THE YOGA SUTRAS – VII
Patanjali provided a vast perspective on consciousness and its varied levels, as well as the necessary and sufficient conditions for sustained meditation. He set forth the essential prerequisites to meditation, the persisting obstacles to be overcome by the conscientious seeker, and the awesome powers and exhilarating experiences resulting from the progressive attainment of samadhi. In the fourth pada, the heart of which is kaivalya, the ultimate aim and transcendental culmination of the discipline of Taraka Raja Yoga, Patanjali epitomized the entire process from the standpoint of the adept yogin in meditation. He was thus able to offer a rounded exposition which might otherwise remain obscure. The Yoga Sutras is for daily use, and not dilettantish perusal. Its compelling logic is intrinsically self validating as well as capable of continuous self testing. Its reasonableness and efficacy are endorsed by a long succession of accredited seers and seekers.
The siddhis, or arcane, supernormal and spiritual powers, may be inborn in any incarnation. Although they may appear spontaneous or superfluous to the superficial eye, they are strictly the products of profound meditations in previous lives, as they depend for their development on mastery of the mind and its myriad correlations amongst the manifold elements in the cosmos. Since individual consciousness may have undergone such strenuous discipline in prior incarnations but not in the present life, the imprint of these practices in the immortal soul can be retained without conscious remembrance of the fact. If, however, it is not supported and strengthened by conscious discipline (abhyasa) in this life, the manifestation of unusual mental capacities and uncommon siddhis may be sporadic, relatively uncontrolled and precariously inconstant. Furthermore, because all knowledge is recollection, in a Platonic sense, and the residues of the past linger in the present, siddhis can sometimes be stimulated by hallucinogenic drugs and herbs like verbena, or by sacred chants and time honoured incantations, although the effects of external aids are notoriously uneven and ever unpredictable. Systematic austerities (tapas) may also release something of the attainments of previous incarnations, but true samadhi alone provides the rigorous, progressive and reliable pathway to self-mastery and sovereignty over the subtle forces of Nature. With such complete command of the gunas or modes of prakriti as it manifests in the mind and in the external world, the adept yogin can alter his nature from one class of being (the human) to another (a deva or god, in a broad sense of the term), if the karmic conditions in life are congenial and conducive to rapid development. Even then, the wise practitioner would not pursue this discipline except from the highest of motives, for anything less would hinder prakrityapurat, the "flow of prakriti" needed for its safe and smooth accomplishment.
No significant change of human nature would be possible if it merely depended upon instrumental causes, for these can only rearrange components or unveil hidden but pre-existent features. Hence, doing good deeds cannot transform one's composite nature, nor need they bear that burden, for one's inmost nature is purusha, Self alone, and this is reflected by pure consciousness, buddhi. Right conduct on the moral and mental planes can remove various obstructions to the rapid unfoldment of the vast potential of consciousness and that complete realization of purusha known as self-emancipation (kaivalya). To the yogin, his mind serves as the director of any number of mental matrices or emanated minds which can carry out semiindependent functions under its supervision. Just as the presence of purusha quickens and facilitates the fertile expansion of consciousness, so too the controlled mind of the yogin stimulates intellection everywhere. The yogin can work through the receptive minds of mature disciples, aiding all humanity by strengthening its spiritual aspirations. Whether mental aspects of the yogin or the sympathetic minds of others, no matrix of consciousness is free of samskaras or mental deposits, save the yogin's mind born of meditation. Only the consciousness integrated by pure dhyana is devoid of all impediment.
The yogin is above good and evil acts, not because he has become indifferent to the consequences of action, but rather because he is naturally disposed to remove all obstructions and mental deposits. Good conduct as well as bad bears fruit for the doer, but the yogin acts in such complete accord with Nature that what he does responds to necessity, being neither pure (sattva) nor polluted (tamas) nor mixed, like that of most human beings. His conduct follows a fourth course, that of nishkama or desirelessness, so that he cannot be said to do what he wishes, but rather he only does what needs to be done. Nishkama karma, the fruition of pure desireless action, neither returns nor clings to the yogin. Being one with Nature, he ceases to be a separative centre of focus or agency, and his actions, strictly speaking, are no longer "his", being the spontaneous play of prakriti before purusha. Hence, he leaves no impressions or residues in his consciousness even whilst doing his duty with single minded precision, since he acts as the willing instrument of purusha immanent in prakriti. He has only former mental deposits, resulting from past karma, which he meticulously removes to attain total freedom.
