Lessons from the Yoga Sutras

Lessons One – What is Yoga and are we really Yoga Teachers?

Namo namaha.नमो नमः

The Yoga Sutras is considered the most important ancient text ever written on Yoga. Written by a group of people known as Patanjali circa 400BC it contains 196 verses (called sutras) on the practice of Yoga. The text is important to us because it shows us, through a systematic process of inquiry, how to attain the state called Yoga. With the help of this text, and without a teacher, if one follows the steps precisely as instructed, one can realise the ultimate truth of the nature of absolute reality. The Yoga Sutras is therefore, a manual, an instructional user-friendly guide for the subtle inner directed experience of self-realisation. The divinity and the one-ness of all life is really who I am. We can get to taste through direct experience of this truth for ourselves.

As Yoga was historically an oral tradition, the writing down of the teachings by Patanjali allowed any one to explore the landscape of their inner world for themselves, by themselves alone. Previous to this text appearing, one would need to obtain instructions from a guru to guide the journey to that place of inner stillness. Alone, one would be incapable of the task.  This fact is the reason that the text is so valuable to all of us. We no longer need a guru to be our guide. We can follow our own inner guru, our “upa guru” instead.

This series will explore the landscape that is the Yoga Sutras. We will travel through its teachings in a systematic way, from beginning to end, just like the text itself. Toady we will start at the very beginning with the definition of Yoga itself and ask ourselves if we truly are Yoga Teachers or something else.

Definition of Yoga

The first four Sutras define Yoga, with that definition being expanded on in other Sutras. In a systematic process of meditation, you gradually move your attention inward, through all the levels of your being, gaining mastery along the way. Eventually, you come to rest in your True Nature, which is beyond all of those levels. Both this action and the realisation of this centre of consciousness, is the true meaning of Yoga.

yogas citta vrtti nirodah

tadah drastuh svarupe’vasthanam

Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind field. Then the Seer rests in its true nature.

Knowing what’s left after setting aside the obstacles

There is a fundamental simplicity to the process of Yoga that is outlined in the Yoga Sutras. While the process might appear very complicated when reading the Yoga Sutras and many commentaries, the central theme is one of removing, transcending or setting aside the obstacles, veils or false identities. The many suggestions in the Yoga Sutras are the details or refinements of how to go about doing this. By being ever so mindful of this core simplicity it is much easier to systematically progress on the path of Yoga.

The True Self shines through

Once the obstacles and false identities have been set aside, the True Self, which has been there all along, naturally comes shining through. The rest of the time, we are so entangled with our false identities that we literally do not see that this misidentification  has happened. It is the reason that sometimes it is said that we are asleep and that we need to awaken. That awakening to the Self is the meaning of Yoga.

Like a mirror

Like a mirror, consciousness looks outward through the intellect, through the mind, and then through the senses and the body. It sees a reflection, like a mirror.  It sees reality, a world, a self-identity which it falsely thinks to be “me” or “mine“. Through the forgetting power of avidya or ignorance pure consciousness says “I am this or that

The discovery

The process of realisation through Yoga rests on the discovery of pure consciousness (purusha) as seperate from all the many false identities,  which are considered to be the evolutes of primal matter (prakriti). These principles of purusha and prakriti are part of the philosophical system known as Samkhya. Yoga and Samkhya are two of the six systems of Indian philosophy (darshan). (The six systems are —NyayaVaisheshikaSamkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā and Vedanta)

Yoga is Samadhi

Yoga is samadhi, the high state of perfected concentration or complete absorption of attention. Yoga means union, literally to yoke, from the root word “yuj” which means to join or to integrate. It means to bring together the aspects of ourselves that were never divided in the first place. It means to attain direct experience of the core of that pre-existing holistic being who we truly are at the deepest level, and that is attained through Samadhi.

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