Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Light on the Yoga
Sutras of Patañjali
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Published by Thorsons 1996
Published by The Aquarian Press 1993
First published in Great Britain by George Allen & Unwin, 1966
Copyright © B.K.S. Iyengar 1993
B.K.S. Iyengar asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
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Source ISBN: 9780007145164
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This work is my offering to
my Invisible, First and Foremost Guru
Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras are the bible of yoga. However, their inaccessibility in the hands of scholars and academics has left yoga practitioners adrift with neither chart nor compass. B.K.S. Iyengar’s translation, based on over fifty years of dedicated and accomplished practice and teaching, is unique in its relevance and utility to contemporary yoga practitioners. The depth of his practice and understanding shines through his elucidation of the often terse and obscure sutras. Iyengar’s ability to elucidate Patañjali in pragmatic terms is an extension of his clarification of the subtlety and integrity of yoga practice. This is most evident in the rigorous precision with which he understands and articulates the body in yoga postures. However, it goes further and much deeper than that. In his unique investigation of alignment, Iyengar not only reveals the therapeutic necessity of stuctural integrity in the body, but also its subtle and equally necessary impact on the flow of energy and consciousness in the mind.
What Iyengar has proved, for those willing to apply themselves to test it, is that the apparent divide between matter and spirit, body and soul, and physical and spiritual is only that: apparent. Through his insistence on structural integrity he has opened the spiritual doorway to millions of people for whom the mind would otherwise never give up its subtleties. Here, in his presentation of Patañjali, that door is flung wide open. This is especially clear, to even the least academically minded student, in his profound and practical interpretations of the sutras relating to Asana and pranayama. Here, especially, Iyengar’s genius comes as a great gift of clarity and insight that can only deepen the understanding and support the practice of any keen student.
Iyengar’s incomparable experience as an Indian teacher of Westerners, combined with his experience as a Brahmin and participant in a genuine lineage of the yoga tradition, gives his perspective an authority and authenticity that is all too often lacking. It offers a lucid and pragmatic interpretation of the insights and subtleties of yoga’s root guru. To practice yoga without the profound and panoramic inner cartography of the Yoga Sutras is to be adrift in a difficult and potentially dangerous ocean. To use that map without the compass of Iyengar’s deep and authoritative experience, is to handicap oneself unnecessarily. No yoga practitioner should be without this classic and invaluable work.
I express my sense of gratitude to Thorsons, who are bringing out my Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali in this new attractive design, as a feast not only for the physical eyes but also for the intellectual and spiritual eye.
As a mortal soul, it is a bit of an embarrassment for me with my limited intelligence to write on the immortal work of Patañjali on the subject of yoga.
If God is considered the seed of all knowledge (sarvajña bijan), Patañjali is all knower, all wise (sarvajñan), of all knowledge. The third part of his Yoga Sutras (the vibuti pada) makes it clear to us that we should respect him as a knower of all knowledge and a versatile personality.
It is impossible, even for sophisticated minds, to comprehend fully what knowledge he had. We find him speaking on an enormous range of subjects – art, dance, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, physics, chemistry, psychology, biology, neurology, telepathy, education, time and gravitational theory – with a divine spiritual knowledge.
He was a perfect master of cosmic energy; he knew the pranic energy centres in the body; his intelligence (buddhi) was as clean and clear as crystal and his words express him as a pure perfect being.
Patañjali’s sutras make use of his great versatility of language and mind. He clothes the righteous and virtuous aspects of religious matters with a secular fabric and in so doing is able to skilfully present the wisdom of both the material and the spiritual world, blending them as a universal culture.
Patañjali fills each sutra with his experiential intelligence, stretching it like a thread (sutra), and weaving it into a garland of pearls of wisdom to flavour and savour by those who love and live in yoga, as wise-men in their lives.
Each sutra conveys the practice as well as the philosophy behind the practice, as a practical philosophy for aspirants and seekers (sadhakas) to follow in life.
What is sadhana?
Sadhana is a methodical, sequential means to accomplish the sadhana’s aims in life. The sadhana’s aims are right duty (dharma), a rightful purpose and means (artha), right inclinations (kama) and ultimate release or emancipation (moksa).
If dharma is the atonement of duty (dharma sastra), artha is the means to purification of action (karma sastra). Our inclinations (kama) are made good through study of sacred texts and growth towards wisdom (svadhyaya and jñana sastra), and emancipation (moksa) is reached through devotion (bhakti sastra) and meditation (dhyana sastra).
It is dharma that uplifts man who has fallen physically, mentally, morally, intellectually and spiritually, or who is about to fall. Therefore, dharma is that which upholds, sustains and supports man.
These aims are all stages on the road to perfect knowledge (vedanta). The term vedanta comes from Veda, meaning knowledge, and anta meaning the end of knowledge. The true end of knowledge is emancipation and liberation from all imperfections. Hence the journey, or vedanta, is an act of pursuit of the vision of wisdom to transform one’s conduct and actions in order to experience the ultimate reality of life.
Due to lack of knowledge or misunderstanding, fear, love of the self, attachment and aversion with respect to the material world, one’s actions and conduct become disturbed. This disturbance shows as lust (kama), wrath (krodha), greed (lobha), infatuation (moha), intoxication (mada) and malice (matsarya). All of these emotional turbulences affect the psyche by veiling the intelligence.
The yoga sadhana of Patañjali comes to us as a penance in order to minimise or eradicate these disturbed and destructive emotive thoughts and the actions that accrue from them.
The yoga sadhana of Patañjali
The Sadhana is a rhythmic, three-tiered practice (sadhana-traya), covering the eight aspects or petals of yoga in a capsule as kriya yoga, the yoga of action, whereby all actions are surrendered to the Divinity (see Sutra II.1 in the sadhana pada). These three tiers (sadhana-traya) represent the body (kaya), the mind (manasa) and the speech (vak).
At the level of the body, tapas, or the drive towards purity, develops the student through practice on the path of right action (karma marga).
At the level of the mind, through careful study of the self and the mind in it’s consciousness, the student develops self-knowledge, svadhyaya, leading to the path of wisdom (jñanamarga).
Later, profound meditation using the voice to pronounce the universal aum (see Sutras I.27 and 28) directs the self to abandon ego (ahamkara), and to feel virtuousness (silata), and so it becomes the path of devotion (bhakti marga).
Tapas is a burning desire for ascetic, devoted sadhana, through yama, niyama, Asana and pranayama. This cleanses the body and senses (karmendriya and jñanendriya), and frees one from afflictions (klesa nivrtti).
Svadhyaya means the study of the Vedas, spiritual scriptures that define the real and the unreal, or the study of one’s own self (from the body to the self). This study of spiritual science (atma sastra) ignites and inspires the student for self-progression. Thus svadhyaya is for restraining the fluctuations (mano vrtti nirodha) and in its wake comes tranquillity (samadhana citta) in the consciousness. Here the petals of yoga are pratyahara and dharana, besides the former aspects of tapas.
Isvara pranidhana is the surrender of oneself to God, and is the finest aspect of yoga sadhana. Patañjali explains God as a Supreme Soul, who is eternally free from afflictions, unaffected by actions and their reactions or by their residue. He advises one to think of God through repeating His name (japa), with profound thoughtfulness (arthabhavana), so that the seeker’s speech can become sanctified and thus the seed of imperfection (dosa bija) or defect be eradicated (dosa nivrtti) once and for all.
From here on, his sadhana continues uninterruptedly with devotion (anusthana). This practice, (sadhana-ana) will go on generating knowledge until he touches the towering wisdom (see Sutra II.28 in the sadhana pada).
Through the capsule of kriya yoga, Patañjali explains the cosmogony of nature and how to ultimately co-ordinate nature, in body, mind and speech. Through discipline tapas, study – svadhyaya, and devotion – Isvara pranidhana, the student can become free from nature’s erratic play, remaining in the abode of the Self.
In Sutra II.19 in the sadhana pada, Patañjali identifies the distinguishable, or physically manifest (visesa) marks and the non-distinguishable, or subtle, (avisesa) elements which comprise existence and which are transformed to take the individual to the noumenal (linga) state. Then through astanga yoga, coupled with sadhana-traya, all nature, or prakrti (alinga) becomes one, merged.
He defines the distinguishable marks of nature as the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether; (pañca-bhuta); the five organs of action (karmendriya); the five senses of perception (jñanendriya), and the mind (manas). The non-distinguishable marks are defined as the tanmatra (sound, touch, shape, taste and smell) and pride (ahamkara). These twenty-two principles have to merge in mahat (linga), and then dissolve in nature (prakrti). The first sixteen distinguishable marks are brought under control by tapas – practice and discipline, the six undistinguishable ones by svadhyaya – study and abhyasa – repetition. Nature, prakrti, and mahat,the Universal Consciousness, become one through and in Isvara pranidhana.
At this point all oscillations of the gunas that shape existence terminate and prakrtijaya, a mastery over nature, takes place. From this quiet silence of prakrti, Self (purusa) shines forth like the never fading sun.
In the Hathayoga Pradipika Svatmarama explains something very similar. He says that the body, being inert, tamasic, is uplifted to the level of the active, rajasic, mind through Asana and pranayama with yama and niyama. When the body is made as vibrant as the mind, through study, svadhyaya and through practice and repetitions, abhyasa, both mind and body are lifted towards the noumenal state of sattva guna. From sattva guna the sadhaka follows Isvara pranidhana to become a gunatitan (free from gunas).
Patañjali also addresses Svatmarama’s explanation of the different capabilities and therefore expectations for weak (mrdu), average (madhyama) and outstanding (adhimatra) students (see I.22). He guides the most basic beginner (the tamasic sadhaka) to follow yama, niyama, Asana, and pranayama as tapas, to become madhyadhikarins (vibrant and rajasic), and to intensify this practice into pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) and dharana (intense focus and concentration) as their path of study, svadhyaya, and then to proceed towards sattva guna through dhyana (devotion), and to gunatitan (the state uninfluenced by the gunas) into samadhi, the most profound state of meditiation – through Isvara pranidhana.
By this graded practice, according to the level of the sadhaka, all sadhakas have to touch the purusa (hrdayasparsi), sooner or later through tivra samvega sadhana (I.21).
Hence, kriya yoga sadhana-traya envelopes all the aspects of astanga yoga, each complimenting (puraka) and supplementing (posaka) the others. When sadhana becomes subtle and fine, then tapas, svadhyaya and Isvara pranidhana, work in unison with the eight-petals of astanga yoga, and the sadhanaka’s mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi) and ‘I’ ness or ‘mineness’ (ahamkara) are sublimated. Only then does he become a yogi. In him friendliness, compassion, gladness and oneness (samanata) flows benevolently in body, consciousness and speech to live in beatitude (divya ananda).
This is the way of the practice (sadhana), as explained by Patañjali that lifts even a raw sadhaka to reach ripeness in his sadhana and experience emancipation.
I am indebted to Thorsons for this special edition of Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, enabling readers to take a dip in sadhana and savour the nectar of immortality.
14 December 2001
First I would like to tell you something about Patañjali, who he was and what was his lineage. Historically, Patañjali may have lived some time between 500 and 200 B.C., but much of what we know of the master of yoga is drawn from legends. He is referred to as a svayambhu, an evolved soul incarnated of his own will to help humanity. He assumed human form, experienced our sorrows and joys, and learned to transcend them. In the Yoga Sutras he described the ways of overcoming the afflictions of the body and the fluctuations of the mind: the obstacles to spiritual development.
Patañjali’s words are direct, original and traditionally held to be of divine provenance. After more than twenty centuries they remain fresh, fascinating and all-absorbing, and will remain so for centuries to come.
Patañjali’s 196 aphorisms or sutras cover all aspects of life, beginning with a prescribed code of conduct and ending with man’s vision of his true Self. Each word of the sutras is concise and precise. As individual drops of rain contribute towards the formation of a lake, so each word contained in the sutras conveys a wealth of thought and experience, and is indispensable to the whole.
Patañjali chose to write on three subjects, grammar, medicine and yoga. The Yoga Sutras, his culminating work, is his distillation of human knowledge. Like pearls on a thread, the Yoga Sutras form a precious necklace, a diadem of illuminative wisdom. To comprehend their message and put it into practice is to transform oneself into a highly cultured and civilized person, a rare and worthy human being.
Though I have practised and worked in the field of yoga for more than fifty years, I may have to practice for several more lifetimes to reach perfection in the subject. Therefore, the explanation of the most abstruse sutras lies yet beyond my power.
It is said that once Lord Visnu was seated on Adisesa, Lord of serpents, His couch, watching the enchanting dance of Lord siva. Lord Visnu was so totally absorbed in the dance movements of Lord siva that His body began to vibrate to their rhythm. This vibration made Him heavier and heavier, causing Adisesa to feel so uncomfortable that he was gasping for breath and was on the point of collapse. The moment the dance came to an end, Lord Visnu’s body became light again. Adisesa was amazed and asked his master the cause of these stupendous changes. The Lord explained that the grace, beauty, majesty and grandeur of Lord siva’s dance had created corresponding vibrations in His own body, making it heavy. Marvelling at this, Adisesa professed a desire to learn to dance so as to exalt his Lord. Visnu became thoughtful, and predicted that soon Lord siva would grace Adisesa to write a commentary on grammar, and that he would then also be able to devote himself to perfection in the art of dance. Adisesa was over-joyed by these words and looked forward to the descent of Lord siva’s grace.
Adisesa then began to meditate to ascertain who would be his mother on earth. In meditation, he had the vision of a yogini by the name of Gonika who was praying for a worthy son to whom she could impart her knowledge and wisdom. He at once realized that she would be a worthy mother for him, and awaited an auspicious moment to become her son.
Gonika, thinking that her earthly life was approaching its end, had not found a worthy son for whom she had been searching. Now, as a last resort, she looked to the Sun God, the living witness of God on earth and prayed to Him to fulfil her desire. She took a handful of water as a final oblation to Him, closed her eyes and meditated on the Sun. As she was about to offer the water, she opened her eyes and looked at her palms. To her surprise, she saw a tiny snake moving in her palms who soon took on a human form. This tiny male human being prostrated to Gonika and asked her to accept him as her son. This she did and named him Patañjali.
