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Season 10 - Episode 3

Sutra 2.1

35 min - Talk


James unpacks Sutra 2.1: tapah svadhyaya ishvara-pranidhana kriya-yogah. We learn about the 3 mutually supportive elements of yoga, and the power of a steady, consistent yoga practice to examine and undo long-standing habits.
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Jun 20, 2021
Jnana, Raja
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Satsang with Mooji Satsang with Mooji Satsang with Mooji Satsang with Mooji So having in Chapter 1 basically given us the whole teaching in a condensed form, potentially now elaborates the way of yoga practice, the way of sadhana. This chapter is called the sadhana pada, Chapter 1 samadhi pada, and yoga is all about samadhi. Samadhi and yoga are more or less synonymous. But if having considered and explored the teachings encoded in Chapter 1, we haven't managed to fully become established in samadhi, then Patanjali lays out the way of sadhana. So sadhana, maybe you've heard the Sanskrit word siddha.

I understand they are related. So sadhana relates to the most direct way to do something, the straight way, the effective way, the efficient path towards something. This is known as sadhana. And in the yogic context, sadhana is the straight path towards samadhi, towards self-realization, the efforts that we might make along that path. And even though it is the straight path and the efficient path, in reality that straight, narrow path could well be a long and winding road with many different experiences, flavors, different episodes and passages along the way.

And what we're going to find in Chapter 2, as in Chapter 1, is that Patanjali always works in this very thorough, comprehensive and inclusive way. And the teachings can speak to us wherever we are approaching from on that path. From the beginning, he gets right into the foundations of practice. That's where we're going to begin. Sutra 1 in Chapter 2, Now something very striking happens here.

This is a plural form. It's a compound word having three elements, tapa ha, svad yaya and ishwarapranidhana. Put them together, tapa svad yaya ishwarapranidhana ani, in the plural. So this is a three into one thing. There are three aspects here.

But then kriya yoga ha is in the singular. So the active practice of yoga, if we need to actively cultivate balance and integration in the field of our being, so we can orient more readily, more directly, more efficiently towards yoga, practice has these three foundation elements. Now there is a song I quite like called 3 is a magic number. Yes it is, it's a magic number. It takes three legs to make a chair or to make a table stand.

Is this true? Yes, it does take three legs to make a stool or chair or table stand. I know you can get stool and chairs that have one leg and then a big something that spreads out from that. But that spreading out is really like having at least three legs. I'm speaking, as I'm sure you can imagine, into a camera which is mounted on a tripod.

Not a quadrapod or a quintupod, but a tripod because it takes three, not a bipod. That would be far too precarious. And the single pod that I could stick in the ground, well it might be valid in some situations, but I want to be sure I've got three foundation pillars. And this is what Patanjali gives us. Yoga has been based on the observation of nature and the 3 is a magic number thing occurs in many places in the yoga tradition.

Yoga reminds us, and we'll come into this more as we continue with chapter 2. When we're alive in the realm of nature, this realm which everything is born is going to die. And in between those two great changes of birth and death is subject to constant change. In this realm of duality, it's not accurately really a binary existence. Yes, there is birth and death. Yes, there is night and day.

But really, when we're in this realm of nature, there are infinite perspectives. And so as soon as we begin to consider the other side of a question, if we do that in a genuine way, we start to realize there are so many sides to any story, to any situation. So the 3 also reminds us that when we're exploring, we have to be ready to venture into the grey. Beyond the limiting and I would say ridiculous confines of black and white, us and them, yes, no, binary thinking, and into the beautiful mystery and wonder of the grey. Because, and I know this well, having spent the last year in the United Kingdom, you only see the rainbow in the grey.

It has been my habit for many years to spend a significant part of the year in South India during the Northern Hemisphere winter. And more or less every morning I go out and it's clear and I see the sunrise. It was not like that this last winter in England, but there were many times, many times at least. I will be struggling to count them on my fingers. The times I've been out early morning, there's been an amazing rainbow.

All this is to say, 3 is a magic number. We will be looking at this more, but also 3 foundation pillars for yoga practice. And what are they? Tapaha, Svadhyaya and Ishwarapranidhana. These are the 3 legs that make the seat, the foundation seat of yoga steady.

