Fundamentals of the Yoga System of Patanjali

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It is difficult to believe that the implications of the teachings of Patanjali can be easily grasped by even the highest academic intellect, because it is nothing but intricate practice that is being taught in this system known as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It is not merely a theory, not a doctrine or a faith or a religion that is propounded in these famous aphorisms. It is a technique of practice or conduct in personal life which is supposed to go into the very roots and vitals of the system and bring about a thorough transformation of the various patterns of manifestation of the individual organism.

The system of Patanjali, which is the famous yoga philosophy and practice, is an utter realism in the sense that it does not go beyond the ken of immediate experience or perception at any stage of practice. It avoids any kind of extreme idealism or theory or dogma, and concerns itself only with those aspects and features of experience in human life which are part and parcel of one’s practical existence.

In this practice, not one step is missed. Not one step is ever taken into consideration if it has not become a practical content of one’s day-to-day experience. Thus it is that we can very safely call this a scientific method of approach to life. It is scientific because it is the most systematic approach to life and it is the most inclusive of all the approaches. It includes all possible aspects of human nature. It starts from the lowest type of experience and aspires to reach the highest possible existence. It is a very graduated technique, and it is a system of living that can be applied to every human being.

The Yoga System is an impersonal approach of a psychological character. It may be said to be nothing but psychology applied to practical life, or one may say, it is applied psychology going deep into the roots of human nature, not exhausting its researches on the conscious level merely, as Western psychologists are prone to do. The levels of human personality are the objects of research here, and therefore, the Yoga System is not only psychology and psychoanalysis but also the theory of the perception of things. It is also a philosophy, metaphysics, and it is at the same time an ethical and moral goal. It is the highest spiritual philosophy. So we have in it everything that any system of thought can regard as the essential of a teaching on the Higher Life.

It is not possible to understand this system unless one has some acquaintance with psychology, because it is a system of psychological analysis and synthesis. It analyses threadbare every fiber of human nature and personality, and also synthesises these analysed parts into an organic whole. What it does exactly is the isolating of the parts of human nature for the purpose of arranging them once again into a new pattern altogether —a necessity that arises on account of the fact that the existing pattern is a chaotic one. The parts or aspects of human nature as they operate in normal or ordinary life are disorganised patterns, a kind of confusion and a muddle, which is the reason why people are unable to think dispassionately, impersonally and thoroughly. Patanjali’s system adopts a diagnostic system of analysis. It pulls apart every aspect of human nature into its minutest components. For this purpose, it lets Nature be reduced to the minimum essentials to be analysed, until we find that it is not possible to analyse further, as is done in physics. Then the constructive aspect of the system begins.

What is the condition in which one is now at this given moment of time, and what is the reason for the prevalence of this condition? The prevalence of any particular state is due to the character of a particular pattern of the arrangement of the parts of the personality as it appears on the surface. Is it a satisfactory pattern, is the question. Well, the answer is simple. It is not a satisfactory one; otherwise, there would be no sorrow, no aspiration to achieve something more than what we have already. That we are restless and hope to achieve something more than what we have at present is an indication that our present system of living is inadequate, incomplete, and therefore, not satisfactory. This is the stand which the Yoga System, as a psychology, takes, and tries to reorganise this system into a proper form or shape which can reflect in its perfection the character of Reality. The sufferings of human life, the sorrows through which we pass and the shortcomings that we see in our personal lives are an indication that the present pattern of our psychological set-up is incapable of reflecting the character of Reality.

The Real is a perfect whole—it is an invisible completeness—and what we seek in life is perfection or completeness, because Reality is a well-ordered completeness. When this ordered system of completeness or perfection is reflected in the psychological condition of human nature at any given moment of time, then there is a feeling of satisfaction, a joy, a sense of freedom, and a feeling that we have achieved something worthwhile in life. But the absence of this feeling is an indication, again, that the nature of Reality has not been reflected in our system, which means that the medium of reflection is not properly constructed. So the Yoga System of Patanjali endeavours to prepare the individual for the reception of the nature of Reality into one’s system, so that life becomes an ordered whole not only personally or individually but also in all its manifestations, such as social life, political life, etc.

