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Insights at the Edge
Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with leading spiritual teachers and luminaries.
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The Wisdom of the Yoga Sutras
Tami Simon speaks with Nicolai Bachman who has been studying and teaching Sanskrit, Ayurveda, and yoga-related topics for 15 years. He is the author of the Sounds True book The Language of Yoga and a new home study course The Yoga Sutras. In this episode, Nicolai introduces the Yoga Sutras written over 2,000 years ago by Patañjali and speaks about the essence of yoga and how to incorporate the messages of the Yoga Sutras into our life. (48 minutes)
Insights at the Edge: The Wisdom of the Yoga Sutras with Nicolai Bachman
Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge.
Today I speak with Nicolai Bachman. Nicolai has been studying and teaching Sanskrit, ayurveda, and yoga-related topics for 15 years. He is the author of the Sounds True book The Language of Yoga, which is a guide to asana names (asana are the names of various yoga postures), and the book also includes Sanskrit terms and chants. He is also the author of a new home study course The Yoga Sutras: An Essential Guide to the Heart of Yoga Philosophy, which includes more than seven hours of, recorded audio material, plus a very fat workbook, and even a card set on the Yoga Sutras.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, we are introduced to the Yoga Sutras written over 2,000 years ago by Patañjali and brought into this new home study course by Nicolai Bachman. We also speak, most importantly, about the essence of yoga and how to incorporate the messages of the Yoga Sutras into our life.
Here’s my conversation with Nicolai Bachman.
Tami Simon: As we begin our conversation about the Yoga Sutras, , Nicolai, I’m wondering if you would be willing to chant for us some kind of opening invocation that might be appropriate for a conversation about Patañjali and the Yoga Sutras.
Nicolai Bachman: Yes, there’s a verse that works. Let me chant it.
(Sanskrit chanting begins. The following is the English translation not spoken by Bachman in the podcast.):
“I am a deep bow with hands folded to Patañjali,
the most excellent of sages, who removed
impurity of consciousness through yoga,
impurity of speech through word (grammar), and
impurity of the body through medicine (Äyurveda).
In the form of a man up to the shoulders,
holding the conch (divine sound), discus (wheel of time)
and sword (discrimination),
I bow respectfully to Patañjali.”
So that’s a very common verse. I believe actually that’s used in the Iyengar tradition. And the verse is . . .the first part of that verse talks about the contributions that Patañjali made, not only to yoga through the Yoga Sutras, , but through a commentary on Ayurveda and a commentary on the Sanskrit grammar. So, he was known to be quite a scholar and a sage contributing to three major fields of Indian thought.
The second half of the verse talks about Patañjali being deified as an incarnation of Vishnu. And that verse is appropriate because it elevates him into a different kind of person, I guess—a highly respected scholar or sage. And it’s mainly talking about Patañjali holding a conch, which represents divine sound; and a discus, representing the cycles of birth and death; and a sword, representing keen discernment or discrimination. And so, it also said that he’s divine . . . sorry, he’s human up to the shoulders, which implies he’s not human above the shoulders, meaning his head. And his head, you could take that as being that he’s divine in his head or also that he’s the serpent—Vishnu’s thousand-headed serpent. That’s another way to take that.
TS: So, Patañjali is a historical person. I mean, I know sometimes we look back at texts that were written so long ago—and with Patañjali and the Yoga Sutras, we’re back to what date?
NB: Somewhere between 500 and 200 BC.
TS: And do we know that this was a singular person who wrote these sutras? You know, sometimes there’s questions or doubt that maybe it was a group of people or several different versions were created.
NB: Well, there are slight variations in the text, not big ones. And there is general agreement that it . . . he was one person and he wrote the whole text. There are some scholars [who] have some kind of argument saying, “Well, let’s see, part of this text isn’t his style and it might not be written by one person.” But there are very few. I think the general agreement is he definitely wrote the whole text. It’s very . . . I think it’s written actually in the same way throughout. And he’s basically . . . basically he was a compiler of yoga; a lot of people think he founded yoga. But in fact yoga was much, much older than Patañjali. He just had this brilliant way of explaining what occurs in one’s field of consciousness and what practices one can do to refine [oneself] ultimately to connect to [one’s] inner light of awareness.
