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


Chapter 109: The Condition Prior to Final Absorption

It is said in the sutra, tataḥ kṛtārthānāṁ pariṇāma-krama samāptiḥ guṇānām (IV.32), that on the fulfilment of the purpose of the gunas of prakriti, there is a recession of the effects into their causes and the modifications of prakriti come to an end, which is the background of the liberation of the spirit. This fulfilment of the purpose of the gunas, and the return process, is often described by teachers as a complicated process. It does not seem to take place in a trice because, in some way, at least, we may say that the return of the gunas to their original source has something to do with the practice of yoga.

We are studying a great scripture on yoga – the methodology of practice – and it is this practice that is supposed to lead us to the liberation which the text describes in such great detail. We have to understand by this description that the gunas resolve themselves into their causes by certain techniques, by certain processes, due to something that has happened to them on account of the meditations, or samyamas, which the yogin practises. Therefore, the evolution of prakriti into the forms, and the resolution of the forms into the original condition of prakriti, has something to do with the method of practice, because the practice of yoga is only a corresponding ascent of consciousness, stage by stage, in accordance with the levels of prakriti – by which it has come to the level of the forms and by which also it will go back to the original source. There is a great philosophical history behind this system of practice which is called yoga. Both schools of thought – Yoga as well as Vedanta – have opined differently in respect of the processes through which the yogin has to pass before the ultimate liberation is attained. How does it come about that the gunas go back to their sources merely because there is the practise of yoga by an individual? How does an individual attain salvation and compel the gunas to resolve themselves into their sources? Is it possible? Of course it appears to be possible; otherwise, there would not be such a long effort made in describing this process at all. But how does it come about?

That prakriti is cosmic in its nature and is not the stuff of merely a single individual, and the gunas are not the property of any one person so that he can order them to go back to their original sources, that there is a universal significance in the activity of prakriti, that the gunas are commonly active everywhere in the whole of creation and not merely in any particular individual would be enough indication as to the methods the yogin has to adopt in the practice. This background of the description – namely, the character which is cosmical, attributed to prakriti – would compel the individual yogin to conform to the laws of that cosmical prakriti. The liberation of the soul does not mean a violation of the law of prakriti. That is not what is intended. It is a fulfilment of the law of prakriti rather than a violation of it, and this fulfilment has to take place through the practice of yoga. How does it happen?

We have studied so much about this practice, but when the last point is reached – the question of liberation is raised – masters and teachers give us various descriptions of the return process. There is a feeling in the mind of everyone that the world is more powerful than himself or herself – and not even a yogin can escape this feeling. The universe is larger than the individual. A subtle discomfiture of feeling would introduce itself to everyone's mind, and this is the reason why doubts arise in the practice of yoga. Patanjali has mentioned in one of his earlier sutras that doubt comes as one of the obstacles in the practice. One of the serious doubts that may come even in an advanced stage is: “How am I going to confront this vast universe, this terrific thing that is before me? How can I master prakriti? Is it possible?” The prakriti that we are speaking of is the universe as a whole. Is an individual going to master it? A yogin, whatever be his power and force of will – can he control the whole universe? What is the connection between the individual yogin and the cosmical prakriti, without conforming to whose laws and without mastering whom, liberation is not possible? What is the meaning of the return of the gunas to the original sources when there is a fulfilment – as the sutra tells us, as the scriptures tell us – of the purpose of the gunas, which have a relevance to the practice of yoga? That is very important. We are not describing merely some kind of fanciful tale; it is a consequence of the practice of yoga, which has a great connection with the attitude of prakriti as a whole towards this individual that is practising yoga.

This difficulty has created certain doctrines in philosophy – namely, that the return process is not a sudden jump of the individual to the Absolute, because the Absolute, or the purusha, whatever we may call it, is something transcendent to prakriti, far beyond the very notion of the mind of any individual. The whole process of creation seems to be of such a nature that there have been, perhaps, evolutionary processes that have taken place earlier than the manufacture of the human individual. It does not mean that suddenly a human being cropped up from the Absolute. It does not appear to be like that. Whatever we understand from the scriptures, whatever is the description of the theory of creation according to the different schools of thought, all of these seem to make out that there is a gradual descent of prakriti from the cosmos in a descending order of density, and we are told that at a particular stage there is a bifurcation into the objective universe and the subjective individual. Here, the Vedanta, the Yoga and the Samkhya all agree. There is no conflict among them. At a particular level – whatever be the name they give to these levels in their own way – the items in the process of this descent seem to be almost the same. At a particular stage there seems to be a split of the cosmic indivisibility of prakriti into the objective, perceptible world and the subjective individual.

