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The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjai

The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjai

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Published by: UrbanMonk1986 on Mar 20, 2011
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desire for what is seen or heard.

The waves of the mind can be made to flow in two opposite

directions²either toward the objective world ("the will to

desire") or toward true self-knowledge ("the will to liberation").

Therefore both practice and non-attachment are necessary.

Indeed, it is useless and even dangerous to attempt one

without the other. If we try to practice spiritual disciplines

without attempting to control the thought-waves of desire,

our minds will become violently agitated and perhaps permanently

unbalanced. If we attempt nothing more than a rigid

negative control of the waves of desire, without raising waves

of love, compassion and devotion to oppose them, then the

result may be even more tragic. This is why certain strict

puritans suddenly and mysteriously commit suicide. They

make a cold, stern effort to be "good"²that is not to think

"bad" thoughts²and when they fail, as all human beings

sometimes must, they cannot face this humiliation, which is

really nothing but hurt pride, and the emptiness inside themselves.

In the Taoist scriptures we read: "Heaven arms with

compassion those whom it would not see destroyed".

The spiritual disciplines which we are to practise will be

described in due course. They are known as the eight "limbs"

of yoga. Perseverance is very important, in this connection.

No temporary failure, however disgraceful or humiliating,

should ever be used as an excuse for giving up the struggle. If

we are learning to ski, we are not ashamed when we fall down,

or find ourselves lying in some ridiculous entangled position.

We pick ourselves up and start again. Never mind if people

laugh, or sneer at us. Unless we are hypocrites we shall not

care what impression we make upon the onlookers. No failure


is ever really a failure unless we stop trying altogether²

indeed, it may be a blessing in disguise, a much-needed lesson.

Non-attachment is the exercise of discrimination. We

gradually gain control of the "painful" or impure thoughtwaves

by asking ourselves: "Why do I really desire that

object? What permanent advantage should I gain by possessing

it? In what way would its possession help me toward

greater knowledge and freedom?" The answers to these questions

are always disconcerting. They show us that the desired

object is not only useless as a means to liberation but potentially

harmful as a means to ignorance and bondage; and,

further, that our desire is not really desire for the object-initself

at all, but only a desire to desire something, a mere

restlessness in the mind.

It is fairly easy to reason all this out in a calm moment. But

our non-attachment is put to the test when the mind is suddenly

swept by a huge wave of anger or lust or greed. Then it is only

by a determined effort of will that we can remember what our

reason already knows²that this wave, and the sense-object

which raised it, and the ego-sense which identifies the

experience with itself, are all alike transient and superficial²

that they are not the underlying Reality.

Non-attachment may come very slowly. But even its earliest

stages are rewarded by a new sense of freedom and peace. It

should never be thought of as an austerity, a kind of selftorture,

something grim and painful. The practice of nonattachment

gives value and significance to even the most

ordinary incidents of the dullest day. It eliminates boredom

from our lives. And, as we progress and gain increasing selfmastery

, we shall see that we are renouncing nothing that we

really need or want, we are only freeing ourselves from

imaginary needs and desires. In this spirit, a soul grows in

greatness until it can accept life's worst disasters, calm and

unmoved. Christ said, "For, my yoke is easy and my burden is


light"²meaning that the ordinary undiscriminating life of

sense-attachment is really much more painful, much harder to

bear, than the disciplines which will set us free. We find this

saying difficult to understand because we have been trained to

think of Christ's earthly life as tragic²a glorious, inspiring

tragedy, certainly²but ending nevertheless upon a cross. We

should rather ask ourselves: "Which would be easier²to

hang on that cross with the enlightenment and non-attachment

of a Christ, or to suffer there in the ignorance and agony and

bondage of a poor thief?" And the cross may come to us

anyway, whether we are ready and able to accept it or not.

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