Rev. Jaganath, Integral Yoga Minister and Raja Yoga master teacher, has spent a lifetime delving into the deepest layers of meaning in Patanjali’s words within the Yoga Sutras. Our series leaps ahead to Chapter 2 to its very first sutra. In sutra 2.1, Patanjali presents the system of Kriya Yoga, which is comprised of three foundational practices on the yogic path toward Self-realization: tapas, svadhyaya, and Ishvara pranidhanam.
Sutra 2.1: tapaḥ-svādhyāya-īṣvara-praṇidhānāni kriyā-Yogaḥ
Accepting pain as help for purification, study of spiritual books and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga in practice (Swami Satchidananda translation).
Kriya Yoga, the three elements that form the foundation of the Yoga life, are:
- Tapas: self-discipline and accepting hardship and pain as a help for purification
- Svadhyaya: repeated, deep study of sacred wisdom and the introspective search into the nature of the self; mantra repetition
- Ishvara pranidhanam: wholehearted devotion and dedication to Ishvara
(Rev. Jaganath translation)
tapaḥ = left untranslated; austerity, self-discipline, creative heat, consuming by heat, causing pain or trouble, distressing, religious austerity, penance, intense meditation, excellence of devotion, the efficacy or potency of devotion, tormented by, warmth, an attendant of Lord Siva
from tap = to burn, to make hot, to shine (as the sun), to shine upon, to consume or destroy by heat, to suffer pain, to repent of, to torment oneself, to practice austerity, to become purified by austerities
There are uses to adversity, and they don’t reveal themselves until tested.
Whether it’s serious illness, financial hardship, or the simple constraint of parents who speak limited English, difficulty can tap unexpected strengths.
—Justice Sonia Sotomayor
There are two basic categories of tapas:
- The pain, suffering, and sorrow that is generated by the inevitable appearance of unpleasant events in life
- The effort and challenges that are an essential part of cultivating self-discipline through spiritual practices and lifestyle choices
Tapas, like any heat source, can illumine and it can purify. A campfire produces both light and heat. The light illumines the campsite revealing objects and people within its reach. One of the definitions of the root, tap, suggests that as a result of tapas, an individual can shine upon – benefit in some natural way – others. But, if engaged in, in an unbalanced way, it is just a way to torment oneself.
Some people perform stern austerities that are not enjoined by the scriptures, but rather motivated by hypocrisy and egotism. Impelled by desire and attachment, they torment not only the elements of their body, but also I who dwell within them as the Supreme Soul. Know these senseless people to be of demoniacal resolves.
—Bhagavad Gita, 17.6
Heat also has the power to purify. The classic example is the purification of gold ore. The ore is heated until the impurities float to the top where they are skimmed off. This process is repeated a number of times until no impurities remain. What’s left is pure 24 karat gold.
Tapas, as both light and heat, explains why, when Patanjali arrives at the sutra that describes the fundamentals that underpin all Yoga practice, the first word (tapas) brings to mind light and heat. In this one word, we see that the very foundation of the Yoga life rests on understanding that challenge and hardship are not mere uncomfortable experiences, but occasions that can help us break through the manifestations of ignorance allowing pure light to illumine us.
The yogi learns to regard hardships as opportunities for purification from negative states of mind such as anger, impatience, or jealousy. Tapas is not simply grimly enduring pain and suffering. Adversities, encountered with the proper yogic attitude of acceptance, equanimity, and mindfulness can become times of discovering or developing strengths and virtues that we never suspected we had.
Tapas holds one more great benefit. Heat can also unite. How often have we witnessed the unity of communities when challenged by a natural disaster? Political, religious, social status, and gender all recede into inconsequentiality when we must endure a common struggle. Empathy and compassion rise quickly and, with great unifying power, allow us to nurture hope and behold examples of the beauty of human nature when it is freed from self-interest.
Cultivating the attitude of tapas helps us convert experiences that bring only suffering – burning – into a heat that purifies and unites and a light that enlightens.
svādhyāya = left untranslated; study, self-study, study of sacred texts, reciting, repeating or rehearsing to one’s self, repetition or recitation of the Vedas in a low voice to one’s self, recitation or study of any sacred text
from sva = one’s self, ego, soul, one’s own, one’s own goods (property, wealth, etc.), + adhi = to go over or on, to turn something over in the mind repeatedly, to recite until memorized and absorbed
Svadhyaya could refer to study of the self or to integrating the teachings learned from scripture and the Guru into oneself. To more adequately define svadhyaya and reveal the full power of its transformative capacities in the yogic context, we can look to the roots of two words: study and research.
From the Old French, estudier = to strive toward, to devote oneself to, to cultivate. The sense is to thrust or press forward. In Yoga, the focus of study is on the mindset of the one who studies rather than the information to be accumulated. We can say that study produces the best results for one who nurtures an intense enthusiastic curiosity regarding knowledge and practice.
However, the word study alone lacks the sense of experimentation, discovery, and the replication of results that are central to scientific research, but that form an essential element of svadhyaya.
Research literally means to search and search again. It is from the Latin circare, to wander, which is in turn, from circus = circle, ring, orbit. The prefix re is an intensifier.
From this, we can see that research suggests a focused search – within a circle or orbit of knowledge – and to search and search again and again. Each fact or lesson learned also opens a new horizon to explore. Recall that adhi, a root of svadhyaya means to go over or on, to turn something over in the mind repeatedly.
The word research helps us get beyond the image of burying our heads in books. Although this is certainly part of study, it’s only one aspect of it. Look at the following criteria for scientific research to see how the Sutras’ understanding of study shares the same framework as scientific research.
Research begins with a clear statement of its objectives. In Yoga, as in any faith tradition, it is about eradicating suffering born from ignorance. In Yoga, as in any research, the results need to be able to be replicated by others following the same essential methods.
The researcher (in our case the student of Yoga) needs to remain unbiased, in order to refrain from wishful thinking, to assess the benefits of Yoga honestly for themselves.
Research also requires that the researchers have sufficient and appropriate resources. For yogis, this requirement is satisfied by the wealth of tried and true fundamental teachings and practices.
Those who design research studies should have a full understanding of the subject. This resonates with sutra 1.7, which states that one of the methods for cultivating reliable knowledge is agama, authoritative testimony. This includes scriptural testimony and, in Yoga, the teachings and guidance of a master. The body and mind of the yogi are the laboratory for this experimentation.
Certainly, svadhyaya includes the kind of study we did in school to pass our exams: gathering knowledge, analyzing it to understand its import, relating new information to other pertinent teachings, and memorizing key facts. But svadhyaya also includes probing into the causes behind effects, and expanding our research results by seeing how they relate to other principles and experiences.
As we have seen, the roots of svadhyaya suggest repeated effort. This repetitiveness is not just for the sake of memorization of principles, but for fully engaging in the Yoga life until a new way of perceiving and being arises. The higher goal of study in Yoga is to clarify and deepen perception, so that insight (prajna) is cultivated and can be used as an enhanced exploratory tool of perception that extends beyond the reach of rationality. The enhanced super perception possessed by evolved yogis is also known as Yoga pratyaksha, yogic vision. In sutra 1.7, pratyaksha, defined as direct perception, is listed as one of the sources of reliable knowledge. But Yoga pratyaksha goes well beyond the reach of normal sense perception and logic. It enables the yogi to perceive subtle realities of the universe, the ways of life, and the self.
Mantra repetition (mantra japa) is also included in study since it is a powerful way to refine perceptual powers and since the process of japa naturally includes encountering subtle facets of self-identity that dwell in the subconscious mind. We can summarize the goal of study as bringing the light of wisdom into the darkest and most unvisited corners of our minds, hearts, and lives.
īṣvara = left untranslated ; master, lord, king, God, able to do, capable
praṇidhānāni = left untranslated; to hold within and in front of, laying on, fixing, applying, access, entrance, exertion, endeavor, respectful conduct, attention paid to, profound religious meditation, abstract contemplation of, vehement desire, vow
from pra = before or in front + ni = down into or within + dhā = place, put, or hold
Anyone who truly loves God travels securely. —Saint Teresa of Avila
kriyā = lifestyle; doing, performing, occupation with, act, action, undertaking, work, bodily action, exercise of the limbs, medical treatment or practice, applying a remedy, cure, a religious rite or ceremony, sacrificial act, sacrifice, rites performed immediately after death, purificatory rites, religious action, worship, study
from kṛ = to do or make
Kriya Yoga simply defined, is Yoga in action. For the yogi, action consists of the practices, resolves, decisions, conduct, and lifestyle that are conducive to growth, transformation, and the transcending of ignorance.
In Saiva Siddhanta (a path followed by devotees of Lord Siva predominant among the Tamils of Sri Lanka and South India), kriya refers to a stage that is preparatory to liberation, to attain nearness to God.
Yoga = left untranslated; union, connection, joining, yoke, attaching, harnessing, equipping an army, fixing of an arrow to a bow string, a remedy, cure, a means, manner, a supernatural means, incantation, stratagem, undertaking, to agree or consent, mixing of various materials, partaking of, arrangement, suitability, exertion, zeal, diligence, care, attention, with all one’s powers, application or concentration of the thoughts, abstract contemplation, meditation, any act conducive to Yoga or meditation, union of the individual soul with the universal soul
from yuj = unite, join, connect, employ, use
About the Author:
Reverend Jaganath Carrera is and Integral Yoga Minister and the founder/spiritual head of Yoga Life Society. He is a direct disciple of world renowned Yoga master and leader in the interfaith movement, Sri Swami Satchidananda—the founder and spiritual guide of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and Integral Yoga International. Rev. Jaganath has taught at universities, prisons, Yoga centers, and interfaith programs both in the USA and abroad. He was a principal instructor of both Hatha and Raja Yoga for the Integral Yoga Teacher Training Certification Programs for over twenty years and co-wrote the training manual used for that course. He established the Integral Yoga Ministry and developed the highly regarded Integral Yoga Meditation and Raja Yoga Teacher Training Certification programs. He served for eight years as chief administrator of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and founded the Integral Yoga Institute of New Brunswick, NJ. He is also a spiritual advisor and visiting lecturer on Hinduism for the One Spirit Seminary in New York City. Reverend Jaganath is the author of Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, published by Integral Yoga Publications. His latest book, Patanjali’s Words, is coming soon from Integral Yoga Publications.