The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 30: The Cause of Bondage

The verse from the eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavadgita, which has been cited earlier, mentions that everything, everywhere, whether on earth or in heaven – everything in all the worlds – is constituted of the three gunas. Na tadasti pṛithivyāṁ vā divi deveṣu vā punaḥ, sattvaṁ prakṛitijairmuktaṁ yadebhiḥ syāttribhirguṇaiḥ (B.G. XVIII.40): There is none free from these three gunas anywhere in creation; and the freedom from gunas is liberation. The absolution that one attains from the clutches of these three gunas is called salvation, and no one is free entirely from these gunas. The freedom from the gunas is real freedom, because all freedom is associated with consciousness. It is a feeling of getting liberated from the subjection of consciousness to outward compulsive factors.

Our bondage is psychological and not physical. As the old saying goes, stone walls do not a prison make. A prison does not mean a building with walls, because even a house is a building with walls, but we do not call it a prison. However, we can call it a prison if our mind changes. From tomorrow onwards we can call it a prison, or we can call it a temple, a police station, or anything that we like, but it is the same building with the same walls, the same ceiling, etc.So bondage is not merely a physical association, but is also a psychological feeling, and ultimately it is a state of consciousness. Subjection to gunas means the subjection of consciousness to the operation of the gunas.

Our joys and sorrows are conditions of consciousness; they are not physical. It is not the body that is happy or sorry, but it is the mind, charged with consciousness, that undergoes these experiences. Liberation is a condition of consciousness and not a condition of physicality, materiality or any type of external association. Therefore, the ultimate freedom, which is moksha, being a state of consciousness, should be attained through a gradual ascension from greater states of subjection of consciousness, to lesser states of subjection of consciousness. Obviously, this is achieved through a training of consciousness in its relationship with the gunas.

In the Samkhya, as well as in the Vedanta, we are told a lot about these gunas in their relation to consciousness. To bring about the ultimate purity and freedom of consciousness in spite of its so-called association with the gunas, the Samkhya gives us the example of a crystal that can falsely appear to be coloured on account of its proximity to a coloured object. If a red flower is brought near a pure crystal, the crystal may look red because of the reflection of the colour of the flower in the crystal. The crystal has not become red; the colour has only been reflected. If there is no proximity of the object to the crystal, there would be no reflection, and the crystal would appear in its pristine purity. Likewise, it is said that consciousness appears to be bound on account of what they call adhyasa, or transference of characters, which happens to take place between consciousness and the gunas of prakriti in a mysterious manner.

This transference of characters, which is called adhyasa, is the real bondage. We are seated together, and yet we need not be either happy or sorry unless our minds are tuned in a particular manner in respect of the proximity of the people in this audience. The person sitting near me need not cause me either joy or sorrow, unless my mind is tuned in respect of the presence of the person in a particular manner, for certain reasons.

Suppose the person sitting near us is a police officer. We do not know why he is sitting there, but there is a suspicion in the mind: "Why is this gentleman sitting near me? He might have brought a warrant from the court, or he may have come for some other troublesome reason." So we have a suspicious, anxious feeling in our mind because the person sitting near us is a policeman. Or that which is near us may be a snake, a cobra – we know how the mind is tuned in respect of its presence. Or that which is just near us may be a very delicious dish, and then we think, "After satsanga is over I will eat it. I will wait for all the people to go, and then I will polish it off." It may be our friend, it may be our enemy, or it may be something that we like or dislike on account of a peculiar psychological relationship that we have with the thing near us. The thing near us may be, physically speaking, not at all the cause of either our joy or our sorrow. Physically we may be in a particular atmosphere, but that is not what is going to be of consequence in our life. Psychologically, what is the atmosphere in which we are living.

Here is a story. There was a person who was attending satsanga, perhaps the great satsanga of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself. Wonderful kirtan, bhajan, etc. were going on, and after the satsanga was over all the people left. But one man did not get up; he remained seated. So the Master thought he was a great devotee, remaining as he did after all had gone. He must be having extraordinary devotion. The Master said, "I am very happy to observe your devotion. You are still seated here even after everyone has gone." The man replied, "No, no, no. I am sitting here to take this carpet, because it is my carpet." He was not sitting because of devotion. His carpet was spread out there and he wanted to take it, and that is the reason he remained seated. Even after everyone had left, he stayed on. Look at that man in satsanga! He was sitting there thinking of his carpet throughout the program of beautiful kirtan, bhajan, etc., so his physical presence at satsanga had no effect on him. His psychological atmosphere, the world in which he was living, was quite different from the physical world of satsanga in which he appeared to be present.

Our world is a psychological world. There is a world under every hat, as they say. Everyone carries a world inside his cap or hat, and that is what causes the bondage. This bondage that is within us is due to a conscious relationship between ourself and the physical condition, social condition, and other conditions, etc., with which we seem to be connected. As we have been observing through our analysis, these relationships are difficult to understand. We cannot know what relationships are consciously developed within us, inasmuch as we cannot know our own self wholly. When we try to understand the nature of our bondage, the condition in which our consciousness is in at the present moment, we will find that it is not easy to get the complete information about this situation, because our relationship does not mean merely an external spatial relationship. It is not an outward visible relationship; it is mostly invisible. The invisible relationship is at the background of the outward visible form which it takes, little by little, just as the wholesale merchant may take a little out of his stock for retail purposes and put it outside for daily transaction.

