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Cultivating Loneliness: The Ethical Fragrance of Yoga

In Sir Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi, one poignant scene
fails to leave the memory. The setting is somewhere in eastern
India, just after the nation achieved independence (1947).
Rampant rioting had broken out between Hindus and Muslims, and
the worst face of humanity, seething with hatred, was visible
everywhere. In this moment of madness, Mahatma Gandhi entered the
city. We are shown how the violent perpetrators threw down their
weapons at his feet. All the while, the great Mahatma, weak and
frail, did not utter a word, but lay still, eyes alert and open,
peacefully on a cot. His presence merely was reason enough for
the arsonists to surrender their arms, without any residual


This deeply symbolic episode reminds one of the immortal words of

"When an individual is firmly established in non-violence
(ahimsa), all beings who come near him also cease to be hostile."

Patanjali is the author of the de facto text of yoga - 'The Yoga


A sutra literally means a thread and according to the medieval
saint Vallabhacharya: "A sutra is a string binding together many
gems in a necklace."

The Padma Purana defines a sutra as following:

"A sutra should have few alphabets (alpa-akshara), an unambiguous
meaning, be full of essence (sara-yukta), said only after
considering all arguments for and against it, infallible and
without blemish."

Patanjali's text is made up of 195 such sutras, characterized by
brevity and conciseness (laghuta), giving rise to a mnemonic
scheme which attempts to condense as much meaning as possible
into as few words as possible. Consider for example the

"The pain (dukha) which is yet to come is to be avoided." (2.16)

Building a Better Future Through Present Moment Awareness

The crisp statement quoted above is simple enough. It is however,
loaded with profound philosophical import, encapsulating within
itself, the entire karma theory and its subtle nuances.

This sutra implies that the fruits of our former deeds have been
exhausted by the suffering we have already undergone. Therefore,
nothing can be gained by thinking about it. The pain we are
experiencing at the present moment has already passed into the
past, even as we are reading this. Hence, it is only the sorrow
which is to come in the future that we can avoid, by ensuring the
ethical purity of the karma we are performing now.

Patanjali's scripture not only provides yoga with a thorough and
consistent philosophical basis, but in the process, also
clarifies many important esoteric concepts (like karma), common
to all traditions of Indian thought.

Patanjali himself is believed to be an incarnation of the serpent
Ananta (Skt: endless), well known in Indian mythology as the
thousand-headed naga who serves as a couch for Lord Vishnu and is
also the guardian of the world's treasures.


Desiring to teach yoga to the world, he fell (pat) from heaven
into the open palms (anjali) of a woman, hence the name

His many heads signify omnipresence and since yoga is a treasure
trove par excellence it is but natural that he be the one to
disperse it for the benefit of mankind.


The terse maxims making up Patanjali's text are divided into four
chapters, representing a progressive succession on the path to
enlightenment, the last being aptly labeled 'Kaivalya Pada' or
the chapter of "liberation." Thus it covers the entire spiritual
path from novice to final nirvana. Underlying the text is a
strong ethical current, and cultivation of a positive state of
mind along with virtuous conduct are both considered necessary
pre-requisites for success along the yogic path.

Towards a Non-Violent World

We have already seen, from the example of Mahatma Gandhi, how the
fragrance of one deeply established in non-violence (ahimsa),
affects favorably those near him or her. This is also echoed in
the incident where the Buddha, when confronted by a rampaging
elephant, managed to pacify the latter by just raising his right
hand. This gesture later came to be known as the Abhaya mudra
(posture of fearlessness).


Literally, the word himsa means violence and the prefix 'a'
negates it. Actually, its essence runs deeper and connotes a
complete absence of a desire to harm others, directly or

Violence can be of three types:

a). Done by oneself

b). Got done by another

c). Approved when done by other.

Each of the above can again be of the following kinds:

1). Violence because of greed, for example killing of an animal
for its meat and skin (lobha).

2). Through anger, if we feel the other has wronged us in some
manner (krodha).

3). Through delusion (moha), thinking for example that by
sacrificing animals in rituals we can acquire merit.

Ahimsa is mentioned as one of the five basic ethical precepts,
which must be first cultivated for purifying and calming the
mind, as a stepping-stone towards ultimate enlightenment.

