After twenty years of yoga, I have studied Patanjali with different teachers probably six or seven times. As a yoga teacher I've always preferred the non dual philosophies of vedanta and tantra, but for the first time this year in yogaphysio meditation classes we have started to explore Patanjali and I have come to a new appreciation of this view of mind. Read on to gain insight into the simplicity of the first four sutras.
I'm going to consider these first 4 sutras out of order. Lets start with the common condition of the 7.2 billion people on the planet ... We'll consider the pyschological relevance and application of these sutras; while acknowledging they are also a guide to realising the absolute.
1.4 Vritti sarupyam itaratra. Otherwise it is involved with the fluctuations of consciousness.
So first this sutra says there are fluctuations in consciousness, in themselves they are not a problem and there is a state of our 'true essense' being involved with them.
Each of us since our year dot have been accumulating impressions (samskaras) that allow us to function in the world. This is learning and includes the acquisition of language and tasks of self care, play and occupation; learning the norms of our particular culture and society; learning how to cope with our emotional world and the challenges of life. These are influenced or determined by our already conditioned forebearers and a genetic imprint to respond to our circumstance in a particlar way (vasanas). 99% of what we do on a daily basis comes from this base and we take for granted this immersion in the fluctuations of our consciousness. Thus we have skills to deal with our circumstances or as life goes on we discover we are not so well equipped all according to these samskaras. Discovering we are Immersed in some unhelpful samskaras, might prompt us to practices that enable us to step back.
1.3 Tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam. Then the seer (drastuh) rests in it's own form (essense)
Such practices as yoga, meditation, and self enquiry, acquired through traditional spititual pathways or modern psychology help us to loosen the involvement with the unhelpful fluctuations in consciousness. Note that we only need to look at the samskara that are problematic. 99% are not problematic but the remaining 1% can cause 99% of our suffering. And we are looking within ourselves, not projecting on to others. With time we see the world is perfect and our suffering is all about us. Hard to swallow, when when life circumstances can be so harrowing for so many. (topic for another blog I'd never dare write). For instance, when we don't get what we want in life, many of us have samsakara's that involve emotional responses such as anger, sadness or anxiety. Such emotions usually result in reactive behaviour that are sometimes quite childlike. This sutra points out the potential to step back and witness (drastuh) this internal experience. The impact of this is we are able to apply more useful behaviours such as kind communication, negotiation, patience and acceptance or we learn to let things go, how not to sweat the small stuff.. and realise most of it is small stuff. Imagine if the 7 billion + on the planet did that. Thus we acquire new samskaras consciously acquired.
1.2 Yoga citta vritti nirodhah. Yoga is the ceasation of fluctuations of consciousness.
First we must consider that in this context yoga is the outcome of some practice (abhasya) combined with a sincere openness to something different (vairagya). Vairagya is usually translated as renunciation and implies an effort to let go, but I think the practices actually make letting go effortless, as the letting go comes with the openess to the unknown. Patanjali talks about abhasya and vairagya in later sutras (topic of next blog me thinks). From a psychological perspective, we are freed of unhelpful fluctuations of consciousness.
1.1 Atha yoga anushasanam. Now commences the exposition of Yoga.
This is perhaps the one I'm still not completely sure about. Generally it is thought to imply that we come to the study of yoga acknowledging that there are other treatises that also inform our practice and intepretation of these sutras. I like also that consider this sutra as a call to 'Now' or presence.
Anyway hope you have had some insights.. always good to read a little and then meditate and if you want to dive deeper consider coming on a retreat or there are meditation class Tues and Wed at the studio.