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


Chapter 66: Understanding the Nature of Objects

Since the objects are constituted of a substance which is similar to the substance out of which the senses are made, there is a spontaneity of movement of the senses towards the objects. They do not require any exertion. As waters incline towards a depression without any effort on their part, senses incline towards objects without any specific effort. It is the nature of the senses to move towards objects because of the similarity of structure in the nature of their substance. This is the reason why the senses begin to throb in joy when they perceive an object especially to their liking; and when the senses begin to throb in joy, the consciousness also begins to throb, so it looks like we are throbbing in great joy at the time of the perception of a desirable object. The breath changes its course, speech trembles, and even the movement of the bloodstream is affected. The temperature may get heightened or lowered; the blood pressure may change. Every bit of cell in the body changes when there is a throbbing sensation of the senses in respect of desirable objects on account of their being charged with consciousness, which goes with them and feels what the senses feel.

This is the catastrophe that has befallen man, the individual jiva who has fallen into the midst of dacoits, as it were, and has become their servant. Whatever they do, whatever they say, whatever they order him to do, he has to execute. This poor thing called consciousness in us has become subjected thoroughly, root and branch, to the power and the impetuousness of the senses. The reason behind all this is simply stated as the identification of consciousness with the structure of the senses which are in sympathy with the objects on account of the similarity of the substance of both the senses and the objects. With the friendship the senses have with consciousness, they also have, simultaneously, what is called a ‘fifth column activity’ in their affiliation to the objects outside.

This is brought out in the phrase bhūtendriyātmakaṁ bhogāpavargārtham dṛśyam (II.18): The object, therefore, brings satisfaction in this manner. It is also mentioned why this situation has arisen. It has arisen on account of the necessity to fulfil certain karmas of the past which have revealed themselves now as the concrete psychophysical individuality, this body-mind – the prarabdha karma which, if it is exhausted by experience, liberation should follow. But, unfortunately, liberation does not follow for other reasons – namely, karmas get accumulated in every birth. Though the intention is to exhaust the karmas of the past, an unfortunate thing takes place simultaneously with this process of exhaustion – an adding to the old stock of karmas due to a misconception which gets confirmed and intensified because of repeated sense-perception and experience of pleasure in the objects.

Viśeṣa aviśeṣa lingamātra alingāni guṇaparvāṇi (II.19) is another sutra that follows. The stages by which prakriti manifests itself are stated in this sutra. Visesha means particularised, gross, visible and demarcated; that is visesha. Avisesha is not so demarcated – a little bit hazy, not clear, not distinct. Lingamatra is faintly visible, only a symbol; an indication of it is there, but it itself cannot be seen properly. Alinga is completely indistinct; we cannot even know that it exists. These are the four stages in which prachana, or prakriti, manifests itself in the process of evolution.

The completely indistinct condition is the original nature of prakriti where there is gunasamyavastha, the balance of the three properties of prakritisattva, rajas and tamas – where one is not predominant over the other. Because of that equality of the properties, the poise in which they exist, there is no distinct manifestation of any form or name. There is, therefore, no perception of objects possible. The isolation of the subject from the object has not taken place. They merge together in an indistinct form on account of the non-manifestation of the gunas.

This is a state prior to the manifestation of things. It is alinga because we cannot have even any indication of it being existent, just as in deep sleep we cannot have even an indication that we exist. Everything is obliterated. Even our personality has gone, so who is to know that something exists? There is a very peculiar extinction of all distinctions – a total ‘wiping out’ of all particularities so that there cannot be perception of any kind. Inasmuch as for the jiva the individual perception means an externalised form of knowledge, and because externalisation is not possible where rajas is not predominant and rajas is not predominant in this condition of equipoise, therefore, no perception of anything is possible here – and, therefore, no knowledge. This is the alinga condition mentioned.

