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Choosing Mindfully

Vitarka badhane pratipaksa bhavanam

"When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is Pratipaksha Bhavana"

or as Swami Hariharananda Aranya describes it:

"When the knower of Brahman experiences feelings of hatred ect. and is tortured by the agonizing fiery passions which lead to wrong course of conduct, such as 'I shall kill him who hurts me, I shall speak untruth, I shall take his things, I shall commit adultery with his wife, I shall take things belonging to others', he should encourage contrary thoughts. He should contemplate on his words and actions"

I personally love this sutra. Now more than ever, we need to be aware of our words, actions and thoughts because the whole world needs it. I often feel overwhelmed by the sadness and the suffering spread all over the world, by the poor guidance of the people in power. This sutra is a reminder of the little things we can do to make ourselves more powerful, and hence serve as pillars for others in times of challenge. We need as many clear minds, and willing hands as possible.

In this Sutra, Patanjali gives us pointers as to how to control the mind and redirect thoughts that don't support a healthy relationship to ourselves (Niyamas) and others (Yamas). It is very hard to to control negative thoughts when we are surrounded by a negative environment both internally and externally. Flipping a negative thought into a positive one takes practice, it's like a muscle you need to build. According to Patanjali these negative thoughts are identifies into 2 categories, known as Yamas and Niyamas and they manifest in the form of: violence, untruthfulness, stealing, sexual indulgence, accumulation, uncleanliness, discontentment, luxury, disinterest in scriptures and lack of devotion to Ishvara

Negative thoughts exist in the mind as a result of the past experiences or samskaras, that are deeply rooted in our subconscious. These thoughts usually will go against the principles of the yamas and niyamas (listed above) and arise when we act in violent, untruthful, dishonest, indulgent, attached, dirty, discontent, lusty, immoral ways. Patanjali reminds us in the Sutra that when negative thoughts arise due to activation of past samskaras, we can choose to cultivate the opposite thoughts. We should keep in mind that thoughts of violence, dishonesty etc. arise because in the past we may have learned to react in this way in order to protect ourselves, or because it may be the easiest method of response. The practice of yoga helps create a stronger presence, which helps in creating the opportunity to think before acting, to observe the nature of a thought before reacting to it. When this method of substituting a negative thought of a positive thought is practiced regularly, it creates a stronger positive (or sattvic) environment which overtime will help us to loosen the grip negative thoughts hold on our minds, and the frequency with which they appear.

"If the thought of hatred is in the mind, we can try to bring in the thought of love. If we can't do that, we can at least go to the people we love and in their presence, forget the hatred. So although the hatred comes to the surface, we can keep it from coming out or staying long by changing the environment." Swami Satchidananda

Here is how you can use the study of the Yamas and Niyamas to begin to control your thought process.


Train your actions, speech, and thoughts in relation to the external world, particularly with other people.

Ahimsa: non violance, Satya: truth, Asteya: non stealing, Brahmacharia: constraint, Aparigraha: non greediness.


Train your actions, speech, and thoughts in relationship to yourself.

Saucha: cleanliness, Santosha: contentment, Tapa: discipline, Svadhyaya: Self study, Ishvara Pranidhana: study of scriptures.

When you are not living a life that is aligned to these principles you are acting, speaking, or thinking in a negative way, hence creating a negative environment around and within yourself. The suggestion in this Sutra is to remind yourself that such negative actions, speech, or thoughts are going in the wrong direction, and will bring you nothing but suffering. "Mind, this is not useful; this is going to bring me nothing but more suffering, and lead me into greater ignorance of truth." I find his simple practice extremely important to balance, purify, and train our minds.

Awareness and witnessing of these is a very useful part of practice, because the mind becomes more quiet and your life more easeful. Building relationship with the world and other people is necessary if we wish to make this world a better place. Practice yoga, cultivate self-awareness and mindfulness of actions, speech, and thoughts. Witness your actions as part of your daily practice. Witness your speech as part of your daily practice. Witness your thoughts as part of your daily practice.

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