Pata means falling or fallen and añjali is an oblation. Añjali also means ‘hands folded in prayer’. Gonika’s prayer with folded hands thus bears the name Patañjali. Patañjali, the incarnation of Adisesa, Lord Visnu’s bearer, became not only the celebrated author of the Yoga Sutras but also of treatises on Ayurveda and grammar.
He undertook the work at Lord siva’s command. The Mahabhasya, his great grammar, a classical work for the cultivation of correct language, was followed by his book on Ayurveda, the science of life and health. His final work on yoga was directed towards man’s mental and spiritual evolution. All classical dancers in India pay their homage to Patañjali as a great dancer.
Together, Patañjali’s three works deal with man’s development as a whole, in thought, speech and action. His treatise on yoga is called yoga darsana. Darsana means ‘vision of the soul’ and also ‘mirror’. The effect of yoga is to reflect the thoughts and actions of the aspirant as in a mirror. The practitioner observes the reflections of his thoughts, mind, consciousness and actions, and corrects himself. This process guides him towards the observation of his inner self.
Patañjali’s works are followed by yogis to this day in their effort to develop a refined language, a cultured body and a civilized mind.
The book is divided into four chapters or padas (parts or quarters), covering the art, science and philosophy of life. The 196 sutras are succinct, precise, profound, and devout in approach. Each contains a wealth of ideas and wisdom to guide the aspirant (sadhaka) towards full knowledge of his own real nature. This knowledge leads to the experience of perfect freedom, beyond common understanding. Through ardent study of the sutras, and through devotion, the sadhaka is finally illumined by the lamp of exalted knowledge. Through practice, he radiates goodwill, friendliness and compassion. This knowledge, gained through subjective experience gives him boundless joy, harmony and peace.
As with the Bhagavad Gita, different schools of thought have interpreted the sutras in various ways, placing the emphasis on their particular path towards Self-Realization, whether on karma (action), jñana (wisdom) or bhakti (devotion). Each commentator bases his interpretations on certain key or focal themes and weaves around them his thoughts, feelings and experiences. My own interpretations are derived from a lifelong study of yoga, and from experiences gained from the practice of Asana, pranayama and dhyana. These are the key aspects of yoga which I use to interpret the sutras in the simplest and most direct way, without departing from traditional meanings given by successive teachers.
The four chapters or padas of the book are:
1 Samadhi pada (on contemplation)
2 Sadhana pada (on practice)
3 Vibhuti pada (on properties and powers)
4 Kaivalya pada (on emancipation and freedom)
The four padas correspond to the four varñas or divisions of labour; the four asramas or stages of life; the three guñas or qualities of nature and the fourth state beyond them (sattva, rajas, tamas and guatita) and the four purusarthas or aims of life. In the concluding sutra of the fourth pada, Patañjali speaks of the culmination of purusarthas and gunas as the highest goal of yoga sadhana. These concepts must have been wholly understood in Patañjali’s time, and therefore implicit in the earlier chapters, for him to speak of them explicitly only at the very end of the book.
The ultimate effect of following the path laid out by Patañjali is to experience the effortless, indivisible state of the seer.
The first pada amounts to a treatise on dharmasastra, the science of religious duty. Dharma is that which upholds, sustains, and supports one who has fallen or is falling, or is about to fall in the sphere of ethics, physical or mental practices, or spiritual discipline. It appears to me that Patañjali’s whole concept of yoga is based on dharma, the law handed down in perpetuity through Vedic tradition. The goal of the law of dharma is emancipation.
If dharma is the seed of yoga, kaivalya (emancipation) is its fruit. This explains the concluding sutra, which describes kaivalya as the state which is motiveless and devoid of all worldly aims and qualities of nature. In kaivalya, the yogi shines in his own intelligence which sprouts from the seer, atman, independent of the organs of action, senses of perception, mind, intelligence and consciousness. Yoga is, in fact, the path to kaivalya.
Dharma, the orderly science of duty is part of the eightfold path of yoga (astanga yoga), which Patañjali describes in detail. When the eight disciplines are followed with dedication and devotion, they help the sadhaka to become physically, mentally and emotionally stable so that he can maintain equanimity in all circumstances. He learns to know the Supreme Soul, Brahman, and to live in speech, thought and action in accordance with the highest truth.
The first chapter, samadhi pada, defines yoga and the movement of the consciousness, citta vrtti. It is directed towards those who are already highly evolved to enable them to maintain their advanced state of cultured, matured intelligence and wisdom. Rare indeed are such human souls who experience samadhi early in life, for samadhi is the last stage of the eightfold path of yoga. Samadhi is seeing the soul face to face, an absolute, indivisible state of existence, in which all differences between body, mind and soul are dissolved. Such sages as Hanuman, suka, Dhruva, Prahlada, sankaracarya, Jñanesvar, Kabir, Svami Ramdas of Maharastra, Ramakrsna Paramahamsa and Ramata Maharsi, evolved straight to Kaivalya without experiencing the intermediate stages of life or the various stages of yoga. All the actions of these great seers arose from their souls, and they dwelled throughout their lives in a state of unalloyed bliss and purity.
The word samadhi is made up of two components. Sama means level, alike, straight, upright, impartial, just, good and virtuous; and adhi means over and above, i.e. the indestructible seer. Samadhi is the tracing of the source of consciousness – the seer – and then diffusing its essence, impartially and evenly, throughout every particle of the intelligence, mind, senses and body.
We may suppose that Patañjali’s intention, in beginning with an exegesis of samadhi, was to attract those rare souls who were already on the brink of Self-Realization, and to guide them into experiencing the state of nonduality itself. For the uninitiated majority, the enticing prospect of samadhi, revealed so early in his work, serves as a lamp to draw us into yogic discipline, which will refine us to the point where our own soul becomes manifest.
Patañjali describes the fluctuations, modifications and modulations of thought which disturb the consciousness, and then sets out the various disciplines by which they may be stilled. This has resulted in yoga being called a mental sadhana (practice). Such a sadhana is possible only if the accumulated fruits derived from the good actions of past lives (samskaras) are of a noble order. Our samskaras are the fund of our past perceptions, instincts and subliminal or hidden impressions. If they are good, they act as stimuli to maintain the high degree of sensitivity necessary to pursue the spiritual path.
Consciousness is imbued with the three qualities (gunas) of luminosity (sattva), vibrancy (rajas) and inertia (tamas). The gunas also colour our actions: white (sattva), grey (rajas) and black (tamas). Through the discipline of yoga, both actions and intelligence go beyond these qualities and the seer comes to experience his own soul with crystal clarity, free from the relative attributes of nature and actions. This state of purity is samadhi. Yoga is thus both the means and the goal. Yoga is samadhi and samadhi is yoga.
There are two main types of samadhi. Sabija or samprajñata samadhi is attained by deliberate effort, using for concentration an object or idea as a ‘seed’. Nirbija samadhi is without seed or support.
Patañjali explains that before samadhi is experienced the functioning of consciousness depends upon five factors: correct perception, misperception (where the senses mislead), misconception or ambiguousness (where the mind lets one down), sleep, and memory. The soul is pure, but through the sullying or misalignment of consciousness it gets caught up in the spokes of joys and sorrows and becomes part of suffering, like a spider ensnared in its own web. These joys and sorrows may be painful or painless, cognizable or incognizable.
Freedom, that is to say direct experience of samadhi, can be attained only by disciplined conduct and renunciation of sensual desires and appetites. This is brought about through adherence to the ‘twin pillars’ of yoga, abhyasa and vairagya.
Abhyasa (practice) is the art of learning that which has to be learned through the cultivation of disciplined action. This involves long, zealous, calm, and persevering effort. Vairagya (detachment or renunciation) is the art of avoiding that which should be avoided. Both require a positive and virtuous approach.
Practice is a generative force of transformation or progress in yoga, but if undertaken alone it produces an unbridled energy which is thrown outwards to the material world as if by centrifugal force. Renunciation acts to shear off this energetic outburst, protecting the practitioner from entanglement with sense objects and redirecting the energies centripetally towards the core of being.
Patañjali teaches the sadhaka to cultivate friendliness and compassion, to delight in the happiness of others and to remain indifferent to vice and virtue so that he may maintain his poise and tranquillity. He advises the sadhaka to follow the ethical disciplines of yama and niyama, the ten precepts similar to the Ten Commandments, which govern behaviour and practice and form the foundation of spiritual evolution. He then offers several methods through which consciousness detaches itself from intellectual and emotional upheavals and assumes the form of the soul – universal, devoid of all personal and material identity. The sadhaka is now filled with serenity, insight and truth. The soul, which until now remained unmanifest, becomes visible to the seeker. The seeker becomes the seer: he enters a state without seed or support, nirbija samadhi.
In the second chapter, sadhana pada, Patañjali comes down to the level of the spiritually unevolved to help them, too, to aspire to absolute freedom. Here he coins the word kriyayoga. Kriya means action, and kriyayoga emphasizes the dynamic effort to be made by the sadhaka. It is composed of eight yogic disciplines, yama and niyama, Asana and pranayama, pratyahara and dharana, dhyana and samadhi. These are compressed into three tiers. The tier formed by the first two pairs, yama and niyama, Asana and pranayama, comes under tapas (religious spirit in practice). The second tier, pratyahara and dharana, is self-study (svadhyaya). The third, dhyana and samadhi, is Isvara pranidhana, the surrender of the individual self to the Universal Spirit, or God (Isvara).
In this way, Patañjali covers the three great paths of Indian philosophy in the Yoga Sutras. Karmamarga, the path of action is contained in tapas; jñanamarga, the path of knowledge, in svadhyaya; and bhaktimarga, the path of surrender to God, in Isvara pranidhana.
In this chapter, Patañjali identifies avidya, spiritual ignorance, as the source of all sorrow and unhappiness. Avidya is the first of the five klesas, or afflictions, and is the root of all the others: egoism, attachment, aversion and clinging to life. From these arise desires, sowing the seeds of sorrow.
Afflictions are of three types. They may be self-inflicted, hereditary, or caused through imbalance of elements in the body. All are consequences of one’s actions, in this or previous lifetimes, and are to be overcome through practice and renunciation in the eight yogic disciplines which cover purification of the body, senses and mind, an intense discipline whereby the seeds are incinerated, impurities vanish, and the seeker reaches a state of serenity in which he merges with the seer.
For one who lacks ethical discipline and perfect physical health, there can be no spiritual illumination. Body, mind and spirit are inseparable: if the body is asleep, the soul is asleep.
The seeker is taught to perform Asanas so that he becomes familiar with his body, senses and intelligence. He develops alertness, sensitivity, and the power of concentration. pranayama gives control over the subtle qualities of the elements – sound, touch, shape, taste and smell. Pratyahara is the withdrawal into the mind of the organs of action and senses of perception.
Sadhana pada ends here, but Patañjali extends dharana, dhyana and samadhi, the subtle aspects of sadhana, into the next chapter, vibhuti pada. These three withdraw the mind into the consciousness, and the consciousness into the soul.
The journey from yama to pratyahara, described in sadhana pada, ends in the sea of tranquillity, which has no ripples. If citta is the sea, its movements (vrttis) are the ripples. Body, mind and consciousness are in communion with the soul; they are now free from attachments and aversions, memories of place and time. The impurities of body and mind are cleansed, the dawning light of wisdom vanquishes ignorance, innocence replaces arrogance and pride, and the seeker becomes the seer.
The third chapter speaks of the divine effects of yoga sadhana. It is said that the sadhaka who in this state has full knowledge of past, present and future, as well as of the solar system. He understands the minds of others. He acquires the eight supernatural powers or siddhis: the ability to become small and large, light and heavy, to acquire, to attain every wish, to gain supremacy and sovereignty over things.
These achievements are dangerous. The sadhaka is cautioned to ignore their temptations and pursue the spiritual path.
Sage Vyasa’s commentary on the sutras gives examples of those who became ensnared by these powers and those who remained free. Nahusa, who belonged to the mortal world, became the Lord of heaven, but misused his power, fell from grace and was sent back to earth in the form of a snake. Urvasi, a famous mythical nymph, the daughter of Nara Narayana (the son of Dharma and grandson of Brahma), became a creeping plant. Ahalya, who succumbed to sensual temptation, was cursed by Gautama and became a stone. On the other hand, Nandi, the bull, reached Lord siva. Matsya, the fish, became Matsyendranath, the greatest hatha yogi on earth.
If the sadhaka succumbs to the lure of the siddhis, he will be like a person running away from a gale only to be caught in a whirlwind. If he resists, and perseveres on the spiritual path, he will experience kaivalya, the indivisible, unqualified, undifferentiated state of existence.
In the fourth chapter, Patañjali distinguishes kaivalya from samadhi. In samadhi, the sadhaka experiences a passive state of oneness between seer and seen, observer and observed, subject and object. In kaivalya, he lives in a positive state of life, above the tamasic, rajasic and sattvic influences of the three gunas of nature. He moves in the world and does day-to-day work dispassionately, without becoming involved in it.
Patañjali says it is possible to experience kaivalya by birth, through use of drugs, by repetition of mantra, or by tapas (intense, disciplined effort) and through samadhi. Of these, only the last two develop mature intelligence and lead to stable growth.
Man may make or mar his progress through good actions or bad. Yogic practices lead to a spiritual life; non-yogic actions bind one to the world. The ego, ahamkara, is the root cause of good and bad actions. Yoga removes the weed of pride from the mind and helps the seeker to trace the source of all actions, the consciousness, wherein all past impressions (samskaras) are stored. When this ultimate source is traced through yogic practices, the sadhaka is at once freed from the reactions of his actions. Desires leave him. Desire, action and reaction are spokes in the wheel of thought, but when consciousness has become steady and pure, they are eliminated. Movements of mind come to an end. He becomes a perfect yogi with skilful actions. As wick, oil and flame combine to give light, so thought, speech and action unite, and the yogi’s knowledge becomes total. For others, whose knowledge and understanding are limited, an object may be one thing, experience of the object another, and the word quite different from both. These vacillations of mind cripple one’s capacity for thought and action.
