bhuvana-jñānaṁ sūrye saṁyamāt
“From saṁyama on the sun, knowledge of the world.”
Except at dawn, sunset, or when cloud cover is heavy, we do not look in the direction of the sun. We feel where it is, sense its touch on our head or back, calculate from the spill of its light in the room. Am I in shadow now, in dark?
In the modern age, we may be cut off from the sun, from “natural light,” as we say. We have other lights, or lighting. Offices, health clinics, commercial kitchens may have next to no windows, and vast supermarkets and retail outlets are built with none at all. Workers at a Walmart or Amazon fulfillment center might spend whole days without the touch of sun, without sensations of lightening or darkening–separate from the natural world of plants and animals also responding to that touch.
I write this entry at the beginning of December, where in the northern hemisphere, we move toward the winter solstice. Days get shorter and the night lengthens out. It is dark when I wake up, and in the afternoon, when I sweep the floor, I am accompanied by the glow of the sun low, rays shooting across the dust and detritus. Then the floor and the walls go colorless, grey, and then it is dark.
Solstice literally means the “stopping of the sun” (“from Latin sol, sun, + stit, stop). I have told my son that on the solstice, the earth changes its direction, it reverses its tilt. He says no that’s not so, and takes two objects to represent the sun and the earth so that I can understand better the smooth, uninterrupted orbits. I still feel though, a stopping, a turning on this day, at this time of year, and it feels like sacred time. In the Christian church, it is Advent (the season leading to birth or the “coming”), a time of waiting, watching, especially watching the night sky. Darkness is essential to this season.
Yoga practice has been an important way for me to connect to the natural world, a reminder to come present to where I am and what I am about, to what is around me. The Salute to the Sun (though I do not follow its exact down-dog/up-dog/chaturaṅga sequence), is a fantastic expression for what the hatha yoga practice is–a greeting of the sun, a vibrating of the life within, resonance to the pulse of the day.
Today’s sūtra states that from saṁyama (see III.4) on the sun comes knowledge of bhuvana, which can mean world, or, simply, a living being. Bhuvana derives from the verb bhū, “to be.” So bhuvana are the beings or the abode of beings. The word suggests an understanding of the universe that sees relationship between the microcosm of the individual body and the macrocosm of creation. In his commentary on III.27, B.K.S. Iyengar references the nāḍi and cakras, channels and centers of energy in the body that the practitioner comes to know, and suggests that through this practice of inner sensing, a knowledge of the greater cosmos comes.
This relationship radiates in various ways. The path of the sun through its annual course teaches seasons and cycles and orbits. I find that it also tethers me back to origins. My awareness over years of practice begins to reach back to the generations before me–to my family, to other peoples too. What is the path that has brought this generation, my generation, to where we are now?
In her ringing and beautiful poem “Remember,” U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo writes, “Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the strongest point of time.” What makes the dawn strong? Does it bring us strength to be present to it?
The sun, Harjo says, births itself then. And at sundown, it gives itself away to night. Remembering, witnessing this morning birth, birth that happens each morning–even on that holy day the solstice, when the sun seems to pause, when the earth responsively stops, shifts, pivots–remembering that this life is a life of birthing and death, that we are a part of a fabric of life that has come before us, that has led us to where we are now, and that we are in, not separate from. “Remember the dance language, that life is. Remember.”
Remember the sky you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of the universe.
Remember you are all people and all people are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
–Joy Harjo, “Remember”
“As the microcosm represents the macrocosm, man’s body epitomizes the entire structure of the great universe. The fourteen worlds are represented in the various regions of the body from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet…. Within the aerial regions are the seven major cakras. They are mulādhāra (seat of the anus), svādhiṣṭāna (sacral area), maṇipūraka (navel), anāhata (heart), viśuddhi (throat), ājnā (eyebrow centre) and sahasrāra (crown of the head). There are other cakras, such as sūrya (corresponding to the sympathetic nervous system), candra (parasympathetic nervous system) and manas (seat of the mind). All these are interconnected, like the solar system. The light that shines from the seat of the soul is the sun of life.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.27
• Do the cakras inform your practice? Do you use individual cakras as a point of focus? How do different cakras affect your movement, your expression?
• Some practitioners locate the sun within at the solar plexus, some at the heart, some in the suṣumna channel, centered along the spine. How do you experience the sun in you?
• Do you honor dawn and sunset when you are able?
• Has there been a time in your life when your daily routine was more tied to the sun and its movements?
• What is the trajectory of sun today where you live – where is the sun? What is the effect in you of asking yourself this?
neuter noun in compound
a being, living creature, world, earth, place of being (from bhū, “to be”)
neuter noun, 1st case singular
knowledge (from jña, “to know”)
masculine noun, 7th case singular, “in, on”
masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”
meditation, integration of the senses, regulation of citta, direct observation (from sam + yam, “to check, restrain, regulate”)