Yoga Sutra of the month
APARIGRAHA STAIRYE JANMA KATHAMTA SAMBODHA
“When steadied in greedlessness (he secures) knowledge of the wherefore of (his) birth(s).”
(Translation by Georg Feuerstein)
This Sutra is probably a little confusing at first glance, but I’ve been pondering about the subject of greed quite a lot lately and after re-thinking this Sutra, i want to share my thoughts with you.
I feel very strongly that greed, is one of our most prominent and destructive affliction that has accumulated in our collective mind and is in this moment in history coming to a peak that may well be responsible for the destruction of the world.
Most of us would probably say that they are aware of this dilemma. And yet we proceed to destroy the planet, knowing that what we do has an impact. We proceed from one acquisition to the next, letting material possessions overrule all common sense or compassion, even love for our closest friends and family. Our desires for things have become so strong that we often cannot control them anymore, while our minds developed ingenious strategies to make us believe that what we do is justified.
Why are we so caught up in this web of greed?
According to Patanjali, greed is born of ignorance. In our ignorance, we cannot see who we truly are, so we cannot know what makes us happy, we are confused. In our confusion, like a blind person reaching for something to hold on to, we grasp at the next best explanation provided by our own Ego, the function of our mind that helps us to distinguish Me from You. And our Ego tells us the only thing it can tell us, the only thing it is programmed to look for – that we are separate from each other and to look out for what distinguishes us from others, how to compare and judge what makes us seem superior. This feeling of separation is, whether we are aware of it or not, naturally a scary one. Deep inside we all must feel lonely, an emptiness maybe that we can’t explain. And we look to fill this emptiness with things.
In our desperation we try to fill our void with an image of who we think we are.
We believe that we are what we can see on the outside – a man, woman, beautiful, ugly, tall, short, a teacher, a student. We identify with only external and fleeting attributes. Of course this leads to even more fear. If we think that we ARE something that is very short lived (like youth, beauty, strengths or our place in society), that by it’s very nature must change sooner or later into it’s opposite, we must, deep inside, be constantly worried about losing our identity. So we hold on to anything we can that may affirm this false identity in an attempt to make it last forever. We collect things, like pretty clothes, houses, cars, items that symbolise something we want. And because we think that we are separated from everyone else, we only (or firstly) look out for ourselves. And yes, for a short moment, after we acquired something we were longing for, we experience happiness. But what most of us are not aware of, at least not in these moments, is that the reason for this happiness has nothing to do with whatever it is we had acquired, but only with the temporary relief of wanting. For a short while, we experience no desire, and we equate the cause of this feeling of contentment and happiness with the thing we acquired, so we want more things. And so it continues. We confuse our wants with our needs a hundred times every day. We buy plastic even though we are aware of it’s detrimental consequence for nature, we eat meat even though we know how the animal industry works, all because we say to ourselves that we “need” this or that.
We have entered a cycle of addiction, following the same patterns as any alcohol or drug addict. We are under the spell of consumerism just like a heroin addict is under the spell of his or her daily high that fills the same void – that of lost connections to ourselves, we can only glimpse in the feeling of unconditional love.
Our greed overtakes our common sense and our mind helps to feed the addiction. The question is, how can we break out of it?
If we treat our everyday greed like any addiction, we may at first need a substitute for our drug of choice, something to wean us off and make the transition easier, like the Methadone for the heroin junkie. Instead of being addicted to buying pretty things or overeating, we may begin the sweet addiction to our daily yoga practice.
A daily dose of Asana practice, mixed with deep breathing and the stilling of the mind that comes with concentration, ending in the blissful cloud of Savasana, will make us feel so wonderful, like a natural “high”, that it can become an addiction in itself. But instead of lulling us with delusion, this kind of “drug” will be more like the famous “red pill” Morpheus offered Neo in the the movie “The Matrix”, in order to wake up from his state of dreaming and begin to see reality as it is. More and more, like this pill, our yoga practice will make us aware of the different aspects of life and of ourselves. And as we continue the practice, with growing awareness, our greed will diminish bit by bit. And just like the heroin addict who has been so consumed by the addiction that he or she was not able to maintain responsibility for everyday tasks and has been so distracted as to become blind toward his/her own senseless actions – once the addiction subsides, clarity and insight can set in again.
I don’t believe that most of us are very much different to any drug addict, only our problems are a little less immediate, sometimes more subtle and more widely accepted.
The more we can manage to rid ourselves of much of our greed and lose our desire to grasp at things that do not serve us on our journey, the clearer will our sight become towards the truth, enabling us to understand ourselves and the world around us far better and with much more compassion, so we can treat it with respect and responsibility.
Even after a relatively short time of sincere and regular Yoga practice, one can feel the fruit of this kind of development.
I imagine that after lifetimes of the practice of Aparigraha (Greedlessness), we may reach a state of completion, in that we are fully free of desire and have developed such a clear understanding of even the subtlest aspects of ourselves. We then may, as Patanjali hints at in this Sutra, become so subtly aware that we can remember our past lives and the karmic imprints (Samskaras) that have lead us to our current birth and lifetime. With this kind of understanding we may truly be able to free ourselves of the karmic bonds that keep us returning here again and again.
However at any stage of this journey, we gain more understanding, deeper insight and a increased happiness and feeling of compassion.
Maybe Greedlessness (Aparigraha) provides the key for us to live in peace and harmony with each other on this planet, so we can feel the connection that binds us all again and realise that we are not alone but that we are all part of the same divine consciousness, depending on each other and on nature, sharing the same worldly experience in all it’s glory.