PYS II.15 — A spiritual limbo
परिणामतापसंस्कारदुःखैर्गुणवृत्तिविरोधाच्च दुःखमेव सर्वं विवेकिनः॥१५॥
Pariṇāma tāpa saṁskāra duḥkhair guṇa vṛtti virodhāc ca duḥkham eva sarvaṁ vivekinaḥ.
(To one of discrimination, everything is painful indeed, due to its consequences: the anxiety and fear over losing what is gained; the resulting impressions left in the mind to create renewed cravings; and the constant conflict among the three guṇas, which control the mind.)
At first, the 15th sutra of Sādhana Pāda seems to bring about some confusion. How could the spiritual practitioner who begins to discriminate illusion from the truth regard everything as painful? Shouldn’t they be immune to the highs and lows of everyday life? What Patanjali describes here is what I would call ‘a spiritual limbo’. It is an intermediate state in which a spiritual person could get easily stuck, by looking at the world around them and seeing nothing but pain and suffering.
Once we set foot on the spiritual path, we enter unknown territory. In the beginning, after gaining some momentum with the practice, we start to catch glimpses of the inner calmness, love and richness that we inherently possess. The perspective glasses that we put on upon waking up in the morning and take off by closing our eyes in the evening become rose-coloured. The world is suddenly full of rainbows and spiritual practice is commonly then approached with the goal of feeling joyous, happy, and full of love and life after the practice. Rather than be in the moment and welcome the plethora of feelings and sensations we might feel, we have the goal in mind. In other words, the ego enters the conversation and wants to live off the spiritual dopamine.
However, as our practice progresses we realize that we cannot always achieve this egoistic goal. Frustration comes. We start to become aware of our messy and chaotic thought patterns. But, now we are not on autopilot anymore. We are increasing the awareness of our body sensations, emotions, thoughts, and other sensations — which could be interpreted as pleasant, unpleasant, or simply neutral. With time and practice, a certain type of freedom arises and it is unlike any other. It is the freedom from the pushes and pulls of the mental chatter and external stimuli.
By becoming aware, we are slowly gaining control of life’s joystick. We know that we can choose our responses to the stimuli much better now and that life around us is one big game. And we are in the game as avatars. The more often we reside in the state of awareness, the more frequent we are in the position of a player behind the joystick — enjoying the game, not taking it too seriously, and having fun being able to play it.
However, as soon as we slip and start identifying with the avatar again, life becomes a hustle and not a game anymore. But now it feels more painful to unknowingly identify with the avatar, as we know how it is to be in the role of the player, in the state of awareness. This is why I call it ‘a spiritual limbo’, as we are transitioning back and forth between the avatar and the player.
Of course, certain traces of awareness remain while in the avatar mode, leading to cynicism towards others, whom we perceive as those that ‘do not see’, and to apathy towards the world around us, as we mostly see suffering around us and nothing could be done to change it as the society is blind and unaware of the bigger picture. This, indeed, can be painful. Moreover, we carry with us the awareness of the transience of, well, basically everything. Life will at some point end, relationships we have will pass, loved ones will be gone, and things will get worn out with time. The question pops up, ‘What is then the point in such life?’
One simple answer is that whether we perceive the world around us as positive or negative, in both cases we are right. It is our choice. It is not out of our control to choose how we operate our everyday lives — we are active, not passive participants. When we are in the avatar mode, we can use the insights that are with us, that do not leave us, but it is a practice of constant reminding until our mindful autopilot becomes our second nature. Transience can remind us to cherish and be grateful for every moment spent with our loved ones. To take care of our possessions and not discard them quickly and pollute the planet. Seeing the unawareness of other people about certain phenomena does not need to result in looking down upon them. Rather, it can bring about compassion as each one of us is at a different level of consciousness. Forgiveness should also become much easier as we do not take the words and actions of others personally. We knew that they acted at that point to the best of their abilities, intention and awareness of circumstances.
The easiest solution is to turn to cynicism and apathy. However, we are capable of so much more. We should honour the blessing that we are becoming more aware of our inner light, our inherent vast capacity to love and feel compassion for all sentient beings. We could shine and bring the extra sun rays to the world, even though we know everything is uncertain, unpredictable, and ephemeral. Especially because we know everything is uncertain, unpredictable, and ephemeral.