The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a road map for the journey toward Self-realization. First, the sutras teach to tune in to the many ways in which our minds cloud our ability to see truth. Then Patanjali gives us an idea of how to get around the trap our minds create. The essential point is we are not our minds.
Reverend Jaganath Carrera explains that objects attract our attention, and when they do, our interpretation of what we observe depends on many factors. The object itself may go through many evolutions. We change too, so we may perceive something very differently at one time than we do at another.
An object is known or unknown depending on whether or not the mind gets colored by it. (sutra 4.17)
It’s difficult to understand that we are not our minds, because for most of our lives, the mind is what appears to drive us. Patanjali suggests there is something beyond the mind—it is called Purusha—that is not subject to the mind’s craziness.
We Are Not Our Minds, But Our Minds Are Known
The modifications of the mind-stuff are always known to the changeless Purusha, who is lord. (sutra 4.18)
Think of Purusha as truth. Purusha knows your mind and all its fluctuations but does not depend on your mind in any way. We are not our minds, but Purusha knows our minds. In fact, as we’ll see, the mind exists to serve Purusha.
Patanjali calls Purusha lord. You may call it God if you like, or you may have another name—or no name—for this higher reality. The point is to become aware of it, whatever you call it.
The mind-stuff is not self-luminous because it is an object of perception by the Purusha. (sutra 4.19)
The mind’s capacity for awareness, Patanjali tells us, reflects Purusha. In other words, it is part of a greater reality but not that reality itself in the same way that a wave is part of the ocean but the ocean.
We depend on our source. On our own, we are lost. We follow our thoughts in circles. Once we realize we are not our minds, we can find our way back to our source.
The Journey to Self-Realization
The next few sutras are complex “proofs” that we are not our minds. We know this, Patanjali says, because we cannot be both the subject that perceives and the object that is perceived. We cannot watch our minds as our minds watch us (or anything else). That would be confusing, Patanjali tells us!
Why then, do we seem to have an individual consciousness?
When the unchanging consciousness of the Purusha reflects on the mind-stuff, the function of cognition (buddhi) becomes possible. (sutra 4.22)
There is something greater than us. The good news is, we can reflect that greater reality when we know we are not our minds. The bad news is, we spend most of our lives forgetting who we are.
Keep Practicing Yoga!
At this point you may wonder what this has to do with your yoga mat and your yoga practice. Remember the physical postures and breathing exercises prepare your body for meditation. Meditation connects us with our true self. Keep practicing yoga!