Yoga Sutras - VI

by Raghavan Iyer @ Theosophy Trust


THE YOGA SUTRAS – VI


Vibhuti Pada

Attention is the first and indispensable step in all knowledge. Attention to spiritual things is the first step to spiritual knowledge.
Charles Johnston

Patanjali commenced the third pada of the Yoga Sutras with a compelling distinction between three phases of meditation. Dharana is full concentration, the focussing of consciousness on a particular point, which may be any object in the world or a subject chosen by the mind. The ability to fix attention is strengthened by the practice of the first five angas of Patanjali's ashtangayoga, for without some cultivation of them the mind tends to meander and drift in every direction. Dhyana is meditation in the technical sense of the term, meaning the calm sustaining of focussed attention. In dhyana, consciousness still encounters some modifications, but they all flow in one direction and are not disturbed by other fluctuations of any sort. Rather like iron – consisting of molecules clustered together in various ways, their axes oriented in different directions – undergoes a shift of alignment of all molecules in a single direction when magnetized, so too consciousness can become unidirectional through experiencing a current of continuity in time.

Samadhi, broadly characterized as "meditative absorption" or "full meditation", signifies the deepening of dhyana until the chosen object of meditation stands alone and consciousness is no longer aware of itself as contemplating an object. In samadhi consciousness loses the sense of separateness from what is contemplated and, in effect, becomes one with it. Like a person wholly lost in their work, "the object stands by itself," in the words of the Yogabhashya, as if there were only the object itself. Although these three phases can be viewed as separate and successive, when they occur together in one simultaneous act they constitute sanyama, serene constraint or luminous concentration. The novice who nonetheless is capable of entering samadhi may take a long time to move from dharana to deep samadhi, because he experiences the entire movement as a radical change in consciousness. But the adept in sanyama can include all three in a virtually instantaneous act, thus arousing the ability to move from one object of contemplation to another almost effortlessly.

Prajna, cognitive insight, the resplendent light of wisdom, or intuitive apprehension, comes as a result of mastering sanyama. Although prajna is the highest level of knowledge to which philosophy can aspire, it is not the supreme state, for it halts at the threshold of vivekakhyati, pristine awareness of Reality, which can be neither articulated nor elucidated. Sanyama, Patanjali taught, is not completely mastered all at once. Rather, once sanyama is attained, it is strengthened in stages by deft application to different objects and levels of being. Each such application reveals the divine light as it manifests in that context, until the adept practitioner of exalted sanyama can focus entirely on purusha itself. In sanyama the patient aspirant glimpses the divine radiance, the resplendent reflection of purusha, wherever he focusses attention, but in time he will behold only purusha. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna asked Arjuna to see Himself in all things, but in the climactic cosmic vision, Arjuna witnessed the cosmic form (vishvarupa) of the Lord. Sanyama is wholly internal, whilst the first five yoga practices are external. Though all the angas are crucial to yoga, the last three, harmoniously synthesized in sanyama, constitute yoga proper. Since this is the central aim of everything stated so far in the Yoga Sutras, sanyama received considerable emphasis from Patanjali.

Nirodha, restraint, cessation or interception, is essential to sanyama because it is concerned neither with different states nor objects of consciousness, but chiefly with the process of transformation or replacement of the contents of consciousness. In sanyama the definite shift from one object of attention to another – and these can be wholly abstract and mental objects – involves a change of mental impression. As an object fades from mental view, another appears on the mental horizon to take its place. But like the pregnant moment just before dawn, when night is fleeing and the first light of day is sensed but has not yet shown itself, there is a suspended moment when what is fading has receded and the new object of focus is yet to appear. This is nirodhaparinama, the moment, however fleeting, between successive modifications when, according to the Yogabhashya, "the mind has nothing but subliminal impressions" (III.9). Should the mind lose its alertness at just that point, it would fall into a somnolent state, for in sanyama, consciousness is wholly absorbed in the object of consciousness, whilst in nirodhaparinama that object has vanished. But if it remains fully awake, it gains a powerful glimpse of the tranquil state of nonmodification, and may thus pass through the laya or still point of equilibrium to enter into a higher plane. With sufficient practice, the yogin learns to extend nirodha and abide in it long enough to initiate this transition. The less accomplished, if they do not get caught in the torpor of the penultimate void, may notice the passage of nirodha as a missed opportunity. With persistent effort, the yogin learns to remain in nirodha, relishing the peaceful, smooth flow of cosmic consciousness and reaching the highest samadhi.

