4.4 Created minds result from sense of self (asmita).
One fascinating aspect of the Yoga Sutra is that its terseness invites many different interpretations. One approach is to choose one perspective according to one tradition or belief and to interpret the sutra according to that tradition. Another approach is to consider that several interpretations may be correct at different times and for different levels of practice. This second approach was offered in the previous chapter, and in this whole book, to provide an accessible way to practice. For some commentators, this aphorism states that the practitioner creates other body-minds as vehicles of his consciousness that can all be active simultaneously without generating new impressions. The practitioner creates other body-minds to speed up burning his past impressions (samskaras) and karma. A slightly different perspective suggests that the practitioner creates many body-minds, out of compassion, to enhance the quality of life for all beings. Since the practitioner’s being is free from thoughts, the actions accomplished through these bodies do not generate impressions causing future karma. These two complementary interpretations continue the thread of supernatural powers in Chapter Three, framed within the ideas in the past three aphorisms, that coming into being results from removing the obstacles to the flow of natural forces.
One further possible way of understanding this sutra is that the natural flow of life manifests as the sense of self (asmita). This sense of self is the very subtle sense of being. It is this sense of self that is at the core of all your experiences. In fact, it is this asmita that gives you the sense that you are a being, that you exist. Remember that at the very beginning of Chapter Two of the Yoga Sutra, the list of the five afflictions included not knowing your true nature (avidya) as the major obstacle enabling the other obstacles to emerge sequentially (2.3- to 2.9). The second obstacle to appear is the sense of self (asmita 2.6). When this very subtle obstacle is active, it can be neutral. However, it can also trigger the emergence of the other three afflictions, likes (raga 2.7), dislikes (dvesha 2.8), and sense of self-importance, also known as fear of dying (abhinivesha 2.9). According to sutra 4.4, this natural outcropping of nature, your sense of self, is the root of all your identifications. In other words, it is your basic sense of self that creates all the typical conflicting views of who you think you are, who you think you should be, and who you think others expect you to be. In the context of accomplishments, yogis at this level of mastery can connect to their sense of self and deactivate its tendencies towards identification to prevent generating other ways of being (citta).
One possible way of contemplating the message in this sutra is to experience how your sense of self is the point where nature and consciousness meet. Like any other point of interaction between two different principles, asmita is the field where friction between these two different principles will manifest. It may also be useful to remember that this sense of being (asmita) was one of the degrees of meditation mentioned in sutra 1.17. If you remember the idea that yoga is a process of refining your presence, you can approach this contemplation of your sense of being by considering the following two questions:
What are the different labels influencing who you think you are and your actions?
When you quiet down the level of internal activity and identification through meditation, what do you experience?
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:
Another option is to chant each word in the sutra individually:
If you prefer, you may listen to the podcast:
This is an excerpt from the book Unravel the thread: Applying the ancient wisdom of yoga to live a happy life