Practice Not Philosophy
There is a fundamental precept to practicing yoga, which is that the mind exists in a more correct state while it is not disturbed by temporary thoughts. So, it may or may not be exactly correct to say that the sutras tell you not to think, but there is no doubt that the goal of yoga is to eliminate the disturbances of consciousness. If this is the case then we can assume then that ignorance (avidya) is itself caused by disturbances of mind, and thus the correlating of the purusha with prakriti another extension of this one malfunction of our existence.
If avidya is the only source of suffering, and this suffering comes from a fundamental miscomprehension of a dualistic reality, then removing the ignorance through correct comprehension can only come through a placid or “clear” mind. If this is the case, without adding or subtracting anything from the statements made in the sutras, we can then assume that yoga has something of a “utilitarian” vibe to it. In other words, yoga sides slightly on the “zen” concept of enlightenment, and away from the “attainment” concept that is common in most religions.
I say this because logically if we have a “mind” (or, more appropriately a “consciousness” or a piece of consciousness attributed to our locale which we exhibit some control over) by which karma enacts itself upon us, then this mind can produce “good” or “bad” karma depending on whatever kind of ignorance it is seeing. A mind, supposedly, which is seeing correctly, or in a way which is consistent with the teachings of yoga, does not create new suffering. The sutras alludes to this as well. This state of being is not something which we attain all of a sudden and then never again have the need for practice, but rather it is an aspect of ourselves which exists at all times, underneath the guise of ignorance which shields us from our experience of ourselves. It is thought, then, that defines what we are not, rather than what we are; according to yoga.
Practicing yoga through philosophical inquiry has been done for centuries by great yogis in the east, but it may be debatable for it to be an effective method of transmission to people in the west, for a few reasons. First of all, sanskrit is an entirely different language than English. While it is related to Latin, Sanskrit definitely has a methodical rhythmic system to it, meant to convey not only through the literal meaning but also through the “feeling” of the words. As someone who has spent hours on end chanting in Sanskrit, I personally vouch for this being the reality. You somehow learn through chanting sanskrit in a visceral way, which seems to be exactly the opposite from the very cognitive and intellectual roots of English speaking people. Understanding yogic concepts purely intellectually, would be only to add to the issue which the sutras is alluding to; clutter of the mind.
Yoga may not directly forbid us from learning, but certainly there are things which can jade the mind in one way or another. Is it simply a matter of giving up on thinking all together? I think this is a viable argument, especially considering how many people are living up in the mountains doing nothing but meditating; but for the rest of us, it’s just not possible. Enter the Ashtanga method.
Ashtanga Yoga is a rebellion against conventional philosophy, and in its furthest reaches, it is even a rebellion against modernized structured religion. I’ll explain why.
Ashtanga deliberately encourages you to practice without fail, and not due to blind faith. Actually, Ashtanga’s credo is to believe in the visceral quality of the practice to awaken more primitive aspects of our physical being, which gives us increased ability to expand our awareness, our perception, to every aspect of our being. Think of our body in terms of neurological patterns. A brain is made of neurons which are not easily distinguishable (mostly) from neurons in any other part of the body. There is simply a concentration of these neurons inside our skulls. While these neurons certainly exist here for a reason, there is consciousness in the rest of our bodies. Practicing asana expands our ability to interpret information through our sensory perception by removing the “static”, by removing the clogged channels of intellect which pervade our bodies. Through the purification of the channels of awareness, energy, et. al. yoga seeks to find within us a very real human which is capable of understanding the truth of our existence. In the case of Ashtanga this truth can be found amidst (we assume) the daily life of a householder, not simply limited to those who can forsake everything and practice yoga in a cave for decades.
A rebellion against the mind is to acknowledge the power of something else, while not necessarily defining it. Again, this isn’t necessarily a blind faith. People who practice yoga can feel the presence of this power, but at times we fail to be able to define it. Therein is exactly the power of yoga. The intellectual mind fails to grasp things outside of its realm of capability. There is no reason for it to have ever been designed by evolution to be able to perceive something beyond itself; most notably, the brain, the thoughts within it (per se) were designed to keep our bodies alive; this is how evolution works. It goes without saying then, that the mind will seek to keep its home alive at all costs. This is an entry point to the concept of “ego” in a yogic context, and the complex issue of self preservation while one takes on a practice that so obviously seeks to destroy aspects of the life form (those which hinder the exploration and realization of the self/purusha).
Practice, not philosophy. It is a key point to understand, but without a teacher it can be treacherous. All students of Ashtanga are advised to take practice and not to talk. There is a reason behind this which goes much farther than just being bossy, gruff, traditional yoga teachers.