Sutras 36 through 39 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Sutra 1:36. 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 these two kinds–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.
Sutra 1:37. 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 master, avatar, or god–either in form or abstractly–will prevent authentic meditation. This demonstrates that the custom of adopting and meditating on an Ishta Devata is totally incorrect and not in the real tradition of Sanatana Dharma–as is about eighty percent of contemporary “Hinduism”–even if advocated by present-day “gurus.” By their sentimental superstition such teachers are deceiving and hindering their followers. That is the truth.
The other view, which is therefore not correct, is 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.
This is not to say that there is no benefit in admiring–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. This is good for the mind and heart outside meditation, but not in meditation itself–that is a different mode of mind (mentation) altogether, and the distinction must be known and scrupulously maintained. This is the true path of yoga, which is contradicted and even contravened by most popular religion.
Sutra 1:38. 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 the 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 dream 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–it is 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.
Sutra 1:39. Or by meditation as desired.
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 against 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.
Previously: Seven Ways to Purify the Mind, Part 1