March 16 Discussion Sūtra 1.13 – 1.15
Notes by Michelle, edited by Ram
Siṁhāvalokanam (revisiting last discussion):
Sūtra 1.12 stated the way to gain nirodha, restraint (mastery) of cittavṛtti, mental modes by abhyāsa and vairāgya, practice and dispassion. At this point it is worth revisiting how Sūtra-s are arranged. First the aphorism is stated. Following Sūtra-s further elucidate some of the terms used in earlier ones. Thus in 1.12 two of the terms abhyāsa and vairāgya need explanation and this elucidation follows in 1.13-15.
Discussion In Sūtra 1.12, there is nothing about nirodha – that’s been talked about, nor about cittavṛiti. The term nirodha does not need any special explanation since the word means restraint. The word cittavṛiti is not explicitly stated but is understood by use of the compound tannirodhaḥ in Sūtra 1.12. This compound is translated ‘Restraint of them’. The pronoun ‘them’ refers to the prior Sūtra-s 1.5-1.11 elaborating cittavṛiti-s. Then, what is abhyāsa? This word is defined later in Sūtra 1.13 by Patañjali. The term abhyāsa is formed by adding the prefix abhi to the verb ās meaning to place, to seat, and a suffix a. Etymologically the term means well-placing oneself, the common meanings is practice. Note that etymological meaning forms the foundation on which common meanings are built upon. Does one have to be in lotus pose for an hour and a half of meditation? No, either the pose nor the duration is important What is crucial is a comfortable pose and a mind free of distraction. Yogasūtra defines posture to be one that is steady and pleasing (Sthirasukhamāsanam, 2. 46) – this means that if sitting in a lotus pose for more than a minute give you single pointed meditation on your painful knee, it does not meet the definition! Kaivalyopaniṣad (1.5) mentions a meditator as one who is samagrīvaśraśśarīraḥ – one whose neck, head and the truck are in the same plane – meaning a posture that is straight but without strain, not lying on the ground as in corpse pose! Such a posture prevents one from falling asleep during meditation. The best time for meditation, according to tradition is about an hour and a half or so before sunrise, because even the most extreme insomniac will fall asleep at this time and the world would be least distracting. The main thing that happens in meditation, I tell my class when I teach meditation, is not to feel bad if you start to feel sleepy, but give yourself a pat on the back. Because the first stage in meditation is relaxation of the body and mind, and if both are well relaxed, we go to sleep. Then if you consciously relax yourself during meditation, you tend to sleep. If you are able to sit in meditation and right away start yawning, then you have successfully reached the first stage of meditation. Patañjali, after stating in 1.12 as to how one can accomplish nirodha of mental modes described in earlier sūtra-s now defines abhāyasa and vairāgya in the following sūtra-s.
Sūtra 1.13 तत्र स्थितौ यत्नोsभ्यासः। (1.13) (तत्र स्थितौ यत्नः अभ्यासः।) Tatra sthithau yatno’byāsaḥ. The effort for (attaining) that peaceful nirodha is abhyāsa.
This sūtra is translated differently in many books. I follow the sub-commentaries to Vyāsa‘s commentary to this aphorism for this rendering. The words tatra sthithau are both in the seventh case and this is a rather unique use of the seventh case as a ’cause or reason’, known as nimittasaptamī. Some of the translations / renderings one comes across are: 1 ‘Practice is the steadfast effort to still these fluctuations’ B.K.S. Iyengar. ‘From these, practice is the effort to be fixed in concentrating the mind’ E.F. Bryant. 2 ‘Of these practice is the effort to secure steadiness’ Ramas Prasada. 3 ‘Exertion to acquire sthithi or a tranquil state of mind devoid of fluctuations is called practice’ Hariharananda Aranya. 4 ‘Practice, is the steadyness of effort, and the efffort to be steady’ BHabani Sylvia Maki. 5 ‘Between the two means, practice is the effot to stay in the restricted state’T.S. Rukmani. 6 ‘Of these two, effort toward steadiness of mind is practice’ Swami Sachidananda. Vyāsa‘s describes this effort in his commentary “with energy and enthusiasm.”
