The Universality of the Yoga Sutras

InsideYogaSutrasOne of Integral Yoga’s senior teachers is the author of a  book on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Entitled, Inside the Yoga Sutras, this book contains commentaries, reflections, translations, and is an all-in-one study guide. Renowned for his unique teaching style and in-depth approach to the study of Raja Yoga, in this interview, Rev. Jaganath talks about the universal nature of the Yoga Sutras—how the principles they contain may be applied to any spiritual path and what a powerful pathway they are for the “pull of Divine Love.”

Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM):  Many commentators are enthusiastic about the teachings of the Sutras. But, in your book you speak so passionately about Patanjali himself. What makes you feel this way?

Jaganath Carrera (JC) :  The mind of Patanjali is inspiring and dazzling to me. After a careful reading of the Sutras, I’ve come to think it’s inescapable to conclude that the Sutras were born out of his great compassion.

The image I have of Patanjali is that he formulated the Sutras from an enlightened perch. Looking out over all the different sects at the time he saw this inescapable fact: each of the different sects had devoted followings of people who achieved enlightenment. If these various paths all led to the same place, what were the common points? And, are those common points essential principles? Yes, and that is what he called Yoga.

IYM: Would you elaborate?

JC:  One of the key sutras that strikes me as dramatic is the sutra where he first defines practice. In Book 1, Sutra 13, Patanjali gives his students a summation of what Yoga practice looks like. He says simply: “Effort toward steadiness.” He could have said that you have to be devoted to a particular deity to be enlightened. But, he gave a definition of practice that anyone on any spiritual path—or any path of self discovery—could not disagree with. This is the cornerstone of Sri Gurudev’s teaching of “Truth is One, Paths are Many.”

IYM: Were Patanjali’s teachings “out of the mainstream” at that time?

JC: That sutra actually breaks the bounds of conventional spirituality. There are no notions of God, spirit, of salvation, enlightenment. It’s a pure focus on the essential quality we need to achieve anything. It could refer to steadiness of mind in sadhana (spiritual practice) in day-to-day life. It can apply to a scientist searching for a cure to cancer or equally to someone striving to be a great spouse.

This is the picture I have: Patanjali’s students were right there and he could have said anything. They are all leaning forward with rapt attention. He could have said: “Be devoted to Lord Vishnu, that is the path.” It’s a stunning moment! Even in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna is the focus. But spiritual practice, as presented in the Yoga Sutras, is more universal because of the lack of any hint of sectarianism.

IYM: Are there other sutras that are especially meaningful to you?

JC: There are a pair of sutras—Book 4, sutras 25 and 26—that are really striking to me because they convey a sense of how close we are to self-realization. I love these! Sutra 25 says that, “To one who sees the distinction between the mind and the Atman, thoughts of the mind as Atman cease forever.” Then comes sutra 26 which is really a mind-blower! Even talking about it is like “Woo!” It says, “Then the mind-stuff is inclined toward discrimination and gravitates toward Absoluteness.”

IYM: Where is the “woo” for you?

JC: Well, there is this moment we are searching for as seekers, where all we have to do is to perceive that our mind is not the Self. We have to perceive this, not just know it with the intellect. Once we are established in this realization, we can never again have the thought of the mind as the Self.

In sutra 26, Patanjali is telling us that this is a natural event that requires no effort. When that identification is broken, we naturally begin to perceive a difference between the real and unreal, between darkness and light. When Patanjali says, “gravitates toward Absoluteness,” I understand this to mean we feel the pull of God.

IYM: The “pull of God”?

JC: Yes, we feel the pull of divine love. So, it’s like we are like an encrusted piece of iron. When the metal has layers of rust, it cannot feel the magnetic power. Once the encrustation starts to break off, it can feel the magnetic power. So, I see this sutra as saying that once you make this distinction, it’s all over for you! It’s a slow motion embrace and its inevitable; it’s a feeling of being sucked up into this loving vortex. It means that invariably, undeniably, and inextricably you are on your way!

I just have to attain this one accomplishment. This is one thing God is asking me to do. I have to make that effort and when I make that effort I really feel God’s grace pulling me toward Him. This pair of sutras is very dear to me.

IYM: Is it useful to study the sutras with a qualified teacher?

JC: Yoga is not based on text alone. The text is there as an objective testimony to the truth. The life of Yoga is based in the master-disciple relationship. When you read the Upanishads, the Gita, and in the Sutras as well, the Guru-disciple relationship is considered essential. That relationship is not necessary if you are just looking to learn some asanas. You can even learn the basics of meditation on your own. But when it comes to the exquisitely subtle process of removing ignorance from the ego, it is essential to have a spiritual master. As Sri Gurudev said, “Only a lit candle can light an unlit one.”

Patanjali says that Ishwara is the Guru, the teacher of teachers, master of masters. So there is only one Guru and that is Ishwara. By using the term “teacher,” the implication is that the only way you get that teaching is not through a book alone, but by a lineage passed from master to disciple.

IYM: This is a relationship that is very misunderstood in the West.

