Essays in Life and Eternity
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 37: The Yoga System of Patanjali

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali constitute a systematic teaching on a graduated technique of meditation. The procedure is associated with the categories laid down by the Samkhya Philosophy, namely, Purusha or the Infinite Consciousness; Prakriti or the Infinite Potential of Creativity; Mahat or the principle of Cosmic Impersonal Consciousness; Ahamkara or the Cosmic Self-consciousness; the five rudimentary forces of Sabda, Sparsa, Rupa, Rasa and Gandha, called Tanmatras, as the objects of the five senses of knowledge, the five organs of action, as well as the mind as their synthesising principle; the five gross elements, namely, Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. These are the metaphysical foundations on which both the Samkhya and the Yoga rest.

The senses perceive the world of objects directly, by immediate contact with the objects, (Pratyaksha), as well as by inference (Anumana), and knowledge derived from authority (Agama). The mental functions involved in knowledge are of two kinds – non-pain-giving (Aklishta) and pain-giving (Klishta). The non-pain-giving perceptions constitute the general awareness of the existence of the world and its contents as reported by the senses, such as when one sees a distant mountain, a flowing river, the ocean, the sun, the moon, stars, the sky, and the like. These are non-pain-giving general perceptions since the awareness of objects of this kind does not evoke any specific reaction from the mind; this is in a way a perception of things as they are in themselves. But there are pain-giving perceptions causing anxiety, affection, love, hatred and emotional disturbance, as for instance, when one perceives objects like one's own property, one's relations, one's friends or one's enemies, because here the objects of perception are also qualified with the psychological characteristic of 'one's own' or 'connected with oneself.' The connection of oneself with things is the cause of pain; things by themselves do not evoke painful reactions. It is necessary that all functions of the mind, both pain-giving and non-pain-giving, should be restrained.

The necessity for the restraint of the mind arises because of the perceiving consciousness, which is essentially a reflection of the universal consciousness of Purusha, is limited, as it were, to a sense of finitude and lack of freedom when it identifies itself with the process involved in perception, all process being external to consciousness. Process is an activity of Prakriti which causes evolution and involution through its inner constituents known as Sattva, or equilibrium and harmony; Rajas, or division and distraction; and Tamas, or fixity and immobility. The perceiving consciousness is involved either in the pain-giving functions or the non-pain-giving ones, or both, whatever the case may be. The universality of consciousness is interfered with whenever any perception takes place, because perception is just the awareness and confirmation of there being something external to consciousness. It would, thus, mean that the whole of world-perception is an error. This mistake is to be rectified by the dissociation of consciousness from all objectivity, through the eight stages of ascent in Yoga, known as Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.

Yama is a discipline in terms of ethical and moral regulations by which one's conduct which is likely to affirm the reality of an external world is held in check by such restrained behaviour as causing no harm to anyone (Ahimsa), adopting no deceitful conduct or untruth (Satya), not dissipating the quantum of one's vitality and energy of consciousness by sense-indulgence (Brahmacharya), not appropriating things and values which do not honestly belong to oneself (Asteya), and refraining from living in a state of luxury beyond the actual needs of one's life (Aparigraha). This method of self-check controls one's relations with the outer world from unduly adopting positions which require the assertion of the reality of an externalised world, there by introducing some element of an 'outside' to consciousness. The Niyama system consists in purity of body and mind (Saucha), a perpetual state of inner contentment that one maintains within oneself (Santosha), austerity of the senses and the mind (Tapas), constant study of the scriptures (Svadhyaya), and devotion to God (Isvarapranidhana).

The necessity for cleanliness and purity needs no explanation; the absence of it may lead to ill-health of the body and all the undesirable traits of the mind. Contentment is satisfaction which one has through means acquired by one's own right and not asking for more than what one requires for a reasonably comfortable life without going to excesses. Austerity is the conservation of one's energy by not depleting it through sense-contact or mental reverie; the study of scripture brings the mind of the reader into an inner contact with the great mind of the Master or the Divinity that gave the message or the gospel through the holy Text. Worship of God is the recognition in one's consciousness of there being a reality higher than the world and oneself, whose blessing and grace are necessary for advancement along the path of Yoga.

Asana is the assuming of a steady posture for the purpose of meditation, a balanced position which introduces a sort of harmony into the working of the muscles and the nerves in the organism, ending finally in bringing about a sense of en-rapport of the components of the human personality with the constituents of the world of five elements. Pranayama is the regulation of the breathing process which sets the vitality within in a state of equilibrium and symmetrical action. Pratyahara is the disentanglement of consciousness from the activity of the sense-organs in relation to their objects. Dharana is concentration of the mind on the object of Yoga. Though, in the earlier stages, any suitable object may be taken as a point of concentration of the mind, the main intention of the Yoga system is to enable the mind to concentrate itself on the fundamental principles of the Samkhya, gradually from the five elements upward till Purusha-consciousness is experienced. Dhyana is the continuity of concentration for a protracted period, wherein the mind maintains a steadiness of awareness of the object as an unbroken flow of oil. Samadhi is the union of the concentrating consciousness with the object of concentration.

Samadhi, sometimes known also as Samapatti, is attained through six or seven stages of the ascent of consciousness. The first stage is known as Savitarka, wherein there is concentration on the object (Artha) as associated with the name (Sabda), or the description attached to it, and the idea (Jnana) that one entertains in respect of it as its definition. However, it is to be borne in mind here that this concentration on the object is not the usual thought that we bestow on a thing with the association of name and an idea about it, but the absorption of consciousness in the object characterised by such qualification. In Nirvitarka, concentration is confined to the object only, dissociated from the defining characteristics of qualifying nomenclature and the idea of it. Savichara is the state where the object is the aggregate of the Tanmatras, which is concentrated upon as a thing in itself in space and time and free from any other external association. Nirvichara is the state where the pure substantiation of the object, namely, Tanmatras, is concentrated upon, divested of even its space-time association. In Sananda state the meditating consciousness experiences joy when it identifies itself with the Universal Ahamkara, or Self-consciousness. In Sasmita there is the pure Impersonal Cosmic Awareness of the Mahat principle. All these Samadhis, or unions, are considered as the lower Samadhi, known as Savikalpa Samadhi. The highest Samadhi is Nirvikalpa, in which state, which is indeed beyond all states, the concentrating consciousness does not maintain any self-consciousness or even cosmic consciousness, but remains as Pure Aloneness, Being-as-such, Absolute-Existence, which is known as Kaivalya, or the eternal solitariness of the Infinite, the attainment of which is final liberation.