No single text from the Hindu spiritual tradition has had a greater impact on the West than “Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.” The main reason for this is that it is widely considered the foundation text for the practice of “yoga” as it currently exists in the West. Some introduction or even basic explanation of this text is present in most teacher training programs currently. So, as a result, many people who have taken up “yoga” as a regular part of their life are at least aware of the existence of Patanjali’s sutras.
Recently, however, I wondered why these “Yoga Sutras” are not even more influential than they are. If they are truly the core of the “yoga” that we have become enamored of in the West, why aren’t more “yogis” carrying around their own dog-eared copies? To answer that question I started to re-read a version of these sutras taken from an ashram library where I am living. I had read the sutras before in my past (once during a yoga teacher training course I took myself) but my memories were vague, at best.
It didn’t take long for me to realize why “Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras” aren’t more widely shared and announced from the tops of yoga studios around the western world. The reason is that these sutras are not easy to understand. In fact, after I encountered a stanza of Patanjali’s that I didn’t quite understand I then turned to other existing versions of the same text (different translator) and in doing so, I realized that many of the so-called authorities, themselves, on these Yoga Sutras don’t agree about the meaning of many of the individual verses.
Sure, the core of western “yoga” practice is centered on a single section of “Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras” where he enumerates the “Eight Limbs of Yoga” or “Ashtanga.” Almost all translations seem to agree on the basic structure of this teaching but when I looked closely even there, I saw some debate. For example, two parts of “Ashtanga” are called “ahimsa” and the other, “brahmacarya.” Roughly translated they are, “non-violence” and “sexual responsibility,” respectively. But what exactly does either really mean on a practical level? Does “non-violence” mean vegetarianism, as some translations claim, or does it mean “pacifism,” which is stated by others? Does “sexual responsibility” mean “sexual loyalty and commitment to one partner” or “celibacy?”
So, even within the parts of “Patanjali’s Sutras” that are most referenced by the practice of yoga as it currently exists in the West there are lots of uncertainties. And then, the further I strayed into the other sections of the Sutras the more I encountered stanzas that were far from clear in terms of meaning and were given in often widely varying formats through the various translations that I found. It is then no wonder that very few people are championing, proclaiming or even teaching this text anywhere near most yoga studios in the west.
Maybe then, you would think it a worthy project to go over this text, line by line, through this blog and see what we find. Maybe we, too, will hit impassable road blocks where either the limitation in translation from ancient Sanskrit to English is just too big of a hurdle or else there will be stanzas that we can’t make sense of because our minds are too small for the vast and profound topics Patanjali covers. Or else, maybe it will all come together, miraculously, just as the image slowly resolves in a jig-saw puzzle as the pieces are fit into each other one by one.
So, STAY TUNED, in the following blog entries we will launch into PATANJALI’S YOGA SUTRAS through many different translations, and let’s see how far we get. . . .
“I HAVE BEEN SAVED!”
I know that this declaration is off-putting and distasteful for many modern day spiritual people. The very idea of “being saved” immediately connects many with their Christian past which they have not only separated themselves from but also worked hard to purify themselves of. So I understand why many are not even willing to think about much less talk or read about “being saved.”
But the fact is I do feel “saved.” But I mean that in a way that many Christians might not accept. Underlying the very idea of “salvation” through another is whether we need another’s help in order to reach our highest potential. Some fervently say that we can only reach our highest potential, or “be saved,” through the intercession of Jesus Christ. Some just as heatedly maintain that God is within and so we can only find God through our own power and efforts (which includes prayer directly to God or Spirit). The latter group might even argue that because “Oneness” is the highest state of realization then “another” cannot possibly be crucial to attaining that state. The first group might counter that “Divinity” or the “Heavenly” state is impossible to reach by mortals without the direct intervention of some form of God. Once God does intercede, they might maintain, then we need do nothing further except deepen our faith that we have been “saved.”
The debate commonly goes back and forth like this endlessly and I admit that I have leaned to one side or the other through my life. I am still leary of the idea that one human can “save” another human through his own power alone. Nevertheless, right now it seems so clear to me that God has acted through many other people and places in order to “save” me.
