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Season 1 - Episode 9

Diminishing the Hindrances

40 min - Talk


How can I be free of obstacles so I can be in a state of Samadhi, a state of complete direct perception. Ravi discusses the yogic concepts of purusha and prakriti, and then moves into Sutras 2.2 - 2.9. The manifested universe was created to serve the Divine. In our search to return to the Divine, there are many hindrances and obstacles. Our Yoga practice teaches us how to be free of these hindrances and of our selves, leading to Samadhi.
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Jun 03, 2023
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Today I would like to focus on something which is very central to, in fact, all spiritual teachings. But since I have been mostly focusing on the Yoga Sutras, I will use some of the words from there. Two words which are very frequently used, actually in the whole of the Indian tradition, but especially in the Yoga Sutras, Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha can be translated as God and Prakriti as nature, or as manifested universe. Here it is important, first of all, that what we know about nature is not all there is to nature.

I often have to remind my friends that whatever we these days teach in physics was unknown 130 years ago. So we need to give some credit to our scientists. They will discover something in the next 130 years, or in the next 1300 years, so everything is not known. So there is more to nature than what we know. That's one thing to keep in mind.

And that what is important to understand these words or their relationship with each other. First of all, Patanjali explicitly says twice, emphasized in the first chapter as well as in the fourth chapter in the Yoga Sutras, that the whole purpose of Prakriti is to serve Purusha. Which is to say that the whole purpose of the manifested universe is to serve God or the Divine. Partly because that is how it has been created, God who has created this whole thing. But to approach this whole project of understanding something, it is important to look at ourselves as a very unique combination of individualized Purusha and individualized Prakriti.

Because otherwise Prakriti is very large, the whole of our scientific enterprise is devoted to studying external nature. And of course each year they would discover more and more. But individualized Prakriti then means looking at myself, my own body and mind, that is individualized Prakriti. And the Divine Spirit in me at whatever level it is, in each creature it is at different level. That is the individualized Purusha.

And then the call is that the whole reason for the existence of my body and mind is to serve this Divine particle in me, to assist its evolution so that it can return back to the source, back to God. That makes it a little easier for us to understand the relationship between Purusha and Prakriti. One thing that is also important again and again to emphasize, Purusha is not somewhere else up there in heaven. Purusha is everywhere, right here in front of us, behind us, inside us. So to think of individualized Prakriti and individualized Purusha then allows us to see two in me, one coming from the material side, one coming from the spiritual side.

These things get expressed in varieties of ways. For example, Saint Paul uses the expression, we have a spiritual nature and we have a carnal nature. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna actually has a very strong statement, we have a divine nature and a demonic nature, is the expression he uses. And my own teacher, Jan de Salzmann, used to call it angelic nature and animal nature. Sometimes simply calling it capital S Self and small S Self or I and me.

So there are varieties of ways of referring to it but we don't need to get so occupied with the terminology as to understand that one is coming from the spiritual side, the other one coming from the material side. And that theoretically, at least according to the perspective of all the sages, the material side is intended to assist the evolution of the spiritual side. But it gets occupied with itself, its own fears and its own pleasures and fear and desire running the whole universe but including us. If we are impartially looking at ourselves we will see that we are part of the same human culture. Deep down each one of us is being driven by this but then at the same time to remember that occasionally each one of us is really struck by something quite subtle, we may not label it divine but something subtle calling me to attend to something else.

Usually in moments of great feeling, moment of great joy or great sorrow, feeling doesn't always have to be on one side or the other. Feeling is actually it opens the heart, deep feeling, and that it allows us to connect with subtler energies. So the whole purpose of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra or really any spiritual practice, at least in my understanding, is to assist a searcher to gradually learn how to use his carnal nature more and more in the service of the spiritual nature. And that is of course also obviously means enhancement of the quality of his being because spiritual nature is coming obviously from the divine side and whatever we mean by the divine side, divinity has more, the usual descriptions are that it is able to see everything, it has more and more awareness and more and more compassion, more love, more beauty, more truth, these are the words which are frequently used. Truth, love and beauty are very frequently used expressions.

Plato uses it and Sri Aurobindo uses it, many sages use it all the time. And similarly, then in India particularly, very strong tendency to call it Satchitananda, meaning truth, consciousness and joy or delight. In fact, one of our great sages, Sri Aurobindo, made this very interesting remark that the delight created the universe for the sake of delight. I find that a very interesting remark. So there are different ways of saying this, but let me also remind you that you can find this in the New Testament, in the first letter of John, twice it is repeated that God is love.