These are the 3 strands in the rope that we can ascend as we do our yoga practice. Now I don't know about you, but when I was at school we had ropes in the school gym. I would not have been very confident climbing a rope with only 1 strand. But when the rope has those 3 big strands interwoven, I can climb it with great confidence. So 3 aspects, 3 foundation pillars of practice.

What are they? First tapaha. Now tapaha is from the root tap, which means to heat. So tapas sometimes gets translated as austerity or asceticism or fiery discipline. Now such translations are not without, they're not entirely inaccurate let's say, but this is yoga.

And yoga is always about balance, fire. Let's be honest, as human beings we are all fire worshippers one way or another. We might not recognise it, we're all worshippers of the sun. Again we might not recognise it, but if it wasn't for the fire, well we would never have got to where we are as human beings. If it wasn't for the sun, we wouldn't have any life at all.

But the same fire that can keep the dangerous predatory animal away at night, the same fire that can make a nice, warm, safe space to live during the winter months, if untended, could burn the house down and leave us exposed to all types of danger. The same fire that can cook and make things easier to digest and assimilate and draw out some of their nutrition can also burn things to a crisp in which we lose all of the nutritional value of the food. The same heat that can make the fruit come to ripeness and to that plump, moist perfection can also scorch things dry. In yoga it always comes down to presence. What would we already know from chapter one about yoga practice?

It's a constant steady effort to foster steadiness. This requires vigilance, this requires attentiveness. And so the fire of tapas, it's the fire of yogic discipline. So what does that mean? It means it's a balanced discipline. And it's also important to notice the difference between discipline and habit or discipline and routine.

Let's just say, for example, we ourselves or somebody we know, other people think that we or that person is very disciplined. Because, for example, that person always does something. They always do their meditation practice, they always do their asana practice. They always make sure to look after the garden so they have the fresh herbs to pick. They always make sure that they go to the farmer's market so they can get the freshest food.

For example, they make a point of creating a little bit of a routine to support bringing supportive things into their lives. Now, of course, this can be discipline, but it can also just be habit. So I have a friend who was a US Marine captain. He served in Vietnam and he was a Marine. And his name is Bill.

And Bill impressed on me the great significant difference between routine or habit and discipline. As Bill said to me, he said, you know, I get up every day at four o'clock, I'm a Marine. What other time is there to get up? And when I was working with Bill back in the early 2000s, he was already past retirement age. But after getting up at four o'clock, he goes for an hour's walk along the way.

He does 100 push-ups. He's a Marine. How else do you start the day? And then Bill says to me, he said, you see, James, that's not discipline. A routine was established in my years of service and that became a habit. Sometimes discipline and habit are the same. Sometimes discipline and routine are the same.

But Bill pointed out to me the great difference between true discipline and just a habit. Let's say, for example, you like doing a particular type of physical yoga practice that's quite demanding energetically. Now, if the practice is truly to be yogic, it should foster balance and harmony. It should be nourishing. But sometimes the same thing that one day could be nourishing in another situation could be draining.

One man's food is another man's poison. Everything depends on the situation, the constitution and the dose. As we move along the journey of life, as we go along the way of our practice, we will be changing. And our practice, if it is being effective, it will also change us. So we may need to modify the way we practice.

So the real discipline means being present enough to notice, is my time with my yoga technique actually nourishing me and fostering greater steadiness, greater balance, greater harmony, greater integration, greater yoga? Or is it just now an autopilot habit? An autopilot habit that I can kind of hide behind or hide within. My friend Bill also liked to point out to himself, as much as anybody else, as a lifelong seeker. He was a US Marine, so I won't use the same words that he used to describe this.

But Bill pointed out how the human capacity for mental fornication was just extraordinary. And his mind and probably all those other people's capacity as well for self-delusion was really rather vast. So sometimes we can be in a habit and the external observer could think, oh wow, that person's got such a great yoga practice, but really we need to be making some subtle modification. At certain points in our life it may be very appropriate to devote long hours to meditation or pranayama or asana or study or whatever it might be. But there may be other situations which is actually appropriate to modify our approach.

