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Yoga Sūtras

English translation and commentary by A.K. Aruna

Contents Foreword Preface Introduction 1. Samādhi - Contemplation 2. Sādhana - Preparation 3. Vibhūti - Accomplishments 4. Kaivalya - Freedom Appendixes Index

Format and vṛtti (clarifying commentary) by A.K. Aruna, 2018 ver.7.0: UpasanaYoga. English translation and commentary taken from the author's book Patanjali Yoga Sutras: Translation and Commentary in the Light of Vedanta Scriptures available on Amazon and other online outlets. If downloaded, requires installed Devanāgarī Siddhanta1.ttf font, downloadable from UpasanaYoga. If run from UpasanaYoga website, it alternatively can use online Web Font. Any Devanāgarī in parentheses () is an alternate reading of text in Red. Chanting from The Sanskrit Channel.
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by A.K. Aruna
First Print Mar 2012 (ISBN 978-0-9818640-7-5)
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ओं, स॒ ह ना॑व् अवतु। स॒ ह नौ॑ भुनक्तु। स॒ह वी॒र्यं॑ करवावहै। ते॒ज॒स्विना॒व् अधी॑तम् अस्तु॒ मा वि॑द्विषा॒वहै᳚। ओं शान्तिः॒ शान्तिः॒ शान्तिः॑॥
Om; tad, ha, asmad, √av. Tad, ha, asmad, √bhuj. Saha, vīrya, √kṛ. Tejasvin, adhīta, √as, mā, vi-√dviṣ. Om, śānti, śānti, śānti.
सः ह नै अवतु। सः ह नौ भुनक्तु। सह वीर्यं करवावहै। तेजस्विनौ [तेजस्विनोः आवयोः] अधीतं अस्तु [अथवा, नौ अधीतं तेजस्वि अस्तु]। मा विद्विषावहै। ओम् शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥


योगेन चित्तस्य पदेन वाचां मलं शरीरस्य च वैद्यकेन।
योऽपाकरोत् तं प्रवरं मुनीनां पतञ्जलिं प्राञ्जलिर् आनतोऽस्मि॥

yoga, citta, pada, vācā, mala, śarīra, ca, vaidyaka;
yad, apa-ā-√kṛ, tad, pravara, munin, patañjali, prāñjali, ānata, √as.

I bow with hands folded to Patañjali, the best of sages who removes the impurity of the mind by his Yoga[-sūtras], of speech by his words [his grammar commentary called Mahā-bhāṣya], and of the body by his science of medicine [called Caraka-pratisaṃskṛta].
[अहं] प्राञ्जलिः [पुरतस्-अञ्जलिः] तं मुनीनां प्रवरं पतञ्जलिं [नाम] आनतः अस्मि [नमस्-करोमि], यः मलं [क्लेशं] अपाकरोत् [अपहरेत्] चित्तस्य [अन्तःकरणस्य] योगेन [योग-सूत्र-शासनेन], वाचां पदेन [महा-भाष्य-व्याकरणेन, शरीरस्य वैद्यकेन [चरक-प्रतिसंस्कृत-चिकित्सया] च॥

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Foreword ……

Preface ……

Introduction ……

Chapter 1 On Contemplation ……

Introducing Yoga ……

General Definition of Yoga ……

The Goal of Yoga ……

What is the Essential Nature of Oneself ……

What is the Ego ……

How can Logic Help ……

How do I Know I am Simply the Witness ……

Life and Death ……

The 24/7 Reality ……

What is the Benefit ……

Patañjali Indicates This Witness Reality ……

Identification with Thought ……

The Nature of Thoughts ……

Repetition and Non-attachment ……

Two Forms of Contemplation ……

Contemplation on the Lord ……

The Nature of the Lord ……

Consciousness ……

Distractions of the Mind ……

The Removal of Distractions ……

Clarity of Mind ……

Four Forms of Contemplation With Seed ……

Clarity and Knowledge ……

Contemplation Free of Seed ……

Chapter 2 On Preparation ……

Yoga in Regard to Action ……

The Five Afflictions ……

The Affliction of Ignorance ……

The Affliction of I-notion ……

The Afflictions of Attachment and Aversion ……

The Affliction of Fear of Death ……

Giving Up Afflictions ……

Karma-Storage From the Afflictions ……

Giving Up Sorrow ……

Mutual Identification of Seer and Seen ……

The Nature of the Seen ……

The Nature of the Seer ……

The Seen’s Relation to the Seer ……

Cause and Removal of Mutual Identification ……

The Eight Limbs of Yoga ……

1. The Avoidances ……

2. The Observances ……

Nurturing the Avoidances and Observances ……

The Components of the Avoidances ……

The Components of the Observances ……

3. The Sitting Posture ……

4. Controlling of Breath ……

5. Withdrawal of the Senses ……

Chapter 3 On Accomplishments ……

6. Restraining Thoughts ……

The Contemplation Process ……

7. Retaining Thoughts ……

8. Contemplation ……

Uniting (Saṃyama) of the Last Three Limbs ……

Which are the Internal Limbs of Yoga? ……

Change Regarding Contemplation ……

Change Regarding All Objects ……

Accomplishments and Superpowers – Siddhis ……

Saṃyama on Change ……

Saṃyamas on the Seen and on the Seer ……

The Final Accomplishment is Freedom ……

Liberating Knowledge – Kaivalya ……

Chapter 4 On Freedom ……

Causes of the Accomplishments ……

Action and the Mind ……

The Past and Future and the Present ……

Oneness Determines Entities ……

Contemplations from Science ……

Distinction of Objects from Thoughts ……

Distinction of Thoughts from Self ……

Knowledge as Freedom ……

Appendix: Index of Quotation Sources to Sūtra Citations ……

Appendix: The Nature of the Mind ……

Appendix: Suggested Steps in Contemplation ……

Appendix: Suggested Sutra Selections for Courses ……

Appendix: Alphabet ……

Bibliography ……

Index ……

About the Author ……

Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti, Coimbatore

The Patañjali Yoga Sūtras cannot be looked upon as a book on the philosophy of Seśvara Sāṅkhya. Ādi Śaṅkara, in his Brahmasūtrabhāṣya, had discussed the Yoga School quoting certain sūtras, which are not found in Patañjali’s book. Perhaps the Patañjali Yoga Sūtras formed a part of the syllabus for the people given to traditional Vedanta study. Even today, jijñāsus, who study at Kailash Ashram, study the Patañjali Yoga Sūtras, with various Sanskrit commentaries.

I am very happy that Sri Aruna, one of my senior students, is presenting the Patañjali Yoga Sūtras with a commentary in keeping with the Vedanta tradition. Very good in Sanskrit, Aruna’s word for word translation of the meaning of the sūtras does not leave anything to be desired. With his commentary, the overall vision of Patañjali comes alive.

There are no authentic books in circulation on this important work on Yoga discipline. Aruna’s book meets with the need in admirable measure. I congratulate him for his contribution to the pursuit of spiritual discipline.

Sw. Dayananda

Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years by Indian spiritual seekers and saints. Yet, let us ask: Is there a single yoga text that specifically points out what those seekers and saints were actually contemplating in their yoga spiritual practice?

Most modern yoga texts, in English, are about āsanas – postures for physical strengthening, relaxation, stretching, and physical therapy. A few also highlight the benefits of these āsanas for relieving stress. Some introduce a little meditation, bringing in some spiritual words, such as love, bliss, and divine. Some present an āsana practice that includes a life of yoga off the mat. They may explain these spiritual ideas and life styles with a few examples. There is often not enough depth unfoldment of these ideas and their expressions into a life style. Sometimes they encourage the readers to imagine their own explanations – as if the seekers already know the answers they are seeking.

These texts do not fluently connect the student to the contemplative spiritual scriptures of India, for which India is so well known. In this way, these yoga texts are unlikely to bring the student to a clear sense of a broad, integrated, in-depth spiritual grounding that a full yoga encompasses.

There is one ancient yoga text, though, that is held to be the philosophical and contemplative basis of yoga. That text is the Yoga Sūtras by Patañjali. Its study has come to be called Rāja Yoga, meaning the Royal Yoga. It is a teaching of yoga appropriate for a king (rājan) learned in scripture yet not a renunciate, such as that taught to King Janaka by Yājña-valkya in the Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad scripture and to Prince Arjuna by Lord Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad Gītā. We would think, then, that the commentaries and literature surrounding the Yoga Sūtras would be steeped in the scriptures of India – but that is not the case.

The earliest extant and most influential Sanskrit commentary (bhāṣya) is by a man named Vyāsa. He does not quote any scripture. Instead, he sprinkles in his commentary a few quotes from certain sages, culled mostly from the Mahā-Bhārata epic. The innumerable English translations and commentaries of these sūtras appear to only convey the spirituality, or lack thereof, of their many and varied authors. Even the scriptural leaning versions, such as the one by Bangali Baba (The Yogasutra of Patanjali: With the Commentary of Vyasa) and the one jointly by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood (How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali), sparingly connect the sūtras to specific scriptures. The effort here is to rectify this void.

There is also the purpose here to directly connect the many students and teachers of the Indian scriptures to the vast yoga community, and the yoga practitioners and teachers to the spiritual community.

Previously, the gulf between the two has been bridged only by the individual student or teacher on their own. Much of that effort has been through connecting a few of the topics in yoga to anecdotal stories of spiritual saints. Most of these stories revolve around the modern founders or practitioners of the teacher’s lineage. These stories are more of a devotee’s praise than a real grounding in a full yoga tradition dating back thousands of years.

The effort here is to formally bridge these two communities in all their myriad lineages with a common language and understanding. This is done through mapping the terminologies, sūtras (aphorisms), and topics of the Yoga Sūtras directly to the highly revered scriptures of India – namely, the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad Gītā.

As such, this text is helpful both to spiritual students seeking expanded and specific guidance, and to various teachers researching technical tools to bridge the apparent gap between yoga and the Indian scriptures.

Coming from the United States, a different culture from yoga’s flowering ground, I was carefully and artfully introduced to these scriptures in 1976 by Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati (Aug 15, 1930 to Sept 23, 2015). In India, I lived in the teacher’s family (guru-kula) with over sixty other students for two and a half years.

The classes were five a day, six days a week. We studied Sanskrit; chanting; meditation; the Bhagavad Gītā with Śaṅkara’s commentary; several introductory Vedānta texts, such as Tattva-Bodha and Ātma-Bodha; the Upaniṣad scriptures Kena, Praśna, Īśāvāsya, Muṇḍaka, and portions of Chāndogya and Bṛhad-āraṇyaka; plus the three Upaniṣads Kaṭha, Māṇḍūkya with Kārika, and Taittirīya complete with Śaṇkara’s commentaries. Finally, we studied the four initial Vedānta Sūtras with Śaṅkara’s commentary – called the Catur-Śruti. We each have continued to study these and other texts as needed after our course. Many such long and short term courses have been conducted by Swami Dayananda Saraswati and by his students.

For ten years starting at the beginning of 2000, I had created a five volume set of texts called The Aruna Sanskrit Language Series in addition of this work. The series, in a self-teaching format, unfolds the grammar of Sanskrit along with the Bhagavad Gītā. The series includes a grammar book and a lesson book, plus a dictionary, a translation, and a grammatical analysis of all the verses of the Bhagavad Gītā. Since then I have been creating a free browser enabled collection of over thirty Vedānta texts (including this text) plus several Sanskrit reference dictionaries in their original Sanskrit, simplified for interested beginning and advanced students.

But it is not these forty plus years that show in these pages. It is the thousands of years of continuous tradition that preserved and elaborated on this deep, scriptural teaching tradition.

Long ago I had first read the Yoga Sūtras translated with Vyāsa’s commentary by Bengali Baba. I did not then see how they could properly fit with Vedānta scripture. Much later I wanted to bring the yoga of Vedānta to a wider audience. I envisioned the Yoga Sūtras as an introductory vehicle.

Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati and Swami Tattvavidananda had recently given talks on sections of the Yoga Sūtras. Listening to them, I saw the possibility of a way to link the Yoga Sūtras to the yoga of Vedānta.

Still, there are many sūtras, including the section in chapter three dealing with yoga superpowers, that on first glance appear incompatible with Vedānta scripture. And what about the dualist philosophy so often associated with these sūtras?

Setting aside my doubts, I started from the sūtras’ beginning and, to my surprise I have to admit, found the way to reconcile each sūtra to Vedānta. In the process, I found the available traditional commentaries to be of little use. None of them made an adequate attempt to base the sūtras on scripture. In fact, they took them in a different direction towards a later developing dualist philosophy called Sāṅkhya.

Instead, I took the topics and individual words that Patañjali employed and quite easily found their source and contextual development in Vedānta scripture that preceded these sūtras. I was surprised at the ease of this process, since this had not been thoroughly attempted in print before, to my knowledge.

It is not easy to translate and comment on the Yoga Sūtras, while at the same time introduce and explain Vedānta scripture in one text. The reader has to bear with this apparent juggling process, but should quickly see the benefit. That benefit is not just understanding a traditional yoga text in a new way; it is seeing these Yoga Sūtras in a truly enlightening way as they were intended. It connects yoga back to its true beginning and purpose which the early seekers and saints embraced in their contemplations.

To convey this enlightening teaching to its current students, these sūtras are explained in clear contemporary language. The explanations are in keeping with our current culture and sciences – the same as was done in Patañjali’s time. As it was then, this work is presented as a current spiritual non-fiction meant for enlightenment.

I wish here to give adoration to my teacher, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who has faithfully passing on this knowledge-tradition, renewing and reinvigorating it into the 21st century. I also wish to thank John Warne for editing the initial draft of this work. John has studied Sanskrit and Vedānta, and has completed one of these long term courses. He corrected and questioned many of my expressions, as well as appropriately replaced or added many paragraphs where needed. Any faults or omissions in this text, though, are due to the rawness of my submitted material.

Yoga is popular in the West as physical exercise, a centering technique, and physical therapy. In India, though, it is much better known as a spiritual discipline that connects the individual with the divine.

As a spiritual discipline, it spans two popular traditions – Yoga and Vedānta.

Vedānta is a non-dualist tradition – the reality basis of everything including oneself is only one, not many. Its authority is the Upaniṣads (abbreviated in this commentary as Up.), Bhagavad Gītā (Bh. Gītā), and the Vedānta Sūtras. Within Vedānta, yoga (in this commentary, yoga without capitalization refers to a characterization of useful practices within Vedānta) is presented as karma-yoga and as jñāna-yoga. Karma-yoga means spiritual discipline related to life’s activities (karma). Jñāna-yoga relates to spiritual knowledge (jñāna) and its specific disciplines, such as the practice of renunciation, sannyāsa.

Yoga (in this commentary, Yoga with capitalization refers to the separate tradition or school of thought called Yoga) is a dualist tradition – there is no one reality basis of everything. Its authority includes these Yoga Sūtras. Yoga is presented as kriyā-yoga and samādhi. Kriyā-yoga is essentially the same as karma-yoga. Samādhi is the disciple of pursuing knowledge (jñāna) through contemplation. Here, samādhi may be pursued for scientific as well as spiritual knowledge. The differences in the world are real, so pursuing knowledge of these differences involves contemplating these subtle differences.

