Happy Diwali! Yoga Sutras on “Light

Diwali — or Deepavali — the festival of lights and is celebrated with great excitement throughout India. In the last several years, the joy of Diwali celebrations have spread throughout the world, including USA (see this and this).

Deepa (lamp) avali (a row) signifies a row of lights. In spiritual traditions, it is a time to illuminate one’s inner light – the light of knowledge, compassion, joy, and so forth. It is a time to illuminate a row of lights in our lives! Even in everyday conversations, we use adjectives based on characteristics of light to convey our appreciation – for example, “illuminating talk”, “brilliant performance”, “shining example”, “radiant smile”, and so forth.

In the context of Yoga, light (or flame) is used to describe our awareness. The more awake and elevated we are in awareness, the flame of awareness is shining bright. When we are lethargic, the flame of awareness is dull. When our mind is filled with too many turbulent thoughts, the flame of awareness is unsteady, it is flickering. One of the aims of yoga is to make the flame of awareness shine bright (ie., elevate our awareness) and at the same time, hold the flame steady (ie., peaceful, without agitation).

Maharishi Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, refers to light in several of the sutras. Allow me to present three of these sutras here.

1. Vishoka va Jyotismati, (Chapter 1, Sutra 36)

Meaning – sadness or misery can be removed by introducing the light of awareness. (Soka=misery; visoka=state free from misery; Jyoti=light; Mati=mind; Jyotismati=light of awareness, or inner light).

When I reflect on this sutra, I am reminded of Albert Einstein’s famous quote – Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them. It is not wise to respond to darkness (misery) with more darkness (anger, desperation, etc). Rather, all we need to do is to raise our awareness.

This sutra is very interesting because when we are confronted with a challenging situation that causes misery & stress, our initial impulse is to hanker for a fix to resolve the problem that lies outside. Rarely do we take time to do some inner work to raise our awareness (by doing some practices perhaps). However, if we do take the time to increase our awareness, we see the same problem in a different light; the problem appears to be an opportunity for growth!

Therefore, an excuse along the following lines – “I am busy attending to too many problems, I don’t have time to do Yoga” is, frankly, a horrible one!

In fact, it is exactly during this time yoga can be most beneficial; it can take us to a state of awareness from which creative solutions to our “problems” can be born!

2. Tatah kshiyate prakasha avaranam, (Chapter 2, Sutra 52)

Meaning – Then (by practicing Pranayama or breath work), the curtain of darkness that covers the inner light is thinned, and subsequently removed.

(Tatah=then; kshiyate=remove; prakasha=brilliance; avaranam=covering, curtain).

Patanjali gives this sutra to describe one of the benefits of doing Pranayamas – breath work. (There are other benefits that Patanjali describes, which will be covered in another blog post).

Many of us are familiar with the famous verse from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad – tamaso ma jyotirgamaya – lead me from darkness (tamas) to light (jyoti). In the above sutra, Patanjali gives a practical way of doing that – namely, by practicing Pranayama. Just like how movement of air clears the smoke that obstructs light, the movement of Prana (life energy) during Pranayama clears the clutter in the mind to reveal the inner light. When we do Pranayama, the tamas (darkness) that manifests in the form of laziness and dullness is removed, and clarity dawns.

3. Yoga anga anusthanad ashuddhi kshaye jnana diptira viveka khyateh (Chapter 2, Sutra 28)

Meaning – Being established in the practice of the limbs of yoga leads to purity, light of awareness/knowledge, and develops discriminative awareness.

(Yoga anga=limbs of yoga; anushtana=establish; ashuddhi kshaye=removes impurities; jnana deepti=light of awareness/knowledge; viveka khyati=discriminative awareness).

Engaging in the holistic practice of yoga – which includes all the 8 components (limbs) prescribed by Patanjali, removes impurities at physical and mental levels. Additionally, it brightens the light of awareness – we experience extraordinary clarity, exuberance and enthusiasm! Finally, it sharpens the awareness so that our inner vision has sufficient resolution to discriminate between that which serves our growth and that which does not.

I am sure you’ll agree that Diwali is the perfect time to nurture the “inner light” that resides within us. I invite you to the practice of yoga and experience it yourself!

Happy Diwali!