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


Chapter 94: Understanding the Structure of Things

The sutra we are studying, etena bhūtendriyeṣu dharma lakṣaṇa avasthā pariṇāmāḥ vyākhyātāḥ (III.13), tells us that the variety of things that we see in this world is the last shape that is taken by prakriti through the processes known as dharma, laksana and avastha. Every object of perception of the senses is a condition, or avastha, that is maintained by prakriti. The maintenance of this avastha condition in its form as an object of sense is internally regulated by a pattern, or laksana; the form of the object is a manifestation of this pattern. This laksana pattern, again, is due to a character called dharma that is inherent in the original substance, prakriti. In spite of the multitudinous variety that we see in the form of things in the world, all this variety is the last shape taken by prakriti and is reducible to a single substance by the reverse process of the return of the effects to the cause.

This is what is done in samyama on any particular object. It is this variety that troubles us and entangles us, confuses us, deludes us, and consequently makes us attached to variety, which is really not there. Thus, attachment of any kind is a kind of confusion of thought. It is a blunder that the mind commits due to not being able to gain entry into the basic substance which has taken this variety of shape in the form of these objects to which the mind is attached.

The relationship of the mind to the objects is a very important thing to be taken into consideration at the time of the practice of samyama because samyama gradually reduces the distance between the mind and the object, so that a stage will be reached when there will be no distance at all. The mind will be the object, and the object will be the mind; the thinker will be the ‘thought of', and vice versa. But the mind will revolt against any such attempt, which is the reason why there is difficulty in concentration of mind. The refusal of the mind to concentrate on any given object is due to its inability to comprehend the relationship it maintains with the object, and the relationship of any object with other objects. The objects, which are the bhutas – or rather, the evolutes of the bhutas, the elements – are known to exist and operate on account of the action of the senses. The mind begins to be aware of the activity of the world outside through the senses, the indriyas. And, the transformation, which is the conditioning factor of the objects outside in the world, again gets conditioned through the senses when it reaches the mind, so that there is no direct knowledge of the nature of the transformation which the objects undergo.

It is not possible to have a correct insight into the nature of things directly by the mind, on account of there being an intervening activity called the senses or the indriyas. So there is a need for not only an adjustment of the internal processes of thought, but also there is a need for the regulation of the activity of the senses in order that there may be a harmony between the mental transformations inside and the outer transformations which are the conditioning factors of the objects outside. We have, therefore, a final aim in yoga, which is the thorough harmonisation of the activities of the mind, the senses and the objects outside, without any kind of discrepancy or disharmony intervening in the middle.

Now, at the present moment, what happens is that the thoughts of the mind do not correspond to the nature of objects; therefore, the mind has no control over things. If the mind has to correspond to fact, it has to understand what the fact is. Inasmuch as the fact is not known, there is no such correspondence. The fact is nothing but the law that operates behind the existence of the objects – which operates behind the mind also, subjectively. But the mind is ignorant of this fact.

The ignorance present in the mind is due to the very old matter about which we were speaking – asmita, egoism. The mind and the egoism are united; they cannot be separated. The ego principle, which is the cohesive force that keeps the mind in a restricted position, prevents its connection with anything else other than that with which the ego is connected, so the mind is completely cut off from the world of objects outside. Inasmuch as the personal notions of the mind, as determined by the principle of the ego, cannot always correspond to the law of things in general, there is disharmony between the subject and the object. This disharmony between the subject and the object is the reason behind the subject having no knowledge of the object. Consequently, there is no control over anything. There is a total helplessness on the part of the subject and a compulsion which the subject feels in respect of everything, because the law of the world presses upon the subject so forcefully to yield to its dictates, in spite of whatever the mind may be thinking according to its whims and fancies. Thus, the reason for the bondage of the jiva, or the subject, is the vehemence of the ego, or the asmita tattva, which will not sacrifice even a whit of its notions and opinions about things.

The yoga process here, in this great endeavour known as samyama, attempts to cut at the root of this problem by a direct focusing of the attention of the mind on the very same thing with which it cannot reconcile itself – namely, the object. The name ‘object' is given to that with which we cannot reconcile ourselves; otherwise, it will not be an object. It will be like us only – it will be a subject. It is something different from us and, therefore, we call it an object. It stands outside us because we cannot cope with its ways of working and the manner of its relationship with other things of a similar nature.

