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


Chapter 103: Putting an End to Rebirth

The attainment of liberation is equivalent to the cessation of the bondage of karma. It is the effect of karma that prevents the knowledge and experience of the Ultimate Spirit. Hence, the causes of karma should be discovered and their effects destroyed, so that there may be no obstruction to the spirit beholding the Spirit. Hetu phala āśraya ālambanaiḥ saṅgṛhītatvāt eṣām abhāve tad abhāvaḥ (IV.11). The effects of the vasanas – the impressions of karma – will cease of their own accord when the circumstances that have brought about these vasanas cease. What are these circumstances? These circumstances have been mentioned already. They are a set of various phases of impact coming from various sides: from the objects, from the mind, from the ultimate ignorance itself which is the cause of asmita, or individual perception, and the consequence thereof – jati, ayuh, bhoga, which are the birth that we have taken and the time we spend undergoing experiences of various types in the birth that we have taken. We cannot cut short the span of life except by exhaustion of karma. It is karma that pushes itself forward as experience. That fact is not known to the mind because it is involved in the force with which the karma acts.

The causes of the effects of karma are not known to the mind. Perhaps no one can know them, because each aspect of that cause is influenced by every other aspect, so we cannot say that any one is the entire cause. The cessation of these factors is the cessation of the vasanas, says the sutra. The perception of an object is one of the causes. Yoga psychology regards every perception as a bondage because it creates impressions in the mind. Perception is caused by likes and dislikes in various intensities. It is not merely a bare, indeterminate, featureless perception of an object, but it is something which is motivated by the feelings of the mind and, therefore, judgements are passed together with the perception of an object. We do not merely perceive things; we pass judgements on things, and it is the judgements that are the cause of our attachment or aversion in respect of objects, and vice versa.

We have no insight into the causes of the perception of an object. We have been seeing the surface of the process of perception and, therefore, neither we know the nature of the object which is perceived, nor do we know the mind itself which is influenced in a particular manner by a perception. The reason for getting stuck to the object is the misconception in the mind in regard to the object. This is made out in a subsequent sutra. The mind that cognises an object does not understand what it is that is actually cognised. It has a wrong notion about the content of the cognition. What is this that is seen before us? We have a very common definition: “It is an object, a substance, some solid presentation.” That is all we can say, if we can say anything at all about that which is cognised by the mind. It makes no difference whether it is animate or inanimate – it has a similar character of cognisability and perceptibility. But this is not the essence of the object. There is something else behind it which causes in the mind a sense of attraction and repulsion which the mind itself cannot understand, because if it understands that, the very meaning of the cognition will cease at once.

The powers that operate a particular form as an object are invisible to the senses and unthinkable by the mind. These powers themselves are not objects. They are transcendent features which are far, far removed from the ken of mental perception. And, if we can remember a sutra that we studied earlier, we have already been told that everything is a modification of prakriti in some way or the other. Te vyakta sūkṣmāḥ guṇātmānaḥ (IV.13). Whether an object is visible or invisible, manifest or unmanifest, it is a product of the gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas. These gunas, by various mixtures of their own permutation and combination, present themselves as forms or shapes before the mind and the senses: pariṇāma ekatvāt vastutattvam (IV.14). The substantiality of an object is an illusion, ultimately speaking. It is not substance that we are cognising or contacting through the senses. It is a kind of reaction that is produced by the gunas subjectively through the mind and objectively in the form that they have taken as the object that is cognised. It is mentioned in this sutra that the reason why there is cognition of substantiality in the object is due to the uniqueness of the transformation of the gunas.

There is a peculiar uniqueness, novelty, in every formation of the gunas, and when they tally in some respect with the vibrations of the mind, or the vrittis of the mind, then there is a correspondence between the mind and that particular shape which the gunas have taken. If there is no such correspondence, there would be no cognition. We do not perceive things which are in the heavens, for instance. The things which are subatomic also cannot be cognised by the mind. We cannot also see things which are constituted of vibrations which are superior or inferior to the level of mental vibrations.

