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1.30 The Challenge

Updated: Sep 5, 2021


Vyahdi-styana-samshaya-pramada-aalasya-avirati-bhrantidarshan-alabdhbhumikatva-anavsthitatvani chitta-vikshepaha-te-antarayaha.



Vya̅dhistya̅nasaṁśayaprama̅da̅lasya̅viratibhra̅ntidarśana̅labdhabhu̅mikatva̅navasthitatva̅ni cittavikṣepa̅ste’ntara̅ya̅ḥ ||1.30||

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali | Chapter 1 - Samadhi Pada | Verse 30 | Commentary

A wise man once said, “The first step to solve a problem is to accept there is a problem”. The path to success is not without its fair share of impediments. In the spiritual path of Yoga, all the hindrances are internal – no one can be blamed, but also that means they all can be taken care of by oneself if one is courageous enough to take responsibility. Maharishi Patanjali talked about the removal of obstacles by the Japa of Aum. In this sutra, he gives all the obstacles that may block someone from achieving growth on the path.

1. Vyadhi – disease of the body.

2. Styana – disease of the mind.

3. Samshaya – doubt: Doubt is of 3 types

i. Doubt on the Self – A lot of people feel depreciating oneself is a virtuous quality. There is a difference being modest and considering oneself worthless. Such people underestimate themselves at every stage, get comfortable with failure and consequently misery and resentment. Success of any venture takes responsibility. The Sadhakas tend to undermine their worth – they would have doubts over whether they are even worth the knowledge they have received, or if a “sinful” person like them would ever deserve Liberation. This doubt brings lack of effort because effort seems fruitless and when the lack of effort does cause failure, it only strengthens the doubt that actually resulted in it. Around the world, many so-called spiritual groups teach their followers that they are like insects for God, that they are weak and insignificant. A human being is not weak. Every person is going through so much at any time, things that should overwhelm a person and yet people keep on going, holding things together. One can find countless stories of the strength of the human spirit and intellect. One should feel inspired and remember one has the potential to do anything one sets mind to.

ii. Doubt on the Master – the disciple doubts the Guru or may even wonder if he is the correct person to be a Guru. In the current age where there have been so many incidents of people exploiting the faith of people for their personal pleasures and goals, a lot of people are revulsed by the idea of a spiritual Guru. As one poor relationship does not mean all subsequent relationships will be of the same nature, one must be cautious as well as brave to find our Master.

iii. Doubt on the Technique - Other problem is the availability of information – one can find out information about different saints easily and the different techniques they are offering, and if the faith is not strong, or in case of a wandering mind, some people embark on a journey of a spiritual window shopping – they go to different places, and try to see what is being offered without taking anything with humility and gratitude. I do not imply that one should not explore, but after exploring, one should settle on the experience which was transformative and practice it with reverence for a long time.

4. Pramada – Carelessness. This obstacle is the most commonly observed obstacle by people in others. To observe it in oneself, a degree of self-awareness is required. Non-smokers wonder why people smoke even when the cigarette pack itself says smoking causes cancer. Doctors are one of the highest spending groups on liquor. Households are filled with diabetic people who won’t give up sweets. And Pramada is not just doing what one ought not do, it is also not-doing what one ought to do. A student not studying even as exams approach is in Pramada. He knows he must study diligently to give the exams properly, yet wastes his time carelessly. Procrastination falls under Pramada. Pramada can be understood as not taking responsibility for one’s life – responsibility gives us choice in every situation, and carelessness takes away the choice.

5. Alasya – Lethargy/Laziness.

6. Avirati – Overindulgence in Senses. The mind is looking for the infinite, and the senses have a limited capacity of deriving pleasure from sensory objects. But if someone has no higher goal in life other than enjoying the sensory pleasures, it slowly erodes the intellect, motivation and desire for something higher and brings dullness and inertia. Maharishi Patanjali is not against sensory enjoyment, but against becoming obsessed with it. Thinking about watching a movie all the time (even after you have just finished one), or thinking about eating something to stimulate the taste buds 24/7, etc. does not give the mind opportunity to internalize or focus on things beyond the senses. The senses are always directed outwards, but creativity and innovation can be nurtured by spending time with oneself in silence. Avirati ends in loss of the ability to enjoy even the sensory objects for there is a limit.

7. BhrantiDarshana – Delusion. Getting stuck in fantasies of achieving supernatural abilities (siddhis) by doing practices, and developing unfounded fears and phobias to protect oneself is BhrantiDarshana.

8. Alabdhabhumikatva – inability to achieve any kind of success in Sadhana. This can damage the faith of the practitioner and breed doubt and dullness.

9. Anavastitatva – being unable to maintain success of Sadhana.

Once the obstacles are observed and accepted, only then one can start working on overcoming them. A new method that I have learnt recently is to refer to my ‘problems’ as ‘challenges’.

A mind is always ready to accept a challenge, but it shirks away from a problem. This simple change helps take control of the mindset.

You may argue that some of the challenges you face are not covered in these nine obstacles. The answer to all problems has been given already in the earlier sutras. Discipline in life, honoring the practices, and shouldering all the responsibilities without any complaints is the key to success on the spiritual as well as material path.

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