1. Austerity [tapas], self-study [swadhyaya] and offering of the life [prana] to Ishwara [Ishwarapranidhana] constitute kriya yoga.
First let us define kriya yoga as Patanjali means it.
A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines “kriya” as: “Purificatory action, practice, exercise, or rite; movement; function; skill. Kriyas purify the body and nervous system as well as the subtle bodies to enable the yogi to reach and hold on to higher levels of consciousness and being.” And “kriya yoga” as: “The Yoga of Purification: ‘Austerity (tapasya), self-study (swadhyaya), and offering of the life to God (Ishwara pranidhana) are Kriya Yoga’ (Yoga Sutras 2:1).” It is this process that Patanjali is speaking about in this and the next sutra.
Kriya Yoga consists of three elements: tapas, swadhyaya, and Ishwarapranidhana. I have written about these in The Foundations of Yoga, and will include the relevant sections later on when we are considering yama and niyama, so now brief extracts will suffice.
“Tapas literally means ‘to generate heat’ in the sense of awakening or stimulating the whole of our being to higher consciousness.… Basically, tapas is spiritual discipline that produces a perceptible result, particularly in the form of purification.… whenever tapas is spoken of it always implies the practice of yoga and the observances that facilitate yoga practice.”
“Swadhyaya means ‘self-study.’ This is usually interpreted as the study of the sacred texts which deal with the nature of the true Self (spirit) and its realization.…But it also means keeping a careful watch on the ego-based mind so as to be aware of its delusive and destructive tricks.…In swadhyaya we look at and analyze the mind in the calmness and intuition born of meditation.”
“Ishwarapranidhana–the offering of one’s life to God…is far more on every level than simple religious devotion, and much more than any kind of discipline or self-denial done in the name of spirituality. It is the giving to God of the yogi’s entire life, not just a giving of material offerings or occasional tidbits of devotion to God, however fervent or sincere.”
From a strictly yogic viewpoint we can expand on these a bit. In tapas (meditation) swadhyaya takes place when we become aware of the changes taking place in our mind or see its condition, aspects, characteristics and so forth as we meditate. Also in meditation we are merging our prana, our life energies and breath, with the vishwaprana, the universal life force, and ultimately with Ishwara, their source. So meditation is also Ishwarapranidhana.
2. (Kriya yoga) is practiced for attenuating kleshas and bringing about samadhi.
“Klesha” means taints or afflictions. A klesha is something that diminishes or distorts our consciousness, bringing misery and pain in some form. It also hinders meditation, preventing us from rising to the state of calm, clear concentration and samadhi. Tapas, swadhyaya and Ishwarapranidhana weaken the kleshas, literally fading them out, washing them away, for they are accretions that have nothing to do with the eternal nature of our Self. Note that diminishing the kleshas is enough to bring about samadhi, which will then itself erase them completely. So we are not facing a herculean task that need daunt us. As Krishna tells Arjuna: “This buddhi yoga taught by Sankhya is now declared to you, so heed. Yoked to this buddhi yoga, you shall avoid the bonds of karma. In this no effort is lost, nor are adverse results produced. Even a little of this dharma protects from great fear” (Bhagavad Gita 2:39-40).
3. The lack of awareness of reality [avidya], the sense of egoism or ‘I-am-ness’ [asmita], attractions [raga] and repulsions dwesha] towards objects and the strong desire for life [abhinivesha] are the great afflictions or causes of all miseries in life.
Avidya: Ignorance; nescience; unknowing; literally: “to know not.” Also called ajnana.
Asmita: I-ness; the sense of “I am;” “I exist;” sense of individuality.
Raga: Attachment/affinity for something, implying a desire for it. This can be emotional (instinctual) or intellectual. It may range from simple liking or preference to intense desire and attraction. Greed; passion.
Dwesha: Aversion/avoidance for something, implying a dislike for it. This can be emotional (instinctual) or intellectual. It may range from simple non-preference to intense repulsion, antipathy and even hatred.
Abhinivesha: Will to live; strong desire; false identification of the Self with the body or mind; an instinctive clinging to life and a dread of death.
4. Avidya is the source of those that are mentioned after it, whether they be in the dormant, attenuated, alternating or expanded condition.
This is why Shankara keeps insisting that jnana alone brings liberation.
5. Avidya is taking the non-eternal [anitya], impure [ashuchi], pain-producing [dukha] and non-Atman [anatman] to be eternal [nitya], pure [shuchi], pleasure-producing [sukha] and Atman respectively.
Anitya: Impermanent; transient.
Ashaucha: Impurity; uncleanness.
Dukha: Pain; suffering; misery; sorrow; grief; unhappiness; stress; that which is unsatisfactory.
Anatman: Not-Self; insentient.
Nitya: Eternal; permanent; unchanging; the ultimate Reality; the eternal Absolute.
Shaucha: Purity; cleanliness.
Sukha: Happiness; ease; joy; happy; pleasant; agreeable.
Atman: The individual spirit or Self that is one with Brahman. The true nature or identity (self).
The whole world is caught in this snare. The yogi must free himself from these illusions right away, even though he must struggle hard against the ignorance and conditionings of many past lives as well as those of this life.
6. Asmita is the identity or blending together, as it were, of the power of consciousness [purusha] with the power of cognition [buddhi].
Having forgotten our true spirit-Self, we have been pulled into the nets of illusion and the false experience that we are the mind and its perceptions. Therefore we say: “I hurt,” “I am sick,” “I own this,” “I lost that,” and so forth. We identify with and therefore define ourselves in terms like this. Mistaking the senses and the lower mind for our Self we think and live in an altogether mistaken way, bringing harm and suffering to ourselves, and strive to eliminate the harm and suffering by using or working with the very things that cause it. So misery and delusion become self-perpetuating. We live our lives like my paternal grandmother drove a car. When my grandfather taught her to drive, at one point she began moving the steering wheel back and forth in rapid, short movements. “What are you doing?” he asked. “I’m giving it more gas!” was her answer.
7. That attraction, which accompanies [results from] pleasure [sukha], is raga.
8. That repulsion which accompanies pain [dukha] is dwesha.
This is the experience of us all, but as Patanjali has pointed out, through ignorance we get sukha and dukha mixed up and our reactions are the opposite of what they should be.
To help us get untangled, a good rule is this: We cannot become addicted to what is good for us, only to what is bad for us. We see this in the way people become addicted to alcohol and drugs (including nicotine) that repelled and made them sick the first time they tried them. The body was warning them away, but after some continued use the same body began to demand and “need” them. The body being only an instrument of the mind, the addiction was also psychological.
In the same way unnatural things and behavior become “natural” to us and we blame those who do not see it the same way as we do. In fact, many addicts become very unsettled and even hostile toward those who are not addicted like them, denouncing them as fools or worse. I vividly remember what it was like to be persecuted by a history teacher in high school because I did not smoke cigarettes. It had nothing to do with history, but every so often we would have a class “discussion” on how silly it was to not smoke. (Things have certainly changed!) He would always end up by saying: “In my opinion, people who don’t smoke are doing worse things.” Such is the evil of addiction.
Many people’s favorite foods are the very things that are bad for them to eat. The same is often true of the people they like or “love.” Once the mind is distorted it avoids the good and seeks out the bad, sinking into habit patterns that can bind them for lifetimes as they revel in their “free will.” As the Gita says: “The man of restraint is awake in what is night for all beings. That in which all beings are awake is night for the sage who truly sees” (2:69).
9. Abhinivesha is the strong desire for life which dominates even the learned.
Abhinivesha is the desperate will to live rising from false identification of the Self with the body; an instinctive and unreasoning clinging to life and a dread of death. Of course it rises from a complete misunderstanding of what life and death really are. Even great yogis can have a subconscious impression (samskara) of this but they can master it. Two examples are given in Autobiography of a Yogi.
Lahiri Mahasaya encouraged Sri Yukteswar to attend the Kumbha Mela at Allahabad in January, 1894. There he met Mahavatar Babaji. Later, when he met with Lahiri Mahasaya in Benares the following occurred:
“Gurudeva, the divine master asked me to give you a message. ‘Tell Lahiri,’ he said, ‘that the stored-up power for this life now runs low; it is nearly finished.’
“At my utterance of these enigmatic words, Lahiri Mahasaya’s figure trembled as though touched by a lightning current. In an instant everything about him fell silent; his smiling countenance turned incredibly stern. Like a wooden statue, somber and immovable in its seat, his body became colorless. I was alarmed and bewildered. Never in my life had I seen this joyous soul manifest such awful gravity. The other disciples present stared apprehensively.
“Three hours passed in utter silence. Then Lahiri Mahasaya resumed his natural, cheerful demeanor, and spoke affectionately to each of the chelas. Everyone sighed in relief.
“I realized by my master’s reaction that Babaji’s message had been an unmistakable signal by which Lahiri Mahasaya understood that his body would soon be untenanted. His awesome silence proved that my guru had instantly controlled his being, cut his last cord of attachment to the material world, and fled to his ever-living identity in Spirit.”
When Yogananda returned to India the following conversation took place.
“‘Arrangements were recently made for Master to visit Kidderpore [a section of Calcutta], but he failed to go.’ Amulaya Babu, a brother disciple, made this remark to me one afternoon; I felt a cold wave of premonition. To my pressing inquiries, Sri Yukteswar only replied, ‘I shall go to Kidderpore no more.’ For a moment, Master trembled like a frightened child.
“(‘Attachment to bodily residence, springing up of its own nature [i.e., arising from immemorial roots, past experiences of death],’ Patanjali wrote, ‘is present in slight degree even in great saints.’ In some of his discourses on death, my guru had been wont to add: ‘Just as a long-caged bird hesitates to leave its accustomed home when the door is opened.’)”
Right identity is the remedy for this dilemma, identity that can be gained only through meditation.
10. These, the subtle ones, can be reduced by resolving them backward into their origin.
11. Their active modifications are to be suppressed by meditation.
In meditation we plumb the depths of the conscious and unconscious mind. There we encounter the subtle energy constructs we call karma and also the energy whorls, known as samskaras and vasanas, produced by various experiences in past lives. These are the kleshas. So a great deal of yoga practice is purification and correction of the subtle energies of the mind (manas) and intellect (buddhi).
