Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sutra 1.16

sutra 1.16

tat puram purushakyhter gunavaitrishnyshaym

At it's highest level , non-attachment means having no desire for any of the constituent qualities of nature, because one has become conscious of the spiritual principle.

As stated in the previous commentary, I have no idea what it's like to be unattached. I don't believe I have ever spent longer than a few seconds in a state of authentic detachment. So from the very beginning I'll say that I am writing with absolutely NO AUTHORITY ON THIS MATTER.

Let's begin. constituent qualities of nature? What the what? And even more to the point what in the name of all that is vague is the spiritual principle? Let's just take it little by little and see what happens.

The words "highest level" can be perceived as kind of a bummer because they imply a hierarchy of experience. I'm not really keen on archies of any kind—monarchies, oligarchies, anarchies—none of them appeal. I think a better rendering of this ideal might be "the realest of the real," but no one is really asking me. True enough, in the Yoga Sutras a calm, un-bothered mind is preferable to a sweaty agitated one. I can mostly agree with that. Though the end result—this lack of attachment to "any constituent qualities of nature" sounds suspicious. Are the Yoga Sutras asking me to become indifferent to all that surrounds me in order to align myself with the mysterious spiritual principle? At what cost?

If this is so, then what exactly are the "constituent qualities of nature," just so I can know what I'd be missing. In yoga, these qualities are called gunas and they are in every single particle of our existence and also inform the qualities of our thoughts. In other words EVERYTHING. According to Vedic tradition, the ancient seers listened to the hum of the universe very carefully and could discern three very distinct tones. The first guna is called sattva, the second-raja and the third-tamas.
Sattva is a very clear, pure quality, filled with intelligence and light. Rajas is a fiery active quality moved by energy and force, and tamas is a slow, lethargic, heavy quality that is inert and dull. We are all a soup of these three qualities, as is everything around us. At certain times in our life and even parts of our day one of these qualities may dominate. You may recognize some similarities to the concept of tridoshas in Aryuvedic medicine.

It seems that philosophy and spiritual yearning would suggest aspirations toward a sattvic life, but Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita both caution the seeker. Becoming hungry for purity is admitting an appetite and admitting an appetite is acknowledgement of attachment. In the purest state of yoga, one is beyond purity itself, uninvolved with the active qualities of nature — the gunas.

One way of looking at this journey is evolution in reverse. We start where we are and through practice and awareness we move inward—a psycho-spiritual involution. Rather than expanding outward to gather more experiences, consciousness ceases to be distracted by diverse objects and experiences and aligns itself with One.

The mysterious "spiritual principle" is named quite clearly in this sutra as purusha. Now depending on the lens through which the commentator is peering, purusha will become different things. I feel that hair-splitting arguments are a form of serious attachment to words and their meanings and can become a complicated and distorting diversion from the path. For our purposes of understanding and using the Yoga Sutras in everyday life, I will define purusha as an unmoving perceiver. Purusha is consciousness that is not involved in the evolution of the world, but is observing it.

Purusha's counter-part is the prakriti which is composed of the gunas. Prakriti is the universe and all it's individual parts whirring around. Prakriti
is the result of the spiritual principle evoluting. As beings we are loaded with vritti activity that are colored by the gunassattvic, rajasic and tamasic in nature. Even true happiness is colored by the gunas, because most people yearn to stay in the state of pleasure, despite all evidence that suggests that we are in a constant process of change.

According to the Yoga Sutras all of these qualities of nature are distractions that we identify with instead of identifying with our one and only
purusha. The typical analogy here is believing with all your heart that the reflection in the mirror is actually you.

If one is a curious sort, one may ask what the heck is all this beautiful, maddening prarkiti for? Different spiritual practices will answer the big question in different ways. Desikachar says in his ever loving way: The world exists to be seen and discovered. I tend to witness the world as lila—a divine play that is the result of consciousness manifesting infinitely because it can. As a result we too are capable of procreating, creating and imagining the infinite.

It is inevitable, the theory of karma plays a part in understanding these ideas, because according to Vedic culture we arrive with previous merits and debts paid and unpaid and so must work through the accumulated consequences of our actions current and past. All actions leave traces. A practical way of looking at this is that in learning techniques to quiet and control the mind and senses the actions you take will be colored by the purusha's illuminated consciousness shining through. This light shines outward towards the elements of your consciousness that are drawing inward. These qualities meet and the result is experiential wisdom of peace and right action.

The discipline of hatha yoga is a wonderful initiation into the more subtle realms of yoga. Hatha yoga cultivates physical health and awareness. It hones sensitivity and wonder. The attention to respiration brings you closer to your own life force. The rise and fall of breath can be related to the purusha and prakriti. This awareness can lead to a sense of detachment that is pleasant but not indifferent, but rather interested and calm. This calm can lead to changing your actions and behaviors in the world. You suddenly realize that you are not your job, or your name. Your true consciousness shines a little more powerfully. You begin to realize what is really important.

It's the small but important steps. Nothing is wasted in yoga. Everything matters. Everything you say and do has impact. This is a burden and a joy. But don't be too attached to either the weight or weightlessness. Trust your own experience and become an observer, aware and compassionate. These are the steps that align us with the spiritual principle on our journey home.

Can you think of a particular state during your day that was dominated by one of the gunas?

What do you think the difference is between purusha and prakriti?

Can an understanding of ideas such as gunas/prakriti and purusha impact your daily life?

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