The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
Part III: The Vibhuti Pada
Chapter 95: Liberation is the Only Aim of Yoga
These sutras that we have been studying for some time purport to make out the connection that exists among the principal ingredients in the process of knowledge – namely, the object, the mind and the senses. These factors in perception or knowledge are mutually related, and in fact they form an organic whole. It is not true that any one is superior or inferior to the other in these three elements of knowledge. Therefore, it is also quite unintelligible as to how one can influence the other, control the other, inflict pain on another, or arouse joy in another. How does it happen that an object can stimulate pleasure and pain in the subject?
Considering the organic connection that has to be there between the mind and the objects, inasmuch as the mind and the object are both two aspects of the manifestation of a single substance – prakriti, which is the dharmi of which both the mind and the objects are dharmas – there is no question of one influencing the other, because both stand on an equal footing to some extent, like the right hand and the left hand. We cannot say which is superior to the other. There is no question of one causing an effect in the other. They work in parallel, and work for a higher purpose, transcending the operations of these two individually so that the mutual interaction of the mind and the objects is not intended to bring about any experience individually in the mind, or the subject, but is for the liberation of the spirit, as the sutra puts it: bhogāpavargārtham dṛśyam(II.18). This bhoga, this experience of the contact of the subject with the object, is for the purpose of the liberation of the spirit, ultimately.
Thus, there is a transcendent purpose in this contact of the mind with the objects through the senses. If this purpose is mistaken, misconstrued, completely forgotten or kept out of sight, then there is bondage. If there is no transcendent purpose in the operation of the limbs of the body, there would be no harmony in the working of the limbs. There is a deeper motive behind every activity of the parts of an organism, and this motive is the liberation of the soul, though it is brought about by certain processes which are called experiences, or bhoga, in the language of Patanjali. Bhogāpavargārtham dṛśyam (II.18), says the sutra. The object, which is the drsya, is intended for the purpose of bringing about experiences in the subject with the intention of the liberation of the soul, ultimately.
Hence, anything that happens anywhere has a single purpose – whether it is a happy event or an unhappy one, pleasurable or otherwise. Whatever be the circumstance through which one passes in life, all this has a single aim, and that is the freedom of the soul. By kicks and blows and permutations, combinations and transfers, and the bringing about of transformations of various types, prakriti drags the whole cosmos towards the consummation which is the Self-realisation of the Absolute, which is the Spirit. For this purpose is this drama of prakriti. But the aim, which is so sublime even in the littlest of experiences, is completely kept out of the sight of the mind of the individual, and there is only a restricted vision provided so that the mind cognises only a little object in front of it, and develops individualised relationships which are contrary to the law of nature. This is the reason why ordinarily there is no possibility of the mind concentrating on an object as an exclusive reality, because there are other objects upon which this object hangs, and by which it is influenced.
The mutual interaction of the mind and the objects through the senses is a complex process which has a connotation deeper than what appears on the surface outside and merely what is brought to the notice of the mind inside. Experiences are not intended to bring pleasure or pain. That is not the purpose of nature. That there is a sort of experience which goes by the name of ‘pleasure’ or ‘pain’ is a side issue. It is not the main objective of experience. Every experience is impersonal in nature. It has no other intention than bringing about a cosmical awakening in the spirit within.
The pleasures and the pains that hang upon this experience, incidentally, are the reactions of the mind in respect of this experience, from its own point of view. If the mind is not to react in a particular manner to the experience provided in this manner, there would be neither pleasure nor pain. It is a ‘feeling’ that is called pleasure or pain; it is not an existent something by itself. And a feeling is nothing but a reaction of the psychological organ. Why does it react in a particular manner? It reacts because of its restricted vision in respect of the experience through which it passes. If it has a vision of the motive or the purpose that is hidden behind the experience, this reaction will not be there.
