Book 4, Sutra 34: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

“The gunas dissolve, holding no value for the purusha, leaving the yogi in a state of kaivalya, abiding simply in one’s own form as the power of pure awareness.”

purushártha-śúnyánám gunánám pratiprasavah káivalyam svarúpa-pratisthá vá


This last sutra summarizes, ties together a few loose threads and reinforces a few important points. If we still have a question concerning the gunas in relation to the final state of yoga this sutra answers it. For the yogi in kaivalya the gunas have disappeared. The gunas are the agents of change and as Patanjali has described in a number of ways the accomplished yogi is only focused on the changeless. By writing “gunánám pratiprasavah,” (the gunas disappear due to attrition) Patanjali tells us that the gunas were always dependent on something which the completed yogi no longer provides.  What were they dependent on? The “citta vrtti-s.” This is what has come to an end through yoga (“nirodhah” or cessation).

“Gunánám pratiprasavah” means that the gunas have come to an end because their support has come to an end. So that means that nature or prakriti is dependent on the part of our mind that fluctuates. They are like two rolled up newspapers that are leaning upright against each other. When you remove one then the other falls as well.

“Gunánám pratiprasavah” is also the same process by which the ending of the klesha-s is described in sutra ii.10. So the gunas come to an end in the same way that the klesha-s came to an end through the practice of yoga. The removal of the klesha-s allowed the mind to stop (ceasing the “citta vrtti-s”) which then brings about the end of the gunas and all of nature. We must keep in mind that Patanjali is not teaching that prakriti ends because it was unreal or illusory as some of the more devotional Vedanta philosophy asserts. For Patanjali, prakriti is as real as purusha, just completely unconnected, unrelated. In kaivalya, the yogi dwells alone as purusha, unassociated with prakriti.

As a number of translators point out, it may be impossible to describe in any greater detail what exactly happens when the gunas disappear. Taimni writes “This [sutra] is not a description of the content of consciousness in the state of kaivalya. . . no one living in the world of the unreal can understand or describe the Reality of what the Yogi becomes aware.” The point he makes is that there is a limit to how well the experience of one who has overcome the “citta vrtti-s” can be communicated to one who has not. We must practice yoga in order to come to know.

It is tempting to ask a few sticky questions concerning whether kaivalya is an “annihilation of individuality” as Taimni puts it or whether one in kaivalya is “all alone for all time” as Vyasa writes or what happens to the rest of the world once it disappears for the yogi? But it is important to remember, Bryant points out, that “the actual experience of liberation is by definition a state beyond thought and words.” All of the above “sticky” questions involve “citta vrtti-s” or mental fluctuations that revolve around the small self. These are the very questions that come to an end at a certain point of achievement on the yogic path. And the questions end for a reason that non-yogis may have a hard time accepting: they end because, firstly, there is no connection between the seer and the seen and secondly, because the seen is truly unstable, impure, painful and not “me/mine.” This revelation concerning the seer/seen Patanjali calls “viveka-khyati” (correct identification) and is one of the most important results of practicing yoga. We practice yoga in order to develop this type of discrimination. Once we have it we stop asking these types of questions. When these questions stop we perceive the seer/purusha/our True self in a special transcendent way. As Hariharananda writes, “[yoga] will lead to the direct apprehension of the Purusha beyond attributes which is the realization of the Self.”

Despite the limits of language to describe kaivalya as an experience, we must carefully define and defend the terms that Patanjali has employed. Quite a few translators fall into the trap of defining the purusha as something individualistic that stands in relationship to the True self but is not it exactly. For example, Hariharananda writes that the “purusha is the consciousness of one’s own self” despite Vyasa’s warning that purusha is “unrelated to or unconcerned with buddhi (mind).” I would argue against Hariharananda here because consciousness of anything requires an object exterior to it. This is the definition of the subject/object relationship that has been at the center of Patanjali’s treatise the whole time. If we insist that purusha is “not the subject of the world as He is beyond the perception of mind. . . [He] is unperceivable, unusable, unthinkable” (as Hariharananda quotes from the Upanishads) then we cannot also assert that the “purusha is the consciousness of one’s own self” because we can be aware of such a consciousness. Bryant quotes the Sankhya Karika to make the same point: purusha is not “bound or liberated nor does it migrate (reincarnate); it is prakriti, abiding in manifold forms that is bound, migrates and is liberated.”

The Sanskrit term, “purushártha,” must also be examined closely. A few translators including Iyengar interpret “purushártha” as meaning the “fourfold aims of life: dharma [right action], artha [wealth], kama [desire] and moksha [liberation].” This way of using “purushártha” can be traced back to the 11th century CE (Shivapuruna 2.2.41) but is not likely to be what Patanjali was referring to here. Patanjali does not refer to these “fourfold aims of life” anywhere else, he does not mention artha (defined here as wealth or money) or kama (as lust) in positive terms anywhere and he has already asserted that there are only two possible aims of life, not four. So this way of interpreting “purushártha” is in that way refuted.

Interestingly, quite a few translators denigrate and even dismiss Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in their commentaries to this final verse. This denigration is connected to the assertion that the devotional schools of Hinduism make that yoga is really “union with God” and not just dis-identification with prakriti. This position can be traced back to the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna taught “Through this devotion the yogi comes to know the extent of my greatness and gets to know Me as I truly am. As soon as the realization of who I truly am dawns he or she enters into Me” (18:55) This type of union with the Divine was reiterated hundreds of times in various puranas written since the Bhagavad-Gita.

So, from this “bhakti” point of view Patanjali’s final stage of yoga is not actually a completion but is, in fact, a preparation for achieving the “true” goal of human birth: a re-unification with God. Bryant acknowledges this group’s attempt to subjugate and coopt what Patanjali wrote: “For [some] theologies, liberation as outlined by Patanjali is just the first step . . . the purusha is [then] eligible to enter into a divine relationship with God, Ishvara . . . such bhakti devotional movements see themselves as picking up where Patanjali left off.” Although Taimni is not so devotional he still sees Patanjali’s kaivalya as falling short of perfection when he writes “[Does] kaivalya represent the end of the journey? Although a study of the Yoga Sutras might give the impression that kaivalya is the final goal, those who have trodden the path and passed further along it, as well as Occult tradition, declare with one voice that kaivalya is only a stage in the unending unfolding of consciousness.” His point is clearly a denigration of what Patanjali has written but is typical of the type of bickering that has occurred historically between those of “jñána” and those of “bhakti” yoga schools. Bhakti scholars often can’t accept a final goal that doesn’t mention a personal form of God and jñána scholars are often not willing to include a sense of personality into their description of the absolute seer/purusha. Although Patanjali included a sense of the personal God in sutras i.23 & i.24 when he named “Ishvara” he is unwilling to do so again at this final stage of Book 4. And that is unacceptable to quite a few translators.

