The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
PART III: THE VIBHUTI PADA
Chapter 88: Samyana – The Union of Dharna, Dhyana and Samadhi
It was mentioned earlier that in the state of nirvitarka samadhi, the object alone shines before one’s consciousness, and this is the result of the purification of the mind into the state of sattva. You have to bring to your memory here, in the context of the Vibhuti Pada, everything that you have learned in the Samadhi Pada, because the entire series of expositions in this section is a large commentary on the state of samadhi; therefore, no details are given once again in the Vibhuti Pada. Many of you may have forgotten the whole thing. But the details are very important, because the processes that lead to the absorption of consciousness are as important as the actual absorption itself.
Tadeva arthamātranirbhāsaṁ svarūpaśūnyam iva samādhiḥ (III.3). In this particular sutra that we were studying in the previous chapter, there is a specific mention of the essential feature of samadhi – namely, the obliteration of personal consciousness. There is, therefore, neither a need for comparison of the definition of the absorption of the mind in nirvitarka, mentioned in the Samadhi Pada, with a general definition of samadhi given in the Vibhuti Pada, nor is there any kind of contradiction between the two. The definition of spiritual communion that is given in this sutra is a common characteristic of any kind of absorption – whether it is savitarka or nirvitarka, or savichara or nirvichara, or whatever it is. Communion is of various stages. In this sutra, the stages are not mentioned; it simply states what communion is. What sort of communion do we have to pass through? What are the experiences we have at the different levels of experience? They are mentioned in the Samadhi Pada. It is something like defining education. Education may be defined in one sentence, but we can imagine what vast implication there is behind this definition, because it is a single-sentence definition that implies years and years of hard effort of psychological training.
Likewise, this particular common definition of communion, or samadhi, given in this sutra, tadeva arthamātranirbhāsaṁ svarūpaśūnyam iva samādhiḥ (III.3), is a common denominator of every stage of communion. The stages are described in the Samadhi Pada: savitarka, nirvitarka, savichara, nirvichara, sananda, sasmita. The point that has been emphasised while defining the nature of communion is that there should be a movement of the mind towards identification of itself with its object. This identification takes place by degrees. It does not suddenly jump upon the object. This is not even possible, because of the various difficulties we considered previously. The mind is not really prepared for the communion in spite of the fact that it has been struggling hard for this very same aim and objective. This is an essential point to remember. That we are not prepared for it will be known at the last stage only, and not in the earlier stages. Every sadhaka is prepared for God-realisation; we can take it as a common feature of every seeker. But this is only preparedness at the lower levels. At the advanced stage, this requisition of one’s being ready for this ultimate merger becomes lukewarm, and finally it becomes a frightening something, so that there is a withdrawal of the mind.
There can be nothing worse for a mind to conceive than its own annihilation. This is a fear not merely of the last psychological condition, but of any individualistic entity. What can be worse for us to conceive than our own death? The worst pain is death. Nothing can be worse than that and, therefore, it is the last thing that one would be prepared for. This psychological death that the mind is working for is really something like a person preparing for days and months to commit suicide, and when the last moment comes, he will not do it. The preparation is one thing; the actual act is a different thing altogether. There is a great difference in quality. Similarly, the mind will think three times before it actually embarks upon this adventure of self-annihilation, which is the merger of the mind into the object. This fear of the mind is really baseless. It is a kind of stupid idiocy of the affirmative principle – namely, the ego – which somehow or other speaks in a language which goes at a tangent, having no connection at all with the objective that is before oneself.
In the identification of oneself with the object, there is no loss; it is only gain. But it looks as if it is a loss. The aspect of loss gets emphasised primarily, much more than the aspect of gain that is involved in it, because the mind automatically makes a comparison between the event that is to take place, namely, the communion, and the circumstances which follow from the maintenance of one’s individuality – the pleasures thereof and the various sorts of relationships which have been regarded as vital and real for one’s very existence. It becomes difficult to conceive that existence gets enhanced rather than gets diminished in communion. The basis of the fear is this: the existence of a person – an individual or the ego, the mind or consciousness, or whatever it is – appears to get obliterated completely, wiped out from existence. So, instead of trying for a larger existence, we appear to be entering into an annihilation of existence. This is the reason why there is a lot of misgiving on the part of seekers, and this subtle fear always works inwardly like a disturbing factor. It goes on disturbing in as many ways as possible until it succeeds in preventing the mind from entering into this communion.
Suffice it to say that the being of the object naturally enlarges the dimension of the being of the subject; it does not annihilate it. There is no loss of any kind whatsoever. There is only an increase in the dimension of being. There is an enhancement of the value of one’s life – an increase in every respect, in quantity as well as quality. The quantity increases on account of the addition of the value and the existence of the object in the subject. The quality increases on account of the entry of the mind into the subjectivity of the object. The highest quality is the subject, not the object. Therefore, to enter into the subjective being of the object would be the enhancement of the quality of experience, while the being of the object, when it is identified with the being of the subject, enhances the quantity. Either way one is a gainer, both in quantity as well as quality. So, what is the fear? The fear is baseless, just as a child cries when it is alone in the wilderness. It is not frightened about any existent thing; it is simply frightened because there is nothing around. Thus, one can be frightened merely because of the absence of objects. When we are alone, we are in fear. Generally, we are afraid because we see something frightening. But when there is nothing to see, even then we are frightened. This is a child’s fear, and this is the fear of any individual placed in unusual circumstances.
