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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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Book 1, Sutra 11: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

“WHEN THOUGHTS CREATED THROUGH AN EXPERIENCE RETURN TO MIND AFTER THE EXPERIENCE HAS ENDED THAT IS MEMORY (SMRTI).”

 

With “smrti” we don’t need to have any real experiences right now in order to have changing thoughts right now. We can simply dredge up thoughts of things that happened in the past. This involves our choice. Most commentators agree that we must actively re-call a thought of an experience we had in the past in order to qualify for “smrti.” In other words, “smrti” doesn’t include latent, stored but inactive memories. We could have had a myriad of different experiences in life but unless they are re-called into active memory they are not part of our mind set right now. So, with Yoga, we don’t need to forget anything that has happened but we do stop actively remembering our past. Patanjali states that a Yogic mind, or a mind that is anchored in stability and is free of fluctuation is not actively re-calling any experiences of the past. This mind is simply in the present moment with no baggage from the past. The memories might be there, latent in our mind, but we don’t re-call them.

Although “smrti” involves a calling to mind or, as some commentators say, a “retentive power,” it is not a re-experiencing of something we already experienced. It is simply a thought, not an experience that generates thoughts. We could choose to have another thought in reference to a memory but we don’t have to, in order to be saturated with “smrti.” Actively remembering, itself, is called a fluctuation of the mind by Patanjali.

I disagree with some commentators (Nambiar) who claim that, with “smrti,” you can remember a fantasy; in other words, you can have a “smrti” of a “vikalpa.” No, “smrti” is a remembering of an experience with some object. If you remember another thought or a fantasy, you are actively having THAT type of thought (whether correct, incorrect, fantasy or void). You cannot have a memory of another thought without that thought itself taking over in the present moment.

Similarly, I would disagree with commentators (Satyananda Saraswati) that connect “smrti” with dreams, the subconscious and even the unconscious mind. If you think about a dream you are having a “vikalpa,” you are thinking about something that cannot be verified. It is not a memory as such. Did you experience any actual objects in that dream? If you say “No” or “maybe” then the thought is clearly a “vikalpa.” If you say “yes,” I would ask whether you can verify that.

To summarize “smrti” as “past knowledge” (as Satyananda Saraswati has done) is also somewhat incorrect as well. It is not knowledge of the past but an active reviewing or re-calling of some experience. If we remember that we knew some type of knowledge in the past then it is a “pramana” thought (assuming we actually did know this in the past). If we remember the knowledge itself, if we recall something that we learned in the past, it is also either “pramana” or “viparyaya” depending on whether the knowledge itself is correct. We might see a snake and then leave the room. Later we return to the room see something and remember that we had seen a snake. It could have been a real snake the first time and just a rope the second time, indicating a “pramana” followed by a “viparyaya.” A “smrti” however, would be a re-calling of the experience of seeing a snake but if we apply that memory to something new then that involves some other type of thought.

Sri Rama connects “smrti” to all of samskara and then states, in his commentary, that for this reason memory cannot ever be destroyed. I don’t see from what part of the Yoga Sutras this comes from and it seems irrelevant to the point that Patanjali is making here: we can have all the memories from a million lives available for recall but if we don’t actively recall any of them we are not disturbing our mind with this type of fluctuating thought or “vrtti.”