Samadhiparinama, meditative transformation, occurs when nirodha is experienced not simply as a negation of objects of consciousness but rather as a positive meditation on nothingness. One-pointedness of consciousness has been so mastered through the progressive displacement of all distractions that ekagrata, one-pointedness, alone subsists, and this becomes ekagrataparinama, total one-pointedness. It is as if the seed of meditation, first sought and recovered every single time the mind wandered and was sharply brought back to a focus, then firmly fixed in focus, had been split asunder until nothing remained but the empty core upon which the mind settles peacefully. Here the besetting tendency to fluctuate has become feeble, whilst the propensity to apply restraint is strong. Since all states of consciousness are necessarily correlated with states of matter, both being products of the gunas stimulated to action by the presence of purusha, the depiction of consciousness also pertains to matter. The powerful transformation of consciousness is precisely matched in the continual transformations of matter, though the ordinary eye fails to apprehend the critical states in the transformation of matter, just as it remains largely unaware of nirodha. Nonetheless, there is a single substratum, dharmin, which underlies all change, whether in consciousness or in matter, and this is prakriti, the primeval root of all phenomena. For Patanjali, this means that all transformations are phenomenal in respect to prakriti the prima materia in its essential nature, and, like purusha, ever unmodified. The ceaseless fluctuations of mind and world are merely countless variations of succession owing to alterations of cause. Realizing this, the yogin who has mastered sanyama, and thereby controls the mind at will, can equally control all processes of gestation and growth.

Having elucidated the nature of concentration as the sole means for discovering and transforming consciousness at all levels, Patanjali turned to the remarkable phenomenal effects possible through sanyama. Any fundamental change in consciousness initiates a corresponding change in and around one's vestures. A decisive shift in the operation and balance of the gunas, in thought, focus and awareness, reverberates throughout the oscillating ratios between the gunas everywhere. Since any significant refocussing of the mind produces dazzling insights and diverse phenomena, Patanjali conveyed their range and scope. For yoga they are not important in themselves because the goal is kaivalya, liberation, but they are vitally important as aids or obstacles on the way to achieving the goal. Patanjali could not dismiss or overlook them, since they are real enough and inescapable, and so he delineated them clearly, knowing fully that all such arcane information can be abused. One who willingly uses such knowledge to stray off the arduous path to emancipation brings misery upon himself. One who would use this knowledge wisely needs to understand the many ways one can be misled into wasting the abundant resources accessible to the yogin. Profound alterations in states of consciousness through sanyama can bring about awakened powers called siddhis, attainments, many of which may seem to be supernatural and supernormal to the average person. They are, however, neither miraculous nor supernatural, since they suspend, circumvent or violate no laws. Rather, they merely indicate the immense powers of controlled consciousness within the perspective of great Nature, powers that are largely latent, untapped and dormant in most human beings. They are suggestive parameters of the operation of the vast scope and potency of consciousness in diverse arenas of prakriti.

Sanyama, the electric fusion of dharana, dhyana and samadhi, can release preternatural knowledge of past and future; the yogin gains profound insight into the metaphysical mystery of time. The future is ever conditioned by the past, and the past is accurately reflected in every aspect of the future. The present is strictly not a period of time; it is that ceaselessly moving point which marks the continual transition from future to past. Comprehending causality, seeing the effect in the cause, like the tree in the seed, the yogin perceives past and future alike by concentrating on the three phases of transformation experienced in the present and which, at the critical points of transformation, indicate the eternal, changeless substratum hidden behind them. Once conscious awareness is fixed beyond the temporal succession of states of consciousness, causality ceases to be experienced as a series of interrelated events – since the succession is itself the operation of past karma – and is perceived as an integrated whole in the timeless present. Thus past and future are seen from the same transcendent perspective as the timeless present. Freeing oneself from captivity to the mechanical succession of moments in clock time, one can rise beyond temporality and grasp causality noetically rather than phenomenally.