Therefore it is that the great teacher Gaudapada mentions in his Karikas that if yogis are frightened about it, what about others? We will be simply stunned even to imagine such a possibility of becoming something of which we have no idea. Great mystics have given rapturous exclamations of this condition. The language of mysticism is not English or Sanskrit or anything that is spoken through the tongue. It is the language of feeling and, therefore, it cannot be expressed except through image, comparison, metaphor and such images, which are the only means of communication. Epics, for example, are one of the means. Logically we cannot explain it, because this is an experience which is above logic; therefore, there is only story, image, metaphor, comparison, etc. When one enters into such experiences it looks frightening because of the maintenance of individuality. This is what happened to Arjuna in the earlier part of the great prayer he offers to the Virat Svarupa in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavadgita. There is an expression of fear – awe. It is like the awe that we feel when we stand on the shore of the ocean. We are frightened to even see the ocean, and we know why we are frightened. It is very clear that we are frightened because of the largeness, the vastness and the magnitude that is before us. The magnitude and also the imagination as to what the ocean can do to us are what frightens. What can the ocean do to us? It can simply swallow us – that is all it can do; and we are frightened of being swallowed. That is, again, the fear of self-annihilation.
Thus, in the beginning, in the earlier part of Arjuna’s prayer, there is an expression of awe, fear and consternation. He is flabbergasted, and it is impossible for him to bear the sight of the Virat Svarupa because there is a retention of individuality in the earlier stage of communion. It is at this stage of the retention of individuality, simultaneous with the flash of Cosmic Insight, that there is a sense of fear and shaking up, because the Cosmic and the individual are incompatibles – they cannot go together – but there is a peculiar verge, or borderland, where one dashes against the other. The individual touches the Infinite, and the Infinite kicks the individual back. That condition is the condition of fear, awe, and impossibility of expression and feeling. This will not continue for a long time. How long it will continue varies from individual to individual, according to idiosyncrasies. In some cases it may last for days, months or years; and sometimes it may be for a few minutes only. The border of the entry of the mind into the nature of the object is the stage where there is a sudden reshuffling of the constituents of personality; and this reshuffling can take place in all the levels of one’s being. Our bodily cells will change, and they can be charged with a new set-up of values. The vital energy will start to flow in different ways, so that we will feel a different kind of warmth in our system. The mind will be reoriented thoroughly, and our outlook of life will change. The logic of the intellect also will be completely different, and what we will be, we alone can know – nobody can explain it. So this is, if we would like to call it, an all-inspiring picture of the great aim of life, the goal of yoga, which has been described almost in a mathematical language in the simple, precise, crisp sutra of Patanjali: trayam ekatra saṁyamaḥ (III.4).
In future, we will not use the words ‘dharana’, ‘dhyana’ and ‘samadhi’, but only the word ‘samyama’, which is inclusive of all these three stages. The processes of concentration, meditation and samadhi have been defined in a single word by the author of the sutras – samyama. He does not use any other word hereafter. Only the word samyama is used, which is a figure to explain the union of the meditating consciousness with anything whatsoever. Whenever there is a union of the meditating principle with the object that is chosen, that condition is called samyama. Patanjali goes on speaking about samyamas of various types, by which he means the identity which one establishes with the various objects that are taken up for that purpose. We can do samyama on anything. We can do it on a watch, on a human being, on a mountain, on the sun, moon and stars – or on anything, for the matter of that. The consequence immediately following from samyama on anything is supposed to be a complete knowledge of the object on which we are doing samyama, and also a complete mastery over it; we control it thoroughly, root and branch, when the samyama is performed. If we do samyama on a person, that person is simply in our pocket forever, and that person can no longer exist independently. He is us, only existing in another form. Likewise, we can perform samyama on various objects. These are all wondrous results which Patanjali describes in the various aphorisms which he gives at the end of the Vibhuti Pada.
Trayam ekatra saṁyamaḥ (III.4), says the sutra. All three put together – dharana, dhyana and samadhi: concentration, meditation and communion – are signified, all three together, in a single term called ‘samyama’. If samyama can be performed on anything, then one is a master of yoga. Until that stage is reached, one is still a preparatory student on the path of yoga. It is very difficult to do samyama on anything because, as it has been already pointed out, samyama is the union of oneself with that on which one is doing samyama. We have never become one with anything in this world at any time, up until now. We are always separate. We have always stood aside in respect of everything in the world.