Swami Satchidananda goes even further than the devotional nondualists in that he outright dismisses Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras entirely in his commentary to this final sutra. He states that “when the gunas withdraw, finishing their job, the purusha – having gotten completely cleaned – stops running around.” Actually, Patanjali defines the purusha as unchanging so it couldn’t be the purusha that “gets cleaned” or “stops running around.” Satchidananda continues, “it is no longer seeking happiness and peace from outside because it realizes that it is happiness personified.” Again, Patanjali doesn’t state the purusha ever seeks happiness or peace.

Satchidananda is building up to a dismissal of Patanjali. He then states that in kaivalya the purusha is told “you just rest in your own nature. You have played your games, you have gotten all your experience and now you are resting. By ‘resting,’ Patanjali means that the true you is resting while your body and mind function.” Satchidananda seems to be teaching something quite different from Patanjali’s yoga wherein there is no connection between the seer and the seen, the purusha and nature. Finally his dismissal of Patanjali’s teaching as a whole comes out of its closet: “It is the mind that does all yoga practice, not the real you . . . It is the image-you or the ego-you that needs yoga. It is to the ego that the teachings are given. . . the practical truth for the ego is [however] very simple. Just learn to be self-less. Learn to live a dedicated life. Whatever you do, do it for others. The dedicated ever enjoy peace. That’s the reason I really don’t speak about the scriptures much. . . I feel we don’t really need scriptures.” Whether or not Satchidananda’s opinions are correct, I can say fairly confidently that it doesn’t match what is found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

I would like to end with what Miller wrote for this final sutra that seems to do a good job summing up an incredibly profound treatise: “Patanjali has established what it means in terms of yoga for one’s spirit to achieve its true identity as observer to the world—a witness rather than a suffering participant in a world of ceaseless, volatile change.” Om Tat Sat.


Book 4, Sutra 33: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

“The sequence of Time is then seen as simply the successive assemblage of the end results of many small moments of change.”

ksana-pratiyogí parinámáparánta-nirgráhyah kramah


I love that William Q. Judge wrote in his explanation of this sutra: “It is extremely difficult to interpret this aphorism.” At least he was honest. Even in this particularly opaque sutra where almost every translator who makes an attempt at an explanation shows some struggle, there is rarely an admission within the commentaries of a failure to understand what Patanjali is trying to say. Translators seem to be more invested in preserving the appearance of their authority as a translator than admitting difficulty. Rather than leave a question mark for their reader to ponder they would rather just bulldoze over any inconsistency and present something, anything, confidently.

This sutra is directly connected to sutra iii.52 and without a grasp of what Patanjali was teaching there it is hard to see anything of substance in this sutra iv.33. Without connecting the two you might think that this sutra is a simple definition of time as a sequence of moments, which is what a large number of translations amount to. Of course, none of them asks why Patanjali would make the second to final sutra in his entire book such a mundane ordinary description of time. But once you incorporate sutra iii.52 into the investigation you see that this sutra is not a mundane definition of time but a profound statement about the artificial nature of time that the yogi overcomes in an experiential way.

The subject matter of both sutras is “Time” (the construct) and how it relates to “avidya,” ignorance. Patanjali teaches us that time is tied to change which is an inherent characteristic of all of Nature (the seeable) and one of the four qualities of life that “worldly” (non-yogis) people ignore (life is changing, impure, painful and not me/mine from sutra ii.5). Time is the law that presents a cohesive sequencing of changes. A flower bud slowly opens. It does not start as a bud, become a fruit and then blossom into a flower. That is not the correct sequence and would violate time. So time marks a progression of changes which we feel we are observing with our minds, making our minds change along with the objects we observe. So normally it appears as if time rules changes (changes happen within time) but Patanjali teaches that changes actually rule time (changes produce time). Another way of saying this is that the experience of time passing is a result of a mental interest in observing the sequence of change that happens to objects. Time is therefore assembled in order for us to experience change in a linear way (which is a necessary part of gaining experiences and the first of two possible purposes to life according to sutra ii.18). Switching to the second purpose of life however, in which changes are irrelevant, the yogi is freed from time as a rigid procession from past to future. Because, for him or her, changes are no longer significant, time is no longer relevant. Because he or she is no longer afflicted by change, he or she becomes free from the constraints of time. By perceiving that time is an artificial construct, assembled as per our desires to follow and inspect changes, the yogi escapes its impositions.

So Patanjali is stating that a finalized yogi escapes the structure of time because it was only functioning to track changes which now have no bearing on the yogi. What is another way to describe something that goes beyond time? Eternal. Patanjali does not say that directly but it could easily be considered a corollary of this sutra: the yogi becomes eternal after apprehending the connection between time and the changes that he or she has left behind. Or, of course, another description equally applicable: non-existent. The yogi that goes beyond time could also be called non-existent from the perspective of the rest of us who are still governed by time. Again I have to point out a strong connection to the Buddha’s teachings here. The Buddha repeated again and again that one cannot ever state that a fully enlightened person, once he or she “dies,” continues to exist or does not continue to exist (see SN24.18 for one of many instances of this teaching) which I think Patanjali would agree with. We cannot accurately describe a yogi who has directly realized the isolated unchanging seer and that includes defining him or her in relation to time (birth and death) in the way we normally know it.