There is a wholesale commodity inside us, and a little of it is coming out for retail transactions in daily life. We are conscious only of this retail commodity that is visible outside. We do not know what is inside, in the storeroom. The larger part of what we are is inside, and that cannot be seen by us. We cannot see what it is because we have no apparatus to see it. The only instrument with which we can see things is a pair of eyes, and the eyes cannot see what is inside us, because even the way in which we see things through the eyes is conditioned by what we are inside. So any kind of extroverted vision will not be of any avail in this matter of an understanding of the condition of our own consciousness, and that which we really are. It requires a discipline of a very graduated nature to enable consciousness to get freed from the clutches of forces, which are inwardly operating, invisible to the physical organs of perception.

Many a time, our own feelings cannot be known to us when we are in a distracted atmosphere, or even in an ordinary social atmosphere which engages our attention wholly. If we live alone, absolutely alone, for a long time, in an isolated place without any kind of contact with people outside, maybe even for months and years, some of our feelings will come out. We can know ourself a little better when we are absolutely alone than when we are in the midst of people, for simple reasons, of course. One of the reasons is that in the midst of other people, we put on a false personality. We are not what we really are, because the rules of society require of us a particular type of behaviour, and we know it very well. So, we always try to put on that behaviour which is required by society, whether or not it is our real behaviour. So we live a false life in human society, and not a real life; and inasmuch as we always live in human society, we always live a false life. That part of our nature which is associated with human society becomes encrusted with falsity, layer after layer, so that the truth of our nature is completely buried under the clouds of these false accretions grown around us. So, we cannot know what we are, ourself, when we are in such an atmosphere.

We are always something in terms of what other people are, or what the society in which we are living is. The personality that we project outwardly is not our personality, and it is not what is of importance here. What we are when we are psychologically totally unrelated to things would be an indication of what we really are. But if we have lived in human society for years and years together, putting on a false personality, and suddenly retire to a secluded place for japa, meditation, swadhyaya, etc., the impressions of the false personality will not leave us so easily. A collector will think he is still a collector, though he is in Badrinath. The collector is a retired man, but even inside the temple he still thinks of himself as an official. "I am a retired collector," he will say, though he is inside the temple worshipping. He will always imagine that he is a retired collector, and this impression will not leave. He is a retired man – he is nothing. Yet he has a false personality which he has created in himself due to his association with other people while he was in service, and those impressions do not leave him even now. Even if he goes to stay in the village of Mana, he is not going to be free from these impressions. This peculiar personality that has grown around us as an accretion, which is not our real personality, will pursue us like a hound even if we are retired people, even if we go to a holy place, or even if we are in a monastery. For some years, it will be difficult to find out what we really are, because we have thoughts of various types even after retirement. We have thoughts of collecting pension, of old relationships, and many other associated factors which will be pursuing us wherever we go, in spite of our attempt to lead a holy life of spiritual practice.

To do self-analysis, to go deep into the causes of our real bondage, would be to enter into our true personality and not a personality that we have put on; and this requires a lot of time. Personalities are variegated. The outermost personality is the social personality, which itself is a difficult thing to give up. The position, the relationship, and the coverage of this outward atmosphere do not leave us even when we are alone. But there are more difficult things inside us than even this social personality which has become a part of our nature. There is what is called the biological personality, and this is more difficult to leave than the social one. With great effort we may forget our social relationships. We may forget that we are a minister, or a collector, or a rich person, or whatever it is. Though even that is difficult and it may take a long time for us to do, yet it is something that can be achieved with some conscious effort.

But there are other things which we cannot give up even with any amount of effort, namely, the bondage caused by our biological condition itself. For example, one cannot forget that one is a man or a woman, however much one may struggle in one's mind to give up this idea. Biologically, we are human beings. We cannot think that we are snakes, or trees, or tigers; we are human beings. How can we forget the idea that we are human beings, male or female? Any amount of sadhana will not enable us to give up this idea, because here the bondage of consciousness to the condition in which it is involved is more deep-rooted than is the social involvement.

The biological subjection is connected with natural factors – namely the structure of the physical body itself. The five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – which are the substances out of which this physical body is made, condition the body according to the laws of nature. We cannot easily give up the bondage of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, etc. Everyone becomes hungry and everyone becomes thirsty; everyone feels heat and everyone feels cold, because bodily conditions are subject to the order of nature, as it is nature that has ordered the present pattern of the physical body. The elements that constitute physical nature constitute the physical body also, and our very individuality, physically speaking, is nothing but an abstraction from universal nature of certain limited particles of matter which have gone to make up our physical personality, to which we are attached very vehemently and very forcefully.

