This is a very interesting yet somewhat puzzling section of the Yoga Sutras because it covers a variety of subjects seemingly at random, though more than one sutra may be devoted to a single subject. However it may be, here it is.
1. The Siddhis are the result of birth, drugs, mantras, austerities or samadhi.
Patanjali listed various siddhis in the Sadhana Pada: Book II. He also outlined which of the yamas or niyamas would lead to those siddhis. We can question as to whether he is harking back to them or is giving us a blanket exposition relating to any other psychic powers that may arise in the sadhaka. I personally think the latter is correct and will approach it from that viewpoint. There are five possible sources or producers of the siddhis.
Birth [janma]. This means that siddhis can be carried over from previous births in which they were developed, that they are a part of the person’s samskaras.
Drugs [aushadhi]. At the time of Patanjali allopathic drugs and the various concoctions current today were not known. “Aushadhi” means herb-based. It is well known that certain herbs or plants can produce psychic abilities that usually disappear as the effect of the drug wears off, though there can remain a kind of heightened sensitivity or mental distortion that is at best borderline pathological.
Patanjali is not advocating the use of herbs or plants to develop siddhis. Rather, he is informing us that siddhis are not always signposts of psychic development or spiritual evolution, but merely the result of having ingested certain herbs or plants. Some unfortunate individuals are permanently damaged physically or psychically by these plants and consider themselves enlightened or possessing some exalted status. This, too, is pathological. No real yogi countenances the use of such substances.
Mantra. It is well known in India that certain mantras can bestow powers on those who attain what is known as “mantra siddhi.” There are even certain places in India where a person can attain mantra siddhi more rapidly than in an ordinary location.
For decades, a man simply called Poison King cured people of snakebite. The government of India had arranged that to send a telegram free of charge to him to report someone needing neutralization of poison, including cobra venom, a person need only use the address “Poison King.” The telegram would be rushed to him. He always carried a towel slung over one shoulder, and when he got a telegram he would tear a narrow strip off the towel while reciting a mantra. Instantly the person would be free of the effects of the poison.
I met a man who had the same siddhi. Through mantra he had actually brought back to life a man declared dead by a hospital in New Delhi. Being “scientific” the hospital refused to acknowledge the fact and cancel the death certificate. So the man remained legally dead for the rest of his life and never had to pay taxes!
I have known of people who cured illness through mantra and also were able to know what was going on at a distance and to know the future through mantra. Obviously liberation (moksha) is the best fruit of mantra sadhana.
Tapasya. Spiritual practice, though undertaken for the purpose of enlightenment, can also bestow siddhis on a person, either by producing them or awakening siddhis gained in a previous life. Worthy teachers are therefore always cautioning sadhakas to be very wary of such siddhis and to make sure that they do not distract them from the only worthwhile goal: Self-realization. During my own sadhana I have had various psychic abilities arise that I found absolutely worthless and distracting. Since it is said that you can lose siddhis by talking about them, I would either write to friends or tell them about these abilities and in a short time they would fade away.
Samadhi. There are various forms of samadhi, but all are states of superconsciousness, though some are more conducive to enlightenment than others. Nevertheless, it is natural that superconscious experience should produce siddhis as they are natural characteristics of life in the higher levels or worlds within creation. So those who elevate their consciousness even here in the earth plane may cause their unfoldment since they were already inherent in them.
2. The transformation from one species or kind into another is by the overflow of natural tendencies or potentialities [prakriti].
Jnaneswara Bharati: “The transition of transformation into another form or type of birth takes place through the filling in of their innate nature.”
Prabhavananda: “The transformation of one species into another is cause by the inflowing of nature.”
The more science advances in real discoveries, the more Sanatana Dharma is revealed as the mathematics of both the material and spiritual realms. Unfortunately people do not come to the realization that it is dharma that validates science, not the other way around. If this was realized, serious search and research in the texts of ancient India would be commonplace.
Shortly after returning from my first trip to India I met a man who loaned me some recordings of talks by one of the major figures in physics in America. This man had gone to India and traveled some years in the south searching out palm leaf manuscripts on scientific subjects. He managed quite well, and when he returned to America he went to one of the most prestigious universities where he was to teach that year and talked about his discoveries. The heads of the physics department were jubilant and declared that as soon as possible they would arrange an international gathering of physicists at which he could present his finding. “You will completely revolutionize the entire field of physics,” they told him, “and your name will head the list of those whose research brought about major breakthroughs in science.” “But these are not my discoveries!” he protested. “I learned everything I have told you about by studying ancient manuscripts in south India. The credit goes to those who wrote them, not me.” “Oh, well, in that case we won’t be bothering with it,” they told him. He was so disgusted he resigned his professorship and began teaching metaphysics integrated with physics, which really is just what the Sankhya and Yoga philosophies are today.
In the nineteenth century when Darwin’s theories were turning the world upside down for religionists and scientists in the West, the yogis of India could not understand the fuss. The yogic sages had known about evolution in its full meaning for thousands of years. And this simple verse explains why and how evolution occurs. The individual spirit (jiva) enters a form in relative creation and lives and functions through the form in a number of births (reincarnations) until it has learned to perfectly manifest all the potentials of that form. When it has done so, it passes on into the next more complex form and “fills in” that. And so it goes until the jiva has traversed the entire range of evolution and developed the capacity to share in the infinity of God the Absolute and entered into total, perfect and eternal union with God.
As Shakespeare wrote, “all the world’s a stage” with the individual spirits wearing their costumes and playing their parts. Just as actors begin with small parts and progress to bigger roles by demonstrating their skill in those smaller parts, so also do the spirits advance to higher and more complex forms of existence and consciousness through taking on and perfecting their identity and functions within the evolutionary forms of creation, at last returning home to God.