Lingamatra is faintly visible, but not clearly visible. That is the mahat-tattva, the first manifestation of prakriti – the Cosmic Intelligence, as it is usually called. It is indistinct because it has also no particularities. It is all-pervading, omnipresent; it is in everything. Inasmuch as it is cosmic, it cannot be particularised and seen as an object of individual perception. Yet, it is there. It is the first form in which prakriti reveals itself in a tendency to objectivity. As they say, there is a consciousness of ‘I am’, or ‘I am that I am’; that is the Cosmic-conscious condition. This cosmic awareness is ‘I-am-ness’ of a universal type, which includes all objects which it knows. It is impossible to describe because such a thing is never heard of, not seen anywhere and, therefore, not thinkable by the human mind.

We cannot imagine what it is to be simply aware of oneness of oneself, free from all objects outside. For us, this is only an academic acceptance; practically, such a thing is unimaginable. But such a thing is there, as they say. That is the mahat, the Great Intellect, the Cosmic Intelligence, also called Hiranyagarbha in certain other schools of thought – the repository of all the possibilities of future manifestation, the potentiality of all particulars that are going to be revealed in the future, and the latency of all the effects that will come out afterwards as the names and the forms of experience. It is Cosmic-consciousness. At once there is knowledge of all things simultaneously. It is not the indistinct, unconscious equipoise of prakriti, but it is the conscious equipoise of cosmic awareness where all jivas get merged into a totality. They exist as part of this consciousness. They hang upon it as its limbs, as it were. Such is the mahat-tattva; we may also call it the Isvara-tattva. And, for all practical religious purposes, this is the God of religion. We cannot think of anything more than this. What religions in the world call God is this supreme mahat. It is indistinct, because it is cosmic, yet it is there as a possibility of all future particularities and diversities. This is what is referred to in this sutra as lingamatra.

Further on is the avisesha, a grosser form of manifestation where there is a beginning of the diversity of things. The first stroke is dealt to cut off things from one another, and there is an indication that the Cosmic Being is going to be diversified into the particulars of experience. It has not taken place, but there is an indication. As they say, the ordinance has been passed, but it has not yet come into effect. Likewise, this peculiar condition of the tendency to become diverse is called avisesha in this sutra. It has the possibility of viseshata. It is going to become visesha, or particular; and it also is decided that it is going to take place – but it has not happened yet. This is what is known as the tanmatras of the elements, the pancha-mahabhutas. Shabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa and gandha are the Sanskrit terms for it. These are the potentialities behind sense perception. They are the fine, subtle, ethereal backgrounds of not only the senses which perceive objects, but also the objects themselves.

In some respects, though not entirely, we may compare this condition to the fine atomic stage of physical matter, as modern science calls it. What they call the atomic condition of physical substances where physicality is there, and a form of diversity also is there, but it is indistinct – this is the tanmatra. ‘Tanmatra’ means the subtlety of essence of that which is to be subsequently manifest as a gross form. The potentiality in each substance to manifest itself as a particular object is the tanmatra. The function to be performed is already laid down – which object will perform what function – though it has not started performing the function.

There is an urge to concretise itself into a particular shape or form. The presence of this urge, not yet manifest as a form, is the tanmatra. It is not merely an abstract urge in the sense of a feeling or a thought isolated from the content, but it is the potentiality of the content itself – just as, to give the example I mentioned, the atomic condition of a physical object is not a quality of that object; it is the very substance of the object. What they call the atoms behind objects are not the qualities of the objects – they are the substances out of which the objects are made. They are the objects themselves, in a subtle form. Likewise, these tanmatras are not mere properties or qualities. We should not think that what is known as shabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa and gandha is a vibration which emanates from an object. Rather, it is the force which is the constituent factor of the object itself.

