I am a teacher, that is my Dharma.
Today, I was teaching Patañjali's Yoga Sutras for the Antwerp Yoga Teacher Training program, a program that I was a graduate of a few years ago. I have read the Sutras over the years, with varying levels of success and failures, tending towards the latter as they just didn't make that much sense. It felt like an obligation more than anything else. If I were to be an Instructor of Yoga, much less one who also teaches the philosophical and literary texts of Yoga, then of course, I needed to read the Sutras, right?
Not so clear.
The Sutras present numerous obstacles for a reader, both experienced and novice. For starters, as they are written as "sutras", the grammar is by and large absent, which in Sanskrit can leave a great deal of room for interpretation and a variety of translations styles. However, many of the translations I have come across do not remotely stick to the Sanskrit, but rather devolve into modern-day lip service for Western Yoga.
The Sutras were indeed written a long time ago (in a galaxy...no, not going there) by a man in India who had the luxury to spend the days meditating. Ultimately, that is the gist of the Sutras, meditation over a long period of time and regularly can set you free (moksha). But, to read them as such would be a grave mistake.
As we discovered today, the Yoga Sutras could have been written yesterday. They are highly pertinent once you get past the archaic translations and the bugaboo of the word "philosophy". They are simply put, good advice on life and how to live it. I will be devoting many posts to the breakdown of the Sutras in the near future, but I want to pause on what I consider to be the most important Sutra of them all, namely II.16.
Heyam duhkham anãgatam.
Three simple words.
Three words that are at the root of the human condition. Three words, that when taken to heart can change one's life. However, it is a hard lesson to learn.
In short, the translation is:
Suffering (that has yet to manifest) ought to be averted.
The suffering that has not yet happened is to be avoided.
When reading the Sutras, one realizes this is the crux of the entire text. Suffering (duhkham) that is caused by ignorance (avidyã) is our life's dis-ease. Suffering can lead to disease as well as the dis-ease of wondering what our purpose, our Dharma, in life is. Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing?
The Sutras are merely a road map for that journey. We begin now (atha) in order to find out what our true Self is, and its power (citi-shaktih). From beginning to end, the Sutras give us tools to address this suffering and ultimately how we can mitigate it within our lives.
Sounds easy enough, but it is a tall order, and even with the best tool kit in town, we can still fall, we can falter, and we can fail. And, we get back up again, and give it another go, equipped with the one thing that can help diminish the ravages of avidyã, awareness.