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


Chapter 99: The Entry of the Eternal into the Individual

We are now at the Kaivalya Pada, which deals with various subjects as a sort of explanation of some of the themes dealt with already in the earlier sections. The Vibhuti Pada concluded with an enunciation of the perfection which one attains through the practice of yoga. This subject is continued in the first sutra of the Kaivalya Pada where it is stated that perfections, though not absolute, can come by other means, and they remain only relative. There are various ways of disciplining oneself, and even a little discipline can bring a corresponding perfection. In the first sutra of the Kaivalya Pada it is said that there are five ways by which perfection can be attained. Though the supreme method is yoga samadhi itself, known as samyama, there are other methods which are of a simpler character and whose results are temporal.

Janma auṣadhi mantra tapaḥ samādhijāḥ siddhayaḥ (IV.1). Siddhis are perfections or attainments – achievements of powers. It is seen that certain created beings are born with certain perfections. This accompaniment of a perfection, or a siddhi, with one’s birth is due to previous practice. Many a time it so happens that the result of even a protracted practice cannot be seen or visualised in one’s life due to various obstacles in the form of impeding prarabdhas. This has been the case with many seekers. But, when they give up their body without apparently having achieved any perfection or having had no achievement at all, they are reborn with the manifestation of the results of their earlier practice.

The celestials in the heavens are supposed to have perfections by birth itself, and every other being in the higher realms has a power peculiar to that particular birth. We have statements in the scriptures that above the level of the earth plane there are planes of the Gandharvas, the Pitris, the celestials, and so on. These are all beings who are superior to this human level, and they have certain capacities which humankind does not have. This has come to them by birth – janma. It does not mean that a person gets powers at the time of birth by freak or by chance; it is a result of hard practice in earlier lives. It is only a manner of speaking when it is said that perfection comes to some by birth. It does not mean that God is favourably disposed to any person. These capacities are only an indication of hard and strenuous effort in a previous existence.

Even here, in this world, we find people of various calibres. Some children are born with special endowments, with precocious capacities – genius seen at a very early age. It does not mean that all this happens by a fantastic freak of nature. They are the result of a very systematic development of causes and effects. The causes are unseen; only the effects are seen. But it does not follow thereby that the causes do not exist. In a similar manner, Patanjali tells us that in some cases it will appear as if the perfections manifest from the very time of birth itself. Also, there are cases where certain powers are acquired by the use of medicinal herbs which are spoken about in the yoga scriptures. We have, in India especially, some Himalayan herbs known as Sanjivini, etc., which are supposed to enliven even a corpse. Other herbs create certain vibrations in the system and stimulate the nerves, and allow the concentration of the mind. This is a very peculiar way of stimulating energy in one’s system, and is the most artificial of all methods, because these vibrations are artificial results that follow from artificial causes. They are outside oneself and, therefore, they have a beginning and an end. Therefore, they are useless. Anyhow, Patanjali tells us that these herbs are also one of the ways of stirring up certain energies in the system. The effects will be there as long as the causes are there. When the causes subside, the effects also subside.

But, greater means than this is the power of mantras. The continuous recitation of certain mantras, or spiritual formulae, may create internal vibrations which enable a person to exercise supernormal powers. And the effects that follow from this practice are more lasting than the use of medicinal herbs. If a mantra is recited continuously, for a very long period, with deep concentration of mind, it sets up certain vibrations which release energy from the body and the entire system. Then, what works in one’s system is the mantra itself. The deity of the mantra begins to operate. Thus, the aphorism tells us that this also is one of the ways of acquiring powers by yoga.

Austerity, or tapas, of an intense character may also generate powers. The subjugation of the senses, beyond a certain degree, will set up a corresponding reaction from within, and that reaction comes in the form of powers. Any form of self-control should bring powers; it is a natural consequence thereof. We are perpetually endowed with supernormal energy, but we look weak and incapacitated on account of indulgence of the senses. Our minds and senses are the channels for the loss of energy of the system, on account of which we appear to be divested of power. So when we block the channel by which energy is depleted, there is a rousing of the force with which we are perpetually associated. This force is not created from within. In fact, the achievements or powers we are speaking of are not generated, manufactured or invented – nothing of the kind. Only they are allowed to reveal themselves, while at other times their revelation is blocked by an obstructive activity of the mind and the senses – a fact which is mentioned in the next sutra.

