Early on in the sutras, we were told that abhyasa, practice, leads to citta-vritti-nirodhah, the control of the activities of the mind. Now, Patanjali tells us what exactly practice is. It is eka tattva – one principle. If we fix our minds on one object, we will prevent the nine obstacles from arising, eliminate the four associated symptoms, and cultivate the habit of an even, calm steady state of mind.
There are seven options for eka tattva. The first, explained in sutra 1.33, is probably one of the most well known sutras in the entire text:
maitri-karuna-muditopekshanam sukha-duhka-punyapunya-vishayanam bhavanatash citta-prasadanam
By cultivating the attitudes, bhavanas, of friendliness and love, maitri, for those who are happy, compassion and mercy, karuna, for those who are suffering, joy and goodwill, mudita, for those who are virtuous, and neutrality and indifference, upeksha, for those who are non-virtuous, we develop a pleasant, peaceful, calm and clear state of mind, citta-prasadanam.
How does this approach actually work in real life? With friendliness at the forefront of our interactions with all beings, there is no place for envy in our minds and happiness arises. When we empathize with others, compassion arises and kindness overwhelms. Our benevolence lessens the suffering of others and the desire to inflict harm goes away. Being joyful leaves no space for jealousy of others’ talents, merits and good character. If we are not jealous, then how could we begrudge others for their successes?
The last attitude, to be indifferent to the non-virtuous, is challenging but crucial to attaining a steady state of mind. In our time, as in Patanjali’s, there are wicked, destructive, and hateful people. Equanimity toward such behavior removes intolerance from our mind. It is not to say they are acceptable; they are not. Rather, it is to say that we won’t allow wanton acts by others to interrupt our own pleasant, peaceful, calm state of mind.
No wonder this sutra is so often quoted. It is Psych 101. Negatives are removed and the mind becomes sweet and lucid, no longer ravaged by damaging ruminations. A seeker who has refined their mind to this point is ready for more. And Patanjali delivers six additional sutras on eka tattva – all of which contain the word va.
Va means or – or practice this one or that one or this one – implying they are optional while the four bhavanas are not. Why? In the infinite intelligence of the Yoga Sutras, it is recognized that with the bhavanas in place first, the mind would be ready to accept other practices. Plus, not all of these suggestions are interesting or easily accessible to everyone.
Or, by exhaling and controlling the breath. In this meditative practice, the mind is stilled through simple breath awareness. Right now, take a deep breath in. Consciously and slowly exhale the air out. Hold it out for a few beats. Do it again. Can you feel your body and mind slowing down and tranquility rising up?
Or, by focusing on the inner experience of sense perception, an inclination arises in the mind to become steady and bound in meditation. In other words, by observing the workings of the five senses – smelling, tasting, seeing, touching, and hearing – the mind becomes more aware of the act of sensing versus the object being sensed. This stabilizes the mind.
Or, by focusing on a pain free, balanced, bright, light luminous mind. This light, called jyotishmati, is not optical light, but effulgent, radiant, brilliant light that reflects our pure, internal stable state. The mind is pure, free of pain, grief or suffering.
Or, the mind becomes steady when it takes as the object another mind that is without desire, vita-raga. By focusing on such a mind, our own mind is elevated to a similar state. This person abides in his true nature, has realized the absolute truth of material and spiritual consciousness. This mind could that of a person you already know – a parent, a teacher, a friend. It could be someone that you don’t know personally – a yogi, a realized sage, someone who is no longer embodied. It could be Ishvara, the Lord of Yoga. It could even be you – the version of your own mind without desire.
Or, the mind becomes steady by taking support from the knowledge attained during sleep and dreams. It is said that the dreaming state is an extension of the waking state. As such, as we gain control over the mind during waking hours, the same can be accomplished during sleep. And since in the dream state, there is no awareness of external happenings, only an internal mental awareness, the mind can perceive this knowledge in meditation during the waking state.
Or, meditate according to one’s own predisposition. This is my favorite one – we can meditate on whatever we want, anything that steadies our mind as long as it is balanced, calm, pure and luminous, oriented towards citta-vritti-nirodhah, and leads to freedom.
Eka tattva, one practice, is designed to change a mind from one that is unsteady and unfocused to one that is steady and focused. For one who attains this state, mastery extends from the subtlest atom of knowledge to the greatest totality of matter and become capable of meditating on the paramanu, the subtlest levels of awareness to the paramahattva, the greatest, infinite, endless, unbounded levels of awareness.