The vrittis of the mind are vibrations of the mind, really speaking. They must correspond in the rate of their motion to the rate of the motion of the gunas in a particular form, which the mind calls the object. Thus, it is only a certain set of formations which tally with the vibration of the mind that can be cognised by the mind, and not all. It does not mean that the mind is able to cognise everything everywhere. There are many more things which the senses cannot grasp and the mind cannot understand. The reason is that there is no correspondence between the vibration of the mind – the vrittis of the mind – and the velocity with which the gunas move in respect of other formations.

Thus, there is a great mistake on the part of the mind in imagining that any particular object is a substance by itself, and in passing a judgement in respect of that object as a desirable thing or an undesirable thing. Also, when there is thus a correspondence established between the mind and the object, there is a further process which takes the mind deeper and deeper into bondage. The mere perception of an object is not the end of the matter; it is only the beginning of the trouble. When there is this correspondence of the mind with the object, for the reason mentioned, the mind begins to act upon the object; consequently, the object begins to influence the mind. Then there is the readiness of the mind to exploit the object, to utilise it for its purposes, to fulfil its desires, because it regards the object as desirable. Then there is action projected by the mind in respect of that fulfilment which it wants; then there is experience, and the experience produces, once again, an impression in the mind for a repetition of that experience, inasmuch as there has been a false notion in the mind that this is the object which is required.

The gunas are never stable in their nature; they vary. The very essence of the gunas is mutation, and there is a transformation perpetually going on throughout prakriti, on account of which the objects also change their nature. When the object changes its nature, it ceases to be that object which it was earlier. Then the mind does not see the same meaning in that object which it saw earlier, and then there is a different attitude of the mind in respect of the object.

The transformation of an object can be internal or external. When it is internal, the external form may be maintained, but the internal attitude changes. Let's take a person, for instance. We may have one attitude towards a person one particular day, but though the person is the same – the shape, form, etc. are the same – the mind may change tomorrow and then the attitude may not be identical. Hence, the internal change may bring about a change in the attitude of the mind towards the object. Also, the external form may change as well; that is called the death of the body. Then the object does not exist there. That is what we call bereavement, and the mind feels that it has lost its object.

The mind has not lost anything. Things have assumed their original form, and the purpose of prakriti is being fulfilled by the various mutations it undergoes for various reasons which are cosmical in their nature. It is not that the whole universe exists only for one individual and that everything should take place according to that individual's wishes. It is not so. There are infinite purposes hidden in the bosom of prakriti for the purpose of bringing about umpteen uncounted experiences in all the individuals that exist throughout the cosmos. Thus, the particular unique character of an object, which is the gunas assuming a particular shape or a form at a given moment of time, is not the explanation of the whole subject. It is only a phenomenon that is presented before the mind, and merely because the mind corresponds to the character of the object for the time being, it mistakes it for the total reality.

Really speaking, there is no such thing as an individual object. Isolated objects do not exist in this world because of the fact that every object is constituted of the same gunassattva, rajas and tamas – which also are the constituents of every other object in this world. If every object is made up of the same substance, namely the gunas, what is the reason behind the perception of variety in objects? If variety does not exist, the world will cease to be. The whole drama of existence continues because of the belief in the diversity of things. And diversity is illusory, merely on the ground that the shapes which are the causes of the perception of variety are presented by the mutation of the gunas, and these gunas will not rest in that shape for all time. Therefore, there is a continuous transformation going on of the individual and the outside universe – internally and externally – so that any kind of permanent attitude that we may have towards an object, or sets of objects, would be a false notion.

This analysis of the nature of the object and its relationship with the mind that cognises it would help greatly in the breaking of the bond of karma, which has been strengthened very much by the attachment of the mind to the object on account of this false notion. The bond of karma has to be snapped. Only then there will be liberation, not otherwise. And the karma cannot end as long as the causes of karma persist. What are the causes? One of them is the object. What is the object? The object is nothing but the presentation of the three gunas; and we are mistaking it for a particular object, a solid thing, independent absolutely, quite different from anything else. Thus, we have a special evaluation of that particular object, due to which there is the impression formed in the mind by the object; and we know what happens further. There is a repetition of this action by the mind continuously, even in recurring births.

