III.25 बलेषु हस्तिबलादीनि

baleṣu hasti-balādīni
baleṣu hasti-bala-ādīni

“[To focus] on strengths–[learn from] the strength of an elephant, etc.”

Today’s sūtra follows closely on the last and could be paired with it. In III.24, Patañjali extolls the four great virtues. Strengths (balāni), he says, come from practicing friendliness, compassion, joy, presence. In III.25 he elaborates: What strengths? Yes, let’s focus on strength. What is the strength that is needed for what lies ahead? What strength do we need for our lives, for this time?

Patañjali does not enter into abstraction to pursue these questions. Instead, he shifts our attention to the natural world. Look at the strength of elephants (hasti-bala). Look at other parts of the living world. Look at nature to understand yourself.

Traditional commentary has emphasized that the elephant is the physically strongest of animals. This seems off.  The elephant represents much more, in India and elsewhere, than physical strength. The elephant has strong family bonds and lives in a matriarchal, interconnected social structure. Baby elephants live inseparable from their mothers for many years; they nurse exclusively for six months and continue to nurse intermittently after they have begun to eat other foods.

The Sanskrit name for elephant that Patañjali uses here is hastin, which literally means “the one who has a hand.” The trunk, of course, is the elephant’s hand, and it is remarkably adaptive–more so than our hand. Elephants use their trunks to gather food, hold objects, feed themselves, transport water for drinking and washing, reach out to others. They breathe and smell with the trunk, and they have more smell receptors there than any other animal possesses. They can detect food or water from miles away.

Elephants are also sensitive through their feet. They “hear” vibrations through the earth and can communicate over long distances this way. They are emotional, playful, and touchy–with their trunks and bodies.  The “ones with a hand” are a symbol, to me, of mutual support and joy in the group.

Again, we may ask, what is the strength our world needs? Modern society creates hierarchy and glorifies power and domination. It is a sickness. We are in need of healing from it.

In her influential novel Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko tells the story of Tayo, a WWII veteran suffering from PTSD. Tayo is threatened with long-term commitment to a psychiatric hospital. He is a Laguna Pueblo Indian not just processing the atrocities he experienced in the war but the circumstances he was born into, the attempted destruction of his own traditional culture, the subjugation and crimes committed against his people. Silko says she wrote the book to find her own way to heal herself, to find her own way to sanity. At one point, a traditional healer tells Tayo, “We all have been waiting for help a long time. But it never has been easy. The people must do it. You must do it.”

Tayo himself knows, as Silko puts it, that

His sickness was only part of something larger, and his cure would be found only in something great and inclusive of everything.

The ceremony that unfolds, that Silko reveals, is part ritual, repetition, and part story-telling. European settler-colonists attacked native peoples by taking away story, by forbidding native languages, and by literally kidnapping native children, enrolling them in boarding schools often thousands of miles from their families.

One story that is told in this beautiful book is the creation of the European colonial mindset. The indigenous peoples themselves, the story goes, set into motion a terrible spell, a story itself that infected the people who became the colonists. The story takes hold of the colonizing people:

Then they grow away from the earth
then they grow away from the sun
then they grow away from the plants and animals.
They see no life
When they look
they see only objects.
The world is a dead thing for them
the trees and rivers are not alive
the mountains and stones are not alive.
The deer and bear are objects
They see no life.
They fear
They fear the world.
They destroy what they fear.
They fear themselves.

–Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony, p. 135

This spell describes capitalism pretty well, it seems to me, and it describes the culture I am part of today. We are alienated from the earth and unaware of the sun, separated from the plants and animals we consume. We are destroying our world. The individual healing we need is the healing the larger world needs.

If you would focus on strength, says Patañjali, learn what is the true strength of the elephant, learn what is the strength of the deer and bear. What is the strength of the water and the rocks. What is the strength of life.

I am writing this at the time of the winter solstice. Solstice literally means “the sun stands still.” At this moment of pause, when the nights are long, and the darkness can teach us, it is a wonderful thing, a good opportunity, to search out where our life comes from, to know the rhythms of sun and moon, to feel the cycles of life in us and around us, to recognize that our life, our wholeness, depends on the living world, not on objects that we dominate.

The strength of the elephant is receptivity and interconnection.

—–


“In the preceding aphorism, Patañjali advised positive thought to obtain strength or moral qualities. In this aphorism … he recommends long periods of concentration on a concrete model, such as an animal, that embodies those qualities. For example, the elephant is strong, the snake is supple, and so on. In this way, we become like the model.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 176

“[This verse] traditionally promises the yogi the physical strength of an elephant if he/she meditates fully on the physical strength of an elephant. I choose rather to invoke the figure of the shaman, who in earlier cultures negotiated communication between human and non-human realms–usually by learning the language or dances of animals or plants or weather patterns.” –Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, p. 176

Questions:
• What helps you recognize that the world around you is alive? What helps you see living things, not objects? What helps you become receptive?
• What animals inspire you?
• Who and what are models for you?

baleṣu

neuter noun, 7th case plural, “on”

strength

hasti-

masculine noun in compound

elephant (from hasta, “hand,” + –in, suffix denoting possession; the elephant is “one who has a hand”)

bala-

neuter noun in compound

strength

ādīni

neuter noun, 1st case plural

beginning with, etc.

 

III.24 मैत्र्यादिषु बलानि

maitryādiṣu balāni
maitrī-ādiṣu balāni

“[From saṁyama] on friendliness, etc.–strengths.”

Three words long (two if you count the compound maitrī-ādiṣu as one), sūtra III.24 weaves back to the magnificent I.33, which B.K.S. Iyengar credits with teaching him to balance the head and the heart, and which Swami Satchidananda declares to be the one sūtra, if a person were to choose just one, to learn and practice.

Maitri is friendliness, the first of the four great virtues (in Buddhism, known as the “stations of Brahma”) that Patañjali presents in I.33. Ādiṣu means beginning with or etcetera, and thus the phrase maitrī-ādiṣu (“the group beginning with friendliness”) refers to all four of the virtues. We readers are expected to know them. A summary of I.33:

To overcome obstacles and gain clarity and calmness of the consciousness:

  • Bring friendliness (maitrī) to good or happy things.
  • Have compassion (karuṇā) when experiencing or encountering pain.
  • Be joyful (mudita) in the face of virtue.
  • Stay present (upekṣā) to wrongdoing.

Patañjali says in today’s sūtra that by aiming toward the qualities of maitrī-karuṇā-muditā-upekṣā–by practicing saṁyama on these qualities, we will grow in strength (balāni is plural for balam, strength). What an interesting promise! We will not just be clearer, calmer, we will be stronger.

A few weeks ago, a neighbor said to me, “We are all so tired.” We are tired from a year and more of Covid, from isolation, from the growing signs of climate disaster. Speaking for myself, I am tired and alarmed, my nervous system jangled, from the signs of rising fascism, racism, and far-right extremism, and the continued inefficacy of our government to respond to the needs of the day.

I am grateful to today’s sūtra for reminding me that the clear and calmed nervous system brings strength. And, that the way to the rest and restoration I long for is not shutting off or shutting down (well, actually, some of that may be necessary), but in caring–in feeling. Feeling the disappointment, the loss, the joy, the connection, the camaraderie. Feeling it.