Because of the incalculable length of time this process of return requires, God breathes forth the creation many times in cycles. Creation, being an activity of the eternal God, is also eternal. It never began, and will never end. Instead, it runs in alternating cycles of manifestation-projection and withdrawal. Nothing is destroyed, simply recycled.
The first “character” in the cosmic drama as it unfolds is a single atom of hydrogen. This is the first body, the first “role” in which the newly-projected spirit finds itself. Then in its implanted will, tending back to the divine, it builds more and more complex atomic and molecular structures in the struggle to manifest full self-awareness. This entails an almost infinitely long series of progressively more complex and evolved body vehicles, each of which the spirit must both project around itself and function in to attain and manifest the fullest consciousness possible in those vehicles. Oliver Wendel Holmes, one of many great Americans whose belief in reincarnation is conveniently overlooked, wrote in his poem, “The Chambered Nautilus:”
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
The drama of creation, simply stated, is this: God breathes forth this vast universe. Slowly it comes out and evolves according to set patterns. Then after a precise measure of time, he breathes it back in again, involves it, and it vanishes. This he does eternally. Mostly the same actors are in the successive dramas, though they evolve to bigger and (hopefully) better roles.
God breathes forth himself as creation, and the individual spirit comes down and is first of all embodied in an atom of hydrogen. As time passes, it builds more and more complex atomic and molecular structures. From gas to mineral to plant to animal, so develops the career of the individual spirit’s drama of evolution. As the Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote:
A stone I died and rose again a plant.
A plant I died and rose an animal;
I died an animal and was born a man.
Why should I fear? What have I lost by death?
As man, death sweeps me from this world of men
That I may wear an angel’s wings in heaven;
Yet e’en as angel may I not abide,
For nought abideth save the face of God.
Thus o’er the angels’ world I wing my way
Onwards and upwards, unto boundless lights;
Then let me be as nought, for in my heart
Rings as a harp-song that we must return to Him.
At all stages along the way, we find organisms in which the differing levels overlap. In the sea we find entities which are simultaneously plant and animal, and on land we have those that have developed an elementary sense of touch and locomotion, such as the Venus flytrap. In human form there are those who are to some degree still animal. In the intervals between embodiments, the spirit spends time in the astral and causal regions where awakening and growth also take place. (This is best explained in the forty-third chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda.)
3. The incidental cause does not move or stir up the natural tendencies into activity; it merely removes the obstacles, like a farmer [irrigating a field].
“One acts according to one’s own prakriti–even the wise man does so. Beings follow their own prakriti” (Bhagavad Gita 3:33). Prakriti is everything: the vibrating energy from which all forms and impulses of various sorts are produced. Prakriti in this instance includes the eternal impulse to evolve to enlightenment. Nothing produces this impulse; it is inherent in the energy-being (prakriti) of each one of us. It is this impulse that has impelled us from life to life, evolving from most simple to most complex, from unconsciousness to self-consciousness. It is not an external force, but the inmost movement arising directly from the Self (atman). Therefore Patanjali says that nothing in relative experience produces or stimulates evolution and ultimate enlightenment. Rather, the eternal part of us is moving us along that evolutionary path. This being so, the various spiritual practices we call sadhana or tapasya do not and absolutely cannot lead to liberation. Yoga removes the obstacles to realization, and then it does not occur–it is revealed as being already present.
A farmer digs a trench up to a stream, then removes the last bit of earth between it and the stream and the water flows into the field. The water has always been there, but the earth was blocking its flow. The pressure of the water impelled it into the field, not the earth nor the farmer. The water is our prakriti, the farmer is ourself, and the earth is the obstacles removed by our practice of yoga.
Before leaving this sutra, it should be pointed out that there is a misunderstanding based on the truth that no external agent can bring about our spiritual development and moksha. The mistake is the conclusion that nothing need be done for our liberation, that to do anything will compound our delusion and prevent our enlightenment. Often this results in its adherents doing absolutely nothing but accepting their status as already enlightened beings. Others engage in a variety of “doing nothing” methods. Both kinds talk a great deal as do the Protestant Fundamentalists who “live by faith” and “take on faith” their salvation. Simply believing and proclaiming is their salvation. And it makes their “advaita teachers” a great deal of money.
But the sutra gives us a very important fact: there are actions that remove the obstacles to enlightenment. Therefore methodology in the form of yogic processes or kriyas are not only legitimate, without them the reality of the Self will not be authentically perceived or manifested. Liberation may be claimed, but it will not be anything more than words. As the Gita tells us: “Be a yogi” (6:46).
4. Artificially created minds [proceed] from egoism [asmita] alone.
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “The emergent mind fields spring forth from the individuality of I-ness (asmita).”
Shearer: “All minds are created by Ego–the separative sense of ‘I.’”
Born into relative existence with the feeling of separate, individual existence (asmita), a mind develops along with the other bodies that have been taken on by the Self. As they are in a sense artificial–not native to, or inherent in–the Self, so also is the mind that is created by asmita.
Such a mind is ever-changing and is at best a kind of phantom. Those who base their action on such a mind are themselves like shifting sands without continuity and often ignorantly think that they have no abiding self but are themselves a perpetually changing phantom.
Patanjali wants us to understand the fundamental unreliability of such a mind because it is basically non-existent since it will die the death of the body. Only that which is forever existent is real. Those things that come into existence and go out of existence are but dreams–as I say, phantoms. “It is known that the unreal never comes to be, and the real never ceases to be” (Bhagavad Gita 2:16).
The yogi, therefore, does not bother much with the ego-created mind, but ignores it and applies himself to sadhana which will drastically alter that mind and eventually dissolve it so consciousness will prevail rather than any form of mind. Yogis do not “work” with the asmita-based mind, but engage in yoga that reveals the true Self which needs no such kind of a mind. Such a mind is a ghost, and those who struggle with it and try to change it are truly fighting the air. As Saint Paul wrote: “I therefore so run [the spiritual course], not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air” (I Corinthians 9:26).