Although it will be argued here that there need be no essential separation between these two traditions, assuming the innate dualist understanding is preliminary to and can mature into a non-dual knowledge, an interesting twist has happened. The Yoga Sūtras, which are amenable to either tradition, have been subsumed by a pervasive early commentary that interprets the sūtras only through Sāṅkhya, a dualist scientific philosophy. This stops the disciplines in Yoga from further questioning the reasons one believes in differences being ultimately real. Limiting samādhi (contemplation) to reaffirming Sāṅkhya’s dualist perspective, this samādhi becomes disconnected from the samādhi championed in the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad Gītā that pursue knowledge to its ultimate conclusion in the one unifying reality of everything including oneself.

As a result, almost no one, even inside Vedānta, has since seen these Yoga Sūtras as easily being within the Vedānta tradition. These sūtras are taken as Sāṅkhya Yoga, instead of as Vedānta Yoga.

The reason for this is likely that Vedānta already has its own sūtras, the Vedānta Sūtras. Sūtras are typically written early within a tradition to outline and capture the essence of an oral tradition into writing. These succinct outlines are easily memorized and passed down through the various teaching lineages. Those sūtras help maintain the accurate continuity of their teaching traditions through succeeding generations. Each tradition has one set of sūtras to encapsulate its teaching. Vedānta has its Vedānta Sūtras, while Yoga lays claim to these Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Therefore, Vedānta does not need the Yoga Sūtras to be complete.

But Yoga needs Vedānta Yoga to really flower for the spiritual seeker. The commentary here will thus show that, when it comes to spiritual knowledge, it is much more meaningful to take the original Yoga Sūtras as Vedānta Yoga. This will be the more fulfilling approach to these sūtras for yoga spiritual seekers, who are the intended audience for this unique commentary.

The sāṅkhya and Sāṅkhya

It should first be noted that there is a difference between the Sanskrit word sāṅkhya and the name Sāṅkhya which applies to a particular philosophical doctrine. The word sāṅkhya (literally, related to reckoning or grouping, related to explaining – saṅkhyā) means enumeration or knowledge.

As knowledge, the term sāṅkhya is used in the epic Mahā-Bhārata and in the Bhagavad Gītā as the sacred knowledge handed down from the scriptures. In the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gītā, where Kṛṣṇa’s teaching starts (verses 2.11 through 38, said therein to be dealing with ‘sāṅkhya’) the quotations, paraphrases, and teachings are directly from the Upaniṣads. Hence, the rest of the mantras in those non-dual Upaniṣads, in particular the Kaṭha Up., cannot be disconnected from what is called sāṅkhya in the Bhagavad Gītā.

Another use of the word sāṅkhya found in the Mahā-Bhārata epic was for describing a teaching that employs a methodology (prakriyā) of enumerating components or aspects (tattvas) of the universe, including the nascent scientific thinking that was developing.

With regard to Vedānta, there are various teaching methodologies (prakriyās). First, there is the primary prakriyā of imposition-sublation (adhyāropa-apavāda). This prakriyā, meant for unfolding the non-duality unique to Advaita Vedānta, describes the entire universe, including what the individual thinks he or she is, as consisting of two or more categories of everything. It then dismisses these categories as being absolutely real.

This adhyāropa-apavāda prakriyā consists of two components – adhyāropa (imposition) of a duality enumeration of the universe and its apavāda (sublation). By sublation (or subration) is meant its dismissal as being absolutely real and its subordination to a broader, overarching truth.

Each of these two components is presented through one of several other prakriyās.

Adhyāropa (imposition) involves any of the prakriyās of seer-seen (dṛk-dṛśya), effect-cause (kārya-kāraṇa), three states of experience (avasthā-traya), the five embodiments (pañca-kośa), and so on. These prakriyās involve enumerating (sāṅkhya).

Apavāda (sublation) involves the prakriyā of negation (neti-neti), where the authority of the scripture is invoked by asserting, “It (the truth) is not this or that (enumeration).” It also involves the prakriyā of co-presence–co-absence (anvaya-vyatireka), where logic is employed to support the sublation claims.

We thus find the scriptures presenting the entire universe by enumerating the dualities of seer-seen, cause-effect, subtle-gross, and eater-eaten; the trio of the three worlds (heavens, atmosphere, and earth), three guṇas, three states of experiences (waking, dream, and deep sleep), and the three gross elements (red, white, and black, that is, fire, water, and earth in Chāndogya-Upaniṣad 6.4.5); the five elements (space, air, fire, water, and earth); the seven worlds, the seven tattvas or categories (objects, senses, mind, intellect, cosmic mind, unmanifest, and the puruṣa or cosmic person in Kaṭha-Upaniṣad 3.10-11); the fourteen worlds; etcetera. Any one of these presentations can be called a sāṅkhya.

The Yoga Sūtras through Sāṅkhya

With this scriptural background of employing enumerations to encompass the entire universe, many later philosophies and even science itself evolved. Indeed, the atheist philosophy called Sāṅkhya, which elaborated on the gross-subtle, guṇas, elements, and tattvas (principles) to explain the universe, was considered around the start of the first millennium in India to be the science of the universe. Many of the arts, such as medicine, and other traditions, such as Buddhism and Vedānta, adopted in part or whole Sāṅkhya’s explanations of, or at least its approach to, the science of things.

When this Yoga Sūtras text is interpreted from the background of the atheist philosophy of Sāṅkhya, it is taken as Sāṅkhya Yoga, an infusion of the theist tendencies of the majority of the Indian populous with the atheist philosophy and science of Sāṅkhya. This theist version of Sāṅkhya defines a world outlook through duality and the science of Sāṅkhya, while accepting a God as a separate, inactive participant in the world. Contemplation (samādhi) is the method to perfect this outlook in one’s life.

The Yoga Sūtras through sāṅkhya

In this commentary, we will instead take these same sūtras from the background of the theist scriptures – with their nascent science of enumeration (sāṅkhya) and their non-dual vision of everything, and with contemplation as its method to help assimilate this non-dual vision.

Vedānta, Sāṅkhya, and Yoga Sūtras

Vedānta non-dualism says that the basis of all reality is the one brahman (literally, the big and the reality, and often capitalized as if it is a name for reality). This reality is also indicated by the terms: Īśvara (literally, the ruler, and commonly meaning the Lord), puruṣa (literally, the one who pervades, and commonly meaning the Cosmic Person), or ātman (literally, the mover, pervader or devourer, and commonly meaning the self).

I, the ātman, am in fact the reality of the universe, not other than the Lord. The diverse universe, in fact, simply appears to exist within this singular reality. In this perspective all duality – all otherness and separation – is sub-rated as only existing as if and thus is not the absolute truth. This non-dualist perspective is uniquely Eastern.

Sāṅkhya dualism, on the other hand, claims that the basis of all reality is dual – more than one absolutely existing entity. The puruṣa is the reality of oneself, and there are countless puruṣas, with the Lord being one of them. Everything else is prakṛti or pradhāna (Nature). I, the puruṣa, am not any of the objects of the world. None of the objects and none of the other puruṣas are me. Duality – otherness and separation – is real. This dualist perspective is universally common, East and West, spiritual or not.

People in yoga love to read the Bhagavad Gītā for its sweeping non-dualist vision, whereas, they read the Yoga Sūtras, because, as its title suggests, it should be the philosophy of yoga. Some people gloss over the difference of non-duality from duality as not being important to them.

The majority of people, at least in the West, are by nurture dualist. They reconcile the non-dual Bhagavad Gītā to dualism by taking it as poetry, not as a spiritual science. Whereas, the people who wish to pursue non-dualism, consciously or not, reconcile for their spiritual needs the apparently dualist Yoga Sūtras to the Bhagavad Gītā by taking the sūtras to be aiming at an implicit mystical goal of non-duality – a samādhi in which differences temporarily disappear.

This commentary cuts through this felt dilemma – finally bringing yoga back home to its scriptural fountainhead, where the truth to be contemplated within yoga is clearly laid out and well reasoned, not mystical.

The Format

This commentary will connect over two hundred and fifty quotations from the Vedas, Upaniṣads, and the Bhagavad Gītā to these Yoga Sūtras. The student is encouraged to read the footnotes since these are where the quotations are given. The footnotes also serve to interconnect related Yoga Sūtras, so the text can be better understood as a consistent, integrated teaching, and not as a series of disconnected notions. If you do not investigate these footnotes and their quotations, half the purpose of this text will not be fulfilled.

These quotations are not meant to exhaust all the possible connections of these sūtras to the scriptures, but to help start this process for students and teachers. The student and the teacher are encouraged to investigate these quotations in their sources to see their contexts and surrounding teachings. Each quotation is always taken appropriately from its context.

The text is laid out in sūtra order. All the Yoga Sūtras are given. The original sūtra in Devanāgarī script is followed by its transliteration and English translation. Finally, within square brackets, is a word-for-word vocabulary, followed by a Sanskrit and English commentary as required.

The vocabulary is ordered the same as the English in the sūtra translation. This will make it easy to match the vocabulary with the translation. If the same word is repeated in the sūtra, the vocabulary will repeat it too. Except for the pronouns, typically, the uninflected forms of the vocabulary are shown, while the following sūtra translation will additionally show the inbuilt inflected syntax of the prepositions and other parts of speech required to expand the Sanskrit vocabulary into an English sentence. By stripping the inflection from the Sanskrit words of the sūtra, this section will display the words as true vocabulary items. Compound words are either shown together with hyphenation or, more often, separately as individual vocabulary items, depending on the transparency of the relationship between the component words of the compound. The translation of each vocabulary item is contextual within the sūtra and sometimes shows an adjective as a verb. There may be other parts of speech conversions as well, because of this adopted convention of exactly matching the vocabulary to how they are rendered in a flowing English sentence.

The following literal sūtra translation (and the vocabulary) is shown in bold font. Embedded in each sūtra translation (and some of the vocabulary) are additional words in non-bold font that explain or expand the sense of the sūtra, or connect the topic to other sūtras. After reading the entire translation, try reading just the bold words that are the bare words of the sūtra.

The footnotes (shown by hovering over the text with a pointer device, such as a mouse) containing the scriptural quotations are given in English, with their full Sanskrit provided immediately after each sūtra commentary. The Sanskrit of these quotations have most of their words separated (i.e., their sandhis broken) to perhaps help many who are new to Sanskrit Devanagari writing. Each of these quotations has been freshly translated by the author. To help understand these bare quotes within their scriptural context, the author has occasionally added contextual explanations in square brackets.

Following each sūtra is a vṛtti (clarifying commentary in Sanskrit) by A.K. Aruna. After that is the English commentary taken from the same author's book Patanjali Yoga Sutras: Translation and Commentary in the Light of Vedanta Scriptures available on Amazon and other online outlets. At the end of each sūtra are the footnotes in Sanskrit that are referenced in the commentary.

The transliteration of Sanskrit words is here in keeping with the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST) scheme (see Appendix: Alphabet), for example, sūtra, instead of sutra. Additionally, individual Sanskrit words are shown in the form one would find them in a Sanskrit dictionary, for example, ātman (आत्मन् for self), yogin (योगिन् for yogi), and draṣṭṛ (द्रष्टृ for seer), instead of their commonly found nominative inflected forms – ātmā, yogī, and draṣṭā, respectively. There is one exception, though. The Sanskrit word karman is shown as karma, because it is more a part of our international vocabulary.

For those teachers who wish to use this version of the Yoga Sūtras to give classes, a suggestion on groups of sūtras for specific topics is available (see Appendix: Courses).

At the end of these sūtras are various appendices:
Appendix - Index of Quotation Sources to Sūtra Citations to find where source texts are cited in these sūtras,
Appendix - Nature of the Mind to describe the nature of the mind in this teaching tradition,
Appendix - Suggested Steps in Contemplation to summarize a typical contemplation session in keeping with Patañjali,
Appendix - Suggested Sūtra Selections for Courses for teachers, and
Appendix - Alphabet to assist with pronunciation of Sanskrit words,

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[atha – now; anuśāsana – traditional teaching; yoga – the means.]

योग-सूत्राणां विषयः मूल-प्रमाणं च उक्ते – अथ आरम्भ-अर्थे, मङ्गल-अर्थे च अथ इति, योग-अनुशासनं योगस्य श्रुति-अनुरूप-आगम-प्रमाण-शासनम् (YS.1.7)॥ – [Vṛtti]

In the spiritual literature of India, the ultimate human goal is called mokṣa or kaivalya. This goal is freedom without any qualification, complete freedom in and of itself – encompassing everything in one’s universe in every way.

Every small goal in life finds its complete fulfillment in the attainment of this freedom alone. This goal is not tied to any cultural trappings or spiritual beliefs. It is as applicable to any self-conscious creature anywhere in the universe, as it is to everyone on Earth. To recognize this one goal as alone fulfilling all goals takes a certain maturity, but there is no extraordinary qualification to initiate the study of the means which prepares one for this ultimate human pursuit. Yoga is this preparation.

The first word, atha (now), of these sūtras indicates the beginning of the teaching of yoga. ‘Atha’ also traditionally carries with it a sense of auspiciousness by its mere sound, and is used at the beginning of many important undertakings to invoke a grace for completing the undertaking and for the undertaking to be widely beneficial.

Sūtra style texts, such as Patañjali’s, are by design meant to briefly present a summary of a topic that has an already existing body of literature, oral or written, in which the topic is elaborated. To unfold and understand such a condensed text as this we need to rely on a valid means of knowledge (pramāṇa) with regard to this text and this background literature (YS.1.7).

Intuition, a form of imagination (YS.1.9), is not a valid means of knowledge with which to unfold this text. Proper unfoldment instead requires a background in the literature of which this text is a summary and, at the very least, familiarity with the Sanskrit language. Interpretations based on imagination or extrapolations of other translations in languages distanced from the original Sanskrit will be just that – imaginations or even further abstractions from the original text. There are quite a few of these Western clones, with the author’s dash of inventiveness to capture its audience. Being exposed to and keeping in mind the contextual meaning and import of yoga, the student will quickly learn whether or not an author is going to be helpful.

Another approach with a long tradition that has been passed on through the most popular existing Sanskrit commentaries is to interpret these sūtras through a certain literature that came after them. That later literature was primarily the dualist Sāṅkhya work, called the Sāṅkhya-kārika, by Īśvara-kṛṣṇa. This philosophy is basically a mechanical dualism, not unlike the popular philosophies and theologies of today.

When one adopts this dualism as the basic philosophy underlying these sūtras, as was done in the most prominent commentary of this text by an author called Vyāsa (a common name in ancient India, as well as a word that means editor or compiler), then the inherent limitations and divisiveness of that dualist thinking will permeate these sūtras and may lead the student astray.

But what if the dualist thinking one has entertained since a child limits by its nature one’s quest for freedom? If one is still seeking a fully satisfying truth after all these years, why not question these dualist assumptions? If dualism is by its nature divisive and not amenable to a complete freedom, then how could these dualist assumptions allow a text that purports to direct a student to unfettered freedom succeed? What is suggested here is that a dualist approach to this text is unnecessary since there is a better approach which avoids this limited, misleading, and divisive interpretation.