The writer Kathleen Norris has reflected on depression–as she has experienced it–and on a related but, she says, distinct affliction that she identifies as “acedia”:

At its Greek root, the word acedia means the absence of care. The person afflicted by acedia refuses to care or is incapable of doing so. When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine: you know the pain is there, yet can’t rouse yourself to give a damn.

I certainly relate to experiencing bouts of “not giving a damn.” I do seek to numb out (at times). It might even be good for me to tune out, not listen to the news, more than I do. Yet ultimately, caring demands that I pay attention. This is not comfortable. Kathleen Norris continues,

That it hurts to care is borne out in etymology, for care derives from an Indo-European word meaning “to cry out,” as in a lament. Caring is not passive, but an assertion that no matter how strained and messy our relationships can be, it is worth something to be present, with others, doing our small part.

To practice good management of myself, I do need to shift, purposefully, my attention. Turn off the news, be in the garden, care for the physical things around me, enjoy, be present to, the many good things of the day. At the house where I now live, we have chickens. I tell myself, Julia, go be with the chickens. Go be friendly to them. Go be with their goodness.

Acedia, says Kathleen Norris, would have us “suppress or deny” the daily routines of care as “meaningless repetition or too much bother.” It is in these very repetitions, she declares, that we begin to care again. (See Kathleen Norris, Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life, page 3.)

Karuṇā, compassion, cognate to the English word care, comes  from a common and important Sanskrit root–kṛ, which means “to do.” Karuṇā seems related more to the passive sense of the verb, “to be done to.” In the end, compassion is allowing ourselves to be affected by something. An imprint is made. To feel is to suffer, to some extent. It is also to exult, to delight, to love.

Kathleen Norris writes in her book about a lifetime of handling her own care or “absence of care.” Practice assists her in that. Going through the ritual or the motions of daily care proves to be a lifeline for her. In so many ways, I.33 seems to point toward this. When we experience the slipping away of attention, when we are so tired, when we are so disappointed or so without hope that there is no longer care, then the practice of the ritual of care is key. The twelve-step programs teach an acronym HALT. Ask yourself, Am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? If I am hungry, I must feed myself. If I am angry, I must bring loving attention to the event or circumstance that I have reacted to. If I am lonely, I need to reach out to people. If I am tired, I need to rest (perhaps shut down).

A primary teaching in the Bhagavad Gītā is detachment from the fruits of action; the yogi is to work toward developing equanimity–sameness–in the face of hot and cold, good and bad, honor and dishonor. I have often wondered at this. What is is to be the same in relation to all things? But what if the “sameness” to be practiced is care?  Can I bring maitrī-ādiṣu, friendliness and all the rest, to the harsh circumstances of life? Can I care?

samaḥ śatrau ca mitre ca
[whoever is] the same toward an enemy and a friend
tathā mānāpamānayoḥ
as well toward respect and disrespect
śītoṣna-sukhaduḥkheṣu
in cold-heat, pleasure-pain
samaḥ saṇga-vivarjitaḥ
the same, is one who is attachment-freed

Bhagavad Gītā, XII.18

—–

“This sūtra offers a wonderful way to better our own life and the lives of others. By performing saṁyama on a desirable quality, such as friendliness, we can attain its benefits. Spiritual history is filled with stories of sages and saints whose mere presence mysteriously changed the lives of others. Often, without intent or effort, they transmitted these virtuous qualities, just as the sun, without intent, automatically radiates warmth and light.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.24

“Character is not storing in one’s behaviour-patterns attribute after attribute of what the mind describes as virtue. It cannot be built up. It arrives when the effort and the maker of the effort ease, so that there comes a vision of the innocent and the incorruptible virtue. The new mind permeated by the influence of this vision is truly virtuous. And so Patañjali says that as one communes with virtue there arises an inner strength which is not the product of the earth but a gift of heaven. This gift is available to all in the discontinuous interval of the timeless moment, in the non-dual experience of communion.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 327

Questions:
• What are ways to practice maitrī-karuṇā-muditā-upekṣā? What are examples from your life when you do that?
• Have you become more sensitive to the needs of your body?
• Have you experienced acedia (absence of care)?
• How do you grieve? Do you make time for grieving?

maitrī-

feminine noun in compound

friendliness, compassion, love, connection, community (from mith, “to unite”)

ādiṣu

neuter noun, 7th case plural, “in, on”

beginning with, et cetera

balāni

neuter noun, 1st case plural

strength, power

III.23 सोपक्रमं निरुपक्रमं च कर्म तत्संयमादपरान्तज्ञानमरिष्टेभ्यो वा

sopakramaṁ nirupakramaṁ ca karma tat-saṁyamād aparānta-jñānam ariṣṭebhyo vā
sopakramaṁ nirupakramaṁ ca karma tad-saṁyamāt apara-anta-jñānam ariṣṭebhyaḥ vā

Karma advances quickly or slowly. From saṁyama on [karma]–and on natural signs–knowledge of death.”

There are two sentences here. The first, sopakramaṁ nirupakramaṁ ca karma, is a statement about karma. Patañjali says that karma can proceed fast or slow, sopakrama, with the krama (from kram, “to step,” meaning here the progression of events), or nirupakrama, against. One meaning of karma (from kṛ, “to do”) is what happens, what we do or what is done to us, and there is a natural progression, a cause-and-effect order to how things unfold. Part of my karma is that I will grow old, my body will age, and I will die. How I live can affect how rapidly or slowly this seems to take place. But it will take place.

Certain times in my life seem to call attention to this natural unfolding more than others. There have been some years that seem so settled, it was as though time had stopped. My children’s early years were like that. Life as it was then seemed like it would always go on as it was doing. I felt I would always live in the house that we lived in then, that the family of grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles would always feel much as it did then. The past ten years have brought so much change for me it seems that things have speeded up. I live in a new house in a new state. There have been family misunderstandings and schisms. A dear friend died. I have aged.

From saṁyama  on the movement of events, Patañjali says, one gains apara-anta-jñānam, knowledge of the final end. Traditional commentators interpret apara-anta in this context as death, particularly one’s own death. They ask, has the work of my lifetime been fulfilled?

It is essential to most religious and spiritual practice to hold one’s own death before one. In yoga, fear of death (abhiniveśa, see II.9) is considered one of the five afflictions that affect everyone. A goal of practice is to “thin” the afflictions, to lessen our fear not through denial but through presence, understanding, coming into reality.

Pay attention to what happens, says Patañjali here, and watch for ariṣṭa, the signs of death. Derived from rṣ, “to pierce,” ariṣṭa is an omen or portent, generally of a misfortune or death.

What are the ariṣṭa around us now? The 653,000 deaths from Covid in the U.S. alone. The wildfires that have been burning in the American West, not in scattered places for a few days or weeks every few years, but over vast landscapes for months and every year. The Amazon rainforest now no longer absorbs more CO2 than it emits, an astounding benchmark of disaster.

The signs of things ending are all around us. How present are we able to be to this reality? What work might we take up to respond?

