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Samadhi Pada: Yoga Sutras Book I

Part 1 of Yoga: Science of the Absolute

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1. Now, an exposition of Yoga [is to be made].

Now (Atha) is the usual formula for the beginning of a major text. It is common in most Sanskrit commentaries to interpret atha as meaning that there are prerequisites to the studying of sacred subjects, that basic philosophical principles must be first learned, and spiritual disciplines followed, especially moral and ascetic observances. Only then is the student qualified to be taught the wisdom embodied in the text. Commentators say that atha is meant to remind them of this fact and to warn them that if they have not laid such a foundation then their study may be defective and fruitless. Agreeing with this, Jnaneshwara Bharati renders this sutra in an explanatory paraphrase: “Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.” We will not now outline what the preparation is, since Patanjali will do so in Book II, the Sadhana Pada, in sutra twenty-nine regarding yama and niyama. The reason he waits is given by Shankara in his commentary: “No one will follow through the practices and restrictions of yoga unless the goal and the related means to it have been clearly set out… as yoga is the result of applying the means to yoga.… Yoga is the goal of the yoga methods.”

First, then, we should consider the nature of the state of yoga to which we should be aspiring. Yogananda often said: “Yoga is the beginning of the end,” as the capstone of many lives lived in a positive manner, which included a conscious search for God. In this life there must be a continuation of that mode of life to prepare ourselves for the supreme science, the Science of the Absolute which we call Yoga.

Yoga requires preparation. This is proven by the fact that after over one hundred years of yoga teaching and practice in the West there has been little lasting effect, for few indeed have ascended to higher consciousness. The reason is the lack of foundation upon which to build an effective spiritual life. One time in a conversation with Sri Anandamayi Ma I told her: “There is no genuine teacher of yoga in America.” She nodded her head and replied: “I know it.” The yoga peddlers come to town, sell their wares, and move on leaving behind ignorant and confused people trying to get benefit from something completely beyond their capacity. These unfortunates are not negative or unintelligent people, but they are incompetent because they have no background, no preparation, especially in the matter of purification. Patanjali is aware of this, and so his first word in Yoga Darshan is Atha, to indicate that some purification and discipline is necessary before yoga can be undertaken. This does not mean that the aspirant has to wait until he is proficient in all the observances and avoidances (yama and niyama), but he definitely must understand them, and commit himself to their observance right at the start. Then he will be ready to begin.

In his commentary on this sutra Vyasa states: “Yoga is samadhi,” the superconscious state. Commenting on that, Shankara says something different from the usual: “Yoga is not to be taken as from the root yuj in the sense of joining together, but the sense of sam-a-dha: set together. Yoga is samadhana [samadhi], complete concentration.” He makes this assertion because only separate things can be joined. Later he says: “Yoga is the eternal relation with the Self.” Samadhi-yoga is not the bringing about of the union of the two, but the realization of their eternal unity. This is no small point. “The Self is always in samadhi,” says Shankara.

Because of their supreme authority, Vyasa and Shankara will be quoted a great deal in this commentary. Although much that they say is quite technical, it is impossible to responsibly and completely bring out the meaning of the Yoga Sutras otherwise.

2. Yoga is the inhibition of the modifications of the mind. Yogash chitta-vritti-nirodhah.

Chitta is the subtle energy that is the substance of the mind, and therefore the mind itself. Vritti is a thought-wave, mental modification, mental whirlpool, a ripple in the chitta. Nirodha is restraint, restriction, suppression or dissolving.

Some say that chitta-vritti-nirodha means cessation of the modifications of the mind, some that it means control of the vrittis or thoughts, some that it is the suppression, destruction or erasing of vrittis, some that it is the lessening or inhibition or restricting of vrittis, and some that it is the silencing of the mind.

Certainly nirodha embraces all of these, but only as aspects or stages toward the ultimate nirodha. These stages deal with the vrittis themselves, and sometimes with an interaction with them to affect them in some way. In all of these the vrittis have already arisen, so they are simply ways of dealing with them. These stages are only police-actions, cleanup operations, and are not at all the answer. The answer is for the chitta to be in such a state that vrittis cannot arise. Then alone will there be no problems to deal with. There is no lasting value in producing a state where the arising of the vrittis is only prevented, because if there is a lapse they will start up all over again and we will be right back where we started. I have seen this a lot over the years, and in time it leads to frustration and surrender to the condition.

The nirodha Patanjali is presenting to us is a permanent condition of the chitta in which it has been so transformed or transmuted that the arising of vrittis is impossible; it just cannot happen. Sri Ramana Maharshi spoke of this as a state in which the mind has become the Self. Until then, he said, all other attempts are like catching a thief, making him a policeman, and ordering him to go catch himself. It cannot work. It is the difference between birth-control and sterility. Nirodha is the latter.

When we realize this, our whole perspective on yoga will change, and so will our evaluation of our practice. First of all, vrittis are not just thoughts, they are also impressions and impulses. Thoughts are actually the least of the modifications of the chitta. But most important, vrittis are responses of the chitta, called forth by external or internal stimuli. These are the major problems, though the real, fundamental problem is the capacity of the mind to respond in modifications of any kind. We can see from this that to think nirodha is just a matter of no-thought is missing the point entirely. Yoga is the radical transformation of the very nature of the mind, and therefore of its functions. It is not just taming or training it. That leads nowhere in the long run.

Having said this, I must point out, as does Shankara, that there is a state known as nirodha samadhi in which the mind enters into the perfectly non-responsive condition. In the beginning this is a temporary state, but when practiced enough it becomes permanent, unbroken. Shankara declares that “moksha [liberation] is not something different from nirodha samadhi. There is some distinction insofar as after nirodha samadhi there is recurrence of active mental processes [pravritti], whereas moksha is a final cessation [nivritti] of them. But in that samadhi as such, there is no distinction from moksha. So the sutra [1:3] has said, ‘Then the seer is established in his own nature,’ and it will also be said [4:34] that being established in its own nature is moksha: ‘or it is the establishment of the power-of-consciousness in its own nature.’ So it is incontestable that the sutra means to say that moksha is only by seedless [nirbija] samadhi.”

3. Then the seer [drashta] is established in his own essential and fundamental nature [swarupa].

Vyasa immediately comments and paraphrases: “Then the power-of-consciousness [chit-shakti] rests in its own nature, as in the state of release [moksha]. But when the mind is extraverted [turned outward], though it is so, it is not so.” That is, even though each of us always rests in his true nature, for it is inviolable, at the same time we do not so rest experientially. Quite the opposite; we are aware of and identify with just about everything else.

Shankara first says in consideration of this sutra: “It has been said that yoga is inhibition of the mental processes, by which inhibition the true being of the purusha as the cognizer is realized.” Though a bit convoluted, the following words of Shankara are very important: “Purusha is the cognizer of buddhi in the sense that he is aware of buddhi in its transformations as the forms of the mental processes. The nature of the purusha is simple awareness of them; the one who is aware is not different from the awareness. If the one who is aware were different from the awareness itself, he would be changeable and then would not be a mere witness who has objects shown to him.”

Self-forgetfulness is the root of all our problems, the essence of samsara itself. Consciousness (chaitanya) is our essential nature. When asked what the Self is, Sri Ramakrishna simply answered: “The witness of the mind.” We are the seer of our individual life in the same way that God is the Seer of cosmic life. Therefore Patanjali speaks of the Self as the Seer. When the chitta remains in a state both free from modifications and from the state in which is is possible for modifications to occur, then the yogi is established in his swarupa, essential form or nature. In that state his swarupa is that which imparts to him perfect knowledge of himself. So it is not just Seeing, it is Knowing.

People are getting flashes or glimpses of their Self throughout their lives, but they are overshadowed and even eclipsed by their usual perceptions of the modifications of the chitta. That is why it is necessary for us to reach that state (sthiti) in which no modifications can take place, but we remain firmly in the consciousness of our reality, just as does God.

4. In other states there is assimilation/identification [of the seer] with the modifications [of the mind].

Outside the state of being centered fully in the Self, there is vritti sarupyam–such a close identity with the experiences of relative existence that the person seems to be assimilated by them, overshadowed and rendered completely forgetful by them, mistaking them for reality and for his Self-nature. This is the state of being “lost” from which we must become “saved.” But unlike popular religion (and all religions provide “saviors” of some sort), Yoga explains to us that we must save ourselves–through Yoga. “Therefore, be a yogi” (Bhagavad Gita 6:46).

