Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: a lecture

I keep wondering what time it is, and then I look up and find a clock on the wall. Funny how you don’t notice what’s right in front of you until you need it.

To take people on retreat is to lead them to transformation. Katherine says they go through all five stages of mourning.

For so long, I anticipated and planned for this trip to India. It was an “other” place, a scary place, one I wasn’t sure I wanted to visit.

All the fears emanating from the distance, which creates unknowability.

Now, I am not “in India.” I am just here.

Here is where I am.

I look out the window and see trees and sky and birds and sun and sprinkles of rain and it doesn’t feel so “other.” It is imminently familiar. Known.

Muddy streets here. Muddy streets after a spring rain at home. Nothing to fear.

People like me. Who love and live and taste and cry and laugh.

A girl from China shared her umbrella with me as we walked into the yoga hall. I’ve never been to Hong Kong and she’s never been to Detroit but we spoke the same language and shared the umbrella.

The lecture began by the professor, Dr. TS Rukmani, saying, “We are all the same.”

Yoga, she said, has been in India “since time immemorial.” It was an oral tradition for many, many, many years, much like my beloved Judaism, until Patanjali decided to write it down. Well not just him, but the Vedas and the Upanishads. Those texts are the physical incarnation of the long-held oral tradition. Just like my Torah.

The Upanishad period transitioned from ritual and sacrifice (wow, just like my ancient tradition) to one that believed “it was more important to find out inner truth then go outward – meditation became most important. What is the nature of the ultimate reality?”

You can never define what truth is, she said. You and Brahim, or the Creator, or the Ultimate, one and the same.

Patanjali came along and carved out a practical path toward achieving this realization. The world is an appearance. It doesn’t have a tangible reality. You are not what you think you are. You are not body, mind, even soul. You are Atman, eternal.

Yoga teaches that the ultimate is Pure Consciousness.

Judaism teaches that the soul keeps coming back until it completes its work. Hinduism teaches that in accordance with the karma you earn in one life, you are incarnated in the next life in a particular form or level. You get what you deserve.

Much of the lecture consisted of questions from the audience. “There are certain cobwebs that have to be destroyed before you get the whole picture,” she explained.

The difference between Western thinking and Indian thinking: in India, the motive is to realize the ultimate nature of reality. In the West, the goal is to accumulate knowledge.

“There is no other reality,” she said. “You are the reality. There is good and bad karma. You can descend and ascend. Anything is possible.”

That seems to be the message of this trip, or at least one of them: anything is possible.

Everything is possible.

If you just believe.

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