With this attitude of the mind, with this knowledge that is gained about the nature of the object in its essentiality, one should detach oneself from judging things individually and hanging one's life on the form of that particular object. Also, there is a need for the reformation of the mind because that is another factor which is the cause of the production of karma. The vrittis of the mind should be checked. Otherwise, they will modify themselves repeatedly into any number of shapes, and the result would be that they would go on establishing relationships with varieties of objects. As there are infinite objects in the world, there would be no end for the objects for the mind. When the citta vrittis – the modifications of the mind, the vrittis of the mind – change themselves in the process of evolution, so also they will find different types of objects suiting them. What we liked in the last birth will not be what we like in this birth. They are different things altogether, notwithstanding the fact that all these things that we like or dislike are products of the same gunas of prakriti. The like and dislike arise because of the inability of the mind to grasp the truth behind these formations of the gunas. Therefore, the checking of the vrittis in respect of objects is necessary, in the same way as it is necessary to understand the nature of the object.

The third factor is phala, which is the experiences that we undergo in this life – which are called jati, ayuh, bhoga. This can be worked out only by the exhaustion of karma. We cannot do anything about it. When we have been born, naturally we have been bound to the circumstances of the birth. So until the karmas which have brought about the birth of this body are exhausted by experience, nothing can be done. The prarabdha cannot be overcome; it has to be worked out. By working out the karma in a particular life, it is exhausted. But we must see that we are not reborn by the operation of the other karmas which are there unfructified, lying in a latent form.

The very purpose of the practice of yoga is to see that there is no rebirth. And rebirth cannot be stopped as long as we allow the unfructified karmas to manifest themselves of their own accord. But we have no control over them merely because we have no knowledge about them. Also, there is no understanding of the mind; it is caught up in a whirl of circumstances which have been created by these visible as well as invisible forms of karma. Ultimately, the greatest cause of bondage is avidya itself – hetu. That is the original source. That is the mother of all problems: the ignorance of the Ultimate Reality, which is the cause for all this dramatic activity of the mind in this world of phenomena. What is the ultimate nature of Truth? It is indivisible consciousness, purusha tattva, which is the aim of yoga. The realisation of the purusha is kaivalya moksha, for which so much struggle is there in all forms of life. Therefore the purusha should be awakened to consciousness. There should be resting of the consciousness in itself. Tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe avasthāna ṃ (I.3), says the sutra. For this purpose it is that we practise yoga. This sutra is only a small symbolic presentation of the problem of karma and the way in which it can be stopped for the purpose of the liberation of the spirit: hetu phala āśraya ālambanaiḥ samgrhītavād eṣām abhāve tad abhāvaḥ (IV.11).

Pariṇāma ekatvāt vastutattvam (IV.14). This reaction of the mind in respect of objects, producing the potency of karma, has a past, a present and a future, as we observed previously in connection with the sutra: atīta anāgataṁ svarūpataḥ asti adhvabhedād dharmāṇām (IV.12). The past, the present and the future also are illusions, just as the form of an object is an illusion. It is the inability of the mind to comprehend every circumstance at one stroke that is the reason for the belief in past, present and future. There is no such thing as that. Who has made this compartment of past, present and future? There are no such compartments. They are only notions of the mind in respect of certain kinds of experience. There is a pattern, which the mind then compartmentalises due to the notion of the objects which are in space and time. Space, time and motion, we may say, are the causes of this idea in the mind of past, present and future. It is really not true that time has such compartments; it is a continuous duration. Yet the past is kept outside the sight of the mind, and the future is also unknown because of the intense attachment of the mind to a particular group of karmas which are called the ‘present'.