Feeling “saved” is akin to feeling gratitude towards the Divine and its truly dependable and tireless Love. Feeling “saved” also acknowledges that gaining a real connection to the Divine is a group effort and a product of many contributions. It seems obvious at this point that, not only has God been “seeking” me since before I started “seeking” Him but also that the success that I have had comes only from capitalizing on the hand-outs God has given me. I was lost but now I’m found and there’s no greater joy that I can imagine. Saying that “I am saved” feels like an accurate way to describe the miraculous joy that is behind it and also a way of affirming that I AM NOT ALONE in this creation.
Shouldn’t a new field of study, a new profession perhaps, be developing right now that is dedicated to studying the internet? How long till we, as a society, realize that the internet is radically changing not only our society but each of us individually who plugs in? What precedent for this type of influence can be found in the history of humanity? Industrialization, starting in England in early 1800’s, of course brought about huge changes but these changes unfolded over hundreds of years. The development of oil as a fuel similarly brought huge changes to the structure of human life but again, this happened over a hundred + years and counting. Electricity is another example. But there really is no precedent for the size and quickness of the changes in human society worldwide that the internet is instigating.
We need to take some very critical looks at the internet on a formal, organized level, sooner rather than later because the future of the influence of the net is not already written in stone. We can shape these influences to some degree. How do I know this? Because it is already being done by vested interest groups. There are already large and small groups, with power and without, who are actively sculpting the internet and shaping how it is growing. Some of the obvious examples: China, Russia, Google, Amazon, etc.
So, the internet is clearly pliable and it is creating the immediate future of our society and how lives operate right now. We can either take a conscious role to ensure the best possible outcome of its influence or sit back and let private interest groups battle it out. Creating a dedicated department for this type of study within universities would be an effective way of taking the first road. Let’s educate our youth today in how to critically look at the internet and let a growing profession of such experts contribute their voice in how it should develop.
There are some groups that are saying that the internet shouldn’t be controlled at all but they are really taking the second road. They believe that all vested interest groups should be given the chance equally to shape the internet. But this is a gamble, is it not? Surely, there are some very powerful players here that could easily monopolize the field in many ways. Wouldn’t it be better to create a class of professionals who will analyze whose doing what and where it’s all currently headed?
One example of a hard look at the internet that immediately presents itself:
–Facts and the presentation of information as fact underlies the internet. But facts on the internet are unstable and fleeting. We proudly proclaim that the internet is such a great library of knowledge but that library has some serious shortcomings. You can watch YouTube to learn anything and you can find a forum on any specific field of knowledge full of the facts compiled by the experts. THIS IS TRUE currently BUT THIS CAN CHANGE OVERNIGHT!
Wikipedia entries are currently the go to place for facts on the internet. But Wikipedia entries are constantly changing and any given article can be written along certain biased lines and kept that way by an army of vigilant writers working for a special interest group. If you’re an expert in a certain field and you read a Wiki article that makes false claims and you try to edit that article, it will most likely be reverted back to the biased version by special interest groups with the highest number of people watching and editing that Wiki entry. This is not Wikipedia’s fault, it is how the internet has been structured. Winner takes all.
But Wikipedia COULD alert its readers to how many different versions of the same topic article have been written over the past few years and how many times it has been changed and edited back and forth. This would give the reader SOME clue that the Wiki entry may contain biased views and exclude certain facts. But Wikipedia currently does not give its readers any such clues, to the best of my knowledge. Wikipedia edit list will tell you that an anonymous editor reverted the whole article back to a previous version, eliminating the additions of any editors since then. And no information about what was vetoed or why is given. The reader is kept in the dark about what information is being blocked in the article. Is this the type of library of knowledge that we want to base our society on? Theoretically it is free and open but practically speaking it is easily controlled by those with the most power. And most governments are not involved in this equation, not even opposing the biased contributions and manipulations of other governments.
Same criticism is applicable to any specialized FORUM of compiled knowledge and experience. SOMEONE IS PAYING TO KEEP THAT FORUM RUNNING. When that forum is no longer paid for IT WILL DISAPPEAR FROM THE WEB along with all of its knowledge. A forum compiled by botanists on plant knowledge contributed to by the experts in that field for 50 years CAN theoretically be gone completely overnight. And replaced by a forum that is completely devoid of any mention of “organic” farming methods and benefits (for example). Is this kind of storehouse of knowledge stable? Can we be confident that it will be there for our children or our children’s children in a way that is at least as useful and dependable as it is today?
