Sadhana Pada

A person without self-discipline cannot attain perfection in yoga.... An undisturbed course of self-purificatory conduct should be practised.


Patanjali initiated his teaching concerning praxis by calling attention to the three chief elements in the discipline of yoga: tapas, austerity, self-restraint and eventually self-mastery; svadhyaya, self-study, self-examination, including calm contemplation of purusha, the Supreme Self; and ishvarapranidhana, self-surrender to the Lord, the omnipresent divine spirit within the secret heart. The threefold practice or sadhana can remove the kleshas or afflictions which imprison purusha and thus facilitate samadhi or meditative absorption. This arduous alchemical effort was summed up succinctly by Shankaracharya: "Right vision (samyagdarshana) is the means to transcendental aloneness (kaivalya).... Yoga practice, being the means to right vision, comes before it.... Ignorance is destroyed when directly confronted by right vision." The kleshas, though varied in their myriad manifestations, are essentially five: avidya, ignorance; asmita, egoism; raga, attachment; dvesha, aversion; and abhinivesha, tenacious clinging to mundane existence. Ignorance, however, is the broad field in which all the other kleshas arise, because they are no more than distinct specializations of ignorance.

Ignorance is a fundamental inverted confusion which mistakes prakriti for purusha, the false for the true, the impure for the pure, and the painful for the pleasurable a persisting malaise which might have been difficult to comprehend in the past but which is now a familiar condition in contemporary psychology. Springing from fundamental ignorance, egoism (asmita) confuses the potency of the Seer (purusha) with the power of sight (buddhi). Attachment (raga) is the pursuit of what is mistaken to be pleasurable, whilst aversion (dvesha) flees from what is believed to be painful. These two constitute the primary pair of opposites on the psychological level in the field of ignorance, and all other pairs of opposites are derived from them. Clinging to phenomenal existence (abhinivesha) is the logical outcome of the operation of ignorance, and once aroused is self-sustaining through the inertia of habit, so that countervailing measures are needed to eradicate it, together with the other kleshas.

Through ignorance (avidya) there is an obscuration of the cosmic Self (purusha), a fundamental misidentification of what is real, a persistent misconception which carries its own distinct logic within the complex dialectic of maya:
[Mental Modifications Diagram]
Since the kleshas are engendered by a persistent error, at root mistaking prakriti for purusha, or attributing the essential characteristics of purusha to one or another aspect of prakriti, they can be eliminated only by a radical reversal of the downward tendency of alienation and retreat from truth. This fundamental correction, as far reaching as the entrenched habit of inversion which necessitates it, is dhyana, meditation, together with the mental and moral exercises which strengthen it. To say, as Hindu and Buddhist thinkers alike assert, that karma is rooted in avidya is to imply that the ramifying results of karma now experienced, or yet to be experienced in a future incarnation, are all rooted in the kleshas.

In the graphic language of spiritual physiology, the kleshas constitute a psychic colouring or peculiar obsession which forms a persisting matrix of karma, the results of which must eventually be experienced, and also creates mental deposits which channel mental energies into repeatedly reinforcing the kleshas. Dhyana alone can effectively eradicate these mental deposits while providing the clear detachment (vairagya) and cool patience (kshanti) to exhaust and dissolve the karmic matrix over time. As long as the kleshas remain, involuntary incarnation into bodies captive to the pleasure pain principle is inescapable. Elation and depression are the inevitable effects of such embodiment. Since these are the product of egoism and the polarity of attraction and aversion, rooted in ignorance and resulting in the tenacious clinging to mundane existence, the discerning yogin comes to see that the truth of spiritual freedom and the rapture of limitless love transcend the kleshas entirely. All karma brings discord and distress, including the insistent pains of loss and gain, growth and decay.

Karma means parinama, change, and this invariably induces the longing to recover what is receding, to enhance what is emerging, or to sustain a static balance where no thing can endure. To be drawn to some objects and conditions and to be disinclined towards others is indeed to foster tapa, anxious brooding over what might be lost or what one might be forced to encounter. All experiences leave residual impressions, samskaras, which agitate the mind and stimulate desires to have or to avoid possible future experiences. In general, the gunas or root qualities of prakritisattva, rajas and tamas: luminosity, action and inertia; purity, restlessness and languor; or harmony, volatility and fixity persist in ceaselessly shifting permutations which continually modify the uncontrolled mind. For these reasons, Patanjali taught, all life without spiritual freedom is fraught with sorrow. Through yoga, it is not possible to avoid consequences already set in motion, but it is feasible to destroy the kleshas and thereby remove the causal chain of suffering.