Fortunately, we do not really change when this false identity occurs. As Shankara points out: “The apparent change is not intrinsic but projected [adhyaropita], like a crystal’s taking on the color of something put near it.”

Here is another paragraph from Shankara that I think is important both for its accuracy and for the fact of it being said by such an authority: “Therefore knowledge of objective forms, and memory, and its recall, and effort and desire and so on, are all essentially not-self [anatma], because they are objects of knowledge like outer forms, and because they exist-for-another [parartha] as is shown by their dependence on the body-mind aggregate for the manifestation of their forms and other qualities. So because they have dependence, and are impermanent and are accompanied by effort–for these and similar reasons it is certain that they are essentially not-self.” This is also important because it is identical with the teaching of Buddha on these points, showing that Buddha was a classical Sankhya Yogi and not a “Buddhist” at all.

There is a most important point that must be pointed out here. Patanjali tells us that we must bring the chitta, the mind-substance, into a state of pure clarity in which modifications can no longer be produced. Why does he not tell us to just jettison the mind and be rid of it? Because, as both Vyasa and Shankara state in their commentaries on this sutra, the purusha has an eternal, “beginningless relation” with the mind. We have always had it and always will, so we must correct/perfect it through yoga to be freed from samsara.

5. The modifications [vritti] of the mind are five-fold and are painful [klishta] or not painful [aklishta].

The five types of modifications will be listed in the next sutra, but right now Patanjali wants us to know that they all can be painful or not painful.

However, there is a whole other way of looking at these modifications, and that is held by both Vyasa and Shankara. It interprets klishta and aklishta as “tainted by the kleshas” and “untainted by the kleshas.” The kleshas are ignorance, egotism, attractions and repulsions towards objects, and desperate clinging to physical life from the fear of death. They will be considered in detail in sutras two through nine of the second section of the Yoga Sutras. So the modifications of the chitta can be either tainted (impure) or untainted (pure). Obviously this is going to determine their effect on us.

Vyasa says this: “The tainted [modifications] are caused by the five kleshas; they become the seed-bed for the growth of the accumulated karma seed-stock. The others are pure and are the field of Knowledge. They oppose involvement in the gunas. They remain pure even if they occur in a stream of tainted ones. In gaps between tainted ones, there are pure ones; in gaps between pure ones, tainted ones. It is only by mental processes that samskaras corresponding to them are produced, and by samskaras are produced new mental processes. Thus the wheel of mental process and samskara revolves. Such is the mind. But when it gives up its involvement, it abides in the likeness of the Self.” Commenting on Vyasa’s comment, Shankara says: “Ignorance and the other taints become the seed-bed for tainted mental processes. When these last appear, the karma seed-stock is near to ripening.”

Shankara relates this situation to yoga practice, saying: “Only by recourse to practice and detachment, which oppose them en bloc, does inhibition [nirodhah] succeed; their mere number does not make inhibition impossible, though there is no effective means of inhibiting them one by one.” This is very important, because one of the tricks of the mind is to tell us that we need to “work up” to the right state or tackle our defects only one-by-one. But those who accept this wrong way of going about clearing their lives and consciousness end up failing completely, as was the ego’s intention when it suggested it so “reasonably.” Rather, Shankara tells us that yoga practice assaults the whole bundle of mental illusions at once, just as one army attacks another army en masse, not just soldier by soldier. This is heartening news, for it assures us that yoga acts as a general antidote to the poison of the kleshas, like a wide-spectrum antibiotic attacks all forms of infection at once.

6. [The five kinds of modifications are] right knowledge [pramana], wrong knowledge [viparyaya], fancy [vikalpa], sleep [nidra], and memory [smritaya].

Each of these merits an individual consideration.

Pramana includes the means of valid knowledge, logical proof, and the means of right perception. Although logical proof is listed here, it is usually held that pramana also includes experiential proof such as proven intuition or yogic perception that has been investigated and shown to be accurate. Although Taimni and most translators render this “right knowledge,” it is actually the means to right knowledge.

Viparyaya is erroneous perception, wrong knowledge, illusion, misapprehension, and distraction of mind: the means to wrong knowledge. In Sankhya philosophy, the basis of Yoga, it is said that viparyaya is caused by ignorance (avidya), egoism (asmita), attachment (raga), antipathy (dwesha), and self-love in the sense of clinging to life (abhinivesha).

Vikalpa is imagination, fantasy, mental construct, abstraction, conceptualization, hallucination, distinction, experience, thought and oscillation of the mind.

Nidra is sleep, either dreaming or dreamless, but in the Yoga Sutras it means dreamless sleep alone.

Smritaya is memory and recollection.

All mental phenomena fall into one of these classifications. It is interesting to see that just as there are five senses, so there are five modifications of the mind.

Now Patanjali looks at each in turn.

7. [Facts of] right knowledge [are based on] direct cognition, inference, or testimony.

Pramana has three bases: direct perception, inference, and what Jnaneshwara Bharati calls “testimony or verbal communication from others who have knowledge.” All commentators say that this latter includes scriptural texts. Nevertheless, the first listed by Patanjali is pratyaksha–personal perception. This is quite logical in a text on yoga, for the purpose of yoga is the gaining of direct knowledge. Next he lists logical inference (anumana), either our own or another’s. Last comes scriptural testimony. So we see a hierarchy of values. Most valued is our personal insight, next is our logical thought or that of someone we are communicating with, and last is the written text. This is because a living process is always more valuable, and also because the written text may be defective in some way. So scriptures come last, a feature unique to Sanatana Dharma.

8. Wrong knowledge is a false conception of a thing whose real form does not correspond to such a mistaken conception.

We all have experience of mistaken perception. Sometimes in a boat it looks and feels as if the shore is moving and the boat is standing still. Those of us who have ridden a train very much will recall feeling that the train we were sitting in was moving, only to find out that it was the train next to us that moved. We often “see” wrongly. For example, I had a cousin that did not look like me at all. Yet, my friends would see him on the street and call out or start speaking to him, thinking he was me. And the same would happen to me with his friends.

When as a child I went to the movies I would experience three things that really disturbed me at the time. First, when the sound came on I could clearly perceive that it came from speakers on two sides of the theater, yet after a short while the sound would not only seem to be coming from the screen, it would seem to come from the mouths of the actors! Second, in motion pictures where carriage or wagon wheels were shown, at certain speeds the spokes would appear to reverse their direction and be moving backwards. Third, if I had seen a movie or a feature before, when I saw it again it seemed to last only about half the time it had the first time. So I realized that sound, sight and time sense could be altered and were not absolutely true. After a while I came to understand that most of my experience was viparyaya in some form.

The only remedy for viparyaya is to experience things as they really are. And that is one of the purposes of yoga. In fact, Shankara said that “inhibition of illusion must precede that of the others, since it is their root.”

9. An image conjured up by words without any substance behind it is fancy [vikalpa].

Here “words” can mean internal thought as well external speaking, either by ourselves or by others. We all experience having a mixture of both right and wrong ideas about something. That is viparyaya as in the previous sutra. But vikalpa is completely without basis or substance. Shankara is fond of using the simile of the horns of a rabbit, since such things just do not exist. Interestingly, some time before I became a yogi I read a psychological study by a man who knew of a culture somewhere in the western hemisphere where the people all believed that rabbits had horns. He even went “rabbit watching” with them and was amazed that they all swore fervently to him that the rabbits he was seeing without horns really did have horns: they could see them.

Here we see the danger of lying. In time our minds will habitually function in vikalpa and we will begin lying to ourselves. A hallucination is a form of vikalpa, as well. I knew a very skillful liar who occasionally had hallucinations so strong that those around him had to go along with it to keep him from going completely over the edge. One time he kept seeing flowers in the air and demanding of me what their “message” was. It was taxing on many levels, believe me. The only good thing was that when the hallucinations ended he would not remember having them, so when it was over it was over.

10. That modification of the mind which is based on the absence of any content in it is sleep.

As already pointed out, in the Yoga Sutras nidra refers to dreamless sleep alone, the state in which there is “nothing” in the field of the mind to perceive. Why the term sushupti which specifically means dreamless sleep is not being used is hard to understand. Shankara says that in this sutra nidra definitely does mean sushupti. However it may be, dreaming must be considered by Patanjali to be a form of vikalpa rather than true sleep.

