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The Study and Practice of Yoga

An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Part III: The Vibhuti Pada

Chapter 97: Sublimation of Object-Consciousness

In about four sutras we are given the final touches of the practice of samyama for the liberation of the spirit. They are very concisely treated inasmuch as many of the details have already been furnished in the Samadhi Pada itself, and there is no need to reiterate all those various aspects that have been touched upon in the relevant sutras in the first pada.

The particular type of meditation that is directly responsible for the liberation of the soul is meditation on the purusha, as the sutra tells us. Sattva puruṣayoḥ atyantāsamkīrṇayoḥ pratyaya aviśeṣaḥ bhogaḥ parārthatvāt svārthasaṁyamāt puruṣajñānam (III.36), says the sutra. The knowledge of the purusha is the knowledge of the Absolute. This comes by meditation on the purusha as the Ultimate Principle. No other kind of meditation can lead to liberation, though it can lead to various experiences, or powers. Also, it is the most difficult type of meditation because it requires qualifications not merely of the will or the thought, but also of the moral consciousness and the emotions. All these are known to us, as they have been described earlier.

There is a total disparity of character between the pure state of the purusha and the conditions of ordinary perception through the mind. In other words, there is a great difference between the status of consciousness in the state of the pure purusha and the condition of consciousness in ordinary world awareness. The present state of our mind is quite different and utterly opposed to the state of consciousness expected in the state of the purusha, or the Ultimate Subject. It is difficult to conceive the nature of the two types of awareness and, therefore, we cannot understand what the difference is. Even the best of minds can fumble here on account of a subtle desire to transpose the characters of world perception to spiritual consciousness.

Spiritual consciousness is different from world perception, but many people do not understand this. They are, again and again, brought to the wrong conviction by the habits of the mind that, somehow or other, the conditions of world experience will persist even in God-consciousness. This is exactly what is denied in this sutra. World experience is different in character from spiritual experience, and those conditions which are necessary to rouse a spiritual experience in oneself are to be acquired before a meditation in this direction can be attempted.

No one can reconstitute the structure of the mind in such a way as to prevent it from the affirmation of its own old conviction that world experience is real. Not only that – it feels that it is the only reality. Who among us here is not convinced about the reality of world experience? Who has the guts to believe that there is another sort of experience other than world experience? All that we see here with our eyes and sense with our senses is the only reality for us. That is why we cling to the things of the world so much. Neither can we believe that there are other grades of experience than the present one, nor can we believe that there is something wrong in the ways of sense perception as provided now, in this condition of the mind. Therefore, it is a herculean task, indeed, to bring the mind round to a new type of conviction, which is what is called viveka – right appreciation and a perception of the character of Reality.

The sutra which I stated just now is a precise statement of the conditions of spiritual meditation. What the sutra literally means is: sattva and the purusha – namely, the mind and the ultimate consciousness, purusha – are opposed to each other in their characters. In what way are they opposed? That is not mentioned here. We have to understand what this difference is by studying the meaning of the implications provided in other sutras. The purusha is infinite, whereas the mind is externalised. This is the primary distinction. The mind cannot have infinite awareness. It is always projected outwardly through the senses, whereas the purusha is eternally aware of an infinitude of being. This is a great difference indeed.

Further, in certain other sutras we will be told as to what the differences are between purusha-consciousness and mind-consciousness, or object-consciousness, or world-consciousness, as we may call them. Externality and eternity cannot go together; they are different intrinsically. Eternity is not externality. Though linguistically we are able to understand what this difference is, the mind cannot comprehend the meaning of this. The externality that is the character of mind perception, or any kind of world perception, is involved in a time process, which is what is called duration – a passage or a movement of time – whereas there is no such passage or duration in eternity. It is an eternal ‘now’, a word with which we are familiar but which meaning is not clear to us.

There is no such thing as past, present and future for the purusha, but there is such a thing as past, present and future for the mind. Something happened yesterday; something is happening today; something will happen tomorrow. This is how we think, isn’t it? But the purusha is not aware of this kind of distinction of past, present and future. There is a sudden awareness of a totality of existence and, therefore, there is an abolition of all duration and time-consciousness. There is an extinction of the difference created by the time process, as well as the difference created by the interference of space between objects. The mind cannot comprehend everything at one stroke.