Such wrong activity has its compensation, though, because it strengthens and establishes identity with the ego. So the ignorant love to mind-game and speak of “getting rid of the ego.”
5. The one [natural] mind is the director or mover of the many [artificial] minds in their different activities.
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “While the activities of the emergent mind fields may be diverse, the one mind is the director of the many.”
Vivekananda: “Though the activities of the different created minds are various, the one original mind is the controller of them all.”
Here we need a very broad concept of “mind.” Actually the original mind is really our original consciousness and is not at all what the created, asmita-based minds are. It may temporarily control or direct those minds, but it also is what dissolves them ultimately.
What Patanjali wants us to understand is that the real part of us is always in control of the unreal part, however unaware of that fact we may be. Everything, even illusion, depends upon reality, just as driftwood floats on the surface of the ocean and is moved by it up and down, hither and thither, yet the driftwood is in no way the ocean or the ocean the driftwood. In the same way the Self is completely in charge of the non-self (not-self), yet is not the non-self any more than the non-self can ever be the Self.
This may seem like word juggling or empty philosophizing, but it has a very practical purpose: the realization that nothing exists or moves independently of either the Supreme Self (Paramatman) or the individual Self (jivatman). Just as the dreamer is the only reality, and not the dream, so the Self is the sole reality in change of the illusory bodies that appear to be part of our being, but in actuality have nothing at all to do with us. Only through yoga is this seen and acted upon.
6. Of these the mind born of meditation is free from impressions [samskaras].
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “Of these mind fields, the one that is born from meditation is free from any latent impressions that could produce karma.”
“The mind born of meditation” is not really a mind like the others, as I have said, but is consciousness, the light of the Self. By “impressions” is meant karmas or samskaras. Since the Self cannot be affected by karma or samskara, the consciousness that dawns through meditation is utterly free of them. Only those who live through and in this meditation-born mind can be free of karma and samskara. Yogis do not “work out” or “reap” karma, they step back from it, transcend it and become untouched (and untouchable) by it. In the same way they become free from any form of samskara. Those who abide in the Self have no karma or samskara.
7. Karmas are neither white nor black [neither good nor bad] in the case of yogis, they are of three kinds in the case of others.
Vivekananda: “Works [karmas] are neither black nor white for the yogis; for others they are threefold [black, white and mixed].”
The word “yogis” does not mean merely anyone who engages in yoga practice, but an adept yogi, one according to Vyas Houston who is living in the state of yoga described in the second verse of the Yoga Sutras as: chitta-vritti-nirodhah–the inhibition [nirodhah] of the modifications [vritti] of the mind [chitta]. When no action can produce a reaction or wave in the mind of the yogi, then he is in the state of yoga. For such a one actions are neither positive (white) or negative (black), nor do they result in positive or negative effects. They result in no effects on either the mind or the external life circumstances of the yogi. “He acts untainted by evil as a lotus leaf is not wetted by water” (Bhagavad Gita 5:10).
For others, however, all actions produce reactions, either positive or negative or a mixture of both positive and negative effects. For them every action without exception produces karmic reaction.
8. From these only those tendencies [vasanas] are manifested for which the conditions are favorable.
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “Those threefold actions result in latent impressions [vasanas] that will later arise to fruition only corresponding to those impressions.”
Swami Prabhavananda: “Of the tendencies [vasanas] produced by these three kinds of karma, only those are manifested for which the conditions are favorable.”
There is a Pali verse that says: “I have nothing but my actions, and I shall never have anything but my actions.” The samskaras remain in the subtle bodies of the individual and manifest only when the outer conditions are favorable or corresponding to them. If it takes tens of thousand of years for them to manifest, so it shall be. And if the right conditions arise shortly after their impression in the mind, even in the same life they were created, they will manifest. This is why from life to life markedly dissimilar karmas may manifest. For example, one life can be a manifestation of predominately negative karmas and in the next life mostly positive karmas. Personalities are the manifestation of karmas (vasanas), so an individual’s personality in one life can be opposite to that of his previous life. In past life recall people find that in one life they are of a spiritual inclination, and in the very next life of a purely material inclination. That is why we must right now seize the opportunity to practice yoga diligently and dissolve the karmic store and end rebirth.
This verse indicates to us that there is an interaction: the karmas determine the life conditions in a birth, and the conditions determine which karmas shall come to fruition. This is an important point, necessary for a complete understanding of karma and karmic force. Karma is not an almighty, irresistible force. That is why the yogi can modify or erase his karmas.
9. There is the relation of cause and effect even though separated by class, locality and time because memory and impressions are the same in form.
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “Since memory (smriti) and the deep habit patterns (samskaras) are the same in appearance, there is an unbroken continuity in the playing out of those traits, even though there might be a gap in location, time or state of life.”
Just as there are no hitches or glitches in the flow of time, but there is a unity of movement in its unfoldment, in the same way because memory and samskaras are fundamentally identical in nature the individual experiences an unbroken flow of cause and effect in his life, so much so that the awareness or impulse of the arising of the samskara and the samskara itself seem to be the same thing. Therefore “a gap in location, time, or state of life” is not evident, though actual.
Consequently a person is usually not aware that an impulse from within may have been resting and incubating there for many past lives. This is one of the reasons people do not realize they have lived before. Nearly everyone asks, as I once did: “If I have lived before, why don’t I remember it?” when in actuality almost every impulse or reaction we have is itself a memory from a past life, but so perfectly “present” that we do not realize it. The stream of our present life is really our past lives flowing on and outward. Our present is our past. Therefore by studying our present we can learn much about our past. For example, if we meet someone and dislike them on sight it means that we have known and disliked them before, or we have known someone like them in a previous life and disliked that person. In either case, the present experience is a manifestation of the past.