The yogin's assiduously nurtured capacities disallow the emergence of fresh karma, the results of which could adhere to him because he is no longer subject to vasana, the force of craving and the unchecked impulse for life in form, with its attendant consequences. But he cannot instantly dissolve karma generated long ago, for whatever was the result of vasana in the past must inevitably linger, although the yogin is aware of its antecedents and does not become distracted or discouraged by it. In addition to the results that are already manifest, the force of craving and the vasanas (identifiable traces of unfulfilled longings and the cumulative karma they rapidly engender) deposit unconscious residues in the mind. These are more difficult to discern, for they are not recurring modifications of consciousness such as those induced by specific objects of desire, but are subtle tinctures or discolorations in the lens of cognition, hard to detect, recognize and remove. Being unconscious, and unknown to the thinker, they will appear only when conditions are ripe, and the yogin must patiently wait for their emergence in order to eliminate them. Even though immense periods of time and many incarnations may intervene between the initial insertion of the vasanas into consciousness and their eventual emergence, they are neither dissolved nor transformed, for they are retained in a stream of soul reminiscence which is not brain dependent, and which indeed provides a basis of continuity. This stream of latent reminiscence is revealed in the sometimes sudden appearance of surprising tendencies that seem out of character, but are nonetheless inescapable in the strict operation of karma.
Although any specific vasana could, in principle, be traced to a particular point in time – some previous incarnation – when the stream of consciousness encountered a similar cluster of thoughts, feelings or acts, vasana or desire in general is atemporal. It is coeval with mind (chitta) and with the cosmos. Whilst any distinct vasana could first appear only when a congenial psychophysical structure arose to make its manifestation possible, vasana as a force is an inextricable element in the matrices of differentiated matter. Just because the propensity to enjoyment or self-indulgence is an integral aspect of the cosmic process – the captivating dance of prakriti before purusha – the overcoming of all such propensities demands a deliberate choice maintained over time through Taraka Raja Yoga, the discipline of transcendental detachment. Vasana finds its support in the mutable mind, which is the action of prakriti owing to the proximity of purusha. Only when the mind is fully awake, wholly focussed and serenely steadfast will vasana vanish. This is equivalent to the potential ability of prakriti to behold purusha qua purusha without wavering, and this is only possible as a deliberate act – buddhi reflecting purusha without distortion or fluctuation.
Considered from the temporal standpoint, the protracted continuity of vasana as a strong force and the specific vasanas as persisting matrices of memory suggest the arbitrariness of the divisions of time into past, present and future. Each vasana is but a seed which inevitably grows into a plant and bears appropriate fruit: knowing the seed, one can cognize all future states of development. In the present lie latent the past and the future, just as the present was contained in the future and will remain until it slides speedily into the past. The underlying reality cannot be understood without seeing the present as no more than a moving phase through the limitless continuum of time, all of which is latent save for the swiftly passing moment. When all the vasanas have been consigned to the past, and when even the very basis of desire ceases to bother consciousness, kaivalya alone abides. All continuous change and the ramifying consequences of change are the tumultuous activity of the gunas, and when that relentless activity belongs to the past, no longer swaying the mind of the yogin, the gunas have ceased their incessant interplay in the stream of consciousness. Becoming latent, they have ceased to manifest and have become dormant or homogeneous, leaving intact the luminous vision of serene self emancipation (kaivalya).
An object is what it is not because of some unique substratum, for the ultimate substratum of everything is the same. An object is distinct only because of the complex configuration of the gunas, the ceaseless interplay of which constitutes its nature. The fluid geometry of Nature, with the shifting ratios of gunas, permits some objects to persist longer than others, but the principle remains the same and endurance is merely relative. Even though an object survives for a time, the mutual activity of the gunas which constitutes each mind is different and alters at varying rates. Hence each person cognizes the object distinctively. The object is independent of each and every mind, though all apprehension of the object is entirely mind-dependent. Whether an object is known or not is the result of whether or not a particular mind is attracted to it. Purusha, however, cannot be a mental object. Rather, it is seen directly when the mind remains focussed upon it and does not move. Significantly, direct awareness of purusha occurs when the mind ceases to act, which in Sankhya philosophy is equivalent to saying that the mind ceases to be what it is. Purusha witnesses all mental modifications and is the true Knower precisely because it does not alter or waver.