JC: It’s true. But, look at an artist, like an accomplished ballet dancer who goes to a master class. We even use the term “master” class. Who goes to a master class? Beginners don’t go but only those who are really accomplished. Why? Because at that level—at the level of the prima ballerina—what counts are subtleties. Knowledge is passed any way you want. But wisdom is passed from human being to human being.

IYM: How does that teaching continue after the master leaves the body?

JC: All great masters, regardless of their physical presence or not, survive in the community that grows around them. Sri Gurudev created a worldwide spiritual community that is conducive to our growth. There are a lot of eyes watching us and correcting us. Sri Gurudev’s seniormost disciples have attuned their inner ear to his voice and are serving as instruments of that voice

IYM:  You had a very close discipleship with Sri Gurudev. Would you share something about that?

JC: It was Sri Gurudev’s smile on the cover of a book that brought me to him. Looking at his face, I said to myself, “Whatever he has experienced, I want to know!” I was trying to choose between all these big, heavy scholarly books on Yoga. And, in contrast, here was this simple book. When I looked at his face, I couldn’t deny what he had. I couldn’t put it down and read all night. It spoke to my heart so strongly and many times had me in tears from the sheer beauty of it. I had found my spiritual papa.

IYM: How did Gurudev influence your study of the Yoga Sutras?

JC: Sri Gurudev is the absolute, perfect embodiment of the Sutras. I saw the Sutras come to life in him. Without him, for me, they would just be beautiful words on the page. With him, they become living, breathing realities. He modeled it, so we know it’s achievable. He showed us how these teachings are put into practice in daily life. From the most dramatic moments in life to the most subtle and everything in between.

One of the things that I often reflect on is that Gurudev did not just give us a big suitcase of tools, but, more than that, he showed us how to think, how to understand things. We were able to watch him, how he spoke, how he could probe to the very core of things. I would watch him pull out a tree stump and in the process of explaining how to do that, I would realize it was a metaphor for how to understand the nature of the Absolute.

How often he would want me to get to the bottom of it. He said to me, “The most important thing is to know the spirit behind the law instead of the letter of the law.” That way of looking at life is one of the two guiding principles of my life. The other is to never miss an opportunity to serve.

IYM: Would you talk about the evolution of your new book on the Yoga Sutras?

JC: Over the years, for my own joy of it, I would be thinking about certain aspects of the Sutras and when I had an interesting thought or perspective on a sutra, I would write it down. Over the years it was in diaries, on paper bags, envelopes! I decided one day to put it all on computer so I can access and can work with it in a more orderly way. I had no thought of writing a book.

This process is probably how this book got to be called, Inside the Yoga Sutras. One of the things I tried to do for my own benefit, was to look at not just what does a sutra mean but why did Patanjali make the effort to say this—which might be more important. I kept hearing Gurudev’s voice whispering in my ear, “What’s the point of this sutra?”

IYM:  Wow! What is the relationship between your book and Sri Gurudev’s commentary on the Yoga Sutras?

JC: For me, his commentary, among all the many that I have read, retains that beautiful human warmth of a teacher speaking to a disciple. He takes very complex, obscure-sounding passages and puts them right in front of you in very simple ways where you can pick them up and use them. And, he never loses his sense of humor. I think a sense of humor is essential in life and in the study of the Sutras.

In a conversation with Sri Gurudev, I told him that people kept asking me to share my notes on the Sutras. I told him I had great hesitation in doing this since he has given us his wonderful commentary on the Sutras. He told me to go ahead and do it, so for the past four years I’ve worked on organizing all my notes into a comprehensive study guide.

IYM: Also, Sri Gurudev’s text does not have commentary on all the sutras.

JC: There is certainly nothing lacking in his commentary but I realized that for the sake of our own minds, we sometimes want to read a little more and so I thought I would include commentaries on all the sutras. I also thought it was useful to have a good cross-reference so you can see how certain ideas reoccur and connect to each other. So, the book evolved into a study guide for personal use, for those teaching others, or for a study group.

It includes a preview of what is in each pada and at the end of each there is a review which makes it easier to recall the information. It also has an expanded glossary and a dictionary portion with a translation of each word. So, it’s an all-in-one reference. It’s a resource that stands alone, or as a companion to any other commentary of the Yoga Sutras. It is my sincere hope that this humble offering serves to bring at least a little more understanding and peace to students of Yoga and to seekers of Truth everywhere.

Reverend Jaganath Carrera is a senior disciple of Sri Gurudev Swami Satchidanandaji and an
Integral Yoga Minister with over 30 years of teaching experience in the various
branches, practices and theories of Yoga. He has taught in the U.S.A. and abroad in
universities, prisons and Yoga centers and has been a principle speaker and
coordinator of many Integral Yoga Teacher Training Certification programs in Hatha
Yoga, Raja Yoga and in meditation. He organized the Integral Yoga Ministry and has
lectured at interfaith programs. Inside the Yoga Sutras is published by Integral Yoga® Publications and is available at: www.shakticom.org, www.amazon.com and other outlets.

An Interview with Rev. Jaganath Carrera

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