Nine Formidable Obstacles

Japa is the key to overcoming obstacles that arise in the course of spiritual practice.


Disease; mental imbalance; doubt; carelessness; laziness; inability to withdraw, compose, and rest; hallucination; inability to reach, grasp, or comprehend the goal; and inability to remain grounded are the obstacles—these are distractions to the mind. Yoga Sutra 1.30 RecitationAudio Recitation by D.C. Rao, PhD

vyādhi = vi + ādhi

  • vi special; supreme; highest or subtle

  • ādhi disease; physical ailment; more precisely, a physical and mental condition where you are helplessly and completely (ā) grounded (dhi)

Thus vyādhi refers to mental ailment; mental illness; a condition totally opposite to samadhi; the condition of mind preventing an aspirant from reaching samādhi

styāna mental inaction; mental dullness; inability to put one’s thoughts into action saṃśaya doubt; skepticism; the mindless tendency to grasp two extreme ends and its failure to grasp what lies between pramāda carelessness; negligence; lacking interest in attending the object of concentration ālaysa laziness; inability to engage due to heaviness

avirati = a + vi + rati

  • rati craving; clinging; holding onto; sense pleasure; lust

  • vi devoid of; away from; absence of; free from; untouched by

  • a not; less; inability to; lacking

Together, avirati means inability to maintain the state of mind free from sense cravings; inability to withdraw one’s mind from lustful feelings; failure to maintain a dispassionate state

bhrāntidarśana = bhrānti + darśana

  • darśana seeing; perceiving; grasping

  • bhrānti illusion; distortion; unreal; imaginary; fictitious

Together, a false or distorted perception of objects or events with a compelling sense of their reality

alabdhabhūmikatvā = a + labdha + bhūmikatvā

  • bhūmikatvā the essence of the ground; essential foundation; gist of the goal

  • labdha achievement; that which has been achieved; found; obtained

  • a not

Together, inability to touch the goal; inability to comprehend the goal; inability to know the context of one’s practice; inability to put one’s practice in the right context; inability to know the real meaning and purpose of the practice

anavasthitatvā the mind’s inability to stay in samādhi once it has been reached; inability to maintain inner stability; inability to maintain the goal; inability to maintain constant awareness; the tendency to slide back

citta mind vikṣepa distraction te they antarāya obstacles; impediments

As described in the previous sutra, infusing one’s mind and heart with God consciousness (japa) brings a two-fold result: all mental faculties turn inward toward the center of consciousness, and all obstacles vanish. This is a bold, definitive promise: japa makes the mind become God-centered and brings freedom from all obstacles. With this statement, Patañjali clarifies his position in regard to God’s role in our quest for freedom and happiness—the goal of yoga sadhana is to surrender oneself to God; replace our asmita (I-am-ness) with God consciousness; trade our actions and their results for God’s grace; attain freedom from the binding forces of nature; and become established in one’s true self, with full awareness that the “special purusha,” the primordial teacher, alone is omniscient.

"Infuse your mind and heart with the determinate truth—this entire world issues forth from one single reality. The world is the manifest form of the absolute. The absolute pervades every aspect of this manifest world."

The quest for achieving this goal begins with knowing one’s mind, attaining mastery over the modifications of the mind, and turning the mind toward one’s true self. Both the initial thrust and the continuity of the journey come from trust (shraddha) in God and in God’s unconditional, infallible grace, which lovingly uplifts our soul to the point where we are completely free from all obstacles.

Explanation of how an absorbing contemplation on God channels one’s consciousness inward and removes all obstacles is simple—you are what you think. If you have no faith in God’s unconditional love, you have no reason to contemplate on God and seek her guidance. Lacking trust in inner reality, you go on searching for security in the external world. There you are invariably met by disappointment, as nothing in the world is predictable. You are bewildered by the revelation that everything in the world is subject to death, decay, and destruction. Your instinct tells you to forget this revelation, but you cannot. You find your inability to escape from this realization unfair. Although you claim that you do not believe in an unseen Divine Being, you blame intangible forces for your powerlessness. At a deeper level, you are caught in the snare of your belief and disbelief. This leads to lack of trust in yourself, and lack of trust in your loved ones, friends, and family. You begin to suffer from utter despondency; you lose interest in the world and yet, compelled by your desires and your innate urge to live and enjoy life, you go on engaging in the affairs of the world. Sometimes you are active so that you can acquire objects and fill your emptiness with your possessions, and other times you keep yourself engaged in the world just to kill time.

This purposeless living is a breeding ground for decrepitude, regardless of your age and physical vitality. That is how you are faced with the first category of obstacles, vyadhi, mental illness or imbalance. The cure for this obstacle lies in one masterful formula—japa.

"You too come from the Supreme; you exist in the Supreme; you are protected, guided, and nurtured by the Supreme. So is everyone else. That Supreme Reality is known by the word <em>Om</em>, and you are That.”

Let us take a closer look at the relationship between japa and the removal of mental sickness. As defined by Patanjali in sutra 1.28, japa means to contemplate on the meaning of pranava (Om), and the Divine Being denoted by it. In fact, the literal meaning of the word japa takes us straight to the core of the practice of japa. Following the ancient methodology of examining the meaning of a word (nirukti), the word japa is a composite of ja and pa. Ja means “going back to again and again; flowing with; reaching for; attending to; recognizing; acknowledging; reaffirming; moving toward; knowing; grasping”; pa means “protection; guidance; nurturance.” Together, japa means receiving protection, guidance, and nurturance by virtue of going back to the very source of protection, guidance, and nurturance—the Divine Being.

The question is, in actual practice how do we do this kind of japa? How to contemplate on God? How to embrace God-consciousness? How to let ourselves flow with God-consciousness? In answer to this question, the yoga scriptures say in one voice, “Infuse your mind and heart with the determinate truth—this entire world issues forth from one single reality. The world is the manifest form of the absolute. The absolute pervades every aspect of this manifest world. You too come from the Supreme; you exist in the Supreme; you are protected, guided, and nurtured by the Supreme. So is everyone else. That Supreme Reality is known by the word Om, and you are That.”

As you constantly and consistently contemplate on both the content and intent of this message, the negative tendencies of your mind begin to fall away. You become a positive person and you lose your taste for finding faults in others. The world is no longer an ugly place and life is no longer a punishment. You see no reason to compete with anyone; the sorrow and joy of others become your sorrow and joy, for your mind and heart are filled with the experience of oneness with all. The infusion of this all-encompassing consciousness leaves no room for you to experience isolation and alienation. You begin to see all differences, conflicts, and contradictions as images drawn on sand. This conviction is called shraddha. Remembering the name of God (Om or other mantras) faithfully, with a mind and heart infused with the awareness that everything and everyone, including yourself, is enveloped by God is called japa. An aspirant joined or yoked in japa is completely free from all obstacles.

About the Teacher

teacher avatar image
Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
Spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, Pandit Tigunait is the successor of Swami Rama of the Himalayas.... Read more