TS: Um-hmm. Now you say he was a compiler. What do you mean by that term?
NB: He took the experience and the knowledge that he had learned and wrote it down. That’s different than creating something, you know, like creating the yoga philosophy as a brand-new philosophy. He didn’t do that; it was already there.
TS: Okay. And for people who are unfamiliar with the Yoga Sutras, can you give us the 411 here? Just orient us to what this text is.
NB: The Yoga Sutras, actually titled Patañjali Yoga Darshanam, is one of the six main philosophies of India, and you could make an argument that those six different philosophies are different angles on the same basic, core philosophy. So the Sutras are focused on the practice of yoga, so then the question is “OK, what is yoga?” And that’s what the Sutras really talk about. In a nutshell, some say Patañjali was the first psychologist. It’s a lot about behavioral psychology: “Here is your field of consciousness. Here are the components of it. There is the external world. There is your internal world. How do you interact with the external world? How do you maintain a healthy body, a healthy mind? Ultimately, how do you go about clearing out your own personal field of consciousness, clearing out the baggage and the filters and your opinions and things that aren’t helpful to you? How do you clear those out and clear the way for you to experience that light that’s inside of you, that’s shining there but can’t quite shine through into the world because of all this stuff that we’ve accumulated during this lifetime and—according to yoga—past lifetimes?”
TS: So the Yoga Sutras themselves are a collection of 195 different seed statements—is that correct?
NB: That’s right.
TS: So tell us a little bit what is meant by this idea of a “seed statement,” and why 195 of them?
NB: Um, 195, it’s not any particularly important number; it just happens that that’s the number he needed to express what he needed to say. A sutra is a particular kind of writing format in India, and it’s the format in which you express in the smallest possible space what you need to express. So they’re a lot like mathematical formulas in the form of language. In other words, let’s say you had a book that was written like this: “Yoga is this and this and this. By means of this, this. Because of this, this.” So it’s just very, very terse and concise, which requires commentary. And so over the years many, many different authors have written commentaries on the sutras so that, you know, people [who] don’t have as much experience can really understand what was going on.
The other function of a sutra—and the reason it’s called a seed—is when you’re a student and learning this philosophy, usually you memorize the sutras first: the sound of the sutras. And then you start to learn what they mean, and so the sutra serves as a mnemonic device to cause you to remember all that stuff that you were taught by your teacher. And so it allows you to have these tiny, little statements (some aren’t so tiny actually, but most of them are small) that you can just recite and then expound upon.
TS: So let’s just pretend I wanted to write a contemporary sutra about something just for the fun of it. What would be the parameters? I mean for example, if I were to write a haiku, I would be told there are a certain number of syllables in each line, etc. What about when composing a sutra?
NB: Well, the sutras actually are . . . there are certain parameters. And the main qualities of a sutra—and actually, this is in the book—are: It has to be very brief. Unambiguous. It has to be full of depth, which is why it’s called a seed—it has all this potential. It’s supposed to be broad or multifaceted. It’s supposed to be based on fact, not fiction, and have some integrity to it.
So, for instance, in Vedic mathematics there’s—they have sutras, by the way, in every field of Indian thought. One example in Vedic mathematics, a sutra might say something like this: “One more than the previous.” And that’s the whole sutra. So you just have to, with commentary, know how to apply that and what that means in Vedic mathematics.
TS: So the Yoga Sutras were originally composed in Sanskrit. And the student learned the Sanskrit, memorized all 195 sutras before they knew the meaning? Or as I’m memorizing it, I of course know the meaning because I speak Sanskrit? What was it like, back in . . .
NB: Well, I’m pretty sure what it was like, was you in fact did memorize at least many of the sutras. And of course the words, the vocabulary in the sutras, much of it would have been familiar to the student already if [he was] speaking in [his] native tongue, which might not have been Sanskrit. Because the sutras are linked together, you know—there’s the first one, and the second one, and the third one, and the fourth one; and they’re all dependent on each other in a way. So by memorizing the whole sequence, let’s say all of Chapter One, by having that completely integrated in your memory, then the teacher can start talking about what they mean and he can start referring to the sutras, and he doesn’t have to worry about somebody knowing what that sutra sounded like or the words in the sutra. Remember, there wasn’t really any paper way, way back then, so not a lot of writing was occurring. Most of the . . . traditionally in India the learning is oral.