Discussion We all know how difficult it is to have a mind at peace with itself. The normal state of mind is like a torrential flow of thoughts. This normal state is called vijātīyavṛttipravāha – thought flow of different classes. This means that the mind goes wherever it chooses to go, in all directions. This is described as vikṣpta by Vyāsa. That means, for instance, as I am sitting here, one part of the mind is thinking about the big bang theory, and then the Big Bang Theory TV show, and so on and next thing you know several sentences have gone by and we don’t know where we are. By effort we bring it under control. meditation of any type, including diligent practice of āsanas result is making this unidirectional flow, sajātīyavṛttipravāha. Nirodha is the next stage, the cessation of this flow. The progression is achieved by abhyāsa. The Bhavadgīta discusses the problem of the mind and the goal of a seeker in terms of taming the mind. Kṛṣṇa likens the state of mind of a yogin whose mind is in control to ‘a lamp lit in a wind free place does not flicker’ (6.19). But the plight of the seeker, a yoga practioner is best summarized by his student, Arjuna ‘I do not see the steadiness of mind because agitations in the mind. Mind indeed is agitation, it is a strong tormentor, I do not think control is more difficult than controlling wind’ (6.33, 34). Kṛṣṇa, while agreeing with Arjuna but adds ‘the mind can be controlled by abhyāsa and vairāgya, a restatement of sūtra 1.13.
So, what is practice? Practice is not like going to church once a week. It means to be consistent, not sporadic and done with an attitude of dedication as we shall see in the sūtra (1.14) today..
When we think about practice – in our context, usually going to a place at a certain time and doing something (for example, going to the studio, roll out the mat, etc.) — this definition of ‘abhyāsa‘ is much broader, yes? Absolutely. We have to start somewhere. When I at least go to the studio at a regular time daily, come what may, I am able to force myself and slowly discover a level of peace while I’m doing my practice. But the reality is that all these things (yogāsana, prāṇāyāma, etc.) are connected with the mind. So that means that eventually, other things start becoming important — yama, niyama — and you understand that it goes far beyond, and nothing can interfere with your pursuit. For instance in India, where when it gets to 60 degrees you feel cold, but still you get up in the morning and wander to yogaśāla, and first you stop for a cup of tea! But then after you do a few Sun salutations your stomach doesn’t like that very much. Then what happens? The yama kicks in and you say, “I can wait – I just won’t have tea.” That might take a year, but slowly all these things come in and compliment each other. So we all start somewhere. And the starting point is “I have this body” and you start with the body. But the focus is never the body. The body is a means to an end. And eventually, we understand that this style of living is the best way for keep the cittavṛtti from going in all possible directions. So it’s a sort of progression – like the Chinese proverb “even a thousand mile journey starts with a first step” – so we come and put down the first step. Better to have a first few steps than take no steps at all. And as we continue, we see yogābhyāsa is not a sequential process; it is a simultaneous process. It starts out as though it is sequential, though.
