I remember my very first yoga experience, an Integral Yoga beginners hatha class I attended in the library of my high school. Each time we practice, the teacher had a reminder for us. Your true nature is peace, she would say.
Combined with the mellow and relaxing experience of yoga, that sounded right. Then, of course, I’d go back to my daily routine with its usual struggles and forget how to feel that peace.
Over the first years I practiced, I’d keep hearing (or reading) the same thing in class, on the tapes I listened to, and in books I read. To be a yogi means knowing your true nature is peace.
If Your True Nature is Peace, Why Do You Struggle?
As Patanjali begins to outline how to practice yoga in the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, he again reminds us that we’ve forgotten our true nature. In sutra 2:3, we learn the obstacles to samadhi (the return to our true nature, which is peace).
The five afflictions are ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and the desire to cling to life. (http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/yogasutr.htm)
From a yogic point of view, you cannot realize your true nature is peace until you stop experiencing yourself as a separate being. The first obstacle—ignorance—refers to ignorance of our true selves. Instead, we identify with the false self. This is egoism, the second obstacle.
Attachment and aversion, especially to physical life, are also obstacles to enlightenment. That’s why yogis practice non-attachment. We also try to avoid aversion to things we perceive of as “bad,” as this only causes pain and suffering.
The idea is simple but challenging. If we identify with our worldly accomplishments, the attention we get from others, or how many possessions we accumulate, we remain empty. Those things can be taken away, sometimes quite suddenly. If we avoid pain or view others as our enemies, labeling them as “bad,” we will suffer. The suffering is mostly in our own minds.
And while we want to be healthy because our physical bodies are the vehicles through which we experience spiritual growth in this lifetime, we know our physical lives will end. If we cling to this life—this finite body-mind, as Reverend Jaganath Carrera describes it—we forget our immortal nature. We become preoccupied with things that, in the end, don’t matter much.
Ignorance of our true nature is the main cause of suffering. In yoga, we call this ignorance avidya. Our knowledge of our true selves can remain dormant for our entire lifetime if we don’t actively seek to unveil it. Even with years of practice, though, we’ll find times in which we fall back into old patterns. We need to keep practicing, even when the practice seems futile. If we do so, we’ll be able to sustain peace for longer periods of time.
In the verses that follow, Patanjali helps us see how often we fall into the trap of ignorance. Next, he teaches us how a yoga lifestyle can help us break free from the trap.