The force of the karma is the cause of this generalisation of the mind – namely, the experiences of the past, the present and the future. It is not enough if we tackle the present merely, as the problems are not created by present factors only. The past has left an impression which is causing trouble even in the present, and as a potency, it will produce further trouble in the future. For karma, there is no past, present and future; it is only for us that it exists. For this universal law of karma, there is no such thing as time limitation. It can work at any time, in any way, when circumstances are favourable.

Hence, the checking of the forces of karma implies the checking of its very roots, whether they are past, present or future. Also, we should not be complacent under the notion that what we are thinking today is the total thought of our mind and that we have to deal only with these thoughts. What we are thinking today is very little, because we cannot remember what we thought yesterday and what we experienced a few years before. Also, we have no idea of what is stored for us in the future. This is a very great difficulty before the mind that it mistakes only the present circumstances for the total reality.

In one place in the Bhagavadgita it has been mentioned that this kind of knowledge is the worst kind of knowledge, where the limited present alone is regarded as the total reality, and the past and the future are ignored totally so that anything that is outside – not inside – the location of the present circumstances is regarded as unreal. Yat tu kṛtsnavad ekasmin kārye saktam ahaitukam; atattvārthavad alpaṁ ca tad tāmasam udāhṛtam (B.G. XVIII.22): Tamasic knowledge, the lowest kind of knowledge, is that which concentrates itself on a particular object only and hangs upon it as if it is the total reality, ignoring every other thing, every other cause or factor which is responsible even for the existence of this object.

Thus, the power of karma is universal; it is not only in one place. It is in the past, it is in the present and it is in the future. This way in which karma works in a universal manner can be checked only by application of a universal method. An individual puny creature cannot tackle this karma. We have to raise ourselves to the status of that capacity to deal with this universal feature which is called the karmic force. Rather, we have to become universal persons before we can face this universal problem. It is not a question to be solved by one individual. And when we are able to face it, we are not any more individuals – we are something more than that. Therefore it is that the yoga system again and again emphasises the need for the individual to raise itself to the status of that particular level of experience with which yoga deals. When we are merely small individuals, we cannot deal with a cosmic problem. We deal only with problems which are commensurate with our present level, and then we go step by step. These are the stages of yoga – the eight limbs of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, dharana, dhyana and samadhi – which are only stages of the confronting of the problem at different levels of experience.

The tackling of the problem of karma is almost the last thing that we can do when we become universally capable of dealing with every difficulty by proper adjustment of ourselves with that circumstance it has created at that particular level. It again amounts to saying that we have to raise ourselves to an impersonal state gradually; and yoga is nothing but that. Ultimately, we have to become the most impersonal of things – that is purusha. Purusha is not a man. It is the impersonal Reality, and that is the goal of yoga; and we are moving towards it, we are approximating towards it, we are tending towards it, we are aspiring for it, and our aim is only that. Therefore, every step in our effort is a purification of ourselves towards this higher impersonality – though it comes gradually. This sutraatīta anāgataṁ svarūpataḥ asti adhvabhedād dharmāṇām (IV.12) – tells us that there is a need to deal with karma in all its aspects.

Also, we have noted that karma is not an object; it is the way in which things act. The action and reaction among things is called karma. Our standing outside this action-reaction process is the reason why we get caught up in it. The world has been regarded by us as an external object and,therefore, thelaw of karma acts upon us and binds us. When we become more and more harmonious with the world, which is what is intended in samyama, ultimately, we become more and more harmonious with the object. Ultimately, there is utter harmony, equality of status – a merger of one with the other.

When this harmony gets established, gradually, in greater and greater degrees, the force of karma diminishes in intensity. This is because there is no such thing as karma except prakriti itself acting, the world itself operating – that is called karma. Because we stand outside it as helpless creatures, it is acting upon us forcefully, as if we are subjected to it. Yoga is that technique by which we are raised, gradually, to a greater form of approximation to this world law, which is the law of karma, so that it will not act upon us because we become harmonious with it. For this attainment is the practice of samyama which has been mentioned in various ways in the earlier sutras.