So, would you say for instance, you are going on a hike. As you prepare for going on this hike, you say to yourself, “I am going to be mindful of my cittavṛtti on this hike; I am going to try to keep present and keep my mind focused on this the state of being.” This is a form of abhyāsa? Yes. You may even call it meditation practice. Or, listening to music, playing an instrument and many other things. So all these are forms of abhyāsa. And they are all directing the mind from vijātīyavṛttipravāha , omni-directional wandering to sajātīyavṛtti-pravāha, unidirectional thought flow. But we don’t call that yoga? This is something about the word yoga we need to reset our minds about. The whole waking state is a yoga practice. Yoga actually is disconnecting your connection to sorrow, says the Bhagavadgīta (6.23). Yoga in reality is consciously disconnecting from the binding toxins, the emotions that get us stuck. That is the real yogābhyāsa. But popularly, it has become simplified to merely the level of doing posture practice. As you all know, the author of the Bhagavadgīta was Vyāsa, the commentator to the yogasūtra-s. If you study the Bhagavadgīta, you find many words that Patañjali uses in the sūtra-s are elaborated and expanded. For instance, Bhagavadgīta, yoga is used in many ways –karma yoga, jñānayoga, bhaktiyoga, etc. Vyāsa wants you to move away from the idea that yoga is just about putting the body in a particular pose or state. Any dedicated pursuit that has the goal of disengaging from a seemingly inextricable sense of “I am the mind” can be called yoga. That is why suddenly we discover, after practicing yogāsana-s for several years, that this is just a means to an end. We start expanding our horizon, and our attitude towards life changes – our vision, friends, goals – everything changes, because we realize we are just touching the tip of the iceberg but want to see the whole iceberg. That is called the spiritual practice, this is abhyāsa. The questions that one can have at this stage are two fold: first is how long I have to do abhyāsa for me to feel steady in my efforts? And, despite my efforts, I seem to be getting nowhere, since there is plenty of cravings in me that I am unable to control. They are answered by the two subsequent sūtra-s.
Sūtra 1.14 स तु दीर्घकालनैरन्तर्यसत्कारासेवितो दृढभूमिः। (1.14) (सः तु दीर्घकाल-नैरन्तर्य-सत्कार- आसेवितः दृढ-भूमिः। ) Sa tu dīrghakālanairantryasatkārāsevito dṛḍhabhūmiḥ. But by longtime, uninterrupted and devoted practice, it is firmly grounded.
सः It. This pronoun refers to abhyāsa mentioned in the previous sūtra. तु But. This implies the difficulty of maintaining abhyāsa. दीर्घकाल-नैरन्तर्य-सत्कार- आसेवितः is a compoundआसेवितः , practiced. This word is formed from the verb सेव् (to serve) with the prefix आ (emphasizes the meaning of the verb) and the past passive participial suffix त. The word means ‘having followed well / diligently’. दीर्घकाल for a long time, नैरन्तर्य without interruption सत्कार with respect / devotion / faith / sense of sacredness दृढ-भूमिः firm ground Discussion Sounds wonderful, but it has me realize how short I fall of that goal. Chinese philosopher Confucius says “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall”. This is what we have to keep in mind when it comes to abhyāsa. Right now we are in the thrall of the mind, and the sūtra-s are meant to be as pointers, a source of inspiration that lets us keep working. They are not sticks to hit ourselves with, though I find self-condemnation due to perceived and real failures in our sādhana is a real issue we all have to contend with. Bhagavadgītā (6.5) even mentions this and the advice is “may you not look down upon yourself, may you lift yourself up” It is a matter of telling myself “Okay, here’s where I am, I got hurt, sick, am lazy, not motivated, stuck or whatever, and couldn’t practice as often, and I go back when I can.” One of the qualities that helps us to maintain our sense of ease mentioned in Samādhipāda (1.33) is compassion. Compassion is not ‘excuse’ — it’s a matter that you understand the situation, keep sight of the goal, and continue. In the matter of removing yourself from the forces of whim, the sages would go the mountain. But in everyday life, we are constantly encounter situations that knock us off the path. Decades ago I read Baba Ramdass’ book “Be Here Now”, and the title captured my imagination. Wherever you go, you are already there but the mind seems to always elsewhere, at some other time or place! It is that which is the cause of the problem, not the place or time. So the solution is to fix the mind, restated as Be here and now (since are never here and now). This is indeed the goal of any spiritual endeavor. My Vedanta teacher used to say that if your mind is not relatively quiet, and with a raving mind riddled with anger, frustration, cravings etc., if you retire to a cave in the Himalayas, you will fight with every tree and rock there! Every day life is not going to go away simply by moving from a place, the issue is how we can tame the mind since the real issue is within ourselves and we generally project it out to the world. And, how to deal with the mind is the content of the next sūtra. In this commentary, it also says, “like weeds, some scars are never actually eliminated