Continuing from last time, we explore the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a practical guide to the mind.
This time we look at what Patanjali tells us about the purpose of yoga, and about the way the mind works.
Citta vritti nirodhah.
“Yoga is the stilling of the mind until it rests in a state of total and utter tranquillity – so that one experiences life as it is – as reality.”
Patanjali talks of two ways in which we can achieve this, Abhyasa and Vairagya. These are described as the most important foundations of yoga.
Abhyasa translates to practice and Vairagya translates to non-attachment. Together these work hand in hand. Whether we embrace these or not leads us either to higher enlightenment or further away from it.
Through our practice (abhyasa) of life itself we aim to grow ourselves. In working towards Citta vritti nirodhah we need to make the decisions which lead to tranquillity and not the opposite. Practice is not a one off thing, it is a constantly ongoing thing. i.e. it must be ‘persevering,’, ‘engaged in seriously and respectfully, over a long and uninterrupted period.’
By embracing vairagya we learn to let go of elements of our life, our thoughts, our fears and our emotions. What we may have once considered important is now not. A good example of this is as a teenager you are typically self conscious while trying to please others or fit in, years later through life experience (practice) you embrace you who are and let go of trying to be anything but yourself.
This is a basic example of this as this process goes much deeper in that you are not detaching yourself from things but becoming non-attached from things. You shouldn’t suppress thoughts and emotions as this isn’t embracing vaiagya, through practice (abhyasa) you learn non-attachment hence why the two are considered pillars of yoga. They together are a balancing act of practice and ultimately achieving true consciousness.
The balancing of abhyasa and vairagya allows us to discriminate effectively. An understanding of these allows us to determine which actions or postures, words and thoughts leads us closest to tranquillity or which ones drive us further away from this. For example sitting uncomfortably whilst trying to meditate causes aches or pain which detract from the goal of meditation. Through practice of varying postures you can find one which can be held for longer allowing a deeper inward journey.
Obstacles that prevent or make it difficult to achieve citta vritti nirodha are generally ourselves. There are physical limitations which can make this difficult such as sickness as mentioned in YS 1.30. Other reasons mentioned in YS 1.30-39 all speak of our minds being the reason we can’t achieve this.
They highlight the importance of Abhyasa and Vairagya in order to achieve a calm mind. YS 1.30 speaks specifically, in my interpretation of abhyasa and vaiagya, in that if we are unable to follow these our mind wanders and that we cannot stay in this state for a length of time.
Other factors will come into play at some point amongst all of us such as depression or restlessness as mentioned in YS 1.31, this state gives an inability to control our breath leading fluctuations in our mind. Yes YS 1.31 speaks of the signs or indications that one or other of the 9 obstacles are present.
To combat this YS 1.32 speaks of focusing on a single thought in order to concentrate the mind. It mentions the end goal is of the importance, not the process achieved in order to get there, the end goal is the same regardless. We can also focus our attention towards the breath as mentioned in YS 1.34.
By doing so we can quite easily begin to empty our mind, or hold onto a single thought. By focusing on our breath we’re able to slow our bodies down and begin to relax into a state of contemplation.
YS 1.33 speaks of friendliness. The purpose of this is to look onto others, regardless of your positive or negative thoughts, with indifference, friendliness and compassion. In doing so you aren’t being bogged down by other people. This keeps your mind clean and care free allowing you to focus inward, not outwards into the world.
This relates to abhyasa and vaigrya in that you discriminate indifferently and don’t allow yourself to be consumed by others actions or thoughts. Yes 1.33 speaks of 4 types of people and the best way of responding to them. It describes qualities of the heart that our yoga practice should help us to develop in order to interact with others in the best way possible.
We can also focus on our senses as described in YS 1.35. This isn’t in such a literal sense as touching something but on a subtle level where we may focus on a particular sense, for example touch, rather than feeling something we are aware of the sense of touch.
YS 1.36 speaks of “Luminous Lucidity”, our inner light. This can be imagined at our heart centre and the life force of our being. You can link this to ahamkara, the sense of being me. From this we lose distractions by focusing on our (imagined) being. Over time this thought will become a reality and you see your life force or maybe become aware of your inner being as pure consciousness, often symbolised by light.
In a slight opposite to this concept YS 1.37 talks of imagining you are someone else. Imagining yourself as someone great such as an inspirational teacher or god brings a calming sense to the mind as the mind detaches from yourself. We can also find thoughts of contemplation from our dreams (YS 1.38), if we remember something from our dreams these can be used within our meditation. Also using sleep to process the days actions or thoughts can prove very beneficial to mental clarity, hence the term “sleep on it”! Meditation as mentioned in YS 1.39 is also a way to achieve citta vritti nirodha. By doing this we focus our mind for length of time.
Patanjali’s interpretation of yoga relate to one goal. To achieve citta vritti nirodha. For our minds to be tranquil and still. The methods in which we use to get there aren’t of importance but that this is our ultimate goal. Or maybe better to say we can choose a method that suits us best and that we find most helpful. Patanjali is not prescriptive about which method to choose but is open and flexible in his approach.