Hence, a very important fact that comes out in this context is that there is no such thing as a new creation anywhere. It is only a manifestation of what is already there. The impotency of the human individual is not natural to the human individual. It is unnatural. The powers are natural. And so, austerities – tapas of the senses – are advised, by which what is intended is the restraining of the activities of the senses, the putting down of their indulgences and, consequently, the energising of the mind in a heightened form. This is called tapas. It also means ‘heating’. The energy that is generated thereby heats up the system. It is not a heat like that of fire; it is another name for heightened energy, or capacity. The sutra tells us that the restraint of the senses and the mind, which is called tapas or austerity, also can bring about power.

But the most prominent of all these is samyama, which is the subject of the Vibhuti Pada. That is also referred to here by the term ‘samadhi’. The communion of the individual with the object releases the total energy of the objects, and then it is that the meditating subject is invested with an enormous power which would have otherwise been completely isolated from it. The power of the world is outside us, and we seem to be little inhabitants of the world who cannot participate in the powers of nature. But by samyama, the powers of nature can be absorbed into our system.

How this happens is mentioned in the next sutra: jātyantara pariṇāmaḥ prakṛtyāpūrāt (IV.2). The powers of nature are permanently there in a uniform state. There is neither an increase nor a decrease in the powers of nature. As scientists tell us, there is what is known as the system or the principle of conservation of energy, which states that the energy – the total power or force of nature – is constant. It does not increase or decrease day by day by external factors. Factors outside nature do not exist. And so, what appears to be an increase of power or capacity is only an entry of certain forces of nature into the system of a human individual. Any kind of transformation in a positive degree is the flowing of the powers of nature into one’s system. ‘Prakriti-apurat’is the term used in the sutra. The filling up by prakriti is what is known as prakriti-apurat.

When the system is emptied of all impeding factors, prakriti fills that vacuum that has been created thereby. We are not to struggle hard to draw energy from nature, just as we do not struggle to enjoy the light of the sun – provided, of course, we are ready to come out of our house and stand in the open. Likewise is the way in which nature operates. There is a uniform and equally distributed energy of nature everywhere, in every level of manifestation, whether it is subhuman, human, or superhuman. For nature, there is no such thing as these levels. They appear to be there on account of the difference in the degree of the manifestation of the powers of nature. The difference in the degree of this manifestation is, again, due to other factors. These factors are to be removed. The whole of the practice of yoga is nothing but an elimination of the obstructing factors which prevent the entry of the powers of nature into one’s system.

The sutra tells us that a transformation of oneself into a new state, jatyantara parinama, is brought about spontaneously by an increased amount of natural power entering into one’s system due to the removal of the impediments. The impediments are our prarabdha karma, the karmas with which we are born, which determine the nature of our present existence in this bodily form. They have a particular direction of action, and due to the force with which the prarabdha works, the force of nature is set aside. When the rajasic and tamasic prarabdha gets diminished and sattvic prarabdha begins to operate, natural forces enter us.

Thus, by the increase of sattva in us, we allow the powers of nature to enter us. It is the rajas that is predominant in ourselves which cuts off nature from our individual lives. The principal function of rajoguna is separation – differentiating one from the other, not allowing in the cooperation of one with the other, and creating a dissimilarity of character and difference in function. Due to the intensity of the action of rajas, there is this division of properties and a separation of individualities, so that there has been the perception and experience of a dividedness of life, while this is really not there. For nature, taken in its completeness, there is no division. It is one total, a comprehensive completeness in which there is no distinction of the subject on one side and the object on the other side. The distinction has been created by certain artificial factors, and these are the operations of the gunas. By diminishing the intensity of the action of rajas through intense concentration of mind, we become more and more approximate to the original condition of prakriti. The integrating powers of nature begin to act when sattva rises in us. On the other hand, if the rajas is to be predominant, the disintegrating factors start operating.

Thus, what is yoga? Yoga is nothing but an endeavour in the direction of the increase of sattva in oneself and a decrease of rajas. The methods have already been described in the earlier sections. The sutra merely tells us of a principle of how prakriti acts – namely, that it fills a vacancy wherever a vacancy is created. “Empty thyself, and I shall fill thee.” This great statement is similar to the principle of this sutra. When we empty ourselves of all those conditioning factors of our individuality, the universal forces will enter us. The universal is not outside us. It is, on account of its being universal by itself, everywhere. But it is not allowed to operate, just as we do not allow the sunlight to enter a house by closing the windows and doors. The vehemence or the force with which the ego-principle, or the I-principle, works in us prevents the entry of universal forces into us. Yoga is the technique of the diminution of the intensity of this I-principle.