The mind is not self-luminous and cannot know itself by its own effort. Subject to change, it can be seen as an object by another, and ceaselessly changing, it cannot know itself, for change cannot discern change, just as relativities cannot calibrate relativities. Purusha, the ever changeless, is alone the Knower, whose reflection is cast upon consciousness, which thenknows derivatively. Since the mind moves from moment to moment, it cannot both function as that which cognizes and that which is cognized. Hence, that which cognizes the mind whilst it cognizes objects (and so undergoes modification) is above the mind. Since consciousness operates on many levels, the level of awareness which apprehends consciousness necessarily transcends the level of the apprehended consciousness. Ultimately, purusha comprehends all consciousness. One cannot speak of one mind knowing another within itself, as if the human being were constituted by many minds – an erroneous view encouraged by the limitations of descriptive and conceptual languages; one would have to posit an infinite regress of such minds, each knowing the one "below" or "in front of" itself, since none could know itself. The absurdity of an infinite series of minds within the consciousness of each individual is shown clearly by the problem of memory. Which mind would then remember? All of them? An infinitude of interacting memories would result in utter confusion of consciousness.
Self-cognition is possible when the relativating nature of the mind – its constant fluctuation which is the activity of the gunas – ceases. Pure consciousness desists from deploying the mind and so can know it, and when it does so, it ceases to be involved in any sort of movement from moment to moment. "The self-knowledge spoken of here", W. Q. Judge wrote, "is that interior illumination desired by all mystics, and is not merely a knowledge of self in the ordinary sense." Likening consciousness to light and the mind to a globe, I. K. Taimini suggested a striking metaphor: "If a light is enclosed within a translucent globe, it reveals the globe. If the globe is removed, the light reveals itself." This revelation is not knowledge in any ordinary sense, because within it there is no subject/object distinction, no separation of perceiver, perceived and perception; there is only the eternal Reality of the Self-illuminated purusha. Although the mind, acted upon by the gunas and so consisting wholly of prakriti, is not consciousness, it is tinctured by purusha and receives its luminous hue from it, even whilst suffused with the gaudier colours of the world of objects. It seems to be both conscious and nonconscious, and so those who do not know purusha but experience its effects in prakriti mistake the mind, an instrument, for consciousness itself, when in fact the true cognizer of objects impressed upon the mind is purusha. This root error – mistaking the organ of perception for the power of perception – is the origin of all ignorance, illusion and sorrow.
The mind, which is essentially an assemblage," the Yogabhashya teaches, "cannot act on its own to serve its own interests" (IV.24). Modified by a chaotic series of new impressions and weighed down by myriad deposits from past impressions, the mind cannot act for itself even though it thinks it does. From a teleological standpoint, the mind exists solely for purusha, and despite an individual's deep-seated, ignorant confusion – the inexorable cause of sorrow – all mental activity arises in association with the Self, which it unknowingly seeks. Impressions engender a maya of independent activity which is dispelled in samadhi wherein the nature of the mind is discerned. When the Perceiver, purusha, sees beyond the confusion of ordinary cerebrations, there is no identification of the power of sight with the instrument of seeing, and it is entirely unaffected by the attributes, tendencies and images of the mind. The fully awakened, alert and tranquil mind, settled in the supreme stillness of samadhi, speedily learns correct cognition and moves steadily in the direction of kaivalya, self-emancipation. In fact, it is purusha hidden behind the gossamer veils of intellection whose light illumines the way, but, in the apt analogy of I. K. Taimini, like the magnet attracting iron filings, the mind seems to move towards the magnetic purusha, when in truth the invisible power of purusha draws the mind to itself. At this exalted stage, the individual seeks nothing except the total freedom of self emancipation. Even when the mind, like a guided missile locked on to its target, moves without the slightest wavering or change of course towards the luminous purusha, old impressions will cyclically reassert themselves, owing to their unspent momentum. They can be eliminated by the same methods developed for dissolving the kleshas or afflictions, except that here the yogin knows them already for what they are and can instantaneously destroy them, or return them to complete dormancy, through undisturbed discernment (vivekakhyati) of the True Self (purusha).