Although language is often viewed as an arbitrary and conventional system of communication, interpersonal understanding and mental telepathy as well as rapport between receptive and congenial minds are based on more than mere convention. Just as time is experienced as internal to the subject when the mind is mechanical, whilst causality is not necessarily time-bound, the evolution of language cannot dispense with intersubjectivity, shared clusters of concepts, rites and rituals, habits and customs, races and cultures. The deepest meaning of sounds is subtle and elusive, dissolving meanings and expectations. The linkage connected to the possibility of speech as well as to the potency of the primordial OM, the secret name of Ishvara, is sphota, the ineffable and inscrutable meaning intimated by sounds and speech. Through sanyama, the yogin can so deftly discern sound, meaning and idea that he instantly grasps the meaning, whatever the utterance of any person. Not only does he readily understand what is said by anyone, however awkward, disingenuous or deceptive the utterance, but he also apprehends the meaning of any sound uttered by any sentient being, whether birds and beasts, insects; trees or aquatic creatures.

The focussing power of sanyama enables the yogin to explore the subtlest impressions retained on the mental screen, and in so doing he can summon them into the light of consciousness. In this way, he can examine his entire mental inheritance and even discern previous lives. Knowing the exact correlations between states of consciousness and external conditions, he can recognize the linkage between latent memories and the traumas they induce, as well as the integral connection between past impressions and their inevitable karmic effects, thereby recollecting the patterns of previous incarnations. Similarly, by directing his yogic focus on the pratyaya or content of any mind functioning through a set of vestures, he can cognize that mental condition. Since all such mental contents are mirrored in the features and gestures of another, he can read the thoughts of another by looking at the person, and he can make the same determination by examining any portion of the expressed thought of another. Rather like a hologram, each and every aspect of an individual reflects the evolving structure of the whole being. Through sanyama, any facet of the person can reveal his psychic and mental make-up. Such attention will not, however, unveil the underlying structure of another's deepest consciousness, since that is hidden even to the person scrutinized. To discover the inward depths of the person, the yogin has to take the subject as the sole object of his sustained concentration and not merely that subject's mental contents. The ultimate question "Who are you?" can be resolved only in the way the question "Who am I?" is taken as a theme of intense meditation.

For Patanjali, as for different schools of Indian thought and for Plato (Republic, Book VI), seeing is a positive act and not merely a passive reception of light refracted from an object in the line of sight. Seeing involves the confluence of light (an aspect of sattvaguna) from the object of sight and the light from the eye of the seer, an active power (another aspect of sattva). The yogin can direct sanyama to the form and colour of his own body and draw in the light radiating from it, centring it wholly within his mind, manas, so that the sattva from the eye of another cannot fuse with it. Thus the body of the yogin cannot be seen, for he has made himself invisible. Similarly, by meditation upon the ultimate basis of any sensory power, the element essential to that sense, and its corresponding sense-organ, the yogin can become soundless, intangible and beyond the limited range of all the bodily senses. With the proper inversion of the process, he can dampen or delete any senseimage, like glaring lights or background noise, either converting them into mild sensations or blanketing them entirely.

If the yogin should choose to practise sanyama on his past karma, he can obtain unerring insight into every causal chain he once initiated. Recognizing which tendencies are being expended and at what rates, as well as those lines of force which cannot bear fruit in this life, he may discern the time of his death – that point wherein the fruition of karma ensures the complete cessation of vital bodily functions. At the same time, such knowledge readily gives warnings of future events, all of which are the inevitable fruition of karma, and thus the yogin readily sees in each moment signs and portents of the future. He does not perceive, in such instances, something that is present only to his penetrating gaze. Rather, he is only reading correctly the futurity which ever lurks in present events, just as gold ore inheres in the dull rock even though only the trained eye of the prospector can see it and know it for what it is. Whilst such practical wisdom allows the yogin to foresee mental and physical conditions, he can also discern more fundamental changes which are due to the inexorable working of overlapping cycles, and, even more, he can focus on those critical points which trace the curve of potentiality for permanent spiritual change, or metanoia.