Even though dreamless sleep is “absence of any content” it is not a void, for we remember it. Certainly we perceive it, as Shankara says: “Unless there had been a perception, there could hardly be a recollection. And when one wakes, one does recall, ‘I have slept well’ and so on. The recollection itself is a reflection of the perception that I have experienced something; unless there had been some experience, that reflection would not be there, nor could there reasonably be any memories about it.”

Dreamless sleep is often cited as proof of the witness-Self, for although there is no object of perception, yet something perceives this non-perception. And that something is the spirit whose very nature is consciousness: turiya, the fourth, eternal state of awareness. “Again, a man who has been asleep in an inner room, without any hint from outside however slight, has recollected immediately on waking ‘I have slept a long time,’ and this would otherwise be inexplicable.”

11. Memory [smriti] is not allowing an object which has been experienced to escape.

Memory is both passive and active. Sometimes memories arise without our intending them to, and at other times we intentionally bring them out from our inner mind, usually for a specific purpose. Vyasa says that we are evoking a samskara, an impression always present in the mind. Shankara says: “The perception arises, and then while dying away lays down a samskara in its possessor, the thinker. The samskara corresponds to its cause.”

Memory, of course, includes both intellectual and sensory recall. Patanjali, though, is interested only in the intentional act of will that is memory.

12. Their suppression [is brought about] by persistent practice [abhyasa] and non-attachment [vairagya].

Two things are needed for the ending of mental modifications. One is abhyasa–sustained spiritual practice. This is why Krishna speaks of abhyasa yoga in the Gita. The other is purely psychological: vairagya. A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines vairagya as: “Non-attachment; detachment; dispassion; absence of desire; disinterest; or indifference. Indifference towards and disgust for all worldly things and enjoyments.”

13. Abhyasa is the effort for being firmly established in that state [of chitta-vritti-nirodha].

Jnaneshwara Bharati expands on this, saying: “Abhyasa means choosing, applying the effort, and doing those actions that bring a stable and tranquil state.” Shankara simply says that abhyasa consists of the observance of yama and niyama, which are to be discussed later on.

14. It [abhyasa] becomes firmly grounded on being continued for a long time, without interruption and with reverent devotion.

Vyasa: “Carried through with austerity, with brahmacharya, with knowledge and with faith, in reverence it becomes firmly grounded.”

Shankara: “Unless it is for a long time, and unless it is uninterrupted, the practice does not become firmly grounded.”

15. The consciousness of perfect mastery [of desires] in the case of one who has ceased to crave for objects, seen or unseen, is vairagya.

Sri Ramakrishna said: “A certain woman said to her husband: ‘So-and-so has developed a spirit of great dispassion for the world, but I don’t see anything of the sort in you. He has sixteen wives. He is giving them up one by one.’ The husband, with a towel on his shoulder, was going to the lake for his bath. He said to his wife: ‘You are crazy! He won’t be able to give up the world. Is it ever possible to renounce bit by bit? I can renounce. Look! Here I go.’ He didn’t stop even to settle his household affairs. He left home just as he was, the towel on his shoulder, and went away. That is intense renunciation.

“There is another kind of renunciation, called ‘markata vairagya,’ ‘monkey renunciation.’ A man, harrowed by distress at home, puts on an ochre robe and goes away to Benares. For many days he does not send home any news of himself. Then he writes to his people: ‘Don’t be worried about me. I have got a job here.”

Vairagya is not an on-and-off matter, but a permanent cessation of any desire for any object whatsoever. Vyasa says that one with true vairagya “is inwardly aware of the defects in objects by the power of his meditation.”

16. That is the highest vairagya in which, on account of the awareness of the purusha, there is cessation of the least desire for the gunas.

The preceding sutra was about vairagya in relation to objects. This goes further and speaks of dispassion-desirelessness in relation to the three modes of prakriti, the gunas. These are discussed at length in the Bhagavad Gita, but simply put they are the three modes of energy behavior or qualities of energy. A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines guna as: “Quality, attribute, or characteristic arising from nature (Prakriti) itself; a mode of energy behavior. As a rule, when ‘guna’ is used it is in reference to the three qualities of Prakriti, the three modes of energy behavior that are the basic qualities of nature, and which determine the inherent characteristics of all created things. They are: 1) sattwa–purity, light, harmony; 2) rajas–activity, passion; and 3) tamas–dullness, inertia and ignorance.”

There can be attachment to the qualities of subtlety, intelligence, and purity (sattwa), of effectiveness and efficiency and mastery (rajas), and stability and steadiness (tamas). But these, too, are illusory like other objects.

However, such vairagya does not come from insight into the nature of objects or gunas but from knowing the Self. Only when we enter fully into the Self will all desire of any kind cease. For that reason Self-knowledge or Atmajnana should be our aim at all times, for that alone will eliminate all that stands between us and perfect freedom (moksha or jivanmukti).

17. Samprajñata Samadhi is that which is accompanied by reasoning, reflection, bliss and sense of pure being.

Samprajñata samadhi, also known as savikalpa samadhi, is defined by A Brief Sanskrit Glossary as: “State of superconsciousness, with the triad of meditator, meditation and the meditated; lesser samadhi; cognitive samadhi; samadhi of wisdom; meditation with limited external awareness. Savikalpa samadhi.” It is a kind of superconscious bridge between relative and absolute consciousness, partaking of both, but neither exclusively. Its distinctive qualities are:

The capacity for vitarka–thought and reasoning with sense perception.

The capacity for vichara–subtle thought and reflection.

Experience of bliss (ananda).

Experience of the sense of “I am,” “I exist,” the sense of individuality of being (asmita).

Vyasa and Shankara consider this sutra as a list of ascending forms of lesser samadhi. Vyasa sums it up: “Of these the first samadhi, with verbal associations, vitarka, is associated with all four [forms]. The second, with subtle associations, vichara, is without the verbal associations of the first. The third, with associations of bliss, ananda, is without the subtle associations of the second. The fourth, being pure I-am, is without the association of bliss. All these samadhis rest on an object.” Shankara explains regarding this: “In this sequence of four, an earlier one is associated with the qualities of all the later ones, and a later one is without the qualities of any earlier one.”

18. The remnant impression left in the mind on the dropping of the pratyaya after previous practice is the other [i.e., asamprajñata samadhi].

There are two forms of samadhi: samprajñata and asamprajñata. Samprajñata samadhi is characterized by the four qualities listed in the last sutra. When those four are also removed by further practice, then the state of asamprajñata is reached. Jnaneshwara Bharati puts it very well and completely: “The other kind of samadhi is asamprajñata samadhi, and has no object in which attention is absorbed, where only latent impressions [samskaras] remain; attainment of this state is preceded by the constant practice of allowing all of the gross and subtle fluctuations of mind [vrittis] to recede back into the field from which they arose.”

19. Of those who are videhas and prakrtilayas birth is the cause.

Patanjali is now discussing those people who from birth are seen to possess marked psychic faculties and psychic powers, even to a miraculous degree. Such persons are usually assumed to be spiritually advanced and are respected accordingly, but this is not wise. Usually it is only because of certain abnormalities in their previous life (or lives) that they now manifest these abilities. Patanjali says that simply being born precipitates these capabilities, and not yoga at all: no, not even in a previous life. He speaks of two classes of such people: videha and prakritilaya.

Videha means “bodiless,” and he is referring to persons who for some reason spent much of their time in the previous life separated from their bodies to a great degree. Edgar Cayce, “the sleeping prophet,” said that in his previous life he had undergone a lingering death on a battlefield in which his subtle bodies had been almost completely separated from the physical. Dying in that state, when he was reborn he possessed the intense psychic, almost mediumistic, powers he utilized in his later healing work. Spontaneous astral projectors are videhas.

A prakritilaya is a person who in a previous birth has somehow become absorbed into certain psychic levels of existence, the subtle energies of prakriti. Having identified with psychic energies, when they are born they have the ability to access those powers and even work miracles.

Videhas usually manifest intellectual psychic abilities such as intuition, and prakritilayas actually make external changes or produce external phenomena. However, each may overlap into the territory of the other.

The important point Patanjali is making here is that they are NOT spiritually advanced people, but only possessors of unusual abilities, and we must not make the mistake of attributing spiritual wisdom and worth to them. A vivid case was that of Aimee Semple McPherson, the famous evangelist who was a remarkable psychic and healer. She was hailed as a greatly spiritual and even holy person, but in reality she was a drug and sex addict, remarkably unintelligent and amoral, and in the end committed suicide. One time in New Delhi I was visiting with John McDiarmid, head of the UN mission to India. John kept declaring that if he believed “Sister Aimee” had really worked miracles he would stop believing in God, for he knew her true character. Like so many of East and West, John could not distinguish between the psychic and the spiritual. But Patanjali certainly could, and so can we if we apply ourselves.

