II.7 सुखानुशयी रागः

sukhānuśayī rāgaḥ
sukha-anuśayī rāgaḥ

Rāga [attachment] follows from happiness.”

The Sanskrit word rāga comes from raj, “to color,” and its first meaning is color, in particular, the color red. A second meaning is beauty, especially in music—it can refer to a note, harmony, or melody. Its meaning here is passion. As a person’s skin will flush with excitement—so desire could be understood to be a “coloring” of mood. In the context of yoga philosophy, rāga is most often translated as attachment.

In explaining rāga as an affliction, Patañjali emphasizes the ordinariness of it: sukha-anuśayī rāgaḥ. Raga follows happiness. Anuśayī (“lying close to”) establishes that rāga does not just sometimes accompany sukha (literally, “good space,” what is sweet, pleasurable); it is a close companion. I experience. I get excited—I want this good thing. The pleasure even perhaps builds. Some of this experience of sweetness is from the wanting.

Is it better then if the yoga practitioner tries not to feel too much? Some commentary suggests that and seems to recommend a neutral demeanor as best for the yogic path. Discipline, the ability to self-restrain, certainly are high values in yoga, but these are not the same as not feeling, nor do they imply that attachment in itself is bad. Indeed, a much greater affliction than attachment is to not feel at all.

Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk describes how he came to learn “about the extreme disconnection from the body that so many people with histories of trauma and neglect experience. I discovered that my professional training, with its focus on understanding and insight, had largely ignored the relevance of the living, breathing body, the foundation of our selves.… Once I was alerted to this, I was amazed to discover how many of my patients told me they could not feel whole areas of their bodies. Sometimes I’d ask them to close their eyes and tell me what I had put into their outstretched hands. Whether it was a car key, a quarter, or a can opener, they often could not even guess what they were holding—their sensory perceptions simply weren’t working.” (The Body Keeps the Score, p. 91) He goes on to reflect on how such individuals are separated from “the natural flow of feeling.”

Yoga practice brings us into experience of the “living, breathing body,” and in doing so connects us to our sensations and emotions. We feel more. The world has more color. We are more alive to what we touch, see, smell. Indeed, kriya yoga, as Patañjali describes it, is a way of bringing the awareness into more direct perception.

Yet the traditional teaching of rāga holds true. We cannot hold on to this beautiful world, nor to the parts of it we may want to possess: not the people, places, or seasons. Patañjali delves into the essential flux of nature later in this chapter. It is part of our suffering that all things pass.

The aspect of rāga that seems most dangerous to me is when it becomes stuck, when it stops the “natural flow of feeling” that van der Kolk describes. Just as nature changes and flows, so do our feelings. When the mind fixates on an object or goal as though that were all there is, then attachment overpowers ordinary feeling. Then rāga is obsession.

It is, ironically, a practice of coming back to the senses, to smelling, feeling, hearing in the present moment, that releases us from the tyranny of this kind of passion. Coming back into the rhythms of nature, into the timelessness of passing time, we learn non-attachment. Nan Shepherd, the Scottish Modernist writer and outdoor enthusiast, describes the wisdom to be found in the mountains, a wisdom that is in its own way an innocence:

Here then may be lived a life of the senses so pure, so untouched by any mode of apprehension but their own, that the body may be said to think. Each sense heightened to its most exquisite awareness, is in itself total experience. This is the innocence we have lost, living in one sense at a time to live all the way through.

So there I lie on the plateau, under me the central core of fire from which was thrust this grumbling grinding mass of plutonic rock, over me blue air, and between the fire of the rock and the fire of the sun, scree, soil and water, moss, grass, flower and tree, insect, bird and beast, wind, rain and snow — the total mountain. –Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain (as quoted in “Brain Pickings,” weekly blog by Maria Popova)


“It is in the nature of pleasure to want to renew it….Attachment shows itself not only with regard to material possessions (food, sex, honors, power, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and so on), but to spiritual ones as well (tossing aside responsibilities and taking refuge in badly interpreted spiritual values, or excessive attachment to the spiritual endeavor in question).” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on II.7

“Patañjali does not say run away from experiences. He says to let every experience be the opportunity for self-discovery…. Go through the experience with alertness, with sensitivity, understanding that experiences take place in the timelessness of Life. Do not try to impose your psychological time, to give it continuity, and say, ‘I had it this morning. I must have it tomorrow.'” —Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, pp. 78-9

• How do you balance caring and commitment with non-attachment?
• Has yoga practice affected your experience of your emotions?
• What is the relation between feeling and rāga (for you)?
• What are the objects of your attachment? Are they material (people, places, and things); artistic and intellectual; spiritual (perhaps spiritual practice or signs of accomplishment)?


masculine noun in compound

happiness, pleasure, good (from su, “good” + kha, “space”)


masculine adjective, 1st case singular

having a close connection as with a consequence; “lying close to” (from anu-, after, + śī, to rest, + –in, suffix that denotes having)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

love, passion, attachment, desire, obsession (from raj, “to be excited, to color”)

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