October Focus of the Month: Back to Basics by Jivamukti NYC
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (PYS I.36)
The Yoga Sutras are extremely compact. Each sutra (translated to thread), using the power of the Sanskrit language, is defined exactly with just enough words and often conveys a profound meaning requiring copious commentary.
This above sutra refers to a state of viśokā, a sorrow-less, grief-less state that’s obtained by concentration on the Divine.
Viśokā can be understood as a state in which the mind is not focused on the day-to-day, moment-to-moment changing situations, which often produce anxiety, regret and many other afflictions. Focusing instead on the changeless, ever-present Divine state produces remarkably good results. A spiritual practitioner or aspiring yogi desires results such as a deep sense of peace, contentment, a lightness of being and confidence that we have something deeper and stronger we can tap into. That state of lightness is conducive for spiritual growth and knowledge.
It is important for a yogi to focus on the right substance because, over time, he or she will develop the qualities of that substance. Many yogis have warned us to be very selective about the things we focus and concentrate on, as well as the company that we keep. Shyamdas often taught the importance of satsang which means keeping good company. Good association is a key element for spiritual development. Anything that brings people together in an uplifting way to encourage contemplation can help guide us toward that path.
Divine things are rarely complicated. Things like compassion, feeling for others, our breath or appreciating a beautiful sunset or shade-giving tree are all simple things often taken for granted. Nature is full of things we can appreciate, all of which contribute to a Divine experience.
The human mind, however, is capable of elaborate complications! Given the right incentive, the mind can be trained to focus on the simple things. In the practice of yoga, that incentive is an immediate sense of the here and now. Some asanas seem very complicated mainly because we think of them in that way. If we break them down into the basic elements or a simple sequence, we are often amazed by our progress.
In Jivamukti Yoga, asana is defined as “seat” or “connection to the Earth.” Divinity arises by realizing your true connection to the Earth. Through regular practice, we come to see that it’s not just the physical connection, but our relationship with nature, animals and other human beings. Our entire existence is made up of relationships, so it is worth asking whether or not these relationships are Divine. Can we focus on the divinity in everything and everyone surrounding us? It is easier said than done. It’s very easy to find fault in others and to see the fallibilities in them. We want them to be a certain way – our idea of perfection! If this person were like this, or did this, then I would be happy.
Sharon Gannon explains in her book Yoga and Vegetarianism that desiring happiness for ourselves is called greed and that Patanjali recommends yogis seeking enlightenment should try to live a simple life based on moderation rather than excessive consumption. She cites the very simple but powerful quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “Live simply so that others may simply live.” The yoga practice is full of opportunities to return back to the basics. By choosing to concentrate our efforts on that which is simple we can illuminate what is profound.