The yogi differentiates between the wavering uncertainties of thought processes and the understanding of the Self, which is changeless. He does his work in the world as a witness, uninvolved and uninfluenced. His mind reflects its own form, undistorted, like a crystal. At this point, all speculation and deliberation come to an end and liberation is experienced. The yogi lives in the experience of wisdom, untinged by the emotions of desire, anger, greed, infatuation, pride, and malice. This seasoned wisdom is truth-bearing (rtambhara prajña). It leads the sadhaka towards virtuous awareness, dharma megha samadhi, which brings him a cascade of knowledge and wisdom. He is immersed in kaivalya, the constant burning light of the soul, illuminating the divinity not only in himself, but also in those who come in contact with him.
I end this prologue with a quotation from the Visnu Purana given by sri Vyasa in his commentary on the Yoga Sutras: ‘Yoga is the teacher of yoga; yoga is to be understood through yoga. So live in yoga to realize yoga; comprehend yoga through yoga; he who is free from distractions enjoys yoga through yoga.’
Themes in the Four Padas
Patañjali’s opening words are on the need for a disciplined code of conduct to educate us towards spiritual poise and peace under all circumstances.
He defines yoga as the restraint of citta, which means consciousness. The term citta should not be understood to mean only the mind. Citta has three components: mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi) and ego (ahamkara) which combine into one composite whole. The term ‘self’ represents a person as an individual entity. Its identity is separate from mind, intelligence and ego, depending upon the development of the individual.
Self also stands for the subject, as contrasted with the object, of experience. It is that out of which the primeval thought of ‘I’ arises, and into which it dissolves. Self has a shape or form as ‘I’, and is infused with the illuminative, or sattvic, quality of nature (prakrti). In the temples of India, we see a base idol, an idol of stone that is permanently fixed. This represents the soul (atman). There is also a bronze idol, which is considered to be the icon of the base idol, and is taken out of the temple in procession as its representative, the individual self. The bronze idol represents the self or the individual entity, while the base idol represents the universality of the Soul.
Eastern thought takes one through the layers of being, outwards from the core, the soul, towards the periphery, the body; and inwards from the periphery towards the core. The purpose of this exploration is to discover, experience and taste the nectar of the soul. The process begins with external awareness: what we experience through the organs of action or karmendriyas (the arms, legs, mouth, and the organs of generation and excretion) and proceeds through the senses of perception or jñanendriyas (the ears, eyes, nose, tongue and skin). That awareness begins to penetrate the mind, the intelligence, the ego, the consciousness, and the individual self (asmita), until it reaches the soul (atma). These sheaths may also be penetrated in the reverse order.
Asmita’s existence at an empirical level has no absolute moral value, as it is in an unsullied state. It takes its colour from the level of development of the individual practitioner (sadhaka). Thus, ‘I-consciousness’ in its grossest form may manifest as pride or egoism, but in its subtlest form, it is the innermost layer of being, nearest to the atman. Ahamkara, or ego, likewise has changing qualities, depending on whether it is rajasic, tamasic or sattvic. Sattvic ahamkara usually indicates an evolved asmita.
The chameleon nature of asmita is apparent when we set ourselves a challenge. The source of the challenge lies in the positive side of asmita, but the moment fear arises negatively, it inhibits our initiative. We must then issue a counter-challenge to disarm that fear. From this conflict springs creation.
Asana, for example, offers a controlled battleground for the process of conflict and creation. The aim is to recreate the process of human evolution in our own internal environment. We thereby have the opportunity to observe and comprehend our own evolution to the point at which conflict is resolved and there is only oneness, as when the river meets the sea. This creative struggle is experienced in the headstand: as we challenge ourselves to improve the position, fear of falling acts to inhibit us. If we are rash, we fall, if timorous, we make no progress. But if the interplay of the two forces is observed, analysed and controlled, we can achieve perfection. At that moment, the asmita which proposed and the asmita which opposed become one in the Asana and assume a perfect form. Asmita dissolves in bliss, or satcitananda (purity-consciousness-bliss).
Ahamkara, or ego, the sense of ‘I’, is the knot that binds the consciousness and the body through the inner sense, the mind. In this way, the levels of being are connected by the mind, from the soul, through the internal parts, to the external senses. The mind thus acts as a link between the objects seen, and the subject, the seer. It is the unifying factor between the soul and the body which helps us to uncover layer after layer of our being until the sheath of the self (jivatman) is reached.
These layers, or sheaths, are the anatomical, skeletal, or structural sheath (annamaya kosa); the physiological or organic sheath (pranamaya kosa); the mental or emotional sheath (manomaya kosa); the intellectual or discriminative sheath (vijñanamaya kosa); and the pure blissful sheath (anandamaya kosa). These kosas represent the five elements of nature, or prakrti: earth, water, fire, air and ether. Mahat, cosmic consciousness, in its individual form as citta, is the sixth kosa, while the inner soul is the seventh kosa. In all, man has seven sheaths, or kosas, for the development of awareness.
The blissful spiritual sheath is called the causal body (karana sarira), while the physiological, intellectual and mental sheaths form the subtle body (suksma sarira), and the anatomical sheath the gross body (karya sarira). The yoga aspirant tries to understand the functions of all these sheaths of the soul as well as the soul itself, and thereby begins his quest to experience the divine core of being: the atman.
The mind permeates and engulfs the entire conscious and unconscious mental process, and the activities of the brain. All vital activities arise in the mind. According to Indian thought, though mind, intelligence and ego are parts of consciousness, mind acts as the outer cover of intelligence and ego and is considered to be the eleventh sense organ. Mind is as elusive as mercury. It senses, desires, wills, remembers, perceives, recollects and experiences emotional sensations such as pain and pleasure, heat and cold, honour and dishonour. Mind is inhibitive as well as exhibitive. When inhibitive, it draws nearer to the core of being. When exhibitive, it manifests itself as brain in order to see and perceive the external objects with which it then identifies.
It should be understood that the brain is a part of the mind. As such, it functions as the mind’s instrument of action. The brain is part of the organic structure of the central nervous system that is enclosed in the cranium. It makes mental activity possible. It controls and co-ordinates mental and physical activities. When the brain is trained to be consciously quiet, the cognitive faculty comes into its own, making possible, through the intelligence, apprehension of the mind’s various facets. Clarity of intelligence lifts the veil of obscurity and encourages quiet receptivity in the ego as well as in the consciousness, diffusing their energies evenly throughout the physical, physiological, mental, intellectual and spiritual sheaths of the soul.
What is soul?
God, Paramatman or Purusa Visesan, is known as the Universal Soul, the seed of all (see 1.24). The individual soul, jivatman or purusa, is the seed of the individual self. The soul is therefore distinct from the self. Soul is formless, while self assumes a form. The soul is an entity, separate from the body and free from the self. Soul is the very essence of the core of one’s being.
Like mind, the soul has no actual location in the body. It is latent, and exists everywhere. The moment the soul is brought to awareness of itself, it is felt anywhere and everywhere. Unlike the self, the soul is free from the influence of nature, and is thus universal. The self is the seed of all functions and actions, and the source of spiritual evolution through knowledge. It can also, through worldly desires, be the seed of spiritual destruction. The soul perceives spiritual reality, and is known as the seer (drsta).
As a well-nurtured seed causes a tree to grow, and to blossom with flowers and fruits, so the soul is the seed of man’s evolution. From this source, asmita sprouts as the individual self. From this sprout springs consciousness, citta. From consciousness, spring ego, intelligence, mind, and the senses of perception and organs of action. Though the soul is free from influence, its sheaths come in contact with the objects of the world, which leave imprints on them through the intelligence of the brain and the mind. The discriminative faculty of brain and mind screens these imprints, discarding or retaining them. If discriminative power is lacking, then these imprints, like quivering leaves, create fluctuations in words, thoughts and deeds, and restlessness in the self.
These endless cycles of fluctuation are known as vrttis: changes, movements, functions, operations, or conditions of action or conduct in the consciousness. Vrttis are thought-waves, part of the brain, mind and consciousness as waves are part of the sea.
Thought is a mental vibration based on past experiences. It is a product of inner mental activity, a process of thinking. This process consciously applies the intellect to analyse thoughts arising from the seat of the mental body through the remembrance of past experiences. Thoughts create disturbances. By analysing them one develops discriminative power, and gains serenity.
When consciousness is in a serene state, its interior components, intelligence, ego, mind and the feeling of ‘I’, also experience tranquillity. At that point, there is no room for thought-waves to arise either in the mind or in the consciousness. Stillness and silence are experienced, poise and peace set in and one becomes cultured. One’s thoughts, words and deeds develop purity, and begin to flow in a divine stream.
Study of consciousness
Before describing the principles of yoga, Patañjali speaks of consciousness and the restraint of its movements.
The verb cit means to perceive, to notice, to know, to understand, to long for, to desire and to remind. As a noun, cit means thought, emotion, intellect, feeling, disposition, vision, heart, soul, Brahman. Cinta means disturbed or anxious thoughts, and cintana means deliberate thinking. Both are facets of citta. As they must be restrained through the discipline of yoga, yoga is defined as citta vrtti nirodhah. A perfectly subdued and pure citta is divine and at one with the soul.
Citta is the individual counterpart of mahat, the universal consciousness. It is the seat of the intelligence that sprouts from conscience, antahkarana, the organ of virtue and religious knowledge. If the soul is the seed of conscience, conscience is the source of consciousness, intelligence and mind. The thinking processes of consciousness embody mind, intelligence and ego. The mind has the power to imagine, think, attend to, aim, feel and will. The mind’s continual swaying affects its inner sheaths, intelligence, ego, consciousness and the self.
Mind is mercurial by nature, elusive and hard to grasp. However, it is the one organ which reflects both the external and internal worlds. Though it has the faculty of seeing things within and without, its more natural tendency is to involve itself with objects of the visible, rather than the inner world.
In collaboration with the senses, mind perceives things for the individual to see, observe, feel and experience. These experiences may be painful, painless or pleasurable. Through their influence, impulsiveness and other tendencies or moods creep into the mind, making it a storehouse of imprints (samskaras) and desires (vAsanas), which create excitement and emotional impressions. If these are favourable they create good imprints; if unfavourable they cause repugnance. These imprints generate the fluctuations, modifications and modulations of consciousness. If the mind is not disciplined and purified, it becomes involved with the objects experienced, creating sorrow and unhappiness.
Patañjali begins the treatise on yoga by explaining the functioning of the mind, so that we may learn to discipline it, and intelligence, ego and consciousness may be restrained, subdued and diffused, then drawn towards the core of our being and absorbed in the soul. This is yoga.
Patañjali explains that painful and painless imprints are gathered by five means: pramana, or direct perception, which is knowledge that arises from correct thought or right conception and is perpetual and true; viparyaya, or misperception and misconception, leading to contrary knowledge; vikalpa, or imagination or fancy; nidra or sleep; and smrti or memory. These are the fields in which the mind operates, and through which experience is gathered and stored.
Direct perception is derived from one’s own experience, through inference, or from the perusal of sacred books or the words of authoritative masters. To be true and distinct, it should be real and self-evident. Its correctness should be verified by reasoned doubt, logic and reflection. Finally, it should be found to correspond to spiritual doctrines and precepts and sacred, revealed truth.
Contrary knowledge leads to false conceptions. Imagination remains at verbal or visual levels and may consist of ideas without a factual basis. When ideas are proved as facts, they become real perception.
Sleep is a state of inactivity in which the organs of action, senses of perception, mind and intelligence remain inactive. Memory is the faculty of retaining and reviving past impressions and experiences of correct perception, misperception, misconception and even of sleep.
These five means by which imprints are gathered shape moods and modes of behaviour, making or marring the individual’s intellectual, cultural and spiritual evolution.
Culture of consciousness
The culture of consciousness entails cultivation, observation, and progressive refinement of consciousness by means of yogic disciplines. After explaining the causes of fluctuations in consciousness, Patañjali shows how to overcome them, by means of practice, abhyasa, and detachment or renunciation, vairagya.
If the student is perplexed to find detachment and renunciation linked to practice so early in the Yoga Sutras, let him consider their symbolic relationship in this way. The text begins with atha yoganusAsanam. AnusAsanam stands for the practice of a disciplined code of yogic conduct, the observance of instructions for ethical action handed down by lineage and tradition. Ethical principles, translated from methodology into deeds, constitute practice. Now, read the word ‘renunciation’ in the context of sutra I.4: ‘At other times, the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness.’ Clearly, the fluctuating mind lures the seer outwards towards pastures of pleasure and valleys of pain, where enticement inevitably gives rise to attachment. When mind starts to drag the seer, as if by a stout rope, from the seat of being towards the gratification of appetite, only renunciation can intervene and save the sadhaka by cutting the rope. So we see, from sutras I.1 and I.4, the interdependence from the very beginning of practice and renunciation, without which practice will not bear fruit.
Abhyasa is a dedicated, unswerving, constant, and vigilant search into a chosen subject, pursued against all odds in the face of repeated failures, for indefinitely long periods of time. Vairagya is the cultivation of freedom from passion, abstention from worldly desires and appetites, and discrimination between the real and the unreal. It is the act of giving up all sensuous delights. Abhyasa builds confidence and refinement in the process of culturing the consciousness, whereas vairagya is the elimination of whatever hinders progress and refinement. Proficiency in vairagya develops the ability to free oneself from the fruits of action.
Patañjali speaks of attachment, non-attachment, and detachment. Detachment may be likened to the attitude of a doctor towards his patient. He treats the patient with the greatest care, skill and sense of responsibility, but does not become emotionally involved with him so as not to lose his faculty of reasoning and professional judgement.
A bird cannot fly with one wing. In the same way, we need the two wings of practice and renunciation to soar up to the zenith of Soul realization.
Practice implies a certain methodology, involving effort. It has to be followed uninterruptedly for a long time, with firm resolve, application, attention and devotion, to create a stable foundation for training the mind, intelligence, ego and consciousness.
