“Finally, I don’t understand humans. We line up and make a lot of noise about big environmental problems like incinerators, waste dumps, acid rain, global warming and pollution. But we don’t understand that when we add up all the tiny environmental problems each of us creates, we end up with those big environmental dilemmas.”
Joseph Jenkins

The Humanure Handbook

Yoga Sutra – Chapter 4 Sutra 34


A couple of days ago I had a conversation with a caring relative who was worried about me / for me. She was referring to an unpleasant period I had gone through recently. She asked if I considered seeking professional/medical help and suggested that medication may be helpful. I replied that I did not consider that an option. I believe that the widely available medical view subscribes to a value system that is different then mine – it seeks and sees illness, it applies analytical understanding, it isolates and then it fixes. I suppose that these values may be useful in extreme life-threatening situations. But these values are blind and useless (at best) when it comes to well being. At any rate – these are qualities that I do not want in my life.

Today I came across this wonderful quote posted by Shulamit which expressed my feelings about what professional care could be (and usually isn’t):

“The only thing I think we have to offer someone else is our own centredness, our own being all right, and knowing beyond a doubt that they’re all right. If I know that about myself in a way that lets me know that about everyone, I speak with true authority, in the sense of knowing what is so. But if I don’t have that experience of being all right, if I am afraid for you because I am afraid for me, all I have to offer you is my fear. “Maybe if you quit drinking…” or “Why don’t you try such-and-such?” That all comes from my own fear.

I think it’s disrespectful of someone else’s life process to assume that they are inadequate to their experience. It would be good to follow that back and see how I am simply projecting my own fear of inadequacy onto them. I simply cannot know about someone else’s life… The contribution I can make is to clean up what’s mine… I can’t remove the obstacles to your path, but I can avoid putting things in your way… I this way to do I most deeply vow to train myself.”

Cheri Huber, Good Life: A Zen precepts retreat

The quote is so complete I do not care to make any commentary on it. I do wish to suggest that it applies inside (self-help) as well as it does outside (for lack of a better term – “helping” others).

One of the early teachings I was given and carry with me is of the relationship between Cit and Citta – the idea that there is something (Cit) that comes before mind (Citta), something that is eternal, something that can “see” mind – a “see-er”. I looked this up in the Yoga Sutra – and I found many references to Citta (mind) – but I was surprised that I could not find a clear instance of Cit (that which is eternal and “knows” mind). There are however numerous instances of the word “Purusa” which Desikachar translates as the “Perceiver”.

Of all the instances I would like to relate to one – the last sutra in the Yoga Sutra – chapter  4 sutra 34:

“When the highest purpose of life is achieved the three basic qualities do not excite responses in the mind. That is freedom. In other words, the Perceiver is no longer colored by the mind.”

(Translation by TKV Desikachar from “Heart of Yoga”)

The three basic qualities refers to the three Gunas (Tamas, Rajas & Sattva). They are like waves which we ride-out in life. Our senses tell mind that we are “happy” or “depressed”. When our perception is bound to mind we take what the senses report as real and true.

But inside us there is a “Perceiver” that is seeing a bigger picture. It is sitting high up on the cliffs overlooking the ocean – looking down at mind as it tossed around by the waves of life.

  • This Perceiver can see that sometimes we are riding high on a powerful wave and that mind calls it “happiness”.
  • This Perceiver can see that sometimes we are under stormy water struggling for breath and that mind calls it “depression”.
  • This Perceiver can see that sometimes we are floating peacefully in a tranquil ocean without any distraction and that sometimes the mind looks up and even sees the Perceiver seeing it.

The “Perceiver” is “centeredness”  – is it that which is always all-right and always knows it. It is the “Perceiver” in me that said to me “everything is all-right, this wave will also pass, hang in there” when I was literally struggling to breath. It is the “Perceiver” in me that corrects misperceptions that assail mind from internal (self) and external (others) criticisms. It is the “Perceiver” that guides me to right action and keeps me from wrong action (making things worse).

Just as it is “disrespectful of someone else’s life process to assume that they are inadequate to their experience” – it it also disrespectful that “I” assume that “I” am inadeqaute to my own experience. That assumption is rooted in ignorace and a limited perspective. There is nothing in me that needs fixing except for that ignorant and limited perception – and that cannot “be fixed” – it can only mend itself (given supportive settings). This is the “end-game” of Yoga.

This entry was posted in Yoga, Yoga & I, Yoga & Life, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Texts. You are welcome to add your comment

Leave a Reply