So what is truly really deeply nourishing for me today? This is the real tapas because fire doesn't just heat and burn and purify. Fire also illuminates. So tapaha is the warming, illuminating fire of yogic, i.e. balanced, discipline. It's not regimentedly beating myself to follow a particular way because that's what I've said I will do.

Nor is it being, oh, I just go with the flow of my practice. No, it's a middle way. It's a balanced path. So in that light of clear awareness, illumined by the fire of my disciplined steady presence, what is truly nourishing, what is really appropriate for me today in the arena of my time with yoga technique and how can I foster greater harmony in the broader realm of my day-to-day experience? This is the real discipline. It can be easy to take our eye off the ball when things start to go smoothly.

And so this is why tapas, the first of these principles, is so intimately entwined and related to the second and third principles. The second is svaadhyayin and sva means the self. Dja is the verb to meditate on. So to place one's meditative contemplative inquiring awareness on oneself. Now, what does that mean? It does not mean navel gazing.

It does not mean becoming self-absorbed. It means being really alert and attentive to how the way we choose to interact with the world around us actually impacts our experience of our self and existence. So I get into a habit of doing a particular type of yoga technique and it brings me a lot of nourishment. And then if I start thinking, oh yeah, that brings nourishment, don't have to think about it. What just happened to my yogic discipline?

What happened to that spirit of inquiry? It's gone out the window. So it's like, no, let me be really present. Svaadhyaya, self-study, it means that constant, steady, curious inquiry. So maintaining that sense of wonder, maintaining that childlike curiosity, that's part of the real tapas, the discipline of that illuminating, steady awareness. Remember, the fire, yogic practice is a fiery discipline.

What does this mean? It means you have to be attentive to it. In the Indian tradition, there are some people who traditionally, they keep a fire burning all their life long. What does that require? Vigilance, steadiness, dedicated, uninterrupted presence. And this is what potentially told us practice was at the beginning of chapter one. Practice is that constant, unbroken, wholehearted, dedicated effort.

So this is tapas. We can't be lackadaisical about it. And we can't be too, we can't get overexcited about it because we're playing with fire. So we have to be respectful. Let's be measured. Let's be a little bit gentle, a little bit modest as we work with these yogic disciplines.

And then the third one, Ishwara Pranidana. So we've mentioned this already in chapter one. Ishwara Pranidana basically means consecrating what we do by dedicating it and offering it to that which we consider the highest. Now, sometimes people think, oh, wait a minute. Tapaha, that sounds like active, fiery, energetic.

And svadhyaya, that sounds kind of like contemplative. That's like jnana yoga. So tapas is like karma yoga and svadhyaya is like jnana yoga. And Ishwara Pranidana, offering it to God or the ultimate or that which I consider the highest, that sounds like bhakti yoga. Does this mean I can choose? Can I be a tapas guy or I'll be an Ishwara Pranidana person? I don't think so.

Really, as we've already mentioned, these are three into one. These three are mutually supportive. And I would say that we cannot really have any of them without the others. How can I genuinely consecrate my action and make it an offering if I'm not guided by that steady light of yogic discipline and presence? How can I know if I'm really nourishing myself, if I'm not working with that spirit of ongoing inquiry? Now, my friend Bill, I'll mention him again now.

When we worked together at the university in Thailand, we had the same Sanskrit teacher. And Bill was several years ahead of me. And when I began studying Sanskrit, Bill was already translating the Bhagavad Gita. He had been a soldier. He had served as a marine for several years. And after experiencing the terrible horrors that he lived through in the Vietnam War, philosophy saved his life. And he spent a lot of his time exploring wisdom texts to support his seeking and his search for truth.

And he'd always been fascinated by the Bhagavad Gita, this Sanskrit text which was set on a battlefield. So he really wanted to get to it. He wanted to study it. And so he undertook the study of Sanskrit. And Bill knows many languages, and the university he taught at, they had lots of different language departments. So he worked with a Thai colleague translating Buddhist texts, a Japanese colleague translating Zen texts. With a Chinese colleague, he translated Confucius for more than 25 years before they started doing also some Taoist work.

