February 2021: Kleshas and Yamas

Week 1

The second chapter of the Sutras, Sadhana Pada, continues to add depth to the teachings of self-realization. Patanjali begins with a sutra about yogic action, or kriya, which is a key component to a practice. 

From IndiaNetzone:

“Sadhana Pada is the second chapter of Patanjali Yoga Sutra, where Patanjali comes down to the level of those who are not spiritually evolved. It is in this chapter that Maharshi Patanjali explains ways to aspire for the absolute freedom. In Sadhana Pada, he also elucidates the concept of Kriya Yoga. Kriya meaning action and Kriya Yoga, the yoga of action, has three tiers, namely tapas, svadhyaya and Isvarapranidhana. Tapas means burning desire, Savadhyaya means self study and Isvarapranidhana that means surrender to God. When these three aspects of Kriya Yoga are followed with generosity, life’s sufferings are overcome and Samadhi is experienced.”

The word “practice” is a verb. It’s something we do; an action. This introduction is a great reminder that although we are working to release attachments, there is still a level of “doing” on behalf of the practitioner. In order to progress, our practice needs to be consistent, and we need to spend a great deal of time in self-inquiry for the purpose of relieving suffering and bringing us closer to pure awareness.

Now, let’s be honest here. The above sounds extremely selfish: you should only be practicing for the sake of attaining a yogic state. On one hand, it kind of is. There’s a lot of debate over the purpose of the Sutras, with a lot of scholars saying Patanjali’s writing is meant to have us shun the lived experience, and there’s a lot of truth to that. I don’t have the qualifications to dissect a 2500 year old text, so I won’t even throw my hat into the ring, but I will say this: even if Patanjali’s motives were to renounce life and stay in samadhi forever, it doesn’t mean we can’t use these teachings and apply them to how we wish to exist in our own human experience. 

These teachings are powerful and if we are to follow this path with dedication, imagine what we could do for the greater good, with a clear and free mind? As I always say, fill up your cup so you can pour it out for others.

Patanjali continues the Sadhana Pada through the introduction of the five kleshas, which are the causes of suffering. The causes of suffering are, (that’s right!) more obstacles: avidya, not seeing things as they are; asmita, ego; raga, attachment or desire; dvesa or aversion; abhinivesa, fear of death/clinging to life.

It’s incredible to see how there are so many obstacles that come between our human experience and relationship to spirituality. From our vrittis (thought patterns), to our mental distractions, to the kleshas, we’re beginning to see a pattern of hurdles that seem like they pop up all over the place. It’s like, with our birth comes a series of lessons that require our undivided attention to master, and the span of our life is all about coming back to these lessons, over and over again.

To me, the kleshas are probably the most difficult obstacles we have. They are deeply rooted in our humanity, and at times, very necessary for survival. It isn’t the kleshas themselves that cause suffering; it’s our ability to cling to them as truth, and our behaviors that follow. How do you think an overwhelming fear of death dictates how we live? What would happen if we welcomed the fear and simply approached life knowing that death is the greatest mystery? 

To survive, we have to have moments of attraction and aversion. Most of us have an attraction to the smell of fresh food and an aversion when food has spoiled. I’d say these qualities are pretty helpful. The same can be true for the other kleshas, too.

Patanjali moves through this discussion with an important lesson on the difference between the perceiver and the perception. I won’t go into this in too much depth, but my most important takeaway is the idea that we must exist in the world on the premise that we are the observer and to continue to identify less with the reaction to what is observed. In other words, I am “me” and not my thoughts, feelings, or emotions. I drive the car, and am not the car itself.

Further within Sadhana Pada, Patanjali introduces Ashtanga Yoga, otherwise known as the eight limbs or eight components. We’ve covered them briefly somewhere in the first or second month of Off the Mat, but just as a refresher, the eight limbs are:

Yamas – External Discipline
Niyamas – Internal Discipline
Asana – Posture
Pranayama – Breath Regulation
Pratyahara – Restraint of the senses
Dharana – Concentration
Dhyana – Meditative Absorption
Samadhi – Complete Integration

We’re going to spend a considerable amount of time this year talking about the yamas and niyamas because I feel like they are the lost limbs that get brushed aside so one can jump into an asana practice. If that’s you, never fear! You can absolutely work on the yamas and niyamas while practicing asana. There are a lot of teachers who say you must work on the limbs in order (and I do believe there is truth to that), but if you already have a movement practice, who am I to stop you?

Let’s stop here and pick up on the first yama next week. In the meantime, watch or listen to the following video for a more in-depth explanation of the kleshas.