The Yoga System, therefore, is a universal science; it is not an individual practice that one adopts privately in one’s room for one’s own salvation. There is always a misconception born of a shortsighted notion of the purpose of the practice of Yoga, due to which many people wrongly think that the practice of Yoga is a system of an individual salvation. It is not. Though the preparatory techniques are individual in the sense that it is ‘you’ or ‘I’ that have to make the preparation for the ideal on hand, yet the aim is not personal. The preparation may appear to be personal or individual, because everyone is to be prepared in a specific manner, according to one’s endowments, but the purpose is something more than the individual organism or thought pattern. The aim of this practice is a growth, gradually, into universality, which is the mother even of the individual natures or personalities that are visible in practical life. We are persons, individuals, not apparently related to one another. That is the reason for the prevalence of selfishness in human life.

But, that we are really unrelated to one another is not a fact. There is an interconnectedness among individuals which is hidden behind their visible disparity, and which is the reflection of the universal in their personal and social lives.

The universal need not necessarily be the absolute universal always. When we speak of the universal from the point of view of the system of Yoga according to Patanjali, the universal is any comprehensive state which immediately supersedes any given condition of psychological life. When there is a vision of the presence of a more inclusive state psychologically, socially and spiritually, one is supposed to be aware of the presence of a universal transcending one’s individual existence. And when the next higher state of universality is envisaged, that becomes a part of one’s practical experience. These are actually the stages of practice known as samapattis, sometimes known as samadhis— acquirements or achievements. We have very strange terms used in the Sutras of Patanjali such as the words vitarka, vichara, ananda, asmita, etc., all which refer to the various gradations of the manifestation of the universal in individual experience wherein and by which the individual becomes gradually universalised, stage by stage. So it is from this point of view that the Yoga System of Patanjali is a realistic system. It does not abrogate from its approach any ideal of life or any perceivable object of experience.

The psychological analysis preparatory for this is something very important, and that is the most difficult part of the practice. The parts of human nature, which is essentially psychological, are known as klesas, or afflictions. The term klesa is used by Patanjali to designate a particular psychological function, merely because of the fact that every psychological function is an ‘affliction’ of the individual. It is an unnatural state of affairs; it is something not real. It is an apparent manifestation which is supposed to be overcome, transcended, as a sort of disease. The reason why every psychological function is regarded as a klesa is because the function of the mind, or the psychological organism, as it is seen in normal life is motivated by factors which are incompatible with the nature of Reality.

The very act of perception of an object cannot be regarded as a contact with real objects, because these realities which are invested with the forms which one sees with one’s eyes, due to which one regards them as realities, are only apparent formations or configurations which are presented before the eyes due to the operation of powers or forces invisible to the naked eyes. The human system cannot, therefore, grasp the real cause behind the appearance of these objects. We see many things in front of us, and there is usually no reason to believe that there is something wrong with these perceptions, which are called normal perceptions. But, what we call ‘normal’ perception need not necessarily be a ‘real’ perception from the point of view of Yoga at least. It is not ‘real’ because it is ‘subject to transcendence’. Reality is defined as that which is not subject to transcendence by any kind of experience. If any experience is subject to contradiction by another type of experience at any time in the future, we cannot call that experience real. Now, can we say that our experiences in the waking state are not subject to contradiction? No one can say that. We do not know what experiences we passed through in our previous lives. Where are our relatives and possessions that we held as dear in our past existences? What happened to them? No one thinks of these things, because to think of them would be a horror. Reality would look like a horror to a person sunk in ignorance.

Ignorance (avidya) is the breeding ground of all the sorrows of mankind, due to which there is attachment to immediate perception. There is raga and dvesha, attraction and repulsion. There is like for those experiences which are regarded as desirable, and a natural dislike for those experiences which are the opposite of or different from the types of experience which we regard as desirable to the present state of the mind. That which we call desirable, pleasant, beautiful, etc., is that arrangement of things which is compatible with the arrangement of the mind in the present set-up of current affairs. The condition of the mind at any moment of time is the outcome or effect of those forces, invisible of course, which have become responsible for the manifestation of the personality in this physical existence—one’s bodily organism, way of thinking and social relationship—jati, ayu and bhoga. All these experiences which we take as the only reality today are a fraction or a kind of link in the long chain of development through which the individual has to pass, which development or process is usually called the evolution of the individual. We are completely oblivious of this long chain. We do not know the previous link, and we do not know the future link. We are stuck in the present link only. This present link is the vast life which we are living today. All that we see—this world, the sun, moon, stars, the stellar system, etc.—is only one link in a long chain of development, which is the evolution of the universe towards a realisation that is totally outside the vision of the mind at the present moment.

