Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:17: The cause of that avoidable pain is the union of the seer (Purusha) and seen (Prakrati).
Defining the Sutra
When you start to go down the rabbit hole of yogic philosophy and spirituality, you start to discover paradoxes. Statements and ideas that are seemingly contradictory but really are not. This is one of the reasons why Gurus and teachers advise us to stick to one teacher or method. We can get to the same conclusion in more then one way but we usually get there quicker if we use one method. When most people fly, they usually look for a direct flight with no stops. They prefer to fly out of an airport in their town and fly directly into their destination because it is quicker. Contradictions, confusion and paradoxes give us layovers. Some people even stop traveling to their destination all together or go backwards. Sticking with one teacher or philosophy can prevent layovers.
This verse is one of the great Yoga paradoxes. You often hear people say,
“Yoga is union”
“We are all one.”
“Yoga is the union of mind, body and spirit.”
“The definition of Yoga is union”
Well, Patanjali doesn’t say that. In this verse he says, that suffering is caused by the union of the Self (the changeless, Purusha) with form (nature, the changing, Prakrati). Patanjali sees Yoga not as the act of joining mind, body and spirit but as the act of understanding that they are separate!!! Patanjali says that, the only way to avoid suffering is to not join them! This is also why Patanjali says that all pleasure is also suffering because the interaction of Prakrati and Purusha is why we exist in this from in this time space continuum…another paradox. One at a time though.
The changeless or Pursha is the creative force of the universe. If something can be created, then it can become separate from that which is creating. When we identify more with the creation, then with the creative force, suffering happens. When we start to think that if we lose our cars, money, friends, family, asana and bodies that everything is over, we suffer. These are creations. The fear of loss is a creation of the mind. We suffer because we think we are the creations, but really, we are the creator.
“Mind and body are one. You are making it different. Many people say, ‘what is Yoga? Bringing mind and body together.’ Without body, how can there be a mind? Everything is already one. Because you get distracted, you start to think they are separate. How you treat your mind is how you treat your body. How you treat your body is how you treat your mind. Yoga is always body and mind. Happens together.” Sharath Jois
Modern Day Application
Sharath, the Director of the Sri. K Pattabhi Jois Yoga Institute, quotes from the Sutras which is dualism but his family Guru, Adi Shankara, is nondualism! In conference, Sharath acknowledged the paradox and basically said, that at the end of the day, it is all the same and not to get hung up on it.
Everything is made of energy but do you look like the Sun? Everything is made of atoms and atoms are mostly empty space but if you put your hand on your computer, will it go trough to to the other side? We are all one but If if your loved one goes to jail, are you going with them? Everything is one but if someone cuts down trees in the Amazonian rain forest, are the trees in your backyard going to fall over?
So yes, we are all made of atoms, energy and are all one, but we are experiencing the world through separation. We have the “I maker” or Ahamkara because it is the only way to experience this time space reality in this way. How could you live your life if you couldn’t tell the difference between your desk, your car and your foot? This is one of the reasons that Yogis say that Samadhi states are not permanent. I don’t tell my heart to beat, it beats. I don’t tell my cells to multiply, they multiply. That is oneness. The stories of Yogis in certain Samadhi states are pretty extreme. Some Yogi’s bodies were ravaged with cancer or wasting away. They become like babies who don’t have a concept of where they end and their mother begins so they have to be taken care of like babies. That child like innocence is what drew people to them but it is also what makes people want run the other way!!! We all love babies but we also love baby sitters!! My Indian teachers made it clear that they were not about that life. That is a paradox to think about! Can yogis who don’t want Samadhi still be considered Yogis? That is for another day.
Here is that paradox again. Separation is not all bad…or all good LOL. The type of union, that most people get caught up in, is becoming unified with things and emotions and forgetting that there is apart of them that is beyond that. We know this because something is seeing. Something is seeing the words on this page. Stop a moment and feel that there is some presence behind your eyes as you look at this. There is some sense of aliveness within you. Notice that when you focus on that aliveness, all other thoughts cease. Notice that when your thoughts start back up, that you lose connection with that feeling of aliveness. A great place to play with this concept is while taking rest after Yoga. Notice the aliveness behind all the muscles you just worked. Notice the presence behind the darkness of your closed lids. Notice the vibration you feel around the edges of your finger tips. Notice how you are not even aware that you lose this feeling until you once again get on your mat.
When we get so caught up in our lives that we stop creating our life but allow our lives to create us, it is helpful to find the separation again. I was talking with the owner of the Yoga studio that I work at about jobs. He spoke about how people get so stressed out about their jobs and they completely forget that their actually is another alternative. They can get another job!! This is the suffering caused by union. It is the inability to say, “I can get another job” because one has become so identified by their position and the life they feel the position is giving them, that they forget they actually have another choice. The suffering, that is avoidable, is caused by identification with something that is not really you.
Why It is Important?
“And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out,and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell”-The Holy Bible, Matthew 5:29
Yoga is a fast track to letting go of our attachment to things and so is death. Some of us will be able to do it with Yoga. Some of us will need death. Casting away impermanent things is the cycle of our existence. No organic thing gets away from decay and death. We can die before we die by letting things go before they drag us into suffering or hell. If our right eye is cast into hell, our whole body does not have to go with it. If we are not identified with it, we can pluck it out. This is how suffering can be avoided.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.