10. And there is no beginning of them, the desire to live being eternal.
“Them” refers to samskaras and vasanas. As Taimni points out in his commentary, samskaras result the moment consciousness is touched by matter. By “matter” he means the subtlest of vibrations that are first encountered when the spirit-self begins to emerge into the realm of relativity and therefore relative experience. Yet before the emergence, or even the beginning of beginning, there cannot be samskaras because the spirit is untouched and therefore unconditioned. So this sutra cannot mean that samskaras are present with the spirit-self, because they have a beginning.
But we can say that they are potentially present in the sense of their possibility, because of ashishah, which A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines as: “Primordial will; drive-to-survive; will-to-live; desire to live; expectation. From a which means near to or toward, and shas which means to order or direct. It is the force or impulse within the individual that causes it to pass from the absolute into the conditioned, from the transcendent into the immanent condition, from eternity into time, into relative existence.”
Ashishah is the impulse to enter relativity. In Robe of Light I have written about it in this way: “All conscious beings have existed eternally within the being of God, the ‘bosom of the Father’ (John 1:18), living within the heart of God, one with him, distinct though not separate. Having their essential being rooted in the infinity of God, the individual consciousnesses have within them a natural impulse to transcend their finitude and attain the boundlessness of their Origin. This, of course, is impossible, since the essential, eternal nature of a being cannot be altered. Being rooted in God, and therefore in a sense a part of God, all beings are as immutable as God, the only infinite Being. Yet the urge for transcendence is part of their essential nature.” And this urge for transcendence is ashishah which brings us into relative existence and ultimately out of it back into the transcendent state which is our original and ever-present state. For ashishah is eternal as an attribute of our very nature within the Absolute Being, within Satchidananda Brahman.
11. Being bound together as cause-effect, substratum-object, they [samskaras and vasanas] disappear on their [cause’s] disappearance.
When the individual spirit-soul (atma) has fully run its course in the realm of evolutionary progress and has attained all that there is to attain, ashishah itself disappears, having been fulfilled by the age-long ascent up the evolutionary scale. Thus the individual spirit returns to its Source, leaving relative existence behind. If it so wills, it can return to relative existence but without any separation in consciousness from Satchidananda. In that state it will be an avatara, a descent of unalloyed consciousness into the realm of vibratory experience without losing its transcendent state.
12. The past and the future exist in their own [real] form. The difference of dharmas or properties is on account of the difference of paths [conditions].
13. They, whether manifest or unmanifest, are of the nature of Gunas.
14. The essence of the object consists in the uniqueness of transformation [of the Gunas].
These are very difficult sutras to explain. The following points are made by them. In considering them we must realize that time is illusory. Otherwise it makes no sense at all.
- Every action is a single vibrating thing, possessing past, present and future, and a dominant guna.
- Past and future always exist. The past is not gone and the future is not yet to come, but are also present in the form of karma and samskara.
- In action (karma) past, present and future are a single thing though their paths (modes of expression and manifestation) are different according to qualities or gunas which characterize the original action.
- Sattwic actions have sattwic past and future, rajasic actions have rajasic past and future, and tamasic actions have tamasic past and future.
- Therefore the effect of the past on the present, and the effect of both the past and present on the future vary according to the guna of the action.
- The difference of the guna in these effects determine the path or mode in which they will influence or manifest.
- The time of their influence or manifestation is also determined by the guna of the original action and the gunas that predominate as the person moves from birth to birth, continually changing and hopefully evolving.
Practical summation: If a person can establish himself firmly in a single guna, then only the karmas and samskaras created by that guna can manifest–ever. For example, the yogi who establishes himself in sattwa guna will never undergo or experience the tamasic and rajasic karmas and samskaras. This is one of the ways the yogi snaps his karmic ties or destinies. Since sattwa tends ever upwards, the karmas and samskaras of the sattwic person will carry him upward and onward toward Self-realization, attaining which will annihilate all karmas and samskaras and set him free, establishing him in the eternal Now of Spirit.
15. The object being the same the difference in the two [the object and its cognition] are due to their [of the mind’s] separate path.
Just as everyone knows that no two people see everything alike, in the same way each mind perceives its karmic objects totally according to the predominating guna of its present development. Therefore what will arise as object and the cognition of that object will depend totally on the present guna predominating in the individual’s mind. Again, since the manifestation of karma also depends on the predominate guna, the cultivation of sattwa guna can lead to the dissolution of tamasic and rajasic karmas.
16. Nor is an object dependent on one mind. What would become of it when not cognized by that mind?
Strange as it has always seemed to me, there are some people who believe that the world exists only in their mind, and that when they cease to perceive it, it will no longer exist. It certainly is true that our personal perception of the world is only in our mind, but that is a different matter altogether, and it does not imply that the world is unreal. Of course we have all encountered the question: “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” And of course it does, because what we call “sound” is really vibrations in the air that we perceive (hear) as an auditory phenomenon. Those vibrations are made by the falling tree, no matter who is or is not around. That is like asking: “If the sun sets and no one sees it, has the sun not set?” Obviously when no one is around to see the Eiffel Tower it exists anyway.
Proof of the unity of God (Ishwara), the individual spirits (jivas) and the world (jagat) is the fact that they can share exact information about their experiences and have them verified by others. Everyone finds Chicago on the south shore of Lake Michigan and the Lake itself in the north central area of the United States, which we all certainly experience alike.
The question of “real” or “unreal” is another subject altogether: the nature of reality.
17. In consequence of the mind being colored or not colored by it, an object is known or unknown.
Alice Bailey: “These forms are cognized or not, according to the qualities latent in the perceiving consciousness.”
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “Objects are either known or not known according to the way in which the coloring of that object falls on the coloring of the mind observing it.”