Patanjali gives an example of how prakriti works. It works in a spontaneous manner, like the flow of water into the fields. Nimmitaṁ aprayojakaṁ prakṛtīnāṁ varaṇabhedaḥ tu tataḥ kṣetrikavat (IV.3) is the sutra. We are not the creators of the powers of nature. In yoga we do not manifest or bring about something which was not already there. Just as the example given in this sutra tells us, a farmer working in the fields allows water to flow into certain fields, not by creating new water, as the water is already there; he has only to open up a passage for the movement of the water and divert its course in the way required. The role that the farmer plays is incidental. He is not the material cause of the movement of the water. He becomes an agent in the sense that he provides conditions necessary for the flow of water in a particular direction. Likewise is this practice of yoga. It is not going to create new things which were not already there.

The powers, or the siddhis, which the Vibhuti Pada speaks about are not creations, inventions, etc., but are only spontaneous actions of prakriti – just as there is a spontaneous movement of water in the fields. What does yoga practice do? It does exactly what the farmer does in the fields. Instead of blocking the passage of water and not allowing it to flow into the field for the purpose of irrigation, the farmer opens up a stream, creates a channel, and allows the water to flow. This is what yoga does. At present the movement of energies, which flow of their own accord, are blocked. The movements are blocked due to there being no passage for the entry of the forces of nature. What is it that blocks the entry of these forces? There is only one thing which is the principal obstruction of the operation of natural forces in us. That is the I-principle, the ego, the asmita, which has various other accompaniments – raga, dvesa, etc. Raga, dvesa, abhinivesa – all these things mentioned earlier are accompanying features of the single impediment which is asmita. We are so powerful in our ego that nothing from outside can enter it. It is hard like flint, and it is, therefore, incapable of allowing the entry of any force into itself, just as any amount of water poured on hard rock will not enter the rock.

Thus, the aspect which is emphasised here in this sutra, in the context of yoga practice, is the function that the practicant performs in his discipline called yoga. There is spontaneity manifest everywhere. Nature is spontaneity, in other words. Everything happens of its own accord. On the other hand, we may say that the pains that we experience in our lives are not part of nature, because pain is not a part of natural action. It is a peculiar situation that is created by not allowing the forces of nature to enter into one’s own system. Ultimately, it is neither pleasure nor pain that is a characteristic of nature. Pleasures and pains are the emotional reactions of the mind. These two reactions cease, and something new altogether arises and comes into play when we become as natural as prakriti itself. Yoga practice is a process of becoming more and more natural in one’s being, and eliminating those causes which have made us unnatural. What is it that is natural, and what is unnatural? Anything that cannot harmonise with the laws of prakriti should be regarded as unnatural; and anything that is in harmony with the laws of prakriti is natural. What are these laws of prakriti?

We have been told much about it in earlier sutras. But essentially, the law of prakriti is such that it has no internal distinction within itself. To create internal distinctions or differences of bodies, personalities, individualities, etc., would be a result of disharmony of some kind or the other. In the totality of nature, internal differences are unknown, just as the body, our individual bodily organism, has no feeling of internal differences. There is a principle which brings all these forces together and creates in us a sense of oneness. Likewise in nature, there is a principle which brings all the forces together. The more we approach this centre of unification of nature, the more are we natural, and the more we depart from it, the more are we unnatural. This is the meaning of this particular sutra, nimmitaṁ aprayojakaṁ prakṛtīnāṁ varaṇabhedaḥ tu tataḥ kṣetrikavat (IV.3): The instrumental cause, which is the practice of yoga, is not actually the creator of the powers or siddhis, but only an agent which allows the operation of natural forces, in the same way as the farmer operates as an instrumental cause in the movements of waters in the fields. This is the literal meaning of this sutra.

To sum up the teaching of these two sutras cited just now, the present state of existence of a human individual is unnatural, and we should not make the mistake of thinking that we are living a normal life. Our present way of life is abnormal in the sense that it does not harmonise with what eternally exists. The temporal features that we are manifesting in our personal lives are the opposites of the eternal features of prakriti. Hence, yoga is an instrumental agent in bringing about conditions by which there is a spontaneity of entry of eternal laws into our personality. And in this process of the entry of the eternal characters of prakriti into us, we develop various powers. Thus, the powers, or siddhis, are nothing but experiences which are incumbent upon our gradual proximity to the ultimate nature of prakriti. This is what the sutra tells us.