Not that God is loving, that is much easier. That would mean one of the characteristics of God is to love. What is being said is that the very structure of God is love. And therefore, anybody who is connected with God cannot not love. Christ does not decide to love.

Love oozes out of him just because that's what he is. In fact, this is something which is very important to understand, especially this part was very much emphasized by Krishnamurti, not speaking about Christ, but he always spoke about that don't try to be good. If you are good, the goodness will ooze out of you. But then he used to give this example, a rose does not decide to smell like a rose. We recognize that it is a rose because of its fragrance.

It doesn't decide to smell like a rose. And I often remind people, if we were to say that the Buddha was enlightened, but he was not compassionate, it will be an oxymoron. Because one cannot be enlightened and not be compassionate. So one needs to understand that these characters, these people don't decide to be loving or decide to be compassionate. It simply oozes out of them.

Because it is the very nature of their structure, the quality of their structure. So, in any case, the call then is, first of all, there is a strong tendency, actually my favorite Greek philosopher is Plotinus. He makes this remark that our soul is amphibious in nature. It can completely sink into matter or it can soar into the One. So the usual tendency for human beings is to sink into the matter, you know, just get occupied with the material goods.

But it has the possibility of soaring into the One. That is the call, again and again. And Patanjali explicitly defines yoga in the second chapter a little differently. In the first chapter, very much the description is yoga is stopping all the movements of the mind. But in the second chapter, second sutra in the second chapter, yoga is for the purpose of coming to samadhi, I will speak about this in a moment, and diminishing all the hindrances, whatever stands in the way.

Now, let me take a few moments here and first of all speak about samadhi. Sadly, sometimes samadhi is sort of more or less understood as if one is in a trance. Patanjali explicitly describes this, you can read this in the third chapter, third sutra. Samadhi is when the self is not. And whatever object we look at is seen in its objective nature.

We need to spend a few moments on this, because very strong description actually given by a very great philosopher, Immanuel Kant, western philosopher, in his book, The Critique of Pure Reason, where he actually discusses at length that scientific knowledge can never be completely objective. Even though we have a tendency to call scientific knowledge is objective, he actually discusses this in detail which nobody has been able to refute, simply because he says the object introduces something, but then our mind introduces something. In the spiritual teachings, and the whole definition of samadhi is one, in which I am completely out of the way. It seems strange to be on the way, but out of the way. So logically it may not make really much sense, but one needs to understand that total attention, but not something being introduced by me.

That is the understanding of samadhi. So that the mind becomes like an absolutely clear diamond. Whatever the object is looking at, the diamond is not introducing its own color. It's assisting the object to be seen objectively. So spiritual practice is meant to lead to objective knowledge.

Of course the glory of scientific knowledge really is that it is intersubjective. Meaning that if a great scientist proposes something or asserts something, others can verify this by finding the appropriate kind of equipment somewhere or the other. So it is intersubjectively provable. That is what gives it more and more clarity and more and more objectivity if you like. But it's not objective in the sense that the seer is still involved in this.

It's not free of the human mind. Which is very much the call in the spiritual practice, to be free of the human mind. So samadhi according to Patanjali is, as I just said, if you like the Sanskrit expression, you can see in the third chapter, it's sarupa-sunya. Sarupa-sunya meaning freedom from myself. I think yesterday I had quoted this remark of Christ.

You can see this in the Gospel of Matthew. Unless you leave yourself behind, you cannot be a follower of mine. Always really the call in any spiritual teaching. Maybe I give you an example from another source. This is in India.

Very famous traditional text, Shashwat Brahma. It says whenever after death when a person knocks at the sun door, meaning entering the sun door, he will be asked, who are you? If the answer is anything other than nobody, he may not enter. So really the call is, it's a very interesting thing, the call is to become nobody. Nobody meaning out of the way.

Not bringing my shtick, not my ideas or my understanding. To allow myself to be completely bathed with the glory of, with the energy of the divine truth. Here some of you may be actually interested. This is a classical story in India from the 16th century. We had a very great poet, Meera was her name, female poet.

Although she was married to a king, but she was really internally married to Krishna. And her husband actually acknowledged this very much and she was free to be worshipping Krishna. And on one occasion, a very well known yogi came to her town and it was, actually even these days in India, especially in the rural areas, this practice still continues, that a well known yogi or teacher may come and they will stay outside the village and then people can come to them and ask for their advice or something. And also they can bring them some food or something to eat so they can survive, otherwise. So a very famous yogi came and Meera wanted to meet him.