So, the loves and hatreds, the likes and dislikes, the attachments and their opposites which characterise the experiences in our present life are caused by ignorance, or avidya. What is avidya? It is an ignorance of the true nature of things. The fact is that the present life, the so-called wonderful, vast life, is a small fraction of a vaster existence, which presses itself forward every moment for manifesting itself in higher degrees of intensity, the pressure being called the ‘nisus’ or the urge for evolution. The reason why you are dissatisfied with anything and everything in life at all times is the presence of this urge of the universe behind you. Can you find one satisfied person in the world? No. The satisfaction does not come because the things that are provided for by this physical existence, this vast universe, this world, to the individual nature at this time cannot satisfy that invisible something, which has reference to the present shape of the individual which is mistaken for the total reality. We are making the gross error of imagining that our present physical or social existence is the only reality conceivable, though it is only one form that is taken by the infinite possibilities which are hidden in the bosom of Nature, and which are going to be manifested one day or the other, in the future, during the different levels of evolution yet to be passed through. The inability to grasp the relevance of these future possibilities to the present state of affairs is what is called avidya, or ignorance.

We are unable to connect ourselves with the true state of things. The inability to understand or grasp the relation between appearance and Reality is called ignorance. This is the cause of our present experience. These difficulties which are wholly psychological have to be obviated root and branch; this is the purpose of Yoga. The very root of the disease has to be dug out and brought to the surface of consciousness, and one has to be made perfectly healthy so that the total reality can be reflected in the personality. That condition in which Reality gets reflected in one’s personality is called the jivanmukti state; that is the liberated state. Towards this end the Yoga technique endeavours to bring forward the various sides of human nature in its vital connections with the different aspects of Reality manifest as this cosmos.

The klesas, or the psychological functions which we are expected to arrange in a new order altogether for the purpose of harmonising them with the existing nature of things— this endeavour is, in short, the preparation necessary for the practice of Yoga. The various stages mentioned in the system of Patanjali—yama, niyama, asana, etc.—are the gradational processes of establishing communion or harmony with the immediate atmosphere present around oneself. The social atmosphere, the physical body, the pranas within, the senses that operate inside, the mind that thinks, the intellect that understands, and the Spirit that is all-pervading—with all these layers of being we have to set ourselves in tune. Thus, the Yoga System of Patanjali is a graduated technique of setting oneself in tune with the various degrees of the manifestation of Reality. So it is a very satisfactory system, because it takes into consideration every degree of manifestation of Reality, even the worst, the lowest and the grossest of shapes; and from that it rises upward, taking that as its stand, towards the great Absolute.

Talk on Kriya Yoga & Cleansing of the Kleshas by Dr. Vinayachandra Banavathy

Our ways of being and behaving is often governed by unconscious patterns of the mind called as Kleshas. Patanjali offers Kriyayoga as one of the most effective tools in cleansing these patterns. Kriya Yoga is one of the most effective practices suggested in the Yogasutra text of Patanjali in order to overcome the Kleshas. It is presented right at the commencement of the second chapter Sadhanapada. Many scholars opine that this is the unique contribution of Patanjali to the Yogic system and tradition. To know more about Kriya Yoga and the context in which it has been introduced please listen to Dr. Vinayachandra Banavathys talk on Kriya Yoga and Cleansing of the Kleshas delivered as part of the Chittashuddi Webinar Series.



Inner Work Through Yoga – Part 2

[Inner Work Through Yoga (IWTY) is one of the Yoga-based offerings developed by Raghu Anantanarayan, founder, Ritambhara that brings the wisdom of Yoga Sutra in a contemporary and contemplative way. It invites participants to engage with the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali in a self-reflective manner and see how it applies to ones own life, actions, relationships and choices. Participants are encouraged to look at each sutra as a mirror to show something deeper about oneself, thereby making the sutra relevant to them. This ensures that the sutra does not become an injunction (rule) to follow, but instead opens up an enquiry for oneself. Here is the second and final part of the article, continued from last week - Part 1]

The process in a nutshell

The identity of the person or 'asmita' can thus be experienced at two levels. One at the manifest action level, and the other as a quintessential 'code' that is held deep within. The code is like the seed and the action patterns are the various possible branches that the unfolding action can choose to manifest through. Abhinivesha is the energy or Prana that is trapped within these patterns. It acts to preserve these patterns and codes. These patterns and codes are thus a pre-conditioned form that the abhnivesha energises. Any danger / threat to these forms is experienced as a threat to the self, the drk shakti. Abhinivesha keeps the asmita alive and active. Thus the darshana shakti which is the concretised matter (comprising of the mind, senses and body patterns) seems to have life and action.

