Sutra I.19 – Chapter I, Sutra 19

भवप्रत्ययो विदेहप्रकृतिलयानाम्॥१९॥

bhava-pratyayah videha-prakrtilayanam

Some people are born (bhava) in the state of Yoga (pratyaya) and can reach deep states (videha).

PRACTICAL WORLD     The interpretations of this sutra in the lineage of TKV Desikachar summarize the teachings in two different messages:

1. Firstly, people are born with their own specific nature (svabhava). This makes us unique and different from anyone else. This means that I have strengths and weaknesses in combinations that others don’t. My path of growth is also unique. This thought requires acceptance. Acceptance that I will never be like someone else. I am me. I have my own blend of wonderfulness and comparing myself with others is rather useless since my complex genetic concoction (for lack of a better expression) only belongs to me. In the path of yoga, this means that there is room for growth, but how much growth happens in a period of time is dependent on that concoction: we are not starting from the same place. Some of us learn some things faster than others. Why did I quit medical school after the first semester? Partially because I could not learn/memorize the information as fast as most of the other students. It’s neither bad nor good, but just a reality that I was fortunately able to face at the end of semester (and boy was I relieved to leave!). Studies on identical and fraternal twins have shown that we have what Positive Psychology calls a happiness “set point”. Basically it says that 50% of our happiness is pre-determined at birth. This is often a difficult concept to accept. But Patanjali is telling us something similar as well. On the other hand, we have 40% to work with! Yay! That’s where all the tools that Patanjali offers us come into place (the other 10% of happiness is determined by our external circumstances).

Some people are born in a state where they seem to not suffer and see things clearly (saints, enlightened people). These people are rare and according to TKV Desikachar should not be emulated since they don’t have any problems and therefore they don’t suffer. These people: (a) often cannot give you practical advice, (b) they can become a drug to you (you experience temporary highs in their presence); (c) they can exploit you; and (d) they can confuse you. These people have not walked the path and therefore have typically little practical guidance to offer. It may feel wonderful to be in their presence, but when we are not, we go back to our suffering and stuck patterns.

2. Secondly, Patanjali warns us that we must remain alert, no matter how far we have gone in the journey. Some may succumb to worldy practices and lose their superior qualities. This warning can be applied for anything in life. Whenever we achieve something big, often we work less hard than before since we may think that we’ve reached a place where we don’t have to work so hard anymore. Patanjali warns us that this is dangerous. When the ego kicks in and makes us think we have reached a high state, we should be extra careful. Abhyasa (effort) and vairagya (letting go) are a continuous practice we need to maintain.

IN THE YOGA WORLD     The Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali have been interpreted by numerous traditions and individuals (see REFERENCES for the ones I have using in this blog). Since most of life is interpreted through our senses and experiences, it is not surprising that there are differences in these interpretations. Some texts define this sutra saying that some people are pure spirits (videha) or special envoys (prakrtilaya) responsible for helping others and showing them the way. Since my objective is to keep the blog as practical as possible, we will focus more on the definitions above.


Sutra I.19-Jerry

Jerry, my gringo father, is a magnificent human being. Like all of us, he had his challenges growing up. But there is something about the way he talks about his past that touches me. The reality seems a lot harsher than what he makes it seem. The youngest of four, he seems to have been born with an amazing capacity of detachment from drama. His stories are filled with love, joy and an excitement for life. My teacher, Robert Birnberg (see Sutra I.6) says that the hardest addiction to overcome is the addiction to drama. Well, for Jerry that does not seem to be the case. He is a lover of life, he enjoys being with different types of people and attracted to adventure. I am so grateful to have such a delightful gringo Dad! Thank you Jerry. Your presence makes me calmer, makes me smile and makes my gringo life happier :). Love you!

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 one of the key ingredients to trusting and loving life next week!

