Overcoming the obstacles of emotions is not easy!
by Annette van Gent
The “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” describe the nature of delusion, in the context of describing the mind, or consciousness. The “Yoga Sutras” open with a description of yoga as “the cessation of movements in the consciousness” (at sutra 1.2), which enables one to see into one’s “own true splendour” (at sutra 1.3). The movements of the fluctuating consciousness may be “afflicted or non-afflicted” (at sutra 1.5), and are caused by “correct knowledge, illusion, delusion, sleep and memory” (at sutra 1.6). On delusion, the “Yoga Sutrasi” say that “illusory or erroneous knowledge is based on non-fact or the non-real” (at sutra 1.8). Delusion is caused therefore by incorrect knowledge, by perceiving the “non-fact” or the “non-real” as the factual, the real. Delusion is the subject of several sutras in the second part of the “Yoga Sutras”, where “lack of true knowledge” is described as “the source of all pains and sorrows” (at sutra 2.4).
On the causes of emotional disturbance, B.K.S. Iyengar has written extensively. According to Mr Iyengar, the six causes of emotional disturbance are:
- Passion, desire, lust or wish;
- Infatuation or delusion;
- Malice, envy and jealousy.
See B.K.S. Iyengar and Geeta Iyengar, “Basic Guidelines for Teachers of Yoga”, at page 78.
B.K.S. Iyengar offers further explanation of each of these emotional disturbances in “Light on Life”. Each is described as the inversion or distortion of a natural and positive aspect of ourselves, caused by the involvement of the ego.
Desire or lust is as a distortion of natural sexual desire, into “self-validation through consumption”, and “control through the exercise of power” (see “Light on Life” at page 106).
Anger (when controlled) can be constructive: in “Light on Life”, Mr Iyengar describes the constructive anger of a mother who “grabs her small child as he is stepping into the street….she may scold the child to make sure the child learns how to stay safe” (see “Light on Life” at page 140). Anger that is not constructive arises when the ego senses that it has been affronted or offended in some way, and if allowed to run out of control, anger can become very destructive (see “Light on Life” at page 108).
Greed emerges when our healthy appetite for life becomes exaggerated, and we want more than our fair share…..we “search for infinite satisfaction” in a finite world’ (see “Light on Life” at page 142).
Finally, pride emerges when the ego becomes involved with what would otherwise be excellence, or achievement (see “Light on Life” at page 107). Malice, envy and jealousy are aspects of hatred, which is “everywhere evidenced in intolerance, violence and war….(and) also exists in our own lives when we wish others ill” (see “Light on Life” at page 141).
It is worth noting that the “Yoga Sutras” (at sutra 2.3) also refer to “afflictions which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness”, as being:
- Ignorance or lack of wisdom;
- Ego, pride of the ego or the sense of “I”;
- Attachment to pleasure;
- Aversion to pain; and
- Fear of death and clinging to life.
These afflictions align with B.K.S. Iyengar’s identification of the six causes of emotional disturbance, as “ego..” aligns to pride, “attachment to pleasure” to lust and greed, “aversion to pain” to hatred, and “ignorance or lack of wisdom” to “infatuation or delusion”.
The “Yoga Sutras” also refer to many other obstacles to the “mastery of the inner self” in addition to the five afflictions or causes of emotional disturbance. They include are “disease, inertia, doubt, heedlessness, laziness, indiscipline of the senses, erroneous views, lack of perseverance and backsliding” (at sutra 1.30). Finally, “sorrow, despair, unsteadiness of the body and irregular breathing further distract the” mind (at sutra 1.31).
Restraining the Causes of Emotional Disturbance
The “Yoga Sutra” describe in detail the means by which the causes of emotional disturbance (passion, anger, greed, delusion, pride and malice) may be restrained. At sutra 1.12, Patanjali says that “practice and detachment are the means to still the movements of consciousness”. In “Yoga: A Gem for Women”, Geeta Iyengar describes sutra 1.12 as “a two-fold remedy for controlling the fluctuations of the mind, being (i) study and (ii) absence of worldly desire” (at page 12).
In the “Yoga Sutras”, the sutras immediately following sutra 1.12 provide further explanation and context. According to sutra 1.13, “practice” is the “steadfast effort to still these fluctuations” (of the mind). “Renunciation” is the practice of “detachment from desire” (according to sutra 1.15). Finally, sutra 1.16 says that “the ultimate renunciation is when one transcends the qualities of nature and perceives the soul”.
Read together, these sutras are explaining that the afflictions which disturb the mind (anger, greed, etc) are calmed through dedicated practice, without attachment to the material or worldly outcomes of that practice. Dedicated practice, which is selfless and free of attachment to outcome, ultimately leads to transcendence of the limitations of our own ego, and an experience of our ultimate self (or soul, in the “Yoga Sutras”).
The “Yoga Sutras” provide detailed guidance on what constitutes “practice”. In sutra, 2.1, Patanjali says that, “The practice of yoga reduces afflictions and leads to samadhi”. At sutra 2.29, Patanjali explains the practice further, saying that “Moral injunctions (yama), fixed observances (niyama), posture (asana), regulation of breath (pranayama), internalisations of the senses towards their source (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and absorption of consciousness in the self (samadhi) are the eight constituents of yoga”. The “Yoga Sutras”go on to provide a detailed explanation of each of these eight constituents of yoga, which must be steadfastly practised in order to overcome the afflictions that disturb the mind. As Geeta Iyengar explains in “Yoga: A Gem for Women”, “Without rigorous practice, nothing is gained. Without practice, purity of the body and the mind cannot be achieved fluctuations of the mind cannot be controlled….This rigorous practice is fourfold: moral, physical, mental and spiritual” (page 13).