A Journey Through the Sutras
Seek not to learn the sutras,
instead seek to learn who is the one
who studies the scripture.
In "A Journey Through the Sutras," each sutra presented is numbered and in sequential order according to the traditional form. They are commented on individually or in clusters that have similar intentions or that when joined together complete a significant idea. This same clustering may also be applied to the section on experiencing at the end of each commentary.
The format of the sutras that follows supports the three stages or ancient ways of imparting knowledge described earlier: Sravana (listening), Manaana (reflecting), and Nididhyasana (experiencing).
The first stage, Sravana (listening), is facilitated by saying the sutra aloud, without the commentary. This aspect of listening is so vital, it is presented in three different ways at various places in the text. The first place you will encounter Sravana is in the list of complementary sutras at the beginning of each chapter. When repeated aloud in sequence, the rhythm of the words leads us to an understanding greater than each one could elicit individually. It presents the chapter''s wisdom at the level of vibration.
You then meet each sutra individually before the actual commentary. Because you will have recited them at the beginning of the chapter, you will already be familiar with them. Take a moment to draw in a deep breath and, with wholehearted awareness, repeat the sutra or sutras aloud as you listen to the great teaching reverberating through your body, mind, emotions, and spirit. The opportunity to repeat this ritual will appear frequently throughout the commentary of each sutra. Each time it does, stop and listen to what the sutra is telling you. Allow the wisdom to be imparted before going on. In this way you will access the deeper, more intuitive form of knowing.
Finally, the section titled "The Yoga Sutras Heartfully Expressed" allows the meaning and flow of all the sutras in Books I and II and the first five sutras in Book III to be understood. Reciting them as one continuum allows the essence of the sutras to be conveyed and discovered.
Manaana (reflecting) is the stage that elicits a response from both rational thoughts and heartfelt feelings. This is accomplished through the traditional wisdom, stories, parables, and personal insights found within the commentary of the sutras. The intention is to satisfy the great spectrum of wonder, revealing a fuller understanding. As much as possible, relate this section to your life and circumstances. It will spark your heart''s desire for knowledge.
Nididhyasana (experiencing) assimilates the earnestness gained from Sravana with the understanding gained from Manaana, unfolding the timeless truth of each sacred gem. These practices derive from the practical essence of each sutra. They enrich our perception by bringing us closer to the truth, often bypassing the questioning and rational mind. The experiencing often outshines any reluctance to change our previous ways.
SAMADHI PADA: Union with the Divine Self
With humility (an open heart and mind),
we embrace the sacred study of Yoga.
1.1 With humility (an open heart and mind),
we embrace the sacred study of Yoga.
THIS simple beginning holds many truths. Often this very first sutra is read quickly or even disregarded, which is unfortunate since this sutra is placed first to set the tone. It is here to remind us that our study and spiritual path benefit most when they are paved generously with humility.
DEVELOPING AN OPEN HEART AND MIND
As students of life, we often need to look at where we have come from to see where we are going. I was always enthralled by the subway in Paris. At each station a giant board helps you find your way. A little arrow indicates where you are, and with the push of a button you select your destination. As the destination registers, voila!, a path lights up the most efficient way to get there. Wouldn''t it be wonderful if our life path were that clear and simple?
Our present position has been determined by the past--all those crossroads where we made decisions, each path we''ve taken that brought us to our life as it is. We might be able to understand how we got where we are, but what would it have been like if other options had been followed? Another choice could have radically changed the present. Perhaps we took the tried-and-true course because it seemed easiest, or safest; perhaps at the time, it just didn''t seem like there was any alternative.
"What you are is what you have been, what you will be is what you do now."
Occasionally we meet someone who took an uncharted route, one less established. What in her life led her to become a trailblazer? What inspired her to leave behind the beaten path? The found path may have brought great adventures or great peril. Most of us are content to know that our future will be spiced with a few obstacles and sprinkled with safe adventures. Very few of us want to risk our comfort.