These five fundamental moral instructions (2.30) are:

a). Ahimsa

b). Satya (Truthfulness)

c). Asteya (Non-stealing): Not coveting what rightfully belongs
to another.

d). Brahmacharya (Celibacy)

e). Aparigraha (Non-hoarding of material objects): A few people
having control over the majority of the world's resources leads
to unequal distribution. Someone may own several empty mansions,
even while there are many who do not have a ceiling over their
heads. Similarly, godowns may be overflowing with grain even as
people die of starvation in many parts of the world.

Indeed, from a point of view, all the five represent an
injunction against some sort of violence or the other (often even
sex is considered a violent act). No wonder, the Mahabharata
extols this virtue in a grand manner:

'Ahimsa is the greatest dharma. Ahimsa is the highest
self-restraint. Ahimsa is the greatest charity (dana). Ahimsa is
the highest penance (tapas). Ahimsa is the highest sacrifice
(yajna). Ahimsa is the greatest fruit. Ahimsa is the greatest
friend and ahimsa is the highest happiness (sukham).'
(Anushasanparva: 116: 38-39)

Vision of a Universal Humanity

Patanjali's is a far-sighted vision of universal humanity; a
perspective much relevant to the world of today, torn apart as it
is by sectarian strifes. He clearly states that the above
practices are to be applied without the limitations of social or
geographic conditions or any consideration of time and

"These are universal and great vows (maha-vrata). They must be
practised without any reservations as to species (jati), place,
time, or sense of duty." (2.31)

Again, for example, consider the first vow of ahimsa. A fisherman
may say that he would kill nobody except fish, thus limiting his
violence to a particular species only. Or, another would put it
thus: I will not kill at a place of pilgrimage," or, "I will not
kill on the day of Diwali since it is sacred," (time). A
kshatriya (warrior) may similarly justify killing on a
battlefield on grounds of duty. All of the above are unacceptable
to Patanjali.

These moral attitudes are meant to bring our impulsive life under
control. The desire not to harm others is an essential ingredient
in cultivating a mental state recognizing the essential unity
underlying all living beings, leading towards ultimate mystical
union, envisaged as the final goal of yoga.

>From I-It to I-Thou - Martin Buber and Patanjali's Yoga

The ethical precepts enumerated above have all a social
implication, i.e. they involve a 'violence' perpetrated by one on
another for selfish gains. By helping us rechannel our powerful
survival instincts, these five practices enable us to outgrow our
"I-ness" which according to the eminent philosopher Martin Buber
is dependent on our encounters with others. He calls such a
relationship, based solely on self-interest as "I-it". For him,
it is desirable that such an engagement evolves into an "I-Thou"
involvement, which is a direct, non-purposive encounter. In
Buber's scheme, god is the ultimate thou (situated in our own
depths according to yoga).


After first helping us transcend our ego (I-ness), by regulating
our social interactions through moral discipline, Patanjali next
suggests ways in which the psychophysical energy thus freed can
be further harnessed to take the yogi to the next level.

If the first pentad of rules gives a positive restraint to our
relationship with others, the following five (2.32), address our
individuality, finally detaching the yogi from the outside world,
situating him into his own, inner self:

1). Purification (shaucha)

2). Contentment (santosha)

3). Penance (tapas)

4). Self-Study of sacred texts (svadhyaya)

5). Surrender to God (Ishvara pranidhana)

The Results of These Five Individual Disciplines

"(Attempts towards) Physical purification leads to disenchantment
with one's own body" (2.40). This is because however hard we try
to cleanse it, our bodily functions are bound to generate
impurity continually.

"Contentment leads to unsurpassed happiness." (2.42)

"Tapas destroys impurity and leads to fulfillment of the body and
sense-organs" (2.43). The sense organs and the body both depend
on the external world for their gratification. When they are thus
fulfilled, and have served their purpose, the yogi has no
attachment left for the world.

"Self-study leads to union with the desired deity
 (ishta-devata)." (2.44) Such an individual has no need for
external aids to achieve his spiritual purpose.

"Surrendering oneself wholly to god leads to perfection of
samadhi." (2.45) Samadhi is a state where the yogi remains super
consciously absorbed, oblivious to the outside world.


Patanjali's Method of Cultivating the Contrary

Things however, are not simple. There are many distractions on
the path of yoga. Patanjali suggests a solution which is almost
poetic in its simplicity, but awesome in its implications:

"When bothered by distractions, opposing thoughts must be
cultivated." (2.33)

 "Cultivating opposing thoughts means realizing that distractions
such as violence, greed etc, result only in pain and suffering."

