Patanjali

Yoga is one of the six Darshana, or explorations of reality, of Hindu science. Of the six Darshana it is the pragmatic one. It is neither conjectural nor hypothetical. It is based on a profound exploration of consciousness. It has been oulined exhaustively and defnitively by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Accordingly Patanjali is the father, the rootguru, of Yoga. Any system that does not subscribe to his definiton can only falsely claim to be yoga: there are many.

Where the eight limbs of yoga (ashtangayoga) flow one from another as a result of establishing stability within the bodymind i.13 there yoga can be recognised. Whatever techniques are supporting this transformation of internalised awareness can be called yoga technique: there can be many.

How many thousands of years yoga has been around no-one can say. How many thousands have turned to it to satisfy their deepest longings can only be guessed. That it continue to call to the hearts of many more for many years to come seems assured. Nevertheless yoga is a subject shrouded in mystery, confusion and folly. This shroud seems to have been with yoga from the beginning. Now, as yoga seeps into the fabric of popular culture, it is becoming more mysterious, more confusing, more foolish. Yet within this maelstrom of enthusiasm and naivete a rock stands as it has always stood, casting its sentinel light into the surrounding mists. The Yogasutras of Patanjali. This brief and ancient text has been the guiding light, directly or indirectly, of millions of yoga practitioners. Krishnamacharya, Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, Desikachar all acknowledge their debt to Patanjali. He is the root guru of the gurus themselves.

Nevertheless a comparison of any two translations of the Yogasutras will quickly reveal how deep and how widespread is the surrounding mist. The more translations one considers the more the mist thickens. Not only are many of the individual verses or sutras rendered in completely incomprehensible terminology, but many of those renderings appear to convey diametrically opposed meanings. This is not just a question of differing academic skills. It is more one of a cultural gulf.

Patanjali is neither philosopher, nor scientist: though his approach echoes both. He is a yogi. His arena is not the objectivity of scientific fact, nor the communicability of conceptualisation, but the subjective experience of consciousness. He is exploring the very ground of knowledge, of being, of existence. To do so he relies solely on the human organism as a tool of enquiry and discovery. To make his enquiry he has had to depend entirely on his own passion, dilligence and honesty. To understand the fruits of his endeavour it is necessary that we do the same. This may not be possible.

To approach the Yogasutras with only the academic tools of lexicon, primer, logic, inference, deduction is always bound to fail. These tools all assert their authority within the realm of knowledge. To uncover the secrets of existence, as Patanjali did, requires that we go beyond the realm of knowledge. We must become familiar with a mode of consciousness beyond perception itself. We must transcend the realm of duality within which the perceiver perceives, the knower knows, and the perceptually known is an object outside and separate from the perceptually knowing subject.

If we are even to understand only the linguistics of the Yogasutras we must practice yoga. If we are to understand its significance we must embody the practice of yoga deeply and devotedly. For it is only through the process of yoga that the limitations of duality are to be superseded. It is only then that the realm of knowledge and ignorance can be transcended, and the secrets of life and yoga uncovered.

Because the distortions of Patanjalis teaching go back to the limitations of the very first commentators, it is in fact extremely difficult even to begin to practice yoga authentically. So many of the practices that have accrued to yoga are at odds with the teaching of Patanjali. In their process, and in their effect. At the heart of this problem is the notion of control. Yoga has become mistakenly identified as a process of developing total control over body, breath and mind. The application of this misconception peaks in the notion of eliminating the mind. At its wildest extremes it proposes not only the dissolution of the human mind and body but also, supposedly, the entire universe. To ascribe to the method of yoga the notion of control is to project the dualistic mode of being onto a nondual system. Control as an impulse, motive and process is fundamentally dualistic. It is based on the anxiety inevitably arising within a sense of separate self. Within this sense, intrinsic to physical embodiment, the other becomes a potential threat. To minimise that threat the other must be brought under control: wether this is nature, other nations, tribes, societies, families or individuals. This creates a culture of alienation, manipulation and conflict: us against them; or psychological, social and political dualism. This is a condition to which all individuals and groups are subject, to one degree or another. It is a condition based on the nature of perception. A condition which is at the root of all psychological suffering, and so much social and political suffering. A condition which is in effect a disease.

Patanjali himself has been made a victim of the very disease for which he left the cure: dualism. His teachings have been mistranslated, misinterpreted and misrepresented through the distorting and inadequate prism of dualistic thinking. A prism which is at the very root of the scientific and academic modes of enquiry, which are by nature opposed to Patanjalis mode of enquiry. By applying this prism to Patanjali’s text certain key processes and actualities have been misrepresented by limited experiences and confused conceptualisations. Accordingly Patanjali has been defined as a dualist. But this definition has been projected onto him from a dualistic perspective that has overlooked the nature of perception. Patanjali has been accused of defining nature and spirit, energy and consciousness, the observed and the observer, as not only distinct, but quite separate categories of existence. Categories which have no intrinsic relationship, and in their separateness obscure and hinder each other. A separation that is not upheld by profound spiritual practice, nor by the findings of quantum physics, and that has caused many an academic headache and many justifiable rejections of Patanjali.

This accusation and rejection rests on a misinterpretation of sutras ii.23-25 where Patanjali analyses the nature of, and relationship between, subjectness (the seer) and objectness (the seen). The pragmatic siginificance of his presentation can only be derived from a nondual perspective. As this perspective tends to be the fruit of profound practice it is not readily available, and not at all through academic studies alone.