Terry Tempest Williams speaks of grief and love as she observes what is unfolding in her powerful essay “An Obituary for the Land,” written in September 2020. “No one is reporting,” she writes, “the smells of burnt feathers or leaves and sap, or the cold hard truth of those who find the missing frozen in their last gestures of escape beneath a blanket of ashes, ashes….”  Williams, a bird watcher since she was a child, is especially attuned to the birds who have gone missing, the hundreds of thousands killed off in the mass fires. It is through her attunement that she can name the ending that we face. We have a terminal disease of solipsism, she says:

I was asked to write an obituary for the land – but I realize I am writing an obituary for us, for the life we have lost and can never return to – and within this burning of western lands, our innocence and denial is in flames. The obituary will be short. The time came and these humans died from the old ways of being. Good riddance. It was time. Their cause of death was the terminal disease of solipsism whereby humans put themselves at the center of the universe. It was only about them. And in so doing we have been dead to the world that is alive.
Williams’ obituary, written in grief and love, is for us. For how we have lived. For our ignorance, innocence, and denial. She sees the land itself, the powerful land, as, in a way, beyond us. Her obituary, she says, is not for the land, “because even as you burn, you are throwing down seeds that will sprout and flower, trees will grow, and forests will rise again as living testaments to how one survives change.”
In the Indian cosmology, time is long. There have been ages before our age, a coming and going of societies and peoples. We Americans, in a general way, do not have this long sense. We see our individual time, our individual life, as exceptional. N.K. Jemisin, in her tremendous novel The Fifth Season, says we talk about the world ending, but we really mean our world is ending. Her narrator declares, “The ending of one story is just the beginning of another.” We say the world has ended, but “the planet is just fine.”
Today’s sūtra is about the life-death cycle. It is about witness and presence. It is about the work we are meant to do, in the life we are given now. Terry Tempest Williams says that “it will be our joy,” from this dying that we must do, to begin the work of restoration. It will be our joy to send our love forward to the generations that come after us, “to clear a path toward cooling a warming planet.” She writes:
Let this be a humble tribute, an exaltation, an homage, and an open-hearted eulogy to all we are losing to fire to floods to hurricanes and tornadoes and the invisible virus that has called us all home and brought us to our knees — We are not the only species that lives and loves and breathes on this miraculous planet called Earth—May we remember this—and raise a fist full of ash to all the lives lost that it holds.  –Terry Tempest Williams, “An Obituary for the Land”

—–

“The effects of action may be immediate or slow in coming: observing one’s actions with perfect discipline, or studying omens, yields insight into death.” — Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 52

“Understanding the narration of events gives insight into how things end.” — Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, p. 176

“Life and death are two aspects of creative forces. One cannot stand without the other. Hence the process of life cannot be understood without knowing the process of death, and vice versa….At every moment, tissues, cells, body, and senses are passing through life and death processes.” –Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati, The Textbook of Yoga Psychology, commentary on III.23

Questions:
• How well do you recognize endings–of relationships, belief structures, organizations or institutions, stages in life, life itself?
• How have you been witnessing the reality of climate change?
• How might you begin the work of restoration? What are you interested in restoring?
• What practices are supporting you at this time? Is there a practice of observation that you feel called to? Of action?

sopakramaṁ

neuter adjective, 1st case singular

quickly advancing (from so, “so,” + upa, “by the side of,” + kram, “to step”; literally, “with progression”)

nirupakramaṁ

neuter adjective, 1st case singular

slowly advancing  (from nir, “away from”,  + upa, “by the side of,” + kram, “to step”; literally, “against progression”)

ca

conjunction

and

karma

neuter noun, 1st case singular

action, what is done, cause-and-effect (from kṛ, “to do”); often left untranslated

tad-

pronoun in compound, 7th case understood, “on”

that

saṁyamāt

masculine noun, 5th case singular , “from”

meditation, integration of the senses, regulation of citta, direct observation (from sam + yam, “to check, restrain, regulate”)

apara-anta-

masculine noun in compound, 6th-case understood, “of”

death (from apara-, “having nothing beyond, extreme, western,” + antaḥ, “the end”)

jñānam

neuter noun, 1st case singular

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)

ariṣṭebhyaḥ

neuter noun, 5th case plural

portentous phenomenom, sign of approaching death (from a + ṛṣ, “to pierce”)

indeclinable

or

III.22 एतेन शब्दाद्यन्तर्धानमुक्तम

etena śabdādyantar-dhānam uktam
etena śabda-adi-antar-dhānam uktam

“By this, the placement within of sound and the other senses is explained [as well].”

This sūtra is omitted in some translations of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, since sight is often used as a stand-in for all the senses. I like Mr. Iyengar’s inclusion: III.22  emphasizes not just the importance of all the senses, but states resoundingly that our inner awareness is accessed by means of all the senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Sound draws us to the vibration within. The touch of the breath to the inner surfaces, the feedback of pressures in the joints, the direction of flow of the skin, help us feel at the level of the tissues, the cells. Focal points that engage the different senses (see III.1) increase our sensitivity. They bring self-knowledge and heal broken, disassociated states. Practice that uses the senses brings modern, alienated people–like myself–into the felt, lived body, into an experience of self that is more whole.

Antar-dhānam, inner awareness, is key to what yoga is. Mr. Iyengar, in Light on Life, refers to yoga as the Inner Journey, and over a long life of teaching, he creatively used language and image to convey inner sensing, to make it palpable.

Rohit Mehta, in his commentary, speaks of the restoration of going in, a respite from the crowd. I would add to this, from my own experience, that inner practice anchors me better in a sense of self not defined by others. Recently, I came upon this beautiful caution in ch. 9 of the Tao Te Ching:

Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

“The power of the gaze of others”– grāhya-śakti–mentioned in the last sūtra, is no small thing. And, as I mentioned in my last entry, there is particular menace from that gaze for women and people of color. As a woman, I have been raised to care for others’ opinions. I have experienced my safety as dependent on a pleasant manner, a gentle demeanor. I have been a people-pleaser in school and on the job. The danger for me in this is losing track of myself. In performing for others I am capable of doing harm to myself–this has taken the form of crushing self-doubt, high anxiety, fearfulness of a fall from grace.

Healing from the gaze of others, in my experience, can feel like a letting-go of past identities I have held, like the emptying of self described in I.43. It can be a willingness to act, to be, without label or “definition.”

What would it be to not define myself? What would it be to access myself through my present senses, to hear the vibration within?