The idea in all three of these translations is that an object is perceived by the mind (chitta) if the object and the mind are alike or compatible in vibration. If there is an affinity or similarity in the vibrations of the mind and an object, it is perceived; otherwise it is not. It is similar to the way that a magnet only picks up some metals. As I say, there must be an affinity, a similarity, between the two. This is why some experiences remain as vivid memory in some minds while others only recall them vaguely or even not at all. This is also why a person believes some things and disbelieves others. For example, an idea will be accepted by a mind that vibrates sympathetically with it, but is rejected or not even noticed or given consideration by a mind that does not vibrate in sympathy with it. This is why negative, deluded people readily believe lies and cling to them, and positive people respond only to the truth when they encounter it.
This is especially true in religion. Only what has a similar vibration to an individual’s mind is accepted, and what has a dissimilar vibration is rejected. This is why so many people turn off their minds when entering the door of a church: They are not so stupid or negative as to believe the ludicrous and false beliefs of that church, but they want to be members. So they turn off their minds and never really attend with full intellectual attention. Evil, false and stupid religion attracts evil, false and stupid people. Intelligent, positive and true religion attracts intelligent, positive and genuine people. Those who do not believe in God or spiritual philosophies are those in which their own divine nature and spirituality are dead or dormant. Those who are alive in spirit believe in and are interested in spiritual things and those who are dead in spirit believe and are interested only in material things. Those of a subtle mind like subtle ideas; those of a coarse, simplistic mind like crude, obvious and simple ideas.
Sri Ramakrishna often said: “The mind is everything,” and that is very true. Just as we are known by the kind of friends we have and the company we keep, so we are known by our mental character and the quality of our thoughts.
18. The modifications of the mind are always known to its lord on account of the changelessness of the purusha.
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “The activities of the mind are always known by the pure consciousness, because that pure consciousness is superior to, support of, and master over the mind.”
Swami Prabhavananda: “Because the Atman, the Lord of the mind, is unchangeable, the mind’s fluctuations are always known to it.”
As said several times already, when asked: “What is the Self?” Sri Ramakrishna answered: “The witness of the mind.” The mind is ever-changing in its impressions and projections, but the purusha, the Self, never changes, therefore it is impossible for it not to witness all the changes of the mind.
The continuity of experience and memory proves the existence of the witness-Self, that behind the body and mind is a conscious witness, the immortal, eternal spirit-Self of each one of us.
19. Nor is it self-illuminative, for it is perceptible.
Alice Bailey: “Because it can be seen or cognized it is apparent that the mind is not the source of illumination [perception].”
The mind is not conscious of itself, for its nature is not consciousness, but vibration: subtle matter (energy, actually). But even if it could be conscious, the witness of the mind–the consciousness of consciousness–would still be perceived behind it and accepted by the inquiring intelligence.
20. Moreover, it is impossible for it to be of both ways [as perceiver and perceived] at the same time.
The sense of smell cannot smell itself, the sense of taste cannot taste itself, the sense of sight cannot see itself, the sense of touch cannot touch itself, and the sense of hearing cannot hear itself. Yet some thing does indeed experience smell, taste, see, touch and hear. (“I smell, I taste, I see, I touch and I hear.”) And that is the spirit-Self, the purusha.
21. If cognition of one mind by another [be postulated] we would have to assume cognition of cognitions and confusion of memories also.
Pandit Usharbudh Arya: “(If it were suggested) that (the mind) is the object of perception of another mind, then (the argument will suffer) a fallacious stretch (ad infinitum) so as (there will have to be) another buddhi for that buddhi (and for that buddhi, another and so on). Also (there will be) confusion of memories (as to which memory is of which buddhi).” This is the best summation possible.
22. Knowledge of its own nature through self-cognition [is obtained] when consciousness assumes that form in which it does not pass from place to place.
Bailey: “When the spiritual intelligence which stands alone and freed from objects, reflects itself in the mind stuff, then comes awareness of the Self.”
Satchidananda: “The consciousness of the Purusha is unchangeable; by getting the reflection of it, the mind-stuff becomes conscious of the Self.”
As you see, Bailey and Satchidananda consider that this verse is about the Self, the Purusha, becoming reflected in the mind which then becomes aware of the existence of the Self. There is a value to this for the yogi. The mind is vibrating energy which is drawn from the food the yogi eats, as the Chandogya Upanishad teaches. “That which is the subtlest part of curds rises, when they are churned and becomes butter. In the same manner that which is the subtlest part of the food that is eaten rises and becomes mind. Thus the mind consists of food” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.6.1, 2, 5). “Now is described the discipline for inner purification by which self-knowledge is attained: When the food is pure, the mind becomes pure. When the mind is pure the memory [smriti–memory of our eternal spirit-Self] becomes firm. When the memory is firm all ties are loosened” (Chandogya Upanishad 7.26.2). So right diet is necessary for success in yoga.
Vyas Houston: “The unchanging awareness [of purusha, the self] has an experience of its buddhi-function of cognition, upon the appearance of a form in that [chitta-field].”
Prabhavananda: “The pure consciousness of the Atman is unchangeable. As the reflection of its consciousness falls upon the mind, the mind takes the form of the Atman and appears to be conscious.”
Houston and Prabhavananda interpret this sutra as being about the way the pure consciousness of the Self perceives the mind.
In my opinion, Taimni alone grasps the import of this sutra, so I am putting his comments here for you.
“If cognition takes place through the agency of the mind and in the subtlest cognitions pertaining to the deepest levels of the mind we can know only the mind thus illuminated by consciousness, the question naturally arises “How are we to know consciousness itself or that light which illuminates the mind at all its levels?” The answer to this important question is given in the Sutra under discussion, but before we can understand its meanings it is necessary to consider carefully the various expressions used in it.
