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


Chapter 100: The Exhaustion of All Karmas

The subjects which are dealt with in the sutras of Patanjali that we are following are very peculiar, and cannot be understood by a theoretical student because they are not themes connected with anything that happens in this world. They are something quite supernormal, and therefore, they are different, in kind and nature, from any subject that we can think of in this world. Those items of reference Patanjali makes in the Kaivalya Pada are especially abstract, very theoretical from the point of view of a beginner in yoga, and highly metaphysical. Therefore they have no practical significance as far as a beginner in yoga is concerned. They have only, we may say, a curiosity value for a beginner who can understand nothing, neither head nor tail of these subjects, inasmuch as they are references which pertain to higher experiences and are completely practical, and are not thoroughly understood by analysis through the mind.

Such, for example, is the theme of the sutra which we are going to take up now, which may make some sense to people like us, but has a tremendous sense for a yogin who is highly advanced. This sutra that follows immediately is one which tells us that at a certain stage of spiritual experience or attainment in yoga, one can cognise the nature of the karmas which have given birth to this body. They can be visualised, and one can do something with them in the appropriate manner by undergoing experiences of them as quickly as possible. The law of karma is such that it cannot be expunged or skipped over. Every item of this karma has to be experienced, and here, there is no question of exemption. Everyone has to pass through every item or aspect of the karma which has given birth to this particular body. But when there is an achievement of a sufficiently advanced stage, one can know how much karma is still remaining. At present, we cannot know it. We are completely in the dark as to how many years we are going to live in this world. That ignorance is due to the fact that we cannot know how much karma is still left to be experienced, or undergone, in this particular physical incarnation.

But a yogin can know how much karma is left. And, for the purpose of the effecting of a quick salvation, or kaivalya, which is the aim of yoga, he can put an end to these karmas by experiencing them – or undergoing them. Not, of course, destroying them, as that cannot be done, but exhausting them through experience. Suppose there is a group of karmas which may require additional incarnations. For example, certain types of karmas cannot be undergone through this body. They may require another type of vehicle altogether. Different sets of karmas, according to their intensity and peculiar character, demand a particular type of vehicle for expression, just as high tension wires may be required for strong forces of electricity, and so on. But if the yogin has a proper cognition of these various aspects of the karmas that have yet to be undergone before isolation, or kaivalya, is attained, he can exercise a supernormal power by samyama.

This is something which we cannot understand, as I mentioned already, but one can easily understand if one reaches that state. The yogin creates artificial bodies, called nirmana cittas. Independent minds are projected out of the central mind of the yogin, which prepare for themselves different types of vehicles for the exhaustion of different kinds of karma. It is, as it were, that he is undergoing various births at one stroke. Generally there is succession or repetition of the cycle of birth and death, inasmuch as simultaneous experiences of all karmas is not possible through a single vehicle. But, if there are very many vehicles, we can carry the entire load in one stroke.

This creation of artificial vehicles, called nirmana cittas, is done by the yogin by samyama on the Mahat-tattva. The Mahat-tattva is the reservoir of all cittas, or minds. All individual minds are emanations of the Mahat-tattva, or the Cosmic Mind. By drawing sustenance from the Cosmic Mind, one can act in a superhuman manner. That superhuman method which is adopted by the yogin in such a state is the peculiar samyama he practises, by which he can split himself into various personalities and undergo all the karmas simultaneously, so that there is an exhaustion of them by a quick experience. This nirmana citta is a term which signifies many aspects of this method adopted by the yogin.

There are references in our scriptures which make out that yogins can appear simultaneously in different places, not necessarily for the exhaustion of the karmas, but for other purposes. Here, this particular sutra seems to be pinpointing the aspect of exhaustion of karma, for the sake of which there is the manufacture of what is known as the nirmana citta. The body that is manufactured out of this nirmana citta, or mind, is called nirmana kaya. This has a different meaning altogether in Buddhist psychology, and we should not mix up one with the other. Simply, literally, it means ‘the manufactured body'; that is nirmana kaya. And the manufactured mind is called nirmana citta. The sutra here explains the ways by which karmas by yogins can be exhausted. But, as I mentioned in passing, these nirmana cittas can be created by yogins for other purposes also, not merely the exhaustion of karmas.

For example, the forms which Lord Sri Krishna is supposed to have taken with his sixteen thousand consorts was not done for the exhaustion of any karma. It was a kind of lila, or a play. Krishna simultaneously appeared in all places. Also, he appears to have had lunch in two different places at the same time. It is mentioned in the Srimad Bhagavata that one devotee invited Krishna for lunch on a particular day, at a particular time, and at that particular time on that day, King Janaka also invited him for lunch. So Krishna split himself into two and had lunch in two places at the same time.

These are all yogic mysteries and powers which are effects of a high attainment. It is a different kind of yoga altogether from the ordinary concept that we have of it. For example, in the Bhagavadgita, Lord Krishna says, paśya me yogam aiśvaram (B.G. XI.8): “Behold My yoga.” Well, he does not mean that one should behold his practice of yoga in the sense of asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, etc. It is the glory, the magnificence, the grandeur and the supreme power that is called ‘yoga' here. The glory of God is what is designated by the term ‘yoga'. “Behold my greatness!” – that is what he is saying.

Now we come to the sutra again. The point in this sutra, nirmāṇacittāni asmitāmātrāt (IV.4), is that by the control exercised through the I-principle, or the asmita tattva, one can ramify into various shapes, just as there can be rays emanating from the sun. The asmita, which is the I-principle, or the central personality of the yogin, is the controlling force. It directs the operation of the other minds through the other vehicles that it has manufactured. Pravṛtti bhede prayojakaṁ cittaṁ ekaṁ anekeṣām (IV.5): There is only one mind, though it appears as if there are many minds. For the purpose of executing a function or different sets of functions simultaneously – at one time – these minds are projected by a central mind. The experiences will not be variegated in the sense of one being completely cut off from the other; there will be a simultaneous experience of everything, just as when winds blow from different directions we can feel their impact from the different directions simultaneously. We can have a headache; we can have a stomachache; we can have all sorts of things at the same time. All pains can come at the same time, and many pleasures can also come at the same time. We can experience all of them at the same time in different aspects of our feeling, through the same mind. Likewise, the yogin seems to undergo the various experiences of his karmas through the different instrumentalities of minds which he projects out of his central personality, which is asmita.

Hence, these two sutras tell essentially this much: that the artificial minds created by the yogin, known as nirmana cittas, are projections of the asmita tattva of the yogin, and they can appear in many forms, yet they are controlled by a single experiencing principle. They are not different persons; it is one person only, though they appear manifold. This manifoldness of the mind is merely for the sake of the exhibition of the functions, and not to give the impression that they are individual personalities, one different from the other. One thousand Krishnas, or sixteen thousand; they are not really sixteen thousand Krishnas. It is only one person who appeared in various forms – a single consciousness operating behind all. A single experience was there behind all the Krishnas; a single power was controlling the operations of all these personalities.

To give a crude example, the five fingers are operated by a single hand. The fingers are not five different persons. One finger can be folded, another can be stretched, but it does not mean that they are two different things. The same force which is the arm can operate in five different ways, through the five fingers, on account of its capacity to project various aspects of its strength through the digits. Likewise is the yogin's function. It is a great mystery, as I mentioned; we cannot understand what it is. But the sutra tells us that it is possible to take various forms by samyama on the mahat, through which one has to establish contact first. We cannot multiply ourselves like that unless we are associated vitally with the mahat, or the cosmic principle. This is a very advanced stage of yoga, inconceivable to human minds, and yet possible, as we hear of in scriptures of yoga.

The mind which is cleansed of all vrittis by dhyana, or meditation, has not to take rebirth. This is made out by another sutra: tatra dhyānajam anāśayam (IV.6). Ashaya is an impression, or a vasana – a desire tendency which is the cause of a future birth. This is absent in the case of a clean mind which is rid of the rajasic and the tamasic elements which cause this rebirth. Even in a high state of meditation the mind exists, as it is well known. But it can exist in such a transparent form that it would be the vestige, or the last shape it takes, until it exhausts itself in this high state of samyama. All the forms which the mind may take in the various practices mentioned in the first sutra of the Kaivalya Pada may become the causes of rebirth – but not the mind which is cleansed by samadhi.

Different commentators give different meanings for this sutra regarding what Patanjali actually intended to convey through this particular maxim to which he made reference. Some think it is a reference made to the minds of people whose powers are recounted in the first sutra, janma auṣadhi mantra tapaḥ samādhijāḥ siddhayaḥ (IV.1). But others think that the manufacture of artificial minds by yoginsnirmana citta – has reference to the immediately preceding sutra, namely, the mind that has been thus completely rid of all the dross in the form of rajas and tamas will not have any residuum of vasanas to take another birth. When the karmas are exhausted by this simultaneous experience through the various bodies which the yogin creates for himself, there is an end of phenomenal experience. Karmas cease by experience, and they can cease only by experience; by no other method can they be put an end to.

