Sample from the Winter 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

The Yoga Sutras Unveiled

With Swami Karunananda, Rev. Jaganath Carrera and Rev. Paraman Barsel

Integral Yoga Magazine asked three of Integral Yoga’s most senior Raja Yoga teacher trainers (each with over three decades of study on the subject!) to discuss what they personally find to be the most unique, meaningful and important teachings contained in the Yoga Sutras. In this first installment, they discussed the nature of suffering, as well as the universality of Raja Yoga’s approach to its alleviation.

Swami Karunananda: The Yoga Sutras can be read as an exploration into the nature of suffering and how to overcome it. The thing I find so unique about Patanjali’s approach is that he seems to address it from the individual level and on a more cosmic, philosophical level, and then he brings the two together, which I think is absolutely brilliant. In Book One, he presents the reason for individual suffering. In sutra 1.2 he states, “Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah.” Then, in sutra 1.3, “Tada drastuh svarupe ‘vasthanam.” Taken together, this means that, if you still the mind, you’ll realize the true Self. Next, in sutra 1.4, he says that at other times, the Self identifies with the modifications in the mind-stuff. So, identification with the vrittis is the root of all suffering.

Next, he describes the five types of vrittis, and then he tells us that the way to control them and overcome suffering is through practice and nonattachment. In Book Two, he gives us an approach to deal with the suffering that comes in life, making that part of our spiritual path. I find it very interesting that the first word in the section on practice is tapasya. Kriya Yoga, in itself, is a full package approach for overcoming suffering. It addresses the will through tapasya, the intellect through svadhyaya and the emotions or heart through Ishwara pranidhana.

After Kriya Yoga, Patanjali presents the kleshas which describe why we suffer because of forgetting our true nature and then getting into attachment and clinging. Next, he speaks about karma, elaborating on how suffering plays out in life: If you do good things, pleasure comes; if you do bad things, pain comes. But ultimately, according to sutra 2.15, everything is painful to a person of discrimination.

In sutra 2.16, he gives a message of hope: that the pain that has not yet come is avoidable. Then he switches to a more cosmic, philosophical level. He goes into a discussion of Purusha and prakriti. In a larger context, the way to understand suffering is that Spirit becomes mixed up with nature. This union is due to ignorance, and it is the cause of suffering. The way out of suffering is through discriminative discernment, so union is no longer operative for us. Suffering is built into the world, because Spirit and nature become intertwined, or so they seem. Patanjali carefully shows us how to develop discriminative discernment by further explaining practice. He gives us the eight-limbed system of Ashtanga Yoga or, in other words, Integral Yoga.

Jaganath Carrera: The word dukha, which is used for suffering, doesn’t mean suffering exactly in the way we normally think of it. It’s not just about painful experiences. Dukha literally means an off-centered axle hole in a wheel. So, the word suggests that it’s not just about pain or discomfort, but about being off-center. I keep thinking about why dukha means suffering. If I were on a cart and the holes weren’t in the center, no matter what I did or how skillful I was as a driver of the cart, there would always be a wobbly, unsafe feeling to the ride. One thing I have to learn—in the worldly part to which Karunanandaji alluded—is how to avoid ruts and ridges in the road and going off the road. Even if I do all that or, if I find really smooth roads, I’m still going to have a ride that feels wobbly and unsure.

The fullest meaning of dukha is that there is always this sense of not being who you are. Of always feeling something is a little out of focus, out of kilter. I think dukha includes pain and misery, but I think it’s more than that—a pervasive sense, at the deepest level, that something is not right. That’s why I think Patanjali has to address suffering on several levels and in several ways. We don’t all experience suffering in the same way. The nature of dukha is that, when I think that my ducks are in a row personally, I might feel that everything is okay, but, if I really watch my life, there is still a sense that something isn’t right—because I haven’t connected to my own core. That is where you have to make the distinction between Purusha and prakriti, between the mind and the Atman. Dukha doesn’t go away until you have that core experience.

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine