Book 2, Sutra 40: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“Through the establishment of purity
the yogi feels an aversion to the body
and its experience of contact with others

Patanjali is pointing out what the nature of the purity he first mentioned in his sutra on ignorance, sutra ii.5. There he taught that ignorance is thinking that something is pure which is actually impure. In this sutra Patanjali teaches that as a result of proper awareness of what is pure vs. impure a yogi is repulsed by his/her own body. For many aspiring yogis this type of an attitude is difficult to imagine much less practice only because they have yet to come into a direct awareness of what is pure. Sutra ii.5 implied that we normally feel (our own body) is pure AND THAT we lack experience of contacting something that is actually pure. That lack of knowledge of the pure is the basis of our ignorance. Once we come into contact with something that is actually pure then it is easy to feel disgust for what is impure. We actually knew that the body is impure all along but we couldn’t accept that truth without knowing what about ourselves is actually pure. An awareness of the purity within our heart is the essence of the Niyama “sauca.” Without an awareness of purity it is difficult to accept the obvious impurity of our own body because it is all we have, so we think.

An aversion to contacting others with the body is also a natural and logical result of the yogi’s experience of what is truly pure. An aversion to contacting others with the body occurs because the yogi sees that the mechanism for contact is something impure: the body. So, the aversion is not directed at others but at the yogi’s own body. There is no judgment of others as “impure” in this. The yogi only knows that his/her “own” body is impure and so is all its mechanisms, including those involved in physical contact. Liking physical contact is a direct statement on the purity of the body. So aversion to such contact is natural to one who knows the truth of the body.

“Asansargah” is the Sanskrit word translated commonly as “non-contact” but also means “seclusion” in a higher sense. The importance of seclusion is taught by the Buddha among many other ancient sages. Seclusion is a helpful practice and is actually a result of success in yoga as Patanjali affirms in his use of the word “kaivalyam” as the highest state of yoga (sutra ii.25 among many others to come). When one achieves the goal of yoga, Patanjali teaches that the yogi is truly alone in the most expansive sense of the word. So becoming established in “saucat” the yogi is drawn to that state of true seclusion and that has the practical effect of creating dislike for the company of others. This, again, is not a lack of love but the result of breaking the “samyoga” or false correlation between the Seer and the Seen.

The main point to remember is that “saucat,” or purity, has more to do with wisdom and the vanquishing of ignorance, than anything about physical qualities. The body is not repulsive to the yogi because of its physical properties but rather because of the lie of the “samyoga” (correlation) that it seems to support. Ultimately, the body is not repulsive nor attractive to the one fully completed in yoga. The body is then simply a part of “drsyaya” or the Seeable and unconnected to the Seer. Without that connection, the yogi is free to remain without thought or consideration of the body at all, much less any judgment as to its purity or lack thereof. At that point he or she is truly in seclusion, without contact to others, for the company of others and physical contact with others requires belief in contact between the Seer and the Seeable. The completed yogi has broken that contact in a way that is irreversible; through direct knowledge of its falseness.


Book 2, Sutra 39: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“A yogi established in non-possessiveness
understands and sees
the truth of rebirth

This sutra involves a number of key principles of yoga and of Hinduism at large. The first is “samsara;” the idea that we are reborn again and again without control or memory and that, without yoga, none of those lives can ever be totally fulfilling. The second is “reincarnation;” which is the idea that one is reborn automatically according to one’s deeds, one’s “karma.” This sutra also involves two of the kleshas or obstacles from sutra ii.3; sukha & dwesha, or our likes and dislikes. These kleshas are contained within the Yama of “aparigraha,” or non-possessiveness. As Tigunait writes in regards to this sutra:

“Pratipaksha bhavana, cultivating thoughts opposite to those that most occupy our mind, is the essence of the practice of aparigraha. In practice, non-possessiveness involves renouncing our desires and aversion.”

According to Bryant: “Bhoja Raja elaborates here that refrainment from covetousness involves not coveting the means of enjoyment, and this includes the body, which is the mechanism of enjoyment.”

Some commentators use the phrase “knowledge of past and future lives” (Iyengar) to describe the power that comes to the yogi established in aparigraha and I consider that to be contained within “understanding and seeing the truth of rebirth.” But understanding the truth of rebirth also clearly includes direct knowledge of the workings of karma and its role in reincarnation.

Book 2, Sutra 38: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“The yogi
established in brahmacarya
gains unceasing vigor

I left the Sanskrit, “brahmacarya,” untranslated in Patanjali’s original listing of the Yamas in sutra ii.30 and I do so here. This is due to the diversity of opinions about what it actually means and the difficulty in choosing the right one based on the clues Patanjali himself gives.