This better approach is more firmly based in tradition and follows an earlier literature that is the authority on the nature of freedom (mokṣa). That earlier literature is also the first to mention yoga and present it as a means for this freedom. That literature is the sacred Upaniṣads that predate these sūtras by many hundreds to perhaps over a thousand years. Though it is more ancient than Sāṅkhya philosophy, it is more sophisticated and is quite new to most people interested in yoga. We will show how this approach to these sūtras, and to everything in your life, can be most enlightening.

The Upaniṣads clearly unfold a vision of a limitless reality, free of division. This vision pierces beyond cultures, environments, and histories. The Upaniṣad scripture is unlike the other scriptures of the world, because it is at once both a scripture and a science – a science of the nature of the spirit and the nature of the universe. It can then apply universally, as a science does, to all humankind – not just to a chosen, converted, or elite group. This science is different from the material sciences, since it is based on scripture (the report from someone who had realized its benefit) and the truth of one’s very nature. Though this spiritual science is not based on the senses, logic from sense perceptions, or doubt based experimentation – nor could it be – it is presented for peer review to the open minded in every society and every generation for the individual to benefit.

This scripture applies to the basic human condition of every individual, whether that person believes it or not, or thinks it otherwise or not. And it allows everyone else to believe or think as they will. The vision of these Upaniṣads, which is assumed here in these sūtras, was transmitted from generation to generation to be available to whoever can approach and assimilate it. No attempt to convert, coerce, or conquer for spreading the word is required. Its own benefit to those individuals who have assimilated it has and will sustain its teaching tradition.

Patañjali himself here indicates that there was this earlier body of literature from which he was summarizing this topic of yoga. The prefix ‘anu-’ in this initial sūtra is often used in the sense of anurūpe, meaning in conformity with. When applied to the term śāsana (teaching), it indicates that this will be the traditional teaching of yoga. This text is then meant to be in conformity with the prior traditional texts that deal with the topic of yoga and the topic of liberation, the goal of yoga.

The prior traditional texts we have available to us today are only the scriptures, in particular the Upaniṣads, that delve deeply into the topic of the nature of reality, as well as the popular literatures that help convey this teaching – called Purāṇas (legends) and Itihāsas (epics) about the lives and teachings of people who were called yogins. By far the most acclaimed teaching on yoga is within the Mahā-bhārata Itihāsa called the Bhagavad Gītā, which deals directly with yoga and its ultimate goal, liberation, as taught by the Lord incarnate, Śrī Kṛṣṇa.

If we keep such texts as the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad Gītā as our principle reference while unfolding this terse work of Patañjali, then we will know we are understanding Patañjali as he intended – according to the same tradition that was before him, or contemporaneous (perhaps, as imagined by some academics, in the case of the Bhagavad Gītā), but not after him.

When going through these sūtras, please read the commentary and the many footnotes, since they provide the direct connections of this work with the sacred tradition in which this work is to be reconciled.

[अथ इति ‘अथ इति अयम् अधिकार-अर्थः (=आरम्भ-अर्थः)’ इति (Vyāsa's Pātañjali Yoga Sūtra Bhāṣa 1.1)। अनुशासनम् इति ‘अ-विद्या-काम-कर्म-उपादान-हेतु-निवृत्तौ स्व-आत्मनि अवस्थानं मोक्षः इति’ इति (TaitU.UpodghātaBhāṣya); ‘सुखम् आत्यन्तिकं यत् तद् बुद्धि-ग्राह्यम् अतीन्द्रियम्। वेत्ति यत्र न च एव अयं स्थितः चलति तत्त्वतः॥ यं लब्ध्वा च अपरं लाभं मन्यते न अधिकं ततः। यस्मिन् स्थितः न दुःखेन गुरुणा अपि विचाल्यते॥ तं विद्याद् दुःख-संयोग-वियोगं योग-सञ्ज्ञितम्।’ इति (BhG.6.21–23); ‘स्वयं च आत्मा ब्रह्म। तद्-विज्ञानात् अ-विद्या-निवृत्तिः इति, अतः ब्रह्म-विद्या-अर्थ-उपनिषद् आरभ्यते। उपनिषद् इति विद्या उच्यते, तद्-सेविनां गर्भ-जन्म-जरा-आदि-निशातनात्, तद्-अवसादनात् वा, ब्रह्मणः उपनिगमयितृत्वात्; उपनिषण्णं वा अस्यां (विद्यायां) परं श्रेयः’ इति (TaitU.UpodghātaBhāṣya)॥]


[yoga – means; nirodha – mastery; vṛttis – thoughts; citta – mind.]

अथ योगस्य उपायः अधिकारी च उक्तौ – योगः नाम चित्त-अ-निरोधिनः चित्त-वृत्ति-निरोधः अन्तःकरण-प्रत्यय-रूपाणाम् अ-विद्या-क्लेश-मूल-नाशकः अस्मिता-आदि-क्लेश-कार्य-लयकः चित्त-प्रसाद-साधनेन प्रतिरोधकः च इत्थं-भूत-निरोधः॥ – [Vṛtti]

As a general definition of yoga it seems that the word nirodha is best rendered in its most general meaning, as mastery. Later in this text during the discussions on the final stages of yoga in which samādhi (contemplation) is discussed, the term nirodha is employed in a more specific technical sense as the culmination of samādhi. It is then best rendered in that context as assimilation or the dropping of ignorance and its various obstructions to freedom.

The ultimate goal of yoga is to know and be only the unafflicted reality (YS.1.24–25, 2.2–3, 3.49–50 & 54) that is the nature of oneself, the puruṣa (YS.1.3), the person at the core of one’s being (YS.1.29). For this ultimate goal, the immediate goal of yoga is gaining clarity of mind that can eventually assimilate the knowledge of the nature of oneself (YS.1.30–41 & 46–48). This involves sufficient mastery (nirodha) of the thoughts of the mind.

Here, mastery does not mean suppression, rather a cognitive alertness allowing the most appropriate and helpful thinking to arise. This manifests outside the seat of meditation as propriety in action, both mental and physical, based on a clearer ascertainment of what is unconditional freedom. It is the mastery that a mature and informed person would command in a situation, as opposed to that of an immature or uninformed person. And this mastery is not for managing the external situation, but for managing the mind so that it remains a helpful tool, particularly with regard to intelligently seeking one’s ultimate goal in life.

It must clearly be understood that mastery or discipline of the mind is not in any way subjugation or narrow confinement of the mind. That would be confusing physical discipline with mental discipline. The mind is naturally fleeting and fickle, and can jump across the universe in a split second. The mind cannot be contained like an unruly pet. Mental discipline instead is predominantly conceptual. The only restrictive aspect possible here is in making an informed choice to start and remain in this discipline of knowledge leading to the goal of yoga.

The word nirodha has the dictionary definitions of nāśa (destruction, disappearance), pralaya (resolution of an effect back into its material cause), and/or pratirodha (obstruction – mechanical or otherwise) (Śabda-Stoma-Mahānidhi: A Sanskrit Dictionary by Tārānātha Bhaṭṭāchārya). Hence, in regard to the final goal of yoga, final assimilation would be an appropriate rendering of nirodha, since that final assimilation is a combination of a destruction of an ignorance that binds and a resolution of the effects of that ignorance to their objective cause – both realized through knowledge that frees and its assimilation. However, to reach that goal, the preliminary steps to this assimilation within yoga involve mastery of the mind.

The mastery of the thoughts of the mind here in Patañjali’s yoga is willful direction, via repetition (abhyāsa) (YS.1.12), sitting (āsana) (YS.2.46), and breath control (prāṇāyāma) (YS.2.29). It is cognitive via trust (śraddhā) (YS.1.20), study (svādhyāya) (YS.2.1), contemplation (Īśvara-praṇidhāna) (YS.1.17, 23, 28 & 2.1), assimilation (samādhi) (YS.1.18, 2.3–4), and clear knowledge (prajñā) (YS.1.48, 2.3–4). The last of which, knowledge (prajñā), is the destruction (nāśa) of self-ignorance.

Mastery (nirodha) includes the ability to assimilate and stay on a particular thought or topic that does not hinder (a-kliṣṭa) the goal in yoga as well as the ability to counteract and refrain from a particular thought or topic that hinders (kliṣṭa) (YS.1.5). This includes the ability to resolve (pralaya) cognitively all objects and the mind into the non-dual silence of their reality basis, into oneself. This mastery is a total commitment to a beneficial (śreyas) life of yoga and avoidance of what may be pleasurable (preyas), but not beneficial.

An equally good rendering of the term nirodha in this context is discipline. It involves not just restraint from what is not helpful (by clearly seeing its unhelpfulness from start to finish), but also the pursuit of what is helpful. The ultimate goal of yoga will be further characterized as liberation (kaivalya) (2.23–27), which is also said to be simply self-knowledge (prajñā) (YS.1.48 & 4.26). In this way, the term discipline (anuśāsana) is appropriate to the final goal of yoga, since it indicates the need for the mind to follow a methodology, a means of knowledge (pramāṇa) (YS.1.7), to reach its goal.

As the mind is finally the one that has to discipline itself, then this is self-discipline. No one else can make you study, contemplate, and know. You have to choose to discipline your mind, you have to follow this discipline, and you have to complete this discipline. This is Patañjali’s yoga.

[योगः इति ‘तां योगम् इति मन्यन्ते स्थिराम् इन्द्रिय-धारणाम्’ इति (KathU.2.3.11); ‘प्रत्याहारः तथा, ध्यानं, प्राण-आयामः अथ, धारणा, तर्कः च एव समाधिः च षड्-अङ्गः योगः उच्यते’ इति (Amṛta-nāda Up. 6); ‘(मनसः) समत्वं योग उच्यते’ इति (BhG.2.48); ‘योगः कर्मसु कौशलम् (=कुशल-भावः, यथार्थता)’ इति (BhG.2.50); ‘दुःख-संयोग-वियोगं योग-सञ्ज्ञितम्’ इति (BhG.6.23); ‘चञ्चलं हि मनः कृष्ण प्रमाथि बलवद् दृढम्। तस्य अहं निग्रहं मन्ये वायोः इव सु-दुष्-करम्’ इति (BhG.6.34); ‘श्रेयः च प्रेयः च मनुष्यम् एतः तौ सम्परीत्य विविनक्ति धीरः। श्रेयः हि धीरः अभि प्रेयसः वृणीते प्रेयः मन्दः योग-क्षेमाद् (शरीर-आदि-उपचय-रक्षणात्) वृणीते’ इति (KathU.1.2.2)॥]


[tadā – then; draṣṭṛ – witness; avasthāna – remains; sva-rūpa – its own nature.]

अथ योगस्य प्रयोजनम् उक्तं – तदा योग-समाप्तौ, द्रष्टुः दृक्-साक्षि-रूप-परम-पुरुषस्य स्व-रूपे सत्-चित्-आनन्द-स्व-रूपे अवस्थानं कैवल्य-स्थानम् (YS.4.34)॥ – [Vṛtti]

It is critical to note that it is not said that the self goes or returns to some state it does not have now, or had earlier, or might have in the future. This success of yoga is not a becoming, or a return. It is simply remaining as oneself really is and always has been, without the mind’s confusion. We will be told that the mind’s confusion is a self-conception due to ignorance that is imposed upon the nature of the self, which the self does not and cannot have (YS.2.5). You do not have to become something you right now are not.

Clearly the body and the mind can be cleansed, but the belief that there is some cleansing process of the self that yoga achieves is nothing but further confusion about the nature of the self. The self is never sullied, and always is and will be free in every way. The goal of yoga is to eliminate or sublate the false self-conception and enjoy the essential nature of oneself.

What is the Essential Nature of Oneself

The self has the most essential nature of the being that witnesses all thoughts that make up the mind and thereby witnesses all objects of those thoughts. Any other nature the self may appear to have is subsidiary and related to the particular nature or content of these thoughts, or the character of the objects of these thoughts.

One may think one is a doctor or a janitor because of the knowledge and skills one has gained. One may think one is dull or smart because of the nature of one’s intellect. One may think one is sorrowful or happy because of the content of one’s emotive mind. One may think one is a man or a woman because of one’s body. One may think one is a husband or a wife because of the spouse. One may think one is a bachelor or a bachelorette because of the absence of a spouse. One may think one is an employer or an employee because of one’s activity. Whether employed, unemployed, unemployable, or retired, one may think one is rich, poor, or somewhere in-between, because of one’s possessions. One may think one is an American or an Indian, a Westerner or an Easterner, and so on, because of one’s geographic, political, social, or philosophical affiliations.

There is a body of literature that analyzes such claims with straight-forward reasoning that reveals a profound vision of the reality of oneself. What that vision is, and how this vision changes one’s understanding of oneself and one’s entire world will be shown in the next few pages. This vision encompasses every way one knows oneself and the world.

In every perception, every experience of the world, one’s self is there as the witness. One does not notice a difference between the witness through the eyes, the witness through the ears, or the witness through any of the other senses. Though the objects being witnessed and the senses differ, one’s self as the witness is not different.

I see. I hear. I taste. In each of these, there am I. I am not two different persons. Each is but me as the witness accommodating every sense perception.

Most times, I am not thinking of myself as a witness. The particular thought of myself as a witness of a perception is itself a thought that comes and goes. Thinking that I am a witness is only occasionally there, such as when I notice myself acting out of character. Whereas, I clearly am there as the witness in every perception, whether I have a thought about that witnessing or not. About this I have no doubt.

As it is for perception, so it is for any thought. For every thought in the mind I am the witness. Without seeing myself as witness, I witness one thought after another. It is not that I witness one thought and someone else witnesses the next thought. Clearly I am the only witness of my thoughts. Even if I am not thinking of myself as the witness of my thoughts, I have no doubt I am there as the witness of every thought.

What is the Ego

Thoughts about myself as a perceiver or as a thinker are occasional. They come and go. When such thoughts come they take the form of defining me as the one who is witnessing the current perception (of objects or emotions) or the current thought. This defining myself limits me in time with respect to such and such perception or thought. These thoughts are what this teaching calls the ego. The ego is not some entity haunting within me. It is simply any thought I have about myself. The ego (ahaṃ-kāra), in other words, is only a type of thought that occurs in the mind. When it is not there, I am not consciously defining, not limiting, myself to what is happening at any particular time.

This understanding of the ego is unique in that every other teaching presents the ego as some entity that is either the hero or villain in life. This is simply not the case. The ego is only a thought that occurs in the mind, like any other thought. When it occurs, I am its witness. When it does not occur, I am still the witness – the witness of the absence of an ego thought, whether as a non-ego thought or as the absence of any thought whatsoever.

Just as I witness each thought, I also witness their absence. At the time of their absence I am not, nor could I be, thinking of myself as the witness of the absence of thought. This would be an obvious contradiction. Nevertheless, I witness the absence of thought. This clearly must happen between every thought this mind entertains. This absence of thought may be for a micro second or hours. When for just a micro second, like the space between movie picture frames, the gaps go mainly unnoticed, yet, like the movie, they are still part of and characterize the experienced, the witnessed.

