The Role of the Inner Standpoint in Overcoming Depression and Ambition in the Practice of Yoga

Many people, not just those who practice yoga, experience times when they feel like their lives are meaningless, they are helpless to change, and the round of daily life, with its little wants and needs, and fulfillment of desires, is empty and distasteful. They experience in some cases a sense of what is known in yogic terminology as vairagya, renunciation, even if it is for them a fleeting emotion. The practitioner of yoga, who has set before himself an objective to go beyond the round of ordinary life and embody some higher form of consciousness, may actually feel such a movement quite intensely. The sense of renunciation does not always come from frustrated desire, but for those already attempting to go beyond, the actual fulfilling of the desire can rebound on the psychology as a failure and a setback, and a weakness.

This can set off a round of depression as tamas rises, followed by rajas when the ambition asserts itself. There is no real way out of this ‘endless loop’, which is why some seekers choose to avoid living the life of the world entirely and, abandoning all superficial goals of life, they depart for the forest, the desert or the monastery to devote themselves to their calling. Yet this does not also solve the issue. The round of depression and ambition follows them wherever they go and whatever their endeavours, although the excuse for the reactions may change as one changes one’s surroundings and daily actions.

Sri Aurobindo provides a way of resolution from this cycle, which involves engaging sattwa and developing the separation of Purusha and Prakriti, such that one takes the standpoint of the witness consciousness and is not disturbed by the ever-changing moods and energies of the outer nature. As the seeker draws back into his inner being, he takes the poise of the psychic being, the central flame of devotion that aligns him to the higher consciousness, and these superficial actions and reactions begin to lose their significance.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The rule in yoga is not to let the depression depress you, to stand back from it, observe its cause and remove the cause; for the cause is always in oneself, perhaps a vital defect somewhere, a wrong movement indulged or a petty desire causing a recoil, sometimes by its satisfaction, sometimes by its disappointment. In yoga a desire satisfied, a false movement given its head produces very often a worse recoil than disappointed desire.”

“What is needed for you is to live more deeply within, less in the outer vital and mental part which is exposed to these touches. The inmost psychic being is not oppressed by them; it stands in its own closeness to the Divine and sees the small surface movements as surface things foreign to the true Being.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Difficulties and Depression, pp. 273-275

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