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Book 1, Sutra 51: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra



With this sutra Patanjali closes a circle that he opened with “yogas citta vrtti nirodhah” (sutra 2). Within “nirbijah samadhi” the yogi has a mind “free of fluctuation.” In the intervening 49 sutras Patanjali has taught us about a process of arriving at this state of mind. He has emphasized unrelenting energetic practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagya) as essential components. Along with energy, he has listed faith, a purified memory and samadhi as components of the path to this state of mental freedom. He has taught us the use of meditation (samapatti) to reach and develop samadhi. And in this sutra Patanjali explains that in the final stages of yoga even the wisdom concerning the purpose of existence, itself, must be released in order to completely free the mind of all disturbances.

Once that wisdom itself is relinquished then the yogi is “nirbijah,” or without a center. The mind, at that point, is truly free. It has no definable center and so, cannot be assaulted or disturbed from any direction. As the Buddha says, the mind at that point cannot be located anywhere by anyone or anything. The mind is established free of all thoughts, perceptions or investigations because it is completely anchored in its own form, “svarupe avasthanam,” as sutra 3 states. And that form is not located anywhere in either space or time (mostly due to a purification of the memory faculty which I discussed in the commentary connected to sutra 43).

This concludes book 1 but does not conclude all that Patanjali has to tell us about yoga. As we have seen so far, Patanjali is writing in a very beautiful style that becomes easier to interpret once we see its patterning. This treatise is called the “Yoga Sutra” for a good reason. “Yoga Sutra” literally means “necklace of wisdom.” This is a very fitting title because this sutra, as we have seen, must be taken as a whole. In other words, each “bead” of wisdom must be considered relative to the next one and also relative to all the other beads on the string.

The two important observations related to this that I have made so far is that (one) we can correctly interpret any given sutra by comparing its key Sanskrt terms with the same terms used in other sutras. In other words, all uses of the same Sanskrt word, taken together, can help us decode any one given use. And (two) we can rely upon Patanjali’s repetition of all the key themes. As we will see in the further books, 2-4, Patanjali will be describing the key terms and stages of yoga over and over in slightly different ways. Book 1 is therefore not isolated from books 2-4 and vice versa. Taken together we have the best chance of really understanding yoga, its practices, its principles and its goals.

I suspect that in my future posts we will discuss the same topics, ideas and even the same Sanskrt words that we have seen already in book 1 but our understanding will deepen and hopefully, with more understanding, our appreciation and enthusiasm will increase as well.





Book 1, Sutra 50: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra



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.




Book 1, Sutra 46: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra



Samadhi with seed is the state of complete stillness that is still anchored to a center, or a seed. It is not yet a completely liberated mind. It still has a reference point and so, assumably, is still subject to the possibility of being disturbed or distracted. In samadhi with seed we have yet to reach a state that is beyond the possibility of being either disturbed (conforming to the “vrtti,” as sutra 4 describes) or distracted (“viksepah” from sutra 30). In other words, at that point none of the potential distractions listed in sutra 30 could possibly lead to any negative states listed in sutra 31. That is, such a yogi could never fall into a state of depression, pain or anxiety due to the occurrence of sickness, apathy, indecision, heedlessness (lack of mental focus to do the work), laziness, lust, wrong ideas or a perceived failure of any type. Even if these obstacles did arise the mind of the yogi could not waver. That is the goal of “yogas citta vrtti nirodhah.”

At this point, with sabijah samadhi, the yogi is almost there. His or her concentration is established and correct, focusing only on the underlying purpose of both objects existing and their related thoughts. But that concentration is still dependent on a center and so is not yet unassailable.

This book 1 of the Yoga Sutras is entitled “On Samadhi” but it is only now, at sutra 46, that we have reached the beginning of the description of “samadhi.” Only one earlier sutra (20) even mentions the word, itself. So we have been building up to the goal of yoga so far with the sutras. But it is important to remember that “samadhi,” although it is now a widely recognized word socially, is not the end goal of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. He first mentions “samadhi” in sutra 20 as ONE of the necessary components of the goal. In sutra 20 Patanjali told us that faith, energy, a purified memory, “samadhi,” and profound wisdom (“prajna”) lead us to the goal of yoga.

For this reason, and a few others I will go into later, I doubt that the individual chapter titles are part of Patanjali’s original text. I believe that they were added later in order to make the text easier to digest and understand. They are simplifications of the topics covered but they are not entirely accurate.



Book 1, Sutra 41: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra



Iyengar states that in the stage described by this sutra “The yogi realizes that the knower, the instruments of knowing and the known are one, himself, the seer.” He then identifies the key term of this sutra, “samapatti,” as indicating the original goal of yoga stated by Patanjali in sutra 3; that is, “assumption of the original form of the Seer.” Iyengar thus differentiates between “samadhi” and “samapatti.” “Samadhi,” Iyengar writes, “is profound meditation, profound absorption” while “samapatti” is “the balanced state of mind of the seer who, having attained samadhi, radiates his own pure state.”