Reflection: Every night before bed, take some time to sit quietly to reflect on the day that has passed. What kleshas showed up? How disruptive were they to your day? How do you feel when you spend time reflecting on them? Spend at least a few days with this exercise. If it’s helpful, draw a mind-map of each klesha with lines that lead to your experiences.

Week 2

The first limb of yoga, yama, refers to the external discipline in ones’ practice. The yamas (along with niyamas, asana, and pranayama) are considered bahiranga, or external limbs “because they deal with the grosser or external expressions of life. They are known as external yoga because they harmonize the one’s thinking, behaviour and actions in relation to the interactions in the world…the external aspects through which we are able to control the vrittis or mental patterns which are affected by the external stimulation and environment” (Pandey, 2018).

There are five yamas: ahimsa, or not harming; satya, truthfulness; asteya, not stealing; brahmacharya, celibacy; and aparigraha, not being acquisitive.

This week, we will focus on ahimsa.

…non-harming…

An idea that’s so simple, almost universally accepted, yet a principle that we grapple with each and every day. At the surface level, many may think they have this yama covered. However when we begin to pay attention; to truly become aware of our thoughts, verbalizations, and actions, we may find more work to do.

When we talk about ahimsa, we’re talking about non-harming in regard to all of the facets of life: how we speak, think, and act towards ourselves and others.

Let’s start with ourselves. Think back over the last few days and assess the ways your thoughts, spoken word, and actions have or have not aligned with this idea of compassion towards self. Life can move so quickly that we don’t realize how we’re showing up. Let this be a gentle reminder to practice stepping back every now and then to ponder this. Before I allowed these teachings to be a part of my everyday life, my days were met with many moments where I could have been kinder to myself. Though certain patterns still definitely make their way into my mind and actions, I am far more gentler with myself than I used to be. Before anyone else, we are our best friend; our confidant. If we are to spread kindness to others, we must show ourselves that same respect.

What about the direct or indirect harm we cause on others or the planet? Between pollution, unnecessary war, colonialism, the myriad of “isms” (i.e. racism, sexism), “keyboard warriors,” extreme road rage, and divisive individuals, humankind has caused its fair share of harm. 

How do our words and behaviors harm the very members of our community, especially those who are marginalized or underrepresented? The answer(s) to this question can be found through the voices and words of marginalized individuals and their lived experiences. A simple google search can provide many resources to assist you with your inquiry. From a yogic perspective, I highly recommend Michelle Johnson’s book and trainings: Skill in Action. Susanna Barkataki is another great resource for learning how to use the teachings of yoga to show up for our communities. Susanna is a yoga culture advocate, author, and teacher who works “to showcase yoga in action, spread the message of diversity and inclusion, and help people connect through yoga to live a happy, fulfilling life for themselves and others (https://www.susannabarkataki.com/). 

What are some ways we can better show up for our communities and Mother Earth?

Protect them from policies that either intentionally or unintentionally affect their safety and quality of life; create an open dialogue when others speak or act against them; find ways to lift up and spread the word about their needs, including supporting causes; befriend your local community through kindness (i.e. perhaps signal a “hello” to a stranger or worker).

Now, let’s be real for a moment. Unless we retreat into solitude for the rest of our lives, we’ll never get to a place where we don’t cause some harm. It’s unrealistic to think in terms of absolutes when we live in a world filled with billions of people, all having different experiences. The aim may have to be to cause the least amount of harm for the greater good of all, and the reality is, we’ll make mistakes. But if we use yoga as a pillar in our lives, we’ll admit those mistakes without judgement. More importantly, we’ll learn from them. Release what may appear to be a heavy responsibility and just continue to show up with the idea that it won’t be perfect.

Patanjali writes that “being firmly grounded in non-violence creates an atmosphere in which others can let go of their hostility” (Hartranft, 2003). In other words, ahimsa has the ability to spread to others. Our pledge to do no harm extends far beyond our individuality, and if we can live by ahimsa with our heart and soul, we lead by example. Even if just for today, let your words and actions make a difference. They matter. They’re needed. And what you can offer the world is beyond your wildest dreams. Don’t let the magnitude of ahimsa get in the way of starting. Just begin with now.

Reflection: How does himsa, or harm, show up in your own life? Try to think, both in terms of your entire life, as well as recently. In what ways can you practice ahimsa with yourself? In what ways have you already? With others? With the planet?