34 thoughts on “Sutra I.19 – Chapter I, Sutra 19

  1. Videhaprakrtilayanam…. Once I learnt that I should never expect from human beings what belongs to God´s domain (Universe, Great Order, or whatever “purusa visesa” you believe in). That made me assume some responsability… but it also made me disconnect from any possibility of considering myself a “victim”….

    • I like this idea of not becoming a “victim”. I connect it with a concept of gratitude for who I am and trusting (sraddha) that life brings me and gave me exactly what I need.

  2. I couldn,t agree with you more about your chooice this week. Are we noit all fortunate to be able to be a oart of his life. He enriches mine. Thank you for sharing him.

    • Oh Faith! His response to this post “I never thought of my early life as having challenges. What I thought I was doing was experiencing life.” just emphasizes my point for choosing him. We miss you guys!

  3. This sutra shares a fascinating look within ourselves. I understand why it would be hard for some to connect to the idea that we are born with a certain percentage of happiness. I think this is because our experiences are so powerful and we attach to their influence in our lives. I love the thought that we are so beautifully unique in this way and no one person is the same. I strongly believe our experiences… Good and bad… Are meant for us to grow and share with others. Not simply to bring us joy or suffering which I have learned comes from within. I feel I have had a unique journey as a birth mother facing infertility at this stage in life. As difficult as this experience is I trust that it is growing me to a more beautiful place so I can share with others. This life is beautiful.

  4. First of all, I would like to say that I would have loved to be born in the state of Yoga. I think its wonderful that that everyone is born with their own specific nature. This makes us so unique and when we form relationships with others , it creates a balance with each persons strengths and weaknesses. I can relate this to my fiance Joel. I think we balance each other out perfectly. This makes our relationship stronger and I learn so much about myself when Joel challenges me

  5. We definitely have our own specific nature. For me, I am a very analytical minded individual. I love reading about the yoga sutras, but when it comes to talking about my own life and relating to the sutras, I get very frustrated with myself. I’m definitely not a very good writer (in my opinion). That’s why I chose the sciences as a career choice 🙂 Basically, I’m saying that I’m way smarter when it comes to analytical types of things rather than creative/writing types of things. That’s just who I am, and I’m ok with that. I can relate pretty well to the second point as well when it comes to my asana practice. I love that sort of feeling that you get when you achieve something that you’ve been working on for months or years even, but I notice sometimes after I achieve a particular pose, i tend to focus more on another pose that I have been working on but haven’t yet achieved. I need to step back and keep working on that asana that took me so long to achieve and also work on that next asana.

  6. It’s amazing how much of a paradox our own unique nature can be! On the one hand, how cool is it that there is not one other person in the world exactly like me? So cool! Yet how frustrating is it that there are just some things I will never be as talented at? So frustrating! A personal way of being that I have recently started to practice in regards to embracing who I am is to accept the things about myself that I can’t change, but always work towards improvement in the things that I can change! Perhaps I’ll always be sensitive, and sentimental, even when others think its sappy. But I know that I won’t always be non-confrontational, or habitually late, because those are things I can impact. I think following that model will work wonders for that 50% of happiness that I have a say in! As I mentioned in my comment on sutra I.16, I love how Patanjali warns us to stay alert even when we think we’ve “mastered” something. Maybe the true meaning of “mastering” something, whether it be self-actualization, or a hobby, is accepting that the true “masters” are those who are always learning and changing.

  7. I love the idea of being the only ‘me’ 🙂 but I also enjoy the thought of us all being connected as one.

    • You mention a very important point Christina: that is the dualistic nature of Samkhya philosophy: we are unique (our bodies, thoughts and emotions are ours), but we also have a part that is the same for everyone, it’s unchanging, it’s eternal…

  8. I love the idea of not comparing oneself to others. I was just telling a friend yesterday to follow her own path and to not let her bar (success) be defined by someone else’s expectations. She was expressing doubts about leaving a career in business consulting for a freelance creative writing career and had commented how “far behind” she felt when looking at friends’ posts about their career successes. We are all different, and what’s “right” for one person can be vastly different for someone else.

