Yoga Sutra 1.20: The attitude of a yogi


To the others, this asamprajnana samadi (undistinguished consciousness) could come through faith, strength, memory, contemplation or discernment.

The last sutra noted that some people are born with an apparent advantage on the road toward enlightenment due to their karma, but the rest of us have to cultivate certain virtues to advance on our paths.

Faith: Confidence that you can reach your goal. Trust in the universe or God or science.

Strength: Commitment to practice. Physical wellbeing and vitality.

Memory: Know the past. Learn from it. Move forward.

Contemplation: Awareness and calm consideration of experience.

Discernment: Mental clarity and sharpness. Ability to choose wisely.

These qualities or virtues can be incorporated into your life in any way you choose. Anything can be a meditation. Anything can be a path toward enlightenment if approached with the attitude Patanjali is describing, the attitude of the yogi or the spiritual seeker.

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Yoga Sutra 1.19: Conservation Law Applies to Yoga

by DemonDeLuxe (Dominique Toussaint)

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 1.18: The Undifferentiated Mind


The highest state of samadhi (spiritual absorption) is that where, due to the practice, all modifications of mind, including subtle impressions of all previous actions, have come to an end. (Translation from Pandit Rajmani Tigunait)

This week’s sutra is relatively straightforward, even if the concept it’s describing is  beyond the grasp of most of us. In the previous sutras, we’ve learned how even experienced meditators still deal with the fluctuations of the mind thanks to the gunas and the ever-changing world around us. In the state of higher samadhi, “the mind stands so still that even subtle impressions of the past lying dormant in the unconscious mind no longer influence the mindfield.” (See Panditji’s translation linked above.)

Can you even imagine what that would be like? I’d like to think I can, but I can’t. It would mean no longer identifying with the body I live in, for one thing, no longer defining myself as someone’s wife, someone’s daughter, someone’s friend, someone’s yoga teacher. I guess I’d still be able to recall my actions of the past, but I would no longer identify with them. I wouldn’t be hit with that haunting sense of embarrassment upon remembering stupid things I said or did years ago. I would not be worried about desires or aspirations of any kind. Instead of being aware of myself as an individual performing the action of meditation, I would be aware of myself as pure awareness or consciousness. This is called asamprajnata samadhi or “non-distinguished absorption.” It is absorption so complete that we no longer believe in the illusion of our separateness.

People who meditate regularly may occasionally get a glimpse of this level of consciousness, however most of us immediately think, “OH COOL! I just reached a whole new level! This is neat! What can I see from here?” And on having those thoughts, we re-introduce the ahamkara or I-consciousness — that part of us that sees us as individuals with things to accomplish and a universe to conquer. After a great deal of practice, we learn to rest for longer periods of time in undifferentiated awareness.

Or at least that’s what I’m told. I don’t know for sure. I’m not there yet.

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Yoga Sutra 1.15: Let Go of What’s Holding You Back

by Gisela Giardino

The consciousness of self-mastery in one who is free from craving for objects seen or heard about is non-attachment.

Vairagya. Non-attachment. This is one of the most important concepts in yoga and perhaps in any spiritual practice. Non-attachment is something we have to work on constantly. We are attached in large, obvious ways as well as smaller, subtle ways. We are attached to our loved ones and our belongings. We are attached to our beliefs and the outcomes of our actions. We are even attached to our thoughts — that’s why when your mind starts to wander, it’s sometimes very hard to let go of your thoughts and pay attention to the present moment.

Sometimes, when we talk about vairagya, people get defensive. They say, “Of course I’m attached to my husband/mother/child. I love them, and I’d be devastated if I lost them!” But what if that person you love needed something important like medical treatment, and receiving that treatment meant they would have to go away and you wouldn’t get to see them again? You would probably send them to get the treatment, right? Why? Because your love (your desire for them to be happy and healthy) is stronger than your attachment (the desire to hold on to them). So, it’s important to distinguish between love and attachment.

Another way to view attachment to loved ones is that we think the people we love make us who we are. Being in love is one of a few limited ways society teaches us to seek validation. How many love songs are there all about being unable to live without your lover? In reality, that’s not romance, it’s codependency. So cultivating non-attachment is a way of teaching yourself that it’s possible to love others and still be a complete person in your own right.

The reason non-attachement is so important is that attachment creates fear — fear of loss, fear of suffering, fear of change, fear even of new information. It’s extremely difficult to grow and learn when you’re in a state of fear.

In the end, vairagya does not mean giving up anything in particular. You don’t have to disavow your old ideas, beliefs, belongings or loved ones. You just have to understand that all these things may come and go from your life. Even if the person you love most in the world or the one truth you thought you knew disappears, you will still be you. Being independent of any attachment is how Patanjali defines self-mastery, and for most of us, it’s a pretty tall order.

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Yoga Sutra 1.14: Are we there yet?

by nomad_sw18 on Flickr

Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.

Yoga practice is like climbing a huge mountain. You can’t even see the top, nor do you know if or when you will reach it. Knowing that, you can choose to set up camp on the mountain side and be happy where you are, which is a completely legit decision. Most people don’t do that because humans feel compelled to make progress all the time, so we climb. We pick our path up the mountain based on what seems right for us. Some people like to go up the steep rock face because they enjoy the challenge. Some people prefer a leisurely hike up the verdant side. That’s why we have so many styles of yoga practice to choose from. But whatever path you pick, you have to stick to it. When your practice becomes consistent, then you start to see real results in your life.

How long do you have to commit to the practice? As long as it takes. If after every step you look up to the top of the mountain and complain about not being there yet, it’s going to take a whole lot longer. If you keep taking one step after another and maybe even learn to enjoy the journey, then before you know it, you’re really getting somewhere.

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