The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is considered to be the greatest textual authority on Yoga. There are certainly many styles of Yoga out there, but whatever does not comply with Patanjali may find some difficulty in claiming weight and authority to their arguments. It is of the common belief that Patanjali was not the originator of the Yoga Sutras, but rather a compiler of an already existent tradition(s). Historical accuracy of textual sources has never been a great forte in India, but modern scholarship has suggested the compilation of the Yoga Sutras could be either before the influence of the Buddha or after. Conflicting theories argues over whether the Buddha was influenced by the yogic tradition or vice versa, but it stands to reason to believe that the Buddha was engaged in yogic practices rather than the other way around?
A sutra is memory devices that summarize the philosophical thoughts of a particular school. All the philosophical schools of India are written in sutra forms that were to be memorized and learnt by heart for the preservation of the tradition. They were further expanded upon with a Bhasya, a commentary that explains the meaning of each sutra more thoroughly.
The classical definition of sutras is that: "they must be concise, unambiguous, meaningful, comprehensive, devoid of superfluous words and faultless."
Patanjali divides his 196 aphorisms into four chapters discussing various practices on Yoga. The first chapter titled 'Samadhi Pada' is for the 'samahita-citta' those of a composed mind that are receptive to the subtle practices of yoga which requires high levels of concentration. In the second chapter titled 'Sadhana Pada' are practices for the 'vyutthita citta' those of a distracted mind that stand in needs of more radical practices to pierce the distractive layers of physical and mental ignorance that covers the inner soul of man. Here is also found the traditional eightfold path to Yoga, where the practitioner is suggested to develop each step firmly in order for the highest realization of Yoga to become manifest. The third chapter discuss the various Siddhis, perfection one may achieve from the practice of Yoga and the final chapter investigate into the state of liberation.
There are five main commentators that have expanded further upon the meaning of all the sutras. Vyasa being the foremost followed by Vacaspati Mishra and Vijnana Bhiksu. The two more recent ones are Bhoja and Hariharananda Aranya.
Let it be known that the sutras by themselves are by no means easy to comprehend and the help of the commentators are paramount to get a deeper understanding of the subject. But here as an easy introduction and an overview of Classical Yoga here a simple summary of the sutras follow:
After informing us about the commencing of an inquiry into Yoga Patanjali gives us the classical definition: 'Yoga is the cessation/restraint of the fluctuations of the mind'. All the fluctuations of the mind, the fabric as well as the essence of it are constituents of the three Gunas, subtle patterns of Matter, Prakrti. What is different to that is Spirit, Purusha, that which cause an observation of Prakrti, Nature (i.e. the Mind) These two eternal principles gets bound into a mutual pattern and the goal of Yoga is to separate the two so the inner Seer can finally abide in its own Self rather than suffer the constant changes of Prakrti.
This Classical work of Yoga is therefore a descriptive work on what the Seer (Purusha) as well as what Nature (Prakrti) really consist of and how to create equilibrium within the mind while the Seer is observing the endless changes of Matter (Prakrti). We are therefore given a detailed account on how they work in unison as well as what happens to both when they are isolated in their respective nature.
The fluctuations of the mind may be restrained with Practice and Dispassion. Both are of equal importance and when a mastery of them both is achieved a gradual home-coming to Yoga will being. The mind is subject to positive afflictions or negative afflictions, the goal of Yoga is to be caught up in neither, but engage in various practices that may dissolve the afflictions all together. Yoga is of two types, the final goal of liberation from the fluctuations of the mind, but also the various practices we engage with in order to reach this final goal. Patanjali also says our interest for Yoga may begin as a philosophical inquiry into the nature of the Self, then be supported further by reasoning and a greater longing to know what is real and less-real. The sign of progress is an awakened sense of Joy flowing from within culminating in the realization of ones inmost spiritual nature.
There final goal of Yoga = Samadhi is of two types. Samprajnata Samadhi, that which takes support of a seed, or another for its realization and Asamprajnata Samadhi where there is no experience of any other (no external support) apart from the one realization of Luminous Spirit.
