Gopal, the infant who had the universe inside his mouth, grew up to be a child who was at times naughty and challenged his mother the way many children would. Once, his mother wanted to tie him up to teach him a lesson, but he used his powers to make sure the rope was too short. His mother found another rope to tie to the first one, and he once again used his powers to keep the rope short. Seeing his mother tired, he felt compassion and let her tie him up. The story portrays the two sides of Gopal, the mischievous one who wanted to have his way and the divine one who knew that kindness is a greater power.
YS IV.7 karma-aśukla-akrsnam yoginas tri-vidham itaresām
The actions of ordinary people are good, bad or mixed, while the actions of a realized yogi are neither good nor bad nor mixed, for the selfless yogi has renounced the fruits of their actions and by doing so has realized God as the ultimate doer.
The first part of the sutra explains that as a jiva or a soul still contained within the vessel and attachment of this body, our actions and our experiences have distinct characteristics: good or bad, or a mixture. That is not to say we will never be free. It merely points out where we are in this journey. It is interesting to see Gopal as a child having the good, bad, and mixture of these qualities because it reminds us that we are still growing in our spiritual quest. In other words, we may look like adults- this layer of a body looks grown up- but our souls are still children deciphering these human experiences. Children have little boundaries, and so we have to experience the range of duality before we can transcend it. We have to know what cold is to understand hot, light to understand heavy, big to understand small, masculine to understand feminine, hard to experience soft, and so on and so forth.
The next step, once we understand duality, is to begin to grasp the idea that these polarities are not absolute. "Bad" actions are not entirely and purely 100% bad, and "good" actions are not entirely and purely 100% good. We begin to develop tolerance, or see that we cannot be so certain about our own opinions as to pretend we are absolutely right and that we know everything. Yes, we understand duality, but we also give space to understand that these dualities can merge, that it's not entirely black and white but rather we are playing with a very broad range of gray.
For example, burglars were reported in the news to return the computers they stole from a sexual assault center. If we were stuck with our conventional understanding of good or bad, we would immediately judge them. They are thieves, hence they are bad, end of story. But by seeing the space in the situation, we understand that these thieves too have compassion. Like Gopal, they portrayed both the bad and the good side. Like Gopal, they found more power in kindness than manipulation.
When we practice asana, we have a tendency to focus only on one thing that is happening in the body, the part that we are putting a lot of stress on. In a hanumanasa or split, we may think of nothing but that hamstring stretch, our world may be limited to just that hamstring stretch for those five breaths, forgetting that in the same pose, we can actually ease up tension on other parts and it will not affect the depth of the pose. So the practice is to see that there is more to consider than the most direct and obvious action. A tadasana or mountain pose is not just about grounding down, it's also about lifting up. Through witnessing the subtler movements in asana, we allow the direct experience of our body to bring us closer to understanding how polarities can and are part of the whole.
When we start to blur the lines of good and bad, right and wrong, we begin to understand that every being is merely motivated by freedom and happiness. Another way we can draw inspiration from Gopal this month is to see that every being was once a child. People we don't get along with, people whose opinions and actions we find hard to accept, people who acted unkindly towards us- they were all once children. And they too, like us, may have already taken on the physical form of an adult, but are still spiritually growing. If we see others as children, how can we fault them? How can we stay mad at them? How can we blame them? They are exploring their range, still finding boundaries, and we happen to cross paths and be a witness to this growth.
The second part of the sutra says that an enlightened soul, a jivan mukta, no longer identifies with these dualities. Wherever we are in our path towards liberation, we experience life as though living in front of a mirror. What we see is the projection of our image. If we feel we are broken, we see others as broken. While we are still on the path to liberation, our practice is to start seeing how there are no absolutes in terms of good and bad, and to start to see that we can merge these dualities and find the completeness instead. When we become enlightened and see ourselves as whole and part of everyone and everything else, then we see nothing else but wholeness in every single being we meet. The image of perfection projects from the perfect one. As the teacher of my teachers Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati said, that is the state in which we are missing nothing. And that is Yoga.