TS: Here I am, a Westerner interested in yoga philosophy; maybe I’m a yoga practitioner. And I don’t know Sanskrit. How am I going to get the genuine meaning from the sutras, from the Yoga Sutras, from this study? And if I learn how to chant the sutras, will that really help me if I have no understanding of Sanskrit?
Well, first, it’s . . . I always recommend looking at several different translations of the sutras, because each interpreter will have [his] own angle on the sutras. So, you know, if you have a traditional Indian or swami translating the Sutras, [he’ll] interpret it this certain way. If you have a Western academic professor translating, you might have a certain interpretation that’s different. If you have a more new-age person working on the sutras, it might be different. Some people translate the sutras and they don’t even know the Sanskrit. They’re just relying on all the other translations; then you’ll get another angle on the sutras. So it’s important to have some reliable translations.
Now as far as learning Sanskrit, you don’t really have to learn Sanskrit to learn what yoga is. If you want to go really deeply into it and start coming up with your own translation, then you need to know a little bit of Sanskrit. But it’s not really necessary. Part of the reason I wrote the book the way I did was so people can focus on one concept, which is pretty much always in this book: one Sanskrit word. Each concept is one word. And just learn what that word means, and then eventually accumulate a small number of Sanskrit words in a little yogic vocabulary. And then when you can start to talk in terms of those Sanskrit words, then you can really have a legitimate and accurate discussion, because you’re using the actual Sanskrit terms in your conversation instead of the usually inaccurate English words that . . . you can’t really express some of these terms in one English word. You need a phrase or a paragraph or more to do it. So if you have to say, for instance, the chitta—that’s one example of a term—some people would just call that “the mind.” That’s just . . . you know, it doesn’t do it justice; there’s so much more to it. Many of the terms are like that: You need some explanation of what it is and even some experience as to what it is before you can really understand what that word is.
TS: So how would you define the Sanskrit word chitta?
NB: Well, a short phrase I use is “the heart-mind field of consciousness.” And that’s just . . . you know, I needed . . . sometimes you need a little, short phrase just to give somebody a sense. But there’s a whole section in the book that talks about chitta. And so, you almost need to understand what its components are, how it . . . what the mechanics inside the chitta are. And that’s a very important concept because it’s basically the mechanics of your psychology. What the chitta is composed of and how they all work together is very important to [understanding] this different worldview coming from India—it’s a different view of how one’s consciousness works.
TS: So if I’m understanding you correctly, part of your approach to helping contemporary people appreciate the meaning of the Yoga Sutras, is that you’ve selected key Sanskrit terms that you’re going to help me, the learner, understand so they become part of my working vocabulary. So then I can appreciate the subtleties and the nuances of the Yoga Sutras.> Is that correct?
NB: That’s exactly correct.
TS: OK. So besides chitta, if I just said, “OK, I want to just know the most important Sanskrit terms from the sutras,” what would be a few of the ones that you think, “These are really mission critical. If you don’t get these, you’re not going to understand the Yoga Sutras. You don’t have a hope”?
NB: There are so many, but I can say one would be definitely the word that’s typically translated as “suffering”—the word is dukha. So understanding what suffering is and what the different kinds are is very important because so many of the practices are there to reduce the suffering.
TS: So how do you define dukha ?
NB: So dukha, actually it’s . . . I usually define it as “suffering as opportunity.” So it’s not necessarily a bad thing, even though literally it means “bad space.” All that really means is there’s something in your chitta, your field of consciousness, that’s causing you some discomfort. Some people use the word “pain,” but then there’s an association with physical pain, and duḥkha is by far most of the time more like mental/emotional pain. And sometimes it’s not even obvious; it’s pain that’s kind of there and it comes up when certain situations arise.