For those who have not yet reached the first step of Samadhi it may be preceded by faith, greater energy, clarity of mind and a true awakening to wisdom. It may manifest quickly for those of a keen intellect, but it is also dependent on the seekers mild, middle or intense nature.
The state of Yoga is always present within us despite the many layers of ignorance clouding our mind. A greater experience of Yoga may therefore equally be attainted through many other means then mere analytical mind control. Patanjali lists out eight other qualifying factors that may equally awaken the inner receptivity of Yoga. They are listed according to the following hierarchy.
2. Cultivation a certain mental disposition towards other people (like: Friendliness towards the happy, compassion towards the miserable, joy towards the virtuous and indifference towards the wicked.)
3. A proper inhalation and exhalation of the life force (prana).
4. Focusing on the higher sense-activities appearing in the mind.
5. Concentrating on the effulgence of the heart free of any sorrow.
6. A complete desirelessness for any object.
7. Concentrating on knowledge conveyed in dream or sleep and making that an object of study.
8. Simply meditating on ones own chosen preference.
God or Ishvara is the only subject Patanjali chooses to expand upon. He tells us how greater mental stability may come about from a total surrender to God, who is an indistinct Purusha (super soul), untouched by the many operations of karma and their fruition. In him the seed of omniscience is not succeed and he is the teacher of all previous teachers, unlimited by time and the sacred syllable OM is his expression. One is therefore suggested to repeat it and contemplate on its meaning. This practice may awaken the inert realization of Individual Consciousness (pure spirit) as well as a diminishing of its covering obstacles. The covering obstacles that cause distraction and diversion to the mind are: disease, laziness, indecisiveness, carelessness, indolence, sensuality, wrong perception, incapability of grasping the point and instability. What inevitably follows when one gives into these distractions are pain, despair, trembling and agitated inhalation and exhalation. However they may be counteracted by the practice or habituation to one truth which may be developed further from the following seven practices listed out.
The inherent power of spirit is inherent in all the operations of the mind so let the practitioner therefore focus on whatever he feel drawn to. If the practice is consistent sincerer it is bound to produce beneficial results. The power of consciousness/spirit is present everywhere from the minutest particle up to the largest and whatever object of concentration the Seer focus the mind upon, greater stability of mind may be brought about.
According to Practice and Dispassion, the fluctuations of the mind will gradually loose its fixed patterns and a greater immersion (Samapatti) may occur for the mind in whatever object of concentration it is engaged in. First on a gross level and then gradually into more and more subtle elements of nature until the mind becomes the object itself as it were and during this immersion appear void of its own fluctuation nature. The journey is from the conceptual to the non-conceptual and the peak of the Prakrti inquiry is where the eternal manifestations of Nature, although in its most subtle un-manifest form (Pradhana) no longer projects itself upon the Seer, but the two remain separate in their respective natures.
Nature (Prakrti), constitute everything that fluctuates and transforms. Spirit (Purusha) is constant and remains stable at all times. The greater discrimination between the two is hence a gradual process of refinement from the gross to the subtle. In the highest state of Samadhi there are therefore two distinctions. The firs is where the purity of Consciousness is supported by another (Sabija Samadhi) i.e. identification with the most subtle realm of thought patterns (Prakrti). The second is where there is no identification with the most subtle realms of Sattva, Rajas or Tamas, (Nirbija Samadhi) the meditative state reaches its peak and becomes fixed as it were in its own spiritual essence. There great wisdom overflows because it is the firm support of all that there is. Its objectivity of perception is different to normal perception, because it refers to the essence of the particular. No new samskaras (subliminal patterns) will be born from this state, because the sequential cause and effect of Nature no longer applies. So when there is a complete Nirodha even in this state, purity of spirit shines out in its own state free of any identification with the transformations of Nature and is hence established in its very own Self.
