2.1 Yogic action (kriya yoga) combines enthusiasm (tapas), intelligence (svadhyaya) and humility (Ishvara Pranidhana).
The title of Chapter Two of the Yoga Sutra is sadhana. Sadhana has numerous meanings in Sanskrit including: means, instrument, furthering, guiding well, efficient, effective, leading straight to a goal, worship. Doing is the overall theme of this chapter, articulated in seven sections including: yogic action [2.1-2.2], afflictions [2.3-2.11], effects [2.12-2.14], suffering [2.15-2.17], awareness and experiences [2.18-2.22], discernment [2.23-2.27] and limbs of yoga [2.28-255].
Consistent with the theme of this chapter, practice, Patañjali defines yogic action as an action that combines enthusiasm, intelligence and humility. You can act only in the present. An action in the past or future, is a thought about an action, not an actual action. This definition of yogic action is consistent with the definition of yoga in Chapter One. It requires enthusiasm (tapas) to bring your attention (citta) to the moment you are in. Intelligence (svadhyaya) helps you distinguish between the helpful and unhelpful ways of being (vrtti) that you have cultivated. And humility (ishvara pranidhana) frees you up (nirodha) from constant engagement in grasping, striving, judging and resisting.
Understanding yogic action (kriya yoga) as an act that integrates enthusiasm, intelligence and humility conveys the richness of this idea while also making it possible to apply it in your life. Tapas means heat, fire, meditation and deep concentration. To engage in any worthwhile action, you need enthusiasm, because it gives you energy and inspiration to act. That same enthusiasm motivates you to do your best. Without enthusiasm, most ideas are rarely acted upon. Think about anybody you admire or would like to emulate, and you will probably find that they bring passion into what they do. Moreover, as you pursue something that is important to you, you will probably find obstacles and challenges. Enthusiasm provides the heat and energy needed to remove obstacles and inefficiencies. Notice also that you will need enthusiasm to challenge your unhelpful ways of being. The process of going against those unhelpful patterns will cause friction that also generates heat. Tapas, enthusiasm can best be synthesized as: Do the best that you can.
Svadhyaya means study of wisdom texts, chanting and self-study. Intelligence is knowing yourself well so that you are aware of your ways of being, the habits you have cultivated, consciously and unconsciously throughout your life. Knowing your tendencies and habits helps you avoid usual pitfalls and shortcomings. It also guides your enthusiasm to harness your helpful habits to move in the most fruitful and beneficial direction. Since well-established patterns tend to become unconscious, intelligence is a way to outsmart those tendencies. Your intelligence corroborates what wisdom traditions have suggested as useful ways to live a meaningful life. Svadhyaya is embodied intelligence that can be applied by ensuring that you know why you are doing what you are doing, and by confirming that you are in fact doing what you think you are doing.
Additionally, by knowing yourself well, you remember that you are not perfect and that there are innumerable things that are beyond your control. Ishvara pranidhana, as it was pointed out in 1.23, may be understood as devotion to god, relinquishing the illusion of control or surrendering to the essence of life. When you release the illusion of control, you cultivate humility. Humility encourages you to be honest and patient while also helping you accept and appreciate yourself as you are and the world as it is. It is especially important to accept what can’t be changed so that you can allocate your energy intelligently to changing what needs to be changed. When you accept the perfection of life, then your internal objections, commentary and predilections subside (nirodha). Ishvara pranidhana can be summed up as sincere intention coupled with wholehearted action.
This tripod of enthusiasm, intelligence and humility provides a stable base for your explorations. When you combine enthusiasm, intelligence and humility your actions become vibrant, meaningful and joyful. However, if one of the three pillars is missing, instability develops. In brief, the yogic action defined in this verse simply says: Show up to every single moment of your life with your mind and heart open. How do you cultivate these three attitudes? What do you do to bring aliveness into your attitude? What motivates you? Are you bringing enthusiasm into whatever you are doing? Can you see yourself honestly and know your tendencies and inclinations? Can you use your self-knowledge to guide your actions? Are your ideas and actions logical and intelligent? Are you doing what you think you are doing? What are the words of wisdom that you live by? How do you cultivate a humble attitude? Is it helpful to remember that you did not create yourself? To what extent are you aware of what you do not know and do not understand? Are you acting from the wholeness of your heart? How do you show up to your life? Are there parts of your life that you avoid showing up for?
As usual, one more way of exploring the meaning of this sutra is by chanting it. You can choose to chant it in its traditional form with some of the words coming together:
2.1 tapaḥ svādhyāyeśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyāyogaḥ
तपः स्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि क्रियायोगः ॥१॥
Another option is to chant each word in the sutra individually:
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