So, and I’d like to go all the way to the word “discomfort” because that, to me that almost makes it a lot more practical: something that you’re not comfortable with. Like, let’s say you’re [in] a conversation and somebody says something that really makes you feel uncomfortable. According to the yoga philosophy, that’s something that you are supposed to look at in yourself as to why that made you feel uncomfortable. Because the idea is to try to be centered and try to be almost transparent in the world. Still functioning and still having opinions and everything like that, but as far as interacting with the world and with yourself, the idea is to be most of the time connected to this unchanging light of awareness within you. And just going through the motions of the world that you need to do because you have a body and you have a job and you have a family. But always keeping in mind that this light is the thing that really is where it’s at, and it’s in every single person; so seeing that light in other people as well, and treating other people as on the same level as you: no better or no worse. Because you share that inner light.
TS: Well, I asked you what would be the key terms in Sanskrit that I would need to understand, and you said, “Well, you know, there’s so many of them.” How many do I need to understand in order to have enough of a working vocabulary to really appreciate the meaning of the Yoga Sutras ?
NB: Well, that’s a hard question to answer because some of the terms are our practices, and some of the terms are kind of states. There aren’t that many, to be honest. I mean, if you think about how many words we have in our regular vocabulary, the book mentions 51, but I’d say even as few as probably, maybe, you know, 10 or 15 and you can get a pretty good grasp of the basics of what’s going on. And this includes the chittas I mentioned—heart-mind field of consciousness. I mentioned suffering, and then there’s a word call abhyasa, which usually means “practice.” And then there’s . . .
TS: Well, let’s pause on that. What is your definition of abhyasa?
NB: My definition of abhyasa is “diligent, focused practice.” And so abhyasa, is the term that really means your everyday focused, intentional…it doesn’t just mean your asana practice; it means your practice in life. So whatever you’re doing, you want to be practicing abhyasa and you keep it…whatever you…like let’s say you’re washing the dishes even—you want to focus on that and do a good job and be thorough. Non-traditionally of course, abhyasa means actually a meditation practice taken to the core of it. And so, it’s supposed to be practiced for a long time, uninterrupted, in the service of truth, etcetera, etcetera.
And it has key ingredients to it. It, like, for instance…abhyasa, by having a practice, it will allow you to be more discerning in everyday life. It will also, which is the term uvega, there’s also . . . it also leads to . . . with this other term called vairagya, which is “non-involvement with external objects.” So by focusing, you’re less likely to attach to all the other external stimuli around you.
So some of the terms together, and it’s important to talk about a few of them and how they relate to each other. Of course, in the eight limbs of yoga, the yamas—the first five yamas; the social ethics—a little bit, it’s kind of close to some of the Christian Ten Commandments in a sense. But knowing those five is also very, very important in relation to how you interact with the world. And it’s the first of the eight limbs, so it’s arguably the most important, and oftentimes it’s not very emphasized in yogic circles.
TS: Mm-hmm. Now, Nicolai, we know here in the West that so many people are interested in yoga. They consider themselves yoga practitioners, and that might mean going to a yoga class once, twice, or three times a week. And then, “Oh, you know, I’m interested in yoga philosophy!” But the idea of actually going as deep as you’re going in terms of understanding the difference between the heart-mind field of consciousness and just “mind,” I mean—do I really need this level of rigor to appreciate yoga philosophy, in your view?
NB: It depends how deep you want to go. It’s there in the book if you want to go deep and deep; especially if you want to teach, I think it is important to understand it to that extent. As a student, just to understand basically what yoga is, the most important thing is to practice—learn some of the practices and practice these things. Because that’s . . . it’s a completely experiential path, you know, as opposed to actually Western philosophy. Because yoga isn’t necessarily even a philosophy. It’s kind of […] a philosophy and an ontology and a psychology. It’s kind of a blend. Because philosophy in the Western sense could just be reading all these books and just talking about everything without actually practicing anything. And yoga includes practices.
I think to gain a basic understanding of what yoga is—first knowing asanas is a very, very small piece. You really . . .
TS: The, the, you, the postures, you’re referring to?
NB: The postures, yeah. The postures are a very small piece.
TS: Like what percentage, when you say it’s a small piece?
