December 7, 2013

6 Classic Sutras to Guide Us Every Day.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, like all sacred texts that have withstood the test of time—in this case many centuries (it was written in the second century BCE), is brimming with wisdom.

You could take an entire lifetime or three, and still not glean the entirety of its offerings.

It consists of 196 aphorisms which are still relevant and reliably prudent today.

Following are six sutras which I always come back to, and which I think would serve anyone well as a guide through the uneven territory we call life.

Sutra 2.35 “In the presence of one firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities cease.”

Some might consider this naive, but I’ve listed it first out of deference for a man who embodied non-violence—the recently deceased Nelson Mandela.

Peace begets peace, and the more soundly you root yourself to that belief, the more powerful it becomes.

For a man to spend 27 undeserved years in jail and emerge spiritually in tact seems like a miracle. But it was his commitment to inner and outer peace which made it possible, and the echoes of his accomplishment will ring out endlessly across time.

Live in peace and it will follow you wherever you go.

Sutra 1.33 “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard for the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”

This is my favorite sutra; a straightforward directive for how to deal with any kind of person. When we try to be happy for other’s good fortune, compassionate for their misfortune, and uninvolved with their negativity, we are able to retain clarity and peace of mind. When we are clear and peaceful, it becomes easier for others to feel clear and peaceful as well.

Sutra 1.22 “The time necessary for success further depends on whether the practice is mild, medium or intense.”

I love this idea because Patanjali doesn’t say we should be fanatics about yoga, but that our efforts will directly affect how long it takes to achieve results. If you need to start slow, fine. If you’re not progressing as quickly as you’d like, you know how to fix it.

Everyone has a pace that is best suited to their life. A mother with young children won’t have as much time to devote to the discipline as a single self employed woman. Just be sincere and consistent, and you will get where you need to go—even if it takes a few lives.

Sutra 2.5 “Ignorance is regarding the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant, and the non-Self as the Self.”

This is a whole lot of philosophy in one sentence.

Patanjali advises that we understand the things we think are real are both constantly changing and not the essence of reality, but a projection of the ego. When we mistake the ego for our true selves, we guarantee suffering. Stridently working toward the realization that everything one; that there is no delineation between people, places or things, is to find your way to true knowledge.

Of course, this is more easily said than done (and it’s not even that easily said), but to understand the direction your journey should take is the first step toward getting started on it.

Sutra 2.3 “Ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, and clinging to bodily life are the five obstacles.”

This is a closely related idea to sutra 2.5. Essentially, the obstacles to happiness or samadhi—understanding all is one—are our insistence that we are us (tall, short, Republican, gay, American…whatever) rather than the endless spirits we truly are. When we define ourselves as us, others become them, and hatred and jealousy drive our behaviors.

Dropping our attachment to labels is key to finding peace.

Sutra 1.17 “Samprajnata samadhi (distinguished contemplation) is accompanied by reasoning, reflecting, rejoicing and pure I-am-ness.”

I think this sutra has special importance in today’s world where we can pass entire days without pause for reflection because there are limitless distractions. I also think the sharp rise in depression is a direct reflection of this unhealthy behavior.

Yoga emphasizes the need to develop a routine for quiet, focused thought. I can think of nothing more immediately transformative than setting aside at least 10 minutes a day for meditation. This need not be done in the classic style– seated quietly in a room– but can be done virtually anywhere; while walking, standing, or waiting in line at the grocery store. All you have to do is become aware and stay aware, and see what you see.

Don’t be afraid to turn inward. There is much to be gained simply by observing your thoughts.

As with any guidelines, spiritual or otherwise, the sutras outline optimal conduct, from which most or all of us, in our perfectly imperfect ways, will fall short. But they are ideas to aspire to, and to believe in, knowing that the closer you get to realizing them, the closer you get to your own salvation.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Wikimedia Commons.}

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Dana Dec 10, 2013 9:57pm

Erica– thanks so much for this article. I have been wanting to delve deeper into the Sutras, but it felt overwhelming and I found myself procrastinating. These six are a wonderful jumping off point and your commentary on each was helpful!

Senta Dec 9, 2013 8:38pm

Regarding Sutra 1.22 “The time necessary for success further depends on whether the practice is mild, medium or intense.”. I invite you to contemplate that the time necessary does not necessarily correlate to the intensity of practice as one might imagine…. the "level" of practice merely needs be "right" for the situation…. a mild practice may reap success sooner than an intense one for some… "right action" :). Blessings for the way.

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Erica Leibrandt

Erica Leibrandt is a licensed psychotherapist, registered yoga teacher, published author, and imperfect mom. Visit her at PsycheFinder, her new website—the only site that finds your mental health professional for you. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.