Yoga Sutras 1.5

Before we get into the meaning of the sutra, I want to look at it’s form for a second (assuming you can see the featured image that shows the Sanskrit and the transliteration and the translation).  Notice how Taimni gives us a little hint “plural of *gobbledygook*” (which was in 1.4 and 1.2 Sanskrit as well).  If you look at the difference between the singular and the plural, it starts to come into focus.  Some kind of a sickle to the right indicates the singular union of (two symbols, concepts), whereas multiplicity seems to get rid of the sickle, join the outside and prepend with an ‘many’ish symbol.  You can see the “pancatayyah” which means “fivefold; of five kinds” also starts with this manyish symbol.  The last word, “klistaklistah” can be seen in the transliteration to be xxh, where x = ‘klista’ and h represents itself.  In the Sanskrit, you can also see three symbols, each with the singular sickle to the left, joined by the second (right to left) group of three’s singular sickle in the middle (sorry, describing pictures in words is laborious).  I have little doubt that, armed with Taimni’s translation, a great deal of Sanskrit could be learnt.  To come to even better understandings, with these reflections as the starting point, there are many ways to branch out on searches for instances of this or that pattern throughout the Sanskrit.

This sutra classifies the modifications of mind (Citta-Vrttis) in two ways.  First, all the modifications of the mind fall into one of five kinds (Pratyaya [enumerated in 1.6, and thus furthermore unmentioned in this post]), and second, that they also range between the poles of the presence of pain and its absense.  Taimni seems to understand that many a reader of his commentary will themselves have a painful reaction to this sutra and immediately goes about giving an explanation from the point of view of yoga.  After noting the preponderance of experiences that are neutral in terms of pain, he invokes a later concept of the sutras, the klesas (2.15):

It will suffice to mention here that according to the theory of Klesas upon which the Yogic philosophy is based, all pleasurable and painful experiences are really painful to the people who have developed the faculty of discrimination and are not blinded by the illusions of the lower life. It is our ignorance, caused by these illusions, which makes us see pleasure in experiences which are a potential source of pain and therefore makes us run after those pleasures.  If our inner eyes were open we would see the ‘potential’ pain hidden within these pleasures and not only when the pain is present in an ‘active’ form.

Maybe I’m alone here, but my gut reaction is resistance.  I resist the idea that pain is somehow given pride of place over pleasure.  Fragments of philosophy and common sense burst like fireworks vying for their turn to route this ‘supposed’ truth.  A more objective part of me says that it isn’t fair.  People are coming here to understand the Yoga Sutras better (well, that’s one reason anyway, and a good one to write to) and not to hear my I-haven’t-even-read-the-whole-Yoga-Sutras-judgement-of-the-Yoga-Sutras.

I’ve decided that, rather than try and create some argument against the idea, I will try to come to an understanding of the idea I am being offered.  Is there any way it could be true, or at least make sense?  If I fail to find any, then at least we’ll know roughly where I stand.  You can come to your own conclusions.

There is some depth to the idea if you read closely.  The keystone statement that offers any insight at all is: “If our inner eyes were open we would see the ‘potential’ pain hidden within these pleasures and not only when the pain is present in an ‘active’ form.”  We still have to dig that in sight out.  All pleasures have a lack-of-that-pleasure.  In most cases, I imagine, the lack-of-that-pleasure manifests as some sort of stress.  A stress on the systems that have grown around those parts of our bodies that experience the pleasure.  The starvation of these growths is the stress.  While in one form for one system and another form for another system, the stress is characteristic.  Just like aging is aging even as it happens differently with each body.

Just as Taimni says, it does seem pessimistic (to the student [me]) to emphasize in this way the existence of the ‘painful’ over the existence of the ‘pleasurable’.  He tells us to withold our judgement until we have studied the philosophy of the Klesas in section 2.

I’ll withold final judgement, but I want to explore this pessimism.  What is pleasure and what is pain?  I have defined pain already as a stress on some part of the body system.  This definition satisfies me for now (tehe).  So what is pleasure?  Superlative functioning of some part of the body system?  No, I don’t think so.  Pleasure seems to me to be something distinct, like a meta-system that joins other systems to its own expression.  Pleasure is probably coincident with ‘love’.  Which is to say that ‘love’ is a typeof distilled ‘pleasure’.  And not to say that ‘pleasure’ can’t be directed down dark alleyways.  IOW, I’m exploring the idea that, just as we are being told that if we don’t suppress the modifications of the mind we will remain assimilated with those modifications and will not be able to anchor ourselves in our True-self, we are being told that pleasure and pain are both ramifications of the mind and thus occlude the forest of being that is our True-self.  In fact, this is precisely what we are being told because this Sutra is classifying the modifications of the mind.

Continuing to track the trails of this meaning, we find that ‘pleasure’ is much like lifting an object.  Doing so stores potential energy for its fall.  That is why we had to lift it.  The very physiological reality of experiencing pleasure necessarily creates the conditions for stress in the absence of appropriate stimuli to nourish the pleasure’s embodiment’s minimum maintenance.

If you build a house, which is an enclosed space protected against the elements, you will need to repair the roof and the walls, sooner or later, because the nature of the house, to remain a house, must be maintained in the face of its decay over time.  So too with any pleasure.  To experience pleasure is to consign your future to either the stress of its absence or the requirement to pursue its conditions.  That’s pretty clear.  The fantasy that pleasure can be pursued indefinitely without ever incurring the cost of the stress of its absence is just that, a fantasy.  One way to reconcile oneself with a deep realization of the unavoidability of this reality is to renunciate pleasure.  But if you can renunciate pleasure, why can’t you renunciate pain?  Renunciating pleasure is just another kind of pain.  Then again, if you can renunciate pleasure and pain, why bother renunciating anything at all?

Like Oogway says in Kung Fu Panda: “Quit, don’t quit.  Noodles, don’t noodles.  You are too concerned with what was and what will be.”

I’ll withold final judgement.


  • Pratyaya
  • Klesas
  • Raga
  • Dvesa

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