Metaphysically, buddhi, intuitive intellect, is closer to purusha than any other aspect of prakriti. Nonetheless, buddhi is still what is seen by purusha, the Perceiver, and it is through confounding the Perceiver with what is perceived at the super-sensuous level that suffering arises. Prakriti, consisting of the gunas, is the entire field, enclosing the objective world and the organs of sensation. It exists solely for the sake of the soul's education and emancipation. The Yogabhashya teaches that identification of the Perceiver with the seen constitutes experience, "whilst realizing the true nature of purusha is emancipation." In the realm of prakriti, wherein the Perceiver is captive to the ever- changing panorama of Nature, the gunas, which may be construed as the properties of perceptible objects but which are really propensities from the standpoint of psycho-mental faculties, act at every level of conscious awareness.

At the level of differentiated consciousness, vitarka, wherein the mind scrutinizes specific objects and features, the gunas are particularized (vishesha). When consciousness apprehends archetypes, laws and abstract concepts (vichara), the gunas are archetypal (avishesha). When the gunas are discerned as signs and signatures (linga), objects are resolved into symbols of differentiation in a universal field of complete objectivity, and consciousness experiences ecstasy (ananda). Though discrete, objects are no longer distinguished in contrast to one another or through divergent characteristics; they are distinct but seen as parts of a single whole. They are apprehended through buddhi or intuitive insight.

The gunas are alinga – signless, irresolvable, undifferentiated – and lose their distinction from consciousness itself when objects dissolve in the recognition that consciousness and its modifications alone constitute the noumenal and phenomenal world. Hence, pure consciousness (lingamatra), which is the simple, unqualified sense of "I", subsists in a pristine noumenal condition (alinga) wherein it does not witness the ceaseless operation of the gunas. This divine consciousness is the highest state of meditative absorption, beyond which lies complete emancipation, purusha without any tincture of prakriti. The Perceiver is pure vision, apprehending ideas seemingly through the mind. Once final emancipation, which is the ultimate aim and purpose of all experience, is attained, purusha no longer encounters the confusion of spirit and matter through mental modifications. As experience, correctly understood, culminates in eventual self-emancipation, kaivalya, Patanjali held that "the very essence of the visible is that it exists for the sake of the Seer, the Self alone" (II.21).

The world does not vanish for all others when a man of meditation attains kaivalya; they remain in confusion until they also attain the same utterly transcendent state of awareness. Here Yoga philosophy exhausts its conceptual and descriptive vocabulary. Whether one asserts that there is an indefinite number of purushas, each capable of attaining kaivalya, or one states that purusha attains kaivalya in this instance but not that, is a matter of indifference, for one perforce invokes enumeration, time and space terms properly applying to prakriti alone to characterize a wholly transcendent reality. The pervasive existential fact is that prakriti persists so long as there are beings trapped through ignorance, and the vital psychological truth is that no being who attains the transcendent (taraka) reality of unqualified, pure purusha can do so vicariously for another. Through their hard-won wisdom and compassion, emancipated seers and sages can point the way with unerring accuracy. They know how to make their magnanimous guidance most effective for every human being, but each seeker must make the ascent unaided.

If the cosmos as considered in contemporary physics resolved itself into a condition of undisturbed entropy, or if, in the language of Sankhya, the gunas achieved total and enduring equilibrium, Nature (prakriti) would cease to exist, since there would be nothing to be perceived. Ignorance and its inseparable concomitant, suffering, arise from a broken symmetry in Nature. In contemporary thought there is no adequate explanation for the origin of that "cosmic disaster", for the emergence of sentience is said to occur within the broken symmetry. If the scientific community were trained to use the language of Sankhya and Yoga philosophy, it would have to speak of the origin of purusha, consciousness, within the evolutionary permutations and convolutions of prakriti. Sankhya and Yoga teach, however, that purusha, sempiternal and independent, perceives prakriti and indirectly gives rise to the broken symmetry itself, the anti-entropic condition which is the activity of the gunas. For Patanjali, prakriti must necessarily exist, for it is through experience conjunction with prakriti that purusha knows itself as it is. But when purusha wrongly apprehends prakriti, as it must until it knows itself truly as it is, ignorance and all the entangling kleshas arise. When purusha attains kaivalya, emancipation, it sees without error, and this is gained through experience in self-correction and self-mastery. From the highest standpoint, this means that purusha preserves its freedom and intrinsic purity by avoiding mistaken assumptions and false conclusions. From the standpoint of any individual involved in prakriti, unbroken discriminative cognition (vivekakhyati) is the sole means to emancipation, for it releases the abiding sense of reality (purusha) in him. The dual process of removing the kleshas and reflecting on the Self (purusha) assures the progressive and climactic attainment of emancipation (kaivalya) such that ignorance does not arise again.