Renunciation is discriminative discernment. It is the art of learning to be free from craving, both for worldly pleasures and for heavenly eminence. It involves training the mind and consciousness to be unmoved by desire and passion. One must learn to renounce objects and ideas which disturb and hinder one’s daily yogic practices. Then one has to cultivate non-attachment to the fruits of one’s labours.
If abhyasa and vairagya are assiduously observed, restraint of the mind becomes possible much more quickly. Then, one may explore what is beyond the mind, and taste the nectar of immortality, or Soul-realization. Temptations neither daunt nor haunt one who has this intensity of heart in practice and renunciation. If practice is slowed down, then the search for Soul-realization becomes clogged and bound in the wheel of time.
Why practice and renunciation are essential
Avidya (ignorance) is the mother of vacillation and affliction. Patañjali explains how one may gain knowledge by direct and correct perception, inference and testimony, and that correct understanding comes when trial and error ends. Here, both practice and renunciation play an important role in gaining spiritual knowledge.
Attachment is a relationship between man and matter, and may be inherited or acquired.
Non-attachment is the deliberate process of drawing away from attachment and personal affliction, in which, neither binding oneself to duty nor cutting oneself off from it, one gladly helps all, near or far, friend or foe. Non-attachment does not mean drawing inwards and shutting oneself off, but involves carrying out one’s responsibilities without incurring obligation or inviting expectation. It is between attachment and detachment, a step towards detachment, and the sadhaka needs to cultivate it before thinking of renunciation.
Detachment brings discernment: seeing each and every thing or being as it is, in its purity, without bias or self-interest. It is a means to understand nature and its potencies. Once nature’s purposes are grasped, one must learn to detach onself from them to achieve an absolute independent state of existence wherein the soul radiates its own light.
Mind, intelligence and ego, revolving in the wheel of desire (kama), anger (krodha), greed (lobha), infatuation (moha), pride (mada) and malice (matsarya), tie the sadhaka to their imprints; he finds it exceedingly difficult to come out of the turmoil and to differentiate between the mind and the soul. Practice of yoga and renunciation of sensual desires take one towards spiritual attainment.
Practice demands four qualities from the aspirant: dedication, zeal, uninterrupted awareness and long duration. Renunciation also demands four qualities: disengaging the senses from action, avoiding desire, stilling the mind and freeing oneself from cravings.
Practitioners are also of four levels, mild, medium, keen and intense. They are categorized into four stages: beginners; those who understand the inner functions of the body; those who can connect the intelligence to all parts of the body; and those whose body, mind and soul have become one. (See .)
Effects of practice and renunciation
Intensity of practice and renunciation transforms the uncultured, scattered consciousness, citta, into a cultured consciousness, able to focus on the four states of awareness. The seeker develops philosophical curiosity, begins to analyse with sensitivity, and learns to grasp the ideas and purposes of material objects in the right perspective (vitarka). Then he meditates on them to know and understand fully the subtle aspects of matter (vicara). Thereafter he moves on to experience spiritual elation or the pure bliss (ananda) of meditation, and finally sights the Self. These four types of awareness are collectively termed samprajñata samadhi or samprajñata samapatti. Samapatti is thought transformation or contemplation, the act of coming face to face with oneself.
From these four states of awareness, the seeker moves to a new state, an alert but passive state of quietness known as manolaya. Patañjali cautions the sadhaka not to be caught in this state, which is a crossroads on the spiritual path, but to intensify his sadhana to experience a still higher state known as nirbija samadhi or dharma megha samadhi. The sadhaka may not know which road to follow beyond manolaya, and could be stuck there forever, in a spiritual desert. In this quiet state of void, the hidden tendencies remain inactive but latent. They surface and become active the moment the alert passive state disappears. This state should therefore not be mistaken for the highest goal in yoga.
This resting state is a great achievement in the path of evolution, but it remains a state of suspension in the spiritual field. One loses body consciousness and is undisturbed by nature, which signifies conquest of matter. If the seeker is prudent, he realizes that this is not the aim and end, but only the beginning of success in yoga. Accordingly, he further intensifies his effort (upaya pratyaya) with faith and vigour, and uses his previous experience as a guide to proceed from the state of void or loneliness, towards the non-valid state of aloneness or fullness, where freedom is absolute.
If the sadhaka’s intensity of practice is great, the goal is closer. If he slackens his efforts, the goal recedes in proportion to his lack of willpower and intensity.
Universal Soul or God (Isvara, Purusa Visesan or Paramatman)
There are many ways to begin the practice of yoga. First and foremost, Patañjali outlines the method of surrender of oneself to God (Isvara). This involves detachment from the world and attachment to God, and is possible only for those few who are born as adepts. Patañjali defines God as the Supreme Being, totally free from afflictions and the fruits of action. In Him abides the matchless seed of all knowledge. He is First and Foremost amongst all masters and teachers, unconditioned by time, place and circumstances.
His symbol is the syllable AUM. This sound is divine: it stands in praise of divine fulfilment. AUM is the universal sound (sabda brahman). Philosophically, it is regarded as the seed of all words. No word can be uttered without the symbolic sound of these three letters, a, u and m. The sound begins with the letter a, causing the mouth to open. So the beginning is a. To speak, it is necessary to roll the tongue and move the lips. This is symbolized by the letter u. The ending of the sound is the closing of the lips, symbolized by the letter m..AUM represents communion with God, the Soul and with the Universe.
AUM is known as pranava, or exalted praise of God. God is worshipped by repeating or chanting AUM, because sound vibration is the subtlest and highest expression of nature. Mahat belongs to this level. Even our innermost unspoken thoughts create waves of sound vibration, so AUM represents the elemental movement of sound, which is the foremost form of energy. AUM is therefore held to be the primordial way of worshipping God. At this exalted level of phenomenal evolution, fragmentation has not yet taken place. AUM offers complete praise, neither partial nor divided: none can be higher. Such prayer begets purity of mind in the sadhaka, and helps him to reach the goal of yoga. AUM, repeated with feeling and awareness of its meaning, overcomes obstacles to Self-Realization.
The obstacles to healthy life and Self-Realization are disease, indolence of body or mind, doubt or scepticism, carelessness, laziness, failing to avoid desires and their gratification, delusion and missing the point, not being able to concentrate on what is undertaken and to gain ground, and inability to maintain concentration and steadiness in practice once attained. They are further aggravated through sorrows, anxiety or frustration, unsteadiness of the body, and laboured or irregular breathing.
Ways of surmounting the obstacles and reaching the goal
The remedies which minimize or eradicate these obstacles are: adherence to single-minded effort in sadhana, friendliness and goodwill towards all creation, compassion, joy, indifference and non-attachment to both pleasure and pain, virtue and vice. These diffuse the mind evenly within and without and make it serene.
Patañjali also suggests the following methods to be adopted by various types of practitioners to diminish the fluctuations of the mind.
Retaining the breath after each exhalation (the study of inhalation teaches how the self gradually becomes attached to the body; the study of exhalation teaches non-attachment as the self recedes from the contact of the body; retention after exhalation educates one towards detachment); involving oneself in an interesting topic or object contemplating a luminous, effulgent and sorrowless light; treading the path followed by noble personalities; studying the nature of wakefulness, dream and sleep states, and maintaining a single state of awareness in all three; meditating on an object which is all-absorbing and conducive to a serene state of mind.
Effects of practice
Any of these methods can be practised on its own. If all are practised together, the mind will diffuse evenly throughout the body, its abode, like the wind which moves and spreads in space. When they are judiciously, meticulously and religiously practised, passions are controlled and single-mindedness develops. The sadhaka becomes highly sensitive, as flawless and transparent as crystal. He realizes that the seer, the seeker and the instrument used to see or seek are nothing but himself, and he resolves all divisions within himself.
This clarity brings about harmony between his words and their meanings, and a new light of wisdom dawns. His memory of experiences steadies his mind, and this leads both memory and mind to dissolve in the cosmic intelligence.
This is one type of samadhi, known as sabija samadhi, with seed, or support. From this state, the sadhaka intensifies his sadhana to gain unalloyed wisdom, bliss and poise. This unalloyed wisdom is independent of anything heard, read or learned. The sadhaka does not allow himself to be halted in his progress, but seeks to experience a further state of being: the amanaskatva state.
If manolaya is a passive, almost negative, quiet state, amanaskatva is a positive, active state directly concerned with the inner being, without the influence of the mind. In this state, the sadhaka is perfectly detached from external things. Complete renunciation has taken place, and he lives in harmony with his inner being, allowing the seer to shine brilliantly in his own pristine glory.
This is true samadhi: seedless or nirbija samadhi.
Why did Patañjali begin the Yoga Sutras with a discussion of so advanced a subject as the subtle aspect of consciousness? We may surmise that intellectual standards and spiritual knowledge were then of a higher and more refined level than they are now, and that the inner quest was more accessible to his contemporaries than it is to us.
Today, the inner quest and the spiritual heights are difficult to attain through following Patañjali’s earlier expositions. We turn, therefore, to this chapter, in which he introduces kriyayoga, the yoga of action. Kriyayoga gives us the practical disciplines needed to scale the spiritual heights.
My own feeling is that the four padas of the Yoga Sutras describe different disciplines of practice, the qualities or aspects of which vary according to the development of intelligence and refinement of consciousness of each Sadhaka.
Sadhana is a discipline undertaken in the pursuit of a goal. Abhyasa is repeated practice performed with observation and reflection. Kriya, or action, also implies perfect execution with study and investigation. Therefore, sadhana, abhyasa, and kriya all mean one and the same thing. A sadhaka, or practitioner, is one who skilfully applies his mind and intelligence in practice towards a spiritual goal.
Whether out of compassion for the more intellectually backward people of his time, or else foreseeing the spiritual limitations of our time, Patañjali offers in this chapter a method of practice which begins with the organs of action and the senses of perception. Here, he gives those of average intellect the practical means to strive for knowledge, and to gather hope and confidence to begin yoga: the quest for Self-Realization. This chapter involves the sadhaka in the art of refining the body and senses, the visible layers of the soul, working inwards from the gross towards the subtle level.
Although Patañjali is held to have been a self-incarnated, immortal being, he must have voluntarily descended to the human level, submitted himself to the joys and sufferings, attachments and aversions, emotional imbalances and intellectual weaknesses of average individuals, and studied human nature from its nadir to its zenith. He guides us from our shortcomings towards emancipation through the devoted practice of yoga. This chapter, which may be happily followed for spiritual benefit by anyone, is his gift to humanity.
Kriyayoga, the yoga of action, has three tiers: tapas, svadhyaya and Isvara pranidhana. Tapas means burning desire to practise yoga and intense effort applied to practice. Svadhyaya has two aspects: the study of scriptures to gain sacred wisdom and knowledge of moral and spiritual values; and the study of one’s own self, from the body to the inner self. Isvara pranidhana is faith in God and surrender to God. This act of surrender teaches humility. When these three aspects of kriyayoga are followed with zeal and earnestness, life’s sufferings are overcome, and samadhi is experienced.
Sufferings or afflictions (Klesas)
Klesas (sufferings or afflictions) have five causes: ignorance, or lack of wisdom and understanding (avidya), pride or egoism (asmita), attachment (raga), aversion (dvesa), and fear of death and clinging to life (abhinivessa). The first two are intellectual defects, the next two emotional, and the last instinctual. They may be hidden, latent, attenuated or highly active.
Avidya, ignorance, or lack of wisdom, is a fertile ground in which afflications can grow, making one’s life a hell. Mistaking the transient for the eternal, the impure for the pure, pain for pleasure, and the pleasures of the world for the bliss of the spirit constitutes avidya.
Identifying the individual ego (the ‘I’) with the real soul is asmita. It is the false identification of the ego with the seer.
Encouraging and gratifying desires is raga. When desires are not gratified, frustration and sorrow give rise to alienation or hate. This is dvesa, aversion.
The desire to live forever and to preserve one’s individual self is abhinivesa. Freedom from such attachment to life is very difficult for even a wise, erudite and scholarly person to achieve. If avidya is the mother of afflictions, abhinivesa is its offspring.
All our past actions exert their influence and mould our present and future lives: as you sow, so shall you reap. This is the law of karma, the universal law of cause and effect. If our actions are good and virtuous, afflictions will be minimized; wrong actions will bring sorrow and pain. Actions may bear fruit immediately, later in life or in lives to come. They determine one’s birth, span of life and the types of experiences to be undergone. When spiritual wisdom dawns, one perceives the tinge of sorrow attached even to pleasure, and from then on shuns both pleasure and pain. However, the fruits of actions continue to entrap ordinary beings.
How to minimize afflictions
Patañjali counsels dispassion towards pleasures and pains and recommends the practice of meditation to attain freedom and beatitude. First he describes in detail the eightfold path of yoga. Following this path helps one to avoid the dormant, hidden sufferings which may surface when physical health, energy and mental poise are disturbed. This suggests that the eightfold path of yoga is suitable for the unhealthy as well as for the healthy, enabling all to develop the power to combat physical and mental diseases.
Cause of afflictions
The prime cause of afflictions is avidya: the failure to understand the conjunction between the seer and the seen: purusa and prakrti. The external world lures the seer towards its pleasures, creating desire. The inevitable non-fulfilment of desires in turn creates pain, which suffocates the inner being. Nature and her beauties are there for enjoyment and pleasure (bhoga) and also for freedom and emancipation (yoga). If we use them indiscriminately, we are bound by the chains of pleasure and pain. A judicious use of them leads to the bliss which is free from pleasure mixed with pain. The twin paths to this goal are practice (abhyasa), the path of evolution, of going forward; and detachment or renunciation (vairagya), the path of involution, abstaining from the fruits of action and from worldly concerns and engagements.
Cosmology of nature
In samkhya philosophy, the process of evolution and the interaction of spirit and matter, essence and form, are carefully explained.