A graphic representation of four typical stances that emerged during the group explorations are given below :

Identities and role stances held by other participants in the group were of "The helpless victim", "The privileged" and "The gifted". The processes by which the identities and role stances are formed and gel into a pattern can be viewed in the same way as the one detailed above.

The resolution

Sutras IV 3/4/6 of the Yoga Sutra says that a new movement, one that is not locked into these patterns can be obtained. The process is neither an external imposition nor is it through more external inputs. These can only cause temporary change.

The analogy given is that of a tree. The farmer gets sweet fruit not by pouring sugar and honey in the roots but through proper nourishment. The seed contains the quality of the tree and its fruit. This can be helped to grow to its fullest potential at best. Barriers to its realising its greater potential can be removed. A mind that is caught up in an identity and in set patterns of action alternatives is not free to develop to its fullest potential. This then becomes a barrier. The sutras therefore state that change at the levels of these deeply held identities leads to lasting change in the mind and behaviour of the person. When tendencies and patterns of the mind are carefully observed, the mind can be freed from the tyranny of the patterns. The identity is unlocked. The person does not see himself in terms such as "I am blind" or "I am handicapped". He experiences his personhood; the somatic components of the concretised mind also loosen their hold on the person. Psychosomatic stress is relieved. With this balance between the enquiry into the pressures of the psyche and a sensitivity and ability to work with the soma, the individual's development will have a flow.

The Sankhya Framework

The Sankya Karika provides a model that describes this phenomenon with great clarity. Sankhya states that man is a composite of the visible, the invisible and the 'seer' or the 'experiencer'. The ability to understand deeply the influence of each of these on ones actions, perceptions or modes of living helps one to end the imprisonment in these patterns of samskaara.

Man is like an ice berg. A very small part of him is visible, graspable and tangible. His feelings, the particular meanings he gives to an experience, the assumptions he holds about himself and the world are all invisible, unarticulated, disowned. He associates himself with the visible tangible part. He is therefore able to easily see that he is deprived or gifted in some way. Sankhya says that there are two important causes that converge to manifest an event, namely the external or nimitta kaarana and the unmanifest and withheld matrix the upaadaana kaarana. Relating an experience to the nimitta Kaarana is obvious and immediate. Thus it is easy to form the link: I am deprived therefore the environment hurts me. This concretises into I am blind therefore I am! The means has now become the cause.

A unitary meaning is given to the experience of hurt and pain. Though the environment changes the meaning given is held unchanged.

The upadana karana or the unmanifest matrix is the source of the experience and the tangible only a means. This matrix is the unchanging part of the experience. Gradually a whole lot of assumptions grow around this conclusion. Unless the person can look into this matrix, re examine the assumptions and meanings he holds the patterns will not change, there is no release from sorrow this is the fundamental thesis of Sankhya. The environment cannot be predicted or controlled. The ability of the person to experience his wholeness i.e., the manifest tangible differences, the commonness and universality of feelings and the meanings he has chosen to give to the experience (some of which he shares with others, some his own) is the key to be free of an endless repetition of the patterns. The source of this concretised mind can be looked at and changed. The external causes are beyond one's control.

The Yoga Methods for ending sorrow

Many methods have been suggested in the Yoga Sutras to attempt such enquiry. The conditions necessary for such an enquiry were created in the ancient times through the Gurukula system and the sagacity of the teacher. The Sutras describe the ambience in which such enquiry can take place as non-judgemental and motiveless. This is reminiscent of the mirror Brahma offered to Indira and Virochana in answer to their question "Who am I?"

Let us proceed to look at some of the suggestions described in the Yoga Sutra. A mind that is permeated with avidya is called a vishipta chitta: a mind that is unsteady, incapable of deep sustained enquiry. A person who acts from such a vishipta chitta manifests some of the following conditions:

  1. Vyaadhi illness, disease, lack of physical wellbeing.
  2. Styaana lack of motivation, stagnation, apathy, laziness
  3. Samshaya doubt, uncertainty, inability to take decision
  4. Pramaada carelessness, lack of foresight
  5. Aalasya fatigue, listlessness, enervation
  6. Avirathi high excitability, craving for sensuous stimulation
  7. Bhranti Darshana lack of reality orientation, misunderstanding, distorted understanding
  8. Alabdha Bhumikatva inability to priest, unable to lay a foundation.
  9. Anavasthitatva regression, inability to consolidate.

