The Secret of the Yoga Sutra Book Club Session 2
Abhyasa and Vairagya: Sutras 1:12-1:15
Key Terms and Concepts
The subject of sutras 1:12-1:15 is abhyasa and vairagya, the intersecting parts of a time-tested practice for removing the causes and conditions of inner unrest. When undertaken as an integrated approach, they lay the groundwork for the attainment of samadhi. In his commentary, Panditji generally avoids using the common translations of these two Sanskrit terms because, as he explains in the commentary to sutra 1:12, “practice” and “non-attachment” do not adequately convey Patanjali’s meaning.
Abhyasa is making an ardent effort to retain an inward, peaceful flow of mind, free of roaming tendencies. The two terms Patanjali uses to define abhyasa are sthiti, the peaceful flow of the mind, free of roaming tendencies, and yatna, ardent effort—the enthusiastic investment of energy and effort to allow the mind to flow peacefully inward. Sutra 1:13, which is an investigation of the meaning of abhyasa, explains why working with the breath is the best way to begin and lays the foundation for the practices presented in sutras 1:34 and 1:35.
Vairagya is cultivating a mind free from the coloring of deeply embedded impressions (samskaras and vasanas). Thus, vairagya is non-attachment in the sense that it enables us to detach ourselves from the binding forces of the samskaras we have stored in our mind.
There are two types of vairagya: higher and lower. Sutra 1:15 explores the realm of lower vairagya, the process of cultivating a mind uncolored by habits, cravings, and samskaras. Higher vairagya is the state of being fully established in our core being. It is the subject of sutra 1:16 and will be discussed in conjunction with samadhi (Session 5).
- How do abhyasa and vairagya help us control the mind’s roaming tendencies?
- Why are sthiti and yatna so central to yoga sadhana?
- Why does Panditji tell us that uniting the mind and breath is the best way to begin our practice of abhyasa? What is the relationship between prana and Pure Consciousness?
- Why is it so difficult to withdraw the mind from the external world and turn it inward? In thinking about this, look at your own experience as well as Panditji’s explanation in sutra 1:14.
- What are the three golden rules for making our practice firm? Why are they indispensable? It will be helpful to examine Panditji’s explanation in the light of your own experience.
- What are the four elements that infuse abhyasa with reverence? Do you find them indispensable, or are some more meaningful to you than others at the current stage in your journey?
- What are the four stages of lower vairagya? Which is/are most meaningful to you at the current stage in your journey?
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