The Yoga Sutra – KISS

Via on May 17, 2011

Looks like Patanjali is becoming everyone’s favorite punch bag on Elephant Journal. Patanjali’s yoga is not Union, Patanjali is against the body, are some wise views we have got to read lately. So much has been the impact of these articles that some of my students who have steadily and carefully worked on building their self esteem through path of Patanjalis Yoga Darshana were in disbelief after reading these articles, even in a state of disgust about themselves and the path of Yoga.

I think this ambiguity is because of the condensed nature of the sutras, highly contextual meaning of words in Sanskrit language and lack of experiential wisdom and oral tradition. I still remember the words of my teacher when I was pestering him about some specific details of Sutras, He smiled and told me “My son, Lord Shiva has on purpose spun a net of words and language to filter the seekers. Those who get stuck in the word of the philosophy will be trapped, those who live the philosophy and find the silence will find Him in their Hearts”. Things that Patanjali says are on one hand very simple, just reading the lines can make us work towards a better life. And these simple things also have the capacity to raise the level of awareness to encompass the Higher consciousness. These are the simple things I am interested in.

So, after paying my homage to the “scholars” let me present a layman’s perspective of Yoga Darshana here. Honestly, how does Patanjali’s take on union or no-union help me in paying my bills, managing my relationships and dealing with my emotions? Yes, I do agree sometimes I have a very practical view of yoga philosophy, that’s because I believe Yoga is here for making our lives better and not just for some intellectual gymnastics. It’s not me who’s saying this; it’s the Samkhya Karika itself.

If we believe that Patanjali was influenced by the Samkhya school, then let’s trace the origin. If we read one of the most authoritative books on Samkhya, that is the Samkhya Karika, we will understand that in the first paragraph itself it has been made clear that the reason for propagating this philosophy is to make a person find permanent solutions to three types of sorrows, “dukkhatraya”. Since all other means have not shown permanent results the Samkhya thought was created by Kapila Muni. The basis of this philosophy is so simple and practical, are we forgetting this somewhere in our preoccupation with micro details of the sutras?

Secondly, why the hullabaloo about Union? Teleologicaly Prakrit has two goals according to Patanjali, one is for enjoyment (bhoga) and other one is for liberation (apavarga). So basically Prakriti is a facilitator of these two experiences for the Purusha. This could be likened to a real life scenario. A successful professional called Purusha who has “arrived” in life, with money, success and popularity still feels empty from within. So he decides to take a sabbatical from his professional life and travel. He engages a travel agent by the name Prakriti. Ms.Prakriti suggests a great travel plan for Mr.Purusha and sends him on an adventure tour to different lands, across cultures, languages, economic and social divides. Because of this tour Mr.Purusha realizes that he is much more than a bored successful professional, he realizes that he is an individual in himself but with completeness. His life has changed because of Ms.Prakriti who made him go through enjoyment (bhoga) and liberation from his wrong self-identity (apavarga). This coming together for a cause in this story is the “union” of Purusha and Prakriti in the Yoga Darshana, there is an association (union) with a purpose, and after the purpose they stand by themselves.

Somewhat like the movie ‘Body Guard’ starring Whitney Huston and Kevin Costner. At the end He continues his duty as a body guard and She continues being a singer, but they do initially ‘Unite’ and go through experiences together and that’s why we have the movie, even though some of us may have wanted them both to get married and have children.

And, what is the “chitta Vritti Nirodaha” confusion?. Did he really knock himself out to stop his mind fluctuations? (This was a question asked to me by someone who read one article/debate on the Vritti Nirodaha topic). Well, honestly I don’t know. Because as many scholars suggest Patanjali had reached a state of “no thought = no mind” then who thought of writing the Sutras?

For me it is simple (and if the Sanskrit terms sound complicated just ignore them while reading), or maybe I am myopic and just can’t see it in its “philosophical” detail.

Patanjali talks about Chitta Vritti in the sense of thoughts rooted in ignorance (avidya) and non self (anatman) because of wrong Self-identity. Through yoga praxis as prescribed by Him ( pratiprasava ), with sincere efforts ( abhyasa ) and non-attachment ( vairagya ) psycho-spiritual impurities are removed and “spiritual discernment/cognizance” ( viveka khyati ) is cultivated, the Purusha starts seeing things, including himself ( svarupa ) as they are and not as what the various states of conditioned mind ( vrittis ) make him perceive, this gives him a sense of autonomy ( Kaivalya ) and independent confidence. This inner confidence makes him deal with the three sorrows in a balanced way (referring to samkhya karika) thus making his life truly hassell free.

In this way Yoga Sutra is a gospel of inner independent strength, peace and empowerment in all its simplicity.