And Meera, this yogi said, No, I'm not allowed to meet any women, any females. Meera said to him, Oh yogi, I should have thought that in the presence of Krishna we are all females. Remember, traditionally is really largely based on just on the nature of the genitalia. Receptivity was always attached to female practice and activity to male practice. But the call in yoga really is to bring a very subtle combination of male and female energies, activity and receptivity, which is why the Lord of Yoga, Shiva, is frequently shown as half male, half female.

Precisely that that is the requirement. Although traditionally people can therefore say, Oh, women are not active, that is completely silly thing to say. That's not what is being said or that men are not receptive. That would be also silly to say. But traditionally, because of this was a common kind of a practice, everything is just male, female or masculine, feminine.

So this yogi was so struck by Meera's remark that he came running and became her disciple. This is the story from the 16th century in India. But what is the, what does it mean for us? When we are speaking about some subtler or higher energies, how can I become more and more receptive, rather than walking with my boots on into heaven? How can I allow the benediction of the Divine touch me, to invite me, to bless me?

And then Patanjali speaks about there are many hindrances that stand in the way. And this is actually true throughout the Indian tradition, that the major obstacle is ignorance. This, by the way, is not the case in the Abrahamic tradition. I don't want to go into great detail here. In the Abrahamic tradition, it is much more emphasis on faith, rather than on subtle knowledge.

The word which is often used is vidya, or ignorance is avidya, just to remind you that vidya and video and vision and Wissenschaft have the same etymological root. Wissenschaft becomes science in German. But, and video, but what is meant by the direct perception? Similarly, there are other words, several words get used for vision. Bodhi, for example, the same root as the word buddha, which means discernment, or gyan, which is the same root as gnosis.

We have gnostic gospels, for example. So there are many common words. But what is important here, that it is a sort of knowledge, which is not knowledge by testimony, or knowledge by quoting something, or by induction. All scientific and theological knowledge is by testimony or by induction. So it is not that kind of knowledge.

It is by direct perception. In fact, this is almost really the meaning of a sage. A sage says what he sees, not what he reads, or what he has heard. For example, about the Christ, it is said, look as one with authority, not as the scribes do. This is a direct quote from the gospels.

Or I remember Krishnamurti on one occasion, I was just having a talk with him. I don't even now remember about what, but I simply asked him, sir, what do you think? And he said, K does not think, he just looks. This is Krishnamurti's remark. He used to refer to himself as K.

K does not think, he just looks. That is actually quite a remarkable statement. So in any case, the call here is, or the suggestion here is that the greatest obstacle is avidya, ignorance. That all the other obstacles follow from that, although he then illustrates some obstacles. I'll speak about this in a few moments.

One is asmita in Sanskrit. It literally really means I am this or I am that. Basically it ends up like I am a separate self from the whole ocean of being. I am just uniquely this. That kind of separation from the wholeness is asmita.

And it's usually translated as really more or less, if you like, egoistic self. Now here again I have said that even earlier also that there is no need to be against the ego. Ego also has its place. And here I'll give you a specific example. This is many years ago.

I got a letter from my older brother who was actually a teacher of Hindi language in the university and had written several poetry books in Hindi. He named his granddaughter asmita. I was completely surprised because I had been just reading the Yoga Sutras. I wrote to him saying, well, asmita is meant to be egoistic self. Why would you name your granddaughter like that?

But by the time this Sanskrit word moved into Hindi, asmita became self-confidence. And I am now reminding you to keep this in mind, especially those who have young kids like you. Don't prevent their ego assertion. Without that they cannot develop self-confidence. So it's a very tricky thing, you see, to move between one and the other.

But the suggestion is, actually this is a remark of my teacher telling me that Gurjeet used to say to those who had lower ego self to develop their egos and when it is well developed then to soak it into the water. Because what is important is to develop enough self-confidence, enough effort, enough practice, determination, staying with it, hell with it, I am going to try my best. But then to be able to submit it. Abhyas and Vairagya are the two major expressions used in the first chapter of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra. Abhyas simply means practice.

But it requires determination. You cannot do it without a strong ego. But then Vairagya means submitting, not being identified with me, me, me, becoming more and more free of it. So both are required but a subtle combination. Which is why I repeatedly remind people of this remark of my teacher.

Ego is a good servant but a bad master. Keep this in mind. Because don't therefore be against the ego. It requires to be there to undertake something. I often actually say this to people.

Only those who have a strong ego can actually undertake the practice of trying to be free of their ego. Or to find its right place. Only the rich can practice poverty. The poor have no choice. One needs to really understand these things.

Otherwise it just becomes impractical. It's just damn religious thing. How can I be free of my ego, etc. But there is no need to be rid of your ego. But to find its proper place.