She who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
She who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
She who defines herself
can’t know who she really is.
She who has power over others
can’t empower herself.
She who clings to her work
will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.
–ch. 24, Tao Te Ching, translations by Stephen Mitchell

—–

“A person may be in the midst of a crowd, and yet may be so withdrawn within that his presence there is just physical, the psychological counterpart having moved on elsewhere. By this meditation a person may retire into complete solitude even when physically in a crowd. The invisibility here is not physical but psychospiritual…. Patañjali speaks of communion with the Formless and the Soundless…. He suggests that there must happen constantly the phenomenon of withdrawal and return. He alone who constantly withdraws, can return refreshed and therefore undertake the task of effective communication.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 322-23

Questions:
• What senses do you rely on in your practice? Are there ways you might use all of them?
• Is solitude refreshing for you? What is solitude in a crowd like?
• How do you define yourself? What would it be like to let go of defining yourself?
• Do you see yourself through the eyes of others? What are the happy examples of that? Painful?

etena

pronoun, 3rd case singular

by this

śabda-

masculine noun in compound

sound, word

ādi-

masculine noun in compound

beginning (śabda-ādi is a compound that indicates “a list of things beginning with” śabda)

antar-dhānam

neuter noun, 1st case singular

placement within, invisibility (from antar, “within,” + dhā, “to put”; same root as dhārana)

uktam

neuter past perfect participle, 1st case singular

said, uttered (from vac, “to speak”); “it is explained”

 

III.21 कायरूपसंयमात् तद्ग्राह्यशक्तिस्तम्भे चक्षुःप्रकाशासम्प्रयोगेऽन्तर्धानम्

kāya-rūpa-saṁyamāt tad-grāhya-śakti-stambhe cakṣuḥ-prakāśāsamprayoge ‘ntardhānam
kāya-rūpa-saṁyamāt tad-grāhya-śakti-stambhe cakṣuḥ-prakāśa-asamprayoge antar-dhānam

“From saṁyama on the form of the body, [one learns] placement [of the awareness] within. [As this happens], one is freed from the power of others’ perceptions. [One feels within], disconnecting the light from the eye.”

Kāya is body and rūpa is form, though what “form” means here includes a sense of identity, characteristic, essence. To study the “form” of one’s own body is to come into its truth, its reality. To practice body awareness, central to yoga, is to come to know one’s own self. At the start of Ch. 1, Patañjali describes the purpose of yoga being “to stand in one’s true self” (I.3, tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe ‘vasthānam).

Today’s sūtra describes the power of antar-dhānam, the placement of the awareness within. This has been interpreted traditionally to mean invisibility, meaning the practitioner actually can stop others from seeing her. It has an important less-literal meaning. The power to place awareness within is the power to not be ruled by others’ perceptions of us. Feeling myself from within, I am freed from others’ view of me. The word Patañjali uses for perception, grāhya, derives from grah, “to grasp.” To be seen is thus “to be grasped.” In our modern world, where outer appearances are given so much weight, especially for women, it can be a powerful struggle to break from being treated as object, indeed, treating oneself as object (interestingly, III.20 speaks of citta as non-object-like).

Power relations within society do ultimately happen on a physical level; they are established through bodies. To understand the world, and the violence of this world, through our bodies, with our bodies, is critical.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has taught me this lesson in his searing book Between the World and Me, a letter to his teenage son. We have so many abstractions to describe how our society works. They are not sufficient.

All our phrasing–race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy–serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economies, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.

It is through the body that we must strive to understand events like the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breanna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, or the traffic stop of Lieutenant Caron Nazario in Virginia, during which he was held at gunpoint, pepper sprayed and threatened with electric shock. Coates contrasts the real violence on bodies to the convictions of “those who believe themselves to be white” and the story of American progress we hold dear.

When the killers of Michael Brown go unpunished, Coates is not surprised; he had not expected them to be. But his son had stayed up late waiting for an indictment. He was crushed when there was none. Coates writes,

I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.          –Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, pp. 10-12

We must inhabit our bodies better, and feel our way to other bodies, extend our imaginations to other experiences. These are our bodies. This is our world.

—–

“It is possible to attract more or less attention. One can disappear, like a chameleon, by imitating the dress, behavior, and personality of others, or stand out by being different. Unless there is interest in the thing seen, there is no perception. Interaction between the eye and the object registers the view, but the mind has to send out its intention to perceive the image. A person can attract another’s eye to a greater or lesser extent by playing on the spectator’s interest.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.21

Questions:
• What have you learned about your history and your life from focusing on the body?
• How do you perceive others differently if you sense them through the body?
• Has yoga affected your experience of your body in the world?
• How important is it to you how others’ see you? Has this shifted?

kāya-

masculine noun in compound

body

rūpa-

neuter noun in compound

form, essence, identity, appearance

saṁyamāt

masculine noun, 5th case singular, “due to”

meditation, integration of the senses, regulation of citta, direct observation (from sam + yam, “to check, restrain, regulate”)

tad-

pronoun in compound

its, that

grāhya-

adjective in compound

to be grasped (from grah, “to grasp”)

śakti-

feminine noun in compound

power (from śak, “to be able)

stambhe

masculine noun, 7th case singular, “upon”

stopping (from stambh, “to stop, fix, prop, uphold”)

cakṣuḥ-

 in compound

eye (from cakṣ, “to appear”)

prakāśa-

masculine noun in compound

light, brightness, illumination (from pra-, “forth,” + kaś, “to shine”)

asamprayoge

masculine noun, 7th case singular, “upon”

disconnecting, separating (from a-, “not,” + sam-, “with,” + pra-, “toward” + yuj, “to connect”; samprayuj, “to join together”)

antar-dhānam

neuter noun, 1st case singular

placement within, invisibility (from antar, “within,” + dhā, “to put”; same root as dhārana)

III.20 न च तत् सालम्बनं तस्याविषयीभूतत्वात्

na ca tat sālambanaṁ tasyāviṣayī-bhūtatvāt
na ca tat sālambanaṁ tasya aviṣayī-bhūtatvāt

“But one cannot know the cause [of that thought], because [citta] itself is not object-like.”

Yoga teaches us to attend to our physical experience, to the subtle movements in the body of breath, feeling, thought. It can bring an increased awareness of the other, a consciousness of the other’s physical experience, sensitivity to the other in space, body to body. And it can bring greater insight into another’s mind.

But there is a limit to the knowledge we have of another. Na ca tat, “but not that,” says Patañjali. Not what has given rise to another’s thought. Nor what has shaped another’s citta. Mind is not an object. It is aviṣayī-bhūtatva, in the nature of not-object. Mind is ineffable; it escapes observation. Patañjali, as psychologist, cautions us not to presume we have full understanding.

Sūtra III.20 holds up a mirror to our presumptions. In intimate relationships as well as more distant ones, what do I miss? Do I suppose I understand my cranky neighbor? Do I make space for those I work with to express their views, maybe disagree? What kind of authority do I claim as a teacher? Do I set myself up as knowing more than I do?

In my marriage–for more than thirty years–I have repeatedly had to work to not know. That is, I have had to let go of my conclusions–about myself as well as about my husband. The great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh suggests a practice of deep listening for longtime couples; a practice of being present to the other. He chides:

“If you have the impression that you know the other person inside and out, you are wrong. Are you sure that you even know yourself? Every person is a world to explore.” –Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Love

Likewise, psychotherapist Esther Perel looks at our expectations of relationships, especially intimate ones. In an interview on NPR, she references twentieth-century social psychologist Erich Fromm:

“[He observed] that we think that love is easy and that finding the right person is what is difficult; that it’s the love object that is complicated, [not] the experience itself, of loving — and of course, he turned it on its head: [he said] that love is a verb, that it’s not a permanent state of enthusiasm, and that it’s an actual practice… and that practice gets repeated all the time.” –Esther Perel,  On Being with Krista Tippett

We can perhaps find our way better into right relationship by letting go of certainty about what we know. This is not to say that we know nothing, nor that we shouldn’t trust the knowledge that we have, especially of dangerous people and situations. It is just to say, like Patañjali, Na ca tat, “but not that.” Remember we do not know the cause.