This is what follows from mahat. Sometimes the Samkhya, and even the Vedanta and other schools of thought, posit an intermediary condition called the ahamkara; not the ahamkara we know of, but a cosmic substance which feels its existence, which is indistinct from mahat. Inasmuch as this ahamkara is one with mahat and cannot be separated from it, it is not specially mentioned here in this sutra. They are identical. The moment mahat manifests itself, the ahamkara is also there; the ‘I-am-ness’, as I mentioned, is the cosmic ahamkara. It is one with that mahat-tattva; they are the same. The way in which the mahat-tattva feels itself is called ahamkara. This is not mentioned separately in the sutra, but it is there, as the doctrines of Samkhya and Vedanta tell us.

These tanmatras are there as the avisesha, or the indistinct potentialities of future manifestation as forms, which afterwards become visesha. Actual manifestation takes place. There is an actual war, as they say. The effect has taken shape, and it has become what it has to become. There is the wonderful colour and pageantry of this creation. The objects are grossly manifest, the senses are cut off from them, and there is an immediate feeling of isolation on the part of every subject associated with the senses. There is a desire to run after the objects on account of this isolation. Well, the story continues, as we already know.

These are the gunaparvas: viśeṣa aviśeṣa lingamātra alingāni guṇaparvāṇi (II.19). Parva is a knot, a chapter, a section, a halting place, a connecting link – whatever we may call it – where a particular stage ends, or commences. That is called a parva, just as there are so many parvas in the Mahabharata – Adi Parva, Sabha Parva, etc. Here, in these parvas, or knots, the gunas of prakriti undergo a transitional process; and the processes, though infinite in their detail, are, broadly speaking, these as have been mentioned: visesha, avisesha, lingamatra and alingani. The purpose of reiterating this point is that the objects of sense have, at their background, a power that is superior to what is visible to the eyes. They are helped by certain other factors, which is the reason why it becomes difficult for a single individual to encounter them.

Though we think that a particular person is our enemy, we forget that this enemy has the background of support from other people and other sources, on account of which he presses himself forward and has the boldness to attack us, and we cannot visibly perceive this background behind the object that is encountering us. Why is it that the object is so forceful and attacks us, and we cannot withdraw ourselves from it? It has a background. It has a power which gives sustenance to it, which we cannot see with our eyes because these powers which sustain the objects in their activity and their manifestation are super-physical – the tanmatras, etc. The total pressure of the whole cosmos can be said to be present behind every object. Therefore, when we face an object, even a small pinhead, we are facing the whole world behind it. Even one wave in the ocean is the whole ocean; it is not cut off from the ocean. And so, when we face or encounter an object, particularly in the techniques of the practice of yoga, what is actually encountered is the interconnected network of support that is behind the visible object of sense.

This should explain why it is so hard to withdraw the senses from the objects. The unity of things, which is revealed in the cosmic condition of mahat, is the reason behind the rushing of the senses towards objects. It is ultimately a desire to become one with all things. The force of unity that is behind everything is the urging energy behind even the activity of the senses, so even the wickedest of actions have the unity of things behind them, though they are distorted and moving in a different direction altogether. Merely because a stream of a gushing river is washing off the villages of poor people, it does not mean that the stream has ceased to be the river. It is the same Ganga. It may be the holiest of rivers, but it has no pity upon villages. It will simply destroy everybody if it is misdirected – if we would like to call it that – in the direction of the villages of poor people. If it is channelised properly, it may go to Ganga Sagar; otherwise, it will go any place if there is another channel for its movement. The force is the same; it is not something else.

Likewise, it is the unity of things that urges itself forward in experience, which keeps us restless. The restlessness of the mind, which is attributed to the desire of the senses for objects, is ultimately caused by the unity behind things. Even the desire for objects is due to that. If the unity of things were not to be there, there would not be desire for objects of sense. Hence, we can imagine how a wrong thing can be based on a right thing. This is what has happened. It is wrong because of a peculiar twist it has taken, though the background of it is right. It is something like a soldier going mad at home and attacking his own mother with his gun. Well, this can happen if his mind is out of order. He is supposed to be trained for war, not to attack his own family in the house. Likewise, this urge of the mind for unity with things takes the form of an externalised attachment to objects of sense due to involvement in space, time, etc.

