Yoga Sutras Where: Yoga Sutra NYC studio Why: I love how the yoga sutras have created this fresh & contemporary piece of art.

One of the great charms of Patanjali’s yoga sutras is their ability to seem at once entirely obvious and completely opaque.

This week’s theme is a perfect illustration. It is found in the second book of the yoga sutras, which consists of some of the more practical advice to be found in these writings. This aphorism, heyam dukham anagatam, as translated by Ravi Ravindra,  tells us: “Future suffering is to be avoided.”

What could be a simpler or more agreeable task than avoiding future suffering? Who wouldn’t want to?

Yet if this is to be a piece of useful advice, one might easily ask – how in the world do we do that? If life is suffering, as Zen Buddhists would have it, is it even possible? We all know there is no avoiding change, illness, pain and death. So what exactly is Patanjali telling us?

Perhaps heyam dukham anagatam means more specifically, that some kinds of suffering (and as some translations suggest) can and should be avoided.

How many of us, consistently, knowing, repeatedly take actions or invite thoughts or emotions that we know will cause us future suffering? Future suffering that could be avoided if we were, perhaps, more aware and more awake in our lives.

On the simplest, most mundane level, we do this frequently enough. We eat that delicious food that we know will make us feel poorly later. We insist on holding that yoga pose for as long as everyone else in class, maybe even longer, even though we know it will hurt our backs later. We buy that irresistible item even though we know we will suffer when the credit card statement comes next month. Perhaps Patanjali is telling us – when you hear that tiny little voice in your head that says whoa, are you sure you want to do this? – that you, at the very least, stop and carefully consider.

But is Patanjali just giving us advice about diet and finances? How do we understand heyam dukham anagatam on a larger scale in the bigger picture context as well? Do we view our world, our fellow human beings, ourselves in a way that, in itself, will cause future suffering? And if we do, how do we change?

Have you found a way to enact the yoga sutra heyam dukham anagatam in your own yoga practice, in your life?
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