Book 1, Sutra 12: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra



This sutra, like many of Patanjali’s sutras of the first chapter, are simple and yet, contain very profound and powerful knowledge. Earlier Patanjali told us that a permanent state of peace and happiness is possible when the five types of mental activities are ended. Now, in this sutra, he tells us how we can get free of those mental activities. He says that we must make a strong commitment to yoga that results in a habitual practice (abhyasa) and we must let go of our desires (vairagya). Patanjali tells us that if we want to be successful in yoga and become permanently liberated we must drop any impulse to give up or get discouraged and at the same time we must become indifferent to the results of all of our actions. These two elements work together to steer us steadily and safely to the goal.

Neither abhyasa nor vairagya have one set of equivalent phrases in English because they are complex spiritual ideas. By reviewing the variety of translations you may get a sense of this (the authors quoted are in parentheses):

For abyasa: “repeated and persistent practice” (satyananda saraswati), “tireless endeavor” (Sri Rama), “practice or repetition” (VishnuDevananda), “consistent earnest practice” (Stiles), “effort [made] for stability” (Tola & Dragonetti), “continuous practice of the will” (Condron), “persistent inner practice of Self-abidance, abiding in the “I AM” beyond body and mind” (Brahmananda Saraswati).

For vairagya: “a mental condition of non-attachment or detachment which is freedom from attraction and repulsion. . . . vairagya is freedom from likes and dislikes.” (satyananda saraswati), “elimination of emotional reactions to individuals and situations” (VishnuDevananda), “dispassion” (Arya), “indifference (asceticism)” (KN Saraswathy), “neutrality and unconcern, apathy and lack of interest” (KN Saraswathy), “nonreaction” (Hartranft), “objectivity of undivided attention” (Condron), “non attachment through discrimination” (Brahmananda Saraswati)

Some other notable comments further explaining abhyasa and vairagya:

“When a person loses all interest in material life then he is established in ‘vairagya’ (disinterestedness, detachment). It is not negative but the positive side of faith. Perserverance (abhyasa) and disinterestedness (vairagya) operate simultaneously. Together they help the mind gain greater mastery over itself to ultimately reach liberation (kaivalya). We should gain clarity of our goal and make a total commitment towards it.” (Sadhakas)

“We come across many spiritual aspirants who try to concentrate their minds without first practising abhyasa and vairagya, without first conquering raga (likes) and dwesha (dislikes). It is futile to make the mind silent without first removing the disturbing factors, namely (likes) and (dislikes), which make the mind unsteady. Patanjali tells us that abyasa and vairagya are the means one should first master so that meditation will follow easily.” (Satyananda Saraswati)

“Non-attachment (vairagya) does not mean there should not be love or compassion but rather that emotional thought waves are ignored. The vrttis (mental fluctuations) may arise but they are observed in a disinterested fashion, then put aside.” (VishnuDevananda)

“If one has disinterest in the world (vairagya) but no practice of meditation, the mind’s agitations will be pacified but the mind will enter into sleep (laya). The yoga of samadhi will not be fulfilled. Only with gradual practice (abhyasa), meditation may be elevated to greater heights.” (Nambiar)

“The moment that the idea dawns that desire is the basis for all of our material activities, desire is killed. . . . Both vairagyam and abhyasa (repeated practice) may seem simple words, but they stand for a great tremendous effort of the human will and variety of practices.” (KN Saraswathy)

“Strength must be developed to obtain detachment and freedom from desires.” (Iyengar)

“Practice (abhyasa) is the positive aspect of yoga. Detachment or renunciation (vairagya) is the negative. The two balance each other like day and night, inhalation and exhalation. Practice is the path of evolution; detachment and renunciation is the path of involution. Practice is involved in all the eight limbs of yoga. Evolutionary practice is the onward march to the discovery of the Self, involving yama, niyama, asana and pranayama [the 1st 4 of the 8 limbs of yoga, to be outlined later by Patanjali]. The involutionary path involves pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi [the last 4 limbs of Patanjali’s 8 limbed yoga]. This inward journey detaches the consciousness from external objects.” (Iyengar)





About Kilaya

Kilaya is a yogi who is also well-versed in the sciences. He studied physics and mathematics at college, biology and molecular biology on his own, fluid dynamics while working as a professional plumber and has always had a passion for in-depth psychology. Now he adds what he has learned from his spiritual master, Amma, and from his life as a professional astrologer to his writings in order to make discoveries that may inspire others.

Posted on November 28, 2015, in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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