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The Study and Practice of Yoga

An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


Chapter 51: Sat-Chit-Ananda or God-Consciousness

Sūkṣmaviṣayatvaṁ ca aliṅga paryavasānam (I.45) is a sutra which indicates the stages through which one may have to pass to reach the goal of yoga. The experiences in yoga, in meditation, sometimes may look conclusive because of an intensity with which the experience may come upon the consciousness, though they may not be, and there is the possibility that further stages may not become the content of one's awareness, just as it happens in our daily life. When we are sometimes possessed with a very intense feeling, a mood, or an emotion, or if we pass through a very forceful experience which takes into possession the entirety of our being, as it were, we are likely to ignore the existence of other factors in life than the one through which we are passing.

Intense desire, intense anger, intense happiness and intense sorrow are such instances where these inward conditions may be taken to be conclusive experiences. But when the intensity subsides for various reasons, it will be seen that there is something beyond. Every stage has a 'beyond', and though it is true that infinite may be the stages through which we have to pass, a broad outline is given by Patanjali, in a sutra here, that we should not regard any experience as final or as the goal itself until a conviction and a realisation arises that even the least distinction between consciousness and its content has been abolished. This is because the distinction can be grossly visible as in physical perception, subtly latent as in inward conditions, and not visible at all as in the causal state.

The disparity between subject and object is visible in waking life. We can see that one thing is different from the other. But, in dream and in such conditions, the distinctions get thinned out. Even in the waking life, when we are under the influence of a particular type of psychic condition, the demands of other possible conditions of a similar nature may not be known to us and we may be thrown into those experiences at a later stage, while, in such conditions as sleep, the distinctions are not visible at all. It looks as if they are not there, but they are there. The presence of an object need not necessarily be physical or gross; it can take any shape, and we should not mistake one condition for another.

The meditative processes which have been described in this chapter, in the sutras which we have studied up to this time, are the ranges of the mind from the gross to the subtle, from the subtle to the equilibrated condition of the mind, beyond still to the pure selfhood of consciousness, and the experience of the Absolute. But when a powerful, concentrated state of the mind supervenes, the other conditions of the mind, the other qualities which it can assume, get suppressed for the time being. We are accustomed to ignoring the presence of anything and everything which does not become a content of direct experience in consciousness. That we do not know a thing is not the criterion for its absence, because psychic conditions have various techniques of submerging themselves or manifesting themselves, as the occasion may demand. The aim of yoga is to eliminate even the least trace of psychic impression, so that our knowledge does not become a process of psychological function but is a character of Pure Being. This is our aim.

As long as there is any kind of movement in consciousness – even subtly present – we can safely conclude that there is the presence of the psychic condition. The mental urge to cognise an object is so forceful that it can present itself in any form, almost at any time. But, deep concentration on a given object of meditation obviates the interference of the rajasic characters in the mind, and frees the mind from the clutches of those forces which distract it towards other objects than the one chosen for meditation. And then, due to an assimilation of the very being of the subject with the object chosen, there will be joy supervening, a happiness that becomes manifest. In the state of happiness, thus experienced, the distractions cease.

Distractions manifest themselves when there is no happiness in the mind. Nothing is achieved, and there is only effort and sweating and toiling, and no positive experience has come. But when there is a positive experience of joy, at that particular moment that the joy is experienced, there is no desire for any other object, though this may be a temporary phase. But higher still has the mind to go, which is what is meant by the gross form of meditation mentioned in the sutra by Patanjali – the physical substance as such, which constitutes the whole universe, becomes the object of meditation. In the end, it is not any particular object that we are concerned with in meditation, but 'object' as such. This is a higher stage still. It is not any particular person, but 'person' as such. It is not this thing or that thing, but anything, for the matter of that, which is what we are concerned with.

The object in meditation is something difficult to understand. In the beginning it is said that a form may be chosen, to the exclusion of other forms. This instruction, of course, is a type of kindergarten instruction for those who do not know what an object is - just as when we teach arithmetic to a small child, and say that two and two make four. If we abstractly make a statement that two and two make four, the child will not understand what two is, and what two makes, and what four is, etc., so we bring two objects. We put two mangoes here and two mangoes there and show that there are four mangoes. Physically the calculation is applied in order that the abstract concept of addition, etc. in arithmetic is introduced into the mind of the child. Likewise, we are told that a gross object may be taken – an image, a concept, a diagram, or a picture, etc. – for the purpose of meditation. But the idea behind it is to introduce an abstract concept of the object into the mind and not to give us merely a concrete concept, because the object is anything that can be presented before the consciousness. It is not necessarily any particular shape, because ultimately all objects, animate or inanimate, are constituted in a similar manner. Everything is made up of the same elements which go to constitute the substance of the universe.

