Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is fantastically magical. I think today’s emphasis on bhakti yoga leaves the Yoga Sutra mostly overlooked and not well studied. In truth, this text should be studied by any and every serious yoga seeker. Although the text seems to be valued primarily by practitioners of raja yoga and jnana yoga, there’s not a single aphorism (that’s 100% not the right word, but I’m leaving it) in the entire text that won’t benefit and help develop the genuine seeker, regardless of their chosen path.
I’ve been very open about the path I feel most inclined toward, which is that of jnana yoga. However, the group or sect (or whatever you wish to call it) that I actually actively participate in adheres to the “raja” way of business. I’ve found, and been surprised to find, that raja yoga is the one yoga almost no one knows anything about and in my experienced, it’s actually quite balanced. It literally and successfully incorporates various aspects of yoga that bring out the best of the jnana approach, enable one to pursue bhakti intelligently and in a controlled / structured manner, and also mitigate the ebb and flow of one’s various karmas. That raja yoga is king, indeed!
Recently on Facebook, I saw something in my news feed posted by Yoga International, the link to which can be found by clicking here. This well-written article is, umm…. written well. The author knows her wordery and how to employ it. She has selected three of the Niyamas to focus on for the piece and what she shares is cool and helpful. To be clear, the Yamas and Niyamas can be seen by some to essentially be a bunch of “do this” “don’t do that” kind of rules. They’re not that. Simply put, they’re structured steps to help guide one on his / her way through the yogic process.
Something I’ve found interesting on more than one occasion is that these Yamas & Niyamas are not infrequently rearranged or modified to suit various temperaments, goals, and levels of development. That should stand as testament to the fact that these aren’t anything close to the Hindu “Ten Commandments” or even anything along those lines. In that spirit, the author of this article has selected three of the Niyamas: Tapas, Swadhyaya, and Ishwara Pranidhana.
Starting with tapas, she explains the importance of dedication and sticking to your guns on something you want to accomplish. There’s mention of “heat,” which is both a physical experience and an internal, driving force kind of thing. It’s like a burning fire that causes one to act and continue acting. There’s an inherent urgency in tapas – “I’m headed to this destination and I want to get there. Now.” This is the Niyama of discipline and will-power.
To guide that action, however, and keep it from getting out of control, one employs swadhyaya. This term is often translated as “self study,” but it should be made clear how encompassing that’s meant to be. The author says it’s, “…the yogic method of paying attention to what you are doing, how you are doing it, and why you are doing it.” This kind of study is meant to include not only the learning that the self does from books and from others, but also learning about the Self – a reflective and experiential responsibility of great importance. This involves looking within and putting the pieces together. How has what you observe fit with what you experience? According to the author, this is where the physicality of Hatha Yoga comes alive. With this Niyama we’re forced to call a spade what it is and keep moving forward – something possible only with the courage taken from tapas.
When these two are successfully married, we’re brought to the third Niyama discussed in the article: Ishwara Pranidhana. I’ll admit when I very first learned of this Niyama, I didn’t go very deep with it. A simple translation would be, “surrendering to the Divine.” I gagged when I first read that. When I see phrases like that I cringe because way too many people think this flatly means to be open to God’s will for their life, a notion I find questionable as it is. Those thoughts, without carrying them further, really do a disservice to the Yoga Sutra and the aspiring yogi. This is Niyama is vitally necessary because, as the author points out, the previous two alone run the risk of us becoming self-absorbed.
Ishwara pranidhana is what allows us to accept the fruits of our karmas without attachment. In the other Niyamas we’ve done the work necessary for any fruition, whatever that may be. And that’s the key with this particular Niyama – being cool with those fruits, whatever they may be. Having that kind of acceptance is crazy tough. The fruits in question here are, of course, really just the effects of any cause you create. It’s one thing to be like, “Whatever” in regard to anything that might happen. Even stoners are capable of that. But it’s a whole other thing to have developed awareness enough to not only think you have total acceptance of what may come, but also to be an active and conscious player when the causes to whatever happens are created to begin with.
It’s going with the flow – but on steroids.
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha