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


Chapter 48: Encountering Troubles and Opposition

The object in meditation does not get properly reflected in one's mind due to a certain torpidity which infects the mind and prevents anything from being properly reflected through it, as a dirty mirror does not allow any clear reflection of any object. The impurities of the mind are the obstacles to a proper communication of the meditating consciousness with the object. There is plenty of dirt in the mind. This dirt consists mainly of various kinds of impressions formed by perceptions, feelings, etc., which have been generated by the mind earlier - even from many previous births. The impressions formed in this manner, due to earlier perceptions of objects, condition the mind in such a way that there cannot be a reception of the object into the structure of the mind except through these conditioning factors. Meditation is that technique by which this obstructing factor in the mind is removed by purification, which is another way of so adjusting the mind to the circumstances of the object that the nature of the object is, to a large extent, reflected in the mind in its proper form, and not as conditioned by the internal structure of the mind that is filled with past impressions.

The memories of the past become great obstacles in any satisfactory endeavour. In a sutra which describes the next step in meditation, Patanjali uses the word 'smrtiparisuddhi'. Smṛtipariśuddhau svarūpaśūnye iva arthamātranirbhāsā nirvitarkā (I.43). Nirvitarka is the second stage in meditation, while savitarka is the first stage. Ordinarily, the second stage cannot be reached as long as the memory is not purified, as long as smrtiparisuddhi is not there. The memories of the past are not ordinary obstacles; they are very serious impediments. We have, no doubt, a part of the mind working in a new direction altogether, especially when one takes to a spiritual life – lives in a monastery, takes to sannyasa, and lives a life of devotion to God, etc. Nevertheless, the memories of the past will not easily go, and these memories are terrible conditioning factors. For example, one cannot forget one's parentage, the village from which one comes, the relationships one has, and even one's nationality, colour, and all sorts of things such as qualifications, capacities, status in society, and what not. All of these are the residuum left by past experience and the type of life that one has lived, which becomes, again, a new type of condition even in a fresh life that one has taken to – the spiritual life.

The purification of the mind by the purging of all of these impurities in the form of past memories has to be done with tremendous effort. Āhāra-śuddhau sattva-śuddhiḥ, sattva-śuddhau dhruvā smṛtiḥ (C.U. VII.26.2), is a saying from the Chhandogya Upanishad. When the intake through the sense organs becomes pure, sattva manifests itself within, in a larger measure, and all the distracting factors get diminished in quantity. When sattva thus reveals itself within, there is the steady memory – not memory of past sensory experiences or contacts, but memory of what one really is in one's essentiality, independent of artificial relations which are meaningful only in respect of the present incarnation.

Our incarnation through this body, in this present birth, has its own antecedents, and whatever relationships we are able to remember in our mind are connected with this body, this particular individualistic incarnation, and we have no memory whatsoever of our previous births and our previous relations. This peculiar, limited form of memory that we have, which is only to this present lifetime, is a very strong obstacle in front of us because it creates such a type of prejudice in our mind that we cannot look upon anything in this world except in terms of this relationship that has cropped up for the time being, on account of this present bodily incarnation. The son of a mother in this birth might not have been a son in the previous birth; he might have been anything. And, in an earlier birth, the son might have been a third thing, and so on and so forth. If we were to have a memory of everything – all of the connections of all the lives that we have led through countless births – the present conditioning memory would have no meaning. It would snap immediately, and our life itself would lose all its sense.

So, this limited memory to the present life alone cannot be regarded as any kind of aid; it is, rather, an obstacle. It has to be purified by self-analysis in various ways, such as the understanding that the relationship that we have with something is not all. It was not there in an earlier birth, and it is going to change in the next birth. Which relationship is to be regarded as real – the earlier one, the future one, or the present one? Why is there so much emphasis on the reality of the present relationship alone, completely divested of the earlier relationships and the future ones that have yet to come? Which particular incarnation is to be regarded as real? It is, therefore, illogical on the part of anyone to lay excessive emphasis on any specific incarnation of the body, minus all of its earlier relations and future possibilities. If we define ourself in terms of relations, let the relations be taken in their totality. Otherwise, we should contemplate ourself as independent of all relations.