NB: Let’s put it this way: Patañjali devotes three sutras to asanas out of 195. So maybe I’ll just leave it at that. [laughs]
It’s still important because it’s important to keep your body healthy, but yoga’s really more about the heart-mind than the body actually. So, you know, to understand . . . for instance to observe yourself, how you behave and who you really are and where you are at and where you really want to be . . . what direction do you want to be going? Where do you see yourself in a year or two years or five years, psychologically and emotionally?
And so to me, part of the real power of yoga as a—I’m going to use the word “philosophy”; and as a practice—is to literally change your psychology toward a happier, more content, and more connected person.
TS: What do the Yoga Sutras, say about how a person becomes happier? Is there a specific sutra that addresses that?
NB: There is one sutra that in the term santosha, which means “contentment” and “gratitude,” there is one . . . there’s a sutra there. It says, “Due to santosha, unexcelled happiness is gained.” And, of course in my opinion, happiness results from the gradual purification of the heart-mind field of consciousness, which comes from, for instance, truthfulness, nonviolence, caring for other people, not thinking you’re better than other people, not thinking you’re less than other people. And all the while, always observing yourself and seeing, “OK, what about me would I really like to change? What am I not very proud of? What situations arise where I get angry or I get afraid or I become something that I don’t really . . . when I don’t really like myself?” And then, “What caused that? How can I work through that with these tools that Patañjali gives?”
And one of the sets of three tools that are very important is actually the set called Kriya Yoga, which I’m not going to get into in detail. But it’s a very, very powerful set of three tools that you can use to basically change your psychology; convert your own state of mind into a more happy state.
TS: So there are 195 of these seed statements from Patañjali that make up the Yoga Sutras, Do you chant these on a regular basis?
NB: Yes, I do.
TS: And what do you find for you is the value in chanting all 195 seed statements, and how long does that take also? I’m curious.
NB: You could chant, depending on how fast you go . . . if I go fast I can do the whole text in about 20 minutes. It’s not a very long text actually, believe it or not. I mean, 195 sutras . . . think of 195 sentences. So it’s not really that long. For me, experiencing the sound of the original drives it into my bones. And for me—it might be a little different for me because I can understand some of the words as I’m chanting them, and so I can start to really integrate the meaning while I’m chanting. But just as a practice of chanting, before you even know the meaning there’s a certain rhythm to it; there’s a certain enjoyment that comes out of experiencing that sound.
TS: OK. Well, before we go any further, we’re not going to hear the full 195 sutras, but maybe just chant, like, the first three or four for us.
NB: Yeah, sure. I could . . . I want to chant the first 11?
NB: Because the first four would go really fast.
TS: OK, let’s hear the first 11.
NB: Alright, so this is Chapter One.
(Sanskrit chanting begins here. The following is the English translation.):
1. Here begins the instruction of yoga.
2. Yoga is the stilling (nirodha) of fluctuations (vŸtti-s) in the heart-mind (citta).
3. Then (in the state of yoga) the radiant seer (is seen clearly) resting in its own form.
4. Otherwise (not in yoga) we are identified with the fluctuations (vŸtti-s).
5. Fluctuations (vŸtti-s) are five-fold, (and can be) afflicting or non-afflicting.
6. They are correct evaluation, misperception, imagination, sleep, and the act of memory.
7. The correct ways to evaluate what we perceive are direct experience, inference, and reliable testimony.
8. Misperception is perceiving an object incorrectly, thinking it is something else.
9. Imagination is without an object, relying on knowledge from words or language.
10. Sleep is a tamasic mental activity supported by the absence of presented thoughts
11. The act of memory is the retention of an experienced object.
TS: Thank you.
TS: I have a question about the sound of the Sanskrit language. I’ve heard different people talk about it in these extremely reverential terms. You know, “Every syllable in Sanskrit, every word is the voice of creation itself.” You know, “the special language”—that just the sound of the language itself transforms you. And I have to say, it brings up a question in me of skepticism and how much is this just sort of something that’s been fed generation upon generation, or is it true?
