Exploring the Sutras
Lesson 1: Patanjali’s story and Yoga Sutra 1.1
So, a long long long time ago when the world was in chaos (rather similar to today’s chaotic world), the gods and goddesses were simply not doing their jobs. They were being lazy and not protecting the earth and its inhabitants, namely the humans. In their laziness, they had allowed the demons to get strong and to wreak havoc on the earth. Things were falling apart, language and civilization were in decline and some help was badly needed.
So, a group of humans decided to go and petition the Maha gods, namely the three main gods: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer, and Shiva the destroyer. The chain of command begins with Brahma and moves upwards if necessary. So, the humans went to Brahma and asked for help in defeating the demons. He heard their plea and looked down on earth from the heavens and agreed with the people completely. However, as usual he couldn’t do anything himself. He told them that they needed to go to Vishnu and ask him.
He traveled to Vishnu’s home on the ocean of milk where he lay reclining on his serpent Adi Shesha’s couch like body. The serpent’s head formed a kind of umbrella over Vishnu and he was happy to hold up the God and support him. Vishnu received the humans and heard their pleas as well and decided to meditate on it and see what he could come up with. As he lay meditating his body became heavier and heavier. Not used to this kind of weight (guru), Adi Shesha was having a very difficult time holding up his friend. Finally when he could take it no longer and thought he might sink and drown Vishnu, he shook his giant snake body and woke Vishnu up. He asked Vishnu what was going on and why he had become so heavy. What were you dreaming about he asked? Vishnu replied,” I had the most amazing dream ever! I dreamed that I saw Shiva dancing tandava which is the sacred dance of destruction and only done in private.” Adi Shesha was so excited and said that he too had always wanted to see that. He asked if there was anything he could do to witness that himself. Vishnu told him that he had a feeling that Adi Shesha would be called to act in greatness and in love very soon and hat his reward for his actions would be to see Shiva’s sacred dance. Adi Shesha was ecstatic and said tell me when because I’m ready.
Then Vishnu went to the humans and told them that all of them had to go and petition lord Shiva at the top of Mount Kailash where he lives and meditates most of the time. He warned them that their request had better be pure as Shiva can be wrathful if disturbed unnecessarily. So the group hiked up mount Kailash and found Shiva there deep in meditation. They asked him for help and as he opened his eyes and looked down into earth at the human existence, he also agreed that something had to be done to defeat the demons and restore civilization and consciousness. He closed his eyes for a moment and then told them that he had the cure for their ills. It would come in the form of Deva Drishti- the angelic vision. His vision would be realized through a sacred language of internal response called Deva Nagri (angelic language) or Sanskrit. The language would reveal the transcendental information through the Yoga Sutras. Sutra when broken down is “Su” to link and “tra” in order to transcend. The teachings would be potent and powerful. He said he was too busy to bring them to earth himself so if Vishnu could think of someone worthy for the job that would be great. Vishnu replied that he had just the being. Vishnu went home and told Adi Shesha to get ready and that he would soon be going to fulfill his destiny.
Meanwhile down on earth, there was a lovely young woman named Gonika who was the daughter of a sage. She had been praying fastidiously for years for the birth of a son. Every day she went to the river to pray and did her ablutions and suryanamaskar to ask the gods for a son. She was so devout and pure that when Vishnu looked down from heaven he decided at once that she would be the protector and mother to Adi Shesha’s being.
At the exact most auspicious moment, as Gonika had her hands open in prayer, Adi Shesha jumped off the heavenly plane and spiraled down to earth where he landed in Gonika’s open folded hands. She looked down and seeing this small snake in her hands, she immediately recognized his divinity. She named him Patanjali which means “one who falls into open or folded hands “. He greeted her and told her not to be afraid and that he would be her son and he had many things to teach humanity. So as not to frighten others and really to fit in, he transformed himself into a little boy. Gonika brought him back to the village and raised him as her child. As he grew up, he was full of wisdom and knowledge. People began to hear of him and travels from far and wide to hear what this Patanjali had to say. As he became more popular there were more and more people coming to him. Finally he said that he would continue teaching under one condition; that he be able to do it from behind a screen. Everyone agreed and things were going great for a long time. One day however there was a rascal of a student who had to see what was behind the screen. So, he snuck around and peeked. What he saw completely blew his mind. It was Patanjali in his divine form; that of half snake and half man with a thousand heads of white light teaching each student exactly what they needed to know at that moment. So, the teaching is that in Yoga we may not get what we want, but we always get what we need. The work of the sutras touches each student in a different way and enables them to tap into the murky depths of their consciousness to bring more light and ease of effort.
The sutras for me have added such a depth to the practice and continue to amaze me with their timeless wisdom and insights. Since we must all start at the beginning, I will begin with the first sutra from the first book or chapter called Samadhi Pada. The word Samadhi can be broken down into two parts. “Sama” means equal or even and “adhi” means to stick together or to adhere. I believe samadhi means equal states of consciousness where we no longer feel the veil of separation among each other and we are tolerant, compassionate and completely accepting of each other. The first chapter, Samadhi Pada, deals with the big concepts of yoga and defines yoga as we will see next week in the second sutra.
So, the first sutra is
1.1 Atha Yoga Nushasanam
Atha means “here in the now, in this exact moment in time, most auspicious moment Yoga means to yoke or bring together seemingly polar or opposite energies Nushasanam means the smallest micro measurement ever, also the essence or the thread of our being.
Atha Yoga Nushasanam –
Here in the now, in this most auspicious moment, of which all the other moments have brought us to, we choose (this is an important distinction as it doesn’t just come to us, we must choose to do the work) to follow along, with the core of our being and the essence of who we are, with the profound teachings of Yoga. We follow them out into the world and then back into our own hearts and minds. This is the introduction to the sutras and sets the tone and stage for deep radical self-transformation. I find this work so juicy and powerful and am so excited to share the ten sutras that I feel are a good starting point and foundation for a life time of study. Bom Shiva!