The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
Part III: The Vibhuti Pada
Chapter 93: Removing the Ego with the Process of Samyama
Continuing the subject we were discussing in the previous chapter, the Yoga Sutras introduce our minds to a new subject – namely, the control of nature and mastery over those conditions and circumstances which now appear to be ruling over us. At present we are, apparently, in a helpless condition, being controlled by laws, rules and regulations which seem to be operating above us, transcending us, which are outside us and are independent of us.
Is it possible for us to enter into these systems of legal operation of the universe and gain some sort of control over these systems which are governing everything everywhere? For this purpose it is that in yoga, samyama is practised on the essential things which constitute the universe as a whole. These essential things are most difficult to understand because many of them are not visible to the eyes; or, we may say, the principle factors are not cognisable even by the mind. But they have to be understood in order that they may be controlled, mastered and made our own. This is the purpose of samyama.
At present, our helpless condition and so-called impotency is due to there being outside us a vast world, a universe expanding to infinity, as it were, before which we look very small and with little power. This universe of objects, which is outside us, and these elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – are the building bricks of everything conceivable in this physical universe. And they seem to have a law and a system of their own in their workings, which we are compelled to follow and obey, so that they are the masters and we are the slaves or servants. This is the present state of affairs. Also, there are more difficult things to understand – laws and operations which are subtler than these physical laws, which seem to be pressing upon us the need for even the processes of transmigration, birth and death, and the consequent sorrows that follow from this subjection to transmigration.
All this is impossible to grasp by the ordinary mind because the mind is foolishly addicted to the notion that the physical objects are the only reality and there is nothing beyond. The senses perceive objects as if they are the only things existing and there is nothing beyond them. The only intention of the senses is to drag the mind towards the objects of sense as if there is nothing else in this world. All this is the drama of human experience as it apparently seems to be. But, the alternate analysis which we are in a position to make through the system of yoga will reveal a new kind of phenomenon that is different in character from the nature of the things as they are perceived by the senses.
Before we can understand the method of samyama – the practice of yoga proper for the solution of this mystery – an analysis is given in one or two sutras as to what this means. It is very precisely, and without any ceremony whatsoever, openly said in one sutra: etena bhūtendriyeṣu dharma lakṣaṇa avasthā pariṇāmāḥ vyākhyātāḥ (III.13). Here Patanjali says practically nothing except that the dharmas, laksanas and avasthas of things have already been explained when he explained to us the three parinamas of the mind. He does not want to tell us anything more. But it is a very hard job to understand what he actually means. The implication of this sutra is that there is a corresponding law operating in the external universe, which is similar to the law that operates in the mind inside; and the process of the control of the mind and the process of the control of the objects outside are both similar. If we can know our own mind thoroughly, we can also know every other object in this world. If we can control our mind, we can control everything else also. This is what is intended in this sutra.
These three parinamas, or the transformations of the mind which we were speaking of earlier known as nirodha parinama, samadhi parinama and ekagrata parinama, are the systems which the whole universe follows. The law of the original substance, known as prakriti, is hidden in these three processes. The objects that we see with our eyes, and cognise with our mind, are a phenomenon presented by prakriti. It is a mischievous attempt, we may say, of the mother of things to tempt us, deceive us and trap us into an experience of something which is really not there, and to keep us completely in ignorance of what is really there.
This prakriti, the original substance, is the material of everything – of all objects. This material, or the cosmic substance, has a peculiar property inherent in it. This property is the capacity within itself to modify itself into a time-form. Prakriti itself is not in time; it is transcendent to time. The idea that a thing is in time arises later on. This space-time complex is an evolute of prakriti. Thus, the original form of things – of anything whatsoever, yourself, myself included – is non-temporal. Our real nature is not temporal, or in time, but is non-temporal. It is beyond time. That is the state in which a thing exists in the original substance of prakriti. All the properties which follow subsequently, through space and time, inhere in this substance. Inasmuch as all these properties inhere in the substance which is prakriti, as we mentioned previously, this prakriti is called the dharmi, and the properties are called dharmas.