To follow nature’s evolution from its subtlest concept to its grossest or most dense manifestation, we must start with root nature, mula-prakrti. At this phase of its development, nature is infinite, attributeless and undifferentiated. We may call this phase ‘noumenal’ or alinga (without mark): it can be apprehended only by intuition. It is postulated that the qualities of nature, or gunas, exist in mula-prakrti in perfect equilibrium; one third sattva, one third rajas and one third tamas.
Root nature evolves into the phenomenal stage, called linga (with mark). At this point a disturbance or redistribution takes place in the gunas, giving nature its turbulent characteristic, which is to say that one quality will always predominate over the other two (though never to their entire exclusion; for example, the proportion might be 7/10 tamas, 2/10 rajas, 1/10 sattva, or any other disproportionate rate). The first and most subtle stage of the phenomenal universe is mahat, cosmic intelligence. Mahat is the ‘great principle’, embodying a spontaneous motivating force in nature, without subject or object, acting in both creation and dissolution.
Nature further evolves into the stage called avisesa (universal or non-specific) which can be understood by the intellect but not directly perceived by the senses. To this phase belong the subtle characteristics of the five elements, which may be equated with the infra-atomic structure of elements. These may be explained at a basic level as the inherent quality of smell in earth (prthvi), of taste in water (ap), of sight or shape in fire (tej), of touch in air (vayu) and of sound in ether (akasa). The ‘I’ principle is also in this group.
The final stage, visesa, in which nature is specific and obviously manifest, includes the five elements, the five senses of perception (ears, eyes, nose, tongue and skin), the five organs of action (arms, legs, mouth, generative and excretory organs), and lastly the mind, or the eleventh sense. So in all, there are twenty-four principles (tattvas) of nature, and a twenty-fifth: purusa, atman, or soul. Purus permeates and transcends nature, without belonging to it.
(When purusa stirs the other principles into activity, it is the path of evolution. Its withdrawal from nature is the path of involution. If purusa interacts virtuously with the properties of nature, bliss is experienced; for such a purusa, prakrti becomes a heaven. If wrongly experienced, it becomes a hell.
Sometimes, purusa may remain indifferent, yet we know that nature stirs on its own through the mutation of the gunas, but takes a long time to surface. If purusa, gives a helping hand, nature is disciplined to move in the right way, whether on the path of evolution or involution.)
The sixteen principles of the visesa stage, are the five elements, the five senses of perception and five organs of action, and the mind. They are definable and distinguishable. At the avisesa stage, all five tanmatras – smell, taste, sight or shape, touch and sound – and ahamkara, ego, are undistinguishable and indefinable, yet nevertheless entities in themselves. At the material level of creation, tamas is greater than rajas and sattva, whereas at the psycho-sensory level, rajas and sattva together predominate.
The interaction of the gunas with these sixteen principles shapes our destiny according to our actions. Effectively, our experiences in life derive from the gross manifestations of nature, whether painful or pleasurable; that is, whether manifesting as physical affliction or as art. The delusion that this is the only ‘real’ level can lead to bondage, but fortunately the evolutionary or unfolding structure of nature has provided the possibility of involution, which is the return journey to the source. This is achieved by re-absorbing the specific principles into the non-specific, then back into the alinga state, and finally by withdrawing and merging all phenomenal nature back into its noumenal root, the unmanifested mula-prakrti, rather as one might fold up a telescope.
At the moment when the seer confronts his own self, the principles of nature have been drawn up into their own primordial root and remain quietly there without ruffling the serenity of the purusa. It is sufficient to say here that the involutionary process is achieved by the intervention of discriminating intelligence, and by taming and re-balancing the gunas to their noumenal perfect proportions, so that each stage of re-absorption can take place. Yoga shows us how to do this, starting from the most basic manifest level, our own body.
Once the principles have been withdrawn into their root, their potential remains dormant, which is why a person in the state of samadhi is but can not do; the outward form of nature has folded up like a bird’s wings. If the sadhaka does not pursue his sadhana with sufficient zeal, but rests on his laurels, the principles of nature will be re-activated to ill effect. Nature’s turbulence will again obscure the light of the purusa as the sadhaka is again caught up in the wheel of joy and sorrow. But he who has reached the divine union of purusa and prakrti, and then redoubles his efforts, has only kaivalya before him.
Characteristics of Purusa
Purusa, the seer or the soul, is absolute pure knowledge. Unlike nature (prakrti), which is subject to change, purusa is eternal and unchanging. Free from the qualities of nature, it is an absolute knower of everything. The seer is beyond words, and indescribable. It is the intelligence, one of nature’s sheaths, which enmeshes the seer in the playground of nature and influences and contaminates its purity. As a mirror, when covered with dust, cannot reflect clearly, so the seer, though pure, cannot reflect clearly if the intelligence is clouded. The aspirant who follows the eightfold path of yoga develops discriminative understanding, viveka, and learns to use the playground of nature to clear the intelligence and experience the seer.
Everyone has an inborn desire to develop sensitivity and maturity in intelligence. That is why God has provided the principles of nature – so that the seer can commune with them and make the fullest use of them for his intellectual and spiritual growth. Nature is there to serve its master, the seer, purusa or atman, the inner being of man. It becomes an obstacle to spiritual enlightenment when used for sensual pleasure, but on the other hand it can help its master to realize his potential and true stature. It is not the fault of nature if human beings abuse it or fall prey to its temptations. Nature is always ready to oblige, or to remain ineffectual, according to our deeds. When we have overcome our intellectual and emotional defects, nature’s gifts readily serve us for realization of the soul. Having fulfilled their functions, they withdraw.
This true Self-Realization is the peak of development of intelligence. It must be sustained, with uninterrupted awareness, in thought, word and deed: then the purpose of nature’s contact with and withdrawal from the seer are fully understood. All sorrows and hatred are washed away, and everlasting unalloyed peace come to the seeker. Nature continues to taunt throughout life, with afflictions and uncertainties, those who have no discriminative power and awareness.
Seven states of wisdom
After explaining the functions of nature and of the seer, Patañjali speaks of the seven states of understanding or wisdom (prajña) that emerge from the release of nature’s contact with the seer. First let us identify the seven corresponding states of ignorance, or avidya:
1 smallness, feebleness, insignificance, inferiority, meanness
2 unsteadiness, fickleness, mutability
3 living with pains, afflictions, misery, agony
4 living with the association of pain
5 mistaking the perishable body for the Self
6 creating conditions for undergoing sorrow
7 believing that union with the soul (yoga) is impossible, and acting as though that were so
The seven states of wisdom are:
1 knowing that which has to be known
2 discarding that which is to be discarded
3 attaining that which has to be attained
4 doing that which has to be done
5 winning the goal that is to be won
6 freeing the intelligence from the pull of the three gunas of nature
7 achieving emancipation of the soul so that it shines in its own light
These seven states of wisdom are interpreted as right desire, right reflection, disappearance of memory and mind, experiencing pure sattva or the truth (reality), indifference to praise and blame, reabsorption of phenomenal creation, and living in the vision of the soul. They may be further simplified as:
1 understanding the body within and without
2 understanding energy and its uses
3 understanding mind
4 consistency of will
5 awareness of experience
6 awareness of pure quintessence, sentiment and beauty
7 understanding that the individual soul, jivatman, is a particle of the Universal Spirit, Paramatman
The Yoga Vasista correlates this sutra (II.27) with the seven stages of individual development:
1 study and cultivation of the company of wise men
2 capacity to solve problems
3 development of non-attachment
4 dissolution of inherent faults
5 working towards the bliss in which a half-sleeping and half-wakeful state is experienced
6 experience of a deep sleep state
7 attaining a state in which purity, tranquillity and compassion flow out towards others.
The seven frontiers of awareness also correlate with the five sheaths or kosas of the body. Consciousness is the sixth, and the inner self, the seventh.
Patañjali describes the seven states of awareness as:
1 emerging consciousness (vyutthana citta)
2 refraining consciousness (nirodha citta)
3 tranquil consciousness (santa citta)
4 one-pointed consciousness (ekagra citta)
5 sprouted consciousness (nirmana citta)
6 rent consciousness (chidra citta)
7 pure consciousness (divya citta)
(See III.9, 10, 11; IV.27 and 29.)
It is also possible to consider the ethical, physical, physiological, neurological, emotional, intellectual and spiritual domains as the seven states of awareness. When one rests on the vision of the soul, divinity is felt in this empirical state.
The Yogic disciplines
The yogic disciplines are yama (restraint) and niyama (practice or observance). These disciplines channel the energies of the organs of action and the senses of perception in the right direction. Asana (posture) results in balance, stillness of mind, and power to penetrate the intelligence. Through Asana we learn to know the body well and to distinguish between motion and action: motion excites the mind while action absorbs it. Pranayama (control of energy through restraint of breath) and pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) help the sadhaka to explore his hidden facets, and enable him to penetrate the core of his being. dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (total absorption) are the fulfilment of yogic discipline, the essence or natural constituents of yoga. They develop when the other five disciplines have been mastered. Actually, all eight intermingle and interweave to form the whole seamless body of yoga.
There are five yamas: ahimsa (non-violence or non-injury), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacarya (continence) and aparigraha (freedom from avarice or non-covetousness).
Intending no harm in word, thought or deed; being sincere, honest and faithful; being careful not to misappropriate another’s wealth; being chaste and not coveting the possessions of others or accepting gifts, are the practices of yama. It is essential they be observed and followed. They are to be practised individually and collectively irrespective of lineage, place, time, condition or career. The yamas are mighty universal vows, says Patañjali.
Effects of Yama
If the sadhaka adheres to the principles of ahimsa, all beings around him abandon their hostile behaviour. By observance of satya, spoken words fructify into action. All kinds of treasures are bestowed on him who observes asteya. For a brahmacari (a chaste or celibate person), vigour, vitality, energy and spiritual knowledge flow like a river. One who observes aparigraha will come to know of his past and future lives.
The five niyamas are to be followed not merely as individual, but also as spiritual, disciplines. They are: sauca (cleanliness or purity), santosa (contentment), tapas (religious fervour), svadhyaya (study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s own self) and Isvara pranidhana (surrender of the self to God).
sauca is of two types, external and internal. One’s daily bath is external; Asana and pranayama cleanse one internally. They help to cleanse one’s thoughts, words and actions, and make the body fit for its Lord to dwell in. Santosa brings about a state of cheerfulness and benevolence. Tapas is a burning effort involving purification, self-discipline and austere practice. It is religiousness or devoutness in the practice of yoga. Tapas purges and purifies the body, senses and mind. Svadhyaya enlightens the practitioner with the knowledge of his inner immortal being. Isvara pranidhana brings the inner being to his creator, the Supreme God.
Actually, the observance of yama brings about niyama, and the practice of niyama disciplines one to follow the principles of yama. For example, non-violence brings purity of thought and deed, truthfulness leads to contentment, non-covetousness leads to tapas. Chastity leads to the study of the self, and non-possessiveness to surrender to God. Similarly, cleanliness leads towards non-violence, and contentment towards truthfulness. Tapas guides one not to misappropriate another’s wealth. Study of the self leads towards chastity, and surrender to God frees one from possessiveness.
By now, the reader is acquainted with the causes of afflictions. Not only do yama and niyama help to minimize and uproot them; they are also the firm foundation of spiritual experience. They are the ethical disciplines which show us what must be done and what must be discarded. They are the golden keys to unlock the spiritual gates.
Sooner or later, improper use of words, impure thoughts and wrong actions result in pain. Pain may be self-inflicted (adhyatmika), due to fate or heredity (adhidaivika), or to imbalance of elements in the body (adhibhautika). It may be caused by lust, anger or greed, indulged in directly, by provocation or by compliancy. The resulting sorrows may be mild, moderate or intense.
The causes of lust, anger and greed can be countered directly by self-analysis, or subdued by invoking their opposites: balance, poise, peace and harmony. Because the latter dualistic approach may cause one to hide from the facts, the former is the better approach. The use of analysis, study and investigation requires courage, strength and discretion. The evocation of opposite tendencies is not a cure, but a help. The first is a direct method of purification; the second an indirect method of appeasement. Patañjali suggests that both should be followed to speed progress.
Asana and its effects
Asana means posture, the positioning of the body as a whole with the involvement of the mind and soul. Asana has two facets, pose and repose. Pose is the artistic assumption of a position. ‘Reposing in the pose’ means finding the perfection of a pose and maintaining it, reflecting in it with penetration of the intelligence and with dedication. When the seeker is closer to the soul, the Asanas come with instantaneous extension, repose and poise.
In the beginning, effort is required to master the Asanas. Effort involves hours, days, months, years and even several lifetimes of work. When effortful effort in an Asana becomes effortless effort, one has mastered that Asanas, In this way, each Asana has to become effortless. While performing the Asanas, one has to relax the cells of the brain, and activate the cells of the vital organs and of the structural and skeletal body. Then intelligence and consciousness may spread to each and every cell.
The conjunction of effort, concentration and balance in Asana forces us to live intensely in the present moment, a rare experience in modern life. This actuality, or being in the present, has both a strengthening and a cleansing effect: physically in the rejection of disease, mentally by ridding our mind of stagnated thoughts or prejudices; and, on a very high level where perception and action become one, by teaching us instantaneous correct action; that is to say, action which does not produce reaction. On that level we may also expunge the residual effects of past actions.
The three origins of pain are eradicated by Asana as we progress from clear vision through right thinking to correct action.
To the new student or non-practitioner of yoga a relentless pursuit of perfection in Asana may seem pointless. To advanced students, a teacher teaches a whole Asana in relationship to what is happening in a single action. At this subtlest level, when we are able to observe the workings of rajas, tamas and sattva in one toe, and to adjust the flow of energy in ina, pitgala and susumna (the three principal nanis, or energy channels), the macrocosmic order of nature is perceived in even the smallest aspects. And when the student then learns how the minutest modifications of a toe can modify the whole Asana, he is observing how the microcosm relates to the whole, and the organic completeness of universal structure is grasped.
The body is the temple of the soul. It can truly become so if it is kept healthy, clean and pure through the practice of Asana.
