Pleasure, Pain, Desire and Temptation – Yoga Sutras

Pleasure, Pain, Desire and Temptation
II.14 te hlada paritapa phatah punya apunya hetutvat According to our good, bad or mixed actions, the quality of our life, its span, and the nature of birth are experienced as being pleasant or painful.
I believe this sutra is about perception.  If you perceive the events of your life as generally ‘good’, then the quality of your life will seem pleasant.  If you perceive the events of your life as generally ‘bad’, then the quality of your life will seem painful.  But yoga teaches us to remove duality from our perception. Experiences are neither good, nor bad.  They are just experiences, opportunities to clear our karma.
There was a man I knew in Chicago whom I feel illustrates this concept very well.  He grew up poor and faced a lot of discrimination throughout his life. He got himself out of that situation, and was in the process of getting his MBA when I met him but he was still trapped in the impressions of his past. He was stuck on this pendulum swaying back and forth from hero to victim.  One moment he would be filled with pride for overcoming his ‘terrible childhood’ thinking that he could do no wrong.  The next moment he would be filled with rage because something didn’t go his way, blaming everything on discrimination.  The fluctuations in the mind associated with this kind of emotional rollercoaster kept him in a state of agitation at all times.
What this sutra also points out is that our actions, in the now, make our lives appear pleasant or painful.  So, in the example I gave above, every time my friend blamed something on his childhood, or boosted his ego because of his triumph over his childhood, he was actually making the quality of his childhood seem worse further perpetuating the cycle.
II.15 parinama tapa smskara duhkaih gunavrtti virodhat ca duhkham eva sarvam vivekinah The wise man knows that owing to fluctuations, the qualities of nature, and subliminal impressions, even pleasant experiences are tinged with sorrow, and he keeps aloof from them.
In order to experience joy you have to know sorrow; they exist together.  A friend of mine told me a story about a king that has a ring that makes him happy when he’s sad and sad when he’s happy.  It turns out that the ring is inscribed with the words, “This too shall pass.”  I love how this story relates to this sutra.  The king is happy, but then realizes that happiness is not eternal and becomes sad, continuing the cycle.  The proof that happiness cannot exist exclusively is manifested simply through the acknowledgement that happiness is not eternal. A yogi, however, knowing that the two are inseparable will avoid both.
The next sutra I plan to talk about gives another reason to avoid pleasant experiences:
II.7 sukha anusayi ragah Pleasure leads to desire and emotional attachment.
Something perceived as pleasurable will leave an imprint in the mind of the seer.  These imprints will build to thoughts which will build to desire. This can even be seen in the practice of yoga.  In the beginning, many yoga practitioners will find pleasure in doing asanas.  They will start seeing changes in their body and really feel a sort of high after the work out is done.  These pleasurable imprints will start building into a desire; the desire to see more physical changes, to feel better after each practice.  Eventually this will lead to an emotional attachment to the practice.  Someone who is emotionally attached to the asanas will feel agitated or unhappy if they aren’t able to practice one morning or don’t get the results they wanted from a work out.  This leads to the next sutra I will talk about:
II.17 drastrdrsyayoh manyogah heyahetuh The cause of pain is the association or identification of the seer (atma) with the seen (prakrti) and the remedy lies in their dissociation.
In the example given above, the practitioner has identified with the practice.  This attachment has lead to fluctuations of the mind.  Remember from sutra I.2, yoga is cessation of the movements of consciousness.  Clearly, the sadhaka who attaches to their practice has become counterproductive.  They must learn to detach from the practice, transcending the immediate benefits for the ultimate path towards enlightenment.
III.38 te samadhau upasargah vyutthane siddhayah These attainments are impediments to Samadhi, although they are powers in active life.
Along the path of yoga the sadhaka will aquire many gifts, but this sutra warns us that these, too, are to be avoided, just as I discussed in my previous example.  As the sadhaka progresses in yoga the attainments will become more and more tempting to form attachments to.  Likewise, attachment to these will become more and more detrimental.
III.51 tadvairogyat api dosabijaksaye kaivalyam By destruction of the seeds of bondage and the renunciation of even these powers, comes eternal emancipation.
Throughout chapter three Patanjali discusses all of the incredible powers that will come to the devoted sadhaka, yet again warns to renounce them.  As I stated above, the further the practitioner proceeds along the path the more temptation he will face. In Chapter 3, verse 36 of the Bhagavad Gita “Arjuna said: O Krishna, by what is man impelled, even against his will, to perform evil – compelled, it seems, by force?” Verse 37 continues, “The Blessed Lord said: Born of the activating attribute of Nature, it is desire, it is anger, (that is the impelling force) – full of unappeasable craving and great evil: know this (two sided passion) to be the foulest enemy here on earth.”  Attachment to the powers attained through yoga will, as with any attachment, lead to desire.  Unfulfilled desires lead to anger and the creation of more desire.  It is a viscous cycle.  Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda explains it as follows, “desire and anger can never be appeased by fulfilment, now even by control over all matter.”  As repeatedly stated throughout the Yoga Sutras, detachment is the only way to rid oneself of desire.

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