Dharma is a character, a quality, a capacity, an inherency, a property, etc., and that which contains this potency to modify itself into these complex forms is the substance. Ultimately the substance is prakriti, which is a name that we give to the universal original substance of all things. Prakriti is a peculiar Samkhya term; we may call it by any other name we like. The idea behind this terminology is that there is only one substance in the universe, not many substances. All things, whatever be their variety, colour, pageantry, shape and difference in character – all this difference matters not in the light of the great truth that all these things are reducible to a single substance. This is a great truth indeed, which is difficult to stomach for the ordinary mind, because we can never understand that the different objects – totally differing in character – are identical in substance. That is the truth; and if we are able to feel this truth, life will be something quite different from what it is now. But we cannot feel it; we cannot even understand it thoroughly. But this is the truth, say the Yoga Sutras.
The property which is inherent in the original substance is the cause for the variety of things which is visible to the senses. For the first time, this substance modifies itself into the three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas; and I mentioned to you what happens later on. Now, this particular sutra has something specific to tell us. Dharma, laksana and avastha are the three terms used in this sutra: etena bhūtendriyeṣu dharma lakṣaṇa avasthā pariṇāmāḥ vyākhyātāḥ (III.13). These dharmas, or the properties of things in general, are present in the original substance just as, to give a more concrete example, a pot made of earth is inherent in the clay, which is only a heap of earth. A clod of earth has no shape whatsoever. But out of this shapeless mass of earth the potter manufactures a pot, and we have what is called a pot. The pot is a shape taken by the earth, the original clay matter. It is very strange, really speaking. If we try to understand what a pot is, we will not know what it is, because it is not the same as clay, and it is not different from clay. What do we see there except clay? Yet, can we call it simply clay? It has assumed a time-form. That is the peculiarity within this modification.
That the ‘potness’ of what we call the pot was inherent in the clay is something very strange indeed for the mind to understand. What was inherent in the clay? There is no easy answer to this question. We cannot say that the pot was inherent in the clay, because there was no such thing as the pot. There was no pot previously except the clay itself. The clay itself is the pot. We cannot even say that the clay has become the pot. When we say that the pot was inherent in the clay, what is it that is actually inherent there? Not the pot, because there is no pot; it is clay itself. So what is that, which we call the pot? This is a peculiar thing. It is a kind of phantasmagoria that is presented or projected before the mind. That is called the space-time complex, which introduces itself into this peculiar modification process and makes one feel that the pot is different from the clay. We all know that the pot is not the same as the clay; there is something in it which is other than the clay, yet we cannot say what it is. That peculiar thing which we cannot say what it is but it is present there, is the ‘potness’ – not the pot itself. That is the character, the dharma, of the clay. And such kind of character is present in the original substance, prakriti, by which it modifies itself into the forms of objects of sense.
This tendency of a substance to maintain a particular pattern or shape is called dharma, and that is the property, the capacity, which is inherent in the substance. It can assume a particular pattern of form. This pattern is inherent in the substance and inseparable from the substance. This pattern is nothing but the identification of the capacity of prakriti in respect of a particular shape which it tries to modify itself into and maintain for a particular period of time. The capacity itself is the dharma. The changing of the dharma into a time-form, the pattern or the shape of the object, is called the laksana, or the character of the object. The character of the clay, when it has become something else in the time-form, is called the pot. The maintenance of this form for a particular duration is the avastha – the condition of the object. The condition does not prolong itself for an indefinite period of time. It has a specific rule by itself, just as every object maintains a particular state for a period of time.
The universe of forms – this vast thing that we see in front of us – is a particular pattern taken by prakriti, modified according to a plan, and is to continue for a period of time, according to the necessity of the time. There are infinite potentialities in prakriti, just as infinite statues can be made out of a block of stone. We can carve any statue from a block of stone. Can you tell me how many statues are inside a block of stone? Infinite – no number – because anything can be carved out of it. Likewise, infinite capacities are present in the original substance – namely, prakriti. But the sculptor does not concentrate on the infinite capacity present in the block of stone. The sculptor has in mind a particular pattern. That is the time-form into which prakriti changes itself, and in regard to which it concentrates itself.