Now here is the crux of the entire matter. When the individual is thus cut off by a peculiar act of prakriti, it does not appear to have been with the permission of the individual. By a fiat of its cosmic will, prakriti has simply willed that it should be so, whatever be the reason behind it. This event of the split of prakriti into the individual, with the counterpart of the external world, seems to have taken place due to some power which cannot be said to be under the control of any individual. Otherwise, the individual would not create the individual himself, by his own will. This theoretical background of the history of the process of creation has forced certain teachers of thought to feel that the return process also should be along the same lines as the line of descent from the top. There is, therefore, a necessity for the individual to go to the cosmic. This is a very difficult thing. We cannot suddenly absorb our individuality into the Absolute, or annul our personality. We cannot abolish the individuality, because prakriti seems to have tied itself into several knots before it became what the human individual is. And every knot has to be untied, one after the other.

There is a theory projected in the Aittariya Upanishad, for instance, which corresponds exactly to the theory of the Samkhya, which is followed by the Yoga also. The creation process is described. The universal purusha is said to have willed to become many. And in this will of the cosmic, what happened was that there was a gradual intensification of the density of the will – a concretisation of the substance of consciousness – until there was so much weight in that density that it split itself into the object and the subject. Here, the Aittareya Upanishad particularly, and certain other Upanishads also, tell us that the individual that is so isolated, before whom the world is set as an object, is not a qualitatively equal part of the original Cosmic Being, so we cannot say that we as individuals are little ‘Gods'; it does not mean that. Otherwise, if all of us think together, it will be like God thinking. That is not so. Even if all the individuals put together think together, it will not be like God thinking. That means there is a qualitative downfall taking place at the time of the splitting of this Cosmic Being into the object and the subject. It is not merely a quantitative difference, but also a qualitative fall. This is the reason, perhaps, that we are told that there is a reflection taking place at the same time, together with the limitation by means of bifurcation. The cutting off of the individual from the cosmic is the limitation, which would mean we are little, small, minute parts of the cosmic, qualitatively the same as the cosmic. But that does not appear to be so. We do not think like God thinks. We have got a different way of thinking altogether.

Therefore, it is said that together with this limitation there is a kind of twisting, distorting, and topsy-turvy process which takes place. This is very beautifully described in the Aittariya Upanishad – how everything becomes topsy-turvy. The cart is put before the horse, as it were. The cause becomes the effect, and the individual, instead of being merely a quantitative limitation of the cosmic, becomes something worse, and falls down to a level of qualitative inferiority by which it cannot think as the cosmic thinks. This sort of description of the process of descent would make us hesitate to believe that there is a sudden jump of the individual to the cosmic. The qualitative fall of the individual would require the return of the individual to the original quality before it rises to the supreme substance of which it has become a part.

Thus, there are doctrines and doctrines in Vedanta and Yoga, which make out that there is a gradual progressive evolution of the soul from the present condition of reflection and limitation to the cosmic originality. There are people who believe that we cannot go to the Absolute unless we pass through the Cosmic Being; we have to go to Ishvara, or whatever it is. This is one school of thought. But there are others who think that it is a trick of the mind which makes us think like this, and it is not really so. The cosmic substance has become the individual, no doubt, and it may look, for all practical purposes, that we are inferior, even qualitatively. We cannot gainsay that. It is so. But in spite of this fact of the individual appearing as qualitatively inferior, there is something peculiar in the individual which can set itself right in an instant, if it wants to, and contact the Absolute directly. Also, there is no such thing as a gradual rising. The progressive krama srishti is not a compulsive process, though it is also a possible process. There are other processes, such as the sadyo mukti, as it is called – not the krama mukti which the evolutionary process would require us to undergo. There is such a thing called sadyo mukti – an instantaneous liberation. This also seems to have some point in it, though it is difficult for us to understand what actually is implied here.

While the individual in samyama withdraws itself into its pure subjectivity and identifies itself with the object, there seems to take place some peculiar transformation. The whole secret is there, which we cannot theoretically explain or intellectually understand at the present moment. The whole difficulty seems to lie at that particular point where samyama is practised and the object is unified with the subject. Perhaps, a mystery or a miracle takes place at this point, and that mystery is the solution of this problem. When there is intense identification of the object and the subject in samyama, this question of the qualitative inferiority of the individual seems to be overcome, and there is a sudden turn taken by the individual in the direction of the cosmic. Maybe it has followed the law of prakriti. It is quite possible that the rule prescribed in the Aittariya Upanishad and other scriptures is followed even there, but it is followed in such a majestic manner and in such a dexterous way that it seems to take place in a second. Maybe that is another miracle of the process of salvation.

All this wondrous dramatic activity of prakriti, which appears to have taken aeons to come down to the level of this gross material substance, is seen to be set right in one second. This is another miracle. It does not take years to counteract the action of prakriti. This happens in samyama. This is a very interesting outcome as a conclusion of the dictum of Patanjali that when the gunas fulfil their purpose, there is a return of them into their causes, thereby dissolving their forms. This means to say there will be a cessation of the object as well as the subject, and the consciousness stands in its pristine purity; purusha has no form before it to compel it to perceive or get attached. That is the beautiful history that is hidden behind this sutra: tataḥ kṛtārthānāṁ pariṇāmakrama samāptiḥ guṇānām (IV.32). When the purpose of the gunas is fulfilled, their transformations cease.

Now, another sutra tells us that the condition of liberation is in the transcending of time, or time-consciousness. It is time-consciousness that binds us to this earth experience. Time-space are together; they cannot be separated. We are somehow or the other made to believe that there is such a thing called time, and we are forced to obey the laws of time. We cannot understand what time is, whatever be our explanation of it, because we are caught in it. So how can we understand it?

In one sutra, a sort of indication is given as to how we can overcome the clutches of time for the purpose of the liberation of the spirit. Kṣaṇa pratiyogī pariṇāma aparānta nirgrāhyaḥ kramaḥ (IV.33) is the sutra – a very small statement which seems to solve, or at least tries to solve, a great question of time itself. In this sutra, the author tells us that time is a state of mind; it is not something that exists outside, though it appears to be outside. We do not seem to believe that time is a condition of the mind. We always take it as an objective substance. “Time has passed.” When we make such statements, we mean that something objective, external, real and physical has taken place. But the sutra tells us that it is not so. The time that we are speaking of is a peculiar correspondence of the mental processes with the processes of the three gunas of prakriti outside. This is the meaning of this sutra. A counterpart of a moment is called ksana pratiyogi. And what is the counterpart of the moment?

A moment is a part of time, and the counterpart of it is the time taken (again, we have to use the very same word, because nothing else is available) for a particular modification of prakriti to shift itself from one mode to another mode. It is said to be the minutest type of modification, which cannot be further subdivided. When there is a minute transformation of the gunas of prakriti, and there is a shift from one state to another state – that means to say, when one state undergoes transformation or modification into another state, in its minutest, non-subdivisible form – the mind gets connected with it in its cognition, and the cognition of the mind in respect of this minutest modification of the gunas of prakriti, from one state to another state, is a moment of time, says the sutra. Thus, a moment of time is defined here as the perception by the mind of the minutest modifications of the gunas of prakriti, from one condition to another condition.

Hence, it appears that there is a connection between the outer transformations and the inner cognitions. Here again, we are in a difficulty. Is time objective or subjective? The sutra puts us in this difficulty by making such a statement. It is difficult to believe that the individual mind is the creator of time, though the individual mind has something to say about it and something to do with it. Because the individual mind is connected with the cosmical mind in a mysterious manner, it is connected with everything in the cosmos. The cognition of the mind in respect of a modification of the gunas of prakriti implies this connection. This connection is intrinsic, not merely artificially created. Therefore, the apparent subjection of the individual to the process of time seems to be due to the feeling of the individual as something of the nature of an effect rather than of the nature of a cause, attributing causality to the gunas of prakriti, and the character of the effect to one's own self. We have been habituated to think like this on account of our being controlled by the modifications of the world outside.

The sutra's intention is to tell us how we can get over the control that seems to be exerted over us by the time process, in order that we may attain liberation. For this, there was the earlier sutra in the Vibhuti Pada which told us that by concentration on the moments of time, time-consciousness can be conquered. We can have eternity-consciousness by concentration on the moments of time – which means to say, we refuse to think in terms of the succession that takes place outside in the world and fix our attention on one particular moment of time only, or one particular form of modification.

This is another form of deep concentration of mind on a given concept. Patanjali tells us in a different language, in a different manner, that the mind has to be concentrated on a single vritti only, and it should not be allowed to shift itself to another vritti. We have only one vritti in the mind, and do not allow that vritti to change into another vritti, because the moment one vritti changes into another vritti there will be time-consciousness, and there will be consciousness of the succession of events, and perhaps consciousness of different objects also. This is to be prevented by a forced fixing of the attention on a particular concept that has arisen, because a concept and a vritti are the same.

All this complicated description of the time process, etc., seems to amount to saying, finally, that we are supposed to practise samyama on a given concept and should not allow the concept to change into another concept. Then, there would be the breaking of the structure of the mind. The mind, which has been habituated to think in terms of the succession of events, and was always subjected to the modifications of its own vrittis and was shifting its attention from one to another – that mind will now be habituated to thinking in a constant fashion. That means to say, to allow it to think only of one vritti is samyama.

What is samyama? Samyama is nothing but the attention of consciousness on a single modification of the mind, and not allowing the mind to undergo another modification. When this succeeds – that means to say, if we can concentrate our attention on a single modification of the mind, which is another way of concentrating on a single form of object – there would be a prevention of the mind from getting into the succession of the time process and the modifications of the gunas. And this will, again, work a miracle – the miracle being the bursting of the bubble of the mind – and time will enter into eternity. This is a sort of condition that the sutra lays before us prior to the description of the final absorption of the mind into the cosmic purusha.