II.16 हेयं दुःखमनागतम


heyaṁ duḥkham anāgatam
“Pain not come is to be abandoned.”

All is pain. Yet.

I puzzle over Patañjali’s transition from II.15 to II.16. All is pain–and the wise know this./ The pain to come is to be avoided. The transition is sudden, without explanation. Because of that, it seems almost funny. A moment of humor in the text. Patañjali has put side by side two irreconcilable truths. All is pain. Avoid the pain (heya, often translated in this context as “to be avoided, ” also means “to be abandoned, forsaken, ended”; see the discussion of II.10).

The grammar of II.16 is so simple yet holds multiple meanings. It is a conundrum to translate. Three words, two adjectives and a noun, all in the first case singular, a simple equivalency:

to be ended=pain=not yet come

There is a tradition that teaches that yoga brings an end to suffering, and much of the commentary translates II.16 in this way, suggesting that yoga brings victory, as it were, over pain. My own experience of yoga practice does not qualify me to speak to that assertion. What I can say, though, for my own life–is that yoga has helped me discern what pain is unneeded, unnecessary, what pain may be of my own making–and what pain is just what it is.

I am tempted to translate II.16, “Some of the pain that is to come is avoidable.” This is something I know. Yoga practice has taught me to feel the pains of the body, to search them out, to learn from them; it has helped me integrate, learn better movement patterns. Likewise, it has revealed painful thoughts and feelings–fears, anxieties, old griefs, longings, frustrations. It has helped me not be afraid of the fear, not be frustrated, even, by the stuck places, the still-with-me, not-removed obstacles, reaction formations. I overreact, pre-judge, shut down possibility, control, retreat. Blunder! Oh, that is that.

Another big way that I know yoga  practice alleviates suffering is that it brings the body into a dynamic relation to space–inside and out. It revives prāṇa, and prāṇa is life force. Yoga strengthens the body and brings a mental resilience. Yoga empowers.

In the United States, we are living in a time when the highest court in the land has upheld voter suppression, the destruction of unions, religious and racial bigotry. This court shows little concern for women’s reproductive rights, nor for the poor, nor for limiting the influence of the super-rich.

A friend in political circles said this week, “We must grieve. We must love and care for each other. We must get active.”

I ask myself today–now, at this moment in our history–how does this sūtra speak to me? The pain of this day must be felt. It must be known. But then, in some sense, it must be abandoned. There is much to do.

He opened himself up to the feeling of utter helplessness and incoherence that he supposed he had spent his life trying to avoid, and waited for it to dismember him. What happened was not what he had expected. Instead of feeling the helplessness, he felt the helplessness and compassion for the helplessness at the same time. One followed the other swiftly, just as a hand reaches out instinctively to rub a hit shin. –Edward St. Aubyn, At Last


“Pain is your guru. As we experience pleasures happily, we must also learn not to lose our happiness when pain comes. As we see good in pleasure, we should learn to see good in pain. Learn to find comfort even in discomfort. We must not try to run from the pain but to move through and beyond it. This is the cultivation of tenacity and perseverance, which is a spiritual attitude toward yoga. This is also the spiritual attitude toward life.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p.47

“This aphorism might seem a little simplistic.  Who wants to suffer? However, it insists quite rightly that we can exercise prudence to prevent future suffering….
•Do not aggravate suffering.
•Alleviate suffering, whenever possible.
•Prevent the return of suffering.
In this way, suffering can then present a positive aspect leading us to examine its causes and modify our behavior. It becomes a factor of progression. This aphorism corresponds to a principal aim of yoga–to eliminate suffering.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on II.16

•Is pain a guru for you? Have the physical or mental benefits of yoga practice helped you handle pain?
•Has your yoga practice brought you awareness of pains that you had previously not felt?
•What choices have you made to alleviate suffering? For others? For yourself?
•In what way does awareness of pain–in oneself and in others–bring one to “a spiritual attitude toward life”?


neuter adjective, 1st case singular

to be forsaken, avoided, ended (from , “to abandon”)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

pain, suffering (from dus, “bad,” + kha, “space, axle-hole, aperture”)


neuter adjective, 1st case singular

not come, future (from an-, “not,” + ā-, prefix that suggests reverse action, + gam, “to go”; āgam = “to come”)

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