Naturally we are hoping for meditation to produce amazing and uplifting experiences, but first we have a great deal of simple housekeeping and remodeling to do. The yogi is engaged in a complete reconstruction of the many aspects of his being, in the correction of ages-long distortions and obscurations. It takes a long time and can be tedious, but the healing process always is.
The insight gained in meditation is the basic remedy for the kleshas, which is why in commenting on the first sutra of this Sadhana Pada Shankara states that “yoga practice being the means to right vision [samyagdarshanopaya], comes before right vision. All the yoga methods are means to right vision and therefore precede it in time.” First things come first in yoga as well as in all other areas of life. Those who seek the effect before applying the cause can only be disappointed.
Then Shankara tells us: “Right vision is the direct adversary of the kleshas since ignorance is the root of all evil, and ignorance is destroyed when directly confronted by right vision.… the purpose of tapas and the others is samadhi meditation thinning out the kleshas.… Tapas and the others are actions, and as their aim is yoga, they are themselves called yoga. Yoga is the mental state of samadhi, and this yoga of action [kriya] aims at that; he who practices it is a yogi.”
Vyasa says: “In one without tapas, yoga does not succeed. Tapas is taught because impurity, colored from time without beginning by karmas, kleshas, samskaras and vasanas, a net of sense contacts, is not destroyed without tapas.” Shankara expands on this, saying: “One will not succeed in yoga whose attitude is to cherish the body and bodily things, whose habit is to avoid discomfort of body, senses and mind, and who seek the body absolutely as his self and thinks of it as very delicate. This is why tapas is taught.… Meditation is the mighty opponent of the kleshas.”
It is important that we do not think of the kleshas as merely wrong ideas or concepts. They are very real taints of the mind. So regarding the third sutra of this section Shankara writes: “The kleshas are not mental processes. For kleshas are not merely ideas, whereas mental processes are merely ideas. Taints are impurities of the mind, as the disease glaucoma is of the eye. It is from absence of illusion that there is freedom from the impurity of kleshas.”
Vyasa sums it all up: “All these kleshas are divisions of ignorance. How so? In all of them, ignorance alone prevails. Whatever is given a form by ignorance, that the kleshas inhere in. They are felt at the time of deluded ideas. When ignorance dwindles, they dwindle accordingly.”
12. The reservoir of karmas [karmashaya] which are rooted in the kleshas brings all kinds of experiences in the present and future lives.
A more literal and better translation would be: “Rooted in the kleshas, the karmashaya is experienced in the present and future lives.” Equally good would be: “Rooted in the kleshas, the karmashaya is experienced in the seen [drishta] and unseen [adrishta] lives.”
The karmashaya is the receptacle or mass of karmas, subtle programmings in the mind, that brings about our present and future lives. Being rooted in in the kleshas, when they are eliminated our karmas vanish right along with them, for the kleshas, too, inhere in the mind.
Though seen and unseen–drishta and adrishta–are nearly always translated interpretively as “present and future,” it certainly also means that a great deal of karma manifests in completely unseen areas, such as in the subconscious, and also in our unseen surroundings. For example, if in a previous life we plotted harm to someone but never carried it through and they never knew of it, the same can happen to us, for karma is as exacting as it is demanding. So a lot goes on around and within us that we do not perceive, even though we do see much of the complex, karmic fabric of our lives as it is woven and unrolled in every life. However, subliminally we will pick it all up and process it in the inner mind.
The practical idea being presented by Patanjali is that karma and rebirth are ended when the kleshas are ended.
13. As long as the root is there it must ripen and result in lives of different class, length and experiences.
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “As long as those kleshas remain at the root, three consequences are produced: birth; span of life; and experiences in that life,” all in keeping with the character of the karmas involved. Most commenters point out that jati–birth–can also include the kind of species in which we will be born and what “class” within that species will be ours.
14. They have joy or sorrow for their fruit according as their cause is virtue [punya] or vice [apunya].
Punya is merit, virtue, meritorious and virtuous acts, and apunya is the opposite. One brings happiness and the other brings unhappiness. We tend to pick out some object and go after it, thinking that it will bring happiness, but if we are knowledgous and realistic we will instead focus on producing positive karma, for that alone will result in happiness. The pursuit of happiness often ends in the gaining of unhappiness, disappointment, and frustration.
15. To the people who have developed discrimination [viveka] all is misery [dukha] on account of the pains resulting from change [parinama], anxiety [tapa] and tendencies [samskara], as also on account of the conflicts [virodhat] between the functioning of the gunas and the vrittis [of the mind].
When Patanjali says that those who possess intelligent discrimination see that everything is painful (dukha) he does not mean that they go around all glum, cynical and disgusted, hating everything. Just the opposite: knowing that all is unreal, that Brahman alone is real, they live interiorly in joy. “He whose happiness is within, whose delight is within, whose illumination is within: that yogi, identical in being with Brahman, attains Brahmanirvana” (Bhagavad Gita 5:24). He suffers no pain because he withdraws from that which causes pain. The perspective of such a one is given in Swami Prabhavananda’s interpretive translation of this sutra: “But the man of spiritual discrimination regards all these experiences as painful. For even the enjoyment of present pleasure is painful, since we already fear its loss. Past pleasure is painful because renewed cravings arise from the impressions it has left upon the mind. And how can any happiness be lasting if it depends only upon our moods? For these moods are constantly changing, as one or another of the ever-warring gunas seizes control of the mind.”
Being changeless in our eternal nature, change (parinama) produces unease and stress in us. I had a highly intelligent friend who was afflicted with a really unfortunate mental trait. Whenever she would be enjoying something, suddenly she would think about how it would end eventually, and the thought would make her miserable for the rest of the time.
Tapa is any kind of unhappiness or distress, marring our peace of mind and causing us to fear the future. This is common to all humanity.
Equally common is virodhat: conflict between our mental state or desires and the way things are in our internal and external life. Many people are at intellectual and emotional war with their life unless they have lapsed into the apathetic hopelessness and “quiet desperation” that characterizes most people. Life is usually miserable or dreary, unless people have sunk even further into a kind of comatose-while-awake condition that is also very prevalent. Most people’s lives are not worth living simply because they are not able to live them as they want to. Some people compromise themselves into virtual non-existence.
Commenting on this sutra Shankara flatly states: “Pain is the result of any action.” So it really is all dukha.
16. The misery which is not yet come can and is to be avoided.
This is an extremely important sutra because it is implying that all karma can be expunged and never experienced in the future. This is in complete consonance with the view of Shankara that the liberated person (jivanmukta) has absolutely no karma, that so-called prarabdha karma (karma that has become activated and begun to manifest and bear fruit in this life, karmic “seeds” that have begun to “sprout”) ceases to exist for the liberated. The present majority view in India is just the opposite, mostly to cover up for the obvious fact that the supposedly enlightened and liberated gurus and yogis of modern times are completely under the sway of karma. So the dogma of the ineradicability of prarabdha is being promulgated. (Two other dodges of reality are “it is just a lila” or “guru is taking on the karma of others.”)
The real point is: liberation is the only way to avoid suffering.
17. The cause of that which is to be avoided is the union of the seer and the seen.
“The union of the Seer and the Seen” has already been covered in Sutra 1:4.
18. The seen [drishyam] consists of the elements [bhuta] and sense-organs [indriya], is of the nature of cognition [prakasha], activity [kriya] and stability [sthiti] [sattwa, rajas and tamas] and has for its purpose [providing the purusha with] experience [bhoga] and liberation [apavarga].
This sutra is a bit tangled in wording, though the meaning is clear. First, here are some definitions to help us:
Drishyam: The seen; the object seen.
Bhuta: The five elementary constituents of the universe.
Indriya: Organ. The five organs of perception (jnanendriyas) are the ear, skin, eye, tongue, and nose. The five organs of action (karmendriyas) are the voice, hand, foot, organ of excretion, and the organ of generation.
Prakasha: Pure Consciousness; cognition.
Kriya: Action; activity.
Sthiti: Steadiness (in this case: inertia).
Apavarga: Liberation; release from the bondage of embodiment.
All that is perceptible, both gross and subtle, consist of the three gunas, and exist for the purpose of providing the evolving spirit-consciousness with experience that leads to the ultimate knowledge (vijnana) which produces liberation (moksha). So the drishyam which is an obstacle for the non-yogi is a means to freedom for the yogi.
Harking back to this, commenting on sutra 23 Vyasa observes: “Purusha is the possessor who is joined to his own seen object for the purpose of seeing. Awareness of the seen object, arising from the conjunction, is experience; but awareness of the nature of the Seer is release.”
19. The stages of the gunas are the particular, the universal, the differentiated and the undifferentiated.
As we evolve, the energies (gunas) of our makeup progress from the particular to the universal. The personal conditionings of the energies begin to fade away as we move toward our original nature, and we begin to become increasingly in tune with the universe, more at one with it, for creation itself is a bridge to the Infinite. As has been said in the previous sutra, its purpose is our evolution and eventual liberation.
20. The seer is pure consciousness but though pure, appears to see through the mind.
As previously cited, when Sri Ramakrishna was asked to define the Self (atman), he simply replied: “The witness of the mind.” No better definition could ever be given; it says it all. The Self witnesses all that the mind does and perceives, and mistakenly believes that it is the doer and perceiver. The mind sees a tree and the Self mistakenly thinks it is the seer, when it is only the witness of the seeing. This is not easy to grasp if we really ponder it and try to figure out all the implications of this fact. The yogi, however, need not approach the matter intellectually but experientially, which makes all the difference. Even so, it takes a great deal of separation from the mind through meditation to really understand the situation, but it does come in time.
21. The very being of the seen is for his sake [i.e. prakriti exists only for his sake].
This has already been covered in sutra 18. However, one new point is introduced. In the Sanskrit text, the word eva (only, or alone) is used, meaning that the entire range of relative existence exists solely for the sake of the evolving consciousness; it has no purpose in relation to Brahman. It is not for “lila” (play or sport), nor is it to fill some lack or desire in Brahman (a patent absurdity).
22. Although it becomes non-existent for him whose purpose has been fulfilled it continues to exist for others on account of being common to others [besides him].