Having delineated the path to kaivalya, Patanjali discoursed in some detail on the seven successive stages of yoga which lead to samadhi, full meditative absorption, but he insisted that, even though each stage must be passed in succession, truth and wisdom dawn progressively upon the aspirant to stimulate his endeavour. Yoga is successive, gradual and recursive, the path of ascent which alone leads from darkness to light, from ignorance to transcendental wisdom, from death and recurring rebirth to conscious immortality and universal self-consciousness. Although the stages through which consciousness must ascend are sequential in one sense, the practice of Taraka Raja Yoga involves eight limbs or aspects which are logically successive but ethically and psychologically simultaneous. In fact, one can hardly pursue one part of Patanjali's eight-limbed yoga (ashtangayoga) without also attending to its other divisions. Just as a human being, despite his ignorance, is an integrated whole, so too ashtangayoga, despite its logical sequence, is an integral unity. Patanjali enumerated the eight (ashta) limbs (anga) of this Taraka Raja Yoga as five which concern karma and lay the foundation for meditation, and three which constitute meditation itself: restraint (yama), binding observance (niyama), posture (asana), regulation of breath (pranayama), abstraction and withdrawal from the senses (pratyahara); concentration (dharana), contemplation (dhyana) and complete meditative absorption (samadhi).

The yamas or restraints are five, constituting a firm ethical foundation for spiritual growth, starting with ahimsa (nonviolence) and including satya (truth), asteya (nonstealing), brahmacharya (continence) and aparigraha (nonpossession). Shankaracharya held that ahimsa – nonviolence, harmlessness, defencelessness in Shelley's phrase – is the most important of the yamas and niyamas, and is the root of restraint. Like all constraints and observances, ahimsa must not be interpreted narrowly but should be seen in its widest sense. For Shankaracharya, this meant that ahimsa should be practised in body, speech and mind so that one avoids harming others in any way, even through an unkind thought. Ahimsa can be taken to include the classical Greek sense of sophrosyne, a sense of proportion which voids all excess, the state of mind which can avoid even unintentional harm to a single being in the cosmos. In employing ahimsa as a talismanic tool of political and social reform, Gandhi exemplified the central importance and far-reaching scope of ahimsa. For Patanjali, however, ahimsa and the other yamas and niyamas constitute the daily moral discipline needed to pursue Taraka Raja Yoga. Taraka Raja Yoga is not a narrowly technical or specialized practice to be added to other instrumental activities in the world; it is rather the indispensable means for radically transforming one's essential perception of, and therefore one's entire relation to, the world. From the standpoint of Self-knowledge, which is ultimate gnosis, there are no greater disciplines. Hence the yamas are not altered by condition and circumstance, social class or nationality, nor by time nor the actual level of spiritual attainment. Together they constitute the awesome mahavrata or Great Vow, the first crucial step to true spiritual freedom.