The object that we see with the eyes, for instance, is therefore, on a deeper probe, revealed to be an index of a condition which is cosmical in nature. It is not isolated as it appears. The vast prakriti, being universal in its operations, focuses itself on a pinpoint in the form of an object of sense. And every object has the background of a universal pressure which prakriti exerts at any given moment of time. This pressure is exerted by prakriti on any object, whatever be the shape of that object. The different characters exhibited by different objects do not in any way mean a difference in the nature of the pressure exerted by prakriti on these objects. It has a uniform pressure communicated to everything and anything, and that pressure is the pattern which prakriti wants to maintain in the form of this manifested universe. That is called the laksana.

As it was mentioned previously, this universe is only one of the forms which prakriti can take. In every kalpa, or age-cycle, the form of the universe changes. Kalpa means a cycle of time beginning with the manifestation of the universe and ending with its dissolution, or pralaya. Between the kalpas is a condition of equipoise called samyavastha which contains the potentialities for creation of the next kalpa. In every kalpa, prakriti takes a particular time-form for the projection of a universe determined by the potentialities existing originally in the condition of equipoise called samyavastha. All schools of thought tell us that the nature of the universe manifested in any particular kalpa is equivalent to the requisite conditions necessary for the fulfilment of the unfulfilled desires of individuals who lay buried, unconscious, at the time of the dissolution of the world prior to this particular manifestation.

What we are told here is that any particular object – or any particular group of objects, for the matter of that – do not constitute a separate entity or a reality by itself, or by themselves. On the other hand, this particular object, or a group of objects, represents merely a condition of prakriti, even as the mind itself is such a condition in a more rarefied form. The subjective manifestation of prakriti is the mind, and its objective manifestation is the object, the visaya.

In samyama, or the practice of meditation in the form of total absorption, this point is borne in mind – namely, that the meditation is more on a situation or a condition rather than a compact substance. We are under the mistaken notion that there is a solid object in front of us which is completely different from other objects, with no connection at all with other things, separated by space and time. This is not the truth of things.

The true state of affairs is that any particular form that is visible or tangible in any other manner to the senses is a representation of a particular condition, or avastha, of prakriti, which has as its background the laksana, or the pattern which is in its mind, or which is its motive – just as an artist has a particular pattern present in his mind before he paints a picture with ink on a canvas. The ink can take any shape. He can paint a cow, or a horse, or a human being with the same ink. The substance is the same. Three colours are given to a painter, and the painter can paint anything. Any shape can be taken by the same substance. Likewise, the painter is only prakriti who painted these pictures of varieties out of a basic substance which is common to all forms, and the mind is not to be deluded into the belief that this variety is really there. There are only three inks – sattva, rajas and tamas – out of which all this wonderful painting has been presented before the senses. The master genius, who is prakriti, is the artist.

Now we come to the point of practice of yoga, which is the intention in this sutra: etena bhūtendriyeṣu dharma lakṣaṇa avasthā pariṇāmāḥ vyākhyātāḥ (III.13). Just as there are the parinamas, or transformations, of the mind known as nirodha parinama, samadhi parinama and ekagrata parinama, there are the dharma, laksana and avastha parinamas of everything. In fact, dharma, laksana and avastha are only other names for these three parinamas mentioned already – namely, nirodha, samadhi and ekagrata.

Hence, we have to establish a connection between the mind and the object by means of understanding these laksanas, avasthas, etc., which are the powers operating behind the form. It was also said that these properties inhere in the substance, prakriti, and because of the inherence of these properties which are dharmas, they are called dharmi. What is dharma and what is dharmi? It is mentioned in the next sutra: śānta udita avyapadeśya dharma anupātī dharmī (III.14). A dharmi is a substance in which dharmas inhere, exist. How do they exist? They exist in three ways: as the past, as the present and as the future. Santa, udita and avyapadesa, the three terms used in this sutra, mean respectively, the past, the present and the future. A particular character of an object that is cognisable or perceptible is the present condition of that object; it is not the whole condition.

