Sutra I.16 – Chapter I, Sutra 16

तत्परं पुरुषख्यातेर्गुणवैतृष्ण्यम्॥१६॥

tatparam purusakhyateh-guna-vaitrsnyam

Once an individual has mastered the balance between practice and detachment (tat param), leading to an experience of the true Self (purusakhyateh), then even the natural flow of nature (gunas) ceases to be a distraction (vaitrsnyam), where one is not influenced by things around him/her.

PRACTICAL LIVING    This sutra describes the result of cultivating continuous practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagya) (see Sutra I.12). Mastery in detachment (see Sutra I.15) leads us to have no thirst/desire in objects, thoughts or ideas. As seen in the previous sutra, with continuous effort we develop different levels of detachment. Ordinary or simple detachment is when the mind detaches from its everyday desires and enjoyment. For example, I have recently stopped eating desserts. My mind will often crave the dessert that everyone else is enjoying, but having control, I say “No” and the desire stays away. In this level of non-attachment we may be free from new things coming in to tempt us. But the next levels call for becoming aware of the impressions (samskaras) that our mind has had for a lifetime. The memory of having experienced something will still be there. We may have stopped a behavior, but the impressions (linked to memory) are still there. We can’t just go into the mind and erase those impressions.

According to Patanjali, the impressions get erased at some point. It occurs when we have an experience of peace and joy within, of our own true Self. The moment we understand our true Self, we find such peace and joy that we understand the difference between (i) the body, thought and emotions, and (ii) the true Self.

It is important to understand that this experience cannot be practiced, it is a result of action (abhyasa) and detachment/letting go/acceptance (vairagya). So let us practice self awareness and just observe what happens, seeing where life takes us 🙂

IN THE YOGA WORLD     This sutra mentions the gunas, which brings us back to Samkhya philosophy stating that we are made out of two things: (i) matter (prakrti), which is constantly changing, including our bodies, thoughts and emotions, and (ii) consciousness/true Self/ soul (purusa), which is eternal and unchanging, and is the source of inner joy and peace. Matter is described as having three fundamental qualities (gunas):

  • Sattva = quality of revelation, clarification, “that which sheds light”, luminosity, serenity
  • Rajas = quality of activation, transformation, agitation, passion, vibrance, restlessness
  • Tamas = quality of compression, density, stillness, inertia, dormancy

The aim of Yoga is to cultivate more and more sattva, where the mind is in a place of clarity, seeing things exactly how they are, uninfluenced by the colored lenses that we tend to have, distorting our perception. Sattva is the closest that matter can be to consciousness. It is only in this state of mind that we can experience the beauty of our soul. The ultimate experience is when one transcends the qualities of nature and perceives the soul. Luminosity in our minds is necessary for this to happen.

INSPIRATIONAL PERSON     T.K.V. Desikachar, son of T. Krishnamacharya, studied Yoga with his father for Sutra I.16-Desikachardecades to transmit these teachings to people all over the world. His father was a traditional Indian man, who never left India. Desikachar, on the other hand, spent much of his life traveling to different countries teaching Yoga in ways that other cultures could relate to. His dedication to Yoga has been outstanding. It is because of him that I was able to find Yoga in a form that I could relate to. He taught his son, who taught my teacher, who teaches me. I deeply appreciate the concept of a lineage, where every teacher continues to be a student. Desikachar, also known as “Sir”, is one of the most important links to Yoga taught in its deepest manner: teacher to student, individualized, based on the Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali and with the concept that “I cannot promise I will heal you, but I promise I will care”. Sir, thank you for your undivided dedication to transmitting these beautiful teachings!

Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!

Thanks and we will look at how the process in Yoga is gradual, it does not happen from one day to the next 🙂

35 thoughts on “Sutra I.16 – Chapter I, Sutra 16

  1. Love this! I am starting to experience detachment slowly but surely in my life. It is a liberating experience in comparison to an overly attached life living in anxiety. Once I detach from the areas of life I hold on to, I feel free from suffering. I’ve realized how such things as exercise and pleasing others are not what bring me joy in life. True joy truly comes from within and I’m so happy to be finding it through daily practice.

    • Yes Jess. I’m happy to hear your words. It is a daily and continuous practice. Like the following sutra says, it’s super hard at first, but gradually gets easier and easier until it is super joyful 🙂

  2. Hmmm. I honestly don’t think that I can truly understand this sutra until I am able to experience more detachment from the things that I am trying to detach from such as soda, eating out, and not eating as healthy as I should be. I feel like this one is basically talking about detaching from these things that cause “suffering” and then having the will power to continue this detachment. Lucia, correct me if I’m wrong about this. 🙂 Will power is definitely one of those things I’m working on…slowly but surely!