Custom and tradition play a major part in shaping our lives. We are so embedded in them that unless we are repeatedly shown a different way, we tend to live out our days under their sway. "We always have yams for Christmas. Why do you want to change tradition this year and have mashed white potatoes?" This tendency toward inaction and stasis can be difficult to overcome. But being creative and trying something different can be exciting and can expand your horizons. If it is carried beyond what is understood, it can cause rejection. Not wanting to offend, we may choose to reject the "new" idea that might have brought us renewed happiness and expansion.
Most of us in modern societies are very blessed. We are literate and have books as resources. Sacred Texts can be downloaded from the Internet. But even though they are so easily accessible, it is important to have the same regard and reverence for these sacred teachings as in times before.
THREE GUNAS (ASPECTS OF NATURE), TEACHERS OF HUMILITY
As students of spirituality, our yearning for the truth varies in intensity. Some of us may fit in a few spiritual practices at our convenience; others may dedicate their entire lives to their spiritual unfolding. Born with certain tendencies called the trigunas, or three attributes of nature, we are part of nature and are perpetually influenced by her.
This wisdom is drawn from the Chandogya Upanishad. It explains that all of nature, people included, contains an uneven mixture of the three gunas. One of the characteristics is always dominant. (See more on the gunas in Sutra I. 16, page 53.)
Sattwa is best translated as a sense of balance. Rajas is reflected in activity and overactivity, taking things to the extreme, while Tamas is inactivity, or being withdrawn, and can lead to difficulty focusing and acting, or inertia. The world and everything in it constantly moves between these three states, varying from minute to minute, day to day. This can be seen in the growth of a flower: Tamas is the plant in seed form, and Rajas is the growth action needed to bring about fruition. Once it has bloomed fully, intense action decreases, giving way to being, and Sattwa is present in the pristine flower blossom.
It is not possible to move directly from Tamas to Sattwa, although they may appear the same from the outside. To go from Tamas (inactivity), movement, or Rajas (action), must be traversed. From that movement dynamic stillness comes, as Sattwa (balance).
At night, as the natural light wanes, we become more indrawn and quiet (Tamas). During the day, when the light is strong, we tend to be outward and active (Rajas). At the two moments when day and night blend delicately together, at dusk and at dawn, there is balance (Sattwa). This quality is the reason dawn and dusk are observed by many traditions as auspicious times for prayer and meditation, a time of special equanimity.
In South India, a beautiful custom honors these three aspects of nature. When approaching a spiritual teacher for the first time, a prospective student offers the teacher a whole green coconut. (There, green coconuts grow on trees, a whole version of the ones we find here in supermarkets.) For the offering to be meaningful, the tree must be climbed and the coconut cut down. Then, according to tradition, the student has the arduous task of removing the tough green husk with a machete. This is a vital process, analogous to preparing the student''s mind and heart for the teachings, to remove resistance or qualities of Tamas.
This process exposes the inflexible and brittle nature of the nut''s hard brown shell. It represents the Rajasic part of our ego that is strong and thinks it knows everything. The coconut is now humbly presented to the teacher, or guru--a fitting name that means "one who removes darkness or ignorance, so that we may see the light of truth." With discrimination and deep compassion, the guru breaks open the hard brown shell of the coconut. The lily-white inner sweetmeat is revealed, symbolizing our Sattwic nature.
With humility (an open heart and mind), we embrace the sacred study of Yoga.
Experiencing the Divine in Everything
Sit quietly, and light a candle if you wish.
Begin to make a mental note of your daily activities. How much of your day do you spend on simple repetitive chores that do not feel immediately rewarding? Do you sometimes feel they are a waste of time?
Begin by focusing on one of these activities, such as making the bed each morning. How can that be transformed into a spiritual practice?
Can you savor the smooth feeling of the linens? Can you have fun plumping the pillows? Put in some happy vibrations and feelings, so that when you get into bed at night, you will have happy dreams and a deep sleep.
Next, you might turn to the routine of checking voice mail, answering calls, filing papers, paying bills, washing dishes, or picking up your children from school.
Notice how each aspect of your life can be inwardly transformed to bring you to a place of presence and joy. There we recognize that the Divine is omnipresent.