A few of the translations and commentaries are worth reviewing in order to zero in further on what Patanjali is both saying and not saying. Iyengar writes, for this sutra, (similar to what both Bailey and Chapple wrote as well) “as the mutations of the gunas cease to function, the uninterrupted movement of the moments stops.” I disagree with this interpretation because time’s stoppage could be seen as much a limiting situation as time’s normal function. The yogi becomes free of time is not the same as saying that time stops. One is limiting and the other is transcendent. Time continues but it no longer imposes upon the completed yogi. This is an important point because it distinguishes Patanjali’s doctrine from nondualist vedantic ones that do postulate a total resolution of the spirit/matter duality at the end, in favor of spirit. So this sutra does not state that time comes to a stop, in my opinion, although the Sanskrit is so vaguely formulated that I understand how it could be interpreted in that way if one wasn’t concerned about obtaining a translation that matched the rest of the treatise. Time doesn’t stop, it’s just that the yogi goes beyond it, is freed from it.

Taimni makes an interesting point stating that this sutra on time is purposely the second to the last because it is only through the overcoming of time that allows for the final state of “kaivalya.” He writes “the yogi can become aware of the Ultimate Reality only when his consciousness is liberated from the limitations of the process which produces Time.” Taimni agrees with my interpretation of this sutra about the “assemblage” of time which he calls the “process which produces Time.” The fundamental idea here, which is rejected by the normal, non-yogic, way of perceiving life, is that time is not an inviolable law. Time is co-dependently produced by both changes that occur in life and by our perspective or attitude towards those changes. Modern physics provides some support for this. Einstein’s theory of general relativity taught that time is experienced differently by two people who are moving at different speeds. Around the same time, physics observed that energy becomes matter (a photon becomes a particle) when we look at it and not before. This tied together two things that were prior assumed to be unconnected: physical changes and consciousness. Because time is the law that changes occur processional-ly, sequentially and irreversibly, time therefore is tied to consciousness as well.

Whatever stance is taken on time and its function and origin, the aspiring yogi must keep an open mind. Patanjali is teaching that something as sacrosanct and untouchable as Time itself will be shaken, if not uprooted, in the process of yoga. And if I am correct in my assessment of that teaching, Patanjali tells us that the yogi who achieves “citta vrtti nirodhah” through “viveka khyati” can no longer be found or identified in a fixed way within the normal story that we call time.

Book 4, Sutra 32: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

“Due to that, the gunas have fulfilled the purpose of their sequential changes which now come to an end.”

tatah krtárthánám parináma-krama-samáptir gunánám


From sutras iii.49 & iii.55 we learned that the accomplished yogi has become completely sattvic, with no traces present of the other two gunas, rajas & tamas. This sutra reiterates that by explaining that the gunas no longer undergo constant interchange between each other within the mind of the accomplished yogi. In everyone else the changing gunas makes life unstable, unpredictable and often painful. But yoga brings stability to life through cementing the guna of love and light (sattva) in place as the only constituent of the yogi’s mind.

In some translations, however, it is the gunas that are external to the yogi, those that make up the world, that come to an end or cease. Then there are other translators who feel, as I do, that the Sanskrit word, “samáptir,” (conclusion) relates not to the “gunas” but to both “parináma” (changes) and “krama” (the sequence of time). This difference of opinion has as its source a problem we have encountered many times before. It centers on the question, To what degree is Patanjali loyal or in alignment with the Sankhya philosophy (as we understand that philosophy today)? Many scholars insist that Patanjali’s ideas are synonymous with Sankhya ideas. I have argued the point already in numerous instances that this is not the case. We must strive to understand Patanjali independently from any Sankhya text (or any other text for that matter) because there is none that is exactly like his. Patanjali’s yoga is absolutely unique in its particulars, making it different than any other ancient spiritual text that I have encountered or heard about.

The question that this sutra raises in comparison with Sankhya relates to the gunas at the final stage of yoga: what happens to the normal everyday world when the yogi reaches that final state of evolution? Bryant quotes the Sankhya Karika in stating that: “prakriti [the everyday world] ceases after having revealed her nature to the purusha; prakriti says I have been seen and never again comes before the sight of purusha” (LIX-LXI). It is immediately apparent, however, that this is not an exact fit for what Patanjali has been teaching. Rather than stating that “prakriti . . . revealed her nature to the purusha” hasn’t Patanjali taught that “prakriti stops and through the transcendent power of that stillness sees the purusha?” On top of that, if “prakriti never again comes before the sight of the purusha” does that mean the purusha has lost its ability to witness prakriti? It doesn’t say that prakriti disappears, it just goes someplace where it can’t be seen by purusha. This doesn’t match what we have been learning from Patanjali.

Nevertheless, most translators try to explain this sutra according to Sankhya’s assertions that prakriti comes to an end (in some way) for the accomplished yogi. Hariharananda writes at first that “the sequence of the mutations [of the gunas] ceases” but then tries to explain that by stating that “all experiences cease for a yogi who is completely indifferent to the results of his actions, viz. birth, longevity and pleasure or pain. By becoming cognizant of the summum bonum, viz. purusha-principle, he attains liberation.” But the second part doesn’t really explain the first part: if the gunas cease to change do they also cease to exist? The debatable part of this sutra is whether the gunas cease to exist, whether they vanish, which, if they do, is the same thing as saying that, for the fully accomplished yogi, the world vanishes into thin air never to be encountered again. The Sankhya Karika paints a picture of the world continuing somewhere but not anywhere near the purusha. This puts the purusha alone, permanently away from the world. But the purusha doesn’t need to eliminate prakriti in order for it to experience aloneness. This is a really important issue because “alone” is the literal translation for “kaivalya,” the final state of yoga which Patanjali is leading us to in these final sutras. But in my opinion ending prakriti is not the sense of “alone” that Patanjali is intending.

We must invoke other sutras in Patanjali’s treatise to resolve what he is actually saying about the gunas here. The duality between the seer and the seen is central to his yoga and he never breaks that duality by stating some Absolute Unity or Oneness behind them. The realization that the seer is permanently unconnected from the seen is all that is needed, he has insisted, because through it the “citta vrtti-s” cease (“nirodha”) which leaves the yogi “established in his or her own essential nature” (sutra i.3). That state he has called “kaivalya,” which means “alone,” so this aloneness cannot be derived from a destruction or even a disappearance of nature (the seen). If it did, that would destroy the seer/seen, subject/object duality, which Patanjali does not do. Instead he asserts that the yogi becomes alone because the seen is seen as empty (i.43 & iii.3), as insignificant, as trivial (iv.31), as impermanent, as impure, as purely painful (ii.15) and finally as not in anyway connected to “me” or “mine” (ii.17). When the yogi perceives all of nature in this way “aloneness” is the result. He or she is not actually alone in that there is nothing to see or that everything has disappeared (as the Sankhya Karika implies), just alone in that the purusha is the only fixed, unchanging thing that is. Everything else is empty (“śúnya”) of such an unchanging essence. It’s not that there is no “essence,” it’s just that no object contains it in a way to make that object special or distinguishable from anything else including empty space. That’s why individual objects are said to be empty (“śúnya”). They are empty of any reason to consider them individually as connected to the seer/to Spirit.