    • Hey Daniel. Detachment can be from object, like you mentioned. But it can also be from belief systems, old distorted values and emotions that we cling on to…it’s easier to see the external attachments we have…but the most profound changes happen when we detach from deeper things (destructive values)…will power (abhyasa or practice) has to be accompanied by detachment (letting go, creating space, acceptance of that which we have no control over…)

  3. I relate to this Sutra so much. I deal with the contrast struggle of detachment every day. Whether it be a small thing; like trying not to drink coffee in the morning so my energy level inst so drastic. I have been working on trying to remove the constant rajastic/ tamastic state of mind and focus more on the sattvic state of mind. I think I become attached to the highs and lows of my emotions and I find a constant struggle in finding a balance( Sattva) . I am slowly working on this and I have seen a small change in my way of thinking.

  4. Although I am positive that I have not reached the state described in this sutra in my personal journey yet, I think this sutra provides great inspiration, and motivation to continue to practice, detach, and consciously balance the two! What I think is great about the state that is described in this sutra is that we must constantly work towards it, and even if we do achieve this state where environment/matter does not distract us, it may not be sustained or eternal. This is a process of learning and re-learning, trial and error, of practicing and refining. It is endless, in the best way possible, and that is perhaps what I love most about the yogic journey. This sutra really reflects that aspect of the experience.

  5. I agree w/ Tina here haha…thou I too have not reached such a blissful state…it is in my personal practice. Everyday I try to do something I wouldnt normally do bc ‘I didnt have time’ or any other excuse I felt like using…and slowly its coming. I try to walk home, spend more time in nature, and just think before acting out. The results are sometimes the same but very often not…they have changed for the positive. I have no doubt Ill get there and help others on that journey as well. Its constant practice…in life and on the mat.

  6. Tina, you captured my feelings about this sutra perfectly – the process of learning, adjusting, and refining is a wonderful, ongoing process. Along with the process, the opportunities (and directions) for growth are endless!

  7. What struck me most in learning about this sutra is the very real fact that the samskaras we’ve created are alive in our memories, no matter how strongly detached or strongly self-controlled we become. However, what it takes is the very peaceful/ joyful experience of puruskhyateh to shake the samskaras that cause suffering for us. This makes so much sense to me! For example, there are days when I forgo my abhyasa of eating a healthy breakfast because there is a samskara living in my memory that says something unhealthy tastes delicious and I will enjoy it! Yet later, I begin to feel sick. But then I take a yoga class later that day and I may have a small “aha” moment of sattva, at which point I am reminded why my abhyasa is important!

  8. Good sutra to read today. Today, I had to really practice detachment and accepting that sometimes I can’t always have my lemon water in the morning and it’s not going to “kill me.” I had left my lemons at work on accident and today and tomorrow I’m not going into the office. So my morning routine of drinking lemon water before leaving the house before I have my first meal of the day was not going to happen. It gave me a little bit of anxiety and a moment where I said to myself should I go get some? I took a step back as said woah okay hold on here. It’s two days. It’s lemon water…it’s not that big of a deal…you’ll be fine without it. After I had that brief moment of uncomfortableness I let it go and it didn’t bother me anymore bc I can start drinking it again on Thurs morning. 🙂

  9. This sutra once again makes me think of my yoga practice through vipassana meditation. In vipassana we’re taught the teachings of this sutra, we practice awareness and detachment every second while we sit. We try to observe the samskaras (deeply engrained thought patterns of the mind) and we try to let go, whenever a samskara/egoic thought arises we observe it as “just another thought” and detach from it by continuing to focus on our breath and body awareness. In my experience this yogic and psychological process has been incredibly effective, when the right effort is given, and I have been able to cultivate much more self-awareness which has strengthened my willpower and my abhyasa. Though I do not practice as regularly as I would like, I’ve gained a lot of satva through my abhyasa and practice of vairagya and this has made me very committed to the yogic path.

  10. This sutra makes me think immediately of my brother. Over the weekend, my cousins and my brother and a few friends all went to a hookah bar. The bar was BYOB so we were all smoking hookah and drinking wine. I then remembered that my brother had given up alchohol for lent. He also never smokes anything, ever. His friends kept encouraging him to try the hookah or have a sip of wine but somehow he was able to resist and just sat, enjoying himself, drinking water. I felt as though he was very strong that night, everyone was joking with him calling him lame and he was completely fine. He was able to detach himself from the nice buzz he would feel or the idea that he would feel more “in” with the crowd. He was practicing his truth, something he really believes in at this time, and I admire him for that.

