Self-Realization through Yoga Meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra

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Yoga Sutras 1.30-1.32: 
Obstacles and Solutions
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Click here to return to the main page of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.Obstacles are to be expected: There are a number of predictable obstacles (1.30) that arise on the inner journey, along with several consequences (1.31) that grow out of them. While these can be a challenge, there is a certain comfort in knowing that they are a natural, predictable part of the process. Knowing this can help to maintain the faith and conviction that were previously discussed as essential (1.20).

Predictable Obstacles (1.30)
Illness Dullness Doubt
Negligence Laziness Cravings
Misperceptions Failure Instability
 
Companions to those Obstacles
(1.31)
Mental and physical pain Sadness and frustration
Unsteadiness of the body Irregular breath

One-pointedness is the solution: There is a single, underlying principle that is the antidote for these obstacles and their consequences, and that is the one-pointedness of mind (1.32). Although there are many forms in which this one-pointedness can be practiced, the principle is uniform. If the mind is focused, then it is far less likely to get entangled and lost in the mire of delusion that can come from these obstacles (1.4).

Remember one truth or object: Repeatedly remember one aspect of truth, or one object (1.32). It may be any object, including one of the several that are suggested in the coming sutras (1.33-1.39). It may be related to your religion, an aspect of your own being, a principle, or some other pleasing object. It may be a mantra, short prayer, or affirmation. While there is great breadth of choice in objects, a sincere aspirant will choose wisely the object for this practice, possibly along with the guidance of someone familiar with these practices.

A picture is worth a thousand words: This link leads to a page with a picture of 18 circular shaped objects, which appear to be moving, although they are not. By focusing your eyes on the small black center of any of the circles, they all stop moving. This illusion is a simple way to communicate the principle of using one-pointedness to still the mind. (Gazing at this picture is not literally being suggested as a meditation practice.)
Rotating Circles Illusion and Meditation 

See also these pages:
Trataka / Gazing     Trataka with Soham Mantra
Purple dots 

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1.30 Nine kinds of distractions come that are obstacles naturally encountered on the path, and are physical illness, tendency of the mind to not work efficiently, doubt or indecision, lack of attention to pursuing the means of samadhi, laziness in mind and body, failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects, incorrect assumptions or thinking, failing to attain stages of the practice, and instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained.
(vyadhi styana samshaya pramada alasya avirati bhranti-darshana alabdha-bhumikatva anavasthitatva chitta vikshepa te antarayah)

  • vyadhi = disease, illness, sickness
  • styana = mental laziness, inefficiency, idleness, procrastination, dullness
  • samshaya = indecision, doubt
  • pramada = carelessness, negligence 
  • alasya = sloth, languor, laziness
  • avirati = sensuality, want of non-attachment, non-abstention, craving
  • bhranti-darshana = false views or perception, confusion of philosophies (bhranti = false; darshana = views, perception)
  • alabdha-bhumikatva = failing to attain stages of practice (alabdha = not obtaining; bhumikatva = stage, state, firm ground)
  • anavasthitatva = instability, slipping down, inability to maintain
  • chitta-vikshepa = distractions of the mind (chitta = mind field; vikshepa = distractions, diversions)
  • te = they are, these are
  • antarayah = obstacles, impediments

Comfort in knowing these are predictable: If these are the impediments along the journey, then we can feel much more at ease when we encounter them. Instead of thinking, "Something is wrong with me," we can see that these are predictable bumps along the road of spiritual life and unfoldment. If we know that such obstacles are going to come, and that other people before us have encountered them, then we can also follow their experience and guidance as to how to deal with these obstacles. 

Distractions (chitta-vikshepa) come first: These two principles (chitta-vikshepa and antarayah) are not just lumped together as one concept. They are separate, though work together. Seeing these two as separate reveals a big key to Yoga. First, one of these nine states of mind or mental impressions arises, and attention engages with them. They literally distract the attention from whatever else it was focused on at the time. That distraction comes first. 

Then, they become obstacles (antarayah): However, the second part of the process is that this distraction (chitta-vikshepa), once the engagement of attention remains fixed on the distraction, then also becomes an obstacle (antarayah), which is alive and rich with its painful disturbing qualities. Thus, it is a two part process, of the distraction occurring and then being followed by its becoming an obstacle. If the first part (the distraction) did not happen, then the second part (the obstacle) would not surface as being a problem.

