Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Studying the Yoga Sutras: On Practice (Abhyasa) and Detachment (Vairagya)

By Lisa Dawn Angerame

In the first eleven Yoga Sutras, we learned that the goal of yoga is to abide in our true nature, freedom and peace, and that we have five types of thoughts that constantly whirl and prevent us from doing so. If this is the goal and our thoughts are the obstacles, then what are the means?  Bhagavan Patanjali says practice, abhyasa, and detachment, vairyagya.  Both are equally responsible and neither is more important. While the English translation of these two words prove to be general in nature and widely applicable in many arenas such as work, sport, school, etc., my teacher A. G. Mohan says we should not water down the Yoga Sutras and the meaning of abhyasa and vairagya by applying them to these types of worldly endeavors.

As we have been taught, and certainly experienced, thoughts lead to either bondage or freedom.  In order to move towards freedom, we must retrain our minds and release ourselves from past habits and old patterns.   We must practice flowing toward freedom. Once the mind tastes peace, the more peace we enjoy and the more we want to flow in that direction. 

Abhyasa is practice that must be repeated and continuous.  It is not just practice, but a practice of returning constantly and making the effort to change the direction of the flow of the mind from worldly affairs toward freedom. The mind has the tendency to move in its old patterns; we have to stay out front and remember the goal. We must be steadfast in this effort to make any real change in the hope of reaching the goal of yoga.

Abhyasa becomes firmly established and rooted when it is cultivated and pursued without interruption, over a long period of time, with devotion. We become grounded in the practice of always returning to practice.  We create new habits and we are no longer bound by past patterns.

Vairagya is an internal mental disposition defined as detachment, a state of mind when desire is gone.  Through practice, over time, vairagya becomes possible. We have to make an effort to break the attachment and become free from the bondage created by our attachments to worldly objects. We work to identify areas where there is still some attachment and intensify the practice of detachment. 

Vairagya eventually arises when all of the senses are withdrawn, even the mind itself, from all objects. It is an unchanging state of utter desirelessness, utter freedom, where the mind is completely controlled. To experience vairayga is to have internal awareness of our supreme mastery, complete control, over the mind. Nothing, no person or object, will create any thoughts or any attachments that lead to whirling in the mind.  Then we work to sustain what is known as para vairagya, literally a higher or superior state of detachment that arises through the sustained experience of the difference between the Self and the mind or our thoughts.

We have now reviewed the first sixteen sutras! Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says that enlightenment, the full and permanent experience of pure consciousness lively in one’s awareness, requires both intellectual understanding and direct experience. Take some time to internalize these sutras and their meanings. Then start to practice.  Only then you will you truly know yoga.   

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