—–

“One can know how the mind of the other person works, but not why the mind functions that way.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 320

“If we are speaking with someone and we sense something of their psychological complexion or have flashes of insight or images that reinforce this intuition, how can we be sure where they come from? … This aphorism emphasizes the possible danger in interpreting one’s impressions too quickly, so great is the risk of mistakes. Patañjali is extremely wary in this sphere.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 172

“Perfect empathy does not involve perfect knowledge but rather a surrender to the unknowability of another’s internality. Ideally, this feeling does not alienate, but invites ever deeper levels of dialogue and intimacy.” –Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, p. 175

Questions:
• Do you respect others’ boundaries? If you are a teacher, health practitioner, or have authority over others, how do you remind yourself of the limits of your knowledge?
• Do you tend to focus on others’ thoughts? Do you resist interpreting what you perceive?
•What do you practice in relationship? What does it mean to you to say that love is a verb?

na

particle

not

ca

particle

and, but

tat

neuter pronoun, 1st case singular

that

sālambanaṁ

neuter noun, 1st case singular

resting on, founded on; the object that gives rise to a thought or feeling, the cause of a thought or feeling (from sa-, “with,” + ā-, a prefix that intensifies meaning, + lamb, “to hang from, to rest on”)

tasya

neuter pronoun, 6th case singular

of that, its

aviṣayī-

noun in compound

not-object, non-objective (from a-, prefix that negates, + viṣ, “to act”)

bhūtatvāt

neuter noun, 5th case singular
due to beingness, due to its nature of being (from bhū, “to be”)

 

III.19 प्रत्ययस्य परचित्तज्ञानम्

pratyayasya para-citta-jñānam

“[From direct perception] of a thought, knowledge of the citta of another.”

In sūtra III.18, Patañjali describes direct observation of long-established patterns that shape our thoughts. From that observation, he says, one learns one’s past. In today’s sūtra, he shifts attention to the rising thought itself–and to other people. From observation of the movement of thought, he says, one comes to understand another’s mind.

There is no good English translation for pratyaya. We make do with “thought,” but the word is literally a “movement toward” (from prati-, “towards,” + i, “to go”). It could also be considered a perception, idea, notion, feeling. As discussed in I.10, yoga philosophy considers citta (mind, consciousness) to be fluid, and the pratyaya is a movement within that fluid, a rising of intention toward an object. Earlier in this chapter, Patañjali describes citta in a wavelike way, with thoughts rising and subsiding naturally (see III.12).

How do we observe the thoughts of others? There are words, of course, what they say. There is also, always, how they say it. And as Patañjali points out in III.17, words and objects are often at variance. We get a tremendous amount of information from sound, look, feel. We sense through the body other bodies. This is a key way we understand people. We sense the movement in the thought, and the thought in the movement.

How roused we are ourselves on any given occasion, how tense or relaxed, poised to fight or flee or calm and receptive, will alter our perceptions of the other; mutual misunderstanding can happen in already pitched conditions. Body awareness, knowledge of one’s own pratyaya, in this sense, is key to better communication.

Physical therapist and dance innovator Irmgaard Bartenieff believed movement patterns are an essential way we “feel” each other. Here, she beautifully sketches our interactions with each other and our world:

We stamp in anger, curve in love, retreat in fear and advance in confidence. We make jerky angular progress toward our goal or progress with smooth, rounded symmetrical or asymmetrical phrases and rhythms. We drive ourselves without respite, blind to all but our goal, or we prepare, initiate and move in a particular sequence so that transitions along the way are economical and changes keep us refreshed without waste or losing sight of the goal.

Bartenieff describes, much as Patañjali might, the inherent quality of movement and change in nature and our experience:

We see light etched by shadows, feel joy emerging from sorrow; the present hovers between the past and the future. Between all these opposites, there is a sense of movement that renews the clarity of each experience. Even in apparent stillness, movement variables are active.  –Irmgaard Bartenieff and Dori Lewis, Body Movement: Coping with the Environment

During this time of Covid, we have lost much of our physical connection with others. We see each other virtually, in small frames on a screen. There is a concept in Japan called “forest-bathing”: it is a practice of spending time among trees. It is seen as a way to refresh the senses and spirit. Similarly, yoga class is an opportunity to bathe in each other’s presence. It is a kind of group pratyaya, a harmonic body-to-body experience.

So what happens during a Zoom yoga class? Or, perhaps more significant, what is the effect of school, volunteer work, business, family meetings all moved online?

Jeremy N. Bailenson, director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, has been exploring a phenomenon that he calls “Zoom fatigue.” He says Zoom is different from in-person interaction in four ways: (1) we tend to maintain eye gaze at close distances, in a manner usually reserved for intimate relationships, (2) movement cues are reduced and more awkward, (3) we see a mirror of ourselves throughout the interaction, and (4) we adjust our movement to the camera, restricting ourselves to the area of the “frustrum,” the cone-like space framed by the computer screen.

Bailenson’s observations emphasize the importance of our body-to-body connections–in ourselves, in our surroundings:

In face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication flows naturally, to the point where we are rarely consciously attending to our own gestures and other nonverbal cues. One of the remarkable aspects of early work on nonverbal synchrony is how nonverbal behavior is simultaneously effortless and incredibly complex. …

During face-to-face meetings people move. They pace, stand up, and stretch, doodle on a notepad, get up to use a chalkboard, even walk over to the water cooler to refill their glass. There are a number of studies showing that locomotion and other movements cause better performance in meetings. — Jeremy N. Bailenson, “Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue,” in Technology, Mind, and Behavior

Bailenson makes makes some suggestions to reduce Zoom fatigue: turn off the self-view (I began to do this yesterday, and I did feel more relaxed), use an external camera to give yourself more movement flexibility, and–perhaps this is surprising–consider talking on the phone instead, as he puts it, “to free your body from the frustrum.”

—–

“An expressed thought has to function under the limitations of words. But howsoever limited the language may be, if one communes with these verbalizations then one can understand how the mind of the other person works. …This is the way of putting oneself in rapport with the mind of another.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 320

“Before we examine another person’s mind, we must become conscious of the factors that condition us. We must first know and accept ourselves, so that we are sufficiently calm. Then, the image of the other can be reflected on the calm surface of our mind. When we are calm and listening, and accustomed to seeing the influence of fear on our own attitudes, breathing patterns, and facial expressions, we will be able to feel another’s fear. If we have not gotten over our own fears, we are likely to see only our own fear in another. This is the same for all human feelings.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.19

“That principle by which objects are known is called pratyaya. By samyama on the process of the psychic mechanism, modus operandi of mindstuff, there arises knowledge about others’ minds. The process of the psychic mechanism consists of the laws of the mind, how the mind operates. These mental laws are not corporeal. They are incorporeal, but they move the entire body, which is corporeal, in a particular way. Every inner feeling will move the body in its own way. … Everyone can read others’ minds to some extent. We see that mothers, teachers, and psychologists can imagine something about the minds of their children, pupils, and patients respectively.” –Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati, The Textbook of Yoga Psychology, commentary on III.19

Questions
•Has increased body awareness given you greater insight into others? Greater understanding of situation?
•Have you come to understand your own thinking better–where your thoughts arise from, how they connect to your feelings? How they move in your body?
•What happens to you physically when you are reactive? When you think you are in danger, where do you feel it in your body?
•What person-to-person experience do you miss?

pratyayasya
masculine noun, 6th case singular, “of”
thought wave, movement of citta towards something (from prati-, “towards,” + i, “to go”)
para-
noun in compound
another, other
citta-
neuter noun in compound
mind, consciousness, life field (from cit, “to perceive, to observe, to know”)
jñānam
neuter noun, 1st case singular
knowledge (from jña, “to know”)

 

 

III.18 संस्कारसाक्षात्करणात पूर्वजातिज्ञानम

saṁskāra-sākṣāt-karaṇāt pūrva-jāti-jñānam
“From direct observation of saṁskāra, knowledge of previous births.”