And with Ajahn Tassani, my first Sanskrit teacher, Bill and our great master, he was working on the Bhagavad Gita. And they've more or less finished the translation. I can't wait to read it. But one day I call in to see Bill in his office and he says, oh James, the Gita is so beautiful. It makes me cry every time. But you know, James, I've got a bit of a problem. We've come to this section on Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of Devotion.

And you know, I just don't have a Bhakti bone in my body. This is what Bill said. This is like 15 years ago. More or less, maybe actually more. And I said, wait a minute, Bill, how can you say that? And he said that because, you know, he doesn't like singing kirta like I do. He's not a singing, dancing, sea-crafter truth. And he knows that I do like to sing and all that. But I said, Bill, wait, hold on, wait a minute. How can you say that? Because what does Bill do? He gets up at four o'clock, he goes for his walk, he does his push-ups.

And then he spends all his day either teaching other people or studying with colleagues and translating wisdom texts and inquiring into ultimate reality. And he does this all day every day. So I said to him, Bill, how could you possibly live your life the way you do? If you want to actually soaked with devotion for truth. And he said, you know what, James, I went to see one of my monk friends last weekend and he said the same thing. Yeah, I'm starting to change my mind about that. And as the years have gone by, Bill has come to recognise that actually is a different flavour of devotion.

His work is a demonstration of that. But how can we do anything with that fiery, steady presence if we don't have love for it, if we don't have some devotion for it? How can we make an honest inquiry if we're not really present, if we're not also lit up by that flame of curiosity and exploration? So these three, it's three into one. Kriya yoga ha in the singular. Tapas fad yayishwa pranidhanani in the plural. But these three become one.

If we talk about bhakti yoga, jnana yoga and karma yoga, what do we notice? What do we hear? Oh, bhakti yoga, karma yoga, jnana yoga, they're all yoga. And here in chapter two of the Yoga Sutra, Patanj is going to lay out raja yoga, also known as ashtanga yoga. This is going to be elucidated further on in the chapter. But raja yoga is the yoga of becoming a sovereign, to be the sovereign of the whole field of our being.

And to be the sovereign means, in the Indian system, in the true sense of the word, the sovereign's dharma, the duty of the sovereign, is loka sangraha, which means the well-being of the whole, the whole, not leaving any part out. So it's not like, oh, I can practice jnana yoga of intellect, but I'll neglect my body, I'll neglect my emotions. No, no, no. If I really want to practice jnana yoga, then I have to also involve my emotional reality and my physical reality. You have to know and understand them. Similarly, if I'm going to practice yoga actively, I'm going to use my intellect.

I want to use my emotional power and intent as part of that activity. And if I'm going to dedicate my actions and offer them and surrender them to that which I'm going to consider the highest, how can I possibly do that except through my own actions? And if I really want to do that, then I have to practice fadiya because otherwise, how would I know if I was really actually dedicating the action? So really these three, they're not options. They're mutually supportive aspects of the same holistic, rounded, realistic practice. The word holistic these days, sometimes it gets used rather casually, but yoga is about harmonizing the whole human being.

And so here as we get laid down the foundation of sadhana, the yogic method of practice, yes, the emotional being, yes, the rational, analytical, intellectual being, yes, the physical, active, interacting with a society and a family and a biosphere human being, all of this is included because yoga practice is all of life. So yoga practice is everything that we do. And this sutra really offers so much. I could speak for hours just on this sutra, but there's a couple more things I would like to add just kind of by means of summing up. And one is the idea of the steady, illuminating fire of yoga, yogic discipline. There's a beautiful image in the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna, the teacher in that text, he describes the yogin's awareness as being like a room in which is illumined by a steady flame in which there is nirvana, in which there is no wind, no air. So you can imagine if you're in a room and the only illumination is a candle and there is a breeze, how is our view of the room? It is partial. It's flickering.

