tataḥ paramā vaśyatendriyāṇām
tataḥ paramā vaśyatā indriyāṇām
“From that, full resiliency of the senses.”
Pratyāhāra, the process of going in, the practice of separating from our habitual patterns of seeing and responding to the world (II.54), brings refreshment and a renewal of the powers of the senses. In Rohit Mehta’s words, the senses become more sensitive, pliable: the senses function more freely, perform, as it were, their right role. The senses, he says, in his commentary on II.55, develop “resilience.”
Resilience of the senses is Rohit Mehta’s translation of the Sanskrit phrase vaśyatā indriyāṇām, which other commentators render as mastery, control, or–most dramatically–subjugation of the senses. Let us look closer at the key word here: vaśyatā. It derives from the verb vaś, to will, wish, or desire. The addition of -ya makes the meaning passive, and so vaśya means to be subject to another’s will, to be responsive to another’s wishes, to be ready to do service. The -ta ending makes a feminine abstract noun. Thus, vaśyatā can be understood to be the state of being responsive.
My problem with using subjugation–and even mastery or control–in the context of today’s sūtra is that it suggests a spirit-mind-body organization that functions as a hierarchy, in a top-down way. It implies that the senses serve a lower function, can perhaps, even, be taken for granted. This runs counter to the very lesson that practice has brought me: that the human organism, and each cell in it–as B.K.S. Iyengar says in Light on Life–is a great republic (p. 59).
As I mention in the discussion of II.54, recent trauma research indicates that many of us need to revive our senses, tune into body sensation more, not less, to heal and live more integrated lives. We need our senses to be active, fully functioning, and attuned to our surroundings (rather than the stories in our heads). Peter Levine titled his first book on healing from trauma Waking the Tiger. Not conquering the tiger, not controlling the tiger…waking. The tiger here symbolizes the power of the nervous system–that is, the unfrozen, fully functioning nervous system, the sensing, feeling self. This instinctive part of ourselves, according to Levine, is active, rhythmic; it flows from calmness to alertness to immobility then back to action. It builds and holds energy and will, in a burst, release it.
Modern society encourages the containment of energy–at school, at work, even in most social settings. There is little tolerance for release. Those of us, especially, who are drawn to following the rules may become stuck in a kind of grim purpose, out of touch with our own inner responsiveness. Persistent control can be a hard taskmaster.
Nineteenth-century author Anne Gilchrist, in an appreciation of Walt Whitman’s poetry, writes of the flow of life and of resiliency:
I used to think it was great to disregard happiness, to press on to a high goal, careless, disdainful of it. But now I see that there is nothing so great as to be capable of happiness; to pluck it out of “each moment and whatever happens”; to find that one can ride as gay and buoyant on the angry, menacing, tumultuous waves of life as on those that glide and glitter under a clear sky; that it is not defeat and wretchedness which come out of the storm of adversity, but strength and calmness.
She further reflects on the importance of the body and considers what a non-hierarchical view of the relation of spirit and body might be:
I feel deeply persuaded that a perfectly fearless, candid, ennobling treatment of the life of the body (so inextricably intertwined with, so potent in its influence on the life of the soul) will prove of inestimable value to all earnest and aspiring natures, impatient of the folly of the long-prevalent belief that it is because of the greatness of the spirit that it has learned to despise the body….The great tide of healthful life that carries all before it must surge through the whole man, not beat to and fro in one corner of his brain. –Anne Gilchrist, The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman. (Thanks to Maria Popova and her ever-inspiring blog Brain Pickings.)
Yoga practice has supported my own intimation of the greatness of the republic of the body, of the importance of each cell, and it has confirmed for me that it is through the resilience of the senses, their adaptability, flexibility–readiness–that I will gain greater wholeness, live more intuitively and more lovingly.
āpyāyantu mamāṅgāni vāk prāṇah cakṣuḥ
śrotram atho balam indriyāṇi ca sarvāṇi |
Make my limbs, speech, prāṇa, sight, and hearing strong–and all senses.
All is Brahman of Upaniṣads.
mā’haṃ brahma nirākuryāṃ|
May I not deny Brahman.
mā mā brahma nirākarot|
May Brahman not deny me.
May there be no denial.
anirākaraṇam me’stu |
May I have no denial.
tadātmani nirate ya upaniṣatsu dharmāḥ
te mayi santu te mayi santu |
May those dharmas that are in the Upaniṣads be in me,
who am devoted to the ātman. May they be in me.
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ ||
–mantra from Kena Upanisad
“The phrase indriyāṇām vaśyatā means the greater sensitivity of the senses. The senses become intensely pliable, casting away all dullness and rigidity. This is so because they come into their own and are able to function with freedom. It has to be remembered that there is nothing wrong in the free functioning of the senses. The functioning of the senses goes wrong only when the mind intervenes. … When that intervention is removed, the movement of the senses correspond with the flow of life.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, The Art of Integration, pp. 230-231
•Do you value logic over sensation? One sensation over another? Has yoga practice increased your appreciation of the senses?
•What might it mean for the senses to be more “resilient”? What might it mean for them to “move with the flow of life”? Where in your life do you experience freedom of the senses?
•How do you experience the storms of adversity? Happiness?
•Is it possible to sense and not conceptualize? What helps you sense more fully? Does metaphor play a role in helping you see, hear, smell, feel? Does music? Art?
|feminine adjective, 1st case singular
ultimate, most excellent (superlative of para, “other, higher, next”)
feminine noun, 1st case singular
the state of being responsive, pliancy, resilience (from vaś, “to wish, to will”)
neuter noun, 6th case plural, “of”
senses (from Indra, name of lord of the atmosphere, + –ya, suffix that designates belonging)