  11. It’s been a long-term habit of mine to go to Starbucks during down-time at work or use it as a place to go talk with friends. I started to notice how horrible the coffee drinks and desserts were for my diet, my wallet and my state-of-being. They made me feel ill, but everyday I would go back! I have recently been practicing detachment from Starbucks for these reasons. I still often get the urge to go. In these moments, I either get up to take a walk elsewhere or go to Starbucks with a friend but maybe get a tea instead. Detaching from the yummy treats at Starbucks is very hard, but not getting them helps me sustain more balance in my life. It’s not so rajastic from the caffeine and then tamastic from the heaviness I feel later. Drinking water or tea helps me feel a little more sattvic.

  12. There have been moments in my life where my continuous practice of detachment have brought utter joy from simply being in a state of happiness with my true self. I have experienced this moments, this time suspension bubbles, after my yoga practice but I have also experienced this while taking long walks around the city or in big, open spaces, like the country. My mind is detached from expectations or interruptions usually perceived by my senses but during this time I am usually just walking, no particular destination or specific purpose, just walking, a moving meditation.

    When we are in this moments, detached from our senses and misperception, we don’t need anything, our cravings go quiet, our mind is calm and at ease. It’s hard to imagine this state of being can be tapped into more frequently or at all times since this bubbles of calmness tend to come and go almost at their own will. With practice this state of being will no longer be so elusive and mysterious but instead something we can access at will, with concentration and meditation.

  13. I first want to comment on the quote by T.K.V. Desikachar “I cannot promise I will heal you, but I promise I will care”. I think this is an important idea to keep in mind as we all become yoga teachers. It resonates with me because I feel as though I am not sure if I CAN heal people with my yoga practice (and it might be because I am first starting out), but I can promise that I will care very, very much. Ok, I know that didn’t have anything to do with the above sutra, but it really spoke to me at this moment in my life.

    Anyways, I struggle with detachment on a daily basis. If I forget my sunglasses at home, I am upset. My deeply ingrained samskaras cause stress and agitation due to this attachment of material possessions. I would like to begin by practicing abhyasa and vairagya by giving up alcohol and processed foods for 30 days. This is something that I have been wanting to do for a while, but because of my samskaras of eating cheese, desserts, snacks, etc, I have not been able to let go of these foods or drinks. It will definitely take patience, perseverance and commitment, but I think this is something that is definitely achievable in 30 days. I do want to point out that this diet may not be sustainable after 30 days. Life is all about balance. It would be unrealistic and unsustainable for me to say that I was giving up desserts for the rest of my life. So I think we all have to live in a state of detached balance, if that makes sense. Balancing our rajas and our tamas to achieve more sattva in our lives – now doesn’t that just sound wonderful!

  14. I am again stuck with the concept of detachment, and this is preventing me from finding this sutra completely “appealing”. The idea of joy and peace within is appealing of course. Ultimately, this sutra recalls once again the concept of let go: can’t act toward obtaining that state of joy but it is a sort of positive “side effect”.

  15. These teachings come at such an important part in my life.

    I am currently on the long, slow road to building a public artistic identity for myself. For the longest time, I became overwhelmed at the industry itself and often panicked at my perceived inability to successfully master all of the moving parts that it takes to keep going. How does anyone have time for making art, supporting themselves through a secondary job, the social/networking aspect of the career, relationships, family, and just the day-to-day things that it takes to be an adult living out in the world?!

    I have been working at simultaneously practicing and detaching, and I have seen the slow and subtle changes in both my actions and my attitudes. I become more at peace with my own practice, and don’t worry as much as to how it measures up in someone else’s eyes.

    This weekend is a major art fair in Chicago, and because of timing with where I am in my art career, as well as conjunction with yoga teacher training and my wedding shower as well, I have to miss all of it. Part of me is not detached yet, and panics and not being within the right timeline for doing all the marketing/social stuff right…but another part of me that has been working on practice and detachment says “the events are not the obligations. the events and the networking and the social scene should be an ancillary part of your career that supports your work, not the other way around. there will always be events, and there will always be opportunities to jump into the stream. your timeline is your own, and that’s ok.”