The niyamas or binding observances are also five, constituting the positive dimension of ethical probity. They are shaucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (austerity, self-discipline), svadhyaya (self-study) and ishvarapranidhana (surrender to the Lord). Like the yamas, the niyamas cannot be fully grasped as specific and bounded concepts. First of all, they should be seen as evolving conceptions – for example, purity of thought is deepened through purity of conduct – and then they will rapidly unfold subtler levels of meaning as the aspirant attains more intensive depths of meditation. Purity of volition is thus ever enriched and refined. The greatest obstacles to the restraints and binding observances are those thoughts which run in the opposite direction – thinking of impure things or acts, wishing to do harm for a perceived injustice, self-indulgence, self-deception and self-assertion. Such illicit and destructive thoughts are perverse precisely because they belie and defeat the initial commitment to the yamas and niyamas. Instead of suppressing such scattered thoughts or wallowing in hideous self-pity, one must firmly and deliberately insert into the mind their potent opposites – love for hate, tenderness for temerity, sweetness for spite, virile confidence for the devilry of self-doubt, authentic self-conquest for compulsive self-indulgence. Thus what begins as a shrewd defence against deleterious thoughts becomes a deft substitution of one kind of thought for another and results in sublimation, the skilful transformation of the tonality and texture of consciousness. Strict and consistent measures are needed to deal with subversive thoughts, not in order to repress them or to hide guilt for having them, but only because they induce depression and self-loathing, with predictable and pathetic consequences. Facing unworthy thoughts firmly, and thereby exorcising them, is to free oneself from their nefarious spell.

When any object is forcibly confined, it exerts crude pressure against its external constraints. In the ethical realm, effortless self-restraint produces a powerful glow of well-being which others can appreciate and even emulate. When, for example, one is established in ahimsa, others do become aware of an encompassing and inclusive love, and latent or overt hostility dissolves around one's radius of benevolence. Satya, truth, is the path of least resistance amongst the shifting ratios of the gunas, and when one is clearly established in truth, the predictable consequences of thought, word and deed are constructive and consistent. Similarly, strengthening oneself through asteya (nonstealing), one desists from every form of misappropriation, even on the plane of thought and feeling, and discovers what is apposite on all sides. Nature protects and even provides for those who do not appropriate its abundant resources. Brahmacharya, selfless continence in thought and conduct, fosters vitality and vigour. Aparigraha, nonpossessiveness, promotes noetic insight into the deeper meaning and purpose of one's probationary sojourn on earth.

Expansiveness too has its compelling effects. Shaucha, inward and outer purity, protects the mind and body from moral and magnetic pollution, and prevents one from tarnishing or misusing others. One acquires a dependable degree of serenity, control of the senses and one-pointedness in concentration, thus preparing oneself for the direct apprehension of purusha, the Self. Santosha, deep contentment, assures satisfaction not through the gratification of wants (which can at most provide a temporary escape from frustration), but rather through the progressive cessation of craving and its prolific yearnings and regrets. Tapas, austerity, penance or self-discipline, removes pollution inherited from one's own past and releases the full potentials of mind, senses and body, including those psychic faculties mistakenly called supernormal only because seldom developed. Svadhyaya, self-study, calls for careful study and calm reflection, including the diligent recitation and deep contemplation of texts, thus giving voice to potent mantras and sacred utterances. It achieves its apotheosis through direct communion with the ishtadevata, the chosen deity upon whom one has concentrated one's complete attention, will and imagination. This exalted state readily leads to ishvarapranidhana, one-pointed and single-hearted devotion to the Lord. Such devotion soon deepens until one enters the succeeding stages of meditative absorption (samadhi).

With the firm foundation of yamas and niyamas, one can begin to benefit from the noetic discipline of intense meditation and become modestly proficient in it over a lifetime of service to humanity. Since the untrained mind is easily distracted by external and internal disturbance, real meditation is aided by an alert and relaxed bodily vesture. To this end, a steady posture (asana) is chosen, not to indulge the acrobatic antics of the shallow Hatha Yogin, but rather to subdue and command the body, whilst retaining its alertness and resilience. The correct posture will be firm and flexible without violating the mind's vigorous concentration and precise focus. Once the appropriate asana is assumed by each neophyte, the mind is becalmed and turned towards the Infinite, becoming wholly impervious to bodily movement and change, immersed in the boundless space of the akashic empyrean. Thus the impact of the oscillating pairs of opposites upon the volatile brain mind, captivated by sharp contrasts and idle speculations, and the agitation of the body through recurring sensations are at least temporarily muted. In this state of serene peace, the effortless regulation of rhythmic breath (pranayama) becomes as natural as floating on the waters of space. Just as the mind and body are intimately interlinked at every point, such that even holding a firm physical posture aids the calming of the mind, so too pranayama points to silent mental breathing as well as smooth respiration.