These conditions also result in clearly recognisable symptoms:

  1. Dukha psychological discomfort, feelings of misery
  2. Daurmanasya helplessness, inability to start from oneself
  3. Angamejayatva weakness of the body
  4. Shvasaprashvasa unhealthy breathing patterns

The most clearly illustrated example of person in this state of mind is Arjuna at Kurukshetra. The Yoga Sutras go on to suggest several strategies to arrest these negative tendencies from snow balling and overcoming the person. The central idea in all these alternatives is Dhyaana- deep and persistent attentiveness to the arising and manifestation of action: how one perceives, makes meaning and chooses action. The common idea that runs through the many alternative courses of action suggested is that they aim to help one find from within himself an energy to start a new and positive movement. This positive action and the samskaara created will weaken and eventually remove the factors that sustain and nourish the negative. Thus the seeds of avidya are rendered inactive and are replaced by a new flowering. There is no dogma in the methods suggested. They must be used selectively and appropriately. Each suggestion is an alternative choice.

The first suggestion given is to take up an enquiry that will lead to an understanding of what is. The important consideration is that one takes up and sustains one line of thinking and explore it. Engaging repeatedly in this questioning would help the person quieten the mind and thus be able to understand himself from a greater depth.

The sutras then suggest that the person takes up a practice of Aasana and Praanaayaama. The effect of negative samskaara pervade the body as much as they do the psyche. It is, therefore, necessary to work with ones body and release from it the tensions and negative patterns. The person is thus capable of dealing with his situation in a more energetic manner, bodily and sensory distortions don't worsen the situation. The reduction of irritability achieved through these practices would also enable the person to be a little more considered in his responses.

Reflecting upon the quality of ones relatedness with others helps one to bring order in the mind. One is often caught in patterns of interaction with other people that

reinforce the distortions in oneself. Being able to link and establish friendship with people who create positive feelings in oneself; responding with the compassion that is evoked when one sees another in distress; experiencing and sharing joy in other people's happiness; being able to draw boundaries and de-link from associations that evoke negative patterns in oneself are the various suggestion made. Thus feelings of antagonism with other people, self centred behaviour, competitiveness and other such patterns that kindle the asmita, raaga, dvesha and abhinivesha in the person must be examined and ended. In the cases presented here the person with the identity of deprivation is helped to recognise that this attitude of servility to one who patronise him reinforces his negative identity. This recognition and a consequent ending of such a pattern also de-links him from an attitude and set of hopes and actions that sustain his lack of self-worth.

Gaining insight and understanding into the relationship between ones senses and the processes by which it links with objects leads to tranquillity. The experiencing of the world that goes on continually from the point of birth is mediated by the senses; such experiencing leads to an understanding of the world but also conditions and limits the senses. By getting in touch with ones inner processes one can gradually end conditioned patterns of response, craving, aversions and the like. The senses thus become finely tuned and sensitive instruments that can now perceive the true nature of the world. Let us look into the action of hearing to illustrate this. The sound, the meanings, ideas, associations and the reality of the object all impinge together in the mind when one hears a word). The understanding of the process of listening would imply that one can have an insight into each of the following :

  1. The nature of sound
  2. The processes of the mind and how memory and past residue, associations inferences, conclusions etc., that are held in the upadana arise as a response to the word
  3. The nature and quality of the object as is

This understanding then releases one from a limited recognition of the word. One is not mortgaged to ones particular meanings. One has reduced the force of possession of ones ideas and their defence. One can now look at ones own experiences from many new perspectives, listen to and give space for other meanings. Without this inner release one gets locked into an unitary experience of the world and becomes prisoner to crystallised response patterns.

One experiences the force and movement of life within oneself only indirectly through the action of the senses and body. It is, therefore, only natural that ones asmita is formed through these experiences. Through a process of questioning this idea of ones being one can experience the flow of life without limiting it to the

objects both gross and subtle that evoke responses from within the person. This experience knocks holes into the bottom of the "asmita". The life force having been touched or experienced without the mediating form or image ends the source of threat. Death and survival are not linked to the survival of the image nor is living seen as strengthening and projecting of the asmita. When the blind person experiences intensely other peoples interactions with him or his interactions with the world in their directness and simplicity shorn of all motives (both from himself and others) he experiences this flow and vibrancy of life. The hold that his deprivation and its consequences have on him gets diminished.

A very simple alternative suggested by the sutras is to seek contact with person or objects or environments that evoke quietness and tranquillity in oneself: music, nature, great saints, the writings of great teachers and their life experiences. The teaching stories of the Sufi and Zen masters are some examples. One often hears of great scientists having made startling discoveries not when they were pre- occupied with finding solutions but when they were playing music or taking a quiet morning walk in the woods.