Traditionally in India, “brahmacarya,” referred to a period of life around the teenage years when a young noble man studied directly with a teacher (guru) and refrained from everything sexual including even looking at women directly. This would lead “brahmacarya” to be translated as celibacy in the strictest sense of the word.

Some commentators/translators argue, however, that “brahmacarya” refers more directly to the aspect of self-control and that a yogi can act sexually while still exerting self-control. Curiously enough, Patanjali left out “kama,” or lust, from his list in sutra ii.34 where we would have traditionally expected it. The Bhagavad Gita, in contrast, warns against “kama” in at least 8 stanzas.

The vigor, or “virya,” that comes to the brahmacarya is connected to the many other times that Patanjali has stressed vigorous intensity applied to yoga. A yogi who has vigor is capable of enduring “tapas” or the burning that occurs when we stretch our ideas of what we are capable of in spiritual practice. One can practice for longer hours, go with less sleep, food, etc. and still feel strong and refreshed. That is vigor. Some commentators connect the vigor that comes to the brahmacarya to the acquiring of the super human powers Patanjali will describe in sutras to come.


Book 2, Sutra 37: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“All forms of wealth
come to the yogi
established in non-stealing

Many commentators say that “wealth” or “ratna,” in Sanskrit, include the best of everything, including human beings. In other words, the yogi established in non-stealing attracts the best humans to his or her side, in addition to the best dwellings, seats, foods, etc.

Book 2, Sutra 36: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“When truthfulness has been established,
the fruits of actions
become dependent on the yogi

Some translator/commentators feel that this sutra affirms that the words of a yogi established in truthfulness (“satya”) always come true. Some commentators feel that this sutra affirms that the actions of a truthful yogi always work out. But, like the last sutra, I feel Patanjali is explaining how others are changed or are benefited by the yogi who has perfected the Yamas and Niyamas. In this case, such a yogi has influence on the results of actions that are performed around him or her. In other words, in the presence of a yogi perfected in truthfulness, actions performed in his or her presence depend on his or her goodwill or support in order for them to bear fruit. That seems to satisfy both the inclusion of the Sanskrit, “kriya,” (action) and “asrayatvam” (dependency) in this sutra. Bryant states the common interpretation of this sutra comes from the ancient commentators and so it is just accepted. It is true that the Mahabharata gives examples of how the words of those established in truthfulness come true on their own. But Patanjali’s Sanskrit here do not fit that explanation. If we change Patanjali’s word choice to fit what we consider to be traditional truth then we are implying that Patanjali was careless with his words. We have already seen how Patanjali was very precise with his choice of words so there is no evidence to start questioning that now.


Book 2, Sutra 35: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“When the Yama of harmlessness is established,
the quality of hostility
ceases in the yogi’s presence

Patanjali uses the Sanskrit word, “pratisthayam,” for establishment and that word is connected to the word, “pratiprasava,” used in sutra ii.10. In that sutra it referred to the practice of starving the kleshas by not feeding them which is related to the practice of applying antidote or opposite actions to defeat behaviors contrary to the Yamas and Niyamas. He is now teaching us about fruits that are produced from that practice.


Book 2, Sutra 34: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“Thoughts and inclinations that oppose the Yamas or Niyamas, beginning with harmfulness, whether acted on oneself, instigated in others or approved of in others, are all the result of greed, anger and delusion. They get expressed either violently, moderately or midly and always perpetuate ignorance and suffering. Therefore the antidotes should be applied.”

Giving us more detail on those thoughts and actions (“vitarka”) that are not in alignment with the Yamas and Niyamas, Patanjali here informs us of how easy it is to violate them and perpetuate suffering. Stealing for example is not just perpetrated by thieves, per se. Those who work for companies that cause an employee somewhere to steal resources from a third world citizen, for example, are directly implicated in “asteya” or non-stealing by this sutra. And since most businesses operate directly to foster “possessiveness” or “aparigraha” (also a Yama) many otherwise innocent employees could be implicated as well just by doing their job. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita allows for some excuses to be made when one is fulfilling one’s karmic or social duty using the example of the soldier, Arjuna, who is by birth charged with killing wrong-doers. Krishna states that taking complete refuge in God absolves soldiers, for example, in the sins of their labors as long as they intend to benefit others by their actions. Krishna equates this refuge with knowing that one is not the doer (see 18.46 & 3.25).

Patanjali, however, does not make any such caveats in the violation of the Yamas and Niyamas in this sutra. We will see if he does so later on. For now, Patanjali teaches that every violation of a Yama or Niyama, whether done directly or indirectly causes further ignorance and suffering in one’s own life (since ignorance is a direct cause of pain, see sutra ii.17. Note however, that this sutra doesn’t negate one’s ability to remain indifferent to others’ bad actions as long as one does not get involved in a way that could be construed as support.