So, the bondage of consciousness is more deep-rooted than it can be made to appear on the surface. The liberation of consciousness, which is moksha, said to be freedom from the gunas of prakriti, cannot be achieved until the root of bondage is dug out – which means to say, the ultimate connection with the gunas is snapped. This cannot be done as long as its effects continue in the form of this relationship of consciousness to lower conditions, such as the physical personality, social atmosphere, etc.

Also, our physical individuality is not merely constituted of the visible body alone. There are many other vestures inside the physical body, which make up our individuality. There is inside us what is known as the linga deha, or the linga sarira. In Sanskrit, linga means an indicator, an insignia, or a symbol. Our individuality is not the physical body; that is only a vehicle which is used for the purposes of our real individuality is known as the astral body, the subtle body – sukshma sarira or the linga sarira. The astral body, which is within us, is said to be practically the same shape as the physical body. It is cast in the same mould as the shape of the physical body. As a matter of fact, the physical body is only an external formation, in space and time, of our internal nature which is the subtle body, or the sukshma sarira. Our real individuality is in the subtle body. This subtle body is constituted of certain peculiar powers or forces in which the psychological organ is situated. The mind, the intellect, etc., including the principle of ego, are all in the subtle body. Also inside the subtle body are the pranas, the powers of sense.

Sometime back we had occasion to go into the details of the structure of this personality, wherein we observed that the main difficulty arose from self-affirmation or self-assertion, namely, the position of egoism – asmita. The affirmation of the ego is a conscious function, originally. As it is mentioned in our scriptures, a part of the Virat segregates itself from the whole and asserts itself as an independent entity. This independence assumed by it becomes the basic condition of its individuality, and later on it develops external relationships as a consequence of this self-affirmation. The moment this self-affirmation is made, the ego asserts itself. Automatically a desire arises in the ego to come in contact with other egos, on account of a loss of contact with the Universal. The desire is fulfilled through the aperture of the senses by the action of the mind. The whole of the subtle body, or the sukshma sarira, is nothing but an instrument manufactured by the ego to come in contact with other individuals of a similar nature, and to fulfil its purpose of gaining freedom from the sense of limitation to which it has, unfortunately, subjected itself.

Our individuality is of a complicated nature. Originally – taking the standpoint of the scriptures – this individuality arose on account of a simple assertion of consciousness of independence from the Universal. This is what they call 'the fall', 'the original fall', 'Satan's fall from paradise' which arose on account of his affirmation of independence over God Himself. This has arisen by a simple act of self-affirmation, but then it complicated itself by a multiplication of factors, namely, the desires that arose as a consequence of this self-affirmation.

The gunas of prakriti are nothing but the forces that are responsible for belief in the reality of external conditions, and the possibility of fulfilling the desires of the individual by coming into external contact through the avenues of the senses and the mind. Ultimately, these gunas are not substances standing in their own right, but are peculiar circumstances brought about by this isolation of consciousness from the whole to which it originally belonged. The gunas, ultimately, do not exist. They cannot be called Ultimate Reality. They are a peculiar set of conditions. As these conditions are inseparable from the consciousness which experiences them, somehow or other they are made to appear as self-existent individualities, and it is then that we begin to feel that there is a physical world outside us. Ultimately, upon a subtle analysis, we will realise that the world that we experience is nothing but a set of conditions.

This subtle body that is within us, which is the operative principle of the self-affirming ego, is a form taken by an ethereal transformation of the three gunas. The self-affirming consciousness urges itself forward outwardly through the mind and the senses, and then this urge, which is called desire, creates impressions, especially when it is fulfilled. Each impression becomes a part of its individuality, and the association of these impressions, or sets of impressions with itself, only confirms its bondage, hardens its ego, and makes the individual more and more bound to external conditions, which again creates further desires for contact with externals, which in turn creates impressions – and so on and so forth, on and on like a vicious circle, until we find ourself in a state of utter bondage, and we are aware of only bondage, and nothing else.

The layers of bondage have been formed through ages of experience which we have passed through on account of the births that we have taken through various incarnations. To untie these knots, these granthis that have been formed within us, requires, no doubt, a herculean effort. Given that the association of consciousness with the gunas is not only an internal bondage but also an external expression of it in the form of practical life, we will find that in the practice of yoga we have to take steps towards freedom, not only by means of internal discipline by adjustment of the mind in required fashion, but also by a corresponding adjustment of the mind in respect of external relations, because the gunas operate both outwardly and inwardly. The gunas are the desires inside, as well as the objects of the desires – both of these are only gunas. So when we tackle the gunas, we have to tackle the objects of desire as well as the conditions of desire.

Hence, the practice of yoga is not merely a one-sided effort – it is a total effort. It is total in two ways. Firstly, it is a total effort in the sense that the whole of our personality is worked up into action in the practice of yoga. Secondly, the whole of the atmosphere, inwardly as well as outwardly, is taken into consideration for the purpose of the practice. Thus, it is a very vigilant effort of consciousness. Ultimately, it is an effort of consciousness only. We are concerned only with that. Therefore, freedom means the freedom of consciousness from its feelings in respect of its conditions, which are called the gunas.