Prakriti has two modes: one is universal or cosmic, and the other is individual. Just as the cosmic prakriti is the extension of Brahman the Absolute, in the same way each individual consciousness (atma) has its own prakriti through which it is evolving. When the individual becomes liberated, his prakriti resolves back into consciousness and exists no more as vibration. Merging with him, nothing remains but spirit. However, the other consciousness still possess their own prakriti and continue to experience the cosmic prakriti as well through it.
This would seem pretty obvious, but some people have been egotistic enough to postulate that the universe and other beings exist only in their minds and will cease to exist when they transcend the mind. Others have postulated the same regarding after-death states, teaching that everything experienced after death is nothing but a projection of the individual’s mind. In this way they avoid accepting the existence of heavens, hells and supernatural beings encountered by those who have died and returned to tell about it. “Oh, that was only what he wanted or believed would be there” is their feeble avoidance of reality. This exists in the West in the popular “you make your own heaven or hell right here on earth” of those who fear the possible consequences of immortality. Ostriches may not bury their heads in the sand, but human beings certainly do.
23. The purpose of the coming together of the purusha and prakriti is the gaining by the purusha of the awareness of his true nature and the unfoldment of powers inherent in him and prakriti.
This is an expansion on what has been already said, the new point being that there are powers (shakti) inherent in both the purusha and prakriti that are to be discovered and developed in them. That prakriti has inherent powers is no surprise–it really could not be otherwise–but the idea that there is anything inherent in the individual consciousness (jiva) to be revealed is surprising because consciousness is always just what it is, perfect and unchanging. Nevertheless, in some way experience must affect (but not change) consciousness. For that reason there is discussion of evolving, altering, elevating or lowering consciousness. The next verse makes everything clear.
24. Its cause is the lack of awareness [avidya–ignorance] of his real nature.
So now we know. Through ignorance the changes in prakriti are attributed to the purusha, and the changes of prakriti are believed to also take part in consciousness as well as in vibratory matter. Consequently:
25. The dissociation of purusha and prakriti brought about by the dispersion of avidya is the real remedy and that is the liberation of the seer.
It has already been stated that ignorance brings about the identity, the seeming contact, of the purusha with prakriti. When avidya is dissolved, illusion is also dispersed, and the purusha is liberated. This is why Shankara continually emphasizes jnana as the sole cure for avidya.
26. The uninterrupted practice of the awareness of the Real is the means of dispersion (of avidya).
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “Clear, distinct, unimpaired discriminative knowledge is the means of liberation from this alliance.” Vivekananda: “The means of destruction of ignorance is unbroken practice of discrimination.”
Viveka-khyati is not very well translated as “awareness of the Real.” Viveka means discrimination between the Real and the unreal, between the Self and the non-Self, between the permanent and the impermanent; right intuitive discrimination; ever-present discrimination between the transient and the permanent. Khyati means apprehension; discernment; knowledge; vision.
So viveka-khyati is the constant awareness-insight into the difference between reality and unreality, between the purusha and the prakriti. And it is not an intellectual exercise, but a state of intelligent illumination resulting from yoga practice, as sutra 28 indicates.
27. In his case the highest stage of enlightenment [prajna] is reached by seven stages.
Vivekananda’s explanation of this is extremely valuable:
“When this knowledge comes; it will come, as it were, in seven grades, one after the other; and when one of these begins, we know that we are getting knowledge.
“The first to appear will be that we have known what is to be known. The mind will cease to be dissatisfied. While we are aware of thirsting after knowledge, we begin to seek here and there, wherever we think we can get some truth, and failing to find it we become dissatisfied and seek in a fresh direction. All search is vain, until we begin to perceive that knowledge is within ourselves, that no one can help us, that we must help ourselves. When we begin to practice the power of discrimination, the first sign that we are getting near truth will be that that dissatisfied state will vanish. We shall feel quite sure that we have found the truth, and that it cannot be anything else but the truth. Then we may know that the sun is rising, that the morning is breaking for us, and taking courage, we must persevere until the goal is reached.
“The second grade will be the absence of all pains. It will be impossible for anything in the universe, external or internal, to give us pain.
“The third will be the attainment of full knowledge. Omniscience will be ours.
“The fourth will be the attainment of the end of all duty through discrimination.
“Next will come what is called freedom of the Chitta. We shall realize that all difficulties and struggles, all vacillations of the mind, have fallen down, just as a stone rolls from the mountain top into the valley and never comes up again. The next will be that the Chitta itself will realize that it melts away into its causes whenever we so desire.
“Lastly we shall find that we are established in our Self, that we have been alone throughout the universe, neither body nor mind was ever related, much less joined, to us. They were working their own way, and we, through ignorance, joined ourselves to them. But we have been alone, omnipotent, omnipresent, ever blessed; our own Self was so pure and perfect that we required none else. We required none else to make us happy, for we are happiness itself. We shall find that this knowledge does not depend on anything else; throughout the universe there can be nothing that will not become effulgent before our knowledge. This will be the last state, and the Yogi will become peaceful and calm, never to feel any more pain, never to be again deluded, never to be touched by misery. He will know he is ever blessed, ever perfect, almighty.”
28. From the practice of the component exercises of yoga, on the destruction of impurity, arises spiritual illumination [jnana] which develops into awareness of Reality [viveka].
Jnaneshwar Bharati: “Through the practice of the different limbs, or steps to Yoga, whereby impurities are eliminated, there arises an illumination that culminates in discriminative wisdom, or enlightenment.”
It is necessary for us to understand that mere practice of the mechanics of yoga will not lead to enlightenment, that the prerequisites of yama and niyama, the “ten commandments of yoga,” as well as the adoption of all aspects of dharma must also be there. It is like growing plants. The plants grow from seeds, but if the soil is not of the right character and if there is no moisture or sunlight, even the best of seeds will not germinate and grow into the desired plant. Vyasa and Shankara insist on this, pointing out that both yoga practice and dharma together are what produces enlightenment.
29. Self-restraints [yama], fixed observances [niyama], posture [asana], regulation of breath [pranayama], abstraction [pratyahara], concentration [dharana], contemplation [dhyana], trance [samadhi] are the eight parts (of the self-discipline of Yoga).
These eight “limbs” (angas) of yoga will now be considered in detail. I will be presenting sections from The Foundations of Yoga regarding them.
30. Vows of self-restraint [yama] comprise abstention from violence [ahimsa], falsehood [satya], theft [asteya], incontinence [brahmacharya] and acquisitiveness [aparigraha].
- Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness.
In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, Vyasa begins his exposition of ahimsa: “Ahimsa means in no way and at no time to do injury to any living being.” “In no capacity and in no fashion to give injury to any being,” says Shankara. This would include injury by word or thought as well as the obvious injury perpetrated by deed, for Shankara comments: “Ahimsa is to be practiced in every capacity: body, speech and mind.”
Even a simple understanding of the law of karma enables us to realize the terrible consequences of murder for the murderer. As Vyasa explains: “The killer deprives the victim of spirit, hurts him with a blow of a weapon, and then tears him away from life. Because he has deprived another of spirit, the supports of his own life, animate or inanimate, become weakened. Because he has caused pain, he experiences pain himself…. Because he has torn another from life, he goes to live in a life in which every moment he wishes to die, because the retribution as pain has to work itself right out, while he is panting for death.”
Ahimsa is not willfully causing any harm or pain whatsoever to any being whatsoever, in any degree whatsoever. Ahimsa includes strict abstinence from any form of injury in act, speech, or thought. All forms of violence–verbal or physical, causing mental injury or pain, and angry or malicious damage or misuse of physical objects–are violations of ahimsa, unthinkable for the yogi.
Vyasa immediately points out that all the other abstinences and observances, yama and niyama, are really rooted in ahimsa, for they involve preventing harm to ourselves and to others through negative action or the neglect of positive action: “The other niyamas and yamas are rooted in this, and they are practiced only to bring this to its culmination, only for perfecting this. They are taught only as means to bring this out in its purity. For so it is said: ‘Whatever many vows the man of Brahman [God] would undertake, only in so far as he thereby refrains from doing harm impelled by delusion, does he bring out ahimsa in its purity.’” And Shankara explains that Vyasa is referring to delusion that is “rooted in violence and causing violence.”
In his autobiography Paramhansa Yogananda relates that his guru, Swami Yukteswar Giri, said that ahimsa is absence of the desire to injure. In the highest sense ahimsa is a state of mind from which non-injury will naturally proceed. “Ahimsa really denotes an attitude and mode of behavior towards all living creatures based on the recognition of the underlying unity of life,” the modern commentator Taimni declares. Shankara remarks that when ahimsa and the others are observed “the cause of one’s doing harm becomes inoperative.” The ego itself becomes “harmless” by being put into a state of non-function. And meditation dissolves it utterly. But until that interior state is established, we must work backwards from outward to inner, and abstain from all forms of injury.
The aspiring yogi must clearly realize that the observance of ahimsa must include strict abstinence from the eating of animal flesh in any form or degree as well as the use of anything obtained by or derived from the slaughter of animals.
He must do nothing in thought, word or deed that harms his body, mind, or spirit. On the other hand, he must do whatever benefits the body, mind, and spirit, for their omission is also a form of self-injury, as is the non-observance of any of the yama or niyamas.
- Satya: truthfulness, honesty.
“Satya is said to be speech and thought in conformity with what has been seen or inferred or heard on authority. The speech spoken to convey one’s own experience to others should be not deceitful, nor inaccurate, nor uninformative. It is that uttered for helping all beings. But that uttered to the harm of beings, even if it is what is called truth, when the ultimate aim is merely to injure beings, would not be truth. It would be a wrong.” So says Vyasa.
Shankara says that truthfulness means saying what we have truly come to know is the truth, mostly through our own experience or through contact with sources whose reliability we have experienced for ourselves. “Untruthfulness in any form puts us out of harmony with the fundamental law of Truth and creates a kind of mental and emotional strain which prevents us from harmonizing and tranquilizing our mind. Truthfulness has to be practiced by the sadhaka because it is absolutely necessary for the unfoldment of intuition. There is nothing which clouds the intuition and practically stops its functioning as much as untruthfulness in all its forms,” says Taimni regarding the most personal and practical aspect of satya.
Bending the truth, either in leaving out part of the truth or in “stacking the deck” to create a false impression, cannot be engaged in by the yogi. Regarding numbers it is said that “figures do not lie, but liars figure.” The same is true here. Equally heinous is the intentional mixing of lies and truth. (Some liars tell a lot of truth.) This is particularly true in the manipulative endeavors of advertising, politics, and religion.
Refusing to speak the truth, as well as avoiding speaking or facing the truth, is a form of untruth.
There are many non-verbal forms of lying as well, and some people’s entire life is a lie. Therefore we must make sure that our actions reflect the truth. How many people claim to believe in God and spiritual principles, but do not live accordingly? How many people continually swear and express loyalty and yet are betrayers? We must not only speak the truth, we must live it.
Honesty in all our speaking and dealings with others is an essential part of truthfulness. It is absolutely crucial that the yogi make his livelihood only by honest and truthful means. Selling useless or foolish things, convincing people that they need them (or even selling them without convincing them), is a serious breach of truthfulness.
Trying to compromise the truth, even a little, making the excuse that “everybody does it” is not legitimate. For “everybody” is bound to the wheel of birth and death because they do it. And that is not what we wish for ourselves. We can lie to ourselves, to others, and even to God, but we cannot lie to the cosmos. Karma, the law of cause and effect, will react upon us to our own pain and detriment.
It is interesting that Vyasa considers that truthful speech is informative. By that he means that truthful speech is worthwhile, relevant and practical. To babble mindlessly and grind out verbal trivia is also a form of untruth, even if not objectively false. Nor is foolish speech to anyone’s gain. Sometimes also people lie by “snowing” us with a barrage of words intended to deflect us from our inquiries. And nearly all of us who went to college remember the old game of padding out written assignments, giving lots of form but little content in hope of fooling the teachers into thinking the student knew the subject well and was saying something worthwhile or even profound. This is one of today’s most lucrative businesses, especially in the advertising world.
Speaking truth to the hurt of others is not really truth, since satya is an extension of ahimsa. For example, a person may be ugly, but to say, “You are ugly” is not a virtue. “What is based on injuring others, even though free from the three defects of speech–not deceitful, nor inaccurate, nor uninformative–does not amount to truth,” according to Shankara.
Our intention must never be to hurt in any way, but we must be aware that there are some people who hate the truth in any form and will accuse us of hurting them by our honesty. Such persons especially like to label any truth (or person) they dislike as “harsh,” “rigid,” “divisive,” “negative,” “hateful” and so on and on and on. We would have to become dishonest or liars to placate them. So “hurting” or offending them is a consequence of truthfulness that we will have to live with. The bottom line is that truth “is that uttered for helping all beings.” For non-injury is not a passive quality, but the positive character of restoration and healing.
Silence can also be a form of untruth, particularly in dealing with the aforementioned truth-haters. For truth is only harmful when “the ultimate aim is merely to injure beings.” But if some people put themselves in the way of truth, then they must take responsibility for their reactions to it.
Will Cuppy defined diplomacy as “the fine art of lying.” Sadly, it often is. So we must be sure that we do not deceive under the guise of diplomacy or tactfulness.
Self-deception, a favorite with nearly all of us to some degree, must be ruthlessly eliminated if we would be genuinely truthful.
“Therefore let one take care that his speech is for the welfare of all,” concludes Shankara.
- Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriation.
Asteya is abstinence from stealing, which Vyasa defines as: “the improper appropriation to oneself of others’ things.” He then concludes: “Refusal to do it, in freedom from desire, is non-stealing.”
What constitutes ordinary stealing is well known to almost all, but human beings have thought up countless ways to steal and not seem to be stealing: all the way from putting slugs in pay telephones to getting people to give us things or money which we neither need nor deserve. Theft and untruth are certainly interrelated. So we must analyze Vyasa’s definition and apply it to our situation. But we can consider a few “fudges” that have become respectable and prevalent.
Taking credit that really belongs to another.
Plagiarism, especially in academic matters.
Taking what is not ours, while pretending that we either own it or have it coming to us.
Taking what is not legitimately coming to us, even if freely given. People do this continually in relation to welfare benefits and insurance claims.
Demanding more than a just price or a just wage.
No paying debts, including taxes.
Forcing others to give us something we want from them, whether material or metaphysical.
Not giving to others what we owe them or what we are legally or morally obligated to give.
A lot of people (especially churches and religious groups) expect others to continually give them things or services which they are perfectly capable of paying for. (I am not speaking about unsolicited gifts or charity–that is virtuous.) Or they want big discounts given to them.
Once a natural health practitioner whose financial situation was much worse than mine told me that she was willing to charge only half her usual fee for my treatment, and would even treat me for free if I wanted. I explained to her that since I could afford the full amount it would be stealing from her for me to either accept a discount or free treatment. And I cited the Yoga Sutras in support of my contention. The law applies to all.
The prophet Malachi posed the question, “Will a man rob God?” (Malachi 3:8). That is extremely easy to do and extremely common. We all need to ponder that possibility seriously and see if in some way we are doing that very thing.
But all these forms of stealing are inner or outer acts, whereas Vyasa defines non-stealing as essentially a psychological state of “freedom from desire.” This, then, is the goal of abstinence from stealing. What must be attained is the state of mind in which there is absolutely no desire or impulse to steal. “Stealing cannot exist in those whose desire has been cut off,” says Shankara.
- Brahmacharya: continence.
“Brahmacharya is restraint of the sex organ and other senses,” says Vyasa. From this we see that brahmacharya has a twofold nature: control and continence.
Control: Spirit has two aspects: consciousness and energy. Consciousness is constant, whereas energy is cyclic. It is the movement of energy that produces (and is) our experience of relativity, and it is the development of energy that is the process of evolution. Therefore the conservation and application of energy is the main determinant of success or failure in spiritual endeavor. Diffusion and dissipation of energy always weakens us. Hence brahmacharya is a vital element of Yoga, without which we cannot successfully pursue the greater life of higher consciousness.
Basically, brahmacharya is conservation and mastery of all the energy systems and powers of our being. This is especially true in relation to negative emotions, for tremendous energy is expended through lust, anger, greed, envy, hatred, resentment, depression, fear, obsession and the rest. Further, they are both the causes and the symptoms of losing self-control, a major aspect of brahmacharya. Research has shown that persons in the grip of these emotions literally breathe out vital elements of the body. For example, the breath of angry people is found to be laden with copper. So negative emotion depletes us physically as well as energetically. Positive emotions on the other hand actually enhance and raise our energy and physical levels. The cultivation of (true) love, compassion, generosity, cheerfulness, friendliness and suchlike make us stronger and calmer: essential aspects of brahmacharya. It is noteworthy that the word “virtue” is derived from the Latin word virtus–power–which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word virya, which means both power and strength.
“A place for everything and everything in its place,” is not just a maxim of orderliness. When applied to the individual’s energy systems it is the root of strength and health on all levels. Every atom of personal energy possessed by us has both a place and a purpose. To ensure correct placement and expenditure of energy is the essence of the yogic science. And brahmacharya is its foundation.
Continence: Sexuality is usually considered the main focus of brahmacharya because it has such a powerful grip and influence on the human being. It is considered that if sex is mastered, all the senses will be mastered as well. There is simply no way to convince those addicted to and enslaved by sex that continence is supreme wisdom. But a few facts can be meaningful to the sincere seeker.
The life of the senses stifles the life of the spirit by carrying away the discrimination of the intellect, as Krishna says: “When the mind is led about by the wandering senses, it carries away the understanding like the wind carries away a ship on the waters” (Bhagavad Gita 2:67). The basic life-force, the prana, is dissipated through any intense activity of the senses, thus weakening the inner being. But sexual indulgence is incalculably more destructive of consciousness than any other form of sense experience, for it expends the life-force to a degree far, far beyond that of other sense experiences. Both body and mind are depleted through sexual activity.
The Prashna Upanishad concludes: “It is in those who have tapas and brahmacharya that truth is established” (Prashna Upanishad 1:15). The Gita speaks of the worthy yogis as being “firm in the brahmachari’s vow” (6:14).
For practical information on brahmacharya the following books are extremely valuable: WARNING: Sex May Be Hazardous to Your Health by Dr. Edwin Flatto, Science Discovers The Physiological Value of Continence and Nutritional Sex Control and Rejuvenation by the great twentieth century Rosicrucian, Dr. Raymond Bernard, The Practice of Brahmacharya, by Swami Sivananda, and The Role of Celibacy in Spiritual Life by Swami Chidananda.
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness.
Aparigraha includes the ideas of non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, and non-acquisitiveness. Vyasa’s definition is most practical: “Seeing the defects in objects involved in acquiring them, and defending them, and losing them, and being attached to them, and depriving others of them, one does not take them to himself, and that is aparigraha.” Here, as in the other foundations, the true virtue or observance is mostly internal, leading to the correct state of mind for successful yoga practice.
Basically, when a person sees all the effort expended on “things” as well as the unhappiness attendant on both keeping and losing them–what to speak of discovery of their inherent defects–he wisely backs away and frees himself from Thingolatry. Of course we all have to obtain and use many kinds of things, but we can do so objectively, not letting ourselves get stuck up in them like the tar baby of the Uncle Remus story. Being possessed by possessions is truly a great misery; and the belief that happiness comes from external things is truly a great folly.
People do literally lose themselves in “stuff,” for they adopt a completely false self-concept. To think that we are what we “have” is to forget who and why we are. Aparigraha clears the inner eye and lets us see our true “face.”
It is no simple thing to be a yogi.
31. These (the five vows), not conditioned by class, place, time or occasion and extending to all stages constitute the Great Vow.
Ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha are the Great Vow because they require the exercise of will and because of their dynamic effect on us. Even more, they are great because, like the elements, they are self-sufficient, depending on nothing else, and because they cannot be mutated into something else. They are always what they are, and for that reason they are always to be observed with no exceptions whatsoever. They cannot be neglected or omitted for any reason, absolutely. Patanjali lists the possible conditions which do affect lesser observances: class, place, time or occasion, and stages. A brief consideration of each will be helpful.
Class. No one can mitigate or omit the observance of ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha because of “who” he “is.” In yoga, too, no one is above the law. That is, no one can produce the effects of yama without their observance. I knew an Archbishop with a quick sense of humor. Once he made a pungent remark about someone, and a woman objected, saying, “That remark is not Christian.” He simply smiled and replied, “Madam, I do not have to be a Christian–I am an Archbishop!” Though the Archbishop was making a joke, this is an attitude of many, springing from the blindness of egotism.
Place. Whatever may be the ways of a particular place or group of people in which we may find ourselves, the observances of Yama are incumbent upon us. “When in Rome do as the Romans” is one of the silliest axioms ever coined. Peer pressure must never be an influence on us. Nor should unjust rules or laws have any effect on us. What is right must always be done. The will or opinion of others cannot change our obligation to observe the Great Vow. Nor can external conditions change it. Not even to save our lives can we turn from what is forever right.
Time or occasion. Human beings have for some reason always thought that “now” abrogates what was right or true in the past. It does not. Nor does a situation effect any change in what must be done by us as aspirants to yoga. Aversion to being “out of step” or “alienated from society” has no place in the mind and heart of the yogi.
Stage. We never “get beyond” the observance of the Great Vow. Those at the very end of the spiritual journey are as obligated to fulfill the Great Vow as those who are at the beginning. Also, we cannot “go too far” or “overdo” our observance of the Vow. It is all or nothing. “Ahimsa and the others are to be maintained all the time and in all circumstances and in regard to all objects without any conscious lapse,” declares Vyasa. Shankara points out that the Great Vow must be observed by us in relation to all beings–not just confined to humans.
Once again we see the psychological nature of the five components of the Great Vow and how their observance is based upon the courage, self-respect, and self-knowledge of the yogi.
32. Purity [shaucha], contentment [santosha], austerity [tapas], self-study [swadhyaya] and self-surrender [ishwarapranidhana] constitute observances [niyama].
- Shaucha: purity, cleanliness.
Shaucha means purity and cleanliness within the context of attaining unobstructed clarity of consciousness. “The Self, though hidden in all beings, does not shine forth but can be seen by those subtle seers, through their sharp and subtle intelligence” (Katha Upanishad 1:3:12). “He is not grasped by the eye nor even by speech nor by other sense-organs, nor by austerity nor by work, but when one’s (intellectual) nature is purified by the light of knowledge then alone he, by meditation, sees Him” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.8). “When food is pure, the mind is pure. When the mind is pure, memory becomes firm. When memory [smriti, memory of our eternal spirit-Self] remains firm, there is release from all knots of the heart. To such a one who has his stains wiped away, Bhagavan Sanatkumara shows the further shore of darkness” (Chandogya Upanishad 7:26:2). Which is why Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). And Saint John: “Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (I John 3:2-3). I mentioned before that ahimsa is the motivation behind a vegan diet. Some excuse the eating of eggs by saying that no life is taken. That is so. The eating of eggs is not a violation of ahimsa, but it is certainly a violation of shaucha, of purity of diet. And “when food is pure, the mind is pure.” Eating the fetus of a chicken is eating a chicken. Sterile eggs are nothing less than chicken abortions. They are impure.
“Internal shaucha is the washing away of the stains of the mind” according to Vyasa. “Shaucha implies purity in seeing and listening… and washing away the stains of the mind, such as desire and anger, by the waters of meditation,” adds Shankara.
Physical cleanliness is important for it eliminates bodily toxins and prevents disease. Inner purification is important for it eliminates mental toxins and prevents inner ills. For the yogi, the most important external aspect of shaucha is purity of diet. This is because the food we eat determines the vibration of our body and our mind. For this reason it is only wisdom to eat a purely vegan diet consisting of grains, vegetables and fruits. (The best information on diet can be found in the books of Dr. Michael Greger: How Not To Die and How Not To Diet. (This second book is not just about weight loss and contains tremendously valuable information on diet in general.)
Those who carefully and scrupulously adhere to a vegan diet, omitting all meat, fish, eggs and animal protein, including dairy products, and avoiding anything that contains them to any degree will perceive how valuable it is to keep such a dietary regimen. (See Spiritual Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet.) Not only will their general health improve greatly (assuming that they eat a balanced and nutritious vegan diet), they will see how much lighter and intuitive their minds become. A vegan diet greatly facilitates the practice of meditation, making very subtle states of consciousness readily attainable and perceptible. Those who have eaten meat, fish, and eggs for a long time may have to wait a while before fully gaining the benefits of veganism, but it will not be long before they begin to see its beneficial effects to some degree.
Vegan diet is a crown jewel for the yogi since it embodies the foundations of ahimsa, asteya, aparigraha, shaucha, and tapas and produces purity and clarity of mind and heart.
There is another, far-reaching aspect to shaucha. While discussing the process of evolution, Vyasa and Shankara also speak about the way to infuse ourselves with higher consciousness. They give the simile of terraced fields on a mountainside. The farmer floods the highest field. When it has received enough water, he then breaks the earth barrier between it and the next, lower field, and the water pours down into it and fills it. And so the process goes until all the fields are watered. Vyasa then firmly declares that mere right or good action or external religiosity effect nothing in the way of transformation into a higher grade of consciousness, but that rather it is a matter of the removal of obstacles to higher consciousness that is needed. He points out that no effort is needed to get the water into the field–or the higher consciousness into the individual–except that expended in the removal of the barriers. So the secret is to remove whatever blocks the process of evolution, and it will occur as spontaneously as the water pours down into the field.
It is the removal of obstacles that is the highest form of shaucha. To underscore this, Vyasa continues: “Then again, a farmer in his field cannot force the nutrients of water or earth into the roots of his grain. What does he do, then? He removes the obstructing weeds. With these gone, the nutrients enter, of themselves, the roots of the grain.” In the same way, when negative karmas, habits, deeds, thoughts, influences, associations and situations are uprooted from our minds and lives, the higher consciousness and states of evolution will occur naturally. This is exceedingly important for us to keep in mind. For it is purity (shaucha) in this form that enables the divine light to reach us.
- Santosha: contentment, peacefulness.
Santosha consists of the passive aspect of contentment and peacefulness and the more positive aspect of joy and happiness. Santosha is a fundamentally cheerful attitude based on a harmonious interior condition and an intellectually spiritual outlook. This is possible only through meditation, and is one of the signs of progress in meditation. This must not be equated with mere intellectual “positive thinking” or a forced external “happiness” which is a camouflage, not a real state. Santosha is an inner-based quality that occurs spontaneously. It need not be cultivated or “acted out” any more than the blossoming of a flower.
Santosha is also contentment with simple living, and relates to aparigraha. Vyasa says that “santosha is being satisfied with the resources at hand and so not desiring more.” Shankara says: “As a result of the satisfaction with what is at hand, even though there may be some lack, he has the feeling, ‘It is enough.’” Santosha is freedom from the “bigger and more is better” syndrome that grips most of us.
Santosha is also the absence of negative emotions and the presence of positive emotions. In its highest form santosha is the contentment and peace that comes from resting in our own spirit.
- Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline.
Tapas literally means “to generate heat” in the sense of awakening or stimulating the whole of our being to higher consciousness. It is commonly applied to the practice of spiritual discipline, especially that which involves some form of physical austerity or self-denial. The sages of ancient India were very conversant with the principles of physics and formulated their symbols accordingly. When an object is heated, its molecules begin to move at a faster rate than usual. Thus, tapas is a procedure that causes all the components of the yogi to vibrate at a much higher rate, and to eventually become permanently established in that higher vibration.
Regarding physical tapas Vyasa writes: “Tapas is endurance of the opposites. The opposites are hunger and thirst, heat and cold, standing and sitting, complete silence and merely verbal silence.” (“In complete silence, nothing like hand-signs is allowed, whereas in the limited silence, indications by hands, etc., are permitted and it is only actual speech that is banned,” according to Shankara.) Shankara says these opposites may occur naturally or by our own choice through self-denial. And both Vyasa and Shankara say that tapas is always done in the light of the capability of the yogi and is never exaggerated, strenuous, or beyond the yogi’s natural ability.
Basically, tapas is spiritual discipline that produces a perceptible result, particularly in the form of purification. Tapas is the turning from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to the Light, from death to Immortality. But it is never a matter of mere thought or desire, it is always practical action towards that end. Consequently, whenever tapas is spoken of it always implies the practice of yoga and the observances such as yama and niyama that facilitate yoga practice.
We are dual in nature: consciousness and energy, spirit and matter. This being so, we need to realize that although we are essentially consciousness (spirit) we are also energy, and therefore we are our bodies and our minds. Or rather, we are the conscious intelligence that manifests as our bodies and minds. Our lives need to be lived in this perspective. For example, when we understand this truth we understand why such observances or disciplines as yama, niyama, veganism, and moral conduct are so beneficial and necessary for us.
- Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study.
Swadhyaya means “self-study.” This is usually interpreted as the study of the sacred texts which deal with the nature of the true Self (spirit) and its realization. “Swadhyaya is study of works on liberation (moksha),” says Vyasa. “Swadhyaya is study of works on liberation such as the Upanishads,” comments Shankara. But it also means keeping a careful watch on the ego-based mind so as to be aware of its delusive and destructive tricks. For it is no external “devil” or “Satan” we need fear, but the “enemy within,” the “Dweller at the Threshold” which is our ego-mind complex that has blinded and enslaved us from life to life and has no intention of giving up its domination of us just because we practice a bit of meditation. Therefore we must be wary of its cunning and subtle ways and carefully analyze the debris it casts up into our consciousness in the form of thoughts and emotions. In this way we will see the direction in which it would pull us. We must take our susceptibility to its machinations most seriously. In swadhyaya we look at and analyze the mind in the calmness and intuition born of meditation.
The highest form of self-study is that which is known as atma vichar–inquiry into the Self (spirit). We must never let go of the vital question: Who am I? We must do all we can to find the answer–not from others or from our intellectual ponderings, but by direct experience of ourselves as pure spirit. Taimni puts it this way: “Though swadhyaya begins with intellectual study it must be carried through the progressive stages of reflection, meditation, tapas, etc. to the point where the sadhaka is able to gain all knowledge or devotion from within, by his own efforts. That is the significance of the prefix swa (self) in swadhyaya. He leaves all external aids such as books, discourses, etc. and dives into his own mind for everything he needs in his quest.”
- Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God.
The final foundation, for which all the others are a necessary preparation, is Ishwarapranidhana–the offering of one’s life to God. This is far more on every level than simple religious devotion, and much more than any kind of discipline or self-denial done in the name of spirituality. It is the giving to God of the yogi’s entire life, not just a giving of material offerings or occasional tidbits of devotion to God, however fervent or sincere. Moreover, as Taimni points out: “The fact that the progressive practice of Ishwarapranidhana can ultimately lead to samadhi shows definitely that it signifies a much deeper process of transformation in the sadhaka than a mere acceptance of whatever experiences and ordeals come to him in the course of his life.… The practice of Ishwarapranidhana therefore begins with the mental assertion ‘Not my will but Thy will be done’ but it does not end there. There is a steady effort to bring about a continuous recession of consciousness from the level of the personality which is the seat of ‘I’ consciousness into the consciousness of the Supreme Whose will is working out in the manifest world.”
Ishwarapranidhana is total giving. The yogi does not eke out droplets of his life, but pours out his entire life in offering unto God. He gives all that he has, even his very self. And this is only sensible, for the entire aim of yoga is the reunion of the individual spirit with the Supreme Spirit, the falling of the drop into the Immortal Sea. Ishwarapranidhana anticipates this divine union and ensures its accomplishment. This is why the first law-giver, Manu, says that the highest sacrifice (medha) is purushamedha–the sacrifice of the individual spirit.
Ishwarapranidhana is also mentioned in Sutra 1:23, where Patanjali says that the attainment of samadhi is brought near to the yogi “by offering of the life to God.” Vyasa comments: “As a result of Ishwarapranidhana, which is bhakti [devotion and love for God], the Lord bends down to him and rewards him,… and the attainment of samadhi and its fruit is near at hand.” Shankara says: “The Lord comes face-to-face with him and gives His grace to the yogi who is fully devoted to Him.… The grace is effortlessly gained through the omnipotence of the Supreme Lord. By that grace of the Lord, samadhi and its fruit are soon attainable.”
It is incontrovertible, then, that yoga is a thoroughly theistic endeavor, one which makes God the center of life and its aim, as well.
Taimni has observed in his commentary:
“The student will have noticed that in the ideas set forth in the above pages no effort has been made to link up the facts of Yogic philosophy with doctrines which are considered to be religious. But this does not mean that there is no relation between them. In fact, a religious man can see, if he studies the subject of Yoga with an open mind, that all the ideas of Yogic philosophy can be interpreted in religious terms, and the consciousness which the Yogi seeks to uncover within the folds of his mind is nothing but that Supreme Reality which is commonly referred to as God. God is recognized by every religion with any philosophical background to be a Mighty Being whose consciousness transcends the manifested Universe. He is considered to be hidden within every human heart. He is supposed to transcend the mind. Basically, these ideas are the same as those of Yogic philosophy. The main difference lies in the assertion by Yogic philosophy that this Supreme Reality or Consciousness is not merely a matter for speculation or even adoration but can be discovered by following a technique which is as definite and unfailing as the technique of any modern Science. Yoga thus imparts a tremendous significance to religion and places the whole problem of religious life and endeavour on an entirely new basis and it is difficult to understand how any religious man can reject its claims without giving them due consideration.”
33. When there is disturbance or oppression by thought [vitarka], the mind should be filled with (or fixed on–bhavanam) that which opposes it [pratipaksha].
Vitarka means thought in the sense of all kinds of intellectual occupation. There is no connotation of either positive or negative thought, but rather intrusive or distracting thoughts whose effect is negative. This includes good thoughts which are harmful if they arise at the wrong time. Pratipaksha means that which opposes, not that which is opposite in character. In other words thoughts of higher things can supplant thoughts of lower things. They need not be specifically opposite in character. Bhavanam means filling the mind with something.
It is a complete misunderstanding to think this verse means that we should bring to mind things of a kind that are seemingly opposite to the character of the thoughts that are cluttering our minds. I say “seemingly” because the dualities or dwandwas, the “pairs of opposites” such as pleasure and pain, hot and cold, light and darkness, gain and loss, victory and defeat, love and hatred, are not two but one, like the two sides of a coin. So thinking of one to counteract the other, such as thinking of generosity to combat selfishness, is worthless, for each are inherent in the other. The same is true even of “good” and “evil.” A lot of people positive-think themselves into negative situations. Many people make themselves sicker by affirming they are healthy, because only a sick person makes such an affirmation, and you can’t trick the subconscious. Many people pretend to have a superiority complex to cover up their actual inferiority complex.
Patanjali is not telling us to think of opposites, for that is a vitarka too, but rather he wants us to occupy the mind with that which opposes thoughts. But what opposes thought? Direct, intuitive experience-insight produced by the practice of yoga and which by its very nature banishes intrusive thought and brings anubhava: “perception; direct personal experience; spiritual experience; intuitive consciousness and knowledge.” This is a far cry from the mind-gaming many people think Patanjali is recommending. That is why Jesus asked: “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (Matthew 6:27).
In the seventh chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda relates this about Nagendranath Bhaduri, “the levitating saint” and the matter of anubhava:
“The saint and I entered the meditative state. After an hour, his gentle voice roused me.
“‘You go often into the silence, but have you developed anubhava?’ He was reminding me to love God more than meditation. ‘Do not mistake the technique for the Goal.’
“…I continued my after-school pilgrimages to the saint’s door. With silent zeal he aided me to attain anubhava.”
When the mind is filled with buzzing thoughts, japa is the remedy, and when the mind gets distracted by thoughts when meditating, more meditation is the cure.
34. Thoughts [vitarka] of violence [himsa], whether to be done by ones’ self or by others, or approved, rising from greed [lobha], anger [krodha], or delusion [moha], either of mild, medium, or intense degree, result in never-ending pain [dukha] and ignorance [ajnana]; thus the mind should be filled with (or fixed on) that which opposes it.
Since ahimsa is the first-mentioned yama, Patanjali uses it as an example, but he is intending for this sutra to apply to all the yamas and niyamas. The important aspect here is that the vitarka, the very thought, of negative deeds, or the rising of negative emotions, must be immediately counteracted by bringing into the mind that which opposes and dispels them. Patanjali also points out that whether contemplating action by ourself, by others, or merely hoped for (“I wish I could…,” “somebody ought to…”) and approved in the abstract, still it must be squashed instantly. Further, whatever the source, they are to be evicted right away.
Nor can degree determine how we react. We cannot say it was only a mildly negative thought or feeling and therefore of no consequence. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow. Even a hint of violation of yama and niyama must alert us and we must swing into action. Even better, through our japa and meditation we should habitually be in the state of mind (bhava) which will prevent their arising. Preventative medicine is always to be preferred.
There is no end to the pain and darkening of mind that infractions of yama and niyama produce. The only way to end the pain and ignorance is to end the causes. Again, we should seek to live in such a level of consciousness that these negative things cannot arise in the mind. But until then, the artillery must be kept at hand for instant use.
Shankara makes a very bold and bald statement about yoga: “Success in yoga is determined by result alone… observable by direct perception.” As the ever-memorable Dr. Bronner used to say: “Judge only by the amazing results.”
Patanjali lists siddhis, psychic powers or effects, that result from the perfect observance of yama and niyama. Since yama and niyama deal with the innate powers of the human being, or rather with the abstinence and observance that will develop and release those powers, the manifestation of the development and perfecting of those powers will be automatic.
Before considering the specific siddhis resulting from perfection in yama and niyama, it should be explained that perfection in these virtues means that the ignorance which causes their opposites such as injury, lying and stealing, has been completely eliminated from the yogi, and also that their reappearance in his thought, speech, or behavior has become absolutely impossible. So perfection (siddhi) in yama and niyama is not a matter of action or inaction but one of perfected consciousness.
35. On being firmly established in non-violence [ahimsa] there is abandonment of hostility in [his] presence.
The eminently desirable nature of this siddhi is evident. Wherever a yogi perfected in ahimsa may be, there no hostility can arise; and if it is already present somewhere, upon the yogi’s entry it will cease. The one perfected in ahimsa is a living fulfillment of the following prayer attributed to Saint Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
This was true of Buddha in whose presence hired assassins and even a mad elephant became at peace and incapable of doing harm. “This happens with all living beings,” says Vyasa. Many times it has been observed that in the presence of perfected sages wild animals become tame, even friendly, not only toward human beings but even toward their usual enemies or prey. “In the presence of that one who follows ahimsa, even natural enemies like snake and mongoose give up their antagonism,” says Shankara. Violent human beings, too, have become peaceful and gentle after contact with holy people in whom ahimsa was completely realized.
36. On being firmly established in truthfulness [satya] the result of action rests on action [of the Yogi] only.
Luckily, we have quite a few authoritative commentaries to elucidate this obscure language. All are unanimous in saying that when the yogi is firmly established in truth in all its aspects, then whatever he says or wills comes about without any action being needed to produce it. As Vyasa explains: “When he says: ‘Be righteous,’ that man becomes righteous; told by him: ‘Do you attain heaven,’ that one attains heaven. His word is infallible.” “When truth is firm in him, events confirm his words,” adds Shankara. Yogananda gives an example of this in the first chapter of his autobiography.
My friend, Sri Abani Lahiri (a relative of Lahiri Mahasaya), told me that his grandfather had the same power even as a child. Once he became angry with another little boy and said, “You should die!” Immediately that boy became deathly ill and was declared by the doctors to have only a few hours of life remaining. When his parents were told, “That Brahmin boy told him to die,” they called for him and asked him to tell their son to live. He did so, and the boy was immediately well. Jesus, too, had this power as a child and had to learn how to control it, as recorded in the “apocryphal” gospels. (See The Unknown Lives of Jesus and Mary.) By the power of his word Sri Ramakrishna caused hibiscus blossoms of two different colors to grow on the same plant. At the end of his earthly life, anyone who heard Sri Ramakrishna speak of spiritual awakening became spiritually awakened.