Patanjali is stating that it is the quality of change in the gunas (that cause pain through their instability) that ends. The gunas stop changing for the accomplished yogi which means that the yogi’s mind, which has become established in the “sattva” guna, never again transforms into the “rajas” or the “tamas” guna, even partially. In that way the yogi’s mind, through the cessation of the “citta vrttis,” becomes unchanging exactly like the purusha. It takes on the nature of the “sattvic” and stays there permanently (iii.55). That’s the yogi’s own form “svarúpe” of sutra i.3 which is identical (“sámye”) to the seer (iii.55).

Patanjali’s assertions surrounding the seer vs. seen duality may not be satisfactory to some readers because of a misinterpretation of what “purusha” is. Many translations use the English word, “soul,” to translate “purusha” and that creates the impression that every single yogi, every single person actually, has its own purusha. But that is not Patanjali’s teaching. There is only purusha vs. prakriti just as there is only seer vs. seen, just as there is only subject vs. object. When “purusha” is translated as “soul” readers may have a difficult time understanding that Patanjali is talking about something Absolute, impersonal, even mathematical. In Patanjali’s yoga there is only one purusha experiencing one prakriti when life is seen from this impersonal absolute sense. In the same way there is only one seer and one seen. The changing dynamics of the gunas and the apparent fixed progression of time (which is the subject of the next sutra) blocks the untrained mind from seeing this by creating the illusion of multiplicity of seers.

Seeing the absolute nature of life as the simple relationship between seer and seen (and not seers and seen) is unfortunately only verified through the actual practice of yoga. That is why Patanjali has taught all of these myriad spiritual exercises so that the perspective yogi can verify for him or herself that there is only one purusha, one seer, one subject, one object, one seeable/witnessable experience in every moment. Ever. And when the yogi gains this direct realization of the absolute he or she is “kaivalya” (alone) because the seer has always been alone. It’s not a process of becoming alone but rather of realizing the fact of aloneness. There has never been another witness (other than the one within you) hidden with prakriti anywhere. Purusha has always been the only seer, and the seen cannot ever be the seer or even contain one. There is no connection between the seer and the seen. The yogi must return to this teaching of Patanjali’s again and again.


Book 4, Sutra 31: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

“When the taints that obscure knowledge are removed, wisdom is grounded in the infinite and the knowable is seen as trivial.”

tadá sarvávarana-malápetasya jñánasyánantyáj jñeyam alpam


Most translations that I have reviewed agree that the first half of this sutra refers to a stage when all imperfections that obscure or delude are gone. There are two main ways in which the second half of this sutra is interpreted however. The majority feel that “jñánasyánantyáj jñeyam alpam” should be translated something like “and at this point that which remains to be known is little” (Bryant’s version). There are many variations on this but they all basically say the same thing. For example, Vivekananda writes “the knowable becomes small” while Satchidananda writes “what remains to be known is almost nothing.” Hartranft has “with little left to know.” And so on. Only Bryant admits, however, in his end notes, that there is a problem with this way of translating this Sanskrit phrase. For it to make sense Patanjali must be somewhat joking here. And there are no other instances where he comes off as a jokster (“tongue in cheek”).

Bryant elaborates: “It is not clear whether Patanjali is being rhetorical in saying that what is left to be known is ‘little.’ The commentators don’t specify what that little bit might be, if anything. Given the seemingly grandiose claims of omniscience presented throughout this text, one would expect that there should be nothing outside the yogi’s sphere of comprehension.” Bryant correctly assesses the oddity of translating this phrase as “there is little left to know” but doesn’t consider the possibility that the original commentators might be wrong in their interpretation of this sutra and that there is another way of translating it that makes much more sense and doesn’t present Patanjali as a comedian.

The other more sensible option is to read “jñánasyánantyáj jñeyam alpam” as indicating not that there is little left to know but that all that is “knowable” is seen as trivial (in comparison to the knowledge of the infinite). This is the way that Taimni, Shearer, Purohit, Prabhananda, Iyengar and others translate this sutra. Taimni translates it most succinctly: “that which can be known (through the mind) is but little in comparison with the infinity of knowledge (obtained in enlightenment).” Shearer has something similar: “knowledge which has been freed from the veils of impurity becomes unbounded. Whatever can be known [normally] is insignificant in its light.” Purohit adds some force in his translation: “what is worth knowing in the world is neglible.” Prabhavananda, similarly, states “then the whole universe, with all its objects of sense-knowledge, becomes as nothing in comparison to that infinite knowledge which is free from all obstructions and impurities.”

Like many of these Book 4 sutras, Patanjali has already stated all this earlier in a different way. In sutra ii.5 he taught that a major part of ignorance is mistaking the impermanent for the permanent and then in sutra ii.15 he taught that the yogi who sees clearly, sees all experiences of the world as painful. This is detachment, renunciation or “vairagyam” which is one of the two main components used to bring the mind to stillness (“nirodha”) first described in sutra i.12. This sutra, iv.31, explains that detachment in its most powerful form. When one sees the magnificent purity and joy of the unchanging infinite (“anantya”), all objects and their interactive drama seem unworthy of considering. And perhaps, by making this statement at the very end of Book 4, Patanjali is stating that this realization of the trivial nature of all of so-called “life” (in comparison to the unchanging infinite inner seer) is the final and highest of all knowledge.



Book 4, Sutra 30: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

“From that (‘dharma megha samádhi’) the klesha-s and karma cease entirely.”

tatah kleśa-karma nivrttih


Translators have to make a tough choice determining whether to leave the Sanskrit words intact or try to translate them, especially in cases where the words are hard to translate, are repeated often in the Sutras or are already well-known by the reading public. “Klesha-s” is a central term often repeated, although somewhat easily translated into “obstacles or afflictions.” “Karma” is hard to translate and already recognized by the reading public though not often mentioned in these sutras. “Karma” is mentioned directly by Patanjali in 4 sutras: ii.12, iii.22b, iv.7 and this one. Under sutra iii.22b especially, I discussed “karma” and its meanings at length.

