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 continues with the 14th and 15th sutras of Chapter 1 in which Patanjali further expands on the nature of Yoga practice and one of its most important fruits: self-mastery. Rev. Jaganath takes a deep dive into several of Patanjali’s words in order to explain how self-mastery rather than resulting from “brute willpower,” is actually borne out of a “love of liberation.”
Sutra 1.14: Sa tu dirgha kala nairantarya satkarasevito dridhabhumih
“Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.” (Swami Satchidananda translation); “Practice becomes fully integrated into one’s life when it is carefully nurtured for a long time and engaged in faithfully, with inner reflection and fervor.” (Rev. Jaganath translation).
Thus with patience I will strive with careful and persistent effort,
For in such diligence enlightenment is found.
If no wind blows, then nothing stirs,
And neither can there be merit without careful and persistent effort.
That, if they bring forth the strength of perseverance,
Even bees and flies
And gnats and grubs will gain
Supreme enlightenment so hard to find.
Nairantarya could be literally translated as: without leaving the interior (of the self or of the path). The word satkara means: fervor, enthusiasm, kind treatment, honor, favor, reverence, hospitable treatment, feasting, festival, religious observance, care, attention, consideration of or regard for a thing.
In Advaita Vedanta, a similar principle, mumukshutva, is revered as one of the four qualifications of a seeker to attain enlightenment.
The four qualities are:
- Discriminative discernment (viveka)
- Nonattachment (vairagya)
- The six virtues: Equanimity of mind; regulation of the senses; fully experiencing the limitations of sense pleasures; endurance; faith in the Guru, the sacred teachings, and in oneself; cultivating a mindset steadfastly focused on the highest Truth or Reality (Brahman)
- Fervor (mumukshutva)
Sutra 1.15 Drishtanusravika vishaya vitrisnasya vasikara samjna vairagyam
The consciousness of self-mastery in one who is free from craving from objects seen or heard about is non-attachment. (Swami Satchidananda translation); Nonattachment is self-mastery and freedom from craving. It manifests when love of liberation (from ignorance and the suffering it brings) awakens due to the recognition of the beguiling and captivating nature of craving for objects seen, heard, or described in sacred tradition.
Without nonattachment there cannot be any kind of Yoga. Nonattachment is the basis of all the Yogas.
In the context of the holistic approach of the Sutras, vasikara (self-mastery) should not be understood as being born from brute willpower but from love of liberation. It is freeing oneself from attachments by cultivating love of liberation until it is greater than the craving for objects of attachments. This love is nurtured through practice, discernment, and introspection. Zeal for liberation gradually eclipses attachments.
This understanding of mastery is based on nurturing the innate harmony between the individual, with the forces of nature, and the ways of the world. When vasikara is attained, the gunas (constituents of nature) continue their natural functions but no longer obscure our intrinsic Self-identity. The result is freedom from misidentification with prakriti, a misperception that is based on the limited perspective of self-interest.
Vasikara is a state of mind that corrects all former life imbalances. Nature, instead of being a source of misperception, is experienced as a source of joy, wisdom, and liberation.
The different possible roots for vas are varied and can expand our understanding of the nature of mastery. Let’s look at a few:
- Vas = to will, command, to desire, wish, long for, be fond of, to maintain, affirm, declare for, to get in one’s power
- Vas = to roar, howl, bellow, bleat, low (the deep sound made by a cow), sing like a bird
- Vasa = a) will, wish, desire, power, control, dominion, to fall into a person’s power, by force of, on account of, by means of, birth, origin, brothel, willing, submissive, obedient, dependent on; b) cloth, clothes, garment, abiding, dwelling, abode, habitation, perfuming, perfume, to take up one’s abode, place or seat of, situation, condition
- Vasi – kr = to ensnare or to enthrall
The sense of vasikara that emerges is to control, subdue, or subjugate the mind – to become its master. We form an image in which the mind obediently responds to the will of the individual without hesitation. This interpretation is certainly correct and applies to the sutras concerning nirodha (cessation, restraint). In this light, we can understand self-mastery as the essence of developing nirodha. Though accurate, this understanding may be a bit one-dimensional.
However we know that the human mind is not one-dimensional. Attaining self-mastery, then, should not be cultivated in a one dimensional way. Willpower begins with a combination of a desirable and compelling goal, knowledge of the benefits of that goal, and the ability to set a clear intention. In addition, we need to factor in our own limitations, an understanding of how habits are formed, the obstacles the mind projects when trying to create new habits, and the strength to persevere until the goal is reached. The above factors can be summarized as knowledge, love, and strength.
Each of the four possible roots of vasikara has at least one definition which expresses an emotional content not captured by subjugation or obedience. Note, for example:
- To be fond of, to maintain, to affirm
- Sing like a bird
- Dwelling, abode, perfume, to take up one’s abode, brothel
- To enthrall, ensnare, a sage without selfish attachments.
One conclusion we can draw from this is that there is a dual goal behind mastery: steadiness and delight. We find this from words like maintain, dwelling and to take up one’s abode and from to sing like a bird, perfume, enthrall, and brothel. This last word needs a bit of explanation. In first century India, brothels and the women who worked there were not frowned upon. The women serviced men of wealth and royalty with the goal of providing them with delight. The activities were not primarily sexual, but included dance and song, much like geishas in Japan. We don’t approve of such behavior now, but knowing this bit of history does serve to help make the case that mastery is not a grim, brutish bullying of the mind into passive submission. Try on this definition of vasikara: To guide the mind’s transformation in order to maintain steadiness so that life is a delight.
The gist is that mastery does require discipline and effort – practice for a long time, without break, and with fervor (see sutra 1.14) – but it is fueled and accompanied by a vision of a goal that is poetic, beautiful, and attainable. There is a very tasty carrot at the end of the stick of practice: a mind that sings like a bird, that is home and a delight to the individual and to the world.
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 a work-in-progress.