Suffering of Life

from Princess Bride [movie]

Sutra 2.15

परिणामतापसंस्कारदुःखैर्गुणवृत्तिविरोधाच्च दुःखमेव सर्वं विवेकिन

Parinama tapa samskara duhkhaih guna vrtti virodhaccha duhkham evam sarvam vivekinah

To one who is discerning, the pain of everyday life is apparent. Suffering comes from our mind’s reaction to change, longing, habits, and the activity of the gunas.

  • parinama = change, transformation
  • tapa = anxiety
  • samskara = subconscious imprints
  • duhkhaih = by reason of suffering
  • guna = (sattva, tamas, rajas) qualities of the gunas
  • vrittih = fluctuations, modifications
  • virodhat = stop, end
  • cha duhkham = and due to suffering
  • eva sarvam = is only all
  • vivekinah = to the discerning one, to one who discriminates

Throughout the Sutras Patanjali describes multiple tools for developing a clearer perception to ultimately reduce our suffering. The teachings are based on the principle of clear perception and a disciplined mind, the better you are able to respond with equanimity to all causes of suffering including; changing circumstances, unmet longing, and habit patterns no longer serve you. Yet, to those with discernment (if you are paying attention) there is the recognition that you cannot escape suffering altogether (Holcombe, 2017).

Duhkham is often translated as “suffering.” A more literal meaning is “tightness or constriction in the chest or the heart area.” Think of the physical sensations you experience in times of suffering or heartache. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali uses duhkham to encompass all disturbances in our equilibrium including negative feelings of being frustrated, upset, angry, anxious, sad, or devastated.

Sutra 2.15 describes the causes of duhkham:

  1. Change (parinama) causes suffering. Change is hard. It is human nature to seek out routine – it is comfortable, our brains do not have to work so hard if we can rely on things being the same. Even little changes can cause suffering. Encountering road construction or learning a new job require our brains to work to find alternative solutions. 
  2. The second is tapas/tapah, in this sutra is refers to as longing or desire. You suffer when you want something you don’t have. This can range from envy of someone else or the longing within our own heart. The wanting can direct our actions, creating distortion in our thinking. 
  3. The third cause is samskara, or habit patterns. Repeat patterns or behaviors without awareness cloud our thinking. Often, acting without clear awareness can lead to repeating habits that no longer serve you or that cause you harm.
  4. The fourth cause of suffering mentioned in this sutra refers to the constantly shifting balance of the energies in the body (gunas). Think of your body constantly seeking homeostasis, balance. When you become overtired, hungry, or stressed and feel the pain of that imbalance. The fluctuations of the gunas are an unavoidable part of living in a body, so even those who have reached the highest states of yoga suffer.

In short, this sutra teaches that there is no avoiding suffering, that no one is immune, and that suffering is everywhere. Those who work to develop clear minds may even be more aware of the natural pain of life. The goal of yoga is not to eliminate or avoid pain. Rather, Patanjali’s teachings are a guide to help reduce additional suffering caused within our own minds that exacerbate the natural pain of life.

Join in guided Yoga+Philosophy class on this topic at https://www.dragonfly360.net/schedule/ (recorded video).

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