The quality of one's sleep, the images of a dream, symbols and association that holds special significance to a person can be the windows to deep introspection. They often point a deeply held samskaaras, raaga or dvesha that one experiences without consciously acting them out in wakefulness. Being able to deeply explore the underlying web of feelings and impressions leads to great insights and understanding.

The next sutra takes this as a step further and recommends deep contemplation on any issue or process that appeals to the person. The word Dhyaana as used in the Yoga Sutra can be translated into the words contemplation or meditation if one is careful to understand the English words in their original sense. Contemplation, comes from the root word temple (Greek) which means a space in which to observe. Meditation means to get the true measure of. Dhyaana is defined in the sutras as the deepening of the process of Dhaarana. It is staying with or sustaining an enquiry for a long period of time without distractions. The true measure of the self is observed directly. Such an intense enquiry into the nature of ones inner space is said to "burn the seeds" of avidya. Thus the memories and impressions held in the mind loose the potential to distort perception or create pressures of raga, dvesha or abhinivesha.

These methods listed are not exhaustive but give a fair indication of the range and depth of the strategies used to change a vishipta chitta into a mind capable of ekaagrata or distortion free, one pointed enquiry.

Learning Yoga today

Today it is clearly impossible for many of us to go back to the Gurukula or retire into seclusion and pursue such enquiry for extended periods of time with the help of a teacher. Nor is it necessary. The experiential learning component of the process can be learnt through reflection and enquiry that are initiated in identity groups. The understanding of the patterns of the mind and identities held within comes about through a deep sustained exploration. The models presented here emerged through a 12-day group process (8 to 10 hours per day) with 13 participants. The hidden contents of the mind are uncovered slowly and layer-by- layer. An atmosphere of trust, acceptance and working together is created in the group. The emphasis is on the understanding and exploration of the participant into his own processes.

Looking into some of the deeply held patterns, assumptions and conclusions is often painful and threatening. The resistance to re-examine and re-experience the hurt or fear is the force that keeps one locked in old patterns. The person first discovers the patterns that he is locked into. His ability to examine other possible perceptions and perspectives, very much like turning a kaleidoscope around, helps him take the first step towards becoming free of old patterns. Understanding the resistance and finding within oneself the ability to break free of them is the next major step. Trying out alternative action stances and perspectives can be considered a fair indication of the persons discovery of freedom.

In my experience, this enquiry into oneself when linked with the practice of Asana and Pranayama helps a great deal in managing the somatic components of the mind set. With this balance between the enquiry into the pressures of the psyche and a sensitive ability to work with the soma, the individuals development will have a flow and an integration.

Inner Work Through Yoga – Part 1

[Inner Work Through Yoga (IWTY) is one of the Yoga-based offerings developed by Raghu Anantanarayan, founder, Ritambhara that brings the wisdom of Yoga Sutra in a contemporary and contemplative way. It invites participants to engage with the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali in a self-reflective manner and see how it applies to ones own life, actions, relationships and choices. Participants are encouraged to look at each sutra as a mirror to show something deeper about oneself, thereby making the sutra relevant to them. This ensures that the sutra does not become an injunction (rule) to follow, but instead opens up an enquiry for oneself. Here is a brief outline of the process involved presented in two parts.]


In the last few decades, there has been a great increase in Business activity in India leading to the emergence of large and Global Organisations. The demand for skills in organising and managing large groups of men has resulted in a need for scientific management. One of the areas of management that have gained a lot of prominence of late has been organisation behaviour. The lab method of working with small groups of people has been introduced in India as a basic tool in understanding group behaviour and individual group interaction. Some of the pioneers in this field have been Dr Nitesh De, Prof. Pulin K. Garg and Prof. Gauranga Chattopadhyay among others. The group methods, that originated in the National Training Labs, Tavistock institute, Encounter groups, Gestalt therapy., found their way into India through their work.

The need to work with culture specific ideas and contextually relevant modes promoted much experimentation in India. Prof. Pulin Garg and Prof. Gauranga Chattopadhyay in particular have done a great deal of work in delving into the Indian tradition and drawing insights and understanding from these sources. They founded the Indian Society of Individual and Social Development (ISISD) toinstitutionalise this learning and carry it further. This institution has trained several professionals and equipped them with behavioural and group process skills. It has given birth to Sumedhas, Academy of Human Context ( and Astha. While ISISD has ceased to exist its theory and practice have been taken forward by these Institutions founded by people who played a significant part in the growth of ISID. My understanding of this mode of working is based on a long and sustained relationship and working together with Prof. Pulin Garg and my co-founders in Sumedhas.