20. [In the case] of others [upaya-pratyaya yogis] it is preceded by faith [shraddha], energy [virya], memory [smriti] and high intelligence [samadhi-prajña] necessary for samadhi.

Upaya-pratyaya yogis are those that have followed the traditional sequence of yogic practices and disciplines. Their attainments are directly related to (a result of) specific methods. They have not arisen “out of the blue” but have a firm, known basis. Blavatsky often warned her students not to put faith in “natural” psychics who had either been born psychic or had suddenly, spontaneously become psychic. She explained that such persons have no real control over and understanding of their abilities. Further, their abilities could lessen or disappear as mysteriously as they appeared. Instead she advised the students to only consult and have faith in “developed” psychics: those who had become psychic by following specific disciplines and who could keep themselves up to the optimum level through those practices.

The superconscious experience of authentic yogis is preceded and produced by:

  1. Shraddha, the faith, confidence, or assurance that arises from personal experience. It can also be based on developed intuition. Essentially it is faith that stimulates the yogis to practice faithfully. Shraddha can be a factor behind perseverance in yoga practice.
  2. Virya is strength, power, energy, and courage. Obviously all these qualities are needed to initiate and maintain yoga sadhana unto its fruition.
  3. Smriti is memory or recollection. In this context it means a constant awareness of divine realities, a continual keeping in mind the principles of spiritual life and especially remembering to maintain constant mental practices such as mantra japa.
  4. Samadhi-prajna is an interesting hybrid term. Prajna is basically consciousness, but it is also intelligent awareness or wisdom, and even intelligence itself. Samadhi-prajna is all this, but it has been produced by samadhi, including the basic spiritual opening states that lead up to full-blown samadhi. Ordinary prajna can be possessed by anyone who has a developed brain and nervous system, but samadhi-prajna is rooted in spirit-consciousness, spirit-intelligence.

I think we can conclude that samadhi is only attained by special people possessing markedly special qualities and abilities. Fortunately, we can all be such special persons, for that is our potential and our destiny. But we must work at it untiringly and constantly. Yogis do not go on vacations any more than God does. “Full steam ahead” is the way.

Vyasa encapsulates it perfectly: “The samadhi resulting from a means [i.e., practice] is for yogis. Faith is a settled clarity of the mind: like a good mother, it protects a yogi. When he has that faith, and is seeking knowledge, there arises in him energy. When energy has arisen in him, his memory stands firm. When memory stands firm, his mind is undisturbed and becomes concentrated in samadhi. To the mind in samadhi comes knowledge by which he knows things as they really are. From practice of these means, and from detachment from the whole field of mental process, arises asamprajñata samadhi.”

Then Vyasa writes a kind of preface or introduction for the next sutra:

“Yogis are of nine kinds, according to the methods which they follow, either mild or moderate or intense, and then subdivided according to the energy–mild, moderate or intense–with which they practice these respective methods. A mild method may be practiced with mild or moderate or ardent energy, and so with the moderate method. Of those who practice intense methods,…”

21. It [samadhi] is nearest to those whose desire [for samadhi] is intensely strong.

Vyasa simply says: “They soon attain samadhi and the fruit of samadhi.”

Two interesting words are used here: samvega and asannah.

Samvega means intense ardor derived from long practice. So Patanjali is not saying that samadhi is near to those who for some reason or other have an intense desire that is just a flash in the pan. Rather, it is the ripening of the fruit of long practice, practice that has been moving the yogi closer and closer to the goal. It is a matter of magnetism: the closer the object is to the magnet the stronger the pull toward it.

Asannah literally means “sitting near,” or near at hand, the implication being that samadhi is always present in potential form, but is “near” only to the ripened yogi who yearns deeply for union with God. It is not at all a matter of mechanical practice, or of a “super yoga” technique. It is in the will of the yogi, for that is the most divine force any of us possess.

22. A further differentiation [arises)] by reason of the mild, medium and intense [nature of the means employed].

There are three aspects to this: quality and intensity of practice, aspiration and method. For optimum success we need the maximum amount of actual practice, the most fervent aspiration which impels us to the practice and the maximum efficiency/effectiveness of the method(s) employed. A wise yogi will consider this seriously and continually gauge the quality of these three aspects of his sadhana. Especially he will consider the inherent value of the method(s) employed.

Shankara says: “It is as in the world, where the prize goes to the one who runs fastest in the race.” And later Saint Paul said: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain” (I Corinthians 9:24).

23. Or by total giving of the life to God.

This could legitimately be rendered: “Or by total merging of the life with/into God.” This is not a mere: “Here, O Lord, take my life; I give it to you.” That is a noble aspiration if intelligent understanding is behind it, but otherwise it is a meaningless sentimental formula. Patanjali is speaking of the actual transformation of life which naturally culminates in union with God.

In the ancient yogic tradition, that of Gorakhnath and the Nath Yogis, the process of transformation is called Samarasya, which means oneness, especially of essence, which results from the elimination of all differences. It is also the process of bringing the human being on all levels into a harmonious resonance with the divine that will automatically result in perfect union with the divine. It is not a making of the yogi into something, but a removal or erasure of all differences (including conflicts) with the Absolute. When this occurs the individual is naturally merged in Brahman and his eternal, divine nature is revealed in that union. This is an extremely important point, for it not only determines the nature of authentic yoga, it reveals nearly all “yoga” to be artificial, and therefore of temporary effect, and ultimately productive of nothing but illusion and illusory change.

It will be helpful to obtain and carefully study the book Philosophy of Gorakhnath by Askhaya Kumar Banerjea, for it reveals aspects of yoga that were virtually unknown until Banerjea did his research and wrote the book.

24. Ishwara is a particular Purusha who is untouched [aparamrishta] by the afflictions of life [kleshas], actions [karma] and the results [vipaka] and impressions [ashayai] produced by these actions.

Ishwara, God, is not a mere conglomerate of all that exists, but is a distinctive Person or Spirit, the sole independent Being on whom all else depends. God is a particular Spirit in the sense that he can be experienced as a definite, perceptible Being, and even be pointed out by the masters of wisdom.

Part of his uniqueness is the fact that he “touches” and rules all things, but is absolutely untouched by anything. (The Bhagavad Gita emphasizes this, especially.) Although the source of existence and action, Ishwara transcends them and is therefore untouched/unaffected by the kleshas, the taints or afflictions inherent in relative existence. As already listed, the kleshas are: ignorance, egotism, attractions and repulsions towards objects, and desperate clinging to physical life from the fear of death (Yoga Sutras 2:2-9). No action affects Ishwara in any degree. (Again, see the Gita.)

Nevertheless, Ishwara is intimately connected to all things while remaining separate from them. Ishwara is present in all things as the universal Witness, and is nearer to us than anything can be, for Ishwara is the Self of our Self, the Paramatman within which our Atman exists.

25. In him is the highest limit of omniscience.

This can also be translated: “In him is the unsurpassed seed of omniscience.” This is very important, for by perfect union with Ishwara the individual can come to share or participate in his omniscience. That is, the finite can experience the consciousness of the infinite, just as Ishwara already experiences the consciousness of each individual being (jiva). This is a fundamental part of Samarasya–liberation (moksha or mukti).

26. Being unconditioned by time he is guru even of the ancients.

Having existed eternally, Ishwara has been the Guru of all beings, including those exalted primal beings or “gods” whom he made rulers of the worlds. The same with the Manus, the progenitors of the human race. Perhaps the most important point is that he is also the Satguru (the guru who is himself the Sat, the Supreme Reality) of all humanity. We may have human teachers known as upagurus (secondary or subsidiary gurus), but only God can be our Absolute Guru. Unhappily, for centuries the greedy, foolish, deluded and unscrupulous have pretended they were satgurus of other human beings, but that is a shameful fiction.

Since God is eternal, it is from him that all knowledge has come, especially the revelation of spiritual truth. As Vyasa observes in his commentary: “His purpose is to give grace to living beings, by teaching knowledge and dharma [righteousness].” “There is no other but God to give the teaching which is a boat by which they can cross over the sea of samsara, and he teaches knowledge and dharma to those who take sole refuge in him.… For all the kinds of knowledge arise from him, as sparks of fire from a blaze or drops of water from the sea,” says Shankara, commenting on Vyasa’s words. Therefore Patanjali concludes: “Being unconditioned by time he is Guru even of the Ancients.”

