sukha-anushayi ragah ||7||
सुखानुशयी रागः ॥७॥
sukha-anuśayī rāgaḥ ॥7॥
The presumption that happiness depends on external circumstances is referred to as desire (raga). ||7||
sukha = good fortune; luck; joy
anuśayī = faith in; resulting in; assume; presume
rāga = (nom. from rāga) desire; attraction; wanting; the desire to possess
Rāga and the practice ofāsana
The physical exercises (āsana) in aṣṭāṅga yoga are realized in a progressive series whereby you first master one position (āsana) and then proceed to the next, thus producing a series of elegant movements. If you are a novice, you’ll tend to equate progress in your physical exercises with progress along your spiritual path, and will thus set physical goals for yourself such as mastering marīchyāsana [D], which for you will mean that you have mastered the first half of the first series of exercises. Your entire practice of yoga will be oriented toward this goal, and at some point you will achieve the success you have so ardently desired: you will acquire the ability to clasp your hands behind your back in marīchyāsana [D]. You will be very happy at having accomplished this. Full of cheerfulness, you will continue with your practice of yoga and will feel very proud of and pleased with your progress. However, at some point you will discover that the second half of the first series of exercises possesses an inherent beauty, and you will decide to expand the scope of your practice of yoga. In so doing, you will soon realize that here too āsana entails mastery of a specific position such as kūrmāsana, and this in turn will become the focus of your exercises. You will be firmly convinced that mastery of this position will translate into considerable progress along your path to yoga. The day you finally master this position will mark a major milestone for you. First you will be able to bring your fingertips together, and then you will be able to clasp your hands – a wonderful feeling for sure, but how long will it last? Soon you will once again extend the scope of your practice of yoga and the next position will appear on your path. Despite all of this apparent progress, nothing really changes. Your practice of yoga is always the same, is always subject to the limits entailed by the various positions, each of which marks a key breakthrough on your path to yoga. After a time, anticipation of the pleasure you experience in having mastered a new position will give way to avidyā, and you will realize that no aasana can bring you lasting happiness and contentment. Hence you need to regard the āsanav inyāsa system of aṣṭāṅga-yoga as a means to an end, but as not an end in itself. Making progress in your yoga exercises is a secondary effect, but is never the goal of aṣṭāṅga-yoga.
At one point in my own practice of yoga I spent months working on a new movement. One day I did a handstand, placed my legs in the lotus position, gradually lowered my body to the ground, shifted my weight, and fell flat on my face. I tried the exercise several more times, with the same result. Lying on the ground after each failed attempt, I wondered why I was having so much difficulty doing such a simple exercise. I realized that a handstand, the lotus position, and lowering my body had all beyond me two years ago, that I now took these accomplishments for granted, and that I’d practiced these movements with great cheerfulness at the time.
I realized that I was expecting an āsana to yield happiness, in the guise of rāga. In short, this expectation was based on avidyā, a lack of insight. Ever since, I have emphasized in my yoga classes that yoga exercises do not lead to enlightenment. No one has ever achieved samādhi, the ecstatic state of yoga, simply because they were able to put their foot behind their head. If this were the case, all acrobats would be yogis and gurus.
Rāga and consumerism
There was a period during my childhood when I experienced many strong desires, which prompted my mother to tell me about an incident from her own childhood. When she was 12, there was a particular article of clothing that was very in at the time and that all of her classmates owned. My mother’s parents told her that she could have the desired item, but as a birthday present – and her birthday was six weeks away. As a result, my mother became obsessed with this article of clothing, and this obsession grew ever stronger. She kept thinking about how good she would look wearing this article of clothing, and how happy it would make her. But when she finally got it, she realized that it did not in fact make her happy and changed nothing at all in her life. Whenever I’ve felt a strong desire over the course of my life, I’ve called to mind this incident from my mother’s life. This has helped me on my spiritual path, and has helped me to overcome rāga. Whenever I urgently desire something, I take a wait and see attitude, and often notice that I’m perfectly content without fulfilling the wish in question. As a result, the wish immediately loses its urgency.
Advertising is intended to arouse rāga by suggesting a specific state of being. For example, when you see a TV ad showing a happy person driving through an idyllic landscape in a certain make of car, this conveys a state of contentment and success that in turn makes you feel as though you would achieve this same state if you owned the car depicted in the ad. You then begin feeling that you need to own the car, which becomes an object of desire. This gives rise to rāga. From the standpoint of yoga, it makes no difference whether you drive a fancy car or a jalopy, since yoga teaches us that we can be happy and contented human beings no matter which car we drive.
I know from my work as a sports doctor how deceptive rāga can be. Virtually all athletes are full of enthusiasm and idealism at the beginning of their careers. They enjoy their sport, but also want to measure their performance. For them, competition is the personal pleasure they take in their training success. But after a time, for some athletes winning becomes more important than the pleasure they once took in the sport itself, and ultimately their entire lives and training revolve around winning at any price. In some athletes, this induces a desire to improve their performance by taking illicit drugs. When most such athletes look back over their careers, they are ashamed of what they did. They realize that the desire to win made them forget why they wanted to be an athlete in the first place, which was to discover what they could achieve.
The use of such drugs also results in chronic health problems. Moreover, such athletes have violated the trust their friends and associates placed in them and scarcely have anyone to whom they can confide the terrible truth – namely that their successful career was based on lies and betrayal. The athletes they were competing against were also cheated out of the opportunity to engage in a fair competition, and they have damaged the reputation of their own sport. At the end of their career, many such athletes admit that they were seduced by rāga. Although their careers were full of promise at first, at some point the results became more important than the process – and thus began the long descent down the slippery slope of violating their own ideals.