But then if the candle becomes steady, if the wind subsides, we get a much clearer view. But there's still light and shadow. If there are objects around the room, then one side of the object closer to the candle is illumined, the other side is in the shade, in the dark. But if it's truly nirvana, then there's no more dark and light. It's just devoid of any particular bias and we see it as is. So can we make the fire of our yogic discipline like the steady flame? The flame that's actually able to illumine 360 degree global reality of our being.

So coming back to the idea of sovereignty, we want to nourish and harmonize the whole field of our being. So that's really the habit we want to cultivate. That's the discipline that we want to cultivate. Habits we cannot do without them. They run our life in so many ways and they're very, very useful. So the really important habit to develop on this path of yoga practice is the habit of examining, refining and updating our habits. The longer a habit has been running, the more challenging it is to change it.

So if we can install with the auto upgrade feature, the habit of examining our habits, Svaadhyaya, paying close attention. And this is also supported by the attitude of Ishwarapranidhana, which helps me let go, not be so attached to I'm not so much in control, but just allow myself to be guided by the insights that come when I consecrate my actions wholeheartedly. Then it makes it that little bit easier to relax my grip on perhaps previously confining habits and really adjust my course as I continue in the direction of my deeper longings. Because as I mentioned at the beginning, sadhana is supposed to be the straight direct skillful path. But if we're climbing up a mountain, then the most skillful way might not look like a straight line.

We might need to take a roundabout way. Sometimes we might need to climb. Sometimes we might need to use some external equipment. Sometimes we might need to work as part of a team. So can I have that 360 degree awareness? Can I invite my yogic steady presence to illumine my path in ways that reach beyond my habitual ways? So I can actually invite myself to walk somewhere I've not yet walked to actually advance into a vaster way of experiencing life and reality. Because yoga, this is another important thing to be aware of right at the beginning here.

When we practice yoga, we are inviting ourselves into a state of awareness that as yet is unknown to us. So this fire of discipline is the idea that that light, that pilot light can invite us beyond the confines of the known and into these new realms. So right from the beginning, what is the foundation of yoga practice? There are three elements and they're all essential. Tapas. Let the fire of our yogic discipline be nourishing and illuminating. Let it not raise and parch and scorch. Let it rather guide and warm and help things get cooked very, very nicely.

Let us maintain that steady, vigilant Svadhyaya, that honest self-inquiry. And Svadhyaya also includes study of the scriptures, of texts, of teachings that help us uncover and recognize our true self. So watching this course, reading about yoga, journaling around our ideas, doing contemplation questions, inquiring with our friends, this can all be part of Svadhyaya. And then Ishvara Pranidhana, doing the best we can to make our actions and offering. One way we can think of that is, for example, remembering everything that I've experiencing in this life. In a certain sense, it's a gift because where was I when this reality was being created?

I don't have anything to do with the creation of this reality. Being born and experiencing this amazing world, it all came to me as an amazing gift. So how might I act if I wanted the every action to be my way of expressing my gratitude for this gift of a human birth? So acting in this way can help me really keep stepping forwards, honestly, steadily on the path of yoga practice.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Purpose of Yoga

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James unpacks Sutra 2.1.
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Petra L
3 people like this.
I am very grateful for this new "season" and with the continuation into the second book/chapter Thank you for the great explanations on this first sutra. Namaste
James Boag
4 people like this.
Thank you Petra, I am also grateful that we were able to finally record and get this out in spite of not being able to film as we had previously planned!
Caroline S
2 people like this.
What a sense of change of tone, I feel in chapter 2!  Going from the highest level of describing ways to cultivate samādhi  into the details of practice.  Is the first sūtra of each chapter or any text for that matter playing that role of super inclusive introduction?  It sounds like this is a practical chapter.  I have a couple of questions, one is regarding the liking of each of the elements to karma, jñāna and bhakti yoga, when all are also Kriyā and Rāja yoga.  Many definitions all meaning yoga, is that deliberate, and are there more to come?  And secondly, this Īśvarapraṇidhāna is essential, no particle vā  as in 1.23, the way I heard the explanation was similar but is it also differnt?  Thank you James !
Kate M
3 people like this.
So beautiful and entirely relevant. Thank you Patanjali, thank you James!
Sara S
2 people like this.
Thank you for helping me to bring clarity to my life

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