“Citeh means “of consciousness” and is derived from Citi and not Citta which means the mind. Apratisamkramayah means “not passing from one to another”, i.e. not passing from one level of Citta to another or from one vehicle to another. In Samadhi consciousness passes from one level of Citta to another and the phrase refers to the stage when this process stops or is brought to its limit. Tad-akarapattau means “on the accomplishment or assumption of its own form”. Consciousness normally functions through the mind. This phrase refers to the condition in which it is freed from the limitations of the mind and is functioning in its own form. Sva-buddhi means Buddhi as it really is and not as it functions through the medium of the mind. We know only this function of perception as it appears in association with Citta. Sva-buddhi is the function of perception as it is when exercised upon itself. Samvedanam means “knowing of”. Knowing is really a function of consciousness but when exercised through the mind becomes knowing something outside or external to pure consciousness. The phrase Sva-buddhi-samvedanam therefore means the knowledge which results when the faculty of Buddhi is turned upon itself. Normally, Buddhi functions through Citta and helps the mind to perceive and understand objects in its realm. But when it is freed from the association of Citta it automatically turns upon itself and illuminates its own nature, i.e. consciousness. It is because the power of illumination is inherent in it that it illuminates Citta when it functions through Citta. If a light is enclosed within a translucent globe it reveals the globe. If the globe is removed the light reveals itself. From the meanings and explanations of the different phrases given above the inner significance of the Sutra should now be quite clear. Buddhi, as has been pointed out before, is that faculty which enables the mind to perceive and understand objects in the phenomenal worlds, the mind being inert and incapable of performing this function. As long as Buddhi is functioning through the medium of the mind it is not possible to know pure consciousness. It is only when it assumes that form in which all movement from one level of Citta to another has been eliminated that it reveals its real nature. As has been pointed out before, Citta or the mind has many levels corresponding to the different vehicles of consciousness and in Samadhi consciousness moves up and down from one level to another between the centre and periphery. In this kind of movement of consciousness there is no movement in space but only movement in different dimensions, the centre from which consciousness functions always remaining the same. When consciousness, in the state of Samadhi, has penetrated into the deepest level of Citta and then finally transcended even this level it is quite free from the limiting and obscuring action of Citta and it is only then that its true nature is realized. In this state the perceiver, perceived and perception all merge into one Self-illuminated Reality. So the answer to the question “How are we to know consciousness itself?” is “By diving in Samadhi into our consciousness until the mind in its subtlest form is transcended and the Reality hidden beneath it is revealed.
“From what has been said above it is apparent that we cannot understand the real nature of consciousness by applying the ordinary methods of modern psychology. What is known as consciousness in terms of modern psychology is only consciousness veiled by many layers of the mind, each of which increasingly obscures and modifies its nature as it infiltrates into the outermost physical mechanism, namely, the human brain. We thus observe consciousness in its ordinary manifestations through the physical brain under the greatest possible limitations and it is not possible to form any idea with regard to its true nature from these extremely partial and distorted manifestations. As well might a person who had always lived in a dungeon situated in a land where it was perpetually cloudy, try to form an idea regarding the light of the Sun from the gloom in which he lived. It will be seen, therefore, that not only is it impossible to know the true nature of consciousness by adopting the ordinary means available to the modern psychologist but also that the only effective means of doing so is to adopt the Yogic method. This is a subjective method, no doubt, and beyond the capacity of the ordinary man but it is the only method available. No amount of dissection of the brain and the nervous systems and study of human behaviour can unravel for us the mystery of consciousness itself. A great deal of research in this field of psychology is being carried on in very imposing laboratories in the West, a vast amount of so-called scientific data is being accumulated but all this effort is bound to prove futile from the very nature of the problem being tackled. The modern craze of submitting everything to physical examination may succeed with physical things but no physical instruments can ever be devised which will reveal the nature of consciousness which is of the nature of Spirit. All this waste of effort can be avoided and the whole field of modern psychology illuminated in the most effective manner if the facts of Yogic philosophy are properly understood and used in the study of psychological problems.
As you see, he considers that this sutra is about how both the mind and the Self become aware of one another. It is actually quite simple. When the consciousness that is the Self no longer experiences change or shifting from one object to another, but rests in its own pure nature, then it knows the mind because the mind then becomes absorbed into it and “becomes” the Self since it has never been anything other than the Self, for only the Self exists, the mind being its projection or dream-idea. So Sri Ramana Maharshi taught, and Taimni agrees, stating: “This is a subjective method, no doubt, and beyond the capacity of the ordinary man but it is the only method available.”
Having laid the groundwork for the remaining sutras, Patanjali will now discuss what happens as the mind is being incrementally absorbed back into the Self.
23. The mind colored by the Knower [i.e., the Purusha] and the Known is all-apprehending.
Bailey: “Then the mind stuff, reflecting both the knower and the knowable, becomes omniscient.”
Dwivedi: “The mind tinged by the seer and the seen has everything for its subject [of cognition].”
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “Therefore, the mind field, which is colored by both seer and seen, has the potential to perceive any and all objects.”
Satchidananda: “The mind-stuff, when colored by both Seer and seen, understands everything.”
The yogi eventually comes to participate in the omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence of the Supreme. If he so desires, he is able to retain this state even in liberation or to drop even that and pass into his primal condition which has now been transmuted into something that cannot be conceived or spoken of. We can only know it is possible.
24. Though variegated by innumerable Vasanas it [the mind] acts for another [the purusha] for it acts in association.
Feuerstein and Houston use the terms “collaborate” and “collaboration” in the translations, conveying the idea that the transmuting mind becomes capable of functioning for the Self, as in the case of great teachers who become in a sense the messengers or spokesmen for God (Ishwara). In other words, a yogi in this state acts on behalf of God and is literally a mediator between God and humanity, just as Christianity originally understood about Jesus, though in time it fell into the error of believing that Jesus was unique in his mediatorship.
The great masters draw on their past impressions and developments in the form of the vasanas and use them to convey the divine wisdom that is essentially beyond speech or conception. Thus they give as accurate an impression of the Gnosis as is possible, at the same time assuring their hearers that what they say is only approximate and not absolute truth. No worthy student of such a master can ever create a dogmatic system around his master’s teaching. Those who do so are failures, not disciples. This is true of all traditions, not just of Christianity.
