Opening your sulice gates
Swami J's Newsletter
September 22, 2001
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali offers the metaphor of the farmer's
sluice gate to describe one of the most important principles of
meditation and sadhana (spiritual practices).
The crops in a field may be planted in many long rows. When the field
is watered, the water is channeled to come into the end of the field
that has the higher ground. Then the water naturally flows downhill,
going into each of the many rows.
However, the farmer may want the water to only go into one section of
the field at a time, so he puts a "sluice gate" at the
entrance to the various rows that supply water to the different
sections of the field. Then the water will NOT flow into those
sections closed off by a sluice gate. (The sluice gate may be a piece
of wood or a little pile of dirt.)
When it's time to water the field, the farmer does not go out to
the rows and start pushing the water around with his hands. Rather,
the farmer OPENS the sluice gate of the section of the field where he
wants the water to flow, and it flows in accordance with its own
In spiritual practices it can seem as if we are supposed to gain
something through our efforts. The process does not really work like
that. What has happened is that through our past actions we have
created barriers, or sluice gates in the unconscious. It is these
barriers that need to be reduced and removed.
Thus, when we do a pious, proper, or useful act, it is not that this
act itself brings us anything directly (That would be like pushing
the water with our hands). Rather, what the pious, proper, or useful
act does is to remove the effects of our previous impious, improper,
or not useful acts that have turned into internal barriers or blocks.
Then the purity underneath can naturally flow throughout the field of
mind and body.
But how do we do this? How do we learn to open our sluice gates? One
of the first things to do is understand that we need to learn how to
UN-learn. This may mean doing practices, going to classes, reading
books, and asking questions. We are definitely gaining new
information in these activities, but it is knowledge on how to remove
obstacles, not knowledge of truth itself. That knowledge of truth
itself comes from the UN-learning process. In this way we gradually
learn how to be farmers skilled in the art of sluice gate management.
The sage Vyasa gives descriptive comments on this Sutra of Patanjali,
and offers an added metaphor of how a farmer cannot force the healthy
sap to grow into the roots of corn, but must remove the weeds so that
the corn can naturally grow.
May your sluice gates open so that the Joy may naturally flow and
grow a beautiful crop of corn that others may savor.
In loving service,