The idea of saṁskāra, imprints on the consciousness, is central to the yogic endeavor (see I.50, III.10). The yoga practitioner comes to see in herself the imprints that create patterns of movement and thought, as rocks on the beach will pattern the water flowing over them.  Dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi–the three components of saṁyama–are, in an essential way, a process of self-observation.

Here, in sūtra III.18, Patañjali explicitly says to observe “with your own eye” the imprints that pattern you. He uses a compelling compound word: sākṣāt-karaṇa (from sa, “with,” + akṣa, “eye,” and kṛ, “to do”), which might be understood to be “doing with the eyes” or “putting before the eyes”–direct perception. In Sanskrit, the word “eye” often stands in for all the senses. Thus the term for direct perception used in Chapter One, pratyakṣa, is literally “toward the eye” (from prati-, “towards,” + akṣa, “eye”), but refers to hearing, taste, touch as well as sight.

Directly observe the patterns in you, says Patañjali, see them, feel them, hear them, and you will learn of your past experiences (the term used is pūrva-jāti, literally “past births”). Knowing the past lessens its hold, helps untangle the pattern the saṁskāra create.

Yoga has revealed to me many patterns: in my body, a constriction here, a tightness there, perhaps a twist or drop; in my mind, a conviction, a false belief, a habit of thought still there though it is outworn. Yoga has brought before me old experiences, many of them from childhood. I can see better how I have been conditioned, and I am coming to understand, as Bernard Bouanchaud has put it, that conditioning is “atavistic, hereditary, family, educational, social, professional.”

I am considering this week a trait that I believe to be not just personal, formed by unique and individual experience, but is wide, formed by the society, the group of which I am a part.

In exploring the yama of asteya, non-stealing, I wrote of feeling “not enough.” I might describe this as a mood of insufficiency, of being found lacking. I recalled yoga teacher Matthew Sanford’s beautiful admonition: You are enough (see II.37).

Fullness, enoughness, is a spiritual value. The ancient mantra pūrṇam adaḥ sings of abundance: “Fullness there, fullness here. Fullness arises out of fullness. Take away fullness from fullness, fullness remains.” I have chanted this for many years, and I have practiced the principle of enough-ness. I begin to see that the economy I am living in, and the group that has formed me, operate on an assumption of scarcity, not abundance.

In her 1989 book Fear of Falling, Barbara Ehrenreich studies the middle class, or rather, as she puts it, the professional-managerial class. She observes that, despite enjoying the full benefits of modern society, this class is “insecure and deeply anxious.” Taught from an early age that education and effort is the path to security, its children steel themselves through years of school and advanced training and dedicate themselves to work life. The class is an elite, yet feels itself to be always on a precipice:

It is afraid, like any class below the most securely wealthy, of misfortunes that might lead to a downward slide. [And] in the middle class there is another anxiety: a fear of inner weakness, of growing soft, of failing to strive, of losing discipline and will. Even the affluence that is so often the goal of all this striving becomes a threat, for it holds out the possibility of hedonism and self-indulgence. Whether the middle class looks down toward the realm of less, or up toward the realm of more, there is the fear, always, of falling. –Barbara Ehrenreich, Fear of Falling

In the more than thirty years since Ehrenreich wrote these words, income inequality has increased, student debt has skyrocketed, and health care has become prohibitively expensive for those with no health insurance and who do not qualify for Medicaid Expansion (twelve states, mostly in the South, did not take federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act). Our public health infrastructure, like our other public systems, are crumbling.

I have become interested in looking back at our history, and how a sense of the commons, of security for all, of enoughness, has been established in the past. In 1941, Franklin Roosevelt outlined four essential freedoms necessary to our society, the third of which is surprising to my ears today: freedom from want.

In 1948, the United Nations encoded freedom from want as a human right: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his/her control.” (Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

In the first part of the twentieth century, following the collapse of the stock market and the widespread misery of the Great Depression, progressives fought to put limits on the market and the influence of the wealthy on our society. Social Security, a massive, government-managed social welfare program–still popular today–was enacted in 1935, and then in 1965, Medicare followed suit. Both these programs recognize that the market does not provide for the necessities of life for all, but government, pooling the abundance of our resources, can. The idea is that our security, our stability and our freedom, come from our connection to others, not in spite of them.

Mike Konczal, in Freedom from the Market, describes how in the past forty years, we have suffered a reactionary re-assertion of the power of the market. Economists and pundits hold up the market–and its freedom–as the highest good.

The things we need to lead our lives are forced into markets where we are compelled to obtain them, at the mercy of private, profit-seeking actors and our own ability to pay. Many of our needs are left unmet or poorly provided for by the market—from health care to retirement security to providing for children—and more suffering is the result.

He continues:

It’s impossible to say exactly when it started, but viewing the market and our dependency on it as something that needs to be checked has dropped out of our politics. Instead, we’ve watched as the market has extended further into our lives and even further into how we view ourselves and our society.   –Mike Konczal, Freedom from the Market

The values of our society affect how we see ourselves, can even influence us to see ourselves as commodities. When might we begin to assert again that freedom from want is a human right? How can we know ourselves to be living in abundance when we have lost the sense of our common lot, our shared common purpose? Pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate.  “From fullness comes fullness.”

—–

“By turning our attention inward, directly observing subconscious impressions, and noting when, how, and why they manifest, we will see themes, keynote thoughts–the essential plot line around which our current life was formed.” -The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, commentary on III.18

“With this aphorism, Patañjali proposes we look our own conditioning squarely in the eye: atavistic, hereditary, family, educational, social, professional, and so on….Knowing more about our origins enables us to make new choices and get a fresh start.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.18

“The operative nature of the past resides not in events and happenings but in tendencies and reactions that are embedded in one’s consciousness. And so the past in its real sense is not away from us, but is there in the very situation in which we are. The past is in the present, and this can be comprehended by communing with the present. This means seeing one’s own tendencies, habits and reactions without any explanation or interruption. Then they themselves tell us the nature of our past. Once again it is only the new mind that can cognize the real nature of one’s past.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 318

Questions:
• Do you look at the patterns of your mind without judging them? What do they teach you?
• How is your past in your present? Does practice reveal your past to you?
• In what ways do you work to stay open-minded, to see things with a fresh eye?
• Have the events of this year given you perspective on society’s influence on you–your values, your psychology, your spiritual struggles?  Have events changed anything about your sense of your role in society? What part do you play?

