Since we’re joining a conversation in progress, I thought I’d give you a cheap and dirty blow by blow of what’s been covered so far, like the beginning of a TV show. Patanjali begins Chapter 1 – or Samadhi Pada (on Being Absorbed in Spirit) – with the formulaic “Hatha Yoga Nusasanam”: Now yoga instruction. (btw: if you ever want to hear or learn the chanting of the Sutras, I recommend Sonja Nelson’s 4 CD set, guarunteed to plant the seeds in your soul).
I use Mukunda Stile’s translation because I like the gentleness and power of his poetry, but I reference four others: Sri Swami Satchindananda (his commentary bores through the distractions of my vascillating mind), Charles Johnston (very dualistic, but often a brilliant turn of phrase), Desikachar (because he’s Desikachar, mais non?!), Georg Feuerstein (see prior + historical interreference).
So, Now Yoga Instruction. Which I often think of re-arranged as “Yoga Instruction leads us to Now.” As in “The Now”, the ever present but never changing moment of consciousness. The very next sentence (or sutra: they’re arranged as sutras, or threads – aphorisms such as Wittgenstein and the Old Testament have used) tells us that yoga happens in the mind that listens, or Yoga Citta Vrtti Nirodaha: “Yoga is experienced in the mind which has ceased to identify itself with its vacillating waves of perception.” Whoa. Yeah. But this is a montage for under the opening credits, so we’ll move on.
When the mind settles, the Self is revealed as the ever-present witness. The way to settle the mind is through practice and non-attachment. Knowledge is required because it guides what & how we practice and reminds us why attachment is distraction: the things we usually desire and go after are not the same as what we think we’ll get from them. If we actually pursue what we want our lives to embody, we might not go after some things that we like, but we will create something that encompasses them all the same.
One of the very practical things about the Sutras is that it introduces on level ground many methods of listening, or yoga. If you are depressed or distracted or sick or lethargic, Patanjali has a list of things you could try or consider. Such a plan is very modern, I think, acknowledging the diversity of our histories, places and conditions – even over the course of our own lives, let alone across people and countries. (Fade out to opening scene for this episode: Relief of Suffering, not just for Buddhas any more….)