Dwelling in the hearts of all, God continues to be the Guru of questing souls. This does not mean that qualified spiritual teachers are not helpful to us, but ultimately the yogi must be guided by the Divine from within his own consciousness. “The mind is itself guru and disciple: it smiles on itself, and is the cause of its own well-being or ruin,” wrote the great poet-saint Tukaram (Tukaram’s Teachings, by S. R. Sharma, p. 19). “The mind will eventually turn into your guru,” said Sri Sarada Devi, the consort of Sri Ramakrishna (The Gospel of the Holy Mother, p. 340). Swami Brahmananda, the “spiritual son” of Sri Ramakrishna, in speaking about the role of an external guru said: “Know this! There is no greater guru than your own mind. When the mind has been purified by prayer and contemplation it will direct you from within. Even in your daily duties, this inner guru will guide you and will continue to help you until the goal is reached” (The Eternal Companion, p. 120).

Therefore Tukaram wrote in one of his hymns: “The guru-disciple relationship is a sign of immaturity” (Tukaram’s Teachings, p. 20). The fact that Shankara writes in the Nirvanastakam: “I am neither guru nor disciple [gururnaiwa shishya],” shows that no human being is either guru or disciple in the final analysis, but is a part of the Whole, the only Satguru.

Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahashaya wrote to a student regarding the guru: “No one does anything; all is done by God. The individual [that seems to be the guru] is only an excuse; remain abidingly focused on that Divine Guru; in this is blessing.” And to another: “Guru is the one who is all; Guru is the one who is merciful. You are the Guru within yourself” (Garland of Letters (Patravali), Letters 12 and 45). In Purana Purusha by Dr. Ashoke Kumar Chatterjee it is recorded that Yogiraj made these two statements: “I am not a guru. I do not hold the distinction of ‘guru’ and ‘disciple.’” “The Self is the Guru… the immortal, imperishable Guru.” Just as Patanjali says that Ishwara (God) is the guru of all, so did Lahiri Mahasaya. Ishwara is identified in Indian thought with the solar power. In his diary Lahiri Mahasaya drew the sun and wrote beside it: “This is the Feet of the Guru.” He also wrote: “The Sun is the Form of the Guru.”

When Paramhansa Yogananda, who first made Lahiri Mahashaya known in the West, was questioned “about his own role in the religious evolution of this planet,” the great yogi replied: “The one Ocean has become all its waves. You should look to the Ocean, not to the little waves protruding on its bosom” (The Path, Swami Kriyananda, p. 493). Another time he objected strongly to the suggestion that only his writings should be read in the public services of Self-Realization Fellowship, saying: “I came to make you God-conscious, not Yogananda-conscious.” At other times he said: “There is no such thing as ‘Yogananda-realization,’ only God-realization.” To someone who asked about a “disciple,” Yogananda replied firmly: “I never speak of people as my disciples. God is the Guru: They are His disciples” (The Path, p. 327). Ramana Maharshi particularly emphasized that God is the guru of all, saying: “Only the Supreme Self, which is ever shining in your heart as the reality, is the Sadguru [True Guru]” (The Power of the Presence, p. 116).

The supreme example of someone who attained enlightenment without a guru is Buddha, who is referred to in Buddhist texts as “Self-Awakened.” All spiritual life is self-initiated from within; we are both guru and disciple as Krishna and Arjuna symbolize in the Bhagavad Gita. Paramhansa Nityananda said: “He [God] is the One guru, the guru Who is in all, the guru of the universe. No [human] person can be your guru, a person can only be secondary. The real guru is Guru of the Universe” (Chidakasha Gita 105). To emphasize this, Nityananda never gave initiation or became a guru in any manner or sense, though he was inspirer, guide and advisor to many.

Neem Karoli Baba was wont to say, “I make devotees [of God], not disciples” (Divine Reality, by Ravi Prakash Pande, p. ii.).

Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh used to say: “I abhor gurudom”–the debasing of the student-teacher interaction to a personality cult.

Swami Yatiswarananda, Vice-president of the Ramakrishna Mission, wrote to one of his students: “We really are not gurus. We bring the message of the Guru of gurus. What all service you can get from me you will. But please turn to Him for light and guidance, for peace and blessedness. As you yourself are finding, human beings are not good enough. The Lord, the Guru of gurus, alone can give us the shelter, the illumination and the bliss we need.” That sums it up very well.

Another leading spiritual figure of the Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Premeshananda, once wrote: “We have presently become inundated by this ‘guru doctrine.’ The purpose of the guru is to lead us to the realization of God; but God has been left behind, and the guru has become the latest fashion. So it is not safe to talk about a particular person. If one places a powerful personality before others, they will hold on to him instead of to God.”

The aspiring yogi can then feel safe and assured that God will be his guru, just as he has been for all the enlightened throughout the ages.

In conclusion let us look at the words of Sri Ramakrishna himself on the subject as found in the Majumdar translation of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: “Satchidananda [Existence-Consciousness-Bliss] alone is the guru; He alone will teach” (1.2.8; also: 4.2.1, 5.1.2, 5.5.1). “If somebody addresses me as a guru I say, ‘Away you rascal!’ How can I be a guru? There is no other guru except Satchidananda. There is no other refuge but Him. He alone is the ferryman who takes one across the ocean of relative existence” (1.12.8). “A man cannot be a guru” (2.19.6). “He who says of himself that he is a guru is a person of poor understanding” (3.17.4). “The more you will advance, the more you will see that it is He who has become everything and it is He who is doing everything. He alone is the guru and He alone is the spiritual ideal of your choice. He alone is giving jnana, bhakti and everything” (4.26.2). “Do you pray to Satchidananda Guru every morning? Do you?” (4.9.2).

In the Nikhilananda translation, on October 22, 1885, when someone refers to someone as Sri Ramakrishna’s disciple, he says: “There is not a fellow under the sun who is my disciple. On the contrary, I am everybody’s disciple. All are the children of God. All are His servants. I too am a child of God. I too am His servant. ‘Uncle Moon’ is every child’s uncle!”

Shankara comments: “Just as the human teachers turn their face towards the wholly devoted pupil and give him their favor, so this supreme teacher gives his favor when there is pure contemplation on him.”

27. His designator [vachaka] is the Pranava.

Vachaka means that which is denoted by speech, but it can also mean the spoken or sound-form of something that has a very real connection with the object of which it is the vachaka, and sometimes is considered the same as the object. “Pranava” means the single-syllable mantra Om in other texts (and many consider it means Om in this verse also), but here it is different, because Patanjali was a Nath Yogi whose sadhana was centered on the sacred mantra Soham. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad we find this: “In the beginning this [world] was only the Self [Atman], in the shape of a person. Looking around he saw nothing else than the Self. He first said, I am Soham [Soham asmi]” (1:4:1). Ishwara is the “soul” of creation, is immanent in creation, and is the Self of the world, just as we are the Self in our body. So the first thing Ishwara did at the beginning of creation was to “speak” himself as the word Soham, saying, “I am Soham.” Therefore the consciousness of the Self is called Soham Bhava, the consciousness of Soham: I Am That. (See Soham Yoga, The Yoga of the Self.)

So the vachaka of Ishwara is Soham. But it is our vachaka also. Therefore:

28. Its constant repetition and meditation on its meaning [is the way].

The japa (repetition) and meditation of Soham together are the way to liberation.

29. From it [result] the disappearance of obstacles [to enlightenment] and turning inward of consciousness.

This is quite clear. Now Patanjali enumerates the obstacles and their effects on us.

30. Disease [vyadhi], languor [styana], doubt [samshaya], carelessness [pramada], laziness [alasya], worldly-mindedness [avirati], delu¬sion [bhranti-darshana], non-achievement of a stage [alabdhabhumikatva], instability [anavashtitatvani], these (nine) cause the distraction of the mind and they are the obstacles [to yoga].

These are too important to not look at closely. After the definition of each I will give I. K. Taimni’s comments from The Science of Yoga.

Vyadhi: Disease of the body. “This is obviously a hindrance in the path of the Yogi because it draws the mind again and again to the physical body and makes it difficult to keep it directed inwards.”

