After the initial definition of yoga in sutra I.2, all terms involved (yoga, mind, fluctuations) have been defined in sutras I.2 – 11, apart from ‘suspension’ [of thought waves], which is treated in this sutra.
Patanjali says here that the mind waves will cease through the application of the combined means of practice and disidentification. The important word here is ‘and’, since the application of only one of the two leads into extremes of the mind. If we practise only, then we tend to develop beliefs like ‘Our practice is the only correct practice’, ‘Only Ashtanga Yoga is the correct yoga’, ‘Only Mysore style is the correct form for a yoga class’, ‘Only the God that I worship is the true God’, ‘Capitalism is the only proper economic system’ and ‘Democracy is the only proper political system’.
All these statements have in common the belief that there is one truth that excludes all others. In yoga we call this a solar attitude. It is dominant when the prana flows through the solar energy channel (pingala), which begins at the right nostril. We may also call it a tendency to fundamentalism. It prevents us from recognising that a position different from our own valid view could also be right. It is a trap of the mind, which believes to have figured out reality by imposing a particular extreme reality tunnel on it.
We fall into the opposite trap, however, if we do not practise but only apply disidentification. We develop beliefs like ‘All paths lead to the same goal’, ‘It’s all yoga’, ‘Everything is holy and sacred’, ‘Everybody has to live their own truth’, Everybody has to do their own thing’, ‘All statements, philosophies and religions are valid’. All these statements have in common the belief that there are many truths, which cancel out the one truth. In yoga we call this a lunar attitude, dominant when prana flows in the lunar (ida) channel, which starts at the left nostril. A lunar attitude makes us surrender our tools before we use them, and we therefore won’t be able to change ourselves. According to the lunar attitude, I don’t have to change because I am okay as I am; in fact everybody is okay. The lunar extreme makes it impossible for us to recognise wrong views, and especially it disables us for rejecting views and values – which might be okay in general, but they aren’t the right ones for us.
If everybody is okay, why does fifty per cent of mankind live in poverty? Why did we live for thousands of years in permanent warfare? Why are our prisons and mental wards full and why does planet Earth shake itself as if in an attempt to shake off mankind gone mad? We can call the lunar attitude relativism. Since everything is true only from a certain angle, we won’t have to worry about anything really. Relativism is a trap of the mind, which believes to have figured out reality by imposing on it an extreme reality tunnel. Reality according to yoga is not to be found in either extreme of the mind. It is to be found resting in the centre, unchallenged by the extremes of the mind.
The centre has many names in yoga, such as Brahman, purusha and hrdaya, the heart. One of the names is sushumna, the central energy channel. When the prana flows in the central energy channel, the mind is free of solar and lunar extremes, which means that the thought waves are suspended. To reach this state, Patanjali suggests the combined application of practice and disidentification. This is paradoxical, since the two are in some ways opposed. They need to be, otherwise the mind could figure out what is going on, and then that would be just another simulation of reality and not the truth.
Different to the original edition of my 2006 commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra I have here translated ‘vairagya’ not as detachment but as disidentification. This is due to T. Krishnamacharya’s statement that detachment is unsuitable for householders (grhastha), i.e. the vast majority of us. He said that for householders it was incorrect to detach themselves from their spouse, children, i.e. from ones duties towards society and from the Divine.
This is a modified excerpt from my 2006 text Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy.