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The Study and Practice of Yoga

An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


Chapter 108: Infinity Coming Back to Itself

We are now about to conclude our study of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali; and the Kaivalya Pada, which is the last section, is about to end with a description of the liberation of the spirit. In our previous study of the sutra, mention was made of a state of spiritual experience known as dharmameghaḥ samādhiḥ (IV.29). This unique description of that condition appeared first in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and was mentioned later on in certain other textbooks of yoga.

It is indicative of the new outlook of the yogin at this heightened stage of experience when virtue seems to be the only thing prevalent everywhere and anywhere. There is no such thing as vice or evil. It is goodness and positivity that rains upon him like a shower of nectar, because divinity reveals itself in its fullest glory. All negative elements get absorbed into the supreme positivity of eternity. This is to give an outline of what is likely to happen in this condition of dharma-megha samadhi. Dharma is virtue, but it means many other things also. In Buddhist psychology and in certain other systems of thought, dharma is indicative of properties not merely ethical, but also physical, psychical and metaphysical. The gunas of prakriti also may be considered to be dharmas of prakriti. The word ‘dharma’ was also used earlier in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in a different sense from the meaning of virtue. 

The qualities of prakriti assume a new character in this condition. They do not any more remain as binding chains, but as pointers to the liberation of the spirit. The knots into which the gunas of prakriti tied themselves for the purpose of bringing about individualistic experience get loosened, and there is a dispersion of the gunas into their original resources. There is no meeting of the gunas for the purpose of bringing about any concrescence in the form of objects or bondage of any kind. There is, on the other hand, a return of the gunas to their primeval status of equilibrium, called samyavastha.

These gunas of prakriti cause bondage when they group themselves into forms and create the appearances of objects which become the content of the experience of the individuals. But when they withdraw themselves into their causes, the constituents of the objects naturally get dispersed and the objects themselves cease to exist – just as when we pull out every brick of a building, the building itself ceases to be. The gunas of prakriti are the building bricks of all the forms appearing anywhere in the cosmos. Thus, the gunas have no function to perform any more. They become kritartha; they have performed their duty in respect of the individual concerned. And then, what happens to them? They do not any more remain as forces tending towards names and forms in space and time. Parinama krama samapti of the gunas takes place.

Tataḥ kṛtārthānāṁ pariṇāmakrama samāptiḥ guṇānām (IV.32): Because of the fulfilment of the purpose of the gunas, they return to their sources. What is the fulfilment of the purpose? The purpose of the gunas was to create experience for the individual, and this experience was intended as a kind of training towards the liberation of the spirit. When that has been executed properly and the function fulfilled, these constituents are withdrawn back. There is at once the cessation of klesas and karmas, says the sutra: tataḥ kleśa karma nivṛttiḥ (IV.30). There is a sudden cessation of every trouble from every corner, like the rise of the bright sun in the clear sky after a heavy downpour with dark clouds and wind from all sides. It will look like a new life has come, as if a person who has been suffering with a chronic illness for years together has suddenly become healthy. A new taste will appear in the tongue, and a kind of buoyancy of spirit will be felt within oneself. It will look as if the whole world is made up of light, energy and positivity, while when there was illness, it looked that everything was dark and gloomy, melancholic and meaningless.

It is difficult to explain what the cessation of klesas and karmas actually means. Klesas and karmas are almost identical. The klesas are avidya, asmita, raga, dvesa and abhinivesa. We have already studied them. The karmas, which are the outcome of the operation of these klesas, also cease because the karmas are the way in which the gunas act upon the individual for the purpose of bondage and individual experience. Thus the return of the gunas to their sources, and the cessation of klesa and karma, mean one and the same thing. They take place at the same time. The root of illness has been dug out, and it has been eradicated thoroughly. Therefore, every effect that followed from the original illness also has ceased.

What sort of knowledge arises in a person is mentioned in a following sutra. Generally, knowledge means the awareness of an object. Unless there is an object, we cannot call it knowledge. Every kind of knowledge should have a content, so the extent of knowledge can be determined by the extent of the content of knowledge. What is the content of knowledge? From that we can know the value of that knowledge, or the quality of that knowledge. The larger is the content, the deeper is the knowledge and the more valuable is the information received. This is how we generally gauge the depth of knowledge ordinarily in this world. But the knowledge that one acquires here, in this condition of spiritual awakening, is of a different type altogether. It is not knowledge of a content, because the content which is outside the process of knowing cannot be regarded as an object of insight.

What is called insight is the entry of the process of knowing into the structure of the object. Such a thing is not possible in ordinary experience. We cannot have such insight. It is also called intuition. What we have is only information about the objects of the world. We do not have insight into the nature of things. But here, the soul enters the object. Or rather, the soul of the knower enters the soul of the object. The being of the subject enters the being of the object. Tadā sarva āvaraṇa malāpetasya jñānasya ānaṅtyāt jñeyam alpam (IV.31) is what the sutra tells us. The jneya, or the object of knowledge, becomes insignificant in the light of the infinitude of knowledge that arises here. This is something very peculiar. How does the object of knowledge become insignificant when the knowledge becomes infinite? If we carefully analyse what knowledge is, we can understand what the sutra implies.