These karmas, when they are explained in terms of a yogin's experience, should be distinguished from the karmas of ordinary people. There is no such thing as good action or bad action for a yogin: karma aśukla akṛṣṇam yoginaḥ (IV.7). Asukla means ‘not white'; akrsna means ‘not black'. The karma of a yogin is neither white nor black, which means to say, it has no ethical character which we attribute ordinarily, in the case of people. It is rid of these restrictions or classifications of this type or that type. The karmas of a yogin are not of any type at all – they do not belong to any category – while the karmas of people like us belong to the category of good or bad in the sense that they can set up reactions which are either pleasurable or otherwise. They can create conditions for us which bring us happiness or pain; there can be rebirth. But the karmas of a yogin are not of such a nature.

Karma aśukla akṛṣṇam yoginaḥ trividham itareṣām (IV.7). The karmas of an ordinary person can be good, bad or mixed; they can be of three types. If our karmas are predominantly good – a large measure, a greater percentage of our karma is made up of goodness, of virtue – then we will be reborn in a higher realm. It may be a celestial region or something even higher than that. But if the karmas are of an opposite character – predominantly bad, vicious and reactionary – they may hurl a person to a lower birth, lower than even the human. And if the karmas are mixed, then it is that we become human beings. We have mixed karmas – we are neither very good nor very bad – and, therefore, we are hanging here on this earth plane as human beings, with both types of experience. We are sometimes like brutes, and occasionally feel as if we are in hell. At other times we feel highly elevated and aspiring, and feel there is something great and noble that is ahead of us. Both the good and the bad that we have done – both – work with different emphasis and intensities in our personal lives.

The karmas of a yogin are totally distinguished from this type of experience. They are neither good, nor bad, nor mixed. These attributes cannot be applied to the karmas of a yogin because they are not karmas at all, really speaking. The word ‘karma' should not be applied to the functions of a yogin's mind. It is something like God's mind itself – we cannot say that God's actions are good or bad. This is not the way of describing it, because the ethical or casuistic definitions of karma are applicable only to individuals, but the yogin is not an individual – he has become super-individualistic. He has started working according to the law of nature itself.

We cannot say that nature's actions are good or bad. They are impersonal. Likewise is the karma of a yogin. There is no reaction set up by the actions of a yogin. There will be no rebirth for him because his actions do not proceed from a particular ego. He has overcome his ego. He has no attachment to his personal body. He can operate through other media also, other than this particular body. We suffer the consequences of action because of the fact that we are under the false notion that the actions which proceed through the instrumentality of this body are really the belongings of this body only – that they have no reference to any other factor. It is not true that actions can emanate from a person, absolutely independent of other factors. In the case of a yogin, such a difficulty does not arise because he has a new concept of his personality altogether. Even the idea of one's being a human being is overcome – he becomes an impersonal instrument in the hands of a wider realm of law. That is why Patanjali tells us here that the karmas of a yogin are neither good nor bad – neither white nor black – while the karmas of other people can be either good, bad or mixed.

We have to reach this stage of impersonal action before we are liberated from the bondage of samsara. As long as we remain humans only, we have to take rebirth. It is not possible to remain as a human being – think as a human being and evaluate things as human beings do – and expect salvation. That is not possible. Salvation cannot be had unless we transcend the human consciousness, because ‘salvation' is only a name that we give to universality of experience. How can that come, suddenly, unless there is a preceding condition of utter purification, which tends the human consciousness to universality? We can judge from our present ways of thinking, feeling and acting, how far we are fit for salvation. We are utterly and grossly human in the sense of a delimited personality, and we have utter prejudices which can be so hard that they may not die even at our death. And so, with such hard-boiled egoism and prejudice present in our minds, there is no hope of salvation.

But this limitation of the modes of thinking to certain preconceived modes of living can be overcome by hard effort of meditation in which, by gradual stages, we can become more and more super-individualistic. We cannot become that without effort; automatically, it cannot drop from the blue. The deeper layers of meditation are stages of greater universality of experience. The samadhis, or samapattis, mentioned in the Samadhi Pada of Patanjali – vitarka, vichara, sananda, sasmita, etc. – are stages of universality. And these stages can be reached if we are really aspiring for them. If we do not want them, they will not come. Wanting them does not merely mean saying that we want them. Our hearts should yearn, and our feelings should open up towards a recognition of their value, independent of the other values that we consider to be all-in-all in this physical world.

These are some of the mysterious aspects of yoga practice, which are indicated in a few of the sutras of Patanjali.