NB: It’s hard to know if it’s true, but it is true that Sanskrit has been considered a very, very sacred language. And it is . . . if you understand the way the alphabet and then the language is created, it’s very conscious and very logical—very scientific almost. You know, designed specifically for the human palate and also designed from nature; so the sound of nature affected the way the alphabet was laid out. And of course the alphabet contained all the basic sound, and then the words are just combinations of those sounds.
So if you understand how Sanskrit works and how there’s the ba- . . . the alphabet. And then there are tiny, little single-syllable roots that have certain meanings. And then a whole bunch of words just sprout from that root: nouns, verbs, adjectives, everything. They’re all related. So all those words . . . many, many words can be all related based on this same root.
Is every single utterance a sacred thing? I don’t know. I think that might be taking it a little too far. I don’t really necessarily agree with that. Traditionally the syllables of the language, you know, those are actually to be meditated upon in some way, especially in the mantra. Let’s take “Om Namah Shivaya” for instance, which is a Hindu mantra to Shiva. Each syllable—there are actually songs written, and one song in particular is in reverence to each individual syllable of that mantra.
Whenever you hear anything related to Indian thought, there [are] always several different perspectives: There’s always the orthodox perspective. And then there’s the New Age perspective. And then there might be an academic perspective. Ultimately it depends on your own experience. If you don’t have experience that that’s the case, then for you it’s probably not true. But if somebody who’s really into, let’s say, chanting the mantra, and they experience the sacredness of each of those syllables, then it will have a benefit for them and it will be true for them.
TS: Can you help me appreciate a little bit more, Nicolai, the Sanskrit alphabet? And, you know, you briefly touched on it: that some of the alphabet has been created because of the influence of nature sounds. And I’m curious about that—why you think the alphabet is so perfectly and naturally created.
NB: Well, the language is based on five different mouth positions. And I’m not going to go through all of them, but it starts in the back of the throat and goes through the lips. The vowels come first, and they’re considered the most subtle sounds, and they might correlate to energy. And then the consonants are below them; consonants are more dense sounds because the tongue contacts the palate. Whereas a vowel, your tongue doesn’t touch anything; it just shapes the sound. So consonants are matter; vowels are energy. And so that’s one way of seeing the alphabet as a . . . and then words and sentences would be an interaction between matter and energy.
Now the other way you can look at the alphabet—because it’s a very, very deep alphabet; I’m still learning about it; there’s so much behind it—you can literally lay the letters of the alphabet right on top of a chakra chart. And because the petals of each chakra are individual Sanskrit sounds—and if you add up the petals of the chakras, which number four in the root chakra and then six and then 10 and then 12 and then 16 as you go up the chakras—if you total up all the petals, you will have gone through the Sanskrit alphabet exactly once. And it starts . . . the lower, earth chakra, the first chakra, the most-dense chakra contains . . . the petal sounds are at the bottom of the alphabet. And then you go up in groups and it goes right up the alphabet until, in the throat chakra, you have all the vowels. And then you . . . the throat chakra is the space element. So the first five chakras represent the first five elements, and so that in a sense represents the manifest world. So you’ve completed the Sanskrit alphabet once, once you’ve gone up through the fifth chakra. So that’s another way of looking at the alphabet’s relationship to your own human body and the chakras.
Now as far as the individual sounds go, let’s pick a sound like ga. G-A. That ga sound, it naturally has an energetic of motion. And it even carries into our English language: “going.” In Sanskrit the root ga means “to go.” You have a suffix called ga, so you might have a word like bujaga. Buja means “an arm”; ga means “going.” Bujaga: “an arm that goes, a snake.” And so these meanings—and I’m just using ga as an example—they add this natural energetic. The sound and the meaning are directly connected.
TS: Is that not true in other languages? I’m starting to appreciate, as you’re speaking, the special, sacred nature of Sanskrit. What I’m curious about is, is it more sacred than any other language or is just language itself a sacred art form because we’re expressing energy in words?