Styana: Dullness; languor, debility; drooping state. “Some people have an apparently healthy physical body but lack nerve power so that they always feel below par and disinclined to take up any work requiring prolonged exertion. This chronic fatigue is in many cases psychological in origin and due to the absence of any definite and dynamic purpose in life. In other cases it is due to some defect in the Pranamaya Kosha which results in an inadequate supply of vital force to the physical body. Whatever its cause it acts as an obstacle because it undermines all efforts to practice Sadhana.”

Samshaya: Doubt; suspicion. “An unshakeable faith in the efficacy of Yoga and its methods is a sine qua non for its successful practice. Such faith is needed in achieving success in any line of endeavor but more so in this line because of the peculiar conditions under which the Yogi has to work. In the Divine adventure which he has undertaken the objective is unknown and there are no clearly defined standards by which he can judge and measure his progress. Doubts of various kinds are therefore liable to arise in his mind. Is there really any Reality to be realized or is he merely pursuing a mirage? Are the methods he is using really effective? Are those methods the right methods for him? Has he the capacity to go through all the obstacles and reach the goal? These and other doubts of a similar nature are liable to assail his mind from time to time especially when he is passing through the periods of depression which come inevitably in the path of every aspirant. It is at these times that he needs Shraddha–un¬shakeable faith in his objective, in himself and in the methods which he has adopted. It may not be possible to avoid these periods of depression and doubt especially in the early stages but it is his behavior and reaction to them which show whether he has true faith or not. If he can ignore them even though he feels them, he comes out of the shade into the sunshine again and resumes his journey with renewed enthusiasm. If he allows these doubts and moods to interfere with his Sadhana and relaxes his efforts, they acquire an increasing hold on his mind until he is completely side-tracked and abandons the path altogether.”

Pramada: Carelessness; fault; guilt. “This is another obstacle which besets the path of many aspirants for the Yogic life. It has the effect of relaxing the mind and thus undermines its concentration. Some people are careless by nature and when they come into the field of Yoga they bring their carelessness with them. Carelessness is a weakness which prevents a man from achieving eminence in any line of endeavor and condemns him to a mediocre life. But in the field of Yoga it is not only an obstacle but a great danger and the careless Yogi is like a child who is allowed to play with dynamite. He is bound to do himself serious injury sooner or later. No one should think of treading this path who has not conquered the habit of carelessness and learnt to pay careful attention not only to important things of life but also to those which are considered unimportant.”

Alasya: Laziness; idleness; apathy; sloth. “This is another habit which results in a distracted condition of the mind. Although it results in the same kind of ineffectiveness in life as in the case of languor it is yet different. It is a bad mental habit acquired by continued yielding to the love of comfort and ease and tendency to avoid exertion. If we may say so, languor is a purely physical defect while laziness is generally a purely psychological condition. A restoration to health automatically cures the former but a prolonged discipline based on the execution of hard and difficult tasks is the only means of curing the latter.”

Avirati: Hankering after objects; non-dispassion; sensual indulgence; lack of control; non-restraint. “The worldly man is so immersed in the interests pertaining to his outer life that he does not get time even to think about the real problems of life. And there are many people who pass through life without having ever given any serious thought to these problems. When a person takes to the path of Yoga as a result of the dawning of Viveka and of his becoming alive to the illusions of life the momentum of the past is still behind him and it is not so easy to shut out the interests of the worldly life suddenly and completely. These hankerings after the objects of the world still continue to trouble him and cause serious distraction in his mind. Of course, all depends upon the reality of the Viveka. If we really see the illusions which are inherent in the pursuit of worldly objects like wealth, honour, name etc. then we lose all attraction for them and naturally give up their pursuit. But if the Viveka is not real–is of the pseudo-variety–the result of mere ‘thinking’, then there is constant struggle between the desires which drag the mind outside and the will of the Yogi who tries to make the mind dive within. Thus, worldly-mindedness can be a serious cause of Vikshepa.”

Bhranti-darshana: Delusion; erroneous view. “This means taking a thing for what it is not. It is due generally to lack of intelligence and discrimination. A Sadhaka may, for example, begin to see lights and hear sounds of various kinds during his early practices. These things are very spurious and do not mean much and yet there are many Sadhakas who get excited about these trivial experiences and begin to think they have made great progress. Some think that they have reached high states of consciousness or are even foolish enough to think that they have seen God. This incapacity to assess our supernormal experiences at their proper worth is basically due to immaturity of soul and those who cannot distinguish between the essential and non-essential things in spiritual unfoldment find their progress blocked at a very early stage. They tend to get entangled in these spurious experiences of a psychic nature and are soon side-tracked. It is easy to see that the unhealthy excitement which accompanies such undesirable conditions of the mind will cause great distraction and prevent it from diving inwards.”

Alabdhabhumikatva: Non-achievement of a stage; inability to find a footing. “The essential technique of Yoga consists, in the earlier stages, in establishing the mind firmly in the stages of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, and after Samadhi has been attained, in pushing steadily, step by step, into the deeper levels of consciousness. In all these stages change from one state to another is involved and this is brought about by persistent effort of the will. Sometimes this passage is easy and comes after a reasonable amount of effort. At other times the Yogi seems to make no progress and a dead wall appears to be facing him. This failure to obtain a footing in the next stage can cause distraction and disturb the perfect equanimity of the mind unless the Yogi has developed inexhaustible patience and capacity for self-surrender.”

Anavashtitatvani: Unsteadiness; instability of mind; inability to find a footing; mental unsteadiness. “Another kind of difficulty arises when the Yogi can get a foothold in the next stage but cannot retain it for long. The mind reverts to its previous stage and a considerable amount of effort has to be put forth in order to regain the foothold. Of course, in all such mental processes reversions of this nature are to a certain extent unavoidable. But it is one thing to lose one’s foothold in the next stage because only practice makes perfect and another thing to lose it because of the inherent fickleness of the mind. It is only when the instability is due to the inherent unsteadiness of the mind that Vikshepa can be said to be present and special treatment is called for.”

31. [Mental] pain [dukha], despair [daurmanasya], nervousness [angamejayatva] and hard breathing [shvasa-prashvasa] are the symptoms of a distracted condition of mind [vikshepa-sahabhuvah].

Dukha is pain; suffering; misery; sorrow; grief; unhappiness; stress; that which is unsatisfactory.

Daurmanasya is despair, depression etc., caused by mental sickness; feeling of wretchedness and miserableness.

Angamejayatva is shaking of the body; lack of control over the body.

Shvasa-prashvasa is hard breathing; inspiration and expiration. These are the symptoms of a mental state that is outward-turned, impelled toward and absorbed in externalities.

32. For removing these obstacles there [should be] constant practice of one truth or principle.

The meaning of this is so simple that most commentators miss it. Yet both Vyasa and Shankara comment that it means the practice of meditation on the One, and continual awareness of the One outside of meditation. This will unify the mind which is the producer of the problems listed in the previous sutra when it becomes fragmented or scattered by being divided by sensory experience. The only cure for this is unifying the mind by means of meditation. When practiced for a sufficient amount of time, the state of unity can be maintained in the mind even when dealing with the multiplicities of ordinary existence.

The precise manner this is done has just been given us. The One is Ishwara, and Patanjali has told us that his sound-form is Soham and “its japa and meditation is the way,” that “from it comes the disappearance of obstacles and the turning inward of consciousness.” This is Soham Yoga: Soham Sadhana.

33. The mind becomes clarified by cultivating attitudes of friendliness [maitri], compassion [karuna], gladness [mudita] and indifference [upekshanam] respectively towards happiness [sukha], misery [dukha], virtue [punya] and vice [apunya].

Maitri is friendliness; friendship; love.
Karuna is mercy; compassion; kindness.
Mudita is complacency; joy; happiness, and implies optimism and cheerfulness.
Upeksha[nam] is indifference; equanimity resulting from disinterestedness.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of Western New Thought or New Age philosophy is the idea that the mind is improved by an in-turned “me” kind of cultivation of what the individual wants to see in his mind. But Patanjali tells us that what is needed is a range of positive reactions to others. Further, a positive attitude is to be maintained toward situations as well as people. Of course, these same attitudes should be cultivated toward ourselves, but not exclusively.

Both Vyasa and Shankara insist that indifference must be cultivated toward those they call “habitually unvirtuous.” Not ignoring of them as people, but not being affected by their negativity. That does not mean we should accept their wrongdoing as all right, but that we should not allow ourselves to have any emotional or negative reaction to their deeds and habitual character. This also implies that we should not be pestering them and meddling in their lives, trying to “save” or reform them. We should be ready to help them in any way we can, especially by kindness and good will, but basically we must go our way and let them go their way.

