Ruth Lauer Manenti (affectionately known as “Lady Ruth” in the Jivamukti Yoga tradition) has been offering her students “dharma talks”—stories from her life that accompany her classes and represent the yogic commitments to ahimsa (non-violence), compassion and service. Encouraged by her students, Ruth gathered her teaching stories—many of them accompanied by a reading from classic Hindu texts, such as The Bhagavad Gita, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali—into her book entitled, An Offering of Leaves. Having spent time in Mysore, India, studying at Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ Yoga shala, Ruth became inspired to found a non-profit called, “Friends of Mysore.” A portion of the proceeds from the sale of her book are donated to this fund and have bought a prosthetic leg for a teacher in Mysore, eyeglasses for a little girl, a year’s worth of rice for a hungry family, a year’s food for one dog for a year, and rescued several ancient copies of the Yoga Sutras, which were rotting in an abandoned library. The books were taken to a monastery and restored, studied, memorized and taught. In this article, Ruth shares some insights and reflections on the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras.
ksana tat kramayoh samyamad vivekajam jnanam — By samyama on single moments in sequence comes discriminative knowledge.
~Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 3.53 (Swami Satchidananda)
This sutra is part of a group of sutras on time, which comes at the end of the third chapter of Master Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, known as the Vibhuti Pada. Ksana means, “a moment,” and krama refers to “order,” the order of moments strung together , which we call time. Time implies change. Master Patanjali states that the yogi, at an advanced level, can trace a moment backwards and forwards simultaneously, a path of seeing clearly. The study of the Yoga Sutras, or any scripture, is like this in that, in order to understand a sutra, we connect it to the sutras that come before it and the sutras that follow. This is why, traditionally in India, the dedicated student must memorize the entire text before an in-depth study of individual sutras can take place.
I have a friend named Steven, who moved from New York City to Florida to live with his parents when he was sick with cancer. At one point, I decided to visit him. Even though he was unwell, he wanted to pick me up at the airport. I assured him that, as a world traveler, I would be able to find my way, but he insisted. When he met me, driving his father’s white convertible, he had a cloth sack attached to his stomach in the place of his colon. In the car he suggested we go a little out of the way to an island where there were many exotic plants. He showed me bushes that were hundreds of years old. He said they were prehistoric.
He pointed out that the same flowers came in different colors. “Look Lady Ruth, this is the same flower in red, in yellow, in purple and in blue.” He had me smell the ones he knew were particularly fragrant. He told me their Latin names and their popular names. He knew how much I love flowers. It made him happy to take me to see them. There were birds and butterflies everywhere. He called the butterflies “flying flowers” from a short story by Guy de Maupassant. I was touched by how, while he was dying, he appreciated the beauty of a flower or simply its fragrance.
In the Sanskrit language there is a word, tanata. Master Patanjali uses it in sutra 3.2, to describe meditation. It means to stretch. We stretch our bodies and our breath in many ways in a Yoga class. Tanata refers mostly to stretching one’s mind, stretching one’s mind to the holiness of an object, like the beauty of a flower.
During my time with Steven, I could see all the times we had shared together in the past, how we met, what he looked like before he became emaciated, what he dressed like before he was sick and how he laughed. Simultaneously I could see that he would leave his body soon, that he would not make it to Germany for more treatments or to Italy to see his son turn two. Grace gave us the ability to be in the present moment together, inside of what he called, “a painting of flowers.”
Time in the body, time here on earth, the time the Sabbath starts or ends, the time that one awakes, sleeps or works, dated time, calendar time, clock time, the time of the holidays and the time to celebrate is ordinary time. It exists outside of us, and we measure it. It is man-made, and it helps us organize our time so as to use it well and not to waste it.
Stepping into the past, present and future time, all at once, is entering the oneness of time. For the yogi, nostalgia for oneness is a yearning for the oneness of time. Oneness of time is omniscience. Independent of the form in which one momentarily belongs, everything is in view. This is why in sutra 3 from Chapter 1, Master Patanjali calls the yogi, “the Seer.” There is no time pressure or anxiety. There is no inability to see the eternal nature of friendship for me with Steven. Timeless time exists inside of us. It is infinite and cannot be measured. It can’t really be spoken of but it can be felt. It brings meaning into our lives, and meaning is healing.
Meaning helps us to see that, while we are sweeping the floor to remove the dust, underneath the surface of that chore is the privilege of keeping one’s life clean. One may prefer to eat sitting on the floor. One might think this is because it’s more comfortable but what underlies that seat is a yearning to feel connected to the earth, from where all of our foods come from. Meaning comes to us in time. Meaning shines through us; it has an aura. It connects us to our spirit and teaches us to be good people.
Perhaps this is why the sutras on seeing time are in the Vibhuti Pada. Vibhuti is the name Hindus give to the sacred ash distributed by the priests at the end of their worship. That ash, known as vibhuti, is healing. Burning down cow dung, along with milk, ghee and honey, makes vibhuti. Medicinal leaves are also burned. The holy ash represents the burning away of all the sins and ignorance. The ash comes from the blessed result of the fire. Where there is fire there will always be ash.
People make arduous journeys and come from all over to reach the priest and receive his vibhuti. It cures sickness and has miraculous powers. It does things that ordinarily are considered impossible. The siddhis, or powers, are the blessed result or residue of hard work, meditation, practice and an ethical lifestyle. The siddhis are the ash of the yogi’s internal fire or tapas. The powers are the blessed result. It is wrong to think that the powers are for one’s self. It would be as if the priest kept the ash for himself. It is natural for the priest to find a way to dispense of the ash in order to benefit others. The same is true for yogis; we are here to learn, and then eventually we will know, and then we can serve people.
There is a man I know in India who doesn’t have any legs. His body is cut off from the hips down. He has a piece of wood on wheels to which he’s tied himself, and he pulls himself around with his arms. He sits in a spot where I pass in order to go to town and he often asks for money. He sees me and he starts yelling, “Amma, Amma.” He is calling me “Mother.” In timeless time we’ve all been each other’s mothers. This man brings out all of my good qualities, and it kind of hurts. He is asking for my vision, my omniscience, my time, my powers, my kindness; he wants me to please him, he wants me not to be a miser, but to extend myself to him.
My husband and I live in a cabin in the woods. We heat it entirely with a wood stove. In the morning, we clean the stove from the previous day. The stove is filled with ash. The ash is swept in a chamber but, after a few fires, the chamber needs to be emptied. So we bought a big metal tin, and it’s often almost full to the top with ash. Every day we have more ash. As it collects I wonder what it could be used for? There must be a good purpose. In this way we need to find the proper use for the results of our practice.
In India, when someone dies, they are cremated. The ash is thrown in the river. If the deceased was a great saint or guru, it is not said that the saint died but, rather, that he or she entered into Mahasamadhi, great liberation or total omniscience. Their ash is said to purify the river. However, after the saint or guru is cremated, the family will want to keep a small amount of the ash, knowing that the world is better off with it in a drawer somewhere.
In the Yoga tradition known as lineage, things get better with time. If you make a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, each new copy will be of a lesser quality than the one that came before it. This is the opposite of lineage, where as things get passed down, Ishvara—who Master Patanjali, in Chapter 1, sutra 26, calls the eternal source of guidance—the teacher of all teachers, becomes happier. The teacher always hopes that the student will surpass the teacher and eventually take all of us to enlightenment, where the all becomes the one.
Time—timeless or ordinary, measured or infinite and allotted to us privileged human beings—is a deep mystery, and mystery is crucial. For understanding, we can go to the wise ones who will tell us to meditate and be kind.
Ruth Lauer Manenti found her way to Yoga 25 years ago, after spending a year in bed due to a serious car accident. She has taught Yoga for the past 19 years to students from around the world, primarily at the Jivamukti Yoga School in New York City, her home. Ruth is a devoted student and has the blessings of her teachers: Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Saraswati Jois, Sharath Rangaswami, Sharon Gannon and David Life, Dr. M. A. Jayashree, Professor Nagaraja Rao, Dr. Gurudat and his family. Her husband, Robert, is a humble Tai Chi practitioner and a gentle nurse. Ruth also has an MFA from the Yale School of Art and sometimes teaches drawing and painting at Dartmouth College. Her book, An Offering of Leaves, (Lantern Books) is now available as an audiobook and her second book is entitled: Fell in Her Hands.