Yoga Sutras 1.25 & 1.26: God and the Guru

Vyasa grants Sanjaya divine vision

The next two sutras continue discussing Isvara pranidhana and the nature of Isvara or God. Before we go on, I want to point out that the translation I’m using (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Commentary on the Raja Yoga Sutras by Sri Swami Satchidananda) uses the masculine pronoun for Isvara. On one hand, what we’re talking about is far too big to be limited by our ideas of gender: God is neither male nor female yet encompasses all the attributes of both. On the other hand, we reserve words like “it” for inanimate objects and things that lack intelligence. If you don’t believe that God or the universe is intelligent, bear with me for a minute and you might change your mind.

TATRA NIRATIŚAYAM SARVAJNA BĪJAM. 
In Him is the complete manifestation of the seed of omniscience.

In other words, Isvara or God truly is the alpha and the omega and contains everything in between as well. God is the big bang. God is time and space. All knowledge, all events, all beings are contained within this one ultimate reality.

Perhaps you’ve played that mind game where you try to imagine what exists outside of the known universe, beyond the edges of space, before the big bang, etc. When you do that, you’re basically exploring the possibilities of the ultimate reality. Patanjali says that ultimate reality is Isvara.

SA PŪRVESĀM API GURUH KALENĀNAVACCHEDĀT.
Unconditioned by time, He is the teacher of even the most ancient teachers.

I admit, this one makes me scratch my head — hey I never claimed to know it all!

Notice the word “guru” tucked into the Sanskrit above? Let me refer you to Pandit Rajmani Tigunait for an excellent discussion of what guru really means. If you don’t have time to watch it right now, bookmark it and come back to it later because this is powerful and essential information!

The short version is that guru means “one who dispels the darkness of ignorance.” That teacher or guru can come in infinite forms, and the ultimate guru and source of wisdom is what we call God. This is why when we devote ourselves to that ultimate truth and try to live our lives in alignment with it, we make great progress.

Seriously, though, watch the video because Panditji does a perfectly beautiful job of describing the common misconceptions about gurus and how to correct them.

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of cages and keys

Hafiz Poem

 

This poem is on the wall calendar at the yoga studio where I teach, and it’s given me much to think about.

The small man builds cages … How have we been building cages in our lives? How do we imprison ourselves and others? What are these cages made of? Our own expectations, fears, judgements, and attachments.

The sage seems endless in his confidence and radiance. I imagine him walking under the moon smiling kindly as he leaves keys just within reach of the imprisoned. The keys are simple things: light, breath, awareness, kindness. The sage knows that you are not your cage but the person you become when you are free from it.

Today, see if you can drop a key for someone, maybe even yourself. When you encounter a cage, look between the bars at the human being inside, and see that they are bigger than that. Give people permission to grow and become their most radiant selves by acknowledging the goodness in them right now.

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Yoga Sutra 1.19: Conservation Law Applies to Yoga

by DemonDeLuxe (Dominique Toussaint)

BHAVAPRATYAYO VIDEHA PRAKRTILAYĀNĀM. 
Those who merely leave their physical bodies and attain the state of celestial deities, or those who attain the state of celestial deities, or those who get merged in Nature, have rebirth.

At this point in the sutras, it’s easy to get discouraged. We’ve been talking about these high levels of spiritual progress, and we start thinking, “I’ll never get there. I can’t even sit for five minutes without making a to-do list in my head.” So, with sutra 1.19 Patanjali gives us a bit of encouragement.

Here we meet the concept of rebirth, which you don’t necessarily have to take literally, although I think it makes the most sense if you do. Basically, nothing you do is lost. If you do good works, that energy goes somewhere, helps someone, makes the world a better place. If you spend your money, you no longer have the money, but it goes somewhere and has an effect in the world. All of your actions are this way, and that’s why we have karma.

Likewise, if you spend your life meditating and doing yoga, you might die before you reach your enlightenment (sorry to be a downer, but it happens), but that doesn’t mean your efforts are lost. Patanjali says people who leave this world after making even a little progress will come back to continue their journey. They will pick up where they left off and continue to grow. Even if you think reincarnation is a bunch of mumbo jumbo — and it might be, but it makes as much sense as anything else in the world, so I’m willing to roll with it — then you can still see that the goodness you put into the world does not go to waste.

Some translations focus on the fact that some people due to their karma are born with what appears to be an advantage or a leg up on enlightenment. Don’t worry about them. The runner with the most advantageous placement in a race may still be the slowest. Don’t spend any energy comparing yourself to others, and do not assume that because someone started out ahead of you that they will always be ahead. Pursue your yoga and no one else’s, and your effort will never be wasted.

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Yoga Sutra 1.3: The Unchanging Self

Saatchi mirror peace by *ben9-3

Last week, I wrote about sutra 1.2, which describes the nature and goal of yoga practice: stilling the mind. But what use is it to control the mind? Why not let life be a wild roller coaster ride? What happens when we quiet the mind? Sutra 1.3 offers us the answer:

TADĀ DRASTUH SVARŪPE ‘VASTHĀNAM.
Then the Seer [Self] abides in His own nature.

When the mind is quiet, we can access a state of pure awareness, which is our true and unchanging self. When the mind goes unchecked, we often identify with it incorrectly. We feel angry, so we say, “I”m angry,” as though that’s who we are. If we make a mistake and we feel stupid, we say, “I’m stupid,” even though we’re not. We identify with an emotion, thought or other temporary experience. If we’re having a good day, we say “I’m happy, and everything is wonderful,” and later, when we’re feeling down we wonder how such joy could simply vanish. Sometimes in the midst of a joyful moment, we remember that our joy is fleeting and we feel preemptively sad. Being at the whim of our emotions all the time is exhausting and confusing, but when we practice quieting the mind, then the Seer [Self] abides in His own nature. 

There’s nothing wrong with feeling joy and pain — this is what makes up the human experience — but to identify ourselves with passing emotions and desires is incorrect and generally unhelpful. When we stop confusing our identity with passing states of mind, we gain the ability to embody this true Self. Happiness, sadness, illness, health, need and abundance are all changeable states of being. If you are physically beautiful, isn’t it possible that one day you could stop being beautiful? If that happened, you would still be yourself. You would still be a person. You would still have awareness, thoughts, feelings. Say you have an illness (even a chronic illness that can’t be cured), if your illness goes away, do you lose part of yourself? Perhaps it changes the circumstances of your life, but it doesn’t change your essential, unchanging nature — your Self.

Let go of attachment to changeable things. Emotions and thoughts come and go. Belongings come and go. Jobs can change. Physical appearance can change. It’s wonderful to enjoy these things for what they are when possible and also to change them when necessary, but practice resting in the true Self. Cultivate the perspective of the Seer, and those changeable things will become less crucial.

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Weekly Assignment: Describe Yourself in 140 Words or More

shape of a hoper

If you came of age in the era of internet profiles, you’ve probably spent a little too much time filling in boxes labeled, “Describe yourself briefly.” I get profile rage because I can’t describe myself briefly and get it right. Currently, my Twitter profile says, “Yoga teacher, writer, feminist, smartass.” If you get to know me, you’ll find all those things basically true, yet you can’t really tell anything about me by that. It doesn’t say, “I’m awkward and make inappropriate jokes when meeting new people,” because that’s not something I like to brag about. I chose characteristics I like about myself for the profile because that’s what I want you to see in me, obviously. Nonetheless, it’s important for me to be real and let you see my shortcomings, which is why I ramble on so much here!

This week, be bigger than 140 characters. Describe yourself in 140 words or more. No one has to read it, but if you do decide to share it, I think you’ll be surprised by the interest you get from others. People want to know you in a sincere, multi-faceted way, not just as an avatar that scrolls by on their various digital timelines. Be three-dimensional.Be imperfect, thoughtful, damaged, needy even. Write at least one paragraph that’s really true about yourself. What’s the most important thing in your life right now? How do you feel about your own face?

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