To allow it to serve something higher, truer. As I begin to see the two in me. Then one would see that the spiritual side is much more interested in generosity, in humility, in more awareness, more connection with the others, more sense of unity. And the lower side, the material side, much more interested in approval, disapproval. Gain or loss.

Fear of loss. Fear of disapproval. And wishing for more approval. More attainment. More achievement. But there is no need to be against either one of them. But to see if my attainment or my achievement can actually serve my spiritual side.

So Asmita is said to be the first obstacle. After, Avidya is the source of all of them. So that's really the major obstacle. But then he lists them. And then the next one is actually Ragh.

And the third one is Dvesh. They usually are put together. Ragh, Dvesh. Like, dislike. And it is quite understandable that if something has been pleasant for us at some stage, we wish it to be repeated again. Because one gets attached to it.

I know many couples who want to have a few more days of having another honeymoon together. I bet probably all of you have had that experience yourself. And on the other hand, it's quite ironic that we are more attached to our suffering than to our pleasure. In fact, Krishna, when he's trying to make many definitions of yoga, one of the definitions he gives, you can check this in the Bhagavad Gita in the sixth chapter, 19th Shloka. Yoga is breaking the bond with suffering.

We are so attached to our suffering, if something has hurt me, I can say this from my own experience, if somebody calls me a fool in the morning, it stays longer in my body and my mind than if somebody says, Oh, that was a nice talk. Well, I'm happy to hear that, but I don't know who the guy is. So you see, suffering has a larger place or a stronger force in our organism. In fact, just to remind you that the whole discipline of psychotherapy exists because of this, because of this attachment to suffering. And here you can also see some of the things that I've been saying several times, how awareness actually brings a change.

If a good psychiatrist can somehow assist a person who has been maybe at the age of six or seven, a kid got even sexually assaulted, it remains very deep seated in their mind and in their body. Even 30 years later, they cannot properly interact with the opposite gender. But a good psychiatrist may be able to assist them to actually see what took place. And that awareness, which may require some maybe some medicine to relax them or sometimes make them feel easy to be able to speak to somebody, whatever is required. But then when they become aware of it, something changes.

Awareness actually is the mechanism of transformation, as I have repeatedly said, which is why so much emphasis on self-study. Don't be far or against what you see. Supposing you see that I am greedy. Don't be against it. But to see the root of that, where it comes from, gradually you will see that the greediness will slightly change, transform.

Awareness is the mechanism of transformation. I say that frequently, but we need... In fact, there is no other mechanism of transformation that I know. So everywhere a very strong call for this, to become more and more aware of what I actually am, impartially, which is why so much emphasis on self-knowledge. I think I may have already quoted to you, Krishnamurti saying, there can be no wisdom without self-knowledge.

Self-knowledge is absolutely integral, important aspect of cultivating wisdom. So, but impartially, not just proving oneself more important than others. So then, one would begin to see how one gets attached to suffering much more strongly than to happy occasions of joy or happiness. But to recall them again and again is one of the hindrances. Like, dislike.

Just to remind you that none of the sages did what they needed to do because they liked it. They did it whether they liked it or not liked it. A classical example of this is actually Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. The eve of his crucifixion next day. What did he say?

If it is possible, let this cup pass me by. He's not eager to be crucified. Yet, not my will, but thine be done. I take that to be absolutely classical example of being free of like and dislike. It's a very high example, but at our own, even lower levels, sometimes one can see.

I need, especially every father or mother would recognize this. If a child needs something, it doesn't matter whether I was just going for a walk or wanted to get a rest or something. It doesn't matter what I like or don't like. So it's not, I'm not giving, Christ is giving, that's an extreme example. But really, even at our ordinary life, we can see the examples of this kind.

I mean, I'm sometimes, if my daughter calls me, she wants to see me. Oh, I'm too busy or I'm about to go to sleep. It doesn't matter. There, my like or dislike has nothing to do with it. One does what is necessary to be done.

So this is very strong call, actually. So I'm not saying something which is so unusual, but classical example is from Christ that I just gave here. Krishna actually explicitly speaks about being completely free of like and dislike, that it has nothing to do with spiritual practice. We just need to do what needs to be done. So if I, for example, undertake to do yoga every morning, physical yoga, so it doesn't matter if I'm feeling tired or feeling sleepy, I just get up and do it.

And then the other klesha, klesha simply means hindrance in Sanskrit. He uses the word klesha in Patanjali. The other klesha is abhinivesh. Abhinivesh is really like, sometimes, much to my surprise, scholars translate this as wish to keep living. I think they must have a bad life somehow.

I don't know why they translate it like this. It really simply means wish to continue whatever state one is in. It's the addiction to the status quo. And usually it gets described as because any change will bring something unknown and there is fear of the unknown. And therefore one just wants to stay with the way things are rather than allow some change.

