Removing the Obstacles

Posted December 26th, 2013 by Erin under Student Writings, Yoga Philosophy.

Jack Kornfield says “Within us is a secret longing to remember the light, to step out of time in this dancing world. It’s where we began and where we return.”

In our seeking, many of us find yoga- its goal is to deliver a spiritual practice that unites us with ultimate reality.

Through the sutras, we learn that following the fundamental path of yoga requires us to disengage from the material world (Prakriti) because our spirit self (Purusha) has become entangled through the five afflictions (kleshas). These are: ignorance (avidya), egoist pride (asmita), desire (raga), aversion (dvesa) and fear of death (abinivesa) and they lead to suffering of our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. According to Patanjali, we need to disentangle spirit from matter through constant, inner practice to purify body mind and spirit (abhayasa) and renunciation or non-attachment leading to spiritual surrender (vairagya), in order to truly know ourselves. By following the yogic path, we are provided with the means to awaken our authentic selves that lie beyond the order of nature and remain unchanging.

As we began our teacher-training program, Eileen introduced us to a non-negativity diet, one way of taking a moment-by-moment inventory of how the various kleshas may be impacting our lives. By noticing our tendencies to deny truth or our failure to be curious, we chose avidya. Through a competitive spirit, we demonstrate asmita, and through attachment to outcomes, possessions or even particular people, we align ourselves with raga. We demonstrate dvesa when we employ judgment, of ourselves and of others, and abinivesa when we place ourselves before others in an attempt to outwit death.

When we are not experiencing our true selves, we are entangled with the layers of unreality (colorings) of the mind. These are dual- aklistas are thought patterns that hamper us on our path to enlightenment and klistas are patterns that move us forward. To observe the coloring of our thoughts is a useful practice. By noticing and acknowledging to ourselves that they are in fact, just thoughts, we can move to the next level of noticing if they are colored or not, positive or negative, serving us well, or not. According to Patanjali, ignorance creates all the other obstacles. We have it in our power to cultivate concentration and remove these obstacles to enlightenment. We have the choice to end our own suffering through practice and renunciation. As we learn to detach from the outcomes of our work and focus simply, clearly and continuously, on the process, we can teach ourselves to notice without judgment and through these observations, we create the vehicle for change. The Buddhists teach that what we resist persists. When we practice with vairagya, we observe without resistance; we grow. By noticing and contemplating on the kleshas in the form of a daily inventory, we begin the process of eradication.

Because the nature of all, including ourselves, is of Prakriti, we carry all the characteristics of nature (gunas) in various imbalanced ways. Our nature changes from one moment to the next, exposing us to the tendencies of sattva (illumination), rajas (passion) and tamas (inertia). The gunas cause us to perceive the world in unbalanced ways. Hopefully, as we learn to quiet the mind, we will see more clearly with a heart that may be more trustworthy than the fickle distortions of the mind.

In any case, the colorful klista sanskaras, the imbalanced state of the gunas and the kleshic tendencies are part of the human condition and the sutras provide us with a means of comprehending and a vehicle for transcendence.

Kathi Burke is a recent graduate of Karuna’s 200hr Teacher Training Program

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