Book 1, Sutra 14: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
“THIS PRACTICE (ABHYASA) MUST, HOWEVER, BE MAINTAINED WITH VIGOR AND SINCERITY OVER A PROLONGED PERIOD OF TIME WITHOUT INTERRUPTION SO THAT IT BECOMES SOLID AND ESTABLISHED.”
We may be able to verify what Patanjali is saying here in this sutra through our own personal experience with forming new habits. If we want to create a new habit, particularly one that replaces another already established habit, we need to practice this new behavior with vigor and sincerity over a prolonged period of time without interruption before it becomes established. If we don’t pursue this new behavior with vigor and sincerity or we give it up for periods of time it will not take over as our new habit; in other words, the new behavior will not take root as our default behavior, completely replacing the other behavior. When we do establish a new habit, however, we no longer have to force ourselves to do it. The new behavior becomes a part of our natural routine. The new behavior becomes like brushing our teeth, taking a shower or washing our hands before a meal. It becomes automatic. It becomes something that we would feel strange skipping. It becomes something that we would not want to miss.
Patanjali tells us that our sadhana has to become established as a habit in this way. It must be practiced with sincerity and vigor, relentlessly over a long enough time until it becomes natural. We must develop an attachment to our sadhana, feeling like we can’t live without it, or feeling like any given day would be incomplete, unsatisfactory without it. Only then, Patanjali says, will sadhana become truly effective. Only then will our sadhana deliver on its promised spiritual treasure.
Some translations of this sutra imply that Patanjali is simply making an observation about the nature of habits; in other words, he is simply saying that habits don’t form without prolonged, uninterrupted dedication to them. These translations miss out on the important part of this sutra however, the part where Patanjali warns us that our sadhana practice (abhyasa) must become a habit for it to be truly effective. Patanjali is not simply stating the obvious, that habits are difficult to establish, he is specifically saying that our practice must become a habit if we are to see rewards from it. This part of Patanjali’s message comes from the Sanskrit word “tu” at the beginning of the sutra. This word is like “but” or “however” and it means that the previous sutra 13 is not complete without the information of this sutra 14. So in sutra 13 Patanjali told us that repeated practice is a necessary element in success with yoga and in this sutra 14 he adds that this practice must become an established habit before such success is seen.
VishnuDevananda says as much: “If there are interruptions in the practice of stilling the mind or if the effort is not continued over many many years, the results will only be temporary, and all progress will fade. Practice must be constant. It must also be done with an attitude of earnestness. Only when there is true desire to reach the Goal is success assured.”
If we consider this further we realize that Patanjali is saying that spiritual practice must be maintained until we are content with it and it alone. I mean that when a habit is established we are attached to it and it feeds us contentment daily. We are no longer looking to reach a point where this habit would end. So, Patanjali implies in this sutra that we must practice so hard and so continuously that we reach a place where we no longer want to stop our practice because we have reached liberation.
If liberation is a place where spiritual practice is no longer necessary, Patanjali is saying that in order to reach there we have to become so accustomed and content with the process of getting there (our sadhana) that we no longer want liberation because we don’t want to end our sadhana. Only when we don’t want to end our sadhana has it delivered us to the doorstep of liberation. This means that our sadhana or practice, itself, must give us something that is in itself essential to develop on the spiritual yogic path: contentment.
In that way, we can see that abhyasa directly contributes to the development of its complement, vairagya (renunciation). This is because the easiest way to develop renunciation or detachment is to be inherently content. When we are content with ourselves (due to our established habit of abhyasa or sadhana) then we don’t care what happens or does not happen outside of ourselves. Our sadhana feeds us enough to overcome any difficulties or disappointments in the external world. Our happiness with our sadhana gives us renunciation of everything else.
This is good news for the spiritual seeker because abhyasa is within our control while vairagya is much more difficult to develop. Now we know that if we focus on abhyasa in the way that Patanjali describes, the more difficult to acquire renunciation (vairagya) will come on its own. All we have to do is establish our sadhana as a habit through a prolonged and vigorous application of it and the other essential element of yoga, vairagya, will come naturally. This is truly great news for the aspiring yogi.
Posted on December 7, 2015, in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and tagged contentment, diligence, habit, liberation, Patanjali, persistence, repetition, sadhana, yoga. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.