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


Chapter 58: Pursuit of Pleasure is Invocation of Pain

The incapacity to feel the infinitude of Consciousness at once manifests itself as a consciousness of finitude. This is a peculiar sudden development which is almost simultaneous with this incapacity mentioned. A foolish person does not keep quiet. He has to do some mischievous deeds, at once. That is the very essence of foolishness, or lack of knowledge. Absolutely keeping quiet is not possible unless there is a complete withdrawal of sensation itself.

The absence of the consciousness of the infinitude of oneself is not an absence of all kinds of consciousness. It is an absence of a specific type, simultaneous with the presence of a different type of consciousness. Just as in a mathematical calculation we may be unconscious of an error that has been committed in calculation, but at the same time there is a positive effort at developing the series of calculations on the basis of that error; the consciousness has not ceased to operate but now it is operating in a wrong direction altogether. The switching off of oneself from the status of Infinity is at once the switching on to the consciousness of finitude. Avidya breeds, brings about, causes, projects, manifests, or reveals itself as finite consciousness – asmita tattva. While we are not infinite, and we are in a state that can be called an absence of the consciousness of Truth, we are immediately conscious that we are finite. How this takes place is not a question of temporal history. It is a non-temporal fact which eludes the grasp of understanding, because what we call understanding is nothing but the effect of this catastrophe that has taken place. There cannot be the operation of the intellect if this consciousness of finitude is not there as its background. So much credit for this intellect of man!

Thus, the presence of the sense of finitude becomes the root of further phenomenal processes, desires, activities, etc. This peculiar upstart called the asmita tattva, or the finite consciousness, is the unintelligible structural pattern which is animated by an aspect of the Infinite. But though it is animated, it is not conscious of that which is the animating principle, just as the vast sunlight which is pervading all space can be restricted to pass through an aperture, or a hole – and not only that, it can also be split into various rays by making it pass through a prism, and so on. It can be made to assume different colours by allowing it to pass through certain coloured mediums. Likewise, the featureless Infinity, which is the essence of Consciousness, assumes a concrete feature of name and form, and this is the seed of personality, individuality, body-consciousness, etc.

The sutra of Patanjali in this connection is: dṛk darśanaśaktyoḥ ekātmatā iva asmitā (II.6). The thinking principle gets identified with the thinker. Asmita means the sense of being individual. It has arisen on account of an identification of two factors: the thinking principle – the medium through which thought is projected – and the real thinker that is responsible and is behind this process. It is difficult to define the nature of the thinking principle, because this principle is a blend of two different sides, or aspects. On one side there is the capacity to think, understand, illumine, and judge the values of things. On the other side there is the aspect of projecting this intelligence into space and time in an externalised manner, and locating it or pinpointing it upon an object.

The true thinker, if one would like to call it so, is the principle of consciousness itself, which cannot be limited to objects and which is not in space and time. But the awareness of an object outside is a specific function that is performed by the asmita, or the individual sense, and this particularised function is made possible by the mixing up of this principle of consciousness with a distracting medium, which is the most inscrutable thing to understand. This distracting medium is the mind, the antahkarana. It refracts the light of consciousness in a particular fashion – just as, if a mirror is kept in the sun, the reflection of the light of the sun through the mirror will be cast only in that particular direction in which the mirror is facing. If we can change the position of the mirror, the reflection also will change its location and project itself in a different manner altogether. So, the way in which this refracted medium functions determines the nature of our life itself.

Minds differ. Just as mirrors may differ – the position, colour, structure, thickness, etc. all may change from mirror to mirror – in the same way, mental characteristics differ due to reasons which are peculiar to different individuals themselves. It is the mind that drags the consciousness in a given direction – just as, in this analogy I mentioned, it is the position of the mirror that will determine in which direction the light of the sun is projected. This position of the mirror of the mind is the tendency of the mind towards objects. It is this tendency that determines the location, or the position, of the mind.

Everyone is born with certain groups of tendencies. The tendencies are the requirements of the constitution of the individual in a particular manner, just as in a vast set-up of a national government, for instance, there are different officials placed in different positions and each official functions in a restricted manner, notwithstanding that this restricted position of the official has a connection with an unrestricted background of an entire government. Likewise, the limitation of the personality is motivated by certain urges with which the individual is born, and these urges are the peculiar proclivities of the individual which makes one different from the other, so that even from childhood we can find that there is a distinct mark of isolated predilection in a particular individual which will mark it off from others. This predilection, or idiosyncrasy, of different individuals is due to the direction taken by these groups of tendencies with which one is born. And, the mind is nothing but a bundle of these tendencies.