The immersion in Yoga

I came to know of ISISD when I was involved in a study of Yoga with Shri. T.K.V. Desikachar and his father Yogacharya T. Krishnamacharya. The insights into human processes that were contained in the Yoga Sutras, the Sankya Karika, the Upanishadas and the Gita fascinated me. The unique way in which my teachers interpreted Yoga and used this understanding in treating people through Aasana, Praanaayaama, Adhyayana and specific use of Bhaavana was a great learning for me. It has been my experience that individual processes and dynamics of group interaction can be understood based on these insights from the Indian tradition. It has also been my conviction that one has to reelevate the cultural positives and re- define the traditions in a modern context in order to find meaningful ways of understanding behaviour, especially in our country. The use of frameworks and theories that are not anchored in our traditions can be very damaging to ones psyche.

In this paper I have tried to articulate the similarities that I see in the processes of Identity formation, the prosesses of role taking and the Yogic texts as I understand them. The interpretation of the Yoga Sutras and Sankhya Karika that I have used in this paper are drawn from the oral tradition of Yogacharya T. Krishnamacharya. They are an English rendition of his expressions in Tamil. The teaching was carried on over a period of about 10 years mostly through individual classes.

The database for this paper also includes my experience of working with hundreds of small groups of 8 to 12 persons in learning laboratories, as well as many decades of conducting Leadership Workshops and Leadership coaching sessions. The methodology of work in these groups is based on the Identity Group Process work developed in ISISD. This paper focuses on the processes that emerged in a particular group I worked with as part of Training Teachers for the Blind at White field (Divine Light School) for the blind. The group consisted of 10 women trainees, one blind (male) instructor and the co-ordinator of programme (also a male) and a trainee facilitator (a woman). However, the underlying personal and group dynamics that emerged in that lab are not unique to that lab.

Defining key terms in Yoga

With the decline of study into indigenous traditions many ideas that are found in Yoga have either lost currency or been relegated to the realms of the esoteric and spiritual. I would, therefore, like to define some of the terminology I am using from the Yoga Sutras. These ideas are better understood through discussions but, I will risk the written mode. Also, since the Sanskrit terms are being translated into English, there is a loss of meaning. Sanskrit words are explained through a reference to the root words they come from which are mostly verbs. English words that are used for the translation are mostly noun based and this is a huge problem in getting close to the nuances of the Sanskrit meanings.

  1. Drk shakti The life in a person is called the seer, experiencer, doer etc. in Yoga. Without this force one is just a dead body. The word I use in this paper is seer.
  2. Darshana Shakti All Matter is encompassed in this word. External objects, the body, the senses and the mind are all included in this word.
  3. Avidya Mistaken conclusions taken as right knowledge: they become the basis of action. This base of incorrect conclusions and assumptions is avidya.
  4. Asmita This is an outcome of Avidya. The experience of being / living (drk shakti) when superimposed with the experiencing of the environment (darshana shakti) creates the feeling I am this, Asmita is very similar to Identity.
  5. Raga and Dvesha In ones interaction with the world one experiences pain and pleasures. Retaining these experiences in the mind and having either a craving (for pleasure) or an antagonism (to pain) is called Raga and Dvesha respectively.
  6. Abhiniveshah Fear of death (the ending of asmita) is called abhiniveshah. Mans actions that spring from this fear can be looked at as an expression of this force.
  7. Vaasana The residue of an experience left with the person causes a colouring of ones psyche and soma. This essence of the aggregate of a persons experiences is Vaasana.
  8. Samskaara The actions a person does has a conditioning effect on him. This potential for repeating old action modes is called samskaara.

None of these are either negative or positive in of themselves. These are potentials or forms of action in man. They bear negative or positive results depending upon the complex interactions that characterise man in a context.

In the First Chapter the Yoga Sutra describes symptoms that obtain in a person who is caught in the web of negative patterns. The symptoms enumerated include lack of physical well being, disease lack of psychological well being in various manifestations and lack of strength both inwardly in being able to sustain ones efforts and bring them to fruition.10 The question of whether the processes of ones life and actions are positive or negative can best be answered by each person for himself after deliberate consideration.