Asanas act as bridges to unite the body with the mind, and the mind with the soul. They lift the sadhaka from the clutches of afflictions and lead him towards disciplined freedom. They help to transform him by guiding his consciousness away from the body towards awareness of the soul.
Through Asana, the sadhaka comes to know and fully realize the finite body, and merge it with the infinite – the soul. Then there is neither the known nor the unknown and only then does the Asana exist wholly. This is the essence of a perfect Asana.
Pranayama and its effects
Patañjali states that there must be a progression from Asana to pranayama, but does not mention such a progression in the other branches of yoga. He states that pranayama, should be attempted only after perfection is attained in Asana. This does not mean one Asana alone, as is sometimes suggested.
It should be understood why one Asana is not a sufficient basis for the study of pranayama. In pranayama, the spine and the spinal muscles are the sources of action and the lungs are the receiving instruments. They must be trained to open and to extend backwards, forwards, upwards and outwards, and the spinal muscles straightened, cultured and toned to create space and stimulate the spinal nerves to draw energy from the breath. Inverted postures, forward bends, backbends – the whole range of postures – are therefore essential if we are to derive from pranayama the maximum benefit with the minimum strain.
Normal breath flows irregularly, depending on one’s environment and emotional state. In the beginning, this irregular flow of breath is controlled by a deliberate process. This control creates ease in the inflow and outflow of the breath. When this ease is attained, the breath must be regulated with attention. This is pranayama.
Prana means life force and ayama means ascension, expansion and extension. Pranyama is the expansion of the life force through control of the breath. In modern terms, Prana is equated to bio-energy and works as follows. According to samkhya and yoga philosophies, man is composed of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. The spine is an element of earth and acts as the field for respiration. Distribution and creation of space in the torso is the function of ether. Respiration represents the element of air. The remaining elements, water and fire, are by nature opposed to one another. The practice of pranayama fuses them to produce energy. This energy is called Prana: life force or bio-energy.
Ayama means extension, vertical ascension, as well as horizontal expansion and circumferential expansion of the breath, lungs and ribcage.
Pranyama by nature has three components: inhalation, exhalation and retention. They are carefully learned by elongating the breath and prolonging the time of retention according to the elasticity of the torso, the length and depth of breath and the precision of movements. This pranayama is known as deliberate or sahita pranayama as one must practise it consciously and continuously in order to learn its rhythm.
To inhalation, exhalation and retention, Patañjali adds one more type of pranayama, that is free from deliberate action. This pranayama, being natural and non-deliberate, transcends the sphere of breath which is modulated by mental volition. It is called kevala kumbhaka or kevala pranayama.
The practice of pranayama removes the veil of ignorance covering the light of intelligence and makes the mind a fit instrument to embark on meditation for the vision of the soul. This is the spiritual quest.
(For further details see Light on Yoga, The Art of Yoga and Light on pranayama (HarperCollinsPublishers) and The Tree of Yoga (Fine Line Books).
Through the practices of yama, niyama, Asana and pranayama, the body and its energy are mastered. The next stage, pratyahara, achieves the conquest of the senses and mind.
When the mind becomes ripe for meditation, the senses rest quietly and stop importuning the mind for their gratification. Then the mind, which hitherto acted as a bridge between the senses and the soul, frees itself from the senses and turns towards the soul to enjoy its spiritual heights. This is the effect of disciplines laid out in sadhana pada. Pratyahara, the result of the practice of yama, niyama, Asana and pranayama, forms the foundation for dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Through practice of these five stages of yoga, all the layers or sheaths of the self from the skin to the consciousness are penetrated, subjugated and sublimated to enable the soul to diffuse evenly throughout. This is true sadhana.
In samadhi pada, Patañjali explains why the intelligence is hazy, sluggish and dull, and gives practical disciplines to minimize and finally eliminate the dross which clouds it. Through these, the sadhaka develops a clear head and an untainted mind, and his senses of perception are then naturally tamed and subdued. The sadhaka’s intelligence and consciousness can now become fit instruments for meditation on the soul.
In vibhuti pada, Patañjali first shows the sadhaka the need to integrate the intelligence, ego and ‘I’ principle. He then guides him in the subtle disciplines: concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and total absorption (samadhi). With their help, the intelligence, ego and ‘I’ principle are sublimated. This may lead either to the release of various supernatural powers or to Self-Realization.
Patañjali begins this pada with dharana, concentration, and points out some places within and outside the body to be used by the seeker for concentration and contemplation. If dharana is maintained steadily, it flows into dhyana (meditation). When the meditator and the object meditated upon become one, dhyana flows into samadhi. Thus, dharana, dhyana and samadhi are interconnected. This integration is called by Patañjali samyama. Through samyama the intelligence, ego and sense of individuality withdraw into their seed. Then the sadhaka’s intelligence shines brilliantly with the lustre of wisdom, and his understanding is enlightened. He turns his attention to a progressive exploration of the core of his being, the soul.
Having defined the subtle facets of man’s nature as intelligence, ego, the ‘I’ principle and the inner self, Patañjali analyses them one by one to reveal their hidden content. He begins with the intellectual brain, which oscillates between one-pointed and scattered attention. If the sadhaka does not recollect how, where and when his attention became disconnected from the object contemplated, he becomes a wanderer: his intelligence remains untrained. By careful observation, and reflection on the qualities of the intelligence, the sadhaka distinguishes between its multi-faceted and its one-pointed manifestation, and between the restless and silent states. To help him, Patañjali explains how the discriminative faculty can be used to control emerging thought, to suppress the emergence of thought waves and to observe the appearance of moments of silence. If the sadhaka observes and holds these intermittent periods of silence, he experiences a state of restfulness. If this is deliberately prolonged, the stream of tranquillity will flow without disturbance.
Holding this tranquil flow of calmness without allowing the intelligence to forget itself, the seeker moves towards the seer. This movement leads to inner attention and awareness, which is in turn the basis for drawing the consciousness towards integration with the inner self. When this integration is established, the seeker realizes that the contemplator, the instrument used for contemplation, and the object of contemplation are one and the same, the seer or the soul: in other words, subject, object and instrument become one.
Bringing the intelligence, buddhi, to a refined, tranquil steadiness is dharana. When this is achieved, buddhi is re-absorbed by a process of involution into the consciousness, citta, whose inherent expression is a sharp awareness but without focus. This is dhyana. The discrimination and unwinking observation which are properties of buddhi must constantly be ready to prevent consciousness from clouding and dhyana from slipping away. Buddhi is the activator of pure citta.
When the sadhaka has disciplined and understood the intelligence, the stream of tranquillity flows smoothly, uninfluenced by pleasure or pain. Then he learns to exercise his awareness, to make it flow with peace and poise. This blending of awareness and tranquillity brings about a state of virtue, which is the powerful ethic, or sakti, of the soul, the culmination of intelligence and consciousness. This culturing of intelligence is an evolution, and virtue is its special quality. Maintenance of this civilized, cultured, virtuous state leads to a perfect propriety, wherein the intelligence continues to be refined, and the sadhaka moves ever closer to the spiritual zenith of yoga.
Properties of yoga
Patañjali guides the refined sadhaka in tracing the movements, order and sequence of each action and thought that arises. By retracing his steps through yogic discipline, the sadhaka coordinates his thoughts and actions so that there is no time gap between them. When there is absolute synchronicity of thought and action, the yogi is freed from the material limitations of time and space and this generates extraordinary powers. Patañjali describes these powers as vibhutis, or properties, of yoga.
The properties of yoga are many. Experiencing even one of their extraordinary effects is an indication that the sadhaka is on the right path in his practice of yoga. However, see the next section, ‘Caution’, on page 37.
1 He begins to know the past and future
2 He understands the language of all people, birds and animals
3 He knows his past and future lives
4 He reads the minds of others
5 If necessary, he can define even the precise details of what is in the minds of others
6 He becomes invisible at will
7 He can arrest the senses: hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell
8 He knows the exact time of his death by intuition or through omens
9 He is friendly and compassionate to all
10 He becomes strong as an elephant and his movements are as graceful as a peacock
11 He clearly sees objects near and far, gross and fine, and concealed
12 He knows the working of the solar system
13 He knows the functions of the lunar system and through that, the position of the galaxies
14 He reads the movements of stars from the pole star and predicts world events
15 He knows his body and its orderly functions
16 He conquers hunger and thirst
17 He makes his body and mind immobile like a tortoise
18 He has visions of perfected beings, teachers and masters
19 He has the power to perceive anything and everything
20 He becomes aware of the properties of consciousness
21 By knowing the properties of consciousness he uses consciousness to light the lamp of the soul
22 Divine faculties which are beyond the range of ordinary senses come to him because of his enlightened soul
23 He leaves his body consciously and enters others’ bodies at will
24 He walks over water, swamp and thorns
25 He creates fire at will
26 He hears distant sounds
27 He levitates
28 He frees himself from afflictions at will and often lives without a body
29 He controls nature’s constituents, qualities and purposes
30 He becomes lord of the elements and their counterparts
31 He possesses an excellent body with grace, strength, perfect complexion and lustre
32 He has perfect control over his senses and mind, and their contact with the lower self or the ‘I’ consciousness
33 He transforms body, senses, mind, intelligence and consciousness to utmost sharpness and speed in tune with his very soul
34 He gains dominion over all creation and all knowledge
These powers are extraordinary. The appearance of any one of them indicates that the sadhaka has followed methods appropriate to his evolution. But he should not mistake these powers for the goal of his search. For onlookers they may seem to be great accomplishments, but for the sadhaka they are hindrances to samadhi. Even celestial beings try to seduce the sadhaka. If he succumbs to these temptations, misfortunes overwhelm him.
If a yogi gets carried away by supernatural powers and uses them for fame, he fails in his sadhana. He is like a man who tries to save himself from the wind only to get caught up in a whirlwind. A yogi who attains certain powers and misconstrues them for his goal is caught in their effects and exposes himself to their afflictions. Therefore, Patañjali warns the sadhaka to renounce these accomplishments, so that the gates of everlasting bliss may open for him. He is counselled to develop non-attachment which destroys pride, a cardinal pitfall for those who acquire powers.
Adherence to the practice of yama and niyama, as described in sadhana pada, will ensure that the sadhaka does not get caught up in these powers, or misuse them.
Moment and movement
Moment is subjective and movement is objective. Patañjali explains that the moment is the present and the present is the eternal now: it is timeless, and real. When it slips from attention, it becomes movement, and movement is time. As moment rolls into movement, the past and the future appear and the moment disappears. Going with the movements of moments is the future; retraction of this is the past. The moment alone is the present.
Past and future create changes; the present is changeless. The fluctuations of consciousness into the past and future create time. If the mind, intelligence and consciousness are kept steady, and aware of moments without being caught in movements, the state of no-mind and no-time is experienced. This state is amanaskatva. The seer sees directly, independent of the workings of the mind. The yogi becomes the mind’s master, not its slave. He lives in a mind-free, time-free state. This is known as vivekaja jñanam: vivid, true knowledge.
Exalted intelligence is pure and true, untainted and uncontaminated. It distinguishes, clearly and instantly, the difference between similar entities, without analysing them according to rank, creed, quality and place.
This intelligence is true, pure and clean, as is the very soul. The yogi who possesses it is free from pride and prejudice. His intelligence and consciousness now rise to the level of the soul. As honey tastes the same from whichever side of the honeycomb it is taken, so, in the yogi, the body cells, senses, mind, intelligence, consciousness and conscience equally reflect the light of the soul. All parts of the seer appear as the soul. This is kaivalya. It comes when the powers which attract the misguided, but distract the yogi’s consciousness, are renounced.
Kaivalya means exclusiveness, or eternal emancipation. It is release from karma: the consequences and obligations of our actions. Kaivalya is an absolute, indivisible state of existence. In it, the yogi is stripped of thoughts, mind, intellect and ego, and freed from the play of the gunas of nature, sattva, rajas and tamas. He becomes a gunatitan, a pure, flawless person.
In vibhuti pada, Patañjali describes the supernatural powers that attend such exalted yogis and how the renunciation of these powers results in kaivalya: the crowning end of the yogic sadhana, a state of fullness of the soul and of unique aloneness.
This chapter, Kaivalya pada, is impressive and exhaustive. One of its main themes is that the content of consciousness is pure, absolute and divine, provided it is unsullied by action, be it white (sattvic), grey (rajasic) or black (tamasic). The absolute nature of consciousness is to be realized by propitious birth, spiritual fervour and meditation. The cleansing transformation of consciousness liberates life-energy which accelerates the process of self-evolution. Progressively, one disentangles oneself from life’s preoccupations with dharma, duty; artha, means of livelihood; and kama, worldly enjoyment. This transcendence leads to freedom, or moksa. Consciousness, released from the attributes of nature, dissolves in the soul, purusa.
This chapter deals with the necessary rejection by yogis of the supernatural powers which attend their spiritual ascent, and indicates how such men and women, who have in a sense left the world behind, may then serve the world.
Five types of Yogis
Kaivalya pada opens with the contention that prodigious yogic powers may be inborn, acquired by merit accumulated through practice in former lives. They may also be attained through use of herbs (ausadhi), incantation (mantra), devoted discipline (tapas), meditation (dhyana) and total absorption (samadhi).
In these five types of yogis, nature’s energy, which later becomes known as kundalini, flows with ever-increasing abundance, preparing them to receive the infinite light of the soul. If misused, this energetic current will vanish, after destroying its user. This is why tapas and samadhi are held to be the best of the five: they provide a firm foundation for stable growth, which prevents the yogi from misusing the energy built up through his practices.
The yogi’s judicious use of natural forces can be compared to the farmer who floods his fields one by one within their earthen banks, letting the water thoroughly drench the soil before breaking open a new channel into another. For safety’s sake, the yogi employs method and restraint so as to use nature’s energy (sakti) intelligently to gain wisdom.
It takes talent to grasp nature’s potential and measure its use. The danger is that power leads to pride and builds ego, eclipsing one’s essential divinity. The root of the ego is the same pure consciousness; it is its contact with external phenomena that generates desire, the seed of impurity. Purity is humility. When sullied by cleverness it becomes pride, which causes consciousness to dissipate itself in the fluctuations of thought. Tapas and samadhi are the most reliable means to acquire yogic talent.