Sometimes, in traditional language, we call these groups of tendencies prarabdha karma. We are compelled to move in a particular direction on account of our personality being nothing but an embodied form of this distracting principle. This mind that we are speaking of, through which the Infinite is reflected or refracted, is not an outside medium that we operate as independent individuals. It is not a fountain pen with which we write a book and which is not vitally connected with our body, which we can throw off after some time – not so. What we mean by ‘mind’ is nothing but the totality of what we really are in our individuality – the whole structure of our tendencies, ways of thinking, etc. We will study in the system of Patanjali, in a future sutra, that these so-called tendencies condition the place in which we are born, the time period into which we are born, the society into which we are born, the length of life which we live, and the various types of experiences we have to pass through in life.

All these things are already determined even before birth, so that one can say when the child will die even while it is inside the womb itself. The time is fixed because death, transformation, experience, or any kind of encounter in personal life is an event which automatically follows as a consequence of the seeds that are already sown at the very commencement of these groups of tendencies that are manufactured within – just as we can predict an eclipse even a hundred years hence. Today we can say that there will be an eclipse after a hundred years. How do we know it? We know it because of the collocation of certain movements of planets, mathematically calculated.

Therefore, the individual sense, the asmita tattva, is a complex manufactured product. It is not an indivisible unitary being, as we wrongly take it to be. It is like a fabric constituted of various threads, and each thread is nothing but a proclivity, as I mentioned. This tendency is, to put it precisely, a kind of desire which is the urge to fulfil itself in a particular manner. Therefore, the thinking principle – the mind, the antahkarana – is a medium which cannot be regarded as an external instrument of the individual, but is itself what the individual constitutes. Here in this sutra I cited, dṛk darśanaśaktyoḥ ekātmatā iva asmitā (II.6), Patanjali points out that the individual sense, the sense of being separate, the consciousness of personality or bodily individuality, is a product of the union of this distracting medium with the background of the animating principle – namely, consciousness that is infinite. This union is an inseparable union for all practical purposes, so that we can never be aware, even for a moment, that this has taken place, because once we awaken to this fact we will be frightened out of our wits. But it is not allowed to take place. The manner in which this event has taken place is non-temporal, as I mentioned; so any temporal effort will not even touch it. There is a ‘dark iron screen’, if we would like to call it that, which separates this effort of the individual from knowing the cause, and the real cause that is behind it.

So the asmita, or the principle of individuality, which is the cause of all our further troubles in life, is brought about by a peculiar kind of internal, mutual superimposition of aspects. And once this superimposition has taken place, we cannot get out of it. Various kinds of examples are given to illustrate how this has happened and what it actually means. A heated iron rod or iron ball becomes red-hot, so that we are unable to distinguish between the iron and the fire. When we touch the iron ball, it burns us. What is it that we are touching – fire, or the iron ball? Well, either or neither, we may say. What burns us is the fire, but what we actually touch as a tangible, physical, concrete, solid substance is the iron ball. They have become one. There is a glow we see, that is all. It is only fire. The iron is not visible; it has lost its presence. It has identified its being with the being of the fire, for the time being. Likewise, we will find that this distracting medium called the mind completely makes itself appear absent, as it were – though it is the thing that works there. It is the wire-puller behind all activities in life; and yet, it has so dexterously got identified with some other power, with the help of which it works, that we are wrongly aware of the erroneous activity of that superior principle rather than of the cause of this error that has taken place.

Sometimes, due to association brought about by mysterious circumstances, innocent people can be in trouble as a result of the mischievous activity of wicked persons. And, those wicked persons go scot-free; they run away, and these innocent ones are caught. They are hauled up in the court, and anything is possible. They know nothing; they have been simply caught by circumstances.

Likewise, there is a very mischievous imp called the mind, which very shrewdly utilises the powers of consciousness for its own purposes. The force with which it works, as well as the intelligence that it harnesses in its action, belong entirely to something which is different from itself. But all the functions – which are purely phenomenal – belong to the mind itself. So what happens is that when we are active, we are unable to distinguish between the principle of activity and the principle of intelligence that is behind the activity, just as we cannot distinguish between the heat or the fire in the heated iron rod, and the rod itself. The distracting movement of the mind in the direction of an object, whatever it be in life, is different from the motive force that is behind it. And if the motive force is absent, the activity will cease immediately – just as when a force is absent, movement will not be possible. This peculiar feature of movement, activity or externalised projection gets mixed up with the force behind it, and then we have the feeling ‘we are’, or ‘I am’.