saṁskāra-

masculine noun in compound

transformation, change (from pari-, “around,” + nam, “to bend”)

sākṣāt-

adjective in compound (appears only in 5th case singular )

with one’s own eyes (from sa, “with,” + akṣa, “eye”)

karaṇāt

neuter noun, 5th case singular

doing, making (from kṛ, “to do”); in compound with sākṣāt = direct perception, “putting before the eyes”

pūrva-

adjective in compound

previous

jāti-

feminine noun in compound

birth, circumstance of birth (from jan, “to give birth”)

jñānam

neuter noun, 1st case singular

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)

 

III.17 शब्दार्थप्रत्ययानामितरेतराध्यासात् सङ्करस्तत्प्रविभागसंयमात् सर्वभूतरुतज्ञानम्

śabdārtha-pratyayānām itaretarādhyāsāt saṁkaras tat-pravibhāga-saṁyamāt
sarva-bhūta-ruta-jñānam
śabda-artha-pratyayānām itara-itara-adhyāsāt saṁkaraḥ tad-pravibhāga-saṁyamāt
sarva-bhūta-ruta-jñānam

“Word, object, and thought–piled one upon the other–get confused. From saṁyama on the distinctness of these, knowledge of the sound of all beings.”

Language shapes thought. This is why I study Sanskrit. The different words used, their distinct implications and connections, open up meanings not in English. To study another language is to see in a different way.

In today’s sūtra, Patañjali reflects on language, a recurring theme in the Yoga Sūtras (see I.9, I.42, and I.49). This is not accident. To penetrate inward, to come to know self better, is to come to see how language works. Ultimately, in practicing direct observation, one comes to see the limit of what one has seen–how mingled, confused (expressed here by saṁkara, which literally means “mixed together”) most observation is. Patañjali puts it this way: śabda (word), artha (object), and pratyaya (thought) overlap, one on the other (itara-itara) and so intermingle. Despite this, he continues, these three are distinct. Observe that.

Naming things helps us to know them. But it is not the end of knowing. There is more observation to be done after the word is said. Indeed, Patañjali suggests here, observation may be a kind of listening. Look feel listen to the vibrations, to the object, to the world.

Sound and vibration are mystical entities in Indian tradition. Creation, it is said, began with the word atha, and the sacred syllable OM is considered to contain all the sounds of the universe. Thus, when Patañjali says that saṁyama on word, object, and thought bring knowledge of the sound of all beings, he alludes to deep mystical knowledge, an understanding of the nature of things, the hum of life.

It is beautiful to consider that in conversation with our friends, we might listen past their words to their hum. That we might attempt to “hear” an animal. Do I speak dog? Not really. Yet my dog and I understand each other. It is possible, really, that he is the more attentive one.

In hatha yoga, the element of space is related to sound. Through āsana practice, we come to experience space in and around us in a physical and tactile way. This can help us become more sensitive to vibration. To the touch of sound.

Today’s sūtra is an important one. It demands that the yoga practitioner question assumptions and the status quo. I have been writing in recent months about the crises we face on a political and global level. Examination of assumptions in a society-wide way is critical–I do not exaggerate–for our survival. I was excited to hear, this past week, an interview with Gina McCarthy, recently appointed by President Biden to be the first United States National Climate Advisor. She is the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency and has worked as a health advocate and protector of environmental well-being her entire career. In this interview, McCarthy assesses what the word “government” means to us today. What does the word conjure up? On right-wing talk radio, it is a pejorative term. Yet government is what we as citizens make. Government is how we govern ourselves. The way we come together for the common good. Gina McCarthy explains:

“Since the Reagan administration there has been a concerted effort to say that government is dysfunctional, it can’t work, and as a result a lot of government right now is dysfunctional and isn’t working. There are so many ways we can have the kind of future we all want as long as we are willing to make government work for us.”

Gina McCarthy emphasizes that individual solutions will not solve the environmental nor social justice crises we face: she says we must work in community, whether that is local, state, or federal government. We must demand that government become active in encouraging, through regulation and enticement, the solutions we already have. What prevents us from unleashing these solutions? McCarthy suggests that our sense that “there is nothing to be done” has been created in us:

“People with money seem to be able to mess up our perception of reality–not just science but our reality. I don’t see any way that gets us out of this without people becoming more active, much more vocal, us demanding that we be served, not just the wealthy. … The young people get it. They know it. They’re demanding it.” *

The solutions, says McCarthy, are not painful. They are fun and good. They will make a better world. Listen to the hum of that world.

*From the podcast How to Save the World, hosted by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Alex Blumberg,  Jan. 14 episode: “Meet Your New Climate Czar.”

—–

Śabda, when manifest as the audible aspect of a word, is, in and of itself, simply an arrangement of sounds or phonemes, which contains meaning of some object, artha, that produces an impression on the mind of the listener…. Therefore, the word is one thing, the meaning of the object itself something else, and the idea or knowledge of the object something else again.” –Edwin Bryant, The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.17

“Concentrate separately on the word, the meaning and the object, which are mixed up in common usage; understand the speech of every creature. When we utter the word ‘elephant’, we find that the word, the meaning and the object are mixed up; the word lives in air, the meaning lives in mind, the elephant lives by itself.”

“Very often there is a gap between the words we use and what these words really mean, because our inner and outer experiences color them. Something that sounds like a compliment might really be expressing jealousy that the speaker seeks to hide even from him or herself. The first stage, then, is prolonged observation of the possible gap between our own words and what we are really saying, given our situations, our experiences, and our emotional and mental states. It is a matter of knowing what we say, why we say it, and in what circumstances we say it.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.17

“Speech is the most powerful means of communication. And yet much misunderstanding is created by the spoken word resulting in unhappy relationship. If one could go behind the verbal meaning and cease projecting one’s own meanings on words that are spoken by the other then life would be much simpler causing no strain in relationship. But how is this to be done? Only by an act of communion, which means noting the movement of one’s own mind when one listens to the words uttered by others.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 316

Questions:
• Has yoga helped you become a better communicator? Can you understand someone who speaks another language? How well do you listen to animals? To yourself? How tuned into your environment are you?
• This sūtra asserts that there is a distinction between words and the objects they describe. What is an example of an incident when words prevented understanding?
• What are the sounds of a healthy world?
• Do you have access to the sounds of nature where you live?

śabda-

masculine noun in compound

sound, word

artha-

masculine noun in compound

meaning, purpose

pratyayānām

masculine noun, 6th case plural, “of”

thought wave, movement towards something (prati-, “towards,” + i, “to go”)

itara-itara-

pronoun in compound

one upon the other

adhyāsāt

masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”

superimposition (from adhi-, “over,” + as, “to cast”)

saṁkaraḥ

masculine noun, 1st case singular

confusion, mixing together (from sam-, “with,” + kṛ, “to do”)

tad-

pronoun in compound

of these

pravibhāga-

masculine noun in compound

separation, distinctness (from pra- + vi- + bhaj, “to divide”)

saṁyamāt

masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”

meditation, integration of the senses, regulation of citta, direct observation (from sam + yam, “to check, restrain, regulate”)

sarva-

adjective in compound

all

bhūta-

neuter noun in compound

that which exists, any living being, element (from bhū, “to be”)

ruta-

neuter noun in compound

sound, the cry of animals, the song of birds, hum of bees (from ru, “to make a sound, cry, roar, sing”)

jñānam

neuter noun, 1st case singular

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)

III.16 परिणामत्रयसंयमादतीतानागतज्ञानम्

pariṇāma-traya-saṁyamād atītānāgata-jñānam
pariṇāma-traya-saṁyamād atīta-anāgata-jñānam

“From saṁyama on change and its three aspects, knowledge of the past and future.”