For the mind there is successive perception but not simultaneous perception, whereas in the purusha there is simultaneous perception – an awareness which is the grasping of everything at one stroke. Therefore, the purusha and the mind are different. Sattva puruṣayoḥ atyantāsamkīrṇayoḥ pratyaya aviśeṣaḥ bhogaḥ (III.36). The inability to grasp the difference between these two is called bhoga – enjoyment, experience. All the processes which the mind undergoes are called bhoga. And we are all fond of bhoga only. That is why we cling to the world so much. There is a fear that when the mind is freed from conditions which bring about bhoga, there will be no joy. We identify contactual experience with pleasure; this is a habit of the mind. Therefore, it is not easy to wean the mind from this habit. It is difficult for the mind to believe that there can be pleasure in the purusha, because what pleasure can be there in a condition in which we are severed from all contacts?

This is what the mind will think, and what it does think. With great effort of intellectual understanding, sometimes we are convinced of the possibility of bliss even in the purusha. But the feelings revolt against such a kind of intellectual conviction, and when we actually come to the forefront of the task of this practice, the mind resents the practice because the very first thing that is required in this meditation is not to think of an object. And if we don’t think of an object, what remains? There remains a blank, and a night of darkness. This is what the mind feels, and it does not get the purusha. The purusha is not an object of awareness to the mind when it is free from contact with objects. It is in a complete oblivion, a wiping out of all awareness.

Well, this may be one of the conditions through which the mind passes, or has to pass. As mystical language tells us, it is the dark night of the soul. When we cut off all connections with everything in the world, we have to pass through darkness; we will not enter into light immediately. There will be an interim period of darkness, oblivion and unawareness of everything, which is the frightened condition, a state of affairs where the mind is in fear as to what is happening. There, higher guidance is necessary – from a Guru, a spiritual master – because we will be cast into the winds of unawareness. The mind is afraid of this condition. The moment we withdraw the mind from objects, there is unhappiness because happiness is nothing but contemplation of objects, and the requisition of this meditation is the opposite of it. So it will mean, impliedly, that we are trying to cut at the roots of all the pleasures of the mind by attempting this meditation. Therefore, the mind will not agree.

This sort of bhoga, or pleasurable experience, is the opposite of the requisite of spiritual salvation. Hence, yoga becomes difficult. The most difficult thing to undergo, and even conceive in the mind, is the abolition of all possible joys in this world. The mind is used to the joy of contact with objects, which is called bhoga. But, the sutra tells us that is an error, that it is a great mistake which has been committed due to an imaginary experience of happiness. It is not happiness at all. It is a kind of stirring of the organism by certain reactionary processes brought about by the contact – a fact which the mind cannot understand. It is a trick of nature by which it keeps the mind tied to ordinary experience. This pratyaya avishesa is bhoga. An absence of the consciousness of the distinction between the character of the mind and the nature of the purusha is called world experience. This has to be cut at the root by the methods of meditation mentioned in the Samadhi Pada.

Svārthasaṁyamāt puruṣajñānam (III.36). Here is the secret of yoga, or true meditation, from the spiritual point of view. Purusha jnana, or knowledge of the purusha, arises by svartha samyamasamyama on svartha, meditation on one’s own essential nature, or the purpose of the spirit. This is the meditation prescribed. The purpose of the spirit, the character of the spirit, is the object of meditation. We cannot once again go into all the details of this subject, inasmuch as we have covered it in the Samadhi Pada. But suffice it to say that the contemplation of the nature of the spirit, or its purpose, is equivalent to a precondition of a grasp of the nature of the spirit by viveka shakti, or analytic understanding. It is enough for the mind to understand and appreciate that the purusha is consciousness in nature. And consciousness has to be indivisible, by the very nature of it, which means that it is infinite, unconditioned by objects, space and time. Therefore, any experience in terms of space and time or objects is contrary to the nature of the purusha. Hence, there should be an effort exercised upon the mind to sublimate object awareness into spiritual awareness.