Some translators have attempted to directly translate “klesha” and/or “karma” within this sutra. Vivekananda translates them as “pain and works” while Shearer has “the causes of suffering and the bondage of action.” Purohit translates them as “action and affliction” just as Hariharananda does. Hartranft writes “the causes of suffering and the cycle of cause and effect” while Condron prefers “the pain of limitation and actions.” Chapple and Nambiar both chose to combine them as “all afflicted actions.” Sadhakas wrote something similar: “afflictions and action-reactions.” Miller is creative, writing “the forces of corruption and action” while Bouanchaud also combines them: “all action based on affliction.” And Satchidananda chose to translate only one of the two terms: “all afflictions and karma come to an end.”

So, even between the translators who chose to directly translate “karma” there isn’t complete agreement. Karma could mean the doing of any action, as in “doing” itself. In that case Patanjali’s yogi no longer performs actions, or works at anything at all. Or “karma” could refer to the “law of karma;” that law of cause and effect. In that case this sutra tells us that the advanced yogi can perform any action he or she wants to without experiencing any consequences to those actions. But some consequences only show up in the next lifetime. What about those? There are karmic consequences that can happen in this lifetime, like going to jail, losing money, getting sick from drinking poison or getting a bruised toe from kicking a rock. Or there are consequences that come in future lifetimes like the consequences from lying to people in a way that they never find out about (no repercussions in this life but there will be in a future life). Is Patanjali including one, the other or both?

Vyasa is adamant that no yogi at this stage of development can be reborn and Hariharananda and Bryant agree. So this group argues that the yogi who has reached “dharma megha samádhi” cannot suffer results of actions beyond this lifetime. They also argue that this yogi cannot incur new karma from actions performed for the rest of the remaining life (is free from the creation of karma) but the yogi does have to experience whatever karma is still remaining from the balance that he or she was born with for this lifetime. So if they bruised their toe from kicking a rock that would be the result of past karma and not from actually kicking a rock.

The question still remains then whether Patanjali’s use of the word “karma” here implies that the yogi no longer acts at all. Vyasa answers this in a strange way when he writes that “if [the yogi] does anything he does it with a constructed mind.” So, I guess, Vyasa thought that the mind of the yogi ceases (“citta vrtti nirodhah”) and so if you see him or her do anything that means that the yogi artificially created a new mind in order to do that? Hmmm. Not sure about that. It seems more logical that the yogi would just re-activate the mind he had prior to its stoppage in order to perform some action. Why would he or she have to artificially create a new mind? He didn’t destroy the old mind he just brought it to a state of stillness.

Iyengar’s answer is almost equally as strange. He seems to go out of his way to assert that the yogi at this end stage will definitely continue his practice of yoga. His translation of karma in this sutra is that “divine actions with no reactions flow forth.” OK, but then he writes that the yogi is “freed from the grip of nature but he will not forgo his practices. He will maintain them as a divine command so that the freedom earned may not be lost by neglect.” I don’t see anywhere in Patanjali’s actual treatise that supports Iyengar’s assertions here. The very idea that the freedom earned in the final stage of yoga could “be lost by neglect” seems contrary to Patanjali’s teachings about the effects of that transcendent vision of the true inner seer. Once the yogi “sees” the seer (the purusha) and verifies that it is truly separate from all the seen, the old habits slowly come to an end and he or she is no longer vulnerable to losing anything due to neglect. Iyengar, however, seems to reject the idea that the yogi ever gets to a place free from the possibility of suffering if he doesn’t “maintain his practice.” This is despite sutra ii.16 which states that “we can be free of suffering through yoga.” I interpret that to mean that yoga is the vehicle to reach a state beyond suffering and is not the destination itself.

Swami Satchidananda also writes something unusual and confusing for this sutra, in my opinion. The first part of his interpretation I agree with: “[the yogi at this point] is not affected by anything.” But then he makes the point that “they decide not to do any new karma to bind themselves. . .” In that way he implies that accomplished yogis aren’t free from the law of karma but could still be reborn if they’re not careful in what they do. He continues with another confusing assertion: “they [the accomplished yogi] seem to be doing many things but they are not. . . they are not affected by reactions of the acts you see them perform. Any karma belongs to the mind [and] when [karma] gets burnt . . . there is no future rebirth. [These yogis] are neither blamed nor praised for their actions. Just as you watch them acting so they watch themselves. All the blame and praise go to the body and mind – not to the [yogis].” This is confusing. So somehow they act with the body and mind but only their body and mind is subject to “praise or blame?” Isn’t “praise and blame” a description of karma? If so, Satchidananda also seems to imply that the accomplished yogi is free from the repercussions of action even though their body and mind is not. But if their body and mind suffer the repercussions of karma how can Patanjali say they are freed from suffering? According to my interpretation of Patanjali’s yoga so far, yoga purifies the body and mind instead of abandoning it as permanently defiled. It is the yogi’s body and mind that is freed from suffering, not the purusha, which was always pure and unaffected in the first place. This is a subtle but important point that comes out of sutra iii.55.

Bouanchaud, I feel, does a good job of interpreting klesha and karma in a way that fits with the rest of Patanjali’s yoga. He writes that, for the accomplished yogi, “all action based on affliction has vanished. Actions do not stop but they are no longer born of negative attitudes—ignorance, consciousness of ‘I,’ passion, repulsion and fear. Action in this state proceeds from real detachment.” Whether Patanjali is stating that the yogi becomes free from the repercussions of all actions is still not clear to me but I agree with Bouanchaud that this doesn’t really matter to the yogi: he or she is unconcerned with whatever happens, is free from expectations about life and so can no longer suffer from any occurrence, karmic or otherwise. In the end I disagree with Iyengar that there are any rules the yogi must follow at this point. I also feel that Patanjali’s use of the word “karma” implies that the accomplished yogi no longer puts in “effort” towards anything. If there are actions there are no specific results required (Krishna is more direct about this in the Bhagavad Gita at sloka 2:47 onward).