Sitting around fuming over the foolishness and evil of others will only create an affinity between us and their faults, and eventually make us like them. As Jesus said: “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:22). This includes letting the world-involved stew and bubble about the world. As the Sanatkumars said at the beginning of this creation cycle: “What have we to do with all this, we who are intent on knowing the Self?”

(Also known as the Four Kumaras, the Sanatkumars were those advanced souls–Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumara and Sanatsujata–who at the beginning of this creation cycle refused to engage in worldly life despite the command of Brahma. They turned within and attained liberation.)

34. Or by the expiration and retention of breath.

This is one of the sutras that is so simple we are almost sure to miss its meaning–the way Gandalf mistakes “Say ‘Friend’ and Enter” for “Speak, Friend, and Enter” in The Lord of the Rings.

In classical texts on pranayama we find the terms puraka (inhalation), rechaka (exhalation of breath) and kumbhaka (retention or suspension of breath). But they are not in this sutra. Rather, the terms pracchardana and vidharanabhyam are used, and refer to natural, spontaneous movements of the breath, not deliberate working with the breath as in formal pranayama.

To understand this sutra we must remember that the Yoga Sutras begin with a definition of Yoga that involves the chitta and the waves of the chitta. Just as the breeze disturbs the surface of water, in the same way the chitta is disturbed by various things, one of which is breath. And that is why pranayama occupies such an important place in yoga practice. Specifically, the chitta is ruffled by inhalation. Slow inhalation produces the least effect and rapid inhalation produces the most, but there is no form of inhalation that does not produce an effect on the chitta. On the other hand, exhalation does not make waves in the chitta, nor does the suspension of breath, either in or out. Patanjali tells us this to give a complete picture. At this point he is not advocating any particular practice, just giving us information which will help us later on in understanding the nature and effects of actual pranayama.

35. Coming into activity of [higher] senses also becomes helpful in establishing steadiness of the mind.

Translators are divided in their understanding of this sutra. Some consider it to mean that concentrating on any type of sense impression–usually in the form of the memory of such impression, such as visualization–will steady the mind. Others think it means that the arising of the subtle inner senses, especially in meditation, is an aid to steadying the mind. That is why Jnaneshwar Bharati says: “The inner concentration on the process of sensory experiencing, done in a way that leads towards higher subtle sense perception: this also leads to stability and tranquility of the mind.”

Vyasa and Shankara consider this second view to be the meaning of the sutra. Vyasa says that the yogi must experience inward realities before he can possess full faith in the words of scriptures and teachers: “Therefore some one definite thing has to be directly experienced in confirmation” at least. Shankara says: “For the yogi who is practicing yoga which is to give face-to-face experience, the perception is the first direct awareness, and it gives him confidence, creating enthusiasm for the practice of yoga. It is like the appearance of smoke when wood is being rubbed together to create fire. Such a perception fills him with joy because of the confidence it creates, and brings his mind to steadiness.”

36. Also (through) serene [vishoka] or luminous [jyotishmati] (states experienced within).

Vishoka means: blissful; serene; free of grief, suffering or sorrow. Jyotishmati means: effulgence; full of light. Inner experience of a higher level usually consists of one of these two, and sometimes both together. Naturally the mind will become steady when it experiences vishoka states, and the same with jyotishmati experience. Certainly they can be two different kind of states, but most translators, as well as Vyasa and Shankara, consider that Patanjali is speaking of a single experience, which Vyasa and Shankara call buddhi-sattwa: experience of the buddhi in its most subtle level in which the buddhi and the Self are virtually indistinguishable. Actually, they state firmly that the experience of buddhi-sattwa is the experience of I-am (asmita/aham), experience of the Self through the buddhi.

37. Also the mind fixed on those who are free from attachment [vitaraga] (acquires steadiness).

Vitaraga means: free from attachment (raga); one who has abandoned desire/attachment. Such a person is obviously enlightened. However there is a marked disagreement between translators regarding this sutra. Some consider that Patanjali is recommending that the aspirant fix his mind on the abstract ideal of a mind, a mental state, that is free from attachment and yearning/desire. Vyasa and Shankara hold this interpretation, Shankara stating that there must be no external object whatsoever in true meditation. In fact, in his commentary on Sutra 38, Shankara says: “The mind can be caught by the bridle of an object even merely remembered” in meditation. So they definitely do not consider that there should be meditation on an enlightened, liberated being. In fact, Shankara’s statement shows that fixing the mind on any form or concept will prevent authentic meditation. (However, the sound form or mantra repeated mentally is not an external object and cannot hinder meditation–just the opposite.)

This demonstrates that the other view–that the yogi should fill his mind with recollection of a person or deity in meditation, either by visualizing a form or simply “thinking about” them discursively–is not correct.

This is not to say that there is no benefit in admiring or even loving a liberated person or divine form, and keeping their depictions in the home (even in the meditation place) and reading about them and even singing their praises. But in doing japa and meditation of their names there should only be fixing of the awareness on the inner, mental mantric intonations. Meditation is a different mode of mind (mentation) altogether, and the distinction must be known and scrupulously maintained.

38. Also [the mind] depending upon the knowledge derived from dreams [swapna] or dreamless sleep [nidra] [will acquire steadiness].

This sutra is all about the insight the person gains by analyzing the dream and deep sleep states.

By pondering the dream state he comes to understand that all experiences of objects are really internal, even in the waking state. (Note that I say the experiences are internal, not the objects.) He also sees that the mind is capable of creating an entire world.

One of my most significant experiences within the first few days after beginning the practice of meditation was a vivid dream in which I was walking along a street with some people and looking at the trees, sky, clouds, buildings, etc. “Look at all this,” I remarked to my dream companions, “it is being created by my mind, yet it is so tangible that if challenged I could not prove it is not a waking experience of the concrete world!” I never forgot the wonder I felt at that time. At other times in dreams I have paused and said to myself: “All this is coming out of my mind. How amazing!”

So the yogi comes to realize some very important things: perception is not always objectively real, all perception is internal whether waking or dreaming, and he has the same creative power as God, even if in a limited degree. Also, if he uses the ability to control his dreams, he comes to realize that control of his waking life is possible, that the waking world is also a dream substance, God’s dream within which he is dreaming. In time he comes to realize that he needs to awaken into spirit consciousness, leaving the dreams of relative existence behind.

I also well remember how when I was only three or four years old I would stop and ask myself when awake: “Am I really awake, or am I dreaming? Will I dream years and years are passing, only to wake up and find out only a short time has really passed? Could I dream a whole life, only to wake up to find out I am still a little child?” For I had also observed that I could dream a very lengthy dream and find on awakening that only a few minutes had passed. So I knew the sense of time was also illusive and elusive.

The dreamless state opens up even deeper understanding. There is no sensory experience whatever, yet when we awake we are quite aware that we have been asleep and that time has passed. This tells us that in our essential nature we are a witnessing consciousness, that our existence does not depend upon the senses and their objects. We come to understand that we are a conscious spirit. When asked to define the Self, Sri Ramakrishna said very simply: “The witness of the mind.”

All this great wisdom can come just from analyzing the dream and dreamless states. Like Sherlock Holmes said, we must not only see, we must observe–and understand.

39. Or by meditation as desired [abhimata].

Most translators interpret this as meaning a person can meditate in whatever manner they desire, or upon whatever object they choose. But if the first were true, then Buddha would not have insisted upon right meditation. The mode of practice cannot be at whim. And Shankara again insists that objects should never be dwelt on in meditation. Rather, both he and Vyasa say that previous thought of things that are abhimata (desired; favorite; attractive; agreeable, appealing) trains the mind to be steady, actually teaching it how to be still and intent. So that ability is to be transferred to the Self in meditation.

Of course the sutra may merely mean that the mind is steadied by meditation when the yogi loves the practice itself. Just sitting for meditation appeals to him, so it is easy.

40. His mastery extends from the finest atom to the greatest infinity.

This is not as big a leap as it seems, for it does not mean that after the preceding steps the yogi is master of the cosmos, from smallest to largest. Rather, it is speaking of the range of the yogi’s awareness/concentration. The adept yogi can attune his awareness to perceive the smallest or most subtle objects and also direct his awareness to encompass that which is not only the largest, but also that which is infinite. In other words, under the direction of his will there is no limitation to his awareness.

41. In the case of one whose chitta-¬vrittis have been almost annihilated, fusion or entire absorption in one another of the cognizer, cognition and cognized is brought about as in the case of a transparent jewel [resting on a colored surface].

