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Chapter II.1 to Chapter II.24 of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

By Shyam Mehta

This, the third of 6 articles, comments on the first 24 verses of the second chapter of The Yoga Sutras. In the first chapter it was noted that Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the consciousness, and that in the modern world, the only practical route to achieving yoga is by dedicating all your actions to God. The whole universe is God and so your actions need to be focussed on helping your fellow man and Mother Nature.

The second chapter describes the physical actions needed to achieve yoga and in the first verse these are summarised as:

Tapas (that I have loosely described as moderate austerities) means practices required to generate (spiritual) heat, i.e. in preparation for perception of one's soul or God. The practices are as required to give one a healthy, strong and pure body and mind.

Svadhyaya means practice to study one's Self. There are three routes to correct knowledge: experience, inference and reliable testimony. For a beginner, general (theoretical) knowledge of the nature of one's self will come from a study of the sacred texts - this is reliable testimony. One's ability to infer properties of the self will be enhanced by reading Indian philosophical works (these should not be taken as being reliable as they are not the word of God). Direct experience of the nature of one's self comes in Samadhi, yogic trance: the last and highest stage of yoga.

Ishvara Pranidhana means surrender of all to God. However, the world about you, including 'your' possessions and your body, mind and heart, do not truly belong to you, they belong to God. Thus yoga involves a gradual surrendering of body, mind and heart, actions and thoughts, as well as the results of actions and thoughts, to God. In practice, surrendering involves loss (of various property that you previously believed to be yours) and putting in its place love of God: it is too painful to give up all without receiving something in exchange and God in His/Her love for you gives you love in exchange.

Yoga is not for the closed minded since it opens up a whole raft of new experiences. This means that an aspiring yoga practitioner who for instance thinks that they do not believe in God should keep an open mind and ask themselves questions as to where this lack of belief came from, the certainty with which they hold this belief, how important this non belief is to them, whether there are circumstances in which they would change their mind, etc. The point here is that without one of the three routes to gain perfect knowledge listed above you cannot be sure of your knowledge. By definition, sensory experience will not have proven to you that there is no God and clearly testimony from God will not either. This leaves the second method of inference and so the beginner who does not believe in God needs to ask questions about in what way they have used inference to prove the non-existence of God. Proceeding along these lines will show that one's belief is not as fixed as it may seem at first. On the other hand, we have much testimony, including the Yoga sutras and also the Hindu scriptures, the Bible, Koran, etc. proclaiming the existence of God. Then there is the word of the many sages and saints across the world who have entered into yogic states and experienced God. Who can one believe if not the word of a sage and saint? Any disbelief on your part as to the existence of God will not be as certain as it seems at first sight if you are open-minded.

The conclusion of all this is not that I want you to believe in God, but that the very first verse of the second chapter of the Yoga Sutra states that all yoga practitioners need to perform moderate austerities, self-study and surrender to God. This is the yoga of action.

In the rest of these few sutras, Lord Patanjali describes the psychology of mankind. He explains that there are five fundamental afflictions: worldly or erroneous knowledge (Avidya), sense of I (ness), desire and attachment, dislike, and attachment to life and fear of death. He describes what each of these is, that they are caused by mankind making bad choices in their lives (see Chapter 1). He explains how these afflictions drive one to action and their relationship to happiness and to pain and sorrow.

The deposits of one's actions (i.e. a type of memory of these) through the law of cause and effect causes one to have different types of birth in the future along with specific life spans and types of future experiences. Since at the time of death one will have a stock of deposits of actions that have not yet given rise to experience as demanded in order to fulfil the law of cause and effect, one will need to experience another life, and so forth. This next life is characterised by type of birth (human, animal, etc, type of parents...), length of life, and the types of experience that you will experience.

Of the five afflictions stated above, Patanjali singles out pain and sorrow (cause of the state of mind called dislike) for special treatment. The yogi is advised to specifically prevent unknown future pains and sorrows. Pain and sorrow arise from bad choices which in turn lead to the cycle of life and death, and hence to contact with the world (rather than with one's Soul or God). The immediate cause of this junction is worldly and erroneous knowledge. Such knowledge is destroyed through unfluctuating discriminative intelligence which is attained through the eightfold divisions of yoga listed later.

Yoga philosophy states that man has five sense organs (ears, skin, eyes, tongue, and nose), five organs of action (speech, hands, legs, generative and excretory) and the mind (consisting of lower mind, ego and intellect). Sensual joys are required so that the self can fully appreciate the joy of being with God if and when ultimate liberation arises. Conjunction of the seen with the seer is the cause of distress as noted previously and therefore the seen acts as a spur for the self to seek liberation.

Yoga philosophy sets out how the universe evolved, with the three qualities of nature (satwa, rajas and tamas) starting out in complete equilibrium. As the universe evolved, there was ever more differentiation, particularising and marking, until we reach the stage today when life has fully evolved with its five sense organs, five organs of action and the mind. The order of evolution is noted by the yogi as a guide to yoga practice which is to reverse the process of evolution, i.e. to involute and draw the mind and senses back towards an equilibrium state.

The entire universe was created entirely for living beings to move towards the ultimate happiness of living with God. The science behind how to do this is set out in The Yoga Sutras.

Shyam has been practicing yoga for 47 years and teaching it for 32 years. Shyam is with The Loving Heart Centre and you may visit his website at

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