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Yoga Sutras For Modern Life: What is Good and Evil To a Yogi?

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:14-The karmas bear fruits of pleasure and pain caused by merits and demerit.

Defining the Sutra

As long as you are attached to the outcome, you get back pleasurable or unpleasurable consequences according to how you feel about your actions.

Modern Day Application

This is not about old school right and wrong which is usually based on culture and environment. The Yogi does what is appropriate, not what is right.  Right and wrong attaches us to the play of opposites which is what Yoga is meant to break us away from.

The nature of karma is not in the action that you perform. Karma means action, but this gathering of past karmas is not because of the actions you have performed. It is the volition, the intention, the kind of mind that you carry. That is your karma.

There is a story which the wonderful sage Ramakrishna used to tell. There were two friends who used to go visit a prostitute every Saturday evening. On one such evening, while they were walking towards the prostitute’s house, there was someone giving a spiritual discourse. One friend decided not to visit the prostitute, saying he would prefer to hear the lecture on spiritual possibilities. The other man left him there. Now the man sitting in the lecture hall, his thoughts were full of the other man. He began thinking that the other man was having the  time of his life while he was caught in this place. He thought the other man was more intelligent in choosing the prostitute’s place rather than a spiritual discourse.Now the man who had gone to the prostitute’s house, his mind was full of the other man. He began to think that his friend had chosen the path to liberation by preferring the spiritual discourse to the prostitute’s place, while he got caught in this. The man who had gone for the spiritual discourse and was thinking about what was happening in the prostitute’s house pays by piling up bad karma. He suffers, not the other man.

You don’t pay because you have gone to the prostitute; you pay because you are cunning about it. You still want to go there, but you think by going to the discourse you’ll be one step closer to heaven. This cunningness will take you to hell. That man with the prostitute knows it is worthless, and seeks something else; his is good karma. So it is not about action. Right now, why you think in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is simply because of the social moral code. It is not your innate nature which is telling you that this is right and wrong. It is just that society has fixed some rules and they have always told you, right from your childhood, that if you break them you are a bad boy. So, whenever you break these, you feel like a bad boy. If you feel like one, you become one.

If you are used to gambling, maybe gambling in front of your mother or your wife, in your home, or even to utter the word is sacrilege, but once you join your gang, there gambling is just fine, isn’t it? Among the gamblers, the one who does not gamble is not fit to live. It’s like this everywhere.If all of you are thieves, you are all fine, isn’t it? Among thieves, do they feel it is bad to rob somebody? When you fail, they think you are a no-good thief. That is a bad karma, isn’t it? The question, this karmic thing, is just the way you feel about it. It is not about what you are doing. It is just the way you are holding it in your mind. Why we are talking about acceptance, acceptance, acceptance, is, if you are absolute acceptance, whatever life demands, you do. If you have to fight a battle, you go and fight, there is no karma. The karma is not made in physical action; it is made only by volition. It’s just that some fool has formed some rules and you expect every human being to live by them.

It’s impossible, but society needs such rules to maintain the social ego. The society has its own ego, isn’t it? For every small thing, the whole society gets upset. It need not be wrong. Suppose it is summer in the United States. Everybody is hardly wearing anything or maybe they are in miniskirts. Let’s say you are fully clothed. People will get upset: “What is she doing? Why is she all covered up?” Here in India, if you dress like that, they will all get upset. So this is one kind of ego; that is another kind of ego. It is the social ego which is getting upset, and your karma is becoming part of the collective karma. I want you to really understand this with a certain depth. Your idea of good and bad has been taught to you. You have imbibed it from the social atmosphere in which you have lived. Karma is in the context of your life, and not in the context.- Essential Wisdom  from a Spiritual Master by Sadhguru

Every action has a consequence. I am doing the action of typing, the consequence is words appear on my monitor.  As long as I don’t have any bad or good thoughts regarding typing, I don’t store any emotions or energy around it that I have to deal with later. It is just pure action. Pure action does not result in Karma. The Yogi is trying to get to a point where every action is pure action. Through pure action, we exit the cycle of Karma.

Our mat is a wonderful practice space for pure action and thought.


Can you practice Yoga purely to practice?

Yes, we all come to Yoga looking for something. Once you set the Yoga in action, there is no reason to worry about the benefits.

Do your practice and all is coming-Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

If you practice properly, you are going to have results whether you think about them, try for them or not.  If you do every backbend to the best of your ability and with awareness each and every day, you will reap the benefits. There is no need to carry the energy of striving. You just do it.  The same way you walk every day. You don’t strive to walk. Once you learn how to do it, you just do it.  This is pure action.

Can you do what is appropriate for your practice in the moment?

If you have pain, do you adjust your practice where appropriate?

Having a Guru, teacher or following a method can teach us about pure action.

One of the most beautiful things about Ashtanga is that you do the same thing every day. You don’t have to think up a sequence. Ashtanga is often called moving meditation because the set sequence can free you up to experience action without thought. If you allow it, your thoughts can temporarily be suspended.  A practice, such as this, teaches how to find, Dhyana, a prolonged sustained focus that leads to Pratyhara, withdrawal of the senses, which leads to Samadhi states, states of liberation, which leads to Yoga which is a permanent state of pure action and freedom from attachment to thought.

Having a Guru or a teacher, that you trust, does the same thing. As you practice, through the grace of their guidance, you suspend thought.


Why Is it Important?

Hence an aspirant, by the grace of his Guru and constant practice of Yoga, can someday realize, before casting off his mortal coil, the Indweller that is of the nature of supreme peace and eternal bliss, and the cause of the creation, sustenance, and destruction of the universe. Otherwise, an aspirant will be unable to see anything in the world but turmoil-Yoga Mala by Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois


One, who is realizes the Self or the Indweller, can play with opposites and not be attached and not accrue Karma. This is because all actions are like the actions of a small child, done out of pure curiosity, wonder and joy for life. All actions are pure and this one can surely find bliss.

Matthew 18:3 -Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19:14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

To make our life into a heaven, we have to see all opposites such as pleasure and pain equally because as long as we are on this earth, there will be opposites. The Yogi is not looking for pain. They accept that it goes along with this human experience and they deal with it when it comes. One who lives this way, with equanimity, is not marred by thoughts of wanting it to be one way or the other. It is those thoughts that cause Karma.

In order to get to a place where, as Pattabhi Jois says, we “can someday realize, before casting off his mortal coil, the Indweller that is of the nature of supreme peace and eternal bliss, and the cause of the creation, sustenance, and destruction of the universe”, we have to be okay with opposites. One who creates understands that you cannot have bad without good, bitter without sweet, black without white because without the contrast, you cannot know that the other exists. It is within this contrast that we create our reality. If we don’t accept the existence of opposites with equanimity, we don’t create our life, we just react to it.

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]