Life and Existence
It is interesting to notice that the teachings of ancient sages are still valid in modern times. It’s probably because we are walking the same path that takes us from our human level to a higher level of spiritual realisation.
Patanjali is one of those sages. He is one of the first to talk about yoga and collected his lectures in the book “Yoga Sutra“. In the second chapter of his book (Sadhana Pada), he describes the afflictions that disturb our awareness.
According to him, ignorance is at the base of our afflictions, because it continuously misguides us towards false ideas. He also suggests that searching pleasure and aversion towards sufferance make our body needs more relevant than our spiritual aims.
But, among the other, I had found difficult understanding the concept of “attachment to life” that, according to Patanjali, not even the sage is capable to avoid.
At first I thought that “attachment to life” meant attachment to our being alive (or fear of dying), but I was not quite satisfied by this idea. Recently, thanks to my learning of Sahaja Yoga and experience of it, I had an intuition indicating me a subtler understanding of this question.
The point is that since our birth we start knowing the world through our senses. Whatever we learn through our experience, becomes part of us or even better we can say that it becomes us. We are identified with our life: what we have done, what we have learned, what we do and will do. That is actually the way our superego and our ego are built: our memories and our ambitions.
Therefore, because what our mind recognised is what we know with our senses, that is what we call life; on the contrary we do not generally have any idea of what being the spirit is. The existence of our spirit is more like an idea rather than a true experience.
Well, at that point, I felt that there was a missing link. Let’s see what Patanjali wrote: “The experiences accumulated in the past lives and that take their origin from afflictions will be re-lived in the present life and in the future ones. As long as the roots of the actions linger on, the cycle of rebirths will not have end and the experiences will repeat in the course of life“.
Practically we believe that our existence spans from the birth to the death of this one life, but we are not aware of the wider picture. This life is just a chapter of a bigger book that is our existence: a cycle of births and re-births of which we do not have memory, but that certainly have an impact on our current life.
We are trapped in net of this life experiences that are somehow influenced by those of our previous lives. And that is what we call life. That is what we are attached to.
Beyond the infrastructure that has been built by our experiences, there is our pure essence, what we call spirit. Our spirit is in a state of witness: It observes our thoughts and doings and can occasionally intervene; but we cannot recognise it because our mind, our ideas about ourselves prevail. They cover our conscience like a veil that we cannot remove because we do not actually know of its existence. We do not know how to recognise our spirit.
So, what to do? How to get rid of this attachment to life, a life that is in fact a projection of our mind, and let our spirit come to light?
So the aim of yoga is to deliver us from those clouds that cover true being; to get rid of those afflictions that continuously retain our attention in their net and made us slave of our mind.
Excerpts from the chapter Sadhana Pada:
1. The yoga of action is formed by the self-discipline,
by the seeking of our self and by the abandonment to God.
2. The practise of yoga alleviate the unhappiness and
bring us to samadhi (state of complete realization).
3. The afflictions that disturb the balance of the conscience are five:
the ignorance, the egocentricity, the attachment to pleasure,
the aversion towards sufferance and the attachment to life.
4. The ignorance is the source of every sorrow and unhappiness and
can exist in latent form, in attenuate form, in wobbling form or in its whole form.
5. The ignorance consists in confusing what is permanent with what is transitory,
what is pure with what is impure; the joy with the pain and the self with what is not the self.
6. The egocentricity consists in identifying the observer with the observed object.
7. The desire and the attachment derive from the search pleasure.
8. The unhappiness and the pain lead to an attitude of refuse.
9 .The subtlest of the afflictions is the attachment to life: even the sage is touched by it.