Before we can transcend suffering and reach enlightenment, we need to understand why we suffer. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explains this in verses that describe the nature of the material universe. Specifically, he reveals the three aspects of human nature—called the three gunas—that govern our experience. By giving us this yogic look at nature, Patanjali helps us understand ourselves so we can move past the obstacles to enlightenment.
Why Take a Yogic Look at Nature?
We practice yoga so we can transcend those aspects of being that cause pain. To do this, we need to understand what it is we’re trying to move past. That is, we need to understand what makes humans tick.
You may remember from your school days that the universe consists of matter and energy. But that doesn’t explain everything, does it? At least it doesn’t explain everything about human nature. Most of us recognize something we call consciousness. A yogic look at nature defines the qualities that create matter, energy, and consciousness as the three gunas: tamas, rajas, and sattva.
Patanjali refers to human nature in sutra 2.18. The verse reads: The experienced world consists of the elements and the senses in play. It is of the nature of cognition, activity, and rest, and is for the purpose of experience and realization.
“Our lives are played out on the material stage of the universe,” says Reverend Jaganath Carrera in his book, Inside the Yoga Sutras. Have you ever wondered why? That is, why do we exist in the first place? Why do we come here to enact this play?
Life as Yogi: Liberation from Ego and Ignorance
For yogis, says Reverend Carrera, we do this to participate in the liberation of creation from the shackles of ego and ignorance. It’s not clear why we’re shackled to begin with, but we’re here, we’re human, and it helps to understand what that means. This is the reason a yogic look at nature—specifically, human nature—is important.
In Sutra 2.19, Patanjali says confusion about who we are is the cause of suffering. Specifically, we don’t distinguish the “seer” (consciousness) from the “seen” (our perception of ourselves as individuals).
In yoga, we learn to see that our specific nature is a manifestation of pure consciousness, which moves through four stages until we forget who we really are. The four stages are undifferentiated (pure), defined, nonspecific, and specific.
Rather than get caught up in what all of this means (if you really want to know, you can read more about it Reverend Jaganath Carrera’s book, Inside the Yoga Sutras), let’s focus on the point, summed up in sutra 2.20: The indweller is pure consciousness only, which though pure, sees through the mind and is identified by ego as being only the mind.
Our minds are the vehicle through which pure consciousness becomes manifest on this earth in this lifetime. Unfortunately, we forget there is more to who we are than the mind (and the ego) itself. We forget we are pure consciousness
And so, we need to keep practicing our yoga!