    I also like the second point – I think it’s important to celebrate milestones and successes, but it’s also important to be aware of how you feel and continue on the journey.

  9. During TT, we have discussed a few times the idea of “beginning where you are.” I love this thought and this sutra reminds me of it. Loreta, a favorite yoga teacher, often reminds a class of yogis to look at each practice with a beginner’s mind. This resonates for me- each day, each moment I am different- because it is so important to do some svadhyaya and begin where each of us is individually. How amazing to think some people are born in enlightened states and that we are blessed to experience and learn from them, but this should not detract from our own self love and journey. We must serve ourselves first to serve one another!

  10. The idea that each person is born with their own specific nature is something I find to be very beautiful. There are so many people today who are trying to be like somebody else. I used to find myself out at parties with friends and they would be trying to get super drunk and stay out late and get burritos when all I really wanted to do was have a drink or two, and go home at a decent hour to read a good book. However, I would deter my instincts because I was trying to be more social and more exciting. But that was not who I was, and certainly isn’t who I am now. The fact that I have different ideas of fun than a lot of people doesn’t make me anti-social, it just makes me different. And nowadays, if I am not having fun or ready to leave, I really follow my gut feeling and have found that I have a lot less suffering this way. I think this sutra is a beautiful reminder that each person is unique and should be true to themselves regardless of whether others accept it.

  11. When I got my first job out of college, I made the mistake that Patanjali warns us about. I felt like my whole life had been dedicated to working towards getting a fantastic office job right out of college, and then once I got there I became complacent. I wouldn’t say I made any effort in my appearance, my diet, my relationships, keeping my apartment clean…I stopped trying. Eventually, it became bad enough that people noticed. This made it even worse. It was about the week after that I decided to sign up for teacher training. Teacher training gave me way more than just something new to work towards. It taught me happiness is in the journey; it’s not a race. I’m so relieved to be free of the “rat-racer” state of mind. I’m still alert and putting effort into my life (again thank god) but I’m not so attached to the results that I will shut down again if I get there.

  12. I agree with Jana and think the idea that each person is born with their own specific nature is a beautiful reminder. This passage makes me think of the book A New Earth by Eckart Tolle which focuses on human nature, identifying the ego, and finding our lives purpose (enlightenment). In the chapter about the ego it explains what every major religion tells us; as human beings we are born with suffering (Buddhism) / original sin (Christianity) / Maya (hinduism). In A New Earth (ANE) its says that human suffering originates from the thing we all have in common, ego. Like this sutra says, we are all born with our specific nature, ANE says that ego is the ‘structure’ we are all born with and what varies from person to person is the content of our egos. I think this is why some people seem to be ‘enlightened’ and some seem to be very ignorant, it’s not that some people are just better at life than others, it’s that they fill the ‘structure’ of their egos with positive content. I believe this is what Krishnamacharya was talking about when he said “Yoga is the process of replacing old patterns with new more appropriate patterns” – to me, yoga is observing ourselves, our suffering, our egos, and choosing better/healthier objects of focus no matter who we are or where we are in our lives.