Patanjali states that the relationship between subject and object is created by ignorance and dissolves with the dissolution of ignorance. By this he does not mean that subject and object have no relationship. He does not mean that they are intrinsically separate. He simply means that the dualistic or separate nature of their perceived relationship is a function of perception, not actuality. The perceived separateness that also projects a relationship is not their nature, it is simply an appearance. Neither the subject, nor the object have any inherent, absolute existence, and therefore neither does any so called relationship between them. In the dissolution of subjectness and objectness is the dissolution of the subject-object relationship. Subject and object, whether as principle or in expression, are intrinsically nonseparate, nondual: they by necessity generate, sustain and define each other. Their actual relationship is one of inherent identity expressed in apparent separateness.

Subject, object and relationship are all appearences within the limitation of consciousness that is human perception. They have neither inherent nor absolute existence. They are the dynamic of the relativity of manifestation: the dynamic of transformation and change. This is the heart of Patanjali’s teaching. Patanjali then is NOT an isolated dualist in the garden of Yogic wisdom, he stands side to side with the nondualist sages of the Upanishads and Vedanta. The whole purpose of Yoga is to see through the veil of duality to its underlying nonduality and recognise that the two themselves, duality and nonduality, are nondual. And finally that there is not even one, for there can be no other.

The presumed dualism of Patanjali has led to endless error and suffering for yoga students. It has led to the denial of the validity of feelings, sensations, desires, emotions; to resentment of the body; to fear of nature. In effect to a schizophrenia that is reflected and supported by the cultural schizophrenia embodied in the dualism of the dominant worldview wherein conflict is the essence of society. This schizophrenia is extremely hard to dislodge as it rests on the innate dualistic mechanism of perception.

It is this underlying schizophrenia, however, that Patanjali sets out to free us from. Yoga, according to Patanjali is a means for going beyond the perceptual dualism underlying our collective nightmare of perpetual anxiety and conflict. Simply because this process must begin within dualism, dualism itself must be the jetty from which the process is launched. But those who remain with their way of thinking and being limited in dualism cannot go where Patanjali went, and can have no way of understanding what he has to say about it. Of course to verbalise about it requires that it be mapped in the coordinates of dualism. But these coordinates, when arranged by one familiar with the territory, can be given a transparency that does not create confusion and self deception.

Yoga is not about exerting ever more refined and potent control over ever more subtle and elusive factors. It does not require the powers of a superbeing. In fact it requires the reverse. For yoga is nothing other than coming back to who, what and where we most fundamentally and meaningfully are. It is a return to the very heart of being human. This does not require that we develop superhuman mental powers. It does not depend on our manipulating our consciousness into ever more subtle states. It does not require that we repress or deny our senses, our emotions, our feelings. We do not have to transcend our bodies and dissolve the universe back into Pure Consciousness. We do not have to impose, by the might of our will, our conditioned ideals on the unconditional nature of that which actually is. This is all the stuff of fantasy. All we have to do is look. To look in such a way that we finally begin to see. To see what is actually happening, from the coarse level of interacting objects, to the innate flow (shakti) of consciousness (cit) that is their source.

We simply have to look at all our actions, all our efforts to control, direct, master, accomplish, achieve, improve, remedy, correct, refine, attain, perfect. Look at all our striving, all of our ambition, our dreams, hopes, thoughts and their inherent mechanisms. This Patanjali calls “svadhyaya”. Simple as it is to say, it is of course not so easy to experience. While this looking becomes eventually a letting go of any effort to see it is not easily come by. Learning to do so is the path and process of Patanjali’s yoga. A generous, focussed, open, honest and sensitive enquiry into the nature of our actions and their source. This enquiry is most easily conducted within the body, through action. It is not an intellectual enquiry. It occurs naturally and inevitably through authentic practice of appropriate techniques. The most potent of these for those identified with the body being the yoga postures well known now in the west. For yoga postures not only release body and mind from limiting tensions which restrict awareness, but also provide a vast range of internal actions to investigate.

This investigation is carried out centripetally from the coarse and tangible arena of the body inwards. It begins with investigation of the nature of phsyical movements. It deepens through investigation of their subtle impacts via investigation of subtle physiological actions to investigation of mental activity. Once the nature of perception itself has been elucidated by this internalised investigation it culminates in investigation of the nature of consciousness itself. This investigation occurs within the internal awareness inherently elicited by profound, alert and sustained relaxation. As the investigation deepens the relaxation that supports it deepens. This deepening brings an increasing clarity to awareness. Within this increasing clarity the nature of action, perception and consciousness are elucidated.

Effectively, significantly and invaluably Yoga is a transformation in awareness. This transformation brings with it a complete erosion of the sense of self and a total freedom from existential suffering. It comes about, however, through the simple process of relaxation. This relaxation goes much deeper than any we are used to. It goes beyond absence of tension in the body. It goes beyond complete freedom in the breath. It rests upon the recognition that the mental activity of dualistic perception, wherein we function, is based upon conditoned, habitual effort. This effort is spontaneously relased once its imposition and its impact are elucidated. The seeing and the relaxing go together in a self perpetuating cycle of release culminating in surrender and freedom. The cycle begins by simply looking at the subtle underpinnings of our actions. As this looking deepens and seeing into the nature of action and perception occurs relaxation results. As relaxation deepens looking deepens, and deeper seeing elucidates itself as the nature and source of consciousness itself. In this effortless way the spontaneous cycle of liberation from the imposed sense of separate self that is yoga flourishes.