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


Chapter 36: The Rise of Obstacles in Yoga Practice

Tataḥ pratyakcetana adhigamaḥ api antarāyā abhāvaḥ ca (I.29): By the practice insistent of the method mentioned, there is a revelation of the inner consciousness and an absence of all obstacles, says this sutra of Patanjali. This is something very, very important and interesting – even the obstacles cease after some time, and will not be hounding us for all times. We know that even an enemy cannot be an enemy for all times; a day comes when enmity stops. Even illness cannot be a perpetual illness – it has to end one day or the other. Every limiting condition is a temporary period of transition, and it has its day.

The impediments to success, the obstacles to yoga, are certain cleansing processes, really speaking. Ultimately, by a very comprehensive analysis, we will realise that obstacles are not enemies but cleansing processes, like the effect of a cathartic given by a doctor leading to purging, if that is necessary for the treatment of a disease. If we have to purge many times due to the medicine given by the doctor, we cannot call it an obstacle to our health. It is a process of clearing up the system, which comes like a painful reaction to a treatment that is administered by the physician.

Likewise, the spiritual undertaking is a treatment administered to the soul for the purpose of its regaining perfect health and pristine purity. The practice of yoga is nothing but this cathartic, this pill that is administered, and immediately there is a peculiar action set up in the system by this purifying drug that has been given. Then anything and everything takes place, much to our surprise – all of which look like tremendous enemies attacking from all sides – and we may be under the impression that we are falling down, dropping into the pits, or going to hell. But that is not what is happening. As the sun rises, sometimes the frost starts biting more intensely than it would before the sunrise. In midwinter sometimes we have that experience, when the entire mountain is seen to be covered with mist. We cannot see the Ganga; we cannot see the buildings on the other side; there is nothing that can be seen. It is all a white, hazy, impervious substance, and we do not know anything – it is all homogeneity. When the sun rises, there is a dispersion of this white substance and it starts moving towards our rooms, and we find it entering and stinging us. When the sun rises, the cold increases as a preparation for the complete vanishing of the substance altogether, and then there is the warmth of the blazing sun. Such is the inward transforming process which we undergo when spiritual discipline takes action in the entire system of the seeker.

Ordinarily, no one can understand what effects follow from spiritual practice. We cannot understand this by a study of books, because the actions, or the reactions we may say, that follow the practice of a system of spiritual discipline for a protracted period depends upon what is already inside us. What is inside us will come out; and different persons, finding themselves in different stages of evolution, have different patterns of this deposit in themselves. So the experiences that seekers pass through vary in various ways merely because of the difference, and the type of the content of their own personalities.

For a long time it may look as if nothing is happening in spiritual practice. This has been the experience of all yogis, saints and sages. For years and years together we will have no experience whatsoever. It will look like everything is dead, there is no life in anything, that we are striking a brick wall or a hard stone with no effect whatsoever, that our japas produce no effect, our meditations mean nothing, our worships are perhaps not heard by God, and there is only suffering. This condition may persist for several years, and the number of years or the extent of their duration depends upon the nature of the case, just as the purifying medical effect of a medicine depends upon the nature of the disease, the intensity of the disease, and the particular case on hand, to give an instance. But, suddenly, there will be a miracle. This is always the case in spiritual experience – it always comes like a miracle. It doesn't come very, very slowly with halting steps, giving previous notice. It will give no notice. When there is illumination, we will not know that it is coming; and when we are going to be opposed, we will not know that it is going to happen. Both things will happen without our having previous knowledge of what is happening.

But there is a great and solacing admonition given by Sage Patanjali here in this sutra, a very beautiful phrase that says continued practice shall result in the revelation of the inner consciousness – pratyakcetana adhigamah. 'Adhigamah' is a term that has many meanings. It means knowledge, or it may mean acquisition, attaining, contacting, facing, realising, entering – all of these meanings are hidden in this peculiar phrase, adhigamah. Tataḥ pratyakcetana adhigamaḥ – then comes the revelation of the inner consciousness. The word 'pratyak' may be translated as inner, or the introverted one. Though this is a literal translation of the term 'pratyak', its connotation is more profound. We come in contact with, attain to, and enter into a new type of consciousness altogether, different from the one with which we have been acquainted and which we have been befriending as the sole endowment of perception and knowledge in empirical life. A new type of knowledge will be the result of this practice.