The elements which form all things in general, living or non-living, are what have been designated as sattva, rajas and tamas. We have already noted that these terms – sattva, rajas and tamas – denote conditions in which a particular object may exist or persist. Inasmuch as it has also been pointed out simultaneously that these conditions or properties – sattva, rajas and tamas – are not mere extraneous attributes of an object but are the very substances of the object, it follows automatically, as a corollary, that an object is nothing but a condition of being; it is not something that has existed outside. Inasmuch as sattva, rajas and tamas are only conditions, and because an object is made up only of these conditions, there is no such thing in the world as a solid object. There is only a fluidity of substance which can permeate the presence of other objects by the impact of its condition on the conditions of other objects. Hence the purpose of choosing an object in meditation is not to lay any excessive emphasis on any particular shape or form of the object, but to enable the mind to conceive the objectness as such in any object. What troubles us is not the object, but the objectness in the object - the externality that is present, the grossness, the tangibility, the visibility, the sensibility, etc. of what we regard as an object.

Thus, for the purpose of yoga meditation, the object has to be defined in a very scientific manner. We are not thinking of any particular sensible object. We are thinking of the very character of sensibility itself, so that any object can be chosen for the purpose of meditation. It may be even a pencil, or it may be Brahma, Vishnu or Siva. It makes no difference, because all of these objects are ultimately constituted in a similar manner, though one may be microscopic and the other macrocosmic, etc. The condition of objectivity is what is meditated upon.

Now we are laying emphasis on a different aspect of the matter. The meditation is not on an object, but on the objectivity of the object. The purpose in meditation is to eliminate the object from its objectivity; free it from what we call externality, spatiality, temporality, causality, relatedness, etc., so that, ultimately, it may reveal its true nature of Selfhood or Pure Being. The grossness of the object, which Patanjali refers to in his sutra as the 'gross form', is nothing but the intensity of sensibility felt by the mind in respect of anything which it regards as an object. When the sensibility becomes less, the grossness of the object vanishes gradually and the subtle nature of it reveals itself. The subtle character of the object is called the tanmatra, as we have studied earlier. As we proceed further and further, the externality that is invested in the object becomes less and less visible. The character of objectivity, which we have foisted upon an unknown something outside, called the object, gets diminished in content and force, so that the object becomes more and more proximate to the subject that is meditating.

The sutra which I cited just now – sūkṣmaviṣayatvaṁ ca aliṅga paryavasānam (I.45) – points out that the subtlety of an object culminates in mulaprakriti. If you recall to your memory what you have studied earlier, you will remember that the cosmology of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras indicates that the stages of evolution or manifestation are many. But, broadly speaking, they are the stages of what are known as prakriti, mahat, ahamkara, tanmatras and the mahabhutas on one side, and the individual constitution on the other side. These stages of meditation that Patanjali is speaking of are nothing but the stages of the mahabhutas, the tanmatras, the ahamkara, the mahat, and prakriti; it is these that we have to cross through. The mahabhutas are the five elements or the gross objects; rather, they are one object. What we call the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – are the substances of the cosmos, physically speaking. These are the bases for the appearance of the various gross forms in the shape of objects. But, inasmuch as they are all made up of the same tamasic base of prakriti, they can be regarded as a single object, so that it matters little where we are sitting, what we are looking at, and what this physical environment is, because everywhere the same five elements are present. These five elements, in their conglomeration or totality, become the single object of meditation because they are the grossest principle of the most intense form of externality.

We are supposed to be living in a world of bondage – not because of the elements, the tanmatras, etc., which seem to be surrounding us, but because of the peculiar character of externality that seems to be inherent in these things, that repels us from them and converts them for our purposes into objects of sensation and experience. It is this repellent character of the externality that is present in these elements that has to be overcome in meditation, by deep absorption of consciousness. We rise from the five elements to the tanmatras, from the tanmatras to ahamkara, from ahamkara to mahat, and then to prakriti and purusha. Purusha is the Pure Self. The aim of yoga is the absorption of consciousness into this ultimate principle called the Pure Self or purusha, which is the state of kaivalya.

We have been studying a condition of meditation, an experience where everything vanishes and gets transcended except a sense of Pure Being – asmita matra. There will be no consciousness of any object, except for the fact that we 'are'. There is only the awareness, aham asmi, which includes the presence of all the other features that are called objects. Tajjaḥ saṁskāraḥ anyasaṁskāra pratibandhī (I.50) is the sutra that follows. These samskaras or impressions that are formed in the mind by the cognition of objects of sense, are inhibited totally by this new impression that has been created by deep meditation, whose consummation is this sense of Pure Being or universal asmita. Here, in this stage of experience, the impression, psychically created, though in a cosmic manner, suppresses to utter annihilation all other impressions of the mind generated by sense experience, through which the individual has passed earlier, either in this life or in earlier life.

