Ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred and clinging to bodily life are the five obstacles
There are five kinds of coloring (kleshas):
1) forgetting, or ignorance about the true nature of things (avidya)
2) I-ness, individuality, or egoism (asmita)
3) attachment or addiction to mental impressions or objects (raga)
4) aversion to thought patterns or objects (dvesha)
5) love of these as being life itself, as well as fear of their loss as being death.
Here an overview of the kleshas or obstacles is given, and each one will be further described in the following sutras. The order is key, as ignorance about the nature of reality leads to egoism. Because of egoism, one becomes attached to things which pleasure the ego. Because we are attached to things, we cling to life in the body.
That creative source (ishvara) is a particular consciousness (purusha) that is unaffected by colorings (kleshas), actions (karmas), or results of those actions that happen when latent impressions stir and cause those actions
Ishvara is a distinguished supreme consciousness untouched by the colored results of actions or the pain of suffering
Isvara is a particular Purusa (consciousness) unaffected by affliction, deed , result of action or the latent impressions thereof
This sutra gives us more detail on ishvara – the Supreme Being or Universal Consciousness. This blog lists the following qualities of ishvara:
- free from the 5 modes of suffering (Yoga Sutra 1.5); ignorance, desire, aversion, fear, Egoism/I-am-ness
- free from the results of karma/action whether good or bad
- free from the anguish of the life-death cycles
- free from the subconscious impressions of Samkaras (karmas from past, present and future)
- Supreme intelligence
1.4 At other times, the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness
[from BKS Iyengar]
At other times, when one is not in Self-realization, the Seer appears to take on the form of the modifications of the mind field, taking on the identity of those thought patterns.
At other times, there is conformity with the mento-emotional energy.
The ‘other times’ referred to here are the times when we are not practising yoga, or are not seeing things as they really are (because of the kleshas or afflictions, such as jealousy, anger, fear, etc). When we are not aware of the true nature of things, we are caught up in sensory experience, the thoughtstream, and even identify ourselves with those thoughts and experiences, not seeing ourselves as distant from them.
As an example, let us imagine that we notice a thought in our heads which states that we are not good at such and such an activity. We may start to believe this as a fact, rather than just notice it as a construct of our minds. Then, when we next do such and such an activity, this thought may actually influence our ability to perform the task. Both yogic and Buddhist philosophy argue for the need to detach ourselves from our thoughts, that we are not those thoughts, we just have the thoughts. The thoughts are not us, just in our heads. Of course, it is not always easy to gain this distance from our thoughtstream / memories / sensory experience, but the path to doing so is that of the eight limbs – asana, pranayama, meditation, the yamas and niyamas (coming soon!).
1.3 Then, the seer dwells in his own true splendour
[from BKS Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali]
Then the Seer abides in Itself, resting in its own True Nature, which is called Self-realization.
Then the perceiver is situated in his own form
This relates closely to 1.2, so that by practising yoga, one can see the true nature of the self. Iyengar says that when the consciousness (or mind) is stilled, it is no longer distorted, and its true nature can be seen. This is very similar to Buddhist philosophy, where the process of meditation (obviously without asana) removes the obstacles from the mind and allows us to see our true nature. These obstacles / afflictions or ‘kleshas‘ in Buddhism include strong emotions (anger, fear, jealousy) which cloud our ability to see the nature of reality.
The difference in language between the yoga sutras and Buddhist philosophy is interesting. The yogic view stresses restraint and regulation of the mind, whereas (to my understanding) the Buddhist view is to simply be aware of the affliction as it arises, and that awareness removes its cloud over our ability to see things as they really are. There are obvious parallels with psychotherapy here, too. The therapy process, particularly Gestalt therapy and also psychoanalytic therapy, emphasises being aware of how our minds interpret the world around us, which is not necessarily how the world really is.
So to my mind, this sutra is emphasising that this eight-limbed path can lead to clearer thinking and the ability to see things as they are, without being clouded by thought or false interpretation.