Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Patanjali Yoga Sutras: Atha 2

Continued from Patanjali Yoga Sutras – Atha 1

Anthropologists talk about the Dobuans of Melanesia. Here is how Ruth Benedict discusses them in Pattern of Culture [1934]:

The Dobuan child in Melanesia might think twice about coming into this world, if he had any choice in the matter. He enters a family where the only member who is likely to care much about him is his uncle, his mother’s brother, to whom he is heir. His father, who is interested in his own sister’s children usually, resents him, for his father must wait until he is weaned before resuming sexual relations with his mother. Often he is also unwanted by his mother, and abortion is common. Little warmth or affection awaits the child in Dobu.

The Dobuan child soon learns that he lives in a world ruled by magic. Nothing happens from natural causes; all phenomena are controlled by witchcraft and sorcery. Illness, accident, and death are evidence that witchcraft has been used against one and call for vengeance from one’s kinsmen. Nightmares are interpreted as witchcraft episodes in which the spirit of the sleeper has narrow escapes from hostile spirits. Crops grow only if one’s long hours of magical chants are successful in enticing the yams away from another’s garden. Even sexual desire does not arise except in response to another’s love magic, which guides one’s steps to his partner, while one’s own love magic accounts for his successes.

Ill will and treachery are virtues in Dobu, and fear dominates Dobuan life. Every Dobuan lives in constant fear of being poisoned. Food is watchfully guarded while in preparation, and there are few persons indeed with whom a Dobuan will eat. The Dobuan couple spend alternate years in the villages of wife and husband, so that one of them is always a distrusted and humiliated outsider who lives in daily expectation of poisoning or other misadventure. Because of numerous divorces and remarriages, each village shelters men from many different villages, so that none of them can trust either their village hosts or one another. In fact, no one can be fully trusted; men are nervous over their wives’ ossible witchcraft and fear their mothers-in-law.

To the Dobuans, all success must be secured at the expense of someone else, just as all misfortune is caused by others’ malevolent magic. Effective magic is the key to success, and a man’s success is measured by his accomplishments in theft and seduction. Adultery is virtually universal, and the successful adulterer, like the successful thief, is much admired.

What kind of personality develops in such a cultural setting? The Dobuan is hostile, suspicious, distrustful, jealous, secretive, and deceitful. These are rational reactions, for his lives in a world filled with evil, surrounded by enemies, witches, and sorcerers. Eventually they are certain to destroy him. Meanwhile he seeks to protect himself by his own magic, but never can he know any sense of comfortable security. A bad nightmare may keep him in bed for days. As measured by our standards of mental hygiene, all Dobuans are paranoid to a degree calling for psychotherapy. But simply to call them paranoid would be incorrect, for their fears are justified and not irrational; the dangers they face are genuine, not imaginary. A true paranoid personality imagines that other people are threatening him, but in Dobu, other people really are out to get him.

Doesn’t the world of Dobu remind us of the world of many business organizations today? Doesn’t the world of Dobu remind us of how a lot of people in the richest part of the world are living today?

Much of our world today is moving in the direction of the Dobuans. Primary relationships are growing weaker and there is more tentativeness about them than ever before. Man’s ability to trust his fellow beings is on a downward slide. More legal papers are being signed today than ever before, more laws are being enacted than ever before. Families are breaking up everywhere – and the more advanced a culture is, like the American culture – the more families break up, creating more and more broken homes. Insecurities and paranoia are haunting man ever increasingly.

Atha means when man realizes it is not worth living like the Dobuan. Atha means when man begins to search for freedom from fears and insecurities, when man begins to seek lightness of heart and a life in which he can breathe more freely.


In 1972, Flora Rheta Schreiber’s Sybil told the world the harrowing story of Sybil Isabel Dorsett, a young woman in her late twenties who was not one person, but sixteen different persons. Subsequently the book was made into a groundbreaking movie that forced the world to sit up and watch holding its breath as a horrid, unforgettable true tale of multiple personality disorder resulting from unspeakable acts of child abuse unreeled on the screen. The book and the movie were telling us the real life story of Shirley Ardell Mason, who later died in 1998, and who had been given the name Sybil in the book and the movie.

[A small aside. In one of my guest lectures at a leading business school, I was discussing the power of the mind/belief and was using Sybil as an example when I found a group of young girls from Europe giggling in great amusement and looking at one of their friends. I stopped the class and asked them why and they pointed at one of the girls and said her name was Sybil. This Sybil, unlike the Sybil of our story, told her friends, had a very rounded and smooth personality.]

To come back to our movie, one day Sybil finds herself standing by a lake in New York, unable to remember how exactly she reached there. The experience was not new to Sybil because she had had several such experiences in the past and so long as she could remember, she had experienced blackouts, some of which had lasted for months.
This leads her to therapy sessions under Dr Cornelia Wilbur and soon a harrowing tale begins to emerge from the therapy.

To begin with, Sybil was very erratic during the therapy sessions. There were sessions during which Sybil was cool and relaxed. At other times she was different – belligerent at times, shy at others; sometimes she was free spirited, at others she was pathologically polite and yet at others, angry or depressed. Her speech and accent changed too – sometimes she sounded crude and uneducated, at others, polished and sophisticated. Eventually Dr Wilbur was able to count sixteen different personalities in Sybil – two of them male, others female. They were really more than different personalities – they were more like sixteen different persons, each with his or her own name [Vicky, Vanessa, Marsha, Mike, Sid, etc.], each with a different speech, different past, different ambitions and aspirations, different fears and frustrations.

Eventually what comes out is a story of “vicious abuse suffered at the hands of her exquisitely insane religious fanatic of a mother who subjected young Sybil to almost daily degradations, most of which involved sexual abuse in the guise of religious practices.” Sybil had created alter egos in order to protect herself when she was unable to handle the horrifying reality of her life and to escape her mother. Before becoming one single person again, these personalities had to be integrated into one.

The European mystic Gurdjieff says that modern man is not one individual and when he says “I” he really rarely means one single individual.

Each one of us a crowd, says Gurdjieff.

Atha means when man has realized this crowd within himself and is ready to integrate himself into one.

Incidentally, the world yoga literally means integration.


To be continued on Patanjali Yoga Sutras Atha 3

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