Distraction and disturbance: Distraction and disturbance are two different principles. Notice that there first must be distraction, and that this is followed by disturbance.

Key to the obstacles is to not be distracted: How to break the link between the distraction and the subsequent pain as an obstacle is then the key to freedom. It is suggested in sutra 1.32 (below) that the means of doing this is through making the mind one-pointed, or focused in such a way that the distraction does not come. In turn, the obstacle does not surface. It is an amazingly simple principle; so simple, in fact, that it is very difficult to entice ourselves to believe it and to practice it. Nonetheless, the ability to focus the mind is critical and worthy of great effort to cultivate. 

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1.31 From these obstacles, there are four other consequences that also arise, and these are: 1) mental or physical pain, 2) sadness or dejection, 3) restlessness, shakiness, or anxiety, and 4) irregularities in the exhalation and inhalation of breath.
(duhkha daurmanasya angam-ejayatva shvasa prashvasah vikshepa sahabhuva)

  • duhkha = pain (mental or physical)
  • daurmanasya = sadness, despair, dejection, frustration, depression, anguish
  • angam-ejayatva = shakiness, unsteadiness, movement, tremor of the limbs or body (anga = limbs or body)
  • shvasa = inhalation, inspiration (implying irregular inhalation)
  • prashvasah = exhalation, expiration (implying irregular exhalation)
  • vikshepa = distractions
  • sahabhuva = companions, accompaniments, correlates 

These four arise because of the other nine: These four obstacles arise as a consequence of the nine that are given in the previous sutra. In one sense, it seems that all thirteen of these could be grouped together in one sutra. However, it's useful in practice to see that these four come as a result of the other nine. If you look at these four closely, you'll see that these are relatively easy to notice in yourself, compared to the other nine. When you see one of these four, it is a clue to you that something is going on at a subtler level. Then it is easier to see, and to adjust. 

These four are good indicators of the subtler obstacles: If you think of these in terms of other people, notice how easy it is to observe when someone is experiencing pain, dejection, restlessness of body, or irregularities of breath (the four of this sutra). You may not know the underlying reason, but you can sure spot the symptom on the surface. Similarly, we may not know that something is going on inside with ourselves, at the subtler level. Yet, if we observe our own gestures, body language, general level of pain and mood, we can more easily see that something is going on at the subtler level. 

Seeing can lead to making changes: Once those surface four lead you to awareness of the subtler obstacles, then it is much easier to take corrective action, to get back on track. At first, this can sound like a lot of intellectual analysis, but it is actually quite simple and extremely useful. You may discover that a simple refocusing back to your practices, your personally chosen philosophy of life, or useful attitudes will weaken those obstacles. Most importantly, it can be a reminder that you have temporarily lost your focus, and to return to one-pointedness. 

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1.32 To prevent or deal with these nine obstacles and their four consequences, the recommendation is to make the mind one-pointed, training it how to focus on a single principle or object.
(tat pratisedha artham eka tattva abhyasah)

  • tat = those, their 
  • pratisedha = prevention, negation, neutralizing, prohibition, opposing, voiding, removal 
  • artham = for, for the purpose of, in order to
  • eka = single
  • tattva = truth, principle, subject, reality
  • abhyasah = practice, cultivating that habit

One-pointedness is the solution: There is a single, underlying principle that is the antidote for these obstacles, and that is the one-pointedness of mind. There are many forms in which this one-pointedness can be practiced, but once again, the principle is uniform. If the mind is focused, then it is far less likely to get entangled and lost in the mire of delusion that can come from these obstacles. Remember that the fundamental reason we do not experience enlightenment is the fact that consciousness is falsely identified with the many levels of conditioning (1.4). 

Some specific suggestions are given in forthcoming sutras (1.33-1.40) of ways to focus the mind so as to attenuate the effects of these obstacles. 