  13. Enlighten beings, yogis, babas and the story of a boy I met in Nantucket (doesn’t it sound like the title of a super sweet book? Anyhow). During summer on my second year of college I decided I didn’t want to go back to the south (sorry parents, it wasn’t you, it was teenage angst and my overall dislike of the american south ) and instead tagged along with a couple of friends and headed to Nantucket for 2 weeks. I won’t bother you with the details of the trip instead I will zero in on my chance meeting of someone, I am convinced, is an enlighten being. While biking around some trails I noticed an anarcho-looking boy, a rare sight in ultra rich Nantucket, I was immediately intrigued by his clothes, his hair, his punk band patches on his backpack and overall “I am me” attitude. I kept on biking and soon after this experience faded until hours later at a local cafe destiny formally introduced me to this boy, Chris. We somehow started talking about politics, music, why tapes are better than MP3s and vinyl trumps everything. Suddenly, I noticed every time I mentioned I disliked something and although he didn’t disagree with my opinion he was somehow much more gentle and reserved about his opinions. I kept trying to crack the Chris code and after further investigation I realized he was a genuine, kind and beautiful soul. There was something different and almost magical about him and it wasn’t an act or someone trying to pretend they’re the ultimate nice guy, he just was. All my friends felt similarly about him and they all noticed a certain radiance, none of us could quite point what it was, it was just there.
    As much as he was an amazing human (I’m sure he still is) it was hard to learn how he managed to react a certain way or how to use whatever principles he was using in order to conduct himself the way he did. This reminded me of Pantanjali’s warning, someone might be enlighten and they might be incredibly magnetic and alluring but when you try to learn from them, it’s hard because they simply do not see the world as you do. They don’t have radical impulses or feel extreme anger, they are just consistently content. I have no idea what became of Chris, but I am glad I got to meet someone so centered and calm.

  14. Sometimes I can get down on myself and think…I don’t have any unique skills or interesting qualities that make me special. Oh how much I wish I could sing and be a broadway star?! Haha. But sometimes I do have moments when I think I am just ordinary, lacking anything unique that makes me stand out from the rest. This isn’t supposed to be a pitty party for me, but it honestly has come across my mind a few times. I do have to realize that I am special. I know that I have excellent problem solving skills and can pretty much figure anything out if I put my mind to it. I also know that I am very good with others. I am relatable, empathetic, and understanding. This is why I decided to pursue teaching yoga. It seemed to fit with the strengths of my character and was in line with what would make me happy. I hope to continue to learn what makes me, me, and digging into those unique qualities that make me the special person that I am today.

  15. The practice of asanas is for me a good example about the ability to provide and receive guidance: I could tell many poses and adjustments to compensate and relief for tight hamstrings—and oh boy have I wish not to have them so tight! On the other side of the spectrum I know nothing about painful wrists for example, never had than problem. This certainly will help me when teaching.
    On a different note, the idea than 40% of happiness is in my hand, and only 10% is on the environment is very empowering! ..and yet I find me reacting to accepting it.
    At the end, this isn’t the point, practice and let go of whatever % ! ☺

  16. The ratio of happiness seems to ring true with my personal experiences with people and myself. It’s nice to know that there is some evidence to support that thought, and awesome that it was written about so many years ago by Patanjali. Based on my experiences with this happiness ratio over the years I have been better able to deal with others and myself in a more compassionate and practical manner. There is one friend that I have in mind when I read about this sutra. I met her in high school and like for many it was a time in my life where I was looking inward and trying to figure out who I was and how I was going to interact with others. Her calmness and logical thought processes about life and how to deal with others I think helped keep me along the good path I was already on.

  17. While i agree with the concept that each of us is born with our own innate dispositions, some more “sattvic” than others, and i agree that we should be mindful of not being complacent in our accomplishments, i do think it is important to be careful about how we talk about value gained in “trying hard.” Success for some people looks different than for others, and effort looks and feels different as well. Some people who move quickly and with a lot of outward force can become impatient and judgemental with others who are not seemingly putting forth the same sort of active energy. One disposition or temperament does not hold a higher ground to the other, but if you put two people in a room who are at opposite ends of this spectrum, I suspect they will not get along too well! The important thing is to be aware of your own place, abilities and natural tendencies – and to be mindfully practicing that which you hold in high esteem. To have compassion and love for others who do not follow the same path as you, or may not even “need” to follow one, that is the goal.

  18. We’ve all met a person who seems to have it all & we’ve all met the one who has very little. Becoming envious of either is useless. We follow our own journey. Focusing on the self and improving this.