Another interesting aspect of this sutra is that it introduces us to three well known words in Sanskrit: “lobha,” “krodha” and “moha.” Respectively they are generally translated as “greed,” “anger” and “confusion.” Patanjali says that these qualities precede any expression of a violation of a Yama or Niyama. Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad Gita (16.21) that “Desire (‘kama’), anger (‘krodha’) and greed (‘lobha’) are the three gates to hell, that bury the True Self, therefore all of them should be completely abandoned.”

Book 2, Sutra 33: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“The Niyamas can be realized by blocking any feeling, belief or opinion that is opposite to them.”

This sutra represents another reiteration of one of Patanjali’s central teachings. He has taught this principle already in sutras i.32, i.33, ii.10 & ii.26. So Patanjali has firmly established that yoga involves forcibly counteracting anything that arises internally that is a block to yoga; that is, disturbing vrittis; that is, thoughts and feelings that support the kleshas (as listed in sutra ii.3); that is, thoughts that are characterized by the misapprehension of a connection between the Seer and the Seen.

When faced with evil we should cultivate disinterest, neutrality, indifference and dispassion, says sutra i.33. That is the antidote that prevents aversions (dweshas) from growing or further arising. When we experience unwholesome feelings like laziness we should cultivate energy or vigor and return to yoga practice. When we feel remorse for past experiences and are disturbed in the present by such feelings we should apply an antidote like “santosha” “Ishvara pranidhana;” that is, the happiness that arises when thinking of the Divine with surrender. And so on.

Patanjali even gave us the ultimate antidote to all suffering, the “upaya,” in sutra ii.26; that is, the correct discrimination between the Seer and the Seen, which ignorance (“avidya”) blocks (sutra ii.24) and which can bring about liberation (“kaivalya” sutras ii.17 & ii.25) by eliminating the kleshas (because ignorance is the base upon which the kleshas grow and are maintained (sutra ii.4)).

This cycling back to repeated themes within the sutras clears up any doubt expressed earlier about continuity with the Yoga Sutras. Clearly this section on the 8 limbs of Yoga ties in well with what Patanjali has already written and theories that it is a later edition by another author is unsupported in the text itself.

Book 2, Sutra 32: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“Niyama includes purity,
happiness, rigorous striving, self-inquiry
and dedication to the Divine

Patanjali includes the three qualities of “kriya yoga” from sutra ii.1 in his delineation of “Niyama.” Those qualities are “tapas,” “svadhyaya” and “Ishvara pranidhana.” See my comments on that sutra for the various ways in which these terms have been translated.

“Tapas” is a recurring theme which I most recently discussed within sutra ii.26. Patanjali first introduced the idea behind “tapas” in sutra i.13; that is, that intensity of practice has an influence on the success experienced by an aspirant to yoga. He has repeated this in many places actually and will do so again. We succeed in yoga as quickly and as efficiently as the efforts we put into it. Those efforts are described as “tapas” when they are rigorous enough to cause a “burning.” That burning is considered part of the sacrifice that we make when practicing yoga. It is a discomfort that purifies, which actually connects two of the 5 Niyamas together: “sauca” (purity) and “tapas.”

As I also mentioned at sutra ii.1 there are various ways that the other parts of “Niyama;” “svadhyaya,” and “Ishvara pranidhana;” have been translated. Patanjali will go into further detail on these aspects in sutra ii.43-45. I have chosen the word, “happiness,” for the Sanskrit, “santosha” but many translations have contentment. I feel happiness is better suited given the emphasis Patanjali puts on bhakti in his Sutras. When considering bhakti there is no reason to downplay the joy that is involved. When it comes to dedication to the Divine and celebration of the Divine there is no reason to limit ourselves to “contentment.” “Happiness” is more appropriate for bhakti then “contentment.” Remember that “santosha” does not contradict what Patanjali taught in sutra ii.15 about the universal nature of suffering in life. That is the suffering caused by life and not by the Divine or by the awareness of truth (achieved through the practice of yoga).

Book 2, Sutra 31: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

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“The Yamas make up a Great Vow
that everyone can make
regardless of social status, age, place of residence or other circumstance

Patanjali explains that the Yamas are fundamental to yoga and dismisses any excuses like financial condition (a part of “jati,” social status), time of day or night or conditions of home or health (included in “samaya,” other circumstance).

I discussed the issue of continuity in the prior sutra: whether this section of the 8 limbs of yoga is continous with what preceded it. In this sutra we can already see Patanjali’s signature of tying sutras back to previous ones. In this sutra he uses three words representing conditions of life; jati, desha and kala. This mirrors the three words he used in sutra ii.13; jati, ayuh and bhogah. Each of these sets of three contain the ideas of social condition, time and circumstance of life. “Jati” is a word Patanjali will repeat twice more in sutras ii.53 & iv.9. This is a small but significant piece of evidence of continuity in the overall work.