I've Got 9/10ths Issues...and Suffering Is One of Them

I love the saying possession is 9/10ths the law. It basically breaks down to custody equals ownership. In a court of law the phrase is a rebuttable presumption: ownership is recognized unless disproved by someone holding a more valid claim. In other words, if I see you driving a new car, I would believe that it is yours. I mean maybe you’re renting it…but the time I saw you driving in it…it is my perception that it was yours! If my eyes see ‘it’ (perception) and you have ‘it’ which I see…then it’s yours!  Right? Maybe I see you and you look like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. That must be heavy. What about when we see ourselves and we ‘feel?’ I feel like I am carrying the weight of the world…it sure is heavy! I just can’t seem to shake whatever it is that is bothering me…it is really getting the best of me. I am sad!

Chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutras is about the ‘process of practice’ and how suffering is related to perception, which is connected to karma, which is connected to cause and effect. Well, physics is also about cause and effect. So I guess if you can’t understand karma, maybe you can understand physics. If you can’t understand physics…then I suppose it’s back to the yoga mat for more reflection.

Going back to possession and how it’s 9/10ths the law. That is wholly based on perception. In other words, someone has to physically see you with something in order to proclaim you in fact have whatever it is they physically see. So if you and I can physically see someone in possession of something, we can easily assume to the degree of 9/10ths or roughly 90% accuracy that the person owns whatever it is. What if we can’t see it? What if it’s not tangible, or as described in the Yoga Sutras, undifferentiated…meaning it is invisible? Then what? How are these variables or perhaps citta-vritti related?

In physics cause and effect relationships are categorized by how the variables (citta-vritti) relate to each other. There are two main relationships: direct and inverse. When you turn the heater on, it gets warm. That is a direct relationship. Magnets are great examples of an inverse relationship because as you increase the distance between two charged magnets, you decrease the force of attraction or repulsion. In physics…you can well physically see these things happen. If you’re really smart you might even be able to come up with a regression formula that mathematically proves the direct and inverse relationships.

In life…we often can’t physically see things. When someone says that you look like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, they don’t physically see the entire world on your shoulders. At least I hope they don’t. When you are sad, depressed, anxious etc…you don’t physically see what is causing you to feel this way. Rather you perceive yourself to be….fill in the blank. These feelings are however related karma, which is related to cause and effect…and we know that physics is also related to cause and effect. Public math…if possession is 9/10ths of the law…that is to say that I physically see you with something (direct relationship) then if I can’t see something (vitta-vritti), but I perceive there must be something causing this current level of discomfort, might it be safe to say that if I can’t see it, then it must be inversely proportional to that what I can see? For the sake of easy math…and not subject to debate, let’s say it’s 1/10th. If we accept this genius mathematical assumption, then I can then break down chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutras by saying that the cause of all suffering is based on 1/10th of reality.

Pantanjali suggests not seeing things as they are as the cause of ALL suffering. Call it false perception, or misperception, on a scientific level, if you can’t see it, then how accurate can your perceptions really be? Sadly, it doesn’t matter. Back to physics again…Newton's first law of motion - sometimes referred to as the law of inertia states, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” Suffering seeks to remain in the state of suffering, much like an object in motion stays in motion. In physics it takes an unbalanced force (action) to change the direction of motion. In life, it takes skillful action to change the suffering.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re with a bunch of positive happy people, you’re happy and positive…but when you’re surrounded by sullen and sad people you tend to (eventually unless you leave) to get soar and depressed? Yeah…kind of like Newton’s Law, or Pantanjali’s ‘process of practice.’ The core of Pantanjali’s ‘process of practice,’ is the yogic skill of discrimination, or as he calls it, viveka. Much like Newton’s Law of motion, in order to change the direction of suffering, you will need to put in some continual effort (action/unbalanced force) and practice.

Here’s where it gets tricky. This continual effort you’ll be applying is really no effort at all! Let me explain. My yoga teacher Rolf Gates often says, “Going after something usually results in crisis. Things don’t come up when you want fix them…they come up when you’re ready to fix them! When you have enough bandwidth to focus.” Confused? Well, remember nothing worth doing is every easy, however, I might be able to make all of this karma-slash-physics-slash-Newton-random Sanskrit word all make sense.

The art of discrimination, this yogic skill, or viveka needs to start somewhere. Much like a seed you plant, you must water, nurture, refine, and then harvest…repeat. In order to create an environment where your viveka seeds will grow (gain momentum/create an unbalanced force) we will need some tools. Theories and calculators are very popular tools in physics. Together they provide a framework of accepted results and a manner in which to calculate the result. Pantanali offers something very similar. He has 10 theories broken down into five things you should not do and five things you should do. Instead of a calculator, Pantanjali offers compassion.

You may of heard of Pantanjali’s 10 theories, more commonly known as the Yamas (the do not’s) and Niyamas (the do’s.)  They represent the first two arms of a bigger formula for success called the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Here is a quick breakdown of them:

Yamas - the five restraints or the "don'ts"

  1. Ahimsa - Non-violence

  2. Satya - Truthfulness

  3. Brahmacharya - Control of the senses and celibacy

  4. Asteya - Non-stealing

  5. Aparigraha - Non-covetousness and non-acceptance of gifts

Niyamas - the five observances or the "do's"

  1. Saucha - Purity, cleanliness

  2. Santosha - Contentment

  3. Tapas - Austerity

  4. Swadhyaya - Self-study, study of scriptures

  5. Ishwara Pranidhana - Surrender to God's will

These are tools of the trade. When applied on a consistent basis (viveka) they will begin to work in concert with your power of reason. Sort of like some kind of Jedi-mind trick. In short, collectively the Yamas and Niyamas begin to create momentum where as you will begin to move from judging to noticing…from unskillful means of living to skillful means…from reacting from a place of false perception to integrating compassion in a non-reactive gentle way.

Still confused? OK…let me try and bring it all home by using yet another adage. I always chuckle a little when someone brings up either in a direct way or indirect way about how the grass is always greener on the other side. It comes up when people are leaving a job they no longer like (or got fired from) and are headed to a new one…or many different ways…you get my jest. I have found over the years, the grass is rarely greener on the other side. However, in some cases…it has been truly greener. Want to know why? In a word…VIVEKA! In normal words…because that person has tended to his grass…watered it, nurtured it and cultivated it in order to keep it from browning. Sure does sound a lot like Newton’s Law and Pantanjali’s ‘process of practice.’

If we are able to recognize when we are suffering because of false perceptions (know when to water the grass) and instead of judging the sensations, apply yogic skill (recognizing when to cut the grass), we will eventually be able to identify some sort of cause and effect (water makes grass green…weeds kill grass). From here all we have to do is apply the Yamas and Niyams (fertilize and remove any weeds) on a consistent basis. If you plant good seeds…you’ll get good fruit. If you cultivate compassion…you’ll get profound stillness and peace. However, if you still want to cultivate false perceptions…you will forever be seeking green grass elsewhere when the most amazingly lush grass is well within your reach.