By focussing on maitri, kindliness, or any similar grace of character, the yogin can fortify that virtue in himself, thereby increasing his mental and moral strength and becoming the shining exemplar and serene repository of a host of spiritual graces. The yogin can activate and master any power manifest in Nature and mirrored in the human microcosm, refining its operation through his vestures, honing his inward poise and inimitable timeliness in its benevolent use. Thus, by contemplating the sattva or light within, discarding the reflected lights imperfectly and intermittently transmitted through the sensory apparatus, the yogin can investigate and come to cognize every subtle thing, whether small, hidden, veiled or very distant. He can discern the atom (anu) by deploying the light within, for all light is ultimately one. Should he choose to practise sanyama in respect to the sun, he can come to know the harmonies of the solar system from the standpoint of its hidden structure as a matrix of solar energies. Further, he can know all solar systems by analogy with ours, and so his comprehension of cosmic forces expressed in, through and around the sun is more than mere familiarity with the structure of a physical system. He also grasps the architectonics – psychic, mental and spiritual – of all such systems. Similarly, his concentration on the moon yields insights into the intricate arrangements of the stars, since, like the moon, they are all in motion around multiple centres. By concentrating on the pole-star – whose arcane significance is far more than what is commonly assumed on the basis of its visible locus in the sidereal vault – he discerns the motions of the stars in relation to one another, not just on the physical plane but also as the shimmering veil of Ishvara, the manifested Logos of the cosmos.

Directing the power of sanyama upon the soul's vestures, the yogin can calmly concentrate on the solar plexus, connected with the pivotal chakra or psycho-spiritual centre in the human constitution, and thus thoroughly grasp the structure and dynamics of the physical body. By concentrating on the pit of the throat, connected with the trachea, he can control hunger and thirst. Since hunger and thirst are physical expressions at one level of being which have corresponding correlates and functions at every level, his concentration can also affect mental and psychic cravings, since he has mastered the prana or vital energy flowing from this particular chakra. More specifically, by concentrating on the nadi, or nervecentre called the "tortoise", below the trachea, the yogin gains mental, psychic and physical steadiness, facilitating enormous feats of strength.

If sanyama is directed to the divine light in the head, the yogin can come to see siddhas, perfected beings. This supple light is hidden in the central sushumna nerve in the spinal column, and emanates that pristine vibration (suddhasattva) which is magnetically linked to the sun and is transmitted through the moon. Concentrating on that supernal light, the yogin can perceive those perfected beings whose luminous and translucent vestures are irradiated by the light of the Logos (daiviprakriti). Similarly, concentration on the laser light of spiritual intuition, kundalini released by buddhi, results in flashes of inward illumination. This light emanates from pratibha, the pure intellect which is self-luminous and omnidirectional, constant and complete, unconnected with earthly aims and objects. Focussing on its radiance releases taraka jnana, the transcendental gnosis which has been aptly termed "the knowledge that saves". This primeval wisdom is wholly unconditioned by any temporal concern for self or the external world, is self- validating and self-shining, the ultimate goal of Taraka Raja Yoga. It puts one in close communion with Ishvara whilst preserving a vital link, like a silver thread, with the world of woe, illusion and ignorance. Pratibha is that crystalline intellection exemplified by Bodhisattvas who have transcended all conditionality, yet seek to serve ceaselessly all souls trapped in the chains of bondage. By concentration on the secret, spiritual heart – the anahata chakra – the yogin becomes attuned to cosmic intellection, for the anahata is man's sacred connection with cosmic consciousness, reverberating until near death with the inaudible yet ever pulsating OM.