The yoga process, by means of samyama, attempts to raise the mind from the status of an ordinary onlooker of the object and an individual subject, in order that it may enter into the organic character of this experience which is between itself and the object outside. Samyama is an organic completeness of experience. We become a complete whole when we are practising yoga. We are not a partial being. We are raised to a fullness of substance and being, which creates in us a sense of delight, far transcending the pleasures of sense. The samyama process creates happiness. It is not an ordinary emotional reaction. It is not happiness in the ordinary sense. There is no term at all that is equivalent to the character of this experience. It is not delight; it is not happiness; it is not pleasure; it is nothing of the kind. It is something more than all this. What one feels when one is possessed of the soul is difficult to explain in language; and it is the soul that is gripped and grasped in samyama.
There is a partial experience of the soul in ordinary subjectivity. The soul is not located in our body alone. It is all-pervading Universal Being. That is the soul of things. And so when we wrongly locate that soul inside our limited body, we have only a fraction of the experience of the soul; therefore, in its reality, the soul does not rise to the surface of our consciousness in any of our actions or experiences. Hence, we cannot be really happy at any time, because real happiness is the rousing of the soul to the surface of consciousness. The being of the soul should become one with the consciousness that is experiencing any kind of event, for the matter of that. But the being of the soul gets submerged in the activity of the ego, or the asmita; therefore, there is the feeling of limitedness on the part of the mind, which is the centre of the subject. In samyama, or the deep absorption of the subject-consciousness in the object, there is an occasion provided for the manifestation of the soul in its totality.
The impossibility of experiencing this soul arises on account of the perception of an object outside. This externality of perception has to be completely overcome by a technique of coming in union with the object. We have created a bifurcated experience in ourselves, on account of which there is a segment of the soul on the subject side, and another segment on the object side. The object side drags the soul from the subject; and the soul from the other side, which is also the subject, drags the object from its own point of view. So there is a mutual pull and push of the subject and the object. It is the Infinite that is actually the cause of the mutation of properties, or the transmutation of qualities – the changes in prakriti. The experiences, which are the bhoga mentioned in the sutra of Patanjali, are nothing but the processes of prakriti through which the soul passes for the sake of awakening itself to its total consciousness, which it is unable to experience on account of its limitation to a particular guna of prakriti – sattva, or rajas, or tamas. It is only in a condition which is above the three gunas that there can be an experience of the soul.
When this fact is grasped properly, which is the lesson that the sutras mentioned provide us with, there is an easy access into the process of samyama. We can fix ourselves on the object, not regarding it as an object any more but as a part of our own selves. This is exactly what is intended in the meaning of the sutra which we have already studied in connection with what is known as ekagrata parinama. Tulya pratyayau was the phrase used in that particular sutra. There is a tulya pratyayau, or an equanimity of experience in respect of the subject as well as the object, at a stage when the total being is about to rise to the surface of consciousness.
In the beginning there is a tussle, and that is the experience known as nirodha parinama. Then, gradually, there is a rise to a more controlled condition of the mind, which is samadhi parinama. And, finally, we come to ekagrata parinama, where the object ceases to be an object and it assumes a character which is similar to the subject. That situation is called tulya pratyayau. There will then be no kind of friction between the subject and the object. There will be a flow of the current of thought from the subject to the object, and in this particular state we will not know which is the subject and which is the object. We will be placed in the position of the object – such is the intensity of concentration. As this is a difficult thing to conceive and practise, Patanjali gives us an analysis of the relationship of the mind with the objects by saying etena bhūtendriyeṣu dharma lakṣaṇa avasthā pariṇāmāḥ vyākhyātāḥ (III.13) and śānta udita avyapadeśya dharma anupātī dharmī (III.14).
The very same truth is now revealed by another sutra where Patanjali says: krama anyatvaṁ pariṇāma anyatve hetuḥ (III.15). The modifications into which prakriti casts itself to appear as an object are really not objects of sense-experience. How prakriti modifies itself into an object, the senses cannot conceive. They cannot understand the process which prakriti adopts in becoming a particular object. But the sutra tells us how this happens. The object is nothing but a modification of prakriti; that is the parinama. Parinama anyatva means the difference that is observed among the different objects of perception. One object is different from the other on account of a differentia, or a peculiar specific character, that is present in each particular object. This specification of a particular object, as distinguished from others, is caused by the succession of the gunas. That is what is known as krama anyatvam. ‘Krama’ is a succession, an order.