Extended periods of absence of thought happen each night I enjoy a good sleep. There is no ego thought occurring during this time, defining myself as being asleep, yet upon awakening I know I was asleep. When I am asked if I slept well, I do not need to consult anyone; I myself know if I did or did not. I was the witness of being asleep, even though no thought occurred during that time.

Myself as the witness is not something that comes and goes, whereas perceptions and thoughts do. My notions of myself as a doctor, janitor, smart, sorrowful, happy, married or not – these are thoughts that come and go and are ego thoughts that define me as one thing or another. These defining thoughts seem to limit myself to one status or condition, or another. But the truth is that no perception or thought can define or limit the very witness of them.

Ego thoughts could only truly define a witness if the objects of these thoughts were that witness. Objects of thought are limited to the form of the thought. They are within time and place, from a limited perspective, and couched in the language of the mind expressing as this particular thought.

But the real witness is not the object of an ego thought. It is the witness itself of an ego thought. It transcends, as it were, the ego thought, since it is ever the subject, while all types of thoughts and their absence come and go. As an object in the form of an ego thought, such an object can never be itself the witness I am. Any ego thought then can never truly define, never limit, me who is the witness of all perceptions, all thoughts, and all objects of thought.

The self-assessment that I need to get rid of the ego is itself another ego thought that defines the ego-me as a failure who has to improve, or whose ego thoughts have to go away. This makes little sense, since we need ego thoughts to survive in life. How would I know to feed this body unless I recognize I am the one who is hungry? If, without needing to change my language, I simply understand the expression “I am hungry” as meaning, in truth, “this body is hungry,” then what problem could such a thought be? We need these thoughts to transact in the world.

These ego thoughts, objectively understood, do not need to go away, nor would we want them to all go away. They do not limit me if they are objectively understood as meaning this body is such and such, or this thought is such and such. They do not really limit me if I, in fact, clearly know myself as not these perceptions or thoughts – I am not these objects, but instead am their witness.

How Can Logic Help

Now, how do I know that I am essentially the witness of everything and am not this particular body and mind being witnessed? If I am the latter then I am indeed limited. If I am both the witness and the latter, both this witness and this witnessed entity, then also I am indeed still limited in time and place. I would be the witness conditioned, and thus limited, by the witnessed. So, while it is clear from my perceptions and thinking that the witness is always there, what reason do I have to understand myself as only the witness and not the witnessed?

For this we need to apply correct logic toward our experiences to get at the essential nature of myself. We all have reasons for establishing what is real and what is not real. Those reasons may vary, but the actual establishing of reality itself finally amounts to simply attributing one thing as real and another as not real.

The initial criterion for reality may be stated as: We say one thing is not real and another is when we give up on the prior claim to reality and re-place that reality onto the other. This is essentially the same we do for truth also. That is why this teaching holds that truth and reality are essentially one and the same. Hence its word for reality, ‘satyam,’ is also its word for truth. Though the reasons for attributing the truth/reality of a thing may vary, the essential criterion for truth/reality is our attribution of truth/reality upon one thing or another. In other words, it is we who impute truth/reality to things, not that things intrinsically gain or lose some attribute called reality.

An example of this attribution of truth/reality is this teaching literature’s classic example of snake and rope. In twilight, with enough light to see something but not enough to see clearly, one sees what he or she thinks is a snake. Upon closer examination with trust in the help of another who sees clearly, this person discovers it was only a rope. Here, the snake’s claim to reality (notice that it is the person who gave this claim, not the snake) lasted until the person re-placed that reality upon the rope (neither did the rope make this claim). When the rope gained that claim to reality, it did not in fact do anything or intrinsically gain anything. The rope had not lost and then regained its own nature (sva-rūpa). This sva-rūpa (its own nature) always was there – relatively speaking, of course, since the rope was created in time and will decay into something else. Nevertheless, the person now knows that what is there is a rope and it always was a rope, but initially or temporarily the person thought it was a snake.

Another example of this attribution of truth/reality is how for millenniums people in the West thought the Earth was flat, until a thinker and scientist gave good reason to think that the Earth was round. Over time this new understanding became the truth, the reality, of the shape of the Earth for nearly all of us. It is not that the Earth became round; it always was round.

Like with the snake and rope, the facts did not change. Rather it was our cognitive understanding of the facts that changed. The effect is that the roundness of the Earth, which we now know existed before, exists now and will exist for some time in the future, outlasted the flatness of the Earth, which only existed before and was limited to only our thinking it to be so. Notice that the reality of a thing is only as good as the next good questioning of its claim to reality. If it survives that, then it lasts until the next, and so on. This has become the accepted position of our modern sciences in their careful referencing of claims of reality or truth in their theories.

But these two are either-or examples of claims to truth and reality. Much of life, though, is shades of gray, especially when categorizing the overall reality or truth of a situation or a thing. An extension, then, of this criterion of reality that provides for these shades of gray is: What outlasts or survives another, in terms of time or valuation of that time, is more real than the other. For example, a momentary spell of feeling satisfied is reduced in its overall truth or reality relative to the more pervasive spell of feeling unsatisfied. Therefore, thinking I am essentially unsatisfied is more likely than thinking I am essentially satisfied. That one is sometimes satisfied is true/real, but more often one seems to be unsatisfied. Both are equally real as experiences, but the more frequent one will prevail in one’s understanding of his or her overall life.

This is an example of one thing being more true/real in our thinking than another, though the other cannot be totally dismissed as not real in our thinking. In this author’s life, I am more a student of Vedānta (of the Upaniṣads and their analysis) than a janitor, which I was for a few years of my life. Because of this my life choices now are weighted, are valued, much more towards the perspective of a student of Vedānta than to that of a janitor. Of course one can be both, since they do not exclude each other, and indeed for a time I was both – meaning my livelihood involved both.

If we want to examine the final reality basis of things, though, rather than just the temporary forms of their reality, then we can adapt a corollary of the above criterion of reality. That corollary is: What a thing cannot give up is its essential reality, and what it can give up is not its essential reality. This corollary employs the well-known anvaya-vyatireka (co-presence–co-absence) logic. The anvaya (co-presence) is in whose – the reason’s (the hetu’s) – presence something – the fact to be discerned (the sādhya) – invariably occurs; vyatireka (co-absence) is in whose absence that something invariably does not occur. This logic for getting at the essential nature of something is commonly used by all of us and is the basis of experimentation.

For example, in trying to discern what is the problem with a computer, we proceed by removing a feature we previously installed and seeing if an unwanted, new symptom stops – this is the vyatireka (co-absence). Then we add back in that feature and see if the symptom returns – this is the anvaya (co-presence). This process informs us of what exactly is the nature of the problem with the computer, or at least which feature holds the problem. This logic is transparently used throughout the scripture, often through story telling, to discover the more subtle, that is, the most pervasive and hence basic, truth or reality of what looks like just a composite. The logic ferrets out the hierarchy of dependencies between seemingly equal composites.

It is this final corollary that we will use to analyze the above claims as to who or what is the essential truth of the self. This corollary handles not only black or white, real or not real, but also shades of being more or less real/true. That is, it allows the dismissal of the more and more subtle natures of a thing, until one reaches the intrinsic nature of a thing which cannot ever be given up without the thing itself being lost. This corollary is applied to get at the essential reality, the essential truth, of a thing.

Whatever can, in terms of out-lasting, be dismissed or devalued as not, or less, real/true cannot ever be a thing’s essential reality. What cannot ever be dismissed or devalued is, has been, and will be its essential reality. In other words, what is unreal can never be real (non-dismissible), nor can the real ever be unreal (dismissible).

How do I Know I am Simply the Witness

Now, the earlier question was: How do I know that I am essentially the witness of everything and am not this particular body, mind, and their activities being witnessed?

The claim that I am a doctor or janitor is only as true as the knowledge and skill that I have. This knowledge and skill set was acquired in time – before I did not have it, now I have it, and later when I retire and do not keep up with the knowledge and skills required I will lose it. Yet I am very much there before and after these acquirements and losses. I am more real than this knowledge and skill set. I can cease to be a doctor or janitor and I survive, but the doctor-me or janitor-me does not survive. The doctor-me or janitor-me are simply ego thoughts that come and go in life. The doctor-me, for example, disappears when I give attention to my wife. Then the husband-me occurs. The same process occurs for every other ego thought.

If I think I am dull or smart, then this claim is based on a relative scale that I adopt. In comparison to a child I may be smart; in comparison to a genius I may be dull. So if I am both these opposite claims at the same time, then I am absolutely neither of them. If I study, I will be smarter and less dull. If my mind is not used or degenerates in sickness, then I will be more dull and less smart. These claims wax and wane through out my life and my day, and depend upon with whom I am comparing myself. Dropping these claims of being more or less dull or smart, I remain. It’s the same for sorrowful and happy. These wax and wane, yet I survive either of them.

Nor am I the child, the young adult, or the geriatric. The child may be me. The young adult may be me. The geriatric may be me. But since they each were, are or will be me, then I cannot be any one of them. I exist before and after each of these metamorphoses. These metamorphoses of the body, like the metamorphoses of the mind, come and go. Again, I am simply their witness.

Life and Death

The gain of this body and its loss are also considered in this inquiry as something that comes and goes for the individual who precedes and survives these events.

An individual has his or her peculiar nature because of what that individual did before to earn this particular embodiment – this form, condition, or situation. What I do in this life will determine what I get later, after the loss of this body.

This before-life and after-life existence of the individual is a belief (a truth claim), but so are many of the claims, such as I am this body, which we are dismissing here as not being the real I. Much of what we think we know is simply beliefs. Most of the information we have is personally untested, unverified by us, and simply believed to be so. We base many of our beliefs upon having read or heard about them from family and friends, from teachers in school, from a science journal, a novel, a self-help book, a newspaper, television, the Internet, or water-cooler gossip.

Some people attempt to dismiss others’ beliefs to prop up their own. They resort to a generalization that the simpler explanation is more likely the truth. This is appealing to what is called Ockham’s razor, a principle of economy of explanation. I can simply dismiss someone else’s beliefs, such as a before-life and an after-life, as unreal if those beliefs look too complicated for me. In a self-defining system such as mathematics, this is effectively applied. It is rarely applicable, though, outside such artificial systems. It is not that the principle of simplicity is necessarily wrong; rather the application of the principle in regard to beliefs is often too simple-minded, if not prejudiced. Many times, and you can contemplate this yourself, a person appealing to this principle is not, in fact, taking into account the complexity or insufficiency of explanation of their assumptions behind their own beliefs.

If, for example, one thinks that only what can scientifically be proved is real, then their world of the real is so tiny that it becomes nearly meaningless. When have they ever scientifically proved, or even scientifically established that it is provable, what is love, friendship, happiness, the identity of their parents and their relations, most of history, all of their imagined future, and on and on. Their world of the real quickly shrinks to a few sense perceptions they have had that they also know could be interpreted in an unknowable amount of ways – yet they think they are explaining the real world, the world of science, the supposed world we all live in.

This is why simply labeling other beliefs as unreal and clinging to one’s own beliefs as real is not an ultimately satisfying criterion for determining what is real and what is unreal.

Rather than simply preaching opposing beliefs or resorting to generalizations, we should instead appeal to reason and inquiry to show that a particular belief is more or less realistic. However, with regard to the belief in the existence of an individual’s prior or future embodiment, it turns out that science or logic based on this life’s experience has no scope to prove or dismiss prior or future lives. Science cannot design an experiment to test the truth or untruth of the existence of prior and future lives. Such beliefs are about a subject matter that is outside of the stated scope of either science or reasoning to prove or disprove. Dismissing, in one’s own mind, one or more instances of a claim of a past life as a hoax is not equivalent to dismissing the possibility of past lives.

However, reasoning can dismiss the claim that I am the sum of or am any one of these embodiments – whether as a male or female, husband or wife, employer or employee, American or Indian, and so on – whether in the past, present, or future. The logic is that I survive these embodiments and take on other different embodiments. Before any one of these I was there, during I was there, and after I will be there, whether in this life, or any past or future life. And this logic applies whether one believes in a prior and after life, or not.

So if I am not any of these, then am I nothing? – No, I always was and am the witness of these adventitious acquirements, qualities, metamorphoses, and embodiments. If there are future embodiments I will be the witness of them too.

The 24/7 Reality

Even in detailed analysis, I am always the witness. When I look at just a twenty-four hour period in this life, I am continually the witness. I witness all I experience while awake. In dream also nothing escapes my witnessing, since that alone can be what my dream is. In deep sleep when the conscious mind stops functioning, I experience the absence of any thing and can later clearly proclaim that I was sound asleep without a dream. How else would I know that? So, deep sleep is also witnessed by me. This same witnessing of the absence of thought happens in moments of thoughtlessness, whether deliberate or not. In every moment of time I am the witness.

I witness their coming and going, so I cannot be these moment to moment thoughts and objects I witness. They dismiss themselves in dream and deep sleep every night. I need not do anything to get rid of them, since they give themselves up as possibly being my real nature every night, every moment. Even if I philosophize that I do not even exist, I am still there witnessing these philosophical, or religious, thoughts as they come and go. The same me, with and without these thoughts, is there before, during, and after every thought.

There is never a time I was not, nor will not be. This is the statement made by Lord Kṛṣṇa in the beginning of the Bhagavad Gītā. This was not a claim made because He is a special person, a reincarnation of the Lord. This was given as a teaching to Arjuna, his student, that this is the truth of Arjuna himself, the truth of the self – never was the self not, nor will it not be.

However, my self consciously being the witness is itself a relative claim as it is always in relation to what I am witnessing. When there is nothing to witness, such as during sleep, I am not claiming this existence as a witness. It is only later, upon re-awaking, that I can re-claim that existence as the witness of thought or of thoughtlessness. If there is, in fact, no second existent thing to witness, there can then be no witnessor-witnessing-witnessed relationship. So while being the witness is more true/real than any other claim, it is itself not the absolute.

If one were to make the better claim, then it would be that I am the reality that allows me to ever be the witnessor. ‘Being’ is not relational, whereas ‘witness’ is. I am the existence that witnesses all that can be witnessed. I am essentially existence itself that expresses as the witness of all.

We will see later that the claim of the existence of any thing is itself based on the fact of it being witnessed. I am the source of the attribution of existence to all I witness, in the same way as I am the source of the attribution of reality to the various claims I had of my relative existence as a doctor, janitor, and etcetera. I am the being, the witness, who attributes all of reality to my universe of experience. None of this universe of experience lies outside of the reality I attribute to them, I lend to them, so that they may shine within my awareness of them. Being the witness of these experiences, they fall within my awareness. Yet they, independently, cannot be my nature as they are but the witnessed, the seen (YS.2.21). Essentially, they are only the reality I lend to them.

Acknowledging the fact that all things shine within the existence I am is a non-erroneous lending of my existence to these objects of experience. But if I attribute to them a degree or level of reality, such as imaginary, practical, or absolute, that they do not merit, then this is an erroneous attribution of the object’s existence. Simply making such an error, though, does not necessarily afflict me. It will afflict me, however, if this erroneous attribution of reality makes me erroneously take myself to be inadequate, unworthy, and insecure as a consequence. This is because, as this teaching, that is, the scripture that forms the basis of this teaching, will unfold, I alone cannot but be all of this existence, this reality.