  19. I have had the privilege to teach many different types of learning styles and people. If there is one thing I have learned over the last six years, it is that there is never a one side fits all. I feel that my whole day is structured around meeting people where they are at. I remember the first year of my teaching career, I would get so frustrated because I felt that students should already know a concept and that I shouldn’t have to be teaching it. It took me a couple years to understand that I was the one with the problem, not my students. I needed to get more information about their previous education before me and meet them where they were at. Not only did they grow leaps and bounds academically but our relationship was much stronger as well. I also had to learn (the hard way) that students were going to learn at drastically different paces. I had to be prepared to help my students who where struggling but also challenge my students who were gifted in the subject.

    I think personally I am still accepting where I am at with certain parts of my life. I am very hard on myself when I don’t learn something quickly. I have always told myself that if I don’t know something in my field that means there is a person that could do my job better. Or if I can’t sing something that means there is a person that should get a job over me. Therefore, I would study and practice like a crazy person and get so stressed that I would make myself sick.

    It is hard not to compare yourself to others when you are constantly competing with others. I know for a fact that I am being compared to other people all the time when I audition. I guess sometimes you have to think about who is the best “fit” for the position or role verses who is the “best.”

  20. I see that some people are truly born being optimistic and happy. You can actually even tell from their facial expression; they tend to smile a little more, and there’s more calmness as well. Pessimistic or sad people’ faces are too solemn or a bit tense to look at. I once saw a gentleman at work walking across the hallway and smiling at me. He greeted and i greeted back. After a few times, i stopped him and said he always brightens up my day, and surprisingly he replied that i do the same. The fact that we both greet and smile at each other really makes things comfortable at work in terms of breaking the ice and feeling a bit relax. On the other hand, there are people at work when i greet or smile at, all i got is cold shoulder.

    Maintaining a good attitude to life is not easy. We can always find the negatives and the flaws in people and things around us. But be honest, we have flaws too. So just be easy on ourselves, observe and let go, and smile at each other a little more :). The world could always use a bit more love.

  21. I have to constantly remind myself that I am on my own path. In yogic hindsight, I can easily say it’s unique and beautiful and kind of crazy- but on the low days, I feel like I am striving to find originality. While I am naturally an indecisive human who seeks advice frequently, I can feel the difference between asking advice on my own path and asking to look at a friend’s path for the “right” answer.

    If I ever feel negative about my indecisive nature, I can step back and look: my friends and family are PHENOMENAL human beings. Asking people who have fought the storm and lived through many of life’s trying tasks- their advice can be pretty reputable. As stated in the post, one can look to an “enlightened” figure and be inspired by their trials, but the practicality of their advice can be questionable.

  22. Wow! I am a fraternal twin and I always thought we were suppose to be alike. If my sister is happy, I should be happy. As my sister and I reached our pre teens I started to realize we were not alike. I am more sensitive and emotional and out going. Once I realized it’s ok to be different than my sister, I began to become me. My happiness did not depend on my sister being happy. I always wanted to be like my sister. She is book smart. Academics came easy for her. I struggled in most subjects. This use to frustrate me because I thought we are twins we should both be the same. When I found my path I found my confidence. We are complete opposites. This is a blessing. My success is completely different than hers. This has made us even closer. I like that there is at least 40% more happiness out there for me to discover.

  23. Woah. The drama. We could go on about that one. Ego is toxic. Keep learning, being vulnerable and humble. This is a battle I face with my husband in raising a child with the expectation of public school and common core. It is a robotic system that blankets the expectation the same very every child. Perhaps the creators of CC could use some lessons of the sutras 🙂

  24. My mother and father are people whom I’ve always admired. They had tumultuous childhoods, tramatic experiences, and little resources to get them to be successful, loving people- but none of that stopped them from being the best parents they can be.

    The common thread between the two of them (and they are VERY different) is their attitude towards their life. They’ve had negative experiences and haven’t supressed them. They have talked about them and reflect on them, and learned to let go. Both of my parents didn’t have the best moms and dads as parents (to put it lightly)- but instead of continuing the pattern, they’ve started a newer, positive path for their children.

