When I’m feeling un-inspired or lethargic I often turn to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. And when I’m grasping for a subject to write about (I’ve written 136 of these so far; it’s not always easy to come up with new ideas!) I also sometimes open the sutras up. So that’s what I’ve done today.
There’s so much wisdom contained in these 196 short aphorisms that it would take even the keenest of students many lifetimes to understand it all.
Never mind that there are 196 individual sutras though. The entire wisdom of the yoga sutras is contained within the second, third and fourth sutras. If we can fully understand and realise these three then we have no need for the rest of them.
Note – In case you’re wondering, the first sutra is merely an introduction – “Now begins the instruction on yoga”.
So what do these three sutras tell us?
I.2: Yoga is the stilling of the mind.
I.3: When the mind is still the individual becomes aware of his/her true nature.
I.4: At all other times the individual identifies with his or her own thoughts.
Read that last one again. This is the state in which we all find ourselves (I’m assuming that none of you have reached enlightenment yet).
We strongly identify with the stuff of our own minds; thoughts, anxieties, memories etc. We’re so caught up in being ourselves that we rarely give a thought to the fact that none of our experiences, thoughts, roles (father, student, lawyer, wife, teacher, yoga-practitioner) are the essence of who we are.
If we can still the mind through the practice of yoga (or through any other means) we will come to realise that we are not our thoughts, we are not our bodies, we are not our careers, we are not anything that can be named.
It’s a concept which, once embraced, can lead us down a very different path than we were on before. But it’s a difficult concept for most of us to grasp, so conditioned are we by the society in which we are raised.
That’s why Patanjali has to include 192 more sutras to explain what he means, how we can experience this state, why we should try, and what we will experience along the way.
It’s worth looking into!!