I chose to see it this way, we all have a choice to see (darshana) the way we want. But what is important is to put it in practice. For me this practical interpretation has helped to make my life happier and easier and as I teach I also see my students making their life happier and easier. The choice is ours. Patanjali managed to condense the Big wisdom in short sutras, now its our turn to keep them simple and put them in practice.

So the next time you see The Yoga Sutra, just KISS – Keep It Short and Simple.

About Prasad Rangnekar

Prasad Rangnekar is from Mumbai, India and started his yoga explorations at age of 9 with his first asana class. Finding his first asana class “familiar,” he explored the width and depth of yoga initially with his mother and in later ages with different teachers and schools across India. Yoga grew on him and he grew with yoga. Today, Prasad travels across 15 countries teaching the Self-empowering and Self-transformational aspects of Yoga through his workshops and retreats. www.yogaprasad.in

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12 Responses to “The Yoga Sutra – KISS”

  1. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Prasad, I am glad to see your "rebuttal" to my own and others' comments on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras recently. As you know, debate and discussion is nothing new in the history of yoga. The various philosophies have been debated, studied, changed, embellished. What has been a constant, though, is that he did promote a dualist philosophy. Only those who have read a few books on Indian philosophy, including the Yoga Sutras, would argue otherwise. Placing Ptanajali in context with the five other schools of Indian philosophies, in addition to Tantra, is, I think in line with yoga as an inquiry into reality. I cannot think any true philosopher would disagree. So, I am happy to have contributed to your students' strong reactions. Indeed, I think they will be better students for it!
    Likewise, I am happy to see your contribution above, which highlights the many invaluable gifts Patanjali has given us. For he is, after all, a giant in the history and practice of yoga. Speaking of practice, it is doing it that counts in the end, not just discussing it. So I agree with you, lets KISS!

  2. Misa Derhy fhytimes says:

    Beautiful:) We all are learning from it .

  3. thad says:

    Prasad…it sounds as though your teacher is a very wise and elevated soul…you are very lucky to have found him and i feel fortunate that you chose to share his and your insights with the larger yoga audience….blessings

  4. yogiclarebear says:

    SMOOCH! I had a similar feeling to you regarding the condensed nature of the Sutras, and meanings of words. I think that any spiritual text can tend to fall under these interpretation analyzations, and I also think it IS important to question and analyze, as some have been doing here a lot lately, but equally important to keep the big picture in sight. ("Those who get stuck in the word of the philosophy will be trapped, those who live the philosophy and find the silence will find Him in their Hearts." Brilliant!)

    As Ramesh concluded in his latest piece, "The truth is, we can learn from, and integrate, all of these philosophical yogic paths into our own." I think Keep It Simple Sutra is a fabulous philosophy!

  5. Thaddeus1 says:

    "For a thinker of such kindness, integrity, and diplomacy towards the many lineages of his day, I'm quite sure that from out of the past Patanjali is inviting thorough consideration and critique, and, like all good philosophers, is happiest when his findings are advanced."

    I will most likely regret this, but I just have to ask. Given what very little is known of Patanjali via the historical record, (I'm assuming you would take issue with the possibility of his being a manifestation of Adisesa), how exactly have you arrived at the above? It seems just as likely and fair to speculate that Patanjali would not in fact be happy about your postmodern approach to his work and like many ensconced within the guru/disciple, parampara, system of knowledge transmission and acquisition, would simply shake his head and/or chastise you for such speculation. When Sri K. Pattabhi Jois was asked what makes a good student, his answer was very simple. "Obedience, good student, only telling once."

    • matthew says:

      Hi Thaddeus — if you check into Edwin Bryant's wonderful commentary, amongst others, you might see that the YS is a masterwork of non-sectarian, leave-the-door-open negotiation between numerous metaphysical views. His openness around the designation of Isvara is the prime example: amongst every stripe of theist in his day, he welcomes them all. I think further study may reveal that the YS is a very modern text, in the sense that the writer is well aware of other ways and means, and is above all seeking coherence amongst them towards the advancement of all. This is the hallmark of excellent philosophy.

      As for Patanjali being a manifestation of Adisesa, I have no idea. I have the book, translations, the words of my oral lineages. Everyone says slightly different things. I have heard of this idea, but all it really means to me is that his followers identified him as a Vaisnavite — although he didn't himself, which would be another sign of his diplomacy.

  6. kylie johnson says:

    inner wisdom allows us to find our own knowing. agrevation from external stimuli means anothers voice/opinion is more important to you than your own. Choose your own adventure. Let the fruit salad of life in all manifestations enrich you not entrench you.

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