YouTube is similar. YouTube has been exercising a stronger hand recently deleting “unauthorized” videos, etc. I know this is good in many ways but what does it tell us about the future of YouTube? It tells us that YouTube may look totally different in 10 years than it does today. The power of advertisers may have a greater and greater say on what is available to watch on YouTube and how easy “alternate” views are to find. YouTube is a business. It is all too easy to see it as a social resource and nothing more.
There are so many similar critical questions that need to be asked and looked at deeply. Wouldn’t it make sense to establish a class of professionals who will get paid to do so? It seems like the funding for such professionals could come from the internet itself. When will the internet be structured in a way to make money itself in order to pay for its proper use and functioning?
Taxes are another huge issue that as consumers we don’t want to look at. States alone are losing millions of dollars in consumer sales taxes through the internet. This revenue flow has been deflected from local governments into the hands of the big internet corporations. Are we just assuming that our governments can run just as fine with less money? It’s popular to assume that governments are wasteful financially and so they SHOULD have less money. But the reality is that when governments collect less taxes they have to cut their services. How long till these effects take a serious toll on shaping the lives of citizens. Shouldn’t there be a class of professionals actively studying and predicting those effects for the common good?
Walking With Intention Day 21 by Kilaya Ciriello – http://wp.me/p2K7eP-2yV
For those of you who don’t already follow Sreejit’s “SEEKER’S DUNGEON” blog, I highly recommend it. This link is for a piece that I wrote for his “WALKING WITH INTENTION” series of posts.
My first impulse was to write about what intent and intention means within the teachings of Don Juan (from the works of Carlos Castaneda) but it spontaneously morphed into this inquiry into the free-will vs. Destiny debate.
I have to admit that, privately, I often ask myself what is the point of intention, if even being able to ask about it requires Divine Grace.
I use questions like that to put the ego in its place and make space for a contented, celebratory faith. If I fall into the trap of thinking the whole world is on my shoulders, I will never find peace and love in life. Of course, if I remain content with my own miserable emotions and don’t make inquiries or spiritual practices, I won’t know lasting peace or joy either. Another fine line to dance upon.
Janapriya is a shockingly talented one man orchestra who happens to be fun to watch as well. Support him on patreon and support joy in the world.
A delight from a fountain of musical delight: Janapriya.
What is Love? Love is not about valuing an object that you want to have/own or already have/own and want to continue having/owning. That is craving, lust, possession. That kind of “love” is directed towards an object and so is inherently objectifying. It objectifies the object “loved” whether that object is a machine, animal, a home or a human. No one wants to be objectified. We don’t respond to objectification with warm and fuzzy feelings. We feel cheated and even insulted.
Real love involves generosity, patience, discipline and is at first painful and difficult to enter into and only after some time is rewarding/releasing/liberating. Real love liberates the object or person loved, through wishing it well and giving it independence and freedom. It is not possessive.
SOCRATES, The Original Western Guru
In the summer of 2016 I gave a presentation on the teachings of Socrates as a type of “spirituality” to The Santa Fe Philosophical Society Meetup. My argument to them was, in essence, that the so-called “philosophy” of Socrates, as described by the ancient Greek author Plato, is the same as what was taught by Indian gurus of the ancient world. I boiled down all of Socrates teachings to the idea that “Doing and being ‘GOOD,’ in the highest sense of that word, leads to the greatest of all possible lives.” This is, of course, an over-simplication of an incredibly profound body of teachings, but it is, I believe, still valid with that caveat.
In that presentation I briefly went through a number of ways in which Socrates’ teachings match up with Eastern scriptures. I primarily used Hindu and Buddhist scriptures to make the comparison but I believe I could have just as easily used other Eastern sources as well.