  16. The more I feel I tell myself that I need to detach from something or someone, the more pressure I feel in doing so. I trust that if my purusa doesn’t sit well with it that I will detach from it naturally. Sometimes we need that extra push! Then is when I look even deeper inside than I have and follow what feels best

  17. “According to Patanjali, the impressions get erased at some point. It occurs when we have an experience of peace and joy within, of our own true Self.”

    This is such a powerful and true statement and yet I feel as if I am so far from finding my own “true Self.” I have trouble detaching from results and sustaining my focus on what is truly important to me. I find that I do run the “rat race” and miss some of the most important parts of my life because of it. This is a huge area of growth for me and one that I will, most likely, work towards for the rest of my life. That being said, I have a new sense of self-awareness that will hopefully guide me on this journey, and with practice, patience, and help from others I will be able to get to know my “true Self” a little better.

  18. Detachment occurs when we stop grasping for objects, concepts, or people. All of those elements can be wonderful influences in life- a card from a friend, religion, partners/friends/family. One message of detachment to me is that my own being is enough. It can be scary to think accept and love who you are outside of the context of friends, family, work, etc, but with a little uncovering, your purusa is a strong, strong light that doesn’t rely on anything else to shine. Others’ may compliment your inner glow, but your own light matters most.

  19. This sutra is very profound. My mother is a Buddhist, and i am mostly influenced from her teaching and way of thinking. I was taught to get rid of greed, violence and desires (even sex, yeah right 🙂 ). I think i might not have violence in me, but greed and desires are all over me, and i am practicing to detach those very slowly and surely (at least my mind tells me so). And i think with practicing and the right mindset, one can orient him/herself toward their path of freedom from attachments and enlightenment. We all have our great divine purusa inside us that will guide the way there. It might be a long and bumpy journey but if we stick with it, i think we can get there eventually.John Lennon’s song: ” Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say that i am a dreamer, but i am not the only one, I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” My purusa will shine right through yours and everyone’s and there will be no cloudy days.

  20. This sutra is a difficult one for me. I am a people pleaser who strives to be the best. I am working on detaching from my job and all the demands of caring for everyone’s well being. I am working to be sattva. The difficult part for me is detaching from people and not feeling guilty for saying no. My will power is weak. It is a on going process which I keep refining. I am making strides forward, one day at a time.

  21. I SO needed to hear this! About a year ago I experienced an awesome week long yoga retreat, while there was a blizzard of a week, freezing cold temps in Chicago, I was in Mexico, on the beach, sipping margs and eating guac till I was green! This experience allowed me to set goals, do yoga everyday and fill up my self-care cup. Although this was amazing, a year later I am seeking this experience in forms of normality. I loved hearing that these states of bliss are to be treasured for their own time and that a new experience is waiting for me again and to find the bliss in everyday. Thank you for this!

  22. “Sattva = quality of revelation, clarification, “that which sheds light”, luminosity, serenity
    Rajas = quality of activation, transformation, agitation, passion, vibrance, restlessness
    Tamas = quality of compression, density, stillness, inertia, dormancy”

    Before starting teacher training, I believe that my default mode (for the most part) was closer to tamas. There was a point last year that I wasn’t doing much but working, and when I came home from work I laid around and didn’t do much. After being enrolled in TT and learning all about yoga, I have found that it is much easier for me to reach a sattvic state when I observe my mind becoming rajasic or tamasic. Because I have learned of the gunas, I am much more aware then I’ve ever been about the state that my mind can be in. I have always been a pretty relaxed person, but I operated in a tamasic type of relaxation, rather than being sattvic. I can now distinguish between the two- and when I’m leaning towards tamas in times when I need more fire, I do my best to activate some fire inside to get me to a better state of equilibrium between the two- especially in my day-to-day job. And I’ve found that I get better results because I am aware.

  23. Hello yoginis. My quick take away from this is the idea of the lineage that you talked about with teachers Lucia. As a therapist I see many people with a family lineage of rajas( turbulence, trauma,and impulsiveness) or lineages of tamas (depression, sadness, unhappiness) in their family. Their family system reflects the continued dysfunction until one person in the family begins to seek sattva because they become aware they are not functioning well. This awareness comes from seeing a role model, teacher, who tells and shows the seeker that there is another way. The chaos that ensues when the one who is now becoming aware creates in the family system or lineage can be devastating and sad. At times there must be detachment in order to find stillness and calm. Support for the identified patient or change seeker is the teacher or role model who will guide them to a safe place. Being a teacher is an important job. Being a calm and sattvic teacher is imperative.

