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Book 1, Sutra 50: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

“THE ‘SAMSKARA’ CREATED BY THIS NEW WISDOM STOPS THE CREATION OF ANY OTHER TYPE OF ‘SAMSKARAS.'”

 

I have retained the Sanskrt word, “samskara,” here because of its complexity. “Samskaras” are commonly translated as “subliminal activators or residual impressions.” Simply stated, they are the latent tendencies that support our habits, which are themselves created by past actions. This gets even more complicated because “samskaras” are also inherited from past lives. So we are born with certain “samskaras” and we are constantly creating new ones in our lives. The old ones surface to create impulses to act in certain habitual ways. Those old ones then get exhausted but identical new ones are created by our re-enactment of past habits.

“Samskaras” imprison us within the wheel of rebirth. In other words, the latent tendencies and impulses that we die with lead to being born again. Although Patanjali has not told us that yoga is concerned with ending the cycle of rebirth we can logically connect “samskaras” to “vrttis” or disturbances of the mind. Later in book 4, sutras 8 & 9, Patanjali will talk more about “samskaras” and connect them to “vasanas.” Either way, it is certain that within Patanjali’s system “samskaras” must come to an end in order to reach the highest level of samadhi, as he will describe in the final sutra 51.

The wisdom born of samadhi causes these latent and unconscious tendencies and orientations to dissipate. Under the influence of this wisdom, we see only the underlying purpose or meaning to life and its objects. Seeing only the central purpose of life, the yogi is therefore not paying attention to anything else and so becomes naturally detached, “vairagyam.”

As Patanjali says in sutra 12, it is “vairagyabhyam” which causes the ending of mental disturbances, “citta vrtti nirodhah.” So the “prajna” of samadhi therefore generates an ever increasing “vairagya.” This is why the realization of “nirvicara samapatti,” the state of meditation in which this greater wisdom (which the Buddha calls “prajnaparamita”) arises, is the end of any effort that the yogi has to put forth. After that wisdom arises it has a life of its own, naturally terminating existing “samskaras” with its own “samskara.” And in the next sutra, Patanjali will tell us that this final “samskara” of the wisdom itself ends on its own naturally, completely freeing the mind of the yogi. Then the yogi has reached “nirbijah samadhi” which Patanjali will describe in the next, the final, sutra of book 1.

 

 

 

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Book 1, Sutra 49: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

“THIS WISDOM DIFFERS FROM THAT DERIVING FROM CONVENTIONAL LEARNING OR ONE’S OWN INSIGHTS BECAUSE IT IS FOCUSED ON THE SPECIAL PURPOSE UNDERLYING ALL OBJECTS.”

 

Patanjali is telling us why the wisdom, “prajna,” produced by samadhi is so special and different from other types of more conventional wisdom. The specialness of the samadhi wisdom is derived from the very profound purpose underlying the objects that becomes clear to the yogi. That special purpose is called “artha” and Patanjali tells us about this “artha” (and its importance) in not less than 17 sutras.

In sutra 43 Patanjali describes the process of this special “artha” arising in the consciousness of the yogi and the monumental effect that it produces: “When memory is purified and there is a realization of emptiness then meaning alone stands forth without sense impressions. This is called nirvitarka samapatti.”

“Meaning” is interchangeable with “purpose” and both give us the definition of “artha.” We are all looking for the fundamental meaning of life which is the same as our purpose for existing and when we find it, true wisdom dawns, as Patanjali tells us in this sutra 49. Wisdom is “True” in the highest sense because it is about THE purpose, “arthatvat,” Patanjali tells us here. That purpose, in fact, is the “other” or hidden object, “visaya,” behind all objects. And that purpose is also the inner most core or seed, “sabijah,” that is the only thing remaining as an anchor to the yogi established in this stage of samadhi. As we shall see in the final sutra, 51, of this chapter, there is one higher stage, “nirbijah,” or without seed, for the yogi to reach. Even the underlying purpose of life, the “artha,” has to be relinquished for the mind to be completely freed of all disturbance.

 

 

 

 

Book 1, Sutra 48: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

“WITHIN NIRVICARA SAMAPATTI WISDOM OF THE MOST PROFOUND NATURE DAWNS.”