What is this new type of knowledge? A third eye will open. The physical eyes would not be essential at that time, because whatever knowledge is gained through the perception of the senses would be inadequate to the purpose. The knowledge that we have to acquire through yoga is not a sensory knowledge – it not a psychological cognition. It is an insight into the Truth of things. This insight is pratyakcetana adhigamah, where we begin to recognise what is in front of us. Up to that time we have not been able to recognise anything. We are not able to know what is in front of us when we are looking at things with our eyes, because the eyes, the senses, do not give us the truth of things - only a camouflage is presented before us. All that we see with our eyes is a camouflage, because the essence of things is covered over by a relational form in which alone the object is presented, and through which alone the cognition of the object is made possible. But, this form is lifted when there is pratyakcetana adhigamah, or inner attainment. The veil that covers the object is removed, and we see what is really there inside.

What is this veil? It is nothing but the space-time complex, which is the reason for the appearance of the individuality of things and the diversity of objects. This space-time-cause complex is the veil that covers the truth of things; and this veil covers even the perceiver himself. The individual cogniser, the perceiver, the experiencer, is a part of this involvement in the space-time-cause complex. So there is an entire relativity of perception and knowledge throughout the world, and there is no such thing as real insight into the nature of things. And so the whole universe is samsara – world riddled over with error and sorrow. The veil of samsara gets lifted; it is penetrated into, and what is behind the veil is seen when there is pratyakcetana adhigamah. There is no relational knowledge at that time; it is a direct perception, aparoksha anubhava. We do not require the instrumentality of mind and senses at that time.

There is a sudden rising into the wakefulness of reality from the dream of world perception. All instruments of knowing are hushed forever. We begin to be aware of the presence of objects by a sympathy of 'being' rather than by a relatedness of sensory cognition. At present we are repelled by objects due to the egoism of personalities, and as one ego cannot tolerate another ego, there is an automatic repulsion of objects, one throwing the other out into a remote distance. But when this interior consciousness arises, the repulsion that is consequent to the presence of egoism ceases, and the reverse action takes place, namely, a friendliness of attitude, not in the sense of an emotional affection that we are used to in this world, but the urge of kindred characters towards a fraternal embrace for a permanent union of their essential being.

This experience is uncommon, and humanly it is not possible, and we cannot call it human understanding, human awareness, or human relationship – it is super-human, super-physical, super-psychical, super-intellectual, super- logical and super-relational. Such knowledge will rise as an emanation of being rather than as a faculty of understanding. This knowledge is a light that is shed by our essential being, and it is not merely a function of the psychological organ. This subject is explained in more detail in another sutra of Patanjali, which we shall study when we come to it later on. When this knowledge arises, there is a cessation of obstacles. Enmity ceases when the causes of enmity cease. The obstacles on the path to the realisation of Truth appear only as long as there is a hidden tendency of the individual to maintain itself in contradistinction with other individuals.

The tendency of individuality can be conscious, deliberately felt and affirmed, or it can be an unconscious presence which is potential though not manifest. As long as there is even a potentiality of this tendency to individuality, the obstacles will persist. Though consciously we may be doing nothing wrong, and everything may look all right, many of us may start feeling, "What wrong have I committed from my birth onwards? I have been living a very good life, but why these obstacles?" These obstacles do not necessarily follow as a result of our present life or our conscious experience. They are the consequences of the hidden potentialities in the deeper layers of our personality – all of which have to come to the surface before there is a complete riddance of individuality altogether. The experiences that we pass through are not necessarily the results of what we have done yesterday. Mostly, they are the results of what we have done many, many years back – sometimes some births back.

By a persistent, insistent practice of deep concentration on a given reality, ekatattva abhyasah, there is an automatic exhaustion of the potentialities of individuality inside, because we do not go on adding to the karmas by further binding action. There is only a burning up of what is already there, and once the store of karmas, even in a hidden form, is exhausted by experience, there is no further bondage because we have not added any further karma to the already existing store. How these obstacles cease and karmas are exhausted is a miracle by itself.

Adepts in yoga tell us that there is a gradual exhaustion of karma and a slow diminution of the intensity of obstacles; but others are of the opinion that there can be a sudden end to all this. It is something like the theories of creation – whether God created the world item by item, step by step, gradually, stage by stage, or by a fiat, at one stroke. Is it krama srishti, or yugapat srishti? 'Yugapat' means God willed, 'Let there be light,' and there was light; 'Let there be trees,' and there were trees; 'Let there be man,' and there was man. Is it like that? Or, was there an evolutionary process, gradually manifesting form after form? There are two theories of creation, and they are not contradictory – both are correct. Likewise, both these views held by yogic adepts are correct. It is possible that obstacles may cease gradually, step by step, by the diminution of their intensity, or there can be a sudden burning up of everything and an instantaneous illumination. Individual logic or human understanding cannot probe into these mysteries. We have only to accept what comes, and to do our duty in the form of the practice prescribed. But, one thing is certain – that whatever be the way in which the obstacles cease, they must cease, one day or the other.

Enemies in the form of external forces become friendly at a particular stage. At one time it may appear to us that the whole world is our enemy – that nobody wants us, and everything is against us. Everything that we do is thrown out of order by the forces outside us, and there is no success. And then it is that we get fed up with the world, become disgusted with everything, and it appears that nobody is cooperating with us anywhere and that everybody is trying to upset what we have done. This is one stage wherein we will have this type of experience and such feelings; but it will not be a permanent condition, because the world is not an enemy, ultimately.

The world appears to be opposed to what we are doing and intending on account of the peculiar, disharmonious elements present in us, into which we cannot have proper insight at present, and when these elements in us get transformed into a state of harmony with the forces of the world outside, then the truth will reveal itself – that the enemy is our friend. Ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ (B.G. VI.5). The Bhagavadgita tells us that our higher being may appear as our own enemy. God Himself may look like an enemy one day, because our intentions, based as they are on our psychophysical individuality, may not concur with the will of the Supreme, and then it is likely we will feel the will of the Universe, the will of God, and the intentions of nature are contrary to what we are intending to do.

But when these impending impediments get reversed in their order of action and procedure, we face the world directly and do not turn our backs to it. Now we are turning our backs to nature. It is moving in one direction, and we are moving in the opposite direction, and therefore there is a repulsion of two forces and an apparent feeling of irreconcilability between our intentions and the intentions of the world or of nature. The reason is that we have turned our backs to nature. While the order of nature requires cognition of things from the point of view of their own subjecthood or selfhood, we turn our backs to this truth and regard everything as an object. This is the reason why there is conflict between us and nature.

There is no such thing as an object from the point of view of nature as a whole. Everything is a subject from the point of view of each and every individual element. So when we look upon anything as an object, we are fighting with nature and opposing its order; and as nature is ultimately the face of God, we are opposing God Himself. In this struggle, it is we who will be defeated, because Truth will triumph. But when this inner consciousness rises, pratyakcetana adhigamah is present, we collaborate with the order of nature by developing that faculty of cognition within us which is a function of our being, rather than an activity of our mind and senses. Then the universe comes to us like a dear mother and embraces us in all affection, and the abundance, the richness and the wealth of the whole of nature becomes ours, and we return like a prodigal son to the father from whom we have run away, having deserted him. The obstacles cease.