Applying the frame work

Let us now look at the experience of the blind person interacting with in the group from this structure of the ideas from yoga sutras. The primary experience of himself that the disabled person spoke about was based on his experience of deprivation. His linking up with the environment of other people creates this inner experience of "I am deprived". This difference is made the cause of both special attention on the one hand and non-inclusion on the other. His identity as a person different from the normal and deficient in comparison is repeatedly brought out.

This distilled conclusion of one's experience I would like to compare with the idea of Vaasana: the essence of the individual that pervades the psyche and the soma. This Vaasana would affect the perceptions of the person, the matrix of meaning he gives to his experience, his body, his behaviour and response. This ground is the Avidya Kshetram11: the person's individual conclusions and assumptions about the nature of the world and himself. The conclusion "blindness means deprivation" is a product of this ground.

Vyasa's commentary on the sutra II.12 discusses the form in which the Vaasana builds up in a person. 12 The process described is very similar to the process by which a crystal is grown in a solution. A few crystals of the required chemical are hung in a solution of that chemical and it slowly collects and grows. In man, the seed of a deeply felt experience continues to reside within the mind. This acts like the seed crystal and collects experiences that reinforce this seed and therefore grows in size. This crystal creates different patterns in different environments / different stages in a person's growth all of which retain and reinforce the essential character of the crystal.

The Sutra IV.9 talks about the persistence of the action patterns and deep memories.13 It states that even across changes in environment and time these residues of memory and potential / conditioned patterns of behaviour (Vaasana) remain unaltered.

The experience of being, of living when superimposed with the experiencing of the environment creates what is called the Asmita or identity of the person. One, therefore, says 'I am blind' or 'I am handicapped' as an essential description of himself. The face of 'I am' called the drk shakti is experienced through thephysical fact of one's psychosomatic system (blindness and its inevitable consequnces) and its interaction with the environment. The impressions of this experience are treated as the self.

This conclusion is then extended to explain the hurt and pain of living. 'I am hurt/ pained because I am deprived'. This conclusion or assumption born out of the stigmatised identity leads to intense feelings of desperation. "No action can remove my deprivation, my source of pain". The means of an experience has been viewed mistakenly as the source, the cause of the pain / hurt.

In the case of this blind person it led to an intense self hate. Two types of action alternatives arise from this. One a violence directed at others / the environment. Two a self-destructive / suicidal tendency. These being the potential / pressures behind emergent actions are the first forms of Samskaara. Deeply conditioned action patterns. The Samskaara in turn reinforce the Vaasana.

The next levels of conclusions that seem to emerge is the statement : "I will overcome this hurt / pain". (This is called Abhinivesha in the sutras the force to live. The force that fights death). Paradoxically, this commitment reinforces Asmita. The action alternatives of this seem to be persistent hard work to overcome the deprivation / stigma, or a "dependency". One says "I will work and gain my own strength". The other says "I am so unable please help me": one the stance of a warrior the other the stance of a beggar. This resolve leads to the setting of objectives and goals. "I am blind I will develop my memory"

"I am dependant

I will develop skills, learning and excel", I am deprived, I will use my deprivationto manipulate.

External measure and means of overcoming the disability are postulated and set up. The person often sets up ideals, giants to emulate or conquer. It can also lead to a search for protection, patrons, social work agencies, exclusive environments etc.

Several role stances seem to emerge from this. "The warrior looking for a kingdom", "The giant killer", "Faithful dog", "The willing servant", "The lamenting beggar", "The count of Monte Cristo", "The snail / tortoise", "The untouchable" etc.

Individuals who hold this stigmatised identity end up creating many secondary goals and aims. "The snail" type of behaviour would lead to setting up enemies, and therefore developing an armour against all potential hurt through words referring to the disability. "The untouchable" does not risk any involvement, relatedness with others. "The count of Monte Cristo" seeks power and uses cunning to wreak vengeance. "The faithful dog", "The willing servant" is the gullible favourite of the patrons, saviours and God peddlers. "The Giant Killer" is the exceptionally talented person looking for worthy opponents to defeat and destroy thus proving to oneself ones worthiness, again and again. "Warrior looking for hisLord" is the talented person unable to deeply accept himself as he is with his positives and his hurt. He works to be independent and capable but nevertheless craves for protection. These role stances are the forms that the Samskaara takes. When these action stances emerge and the person starts gets positive reinforcement that affirms the starting point, namely, ones Asmita, the mind starts to gel and concretises the whole cycle: The physical stigma is experienced as the cause of the hurt. The chosen goals and role stances are the means to overcome them. A one to one relationship is established in the mind and the processes by which this set is held together remain invisible.

........ will be continued next week..