Remember one truth or object: Repeatedly remember one aspect of truth, or one object. It may be any object, including one of the several that are suggested in the coming sutras (1.33-1.39). It may be related to your religion, an aspect of your own being, a principle, or some other pleasing object. It may be a mantra, short prayer, or affirmation. Here, in this sutra, the principle of one-pointedness is introduced as the antidote for the many obstacles mentioned in the previous sutras (1.30-1.31). While there is great breadth of choice in objects, a sincere aspirant will chose wisely the object for this practice, possibly along with the guidance of someone familiar with these practices. 

This is preparation for meditation: Sometimes it can seem that meditation is the means by which we learn to deal with these kinds of distractions. Actually, it is somewhat the other way around. We learn the basic principles of how to deal with the distractions so that we can subsequently meditate and experience the true Self, which is beyond the mind. However, we first have to stabilize the mind and deal with the distractions. It is that preparation that is being taught in these few sutras here (1.30-1.32), along with the specific suggestions for purifying the mind that are presented in sutras 1.33-1.40. Later, in Chapter 2, the subtler methods of meditation are taught, once these grosser obstacles are minimized. 

One-pointedness applies at all levels: The principle of one-pointedness of mind as the antidote to obstacles continues throughout the subtler and subtle-most of the meditation practices. While it is essential at the beginning to neutralize the gross level of mental obstacles, it remains a key tool at all of the subsequent stages of practice. The nature of the obstacles might become subtler and subtler, but the nature of their disturbing, distracting quality is similar, as is the solution. 

One-pointedness, practice, and non-attachment: Recall that the two principles of abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment) were presented (1.12-1.16) as the foundation for Yoga meditation. Here, in sutra 1.32 the companion principle of one-pointedness for removal of obstacles is introduced. It is extremely useful to repeatedly reflect on how these three play together in a practical way. The commitment to practice, along with training the mind to be one-pointed, and cultivating non-attachment in relation to the many mental obstacles act together, in coordination, to bring the fruits of meditation.

This is not repression of thoughts and emotions: Most people automatically learn the principle of one-pointedness as a way to deal with problems or obstacles in life, though the way it is done is often off target. Getting absorbed in some hobby, sports activity, television, or some form of addiction each provide some sense of relief, but this can end up causing suppression and repression of thoughts and emotions. One-pointedness of this kind can lead to avoiding or escaping from matters at hand. This is not the intent of the one-pointedness of Yoga meditation. Rather, with the one-pointedness of Yoga, there is also an expansion of awareness of the inner world, coupled with non-attachment. It leads to freedom and openness, not to stifling and closed mindedness.

Focusing on the positive: There is a commonly known principle of focusing on the positive attitudes, actions, or situations in life, while allowing the negative to gradually wash away. This focus on the positive is one of the practical applications of the principle of one-pointedness. Over and over, in example after example, we find that this principle of staying focused is a universal process for health, healing, wholeness, and transcending the more external levels of our being so as to experience the Truth within (1.3).

Lifestyle of focus: The spirit of one-pointedness is not merely a technique or method of meditation. It is an intentionality, a world view, a way of being. It is a process of developing a lifestyle where you pay attention to what you are doing, while being ever mindful of the subtler aspects of our being. Whatever we do, say, or think, there is a gentle, persistent awareness that is one of focus, rather than distraction. The yogi consciously cultivates this lifestyle of attention, focus, or one-pointedness, while remaining aware of the rest, ever expanding in awareness.

Many means of one-pointedness: In the forthcoming sutras (1.33-1.39), several specific methods are suggested for one-pointedness. These include cultivation or meditation on four attitudes (1.33), breath awareness, awareness of sensing, focus on inner luminosity, contemplating on a clear mind, witnessing the stream of thoughts, or choosing whatever focus is found to be pleasing and useful.

 

The next sutra is 1.33 

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This site is devoted to presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of the Tradition of the Himalayan masters in simple, understandable and beneficial ways, while not compromising quality or depth. The goal of our sadhana or practices is the highest Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is one and the same with the Absolute Reality. This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which complement one another like fingers on a hand. We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti Yoga, as well as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha, and Tantra Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer finally converge into a unified force directed towards the final stage, piercing the pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the Absolute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Yoga Nidra Meditation CD by Swami Jnaneshvara
Yoga Nidra CD
Swami Jnaneshvara