Filling and Refilling Yoga’s Five Jars (Or Qualities to Cultivate for Progress in Practice)
Prajna—Awakening of wisdom or insight
Found in Yoga Sutra 1-20, this unique combination of qualities are meant to be cultivated and are the gifts of your practice. They can be thought of as five jars that you want to fill and keep filling. Note that these jars can be difficult to fill, can easily become depleted, the contents can get used up without your noticing, and you can also easily neglect to fill them back up.
Each person will have a different relationship to the qualities and jars. Sometimes one or two of the jars will seem very large compared to the others. These larger jars will be easier to fill up, easier to keep a ready supply of, and will take longer to deplete. Other jars will be very small, difficult to fill, hard to keep stocked and to replenish. It can be challenging to get an accurate sense of exactly what your relationship to each one is at a given time.
For example, do I have a big jar of faith that is easy to re-fill and how much faith (vs. doubt) about spirituality and/or my individual path do I really have? How easy is it for me to trust the inner work I’m doing and trust that this personal work is connected to something important, something larger than my ego, something that will lead to healing and wisdom within me and extend to the world around me? The difference between what I believe consciously and what I believe unconsciously might make accurate awareness elusive and therefore thwart my sincere attempts to acquire any given quality.
To make an accurate assessment about my ready supply of these five qualities, I need to be able to observe myself carefully and without judgement. If I struggle with doubt often, then I need to know that about myself. I need to know that the faith jar will be challenging to fill up and might get depleted easily. But the tricky part is I may also not feel ready to fully face and accept my small doubts nor my large doubts.
Here’s a little story that illustrates some of my struggles with faith vs. doubt.
Recently I was really chewing on the idea of faith in practice. I felt sorry for a student of mine who is very rational and very skeptical of anything he can’t see. He asked me if he can keep practicing if he doesn’t buy into any of the Hindu underpinnings that are present in yoga. He dismisses reincarnation, God, prayer, and approaches his study from a perspective of philosophical inquiry with its high regard for skepticism and reliance on rational thought.
But it’s not as simple as that because he also doesn’t at all feel like practice is merely physical and finds the idea of practice as a glorified gym workout singularly distasteful. He states plainly that he doesn’t do yoga for merely physical reasons. Listening to his struggle, I felt so blessed for my seemingly apparent ease with faith. I thought that somehow there’s part of me that simply “knows” that there is a purpose each of us has to fulfill—that our consciousness is meant to be used for realizing the “truth” or “goodness” of everything, of the Source. I thought I was done considering the possibility of, “What if I believe there is nothing inherently spiritual about people or things? What if I deeply question whether there is any purpose, any grand truth? What if this is all random, meaningless, and there is no ultimate realization or meaning or something that existence is leading to?”
I was mulling all this over when I saw a low-budget sign in front of a fire station. This sign had removable letters so that the firemen could post different messages frequently to keep passersbys interested. The message on this day read:
Small Doubt Small Faith
Great Doubt Great Faith
Wow! Revelation—faith does not mean blind faith, easy faith. This caused me to really look within, to see the small ways that I lack faith, to see how frequently and largely I doubt both spirituality in a collective sense and my own personal relationship to my faith. When I really dig down inside, I see that faith is something I have wrestled out of my doubt—one practice at a time—something I’ve agonized over and continue to agonize over especially when it’s time to apply my faith.
When you look within, I imagine you’ll find your supply of faith is contained in a jar you lovingly fill as you pour energy, unstintingly into your practice. It’s a freeing and powerful realization that having doubt, large or small, is not necessarily a sign of a lack of faith. It could be quite the reverse—and that could explain why my student so clearly knows that practice is so much more than physical, and yet, he is not going to pray to Ganesh or take a set of beliefs such as those of reincarnation that don’t fit for him.
Furthermore, when you really consider your practice and your relationship to any of these five qualities, you will likely see that, in the long-term, none of these jars are easy to fill, nor to keep filled. If you think one of them comes easily, it may behoove you to look again, and see if there is more depth to explore.
Each quality has to be artfully chiseled as a stone mason does when she patiently, one hammer stroke at a time, fashions a figure out of stone. Your ability to meditate (samadhi), to become entirely mentally absorbed in what is unfolding within you will be hewn painstakingly out of your practice. Prajna-wisdom, born from deep within your body, will also come hard-won from your practice. Indeed you fashion your energy, insight, faith, concentration, and your memory out of the long string of daily practices performed lovingly with great patience and care.
In closing, here’s a little poem that speaks to the challenge of filling and refilling the jars:
How soon do you forget what you just learned in practice? Almost immediately.
How soon does doubt replace faith? Almost immediately.
How soon is meditation replaced by distraction and scatteredness? Almost immediately.
How soon is the bright fire you kindled during practice diminished to a faint glow in the hearth? Almost immediately.
How soon is the wisdom you gain, even the deep wisdom covered by ignorance? Almost immediately.
There it is, But
I and you begin again
Editor: Brianna Bemel
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