In the Yoga Sutras, we are introduced to the ways in which the mind tries to interfere with our pursuit of enlightenment. After describing the five modifications of the mind, Patanjali offers a solution. How can we control the mind? By practicing non-attachment. And make no mistake; it’s a practice.
Non-Attachment is Not Human Nature
Humans are creatures of attachment by nature. We’re attached to our families, our friends, our careers, our hobbies, and our belongings. That’s not terrible, but we need to keep our desire for attachment in check if we want to transcend the suffering of life.
Non-attachment is a yogi’s goal. But it’s not easy to stay in that place. First, we should understand that non-attachment is not the same thing as detachment. We can care about things and take pride in our accomplishments as long as we also acknowledge that none of those things is us. We are not our relationships, our jobs, or our success. And we are not our failures either.
In fact, Patanjali suggests that our thoughts, behaviors, and actions are merely habits. Our habits become second nature. To put it another way, our nature as humans is habit. The good news is we can change our habits. We can change thoughts, actions, and perspective. But it takes practice—yoga—to move beyond human nature.
In verse 15 of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explains: That effect which comes to those who have given up their thirst after object, either seen or heard, and which wills to control the objects, is non-attachment.
Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva: The Three Aspects of Human Nature
We can only move toward non-attachment if we understand what we’re attached to in the first place. In other words, we must understand our human nature. In yogic terms, there are three aspects to human nature: tamas, rajas, and sattva. These are known as the three gunas.
Tamas is the darker part of human nature. It’s inertia and inactivity that tempts us to deny our spiritual nature. Instead, we cling to material things and creature comforts. We may be lazy, overindulge in food and drink, or live in fear instead of love.
Rajas is energy and action. While it’s the opposite of inertia, we can go too far in the direction of activity. This causes attachment. We may begin to care too much about the fruits of our labor or the what people think of us. We may distract ourselves with noise and busyness and find it hard to be still.
Sattva is a more harmonious state. It’s the stepping-stone to liberation, says yoga teacher Timothy Burgin. But all three states—tamas, rajas, and sattva—create attachment to ego
Beyond Human Nature
It’s by non-attachment, or moving past our human nature that we become enlightened. And that is the goal of yoga. Samadhi, or enlightenment, is yoga’s eighth limb. Through our dedicated yoga practice, we can gradually move toward this state of non-attachment and bliss.