Prana, which includes the solar life-breath, is the efflux of the constant flow of cosmic energy, regulated by the ideation of purusha and radiating from the luminous substance of pure prakriti. From the nadabrahman the Divine Resonance and perpetual motion of absolute Spirit and the global respiration of the earth reverberating at its hidden core, its slowly rolling mantle and its shifting crust, to the inspiration and expiration of every creature in the cosmos, the ocean of prana permeates and purifies all planes of being. In the human constitution, irregular, spasmodic or strained, uneven breathing can disturb the homeostatic equilibrium of the body and cause fragmented, uncoordinated modes of awareness. Proper breathing oxygenates the physical system optimally, and also aids the mind in maintaining a steady rhythm of unbroken ideation, fusing thought, will and energy. Pranayama begins with deliberate exhalation, so that the lungs are generously emptied and the unusable matter expelled into them is made to exit the bodily temple. Thereupon, slow inbreathing invites oxygen to permeate the entire lung system and penetrate the blood, arteries, nerves and cells. Holding the breath in a benevolent pause permits the respiratory system to adjust gently to the next phase of oxygenation and detoxification. When these rhythmic movements are marked by due measure and proportion, mantramically fused into the inaudible OM, there is a distinct improvement in psychophysical health and a remarkable increase of vigilance and vigour.

The fourth step in pranayama transcends the physiological dimensions of respiration for which they are a preparation. The highest pranayama becomes possible when one has gained sufficient sensitivity through the earlier stages of pranayama to sense and direct the divine flow of prana throughout one's entropic psychophysical system. Then one may, through mental volition alone, fuse mental serenity and single-mindedness with psychophysical equilibrium, and also convey subtle pranic currents, charged with selfless ideation, to various padmas or vital centres (chakras) in the body. Since each of the seven padmas is precisely correlated with the corresponding state of concentrated consciousness, the fearless equipoise needed to activate these magnetic centres and the benevolent siddhis or theurgic powers thereby released requires the commensurate and controlled alteration in the tonality and texture of consciousness. When the highest padma is effortlessly and gently touched by mind-directed prana, nonviolent consciousness simultaneously attains full samadhi. "Thus is worn away," said Patanjali, "the veil which obscures the light" (II.52), thereby pointing to the subduing of the kleshas and the neutralization of karma through the progressive awakening of discriminative insight and intuitive wisdom.

The process of purification is not an end in itself, but the necessary condition to prepare the mind for dharana, complete concentration. Pranayama, delusive and dangerous when misappropriated for selfish purposes pursued through subtle enslavement by the kleshas, is hereby integrated into Patanjali's eight-fold yoga as a preliminary step towards subduing the restless mind, freeing it to become the servant of the immortal soul, seeking greater wisdom, self-mastery and universal self-consciousness. Pratyahara, abstraction and disassociation of sensory perception from sense-objects, is now accessible. Withdrawal of the senses from their objects of attraction does not destroy them. Rather, the subtler senses take on the plastic and fluidic nature of the serene mind itself. Without the myriad distractions of familiar and strange sense-objects, the senses become subtilized and pliant, no longer pulling consciousness towards internal images, external objects or captivating sense data. Instead, the noetic mind firmly expels images and subdues impulses, gaining sovereign mastery over them. Patanjali ended the second pada here, having shown the pathway to proper preparation for profound meditation. The significance of the last three interconnected angas or stages of yoga is indicated by the fact that Patanjali set them apart in the third pada for his authoritative exposition.

The preparatory discipline or sadhana of the second pada has been thus strikingly extolled by Rishi Vasishtha:

He engaged in the practice of Raja Yoga, remaining silent and graceful in countenance. He abstracted his senses from their objects as the oil is separated from the sesamum seed, withdrawing their organs within himself as the turtle contracts his limbs under his hard shell.

With his steady mind he cast all external sensations far off from himself, as a rich and brilliant gem, shedding a coating of dust, then scattered its rays to a distance. Without coming in contact with them, he compressed his sensations within himself, as a tree in the cold season compresses its sap within its bark . . . .

He confined his subdued mind in the cave of his heart, as a great elephant is imprisoned in a cavern of the Vindhya Mountain when it has been brought by stratagem under subjection. When his soul had gained its clarity, resembling the serenity of the autumnal sky, it forsook all unsteadiness, like the calm ocean unagitated by any winds.

Yoga Vasishtha Maharamayana

Hermes, March 1989
by Raghavan Iyer