The precision of Patanjali is to be noticed and admired. He could have said that the fusion takes place when the modifications of the chitta have ceased, but that is not accurate. The fusion can occur when the modifications have almost come to an end. There is no room for inaccuracy or exaggeration in Yoga.

Patanjali is telling us that when the modifications of the mind-substance are almost eliminated, the yogi is able to completely unite his awareness to his own Self as the knower, the very process and instruments of knowing, and any object that he is perceiving. The Buddhists call this “penetration.”

42. Savitarka samadhi is that in which knowledge based only on words, real knowledge and ordinary knowledge based on sense perception or reasoning are present in a mixed state, and the mind alternates between them.

In A Brief Sanskrit Glossary, vitarka is defined as: “thought; reasoning; cogitation with sense perception; discussion; debate; logical argument.”

Savitarka samadhi is the state of union with an object in which the yogi is able to conceptualize and intellectually define what he is perceiving. He is able to internally analyze and recognize what he perceives. Basically, he can still “think” in that state, though it may not be in the internal verbalization which we usually mean by “thinking.” In savitarka samadhi there is not pure, direct knowing that is a divine quality. Rather it is a mixture of intellection and direct perception. However it is the step before nirvitarka samadhi, and its attainment assures the yogi that he is approaching the summit of Kailash.

43. On the clarification of memory [smriti], when the mind loses its essential nature [swarupa], as it were, and the real knowledge of the object alone shines [through the mind] nirvitarka samadhi is attained.

Nirvitarka Samadhi is the state of union with an object in which remembrance of their names and qualities is not present. That is, the mind ceases to be either a perceiver through the outer senses or a thinker in either words or concepts, and becomes so perfect a knower that no distinction can be found in knowing, knower or known. This is a state of perfect (total) unity in which outer and inner, object and subject, simply no longer exist, literally. I do not mean they are just not present for the yogi, I mean that for him they are no more in the absolute sense.

44. By this [what has been said in the two previous sutras] samadhis of savichara, nirvichara and subtler stages [in sutra 1:17] have also been explained.

Here are the definitions given in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary:

Savichara samadhi: A stage in samadhi wherein the mind (chitta) is identified with some subtle object and assumes its form, being aware of what it is and capable of analyzing it by means of the purified buddhi; with deliberation and reasoning or inquiry.

Nirvichara samadhi: A stage in samadhi wherein the mind (chitta) no longer identifies with a subtle object or assumes its form, simply resting in perception without analytical awareness of its nature by means of the buddhi, whose operation has become completely suspended so that only pure awareness remains; without deliberation and reasoning or inquiry.

Nevertheless, only an adept yogi really knows what Patanjali is talking about.

45. The province of samadhi concerned with subtle objects extends up to the alinga stage of the gunas.

In meditation, consciousness is the ultimate object, but our perceptions need to pass through the intervening veils of subtle vibrations between our higher mind, the buddhi, and consciousness itself. Consequently, even though right from the beginning we should be at least dimly aware of the principle of consciousness, nevertheless, we will start to experience the subtle elements (bhutas), the subtle energies of our inner makeup. If the meditation is proceeding as it should, we experience increasingly subtle elements while at the same time our “awareness of awareness” steadily increases. This is the savichara samadhi Patanjali is talking about. Eventually the original state of pradhana (prakriti) is experienced that is beyond the point of differentiation of the three gunas. This is the highest point of savichara samadhi. “Alinga” means without any attribute, characteristic or mark, and in this sutra refers to the undifferentiated prakriti.

Just as the buddhi borders on the Self and reflects the Self, so is this state of samadhi. It is at the apex of experiencing subtle vibration with profoundly experiencing consciousness, for Vyasa says: “There is nothing more subtle beyond pradhana.”

46. They (stages corresponding to subtle objects) constitute only samadhi with ‘seed’.

Sabija, “with seed,” means that which possesses attributes, and produces samskaras or subtle karmas in the experiencer. Sabija samadhi is savikalpa samadhi wherein the seeds of samskaras or karmas are not destroyed, and which produces the highest and subtlest of samskaras or karmas.

47. On attaining the utmost purity of the nirvichara stage (of samadhi) there is the dawning of the spiritual light [adhyatma prasadah].

In contrast to the samadhi spoken of in the prior sutra, nirvichara samadhi is nirbija: “without seed,” without attributes, and without the production of samskaras or subtle karmas. Nirbija samadhi is nirvikalpa samadhi wherein the seeds of samskaras or karmas are destroyed (“fried” or “roasted”) by jnana, and which produces no samskaras or karmas.

When the utmost purity (shuddhasattwa) of the buddhi is attained, then even pradhana in its highest form is transcended and the light of the Self is perceived.

48. There, the consciousness [prajna] is truth-and-right-bearing [ritambhara].

According to A Brief Sanskrit Glossary, Ritam is “Truth; Law; Right; Order. The natural order of things, or Cosmic Order/Law. Its root is ri, which means ‘to rise, to tend upward.’” When a yogi reaches the nirvichara stage his consciousness henceforward reflects the divine order and is oriented solely toward ultimate Reality. Therefore Vyasa comments: “The knowledge which appears in that clearness of the mind in samadhi has the special name of Truth-bearing in the literal sense that it brings truth alone, and there is no trace of erroneous knowledge in it. So it is said: ‘By scriptural authority, by inference, and by enthusiasm for meditation practice: in these three ways perfecting his knowledge, he attains the highest yoga.’” Shankara says that the consciousness spoken of in this sutra is born from viveka (discrimination between reality and unreality).

Patanjali’s standards must be applied to us first of all, but also to any who claim to have realization of the Truth (Sat).

49. The knowledge based on inference or testimony is different from direct knowledge obtained in the higher states of consciousness [see sutra 1:48] because it is confined to a particular object [or aspect].

That is, such knowledge is only relative and limited to one object at a time, whereas the knowing in samadhi is absolute, unlimited, and all-inclusive, for Brahman is described as “That which when known, all becomes known.”

50. The impression produced by it [sabija samadhi] stands in the way of other impressions.

Vyasa explains this perfectly, saying: “The samskara produced by truth-bearing knowledge removes the accumulated deposit of samskaras of extraversion. When the extravertive samskaras are overcome, no ideas arising from them appear. With inhibition of extravertive ideas, samadhi becomes habitual. Then there is knowledge from that samadhi; from that, more samskaras are laid down of knowledge, and so a fresh deposit of samskaras is built up. From that again knowledge, and from that more samskaras of it.” Shankara expands on this, commenting: “Knowledge must set up a samskara. Each time the knowledge is renewed, its special samskara is reinforced. But the renewal of the knowledge is from again taking up meditation on the object, different from itself. It can do this because it is produced by a different object, namely the thing as it really is [yathartha].”

The samskaras produced by sabija samadhi erase the samskaras of ignorance. Vyasa explains this, continuing: “Why would not this new accumulation of samskaras draw the mind into involvement with it? It is because samskaras of knowledge cause the destruction of the taints [kleshas], and so do not constitute anything that would involve the mind. In fact they make the mind cease its activity, for the exertions of mind come to an end in knowledge [khyati].”

This may seem technical, but it is an absolutely practical analysis, for Patanjali intends for us to compare what he says with our meditation experiences and thereby know whether or not we are truly progressing toward enlightenment. In the same way the Bhagavad Gita describes the state of mind of a liberated person in such a way that only the yogi can know whether or not he is in that state. No one can cite the Gita to prove to others that he or someone else is liberated: the individual yogi alone can know the truth of the matter. Both the Gita and the Yoga Darshan are practical manuals of higher consciousness.

51. On suppression of even that owing to suppression of all [modifications of the mind] ‘seedless’ [nirbija] samadhi [is attained].

From sabija samadhi the yogi passes on to nirbija samadhi, the final step in the liberation of his consciousness. This produces no samskaras and dissolves the samskaras accumulated from sabija samadhi. According to Vyasa: “Thus the samskaras do not cause the mind to continue to exist, but prevent its involvement with anything. The mind, no longer involved, ceased to exists, along with the samskaras which have promoted release. When mind ceases, Purusha abides in his own nature alone, and is therefore called pure, alone, and released.”

The section on samadhi (samadhi pada) is now completed.

Read the Next Chapter – Sadhana Pada: Yoga Sutras Book II

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Yoga: Science of the Absolute

Introduction to Yoga: Science of the Absolute

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