We are all present here as human beings with different personalities. We have a body; we have a mind; we have our own individuality. Each individuality of each person sitting here is a present condition assumed by the characters of a substance of which we are made. It is not the entirety of our nature that is manifest here, because we have a past, and we also have a future. The past has been submerged by the preponderance of the forces that have become present, and similarly, the characters that are going to be manifest in the future are also put down, for the time being, by the force of the characters that are manifest in the present. There are potentialities, latent powers, potencies present in each form – in you, in me, in everything – which have the peculiarity in them of releasing only certain particular features at a particular time, and pressing down, not allowing to manifest, other features which are not required to manifest at that time. These features which are not manifest may be either past or future. This is a very strange thing, and is also something very terrible.

What the sutra intends to tell us is that it is stupid on the part of any person to imagine that he is this personality which is manifest now at the present moment. He or she, as appearing now at the present moment, is only one feature that is manifest by the potentialities that are inside. There are so many potentialities which are yet to be manifested in the future. We will become another person altogether after some time, and we will be thinking that we are another person – this person has gone. We were another person in the past, we are one thing now in the present, and we will be some third thing in the future. So, to which form are we going to be attached? Or, to put it more concretely, do we know what we were in our previous birth? Man, woman, king or beggar, rich or poor, tall or short, from the West or the East – what were we? Nobody can say anything. We were something quite different from what we are today. We have completely ignored that which we were in the past, and now we are clinging to that which we are at present. How is it that we have completely ignored what we were in the past? We were clinging to that, once upon a time, as our real personality. How is it that we have completely forgotten that and now we are fixing our attention on something which is present? And do we know what we will be in our future? Nobody knows. We will be something else, and afterwards we will cling to that, forgetting the present.

No one can be in a uniform condition always. There is no such thing as a fixed personality or eternal individuality. Such things do not exist. So it is really very surprising that the consciousness should be tied up, like a victim to a post, in the form of a given condition at a particular moment of time. The consciousness is aware only of the present; it is not aware of the past, and also it is not aware of the future. But that which modifies itself into these features – in the past, in the present and in the future – is uniformly present always. That is our basic nature. It is the nature of everything – inanimate, animate, etc. In all the realms of existence there is only one basic dharmi, or substance, which has cast itself into the moulds of various dharmas of forms and shapes, etc., and it can manifest itself so forcefully in the time-form that it can create the impression of that particular time-form as the only reality for the time being, as if the other features are not existent at all.

We are, for instance, not conscious of the existence of worlds other than this earth, or the physical plane. But scriptures tell us, and even science corroborates, that there can be many kinds of beings – perhaps infinite in number – all differing, one from the other. Also, the contents of the realms will not be similar, because they belong to different space-times. This is also a great revelation of the modern theory of relativity. There are infinite space-times, and each space-time has a peculiar conditioning feature which manifests itself as a particular world of perception or experience. This particular space-time is only one possibility among the many possibilities in the form of many other space-times – infinite in number. This is also mentioned to us in the stories of the Yoga Vasishtha. Infinite space-times, infinite worlds are there, and one can be penetrating through the other, one not being aware of the existence of the other. Worlds interpenetrate one another at a given cross-section of time and space, and yet one will not be aware of the other on account of the difference of the frequency of consciousness which is connected to that particular order of space-time.

This present condition of experience, which is called udita in this particular sutra, is only one time-form taken by prakriti, and it has potentialities which were in the past that can manifest themselves once again in the future. There will be an occasion for us to study this in future, when Patanjali will tell us that there is no identical substance called ‘individual' at all. There is no self-identical being. They are only different phases of the manifestation of prakriti, which is mistaken for a self-identical individuality, so that what is intended here is that the so-called asmita, which plays such havoc, is a phantasmagoria. It is not there at all!

It is very surprising how consciousness can assume such a shape – a shape which is really not there, and which is totally unsubstantial. This point Patanjali wants to drive into our minds so that samyama can be made easy, because as long as there are attachments present in the mind, no samyama is possible. Subconscious impulses will drag us in another direction altogether, so the very subconscious attachment should be snapped in the bud. This is possible only by a thorough analysis of the structure of things, the nature of the objects which are the causes of attachment, and the nature of asmita, the egoism, which is another reason for the impossibility of the mind to concentrate on anything that is given.

These few sutras which we have been studying are very difficult ones – hard nuts to crack. But they are very important in the sense that an understanding of their import is necessary for the purpose of a whole-souled absorption in the object of meditation, the object of samyama, for the purpose of acquiring powers of mastery over nature. These powers are called siddhis – which are described in the further sutras.