I also think Vyasa was correct in emphasizing that this sutra means the end of samsara, or rebirth for the yogi, since karma is a central cause of rebirth. But is karma the only cause of rebirth? Can a yogi, at this level of accomplishment, legitimately choose to be reborn even though he or she is not obligated to by karma? Hariharananda says no. He writes assertively that “it is impossible for a person who has acquired discriminative knowledge to be born again. Those who have been born are all (more or less) deluded.” I know, however, that this stance on karma and rebirth is debatable and that so far, his take on it does not come from Patanjali’s text itself.


Book 4, Sutra 29: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

“Complete absorption into truth (‘dharma-megha samádhi’) occurs to the yogi who constantly maintains the transcendent discrimination (‘viveka-khyati’) and rejects all possible fruits.”

prasankhyáne ‘pyakusídasya sarvathá viveka-khyater dharma-meghah samádhih


A special state of samádhi occurs to the yogi who wants nothing for him or herself and maintains the ultimate discrimination between seer and seen. From prior sutras we know that the ultimate discrimination is the result of conquering avidya (ii.5) and the direct transcendent perception (viśesha darśina) of the seer as separate from the seen. Conquering avidya, we also know, is overcoming the mistaken tendency to perceive objects as lasting/stable, good/pure, delightful and potentially a part of me/mine when they are actually impermanent/changing, gross/bad, painful and never a part of me/mine. Ultimate discrimination (viveka khyáti, ii.28) naturally results in all desires dissolving. Why? When one properly and absolutely discriminates he or she sees that firstly, there is nothing actually needed and secondly, that the desires are derived from the seeable and unconnected to the seer. When the yogi realizes identity (khyáti) with purusha/the seer, he or she unidentifies with prakriti/the seeable. Without a sense of identity connected to the seeable all desires disappear on their own without any further effort. This clear transcendent vision naturally dries up all wants.

Some translate the Sanskrit word, “prasankhyane,” to mean some specific state that the yogi no longer desires but I believe Patanjali uses it here to indicate all possible benefits that could have been desired at the beginning of practicing yoga; that is, all possible personal benefits. That is because, at this point the yogi knows that any such benefits occur to the changing mind and body which has been recognized as not-self/not-seer.

Vyasa describes this state of no desire very simply: “on account of the destruction of [vasana-s] no other cognition arises in his mind.” So Vyasa attributes a lack of desire to a lack of thought. If you no longer think or cognize anything but the unchanging then you can’t want anything that changes anymore either, since desire for an object depends on some type of cognition of it. Patanjali doesn’t teach that the accomplished yogi is free from ALL thinking or cognizing. Citta (mind) does not completely stop in Patanjali’s teaching, it is “citta vrtti” that stops (see sutra iii.55). That means that the yogi can actually keep on perceiving objects in the world while he or she only “thinks” about the unchanging. He or she will not consider anything that is changing because such thought requires a connection between seer and seen. This is an important distinction, I believe. The transcendent perception of the separation between seer and seen brings a type of detachment that cuts off all thoughts that have a changing self at its base. So the yogi can still perceive objects in a way that doesn’t consider their changing nature. Such perception does nothing to disturb the stillness of his or her mind; it does not create “citta vrttis.” Thus the yogi’s mind is not blank, it is just undisturbed because it does not perceive anything that could ever have any impact or relevance to the true self, the seer, the purusha, the Spirit. All thought that is based in the type of considering of self as changable is cut off. That is what sutra iv.25 already taught us: “The transcendent power of distinguishing the seer from the seeable cuts off the mental inquiries around self, being and experiencing.”

So from this eradication of personal desire, which is a result of true discernment and not a harsh regime of self-destruction, Patanjali teaches that a special form of samádhi emerges. Most translations simply keep the Sanskrit name here without translation: “dharma megha samádhi.” Others attempt at a translation/interpretation but these attempts differ. Condron has “true cosmic consciousness.” Jnaneshwar writes “an abundance of virtues.” Shearer has “the state of unclouded virtue.” Bryant writes “cloud of virtue.” Iyengar writes “the fragrance of virtue and justice.” Hartranft has “a cloud of irreducible experiential forms.” Taimni explains “the final samadhi in which the yogi shakes himself free from the world of dharmas which obscure reality like a cloud.” Purohit has “a rain cloud of divinity.” Bailey has “the overshadowing cloud of spiritual knowledge.” Stiles writes “showered with virtues.” Satyananda Saraswati feels that it is “a technical term meaning mystical condition, a very superior state of drowsiness.” Miller writes that it is “the essential cloud contemplation, a state in which pure contemplation pours knowledge to keep thought discriminative, calm and effortless just as a cloud pours rain.” Bryant acknowledges the many variant translations and states that they all fit within yoga and any one of them could have been what Patanjali intended.

I would suggest another possible interpretation that, once again, uses the Buddha’s sutras as guidance. I have referred to the Buddha’s sutras again and again within this study because I see striking parallels between the two teachings in both meaning and Sanskrit phrasing and not because of my own personal affinity for the Buddha’s teachings. With that in mind I suggest that Patanjali was referring to a curious state of mind that the Buddha taught as a sign of final knowledge in a yogi. At a final stage of progression the disciple’s mind merges with the teaching itself (the Buddha dharma). The practical result of such a merging is that the disciple can instantly recall and recite any relevant aspect of the teaching in order to answer any question about the teaching. The disciple’s mind is, thus, completely infused with the teachings in the same way that a cloud becomes saturated with rain. Rain can come down from a rain-filled cloud at any time. In the same way, the yogi in this state can respond to any question because he or she has the exact meaning and perfect phrasing of all the teachings at his or her fingertip and can recite it without effort or pre-thought. He or she has become saturated with the true dharma: “dharma megha samádhi.”



Book 4, Sutra 28: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

“Overcoming these habitual tendencies (sanskara-s) and the root afflictions (klesha-s) has already been explained.”

hánam eshám kleśa-vat uktam


The yogi gets stuck in the whirlpools off to the side of the river of libertion due to the resurfacing of sanskara-s or conditioned tendencies. Those sanskara-s retrigger klesha-s which block the freeing and peaceful power of yoga long enough for the yogi to get sidetracked and stuck. So, the yogi in such a predicament needs to re-apply the yogic practices in order to get free again and rejoin that river headed for the ocean of “kaivalya.”

