Book 1, Sutra 21 & 22: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
“THE GOAL OF YOGA IS NOT FAR FROM THOSE WHO PRACTICE WITH PIERCING INTENSITY.”
This sutra does not contradict the need for detachment in the practice of yoga and stilling the mind. It just capitalizes on the earlier sutra that affirmed that everything rests on how well we practice (abhyasa). All we have to do is practice with 100%+ effort without giving up (or even thinking of giving up) then everything else will come (even the necessary detachment). It is only a lack of faith in these teachings, a lack of interest in reaching the goal or a lack of persistence in our efforts that can derail us or postpone us in reaching the Truth.
Patanjali affirms this very beautifully and poetically by saying that if you already have enough faith to practice with vigorous intensity (and your desire is so strong that you won’t even consider giving up) then effectively, you are there already. Success in yoga is “in the bag” so to speak.
Of course, we are assuming a lot here. The faith required is not easy to come by. What internal voice tells us that this thousand year old document from India is trustworthy? How do we know that, even if it was effective in India thousands of years ago, it is still applicable today, in a Western country? And if we do hear such a voice inside our head, if we do have an intuitive knowledge that these instructions for yoga are trustworthy, how can we trust that voice over other voices that tell us that it is more important to pursue a career, buy a house and develop a retirement plan?
Even if, by some miracle, we have strong faith in the trustworthiness of this set of yogic instructions, how do we develop a strong enough desire to pursue it with intensity? It is much easier to practice yoga gently, gradually, fitting it in to our already existing lives. How is it possible to desire the goal of yoga so desperately that we are willing to rearrange our lives in order to practice it with a “piercing intensity?”
It is said that a devotee approached Ramakrishna Paramahamsa complaining that he had been practicing yoga for 20 years and had nothing to show for it. Supposedly Ramakrishna brought him into a pond and proceeded to hold him underwater. After a prolonged period of time he released the poor man who came up, gasping for air. Ramakrishna then asked him, what were you thinking about when I was holding you under water? The man replied that all he could think about was getting air. When you practice yoga with that type of intensity, Ramakrishna told him, only then will you make real progress.
This isn’t to say that yoga is not worth pursuing unless it is done with “piercing intensity.” Sutra 22 answers that in saying that it’s not all or nothing. You get out of yoga what you put to your practice, essentially.
PRACTICE IN YOGA BEARS FRUIT RESPECTIVE OF ITS INTENSITY, MILD, MODERATE OR INTENSE