NB: That’s a good question. I mean, who’s to say that any language is better or worse than any other language? Sanskrit is one of the core, original languages in the world, and there is an argument that says that it [all] began with the Sanskrit, this very pure language. And then all the languages that developed from Sanskrit got changed and diluted over time—as migrations happened and everything, language just changed over thousands of years. Now we have languages like English, which to me are really not very great languages. I mean, they’re so difficult to learn; there are so many exceptions and so many silent letters, and it’s not regular and it’s not really focused on the sound. And when you learn the alphabet, at least the way I learned it, there wasn’t really a whole lot behind it: it was just the sound of the letter, and that was it. There wasn’t any relationship with the human body or what that sound really means. Whereas in Sanskrit there is . . . you know, that’s been written about and there is said to be a relationship there.
TS: So, thank you, Nicolai, for my “Appreciating the Depth of Sanskrit 101”—grateful for that. To conclude, I just have a couple final questions for you. Here’s one: What is the hardest sutra for you to live by and why?
NB: Good question, Tami. I would say . . . to pick a sutra or can I pick a concept?
TS: Concept’s fine.
NB: OK. I would say the most difficult one is called Chitta Prasadana, the clarification of the heart-mind. It’s also the most important one. I mean, it could be considered the most important one—that’s the core of the whole philosophy: clearing out and purifying the heart-mind. And so, that’s an ongoing process, and every moment we have to . . . we are supposed to step back and observe ourselves and see how we’re doing, checking in on a regular basis and trying to keep things clear. Maintain clarity in our relationships and also within our own thoughts. And, living in a Western society, with so many things to do and so many distractions, it’s hard to keep that going.
TS: And what do the Yoga Sutras teach in terms of how you should approach that clarification of the heart-mind? What do they recommend?
NB: Well, one thing is to practice the eight limbs: that’s one way of clarifying the heart-mind. Kriya Yoga, which is part of the eight limbs—basically those components that I didn’t actually mention earlier, but [they’d be] self-observation and implementing a change and having faith that it will happen. That process of change, the ability to say, “OK. I really do want to change,” has a very powerful effect in clearing the heart-mind. Also, chanting Om; that’s another method that’s said to help with the clarification of the heart-mind. Or probably a mantra too. Anything that serves to focus your mind really contributes to the purification of the heart-mind field of consciousness.
TS: Um-hmm. And then finally, Nicolai, tell us a little bit about the home study course that you’ve put together on the Yoga Sutras . How you put it together, the way that you did, and why, and what you recommend for the person who wants to study and learn the Yoga Sutras, ,and how this is a tool for that.
NB: My approach to this text was different than other translations. Most of the books on the sutras are translations that start with Chapter One, and One, Two, Three, Four; just go in a linear order right through the text. Of course India’s a very circular place; Indian thought doesn’t always go in one direction. And I found through my teaching and through talking to people about yoga that people were using these English words that I didn’t even know what they meant when they said, for instance, “mind” or they said “intellect” or they said “truth.” I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant. The reason I chose this approach was to build up a vocabulary of very important words related directly to the philosophy of yoga and its practice. And so my commentary is on the Sanskrit concept or term—it’s not on the sutra, even though I give a full translation in the back, but I don’t give a commentary. I give a translation of the sutra and a word-by-word breakdown so people can reference that if they need to see what’s in the sutra. But the core of the book is commentary on each of these concepts, and each concept also has a card to meditate or contemplate on: one card per concept. And then each concept also has a track and a CD where I talk about that concept further.
And so, the idea as a student or teacher, to really learn the concept: They have a card. They have a commentary in the book, which includes all the sutras that are related to that concept. And a way of hearing what the concept is about directly from me via audio, which is a more live form of transmission than reading. And so with all these tools, I feel like understanding these concepts will really allow someone to get what yoga really is at its core. And hopefully to implement some of these practices into their lives and experience these things. And that’s ultimately where things are really understood, when they’re put into practice and experienced.
TS: Very good. I’ve been speaking with Nicolai Bachman, who has created a new home study course on the Yoga Sutras, an essential guide to the heart of yoga philosophy. A home study course that includes seven CDs, 51 cards, and a big, fat, 336-page workbook all helping the serious student of yoga understand 51 key Sanskrit concepts that underlie the Yoga Sutras, of Patañjali.
Nicolai, thank you so much for sharing a bit of your love of the Yoga Sutras, with us.
NB: Thank you so much, Tami.
TS: Thanks, everyone, for listening. SoundsTrue.com: Many voices, one journey.