In one of our assessments in TT we were given a sutra from Patañjali at random (we picked blindly out of a box) and we had to present it to the group a day or two later.
The process of receiving a sutra was almost as interesting as the presentations themselves. I was struck by how many people said later that they offered up a prayer as they picked. And almost everyone I spoke to said they were really pleased or excited by what they had to talk about. The number of times I heard someone say “everything happens for a reason; I needed to talk about this.” It was a bit weird to me. I usually go totally mad with the “everything happens for a reason” line. I find it quite offensive. I can’t help thinking that some people have led a very sheltered (or self-centred) life if they feel this. They’ve not suffered any senseless tragedy, any unwelcome random event, not in the wrong place at the wrong time… Or maybe they have! And they’re all much more enlightened than I will ever be, if they can welcome the apparent indifference or hostility of the world with such equanimity…
Well, anyway, once I’d put my judgmental attitude away, it was genuinely heart-warming to hear such sincere words coming out during the presentations as everyone did their best to connect with the ideas in the Yoga Sutras. I think sometimes they were interpreting the sutra retrospectively, fitting the sutra to some experience they’d had, but there were also a couple of genuine stories that showed a longer engagement with the sutras and some concerted attempts at the inner work of yoga. There were quite a lot of tears that said something about the depth of emotion at least.
I was given 2.1, the definition of kriya yoga. I can’t say that I really felt the universe had given me what I needed in this case. Actually I would have been happy talking about anything; it all would have been interesting. But this was pretty hard to talk about in 10 minutes — after all it’s three ideas in one, or four if you count kriya yoga as a thing also. I could easily have talked for an hour!
What did I talk about? Basically I tried to talk about how my understanding of this sutra has changed through time. It felt a bit arrogant saying this; it’s only been a few years after all and my understanding of the language of Sanskrit and the philosophy is pretty superficial by my standards (you can’t walk away unscarred from doing a doctorate!). But thanks to my teacher I did come to the sutras pretty early on in my yoga journey, so most of the practice-time I have has been informed by Patañjali, in as much as I have the capacity to do this.
So I talked about the different meanings of tapas (discipline/austerity or heat) and how you might link this to the notion of karma or to the physicality of āsana practice. My initial understanding was much more about discipline because that was something I could readily understand (and beat myself up about!), but now I’m softening more into the warmth of yoga. I might even understand karma one day! Then I talked about svādhyāya referring to ‘self study’ or rather perhaps ‘Self study’ if you take it as meaning the study of scripture (texts that are essentially about the human experience), and how I am learning Sanskrit to try to understand better whilst also realising that there is no end meaning and that the learning will go on as much as life goes on. And finally I reflected on Īśvarapraṇidhāna where I have struggled with ideas of god in both a theological sense as well as historical sense, wondering (albeit lazily, with no proper conclusions) how best to define Patañjali’s philosophy (dualist or not, how much Vedanta, what Buddhist influences) and how this affects what Patañjali’s Īśvara was. And if any of this matters. Now I’m more able to follow my teacher’s advice on this some years ago when I curiously asked how to practice IP, which was much more about allowing it happen (if it will) through gentle tending and open-hearted curiosity rather than forced enquiry and an act of will. Of course!
I don’t often get to consider these ideas with anyone face to face. I kind of craved someone calling me out and giving me different interpretations to mull over. But of course they didn’t. It was presentation, not discussion.
So maybe the universe did give me something I needed here!?
I needed to have the confidence among my group to claim some intellectual engagement with the sutras. I didn’t just skim the book right before TT and I don’t need to feel shy admitting that. I needed to acknowledge that I know enough to begin to interpret these verses myself and have an opinion on what they mean.
And I needed to see that I’m allowed to change my mind through time, uncovering different nuances or ways of seeing the words. I do this naturally with a mantra, but oddly not so much with Patañjali! I don’t need to be right. There is no ‘right’. Just as there is no perfect pose, there is no perfect interpretation of scripture. Āsana and interpretation will always be unfinished, will always be a process not an event.
Ultimately I observed how much more confident I am talking about philosophy and leading the group through the recitation of a Sanskrit verse than I am in calling physical postures.
Hmmm… I’m not sure this is going to make me a good (or accessible) teacher very easily.
But that’s OK. Now I know the universe will offer me what I need and that the whole thing is just an ongoing process of learning… Right? Tell me I’m right! 😉