 

The word that Patanjali uses is “rtambhara,” or “truth bearing.” This truth is of a special Absolute nature. Satyananda Saraswati explains, “Sat is subtler than energy; ‘sat’ means existence. It has two aspects called ‘ritam’ and ‘satyam.’ ‘Satyam’ is the relative aspect and ‘ritam’ is the absolute or cosmic aspect. . . . ‘Ritam’ is the ultimate truth beyond matter and energy.”

Only one earlier sutra (20) includes the word, “prajna.” But it is the very important sutra number 20 that lists the ingredients necessary to reach the goal of yoga. There, “prajna” is listed along with “samadhi,” energy and purified memory. So “prajna,” although important, is not the end goal of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

 

 

Book 1, Sutra 47: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

“THROUGH NIRVICARA SAMAPATTI, PURITY IS ACHIEVED AND THE PRIMORDIAL SELF BECOMES ILLUMINATED AND CLEARLY SEEN.”

 

With this sutra we have come full circle and reached the promise that Patanjali made in sutra 3:

“tada drastuh svarupe ‘vashtanam.”

In that sutra Patanjali promised that through “yoga, the seer [gets] established in his or her own essential nature.” As I noted in the commentary to that sutra, the key word in that sutra is “svarupe,” roughly meaning “one’s own form.” In this sutra Patanjali uses the Sanskrt word, “adhyatma,” which is roughly translated as “higher,” “original,” or “first self.” It could also be translated literally as “study of the self or the soul.” Although Patanjali uses the word, “atma,” frequently, this sutra is the only one that contains, “adhyatma.”

“Know Thyself” is, of course, the age-old truth engraved by the Oracle at Delphi, ancient Greece. But this dictum is repeated in many other places as well. “Adhyatma” is, in fact, used by Krishna in a number of his key teachings within the Bhagavad Gita. In sloka 8:3 from that text Krishna defines “adhyatma” specifically. There are many different existing translations of that line but in the compilation that I made of that text, entitled “The Bhagavad Gita In Focus,” (www.bhagavadgitainfocus.com) I list that sloka in this way:

“The principle behind awareness (adhyatma) is the essence of being ‘I’ (svabhavo).”

Krishna also uses “adhyatma” in another critical line within the Bhagavad Gita, 13:12. In that sloka Krishna identifies stable knowledge of the “adhyatma” as part of what true knowledge is. I list that sloka as saying:

“constancy of Self-knowledge (“adhyatma”)/ and an appreciation of Absolute Truth as the highest form of wealth;/ this is knowledge and anything to the contrary is ignorance.”

So, with these past 47 sutras, Patanjali has delineated a path to reaching and realizing that Self-knowledge: the highest stage of meditation beyond both sense impressions and their related thoughts (nirvicara samapatti).

 

Book 1, Sutra 39: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

“OR THE MIND CAN BE STEADIED BY FOCUSING ON ANY OBJECT OR PRINCIPLE THAT IS APPEALING.”

 

Patanjali listed the obstacles that can create distraction in the mind of the yogic practitioner in sutras 30-31. In sutra 32 he recommended that we apply a single antidote to any obstacle that might arise. Sutras 33-39 list examples of such antidote practices.

Is Patanjali telling us in this sutra to meditate on whatever we like (whatever “pleases us and brings calmness to the mind” according to Brahmananda Saraswati) and it will work to calm our minds? Or are there certain objects and principles that will work (“are suitable”) and ones that aren’t?

“It is immaterial what one takes for [the object of meditation]. . . . whatever [thing] is agreeable. An aspirant should choose for himself that object on which he can concentrate his mind” according to Satyananda Saraswati.

But Iyengar says that the object of meditation must be “an object conducive to meditation; not one which is externally pleasing but auspicious and spiritually uplifting. Practicing this simple method of one-pointed attention, the sadhaka gradually develops the art of contemplation.” Sadhakas also finds a middle ground: “An object which appeals to one and helps in concentration may be selected.” Swami Satchidanananda also says “anything that one chooses that is elevating” is okay.

Technically speaking the Sanskrt of this sutra, “Yathabhimata dhyanad va,” does not contain any restrictions. Literally it could be read as “concentrate on whatever you like.” I expect that we will come back to this sutra in future sections of Patanjali’s Sutra where concentration on various objects is explained further.

 

 

 

 

Book 1, Sutra 38: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

“OR THE MIND CAN BE STEADIED BY FOCUSING ON KNOWLEDGE OR EXPERIENCE GAINED WHILE SLEEPING.”