37. On being firmly established in non-stealing [asteya], all kinds of precious things come to him.
Another translation of the second half of the sutra can be: “All kinds of precious things present themselves to him.” All the treasuries of earth not only are open to someone perfect in asteya, their contents actively seek him out. Yet such a one neither desires nor seeks them. If he did, they would no longer come to him. Precious things may be given by others to those perfected in asteya, or simply appear from the divine hand of Providence. The former Shankaracharya of Joshi Math, Jagadguru Brahmananda Saraswati, refused to allow anyone to donate money either to himself or to the monastery, whose expenses were great. Yet, he had a box which was always filled with money from which he provided for all the monastery’s needs. Yogananda had a little box with a slot in the top where he put in or took out money without counting or keeping record. Yet it was always full. Sri Brahma Chaitanya, a Maharashtrian saint who lived into the twentieth century, was known to be without any resources whatsoever and lived in total frugality. Yet he once made a pilgrimage to Benares where he gave away a tremendous amount of money to the poor and the monastics. As he sat on a simple mat, he kept putting his hand under it and producing the money from an inexhaustible supply. Paramhansa Nityananda literally pulled fortunes in rupees from his kaupin (loincloth) to pay for projects he was supervising. Some yogis can simply reach up in the air and bring down anything they desire.
38. On being firmly established in brahmacharya, vigor [virya] is gained.
Virya is not ordinary physical strength, but an almost supernatural power that manifests as strength of body, mind and spirit. When through brahmacharya the yogi’s normal bodily power is conserved, a marvelous alchemical change takes place, augmenting and transmuting his energies to a level unknown to others. The truth that those who keep their bodily energies intact can accomplish whatever they will has been demonstrated for thousands of years by celibates of all lands and spiritual traditions.
Regarding the brahmachari possessed of virya, Shankara says: “He brings out great qualities without limit from himself. He has irresistible energy for all good undertakings. The sense is, that he cannot be thwarted by any obstacle.” See how great spiritual reformers have changed the lives of untold thousands, their influence reaching over the world and lasting even beyond their physical life span. So great is the virya of some saints that their mere touch can heal. Sometimes the clothing they have worn or objects they have touched heal the sick and work other miracles.
Virya also manifests in the brahmachari’s words, giving them a power not found in those of others. As Vyasa comments on this sutra: “From the attainment of virya, he draws out invincible good qualities from himself. And when perfected in it, he becomes able to confer knowledge on pupils.”
Through the accumulation of virya the powers of the mind develop beyond all bounds. Yogis have often displayed profound knowledge of subjects they had never studied, and on occasion have shown remarkable artistic abilities.
Virya affects the physical body, too. Swami Dayananda, the great Indian spiritual reformer of the nineteenth century, was once mocked by a man to whom he recommended brahmacharya for increase of bodily strength. When the man got into his horse-drawn carriage and told the driver to go on, the chariot would not move. The driver whipped the horses, but to no avail. In disgust and perplexity the man got out of the chariot and discovered Swami Dayananda holding on to its rear axle!
39. On non-possessiveness [aparigraha] being confirmed there arises knowledge of the ‘how’ and ‘wherefore’ of existence.
Regarding this Vyasa says: “‘What is this birth? How does it take place? What do we become [both in this life and after death], who shall we be and in what circumstances shall we be?’ Any such desire of his to know his situation in former, later, and intermediate states is spontaneously gratified.” Nothing is more bewildering to the human being than his existence in this world, particularly the how and why of his even being here, no matter how much external philosophy in the form of books or teachers may attempt to answer the gnawing questions set forth by Vyasa.
The reality of the situation is this: until the individual knows for himself by direct perception gained through his own development, life must remain a confusing mystery for him. Since the yogi is attempting to extricate himself from the bonds of birth and death, it is imperative for him to know the why and wherefore of human embodiment in all its aspects. He does not need more theory, however plausible and appealing; he needs to know. This knowledge comes from within when all blocks to communication with his inmost consciousness are removed. For this birth has been determined solely by him in his nature as a potentially omniscient and omnipotent spirit. Perfection in non-possessiveness bestows the needed insight. “Since he has no attachment to outer possessions, illumination of the field of his own self appears without effort on his part,” explains Shankara.
40. From purity [shaucha] arises disgust for one’s own body and disinclination to come in physical contact with others.
This siddhi certainly will not be thought desirable in a body-and-sex-obsessed society that insists on being touched and hugged (and often more) by all and sundry, but the serious yogi should consider it carefully. After all, his intention is to disengage himself from the grinding gears of samsara, the chief of which is body-consciousness. Not only are human beings obsessed with their own bodies, they compound the problem by incessant contact with those of others. This contact results in the confusion and conflict of their personal energies (prana) by the invasion and admixture of other’s prana with theirs, particularly their psychic energies. Losing the integrity of their energies in this way, their life force becomes unbalanced, weakened, damaged, and–yes–defiled. This condition manifests as an endless series of physical, mental, and spiritual ills. “I am not myself” becomes a truism in relation to them. But for those who carefully observe shaucha it becomes otherwise.
“When by practicing purity and seeing the defects in the body, he becomes disgusted with his own body, he becomes free from obsession with the body; seeing what the body essentially is, he has no intercourse with others,” writes Vyasa. The disgust for the body spoken of here is not a hatred or an obsessive aversion for the body, but rather a profound disillusionment with the body springing from awareness of its many defects, not the least of which is its unreliability and inevitable mortality. The body is also seen to be a repository of pain, disease and filth, however fine the present momentary outer appearance may be. It is in fact a treasury of death.
“With the ordinary purification of the physical body we become more sensitive and begin to see things in their true light. Cleanliness is mostly a matter of sensitiveness. What is intolerably disgusting to a person of refined nature and habits is hardly noticed by another person whose nature is coarse and insensitive. So this feeling of disgust towards one’s own body which develops on its purification means nothing more than that we have become sensitive enough to see things as they really are.” So says I. K. Taimni.
41. From mental purity arises purity of the inner nature, cheerfulness, one-pointedness, control of the senses, and fitness for the vision of the self.
Nobody has objection to these, I am sure. When the inner bodies are pure they are refined and fluid, capable of the most subtle practice of yoga and reaching the highest states of consciousness. This state of inner purity is particularly accomplished by thought and diet.
For the inwardly pure there is no need for artificial “positive thinking.” Cheerfulness and optimism rise up from within him as a matter of course. And continue arising. Gone forever are mood swings and the “ups and downs” of life. No more valleys or mountaintops: he soars in the sunlit sky of the spirit as naturally as the eagle flies in the air. Whether engaged in outer or inner activity, his mind is intent upon its purpose, no longer scattered or flapping like a flag in the wind. One-pointed meditation becomes effortless for him. No longer does he struggle with the unruly senses and the mind which Krishna says are as hard to control as the wind (Bhagavad Gita 6:34).
42. From contentment [santosha] he gains unsurpassed [superlative] happiness.
This is because santosha is a state completely free from all desire for objects or the compulsion to gain some outer thing not yet possessed. Such desire is itself great pain, as is usually its fulfillment. Taimni says: “There is a definite reason why superlative happiness abides in a perfectly calm and contented mind. A calm mind is able to reflect within itself the bliss [ananda] which is inherent in our real divine nature. The constant surging of desires prevents this bliss from manifesting itself in the mind. It is only when these desires are eliminated and the mind becomes perfectly calm that we know what true happiness is. This subtle and constant joy which is called sukha and which comes from within is independent of external circumstances and is really a reflection of ananda, one of the three fundamental aspects of the self.”
Vyasa has this comment: “So it is said: ‘Whatever sex pleasure there may be in the world, whatever supreme happiness may be enjoyed in heaven, they cannot be accounted a sixteenth part of the happiness of destruction of craving.’” Simply being without compelling desires is great happiness and peace. Here is how the Taittiriya Upanishad expresses it:
“Who could live, who could breathe, if that blissful self dwelt not within the lotus of the heart? He it is that gives joy.
“Of what nature is this joy?
“Consider the lot of a young man, noble, well-read, intelligent, strong, healthy, with all the wealth of the world at his command. Assume that he is happy, and measure his joy as one unit.
“One hundred times that joy is one unit of the joy of Gandharvas.
“One hundred times the joy of Gandharvas is one unit of the joy of celestial Gandharvas.
“One hundred times the joy of celestial Gandharvas is one unit of the joy of the Pitris in their paradise.
“One hundred times the joy of the Pitris in their paradise is one unit of the joy of the Devas.
“One hundred times the joy of the Devas is one unit of the joy of the karma Devas.
“One hundred times the joy of the karma Devas is one unit of the joy of the ruling Devas.
“One hundred times the joy of the ruling Devas is one unit of the joy of Indra.
“One hundred times the joy of Indra is one unit of the joy of Brihaspati.
“One hundred times the joy of Brihaspati is one unit of the joy of Prajapati.
“One hundred times the joy of Prajapati is one unit of the joy of Brahma: but no less joy than Brahma has the seer to whom the self has been revealed, and who is without craving” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2:7-8).
43. Perfection of the sense-organs and body result after destruction of impurity by tapas.
Tapas is like the fire that refines gold through the burning out of all impurities. In relation to the body, tapas removes its limitations and defects. This has been shown by scientific studies:
“Everyone around the water cooler knows that meditation reduces stress. But with the aid of advanced brain-scanning technology, researchers are beginning to show that meditation directly affects the function and structure of the brain, changing it in ways that appear to increase attention span, sharpen focus and improve memory. One recent study found evidence that the daily practice of meditation thickened the parts of the brain’s cerebral cortex responsible for decision making, attention and memory. Sara Lazar, a research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, presented preliminary results last November that showed that the gray matter of twenty men and women who meditated for just forty minutes a day was thicker than that of people who did not.… What’s more, her research suggests that meditation may slow the natural thinning of that section of the cortex that occurs with age.” (How to Get Smarter, One Breath At A Time, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. Time, January 16, 2006, p. 93.)
“There was a study reported at the American Geriatric Association convention in 1979 involving forty-seven participants whose average age was 52.5 years. It found that people who had been meditating more than seven years were approximately twelve years younger physiologically than those of the same chronological age who were not meditating.” (Gabriel Cousens, M.D., Conscious Eating, p. 281.)
The process is described by Vyasa as follows: “As tapas becomes complete, it destroys the veiling taint of impurity; when the veiling taint is removed, there are siddhis of the body like the ability to become minute, and siddhis of the senses in such forms as hearing and seeing things which are remote.” The body is no longer locked into its habitual patterns of size or location. Nor are the senses any longer limited to functioning within the bounds of proximity of objects. The body and senses become as free as the yogi’s spirit, and as expanded in their scope.