Spiritual contemplation is a process of sublimation of objectivity into universality. This kind of meditation is what is introduced in this sutra, and when this is practised, purusha jnana arises – knowledge of the purusha comes. But this is a hard task because the conception of the purusha is not provided to the mind usually, in ordinary world experience. The nature of the purusha does not mean the nature of the individual self. It is the nature of the Universal Self. Purusha is a name that we give to the Absolute itself – that which comprehends all things. Therefore, there is the need for the practice of those conditions mentioned in the Samadhi Pada, meaning the conditions which are designated as vairagya and abhyasa.

Dṛṣṭa ānuśravika viṣaya vitṛṣṇasya vaśīkārasaṁjñā vairāgyam (I.15). A complete absence of taste for things which are seen as well as unseen has been described as vairagya. This meditation cannot come to a person who has a taste for things which are outside. It is not merely an absence of sense-contact; it is an absence of taste itself. ‘Vitrishnasya’ is the term used. A dislike arisen on account of the non-cognition of value in things which are external – this is called vairagya. And a persistent practice of this condition, the maintenance of this awareness, called vashikara samjna – that is called abhyasa. All these we have studied in the Samadhi Pada. This is the technique.

Patanjali mentions this to us once again, in the Vibhuti Pada, for the purpose of acquisition of the knowledge of the purusha. Sattva puruṣa anyatā khyātimātrasya sarvabhāva adhiṣṭhātṛtvaṁ sarvajñātṛtvaṁ ca (III.50). When there is an acquisition of this understanding and an establishment of oneself in this status of meditation, some extraordinary results follow, and they are mentioned as sarva bhava adhisthatritva and sarva jnatritva. One becomes the substratum of everything as a result of this meditation – that is sarva bhava adhisthatritva. As the substratum of all things, there is no need for this consciousness to move towards objects, because it is the substratum of even the object. As the result of this, again, there is sarva jnatritva – knowledge of everything. The substance of everything is also endowed with the knowledge of everything. It follows, because everything is a modification of the substance. One who has become the substance itself, as the substratum of all things, naturally gets endowed with this knowledge. This knowledge is called taraka – that which takes one across the ocean of sorrow.

Tārakaṁ sarvaviṣayaṁ sarvathāviṣayaṁ akramaṁ ca iti vivekajam jñānam (III.55). This taraka knowledge is of such a nature that its object is everything, as different from the mental knowledge which is provided to us now, at present, which has only certain objects as its contents, and not all objects. A certain set of objects becomes the content of mental consciousness, empirically. But here, there is sarva visayatva – anything that is existent is a constant and perpetual content of this consciousness. It is not merely sarva visaya, but is also sarvatha visaya – it is aware of everything in every condition, not only in one condition. For example, we are aware of objects in one condition only, not in all conditions. In the earlier sutras we have been told that every object undergoes various conditions – the parinamas mentioned. And we cannot be aware of all the parinamas, or all the transformations of the past, present and future at one stroke, because of the limited character of the mind in its capacity to know things. Only the present is known. The past is not known. The future is not known.

But here, there is knowledge of all conditions of the objects – even those conditions which the object has not undergone and are yet to come. They also will be known at one stroke – that is sarvatha visaya. Sarvaviṣayaṁ sarvathāviṣayaṁ – all knowledge, and knowledge of every condition of everything, every state through which one passed, through which one passes and through which one has to pass – all these will become contents of this awareness. How, in what manner, does it become a content of awareness? One after another, successively? No. Akramam. Akramam means not successive, but simultaneous. Instantaneous awareness of all conditions that are possible, at any period of time – this is called viveka jnana.Tārakaṁ sarvaviṣayaṁ sarvathāviṣayaṁ akramaṁ ca iti vivekajam jñānam (III.55).

