Book 1, Sutra 30: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
“SICKNESS, APATHY, INDECISION, HEEDLESSNESS (LACK OF MENTAL FOCUS TO DO THE WORK), LAZINESS, LUST, WRONG IDEAS, FALL FROM A DESIRED STATE AND INABILITY TO MAINTAIN A DESIRED STATE CAN AGITATE OR DISTRACT THE MIND AND SO, ARE THE OBSTACLES.”
The nine obstacles in Sanskrt that Patanjali lists are: vyadi, styana, samsaya, pramada, alasya, avirati, bhranti-darshana, alana-bhumikatva and an-avasthitatvani. Most translations are similar in the way these individual obstacles are translated but the overall import does vary. Many translations say simply that these conditions are mentally agitating and so, they are obstacles to the yogi.
I read the sutra slightly differently. I feel that Patanjali is stating that these 9 conditions are obstacles WHEN they agitate or distract the yogi from his or her sadhana (practice). I don’t think that Patanjali is saying that these conditions are inherently problems on the yogic path. All of them are bound to occur to all yogis on the path. How we react to them is the central issue. They become problems when they agitate the mind or deviate the mind from yoga and, because they are likely to do so, Patanjali forewarns us about them.
Going through them individually, “apathy” (“styana”) is a loss of interest in yoga practice or a lack of enthusiasm, “heedlessness” (“pramada”) is a dullness of mind or a inability to focus the mind, “wrong ideas” (“bhranti-darshna”) means having doubt about yoga’s effectiveness while “indecision” (or “samsaya”) means a wavering between different ways of going forward.
If doubt or indecision prevents the yogi from moving forward they become obstacles. If we have doubt or are indecisive about what to do but we move forward with our practice anyway, they are not obstacles. In many translations “bhranti-darshana” is described as having hallucinatory visions in meditation but I would exclude those experiences from the category of obstacles if the yogi did not pay attention to them. It’s only when any of these 9 conditions successfully pulls the mind of the yogi away from its focus on the goal that it becomes an obstacle. “Hallucinary experience,” sickness or even lust are not necessarily obstacles in Patanjali’s system according to this sutra. It is only when the mind is swayed or affected by such experiences that obstacles are created.
Furthermore, “fall from a desired state” and “inability to maintain a desired state” are the most common translations of “alambdha bhumikatva” and “an-avasthitatvani” but, without being qualified, these translations imply that failures within a yogi’s practice or sadhana are actually obstacles.
Failures, however, are not obstacles to the yogi unless they scramble his or her mind and distract him or her from continuing on as before. To miss this point in the way that Patanjali words this sutra is to miss something central to his yoga. Patanjali’s Yoga is not therefore, militaristic or even highly moral as some translators have wondered about.
Many modern translations particularly, try to avoid making Patanjali’s yoga system a “moral” one by translating “a-virati”as “EXCESS pleasures” instead of “lust.” But this is an unnecessary distortion. “A-virati” is a warning about all sense pleasures but it is qualified by identifying only what “distracts the mind” as a true obstacle. Because lust and lack of energy can easily distract the mind of the yogi, Patanjali tells us that we must watch out for them as potential obstacles to realizing the goal. But if we remain detached and focused on our practice, the arising of lust or laziness is not a problem as far as Patanjali is concerned.
Posted on February 5, 2016, in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and tagged carelessness, distraction, doubt, dullness, illness, indecision, laziness, lust, obstacles, sickness. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.