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Human Suffering according to Patanjali

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The yoga sutras are based on Sankya philosophy, which is a dualistic philosophy, different to that of non-dual Tantra. This means that unlike Tantra, there are two ultimate and irreducible principles of reality. They are:

1. Purusa– Pure consciousness/ the atman/ the soul/ spirit/true self/ essence nature/boundlessness/existence.

2. Prakriti– material reality. Everything that exists in this manifest world, from your body and mind, to thought, emotions, nature, the universe comes from this principle.

In Patanjala yoga, what causes human suffering is confusing the belief that prakriti (body/mind) reality is part of pursusa/spirit/ consciousness.

Let’s briefly revisit why we as human beings experience suffering. It mainly has to do with the experience of identification, common to all yoga traditions. On a day to day level, most of us identify and understand ourselves to be none other than the mind. We believe we are our thoughts, feelings, emotions and all the roles we play in our life. Our mind has such a tight grip over our experience of ourselves and of reality, that we come to identify ourselves through our mental constructs or states of mind.

The main goal of Patanjali’s system is to bring the mind to a point of stillness that consciousness can clearly see it is completely separate from the mind. In fact Patanjali’s definition of yoga is found in Sutra 1.2

“Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”
In Sutra 1.5, Patanjali states that there are five categories or changing states of mind, which are either detrimental (klista) or non-detrimental (aklista) to the practice of yoga. These are the vrittis. The vrittis are sensual impressions, thoughts, ideas, cognitions, feelings, activity or mental states. The vrittis constantly pull consciousness away from its own pure nature, channeling it into the realm of prakriti/body mind.

These changing states of mind or vritts are extremely detrimental and are caused by the five klesas. The klesas impede not only our yoga practice, but are what fundamentally causes all our suffering. They are:
1. Ignorance
2. Ego
3. Attachment
4. Aversion
5. Clinging to life


These five klesas are considered detrimental because they are viewed as the seeds of karma. Karma refers to any initial action, whether good or bad and all its subsequent reactions that it produces. According to Sankya philosophy, they can ripen in this life time or they can spill over into the next. This cycle of spilling over into the next life time is called samsara.
Karma, or actions that keep us attached to the external world and forgetful off our true nature is generated by the fluctuations in the mind and these fluctuations are caused by the vritts. So the goal here is to learn to:

1. Know our true or essence nature so that we don’t remain ignorant
2. Stop misidentifying our essence nature with our body and mind. We are not our body and mind- ego
3. Learn not to be overly attached to things and learn to let go of things that keep us away from realising our essence-nature. Unhealthy attachments include the stories we have about ourselves and life that keep us stuck and suffering, the thoughts and beliefs we cling to that don’t serve our own wellbeing and the well-being of all of humanity, letting of of relationships and people that have broken our hearts, letting go of our hurt and anger as well as good experiences in life that we hold on to and want more of and finally letting go of all the obsessiveness we have with material wealth- attachment
4. Learning to face the things that we are avoiding because they are too difficult, too hurtful, too scary, or too triggering. It can even be about avoiding getting into healthy, happy relationships because we are fearful of being vulnerable or getting hurt- aversion
5. Being scared to die and not facing the reality or our own impermanence or holding on to a loved one in an unhealthy way after they have died- clinging to life 
As a side note, Patanjali explicitly states that we don’t necessarily have to believe in a Divine reality or God to realise or essence-nature, but he does say that it does fast track our spiritual journey if we do! Another worthy contemplation!

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Yes Peace, Peace Peace

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Human Suffering & The Yogic Perspective

One of my favourite ways to spend my time is to immerse myself in the spiritual teachings and philosophies of yoga. It’s what naturally happens when the heart awakens to the deeper truths of life!  

I think we would all agree that human suffering is something that most of us have tried to understand at some point in life.  Below is a brief outline of what creates human suffering based on classical non-dual Tantrik philosophy. In the Tantrik tradition, there are three aspects of reality that create suffering, referred to as the malas or impurities. 

1. Anava-mala– the impurity of individuality. This relates to the human experience that yoga calls bondage and simply means being stuck in limited identification with the body and mind and with no connection to our original source of existence. In yoga, this source of existence is known by many names such as consciousness, awareness essence-nature, the core of our being, Goddess, God, the heart and ultimate reality. Use whatever term you like, but it is important to note that non-dual Tantra is a theistic philosophy- meaning that they saw this ultimate principle of reality/conscioussness as being innately Divine…hey….they believed in the Goddess/God. To digress a little, most of the Tantrik traditions were worshippers of the Divine Feminine. The tradition that I am the most connected to- the Trika lineage, workshipped Paradevi- the Supreme Goddess!
I recently came across a term to describe this reality or whatever term you prefer,  as boundlessness. I love that so much!!!! Boundlessness….think about it….the true essence of your being is boundlessness. Boundlessness makes me feel so free and powerful- not powerful in a dominant way, but powerful in an unstoppable and unrestricted sense. Your true essence is BOUNDLESSNESS!!

Anava-mala refers to that very deep belief that we are insignificant, incomplete and unworthy. In his book Tantra Illuminated, Christopher Wallis notes that, “This belief is what gets in the way of you revering yourself as divine and as separate from God/Goddess”. 

The original purpose of yoga was to find ways to uproot this belief and the way you could do it was to have a powerful abiding experience of purnata- completeness and fullness. On some level you have all had this experience of purnata- it’s what keeps drawing you back to your yoga mat or meditation seat over and over again!!!

2. Mayiya-mala- the impurity of differentiation. This is the form of ignorance that causes us to see everything and everybody separately from ourselves- me versus you, you versus, them, without seeing the underlying unity of our existence. What you see out there in the world through your conditioned filter and senses is separate and different from you. As Christopher Wallis notes in Tantra Illuminated, “True seeing is seeing all beings within yourself and yourself within all beings”. The capacity to do great things and the capacity to do bad things is present in all of us! When we see an ‘object of perception’ ( an object of perception is any tangible thing we can perceive through our senses as well as intangible thing like our feelings, emotions and thoughts) as separate from ourselves, we suffer. 

3. Karma-mala- impurity of action. This refers to the bondage of karma. This mala is deeply related to the first two malas. The way we see ourselves, others and the world impacts how we relate and how we act in the world. These actions have repercussions that bind us to the cycle of karma. This cycle is also closely related to two of the five klesas of Patanjali Yoga, which we will explore in the next newsletter. Attachment refers to the belief that we need something outside of ourselves to experience purnata- fulfillment. It also relates to the way we cling to things and the inability to let things go- both good and bad things!

Aversion is the other end of the continuum and refers to the belief that we will never experience fulfillment unless we eliminate or avoid certain things. The more we do this, the more extreme our actions become and the more we perpetuate karma. It is impossible to be free of all karma repercussions because we are constantly acting in the world. One solution the Tantrikas came up with to be free of karma-mala was to simply stop being the person to whom the karma applied. This is no easy process and takes commitment, patience and time. The best way Christopher Wallis notes to overcome this mala is to work with it from the root as expressed in the following quote, again from his book, Tantra Illuminated,  “Become thoroughly convinced that there is nothing outside yourself that need be added to make you complete nor is there anything that need be added to make you pure. This profound love and respect for your own being will, if achieved even in part, make it easier for you to perform actions without any selfish grasping motives and thus you will be free from karma”. 

I hope these teachings deeply touch and transform your heart in the same way that they have transformed mine!

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Yes! Peace, Peace, Peace