I.32 तत्प्रतिषेधार्थमेकतत्त्वाभ्यास:

tat-pratiṣedhārtham eka-tattvābhyāsaḥ
tat-pratiṣedhārtham eka-tattva-abhyāsaḥ

“To the purpose of preventing the obstacles, the practice of one thing.”

Traditionally, commentators have understood eka-tattva to mean īsvara, in the sense that īsvara is Truth, īsvara is Oneness. For example, in the tenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gītā, Krishna declares,

girām asmi ekam akṣaram
of words I am the one utterance
Bhagavad Gītā X.25

Eka-tattva means “one truth,” or, literally, “one-that-ness.” So this sūtra loops back to I.28, taj-japas tad-artha-bhāvanam, in which Patañjali states that through the repeated chanting of the one-syllable OM–the sound of īsvara–the practitioner undergoes transformation, realizes the meaning of the “one utterance.”

There is an aspect to practice that is single, singular. Abhyāsa derives from abhi “toward” and as ” to throw”; it is to aim toward something (not necessarily hit it).  In an ongoing way, we as practitioners develop the ability to have ekā-gratā, single-pointed focus (see III.11). Whatever the focal point is–it could be the press of a foot in an āsana, the sound of the vibrations of a mantra, the colors and form of an image, a verbal affirmation (perhaps I.33, the next sūtra)–we make a choice to return to that; we choose to be singular in our attention. We let go of the various concerns that catch our thoughts (or that we habitually review). This is essential to what yoga is, as Patañjali describes it.

We are all in our creation, in our embodiment, unique. We each are singular, and to experience our own singularity is a blessing. Yet Oneness is not just our own singularity: it refers too to union with others. In our connection to others, in our need for others, we sense what we hold in common–the Oneness of community. To enter into the spiritual path involves, in some way, entering into solitude. The retreat to the desert, remembered in the Christian church during the season of Lent, was Jesus’s time alone. Whether we are physically alone when practicing or with others, we come to experience the tension between these two aspects of Oneness. I am singular. I am alone. I am part of something bigger. I am part of a whole.

The ultimate goal of yoga, and the title of the fourth chapter of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, is kaivalya, variously translated as freedom, union, integration. The word derives from kevala, “one,” and so in its most literal sense means Oneness. (It brings to mind the English word atonement, which literally is “at-one-ment,” and means to be reconciled with another, to re-join them, as it were.) Perhaps kaivalya, freedom, Oneness, is the experience of oneself as part of one big thing.

There is a wonderful story in the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus goes to the house of two sisters: Mary and Martha. Mary sits listening to Jesus as Martha readies the house and the meal for the visitors. Finally, Martha complains. It is not right, she says, that I am doing all the work while Mary sits. (Yes, the women are waiting on the men.) Jesus defends Mary–and perhaps the right of women generally–to sit and contemplate and let go of the many things of life:

“Martha, Martha, you are busy with and troubled by many things.
There is need of only a few things; indeed, of only one.” Luke, 10.41-42

[Μάρθα Μάρθα, μεριμνᾷς καὶ θορυβάζῃ περὶ πολλά, ὀλίγων
δέ ἐστιν χρεία ἢ ἑνός·]

—–

“Correct adjustments in the unrhythmic musculoskeletal structure of the body, and the feeling of the non-movement or movement of intelligence in the various sheaths of the body through āsanas, which I practised with single-minded effort, became the keynote in my sādhanā.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on I.32, p. 109

“The word eka-tattva is significant, for it means the principle of oneness. To explore this principle of oneness is what is indicated here. It is not concentrating on a thought, but an exploration of the very condition of oneness. This would obviously mean one-pointed attention.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 56

“Just as we have discussed inner integration within our own bodies, this naturally leads to integration with all other life. Integrity means one. One is the number that can go into all other numbers. The fully sensitive and sensible being becomes not a ‘somebody’ but the common denominator of humanity. This takes place only when the intelligence of the head is transformed by humility and the wisdom of the heart and compassion is kindled.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 58

Questions:
• Consider the principle of Oneness in practice and in life. How does Oneness influence your practice? Your relation to others?
• Have you had a specific experience of movement or rhythm being restored to a part of the body? How does this affect the feeling of your body as a whole?
• Have you been able to stay with one practice over time? Do you have a tendency to switch between practices or traditions? What is the advantage to staying with one thing? What is the advantage of switching?

tad-

pronoun in compound

of those

pratiṣedha-

masculine noun in compound

prevention (from prati-, “against,” + sidh, “prevent”)

artham

neuter noun, 2nd case singular

goal, purpose (from arth, “to intend”)

eka-

adjective

one

tattva-

neuter noun in compound

that-ness, truth, reality

abhyāsaḥ

masculine noun, 1st case singular

practice, repetition (from abhi-, “towards,” + as, “to throw”)

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