On yoga philosophy

Photo by Levi Guzman on Unsplash

The following collection first appeared on my Facebook page during 2017.

Clouds of confusion

Question: Why do we have so many problems in life?

Answer: The Yoga Sūtra suggests that it is because our minds experience almost constant Avidyā – “a false state of understanding”.

Problem: Avidyā feels like its opposite Vidyā – “a true state of understanding” [1]

Avidyā grows each time we act without thought, without careful attention, mechanically, blindly etc. Bad habits of thinking, speaking and doing develop. Those actions are bound to our [false] sense of who we are. They are super-charged by our likes and dislikes and a profound fear of death.

It is hard to train the mind, “which goes where it likes and does what it wants” [2], always in search of pleasure, a quick fix, an easy option, a way to gain some advantage over someone else, etc

Consequence: “An unruly mind suffers and causes suffering” [2]. Yes, it causes suffering to ourselves and to others. Poor you; poor them!

Solution: train the mind – for example, through yoga, especially meditation, because “a well-trained mind brings health and happiness” [2].

The mind needs to be trained to focus, to pay attention to one thing at a time. Learning the Periodic Table by heart, while a laudable achievement, is not the sort of mind training I am talking about. I mean, train the mind to focus on the here and now. That’s hard, by the way, but the effort is worth it.

Don’t do this just for yourself though. Imagine the benefits to those we live and work with. Imagine the benefits to those you lead, to family, friends, work colleagues … your goldfish.

Imagine a home or workplace where everyone practised a meditative routine for 15 minutes everyday. Imagine the benefits:

* better leadership

* better team work

* respect

* mutual support and collaboration

* enhanced sense of well being

* a happy and healthy planet for your goldfish

* etc

* etc

* etc

[Quotations: [1] TKV Desikachar, 1980, p.5 of his lectures on the theory and practice of yoga: “Religiousness in Yoga” [2] Page 46 of Eknath Easwaran’s 1985 translation of the Dhammapada. I was using the 2007 version.] [Posted 1 May 2017]


“Now” is the first word of the Yoga Sūtra-s. Now is “atha” in Sanskrit, and “atha’ has many meanings. Sometimes I think of the word as an invitation to be truly conscious of reality in the present moment and to stop thinking.

It is, of course, difficult to stop thinking, but we can become less fussy about what we think and to welcome each thought as if it were something special.

I found this poem earlier this month (or maybe it found me), which got me thinking about the first word of the Yoga Sūtra-s and being present to our thoughts:

“This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.”

[The Guest House by Jeladuddin Rumi, from Rumi: Selected Poems, trans Coleman Barks with John Moynce, A. J. Arberry, Reynold Nicholson (Penguin Books, 2004)] [Posted 10 March 2017]

The world exists

The world exists in order that it can be experienced. This is what the great yoga pundit, Patañjali, tells us. The world also exists for the purpose of liberation (YS II.18 & 21).

We will get the sense of what this means by making an effort to notice and step away from our thoughts. Our thoughts and our feelings, while clearly part of the world, form an enchantment that stops us experiencing Real Life.

The spell can be weakened, even broken, by asking a simple question: “What is it like to … ?”

I was walking in the woods today. I asked myself “What is it like to be walking among the trees and bluebells, under a sunny sky and with the cool air barely stirring?” For a moment my identification with my thoughts weakened enough for me to know that I could experience the walk in a different, more Real way. I could become aware of that which is Seen and that which Sees.

Louise Glück wrote a lovely poem called Nostos in the 1990s and it ends with these provocative words:

“We look at the world once, in childhood.

The rest is memory.”

These words seem to suggest that only when we really look at the world, as a child might, are we at home (a real place) and not living in virtual world created by memories etc.

So, ask yourself: “What is it like to … ?”

[Posted 23 April 2017]

Three qualities of the world

I was discussing Mind with a friend recently. We took a walk along the cliff paths. Had some peppermint tea. We got talking about Yoga.

The great thinkers of ancient India offer us many ways of understanding the world of matter, which includes Mind. One is the notion of the guṇa-s.

Here, the material world (including Mind) is likened to threads or strands which make up a rope. All manifest reality consists of a combination of three threads or guṇa-s which twist together to make up the ropes that make manifest Reality.

We can use the guṇa-s to describe states of Mind:

Sattva – words like wisdom, detachment, happiness, lucidity, and tranquility can describe this quality of Mind

Rajas – words like hankering, energetic endeavour, restlessness, creative activity can be associated with this ‘thread’

Tamas – one can use words like ignorance, delusion, sleep, lethargy and disinclination towards constructive activity to describe this ‘strand’ of the Mind.

I found these beautiful words from one of T Krishnamacharya’s long-standing students and an associate of TKV Desikachar’s. Ramaswami Srivatsa is an important authority on Yoga today.

Here are those words:

“Heavy tamas depresses the mind

Unhinged rajas disturbs the mind

Uplifting sattva delights the mind

Yogāsana-s, prāṇāyāma, dhyāna

Help sattva come to the fore.”

[posted on Ramaswami Srivatsa’s Facebook page on 15 May 2017][Posted on my Facebook page on 21 May 2017]

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