Should the yogin master all these marvellous siddhis, he would still remain ensnared in the world which is pervaded by pain and nescience, until he is prepared to take the next, absolutely vital step in the mastery of taraka jnana. Any individual involuntarily participates in the stream of sensory experience by blindly assenting to the pleasurepain principle. This will last as long as he cannot discriminate between purusha, the cosmic Self, and the individuating principle of spiritual insight, sattva. Even the subtlest light shining in the incomprehensible darkness of pure Spirit, purusha, must be transcended. The Yogabhashya states the central issue: "It has therefore been asked in the Upanishad: By what means can the Knower be known?" Sanyama must be entirely directed to purusha so that it is perfectly mirrored in the serene light of noetic understanding (sattva). Buddhi, that intuitive faculty of divine discernment through which the highest sattva expresses itself, becomes a pellucid mirror for purusha. Just as purusha, cosmically and individually, penetrates and comprehends prakriti, so too the highest prakriti now becomes the indispensable means for apprehending purusha. This is the basis for svasamvedana, ultimate self-knowledge, the paradigm for all possible self-study at any and every level of consciousness and being. Once this fundamental revolution has occurred, self-consciousness can turn back to the world of objects – which once plunged it into a state of delusion and later gave rise to a series of obstacles to be surmounted – and adopt a steadfast, universal standpoint flowing from allpotent, pure awareness. What once needed various mental and psychophysical mechanisms can now be accomplished without adventitious aids, thereby dispensing altogether with all conditionality and systemic error.

In practice, the yogin can now freely and directly exercise the powers commonly connected with the lower sense-organs, without dependence on sensory data. Hence his sight, hearing, smell, taste and especially touch are extrasensory, far greater in range and reach than ever before, precisely because there is no longer reliance on imperfect sensory mechanisms conditioned by physical space and psychological time. What were once obstructions to the deepest meditation (samadhi) can now serve as talismanic aids in benefitting both Nature and Humanity. The yogin can, for example, choose at will to enter another's body with full consent, because his mind is no longer entangled with a physical or astral vesture and because he knows the precise conduits through which minds are tethered to bodies. Having risen above any and all temptation to gratify the thirst for sensation or the craving for experience, he can employ his extraordinary powers and extra-sensory faculties solely for the sake of universal enlightenment and the welfare of the weak.

Having gained complete self-mastery, the yogin can now exercise benevolent control over invisible and visible Nature (prakriti) for the Agathon, the greatest good of all. Since even his own vestures are now viewed as external to him, his relation to them has become wholly isomorphic with his conscious connection to the vital centres in the Great Macrocosm. By mastering udana, one of the five currents of prana, chiefly connected with vertical motion, the yogin makes his body essentially impervious to external influences, including the presence of gravity and the inevitability of death. By mastering samana, the current of prana which governs metabolic and systemic processes, he can render his body self-luminous and radiant, as Jesus did during his climactic transfiguration and as Moses is said to have done during his salvific descent from Mount Sinai. Knowing the integral connection between the inner ear and akasha, the supple light and etheric empyrean in invisible space, the trained yogin can hear anything that ever impressed itself, however distantly, upon that universal, homogeneous and supersensuous medium. Similarly, knowing the vital connection between the astral body and akasha, he can make his body light and even weightless, and also as pliable and versatile as a superb musical instrument.

From the standpoint of self-consciousness, the yogin who has mastered taraka jnana can practise mahavideha, the power of making the mind wholly incorporeal, so that it abides in pure and perfect awareness beyond even buddhi. Such a state of cosmic consciousness is indescribable, though it can be identified as that exalted condition in which no light anywhere is absent from his mental horizon. From the standpoint of Nature, the perfected yogin has total control of matter and can fully comprehend it in its subtlest and most minute forms. He can manifest through his vestures the entire spectrum of possibilities of universal self-consciousness and effortless control over matter – merging into the atom, magnifying himself into the galactic sphere, making the human temple worthy of every perfection, including grace, beauty, strength, porosity, malleability and rock-like hardness. Controlling the seven sense-organs, the masterly yogin knows precisely how they function on the spiritual, mental, moral and physical planes, and he can instantaneously cognize anything he chooses. Comprehending and controlling pradhana, the common principle and substratum of invisible Nature, he can direct every change and mutation in material prakriti. He is no longer subject to the instruments he employs, for the entire cosmos has become his aeolian harp and sounding-board.