On our way to yogic achievement, we may be beseeched by tempting
thoughts having the power to deviate us. We can be enamored by a
corrupt neighbor, who has succeeded in amassing a significant
wealth, while we toil away with honesty without any apparent
reward. In such moments, it is helpful to think about the
extremely strong punishments scriptures lay down for those
acquiring money unethically.

This is not however, a negative subjugation of mental cravings,
but rather, a neutralization of distractions by cultivating
equally strong thoughts and a healthy reflection that such
actions eventually lead to unhealthy consequences. This is the
positive impact of what Patanjali calls contrary thinking

Loneliness - The Final Liberation

"Loneliness is the way by which destiny endeavors to lead man to
himself." - (Hermann Hesse)

"Loneliness vanishes completely in the stillness." - (Paul

Having successfully laid the ethical foundation enjoined by
Patanjali, the adept is now poised towards the ultimate goal -
liberation. Patanjali however, doesn't denote this culmination
with conventional labels like 'moksha' or 'nirvana'. He calls it
'kaivalya,' derived from the word 'keval', meaning 'only'.

This is the detached isolation that those lucky amongst us feel
in a crowd. Yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar describes it as an absolute
state of aloneness. It is living in constant communion with a
higher reality centered within our own selves - the ultimate
fulfillment of yogic practice.


References and Further Reading:

Aranya, Swami Hariharananda. Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali with
Bhasvati (5th ed.): Calcutta, 2000.

Bharati, Swami Veda. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with the Exposition
of Vyasa - A Translation and Commentary (Sadhana Pada) (2nd ed.):
Delhi, 2004.

Buber, Martin. Between Man and Man (5th ed.): London and New
York, 2004.

Chapple, Christopher Key. Nonviolence to Animals, Earth, and Self
in Asian Traditions: Delhi, 1995.

Chapple, Christopher and Yogi Anand Viraj. The Yoga Sutras of
Patanjali: An Analysis of the Sanskrit with Accompanying English
Translation: Delhi, 1990.

Feuerstein, Georg. The Yoga Tradition - Its History, Literature,
Philosophy and Practice: Delhi, 2002.

Goyandka, Harikrishandas. Patanjal Yoga Darshan (30th ed.):
Gorakhpur, 2004.

Isherwood, Christopher and Swami Prabhavananda. Patanjali Yoga
Sutras (Translated with a New Commentary): Chennai, 2004.

Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (8th ed.):
New Delhi, 2003.

Jones, Lindsay (ed). Encyclopedia of Religion (Previously Edited
by Mircea Eliade) 15 volumes: MI, 2005.

Karambelkar, Dr. P.V. Patanjala Yoga Sutras: Pune.

Karnatak, Dr. Vimla. A Critical Study of the Patanjala Yoga
Sutras in the Light of its Commentators (Hindi): Varanasi, 1974.

Karnatak, Dr. Vimla. Patanjal Yoga Darshanam (4 vols.): Varanasi,

Mahabharata (Sanskrit Text with English Translation by M.N. Dutt)
(9 vols.): Delhi, 2004.

Naikar, Chandramouli S. Patanjali of Yogasutras (Makers of Indian
Literature Series): New Delhi, 2002.

Osho. Discourses on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (10 vols.):
Delhi and Pune.

Rukmani, T.S. Yogasutrabhasyavivarana of Sankara (2 vols.):
Delhi, 2001.

Rukmani, T.S. Yogavarttika of Vijnanabhiksu (4 vols.): Delhi,

Saraswati, Swami Satyananda. Four Chapters on Freedom: Commentary
on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (6th ed.): Munger, 2002.

Shrivastav, Dr. Sureshchandra. Patanjala Yoga Darshana along with
Vyasabhashya and Yogasiddhi Hindi Commentary (2nd ed.): Varanasi,

Swami, Shree Purohit. Patanjali's Path to Yoga (3rd ed): New
Delhi, 2005.

Tirtha, Shri Swami Omanand. Patanjal Yog Pradeep (23rd ed.):
Gorakhpur, 2004.

Yardi, M.R. The Yoga of Patanjali (2nd ed.): Poona, 1996.

Yoga-Ank (Special Issue on Yoga of the spiritual magazine Kalyan)
(6th ed.): Gorakhpur, 2004.

Zubko, Andy. Treasury of Spiritual Wisdom: Delhi, 2004.


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Nitin G.

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