 

Patanjali listed the obstacles that can create distraction in the mind of the yogic practitioner in sutras 30-31. In sutra 32 he recommended that we apply a single antidote to any obstacle that might arise. Sutras 33-39 list examples of such antidote practices.

Translators and commentators differ on exactly what Patanjali is referring to here. He doesn’t give us a lot of instructions on how to use this tool to steady the mind. The assumption must be that a competent teacher would provide the details.

Brahmananda Saraswati suggests that this is “self-analysis through dream analysis and analysis of deep sleep.” Vishnudevananda says “Many times the Truth is revealed by the superconscious during sleep. . . . if that knowledge is meditated on consciously, great progress can be made upon the path.” Satyananda Saraswati says “The mind can be controlled by developing the method of conscious dreaming and conscious sleeping. . . . There is a method of seeing dreams consciously, but it is dangerous and only a few can practice it. . . . It is meant only for people who are psychic.”

Nambiar combines this sutra with the last one: “Meditate on the dream experience of a holy personality or a divine symbol to stabilize the mind.” Shearer says that it’s about “witnessing the processing of dreaming or dreamless sleep.”

 

 

 

 

Book 1, Sutra 37: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

“OR THE MIND CAN BE STEADIED BY FOCUSING ON SOMEONE WHO IS ALREADY FREE FROM ALL DESIRES.”

 

Patanjali listed the obstacles that can create distraction in the mind of the yogic practitioner in sutras 30-31. In sutra 32 he recommended that we apply a single antidote to any obstacle that might arise. Sutras 33-39 list examples of such antidote practices.

There are other Hindu scriptures that extol the benefits of being around a realized soul. The Buddha taught that there is no greater blessing in the world than to have elevated or enlightened friends. But this sutra is interesting in that it is suggesting a mental focus rather than a physical proximity to a “saint” or holy person.

The benefits of mentally focusing on a saint and physically being near one can be hard to explain. They seem to be magical and/or mystical. Many people within the worldwide yoga community have experienced such blessings. The good news that Patanjali is sharing here, however, is that we don’t need to find such a person and get close to them. We can simply focus our minds on one of them in order to receive a stilling/calming effect.

What does it mean to focus our mind on a saint? I suggest it could be described as a meditative obsession. In other words, one might need to read about the life of such a person, hear recordings of such a person and maybe even get a picture of such a person to look at. Of course, meeting such a person directly would also be helpful. These might be tools for building an intense mental fixation or focus on the saint. Patanjali says that such a focus can bring us instantaneous benefits when faced with an obstacle that threatens to distract us from yoga. When we feel lust or depression coming on we can instantly think of “our” saint, picturing him or her in our mind, and receive a flood of cooling, calming energy pouring over us.

 

 

 

 

Book 1, Sutra 36: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

“OR THE MIND CAN BE STEADIED AND OBSTACLES OVERCOME BY CONCENTRATING ON A PURE JOYOUS INNER LUMINOSITY.”

 

Patanjali listed the obstacles that can create distraction in the mind of the yogic practitioner in sutras 30-31. In sutra 32 he recommended that we apply a single antidote to any obstacle that might arise. Sutras 33-39 list examples of such antidote practices. This sutra recommends an absorbtion into what is called “sattva” in Ayurveda (the traditional system of medicine within India). It is pure light and pure joy, without any specific form or thought attached.

Just as Patanjali recommended “faking it till you make it” in regards to devotion towards God in sutra 28, here he recommends overcoming depression by faking a pure inner joy. And the technique involved is simply picturing a limitless source of soothing, happy light.

I don’t agree with some of the translators’ tendencies to identify technical terms and then ascribe complex characteristics to them. This sutra is case in point. Instead of admitting that this sutra is simple, some translators take the Sanskrt, “Vishokha Jyotismati” and say “this is a technical term.” They then add details like “envisioning the lotus chakra of the heart center” or “at the third eye center” (BrahmanandaSaraswati). These additional details may be helpful for some but confounding for others. Strictly speaking, they are not in Patanjali’s sutra. With this sutra, simpler is better. Just concentrate (by faking it if necessary) on an infinite light within that is purely happy. Don’t add additional thoughts or details but do let them fade away in the presence of such beautiful light, if they do arise.

Iyengar writes “The effort of stilling and silencing the mind brings forth the sorrowless effulgent light of the soul.” This is the opposite of what Patanjali is writing here. It is not our efforts to still the mind that produce the sorrowless light but the reverse. Patanjali is enumerating techniques that can produce stillness in the mind. Stillness of the mind is the goal and not the vision of infinite joyous light.

