Raga, attachment, and dvesha, aversion, both function to satisfy and perpetuate the existence of the ahamkara (I-Maker), whose main function is asmita, or egotism. In reverse we see that the ahamkara uses attachment and aversion to keep us stuck in the grooves of our latent impressions, or samskaras. Basically, asmita/ahamkara is afraid of dying. We’re afraid of dying little psychological deaths because we don’t know who we really are. This fear loops us back around to the beginning of the affliction, klesha, cycle to avidya, or ignorance.
I recently got out of a two and a half year relationship that was pretty much founded in this cycle of affliction. However, being a “single” person now, what was and is going on is much clearer to me. In the past couple of weeks I’ve been asked out by a couple of people. The ahamkara, of course, is very happy about this because being asked out means my self “image” is surviving. The dialogue in my head goes something like, “I’m still young and attractive, and people still like me.” But is that who I really am? Young, attractive, and likeable? Ten years from now I won’t be young and attractive, and I might not even be likeable, but chances are I’ll still be alive. That means that who I am is much deeper than what I look like and what people think of me.
In having to interact as an unattached person, there’s a karmic pattern of trying to stay attached to not just people, but also ways of being. I’ve likened this process of “staying attached” to putting on layers of clothing. This could manifest as makeup, botox, intelligence, wealth or health. Whatever it is, we’re all playing a game of dress up. “See how beautiful I am, or how rich I am, or smart I am?” The problem comes when we start longing for real intimacy with not just others but ourselves. We can look at this metaphorically. Becoming intimate with ourselves is similar to engaging in physical intimacy with a partner—at a certain point, the clothes come off.
This is where the fear comes in. Not knowing who we are, we can’t seem to meet ourselves at this base level of awareness. Unable to meet ourselves in this way, we aren’t able to meet others in this way. We see this happening all around us. One outfit meets another outfit, and for a while they compliment one another. At a certain point, someone takes their clothes off, and things start to get really uncomfortable.
Perhaps one of the purposes of the sutras is to get us deep inside ourselves so that we can start to become intimate with who we really are underneath the layers, the our mental vascillations, citta vritti, and all those samskaras. Practice, then should be done with the intention of learning how to watch when those latent impression rise up and fight for survival.
For many years asanas were just another layer of clothing. Eventually, with the right teachers and the right sangha I’ve been able to see underneath the appearance of the body. Now practice is all about getting into those samskaras. Sitting in the middle of a real practice has familiarized me with what it means to truly engage in tapas, or austerity.
The first line of the second book of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is tapah-svadhayesvara-pranidhani kriya yoga, or Kriya yoga (the yoga of action), consists of self-discipline, self-study and surrender to the Lord. Patanjali is introducing us to what it means to really practice.
Tapah: According to Edwin Bryant, tapas is defined as “The next niyama, austerity, tapas, if the ability to tolerate hunger and thirst as well as all the dualities of life (hot and cold, etc.), to avoid useless talk, and to perform fasts. Harihariananda says that yoga requires one to tolerate sufferings of the body, endure hardships, and remain undisturbed by the lack of physical comfort.” This happens somewhere between raga and dvesha – this is where you cook. Practicing asana does not automatically mean that one will still the mind. Asana must not be an escape where one practices only the pleasant asanas, and avoids the difficult ones. This will create more neurosis in the long run.
Svadhyaya: meaning the recitation of OM, mantra, and japa. Or meaning study of scriptures.
Isvara Pranidhana: Surrender to the Lord. Isvara is the ONLY time Patanjali uses the word “Lord” in the sutras. It is the use of the words isvara and purusha which make the sutras inherently theistic. However, the usage of these words somehow makes the sutras stand apart from the rest of the Hindu pantheon. Hinduism is anthropomorphic to a certain extent, meaning that the gods and goddesses of their pantheon take on human form or have human characteristics, like eyes, arms, etc. Patanjali, however, departs from this by only talking about purusha and isvara. These two are not even transcendent (or apart from the human condition entirely). Rather, they are inherent to us. Understanding this, we see that patanjali is not referring to a transcendent or mythic deity. This can alter the way we think about the sutras and the way we think about our practice. The goal then might not be to “find God.” The goal might very well be to find out who we really are. With that said, the word that jumps out at me when looking at isvara pranidhana is pranidhana or “surrender.” How are we to surrender? Often practicing in this way feels like a fight. Patanjali’s instruction is to surrender the fight.
Where does tapas happen? Tapas exists when we start to burn away at the seeds of our samskara. How are samskaras perpetuated? They continue through the cycle of the afflictions or the kleshas. Therefore, tapas is happening right in the middle of this whole process in an attempt to break the cycle. In my own personal practice I feel tapas occurring between the opposite poles of raga and devsha, which are outcomes of the ahamkara’s struggle for survival. The cooking happens when we just sit and we don’t run this way looking for pleasure and run that way hiding from pain. We just sit (asana).
How do we surrender? Asking how to surrender is like asking how to fall asleep. There’s no real instruction. You just let go. However, it can seem like a total dichotomy—cook in the fire and let go all at the same time? The spiritual path has the same roadblocks as any other kind of path. We can still be ambitious and goal oriented. Patanjali is asking us to let go of the goal… just surrender it all up to isvara or to purusha, which is ultimately who we really are. In trying to overcome our attachments, aren’t we indulging them even more? Perhaps we are turning them into aversions. We all know what happens when someone fanatically turns over new leaf and becomes a vegetarian. They automatically become completely repulsed with anything having to do with meat and/or meat eaters. But rather than being compassionate, which was their intial “goal”, they’ve now become stuck in samskara all over again. We’re not trying to overcome who we are. We’re trying to realize who we are, and if we keep pushing ourselves away, we’ll never know who that person is.
Another instruction is to take care of yourself. That means take care of who you really are and do things to nurture that very real part of yourself. So often we take care of the images of ourselves that we are most attached to. I have found that for many years I took care of the smart version of myself, the married version of myself, and the part that wants to be attractive. Self-care from that perspective became vicious in that I would agonize over what graduate school to attend, or what my partner thought of me, or the little signs of aging I saw in the mirror. Drink less alcohol, not because it’s bad for you, but because you want to be really good to yourself. Sleep early because it feels good to wake up refreshed. Meditate, not because you have to, but because it’s a part of building a sweet intimacy with who you really are.
 Bryant, p. 253