25. The cessation [of desire] for dwelling in the consciousness of Atma for one who has seen the distinction.
The awakening mind right away develops a desire, a yearning, to experience the Self. At first it may not realize that to experience the Self is to become the Self, to be withdrawn into the Self. This is the true Ascension into Heaven that many religious traditions speak of their founder or great teachers attaining. And when that is attained, then the desire for that divine condition is fulfilled and therefore ceases, the Reality of it remaining.
26. Then, verily, the mind is inclined towards discrimination and gravitating towards kaivalya.
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “Then the mind is inclined towards the highest discrimination, and gravitates towards absolute liberation.”
Vivekananda: “Then, bent on discriminating, the mind attains the previous state preliminary to kaivalya.”
The mind of the transmuting yogi begins to clear-sightedly sift through his experiences, impulses and insights, rightly affirming what is true and discarding what is false, unburdening itself from untold ages of delusions and misperceptions. This process accelerates as it continues until finally he is divested of all that hinders his assumption into Infinite Being.
27. In the intervals arise other pratyayas from the force of samskaras.
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “When there are breaks or breaches in that high discrimination, other impressions arise from the deep unconscious.”
This is necessary, for the purifying mind must deliberately discard what it deliberately took upon itself in previous existences. This is the real Last Judgment. Paramhansa Yogananda explained that the book of Revelation is not a prophecy of world events, but a symbolic panorama of the process of enlightenment that each one undergoes in the attainment of liberation. Here is the picture of the transmutation the yogi undergoes after the long processes of purification earlier described in the Beloved Disciple’s vision:
“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (Revelation 20:11-15; 21:1).
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. When the subtle life forces (pranas) of the yogi rise completely into the Sahasrara chakra, the head, the Self is revealed before which relativity melts away because there is no longer need for them. The yogi is independent of all save the Supreme Self in which he has existed eternally.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. The “dead” are the samskaras and vasanas from the yogi’s dead past, and the opening of the books is the process of discrimination mentioned in sutra twenty-six.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. The mind, which is symbolized by water even in our own dreams, reveals everything hidden there as described in the twenty-seventh sutra. And the yogi’s discrimination consigns them to oblivion, to annihilation, just as previously they consigned his awareness to oblivion of spiritual realities and the annihilation of his wisdom and discrimination that was struggling within him to come forth just as leaven expands the dough in which it is hidden. (“Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” Matthew 13:33.)
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. This is an imaging of the completed transmutation of the yogi in which the energy field we call the mind no longer exists because it no longer has a purpose. The evolutionary movement is no more, for the goal has been reached toward which it ever tended. As the Buddhist texts say of those who have attained Nirvana: “Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled [has been lived], the task done. There is nothing further for this world.”
28. Their removal like that of kleshas, as has been described.
In the Sadhana Pada, sutras ten, eleven and twenty-six, we are told that meditation and discrimination are the means to dissolve the kleshas, and Patanjali tells us it is the same for the various samskaras and vasanas (pratyayas).
29. In the case of one, who is able to maintain a constant state of Vairagya even towards the most exalted state of enlightenment and to exercise the highest kind of discrimination, follows dharma-megha-samadhi.
Here is another case in which Taimni alone knows what this means, mostly because he alone understands the meaning of dharma-megha-samadhi which results from unbroken desirelessness and discrimination in relation to enlightenment. Let me give you his words, for without them I would not have a clue and cannot honestly write as though from my own understanding.
The combined practice of Viveka Khyati and Para-Vairagya when continued for a long time reaches, by a process of mutual reinforcement, a tremendous degree of intensity and culminates ultimately in Dharma-Megha-Samadhi, the highest kind of Samadhi which burns up the seeds of Samskaras and unlocks the gates of the World of Reality in which the Purusha lives eternally.
“Why this Samadhi is called Dharma-Megha-Samadhi is not generally understood and the statements usually made are forced explanations which do not make sense. In most of these explanations the word Dharma is interpreted as virtue or merit and Dharma-Megha is taken to mean “a cloud which showers virtues or merit” which, of course, explains nothing.
“The significance of the phrase Dharma-Megha will become clear if we assign to the word Dharma the meaning which it has in IV-12, namely that of property, characteristic or function. Megha, of course, is a technical term used in Yogic literature for the cloudy or misty condition through which consciousness passes in the critical state of Asamprajnata Samadhi when there is nothing in the field of consciousness.
“…the consciousness of the Yogi is trying to free itself from the last veil of illusion to emerge into the Light of Reality itself. When this effort succeeds the consciousness of the Yogi leaves the world of manifestation in which Gunas and their peculiar combinations, namely, Dharmas, operate and emerges into the world of Reality in which they no longer exist. His condition may be compared to the condition of a pilot in an airplane who comes out of a cloud bank into bright sunlight and begins to see everything clearly. Dharma-Megha-Samadhi, therefore, means the final Samadhi in which the Yogi shakes himself free from the world of Dharmas which obscure Reality like a cloud.
“The passage through Dharma-Megha-Samadhi completes the evolutionary cycle of the Individual…. No more can Avidya again obscure the vision of the Purusha who has attained full Self-realization. This process is irreversible and after reaching this stage it is not possible for the Purusha to fall again into the realm of Maya from which he has obtained Liberation. Before this final goal was reached it was possible for the Yogi to fall even from a very high stage of enlightenment, but not after he has passed through Dharma-Megha-Samadhi and attained the Enlightenment of Kaivalya.
“The next five Sutras merely describe the results of passing through Dharma-Megha-Samadhi and attaining Kaivalya. It should be noted here that no effort is made to describe the experience of Reality. That would be futile for no one can imagine the transcendent glory of that consciousness into which the Yogi passes on attaining Kaivalya.”