    My mother is someone who gives you a high of delight whenever you’re in her presence. Although- she DOES give practical advice (as opposed to what was discussed in the entry), and as a result, has helped my friends and my siblings friends by helping to guide them through some of the most important decisions of their life. She certainly has her faults and doesn’t claim to be enlightened or more wise than others- this is just me observing and being grateful for the person that she is.

    Detaching from drama is so important! You are your own advocate for this in so many ways. It takes a significant amount of strength, but it is possible- and when you do, your purusha shines through even more deeply, and your life is enriched as a result.

  25. I’ve always been interested in why some people are able to transcend difficult upbringings and others never do. Sounds like your “gringo” dad (love it) was able to move forward in his life through detaching from the drama. Maybe it’s related to the 50% 40% trainable part. More than anything it’s the willingness to change and believe in the 40%.

  26. This Sutra makes me smile! I really think I live my life like your “gringo” daddy. I just refuse to give my energy to having a bad day. I have sadness and hard things that happen in my life, but most of the time I am that annoying pessimistic person. I even find myself removing myself from drama and grouchy people. I grew up spending lots of time with my grandmother on her farm in Arkansas. I learned so much from her about happiness and love of life. She was an amazing lady.

  27. I have always loved the thought that there will never be another me. I have my own specific nature (svabhava), ways of thinking, strengths, and weaknesses. I find comfort in the thought that i don’t have to be anyone else but myself. I’m ok with the fact that there will always be someone better than me at something, someone in better shape than me, someone who bakes better than me, women who mother differently than i do. It doesn’t keep me from trying to do my own personal best in order to make myself happy. It’s a concept i’ve gotten more and more ok with as i’ve gotten older.
    I find the 50%, 40%, 10% breakdown very interesting, especially that only 10% is determined by external circumstances. 40% is what you make it. I try to follow my Mom’s example and look on the bright side of things. And i do say try, because it definitely isn’t always easy! Life is so much what you make it. You can’t always choose what happens to you, but you can choose your attitude and how you react.

  28. When I first read this sutra, I pessimistically thought “Oh great, I’m screwed! I wasn’t born with it.” Luckily as I kept reading there is only 50% that’s predetermined. Phew. I thought it was really interesting how 10% is determined by external circumstances. Lately I feel like my life has been run by external circumstances. I haven’t been as happy as I usually am and I attribute it to the chaos of the city, my unattentive landlord, my frustrating family members, my work, and all those other things external to me. Why am I letting 10% take up more than it’s share? That 10% is actually taking up 80-90% of my energy, and let me tell you – it’s exhausting. As much as I’d love to become a yoga instructor that’s not my primary reason for being here. I’m here to mellow out and break away from all those things that, as my friend says , “dull my sparkle”.

  29. This particular sutra is difficult for me to reflect on. I’m not sure how to understand Patanjali’s intention with this statement that “something people are born in the state of yoga.” After reading the description, I still don’t see how some of the ideas connect with this sutra. I see in the explanation of the sutra that Patanjali wants us to “remain alert,” but that does not clearly come from the sutra itself. Maybe he is saying that very few of us are born into this state, and therefore the rest of us need to continuously commit to the practice. If that is the case, I agree that most of us really need to focus our attention on the Yoga teachings, or a similar framework of being, to have a sense of ourselves that is healthy and whole.

  30. Wow, external circumstances only account for 10%? Sometimes it seems like so much more than that! It helps to remind myself to dance within the 40%, so the 10% doesn’t get more energy than it deserves.

    • “remind myself to dance within the 40%, so the 10% doesn’t get more energy than it deserves” – love this quote. Can I borrow it? Dancing within the 40% keeps us empowered whereas focusing on the 10% gives power to that which we have very little control over, often making us victims of our circumstances.

Leave a Reply to bridgetdriessen Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s