“Then what do you depend on? My own internal reactions. I read myself, not the person in front of me. I always know a lie because I want to turn my back on the liar.”
Frank Herbert

Chapter House Dune

Yoga Sutra – Chapter 2 Sutra 29

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I’ve been dancing around Sutra 2.29 in two recent articles. The first was “Tapas & Relationships” and just yesterday as I was exploring Sutra 2.31. I didn’t have any intention to write about it until a recent debate began between myself and Bob Weisenberg on the comment thread of one of his Gita Talks posts. The debate broke off after I wrote a length reply that got lost in the commenting system. I will be using this post to pick up the thread. Sorry for the delay Bob.

A Table of Contents

On the face of it Sutra 2.29 seems like a straightforward list of “ashtanga” the 8 limbs of Yoga:

  1. Yama – your attitude toward your environment.
  2. Niyama – your attitude toward yourself.
  3. Asana (physical practices)
  4. Pranayama (breathing practices)
  5. Pratyahara (quieting the mind)
  6. Dharana (focusing the mind)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (integration / being present / clear perception / …)

For an overview of Yoga it seems to be in the middle of nowhere – but it’s actually strategically placed:

  • It’s not in the 1st chapter – which is about Samadhi – which, interestingly, is the last item on ashtanga list. If you can relate to and experience what is described in the first chapter – then you don’t need this list. If, like most people, you don’t then the 2nd chapter is there to help you.
  • The 2nd chapter is about practice – the things you can do to get to a point where you will be able to take on the 1st chapter.
  • The 2nd chapter starts with an explanation of why practice is required – to overcome obstacles. It explains about the different kinds of obstacles and how they effect us.
  • Only then, when we have some perspective and understanding about what it is we are trying to do, a system of tools is introduced in Sutra 2.29.

Weight of Practices

A table of contents can be, and in the case of Yoga in the west, is misleading. Let’s have a look at the number of sutras that are dedicated to the topics.

  • Yama & Niyama (external and internal attitudes) take up a better part of what remains of the 2nd chapter – 16 sutras.
  • Asana (physical practices) is mentioned in 2 sutras and in a 3rd sutra in which it shares a place with breath.
  • Pranayama (breathing practices) is mentioned in 4 sutras and shares a 5th in which it shares a place with asana.
  • Pratyahara (containment of the senses) is mentioned in the last 3 sutras of the 2nd chapter and serves as a transition into the 3rd chapter.
  • Dharana, Dhyanama & Samadhi (which make up the domain of meditation) take up the entire 3rd chapter – 55 sutras.

How does this reflect on your practice? Are you practicing asana or Yoga?

Samkhya Separates – Yoga Integrates

What set me on this path was a parallel I believe exists between this list and the philosophy of Samkhya. Samkhya is one of the ancient philosophies of India and is closely related to Yoga. Samkhya is a practical philosophy based on a number of assumptions:

  • There are two ultimate realities: Spirit (Purusa) and Matter (Prakrti).
  • The universe had a beginning – a “first movement” or “first cause”.
  • The “first movement” is beyond the intellect – so there’s no point in pursuing it intellectualy.
  • It is better to work with what is there now – a dynamic universe which arises from Spirit & Matter.

Samkhya then goes on to describe a process of evolution from which our “current universe” arises:

  1. From a meeting of Spirit & Matter evolved Gunas.
  2. From a meeting of Spirit & Matter came an Intelligent Will.
  3. From Intelligence Will evolved Separation and individuation.
  4. From Separation evolved Mind and thought.
  5. From thought evolved Sensing.
  6. From Sensing Qualities evolved the Subtle Elements of Nature.

It seems that Ashtanga is a process that retraces the path set out by Samkhya:

Yoga-Ashtanga Samkhya Relationship
Yama & Niyama Subtle Elements Our external and internal attitudes are in relationship to a physical universe.
Asana & Pranayama Sensing Initial practices are designed to create an awareness of the workings of the senses.
Pratyahara Mind Until there is an awareness that can tell tell apart the workings of mind from what the sense report through it.
Dharana Separation When the mind has become aware of its inner workings it can begin to focus clearly (without distractions)
Dhyana Intelligent  Will It can experience a sense of disintermediated connection with a higher intelligence.
Samadhi Gunas Finally mind is no longer a slave the Gunas

In my experience it is rare to find such a tight, thorough & systemic coupling of philosophy and actionable practice. I have a great respect for it and for my teachers who have introduced it to me in a way that is professional, inspiring, relevant and caring.

This entry was posted in Yoga, Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Texts. You are welcome to read 4 comments and to add yours

One Comment

  1. Posted July 12, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Hi, iamronen.

    Thanks for this very clear overview of Samkhya and how you see it relating to the Yoga Sutra.

    My own reading of the Yoga Sutra is that it's a detailed exposition of one aspect of the the Bhagavad Gita–the aspect of meditation.

    Personally I'm not attracted to Samkhya because it is determinedly dualistic, and I can't think of any rational justification for the separation of spirit and matter (which as you know, is not just matter but also many non-material things like ego and emotions as well–the entire mind), especially with all the latest discoveries about quantum physics.

    But that's just me. You have certainly made a very good case for Samkhya and it's connection to the Yoga Sutra above.

    There are six chapters in the Gita (13-18) that are largely about Samkhya, too, but many analysts think they were added on later as a result of the popularity of Samkhya. Some analysts suggest ignoring them, and others suggest that the duality of these chapters is just a stepping stone to the passionate non-duality of the rest of the Gita. Still others don't see any conflict at all just two ways of looking at the same reality. All these variations in interpretation is one of the things that makes Yoga so fascinating.

    Thanks for educating us.

    Bob Weisenberg
    YogaDemystified.com

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