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:

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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2 thoughts on “Yoga Sutra 1.3: The Unchanging Self

  1. I just now discovered your blog. This post is so beautiful. I am new to yoga and started recently, and besides other factors, one was quieting my mind, learning to observe and be still within myself and my fleeting thoughts…. stairsteps I guess. 🙂 Beautiful post.

    1. Hi Karyna! Thanks for your sweet comment. Stilling the mind is a really long process, but once you start to make progress, it’s extremely rewarding. Keep up your practice, and try to enjoy the journey! <3

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