Actions are of four types. They are black, white, grey, or without these attributes. The last is beyond the gunas of rajas, tamas and sattva, free from intention, motivation and desire, pure and sourceless, and outside the law of cause and effect that governs all other actions. Motivated action leads eventually to pride, affliction and unhappiness; the genuine yogi performs only actions which are motiveless: free of desire, pride and effect.
The chain of cause and effect is like a ball endlessly rebounding from the walls and floor of a squash court. Memory, conscious or sublimated, links this chain, even across many lives. This is because every action of the first three types leaves behind a residual impression, encoded in our deepest memory, which thereafter continues to turn the karmic wheel, provoking reaction and further action. The consequences of action may take effect instantaneously, or lie in abeyance for years, even through several lives. Tamasic action is considered to give rise to pain and sorrow, rajasic to mixed results, and sattvic to more agreeable ones. Depending on their provenance, the fruits of action may either tie us to lust, anger and greed, or turn us towards the spiritual quest. These residual impressions are called samskaras: they build the cycles of our existence and decide the station, time and place of our birth. The yogi’s actions, being pure, leave no impressions and excite no reactions, and are therefore free from residual impressions.
Desires and impressions
Desires, and knowledge derived from memory or residual impressions, exist eternally. They are as much a part of our being as is the will to cling to life. In a perfect yogi’s life, desires and impressions have an end; when the mechanism of cause and effect is disconnected by pure, motiveless action, the yogi transcends the world of duality and desires and attachment wither and fall away.
Yogic discipline eradicates ignorance, avidya. When illusion is banished, time becomes timeless. Though time is a continuum, it has three movements: past, present and future. Past and future are woven into the present and the present is timeless and eternal. Like the potter’s wheel, the present – the moment – rolls into movement as day and night, creating the impression that time is moving. The mind, observing the movement of time, differentiates it as past, present and future. Because of this, the perception of objects varies at different times.
Though the permanent characters of time, the object and the subject remain in their own entities, the mind sees them differently according to the development of its intelligence, and creates disparity between observation and reflection. Hence, actions and fulfilments differ. An illustration of this would be that we recognize the difference between what is involved when a murderer kills for money, a soldier kills for his country and a man kills defending his family against bandits. It is all killing, but the implications are radically different in each case, according to the development of the individual.
The yogi is alert to, and aware of, the present, and lives in the present, using past experience only as a platform for the present. This brings changelessness in the attitude of the mind towards the object seen.
Subject and object
Earlier chapters point out that whereas nature is eternal, its qualities or gunas, are ever-changing. This blending of the gunas creates diversity in the mind so that it sees objects in different ways. The object is the same and the mind, too, is the same. But the same mind has many qualities of mood and behaviour. This fragmentation is the cause of avidya. The mind divided by the gunas moulds and remoulds man. As the gunas move in rhythmic unity, intellectual development differs qualitatively in each person and each one sees objects differently, though their essence does not change.
The yogi studies the uniqueness of that rhythmic mutation, keeps aloof from it, and rests in his own essence, his soul. This essence, and the essence of the perceived object, are the same for him. Through self-examination, he realizes that objects do not change, but that he himself fabricates their apparent changes. He learns to perceive without prejudice, aware that objects exist independently, irrespective of his cognition of them. His clear, unpolluted mind sees objects as they are, separate from him and therefore unable to leave an impression on him. Being free from bias, he is free from karma.
Cit and citta (universal and individual consciousness)
The unalterable seer (cit) is the Lord of the consciousness. He is ever-present, changeless, constant, ever-luminous. The seer can be both subject and object at the same time. He is aware of all mutations taking place in his mind, intelligence and consciousness. He knows that they are his products and that they may taint him as long as avidya and asmita survive.
The seer is the seed, and consciousness the seedling. Mind is the stem, and vrittis, the fluctuations or thought-waves, are the leaves, relayed via mind through the single consciousness, the stem, back to the seed.
Consciousness and its branches, intelligence, mind and thought, become objects of the seer. The branches have no existence of their own without consciousness, and consciousness has none without the seer. It borrows light from the seer and extends towards intelligence, mind and thought. As it is not self-illumined it cannot be at once subject and object. It is a knowable object to the seer just as the objects of the world are knowable to it.
The cit (seer, soul, cosmic consciousness) is a passive, omniscient witness, whereas the citta (created or ‘sprouted’ consciousness) is active, impressionable and engaged, because it is involved in a direct relationship with the outside world. But when that involvement is analysed, controlled and brought to stillness, the citta gravitates towards its source, the cit, and takes on its characteristics, so that for the realized being cit and citta become one. The problem is that for the average person, the sprouted consciousness appears to be the seer, while in reality it merely masks the seer. Studying citta, we come to understand that it has no light of its own, but is dependent on its progenitor, the seer. Until this realization dawns, consciousness acts as a prism, distorting vision. Once it merges with the seer it becomes a perfect reflector, as well as a reflection, mirroring its own pure image, the soul reflecting on the soul.
So we see that citta can be pulled in two directions: outwards towards its mother, nature, prakrti, or inwards towards its father, spirit, purusa. The role of yoga is to show us that the ultimate goal of citta is to take the second path, away from the world to the bliss of the soul. Yoga both offers the goal and supplies the means to reach it. He who finds his soul is Yogesvara, Lord or God of yoga, or Yogiraja, a King among yogis.
Now, nothing is left to be known or acquired by him.
Patañjali warns that even such exalted yogis are not beyond all danger of relapse. Even when oneness between cit and citta is achieved, inattention, carelessness, or pride in one’s achievement await opportunity to return, and fissure the consciousness. In this loss of concentration, old thoughts and habits may re-emerge to disturb the harmony of kaivalya.
If this takes place, the yogi has no alternative but to resume his purificatory struggle in the same way as less evolved people combat their own grosser afflictions.
The dawn of spiritual and sorrowless light
If the Yogesvara’s indivisible state is unwaveringly sustained, a stream of virtue pours from his heart like torrential rain: dharma megha samadhi, or rain-cloud of virtue or justice. The expression has two complementary overtones. Dharma means duty; megha means cloud. Clouds may either obscure the sun’s light or clear the sky by sending down rain to reveal it. If citta’s union with the seer is fissured it drags its master towards worldly pleasures (bhoga). If union is maintained it leads the aspirant towards kaivalya. Through yogic discipline, consciousness is made virtuous so that its possessor can become, and be, a yogi, a jñanin, a bhaktan and a paravairagin.
All actions and reactions cease in that person who is now a Yogesvara. He is free from the clutches of nature and karma. From now on, there is no room in his citta for the production of effects; he never speaks or acts in a way that binds him to nature. When the supply of oil to a lamp is stopped, the lamp is extinguished. In this yogi, when the fuel of desires dries out, the lamp of the mind cannot burn, and begins to fade on its own. Then infinite wisdom issues forth spontaneously.
The knowledge that is acquired through senses, mind and intellect is insignificant beside that emanating from the vision of the seer. This is the real intuitive knowledge.
When the clouds disappear, the sky clears and the sun shines brilliantly. When the sun shines, does one need artificial light to see? When the light of the soul blazes, the light of consciousness is needed no longer.
Nature and its qualities cease to affect the fulfilled yogi. From now on they serve him devotedly, without interfering with or influencing his true glory. He understands the sequence of time and its relationship with nature. He is crowned with the wisdom of living in the eternal Now. The eternal Now is Divine and he too is Divine. All his aims of life are fulfilled. He is a krtharthan, a fulfilled soul, one without equal, living in benevolent freedom and beatitude. He is alone and complete. This is kaivalya.
Patañjali begins the Yoga Sutras with atha, meaning ‘now’, and ends with iti, ‘that is all’. Besides this search for the soul, there is nothing.
Samadhi means yoga and yoga means samadhi. This pada therefore explains the significance of yoga as well as of samadhi: both mean profound meditation and supreme devotion.
For aspirants endowed with perfect physical health, mental poise, discriminative intelligence and a spiritual bent, Patañjali provides guidance in the disciplines of practice and detachment to help them attain the spiritual zenith, the vision of the soul (atma-darsana).
The word citta has often been translated as ‘mind’. In the West, it is considered that mind not only has the power of conation or volition, cognition and motion, but also that of discrimination.
But citta really means ‘consciousness’. Indian philosophers analysed citta and divided it into three facets: mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi) and ego, or the sense of self (ahamkara). They divided the mental body into two parts: the mental sheath and the intellectual sheath. People have thus come to think of consciousness and mind as the same. In this work, consciousness refers both to the mental sheath (manomaya kosa) as mind, and to the intellectual sheath (vijñanamaya kosa) as wisdom. Mind acquires knowledge objectively, whereas intelligence learns through subjective experience, which becomes wisdom. As cosmic intelligence is the first principle of nature, so consciousness is the first principle of man.
I.1 atha yoganusAsanam atha
now, auspiciousness, a prayer, a blessing, benediction, authority, a good omen
joining, union, junction, combination, application, use, means, result, deep meditation, concentration, contemplation of the Supreme Spirit
advice, direction, order, command, instructions, laying down rules and precepts, a revised text, introduction, or guide given in procedural form. Thus, it means guidance in the codes of conduct which are to be observed, and which form the base from which to cultivate one’s ethical and spiritual life.
With prayers for divine blessings, now begins an exposition of the sacred art of yoga.
Now follows a detailed exposition of the discipline of yoga, given step by step in the right order, and with proper direction for self-alignment.
Patañjali is the first to offer us a codification of yoga, its practice and precepts, and the immediacy of the new light he is shedding on a known and ancient subject is emphasized by his use of the word ‘now’. His reappraisal, based on his own experience, explores fresh ground, and bequeathes us a lasting, monumental work. In the cultural context of his time his words must have been crystal clear, and even to the spiritually impoverished modern mind they are never confused, although they are often almost impenetrably condensed.
The word ‘now’ can also be seen in the context of a progression from Patañjali’s previous works, his treatises on grammar and on ayurveda. Logically we must consider these to predate the Yoga Sutras, as grammar is a prerequisite of lucid speech and clear comprehension, and ayurvedic medicine of bodily cleanliness and inner equilibrium. Together, these works served as preparation for Patañjali’s crowning exposition of yoga: the cultivation and eventual transcendence of consciousness, culminating in liberation from the cycles of rebirth.
These works are collectively known as moksa sastras (spiritual sciences), treatises which trace man’s evolution from physical and mental bondage towards ultimate freedom. The treatise on yoga flows naturally from the ayurvedic work, and guides the aspirant (sadhaka) to a trained and balanced state of consciousness.
In this first chapter Patañjali analyses the components of consciousness and its behavioural patterns, and explains how its fluctuations can be stilled in order to achieve inner absorption and integration. In the second, he reveals the whole linking mechanism of yoga, by means of which ethical conduct, bodily vigour and health and physiological vitality are built into the structure of the human evolutionary progress towards freedom. In the third chapter, Patañjali prepares the mind to reach the soul. In the fourth, he shows how the mind dissolves into the consciousness and consciousness into the soul, and how the sadhaka drinks the nectar of immortality.
The Brahma Sutra, a treatise dealing with Vedanta philosophy (the knowledge of Brahman), also begins with the word atha or ‘now’: athato Brahma jijñasa. There, ‘now’ stands for the desire to know Brahman. Brahman is dealt with as the object of study and is discussed and explored throughout as the object. In the Yoga Sutras, it is the seer or the true Self who is to be discovered and known. Yoga is therefore considered to be a subjective art, science and philosophy. ‘Yoga’ has various connotations as mentioned at the outset, but here it stands for samadhi, the indivisible state of existence.
So, this sutra may be taken to mean: ‘the disciplines of integration are here expounded through experience, and are given to humanity for the exploration and recognition of that hidden part of man which is beyond the awareness of the senses’.
I.2 yogah cittavrtti nirodhah yogah
union or integration from the outermost layer to the innermost self, that is, from the skin to the muscles, bones, nerves, mind, intellect, will, consciousness and self
consciousness, which is made up of three factors: mind (manas), intellect (buddhi) and ego (ahammkara). Citta is the vehicle of observation, attention, aims and reason; it has three functions, cognition, conation or volition, and motion
state of mind, fluctuations in mind, course of conduct, behaviour, a state of being, mode of action, movement, function, operation
obstruction, stoppage, opposition, annihilation, restraint, control, cessation
Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness.
Yoga is defined as restraint of fluctuations in the consciousness. It is the art of studying the behaviour of consciousness, which has three functions: cognition, conation or volition, and motion. Yoga shows ways of understanding the functionings of the mind, and helps to quieten their movements, leading one towards the undisturbed state of silence which dwells in the very seat of consciousness. Yoga is thus the art and science of mental discipline through which the mind becomes cultured and matured.
This vital sutra contains the definition of yoga: the control or restraint of the movement of consciousness, leading to their complete cessation.
Citta is the vehicle which takes the mind (manas) towards the soul (atma). Yoga is the cessation of all vibration in the seat of consciousness. It is extremely difficult to convey the meaning of the word citta because it is the subtlest form of cosmic intelligence (mahat). Mahat is the great principle, the source of the material world of nature (prakrti), as opposed to the soul, which is an offshoot of nature. According to samkhya philosophy, creation is effected by the mingling of prakrti with Purusa, the cosmic Soul. This view of cosmology is also accepted by the yoga philosophy. The principles of Purusa and prakrti are the source of all action, volition and silence.
Words such as citta, buddhi and mahat are so often used interchangeably that the student can easily become confused. One way to structure one’s understanding is to remember that every phenomenon which has reached its full evolution or individuation has a subtle or cosmic counterpart. Thus, we translate buddhi as the individual discriminating intelligence, and consider mahat to be its cosmic counterpart. Similarly, the individuated consciousness, citta, is matched by its subtle form cit. For the purpose of Self-Realization, the highest awareness of consciousness and the most refined faculty of intelligence have to work so much in partnership that it is not always useful to split hairs by separating them. (See Introduction, part I – Cosmology of Nature.)