Sadhana Pada, Practial Application
The second chapter lists out the practical tools required to bring about greater stability of mind. Acts of purification, Self-study and total surrender to the Lord are the initial practices that may facilitate a greater receptivity to Spirit and make Yoga possible. The essence of Spirit can never be changed or manipulated, what is needed is merely to remove the coverings that prevent it from being seen or experienced more clearly. The major afflictions that layers themselves on top of Spirit and clouds its pure-view is the identifications with patterns of the mind born out of Ignorance, Egoism, Attachment, Aversion and Clinging to Life. Ignorance about the essence of our true nature is the breathing grounds for all the others. It may be dormant, minimized or fully operative, but as long as it exists it continues to obstruct the purity of seeing. These subtle afflictive patterns of the mind can only be destroyed when their root cause is being destroyed and this is cultivated by greater discrimination and meditation. As long as our inmost nature is covered by ignorance, the patterns or nature attached to the soul will accumulate new karmas and manifest in future activities, moments, patterns, lives. All activities born of Nature may result in an experience of pleasure or pain due to the universal law of cause and effect that operate, must be absolutely just and is further fueled by merit and demerit. But every experience born of Nature can ultimately only be suffering to the discriminative person due to the constant change and opposition born of the three Gunas. What is therefore to be avoided is pain not-yet-come, born out of the ever changing patterns of Nature. The sole remedy for this suffering is thus the purity of discrimination between the seer and the seen (Purusha and Prakrti). Let us now investigate into the distinction between the two.
Whatever is seen or experienced is of the nature of illumination, activity or inertia, the flux of the three Gunas, and it has enjoyment and deliverance for its objects. The Seer is purity of seeing only and whatever he cognizes is presented to him from the senses born of Nature. Everything that exists is for the purpose of his deliverance, but once emancipation comes Nature still continues to operate for the non-liberated souls.
The conjunction (Samyoga) between the Seer and the Seen is what causes ignorance on behalf of the Seer, but once the discriminative factor is cultivated between that which is experienced and the purity of being, ignorance may gradually be removed and purity of seeing only remains - free from any stains of Nature. The awakening to this inner wisdom may be gradual, but through the practice of the eight limbs of yoga, when a destruction of the misidentifications/impurities takes place, the light of wisdom may eventually culminate in true discriminative knowledge.
Yamas are restraints to be followed for the avoidance of negative influence of karmas causing a disturbance to the inner seer.
Niyamas are personal observances in order to purify ones own karmas and make the inner seer more receptive to its own radiant nature.
Asanas are physical exercises to diminish the opposing forces of duality and bring about a greater integration to spirit.
Pranayama is restraining the breath for greater clarity of internal seeing so the fixed patterns of Nature may further minimize their impact on the seer. When practiced properly the coverings of the inner light are destroyed and the mind will be more fit for concentration.
Pratyahara is a further internalization of this process, where the senses no longer come into contact with their external objects but rather instigate the true nature of the mind, resulting in the highest control of the senses and greatest possible outlook for the further inquiry into the essence of mind and that which supports it.
Vibhuti Pada, Manifestations of Power
When a practitioner has become firmly rooted in the first five limbs of Yoga he is ready for the last three limbs called Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Dharana is the capability to center and concentrate the mind in one place free from disturbing fluctuations. When this concentrated focus flows uninterrupted it is called Dhyana. Samadhi is when all fluctuations of the mind finally cease and the mind becomes empty as it were of its own identification, the focus of concentration will appear clearer in its own objective essence. Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are intimately connected and when they operate as one it is called Samyama (joint-restraint). When these are mastered properly the inner realm of Wisdom shines forth. Samyama however is to be applied in all the fields of activity and concentration, but naturally it may manifest according to levels of capability. To know Yoga a little better therefore requires that one engages in the lower limbs of Yoga so the higher limbs may reveal themselves. Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are indeed more subtle and more intimately connected than the first five limbs, but even this state is external to the final state of Seedless Samadhi. In that state, any identification with the mind cease and Purity of Consciousness is all that remains.
The journey to greater clarification of the mind may be divided into three stages of transformation. The first stage (Nirodha Parinama), momentary restraints of the mind is experienced in a concurrence, as if the outgoing and restrained patterns of the mind disappear and appear respectively. What flows forth will be according to ones Samskaras (subliminal activators) and as these get checked greater clarity will manifest. The second stage (Samadhi Parinama) is where the broad all-consuming, all-absorbing nature of the mind gets minimized and one-pointed-ness will rise forth. The final stage (Ekagrata Parinama) is where the fluctuations of the mind become balanced and the cognitive rising and subsiding patterns of the mind are harmonized. The mind then becomes fit to perceive itself as the dual component of the Seer and the Seen and will gradually be free from the overpowering disturbing patterns overwhelming it.