Therefore, this ‘I am-ness’, or the sense of being, is a confusion that has taken place. The existence aspect of our assertion, ‘I exist’, belongs to a realm which is different from the realm of purposes for which it is employed – namely, the mind, the desire and the actions.

The sense of individuality is, therefore, a combination of the principle of Pure Being and the principle of externality. When we assert or feel ‘I am’, we have a phenomenal sense of ‘I am-ness’. It is not the consciousness of existence as it is, because this existence is present everywhere – it is in me, it is in you, it is in everything. Why don’t we feel that everything ‘is’? Why is it that there is a peculiar feeling of ‘I am, independent of others’? The pure universal character of existence is restricted in its operation, localised by the distracting activity of the mind that is an aspect of existence drawn into activity. Only a phase of this existence is made to be felt in our sense of personality, so that we have a feeling of localised being, and not a sense of All-being.

This feeling of localised being is brought about for a purpose. The purpose is the fulfilment of the urges mentioned, these tendencies with which we are born – the frustrated desires, we may say, the samskaras, the vasanas, the impressions, etc. – which have been the cause of our birth in this world. Why are we born in this world? We are born for a purpose. The purpose is nothing but the fulfilment of these tendencies with which we are born. They will not keep quiet unless they are fulfilled, and they require a medium of action. There can be no fulfilment unless there is an instrument through which that fulfilment can be achieved. The instrument is this body.

This body is an organisation of certain sensations – a grouping-up of various powers of sense, which the mind employs for the purpose of this fulfilment of its wishes. The individual sense, or asmita, has a desire to see objects; then, eyes come out immediately. The moment there is a desire to see, the power of seeing is projected. When there is a desire to hear, ears are projected. When there is a desire to grasp, hands are projected. Likewise, the different sense organs get manifested on account of the intense urge to come in contact with objects in various ways. Fortunately for us, the mind has thought of projecting itself only in five ways; otherwise, we would have millions of hands, ears and eyes. We do not know how many instruments it would have manufactured if it wanted. Thank God, we have only five senses – not more. If there were more senses, there will be more desires, more ways of employment of the very same urge in various ways. These senses, therefore, are the instruments of contact. That is the desire of the mind. It wants to contact objects, and it cannot do that unless there is a method by which it can do this work. This method is projected by the sensations. This body which is an instrument is, as I mentioned, an organisation of certain forces, like an army that it has brought about for its own purposes. It has placed the whole army in the field of action, and it can use any part of that army at any time, as the occasion may demand. That particular part of the force it employs is the particular organ of sense.

When the senses come in contact with a desired object, there is sensation of pleasure: sukha anuśayī rāgaḥ (II.7). It is the sensation of pleasure in one’s contact with a desirable object that compels one to repeat this contact again and again, because there will be an endless asking for pleasure. We will never be satisfied with an amount of pleasure in a certain given magnitude. What is asked for is an infinitude of magnitude; but inasmuch as the instruments employed are finite, infinite pleasure is not possible. We cannot have a whole ocean contained in a little cup or a tumbler, because its capacity is very little. Can we use a small tumbler to carry the whole ocean – the Pacific or the Atlantic? That is not possible. But our wish is to carry it. What is the good of this wish when it cannot be fulfilled due to the wrong means that we employed? The instrument is very feeble in comparison with the object that is in our mind.

Therefore, the pleasures always remain unsatisfied. Inasmuch as what we ask for is an infinitude of pleasure, we cannot be satisfied with a little of it. Hence there is an urge to repeat the contact of the mind and senses with the object, endlessly. Throughout life we can go on having these contacts; and yet, there can be no end to it. So, what happens? These peculiar types of tendencies with which we are born get exhausted, get worn out. The senses also become tired because of repeated activity; then, their momentum ceases. The momentum of these tendencies ceases on account of exhaustion and inability to fulfil themselves to the extent they require from within, and also because the tendencies with which we are born are finite – they are only certain aspects of the possibilities of other types of contact we can have.

What happens is these tendencies have to come to an end one day or the other by exhaustion of momentum, and then the organisation dwindles; that is called the death of the body. If all the personnel in a government disintegrate, the government itself does not exist. It ceases to be because the constituents have separated, and so the complex diminishes in quantity until it becomes a zero. The forces which brought together the physical atoms of matter into the formation of a body withdraw themselves to their sources, and the complex structure of the body disintegrates automatically. The particles of matter go to their sources. This is what is called death.