Now we are trying to live a new kind of life. We are entering into a new realm altogether, and a new world is being opened before us. A world of samyama will be there instead of the world of isolated objects, of mere social contact and relationship. Samyama is the opposite of contact, the opposite of social relationship of any kind. In social relationship or external contact, there is only an apparent harmony between oneself and the other; there is no real harmony. There is a counterfeit harmony that is brought about by the adjustment of our outer personality with the outer personality of other things, persons, etc. But in samyama it is not like that. We are not trying to contact anything, nor are we going to establish any relationship with anything – we are going to become that thing. This is something horrifying for an ordinary psychologist to understand or conceive. To become a thing is samyama.
We can become even a pinhead, not merely a large object; and to the extent we are master over it, we have a complete insight into it. We have an intuition, as they call it. Samyama is the intuition that we gain over the object of samyama – a power that we gain over the object of samyama to such an extent that the object of samyama ceases to be an outside object. It is only an appendage to our being. It is our own limb, as it were; it is we ourselves appearing outside. If this technique of samyama could be employed in respect of larger and larger groups of objects, what will happen to the meditating consciousness? It will become larger and larger in the quantity as well as the quality of its being. Slowly there will be a tendency of man to become superman. A superman is nothing but an individual who has transcended the limitations of ordinary human individuality. Instead of being located within the walls of this six-foot bodily individuality, which he has up to this time been regarding as the total reality of himself, he now exceeds the width of this individuality and then comprehends within his being the beings of other things which can be regarded as the environment – the objects, the space, the time, etc.
Man rises to the state of superman when he begins to practise samyama on the chosen ideal of yoga. What are the objects on which we do samyama is a matter of initiation. That is called initiation, actually speaking. We are introduced to the technique of meditating on a particular chosen ideal – that is initiation, upadesa, and that is the beginning of the true spiritual experience of a seeker. To come to the point, it is mentioned here that all the three processes are clubbed together into a single experience or act of the mind, or consciousness, upon the object chosen, which is called samyama.
Tajjayāt prajñālokaḥ (III.5). A light of a supernal nature will begin to flash before us, says Patanjali. It is not the sunlight or the torch light which we are used to. It is a new kind of light, identifiable with enlightenment, that will flash when samyama is practised. It is not an external light, but an internal light. It is not the light of the physical objects, which are merely vibrations of the particles of matter in a heightened intensity, but it is the consciousness itself revealing itself in greater and greater degrees and appearing before itself as an object of vision – that is the flash. The various levels of being will gradually reveal themselves to the meditating consciousness, and the insight that one gains into these various levels of being is the flash that is mentioned – that is the prajna. Patanjali has very carefully used the word ‘prajnalokah’. It is the light of consciousness. Prajna is consciousness, intelligence, understanding, illumination, enlightenment, whatever we may call it, and aloka is light. Prajnalokah is the light of inner illumination. That is what will follow when samyama is practised.
Tajjayāt prajñālokaḥ (III.5). We have to very carefully understand every word of this sutra. When we have mastery over the object, then we have illumination in respect of that object. They are simultaneous, one with the other. Mastery over the nature of the constituents of the object is identical with the insight into the object, and vice versa. A thorough knowledge of the inner structure of the object is insight, and that insight is identical with gaining mastery over the object. That was already mentioned. When there is jaya or conquest over the object by means of insight, which is effected through communion, or entry into the very nature of the object by samyama, there is then a flash of enlightenment in respect of that object. That is the meaning of the sutra, tajjayāt prajñālokaḥ. These levels of being into which the consciousness of the meditator will gain entry have been described in the Samadhi Pada. What are the stages of samadhi – savitarka, etc. – mentioned there? They are, practically speaking, the levels of experience. There are an endless series of levels of experience. It is impossible to describe how many levels are there. But, for the purpose of exposition and practical convenience, Patanjali has mentioned that there are about six, seven, or eight stages. The prajnalokah or the light of insight, mentioned in this sutra here in the Vibhuti Pada, is in respect of those levels through which one has to pass. First there will be insight into the physical nature of things, and we will gain mastery over the physical nature. Then there is a gradual rise into the subtler realms, the inner constituents – the tanmatras, the sense organs etc. Then we go higher and higher, about which we need not speak here.
Thus, the meaning of this sutra, tajjayāt prajñālokaḥ (III.5), is that there is an identity of knowledge and being in the experience called samyama on any object. If you recall to your memory what we discussed long ago, you will remember that real knowledge is identity with being. Any other knowledge is not real knowledge. Where the content of our knowledge lies outside our knowledge, it cannot be called real knowledge. By physical observation, through a telescope, we may know so many things about what is happening in the sun, but this cannot be called knowledge of the sun because the sun is outside the knowledge that we have got. Real knowledge of the sun would mean entry into the sun itself. That is called samyama.
Thus, this sutra, tajjayāt prajñālokaḥ (III.5), makes out the great significant revelation that the aim of yoga is knowledge that is one with the being of the object of knowledge. It is quite different from any other knowledge that we are acquainted with in this world. It is not learning. It is not ordinary education. It is something superb and transcendent to all that the mind can conceive in its relational life, in its phenomenal existence. This is precisely the essence of spirituality.