Yoda, Patanjali, Yoga Sutras, the Force, and You

My idea of how to appropriately celebrate the completion of another successful and satisfying Anusara Yoga Immersion module is to crash out on my couch with slice of homemade rhubarb pie and pop a copy of “The Empire Strikes Back” into the DVD player. (I know, I’m an odd duck.)

It’s been a while since my last check-in with Luke, Leia, Han, and Yoda, and judging by the number of times I broke into an ear-to-ear smile over the course of the two hours, I’d have to say it’s been way too long.  But the most remarkable part of this watching of this 1980 masterpiece was the incredible parallel between Yoda’s vision of the Force and the cosmology of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the principle text we examine in Anusara Immersion 2.

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” – Yoda.

This is what Yoda says to Luke when Luke questions his ability to raise his sunken spaceship out of the pond into which he crashed it.  Luke thinks that he is not big enough or strong enough for the task, and in his fashion, complains to Yoga about his inadequacy (I love Luke and all, but boy can he whine!) Yoda scolds him, saying that his size has nothing to do with his success (or lack thereof), and attempts to remind him of his true essence – his “luminosity.”  This revelation of Luke’s – and our – inherently divine nature should ring true for all of you yogis out there.  We forget, and then we remember.  That’s the dance we all live in.

But then Yoda squeezes Luke’s arm and calls it “crude matter.”  For those of you familiar with Classical Yoga Philosophy, this line could be straight out of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  In Patanjali’s time (which is about 200 BCE, by the way), it was held that everything could be divided into purusha (spirit) and prakriti (matter).  [For more information on this dichotomy, see my blogpost on the tattvas.]  This is a “dualistic” view of the world – meaning, that spirit and matter are separate, and that in order to connect with one (spirit), we need to transcend the other (matter).  Yoda’s reference to Luke’s body as “crude matter” suggests a hierarchy – the luminous part of Luke being superior to the flesh in which he dwells.  Through Luke’s intense physical and mental training, he can better learn to go beyond his body to connect more deeply with The Force.

Tantric philosophy, the school of thought that arose in India about one thousand years after Patanjali, has a slightly different take on this spirit/matter situation. Tantric thinking is non-dual, which is to say that there is no division between spirit and matter. Tantrikas believe that everything is spirit – and this includes the “crude matter” of our bodies.  This leads to a slightly different perspective on the body.  Rather than working it hard to get up and out of it, we might choose to work it hard to get INTO it, to get to know it better, to appreciate it more.  Yes, we are our divine essence, and that divine essence includes our bodies too.  A Tantrika might reword Yoda’s statement to read:

Luminous beings are we, embodied in this amazing matter.

A subtle, but important, shift!  And one worth thinking about when defining your approach to the world.  Were you raised to think that your body is divine?  Or do you have a deep-seated idea that it is tainted?  Is your bodily experience a gift to be celebrated or a prison to be escaped?  Knowing what you think – better yet, what you FEEL about this question will help you to figure out which of the myriad schools of philosophy you most closely identify with.  In determining that, you may also be more successful finding a yoga class that aligns with your world view and keeps you on your path and in a state of remembrance.

And remember, regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, wise words are worth listening to and contemplating.  Even when they come from 2 foot tall green guys living in swamps!


~ by bridgetannlyons on July 12, 2012.

3 Responses to “Yoda, Patanjali, Yoga Sutras, the Force, and You”

  1. Awesome! I wonder what would people quote more in another 1000 years or so. Yoda or Patanjali? After all Yoda is a short, green Jedi master with a movie deal (pretty straightforward); on the other hand Patanjali is the human incarnation of the Shiva’s sofa-snake Adisesa, who is also one of the many incarnations of Vishnu. Hmmm…

  2. “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” – Yoda.

    Thanks Bridget, I needed that.

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