External circumstances play a secondary role in giving tranquillity
All experiences are internal. The objects that we experience may be outside, but the experience takes place in our mind. Yoga being a mental state, is also an experience, but unlike other experiences, it is the wholly internal experience of simply being. This internal experience is attained by transforming the habitual activity of the mind so as to develop silence and tranquillity.
Lasting tranquillity of mind can never be reached by changing the external circumstances of your life. If things that disturb you are removed, you are temporarily more at peace. However, circumstances will change and so will your mind, and you will soon find yourself disturbed once more. Tranquillity lies in steadying your mind. And it does not depend on your life situation, but on the way you respond to that situation in your mind. To be at peace is an internal state specific to you. It is decided in your mind, not in the world that surrounds you. Therefore, to work towards mental steadiness and tranquillity, you have to change your mind. External circumstances are of secondary assistance in this process, not the primary cause.
Who can change your mind? Can anyone else do it for you? Other people can at best be an indirect influence on the way you think. Only you know your thoughts and only you can change your thoughts. Therefore, real progress in yoga can happen only through your personal effort.
The Yogasutras of Patanjali and the major commentaries on it are the work of people who have walked this path through their personal effort. Having attained that state, they have left behind a guide for others to follow and benefit. Their direct internal experience is explained in the Yogasutras with the support of systematic reasoning for us to understand it and work towards it, as that state is outside of our current experience. This is the work of the teacher — to guide his student by explaining his internal experience and the means to it through words and reasoning.
Now, what is the role of tradition? In the context of yoga, there are now many ‘styles,’ ‘traditions’ and ‘lineages.’ What is the tradition of yoga? It is only the transmission of the message of yoga without distortion from teacher to student over the passage of time. Note that the experience cannot be transmitted; it has to be earned by the effort of the individual. From this perspective, there is only one fundamental message of yoga, as in the Yogasutras, and only one real tradition — that of the yogi who follows those who came earlier in making the ultimate effort.
The emphasis on ‘traditions’ and ‘lineages’ in modern yoga is often an unnecessary distraction. It has played a role in yoga becoming factionalised and students occupied with searching for the so-called right tradition or right lineage. Sometimes, yoga ‘traditions’ are just exalted terms for brands and labels. The security these labels confer could be false.
In fact, there is only one root method — updating our minds and bodies, our mental and physical software, through the eight limbs of yoga.
This article appeared in The Hindu newspaper.