The thinking principle, or conscience (antahkarana) links the motivating principle of nature (mahat) to individual consciousness which can be thought of as a fluid enveloping ego (ahamkara), intelligence (buddhi) and mind (manas). This ‘fluid’ tends to become cloudy and opaque due to its contact with the external world via its three components. The sadhaka’s aim is to bring the consciousness to a state of purity and translucence. It is important to note that consciousness not only links evolved or manifest nature to non-evolved or subtle nature; it is also closest to the soul itself, which does not belong to nature, being merely immanent in it.
Buddhi possesses the decisive knowledge which is determined by perfect action and experience. Manas gathers and collects information through the five senses of perception, jñanendriyas, and the five organs of action, karmendriyas. Cosmic intelligence, ego, individual intelligence, mind, the five senses of perception and the five organs of action are the products of the five elements of nature – earth, water, fire, air and ether (prthvi, ap, tejas, vayu and akasa) – with their infra-atomic qualities of smell, taste, form or sight, touch and sound (gandha, rasa, rupa, sparsa and sabda).
In order to help man to understand himself, the sages analysed humans as being composed of five sheaths, or kosas:Sheath Corresponding element Anatomical (annamaya) Earth Physiological (pranamaya) Water Mental (manomaya) Fire Intellectual (vijñanamaya) Air Blissful (anandamaya) Ether
The first three sheaths are within the field of the elements of nature. The intellectual sheath is said to be the layer of the individual soul (jivatman), and the blissful sheath the layer of the universal Soul (paramatman). In effect, all five sheaths have to be penetrated to reach emancipation. The innermost content of the sheaths, beyond even the blissful body, is purusa, the indivisible, non-manifest One, the ‘void which is full’. This is experienced in nirbija samadhi, whereas sabija samadhi is experienced at the level of the blissful body.
If ahamkara (ego) is considered to be one end of a thread, then antaratma (Universal Self) is the other end. Antahkarana (conscience) is the unifier of the two.
The practice of yoga integrates a person through the journey of intelligence and consciousness from the external to the internal. It unifies him from the intelligence of the skin to the intelligence of the self, so that his self merges with the cosmic Self. This is the merging of one half of one’s being (prakrti) with the other (purusa). Through yoga, the practitioner learns to observe and to think, and to intensify his effort until eternal joy is attained. This is possible only when all vibrations of the individual citta are arrested before they emerge.
Yoga, the restraint of fluctuating thought, leads to a sattvic state. But in order to restrain the fluctuations, force of will is necessary: hence a degree of rajas is involved. Restraint of the movements of thought brings about stillness, which leads to deep silence, with awareness. This is the sattvic nature of the citta.
Stillness is concentration (dharana) and silence is meditation (dhyana). Concentration needs a focus or a form, and this focus is ahamkara, one’s own small, individual self. When concentration flows into meditation, that self loses its identity and becomes one with the great Self. Like two sides of a coin, ahamkara and atma are the two opposite poles in man.
The sadhaka is influenced by the self on the one hand and by objects perceived on the other. When he is engrossed in the object, his mind fluctuates. This is vrtti. His aim should be to distinguish the self from the objects seen, so that it does not become enmeshed by them. Through yoga, he should try to free his consciousness from the temptations of such objects, and bring it closer to the seer. Restraining the fluctuations of the mind is a process which leads to an end: samadhi. Initially, yoga acts as the means of restraint. When the sadhaka has attained a total state of restraint, yogic discipline is accomplished and the end is reached: the consciousness remains pure. Thus, yoga is both the means and the end.
(See I.18; II.28.)
1.3 tatla drastuh svarupe avasthanam tada
then, at that time
the soul, the seer
in his own, in his state
rests, abides, dwells, resides, radiates
Then, the seer dwells in his own true splendour.
When the waves of consciousness are stilled and silenced, they can no longer distort the true expression of the soul. Revealed in his own nature, the radiant seer abides in his own grandeur.
Volition being the mode of behaviour of the mind, it is liable to change our perception of the state and condition of the seer from moment to moment. When it is restrained and regulated, a reflective state of being is experienced. In this state, knowledge dawns so clearly that the true grandeur of the seer is seen and felt. This vision of the soul radiates without any activity on the part of citta. Once it is realized, the soul abides in its own seat.
(See I.16, 29, 47, 51; II.21, 23, 25; III.49, 56; IV.22, 25, 34.)
I.4 vrtti sarupyam itaratra
behaviour, fluctuation, modification, function, state of mind
identification, likeness, closeness, nearness
at other times, elsewhere
At other times, the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness.
When the seer identifies with consciousness or with the objects seen, he unites with them and forgets his grandeur.
The natural tendency of consciousness is to become involved with the object seen, draw the seer towards it, and move the seer to identify with it. Then the seer becomes engrossed in the object. This becomes the seed for diversification of the intelligence, and makes the seer forget his own radiant awareness.
When the soul does not radiate its own glory, it is a sign that the thinking faculty has manifested itself in place of the soul.
The imprint of objects is transmitted to citta through the senses of perception. Citta absorbs these sensory impressions and becomes coloured and modified by them. Objects act as provender for the grazing citta, which is attracted to them by its appetite. Citta projects itself, taking on the form of the objects in order to possess them. Thus it becomes enveloped by thoughts of the object, with the result that the soul is obscured. In this way, citta becomes murky and causes changes in behaviour and mood as it identifies itself with things seen. (See III.36.)
Although in reality citta is a formless entity, it can be helpful to visualize it in order to grasp its functions and limitations. Let us imagine it to be like an optical lens, containing no light of its own, but placed directly above a source of pure light, the soul. One face of the lens, facing inwards towards the light, remains clean. We are normally aware of this internal facet of citta only when it speaks to us with the voice of conscience.
In daily life, however, we are very much aware of the upper surface of the lens, facing outwards to the world and linked to it by the senses and mind. This surface serves both as a sense, and as a content of consciousness, along with ego and intelligence. Worked upon by the desires and fears of turbulent worldly life, it becomes cloudy, opaque, even dirty and scarred, and prevents the soul’s light from shining through it. Lacking inner illumination, it seeks all the more avidly the artificial lights of conditioned existence. The whole technique of yoga, its practice and restraint, is aimed at dissociating consciousness from its identification with the phenomenal world, at restraining the senses by which it is ensnared, and at cleansing and purifying the lens of citta, until it transmits wholly and only the light of the soul.
(See II.20; IV.22.)
I.5 vrttayah pañcatayyah klista aklistah
afflicting, tormenting, distressing, painful
untroubling, undisturbing, unafflicting, undistressing, pleasing
The movements of consciousness are fwefold. They may be cognizable or non-cognizable, painful or non-painful.
Fluctuations or modifications of the mind may be painful or non-painful, cognizable or non-cognizable. Pain may be hidden in the non-painful state, and the non-painful may be hidden in the painful state. Either may be cognizable or non-cognizable.
When consciousness takes the lead, naturally the seer takes a back seat. The seed of change is in the consciousness and not in the seer. Consciousness sees objects in relation to its own idiosyncrasies, creating fluctuations and modifications in one’s thoughts. These modifications, of which there are five, are explained in the next sutra. They may be visible or hidden, painful or not, distressing or pleasing, cognizable or non-cognizable.
The previous sutra explains that the consciousness involves the seer with the objects seen by it, and invites five types of fluctuations which can be divided and subdivided almost infinitely.
Thoughts, when associated with anguish, are known as painful (klista) conditions of the mind and consciousness. For example, a live coal covered with ash appears to be ash. If one touches it, it burns the skin at once. The live coal was in an incognizable, or aklista state. The moment the skin was burned, it became cognizable, or klista. As anguish predominates in pain, the pleasing state cannot be identified with it, though it exists side by side. The pleasure of sex ends in the agony of labour pain at the time of delivery, to be followed by all the cycles of joy, worry and sadness associated with parenthood.
Even highly evolved souls, who have reached a certain spiritual height, as in 1.18 which describes a non-painful, blissful state, are cautioned by Patañjali in 1.19. He warns that, though the yogi remains free while the virtuous potencies continue to be powerful, the moment they fade away he has to strive again, a painful end to the attainment of the spiritual pinnacle. Alternatively, the pains may be hidden, and may appear as non-painful for a long time, until they surface. For example, cancer can remain undetected for a long time until it reaches a painful and tormenting state.
Cognizable pains and anguishes are controlled or annihilated by the practice of yoga, and by willpower. Incognizable pains are prevented from rising to the state of cognition by freedom from desires (vAsanas) and by non-attachment (vairagya), in addition to yogic sadhana.
In II.12, Patañjali uses the words drsta (visible) and adrsta (unperceived, invisible). These may be compared to klista and aklista. Nature causes the five fluctuations to appear in their affictive klista forms, whereas purusa tends to bring them to the aklista state. For example, the klista form of memory is bondage in psychological time, the aklista form is the function of discrimination. Both the painful and non-painful states can be visible or hidden. The known, visible pains and pleasures can be reduced or eradicated. In painful states the ‘non-pains’ may be hidden, and consequently the virtues are difficult to recognize or perceive. Both these states must be stopped by yogic practice and renunciation. In sutras I.23, 27, 28, 33–39, and in II.29, Patañjali underlines the means of reaching the zenith of virtue, which is freedom and beatitude.
The citta acts as the wheel, while klista and aklista states are like the two spokes of the wheel which cause fluctuations and modulations in one’s self. The vrttis in their klista and aklista manifestations are not separate parallel entities, but feed and support each other. For example, the dullness which is the negative aspect of sleep supports the wrong perception of the other modulations of consciousness, whereas the positive experience of sleep (the passive, virtuous state experienced immediately on waking, when the ‘I’ is silent) gives a glimmer of a higher state, encouraging the efforts of right knowledge and discrimination. If the wheel is at rest, the spokes remain steady, and the citta becomes free from vrttis.
(For afflictions, see I.30, 31; II.3, 12, 16, 17.)
1.6 pramana viparyaya vikalpa nidra smrtayah
valid knowledge, experienced knowledge, correct knowledge which is studied and verified, proof, or evidence
inverted, perverse, contrary
doubt, indecision, hesitation, fancy, imagination, or day-dreaming
sleep, a state of emptiness
They are caused by correct knowledge, illusion, delusion, sleep and memory.
These five-fold fluctuations or modifications of consciousness are based on real perception, or correct knowledge based on fact and proof; unreal or perverse perception, or illusion; fanciful or imaginary knowledge; knowledge based on sleep; and memory.
Consciousness has five qualitative types of intelligence: mudha (silly, stupid, or ignorant), ksipta (neglected or distracted), viksipta (agitated or scattered), ekagra (one-pointed or closely attentive) and niruddha (restrained or controlled). Since conscious intelligence is of five types, fluctuations are also classified into five kinds: correct knowledge, perverse perception, imagination, knowledge based on sleep, and memory. These five conscious states of intelligence and five classes of fluctuations may disturb the sadhaka, or help him to develop maturity of intelligence and attain emancipation.
Wrong perceptions (viparyaya) are gathered by the senses of perception and influence the mind to accept what is felt by them (as in the story of the six blind men and the elephant). Fanciful knowledge (vikalpa) causes the mind to live in an imaginary state without consideration of the facts. Memory (smrti) helps one to recollect experiences for right understanding. Sleep (nidra) has its own peculiarity. As a jar when empty is filled with air, so consciousness is empty in sleep. It exists in space, without a place, and is filled with dormancy. In sleep, one has a glimpse of a quiet state of mind, manolaya. This dormant state of mind is felt only on waking. Just as a flower when at rest is in its bud, so the consciousness rests in its bud, the conscience. Correct knowledge (pramana) is direct knowledge from the core of the being. It is intuitive, therefore pure, and beyond the field of intellect.
Direct knowledge leads man beyond the conscious state. This state of consciousness is called amanaskatva.
I.7 pratyaksa anumana agamah pramanani
traditional sacred texts or scriptural references, a person who is a scriptural authority and whose word can be relied on
kinds of proof
Correct knowledge is direct, inferred or proven as factual.
Correct knowledge is based on three kinds of proof: direct perception, correct inference or deduction, and testimony from authoritative sacred scriptures or experienced persons.
Initially, individual perception should be checked by reasoned logic, and then seen to correspond to traditional or scriptural wisdom. This process involves the enlightened intelligence, or buddhi.
In modern intellectual terms, we take buddhi to be a monolithic entity. This is unhelpful when trying to understand its true role in our lives and in our yogic practice. Let us first separate it from mind, in which brain, whose function is to receive sensory information, to think and to act, has its source. Thinking expresses itself in the form of electro-magnetic waves.
Intellect is more subtle than mind. It is concerned with the knowledge of facts and the reasoning faculty, and becomes discernible only through its inherent quality, intelligence, which is closer to consciousness than to the mind/thought process. Intelligence is inherent in every aspect of our being, from the physical to the blissful. It is non-manifest only in the atman/purusa, the core of being.
The quality of intelligence is inherent but dormant, so our first step must be to awaken it. The practice of Asana brings intelligence to the surface of the cellular body through stretching and to the physiological body by maintaining the pose. Once awakened, intelligence can reveal its dynamic aspect, its ability to discriminate. Then we strive for equal extensions to achieve a balanced, stable pose, measuring upper arm stretch against lower, right leg against left, inner against outer, etc. This precise, thorough process of measuring and discriminating is the apprenticeship, or culturing, of intelligence; it is pursued in the internal sheaths by pranayama, pratyahara and the further stages of yoga.
We can thus see that discrimination is a weighing process, belonging to the world of duality. When what is wrong is discarded, what is left must be correct.
When discrimination has been cultivated and intelligence is full and bright, ego and mind retreat, and citta becomes sharp and clear. But spiritual intelligence, which is true wisdom, dawns only when discrimination ends. Wisdom does not function in duality. It perceives only oneness. It does not discard the wrong, it sees only the right. (Patañjali calls this exalted intelligence, or vivekaja jñanam
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