Yoga Sutra 2.9 Translation and Commentary
Fear of death carries its own essence and predominates [the consciousness of] even the wise.
svarasavāhī = sva + rasa + vāhī
- sva one's own
- rasa essence; flavor; juice
- vāhī the one who carries
Together, svarasavāhī means that which carries its own essence, that which carries its own subtle memories.
viduṣaḥ possessive case of vidvat; knowledgeable; a learned person; a wise person
tathā in that manner
rūḍha that which is riding; residing in; located in; dominating
abhiniveśaḥ = abhi + ni + veśa
- abhi from every direction; surrounding
- ni without leaving anything; completely
- veśa penetrating; piercing
Together, the word abhiniveśaḥ means that which has penetrated every living being, from all around, in every respect. Abhiniveśaḥ has come to mean death and the fear of death because both death and the fear of it have penetrated every nook and cranny of embodied consciousness.
Freedom from Fear
Ours is a death-averse culture. To a medical practitioner, death means defeat. To most of us, death is an enemy. It conquers life and plunders everything life has gathered. To a yogi, however, death is a fact. It comes with birth, accompanies us while we are alive, and harvests life without fail, just as a farmer harvests his crops. Yogis call it abhiniveśa, "that which has penetrated the very core of our being."
This pervasive fear has its roots in our lack of understanding that there is something more precious than our bodies, our so-called loved ones, and our worldly possessions.
There is no one in the world who is not afraid of death, for death is the culmination of all pains. The knowledge of the pain pertaining to death is self-evident. Even a tiny insect emerging from an egg or pupae struggles to protect its life. No creature needs to be taught about clinging to life and escaping death. This innate tendency to cling to life pervades every living creature.
Why is death so painful? It is painful because we believe that at the time of death everything will be left behind. The body we cherish so deeply will be gone. At death, we will lose our loved ones, as well as our money, power, prestige, honor, and dignity. The idea of losing all that which gives us identity is terrifying. This fear is the root cause of pain and is virtually incurable. That is why Patanjali calls fear of death an affliction.
The goal of yoga is to attain freedom from the seemingly incurable affliction of the fear of death. Toddlers hide by closing their eyes, but this does not prevent them from being seen. Similarly, dismissing thoughts of death and occupying ourselves with the charms and distractions of the world does not free us from the fear of death. Death annihilates our body. Death separates us from our loved ones. Death nullifies our claims to our worldly possessions. But death does not kill our soul. It does not destroy our mind. It does not separate us from our likes and dislikes, and it does not nullify our habits.
Then why are we afraid of dying? Few of us ever examine the grounds for our fear of death, yet we are frightened by death. This pervasive fear has its roots in our lack of understanding that there is something more precious than our bodies, our so-called loved ones, and our worldly possessions. Freedom of the soul is infinitely more valuable than the short-lived comforts of our flesh. Our loved ones will remain loved ones only when our mind has been made calm and tranquil and filled with unconditional love. Worldly possessions come and go. What do not pass away so easily are our habits—including the habit of being fearful. A person living with fear dies again and again while still alive. That is an affliction. The practices outlined in chapter two of the Yoga Sutra attenuate this affliction, while the final freedom from fear comes from the meditation described in the very beginning of chapter one.
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>>