or destroyed. They remain in a latent subconscious state and thus can become activated at any moment unless constantly curtailed.” Bhagavadgītā also mentions this, namely for the person who shuts himself out from all external stimuli, it looks as though sensory objects do not affect, but there is some seed, the taste, the saṁskāra remains. This means that at an appropriate (or inappropriate) moment it can overpower the person. How do you deal with that? That is why we have the twin means of abhyāsa and vairāgya, with mutual and positive feedback, defusing the power of the mind to take you for a ride. That is why the normal translation of nirodaha as ‘control’ and ‘restraint’ should be understood to mean ‘mastery’, meaning, you are the master of your emotions, not in the sense of cracking the whip or putting constraint on the mind, but naturally the mind becomes abiding in itself, this is the import of nirodaha. Patañjali talks about the subtle impressions in the mind and how to deal with them in Sādhanapāda. There he says that these subtle seeds, saṁskāra-s are removed by meditation. The term meditation here is rather multifaceted and we will discuss it when we study that chapter. Further elaboration of the words in sūtra 1.14 The aphorism can be understood as abyāsa to be performed with an attitude of service for a long time and without lapse. There is a difference between help and service. A Zen practitioner once talked about the difference to a gathering. He said “If I’m helping you; you’re at a lower level, I’m at a higher level, so I can help you. But if I say can I serve you?, I have a totally different perspective. I put myself below you, so I can I serve you. So the word āsveita implies working with an attitude of service – what is the attitude? Is it an attitude of “I am the master and you (the mind) will obey”? No. “I understand your power (of the mind) and I will just do what I can to gain a state of mind at peace with itself.” Vyāsa, in the commentary to this aphorism associates āsveita with each of the three words, dīrghakāla, nairantarya and satkāra. This technique, called dehalīdīpanyāya – lamp at the threshold method. You place a lamp in a threshold, it lights the areas on both sides of the threshold. Here the commentator adds dīrghakāla-āsveita, nairantarya-āsveita and satkāra-āsveita. This means practiced with an attitude of service for a long time, uninterrupted and with a sense of sacredness. dīrghakāla, Long time: practice for a long time. Any one who has started practicing āsana-s know how long it takes to reach the correct posture, even for simple ones like Sun salutaion with vinyāsa. If a physical posture takes this much time, one can appreciate how it is regarding dealing with citta, this is the goal of a yogin. nairantarya, Uninterruted: Itdoes not mean practice 24 hours. One understands the realistic limitations, but never gives up. And in time, the practice becomes steady. satkāra, Attitude of reverence, or sacredness, or devotion: The attitude is absolutely important. If the right attitude towards practice is not there, one will not and cannot stick with any practice, spiritual or practical. This word is translated differently in many books. One can see the view point of the translator by going to the basics.The goal of yoga is cittavṛttinirodha. cittavṛtti has three modes – tamovṛtti characterized by lethargy, laziness and sleep, rajovṛtti characterizedby intense activity; and sadvṛtti a state where the mind at peace with itself. Thus, satkāra can mean that which brings about a preponderance of sat-vṛtti. When working with ancient languages, there is the formal etymology that gives a person one set of meanings. And, by tradition there are many other meanings as well. So when studying the sūtra-s, it is worthwhile to have both types of meanings to draw from. Discussion satkāra, does it mean faith, trust, or respect? Respect is developed over time. Faith being a loaded word, trust is a better one. But, one always starts with faith, perhaps one is born into believing in that sort of way. But if one comes to question a faith and finds there are no answers, then one will lose trust, and thereby respect. There are no verbs in the sūtra-s. The verb of ‘being’ is never used in sūtra-s. The verb is understood, but does not actually exist in the original text. Reverence, respect and faith should be experiential. But I also believe that when push comes to shove, faith is emotion centered while trust, involves a conscious decision. Yes, it is. But sometimes an unconscious decision (because of one’s background, or due to a sense of utter helplessness). And at the end of the day, these three modes (faith, reverence, respect), they all feed into one another; they are synergistic. They need not be sequential, though from my perspective, faith comes first. Remember the first time you went to a yoga class. Why did you go? Something clicked, someone you trusted recommended it, you had faith in his/her words. Now it is time to define vairāgya. While abhyāsa can be brought down to the basic level of practice with the physical body only and perhaps never going beyond treating yoga-abhyāsa as postures, vairāgya cannot be brought to the body level, it pertains only to the mind. Vairāgya is defined in the following sūtra.