The sutra gives us a metaphysical and a philosophical analysis of the stages of the manifestation of these cosmic forces which are at the background of the objects of sense, and the caution that has to be exercised in the practice of yoga. We are not dealing with individuals, even when we encounter a single individual. There is no such thing as an individual here; everything is cosmic, but looking like individuals. That is the mistake in perception. Therefore, any individual is terrible, under given conditions. Anything can attack us and harass us because of the cosmic background of things.

The stages of the ascent of the soul are also indicated in this sutra. The mind does not suddenly jump to the cosmic. It moves gradually from lower unities to higher unities. It is, first of all, caught up in diversity, and in this consciousness of diversity it has forgotten the unity that is behind as the purpose. It requires a herculean effort on the part of the understanding to realise that the intention of objective desire through the senses is something pious and holy – namely, the realisation of the unity of things. That is called viveka. That itself takes all the time. It may take our entire life to understand what has happened, but once this viveka dawns, it is supposed to be easy for the individual to wrench itself from attachment to things. That wrenching is called vairagya. The renunciation or the detachment that we feel in respect of an object of sense is due to an understanding that has arisen that there is some mistake in the attachment of the senses to objects. The realisation of this mistake is viveka, and the consequent withdrawal is vairagya.

Then comes the real practice – the abhyasa. That abhyasa is by stages, from the lower to the higher. We have to read these sutras together. The preceding sutra together with the present one give a single doctrine as a precept – namely, that there are stages of ascent, and these stages of ascent have to take into consideration the location of an object, the circumstances of the individual, the conditions under which practice is made, etc., so that we cannot disregard any experience when it is actually being processed through, or undergone. Detachment from the object does not mean hatred for the object. It is not dislike; it is an understanding. And, the understanding should be of such a nature that one should utilise the present relationship of oneself with the object for the purpose of transcending this relationship.

The consciousness of an object implies a faith in the reality of the object; and to the extent of the intensity of this faith, the object becomes impossible to avoid completely. And so, it has to be refined in its relationship with oneself by a proper method. This refinement of the relationship of oneself with the object, gradually, is the bhoga-apavarga process. Enjoyment or experience, and freedom from the object, is also a gradual experience. Freedom may mean ultimate freedom, kaivalya or moksha, or it may also mean any stage of freedom that we achieve in respect of an object to which we have been attached earlier. Even the first step in freedom is freedom, though it is far removed from ultimate freedom.

The freedom from an object of sense cannot be achieved easily unless the nature of the object is understood and one’s relationship to it is known properly, in its correct context. Thus, when the understanding arises, one has also to know what to do with that object. As it was mentioned, it is not love or hatred that we are discussing, but a proper appreciation of the position of the object. It is a totally impersonal attitude, a scientific attitude, where we neither love nor hate anything. We understand it; that is all. What is the understanding? It is an appreciation of what is to be done under a given condition – how to utilise that particular circumstance for a higher step. This involves a double process: bhoga and apavarga. The purpose is freedom from the object, but that freedom can be achieved only by a proper harnessing of the present situation of the relationship with the object. It is not a sudden severing of oneself from the object, but a gradual and very systematic process of gaining mastery over the object and not cutting oneself off from realities, because no one can cut oneself off from realities. The moment the reality is there as an accepted thing, it gazes at us, stares at us, for a proper attitude from us.

Mastery over the object is what is mentioned in the sutra, vaśīkārasaṁjñā vairāgyam (I.15). Mastery over the object can be gained only by an insight into the nature of the object. What is this insight? It is the recognition of the fact that any kind of empirical relationship is brought about by the contact of senses with the objects due to the similarity of structure. The gunas are the same, both in the senses and the object: guṇā guṇeṣu vartanta iti matvā na sajjate (BG III.28). We will not be attached if we know that this attachment has arisen on account of a peculiar movement of the senses towards their own mother, which is the object also. Thus is viveka, or understanding, to be developed, and mastery over attachment to be gained.