Richard Freeman says there are three branches of "government" in yoga:
1. guru or teacher
2. sangha or community
3. shastra or text
He says that these three branches are used like checks and balances to keep our inquiry honest and balanced. He illustrates this balance by saying funny things like, if you are driving your friends and family crazy with your practice you are probably walking down the wrong path.
He also says that the texts are an important reference for balancing what our friends and even our teacher tell us yoga is.
The Yoga Sutras is a seminal text in the yogic tradition. Patanjali, who wrote what is considered the first codified explanation of the practice and its outcome, is often revered as divine. Every student and teacher of yoga should have some familiarity with this text and its contents.
The book is a collection of threads, or sutras, which are meant to be a sort of crib note for lecturing teachers. These threads when memorized, can be carried around and referred to in times of need.
I do like the inquiry into every word of this text. Lets take for example, the first sutra,
Atha Yoga Nushasanam which translates to Now, begins the teachings of yoga.
It provides an opportunity for word play contextualizing “Now”.
1. Now as in this moment,
2. Now as in finally after we have tried everything else
3. Now simply stating that this treatise on yoga follows Patanjalis treatise on Grammar and Ayurveda.
In Iyengar's book, Light on the Yoga Sutra he translates Atha as Now and also:
6. good omen
He goes on to describe Patanjali's use of now.
“ …his reappraisal, based on his own experience, explores fresh ground, and bequeathes us a lasting monumental work. In the cultural context of his time his words must have been crystal clear, and even to the spiritually impoverished modern mind, they are never confused…”
Now is the present moment. It is the sweet place free of the future and liberated from the past. It is the spacious place of everything. Now is just right, if you can stop and be there, and notice what is, for now. But don’t love it too much.
Rumi as translated by Coleman Barks also has something to say about Now.
“Now I lay me down to stay
Awake. Pray the lord my soul
To take into wakefulness,
So that I can get this one bit
Of wisdom clear: Grace comes to
Forgive and then forgive again.”
Ram Dass, a pioneer in our tradition, is famous for indulging in LSD and hanging out with cool dudes like Timothy Leary at Harvard. Richard Alpert, Ram Dass’s birth name, is truly an American spiritual teacher. In his consciousness changing book, Remember, Be here Now Ram Dass also begins with now:
"Now, though I am a beginner on the path, I have returned to the west for a time to work out karma or unfulfilled commitment. Part of this commitment is to share what I have learned with those of you who are on a similar journey. One can share a message through telling our story as I have done, or through the teaching methods of yoga, or singing or making love. Each of us finds his unique vehicle for sharing with others his bit of wisdom. For me, this story is but a vehicle for sharing with you the true message….faith in what is possible. OM"
Is his beginning a nod to the Sutras or any of the other spiritual treatise that begin with now? Is it intentional to bring us into this moment, with a powerful declaration of arrive. Be here, Now?
Adrienne Rich in her marvelous book of Collected Poems, 1950 – 2012 speaks of now:
"It will not be simple, it will
not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought
it will take all your heart, it
will take all your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple."
Bhagavan Dass, author of “It’s here now, are you?”
“The path to enlightenment is not a group trip. It is between you and God. This means you have got to go inside. The fewer external distractions and more concentration you have the easier it is to get there. - It’s Here Now (Are You?)”
So as with every yoga teaching, the inquiry into the abstract or conceptual aspect is only good for so much. Richard Freeman would say, at some point the rubber has to meet the road. The teachings need to be applied to life.
Iyengar continues his commentary on sutra 1.1 by mentioning the Brahma Sutra, a treatise exploring Vedanta Philosophy. This treatise also begins with the word Atha (now)
“Atatho Brahma jinjnasa.”
Iyengar says this sutra translates to “Now stands for the desire to know Brahman.” Brahman is the object of study. But Brahman cannot be defined, every definition is inadequate.
Even, everything that ever was and everything that ever will be, falls short.
In contrast Iyengar continues,
“in the yoga Sutra, it is the seer or the true Self who is to be discovered and known.”
giving us hope of living the goal. Now, I begin the study of Myself. Now I begin this writing, this journey, because I am yoga and so are you. And beginning is taking a step, creating a movement now. Swami Satchidananda in his commentary on Sutra 1.1 says,
“mere philosophy does not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice nothing can be achieved.”
The Upanishad also reminds us:
"Practice without understanding is better than understanding without practice.
Practice with understanding is better than practice without understanding."
But let us also not forget the teaching continues.
"Being seated in the true self is better than any understanding or any practice."
Finally I like the advice of Austin Kleon (first found on Brainpickings.org) when I am thinking about the rubber meeting the road. Maybe his words, mixed a little with my own commentary, can help you reinvigorate your practice or begin a new project. Maybe it can help you begin, now.
Ten things I'd wished I’d heard when I was in college. It’s never too late, is it?
1. Steal Like An artist or as I would put it, let me introduce you to my favorite teacher Swami Pretendananda
2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started. Start Now.
3. Write the book you want to read, or the newsletter? Teach the yoga class you want to take, that’s how I got started.
4. Use your hands, they stimulate the mind
5. Side projects and hobbies are important.
6. The secret. Do good work and share it with people…. I would add NOW
7. Geography is no longer our master, so why not move to …or not?
8. Be nice, the world is a small town……it also feels good
9. Be boring , it’s the only way to get work done….and it’s the yogic path.
10. Creativity is subtraction, this means edit, edit, edit. Now comes the teaching on yoga. How’s that for brief?