 

 

 

 

Book 1, Sutra 19: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

“THIS STATE OF STILLNESS IS THE SAME AS EXPERIENCED BY DISEMBODIED SOULS AND SOULS, EMERGING FROM THE UNMANIFEST, WAITING FOR BODIES.”

 

Due to the confusion over how to translate the previous two sutras, combined with the terse nature of this sutra there is a wide range of opinion as to what this sutra refers to. I would list them here if that was useful but I am afraid that they are mostly confusing and artificially contrived (out of frustration in the translators, I would guess). Sutras are connected to each other and so, if you miss-translate one it will be doubly hard to correctly translate the next in the series and triply hard to work out the meaning of the third.

This sutra is meant to warn and humble meditators. First of all, it deflates the ego of a meditator who has reached a state of stillness of mind that is free of consciousness of body, emotions and thought by telling such a person that this state is natural to dead people and souls emerging out of the primordial energetic matrix. The meditation doesn’t sound so wonderful after you compare it in this way. This is not meant to dissuade people from putting in the effort to reach this state. Certainly, such a state of stillness requires a Herculean effort and willpower but it doesn’t mean liberation or enlightenment. Secondly, Patanjali is warning meditators not to get attached to the peacefulness of this state and go no further with yoga. The qualities that they must continue to develop in order to progress further towards the goal of Truth are listed in the next sutra.

At this point we can understand a little better what Patanjali meant when he wrote “Yogas chitta vrtti nirodhah” in sutra 2. Although he is connecting yoga to the process of stilling the mind he is referring to a stillness of mind that is quite profound, maybe even indescribable. The stillness of mind that Patanjali is referring to is free even of the sense of existing as a separate object, free of the idea of “experiencing,” itself.

The very advanced stage of stillness that he refers to in this sutra is quite an accomplishment but, possibly, is still far from the stillness that is our goal. It is still quite attached to “my own experience.” In order to get beyond that, we have to focus in more than one way. In order to reach Truth or liberation we have to do more than just meditate. We have to meditate with vigorous faith in the truth of Oneness.

 

 

 

 

Book 1, Sutra 18: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

“AS STILLNESS OF THE MIND DEEPENS WITH CONTINUED PRACTICE, KNOWLEDGE OF THE GROSS AND SUBTLE ASPECTS OF REALITY FALL AWAY, LEAVING ONLY THE RESIDUE (“SAMSKARA”) OF KNOWING, ITSELF.”

 

This sutra is a development upon sutra 17. Because many or even most translators have assumed (incorrectly, I believe) that Patanjali is talking about “Samadhi” in sutra 17, this sutra 18 is also commonly connected to the word, “Samadhi.” However, as I discussed in my note to the previous sutra (and following translators like Tola and Dragonetti’s lead) this sutra is more likely intended to describe the process of stilling the mind or “nirodha” since Patanjali has yet to introduce the Sanskrt word, “Samadhi,” into his Sutra.

This sutra therefore describes the next stage in stilling the mind which we could also call meditation. In the prior sutra he described a stage of meditation in which the meditator becomes more and more finely attuned to the details of his body, emotions and thoughts. With this increasing awareness comes joy due to the levels of relaxation that are naturally produced. Now, in the stage described by sutra 18, the awareness of his or her body, emotions and thoughts falls away, leaving only the process of knowing itself. This process of knowing itself is indicated by the Sanskrt word, “samskaras,” which are residual impressions of being someone “special,” somewhere “special,” at some “special” time (now). These “samskaras” come out of the idea that “I,” someone “special,” exists and they make up the ultimate glue that binds us to the wheel of “samsara.” This wheel guarantees that not only are we reborn again and again but also that we must “pay” for our previous actions (our “karma”). So in future sutras Patanjali will talk further about how to soften and remove even this glue through yoga.

Patanjali’s description of the stages of meditation are parallel to the Buddha’s description of the stages of “jnana,” as I mentioned in the notes to the last sutra. And just as the Buddha warns that these stages are not the highest achievement for a yogi, Patanjali also says that the state of stillness described in sutra 18 is not the ultimate “nirodha” that we are seeking, but it is real close. The main problem is that the ego is still there (which is an accumulation of “samskaras”), allowing us to develop pride in the tremendously profound depths that our meditation has taken us.