Śaucha, the first Niyama is dealt with in the second chapter, Sādhana Pāda, of the Yoga Sūtras. While sūtra 2.40 stresses physical (external) cleanliness, the sūtra 2:41 focuses on the benefits of mental (internal) purity.
Remaining aware of our inner conversation is critical to both inner and outer purification. Anger, hate, jealously, prejudice, greed, pride, fear, – all negative thoughts are internal pollutants to body and mind.
With regular yoga practices and continuous refinement we become more sensitive to the subtleties in Śaucha, fostering inner purification. Benefits of internal Śaucha which includes purity of speech, emotions and the mind, is the focus of this sūtra.
In this sūtra Patañjali states five inner benefits (sequentially gained) by Śaucha, purity.
Sattva-śuddhi-saumansya-ekāgraya-indriya-jaya-ātma-darśana-yogyatvāni cha ॥2:41॥
Typical meaning(s) of each word in the second sūtra is as follows.
सत्त्वशुद्धि – sattva-śuddhi: essence of purity of being, sattva guna
सौमनस्य – saumansya: gladness or cheerfulness of the mind
एकाग्र्य – ékāgraya: one-pointedness, steady concentration
इन्द्रियजय – indriya-jaya: mastery of senses, control of passions/cravings,
आत्मदर्शन – ātma-darśana: Self-realization or true vision of the Self
योग्यत्वानि – yogyatvāni: readiness for highest knowledge/Self Realization
च – cha: and
A few translations of this sūtra.
- Also, (continuation of thought from the previous sūtra) purity of intelligence, mental satisfaction, psychic focus, victory over the sense organs, and a vision of one’s inner being. 2:41 (Barbara Stoler-Miller)
- Moreover, one achieves purification of the heart, cheerfulness of mind, the power of concentration, control of passions and fitness for the vision of Ātman. (Svāmi Prabhavānanda)
- Moreover, one gains purity of sattva, cheerfulness of mind, one-pointedness, mastery over the senses, and fitness for Self-realization.” (Svāmi Satchitānanda)
Rśi Patañjali is assuring us that practicing the purity of thought, word and deed will bring about all the benefits listed in this sūtra. The wise say if we resolve to be pure, honest, disciplined and kind–even for a day– the positive change we see in ourselves, fleeting as it may be, will make us want to practice these ethics more often.
I thought it best to present commentaries of yogis who have shared their wisdom after years of practice. Their words have made these principles come alive, making it both a pleasure and bane to practice.
In the sections that follow, the first paragraph under the heading of the author briefly introduces the writer, followed by their commentary on the topic at hand. Their books and others are listed below for further study.
Reverend Jagannath Carrera is the founder and spiritual head of the Yoga Life Society and a student of Svāmi Satchitānanda of Integral Ashram, Yogaville, VA.
In order to cleanse the body of the toxins that are already present, yogis use postures, cleansing practices(śut karma), and breathing techniques of Hata Yoga, along with a diet consisting of light, easily digestible foods. Mental toxins rob the mind of its energy and focus, and incline it toward unhappiness and anger. Sources of mental toxins include:
- Thoughts or experiences that have not been completely digested; unresolved, misperceived, or not assessed properly
- Anything we cling to because of selfish attachments
- Vices, such as the opposite of (all) Yama
All of the above can exist as samskāra (latent impressions). Activated by external or internal cues, they influence activity on the conscious level. Often they are unseen motivators seemingly beyond our control.
Having examined the benefits of physical purity, Śri Patañjali now lists the benefits of internal purity.
Sattva’s nature is tranquility, balance and illumination. When the sattvic aspect of the mind is purified, the discriminative faculty can function at its highest level. The mind regains its natural ability to penetrate the object of its attention to its depths.
Cheerfulness of mind is characteristic of Sattva. Cheerfulness is included not simply because it is an anticipated outcome of practice but because a cheerful mind has the energy and perseverance necessary to proceed to the highest states of spiritual experience.
One-pointedness is another quality inherent in Sattva, because it precedes Samādhi.
Mastery over the senses (as mental purity) is identified as a way to attain non-attachment. To cleanse mental impurities (listed in sūtra 2:32), yogis carefully monitor what is allowed to go in the mind, while practices such as meditation, self-analysis, and prayer clear toxins from current and past activities. One result of this mental cleansing is that our love-hate relationship with sense objects is recognized for what it is; a short term emotional event, the endlessly played drama of infatuation.
What naturally follows from sense mastery is a shift in priorities. Our values change from acquisition of objects, power, or status to seeking the experience of spiritual values such as clarity, serenity, selfless love, faith, joy not dependent on externals, and becoming ready for Self-Realization. This illustrates the interconnectedness of spiritual principles.
Alice Christensen began her studies under her guru, Rāma, (early 1960’s) who, before his death, advised her to complete her training under Lakshmanjoo in Kashmir, India. She founded the American Yoga Association in 1968.
Keeping your body strong, healthy, and clean is a natural starting point for purity. A careful mental diet is necessary to clean and strengthen the mind. This is not a religious proscription against violent movies, loud music, and so on. The point is, how do the things you watch, listen to, smell, and touch affect your thoughts and feelings? How do you react? Do you enjoy the reaction? How long does the reaction stay with you? A student of ethics tries always to observe and make choices based on these observations-not on those that are someone else’s opinion.