The mind may be seen as an object of concentration or an instrument of perception. What both have in common are the apparent characteristics, secondary qualities as well as various conditions that continue to reveal themselves in the mind according to ones capability and discrimination.
As ones clarity of concentration develops, the Dharmi, the one in possession of all characteristics, qualities and conditions undergoes a transformation and a deeper refinement takes place in ones association with Prakrti. The subtle patterns of thought perception are refined as well as once capability to receive the objects of perception. From this certain Siddhis, perfections may come about, where one may learn to master elements of Nature due to ones understanding of their inherent powers. Patanjali therefore lists out 31 different Siddhis that may come about from deep Samyama (concentration) on various aspects of Nature. However, great caution is also given, because all of these perfections are born of the three Gunas, the outgoing objective mind and they may cause distractions to the inward contemplative mind that seeks freedom from the bondage of Nature and not further entrapping within it. But finally to he/she who can eventually recognize the distinction between Pure Spirit and Pure Objective existence may come the supremacy over all states of being and omniscience. And from complete dispassion even towards that, when all the seeds of Karmic germination have been destroyed the state of Kaivlaya, complete freedom may eventually appear.
Kaivalya Pada, Inquiry into freedom/isolation
The Siddhis, super normal powers may manifest within a person due to previous births, taking of herbs, repetitions of mantras, engaging in Tapas or prolonged state of Samadhi. When there is transformation into other life states it is due to the inherent power of Nature (Prakrti). Nature is full of infinite potential and according to its patterning it will continue to operate although its external appearance may change. The cause of this potency of Nature is not set in motion by any external force, but it continues to transform and operate due to its internal patterns and will pierce any obstacles in its way. Virtuous acts foster greater virtue and ignorant acts will foster further ignorance. Causes like virtue and ignorance etc. do not bring Nature into play, but are the effect of interactions with Nature that brings about certain results.
What we identify with as 'I am' stems from fabricated patterns of Nature being reflected to a conscious being. But although consciousness is being reflected in many different minds simultaneously due to difference in Nature, One mind is the director of the many, like one sun sheds its rays on the manifestations of Nature and then draws its rays back at the end of the day. Once source of consciousness operates within the manifold of Nature and continues to reflect itself in its many manifestations until the inherent transformative qualities of Nature is exhausted and takes on a different form.
A created mind will always operate according to its conditions, subliminal impacts from previous experience and subliminal imprints from Nature. However a mind that has developed the discrimination of seeing and is able to discern between the purity of seeing and whatever seen, eventually ceases to accumulate further Karmas (continuation of the patterns of Nature) because the afflictions stemming from ignorance and accumulating further patterns of virtue or vice cease to exist. The Karmas of a Yogi (a realized soul) is therefore neither white nor black. For other people it is threefold. According to intention it may be white, black or any shade of grey in between. Nobody can escape the patterns of Karma because the subtle patterns of Nature always play itself out due to the symbiosis of the three Gunas that are in constant transformation. The real Nature of the Gunas can never be seen, but we see the endless chain of cause and effect that presents itself to a conscious being. These patterns appear in an un-interrupted sequence of transformation and due to the inherent self-awareness in all beings (may I live, may I succeed in what I do etc.), these patterns are eternal and are held together by cause, result, substratum and supporting objects. However these patterns may disappear when these four operating factors disappear.
The past and future are in reality always present in their fundamental forms, what differs is the characteristics of the forms taken at different times. A cause can therefore only bring forth to the present what is already in existence. It can never produce something non-existence. So only the present, i.e. an existing cause can bring out an effect in its present perceptible form, but it can never produce anything non-existent. Whatever is existent has certain characteristics, although in constant flux, they must be present at all times, manifest and subtle and held together by the three Gunas. The three Gunas operate in a well coordinated mutation, its essence can never be seen, but an object although in constant change, appears as a unit. Although the essence of these external objects is the same, due to diversity of minds their appearances produce different impressions and their external objects therefore vary. But whatever objects perceived are not dependent on one mind, they exist separate to the mind, and when the mind experiences a state of Nirodha, the objects still remains the same, but the nature of the seer change. External objects of the mind may be known or unknown depending on how they are being presented to the mind. The mind is therefore also transformative, but on account of the inner seer, the Purusha, something within the mind always remains constant and is merely the Pure Witness of all operations and sense impressions of the mind that present themselves to the Seer.