What is the Benefit

So what? What is the useful result of this inquiry? The benefit is knowing that all limitation, all that I do not want, everything that afflicts me, is something that is witnessed by me. Being more real than the limitations, I am not them. Any identification I have with these is sub-rated, (dismissed as less real) by this incontrovertible, unshakable knowledge that I am their witness. Any limitation is not me. What I do not want is not me. Any affliction I appear to have is not me. Any notion I have about myself is not me.

I am not even limited by other conscious beings, since these so-called other beings are just the bodies I see and the minds I encounter. I cannot and do not witness the witness that they are. The witness is the one reality that cannot admit a second. For every witnessed thing there are innumerable other witnessed things to limit it. For the witness alone that possibility of being limited is not there. In this way the literature that guides this inquiry unfolds this witness reality as the only reality, the one without a second that has always been just this only reality. This witness is reality itself without limit. It is not inside you – it is the essential you, you are this reality, and this reality cannot be without you. It is all that is real, because it is reality itself. All beings, all of time and space, are within the scope of this witness, this reality. This limitless reality, even if taken as the Lord, is not other than you. How could it be otherwise and still be limitless?

Once the knowledge of my real self as unlimited reality itself is fully assimilated, a freedom from limitation, from all afflictions is attained. And that freedom is more real than the bondage I thought I was subject to, since I always was, am, and will be free from these limitations and afflictions as ever being their witness, whereas the sense of bondage comes to an end. Freedom is another expression of the truth, the reality of myself.

So when someone wonders why you are trying to figure out who you are, thinking that this is something obvious and that you are wasting your time, then this small discussion may help you understand what this inquiry is.

Not that you need to convince others, though. If you think you need to convince others that you are right (or at least okay), then you have not fully understood this teaching. Nor could you, or can you, convince others if they have not started to question their own erroneous assumptions about themselves.

By the way, this is one of the reasons this teaching has been called the most secret of secrets. There can be no conversion of the multitudes. The truth is already everywhere available, 24/7, but few see it. That makes it the most secret of secrets. Seekers of this complete freedom have to come to discover this truth by correcting their vision, correcting their thinking. None can help the seeker, unless the seeker sincerely asks for help. But such seekers are few; most people simply struggle to survive in their short lifetime, clinging to a myriad of beliefs to console and comfort them in the struggle. That is what life is.

Until one does this inquiry, one only has a vague, unverifiable belief in who one thinks one is. This belief lasts only until the next good question, but most people avoid these questions and avoid those who bring up these questions. It is unsettling to be reminded that you do not really know who you really are.

Patañjali Indicates This Witness Reality

Patañjali only touches here on the nature of this reality – with just the one telling word draṣṭṛ (witness). Later he will also present this self as untouched by the afflictions of ignorance, the I-notion, attachment, aversion, and the fear of death (YS.1.24, 2.3, 10 & 4.30); pure perception or consciousness (YS.2.20 & 4.34); the one reality in which all else is the very same, as not other (YS.3.53 & 55); then again as time-less, pure and satisfied (YS.2.5); the presiding presence in and the witness of everything (YS.3.49–50); and finally as the immutable and the self-revealing (YS.4.18–19). This is the significant minimum to point out the exact nature of oneself and all of reality according to the vision of the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad Gītā. Patañjali assumes that one has been exposed to this teaching of the nature of reality, since that exposure (self-study, svādhyāya, YS.2.1) is the initial and essential step in yoga, and that one is now ready to contemplate upon it to help assimilate this knowledge in one’s life.

What Patañjali writes in these sūtras will then clearly follow from this background. Without this background, we end up with the less helpful translations and interpretations, replete with vague terminologies and mystical claims that fill yoga bookshelves. But now, with this understanding of what the inquiry is and what the topic of the contemplation should be, we can proceed as, we assume, Patañjali would have wanted us to proceed.

[द्रष्टुः इति ‘न दृष्टेः द्रष्टारं पश्येः।…एषः ते आत्मा सर्व-अन्तरः अतः अन्यद् आर्तं (=विनाशि)’ इति (BrhU.3.4.2); ‘सलिलः (=स्वच्छीभूतः सलिलः इव) एकः द्रष्टा अ-द्वैतः भवति, एषः ब्रह्म-लोकः सम्राट्’ इति (BrhU.4.3.32)। स्व-रूपे अवस्थानम् इति ‘जाग्रत्-स्वप्न-सुषुप्ति-आदि-प्रपञ्चं यद् प्रकासते। तद् ब्रह्म अहम् इति ज्ञात्वा सर्व-बन्धैः प्रमुच्यते॥ त्रिष् धामसु यद् भोग्यं भोक्ता भोगः च यद् भवेत्। तेभ्यः वि-लक्षणः साक्षी चिन्मात्रः अहं सदा शिवः’ इति (KaivU.1.17–8); ‘सत्यं वद। धर्मं चर’ इति (TaitU.1.11.1); ‘सत्यं च अन्-ऋतं च सत्यम् अभवत्। यद् इदं किञ्च। तत् सत्यम् इति आचक्षते’ इति (TaitU.2.6.1); ‘भगवन्, कति एव देवाः प्रजां विधारयन्ते, कतरे एतत् प्रकाशयन्ते, कः पुनः एषां वरिष्ठः इति॥ तस्मै सः ह उवाच। आकाशः ह वै एषः देवः वायुः अग्निः आपः पृथिवी वाक् मनः चक्षुः श्रोत्रं च। ते प्रकाश्य अभिवदन्ति वयम् एतद् बाणम् अवष्टभ्य विधारयामः॥ तान् वरिष्ठः प्राणः उवाच। मा मोहम् आपद्यथ, अहम् एव एतत् पञ्चधा आत्मानं प्रविभज्य एतद् बाणम् अवष्टभ्य विधारयामि इति, ते अ-श्रद्दधानाः बभूवुः॥ सः अभिमानात् ऊर्ध्वम् उत्क्रामते इव, तस्मिन् उत्क्रामति अथ इतरे सर्वे एव उत्क्रामन्ते, तस्मिन् च प्रतिष्ठमाने सर्वे एव प्रातिष्ठन्ते। तद् यथा मक्षिकाः मधुकर-राजानम् उत्क्रामन्तं सर्वाः एव उत्क्रामन्ते, तस्मिन् च प्रतिष्ठमाने सर्वाः एव प्रातिष्ठन्ते, एवं वाक् मनः चक्षुः श्रोत्रं च ते प्रीताः प्राणं स्तुन्वन्ति’ इति (PrasU.2.1–4); ‘(अ-सतः) आगम-अपायिनः अनित्याः॥…न अ-सतः विद्यते भावः न अ-भावः विद्यते सतः’ इति (BhG.2.14 & 16); ‘वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरः अपराणि। तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णानि अन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही’ इति (BhG.2.22); ‘अस्तम् इते आदित्ये याज्ञवल्क्य, चन्द्रमसि अस्तम् इते, शान्ते अग्नौ, शान्तायां वाचि किं ज्योतिः एव अयं पुरुषः इति – आत्मा एव अस्य ज्योतिः भवति इति, आत्मना एव इयं ज्योतिषा आस्ते पल्ययते (=परि-अयते) कर्म कुरुते विपल्येति (=विपरि-एति)’ इति (BrhU.4.3.6); ‘यद् द्वै तद् न पश्यति पश्यन् वै तद् न पश्यति, न हि द्रष्टुः दृष्टेः विपरिलोपः विद्यते अ-विनाशित्वात्। न तु तद् द्वितीयम् अस्ति ततः अन्यद् विभक्तं यद् पश्येत्’ इति (BrhU.4.3.23); ‘न तु एव अहं जातु न आसं न त्वं न इमे जन-अधिपाः। न च एव न भविष्यामः सर्वे वयम् अतः परम्’ इति (BhG.2.12); ‘यत्र हि द्वैतम् इव भवति तद् इतर: इतरं जिघ्रति, तद् इतरः इतरं पश्यति, तद् इतर: इतरं शृणोति, तद् इतर: इतरम् अभिवदति, तद् इतर: इतरं मनुते, तद् इतरः इतरं विजानाति। यत्र वा अस्य सर्वम् आत्मा एव अभूत् तत् केन कं जिघ्रेत्, तत् केन कं पश्येत्, तत् केन कं शृणुयात्, तत् केन कम् अभिवदेत्, तत् केन कं मन्वीत, तत् केन कं विजानीयात्। येन इदं सर्वं विजानाति तं केन विजानीयात्। विज्ञातारम् अरे केन विजानीयात्’ इति (BrhU.2.4.14); ‘मयि एव सकलं जातं मयि सर्वं प्रतिष्ठितम्। मयि सर्वं लयं याति तद् ब्रह्म अ-द्वयम् अस्मि अहम्’ इति (KaivU.1.19); ‘एषः सर्वेषु भूतेषु गूढः आत्मा न प्रकाशते’ इति (KathU.1.3.12); ‘सद् एव सोम्य इदम् अग्रे आसीत् एकम् एव अ-द्वितीयम्’ इति (ChanU.6.2.1); ‘अ-विनाशि तु तद् विद्धि येन सर्वम् इदं ततम्। विनाशम् अव्ययस्य अस्य न कश्चित् कर्तुम् अर्हति’ इति (BhG.2.17)॥]


[itaratra – on the other hand; sā-rūpya – has the same form; vṛttis – thoughts.]

अथ योगस्य प्रतिबन्धक-मूलम् उक्तं – द्रष्टुः वृत्ति-सा-रूप्यम् अन्तःकरण-धर्म-सम-रूपता इति पुरुष-स्व-रूप-अ-ज्ञानी कल्पते (YS.2.5) इतरत्र आ तस्मात् स्व-रूपे अवस्थानात्॥ – [Vṛtti]

This, which we will see in the second chapter, is the fundamental ignorance in the form of a mutual imposing of natures between the seer and the seen, the witness and the witnessed. This is a clear statement of the fundamental problem.

It is not the problem that thoughts (vṛttis) appear, but that one assumes the same form (sā-rūpya) of these thoughts: “I am a doctor,” “I am upset,” “I am not satisfied,” and so on. This mis-identification means the thoughts control and define the person, instead of the other way around.

It will be shown later that simply mechanically stopping thoughts will not keep them from coming back (YS.1.18). So the goal of yoga is not stopping thoughts, as many think it is. If simply stopping thought is yoga, then a sleep, drugs, or coma is instant yoga. This is why Patañjali next goes on to describe the nature and quality of thoughts, and which to pursue and which to avoid, since it is not that you think, which we all – whether a great yogin or not – obviously do in our own ways, but how you think that is the problem addressed by yoga.

Another meaning for itaratra is at other times. But this would convey the sense that the yogin resides in the seer sometimes and is identified with thoughts at other times. This sense of the word only weakens the earlier sūtra to merely indicating an intermediate stage of on again off again experience of meditative peace in the self. This mediocre expression of the goal of yoga would not have been the intent of Patañjali at the defining start of this text.

वृत्ति-सा-रूप्यम् इति ‘चित्तम् एव हि संसारः तद् प्रयत्नेन शोधतेत्। यद्-चित्तः तद्-मयः भवति गुह्यम् एतद् सनातनम्’ इति (Maitrāyaṇī Up. 1.9)॥


[vṛttis – thoughts; pañcataya – of five types; kliṣṭa – hinder; a-kliṣṭa – do not hinder.]

योगस्य प्रधान-साधन-क्षेत्रम् उक्तं – मनसः पञ्चतय्यः वृत्तयः सामान्यतः अन्तःकरण-धी-रूपाणि (YS.1.6) योगस्य क्लिष्ट-अक्लिष्टाः अपकारिणः उपकारिणः वा योग-साधन-योग्यतः॥ – [Vṛtti]

The word kliṣṭa, as well as its negative a-kliṣṭa, is an adjectival form of the noun kleśa (affliction). Kliṣṭa refers to those thoughts that sustain the kleśas, while a-kliṣṭa refers to those thoughts that counter-act the kleśas. And to be free of the kleśas, the final goal of yoga, is to be the perfect puruṣa (person, self), the very nature of the Lord (YS.1.24–25, 2.2–3, 3.49–50, 54 & 4.30).

In this context, with reference to the goal of yoga, we are defining kliṣṭa as what hinders one’s progress in yoga, rather than the dictionary meanings as afflicted or painful. Those definitions miss the intent of this section which is to present thoughts as either helpful or not towards the goal of yoga. It is a mistake to say that some thoughts may be painful (kliṣṭa) and thus they should all be removed. That interpretation is based on duality and a fear of thoughts, of thinking. Mind is not your enemy in yoga; it is your tool and friend.

A-kliṣṭa, in its fullest understanding, thus means what is other than what hinders one’s progress in yoga. However, it may also mean what is neutral – neither hindering nor helpful. Much of how we live life is neutral to our conscious goals in life, and this can be part of our aimless getting along in life without making any progress. But here, it will be shown that karma-yoga is very much a part of yoga (YS.2.1). Thus, how one understands the entire world, how one understands oneself, and how one bases all choices in life become centered on one’s understanding of realities, which is the crux of this teaching. In that all-embracing world view including everything in everyway (YS.3.54), neutrality – ineffective action and thought – becomes less and less. A-kliṣṭa then becomes a matter of living entirely the understanding born of this teaching, and therefore means that which is always helpful in one’s progress in yoga.

This distinction, then, between kliṣṭa and a-kliṣṭa is central to citta-vṛtti-nirodha (mastery or discipline in thinking). And this is more to the point of nirodha than is nir-vikalpa-samādhi which will be discussed later, and which is simply an unavoidable result of this discipline. This sūtra is often glossed over by the commentators and translators of these sūtras, and not clearly connected as it should be to the preceding sūtras (where the goal and the problem are stated) and following sūtras (where the means are stated).


[pramāṇa – knowledge; viparyaya – error; vikalpa – imagination; nidrā – sleep; smṛti – memory.]

वृत्तयः प्रमाण-विपर्यय-विकल्प-निद्रा-स्मृतयः॥ – [Vṛtti]

These five can be taken as just five categories of thought that Patañjali wants to highlight, while not covering all possible types of thought. Alternatively, as we will take them here, they may be taken broadly so that they do cover all possible thoughts.

As broad categories of all thought, then, any thought that is factually connected to and is about a stimulus would be knowledge. For example, an emotion, which is a perception of a mental state (the stimulus), would be included in knowledge (pramāṇa). If a thought has no connection to a stimulus, it would be an imagination. But if that imagination is then taken as factually connecting to some stimulus, then that imagination would instead be an error. If there was no conscious thought of any stimulus at a given time, then a non-conscious experiential thought that this factually occurred would be later consciously recalled as having been sleep. If none of the above strictly applies, then it would be a thought about one of those first four types of thought. This would be what we call a memory. We do not directly remember stimuli. Instead, we only recollect right now a past experience (thought) – whether the experience is about a stimulus factually, imaginatively, or falsely, or it is about the lack of a stimulus.


[pramāṇa – knowledge; pratyakṣa – direct knowledge; anumāna – indirect knowledge; āgama – scripture.]