Thus, we come to a stage of Being where the faculties of the individual no longer become necessary, either for knowledge or for action. There is no need for the intellect to understand, for the mind to think, for the senses to cognise and perceive, nor is there a need for the limbs of the body to function for the purpose of executing any action, etc. It is a state of all-inclusiveness – One Being Alone in Itself. In this condition, knowledge and action combine and become a single feature. While in ordinary life knowing and acting are different from each other, here knowing and acting mean one and the same thing. One's very existence is knowledge, and the very knowledge is action. This is God-state. An individual cannot conceive what it is.

Everywhere, in every condition, there is the possibility of everything, because while in individual life – the ordinary life of senses and mental cognition – there was a bifurcation of the seer and the seen, here the bifurcation has ceased, and therefore the necessity for the mind to move towards objects in respect of desire and action also ceases.

What is action? It is nothing but the movement of the subject towards an object for a particular purpose. This movement is possible only when there is externality, spatiality and distance, etc. between the subject and object. This has been eliminated thoroughly, and therefore there is no movement of the mind towards an object. Therefore there is no desire for the object and there is also no possibility for any activity, because the very goal of activity has been achieved by the merger of all conditions of action into the very subjectivity of consciousness.

This is the state of sat-chit-ananda, as the Vedanta tells us – Pure Existence, Pure Knowledge, Pure Bliss. The existence of all things becomes one with the consciousness that knows. The satta or the Pure, All-Pervading Essential Being of everything becomes the universal content of the knowing consciousness which, to keep itself abreast with the extent of this content that is universal, also has to be universal, so that the consciousness that knows this universal object is also universal. It is not an individual's mind or consciousness that cognises a universal object, because the subject and the object should be on a par. The individual object can be cognised or perceived by an individual subject, but the universal object or the universal content cannot enter into an individual's consciousness. So here, the object is universal.Śruta anumāna prajñābhyām anyaviṣayā viśeṣārthatvāt (I.49). Here, this knowledge takes an infinite shape. This is called brahmakara-vritti in Vedantic language.

A vritti is a condition of the mind, a psychic state. This state which the mind assumes or reaches, where its content is infinity itself, is called brahmakara-vritti, apart from what is known as vishayakara-vritti or the psychic condition which projects itself towards an object outside. The vritti or the mental state which tends to move externally towards an object is vishayakara-vritti. It is motivated by desire, and further action to fulfil the desire. But brahmakara-vritti is the fulfillment of all other vrittis, as the ocean is the fulfillment of all rivers. Here the mental condition does not require the motion of itself towards any external existence; rather, there is an identity of the object with itself. This vritti destroys all other vrittis. As it is sometimes said, the clearing nut (called the kathaka nut), which when dissolved in water, allows all the dirt in the water to subside – and then itself subsides too. Though soap is applied to the cloth to remove dirt, the soap itself does not become dirt. It cleanses itself together with the process of its cleaning all dirt out of the substance. Likewise, this vritti, which is infinite in nature, which is the universal expansion of the mind, makes it impossible for all other vrittis to manifest, because it has taken into possession every existent feature. It compels all of the other vrittis to subside and destroy themselves in its own bosom, and then it itself subsides. Then there is a subsidence of all vrittis, a coming down of all features tending towards individuality and externality, etc. All impressions vanish in toto. The very seed of further rise into individuality is fried in the fire of knowledge.

The impression or sense of Being that we are referring to, pure asmita matra, is also no longer felt. Tasyāpi nirodhe sarvanirodhāt nirbījaḥ samādhiḥ (I.51). When even the brahmakara-vritti ceases; when even the consciousness of the universe as an object is not there any more; when the very question of objectivity loses its meaning; when consciousness does not know anything as an object, not even the universe itself in its completeness; when what is known by consciousness is its own Self and not somebody else, not even the cosmos - that is known as the resting of consciousness in its own Self.

Tada draṣṭuḥ svarūpe avasthānam (I.3) is one of the sutras near the beginning of this pada. The Seer rests in its own Self. There is no longer a necessity to move towards an object outside for the purpose of acquiring knowledge, because knowledge does not mean acquaintance with an object. It is the entry of the subject into the being of the object. This is intuition, and this is equal to the resting of consciousness in its own Self. The knowing process no longer exists as a process – it becomes part of Being. The process of knowing, which was earlier valid in respect of objects outside, becomes a movement of the ocean of knowledge, and gets identified with the Being of the Knower.

This, as I mentioned, is the meaning of the term 'sat-chit-ananda' mentioned in our scriptures – the state of God-consciousness or Realisation.