Yoga Sutra 1.20

Translation and Commentary

May 14, 2013    BY Pandit Rajmani Tigunait


Those who have not yet freed themselves from attachment to body and mind will meet with success when they imbue their practice with five virtues.Others [those who are not born with the extraordinary abilities] too attain the highest level of samadhi, provided their practice is accompanied by conviction, inner strength, retentive power, all-consuming focus, and clear understanding.
Yoga Sutra 1.20 Recitation
Audio Recitation by D.C. Rao, Phd

śraddhā = śrad + dhā
śrad literally means "that which gives you space and holds you in place"
dhā provides nourishment for you to grow
śraddhā conviction; faith; trust

vīrya the radiant energy of the soul; the essence of body, senses, and mind; core strength; the elixir of life; the energy that makes us shine; the sacred fire; indomitable will; fluid vitality; sexual energy; inner strength
smṛti retentive power; the power to recollect
samādhi all-consuming focus; ability to be absorbed in one’s goal; a tranquil and composed state of mind; spiritual absorption; the state of meditation where the mind stands still, letting the light of the soul reflect in it without distortion
prajñā clear understanding; crystal-clear intellect; the most refined knowledge; revealed knowledge
pūrvaka preceded by; accompanied by
itareṣām in the case of others; different from those explained in previous sutras

Five Fundamental Companions

Those who have not yet freed themselves from attachment to body and mind will meet with success when they imbue their practice with five virtues.

In order to reach our goal, we must commit ourselves to a methodical practice. Even those born with extraordinary gifts, such as Krishna, Buddha, Moses, and Jesus, were not exempt from this law. During their personal quest, each of these great ones was confronted with many obstacles. For ordinary seekers like us, there is a greater need for preparation, for the journey is long and our resources are meager. This preparation entails cultivating five virtues: conviction, inner strength, retentive power, an all-consuming focus, and clear understanding. Taken together, these five virtues help us persist in our quest when obstacles such as disease, fatigue, doubt, carelessness, sloth, sensuality, misunderstanding, and frustration tempt us to quit.

Taken together, these five virtues help us persist in our quest when obstacles such as disease, fatigue, doubt, carelessness, sloth, sensuality, misunderstanding, and frustration tempt us to quit.

First and foremost, we need the conviction, "I can do it and I will do it." This conviction rests on the understanding that you have been created in the image of God and that you have everything you need to realize your divine nature. All the limitations you have been experiencing are because you lack self-understanding. Cultivate this conviction by reflecting on how fortunate you are to have a body with an intricate brain and a highly evolved nervous system. You have a mind designed to think in a linear fashion and an intellect endowed with the power of discrimination. At the core of your being resides the power of intelligence capable of knowing that which lies beyond the realm of ordinary mind and senses. This contemplation will help you cultivate self-respect and free you from self-denigrating tendencies. The next step is to cultivate faith in your self-endeavor. Remind yourself of the law of action and reaction: as you sow, so shall you reap. Do good and reap good is the law of Providence. Faith in this law will help you when you don’t see much result despite your hard work. Faith in yourself and the conviction that you can reach your goal will help you persevere.

The next virtue that prepares us to move forward in our quest is virya, inner strength. To cultivate this virtue we must learn how to gather and preserve the vital energy that keeps us healthy and energetic. Unwholesome activities drain our energy, causing us to suffer from lack of stamina and low vitality. Once our energy level has declined, the body becomes fragile, and a fragile body is not fit to contain a sound mind. To be successful in any endeavor, therefore, we must preserve the sap of life. If it has been depleted, we must replenish it.

In yoga, replenishing the sap of life is called practicing brahmacharya. This entails preserving the energy of your body, senses, and mind through all possible means— eat well, sleep well, exercise well, relax, and do not abuse your body and senses through overeating, oversleeping, and unwholesome sense pleasures. But important as these are, they are only preventative measures. To actively replenish the sap of life, you must commit yourself to a methodical practice of yoga, especially one which is accompanied by pranayama. Even more effective is to combine ayurvedic principles of healing and rejuvenation with the practice of yoga. It is particularly important to practice a technique known as agni sara, loosely translated as "stomach lift" or "abdominal lift," which energizes the navel center. The navel center can be further energized with the help of pranayama, visualization, and the application of powerful herbs, such as Ashwaghanda (Withania somnifera) and Brahmi (Bacopa monniera). Replenishing your vitality at the physical level will clear the way for you to discover the power of the soul that manifests in the form of willpower and determination.

Cultivating retentive power (smriti, the power to recollect) is the third prerequisite for success in spiritual practice. We all experience moments of high aspiration. Some of us are vigilant enough to take advantage of those moments while others simply let them vanish. These inspired moments are precious. Invest them wisely. When the distractions and pressures of daily life are undercutting your inspiration, revisit the moments of high aspiration in your past. Recollect when and how you started your journey; recall how clear your goal was at the time you began, and think about how terrible you will feel if you drop your quest midway. Cultivate your retentive power by recollecting these inspired moments and use them to reinvigorate your practice.

Staying focused on your goal, the fourth prerequisite, will nurture the virtues of faith, inner strength, and retentive power. Let your goal and the process of reaching it absorb you so one-pointedly that your mind has no room for any other thoughts. This one-pointed concentration is called meditation. Once it has consumed all other thoughts, leaving no room for any distraction, it is called samadhi, complete absorption of mind into soul. This absorption makes the mind calm and tranquil. And this tranquility allows the mind to experience the stream of joy that perennially flows from the center of consciousness (purusha).

To cultivate and nurture the first four prerequisites—faith, inner strength, retentive power, and an allconsuming focus—we have to have a clear understanding of life: we have to know what our place is in this world, know what we are supposed to learn from the pleasant and unpleasant experiences that life brings, and ultimately, know how to use our worldly achievements to fuel our spiritual growth. Practically speaking, prajña, clear understanding, means knowing that everything in the world, including our own body and mind, are the means for gaining self-understanding. It involves knowing how to gather the objects of the world—using them skillfully so that we remain healthy, energetic, and sharp—and most importantly, knowing how to employ all our physical and mental resources in discovering our inner self so that our lives will not be wasted.

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
Spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, Pandit Tigunait is the successor of Swami Rama of the Himalayas. Lecturing and teaching worldwide for more than a quarter of a century, he is the author of fourteen books, including his recently-released The Secret of the Yoga Sutra, and his autobiography Touched by Fire: The Ongoing Journey of a Spiritual Seeker. Pandit Tigunait holds two doctorates: one in Sanskrit from the University of Allahabad in India, and another in Oriental Studies from the... Read more>>