That Taimni was a yogi of the highest attainments we cannot doubt. Yet he travelled in obscurity through the world teaching the science of yoga to students who likewise practiced in obscurity–as did the sages and seekers of ancient India, in contrast to the usual situation today.
30. Then follows freedom from kleshas and karmas.
No need to comment on this except to refresh our memory of what klesha and karma really mean here. A Brief Sanskrit Glossary tells us:
Klesha: Literally, taints or afflictions. The kleshas are: ignorance, egotism, attractions and repulsions towards objects, and desperate clinging to physical life from the fear of death. (See Yoga Sutras 2:2-9.)
Karma: Karma, derived from the Sanskrit root kri, which means to act, do, or make, means any kind of action, including thought and feeling. It also means the effects of action. Karma is both action and reaction, the metaphysical equivalent of the principle: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). It is karma operating through the law of cause and effect that binds the jiva or the individual soul to the wheel of birth and death.
There are three forms of karma: sanchita, agami, and prarabdha. Sanchita karma is the vast store of accumulated actions done in the past, the fruits of which have not yet been reaped. Agami karma is the action that will be done by the individual in the future. Prarabdha karma is the action that has begun to fructify, the fruit of which is being reaped in this life.
31. Then, in consequence of the removal of all obscuration and impurities, that which can be known [through the mind] is but little in comparison with the infinity of knowledge [obtained in enlightenment].
Prabhavananda: “Then the whole universe, with all its objects of sense-knowledge, becomes as nothing in comparison to the infinite knowledge which is free from all obstruction and impurities.”
Only those with this state of enlightenment are worthy of our attention and acceptance. Knowing the small value of the understanding of a mind still immersed in samsara, trustworthy teachers do not waste the time of their students with endless cosmologies, mythologies and all the other “ologies” that so fascinate the intellect of the ignorant and egotistical who have no real interest in liberation. Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri is the ideal example of such a teacher. He spoke little, taught little, but revealed everything to those who sought worthily. It is the same with all authentic masters who alone are the true jnanis. Here, too, we see the valued example of Taimni.
32. The three gunas having fulfilled their object, the process of change [in the gunas] comes to an end.
Embodying that Self which is trigunatita, beyond the three gunas, the enlightened sage no longer experiences their permutations. It is not that the gunas remain in a kind of suspended or discarded state, but that they no longer exist for the liberated person who now experiences the world as the manifestation of consciousness, not energies such as the gunas.
33. The process, corresponding to moments which become apprehensible at the final end of transformation [of the gunas], is krama.
Krama means order; sequence; sequential order or progression; stage; underlying process; natural law–all these are inherent in their substratum or dharmi. There is the term krama-mukti, which means attainment of liberation in stages; gradual liberation; passing from this world to a higher world beyond rebirth and from there attaining liberation.
If we travel along a narrow track, we see but little of it, especially if we spend a long time in traversing it. But if we are suddenly lifted up as in helicopter, we will see its complete extent and its windings and dipping downs. In the same way, we encounter each state along the evolutionary path one at a time, each stage filling our consciousness completely, one after another, so we are absorbed in the moment. But when liberation is attained, in the final moments we see the entire extent, the path along which we have come to reach that moment of ending. Buddha tells us that all of our incarnations are clearly remembered in that moment and become present to us like the final answer of a complex mathematical problem. We see all that occurred in between the beginning and the end.
We will see that all was according to divine law, to the divine plan, that nothing occurred by chance but by the ever-present law of karma. And that everything took place by that precise laws of the interaction of the elements that comprised the vast chain of our lives within samsara.
34. Kaivalya is the state [of enlightenment] following re-mergence of the gunas because of their becoming devoid of the object of the purusha. In this state the purusha is established in his real nature which is pure consciousness.
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “When those primary elements involve, or resolve themselves back into that out of which they emerged, there comes liberation, wherein the power of pure consciousness becomes established in its true nature.”
Taimni says that the meaning of this final sutra, simply put, is: “Kaivalya is that state of Self-realization in which the Purusha gets established finally when the purpose of his long evolutionary unfoldment has been attained. In this state the Gunas, haying fulfilled their purpose, recede to a condition of equilibrium and therefore the power of pure Consciousness can function without any obscuration or limitation.”
What causes the remerging of the gunas into their original undifferentiated state? The liberation of the individual purusha itself. This is because the entire drama of entry into samsara and evolution out of samsara takes place solely in the consciousness of the individual. It is a dream within the greater dream of the universe. Ishwara dreams, and we dream inside his dream. It is all an exercise in the development (evolution) of consciousness. Material existence is a dream, a mirage, a kind of educational film brought before us for our learning and mastery.
Then the individual (jiva) is only what he was before this all began, but with an ineffable difference that is produced by its return to the depths of Original Being. The spirit is unchanged, yet somehow different. How so? It may be because of the effect of the dream. But whose dream? That of the individual or that of Ishwara? Ultimately, a yogi simply does not care, but bends all his powers to attain liberation. Then he will comprehend it all. And until we reach that state it is a waste of time for us try and understand. As Yogananda wrote in a chant: “He who knows–he knows. None else knows.”
Note to the reader: This simple commentary on the Yoga Sutras is now finished. I hope it made them easier to understand.
Please obtain and study The Science of Yoga by I. K. Taimni. I have written this brief commentary in hope that you will be interested in learning so much more than I have conveyed in it. And that so much more is to be found in Taimni’s commentary.
Then I urge you to read Shankara on the Yoga Sutras: A Full Translation of the Newly Discovered Text, by Trevor Leggett. It is not a perfect translation, but the only one currently available. The insights of Shankara and Vyasa that are found there are indispensible for the yogi’s comprehension of Patanjali’s actual meaning.
But the main indispensible is your own practice of yoga sadhana.