An Open Letter to Sage Patanjali

Via on Apr 13, 2011

Dear Sage Patanjali,

I know you’re thousands of years older than I, so I’m certain you have much more wisdom. But I’m confused about some things you’ve written. Because you are a yoga-head, I figure it will be okay for me to write this letter openly, and to share it with the LCY yoga community.

You see, for the last couple of months I’ve been working hard at trying to translate your aphorisms and share them with our readers. Yes, I’ve had a lot of help from great modern yogis such as Kofi Busia, B.K.S. Iyengar, Judith Lasater, Christopher Isherwood and Satchidananda, all whom have offered translations and commentary and in large part, helped me to make some sense out of your ancient teachings.

Still and yet, I don’t always get it. It’s difficult applying some of these principles. And honestly, some of your pearls of wisdom appear to be incomprehensible to my 21st century mind. Perhaps the disconnect lies in the fact that your teachings were transmitted orally. I question whether or not the integrity of your sapience has been compromised. Am I to believe that your original teachings, interpreted or re-interpreted by many over thousands of years, are in fact, still intact?  I can hear one of my yoga teachers saying to me right now, “You’re thinking too much, Leeann. Try not to have the answers to everything. Just try to conceptualize the message.” Her advice worked while I was learning Handstand, but when it comes to following principles in order to be free, shouldn’t I know exactly what you intended to convey? After all, this is my life we’re talking about here. I have given up a lot things for this yogi lifestyle. Okay, not that many things, but still, I did give up some things.

For example, in sutra 1:4, you say, “Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a prolonged period of time.” Exactly how much time are you referring to? People are living very long lives these days. Heck, it took me years just to get my heels to touch the ground in Downward Facing Dog Pose. It appears to me that having a firmly established and uninterrupted yoga practice is going to take an entire lifetime, what with all the habits and responsibilities I have. If this is the case then may I at least hope to experience self realization in the after life?

And what about sutra 1:48 where you said, “In that state, there is truth-bearing wisdom.” I understand that when I am seeing things as they really are and not how I think they are, that I am seeing the wisdom of something. But you know well as I, that we are typically given only blinks of wisdom and for most of us, it doesn’t seem to have a long shelf life. What’s the point of having wisdom if it only has a 24-hour or less expiration date on it? I’m just sayin’….

Mostly, I take issue with the overall presentation. If only the one-pointed mind is a yogi-mind, and examining oneself involves such a mind, why have you defined yoga in one chapter and then used three additional chapters to instruct its pursuit? It would have been a lot easier, Mr. P,  if you used three chapters to define a yogi, followed by only one chapter of how to become one. Can’t I just make a few adjustments and we’ll call it a day in the life of a yogi?

Of course, none of this means I’m going to stop living an examined life. In fact, I’m more determined than ever. I just wish you were here to explain it all.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a “thank you”. Many of your aphorisms have informed and inspired my yoga studies and teaching. And I am grateful that the wisdom you have shared reminds me that yoga is alive. It is ever evolving and as such, helped me and hopefully my readers, understand that understanding itself is born out of seeing differences or imbalances in the body and mind, and taking the appropriate actions for reconciliation and integration. I think that’s pretty much what you’re trying to get at, isn’t it?

I think that’s the yogi’s way.

Namaste to you, Mr. P.

Your sincere and devoted yoga student,

Leeann Carey :)

About Leeann Carey

Leeann Carey (leeanncaryyoga.com). Yoga found Leeann in the late 1970′s, and hasn’t left her since. Leeann opened the first full-service yoga studio in her community of Southern California almost 20 years ago where she developed important skills for operating a successful ‘yoga business’. Her eclectic blend of yoga, forged over many years of study with such teachers as Kofi Busia, Donna Farhi, Eric Schiffmann, and Judith Lasater, just to name a few, appeals to a wide range of students. Leeann shares that knowledge today, both personally and through the LCY mentors. / Leeann has mastered the old techniques and developed some new ones that help any student, young or old, fit or physically challenged, improve their performance and their lives. She has used her knowledge and experience to help professional athletes, such as the World Champion LA Lakers and Olympic Gold Medal Volleyball player Eric Fonoimoana, heal from injuries and improve their workouts. And Leeann uses a warm heart and a skilled touch to help set those suffering from chronic health issues on a health path.

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12 Responses to “An Open Letter to Sage Patanjali”

  1. Enjoyed this LeeAnn. Especially when you write, "I just wish you were here to explain it all."

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

    • hopeful yogi says:

      I think the nice thing about that line is that it conveys the aspiring yogi's frustration that we all feel with the process that yoga takes us through. But the truth of the matter is, yoga teachers us that the teacher is here and always here….around us….inside us…we just have to learn to listen properly. In essence, I believe, yoga is about moving us away from the frustration of "i just wish you were here to explain it all" to the independent state where wisdom flows within us and we have that understanding. I believe Leeann alluded to that in the last part of the letter indicated the steps we need to take to get to that state – noting the "imbalances" or the things that throw us out of balance and taking the right actions to remedy it and get back to a state of balance.

  2. dan says:

    The “long time” of 1:14 is over when the constant practice is not a practice, but a “natural” state. So you have to practice awareness all the time. So too with a state of absorption without words or reflection, wisdom is bearing “just-so”; when you’re there, you’re there.

    The ys is probably assembled from different teachings/schools of yoga around at the time, or at least this is the explanation used to explain the awkward presentation (the seven-fold wisdom of “the final stage” followed immediately by the 8 limbs; Vyasa’s commentary lists the 7 though). The sutra format is not meant to be read on its own, but to be elucidated on by a competent instructor. Oral transmission allowed the Vedas to be transmitted over millennia with very few differences between different traditions. I find the sutras very appealing because they are brief, speak to the immediacy of our consciousness. I also like that though they make, to me at least, intuitive sense, they are refutable by practice. I agree that more instruction is needed, such as how particularly to get to nirvikalpa samadhi, but I suppose that’s what instructors are for…

  3. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  4. melissa says:

    thank you Leeann for writing — what i'm sure those who've studied even remotely– are all thinking.

  5. Arahminta says:

    OK, I just thought it was me…not understanding the old Sage way. Thanks for an insightful and hilarious read! I've forwarded this along to a few folks I know will appreciate it.

  6. Jules says:

    Such a refreshing perspective. I love it. Perfect for the modern yogi to read.

  7. Lisa says:

    Awesome article! Can't wait to read more from Leeann!

  8. Stacy says:

    Well said, Leeann. You have great insight.

  9. Jesse says:

    leeann I love it! every single word resonates…

  10. Wanda Marie says:

    Heart-felt and deeply moving. Thank you!

  11. hopeful yogi says:

    Yes, I think that's what he was trying to get at. Looking for imbalances in the body, mind and emotions….in ourselves…and working towards a state of constant internal balance by taking the necessary steps.

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