Purity of mind has been described as “not being disturbed by a myriad of thoughts.” One of the easiest ways to practice mental purity is to simply observe your thoughts without judgment or censure. This will automatically detach you slightly from the upset or discomfort associated with your thoughts.
Purity of speech refers to speech that is true to yourself and which does not harm anyone. When your speech matches your inner thoughts and feelings, you are practicing purity of speech. When practicing purity of speech, you would not speak deceitfully or carelessly. You would not say one thing and do another. When your inner and outer thoughts match, this purity gives you supreme poise and great strength of purpose.
Remain aware of Inner Conversation:
The following questions (and more) that were set during my initial Rāja Yoga training continue to be my staff in the practice of śaucha.
- To observe self-destructive behaviors: Am I indulging in self-pity? Am I dwelling in ‘I-centered’ thoughts? Am I aware of attachment to ‘my’ thoughts? Am I able to recognize the recurring pattern (negative, reactive) of thoughts?
- To monitor mental pollution: Am I providing harmful nutrition through my senses – seeing violent movies, listening to loud music, gossiping, eavesdropping, etc.? Am I aware of the triggers that cause restless, judgmental, I-centered behaviors?
- To watch my inner conversation: Am I able to simply observe my thoughts and let them pass without judgment? Am I muddying my intentions? Am I true to my thoughts?
Mental and emotional purification involves not being disturbed by information received through the senses and constantly dwelling on how we are being perceived. Of course, easier said than done. Being attached to our thoughts causes the mind to be distracted and hence it functions in fragments. This is negative to the practice of meditation (Christensen).
Hence, to begin by transforming our negative thoughts and emotions, and finally erasing these internal pollutants such as anger, hate, jealously, prejudice, resentment, pride, fear through daily introspection and śaucha is urgent. Learning to disengage from our addictive self-centered thoughts and emotions will allow us the freedom to practice mindfulness, intensify gratitude and deepen devotion.
Purity of mind shows itself in our moods. While frequent mood swings may have an underlying medical pathology, self-centered, manipulative, habituated behaviors trigger mental agitation, leading to a restless body and mind. Such moods are not conducive for meditation; so understanding sūtra 2:41 is paramount.
To be established in śaucha means to look at the gross body as a temple which houses the Divine, and happily engage it for spiritual service. When this mood of cheerfulness is achieved then, the mind unlocks the barriers of pride and attachment, becoming indifferent toward the body and disinterested in the world of material possessions. According to this sūtra, this attitude of śaucha leads to one-pointedness after mastering the senses. This will ignite a deep longing for the Lord (mumukśutvam) and the seeker becomes fit for Self-realization. This is the objective of every seeker. Now, the true practice of yoga begins. Is this what Rśi Patañjali is implying in the very first sūtra, ‘atha yogānuśāsanam’?
Christensen, Alice. 1998. Yoga of the Heart: Ten Ethical Principles for Gaining Limitless Growth, Confidence, and Achievement. American Yoga Association, Rodale Books, NY, NY.
Taimni. I.K. 1961. The Science of Yoga: Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali. The Theosophical Publishing House, Chennai, India and Wheaton IL.
Carrera, Jagannāth, Rev. 2006. Inside the Yoga Sūtras. Integral Yoga Publications, Satchitānanda Āśram-Yogāville, Buckingham VA.
Bell, Charlotte. 2007. Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice. Rodmell Press, Berkley, CA.
Venkateśānanda, Svāmi. 2011. First Edition 1988. The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali. Motilal Banarasidas, New Delhi, India.
Iyengar, B.K.S. 2002. First Edition 1993. Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali. Harper Collins, London, UK.
Aranya Hariharānanda, Svāmi; Mukerji, P.N. 1963. Yoga Philosophy of Patañjali. Reprint 1981 by State University of New York Press, Albany, NY.
Mishra, Rammūrti. M.D. 1973. Yoga Sūtras – A Textbook of Yoga Psychology. Doubleday Anchor Press, Garden City, New York.
Prabhavānanda, Svāmi; Isherwood, Christopher. Patañjali Yoga Sutras. Rāmakrišna Mission Press, Mylapore, India.
Feuerstein, Georg. 1979. The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali – A New translation and Commentary. Inner Traditions International, Rochester, Vermont.
Feuerstein, Georg. 1991. Sacred Paths. Essays on Wisdom, Love, and Mystical Realizations. LArson Publications, NY.
Sarasvati Satyānanda, Svāmi. 1976. Four Chapters on Freedom – Commentary on Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Yoga Publications Trust, Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, India.
Iyengar, B.K.S. 2013. Core of Yoga Sūtras – The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga. Harper-Collins, India.
Satchitānanda, Svami. 1978. The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali. Integral Yoga Publications, Buckingham VA.
Yogānanda, Paramahamsa; Kriyānanda, Svāmi. 2013. Demystifying Patañjali – The Yoga Sūtras. Crystal Clarity Publishers, Nevada City, CA
Govindan, Marshall. 2000. Kriya Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali and the Siddhas – Translation, Commentary and Practice. Kris Yoga Publications, Quebec, Canada