प्रत्यक्ष-अनुमान-आगमाः ‘अयं घटः’ इति-आदि-स्थूल-विषयस्य इन्द्रिय-जन्य-प्रत्यक्षं ‘मनः सुखि’ इति-आदि-चित्त-धर्म-सूक्ष्म-विषयस्य साक्षि-प्रत्यक्षं च प्रथम-प्रमाणं, परस्-अक्ष-लौकिक-विषयानाम् ‘अयं धूमवान्’ इति-प्रत्यक्ष-जनक-लिङ्गेन ‘अयं पर्वतः वह्णिमान्’ इति-अनुमानम् उपमान-अर्थ-आपत्ति-अन्-उपलब्धि-सहितं च द्वितीय-प्रमाणं, ब्रह्म-आत्म-ऐक्य-देव-स्वर्ग-पुण्य-आदि-प्रत्यक्ष-अनुमान-अ-विषयाणां श्रुति-शब्दः श्रुति-अनुवादः च तृतीय-प्रमाणं प्रमाणानि त्रि-प्रकार-प्रमा-करण-वृत्तयः नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]

Pramāṇa means knowledge or, more literally, a means of knowledge. Direct perception by way of any of the five sense organs (hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, or smelling) and valid inference, by themselves, do not hinder one’s progress. Scripture understood in its full context, as well as direct perception and inference in support of the scripture, help one’s progress in yoga.

Later philosophers, including some philosophically minded Vedāntins, technically distinguish from this broad term of anumāna (inference) three more means of knowledge: upamāna (comparison), for example, upon seeing a wild ox in the forest, there arises the knowledge, “this is like a cow”; arthāpatti (presumption), for example, this person remains hefty but is not seen to eat during the day, so there arises the knowledge, “this person must eat at night”; and anupalabdhi (non-perception), for example, on a well lit ground, because of not seeing a pot, there arises the knowledge, “a pot is not there.” These extra technical distinctions in logic are simply included here in Patañjali’s use of the word anumāna (inference). Śaṅkara in his authoritative commentaries on the major Upaniṣads routinely lists just the three means of knowledge, as found here in this sūtra.

In regard to the final means of knowledge, latter day philosophers of India have stretched āgama beyond the scriptures to mean any knowledge that comes from verbal testimony. This is an unreliable extrapolation of this essential means of knowledge. The classic definition of an independent means of knowledge is that it is both not contradicted (a-bādhita) by another means of knowledge and not gained (an-adhigata) by another means of knowledge. With these two criteria, simple verbal testimony from a person does not stand up as a means of knowledge.

First, what someone tells you is often contradicted later. Also what someone tells you can be just as well known to you directly either by perception or by your own inference of the object this person is talking about. Then again, what was the source of that person’s knowledge they are relaying to you? That source was likely either their perceptions or their inferences, but perhaps it was also imagination or error. So the truth of their words is only the truth of those other two means of knowledge, nothing more. If the person is knowledgeably relaying the scripture to you, then that is the passing along of the āgama (scripture, tradition).

When you hear someone say something, you directly gain knowledge of that person’s words. This is a direct perception through hearing. As with seeing, our knowledge through hearing is in the thought-form of words, for example, “this person is saying this…”. From that perceptual knowledge you may have anywhere from a strong belief to a strong disbelief in regard to what you think those words are referring. The result is this verbal testimony has the added aspect of inference. That is, since this person has always relayed true statements to me before, I accept what I believe this person is saying now. If the person had lied to me before, I may not take what I believe this person is saying as true. The person is giving verbal testimony to me in either case, so the only difference is my assumptions and inferences about that person. In other words, inference plays too crucial a role here to accept simple verbal testimony as an independent means of valid knowledge.

If Patañjali really meant simple verbal testimony here, then he could have used the much more generic term śabda, or śabda-jñāna, (words or verbal-knowledge). Instead, he uses the term āgama which literally means what comes, and in practical usage usually means tradition or scripture – what has been handed down from beginningless time and is not considered authored, not created new by a specific human being. Knowledge from scripture is neither contradicted nor gained by any other source.

The other scriptures of the world are admittedly written by men and deal mainly with specific events, dreams, or visions that were perceptual or could be as well inferred. They have a history and a date of creation, even though they may be considered inspired by God. They can easily be seen as borrowing inspiration and expressions from each other and from other indigenous traditions that have not survived intact. Many of these scriptures are stories that include moral guidance. Whereas, the scriptures this text relates to are metaphysical teachings, not otherwise knowable.

The āgamas are these scriptures, the Vedas including their Upaniṣads, but also are the later Purāṇas (legends) and Iti-hāsas (epics) that relay the scriptural teachings in a popular format for all the people of India. But those later texts’ (which are also called Smṛti, because they are ‘remembered’ and passed down) authority is only so much as they do not contradict the scriptures, especially concerning the topics of these Yoga Sūtras, namely, the nature of the self (ātman, draṣṭṛ), the Lord (Īśvara), and the teaching (jñāna) including yoga. To represent the Purāṇas and Iti-hāsas, the Bhagavad Gītā has been chosen because it is specifically held in the highest esteem regarding the teaching of the Lord and of yoga. The many quotations in this book are from the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad Gītā.

The glossing over of āgama pramāṇa (means of knowledge) to mean simple verbal testimony may imply or assert that whatever any yoga teacher says is to be taken as the gospel – because they said it. This is just uncritical thinking and can steal your life away. Always be careful of those who say, “Just trust me.”

We instead believe that Patañjali wished to explicitly establish from the start of these sūtras the prāmāṇya (validity) of the scripture, which is the critical authority with regard to kaivalya (liberation), the knowledge of the self, and what is its helpful means (yoga).

What in the scripture is a means of knowledge then? When the scripture in this tradition talks about heaven, the existence and nature of heaven cannot be contradicted (in this life) by direct perception and thus by inference, nor gained by those other two means of knowledge. Yoga perception of subtle things, such as heaven, is, for others, the yogin’s verbal testimony, or, in any case, is not a common means of knowledge. If it is believed, it would fall under direct perception of the yogin. If it clearly contradicts scripture, it would be taken in this tradition as mistaken. If it is in keeping with the scripture, it is a restatement of the scripture.

When this scripture talks about dharma (universal order) it does not present it as a set of moral mandates writ large in stone or divine dreams. The scripture unfolds dharma as a universal law and a psychological principle operating in the universe by way of a mechanism, called karma. Karma connects causes, such as a past action, to their effects, though a passage of time may intervene. This is a teaching of realities, not a thou shalt. We perceive the effects of karma, but only a scripture can authoritatively present the subtle reality behind the perception. In this way, this scripture is uniquely presented as a means of knowledge for gaining understanding of subtle truths essential for human maturity, not something to be blindly, unquestioningly believed or followed.

This scripture is viewed as a manual of knowledge that comes along in every cycle of manifestation of the universe. It comes with the universe and is thus not originally authored by any human, but is only naturally re-revealed in each creation cycle through sages, whose teachings were orally preserved until written down in recent times. Being viewed as not coming from a particular person or persons, but rather from the Lord, then trust can be more easily given. This scripture could not be for the profit of some person or institution. Nor would it only be from some person’s perspective and information, where it could become irrelevant or outdated. Being directly from the timeless Lord, these preserved teachings are not taken as simple verbal testimony.

When the scripture talks about rivers, cities, plants, flying machines, math techniques, and other types of topics, it has no exclusive prāmāṇya (validity), since these may as well be ascertained through perception and inference by those people in those times, and in our generation through perception and inference via geology, archeology, paleontology, or the other sciences. These are not what are being pointed out as the knowledge being conveyed by the scripture. But being a part of the scripture, these types of statement are simply taken as true, and beneficial in some way to someone.

If the scripture said “fire is cold,” that statement would, on the face of it, be wrong because it contradicts our perception. In taking the scripture as true (otherwise called śraddhā, trust), then one would look for another meaning for such statements within their context that would not contradict perception and logic.

The āgama (scripture) thus only has validity in those statements about what would not be contradicted by another means of knowledge and not be otherwise gained by direct perception or by inference. That is why it stands on its own as a separate, independent means of knowledge, and why it forms the third pramāṇa. It remains a valid means of knowledge, no matter the expanse of the frontiers of mankind’s sciences. It can never become ill-relevant or replaced.

One comes to look at scripture intelligently – not blindly. This is well laid out in the ancient science of scriptural analysis, called mīmāṃsā. The mīmāṃsā of the Upaniṣads (Uttara-mīmāṃsā), the science of the Upaniṣad scriptures, is otherwise known as Vedānta, and yoga is the preparation for assimilating this Vedānta, according to the Kaivalya Upaniṣad.

The ultimate knowledge taught in the scripture is the one that finally frees the individual from saṃsāra (the unbecoming life of becoming). The preparation of the mind so that it can quickly assimilate this freeing knowledge is called yoga.

आगमाः इति ‘…वै, सम्राट्, पश्यन्तम् आहुः – अद्राक्षीः त्वं हस्तिनम् इति, सः चेत् अद्राक्षम् इति आह, तत् सत्यम् एव भवति; यः तु अन्यः ब्रूयात् – अहम् अश्रौषम् इति, तद् व्यभिचरति; यत् तु चक्षुषा दृष्टं तत् अव्यभिचारित्वात् सत्यम् एव भवति’ इति (BrhU.4.1.4 Bhāṣyam, also BrhUEng.5.14.4 Mūlam); ‘प्रत्यक्षं श्रुतिः, प्रामाण्यं प्रत्यनपेक्षत्वात्; अनुमानं स्मृतिः, प्रामाण्यं प्रति सापेक्षत्वात्’ इति (BrS.1.3.28 Śāṅkara-Bhāṣyam); ‘प्रजा-पतिः लोकान् अभ्यतपत् तेषां तप्यमानानां रसान् प्रावृहद् अग्निं पृथिव्याः वायुम् अन्तरिक्षाद् आदित्यं दिवः॥ सः एताः तिस्रो देवताः अभ्यतपत् तासां तप्यमानानां रसान् प्रावृहद् अग्नेः ऋचो वायोः यजूंषि सामानि आदित्यात्’ इति (ChanU.4.17.1–2); ‘एक-एकं जालं बहुधा विकुर्वन् अस्मिन् क्षेत्रे संहरति एषः देवः। भूयः सृष्ट्वा पतयः (=प्रजा-पतयः) तथा ईशः सर्व-आधि-पत्यं कुरुते महा-आत्मा’ इति (SvetU.5.3); ‘न कर्मणा न प्रजया धनेन त्यागेन एके अ-मृतत्वम् आनशुः। परेण नाकं निहितं गुहायां विभ्राजते यद् यतयः विशन्ति॥ वेदान्त-विज्ञान-सुनिश्चित-अर्थाः सन्न्यास-योगात् यतयः शुद्ध-सत्त्वाः। ते ब्रह्म-लोकेषु परान्त-काले परामृताः परिमुच्यन्ति सर्वे’ इति (KaivU.1.3–4); ‘न हि ज्ञानेन स-दृशं पवित्रम् इह विद्यते। तत् स्वयं योग-संसिद्धः कालेन आत्मनि विन्दति’ इति (BhG.4.38)॥


[viparyaya – error; mithyā-jñāna – false conclusion; a-tad-rūpa-pratiṣṭha – not based on the actual form of its object.]

विपर्ययः नाम मिथ्या-ज्ञानम् अन्यथा अवगमनं, स्व-रूप-अ-विवेकतः शुक्तिकायां रजत-प्रातिभासिक-ज्ञानवत्, मृदि घटत्व-व्यावहारिक-ज्ञानवत् वा अ-तद्-रूप-प्रतिष्ठं यद्-वर्तमान-रूपं, तद्-रूपे न आश्रितं ज्ञानं च॥ – [Vṛtti]

Mithyā-jñāna literally means falsely-knowing. For example, an error in perception would be thinking a rope in bad light is a snake. An error in assumption or inference would be one that does not amount to valid indirect knowledge. An error regarding what is not available for perception and thus inference would be, for example, thinking that one’s self is just this body-mind complex. Error is not knowing the actual nature of whatever is the subject matter of the cognition and then imposing one’s imagination upon it, thinking that this is its real nature.

Error hinders progress in yoga, so it is kliṣṭa, though we may learn from our mistakes. If that learning takes place, then that learning would be due to one of the pramāṇas. It would be about what is learned, not the mistake. If the mistake is learned, then that would just be repeating it.

विपर्ययः इति ‘दूरम् एते विपरीते विषूची अ-विद्या या च विद्या इति ज्ञाता’ इति (KathU.1.2.4)॥


[vikalpa – imagination; anupātin – based; śabda-jñāna – verbal knowledge; śūnya – lacks; vastu – object.]

शब्द-ज्ञान-अनुपाती वचन-ज्ञान-अनुरूपी वचन-ज्ञान-आलम्बनः वा केवलं वस्तु-शून्यः अ-वर्तमान-विषयी विकल्पः नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]

Imagination is any belief or statement that amounts to only the meanings of the words it is couched in and does not actually attain its intended object. For example, “The self (has a measure which) is infinite” is an imagination, instead of the correct, “The self has no measure,” because the mind cannot attain an actual conception of an infinite measure.

We use imagination to educate as well as entertain, such as in mythical or fictional stories, and imagination can be a part of scriptural upāsanas (meditations). As long as one understands the intended purport of these statements and does not blindly assume the validity of the literal details, these do not hinder progress in yoga and can even help.

Imagination is also technically present in much of what we believe (YS.1.42), especially regarding what is subtle. But, regarding subtle matters that must be understood instead of believed, imagination hinders progress in yoga. It is also why in this study we have to go beyond the words, which can as well add imaginations about oneself based on their literal meanings, instead of enlighten us, instead of resolving their meaning in the truth of oneself as their implied meaning.

In the above example, “The self is infinite” only amounts to a mere concept in my mind about infinity, simply a thought, that I then equate with myself. This only expresses that I am some thought in my mind, which itself misses its target by an infinite measure. Whereas, “The self has no measure” is a negation of any limit that my mind can think of as being applicable to myself. This removes erroneous concepts I have about myself, such as I am just this body or this thought in my mind.

Similarly, statements such as “I am all knowledge” make sense when taken to mean I am the reality that is the effortless witnessing that lights up all thoughts in this and every mind. Whereas, an imagination of this would be thinking that I (this mind) should know in detail everything in the universe. Such imaginations are frequently seen in current yoga literature. Our self-conceptions should be in line with reality.

Imagination (vikalpa), when given a status of reality, becomes error (viparyaya). Hence error (viparyaya) is sometimes called imagination (vikalpa), because error has both ignorance and imagination as its basis. It is a covering of the fact (the ignorance) and then projecting, superimposing, something else in its place (the imagination). Imagination with ignorance is hindering, since it limits one’s progress in clear understanding of realities. Imagination with knowledge is at worst non-hindering, like the enjoyment of reading a book of fiction.

Imagination is what is being pointed out in the daring and significant āgama (scripture) statements that everything of the universe, of course including this mind and body complex, is no more than hanging on the tip of the tongue.