Sūtra 1.15 दृष्टानुश्रविकविषयवितृषणस्य वशीकीरसंज्ञा वैराग्यम्। (1.15) (दृष्ट-अनुश्रविक-विषय-वितृषणस्य वशीकीर-संज्ञा वैराग्यम्। ) Dṛṣṭānuśravikaviṣayavitṛṣṇasya vaśīkārasaṁjñā vairāgyam. Detachment, called vaśīkāra is the absence of thirst (craving) for (sense) objects seen or heard.
दृष्टानुश्रविकविषयवितृषणस्य is one long compound, stripped of the case suffix स्य , the substantive is दृष्ट-अनुश्रविक-विषय-वितृषण. The formation and meaning of the component words follow. दृष्ट, Seen. This is formed from the verb दृश् (to see) to which the past passive participle त is added (due to some rules of grammar not relevant for this discussion, the final form is दृष्ट). अनुश्रविक, heard. This word is derived from the verb श्रु (to hear) with the prefix अनु and suffixes अ and इक. The prefix अनु has the meaning ‘after’ as we saw in sūtra (1.1) implying a lineage of speakers. Traditionally the word is taken to mean words from the scriptures, that is sensory objects described to be in the heaven and other celestial realms. विषय, sense object. वितृष्ण free of craving. तृष्णा means thirst, strong desire , with prefix वि in the sense ‘without’ the word meaning is ‘one who is free of craving’ DiscussionVairāgya is the cessation of desire, but it is also cessation of aversion. Agreed that this does pertain primarily to the mind, but doesn’t it still connect up with the body? Isn’t the field where it plays out the body? Yes, but the mind is the driver. Also, from the perspective of yoga philosophy, in the broadest sense of the term, the mind is body, considered subtle body. We talk about surrender a lot in āsana practice. But can the body be said to surrender? Or does it simply move? The body simply moves, but the attitude of surrender is mental. This attitude reflects a respect for the body limitations and not forcing it into positions, being driven by the mind’s craving for achieving perfection in a pose now. Thus, this surrender during āsana practice is also mental. As we all know, doing physical. Vairāgya is an attitude, and the manifestation of the attitude has to be physical. If you have a Vairāgya against becoming broader, you have to say “I’m not going to the place where they have just desserts” and so it becomes physically manifest: the body doesn’t move to that place. But it is led by the Vairāgya in the mind. Interesting that one should not be too enthusiastic about rejecting the temptations and use the force of will. It does not work. It is difficult to simply force the will without understanding our habituated patterns of behavior and how to deal with them. A story highlight the force of habit: Most people in India in olden days did not have pets but there are lots of street dogs. As an aside, I think that if a dog has good karma it is born in the United States. Because who is more blessed than a dog whose owner carries a bag and a scoop when he or she takes it for a walk? Really bad karma is for a being to be born as a dog in India. So the story goes, the dogs congregate around the place where people throw garbage. One dog is sitting there, remembering its past life, “In my last life I was a great yogin and developed dispassion. But here I am, a useless cur, fighting with all these dogs. Well, I’m fed up with this life, I am not going to be like them. I’m going to be like the yogin that I was”. Suddenly it heard a garbage thrown into the being, and before he knew it, off he went off fighting with other dogs for scraps of food in the garbage. This story goes to the point of how difficult it is to develop vairāgya and follow through in life, being prompted by our deeply ingrained habits. This also brings us to understand two kinds of viragya. One is a mature vairāgya, born out of understanding the inherent limitations of sense objects in giving me what I really need – a mastery over my mind. The other is immature vairāgya, born out of frustration or being fed up with oneself or the world. This type of vairāgya does not help a yogin.