The yogin's total grasp of the elusive and ever-shifting distinction between purusha and prakriti, especially between the universal Self and the individuating principle of understanding (sattva), between subject and object at all levels, becomes the basis for his unostentatious sovereignty over every possible state of existence. His complete comprehension of the Soundless Sound (OM), of the Sound in the Light and the Light in the Sound, results in what is tantamount to serene omnipotence and silent omniscience. Yet although the perfected yogin is a Magus, a Master of gnosis, wholly lifted out of the sphere of prakriti and supremely free, self-existent and self-conquered, he does not allow even the shadow of attachment to transcendental joy to stain his sphere of benevolence to all. Complete and invulnerable non-attachment, vairagya, can destroy the lurking seeds of self-concern and susceptibility to delusion, and he may thus approach the threshold of kaivalya, supreme self-emancipation. If, however, he is enthralled by the glorious deities and celestial wonders he encounters in the spiritual empyrean, he could rekindle the dormant yearning for terrestrial life, with its fastproliferating chain of earthly entanglements. But if he steadfastly practises sanyama on the kalachakra, the Wheel of Time, and even more, penetrates the last veil of kala, the mystery of Being, Becoming and Beness, the infinitude of the Eternal Now hidden within the infinitesimal core of the passing moment, he can dissolve without trace the divine yogamaya of conditioned space-time. Such unfathomable depths of consciousness transcend the very boundaries of gnosis and cannot be conveyed in any language, conceptual or ontological.

The purest and most perfect awareness is indistinguishable from the direct apprehension of ultimate Reality wherein, in the words of Shankaracharya, the very distinctions between seer, seeing and sight, or knower, knowing and known, wholly vanish. Here, for example, the Leibnizian principle of the identity of indiscernibles collapses in thought and language. Knowing eternity in time in its irreducible moments, even indistinguishable events or objects can be instantaneously separated in an ecstatic, simultaneous apprehension of the One without a second, of the One mirrored in the many, of the many copresent in the One, of the tree of knowledge within the tree of life. And yet nothing is known by species, genus or class: each thing is known by its instantaneous co-presence. Taraka jnana is thus not only omniscient in its range but simultaneous in its scope. The yogin knows at once all that can possibly be known, in a world of commonalities, comparisons and contrasts, and infinitesimal parts within infinite wholes.

Supreme emancipation, kaivalya, dawns only when purusha shines unhindered and sattva receives the full measure of light. Purusha is no longer veiled, obscured or mirrored by the faculties and functions of prakriti and buddhi becomes unconditional, untainted by any teleological or temporal trace. There is no more any consciousness of seeking the light, which the aspirant legitimately entertains, or of radiating the light, which the recently omniscient yogin experiences. There is now solely the supernal and omnipresent, everexisting light of purusha, abiding in its intrinsic splendour of supreme freedom, and this is kaivalya, the supreme state of being "aloof and unattached, like akasha" (Srimad Bhagavatam Vl). Since this is the ultimate goal of Taraka Raja Yoga, in terms of which each spiritual potency, skill and striving must be calibrated, Patanjali devoted the concluding fourth pada to this exalted theme.

In the memorable words of the Sage Kapila to Devahuti, the daughter of Manu:

The moment his mind ceases to discriminate, by reason of the activities of the senses, between objects which are not intrinsically different, looking upon some as pleasant, on others as not, that moment he sees with his own mind his own SELF, equable and self-luminous, free from likes and dislikes, and completely aloof, serenely established in the intuition of transcendental rapture. Pure Consciousness is spoken of variously as parabrahm, paramatman, Ishvara or purusha. The Lord, the One without a second, masquerades as the multiplicity of seer, seen and so on. The one goal of all yoga, practised perfectly with all its ancillary disciplines, is the attainment by the yogin of total detachment from the world....
At the same time he should learn to see the SELF in all creatures, and all creatures in the SELF, making no difference between them, even as in all creatures he recognizes the presence of the gross elements. Just as fire looks different in the diverse logs that it burns, owing to the difference between the logs, so too does the SELF seem different in the varied bodies it indwells. The yogin, vanquishing thus the inscrutable maya of the Lord, which deludes the jiva and is the cause of the phenomenal world, rests secure in his own true state.

Srimad Bhagavatam

Hermes, April 1989
by Raghavan Iyer