Atha Yoganusasanam (Y.S.1.1)
‘Now, at this moment, the transmission of yoga begins’
For most people, for people that never had any involvement with yoga before or for even more experienced practitioners, to understand the Yoga Sutras by just reading them as a book is impossible. Their very deep meaning needs to be heard, studied and well contemplated in one’s existence, otherwise it will be just another source of confusion (I’m sure that no one wants to add another confusing parameter into his already confusing reality..).
The first word, the word ‘Now’, literally is getting straight to the point, welcoming anyone who wishes to start contemplating the teachings of yoga from this auspicious moment. The word ‘Now’ can have a lot of meaning’s, bearing in mind that this word opens most of traditional Indian texts; Yet, let’s not forget that the sutras (threads) are short half sentences that did not elaborate the subject in detail, so the discussions that would intend to give particular meaning can be significantly connected to the direct experience of those truths. The knowledge was transferred orally at that time so with the sutras, students could easily remember the short and concise verses.
Whatever our previous involvements were, the transmission of knowledge begins from someone who is qualified, competent and ready to share his understanding of the traditional teachings of yoga to those who are prepared to receive this knowledge. This transmission starts ‘Now’. No matter how one can perceive the idea one thing is sure: this journey requires desire and commitment. From that sincere moment (Now) there will be an explanation and definition of yoga, the path towards the realisation of the Self, the path towards enlightenment. You may ask yourselves:’Why would I want to be enlightened and where this can potentially lead me?’ If someone wants to start this journey, he should be interested in personal growth through spirituality and very fascinating of what it could be revealed during that journey that can start at any point ‘Now’…
What is Yoga?
Yogah Citta vrtti nirodhah (Y.S.1.2)
‘Yoga is the ability to settle the mind into silence without any distractions’
Society has reached a stage today where one’s virtues, success and enjoyment are misinterpreted or lead to false actions. These actions though would seek for reactions to balance, as all actions naturally do, thus the tremendous interest of the teachings of yoga after all these years. Yoga is still relevant to our age because it has very firm grounds in our physiological and psychological reality that it can be understood in our society.
Just imagine how the mirror reflects the light.
Every living being has a nervous system (the mirror)
And every living being has a vast undeveloped, omnipresent and absolute consciousness which is it’s true nature (the true Self) but resides deep within the mind. (the light)
The quality of the mirror depends on how the light pervades and reflects.
Consequently, the more developed is the nervous system, the more it will express the qualities of pure consciousness – intelligence, creativity and bliss.
If on the other hand, we never make any effort to find our true Self, we live with a mistaken identity; in ignorance (avidya) and that is a big cause of suffering. The constant dissatisfaction of human beings has been a concern for all religious and philosophical systems. They all give different ways to attain happiness and bliss.
Patanjali talks about the modifications of the mind. The body will follow the mind as the mind is the projection of the body. So how can we distinguish a disturbed mind or a distracted mind? It will be projected to the body so the body of that person won’t be still. That is what we have learned to do in our lifestyle; To move…to run for our fitness and wellbeing, to walk fast to catch the train, to think fast to come to conclusions with immediate effects. Yoga reverses the process and points to the direction of stillness, equilibrium and tranquillity. And when the mind becomes more still (there is a cessation of distractions), more one pointed then the body remains still. The way which yoga provides to accomplish that is through meditation as a practice, as well as asana (posture) practice.
Tada drastuh svarup’ avasthanam (Y.S.1.3)
‘Then, (when the mind is settled) we develop the ability to understand our true nature (or a particular object of our true nature) fully and correctly’
It is definitely not a trivial matter realising what could be the fruits of yoga.
Coming back to the question as to ‘Why’ from the first sutra, the answer might be that then (when the mind is settled) one starts to understand the full potential of one Self that was veiled, modified and confused of the modifications of the mind.
Patanjali suggests that when we find our true identity, realise our true self, when there are no more questions in our minds, thus when yoga does happen, we have reached the state of Samadhi*. It is that state when the vicious circle of questioning about our lives, questioning about ourselves, about everything we do or think ends. We don’t need to question anymore and understanding comes effortless. It is the state when there is a cessation of all thoughts from any movements that disturb consciousness.
*T.K.V. Desikachar translates Samadhi as to merge; to bring together. He means the state where somebody becomes one (completely absorbed) with the object of meditation he has chosen and the concerns and activities of the mind disappear.
Vrtti sarupyam itaratra (Y.S. 1.4)
‘At other times, (when the mind remains unsettled), our true nature is overshadowed by the mind’s false conceptions’
At the times when yoga does not happen and when the mind is busily occupied with movement (concerns, fluctuations) there is a cloud of confusion. These movements usually come from the past experiences where we have identified ourselves with a particular character. In the shadow of that cloud, there arises false identification and hence distorted understanding. The true Self is underlined and obscured and these times we are not able to see it.
In reality, it is not very wise to criticise Patanjali’s threads (sutras); We either assume that Patanjali just compiled few teachings that could be inconsistent and contradictory in some parts, or we accept that the text has inner unity and has to be approached on its own terms. If we accept it, then we soon realise that this text was not made to be debated or to present a linear; it’s purpose is to describe the stages of a journey that is unfamiliar to most of us; to be able to see things about ourselves that we haven’t seen before.
Many references from different sources have been used to present these ideas, mainly from T.K.V Desikachar’s book ‘The Heart of Yoga’ and George Feuerstein’s book ‘The Yoga Tradition’