The continuous meditation on an object, independent of space-time relation, a matter which we have discussed earlier, enables the mind to purify itself of all past impressions. And, when these impressions gradually evaporate, the centrality of the mind, the substantiality of the mind, the solidity of the mind, or rather the affirmative capacity of one's own individuality, gradually gets thinned out into almost nothing – svarupasunye iva. Svarupa sunyata is absence of the personality, absence of the selfhood of the individuality. The mind, which is the king of all principles that contribute to the affirmation of individuality, gets thinned out to such an extent that we begin to lose consciousness of our personality, stage by stage. The hard affirmation of self through this body and its physical relations diminishes, to a large extent, by continuous meditation. The consequences of this affirmation, namely, likes and dislikes, loves and hatreds, etc., also diminish gradually. The personality loses its self-importance. It gives equal importance to other personalities, so that there is a tendency to the realisation of the ideal that we are speaking of – the universality of brotherhood, and the fraternity of beings, namely, the recognition of equal worth in other things as one feels in one's own self – which had become impossible on account of self-affirmation.

An affirmative act on the part of the mind in terms of its body is what is known as the ego. The purpose of the ego is to repel other egos, to cut them off from all the importance that they may assume, and make them subservient to the position and the desires of one's own ego. It is this principle of egoism that has prevented – and always prevents – attaining the ultimate aim in meditation, which is the coming together of the object and the subject in their essential nature. Svarupa sunyata, mentioned in this sutra of Patanjali, is a gradual manifestation of the deepest nature of oneself, minus its encrustations in the form of body-consciousness, ego-consciousness and sense impressions.

Smṛtipariśuddhau svarūpaśūnye iva arthamātranirbhāsā (I.43). In this meditation, which we should regard as advanced, there is, together with a loss of the sense of one's own personality, a maintenance of the consciousness of the personality of the object. We have transferred ourselves from one location to another location, as it were. That which is the object of meditation becomes our self, and our original self – the old self, the bodily self of so-and-so - vanishes. There is arthamatra nirbhasata. Artha is the object of meditation, and arthamatrata is the object shining alone to the exclusion of the consciousness of anything else, so that the being of the object becomes the being of the meditating consciousness.

We have had occasion to discuss the subject of the relationship of consciousness to an object. Ordinarily, the existence of the object is generally outside the perceiving consciousness, on account of which the consciousness rushes towards the objects to make itself feel complete. The object, being the content of consciousness, cannot be outside consciousness. As long as it is outside, consciousness seems to be empty of content and, therefore, it is restless. The restless consciousness, which is empty of content, rushes towards the content in order that it may be filled with the content. This is what is called desire, or love, or affection, or aspiration – whatever we may call it.

Meditation is that technique by which the content is absorbed into the perceiving consciousness. The desire for the content ceases thereby, due to the being of the object, which is the content of consciousness getting identified with consciousness, so that there is no further feeling of emptiness in oneself. We are restless because the objects of our desire are outside us. They are not connected with us. Whatever we want is outside us in space, in time, and in distance, etc. This is the difficulty of every human being. This difficulty is obviated, through meditation, by the affirmation in consciousness of there being an inward relationship of oneself with the content, with the awareness that it is not true that the content is really bifurcated from consciousness.

Establishing this habit of the mind in the affirmation of the object as a content not bifurcated from itself is the step taken in the second stage of meditation. As I mentioned previously, all of this is a terrible task, and only one who passes through these experiences and stages will know what hardship it involves. We will have to regard ourselves as reborn, almost, into a new type of birth in order to be able to undertake such a task as this – namely, our affiliation with a single content, which is the object of our meditation. Ordinarily, such a thing is not easy because of the presence of various desires.

It was mentioned in earlier sutras that meditation is not for a person who has desires in the mind, because the diversity of desires start pulling the mind in different directions and prevent it from moving in the given direction which is the object of meditation. By abhyasa and vairagya, deep practice and continual habituation of the mind to the object, and by analytical methods and philosophical contemplation, one should develop vairagya or dispassion in the mind towards objects of sense. It is only then that the mind will yield to this arduous task of meditation on the object.

The network of things, which is called samsara, is constituted of individual objects, which themselves are networks of forces. The hammering and bombarding of the object by the force of concentration breaks this network and reduces the object to its components, so that the object does not anymore look like a solid something which is impregnable or impervious. It assumes its real nature of being a composite structure of various elements, and these elements are nothing but the forces of nature of which one's own personality also is made.

The desire of the mind for objects of sense arises on account of a wrong notion that the structure of the object is different from the structure of one's own self. "I am made up of something which is different from that of which the object is made and, therefore, I have something which is empty of meaning, whereas all meaning is present in the object." That is why the mind goes towards objects. This analytical meditation reveals the truth – that the internal pattern of the object is similar to the internal pattern of one's own self, even though the external form may be different. It is the arrangement of forces that looks like an object, and makes an object look different from other objects. The inward pattern is the same; the substances are not different, but the shapes taken by these objects differ. This is difficult for the mind to understand, inasmuch as it always looks upon the object through the senses and does not find time to analyse the inner structure of the mind. The deep focussing of the mind on the object in meditation, for a protracted period, not only enables the mind to free itself from association with other objects of sense, but also enables it to have an insight into the inner structure of the object of its meditation.