When the yogin abides in this peaceful state wherein purusha alone stands at the focal point of his entire consciousness, he verges on prasankhyana, omniscience or complete illumination. Since any lurking attachment can be a hindrance to self realization, he must renounce even the desire for the highest illumination, save insofar as it may elevate all existence. From the inception of his spiritual quest in lives long past, viveka (discrimination) and vairagya (detachment) have been crucial to his endeavours. As viveka culminates in vivekakhyati (discernment of the Real), so too vairagya culminates in paravairagya, supreme detachment towards the highest conceivable fruit of effort, prasankhyana. When this occurs, samadhi becomes dharmamegha, the rain cloud of righteousness, which is perpetual discernment of purusha or unending enlightenment. The circle is closed, the line returns upon itself, and the yogin passes from linear time into the omnidirectional realization of purusha, the Self, rising above time to the Eternal Now which transcends every moment though implicit in temporal succession. All the residues of the afflictions (kleshas) simply drop away as water runs off an impervious surface, and the yogin finds self-emancipation even in embodied life. Dharmamegha samadhi destroys the residuum of karma and the kleshas at the root, so that they can never arise again. The yogin has attained that supreme felicity from which there is no falling away.
The yogin's cognition becomes infinite and without any limit whatsoever, for of the three gunas, rajas and tamas have ceased to be active. But even this cognition is transcended, for the stilling of rajas and tamas deprives sattva of a contrasting field for expression, and so all three gunas become quiescent. This can be conceived as their merger into homogeneous latency or as their cessation, for they no longer sustain the process of ceaseless transformation. Without such transformation, there is no existence as evident in Nature (prakriti), and yet since they remain latent they still exist for all those who live in ignorance. As all knowledge depends upon transformations of consciousness which occur through the succession of moments (kshanas), knowledge is limited by the discontinuity of moments. For the yogin who has reached the threshold of kaivalya, the succession of moments is seen as a discrete continuum and is wholly transcended. His knowledge is no longer bound by temporal succession because he beholds the process as a whole. Rather than being subject to the transformations of the world, he sees them as an endless succession of discrete states, whilst his transcendental (taraka) knowledge is continuous and complete. He is now the Perceiver (purusha), utterly unaffected by the passing show of phenomenal Nature (prakriti).
The gunas, no longer stirred to activity by the presence of purusha, are reabsorbed into absolute latency, and purusha abides in its own essential nature, without any trace of ignorance, misconception, confusion and sorrow. For the yogin, experience comes to an end, for he has become one with his true nature, which is purusha, the energy of pure consciousness – devoid of moments – which is cosmic ideation, upon which all noumena and phenomena depend. This is complete emancipation, kaivalya, and supreme peace, nirvana. Kaivalya is the ineffable state of stillness – though such terms are wholly inadequate, metaphysically and metapsychologically – which is the self-existence of purusha in and as itself. The yogin is no longer captive to the central duality postulated in Sankhya philosophy, for he beholds purusha, which is himself, in the entire cosmos, and the entire cosmos, which is also himself, in purusha. For him, as in Mahayana mysticism, nirvana is samsara and vice versa. Since there is no separation between the two, there is no room for even the subtlest error, and so sin and sorrow vanish forever. Sat-chit-ananda, Being, Consciousness and Bliss, constitute for him the fullness of purusha, which nonetheless abides beyond them as the attributeless Self.
What, one might ask, does the yogin do now? Does he abide forever in unalloyed bliss? Such questions cannot be raised, for the yogin is no longer a creature of time and space. Rather than being now or doing then, he always was, is and will be, for he lives in the Eternal Now. Even though consciousness, bound by time, change and error, makes of such an inconceivable condition a frozen ecstasy, no picture of it can be anything but a fantasy rooted in ignorance. The yogin is entirely free and moves through sublime states of awareness which the unenlightened mind can neither imagine nor articulate, and therefore Patanjali, a true Sage, remained silent. When the yogin ceases to be a part of the temporal process and becomes indistinguishable from it – on the principle of the identity of indiscernibles – he becomes its creator. He was there in the beginning and he is its eschaton, the end and goal beyond which there is only Silence.
In the memorable words of Shrimad Bhagavatam, Book XI:
Pure and kind-hearted by nature, the Sage is like water, in that he is a sanctifying influence in the lives of those who purify themselves by seeing, touching or speaking of him. Radiating power, enhanced by austerities, possessing nothing, yet imperturbable, the yogin who has steadied his mind remains unsoiled like the fire, regardless of what he may consume. While the creation and destruction of the bodies that the SELF assumes proceeds every moment at the hands of Time, which rushes like a swift stream, the SELF remains unnoticed, like the emergence and subsidence of tongues of flame in a burning fire.
Hermes, May 1989