Hartranft calls “samapatti” a “coalescence; a transparent way of seeing.” Similarly Woods states it is a “balanced state.” Purohit calls it an “illumination” and Taimni says it is a “consummation.” For Tola and Dragonetti “samapatti” has no English equivalent and so, they retain the Sanskrt. With “samapatti,” they explain, “the mind stabilizes itself; that is, it concentrates and fixes itself on a single object. As the fixation becomes increasingly intense, it carries with it the gradual elimination of all mental processes.” Tola & Dragonetti don’t agree that it is the final goal of Patanjali’s yoga. For them “samapatti” is a mental process itself and so, does not refer to total stillness.

The reason that I am dwelling on the definitions of “samadhi” and “samapatti” is because they play a key role in not only the following sutras in this book 1 but in many parts of the other books as well. So the decisions that translators make on how to define “samapatti” in this sutra affects the direction that their translations will take from here on.

What Patanjali explains here, and calls “samapatti,” could be also described as a shift into nonduality because it puts not only the seer but also the processing of seeing, itself, into focus. Just as a clear crystal becomes thoroughly colored by the surface that it rests on, so does the mind lose a sense of distinction, necessary for dual thinking, in “samapatti.” In other words, in “samapatti,” there is no sense of difference between what is seen, the seer, and the mechanics of seeing. All three of these components are witnessed together without a sense that anything is specifically happening. It is all just “THERE” with no one outside of that “THERE” to consider it in any special way.

In order for something to “happen” there must be sense of distinct components: subject versus object. The mechanics of seeing then operates to create a relationship between seer and the seen. But when that whole situation is turned into a well-examined crystal clear mixture; that is, when they are all seen together without maintaining mental distinctions between them; then there is a mental “saturation,” or a cognitive blending that is nondual. This is “samapatti” according to Patanjali.

It is easy to underestimate what is being said here. Patanjali is referring to a very elevated state of awareness that is the product of both practice and detachment (as he stated in sutra 12). Moreover, this elevated state will be referred to as the basis for many of the super powers Patanjali will describe in later parts of his Yoga Sutra. If we fail to realize how elevated “samapatti” is we may underestimate what is involved in realizing the super powers as well.

In the following sutras Patanjali will continue to elaborate on “samapatti,” enumerating different stages and qualities and also how it relates to “Samadhi.” It is helpful to keep in mind the analogy of the clear crystal that Patanjali gives us in this sutra for “samapatti” when we read his more nuanced descriptions in the sutras that follow. With that analogy we know that “samapatti” is always the case of a cognitive blending between subject and object, or perceiver and perceived.




Book 1, Sutra 20: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra



Even without knowledge of the Sanskrt language, just from witnessing the struggles to translate and interpret this sutra that occur in the 27 different translations that I am reviewing to create this series of posts, I can say that this sutra is frustratingly terse and seems to be almost carelessly worded. The reason I say that is, for one, Patanjali is using the word “smrti” here to indicate one of the qualities necessary to achieve a stilling of the mind and he earlier listed “smrti” as a type of thought pattern that must be stilled in yoga. Secondly, Patanjali uses the word “Samadhi” in this sutra in an off-hand, even careless way. Later on Patanjali will talk extensively about what the word, “Samadhi,” means to him but in this sutra it is included in a list of qualities necessary to pursue stillness of the mind. Even if samadhi is such a necessary quality, his readers cannot know at this point what exactly he is referring to. And he doesn’t define it immediately in the next sutra either (he waits until sutra 41 to give more information on what “Samadhi” is).

In other ways, this sutra is frustrating because it seems like it could be a very important one for aspiring yogis (if the wording was not so vague) and the reason for that is his use of the word, “shraddha.” “Shraddha” means faith and it does not occur very often in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. It does get used extensively by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita so it is considered important within the larger yoga tradition. Many translators go out on a limb, interpreting what type of faith Patanjali refers to in this sutra. Those translators and commentators say that the “faith” of this sutra is the raja yogi’s faith, as opposed to the bhakti yogi’s faith, and this makes sense to me. The raja yogi’s faith is the conviction that the yogic instructions on how to still the mind and realize the Truth WILL WORK as they promise to, if one dedicates oneself to them with enough intensity and accuracy. This is different from a bhakti yogi’s faith in the Supreme Being and His/Her ability to save or rescue him or her from his or her own ignorance.

