaxing and reposing in the self. Sleep is when we put ourselves to rest and rest swallows us! Meditation is resting on our own, voluntarily. This requires practice. Practice of deep rest consciously. It works differently for different people. While some may have to practise a lot to stay calm and aware, for others, it may be natural. For some it may be due to past life impressions (samskaras) too.
Knowing that all’s not lost if I stop my practice and trying to start back up again is extremely comforting. We’re allowed to slip up and be human. A pattern I easily slip into is making my spiritual practice very rigid. I give myself rules to live by, and when I don’t follow through on a daily basis, I feel disappointed in myself. The inflexibility takes away all the freedom and joy from practice. This sutra gives me permission to just be me. Samskaras may arise, but my life isn’t over if I’m not perfect. Today I’ll practise forgiveness with myself. I will forgive my imperfections. I will practise without any idea of how it is supposed to look and I will let the sunlight of joy and love flow through me.
Some people are born into this state of complete absorption (Samadhi). But if that is not the case, then what should we do? In the next sutra Patanjali explains what we can do.
Today I will remember that underneath confusion, ego clinging, and fear, my true essence (yoga) waits for me to remember it.
Patanjali suggests that we approach our practice with these attributes:
1. Shraddha : Faith and conviction. When we practise with conviction and faith, we feel whole hearted. Faith here is not blind faith but based on direct experience. If we have experienced calm in the breathing practice, we know that further practice will bring similar experiences. Dissemination of energy is doubt and weakness. Consolidation of energy is faith. 2. Veerya: Energy and Courage. Virya is the positive energy of ego to support the faith of moving in the right direction. Weakness and uncertainty is lack of virya. Virya is “I can do it! I will do it! I have to do it!” My teacher says that if you practice yoga, you need to be a hero, because the world will not invite you to cultivate self realisation!
3. Smriti: Memory. As we keep practising, we create smriti. By being mindful as we tread the path, we keep creating smriti. A persistent awareness of the goal of life, of faith in our journey and decision to commit energy to the process. So when external enemy shows, the “experience” helps us to move on.
4. Prajna: Discrimination/Heightened awareness. As we cultivate the above three attributes, our awareness expands. Samadhi becomes part of our experience. We can move on in life with greater wisdom.
Today I will keep my practice reverential. I will surrender to the teacher within me. When I encounter discouraging moments, I will breathe and relax. I will let my mind settle down and from the place of faith within me and the memory of practice that supported my wholeness, I will draw the courage to continue moving on the path of yoga. I will allow divine light to shine through me.
If we practise uninterrupted, then the goal is close. Often in life, we give third or fourth priority to our practice, but if we gave first priority to our spiritual practice, then it becomes easier. Other things will be placed around this.
The willingness to practise with intensity can still be an internal battle. The goal I reach for, that this sutra refers to, is progress. Progress and willingness. If my goal is enlightenment, or nirvana, my ego always gets in the way. As is with every spiritual practice, we reach for progress, not perfection. Today I will cut myself some slack. I will recognise when I make progress and I will give thanks to the universe for opening the doors of opportunity.
Progress in practice depends on how we practise. There are those who are keen, average, or merely fickle in their practice, the progress will also be fast, medium or slow depending on how they practise.
There will be times when our practice comes effortlessly and we practice patiently and diligently. There can also be times when we want to practice but just cannot get ourselves on the mat. The effort then lies in bringing ourselves on the mat and practise even if it is for a short time, without seeking perfection. We may feel that we did not practise well, but we must do it anyway without passing judgements on our practice.
Today I will practise. I won’t think about tomorrow’s practice, or whether I need to do this for the rest of my life. I will look only at today.
Patanjali says to establish oneself in yoga (yogash chitta vritti nirodha: settling down of all thought patterns) one can either put in the effort towards regular practice or offer one’s action to the Supreme and sanctify everything that is done. So this sutra tells us that just by pure devotion to God also self realisation (Samadhi) is possible.
Today I will approach my life with reverence. I will recognise and offer gratitude for things that are working so well in my life. As I go about my daily chores and activities, I will perform each activity with mindfulness and totality, as my offering to the supreme.
• 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 (www. breathebalanceyoga.com)
• Traditional Yoga and Meditation of the Himalayan Masters (www.swamij.com)