In this sutra Patanjali asks us to do a little work on our own, reviewing his teachings in order to find where he already taught us how to overcome obstacles to yoga (the klesha-s) in order to weaken the habitual tendencies (sanskara-s) that created habits (vasana-s) to think and inquire about objects relative to oneself and so, suffer from a fluctuating mind, the “citta vrtti-s.” The various translators cite a number of earlier sutras that should be consulted for this purpose. Almost all, except one, of the suggested sutras come from Book 2. Sutra ii.10 is the most commonly cited followed by ii.11, ii.12, ii.26, ii.1 and ii.2. From Book 1 sutra i.32 is also cited as a sutra that Patanjali is here redirecting us to. And I think many more are also relevant and applicable.

The klesha-s, as we remember from Book 2, are avidya (ignorance), asmitá (ego), rága (attachment), dvesha (aversion) and abhinivesha (stubborness, resistance to change). In sutra ii.1-2 “kriya yoga” is defined as the three elements of: rigorous striving, self-inquiry (contemplation) and dedication to the Divine (which Patanjali taught to weaken the klesha-s and lead to samadhi). Sutra ii.10 informs us that if we stop feeding the klesha-s they will go away on their own while sutra ii.11 recommends meditation as a means of overcoming them. Additionally sutra ii.12 explains that the klesha-s come from past action (karma), implying that right action will undo them. Then sutra ii.26 taught that the best way to end the pain induced by ignorance was to develop “viveka-khyati,” discriminative awareness which is what “viśesha-darśina” gives us. And the last sutra cited by translators in connection with this sutra is i.32 which teaches that the “antaráyah-s” (which are the Book 1 version of the klesha-s) can be overcome by steadily applying the each opposite thought or tendency (sutra i.33 gives examples of this).

Of course, these cited sutras are not all that Patanjali has taught us to do to overcome the klesha-s. I would add every single yama and niyama as a means to overcome the klesha-s and in fact, all eight limbs of yoga can each be seen as  remedial actions that a yogi can practice to overcome a klesha. And there are more options as well when we include the devotional practices that Patanjali mentions from sutra i.23 on. So really there is no shortage of options that one who is following Patanjali’s yoga has in order to overcome setbacks and sidetracks.

Despite the panoply of options that Patanjali gives throughout his treatise some translators of this sutra insist that one or another is more appropriate than others. Some suggest (Bryant among others) that the most powerful of all of Patanjali’s suggested practices is to return to a discriminative awareness that recognizes the separation between the seer and the seen. Swami Hariharananda agrees, writing that “for the permanent disappearance of the mind, no means other than gathering latent impressions of [the highest] knowledge need be thought of.” Others, however, feel we need something more tailored to whatever particular klesha is afflicting us. So, for example, if a tendency to lust arises we should employ “kriya yoga” to either do repeated breath control (pranayama), inquire internally by asking ‘who am I’ or pray to Ishvara for grace with a heart of surrender and humility (sutra ii.1 cited by Satchidananda).

Others feel we should apply the opposite antidote to lust by way of generating a general aversion to the human body (sutra ii.10 cited by Vivekananda, Purohit and others). Still others believe that we should recognize that the lust is arising from past bad actions and simply sit in meditation until it passes (sutra ii.12 and Satyananda Saraswati’s suggestion). Or finally, some feel we should follow Book 1’s guidelines to take up a profound sense of indifference (“upekshánám”) towards anything or anyone we feel lust towards in order to provide the opposite antidote to the specific poison (sutra i.32 cited by Sutton). One thing is certain despite the varying opinions presented: there are no shortage of options for the struggling yogi who is familiar with, willing and capable of practicing Patanjali’s yoga.



Book 4, Sutra 27: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

“There are, however, lapses in progress in which thoughts about objects arise due to deep-seated habitual tendencies (sanskara-s).”

tac-chidreshu pratyayántaráni sanskárebhyah


Vyasa does a great job concisely explaining this sutra: “In a mind full of discriminative knowledge such thoughts as ‘I’ and ‘mine’, ‘I am knowing’ or ‘I am not knowing’ arise through breaks in that knowledge. Where do these come from? From previous latent impressions which are being eliminated.” Swami Hariharananda adds to this brilliantly when he writes “All latent impressions born of nescience [ignorance] do not die out as soon as discriminative knowledge is acquired but they are gradually thinned. From the residual latent impressions [sanskara-s] of wrong cognition which still linger, modifications [his word for ‘pratyaya’] born of nescience arise occasionally.”

From sutra iv.25 we know exactly what Patanjali is referring to when he uses the Sanskrit, “pratyaya,” which he has used many times prior. “Pratyaya,” generally translated indicates thoughts about objects but as Vyasa points out through sutra iv.25, Patanjali has defined this word even further. From sutra iv.25 we know that the thoughts about objects that he is referring to here take the form of mental inquiries around self, being and experiencing. In other words, any thought directed towards any object that is based on assertions relative to one’s changing existence, past or future, cannot arise while a yogi maintains the transcendental “seeing” of the seer called “viśesha darśina.” These are thoughts that grab onto objects in order to fix them, or categorize them, all with the motivation of assessing them for value or power relative to ourselves.

A yogi who is maintaining “viśesha darśina” does not have such thoughts because these thoughts disregard or even reject the absolute separation between the seer and the seen. But this tendency to grab onto objects with the mind, considering them relevant to the self, is a tendency (sanskara) that is deeply embedded. We have lived countless lives thinking about objects in this way and even after the discriminative truth arises in the yogi the old habits still occasionally resurface. So even though discriminative knowledge is like the power of gravity to carry river water down to merge with the ocean, Patanjali also teaches that, at times, the yogi regresses and water temporarily flows into and gets stuck in an eddy or whirlpool off to the side by the river’s edge.

In such eddies the yogi returns to thinking, like a broken record, about objects in a way that is based upon questions like ‘who am I,’ ‘what will happen when I die,’ ‘that which happened in the past, was it good or bad?’ Stuck in those eddies the mind churns, no peace to be found anywhere. Until one day the yogi remembers what he or she saw so clearly in the “viśesha-darśina;” there is no connection between the seer and the seen. . . there is no basis or reason to judge, categorize or even know objects of the “seeable” in the way that it is attempting to right now. With that remembrance the yogi once again relinquishes all desires and regrets related to objects of the world including this body and mind and returns to the truth and peace of the unchanging seer.