“All is pain,” says Patañjali in Chapter Two. The discerning know this. The pain is not accidental or incidental–it is the pain inherent to transformation (pariṇāma). Change brings pain. (See II.15.)

The yogic path brings us to greater awareness of change and enlists us to be in dynamic relation to it. In yoga practice, we work to transform citta, our own minds, to strive for a neuroplasticity, if you will, an awakening of the senses, a freshening of our perceptions. We aim for greater participation and presence in our lives. We seek to be fully embodied. This is a way of partnering with change. We will not stop change, not any more than we will stop aging, but we might enter into co-creation with it.

In today’s sūtra, Patañjali shifts from his consideration of change and moves into an expansive description of the powers (vibhūti) of yoga practice. Some commentators, as I have mentioned, are concerned that practitioners do not mistake the attainments of yoga to be the end goal; some grapple uneasily with the mystical, over-the-top quality of the claims. My own experience of the chapter, to sum it up, is delight. Patañjali here draws us into the natural world, helps us consider the marvels of this life, helps us know our own possibilities more profoundly.

At the beginning of Chapter Three, Patañjali defines saṁyama to be a threefold process: dhāraṇā, binding the awareness to a place, dhyāna, extending and returning attention to that place, samādhi, the emptying out of self as a fuller, truer perception dawns–it is as though the object alone “shines out.” This is saṁyama. The best translation for it is probably “meditation.” (See III.1-4.)

The pattern of the rest of Chapter Three goes like this: From saṁyama on a given deśa (place to hold the awareness), comes an attainment or understanding. In sūtra III.16, Patañjali says, “From saṁyama on change and its three aspects, comes knowledge of the past and future.” (The three aspects–or axes–of change, to review, are form, circumstance, time. You can think of them as the vertical, horizontal, and sagittal dimensions of change. See III.13.)

The more I contemplate–the more I return to consider–the roots of myself, the circumstances of the society around me, and the workings of time, the more of the past, and the potential for the future, I understand. Hearing the information of others, opening to perspectives beyond mine, are crucial.

The Covid epidemic has revealed inequity in this country in stark and terrible ways. Corporations receive bailouts, the rich the best medical care, while the poor, including “essential workers,” many of whom are people of color, must fend for themselves.  All this has heightened my desire to know and understand the unfoldings around me. But the first big break from what I knew and what I thought I knew, came in 2016, when we elected an ignorant, racist, misogynist, con-artist of a man to be President of the United States. It was a nightmare, and it felt like a break with reality. At that time, I heard an interview with Ta-Nehesi Coates. He was asked, Do you find the election depressing? He said he was not depressed, because he was not surprised, and he suggested that those who were depressed–that would be me–need to ask themselves: What story about this country have you been telling yourself?

I have become intent on learning the full story, the true story, of what this country is. I have turned to black, indigenous, and women writers, filmmakers, podcasters, to get the story I didn’t get from my formal, white education. I described, in my last entry, Adrienne Rich’s search for the origins of herself. She writes here about the loss of one’s idea of country:

What if I told you your home
is this continent of the homeless
of children sold    taken by force
driven from their mothers’ land
killed by their mothers to save from capture
–this continent of changed names and mixed-up blood
of languages tabooed
diasporas unrecorded
undocumented refugees
underground railroads    trails of tears
What if I tell you your home
is this planet of warworn children
women and children standing in line or milling
endlessly calling each others’ names
What if I tell you, you are not different
it’s the family albums that lie
–will any of this comfort you
and how should this comfort you

–Adrienne Rich, In the Wake of Home

Once we have laid aside nostalgia about our nation, about “home,” the ideas of what it was supposed to mean or be, where do we go? Standing in reality is its own comfort, a good starting place for partnering with existence.*

The late anthropologist and social visionary David Graeber (he coined the term “the 99 percent” during the Occupy Wall Street protests), urged us to intervene in our own future, to build a society that prioritizes care and creativity, not whatever activity produces a profit. Interviewed for the volume Everything Must Change!: The World after COVID-19, he declared,

“There has been a 30- to 40-year war against human political imagination. In the 1930s through to the 1960s, it was just assumed that we were living in a somewhat terrifying, but nonetheless exhilarating, new age where almost anything was possible. Creations such as the United Nations or the space program were epical feats of statesmanship. This is inconceivable now. We are given this line that there are economic machines beyond our control that are propelling us toward a better future and we just have to trust in them; we certainly can’t intervene in history…. If there was ever a stupid time to give up on trying to imagine a better future, this is it…. Care and freedom, instead of production and consumption, should be the bases of our economy.”–https://lithub.com/do-global-financial-crises-inevitably-reinforce-capitalism/

As the world adapts to and recovers from Covid-19, we are poised to undertake great change. Governments around the world will be forced to make substantial investments to rebuild their economies? What will we invest in? How will we build our future?

Perhaps, to understand the actions we must take, we must come to know how homeless we truly are, how knit together our fates.

—–

“The seeming stability of experience is an illusion, as are the enduring qualities of objects. In fact, the universe is unfolding, expanding, advancing through time–not just as stars, planets, and gas clouds hurtling outward from their explosive beginnings, but also in our molecules, fibers, bodies, families, communities, and species. The universe’s unfolding can even be sensed in our consciousness, whose flux is displayed before awareness moment by moment.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 50

“As we have already seen, the culminating point of the threefold transformation is an awareness of silence in the midst of noise. This is the awareness of the Transcendent in the Immanent, or of the timeless in the sequence of time…. The timeless moment is the Infinite Rest even as the flow of time is Infinite Motion. Motion becomes meaningful only in the context of rest. It is the timeless moment which gives significance to time. The new mind born in the moment of communion knows the secret of the time process because it comprehends the mystery of the timeless moment.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 308

Saṁyama is a way of obtaining knowledge through experience: direct perception of the highest order. There are no intermediary words, biases, blind spots, faults of logic, no history, no agendas–just the mind confronting an object head-on, penetrating it to its core.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.16

Questions:
• Can direct perception cut through bias or preconception? What is an example of that in your own experience? What did the process demand of you?
•What is your relationship to change?
• Have the events of the past year overthrown any previously held ideas for you?
• Are you active in your political imagination? Can you envision a society with different priorities?

pariṇāma-

masculine noun in compound

transformation, change (from pari-, “around,” + nam, “to bend”)

traya-

adjective in compound

three (from tri, “three”)

saṁyamād

masculine noun, 5th case singular

meditation, integration of the senses, regulation of citta, direct observation (from sam + yam, “to check, restrain, regulate”)

atīta-

neuter noun in compound

gone by, the past (from ati-, “beyond,” + i, “to go”)

anāgata-

neuter noun in compound

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

jñānam

neuter noun, 1st case singular

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)

 

*Much thanks to adrienne marie brown for ongoing lessons on shaping change. See her book Emergent Strategies.