It will be very surprising to know that this sutra is telling us exactly what the quantum theory of modern physics says. Long before Max Planck, who was the father of the quantum theory, was born, Patanjali was describing the way in which objects are formed. Modern physical science tells us that the nature of an object is dependent on the succession, the velocity and the placement of the electrical particles within an atom. Patanjali does not use such words as ‘electrical particles’, etc. He uses the word ‘gunas’. But the process that these two people describe is identical. What Patanjali tells us in this sutra is that the solidity and the specific character of a particular object is dependent on the intensity, the velocity and the succession of the gunas of prakriti, which are only three. As the physicist tells us, a particular atom differs from another on account of the successive placement of the electrons around the nucleus, as they call it, together with the velocity which differs from one atom to another. It is only the number, the velocity and the pattern of these electrons that distinguishes one from the other.
This sutra is telling us same thing – that one object differs from the other object on account of the velocity of the gunas and the particular location of these gunas in the succession of their revolution. This means to say that the particular degree of intensity of the three gunas in varying proportions in the formation of an object is the cause of the difference of one object from another object. All objects are made up of the same substance, just as science tells us that everything is made up of subatomic particles. Whether it is cow’s milk or snake poison, it makes no difference – they are made up of the same thing. They appear to be different on account of this peculiar reason.
This sutra, krama anyatvaṁ pariṇāma anyatve hetuḥ (III.15), highlights the truth that it should not be difficult for the mind to absorb itself in samyama on an object, because of the fact that all objects are similar in their character; and because of the similarity of the structure of objects, there should be no distraction in the mind. What prevents the absorption of the mind in the object is the distraction that is behind it. The distraction is caused by the feeling of the reality of other objects, to which it gets attached. All this is due to the belief in the real diversity of things, which is not actually there, says the sutra.
The mind which contemplates, the senses which drag this mind to the object, and the object itself are all of a similar substance. They appear to be different on account of the intensity of the gunas in varying proportion, either on the subject-side or on the object-side. So, if we can actually go deep into the meaning of what these sutras tell us, we will be taken to a surprising conclusion: there is no such thing as a meditator. The meditator does not exist, because what meditates is already a part of that which is meditated upon.
This feeling of the unity of the meditating subject with the object will be the masterstroke in bringing about samyama. All attachments will automatically cease. It is the universe itself meditating in the practice of samyama; it is neither you, nor I, nor any individual. The individual becomes only an occasion – rather, a symbol – for the manifestation of a universal power, which creates a universal situation; this is the practice of samyama. If this is practised effectively, one can know the past, the present and the future. This is what Patanjali concludes. We will not be oblivious of the past or ignorant of the future. Pariṇāmatraya saṁyamāt atīta anāgatajñānam (III.16). We will become omniscience itself. If this meditation can be practised daily, we will be slowly taken up to a level of consciousness where we will begin to feel what is in the past and what is in the future – and, of course, what is in the present.
The past and the future are cut off from our present experience because of our weddedness to the body and a wrong feeling that the object is located in one place only. This feeling the author wants to remove from our minds by this critical analysis of the situation of the subject as well as the object. The mind will be lifted up into a Universal awareness. There will be a flow of events continually, from the past to the present, and the present to the future, so that there will be no past, no present and no future. There will be a continuity of experience because experience, here, becomes a total comprehensiveness of all the features of experience and is not limited only to the present.
