I’m a little obsessed these days with the science show Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. The view of cosmic evolution it affords helps me make sense of the siddhis (“powers” that result from yoga practice). For example, the “powers” in sutra 3.19:
I read that and think, well, of course; we’re all sharing breath, we’re made from the same elements, we are more the same than different. What makes each of us different from one another lies in the arrangement of parts, not the parts themselves. Sometimes it feels like no one could possibly know how we’re ourselves, how we’re unique, but in reality, I’d say we’re generally pretty good at learning how our different arrangements function and how to relate to those unique patterns.
Understanding the principle of how and why is enough. (The ultimate why behind the why is, of course, unknown to us.) We don’t need to poke and prod into the details of specific instances:
Sutra 3.20: na cha tat salambana tasya avisayin bhutatvat
But their causative reasons do not become known as there is no effort to identify them. Translation by Kofi Busia
That knowledge is not accompanied by its object, since this object is not the object [of the yogi’s mind]. Translation by Edwin Bryant
Deeply understanding ourselves while also comprehending the general overarching principles gives us enough information and experience to treat our fellow creatures with compassion.
How do we get to know ourselves? Subjectively, through feeling and observation; objectively, through science; and interactively, through an ongoing play between the two. For example, say I can feel pain (thankfully!) and have been doing so for a long time. In my experience, I have instinctively determined that physical pain signals that something is wrong, presumably with the physical body, but I don’t always know what. Neurologists have determined that pain is a signal from the brain and while it’s a very useful sensory reaction, sometimes pain is a residue of prior physical injury and not an indicator that something is still wrong in the body, there’s just leftover pain in the brain. Having learned this, I can take that objective information, mix it into my situation and, probably with even more outside help, determine whether or not I have to address the cause (physical injury) or symptom (pain in the brain) to help ease my distress. Going through this can, with enough attentiveness and awareness, help me to understand and empathize with someone else in pain. Once we’re connected this way, thinking of another person or creature as other and different begins to become more and more challenging, until eventually the illusion of separation fades away entirely.
Hari om tat sat!
Experience your true self and bring it into every moment of your living!
The Yoga Sutras are a classical text on yoga–a guidebook of sorts.
Each week, 216 teacher Esther Palmer dives into one of the sutras and we let it take us where it takes us.