Many translators have concluded that Patanjali is listing qualities that develop into each other, successively, to reach the ultimate stilling of the mind. If this is so, then faith (shraddha) leads to mounting energy (virya) applied to sadhana, which leads to the ability to keep the yogic instructions in mind (smrti), which leads to concentration in meditation (Samadhi), which leads to the eruption of wisdom (prajna). This makes sense but one is still left wishing Patanjali could have been a little more direct and precise with his use of words here.

[There is an argument that I have read (and believe has validity) that Patanjali wrote his Sutra in a way that was purposefully vague and cryptic (in places) so that a student would require the guidance of a competent master to follow them. This would prevent or discourage ill-prepared or ill-suited students from launching into yoga on their own. They would be stopped by the vagueness of at least some of the sutras. It is the nature of my ego, however, to want scientific precision in everything, including the most important spiritual treatises!]




Book 1, Sutra 10: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra



Controversies and discrepancies abound regarding this sutra. There are quite a few issues of contention here between the different translations and their commentaries. I will try to outline some of these and explain why I have derived the above version of Sutra 10.

First of all, the Sanskrt word “nidra” is connected with sleep but not with all types of sleep. Apparently Sanskrt doesn’t consider all types of sleep equal, just as the Eskimos differentiate between 12 or so different types of falling snow. Most translations and commentaries start from this point that “nidra” does not mean all types of sleep. Which types it does mean is not clear. Some commentaries say that “nidra” is dreamless sleep. Some others say that it is a lazy type of sleep.

The Bhagavad Gita also talks a little about sleep by saying that some sleep is necessary for the yogi. So, Patanjali’s “nidra” can not mean all types of sleep since these sutras are about types of fluctuations of the mind (“vrttis”) that don’t exist in the perfected Yogic mind. So the “vrtti” described by this sutra and that causes “nidra” disappears completely in Yoga but that doesn’t mean all sleep ends for Yogis. “Nidra” must be a certain type of sleep.

If Patanjali is connecting “nidra” with a type of mental fluctuation (“vrtti,” in Sanskrt) then “nidra” must involve a certain mental attitude that induces this type of sleep. And this makes sense when we consider the other Sanskrt words included in this sutra. Those words imply a reliance upon or a connection with a sense of non-being. So, “nidra,” then, is connected with a mental attitude of acceptance towards the idea of not-existing.

We can notice that when we get tired and fall asleep there is some underlying attitude of giving up in going to sleep. It’s not a failure, it’s more a gratefulness for the opportunity to “not be” for a little while; to take a break from being ourselves for some time. During sleep, then, our senses shut down in accordance with our desire to “not be” or “not function.” But the shutting down of the senses is not the defining core of “nidra” which is what many translations imply.

Some other versions of this sutra or commentaries about it that I felt somewhat missed the crux:

“Sleep is based upon mind states in which perception of material things through the five senses is absent.” (CONDRON) Yes, but the important point of the sutra is the mind state or attitude that causes this to happen.

“An absence of any content in the mind.” (VIVEKANANDA) This is the result but does not describe the VRTTI that causes it.

” . . . non-regulation of the senses.” (SRI RAMA)

“. . . there is no object before the mind.” “. . . an absence of mental contents.” (SATYANANDA SARASWATI) In a way, this describes the goal of Yoga that Patanjali already gave us a concise version of when he talked about ceasing the fluctuating thoughts and perceptions of the mind. Many of the translations of this sutra, like this one, make it sound like the experience of “nidra” is close to the ideal experience in Yoga. This doesn’t make sense because Patanjali is including “nidra” in a section about mental states that are not included in Yoga.

The connection between sleep and samadhi has been made in other texts but that seems counter productive to the practice of Yoga, especially considering that the Bhagavad Gita says that yogis take only a little sleep. If nidra was like samadhi then they might sleep a lot, I would guess. I don’t think that Patanjali supports the connection that has been made between samadhi and nidra.

Some commentaries helped to point me in the right direction, understanding this sutra as pointing to a mental state behind the experience of “nidra:”

“. . . not a state of unconsciousness but a positive state of nothingness.” (NAMBIAR) In other words, our positivity towards “taking a break” from existing as an individual in the world is a fluctuating mental state that disappears in Yoga. Ironically, in sleep we don’t lose our existence at all but our experience of deep rest is what we might imagine non-existence might be like if it happened only temporarily.

“For the purposes of (attaining) samadhi (Yoga) this VRTTI, too, should be brought under control.” (NAMBIAR)

“. . . dependent on the absence of mindfulness.” (STILES)

“Sleep (nidra) is a definite state of mind.” (SADHAKAS) It may be absent of content but the important point is that it comes from certain mental thoughts or mental orientations that are connected with or dependent on a surrender to not existing.

“The sleep fluctuation is based on the intention of non-becoming.” (CHAPPLE)