Earlier this week, I attended a lecture with the spiritual leader of the Himalayan Institute, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. He joined us in the studio at PB Yoga and Healing Arts to share the insight he’s recently compiled into a new book: The Secret of the Yoga Sutra. I had the good fortune to meet Pandit Rajmani prior to the event. (I also had the silly impertinence to say, ‘Wow, it’s so cool to meet you!’ instead of using a few honorifics and head bows when I shook his hand. Whoops. May I be forgiven.)
In a room scattered with enough blankets to worry international rescue efforts, about 30 people gathered—some comfortably shoeless and bent in comfortable, if not a little smug, sukhasanas; others opting for chairs and socks. Someone had placed long-stemmed flowers in a short vase. I obsessed for a while over the possibility of their imbalance. One did fall; fortunately, the stability of the others calmed me. That’s when I started paying attention.
With the humility of a good man meeting in-laws, Pandit Rajmani took his chair. He smiled, shared his gratitude and popped back up. Without preface, he said, ‘when the mind is in chaos, it is not free.’ He paused, and elaborated: ‘the confused mind is not free to follow any path.’
I immediately imagined wandering with a map that lost its lines. I felt the heft of the obscurity. Also the frustration of disorientation. We have all traveled in circles on occasion; we’ve all felt the mild or severe nausea that it provokes, to see again and again the fact of our persistent mistakes.
And in case you’re thinking: not a problem for me, Missy, I’m putting my energy into daily yoga classes so me and my yoga butt are number one, self-realized, and defined! I’m a well-oiled machine with joints that defy engineering principles. I wake up in peacock every morning.
Pandit Rajmani says, with a hint of smile, ‘all this energy can be used to create chaos or joy. But a confused mind will always channel intelligence into chaos.’
And here we’ve arrived at a foundational principle of yoga that is often completely ignored.
To understand just what it is we’re doing with our lives—our yoga, our quests, our ambitions— we need a clear, calm, transparent mind. And don’t forget the power of discernment. This type of mind—free of chaos, able to choose wisely among options, transparent to itself—invests energy gathered from asana, meditation, and introspection into strengthening its true nature.
What, exactly, is that true nature? Pandit Rajmani says it’s our ‘inner luminosity.’ Our intrinsic joy, he suggests, is established in our true nature. Our access to happiness, to freedom, is just behind that curtain we keep pulled to hide our clutter.
So how do we pull the curtain? And what to do about the mess behind it?
At the discussion, a man in the back had no qualms about raising his hand high to ask this question repeatedly. ‘What can I do?’ he said. ‘Specifically. Like, what, exactly, will get me this clear mind? Do I need to chant or meditate or what?’
And with great patience and consistency, Pandit Rajmani described the process. To the tempered consternation of the hand-raising man (and my super delight), he pointed to one of my favorite of Patanjali’s sutra. If I was that type to tattoo sanskrit on me, this would be the one I’d choose. Blessings to those who like sanskrit ink.
It is an exercise in deliberate kindness. It is tolerance and compassion and forgiveness. All the other activity we humans like to pursue to showboat our enlightenment—the daily stretching, the mantra-chanting, the early morning breathing—is merely a bit of warm-up for the big event: becoming friendly.
There you have it.
Pandit Rajmani read the great Yoga Sutra I.33, translated in his book as:
Transparency of mind comes by embracing an attitude of friendliness, compassion, happiness, and non-judgment toward those who are happy, miserable, virtuous, and non-virtuous.
Simple enough. Be happy for those who triumph and compassionate toward the weary; find pleasure in the goodness of strangers and ambivalence toward a stranger’s flaws; forgive those who hurt you.
From this attitude, we regain our sense of self as a luminous being. We glimpse our true nature. We see that it waits patiently for us to approach. Like Grandpa at the train station, it won’t run to us. But it will hold our gaze and embrace us for dear life when we get close enough.
From this attitude, also, we can cultivate the other practices enumerated in the Sutra. We can meditate on the breath, or on sensory perception. We can renounce desire. But just as other commentators point out, the promise to extend kindness in all instances is prerequisite to all endeavors. It is the link between our inherent joy and the world beyond us. If we must exert ourselves every day, let’s exert ourselves with an intention toward benevolence.
And let’s see whether our energies channel toward intelligent decisions, toward fulfillment of our ambitions, toward our true nature. Toward light. Not chaos. Let’s see if we becomehappy. Again and again. Day after day.
If you want to put these ideas into action, give this a try: the next time someone near you finds success, challenge yourself to be more than pleased. Be hopeful that the success endures. Wish the person even greater prosperity. Then ask yourself: can I be both envious and pleased simultaneously?
I’m pretty sure the answer is no.
Just as you can’t extend compassion for someone who is having a crap day and make her day worse. Nor can you cultivate acceptance of things you dislike and continue to feel an extreme intolerance for them. Those things, you’ll find, will become less abhorrent and, finally, free from your judgment. (Real world example: the majority of Americans have discovered this over the last decade with all things LGBTQ. And, maybe, yoga and meditation.)
With these little exercises, see if you don’t become a little more composed, a little more calm, a little more free to see the path of your happiness. See if you haven’t discovered for yourself a little antidote to your confusion.
Let me know how it goes.
Huzzah for happiness.