It is language itself, the vehicle of the mind, that forms the divisions of everything known and unknown in the entire universe by naming and categorizing. The expression of everything being only a name (nāmadheya) is the basis of the later expression of everything being only names and forms (nāma-rūpa). Here, the forms (rūpas) are simply the phenomenal sense perceptions, not separate from their word-names that occur in the mind, because of the way the senses and mind are made. This same expression, nāma-rūpa, can as well be taken as “whose form/nature (rūpa) is but a name (nāman).”

Because of our human ability of naming by way of our many languages by different humans, in different circumstances, in varying perspectives with different sense acuities and language associations, the various forms of the universe are conceived quite different from each other. What to speak of how different these forms are from the perspective of the countless other creatures (from dolphins to insects) whose minds and thus languages, so to speak, are incomparably different. Being subject to countless, changing perspectives in time and place, and so without a single definitive form to be found anywhere – otherwise called being indefinable (a-nirvacanīya), not categorically and absolutely definable – then this universe is understood in this teaching as more a fiction, a mere appearance (māyā), than an absolute fact. Because we can change our perspective about anything and everything, then no one perspective about any object or any thought can define or limit what is truly reality.

Language and imagination can imprison, by way of error, one who is ignorant of realities, but has no power to imprison one who no longer is ignorant of realities. So, though language and imagination do not in fact hinder a person, are a-kliṣṭa, finally, it is only ignorance, and what sustains ignorance, that hinders a person.

विकल्पः इति ‘प्राण-आदिभिः अनन्तैः तु भावैः एतैः विकल्पितः। माया एषा तस्य देवस्य (=जीव-आत्मनः) यया अयं मोहितः स्वयम्’ इति (ManKa.2.19)। शब्द-ज्ञान-अनुपाती इति ‘यथा सोम्य एकेन मृत्-पिण्डेन सर्वं मृन्मयं विज्ञातं स्याद् वाचा-आरम्भणं विकारो नामधेयं मृत्तिका इति एव सत्यम्॥ यथा सोम्य एकेन लोह-मणिना सर्वं लोहमयं विज्ञातं स्याद् वाचा-आरम्भणं विकारो नामधेयं लोहितम् इति एव सत्यम्’ इति (ChanU.6.1.4–5); ‘रूपं रुपं प्रतिरुपः बभूव तद् अस्य रूपं प्रतिचक्षणाय। इद्रः मायाभिः पुरु-रूपः ईयते युक्ताः हि अस्य हरयः शताः दश’ इति (Ṛg Veda 6.47.18); ‘इति अयं वै हरयोऽयं वै दश च सहस्राणि बहूनि च अन्-अन्तानि च’ इति (BrhU.2.5.19); ‘स्वप्न-जागरिते स्थाने हि एकम् आहुः मनीषिणः। भेदानां हि समत्वेन प्रसिद्धेन एव हेतुना॥ आदौ अन्ते च यन न अस्ति वर्तमानेऽपि तत् तथा। वितथैः सदृशाः सन्तः अ-वितथाः इव लक्षिताः॥ स-प्रयोजनता तेषां स्वप्ने विप्रतिपद्यते। तस्माद् आदि-अन्तवत्त्वेन मिथ्या एव खलु ते स्मृताः’ इति (ManKa.2.5–7); ‘कल्पयति आत्मना आत्मानम् आत्मा देवः स्व-मायया। सः एव बुध्यते भेदान् इति वेदान्त-निश्चयः’ इति (ManKa.2.12)॥


[nidrā – sleep; vṛtti – mental state; ālambana – based; pratyaya – cognition; a-bhāva – absence.]

अ-भाव-प्रत्यय-आलम्बना स्व-काले विशेष-भाव-प्रत्यय-रहिता अ-विद्या-कारण-शरीर-अ-व्यक्त-रूपा वृत्तिः निद्रा नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]

Sleep in moderation does not hinder progress, but excessive sleep and certainly absent-mindedness in one’s activities may hinder progress in yoga. But sleep here should not be understood as the physiological condition of resting; it is rather the cognitive state of the mind that occurs during dreamless sleep, when the mind does not manifest any thought. Later we will see that a clear understanding of sleep, of the reality therein, helps one’s progress in yoga.

निद्रा इति ‘योगः अस्ति…न च अति-स्वप्न-शीलस्य’ इति (BhG.6.16); ‘यत्र सुप्तः न कञ्चन कामं कामयते न कञ्चन स्वप्नं पश्यति तत् सुषुप्तम्। सुषुप्त-स्थानः एकी-भूतः प्रज्ञान-घनः एव आनन्दमयः हि आनन्द-भुक् चेतो-मुखः प्राज्ञः तृतीयः पादः’ इति (ManU.5)॥


[smṛti – memory; a-saṃpramoṣa – not losing; viṣaya – object; anubhūta – experienced before.]

अनुभूत-विषय-अ-संप्रमोषः अन्य-वृत्ति-विषय-अनुरूप-प्रत्यादानं संस्कार-द्वारेण वृत्तिः स्मृतिः नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]

Memory is not a form of new knowledge, but is just the bringing up of the subject matter of a prior knowledge or prior experience, imagined or otherwise, stored in the mind (see Appendix - Nature of the Mind). Memory is required to progress in yoga since it is what keeps the teaching at the forefront of one’s understanding of everything in one’s universe. Remembered erroneous conclusions and falsified imaginations need to be re-evaluated and dropped in the light of new knowledge.

Simply remembering the teaching, though useful, is not the goal of yoga. The teaching has to be converted to knowledge (pramāṇa), not to just a parroting, out loud or to oneself, of the mere words of the teaching. This is why memory is here listed as different from pramāṇa.

Later it will be shown that memory is the nature of the past, while imagination is the nature of the future. The present is the realm of knowledge, error and sleep. That knowledge and the essence (the reality) of the present are one and the same (see comm. on YS.4.12 & 19). This is the nature of the teaching – it keeps getting deeper into the nature of reality around and within us, until clarity within the one reality that encompasses and includes all is one’s presence.


[tad-nirodha – discipline of these; abhyāsa – repetition; vai-rāgya – non-attachment.]

अभ्यास-वैराग्याभ्याम् अभ्यासस्य वैराग्यस्य च द्वारेण तद्-निरोधः चित्त-वृत्ति-निरोधः (YS.3.50)॥ – [Vṛtti]

Both abhyāsa (repetition) and vairāgya (non-attachment) will be defined in the following sūtras. What is to be repeated and how, plus the nature and importance of non-attachment will be fully dealt with in the rest of the sūtras.

Initially, these two are repetition of what helps (a-kliṣṭa) one’s progress in yoga, and non-attachment to what hinders (kliṣṭa). Ultimately, it requires non-attachment to even what previously helped one’s progress, but later stands in the way. This discipline, which is yoga, brought about by repetition and non-attachment, becomes the contemplation described shortly.

The goal of this discipline, of yoga, is oneself free of errors in thinking due to ignorance of one’s essential nature. But, unless yoga is taken as the end, as knowledge itself, what is only a means is just that – a means. It should not be taken as the end in itself. This is why people can get stuck in doing yoga and remain unfulfilled thinking there is nothing more. What is more is the ultimate goal of yoga, for which yoga is just a means that should be used until the goal is reached. Finally, one needs to be non-attached to yoga in order to arrive at one’s ultimate goal of freedom (YS.3.50).

अभ्यासेन इति ‘स्व-देहम् अरणि कृत्वा प्रणवं च उत्तर-अरणिम्। ध्यान-निर्मथन-अभ्यासाद् देवं पश्येत् निगूढवत्’ इति (SvetU.1.14); ‘आत्मानम् अरणिं कृत्वा प्रणवं च उत्तर-अरणिम्। ज्ञान-निर्मथन-अभ्यासात् पापं दहति पण्डितः’ इति (KaivU.1.11); ‘मनो दुर्-निग्रहं चलम्। अभ्यासेन तु कौन्तेय वैराग्येण च गृह्यते’ इति (BhG.6.35)। वैराग्येण इति ‘अ-विद्यायां बहुधा वर्तमानाः वयं कृत-अर्थाः इति अभिमन्यन्ति बालाः। यत् (=यस्मात् एवं) कर्मिणः न (तत्त्वं) प्रवेदयन्ति रागात् तेन आतुराः क्षीण-लोकाः च्यवन्ते’ इति (MunU.1.2.9)॥


[abhyāsa – repetition; yatna – effort; sthiti – remaining; tatra – in that.]

तत्र निरोधे, स्थितौ दृक्-स्व-रूप-अवस्थान-अर्थ-साधने यत्नः मानसः उत्साहः अभ्यासः नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]


[tu – but; saḥ – it; āsevita – thoroughly attended to; sat-kāra – utmost respect; nais-antarya – no interruption; dīrgha-kāla – long time; dṛḍha-bhūmi – firm success.]

सः अभ्यासः तु दीर्घ-काल-नैरन्तर्य-सत्-कार-आसेवितः यावत् पर्याप्तं निर्-अन्तरं योग-साधन-श्रद्धया आसेवितव्यः, तावत् दृढ-भूमिः अवस्थान-समाप्तिः, प्रज्ञा अ-विप्लवा इत्यर्थः (YS.2.26)॥ – [Vṛtti]

Sat-kāra (utmost respect) refers to śraddhā (trust in the words of the teaching and the teacher) (YS.1.20), rather than just politeness or reverence. It is taking the teaching, the discipline, as sat (true, fact). The teaching is not some unapproachable, divine mystery at which one can only bow. It being true or in keeping with the truth, one just undertakes this discipline, and it will provide its benefit in keeping with one’s karma. It is this approach to yoga that distinguishes yogins from academicians, the merely curious, or those who like to exercise in groups, or to have some quiet time.


[vai-rāgya – non-attachment; saṃjñā – known; vaśī-kāra – mastery; vitṛṣṇa – desire; viṣaya – objects; dṛṣṭa – seen; ānuśravika – repeatedly heard from scriptures.]

दृष्ट-अनुश्रविक-विषय-वितृष्णस्य लौकिक-अ-लौकिक-विषय-रागस्य वशी-कार-संज्ञा स्वा-तन्त्र्य-आख्या वैराग्यं नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]

The scripture (āgama or śruti) talks not only about complete freedom, but also, while one is still within the throws of duality, how to make the best of it in a way that does not hinder your progress, your maturity, in the long run. The scripture’s view of the long run is over innumerable lifetimes. Just to finally come to the teaching found in this tradition is said to take a cosmically long time. Once you get to the teaching, though, final maturity can come quickly enough. This will be discussed shortly. Along the way, relatively short term rewards are mentioned for living a life that is in keeping with this maturing process. This maturing process is living a life of universal values (dharma), gaining a cosmic perspective on life and the universe, and engaging in certain prayers and acts that have special efficacy, not otherwise known than through scripture.

These are not rewards given by the scripture or overseen by the sages who revealed the scripture. These are rewards inherent in the intelligent cosmic order of the universe, the manifestation of the Lord. They are seen to be as natural and objective as are the laws of science. These rewards, such as heaven, are all temporary, though a stay there may last for ages. If there is a going up, there will be a return, and around the cycle one goes.

How could it make sense that one gets an everlasting heaven or an everlasting hell based on the actions or beliefs in the few years of one’s life? In this tradition, you only get what you have earned, no more and no less. These scriptures are objective and reasonable even in their spirituality.

The student addressed here, as well as the student addressed in the Bhagavad Gītā, is the one who has been on that up and down track for eons, and now chooses to get off. Consumerism, even on the spiritual side, can ensnare the human heart only so long. Eventually one discovers that it is complete freedom that one really wants, and will finally satisfy. This discovery takes vairāgya (non-attachment).

Vairāgya (non-attachment) is not absence of desire or lack of passion, as often translated. This sūtra clearly states that vairāgya is a mastery over desires, not their absence. When at peace by not being overpowered by desire (rāga) and aversion (dveśa), two of the kleśas (afflictions) (YS.2.7–8), the mind naturally has clarity (prasāda). When agitated and overpowered by desire and aversion, it is said to have color (rāga) – the mind is as though stormy red or foreboding black. The mastery over this coloring is vairāgya (literally, the state of not being colored/affected).

The discipline is not avoiding agitation, desires, or aversions. This will surely fail, since the circumstances that can trigger these kleśas are situations and objects outside of one’s control. One has to cultivate a discipline of mind which will render stressful, desirable, or adverse situations and objects impotent. With eyes open, come what may – what comes being what naturally comes according to one’s karma – one remains at peace.

Another word for vairāgya is non-affectment, not allowing external situations and objects to control, to affect, your mind without your permission. So you, that is, your understanding of yourself and the world, have charge (vaśī-kāra) of your mind, not the other way around. The understanding of the nature of objects, the mind, and the true nature of oneself which this teaching unfolds, when held in a clear mind with the aid of the practices in these pages, will provide this mastery.

दृष्ट-विषय-वितृष्णस्य इति ‘ध्यायतः विषयान् पुंसः सङ्गः तेषु उपजायते। सङ्गात् सञ्जायते कामः कामात् क्रोधः अभिजायते॥ क्रोधाद् भवति सम्मोहः सम्मोहात् स्मृति-विभ्रमः। स्मृति-भ्रंशाद् बुद्धि-नाशः बुद्धि-नाशात् (पुमान्) प्रणश्यति’ इति (BhG.2.62–63)। अनुश्रविक-विषय-वितृष्णस्य इति ‘याम् इमां पुष्पितां वाचं प्रवदन्त्य् अ-विपश्चितः। वेद-वाद-रताः पार्थ न अन्यद् अस्ति इति वादिनः॥ काम-आत्मानः स्वर्ग-परा जन्म-कर्म-फल-प्रदाम्। क्रिया-विशेष-बहुलां भोग-ऐश्वर्य-गतिं प्रति’ इति (BhG.2.42–43)॥


[tat-para – ultimate of that; guṇa-vai-tṛṣṇya – non-attachment to the three constituents of all of nature; khyāti – discernment; puruṣa – self.]

तद्-परं वैराग्य-प्रकृष्टं पुरुष-ख्यातेः गुण-पुरुष-विवेक-ज्ञानात् गुण-वैतृष्ण्यम् (YS.2.21)॥ – [Vṛtti]

Non-attachment culminates within the knowledge that I am this limitless reality which is one without a second. Its culmination is also the same knowledge that what appears is but the reality that I am. In the wake of this knowledge, all objects – here indicated by the term guṇas – are known to be nothing more than their appearance to my five senses within my awareness (YS.2.21). The objects come and go, and I remain the same reality, not in need of them for my existence (though this temporary body and mind complex has basic needs), or for my fulfillment. With them I am complete; without them I am complete. This is a fully assimilated non-attachment towards all.

