Saturday, February 27, 2010


-Sri Dharma Mittra

-Sri K. Pattabhi Jois


"When that practice is done for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation."

-Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.14

I love it when the sages agree, although I remember being skeptical many years ago, when David Swenson told us to measure our practice in decades rather than years.

But after 10 years of regular ashtanga practice, I began to understand what he meant. The physical practice became so much easier. I had some control over the body, which seemed ready to absorb the non-posture yoga practices Dharma Mittra taught us in his trainings.

This week, I realized that practice should be measured in lifetimes (if at all), while reading Edwin Bryant's new translation of the Yoga Sutras (Edwin, a Krishna devotee, is and professor at Rutger's University, led the Gita and Sutra study portions of our 500-hour training with Dharma. He is an amazing scholar and speaker, and this book is a must-have for serious students of yoga). I used to think that once you attained some sort of nirvana or lower samadhi, you were at the goal and no longer needed to practice (and by practice, I mean postures, self-control, Yamas, meditation - the whole nine yards... er, eight limbs). Not true!

Here is Edwin's commentary on the aforementioned sutra:

"First, in order to become unshakable, practice must be performed nairantarya, without interruption. One cannot take breaks from one's practice whenever one feels like it or the mind dictates and expect to attain the goal of yoga, which is to quell such whimsical vrittis [fluctuations]. One cannot attain success in a few months or even after many years of practice unless one is exceptionally dedicated. Indeed, the Gita speaks of the yogi maintaining the yatna, effort, of the last sutra, for many births: 'Through effort and restraint, cleansed of all impurities, the yogi who has cultivated perfection over several lives, eventually attains the supreme destination' (VI.45). Practice is at the very least a lifelong commitment, to be undertaken, Patanjali goes on to say, satkara-asevitah, with respect and devotion. One is, after all, pursuing the ultimate goal of life -- realization of the innermost self - and cannot expect to attain this in a halfhearted or frivolous fashion, or in a random manner.

"Vyasa states that the practice of yoga becomes successful, that is, firmly established, when accompanied by austerity, celibacy, knowledge and faith. Under these conditions, it is not immediately overwhelmed by the ingrained habits of the mind. Vacaspati Misra calls these habits, which are samskaras that impel the mind outward into the sensual realm "highway robbers." He acknowledges that the sattvic nature of the mind -- tranquility and calmness -- is often overcome by rajas [activity] and tamas [inertia], but if one maintains one's practice, then eventually the mind becomes steadfast and concentrated. If one gives up one's practice, however, one's mind immediately becomes overwhelmed again. Hence this verse indicates that the practice of yoga has to be cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion for a long period of time....

"...Nonetheless, however accomplished a yogi may become, if he or she abandons the practice of yoga under the notion of being enlightened or of having arrived at a point beyond the need of practice, it may be only a matter of time before past samskaras, including those of past sensual indulgences, now unimpeded by practice, begin to surface... There is no flower bed, however perfected, that can counteract the relentless emergence of weeds if left unattended.As Patanjali will discuss later in the text, as long as one is embodied, samskaras remain latent, and therefore potential, in the citta [mind]. Hence one can read this sutra as indicating that since the practices of yoga must be uninterrupted, one would be wise to politely avoid yogis or gurus who claim to have attained a state of enlightenment such that they have transcended the need for the practice and renunciation prescribed by Patanjali here."