These are only stories to the mind which is sunk in the mire of world-consciousness. One cannot even dream of what this state of affairs is. What can be meant by ‘simultaneous awareness of all things’ and ‘simultaneous awareness of every condition of all things’? This is called sarva jnatritva; this is omniscience. And this is designated by the term ‘vivekajam jnanam’, knowledge born of discriminative understanding, which is a peculiar term used in the yoga psychology. It is also called taraka, the saving knowledge. This information is given to us in these sutras to give us a comfort spiritually, that we are not merely entering into a lion’s den where we find nothing but death, but that we are entering into a new type of life altogether, where eternity embraces us with a new life which is durationless and, therefore, deathless. This contemplation is the only technique, the only method, the only means of the salvation of the soul.

Sattva puruṣayoḥ śuddhi sāmye kaivalyam iti (III.56). Kaivalya, or ultimate independence of the spirit, arises when there is equanimity of the structural character of sattva and the purusha. Sattva means the mind, or we may call it prakriti; purusha is the consciousness. When there is similarity established between the two, then the one does not remain as an object of the other, nor is one a subject in relation to the other. When the two become one on account of the intense purity of the experiencing consciousness, infinity enters into experience. This is kaivalya, this is mokshasattva puruṣayoḥ śuddhi sāmye kaivalyam iti (III.56). These sutras have given us, in a concise manner, the principles of spiritual contemplation.

It has to be taken for granted that the conditions which are stated in earlier sutras as necessary for this practice are already acquired to an appreciable degree. In fact, everything that is of importance in the practice of yoga has been mentioned in the Samadhi Pada itself. That one pada is sufficient – it is a complete statement of the entire process of yoga practice. The other sections are like an elaborate commentary on those instructions which are given in the Samadhi Pada. We have to recall to our minds, once again, what are these conditions. One of the main things mentioned in the Samadhi Pada were vairagya and abhyasa, and tivra samvegatva – intense ardour of the aspiring spirit is required in order that success may become imminent.

The ardour of the soul was stated to be a very essential condition for quick success. What is the ardour; what is the fervour; what is the aspiring spirit; what is its intensity? That will be the factor which will judge the quickness of the success. Of course, the other things that were mentioned in the Samadhi Pada are the different methods of practice. How the mind can be fixed on different objects initially so that later on it can be fixed on any object, for the matter of that, for the purpose of samyama, was mentioned in the Samadhi Pada. The world of objects becomes, finally, the object of meditation. The methods of Patanjali are really those stated to be what he calls savitarka, savichara, sananda and sasmita samadhis. These are the secrets of Patanjali’s yoga, and everything else is an explanation thereof. We have studied this – what savitarka means, etc.

These stages are the gradual sublimations of world-consciousness, or object-consciousness, by diminishing the distance between the subject and the object of meditation, which takes place automatically and for which there is no need for any special effort. The distance that separates the experiencing consciousness from its object becomes less and less as one advances more and more, so that what is called samyama in the Vibhuti Pada is the abolition of this distance itself. There is a complete transcendence of spatial awareness in samyama.

Thus, there is a very scientific methodology provided to us in these sutras, which have to be studied gradually, stage by stage, in their successive intensity and applicability. Many authors think that the sutras of Patanjali in respect of yoga are concluded with the Vibhuti Pada because in it he mentions that kaivalya is attained. What else is there to say, afterwards? Some people are of the opinion that there are only three sections of Patanjali, not four sections, but there are others who think that there should be four sections, not three, because each section is called a pada – Samadhi Pada, Sadhana Pada, Vibhuti Pada and Kaivalya Pada. A pada is a quarter, and we cannot have three quarters; quarters are always four. So, inasmuch as the word ‘pada’ is used in respect of each section, it is the opinion of many that four sections must be there, not three. And the fourth section has a meaning of its own. Though it is not directly connected with practice, it furnishes certain details. Just as there are people who think that the Bhagavadgita ends with the eleventh chapter and the successive chapters are additions, as a kind of commentary, there are others who think that they are not simply additions; they have an organic connection with what has preceded.

So is the case with these sutras. The Kaivalya Pada is a metaphysical disquisition of Patanjali, where we find his philosophical peculiarities as distinct from other schools of thought, which of course have great relevance to the practice which he has described in the earlier sutras.