When the object of knowledge lies outside knowledge, it limits knowledge. Anything that is outside us is a limitation upon us; it restricts us. The existence of another person near us is a limitation upon our existence. And so is the case of the existence of anything in this world. Therefore, the knowledge of an object would be of a limited nature if the object of knowledge is outside knowledge – which means to say, if the knowledge is merely informative, as is the case with earthly or worldly knowledge. The extent of the object, or the range of the object, will also tell us the range of the limitation of the knowledge. The larger is the object, the greater is the limitation upon knowledge because if the object itself occupies all the area that is available, there would be very little space left for knowledge to operate. When the area of the object, or the jurisdiction of the existence of the object, gets restricted, the extent of knowledge is correspondingly expanded, so that if knowledge is infinite there is no place for the object to exist. It is the finitude of knowledge that perceives the finitude of the object, and it is the finitude of the object that causes the finitude of the knowledge that knows it. Thus, it is the finite that knows the finite. But when the knower is the Infinite, there cannot be any possibility of an extraneous content for that knowledge. In other words, the object of knowledge cannot exist outside knowledge, and this is the reason why the knower here has complete control over the object.

When it is said that the object ceases to be, it does not mean that it has vanished into the air, because anything that is real cannot vanish. What has happened is not merely the vanishing, as if there was no object earlier, but the absorption of the object-content into the content of knowledge. Earlier, the content existed outside knowledge, but now, the object has ceased to be in the sense that it has become part of the existence of knowledge itself. Thus, here knowledge is not merely a function of the mind; it is not an operation of the psychological organ, but it is something so heavily laden with content that its value is enhanced to much more than what it was earlier when the content was outside it. In ordinary informative knowledge, knowledge remains abstract, featureless, contentless. It remains merely like an illuminating factor – the object illuminated being something different. It is something like abstract mathematics where we have only the principle of calculation and the object upon which it is applied is something quite different. Here, the object becomes one with the principle.

The existence of the object cannot stand independent of the existence of the process of knowledge. This was the meaning of a sutra which we studied long ago in the Samadhi Pada, where it was said that in the condition of communion, or deep samadhi, there is a commingling of the features, characters and beings of the knower, the knowing process and the object that is known. Kṣīṇavṛtteḥ abhijātasye iva maṇeḥ grahītṛ grahaṇa grāhyeṣu tatstha tadañjanatā samāpattiḥ (I.41). The same thing is applied here. There is a mutual reflection of one upon the other, as it were. The object and the subject do not stand apart as the content and the knowing process. Therefore, knowledge becomes the only reality – the content getting absorbed into it, the reality of the object becoming part and parcel of the reality of knowledge so that there is a gradual withdrawal of the content of the object into the process of knowing, and the process of knowing gets absorbed into the existence of the knower. What remains finally is the knower – purusha. The purusha reverts to himself. Tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe avasthānam (I.3) was a sutra mentioned very early, near the beginning of the text. Now we are coming to the very same point: the purusha returns to himself. When the purusha returns to himself, there is no object before the purusha because the consciousness of an object is possible only when there is an operation of the vrittis of the mind. And yoga is nothing but the inhibition of the modifications of the mind, which are the vrittisyogaḥ cittavṛtti nirodhaḥ (I.2). It is only when the nirodha, or the restriction or inhibition of the vrittis of the mind, is effected that the purusha can return to himself – so immediately follows: tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe avasthānam (I.3).

This state is described here: tadā sarva āvaraṇa malāpetasya jñānasya ānaṅtyāt jñeyam alpam (IV.31). All covering, or the veil over consciousness, is torn and lifted on account of all the dross or impurity being eliminated thoroughly. Avarana and mala are removed. Avarana is the veil. Mala is the dirt, the impurity. The avarana is the ignorance, or avidya. The dirt is kama, krodha, lobha and other vrittis of the mind. All these get eliminated automatically on account of the rising of knowledge to its original primeval status. These experiences follow simultaneously, as it were, in such a rapid succession that one cannot know what are the stages one has passed through. In the earlier stages we can keep an eye upon the various steps that we proceed through, but in the later stages the movement is very rapid.

In the earlier stages, the movement is very slow on account of the heaviness of the obstacles. But later on, the obstacles become rarefied, and then the impediments lose their grip over the consciousness. Then it moves with great velocity, much more intensely than it could do earlier when the impediments were opaque, or laden with tamas and rajas. The impediments are tamasic, rajasic and sattvic. When they are tamasic, they do not allow the operation of the mind at all. There is a complete dross and a lethargic attitude. There is a sleepy condition, a torpid attitude, as it were, and one cannot concentrate the mind. The impediments that come in the form of tamas are totally obstructive to any attempt in the line of yoga. The rajasic impediments are subtler, but they are very distracting and compel the mind to oscillate from one object to another. So, there also, it is not possible to concentrate the mind on the given object.

