1.19 bhava pratyayah videha prakriti layanam
Some who have attained higher levels (videhas) or know unmanifest nature (prakritilayas), are drawn into birth in this world by their remaining latent impressions of ignorance, and more naturally come to these states of samadhi. – translation by Swami J.
In these rapidly changing times, it’s always nice to have a touchstone of stability, something that doesn’t change, something I can count on as solid, permanent and steadfast. You know, like rocks. Rocks are something you can count on to still be rocks whenever you look at them. It’s comforting to have some thing I can depend on.
Of course, everything I just wrote is wrong. I live at the weary end of the Appalachian Mountain chain. The highest point in this province is Mount Carleton, peak of which is 817 m above sea level (that’s 2680 feet for those of you so inclined). The Rocky Mountains, over on the left hand side of the continent with their peaks in excess of 3500m, laugh derisively at 817 m. It’s hard to fathom, looking at them now, but the Appalachian Mountains in their glory days would put the Rockies to shame. Peaks stood over 5000m. That’s higher than the modern day Alps and is approaching that of the Himalayan Mountains (average peak height 6000m). Of course, the Himalayans are still growing – who knows what they’ll be when they’re finished.
Now days, the northern end of the Appalachian chain is less mountain and more stumps of mountains. Time has changed them. Erosion and ice ages have exacted their toll. Sand on a beach tells me that even rocks change. All matter, all things in the material universe is subject to change. This is the nature of matter – it is impermanent in its form no matter how solid it seems to be.
We, as members of the human species, frequently get confused on this point. Yoga, at its foundation, is a dualistic philosophy in that it divides everything thing into two categories. There is that which is unchanging and unchangeable (called purusha in Sanskrit). Everything else, even rocks, our bodies, our thoughts, emotions, everything is subject to change and it is called prakriti.
Getting confused on this distinction between changeable and unchangeable causes no end of grief. In fact, from the yogic perspective, it’s one of the top errors we can make. We can really make a mess of things by identifying with our “stuff”. I am my job. I am my body. I am my thoughts, or emotions. I am my social role. I am … And I’m not tut-tutting people here. In the six months since I was diagnosed with serious heart disease, I’ve really struggled to loosen my false identifications with body, thought, career, family roles. Theoretically, I “know” better than that (the ego chirps up: I’m a yoga teacher, after all!!) and still, I’m constantly catching myself identifying “me” with the impermanent.
In some respects, this aphorism serves as a warning about losing sight of our journey. It’s not directly addressed to most of us – that will come in the next aphorism. This one is addressed to those individuals, who for whatever reason, are born at higher level of spiritual development than the rest of us. but it is a warning that we can lose sight of the ‘goal’ of yoga and get lost in prakriti instead of purusha.
Some people “on the path” were just born a few kilometres ahead of the rest of us. In classical thought, these would be people who were reincarnated with more karma than others. It’s easy for someone like me who struggles with the simplest of these concepts to be envious of these people. In fact, they suffer the same challenges. For them, finding that stillness and Samadhi is the proverbial walk in the park but they can still lose the goal of yoga by getting wrapped up in the pursuit of prakriti.
Patanjali understands that not everyone starts at the same level and that his students (and those that follow for generations) will need to hear the same message in a slightly different way. This is one of the places in the sutras, and there are others, when he says “okay, for the advanced class… and for the rest of you…. “ For the rest of us, that’s next week’s aphorism.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading and Namaste,