The results of that talk inspired me to write a book outlining my point extensively and that inspiration to write a book has been reduced somewhat to write a series of blog articles. And so, this is the first in a series of articles in which I would like to share with you the details of this startling and exciting connection between Western and Eastern thought. For, if I am right and there is a strong similarity between the teachings of Socrates and what is considered Eastern “Spiritual” teachings today then a bridge is created. That bridge shows cultural unity instead of division and can help westerners to feel more at home following “spiritual” principles. If Socrates is truly a “guru” on par with the “gurus” of Indian thought then that East/West divide starts to look a bit artificial and “spirituality” in the form that is studied today can be recognized as the property not just of the East but of all cultures and all races.
In my attempt to show the connection between the teachings of Socrates and those of so-called “Eastern Spirituality” I zeroed in on 8 different themes. These were eight statements about life or aspects of life that seemed to me to be nearly identical to what I have found in Eastern religious/spiritual scriptures. It was very easy for me to pull out an assortment of quotes from Plato’s writings to support these 8 themes and I could have included many more than I did. Although I see the connection between Socrates and Eastern spiritual gurus to go beyond these 8 themes, I decided to start the discussion with them. I will use the next blog posts to go through each of these themes in detail. These 8 themes are:
1. EVERYTHING is CHANGING, MOVING (Impermanent)
2. Virtues or Qualities of the “GOOD”
3. The Importance and True Nature of LOVE
4. ROLE of the true PHILOSOPHER
5. DESCRIPTION of a true PHILOSOPHER
6. The ESSENCE, or the FORMS, as Key to the ETERNAL
7. The Importance of SELF-INQUIRY or The Examined Life
8. The Analogy of the CAVE, or THE DECEPTION of APPEARANCES
One of the cornerstones of all spiritual thought is the recognition of the fleeting nature of material existence. Eastern spirituality is known for its argument against attaching oneself too strongly to material existence because existence is constantly changing. This attention to “IMPERMANENCE” is a central teaching of the Buddha among other Eastern gurus. Impermanence is one of the principle focuses of the Buddhist Vipassana style meditation, the idea being that detachment to all types of “possessions” comes automatically as the impermanence or changing nature of all things is seen during meditation. This type of detachment frees us from suffering and opens us up to transcendental experiences and knowledge, so Eastern spirituality has repeatedly taught. I will add quotes from Eastern spiritual scriptures to support this later on. For now, I want to show how Socrates’ ideas are similar.
Before I list and explain quotes of Socrates however, I want to warn the reader that the connection between Socrates ideas and the similar ideas from Eastern scriptures is far from obvious. Socrates taught the idea of impermanence in his own way and the terms he used might not be immediately understandable to a person familiar with the corresponding Eastern ideas. In other words, I am not making a claim that the words Socrates used to describe impermanence are identical to the ones used in Eastern texts even after they have both been translated into English. If the similarity between the two were obvious it would have already been noticed by the perhaps tens of thousands of western academic scholars who have dedicated their lives to Plato’s writings and Socrates philosophy. No, the words are different but once a thorough analysis is performed one sees that the essence and practical import are the same in both. That is the conclusion that I want to share. Unfortunately, in order to see this connection a reader has to come to Socrates’ teachings with “new” eyes so to speak. Thinking that we already understand the import of Plato’s writings and Socrates’ teachings will surely make the task of seeing the connection with Eastern writings an impossible one. Even a reader with “fresh eyes,” so to speak, will not see the connection between Socrates and the Eastern writings unless a considerable amount of intellectual effort into the task of seeing the connection is made.
Not to sound negative, but I don’t expect many readers to follow me in these arguments because the readers who are oriented to this type of heavy intellectual analysis are most likely already prejudiced by the accepted (“academic”) understandings of Socrates and the potential readers who are not already prejudiced in this way are not likely to willingly put in the strenuous contemplation that both my arguments and Socrates’ arguments themselves require in order to understand fully. Nevertheless, the connection is valid and the argument for that connection is worth sharing.
The following quotes from Plato illustrate Socrates’ version of impermanence. Socrates explains that we perceive the phenomenal world through the use of sets of qualitative opposing ideas (hot/cold, etc.) but we don’t actually gain any real knowledge of those objects in that way. Socrates teaches that our world of objects is constantly changing and we know those objects in the present moment and only relative to the ideas we ascribe to them. Thus we really only know the mental ideals that we use and not anything absolute about the objects we connect them with. Objects change, only the ideas about them are not subject to change.
