What is a tree without strong, deep roots? Just imagine! When storms rage, will the tree be able to weather them or be uprooted?  What too is a tree without strong roots to support its limbs to grow and bear viable fruit? Without strong, vital and deep interconnected roots, limbs will be frail, brittle and vulnerable to any adversity, and without the flexibility to bend and sway with the wind, the limbs will just break. Nature is such an extraordinary teacher, is it not?

Many of the readership here will be Yoga practitioners, maybe even teachers. We may have studied the Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras were compiled by Patanjali, as we know, and they contain the core knowledge of Yoga and are considered guidelines to living a meaningful life.

The Sutras, or, translated from the Sanskrit, the guidebook of threads, when we begin to contemplate, start significantly with one of the 196 aphorisms, yoga chitta vritti nirodha, which translates into: “yoga is the stilling or controlling of the modifications or fluctuations of the mind.”

This aphorism becomes clearer, by a listing of all the modifications of reality the mind leads us into: the constant brain chatter, modifications through our sense perceptions, distortions of memory, judgements, labels, our emotional charge and beliefs, the stories we tell ourselves and more. Is it any wonder then, that all of these influence the choices we make in life, how we relate, how righteous we are to proclaim our truth, how focused we can stay? Is not life an endless kaleidoscope of choices all day long, even though habit driven, unconsciously mostly, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning? 

When we go back to the metaphor of a tree, are we perhaps able to see the analogy of brittle limbs? Of course, this is a mere proposition. But can we see how the mind chatter which drives all our choices, unconsciously or not, from the mundane and the worldly, when we stay still enough to notice, still enough to watch and listen, how this chatter would undermine the growth of resilient vibrant limbs? We would then see also, how our every and best-intentioned effort, its results, can but be minimised. 

We might even adjust or modify our choices, with this insight, yet when we have not anchored these in strong enough focused attention, we frustratingly watch, how we still continually break our own rules and resolves.  We all know the merry-go-round very well. We know we should … but we don’t, or we do this thing we should for a little while and then stop. And we justify this by affirming we have freedom of choice … yet, are we truly free? Are we avoiding confronting that something that distracts us from following through? Are we deluding ourselves? How do we become free? How do we gain insight to stop this?

Krishnamurti says in Commentaries on Living, Series III, Chapter 33:  ‘To Be Intelligent Is To Be Simple’,

There is ignorance when there is no self-knowledge. The ignorant man is he who is unaware of himself, who does not know his own deceits, vanities, envies, and so on. Self-knowledge is freedom.

But what is self-knowledge? In Sanskrit it is called Swadhyaya, self-study.

Madame Blavatsky says in The Voice of the Silence, Fragment I, such a well-used quote by so many, which she translated from the Tibetan Buddhist esoteric text, The Golden Precepts:

The mind is the great slayer of the real. Let the disciple… (or student in pursuit of self-study). Let the disciple slay the slayer

And the first step to that, the text says, is for the pupil, to

…become indifferent to objects of perception, to seek out the Raja of the senses, the thought producer, he who awakes illusion…

Now that is quite a task, as we might also argue and rightly question, how does the mind, which seems to dominate all we do, our senses too, become witness to itself, and not create more delusion or illusion, of self-deception even?

No wonder Theosophy promotes, its three limbs, study, meditation upon that which we study and the application of those insights in the practice of living, in service!  Of course, there is more which follows the quote above, from The Voice of the Silence, and worthy a further contemplation, as a guide on our quest, just as is the first Yoga Aphorism quoted above.

All of this wisdom of how to gain self-knowledge, to explore the origin of our thoughts, has been passed down to us from those who walked the path before us, just in different cultural contexts, but all talking from the same spiritual heart. Those are the fingers pointing, if we cared to follow just one of the fingers ourselves, not just look at the finger, and debating the finger, but testing the path and prove its worth and truth to ourselves. 

A quote, attributed by some, disputed by others, to Meister Eckhart, a German theologian, and mystic (1260 – 1328) states:

Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language.

Madame Blavatsky writes in the Preface to The Voice of the Silence:

…such ethics fill volumes upon volumes in eastern literature.

We only need to take a closer look at one of the many fingers pointing, the one pointing towards the Eight Limbs of Yoga. In this guidebook to self-study and to living a contented life, the yamas and niyamas, are listed as the observances we might engage with, which, it is said, form the foundation, without which none of the other limbs would hold, when life’s storms strike, as inevitably they do. In fact, these observances, in a sense reflect that which is described in Madame Blavatsky’s beautiful poem in three parts, The Voice of the Silence, just in another format, looking in from another angle, perhaps in some ways more directive or concrete, for our minds to grasp and to apply to our daily grind

These yamas and niyamas, when we see their merit, by observing these, and how they could change the world in fact, and our own lives to start, what a strong motivator they could be for the consequent life choices we make.  These observances are indeed practical, like a mirror we hold up to ourselves, in how we show up in life, not to beat ourselves up with, nor as a confessional of our short comings, nor to compare ourselves with others, or by which to start judging others, but as a means to deepening our own self-knowledge, our self-study.