Yesterday I was feeling hopeless and tragic about the state of the world, I cried a lot and I didn’t practice. This isn’t new, I try to avoid the news and media because I just cannot handle all the bad and the hopeless and lost way I feel about not being able to do anything about it. Our neighbor got home from a trip and came to chat, and when I told him that he said, “Well your first mistake is thinking I, what can I do about it?” And he’s right, I’ve attached my ego to the fate of humanity, and that is one of many mistakes. Then Tim said, the only thing to do is to work to better your own self every day. He’s not a yogi, and he’s absolutely right.
So let’s start plugging away at being better and dealing with this I-ness, this identity/ego situation. It’s a little ahead of where we are in chapter two of the Sutras, but I want to bring up purusa and prakriti, the soul and nature. The essence is that the world is made up of two things, that which is eternal and unchanging, and that which is created. We have a lot of names for it, but purusa is basically your soul, or the divine, or God, or the energy you’re made up of. It is unchangeable, it is pure. (Is it also love? I’ve always wondered this. Maybe one day I’ll suddenly know the answer to it and that will be enlightment). Prakriti is the things that are created, it is material, it is things, it is nature and structure and the world as we see it (does it include action? I’m not sure about that yet either)(actually it does).
Prakriti can help or hurt you, and often distracts you from your true self by problems with identity, ego, and ignorance. What I love about the Yoga Sutras is, they’re like here are all of these problems, and here are the solutions, and it’s all very straightforward. The Sutras are just a manual to help us work all this out, so we can be better every day. The problem is the distractions, and identifying your actual self with these other parts of nature, and ego. So now we’ll dive a little deeper into the specifics of those distractions, then we’ll see how the Sutras tell us to solve it.
Patanjali defines the “distinguishable marks of nature” as the five elements (Captain Planet also had five elements, but the actual elements do not, unfortunately, include heart but ether instead. Which, what do they mean by ether? This is probably a problem for another time, but the definition of ether is organic compounds with alkyl oxygen groups or the substance we formerly believed was what space was made up of, and neither of those are logical. Maybe we should stick with heart and just watch Captain Planet instead. Update: Captain Planet streams on Amazon but you have to pay for it, although there is a live action comedy version that’s free w/prime).
Okay that was a long aside, back to the distinguishable marks of nature, prakriti, which are: the five elements, the five organs of action, the five sense of perception (smell, taste, hearing, touch, sight), and the mind. The non-distinguishable marks are sound, touch, shape, taste, smell, and pride. Definitely some overlap, but still all a part of prakriti, nature. The distinguishable, or the first 16, are brought under control by tapas, or burning discipline, which explains why tapas-based classes have such a strong effect. The last six, the non-distinguishable, are controlled by svadhyaya, study, and abhyasa, practice/repetition. Nature (prakriti) and the eternal consciousness become one through isvara pranidhana, surrender. I’m really into this right now because it’s very practical, straightforward stuff. Like, here’s all these things, created and material, that are a part of nature, and nature is supposed to be good for the seer but it can also be distracting so here’s how you get that all under control: it’s tapas, abhyasa, svadhyaya, and isvara pranidhana.
“At this point all oscillations of the gunas that shape existence terminate and prakrtijaya, a mastery over nature, takes place. From this quiet silence of prakrti, Self (purusa) shines forth like the never fading sun.” -Iyengar
I think gunas are coming up next, I’m going to get back in order after this one, to where we were talking about ignorance and ego before this post and the last about sun salutations. All these ideas are going to come up again when we get to them in the Sutras also.