2 opening sutras of Patanjali’s text

In reading a commentary on Yoga Sutras (I’m just at the beginning), I found that the commentator stops at every sutra (aphorism?) and meditates on it. The text starts with the sutra “Atha Yoga Anusasanam” – “Now Yoga Teaching”, a standard way of opening texts, I’m told. Like adding a title to a blog, or text, perhaps. The two commentators I’ve looked at take this to launch into several definitions of Yoga, and pedagogy, exploring how Yoga – harmony is one definition – can be taught, focusing on the role of the teacher (guru), and the student. Here, the student is admonished to cultivate an attitude of intelligent submission. This could be called “being coachable”, where one needs to focus on ingesting the information with a reflective attitude, allowing the learning to illuminate one’s understanding of the world.

The second sutra is “Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodah” – “Yoga is the stilling of the mind-state” which I find is quite incredible. As one commentator explains, our state of mind is constantly shifting. He compares it to waves on the sea. There’s the wave and there is water. The mind state is just a temporary phase of the mind, eternally shifting. So in explaining this simple seeming aphorism there is a wealth of background that needs to be understood. For me, it feels like a return to my university philosophy courses where I felt completely baffled most days. In this sutra, the concept of one’s self-perception is brushed away. Why/How? Let’s take a look at how people may describe themselves: I’m a self-motivated, approachable person with a friendly smile. Are you always self-motivated? Are you always approachable? And do you always have a friendly smile on your face? Because one can only describe oneself using mind states as adjectives, the practice of yoga is designed to still the mind. Two questions here:
– What is the practice of yoga?
– And why should we still our minds?

Commentaries are necessary, because our language involves imagination. The concepts which are the foundation of any language evolve over time. In English the word “gentleman” for example, has evolved from the original concept of landed gentry to referring, in the polite form, to any group of men. In a similar fashion the words and concepts in use during Patanjali’s time are different to our understanding of the same now. Citta and Vritti, for example, are are loaded words colored by decades, if not centuries of debate at the time Patanjali penned his text. Their use, and their understanding has changed – which prompts one commentator to suggest that one approach the original text with a dictionary in one hand to explore the text independently to develop a broader and deeper understanding. Perhaps in the process of this piece-wise exploration he hopes that we will have the questing, open and receptive attitude that is suggested.

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