I remember my first yoga experience, a beginners hatha yoga class in my hometown. In every class, the teacher would remind us, “Our true nature is peace.” I felt it every time, for a while at least.
After class, I’d feel like I’d come home to the peace that had eluded me. Then I’d return to my daily routine, and soon enough, that sense of peace would fade. But I wanted it back, so I kept practicing.
As I practiced more, my ability to understand that our true nature is peace and to experience that peace deepened. I began to see that continually returning to that peace is the goal of yoga. And sure enough, the bliss I felt after class began to last longer.
Yogis know our true nature is peace. We may not feel it every minute of every day, but knowing is the first step to becoming peace-filled beings.
If Our True Nature is Peace, Why Don’t We Always Feel It?
Inspired by tapas to learn who we truly are and enter a state of samadhi, yogis seem to be on a compelling path. Once we recognize our true selves, what could possibly go wrong? Again we turn to Patanjali’s sutras and learn there are at least five reasons, known in classical yoga as the five afflictions. They are described in sutra 2.3:
The five afflictions are ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and the desire to cling to life. (http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/yogasutr.htm)
When we’re ignorant about our true nature, we turn to egoism. That is, we identify with the false self. We become attached or averse in countless ways that create obstacles to blissful living.
We become attached to things we desire and averse to things we believe are undesirable. Both cause pain and suffering, because we spend our time afraid of losing what we have, pursuing what we don’t have, or avoiding rejection.
The desire to cling to life—the fifth affliction—is natural too but also a problem if we live in fear, unable to let go. Learning to let go now prepares us for moving beyond our human limitations. It prepares us to merge with our divine source. Most spiritual traditions teach some aspect of letting go.
Why We Need to Let Go
It makes sense that we need to let go to find our true nature. If we identify with worldly accomplishments, the attention we get from others, or our possessions, there is always a void. We can lose those things at any time, sometimes suddenly.
And it’s not only attachment to what we want that can cause suffering. Avoiding pain, viewing others as our enemies, and labeling people and situations as “bad” also causes mental anguish.
Further, while we want to be healthy because our physical bodies are the vehicles through which we experience spiritual growth in this lifetime, we know our physical lives will end. Holding on to life—the finite body-mind as Reverend Jaganath Carrera describes it—keeps our focus away from our immortal nature. It’s easy to over-focus on things don’t matter much after all.
Staying True to Our Nature
In yoga, the ignorance that causes suffering is called avidya. We can stay in that state of ignorance for a lifetime if we don’t wake up and do the work of removing it. Even with years of practice, most of us all fall back into old patterns of behavior at times. If we want to sustain peace, we need to keep practicing, even when it seems we’re not making progress.
For those who need more convincing, the next group of sutras show how a yoga lifestyle can free us from the trap of ignorance. Maybe you already know how it works. If not, stay tuned!