The sculptor has only a specific idea in his mind: “I will carve a lion, or a human form,” or some such thing, in spite of the fact that many other things also could have been made out of the very same stone. Likewise, it is not that prakriti can manifest itself only in this form of the universe. It can manifest itself in some other form also, so we should not think that this is the only thing that prakriti is capable of doing. This wondrous universe that is before us is one shape it has taken, and it can take millions and millions of shapes of a different kind altogether, which are unthinkable by any kind of mind. Thus, it is said in the Caitanya Caritarmita: ananta-koṭi brahmāṇḍa (C.C. XX.284). An endless number of universes do exist, just as an endless number of statues exist in a block of stone. Nobody can say how many universes are there. Hence, this particular universe, about which we are wonder-struck, is only one shape prakriti has taken out of the many that it is capable of. That one thing is troubling us so much.
This shape that prakriti has taken is inclusive of our bodies, our minds, our personalities; all these individuals are part of this drama of the mulaprakriti. As it was mentioned previously, it has modified itself into many forms – primarily into the object and the subject. We regard ourselves as subjects, the percipients, the seers, the cognisers, or the experiencers, and regard everything else as the object.
The problem of life is simple, and it can be stated in one sentence. The problem of life is the difficulty that one feels in adjusting oneself with the objects outside, with which one is always irreconcilable. The reason is that the gunas of prakriti, which are the primary constituents of all objects, are continuously changing, modifying themselves, and it is difficult to understand the patterns into which they cast themselves, the changes which they follow in their course. We cannot follow the course of prakriti, the speed with which the gunas move. Also, we cannot understand what will be the intention of the gunas even in the next moment, because of the fact that we have egoism in our personality.
We are not in harmony with the gunas of prakriti; we have got a personality. We have got a substance of our own, a kernel which asserts itself as absolutely independent. What this essence or kernel of personality does is that it cuts off any kind of information in regard to what is taking place outside. We cannot have ingress into the processes that are taking place outside in the universe because there is a vehement affirmation of the ego that its ideas, as they stand now, are all the reality for it, and nothing else exists. The ego cannot cope with the changes that take place outside because they are not in accordance with the notions that it has. The gunas of prakriti are uniformly present everywhere, and they inexorably work impartially both in the subject as well as in the object. But the subject has an ego that prevents the knowledge of this impartial working of the gunas, and it is this that has to be tackled directly by the process of samyama. If this fortress of the ego can be broken, there can be immediate entry into the nature of the object, and then we flow with the current of things. Then nobody can control us, and nobody can harass us. Nobody can create a problem for us.
The way in which this obstruction in the form of the ego is removed is twofold – subjective as well as objective. The subjective method was described in the form of the three parinamas mentioned in the earlier sutras. Now the objective method is mentioned – namely, the way in which the mind can concentrate on an object as the form taken by the original substance, or the mulaprakriti – the concentration which can be practised by which the egoistic affirmation can be broken through.
The ego is broken either by internal self-analysis or by objective concentration. Both ways are equally applicable and effective. It is the ego that prevents us from concentrating ourselves on anything, because the ego has a notion of the variety of things, and a need for appropriating various diverse characters for its own satisfaction. And inasmuch as we are preventing this kind of contact and satisfaction, it resents all forms of concentration of mind. The three gunas work in the mind as well as the objects.
Na tad asti pṛithivyāṁ vā divi deveṣu vā punaḥ, sattvaṁ prakṛitijair muktaṁ yad ebhiḥ syāt tribir guṇaiḥ (B.G. XVIII.40), says the Bhagavadgita. There is nothing in all of earth and heaven which is free from these three gunas; not even the gods are free from this. All the objects outside, present in all the fourteen realms – all the lokas – and the mind itself, are this dramatic picturesque presentation of the three gunas. Thus, before mastery is gained over objects and prakriti itself through samayama in yoga, it is necessary to concentrate on the manner in which prakriti modifies itself into these formations.