  24. “I cannot promise I will heal you, but I promise I will care.” Every teacher continues to be a student.” Wow! Just re-reading these quotes brings calmness and stillness. Also, I really need to practice being present in every minute and every part of my day. Detaching from the distractions that keep me from really enjoying everything and person in my day. Too many times I think to myself “what did I do today?” The good news is that because of my yoga practice, I now take time to notice that I need to that I am still a work in progress for myself and my friends and family

  25. At this point in my life i feel like i am attached to certain things, like the need to find our forever home and create that stability for my and my family’s life, and in a free fall with other things, struggling to attach. I try to remind myself of that saying, home is where your heart is, home is wherever your family is. We may not be where we want to be yet, but we are all still together and doing well. I need to detach from the concept of waiting until we are moved and settled to be comfortable and happy. I feel like i have been in a free fall with emotional eating off and on over the last 2 years, seeking comfort foods to make me feel better about what we are going through. I know i don’t feel my best when i don’t eat well, but in my mind i am attached to the idea that the sugar and chocolate will make everything better, if only for a short while. I need to detach from this thought process and attach to what i know to be true- when i eat better, i feel better. i am working toward the satvic balance in both of these things. I also love the idea that the teacher is always also a student. I can’t imagine getting to a point in my life where i ever want to stop learning, even after i am the teacher!

  26. I’ve been in the process of trying to let go of things. What things? Almost everything! My insecurities, my anger, my sadness, my feelings towards the world and environment I’m in. I constantly tell myself “If only this . . . then that”. If only I got a new job . . . If only I lost 5 pounds . . . If only I lived by myself . . . If only I made more money . . . I live in a world of ifs, but from my experience I know that even when those “ifs” come true I don’t necessarily feel better. Example: This past December, I went on my first vacation in 5 years. I was stressed, burnt out, tired, angry, sad, all the negative emotions you could possibly imagine. I thought if I go on vacation, then magically all my stress will disappear. I thought once I get back from vacation I’ll be 100% cured. Boy was I wrong! I found myself sad, angry, stressed and all those other things just thousands of miles away from home. I didn’t feel any different even though my environment did. Had I taken the time to release, let go, then maybe I would have felt different. Maybe if I had taken a daily practice of letting go, then I would have felt even better! That trip taught me a valuable lesson – you can’t melt away your problems. You have to work towards letting go – no matter what is around you.

  27. I am glad this sutra addresses the gunas because I feel that my attachment to certain habits is directly related to the tamas or rajas I might be consumed by on a given day. If I am caught up in lethargy and sadness from tamas, or anger and over-excitement from rajas, I over-identify with these feelings. Then, I make decisions based on those feelings, instead of based on my true nature. For instance, I might eat something for comfort or say something I don’t mean because I cannot fully detach from those naturally flowing states of life. In the last sutra, I saw how detachment from objects or achievements is valuable, however, in this sutra, I am understanding how much my emotions have a hold on me and how important it is for me to be mindful of these states as well.

  28. I like the dessert example. Desserts certainly leave an impression for me! And trying to cut back is always futile. I find it much more helpful to make a firm decision when I want to change my eating habits. I am so attached to my sweet tooth that if I just allow “a little”, it’s all over. The floodgates open and all hope is lost. The action is in making the decision. The commitment to eating healthier. By taking sweets off the table altogether, I find it so much easier to stay on track. When the commitment is made, the action is done. Sweets that used to be tempting lose their appeal. It really is amazing to notice the strength and confidence that come from detachment. I never thought of it that way, but I see how it can apply to disempowering thoughts too.

  29. I am so happy to be rereading the Sutras, I think I will do this continually as a part of my lifelong practice. I have been super busy lately and have not “had time” to read the Sutras. Today, I woke up soooo crabby and I will admit, resentful of others who seem to have a more leisurely life than I. There is a guy sawing through a cement sidewalk and the noise just adds to my irritability. I didn’t sleep well last night and am resentful of my partner who always has a good sleep… Argghhh!!! Poor me, right? I KNOW it is time to read the Sutras for today and do my daily practice and meditation. If I don’t, the awareness alone will keep me from lashing out to others. My mantra for today is to detach from the idea that others have it better than me, that idea is so unhelpful. The other part of that is to practice both the readings and reflection and my yoga practice and breathing. I feel better already, although drinking my cup of coffee while reading and breathing, well, that I don’t think I can give up just yet. It’s a nice combo.

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