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Yoga Sutras For Modern Day Life: An Inconvenient Truth

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:30: The obstacles, which are distractions of the  mind are disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception,


Defining the Sutra

This week is a continuation of commentary on Sutra 1:30, for other commentary, go here.  False perception is having a belief that is not rooted in truth.

I recently attended a talk at Davidson College by Ta-Nehisi Coates, an award winning author and writer for the Atlantic. After his talk on race relations in America, a student stood up and asked how to change people’s minds on the issue and effect change. His answer was something along the lines of, “you are assuming that people actually want to change.”

We are in the information age. Most anything you want to know can be found on Google. If it is not on Google, Google will tell you where to find it. Ignorance is a choice.  There are two reasons that an able minded person would choose ignorance; laziness and fear.


A lazy person is unwilling to do the research. They just listen to the words of others and accept information that is convenient. They are easily swayed and manipulated by charisma, people who have letters after their names like PhD, and self proclaimed experts.

In speaking regularly with spiritual seekers, it dawned on me one day how addicted so many of them are to the power of charisma. They swap stories about how powerful this or that teacher is and compare experiences. They get a charge from it, many mistaking charisma for enlightenment. Charisma attracts at all levels: political, sexual, spiritual, etc., and it feeds the ego’s desire to feel special. The ego loves getting hits of power—it’s like a form of spiritual candy. The candy may be sweet but can you live on it? Does it make you free?

Freedom is not necessarily exciting; it’s just free. Very peaceful and quiet, so very quiet. Of course, it is also filled with joy and wonder, but it is not what you imagine. It is much, much less. Many mistake the intoxicating power of otherworldly charisma for enlightenment. More often than not it is simply otherworldly, and not necessarily free or enlightened. In order to be truly free, you must desire to know the truth more than you want to feel good. Because if feeling good is your goal, then as soon as you feel better you will lose interest in what is true. This does not mean that feeling good or experiencing love and bliss is a bad thing. Given the choice, anyone would choose to feel bliss rather than sorrow. It simply means that if this desire to feel good is stronger than the yearning to see, know, and experience Truth, then this desire will always be distorting the perception of what is Real, while corrupting one’s deepest integrity-Adyashanti

Fearful people are afraid of what they will find. A different viewpoint could rip their world apart and destroy their identity.

Both laziness and fear are paths to suffering and false perception. Why did Patanjali say that this type of thinking is detrimental on the path of yoga? Yoga is the act of stilling the mind so that we can view our world  and existence clearly. The laziness and fear that go hand and hand with false perception, block clear seeing.


 Modern Day Application

A few examples, from popular culture, of the repercussions of false perception are slavery, the genocide of Native Americans and hatred towards Muslims after 9/11 and the Paris attacks.  It was convenient and lucrative to believe that Blacks and Native Americans were savages that were closer to animals than to humans. Even those who knew better rolled with it out of fear of financial lose or social ostracism. The people who hate Muslims, most likely have never done an in depth study of Islam and are conveniently looking for scapegoats.  The assumption that a whole group of individuals that are linked by race or religious beliefs all think and behave the same is a belief of convenience and is the opposite of yoga.

Yoga is the opposite of convenience. The convenient way to live is to follow the herd, take on the beliefs of the popular majority,and to accept that everything you see and think is real. It is convenient to act on all of your emotions and be a servant to the ego,the past, future, the body and your thoughts. It feels safe to continue life as usual, move in the same direction and to uphold the staus quo. Better the devil you know then the unknown. This is all very convenient but it is not freeing. As a mater of fact, it is a sure fire way to stay hog tied to the cycle of suffering and unhappiness. Yoga is about leaving this cycle.


Doing what is convenient and expecting life to change is insanity. The very happiness we seek to have through the convenience and safety of false perception is kept from us. Happiness is fleeting because truth cannot be covered and buried. It took 200 years, but slavery was eventually seen as an institution of evil and was abolished. Truth always comes to light and truth is good for all beings. When we look at things through the eyes of truth, solutions are presented to us. After slavery, other ways were found that served the same purpose.

The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.



Why is This Important?



The above is the Ashtanga Yoga Closing Mantra. The only way for all beings to be happy and free is through clear seeing. When we walk in the light of truth, we always do what is appropriate for that situation. False perception is convenient.  We can apply a a neat prepared story to all situations. We don’t have to think. We don’t have to research. We don’t have to use Google. However, that neat story, law, religious belief, rule may not be true or it may not be right for the situation or for all people. To walk the path of yoga is to walk the path of truth and truth is not always convenient.


Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail [email protected]