Resources and References:

Pandey, Sushant (2018). Key elements of Raja Yoga: Yama and Niyama. Retrieved on February 3, 2021 from https://blog.yoga.in/2018/05/25/yama-and-niyama-key-elements-of-raja-yoga/

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Sanskrit-English Translation & Glossary by Chip Hartranft

Week 3

2.36 satya-pratisthayam kriya-phalasrayatvam
For those grounded in truthfulness, every action and its consequences are imbued with truth.

The second yama, satya, asks us to be truthful in our thoughts, spoken words, and actions.

Sushant Pendey writes, “Satya or truthfulness here refers to complete synchronicity between one’s thinking, feeling and actions. It is a virtue which abstains one from falsehood. Satya is freedom from any discrepancies between one’s thinking and behaviour.”

From The Heart of Yoga, “The ability to be honest in communication with sensitivity, without hurting others, without telling lies, and with the necessary reflection requires a very refined state of being. Such persons cannot make mistakes in their actions (Desikachar, 1995).

Most of us know the moral dilemma of telling a lie and understand the implications at its core, but satya is more than just “not lying.” Similarly, we tend not to explore truthfulness fully, and trust me, there’s a lot to explore within the nooks and crannies of our lives.

From the perspective of our thoughts, we can revisit pramana vritti, or perception. If you remember from last month, our perception is our truth, birthed from our senses, memories, emotions, and experiences. How many times have you perceived a situation incorrectly and ruminated on it as if it was an absolute truth only to find it was viparyaya vritti, or misperception?

It happens to me all too often.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect: for my friends, family, job, etc. If I’m unsure about an action or decision I’ve made that will affect someone in my circle, I’ll put an entire story to it before they’ve even had a chance to realize I’ve done anything. I’ll have made firm decisions on how they’ll react; what their perception would be. I quite literally react and behave as if my story had already happened.

I’ve learned over time to stop the rumination train and really sit with it.

…Have any of these supposed outcomes actually happened yet?

…What is actually true?

…If I’m not perfect, will I be less than?

Most of the time, my tight grip on the future unravels and I begin to realize that I have no idea what will actually happen and I’m exhausting myself thinking about what may. Mind you, nine out of ten times, I’m usually wrong.

And perfection brings me to another point: satya (and all yamas) is not asking you to be perfect. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of “doing” going on. The point is to carry these values with you through life, and to forgive yourself when you’ve had moments away from them. Just like with my story about stories, I identify less with them the more I continue to show compassion when they pop up.

Getting on myself when I had those experiences didn’t work. The teachings and tools in yoga do. They’re meant to help us make room for the yogic state already within us. Satya is already within us.

Truth in spoken word and action is just as important as truth in thought. When our values and beliefs don’t align with what we’re putting out into the world, we’re doing ourselves and our communities a disservice. And the more I learn what it means live within my truth, the more I’m able to balance my relationship to ahimsa. I truly do not think one lives without the other.

When we make room for satya, we’re creating and sustaining energy that flows within us. It swims in between the chitta vritti and at times, put it at ease. Put this one in your pocket and hold it close. There’s a reason we have the saying, the truth will set you free.

Vijay Gopala (video below) provides an excellent philosophical example of satya, that helps answer some of those “grey area” questions one might think about when it comes to truth-telling.

Reflection: Reflect on a time when you were not living with honesty. How do you think it affected your relationship with ahimsa? If you’ve been holding on to this particular experience or find you are judging yourself during your reflection, find a practice in self-forgiveness to use throughout this week. I highly recommend Ho’opononpono.

Resources and References:
Pandey, Sushant (2018). Key elements of Raja Yoga: Yama and Niyama. Retrieved on February 3, 2021 from https://blog.yoga.in/2018/05/25/yama-and-niyama-key-elements-of-raja-yoga/

The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T. K. V. Desikachar

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Sanskrit-English Translation & Glossary by Chip Hartranft

2 thoughts on “February 2021: Kleshas and Yamas”

  1. Sadhana Pada is the second chapter of Patanjali Yoga Sutra, where Patanjali comes down to the level of those who are not spiritually evolved. It is in this chapter that Maharshi Patanjali explains ways to aspire for the absolute freedom. In Sadhana Pada, he also elucidates the concept of Kriya Yoga. Kriya meaning action and Kriya Yoga, the yoga of action, has three tiers, namely tapas, svadhyaya and Isvarapranidhana. Tapas means burning desire, Savadhyaya means self study and Isvarapranidhana that means surrender to God. When these three aspects of Kriya Yoga are followed with generosity, life’s sufferings are overcome and Samadhi is experienced.
    https://www.indianetzone.com/21/sadhana_pada.htm

    Like

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