It is the sattvic impediments that prevent communion and yet allow an insight into the possibility of such a communion. It is only when we reach the later stages of meditation that the sattvic impediments present themselves. They are impediments, no doubt – the golden chains – and yet they can allow a reflection of Truth, as if there is a clean pane of glass through which light passes. We can see the brilliance of the light through the pane of glass; yet, it obstructs. We cannot proceed through, inasmuch as the glass is there, obstructing our movement. It is there, obstructing, and yet it can allow the reflection of the light. Likewise is the sattvic condition of prakriti, which does not allow complete union, and yet there is an illumination at the same time.

Here, the gunas of prakriti reorganise themselves into their original condition. That is the meaning of the sutra: tataḥ kṛtārthānāṁ pariṇāmakrama samāptiḥ guṇānām (IV.32). The succession, or the modifying process, of the gunassattva, rajas and tamas – of prakriti come to an end; that is parinama-krama samapti. The reason is kritarthanam. The reason why the gunas join together into a formation is the force of the desire of the individual which pulls the atoms of matter around itself and compels them to gravitate round its centre or nucleus, so that the individual becomes something like an atom with electrons of material constituents revolving round the nucleus of the desiring principle. But when this force of gravity that has pulled these particles of matter is dislodged and its purpose is fulfilled, there is a dispersal of the content. The constituents return to their sources. Prakriti becomes samya; it becomes equilibrated.

When there is an equilibrium of this original condition, there is a union ultimate, which is the precondition of the liberation of the purusha. It is the disturbance caused in the equilibrium of prakriti, and the movement of the gunas of prakriti on account of this disturbance of equilibrium, that causes the bondage of the purusha and the attachment of consciousness to the forms into which the gunas cast themselves. But when there is the cessation of this activity of the gunas, there are no forms presented before the consciousness. Therefore, there is a universal void, as it were, if we would like to call it so, so that the objects become nil. There is no object in front of consciousness. Prakriti has withdrawn herself, and consciousness stands in its own pristine purity. The return of consciousness to itself is the process of dharma-megha samadhi. It is, as it were, our energies come back to us, like prodigal sons who have left us and are now returning home.

All our energies had got out, into the hands of the objects formed by the gunas. We had sold ourselves little by little, like slaves, to the various forces of prakriti, so that we look like very little, impotent, insignificant nothings. But when these forms withdraw themselves on account of their exhaustion of the purpose, the energies that have been dissipated those characters of our consciousness which had gone to the objects, in love and hatred and what not come back to us. The return process, which means the coming back of the energies of consciousness once again to the source, looks like a rain falling upon us. How happy we feel when we are healthy, after a high fever for days together! What has happened to us? Why do we suddenly feel happy when the temperature comes down and we are normal? The reason is that our energies have subsumed, once again, into the original condition, while previously they were fighting with the toxic matter that caused the illness in the body.

We have become restless on account of our concern with the objects of sense, and so much army force has to be employed in confronting these encounters from objects that we have exhausted all our resources. The economy of the country can become nil if there is a perpetual war taking place, and we will become very poor in a very short time if the entire activity of a nation is only war. Similarly, we may become paupers in energy and content if our entire activity is about confronting objects of sense. This process of confronting objects has been going on since ages, aeons, through the various lives through which we have passed, and so we have become very poor in every respect physically, mentally, intellectually and spiritually – looking like nothings.

But this process ends by a miracle, as it were. We must call it a miracle, because nobody knows how it takes place. It may be through the effort of ours, by the practice of yoga; or it may be by the grace of God, or by some mystery. Ultimately, it is a kind of mystery. Nobody knows how it happens. Then, immediately, there is a sudden scudding of all the clouds and we feel as if we have come back to ourselves. That is Infinity coming back to itself. Nobody can explain what that experience is, because language is very inadequate. We suddenly feel filled up with an infinite content in ourselves. That apparent process of one’s coming back to one’s own Self is really the dharma-megha samadhi which looks like a nectarine shower poured upon oneself. This is the penultimate condition of kaivalya, or moksha. When this condition settles down in itself, there is not even a shower of rain afterwards. Everything is calm, quiet, and is eternally substantiating in its own pristine original condition. Then the purusha has nothing to do with anything outside it. There is no other extraneous activity through the vrittis of the mind because the mind has ceased to be.

This existence of the purusha in itself, independently, absolutely, is called kaivalya moksha. Kaivalya means oneness. In Sanskrit, kevala means absolutely independent, absolutely one – single; and kaivalya is the condition of being alone. Moksha is liberation, or freedom. The freedom that is attained by oneself being absolutely alone, in one’s own universal nature – that is called kaivalya moksha. It is towards this end that the consciousness is driven by the experience of dharma-megha samadhi.