To sum up the meaning of this sutra: smṛtipariśuddhau svarūpaśūnye iva arthamātranirbhāsā (I.43), we may safely conclude that intense transformation of the psychophysical personality is bound to take place in these processes of meditation. When empathy is established between oneself and the object in meditation, everything that constitutes the individual will undergo a change. Not only will the physical and the psychic constituents of the personality undergo a transformation, but all of the relationships that are external and connected with this personality will also undergo a corresponding change. It is believed and affirmed by adepts in yoga that advance on the path of meditation will be parallel to the perception of a transformation, both from within and without. The conditions outside will change in respect of us, and the attitudes of people and things towards us will also change, because the attitudes that others have towards us have something to do with the attitudes that we have towards them, so when the one changes, the other must also change correspondingly.

Also, even physical changes are pointed out, but these changes vary from person to person. They are not uniformly present in all individuals, on account of the varying characters of prarabhda karma – the stages of evolution each one finds oneself in. There can be a feverish feeling on account of a sudden shake-up of the cells of the body, and the meditation will cease. This is regarded as an obstacle among the nine obstacles mentioned earlier in the sutra, the vyadhi styana (I.30), etc. The first of the obstacles mentioned by Patanjali is disease. Various kinds of illness may manifest themselves which cannot easily be medically diagnosed, and which cannot even be treated by any method of medication, because they are the effects of certain pressures exerted on the physical, as well as the psychological, constituents of one's individuality. But one has to pass through all this difficulty.

This arduous technique is like an ordeal, indeed, and as the Bhagavadgita mentions, it is a terrible, bitter thing that is before us when we actually start it. Yat tad agre viṣam iva pariāme'mṛtopamam (B.G. XVIII.37). In the end it is like nectar, they say, but that nectar will not come easily. The story told in the Puranas of Amrita Manthana, the churning of the ocean for the sake of nectar, has a great mystical significance. It is nothing but the churning of life itself – the shaking up of whatever is our individuality and our personal relationships for the sake of bringing out the nectar of the divinity that is within. But this nectar will not come out so easily. Pariname – in the end it comes; perhaps, it is the last thing that comes. In the earlier stages we had various other things which did not even indicate that the nectar would be coming. What was it that came first? Poison – deadly venom that suffocates, stifles, blinds and repels. It is this that comes in the beginning. Dirt, dust, smoke, fear and what not – all of these become the visions of a sadhaka in the beginning, as if he is going to get nothing, or perhaps he is going to get the opposite of what he is asking for.

These are the troubles that one has to face with courage, as this venomous encounter is not going to subside so easily. Like a thunderstorm, it will pour hail on the head. It will appear that every relationship is snapped in the form of support, and we will be totally helpless in this ocean of wilderness. But once this venomous encounter subsides, will nectar come? Nothing of the kind. The Puranas say that so many other gems start coming up to tempt us in the other direction altogether. So there is a terrific opposition and an attempt to cow us down completely – to press us down and destroy us, as it were.

When we face this difficulty, it does not mean that our effort is complete, or that the achievement is over. There is then the other realm of temptation – objects. Before they reveal themselves in their essential divine character, they present a tempting character, which is an earlier stage than the divine stage in which they will manifest afterwards. In the beginning, it looks as if they are inimical; they will not at all yield. They oppose us in every form possible. But when this stage of apparent opposition is tided over, they put on a new colour and contour and appear as the most tempting riches, which is the stage that is indicated by the various gems emerging in the process of Amrita Manthana. We will completely forget the nectar; that has gone forever. We are here in front of many beautiful things, charming scenes, grandeurs and magnificences which will simply draw our soul, and the aim will be forgotten. If we read the sixth chapter of Edwin Arnold's Light of Asia, we will get an idea of the torture that Buddha underwent. Poison, temptation – all of these things had to be faced by him in an intolerable manner, and it is not possible for the mind to understand what these difficulties are.

But, God-willing, if all of these oppositions and temptations are overcome, if they are faced with courage and adamantine strength, at last Dhanvantari comes up with the pot of nectar. This is perhaps what Bhagavan Sri Krishna had in his mind when he said: yat tad agre viṣam iva pariāme'mṛtopamam, tat sukhaṁ sāttvikaṁ proktam ātma buddhiprasādajam (B.G. XVIII.37).