44. From self-study [swadhyaya] arises communion with the beloved deity.
This sutra is not speaking of communion with God the Unmanifest Absolute, but with his manifested forms or with powerful beings: gods, realized masters, and others who have evolved beyond the earth plane. “Gods, sages, and perfect beings to whom he is devoted come before the vision of the man intent on swadhyaya and give him their help,” says Vyasa. The help can be in the form of protection, removal of inner or outer obstacles, and even spiritual teaching. His aspiration expressed through swadhyaya and his love and admiration for them of which, through their omnipotence, they are ever aware, draw them to grant him encouragement, assistance, and instruction.
45. Accomplishment of [or success or perfection in] samadhi arises from Ishwarapranidhana.
Though we can define samadhi in many accurate ways, when we think about it we realize that samadhi is totally coming to rest in spirit, the cessation of all else, and the centering of our being in God. Samadhi is entering into the heart of God, into the silence that is the only truth. The perfection of that state is samadhi, which therefore is produced by total devotion of our life to God.
A final word on the subject from Vyasa: “The samadhi of one who has devoted [offered] his whole being to the Lord is perfect.… [By] the knowledge [resulting] from that [samadhi he] knows a thing as it really is.”
46. Posture [asana] should be steady and comfortable.
In the Yoga Sutras “asana” does not mean Hatha Yoga postures, but only meditation postures. Asana is both the sitting posture chosen for meditation and steadiness in that posture. It is this second aspect that is meant by Patanjali.
Shankara: “Let him practice a posture in which, when established, his mind and limbs will become steady, and which does not cause discomfort.”
47. By relaxation of effort and meditation on the ‘Endless’ [ananta] posture is mastered.
Jnaneshwar Bharati: “The means of perfecting the posture is that of relaxing or loosening of the effort, and allowing attention to merge with endlessness, or the Infinite.”
48. From that no assaults from the pairs of opposites.
Jnaneshwar Bharati: “From the attainment of that perfected posture, there arises an unassailable, unimpeded freedom from suffering due to the pairs of opposites [such as heat and cold, good and bad, or pain and pleasure].”
49. This having been [accomplished] pranayama which is control of inspiration and expiration [follows].
Alice Bailey: “When right posture (asana) has been attained there follows right control of prana and proper inspiration and expiration of the breath.”
Satchidananda: “That [firm posture] being acquired, the movements of the inhalation and exhalation should be controlled. This is pranayama.”
Vivekananda: “Control of the motion of the exhalation and the inhalation follows after this.”
Jnaneshwar Bharati: “Once that perfected posture has been achieved, the slowing or braking of the force behind, and of unregulated movement of inhalation and exhalation is called breath control and expansion of prana (pranayama), which lead to the absence of the awareness of both, and is the fourth of the eight limbs [of yoga].”
I have presented all these translations because it is so common to interpret this sutra as meaning that pranayama is the cessation of breathing, which is not correct, as will be seen.
50. It is in external [bahya], internal [abhyantara] or suppressed [stambha] modification [vrittih]; is regulated by place [desha], time [kala] and number [sankhyabhih], and becomes progressively prolonged [dirgha] and subtle [sukshmah].
Jnaneshwara Bharati: That pranayama has three aspects of external or outward flow (exhalation), internal or inward flow (inhalation), and the third, which is the absence of both during the transition between them, and is known as fixedness, retention, or suspension. These are regulated by place, time, and number, with breath becoming slow and subtle.”
Almost every word in this sutra is crucial to a right understanding of pranayama–of the breath phenomena occurring in meditation.
Bahya: External; outward. This means both the breath that is visible by the movement of the body, that is physical, and the process of exhalation.
Abhyantara: Internal; inward. This means the internal breath that is not visible, and also the process of inhalation.
Stambha: Suspended; retention. This is the state of the breath when it is paused, even for a very short length of time. It is not deliberately produced or held, but occurs naturally according to the movement of the subtle prana in the body.
Vritti: Thought-wave; mental modification; mental whirlpool; a ripple in the chitta (mind substance). The breath and mind are one, so any change in the mind produces a change in the breath, and vice versa.
Desha: Place; locus; spot; space. According to the focus of the mind in relation to the body, so will the breath be affected. Also, the breath can be intentionally experienced at any point in the body to affect it.
Kala: Time. This is simply how long or short a breath is.
Sankhyabhih: Numbers. Number of breaths.
Dirgha: Long; prolonged; protracted. The breath becomes slow and therefore prolonged during meditation.
Sukshma: Subtle; fine. The breath becomes almost imperceptible physically, but mostly it becomes very internal and is experienced by the yogi as an inner movement more than an outward one. Eventually he perceives that breathing is an act of mind, and therefore all these terms regarding the breath can equally be applied to the mind and its states.
It is usually thought that pranayama is composed of the words prana and yama, which mean breath (or life-force) and restraint (or control). But it really comes from prana (breath) and ayama, which means lengthening, expansion, and extension. In meditation the breath becomes subtle, refined, and slow (lengthened, expanded, and extended). “Prolonged and light [subtle],” says Vyasa. Sometimes it is long and slow and sometimes it is slow but short. Whichever it may be, it is always spontaneous and not controlled or even deliberately intended in any way. This is accomplished through objective observation of the breath, and is not an artificial breathing exercise.
51. That Pranayama which goes beyond the sphere of internal and external is the fourth (variety).
Some understand this as the suspension of breath, but Jnaneshwara Bharati says: “The fourth pranayama is that continuous prana which surpasses, is beyond, or behind, those others that operate in the exterior and interior realms or fields.” This can be interpreted in two ways:
- The fourth pranayama is that in which the yogi ceases to be aware of the inhaling and exhaling breath, but clearly perceives the flow of prana which is behind them and which produces them. He follows this internal process and sees it as the true(r) breath.
- The yogi perceives the perpetual flow of the prana that goes on independently of the breath. Actually, he perceives two distinct flows: inward-outward, upward-downward, yet totally internal and not at all related to the body. They flow simultaneously without interruption within the subtle body, mainly in the sahasrara (astral brain). The physical breath is only incidental in relation to these two movements of the prana. In time they are not just perceived as acts of the mind-substance (chitta) but are seen to be primal concepts within the causal intelligence or karana sharira.
52. From that is dissolved the covering of light.
Jnaneshwara Bharati: “Through that pranayama the veil of karmashaya that covers the inner illumination or light is thinned, diminishes, and vanishes.”
In sutra 2:12 we were introduced to the concept of the karmashaya, “the receptacle or mass of karmas; aggregate of works done; latent impressions of action which will eventually fructify,” according to A Brief Sanskrit Glossary. When the breath is corrected by right practice (and most “pranayama” is very wrong practice, as many saints of India have said, though few pay any attention to them), the karmashaya begins to melt away, for it loses its hold on the subtle bodies that heretofore were in a state of distortion and negative polarity. Just as a magnet attracts metal, in the same way a wrongly-polarized subtle body holds on to the negative impressions of wrong actions, but when its polarity is corrected, those impressions begin to fade out and slip away. With this in mind, Vyasa comments: “It [the fourth pranayama] destroys the karma which covers up knowledge in the yogi who has not practiced pranayama. As it is declared: ‘When the ever-bright sattwa is covered over by Indra’s net of great illusion, one is impelled to what is not to be done.’ By the power of pranayama, the light-veiling karma binding him to the world becomes powerless, and moment by moment is destroyed. So it it has been said: ‘There is no tapas higher than pranayama; from it come purification from taints [kleshas] and the light of knowledge [jnana].’” Shankara simply adds: “It is karma by which the light is covered.”
53. And the fitness [yogyata] of the mind [manasa] for concentration [dharana].
Jnaneshwar Bharati: “Through these practices and processes of pranayama, which is the fourth of the eight steps, the mind acquires or develops the fitness, qualification, or capability for true concentration [dharana], which is itself the sixth of the steps.”
Dharana is defined as: “Concentration of mind; fixing the mind upon a single thing or point.” The first sutra of the next book (pada) says: “Dharana is the confining [fixing] of the mind within a point or area” (Yoga Sutras 3:1).
The important point is made by Vyasa in his commentary: “Simply from the practice of pranayama comes the fitness for dharana.” No special exercises, specifically aimed at developing the capacity for dharana, are needed. When the breath enters the fourth stage, the mind becomes capable of dharana since the breath and mind are the same and only through that is the mind rendered able to practice dharana, and usually dharana will occur spontaneously at that time.
54. Pratyahara or abstraction is, as it were, the imitation [anukarah] by the senses [indriya] of the mind [chitta swarupa] by withdrawing themselves [asamprayoge] from their objects [vishaya].
This is not a very satisfactory translation of an incredibly difficult verse. Jnaneshwar Bharati says this: “When the mental organs of senses and actions cease to be engaged with the corresponding objects in their mental realm, and assimilate or turn back into the mind-field from which they arose, this is called pratyahara, and is the fifth step.” I personally tend to accept his view.
Anukarah means following or imitating. Patanjali says the indriyas follow–or imitate in the sense of taking on the nature (swarupa) of–the chitta. There are two ways to consider what is meant by the indriyas “following” the mind (chitta): 1) The indriyas resolve into the mind-substance itself, having arisen from it. 2) The indriyas go into abeyance and begin passively reflecting objects, just as the chitta does. If this second is the meaning, then pranayama causes both the chitta and the indriyas to enter a state of motionlessness that is yet keenly aware, not deadened or shut down but in total consonance with the pure consciousness of the Self. It is not impossible that together the chitta and indriyas become what yogis call the buddhi. If so, then the buddhi is really more a state of the chitta than a psychic entity.
55. Then follows the greatest [parama] mastery [vasyata] over the senses [indriyas].
Vasyata means mastery in the sense of control or direction. It is the supreme (parama) control because it is control by the Self, not any lesser entity or level. And it is not a control by direct manipulation but of proximity which puts the indriyas into the state of evolutionary perfection. That is, the Self does not make them perfect by acting upon them, but by being in intimate proximity to them. (We cannot say the transcendent Self actually touches anything.) This, of course, is just what the Sankhya philosophy says about the relation of Prakriti to Purusha: Prakriti moves, “lives,” and evolves simply because the Purusha is near it, the way fire can make an object hot without touching it.
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