But death is not the end of the matter; there will be rebirth because the desires have not been fulfilled. For various reasons, as I mentioned, it was not possible for the mind to satisfy itself fully with its activity, so it experiments with a new set of circumstances; and births repeatedly coming, one after the other, are the different types of experiments that the mind performs to see if it can get what it wants. It fails every time, but it is never tired: “If this fails today, I shall work in another manner tomorrow.” So, another birth is taken.

Thus, the repeated cycle of birth and death continues endlessly, unbroken, and we cannot know where it begins and where it ends. This cycle is called the samsara chakra, the wheel of birth and death. All this trouble has arisen on account of the original mistake committed – namely, the assertion of individuality as a principle, independent by itself, whose erroneous presence compels it to come in contact with other individuals, objects, etc. Unfortunately for it, it has the temptation of enjoying pleasure in contact. If that had not been there, perhaps it would have caught the lesson immediately at the very first contact itself, but the memory of a previous pleasure becomes a cause for working further to repeat the contact for the purpose of the experience it once had.

The sutra, sukha anuśayī rāgaḥ (II.7), refers to the immediate consequence of self-assertion. What is this immediate consequence? It is the conviction that arises in oneself that there is a purpose in self-affirmation. What can be the purpose, other than the enjoyment of pleasure? But, in this effort at coming in contact with things for the purpose of satisfying one’s wishes, there is a hidden aspect, which is the reason why we always keep ourselves in a state of anxiety. It is not all pleasure that we see in this world. There is the other side also, which is pain, and that pain is the result of the working of another aspect of experience, which goes simultaneously with, or hand in hand with, the desire for contact with objects. The objects are finite; therefore, a desire for an object is a finite movement of the mind exclusively in the direction of certain given things, by which it sets aside other factors of life which it does not regard as conducive or helpful in its present activity. Thus, it has always a feeling of anxiety that these factors that have been set aside may not intrude.

There are also objects in the world other than the one towards which the mind is moving. What will happen to them? Because of the interrelated structure of all things, it is impossible to avoid the intrusion of other factors into our experience. We cannot have summer always, or winter always, or rain always, or a particular kind of season always, because the planets move according to their own way, and so seasons change, naturally. Experiences also must change. Everything in this world is subtly connected with everything else. Therefore, if we interfere with any particular thing, we will be interfering with everything else also – knowingly or unknowingly. But, due to the ignorance of this peculiar way in which nature works, the mind takes into consideration only that particular object or group of objects which is visible to its mental eye, as if it is looking at things with blinkers, and completely loses consciousness of other factors with which the very existence of this object or group of objects is concerned or related. Thus, reactions are set up.

The reactions that are produced by our actions, called the karmas that bind us, are the unconscious repercussions which are consequent upon our interference with things in the world. Though we are contacting objects not with an intention of interfering, but with a so-called pious motive of getting what we want through them, we are thoroughly mistaken, because every contact is an interference with nature. Nature is an indivisible whole and it cannot brook interference of any kind, and it has no partiality of any kind in respect of its content. It does not love one to the exclusion of others. But this individual sense does not know this truth. It thinks that a part of nature is its property – it belongs to it, and it tries to possess it wrongly and make it a part of its own being, not knowing that nature will not allow this and that its law will operate.

Sukha-dukha come together; pleasure and pain are simultaneous. Every endeavour at pleasure is an invocation of a pain that is to follow one day or the other. Today we laugh, and tomorrow we cry. We cannot go on laughing throughout the day, throughout our life, because there is a negative side for everything in this world. Everything has two aspects: the aspect of visibility, as it is presented to the limited vision of the mind and the senses, and the aspect of invisibility, which is the other side of things, of which the mind is not aware and the senses cannot perceive, but nevertheless it is there.

The individual sense is a foolish one, indeed, in that it cannot succeed in its attempts. Yet it persists, though it does not succeed, because it does not know that its failure is due to its own erroneous methods employed. It thinks it is right in its methods, and that something is wrong with the objects themselves. We always find fault with conditions outside when we fail, not knowing that the failure is due to a mistake committed by us in the methodology employed. But, the mind will never understand this. Nobody will ever accept that there is a mistake in one’s own self. We always impute the mistakes to circumstances and conditions outside. So goes this world.

This is the short history of the immediate consequences that follow from an ignorance of the true nature of one’s own Self, a consequent sudden affirmation of personal individuality, and then the running after pleasures of sense.