These obstacles are of varying categories – physical, psychological and social, and we have to be prepared to meet any obstacle that comes on the way. As it is difficult to know what sort of obstacle will come before us, it is better that we be prepared for everything – even the worst thing conceivable. We should conceive of the worst possible thing, and be ready for it. At present it is not possible to have a clear idea of what is ahead of us. The obstacles, as I mentioned, are external reactions produced by certain internal potentialities. The hidden latencies in us, on the subconscious and unconscious levels, stimulate certain centres outside, and there is an apparent reaction set up by these centres in relation to the wire-pullers that are within us, within ourselves.

The centres of potentiality within our own selves, subconsciously and unconsciously present, are instruments in evoking the action or reaction of corresponding centres outside in the world of perception. So, there is a relativity of action and reaction even in the confronting of obstacles. We cannot wholly blame others for the sufferings of mankind or for the pains that we are undergoing in life. There is a corresponding action from outside in relation to the presence of potentialities inside.

As I mentioned, these obstacles sometimes appear with little indication of their coming, and sometimes without any indication whatsoever. One fine morning we may get up with a sudden, unprecedented and unexpected experience of a positive or a negative character, due to the sudden rise of a particular latency within, worked up into action by the practice of yoga. All the dirt and rubbish inside us is kept intact, ordinarily speaking; we do not touch it. But this intense, concentrated practice known as yoga calls to action every sleeping dog that is inside – immediately every dog starts barking, and we do not know which is barking from which side. It is necessary to rouse every potential feeling in us on to the conscious level so that it may get exhausted, and we become completely cleansed. There is no use keeping these latencies inside, because though they may appear to be absent on account of their being on the lower level, they will take action one day or the other, just like a seed which is lying in dry soil germinates when rain falls and climatic conditions become favourable.

So, a calm and quiet person is not necessarily a good person, because this calmness and quietness may be like the dry seed which has no opportunity to germinate. The conditions favourable should be present, and then immediately we will see what is coming up. It is the purpose of the practice of yoga not to allow these tendencies to germinate as and when they like, but to bring them to the light of day by deliberate evoking of their presence on to the conscious level, so that they may all be destroyed at one stroke.

The psychology of the destruction of these obstacles is most interesting. Only a sincere seeker, one who practises yoga, will know the interesting features of these processes. These are not theoretical discussions or academic subjects, but they are, as a matter of fact, the hard realities of practical life. The obstacles are nothing but the peculiar relationships that we have with things outside; these are the obstacles. By 'relationship', we do not mean the visible relationships of friendliness and enmity, etc. – love, hatred, and the like – with which we are familiar in waking life. The relationships are the connection of our whole personality with everything outside, and not merely in the function of thought on its conscious level.

That is the reason why we have different types of feeling in respect of persons and things at different times, and we frequently go on changing our attitude towards persons and things. The reason is that our relationships with externals are not necessarily the conscious relationships, but the invisible potentialities and the urges that are present on the subconscious and the unconscious levels. They are more powerful than those on the conscious levels, and they are the real personality. Psychoanalysts tell us that the conscious level is like the tip of an iceberg in the ocean, the larger portion of it being submerged and invisible. We do not see it at all, but it is so hard that it can severely damage a ship if the ship hits it. Likewise, our larger personality is hidden inside, and a very insignificant part comes out as what we appear to be in conscious life.

So, the obstacles are not necessarily the outcome of conscious action, perception and cognition. The obstacles are the reactions set up by our deeper personality. It is not merely the intelligible relationships of waking consciousness that are the causes of our experiences, but the unintelligible inner hidden latencies which become these powers. So we ourselves cannot know what mood will come to us tomorrow, what we will do tomorrow, what we will utter tomorrow, and in what direction we will move tomorrow. "Oh, something occurred to me, and so I went somewhere," is how we will put it. Why should something just occur to us and make us go somewhere? The reason is that the causes of our moods and actions are not always on the conscious level, and as long as they are there, even unconsciously, they shall be the determining factors of our future; and these are the obstacles which have to be faced with a deliberate, conscious practice of yoga.