Book 4, Sutra 26: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

“The transcendent power of discrimination bears the mind onward to liberation like a river flows to the sea.”

tadá viveka-nimnam kaivalya-prág-bháram cittam


Swami Hariharananda explains this sutra: “When through a knowledge of the special distinction [between seer and seen] self-questioning/inquiry ceases, the mind starts flowing along the channel of discriminative knowledge. . . . The mind flowing downwards along the channel of discrimination disappears on reaching the foot of the mound of liberation.” In that way, the yogi who acknowledges, contemplates and internalizes Patanjali’s teaching that there is no connection between the seer and the seen practices yoga (all 8 limbs), develops discrimination and ultimately can distinguish between the permanent and the impermanent, the pure and the gross, the joyful and the painful, what belongs to self and what does not.  This discernment naturally draws the mind towards “kaivalya” or liberation through the cessation of its “vrtti-s” or fluctuations.

Patanjali’s Sanskrit in this sutra invokes a picture of something drawn down a slope by gravity. I added the analogy of the river running to the sea because it is a perfect example of such an instance in nature and also because it was often used in the Buddha Sutras to describe the power of practicing yoga in the proper way. The yogi who practices properly naturally drifts towards Nirvana, the Buddha taught, just like the waters in a river head for the sea. I quote from Sutra MN73 of the Pali Canon: “Just as the river Ganges inclines towards the sea, slopes towards the sea, flows towards the sea, and merges with the sea, so too the Buddha’s disciples with its sadhus and its householders inclines towards Nirvana, slopes towards Nirvana, flows towards Nirvana and merges in Nirvana.” Patanjali uses the word, “kaivalya,” here instead of “nirvana” but the sense is the same; that the practitioners of yoga are drawn towards it automatically like water flows under the direction of gravity.




Book 4, Sutra 25: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras


“The transcendent power of distinguishing the seer from the seeable cuts off the mental inquires around self, being and experiencing.”

viśesha-darśina átma-bháva-bhávaná-vinivrttih


Patanjali seems to know that we may still be confused about what exactly the “citta-vrtti-s” are from its early formulation in Book 1 (i.2) and he’s giving us more information on them in this sutra. We know that seeing the seer apart and unconnected to the seeable involves a special type of “seeing” that is transcendent in nature which he calls “viśesha-darśina” in this sutra. But how does that tie into the cessation of “citta-vrtti-s” that is the practical goal of yoga? In this sutra Patanjali ties the two together in teaching that the “citta-vrtti-s” or mental fluctuations revolve around our sense of being and experiencing in the here and now; in other words, they are based on our living out our lives according to the first of two possible life purposes he described earlier. That first purpose is based on the sense that “I am here, now, experiencing life in order to . . .[purpose]” (fill in the blank).

However, when the special distinction is made, the “viśesha-darśina,” it creates a roadblock on the path of that first purpose. If I am unconnected to the “seeable” and every thought or attribute I can observe about me (including memories about my life) is a part of the “seeable” then how can I go on considering “I am here, now, experiencing life . . .?” These considerations require there to be a connection, a relevance, between the seer and the seen. Without such a connection these thoughts fall apart: thus, “citta vrtti nirodhah” (cessation of fluctuating thoughts). The same is true with all inquiries about ourselves that we normally engage in; that is, Who am I? What am I? What was I? What will I be? etc. These types of inquiries have no legs to stand on without some sense of connection between the seer and the seen.

Vyasa, in the original commentary to this sutra, wrote: “The reflection regarding the self [that Patanjai] referred to is like this: Who was I? What is this? How did it come into being? What shall I be and how? Such queries cease for one who has the distinctive knowledge of the self, purusha.” In this case, Vyasa set a very good example in his understanding of this sutra that many translators since then did not follow. Many translations I have read limit this sutra to the thoughts that regard the mind as the self. In other words, for them, Patanjali teaches that the thoughts that regard the mind as oneself cease due to the “special distinction made.” But this sutra is actually much stronger and fiercer than this.

Patanjali specifically says that the thoughts that surround being and experiencing come to an end. And as Vyasa says, this includes all these philosophical questions about the true nature of oneself and the world. These questions end, not because final answers are found but because the enlightened person, devoid of ignorance, knows that the questioner is inherently false. The questioner, in all of these philosophical debates, is always just the mind, just a part of the seeable, totally unconnected with the seer, the purusha. “Seeing” that, the questions and these debates end. They are deflated in mid-sentence, because the mind recognizes it doesn’t have the capacity for “knowing” in this way. It can only know that it doesn’t really know anything except that it doesn’t know anything. “Not knowing anything” means knowing that the truth, the seer, the purusha/self, is apart from it, unconnected and independent. And only through that revelation, the “viśesha-darśina,” can all wanderings of the mind, powered by the first purpose of experiencing life/being alive, come to an end. Once these fluctuations, the source of suffering and sorrow, end then true all-inclusive knowledge arises and that’s the transcendent part that Patanjali already went through in Book 3. Ordinary thoughts cease, all questions cease, the yogi experiences the profound peace and quiet of samadhi and then all-inclusive knowledge arises. Here in Book 4 Patanjali is bringing all the aspects of yoga together in a concise but razor-sharp way.

As I have noted in reference to past sutras, this one also shows concordance with the Buddha’s original teachings from the Pali canon. The Buddha taught his disciples not to ask the types of questions that Vyasa summarized so well above. In Sutta MN2 the Buddha similarly states that “When a disciple attends unwisely he does so by asking: ‘Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what did I become in the past? Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what, what shall I become in the future?’ Or else he simply remains inwardly confused about right now, asking ‘Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where will it go?’”

These are the very questions “around self, being and experiencing” that Patanjali refers to in this sutra. These are the questions that require the engagement of the first purpose of life, “bhogah,” that we are actually here experiencing life. For the yogi that first purpose has been completely replaced with the other purpose of liberation and so, these questions no longer arise. And so the evidence continues to accumulate that the Buddha’s and Patanjali’s teachings are much more harmonious then I have ever heard or read asserted before.