Previously we studied, in connection with an earlier sutra, that we are aware only of the present and we are not aware of anything that is in the past or in the future because of the force with which all the gunas emphasise themselves in a particular manner, to the exclusion of the emphasis they laid in the past and the emphasis that they are going to lay in the future. We have no control over these gunas and, therefore, we are subject to the emphasis that they lay at any given moment of time and we are aware only of that particular stress of the gunas. That stress is the present. The past has gone and the future has not come. But if we are lifted from this stress by the practice of samyama, this knot which has tied consciousness to a little location or space-point, which is the present notion of ours as subject-object relation, can be broken. Then we will enter into a vastness of feeling, a universality of experience; we will become as vast as space itself. Wecan imagine how terrible it is, what sort of samyama Patanjali actually had in his mind. We are really as vast as space even now, but that does not become a content of our awareness at present because of this hard-boiled ego, this asmita, which will not listen to any advice of anybody. “What I say is right” – that is its conviction, which is what is actually broken through in samyama. Hence, we are given a great, solacing message in the sutra: pariṇāmatraya saṁyamāt atīta anāgatajñānam (III.16). Atita anagata means the past as well as that which is yet to come. We will be aware of this.
In the beginning it will not be Cosmic-consciousness suddenly, or God-consciousness. It will not come like that. It will be only an inclination, a hint, a sensing, a feeling, a tendency to feel what is going to happen. There are many people who can feel what is going to happen; they are not Cosmic-conscious, but they can have a sensation of something going to happen. That is because of their psychic relationship with the future event that is going to take place. This is only possible by the loosening of the knot of asmita. The more hard the ego is, the less is the possibility of this experience. Therefore, day in and day out we have to struggle with meditation, and it will come to the point, later on, that we cannot do anything else in life except this, if only our objective is this.
Here, yoga takes a very serious turn and becomes the sole profession in one’s life, and no other profession is permissible, because here is the masterstroke which deals a deathblow to all other problems of life and reveals the character of Truth in its nakedness. All the sutras that come after are only descriptions of the results that follow by various types of samyama. They are called siddhis in Sanskrit – the perfections or powers that we gain by various types of concentration. If we concentrate on an elephant, what will happen? If we concentrate on land, what will happen? If we concentrate on the sun, what will happen? If we concentrate on our head, what will happen? And so on, Patanjali gives various types of samyama – as specimens, of course. It is not that he exhausts the list. We can do samyama on anything, for the matter of that. But he gives certain chosen specified types of samyama, and tells us what consequences will follow.
These perfections, or siddhis, mentioned in the following sutras are of three kinds: perfections, or powers, which belong to the objective world, those which are concerned with the subject, and those that are concerned with the Absolute, the supreme purusha. Three types of powers accrue to a yogi by the practice of samyama. The teaching of the Yoga Shastra is that we should not engage ourselves too much in the acquisition of powers, or siddhis, by concentrating either on the objective side or the subjective side, because the intention of yoga is not the acquisition of powers. Though powers may come on the way, of their own accord, we are not going to practise yoga for this purpose.
The aim of yoga is liberation, salvation, kaivalya moksha, and, therefore, samyama should be practised only in such a way as to bring about the salvation of the soul, or the attainment of moksha. We should not dabble in concentration on objects for the purpose of telepathic communication, or distant healing, or control to be exercised on other people, on other things, etc. – which we can do, but we should not do. A warning is given in one of the sutras: we should not exercise our power of concentration on other people or on other things if they are not going to be helpful in our salvation.
After a certain stage of meditation – say, after a few years of deep concentration and meditation of samyama – we will acquire some powers. Everyone will acquire some powers. And if we think very deeply, that may materialise. But we must be very cautious as to how we will direct our thoughts when such powers accrue to us, because we are likely to be tempted by the emotions and the sentiments of the mind which will carry us headlong into some illusion and completely cut us off from the path of salvation.
So when Patanjali tells us what are the powers that will accrue to us by deep samyama practised in different ways, he also warns us by saying that these methods should not be adopted unless they are conducive to the liberation of the soul. Such are the various wonders of yoga which will reveal themselves spontaneously to a yogi by regular practice.