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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Monday Night Nonfiction: Unsolicited Advice

Glen Rubsamen: The gradual loss of all that gave life meaning and Joy (ARCO8 - Madrid)
Find meaning in what you do or else don’t do it.
Even if the meaning is just curiosity. What happens if … ?
Know that your actions change the world.
Your creations bring something into the world which was not previously there.
It’s OK to fuck up. You will miss the mark sometimes.
Good intentions count, but follow-through is better.
Have a goal in mind, or don’t.
Choose the path of integrity over the path of least resistance.
The fact that something is difficult to do does not make it worth doing.
It is easy to get lost in the noise of our age.
Do not join the meaningless chatter.
Entertaining delusions of grandeur has become a national pass time.
Opt out.
Opt fucking out.
Seriously.
Being important is overrated.
Be unimportant.
Take risks because they’re interesting to you.
Do it for the adventure.
Stop waiting for praise and acknowledgement.
If you don’t love what you’re doing, no one else will. And if they do, what’s that worth?
If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re doing it wrong.
If you could change the world, what would you do?
Start now.

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Yoga Sutra 1.2: Quieting the Mind

Yoga Sutra 1.2

YOGAŚ CITTA VRTTI NIRODHAH.
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

I’m studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali again these days because sometimes I need to remind myself of why I practice yoga and why I teach it. Although I’ve been steeped in yogic practice and philosophy for nearly half my life, sometimes life gets chaotic, and I lose focus. On this latest return to the sutras, I’ve been moved to write some reflections on them. I’m no sanskrit scholar or philosopher, but the great thing about the sutras is that you don’t have to be those things to learn from them. They have something to offer us at every stage of our practice. I’ve written before about sutra 1.1, so today I want to share my reflection on sutra 1.2.

Yogas citta vritti nirodhah.
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

The mind is a busy thing. It is always moving. Even when we sleep, the mind is fluctuating, making up little stories, tossing flashes of color and light around, reenacting or inventing conversations and scenes that feel like reality while we’re experiencing them. Only when we wake up do we realize our dreams were “just dreams,” no matter how real they felt. We’ve all heard of lucid dreaming, right? Some people learn to recognize that they are dreaming while it’s happening, and that changes the dream. Similarly, we become lucid in our waking life when we learn to tell the difference between what is real and what is just mental noise.

If I experience anxiety, I might have all kinds of crazy scary thoughts. I might think the world is a terrible place, no one loves me, and I’m doomed to be a failure. But the practice of yoga is about cultivating the awareness to ask, “What’s really going on here? I feel panicked but I don’t know why. The thoughts I’m having are unreasonable. They’re not an accurate reflection of reality. Perhaps I could choose to think something else.”

The same practice can be applied to many areas of life. If you’re driving and someone cuts you off, you get mad, right? You think, “Wow, that guy drives like a jerk! Why didn’t he look where he was going? And then he had the nerve to honk when I passed him! I hate people.” But you know the way someone else drives doesn’t have anything to do with you. And in reality, you probably don’t hate everyone. The truth is, we may feel and think a lot of different things depending on our circumstances, and while we can’t always control our circumstances, we have a choice about how we respond to them. We can choose to indulge negative, fatalistic, and panicked thoughts, or we can let them go.

Our perception of reality is strongly colored by our choice of thoughts. This is one of the simplest truths in the world and one of the hardest things to remember when the going gets tough. That’s why we have our yoga practice to use as a tool. Asana (poses) helps us create the link between mind and body. This helps us to stay present in the moment and to gain control over the fluctuations of the mind. As we create a state of ease and health in the body, we also create a sense of peace and quiet in the mind. Only when the mind is quiet can we begin to experience true yoga or union.

So … How can I apply this to my life right now? Having recently been struck with a sneak attack of the flu, I need to slow down and be quiet for a while. Rather than pushing harder, teaching more classes, perfecting harder poses and so forth, I need to reconnect with that deep well presence. I’ve been pursuing the career side of things, the outwardly visible trappings of so-called success rather than focusing on my own basic wellbeing. That’s essentially the opposite of what my yoga practice is all about, so even though it may look like I’m doing tons of yoga, keeping up this pace for too long can become counter productive. Luckily, this little virus came just in time to put me back in line without doing too much damage. Now, it’s time for more self-care, rest, and quiet reflection.

Peace!

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Weekly Assignment: Tell the Truth

Truth or Consequences

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I only ever told the truth. I used to have a theory that if I only told the truth, I would get better at detecting lies. I thought I could learn to recognize sincerity like an old friend, and when there was no sincerity in a person’s voice, face, or demeanor, then I would know they were lying. It hasn’t been quite that simple, but I think I was on to something.

I can usually tell when people are being false with me in a general sense. I can tell when people are talking trash about others just to feel better about themselves, but that’s generally because that’s the only reason anyone talks trash. When you’re really trying to help someone, it sounds friendly, not gossipy.

This week, tell the truth as much as possible. Be honest about what you see, feel, think, and experience. The truth will not always be nice, so you’ll have to decide whether what you have to say is helpful or appropriate. While it may be challenging at first, I think you’ll find that honesty significantly improves your relationships and frees up your energy.

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My One Rule

I live by one rule and one rule only: Sincerity.

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Be sincere. Be real. Be true. Be honest. Don’t fucking fake it.

I used to spend a lot of energy trying to fit in, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t fit in. I couldn’t be like everyone else. And the harder I tried, the worse it was. I remember a moment in junior high when I realized fitting in was never gonna fly for me. I was changing in the school bathroom with the other girls in my class, getting ready for something … a basketball game, maybe? Or a school dance? We weren’t allowed to wear makeup to school, so we were all putting on our mascara and junk in the big plate glass mirror. I was putting on eyeliner, and this girl everyone liked who I always thought was kindof a jerk said, “Don’t do it like that, Mary! You wonder why why the guys call you a weirdo … if you do it like that you’ll really look like a freak.” How was I supposed to do it? I had no idea. I tried to mimic what she did, but it didn’t work.

It was such a quick moment, and I’m probably the only one who remembers it, but that was when I decided I was fed up with fitting in. I was tired of being harassed by people who were frankly not that smart or that interesting. That girl’s greatest skill was being able to impress seventh grade boys, and I finally realized that I really didn’t need her approval.

For a while, I went off the deep end in the other direction. All the clothing, music, friends and pastimes I chose were specifically selected to piss off the status quo. But after a while, that got tiring, and I realized trying not to fit in was just as fake as trying to be like everyone else, so I made my one rule: Be sincere.

Don’t lie. Don’t pretend. Do what feels true. Speak only what resonates with your inner reality.

Sat nam!

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