The Third Sutra: Revealing Your True Self

“Be yourself.” Haven’t we all been given this advice at one time or another? Self-realization is one of the aims of yoga, described by Patanjali in the third sutra: “Tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam” or as B.K.S. Iyengar’s translates, “Then the seer dwells in his own true splendor.”

Looking more closely at Sutra 1.3, we see that tada means “then.” Drashtuh is from the root “drsh,” which means “to see” (familiar to many as the root of drishti, a word often used in an asana class). Sva is “one’s own,” and rupe is “form” or “nature.” Avasthanam has been translated as “abides,” “resides,” “dwells” … or as I learned from Tucson meditation teacher Sanjay Manchanda, it’s that aspect of us that endures, that carries a sense of “always here.”

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But first we have to still the choppy waves of chitta—the mindstuff (see Sutra 1:2). Considering the mind’s relentless chatter, we are fortunate to catch brief glimpses of this enduring Self, denoted with an uppercase “S,” as opposed to the ego identify, or “small self.”

Perhaps you’ve done this exercise in a meditation class: You or a partner continues asking “Who am I?” or “Who are you?” until all the layers of identity—job, family role, ethnicity, gender, age, affiliations, accomplishments, etc.—are peeled away. There’s no “you/me” left. What’s left is essential nature, the Self that has always been and always will be present.

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Whether you know this aspect as Atman, Purusha, or higher self, language is inadequate here: As soon as we name something, we tend to perceive it as something separate from us, which is contrary to this sutra’s meaning. Instead, when you hear the first word of this sutra, think of a magician’s exclamation—ta-da!—as he throws back his magic cape. This is not the magic that changes a bouquet into a rabbit, however. When you look behind the cape of illusion (maya), you will see what has been there all along—Atman, or the unity of the individual and the universal. Nothing has changed. Nor does anything need to change.

Often, Swami Satchidananda was asked if he was Hindu. His reply was that he preferred to think of himself as an Undo: “We have to stop doing any more and simply undo the damage that we have already done.” Or, paraphrasing my teacher: There’s nothing we need to do. There’s nowhere we need to go. We simply remember the Oneness that already is.

There’s nothing wrong with practicing asana to strengthen the abdominal muscles or meditating in order to reduce anxiety. But what the third sutra tells us is that yoga can also be a method of self-revelation. In that case, we don’t “do” yoga. Yoga “undoes” us.

How has yoga taught you about yourself?

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