“For since things are being swept along, wisdom is the power to grasp, comprehend, and follow them. . . .if [an object] never stays the same, how can it BE something? Everything changes, moves, except the ideals.” –FROM Plato’s Cratylus.
In this quote Socrates undermines the conventional assumption that objects have fixed cores that allow them to clearly and solidly exist as the specific objects that we have named them as. For example, an apple on our desk surely exists because we can name it as an apple (using its prescribed characteristics) but Socrates shows that as the apple changes (gets chopped or cooked) we need to add other qualifying ideas to follow its changing nature. Furthermore, Socrates says, if we have to change the names or the ideas of names for an object in order to follow the changing of that object, can that object be said to have ever existed as anything we can fixedly name? If objects of our world are not so fixed then how can we claim to own them or even really know them? We know only the ideas or sets of opposite conditions that we use to describe objects and not the objects in themselves. This type of philosophical contemplation leads to attitude of detachment from material existence that Socrates repeats again and again throughout Plato’s dialogues and mirrors that emphasis within Eastern spiritual writings.
“We must understand this account as applying in the same way to hard and hot and everything else: nothing, as we were saying before, is in itself any of these. All of them, of all kinds whatsoever, are what things become through association with one another, as the result of motion. For even in the case of the active and passive motions it is impossible, as they say, for thought, taking them singly, to pin them down to being anything. There is no passive till it meets the active, no active except in conjunction with the passive; and what, in conjunction with one thing, is active, reveals itself as passive when it falls in with something else. And so, wherever you turn, there is nothing, as we said at the outset, which in itself is just one thing; all things become relatively to something. The verb ‘to be’ must be totally abolished.” — FROM Plato’s Theaetetus.
“One cannot understand them [objects] as fixedly being or fixedly not being or as both or as neither.” — FROM Plato’s Republic Chapter 5.
Socrates teaches that philosophers are just like Eastern spiritualists in that they are searching for what is stable, what is dependable, what is Eternal in life. That quest is initiated as a search for truth and nothing more. Both Eastern spirituality and the dialogues of Socrates are obsessed with truth and that obsession has led them both to examine the very nature of “being” or existence. And the foundation of that inquiry is the realization that in our everyday lives we treat the objects of our world as “existing” or as “being” in a fixed stable way and that habit is not justified by the careful observations and analyses of “philosophers” or “spiritualists.” One of the central teachings of the Buddha’s discourses or sutras was that to hold any “extreme view” about the nature of any object is a sign of complete ignorance. In other words, the Buddha also taught that we cannot go around thinking that we know the “reality” of the objects that we perceive in the world. For the Buddha, suffering comes from the very belief that we can know about the world and its objects. Without this belief, all of our evil and unwholesome habits come to an end:
“Monks, as to the source through which perceptions and notions born of mental proliferation beset a man: if nothing is found there to delight in, welcome and hold to, this is the end of the underlying tendency to lust, of the underlying tendency to aversion, of the underlying tendency to [having fixed opinions or] views, of the underlying tendency to doubt, of the underlying tendency to conceit, of the underlying tendency to desire for being, of the underlying tendency to ignorance; this is the end of resorting to rods and weapons, of quarrels, brawls, disputes, recrimination, malicious words, and false speech; here these evil unwholesome states cease without remainder.” FROM the Madhupindika Sutta (MN 18) emphasis mine.
In other words, the Buddha taught that the changing nature of everything means that there is nothing within anything to “delight in, welcome and hold to.” When we no longer feel confident that anything “IS” and we admit that “the verb ‘to be’ must be totally abolished,” just as Socrates teaches, then our evil tendencies end along with the suffering that they cause.
Of course, this teaching has led to criticism of both teachers. Some criticize the Buddha’s teachings as being nihilist and anti-life, even pro-death. IN THE SAME WAY, Socrates can be wrongly criticized. But the truth is that both teachers were leading others away from valuing life for the wrong reasons. Both teachers were attempting to turn our attention from things that change and are unstable towards what is unchanging and eternal.
“Philosophic natures always love the sort of learning that makes clear to them some feature of the being that always is and does not wander around between coming to be and decaying.” FROM Plato’s Republic ch. 7.