Because this mind is a knowable object it can never be self luminous but requires a seer in order to be seen. The seer and the seen, Prakrti and Purusha can therefore never be perceived simultaneously, but are dependent on each other to be fully experienced, manifest in their respective Nature. They appear as interdependent although they are two separate identities. The Purity of Seeing, Consciousness, takes on the similarity of Buddhi (the intelligence of Nature) and although pure in itself appears as the cause of the consciousness filtered through Buddhi - that is subject to sequential change being a constituent of Prakrti. The mind is therefore affected by both the Seer and the Seen. It becomes colored by whatever thought impressions presented to it, it appears to be both subject and object, but in reality it is only an object. It is unconscious, but appears to be conscious due to the proximity of Purusha. It operates like a crystal, reflecting the Pure Consciousness of Purusha and then creates for itself the identity of I am, pretending to be all-comprehending. The ignorant therefore regard the mind as a conscious entity, when in reality it is only made visible from the light emanating from the Purusha. What cognizes the objects of the mind is therefore Purusha, but this Seer becomes colored by the fluctuations of the mind which is different to the purity of seeing. Because the mind acts in this dual combination of the Seer and the Seen and is a conglomeration of previous subconscious impressions (vasanas) that are presented to the Seer, it must exist for another; the Purusha, the sole seer, which is different to all the assembled parts of the mind and merely observes. Every activity, knowledge, wisdom acquired by the mind is therefore not for the mind itself, but rather to gradually facilitate the liberation of the Seer to be established in its own nature. To the Seer of this distinction (Purusha and Prakrit are separate), an inquiry into the further nature of his self ceases, because he becomes the Self and no longer identifies with the fluctuations of mind originating in Prakrti. The mind thus gradually looses its attachment to the experience of the object of the senses and ignorance about the Nature of the Seer is gradually removed. The mind takes a new turn and thus eventually looses the attachment to the object of the senses and becomes inclined to greater discriminative knowledge leading towards the state of liberation. However in the intervals of this procedure, thoughts from previous impressions will arise where the I, the Conscious Seer still identifies with objects (patterns of thought). The removal of these afflictions (thought patterns) has been described with reference to the active practices of Yoga (Sadhana Pada).
When eventually the Seer becomes disinterested in even the highest omniscient aspect of the mind and is rather consistent in its discrimination, it will attain the concentration known as the Cloud pouring virtue (Dharma-Megha-Samadhi). In that state all afflictions arising due to ignorance cease. When the mind-stuff, thus freed from all impurities covering the Seer, knowledge of the objects may be limitless, but what appear to be knowable is but little. When thus the Gunas have fulfilled their objective purpose and revealed their identity to the Seer, the sequential transformation of the Gunas cease. What we perceive as a moment is in reality nothing but an un-interrupted sequence of transformations within Nature (the 3 Gunas). The distinction of this eternal sequence may finally cease when the transformations cease. This eternal sequence is noticeable in two ways. What is eternally changing and what is eternally unchanging. Purusha, being of the Nature of the later therefore observes the eternal changes within Prakrti. The essence of both can never really be disturbed, but their conjunction may finally be separated and seen in their respective identity. And let it once again be known that it is only the modifications of the Gunas that undergoes sequence, noticeable in the Buddhi, Ego etc, but when these transformations come to an end Purusha is experienced as distinct, Prakrti remains in its eternal state of transformation, but Purusha is no longer intertwined with it. The highest state of being established in ones own Nature is therefore realized when the Gunas, who were providing the sequence of experience and liberation for Purusha, are without any further objectives to fulfill and disappear into their causal substance. What then manifest is the power of Consciousness being manifest in its own Self.
Thus concludes the summary of the Yoga Sutras.
R. Alexander Medin
>> Visit Alex's bio
>> Visit Alex's blog