And here I will try to give you two examples which will question this. I remember in one conversation with Krishnamurti, I was mentioning this, that somehow abhinivesh gets translated as a fear of the unknown. He usually didn't use this kind of language in public, but he says, Damn it, sir. If it is unknown, it is unknown. How can it create fear or anything else?

He says the trouble is attachment to the known. One needs to understand that it is not the fear of the unknown, it's the attachment to the known. And this is the reason why one of his books, you may know that, is called Freedom from the Known. That's the title of one of his books. Because he says, How can the unknown be the unknown?

How can it create fear or anything else? But I give you another example. This is actually in the last dialogue of Plato, speaking about Socrates. Socrates has been, as you know, all the good people are somehow punished by the society for one reason or the other. Like Christ was punished, crucified, and he's obliged to drink hemlock, he's going to die.

So some of his friends and pupils are naturally sad, quite understandably. Some of them are crying. So Socrates says to them, You are behaving as if you know what happens after death. And furthermore, as if you know that what happens after death is worse than what happens before death. Then, at least from my point of view, one of his absolutely classical remarks, As for myself, since I do not know, therefore I am free.

This is a very strong suggestion everywhere. How can I be free of being attached to or stuck to what I know? In fact, this might surprise you, the oldest Upanishad, brother Arunak Upanishad, has the following remark in it. Those who are attached to ignorance are in a great darkness. But those who are attached to their knowledge are in a greater darkness.

Nobody is recommending ignorance. Krishnamurti is not recommending ignorance, or Socrates is hardly recommending ignorance. But what is important is, How can I be free to face whatever comes? So, the state of unknowing is not a state of ignorance, but a state of willingness to face whatever comes. So, very strong call to be free of Abhinivesh, free of the status quo, attachment to the status quo.

And then, the other remark here to be made, I'm just making this because of Socrates since I mentioned his name. This is not directly relevant to this, but I find it interesting. Then, one of his pupils asks him, Where should we bury you, Socrates? He said, You can bury me anywhere you like, if you can find me. You see, the question is, Is Socrates the body which is now dead?

Or is Socrates the spirit that was in the body which they cannot find? So, think of this remark of Socrates, You can bury me anywhere you like, if you can find me. I find, actually, if we look at some of these remarks from the great sages, something in us is called to be more and more free of what I know. Because, as I said the other day, even if I had the combined intelligence of Einstein, Shankara, Nagarjuna, Aristotle, four smartest people in the history of humanity, I still cannot know all there is to know. So, to get attached to my knowledge, in fact, this might also interest you, a remark in one of the old Upanishads, when a Brahman, which is a way of saying one who is attached to knowledge especially, Brahman has now become a caste label, but basically it means one who is interested in Brahma, the highest reality.

When a Brahman is done with learning, he returns to himself. So, nobody is against learning, nobody is recommending ignorance, but what is being recommended again and again is a little freedom from my attachment to what I know, so that a willingness and a preparation to face whatever I encounter. So, according to Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras that I just mentioned, this is all there in the second chapter, starting from the second sutra to the next four or five sutras, all that I have mentioned, except that the definition of samadhi is in the third chapter, third sutra. And so, the call very much is how can I be more and more free of these obstacles, so that I can then be in a state of samadhi, meaning a state of complete direct perception. And here, just to make a very, more or less the last point here, as I said, the glory of scientific knowledge is that it is intersubjective.

But spiritual knowledge, strictly speaking, is rarely intersubjective. What the Buddha could see or what Christ could see is not what I see. Of course, in principle, the suggestion is, if I am equally prepared, equally refined, equally developed, that I can in fact see what they saw. So, in principle, but it is extremely rare, quite unlike scientific intersubjective understanding. So, in a way, the spiritual undertaking always remained, remains a unique undertaking.

Scientific knowledge is a public knowledge, and therefore intersubjectivity. If Einstein comes up with a theory, I don't need to spend time coming up with the same theory again. But let us say the Buddha came up with the four noble principles, four noble truths. Even though it is published for two thousand, two and a half thousand years, still I need to relate with them uniquely in my own way. So, spiritual undertaking always remains a unique enterprise.

It's not a public enterprise. That doesn't mean that I cannot learn something from others. No, but it still needs to be my journey, on the way, but gradually to be out of the way. Thank you.


Kate M
1 person likes this.
It is so lovely to find Raviji's talks here on YA. I appreciate it even more since I had the privilege of meeting him in person here in Ottawa. His deep insight combined with his knowledge of the wisdom texts is so illuminating. Thank you, YA!

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