“Who needs 'please' when we've got guns?”
Jack Johnson

Yoga Sutra – Chapter 1 Sutra 1

n

atha yoga-anusanam
“Now begin the authoritative teachings of Yoga”

Translation by TKV Desikachar

This sutra has been on my mind for a few weeks now until a recent conversation with my teacher brought clarity to my thoughts.

This is the sutra that opens the Yoga Sutra – a text that is well known for it’s concise form and sparing use of words – and it opens by saying “this is the beginning”? duh!

Literally it is pretty straightforward. Atha can be translated as “now”. It indicates that this is a text that has a quality of prayer to it. Anusasanam can be translated as “teachings”. So “now come the teachings of Yoga”. My teacher suggests that it is a metaphor where “atha” represents a student, “yoga” represents a teacher and “anusasanam” represens teachings. An “education” requires that all three be present.

Anyway I read it – it is as if this sutra draws a line in the sand – on one side is everything I’ve known so far, crossing over it leads into something different altogether – the realm of Yoga. Why does the primary text about Yoga – which is about unity and integration start with a separation between that which is Yoga and everything else?

Then I recognized the word “anu” – which wasn’t individually acknowledged in any of the translations I consulted. It was always coupled with “sasanam” into “anusasanam”. I remembered the word “anu” from reading about Vaisesika philosophy:

Consider a point, defined as that which has neither parts nor extent, but position only. It occupies no space, has no inside or outside, no parts and is not produced and cannot be destroyed. Therefore it is eternal, has no magnitude – no length, breadth or thickness. This positional reality is what is implied by Anu and Paramanu.

I couldn’t a find a reliable definition for “sasanam” – the best I’ve been able to come up with is that it means “teaching” (I still wonder about it’s relationship with the word “asana”). This means that Anusasanam is not just any teaching. It is a core/root teaching – a teaching that is at the heart of everything.

This led me to another interpretation of this sutra “Now begins the linkage with the root of all teachings” – which led to a train of thought:

  • I came to this text because I was seeking something.
  • I didn”t know what that something was but I knew it was missing from my life.
  • This wasn”t a beginning of a journey – I had been on it for a long time.
  • It brough me to a teacher (the Yoga Sutra is not meant for reading, but to be transmitted by a teacher to a ready student).
  • My teacher and the teachings I received acknowledged my search.
  • This sutra was a marker on my path – it was telling me I was heading in the right direction.

When I was working my way from the outside in, the separation was clear to me. I had finally arrived at something that started to resonate with my questions. Things started to make a new kind of sense – a sense that is a result of a a new, less disturbed sensing.

When I was starting to move inside and looked back to where I came from – the separation was still very clear to me. There was no doubt in my mind I was in a better place and that “outside” was a lesser place. During my early practice years, I had a very hard time coming back from retreats and engaging my day-to-day life.

The farther in I travel into this “better” place, the boundary between it and everything else seems to fade – things seem to be integrating. This is off-the-mat Yoga. This is the Yoga I find in pulling weeds or doing dishes, or facing my fears or living in relationships. The “boundary” is in a way still useful – it reminds me when I stray off my path – it says to me “this is not in the spirit of Yoga, make a change”. From this I can deduct and speculate that there is a place where everything is truly integrated in the spirit of Yoga. Maybe this is “Samadhi”? I am not there yet, I don’t know if it is humanly possible to “arrive’ at such a place? I can and do continue to live my life aspiring to stay on my path – swinging back and forth between friction and peace, identifying more separations and arriving at better integration.

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