गुण-वैतृष्ण्यम् इति ‘यः (देवः) च स्व-भावं (=प्रकृति-भावं) पचति विश्व-योनिः पाच्यान् च सर्वान् परिणामयेत् यः। सर्वम् एतद् विश्वम् अधितिष्ठति एकः गुणान् च सर्वान् विनियोजयेत् यः॥…गुण-अन्वयः (तु) यः (जीवः) फल-कर्म-कर्ता कृतस्य तस्य सः च उपभोक्ता। सः विश्व-रूपः त्रि-गुणः त्रि-वर्त्मा प्राण-अधिपः (एव) सञ्चरति स्व-कर्मभिः’ इति (SvetU.5.5 & 7)। पुरुष-ख्यातेः इति ‘सः ह उवाच गार्ग्यः, यः एव असौ आदित्ये पुरुषः एतम् एव अहं ब्रह्म उपासे इति, सः ह उवाच अजात-शत्रुः मा मा एतस्मिन् संवदिष्ठाः…’ इति (BrhU.2.1.2 … 2.1.20); ‘सः वै अयं पुरुषः सर्वासु पूर्षु पुरिशयः न एनेन किञ्चन अनावृतं न एनेन किञ्चन अ-संवृतम्’ इति (BrhU.2.5.18)॥


[saṃprajñāta – deliberative; anugama – appropriately following; rūpa – form; vitarka – reasoning; vicāra – inquiry; ānanda – fullness; asmitā – the sense of “I am.”]

वितर्क-विचार-आनन्द-अस्मिता-रूप-अनुगमात् आनन्द-सत्-स्व-रूप-द्वि-विषयोः अनुश्रुति-वितर्केन श्रुति-विचारेन च द्वि-रूपाभ्याम् अनु-प्रत्यय-अभ्यासात् संप्रज्ञातः स-वितर्क-स-विचार-प्रज्ञातः नाम समाधिः॥ – [Vṛtti]

The terms vitarka (reasoning) and vicāra (inquiry) connect to the second and third means of knowledge available in contemplation, namely, anumāna (indirect knowledge, inference) and āgama (scripture), respectively. The first means of knowledge, pratyakṣa (sense perception and perception of mental states) is not employed in contemplation, though some modern instructors bring in pratyakṣa, such as incense fragrance, Indian music, invoking emotions, etc. The preparation within the seat of contemplation here will instead involve the withdrawal of the senses, called pratyāhāra (YS.2.54). If pratyakṣa is continued in contemplation, then pratyāhāra has not been completed.

One is not gathering information or figuring out what is true or not in contemplation. Instead, one is re-viewing what one already understands so it is more fully appreciated and assimilated with certitude.

The type of samādhi in this sūtra is what we normally understand as contemplation. It involves reasoning and instruction from the scripture. It is not the initial questioning, reasoning, and instruction themselves, though, since these would have already been attended to in first exposing oneself to the teaching and then thinking over how it applies in clearing all possible doubts, called śravaṇa (listening) and manana (understanding), respectively.

In the contemplation here, it involves just a few words to bring to mind what one knows from these words to help get past some mental obstacle to one’s assimilation of this teaching (2.33–34). It involves the two essential aspects of oneself – sat (existence) and ānanda (fullness). I exist without limit, and I am completely satisfied. These two go straight to the fruit of this knowledge, namely, my existence is without limit, is without loss or destruction, and my fulfillment is without limit and always available. This appreciation starts with seeing the logical fallacy in the notions I have about myself as being this or that thought in my mind. It then moves on to what the teaching says about the essential me. It culminates in the subsequent form of samādhi – “I am the witness that is limitless existence-fullness.”

The forms of this contemplation are to be appropriately followed, in that they should be in keeping with the teaching, with the appropriate means of knowledge. The teaching is the āgama (scripture) with reasoning based on the scripture and which supports the scripture. These forms of contemplation are thus grounded in a proven teaching tradition and in reality.

The word samādhi means that in which (everything) resolves (samādhīyate yasmin iti samādhiḥ). Samādhi is not in any sense a stopping of the mind, since there is no real resolution in temporarily stopping something. It is instead resolving (pralaya) everything including the mind as non-limitations into the limitless reality of oneself. Preceded by inquiry into the goal of yoga that is the unafflicted puruṣa as the nature of oneself, contemplation is the employment of the reasoning and deliberation therein to bring this inquiry into focus, and then remaining there to appreciate and assimilate the truth of oneself. The only resolution that can happen in contemplation is the resolving of the doubts and other forms of obstacles that has kept one from appreciating the fruit of this inquiry. The inquiry results in clarity in the knowledge of oneself, the witness, as limitless, fulfilling existence. One’s psychological baggage that seems to stand in the way of appreciating this truth is then laid bare to be dismissed (sub-rated) in the light of this clear knowledge.

This is the samādhi presented here. The mental obstacles to freedom are what are destroyed here. There is no imagined destruction of karma linkage that then prevents the mind from restarting again after samādhi. This latter, popular interpretation of a mechanical destruction of the mind within samādhi is a result of being hand-cuffed by a limited philosophy of duality. Duality is where the mind is believed to be as real as the self, therefore is a real problem that has to be overcome, and so must be mechanically destroyed in order for the self to surface and be free.

But, since here the overcoming is by prajñā (knowledge), there can be no mechanical destruction. The only destruction that knowledge can do is the destruction of ignorance. Knowledge cannot destroy what is a fact; it is simply for revealing what is the fact. This discerning of the difference between the results of action and the results of knowledge is essential in gaining clarity on the proper means in this endeavor.

वितर्कः इति ‘आगमस्य अ-विरोधेन ऊहनं तर्कः उच्यते’ इति (Amṛta-nāda Up. 17)। आनन्दः इति ‘विज्ञानम् आनन्दं ब्रह्म, रातिः-दातुः पर-अयणम्, तिष्ठमानस्य तद्-विदः इति’ इति (BrhU.; ‘एषः अस्य परमः आनन्दः…एतस्य एव आनन्दस्य अन्यानि भूतानि मात्राम् उपजीवन्ति॥…सः एकः ब्रह्म-लोके आनन्दः यः च श्रोत्रियः अ-वृजिनः अ-काम-हतः, अथ एषः एव परमः आनन्दः, एषः ब्रह्म-लोकः, सम्राट् इति ह उवाच याज्ञवल्क्यः’ इति (BrhU.4.3.32-33); ‘सत्यं ज्ञानम् अन्-अन्तं ब्रह्म’ इति (TaitU.2.1.1); ‘यद् वै तत् सुकृतं (=स्व-कृतम्)। रसः वै सः। रसं हि एव अयं लब्ध्वा आनन्दी भवति’ इति (TaitU.2.7.1); ‘स एकः ब्रह्मणः आनन्दः। श्रोत्रियस्य च अ-काम-हतस्य’ इति (TaitU.; ‘आनन्दं ब्रह्मणः विद्वान्। न बिभेति कुतश्चन इति’ इति (TaitU.2.9.1)॥


[anya – other; pūrva – preceded; abhyāsa – repetition; virāma – quietude; pratyayas – cognitions; saṃskāras – latent tendencies; śeṣa – remain.]

विराम-प्रत्यय-अभ्यास-पूर्वः संप्रज्ञात-समाधि-प्रत्यय-अभ्यास-पूर्वः सन् तद्-प्रत्यय-प्रतिरोधे संप्रज्ञात-जन्य-शमे सति अपि च संस्कार-शेषः पश्चात् अ-विद्या-बीज-जन्य-तनु-विच्छिन्न-आदि-व्यक्त-संस्कारवान् (YS.2.3–4) अन्यः अ-संप्रज्ञातः नाम समाधिः इत्यर्थः, तस्मात् अयं समाधिः अपि क्षणिकः एव न तु निर्-बीज-समाधिः (YS.1.51)॥ – [Vṛtti]

This samādhi is really just the result of the prior when the words within the prior samādhi drop and only their implied meaning abides. Their implied meaning is only oneself free of limiting identifications (sārūpya) with thoughts (1.3–4). So, here, there is only oneself. This dropping of words and quiet appreciation of being this limitless reality can happen without all doubts being cleared. Doubts, as manifestations of latent tendencies, may not arise at that time and so one gets a quiet – but temporary – resolution. Later, these doubts and their repercussions re-surface and again one will want to continue one’s contemplation.


[pratyaya – follows; bhava – birth; vi-dehas – subtle beings; prakṛti-layas – beings who have been absorbed in unmanifest nature.]

भव-प्रत्ययः संसार-चक्रे किम्-चिद्-जन्म-अनुगः अ-संप्रज्ञातः समाधिः वर्तते वि-देह-प्रकृति-लयानां किम्-चिद्-स्वर्गे देह-पतन-पश्चात् संप्रज्ञात-अभ्यासिकानां च प्रकृति-लये अ-वश्यं सर्व-जीवानां च॥ – [Vṛtti]

When the preceding contemplations end, if one continues to limit oneself and one’s reality to what one witnesses, this is because of the latent tendencies to assume that limiting ego thoughts are true. These tendencies are there because the fundamental ignorance, from which those tendencies are a manifestation, remains. A temporary samādhi is just another witnessed experience from which to grow.

Similarly, one may have this temporary samādhi while experiencing certain embodiments other than this current human embodiment. In some heavenly, subtle embodiments these pre-earned rewards are experienced. And, of course, during each period of universal dissolution, everyone’s mind is naturally absorbed.

This sūtra is simply to explain the traditional stories in the Indian epics and legends about certain individuals, yogis who, after their earthly bodies die, continue in the subtle realms of saṃsāra. These would include the ethereal siddhas (accomplished beings) mentioned in sūtra 3.32, though not all of these siddhas would necessarily be śrotriyas (exposed to and able to teach the methodology of this tradition). They may have been natural shamans who could easily go into a trance that could simulate an a-saṃprajñāta samādhi.


[itaras – the rest of us; pūrvaka – follows; śraddhā – trust; vīrya – tenacity; smṛti – memory; samādhi – contemplation; prajñā – assimilated knowledge.]

श्रद्धा-वीर्य-स्मृति-समाधि-प्रज्ञा-पूर्वकः अनुशासने श्रद्धा संवेगः मेधा च तद्-प्रत्यय-अभ्यास-जन्य-संप्रज्ञात-समाधिः च संप्रज्ञात-जन्य-अ-संप्रज्ञात-समाधिः च प्रज्ञायाः निर्-बीज-समाधिः च तैः योग-सिद्धिः इतरेषां इह एव मनुष्य-देहवताम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

Notice here that the temporary form of samādhi, the a-saṃprajñāta samādhi, is not the final step for the path of the yogin. Prajñā (knowledge) is the final goal of yoga according to the progression indicated by Patañjali’s sequential ordering of these steps in the compound word śraddhā-vīrya-smṛti-samādhi-prajñā-pūrvaka.

श्रद्धा इति ‘यदा वै श्रद्दधाति अथ मनुते, न अ-श्रद्दधन् मनुते, श्रद्दधद् एव मनुते, श्रद्धा तु एव विजिज्ञासितव्या इति, श्रद्धां भगवः विजिज्ञासे इति॥ यदा वै निस्तिष्ठति अथ श्रद्दधाति, न अ-निस्तिष्ठन् श्रद्दधाति, निस्तिष्ठन् एव श्रद्दधाति, निष्ठा (=तत्परत्वं) तु एव विजिज्ञासितव्या’ इति (ChanU.7.19.1 & 20.1)॥


[saṃvega – tenacity; tīvra – acute; āsanna – quickly succeeds.]

चित्त-वृत्ति-निरोध-अर्थः समाधिः तीव्र-संवेगानाम् आसन्नः प्रतिष्ठितः॥ – [Vṛtti]

तीव्र-संवेगानाम् इति ‘ब्रह्म-चर्यम् अ-हिंसां च अ-परिग्रहं च सत्यं च यत्नेन हे रक्षतः हे रक्षतः हे रक्षतः’ इति (Āruṇeya Up. 3)॥


[tataḥ api – and thus; viśeṣa – distinction; mṛdu – weak; madhya – middling; adhi-mātratvas – strong measures.]

तीव्रस्य मृदु-मध्य-अधि-मात्रत्वात्, ततः तारतम्यात् अपि विशेषः यत्न-भेदः॥ – [Vṛtti]

मात्रत्वात् इति ‘युक्तः कर्म-फलं त्यक्त्वा शान्तिम् आप्नोति नैष्ठिकीम्। अ-युक्तः काम-कारेण फले सक्तः निबध्यते’ इति (BhG.5.12)॥


[ – also; Īśvara-praṇidhāna – contemplation on the Lord.]

चित्त-वृत्ति-निरोधः अभ्यास-वैराग्याभ्यां प्रतिष्ठितः ईश्वर-प्रणिधानात् परम-पुरुष-ध्यानात् वा अपि॥ – [Vṛtti]

The general principles within yoga practice have been given, namely, repetition (abhyāsa) of the practices presented in this text derived from scripture and non-attachment (vairāgya) to what hinders progress in yoga. What seems to hinder progress needs to be objectively reexamined and either reintegrated or dropped. Tenacity in these practices was indicated to impress upon the seeker their importance in succeeding quickly in yoga. Also stated were the initial and deeper levels within contemplation that lies at the core of yoga. These levels in contemplation will be further discussed in this chapter (sūtras 1.42 through 51). The source of the topics to contemplate (namely, scripture) as well as what to avoid (namely, error) were also indicated.

Now, specifically, which scriptural topics to contemplate upon are presented. The first and primary topic is the Lord, the eka-tattva (the one reality), since the Lord is the clearest and most inclusive way to understand the real nature of the puruṣa, oneself. We naturally think ourselves to be limited and identified with the body and mind. Therefore, to contemplate the limitless puruṣa, which is the reality one is, Patañjali suggests that we contemplate the Lord – in the way this tradition presents the Lord. This will be given in the next nine sūtras.

ईश्वर-प्रणिधानात् इति ‘वीत-राग-भय-क्रोधाः मन्मयाः माम् उपाश्रिताः। बहवः ज्ञान-तपसा पूताः मद्-भावम् आगताः’ इति (BhG.4.10)॥


[Īśvara – Lord; viśeṣa – characterized; puruṣa – self; a-parāmṛṣṭa – untouched; kleśas – afflictions; karma – action; vipāka – fruition; āśaya – store-house.]

क्लेश-कर्म-विपाक-आशयैः पञ्च-क्लेशैः कर्मभिः कर्म-विपाक-फलैः कर्म-फल-बीज-आशयेन च अ-परामृष्टः अ-संस्पृष्टः पुरुष-विशेषः पुरुष-निर्देशः उत्तम-पुरुषः वा, न तु पुरुष-भेदः ‘न इह नाना अस्ति किञ्चन,’ ‘येन आवृतं नित्यम् इदं हि सर्वं, ज्ञः काल-कालः गुणी सर्व-विद् यः’ इति-आदि-बहु-श्रुतेः (BrhU.4.4.19, SvetU.6.2) ईश्वरः कैवल्य-स्व-रूप-पुरुषः॥ – [Vṛtti]

This is why the Lord is the puruṣa in its completely free nature and fullest understanding. Gaining knowledge of this puruṣa as one’s self is the goal of yoga. This is not the attainment of a God-like state or status, and this is not an imagination or wishful thinking that I will be similar or near to God. It is no less than the knowledge that I am exactly that limitless puruṣa.

The compound word puruṣa-viśeṣa can also mean the excellent puruṣa, the perfect puruṣa. This is exactly who the Lord is – the puruṣa understood in its perfect limitless nature. The Lord, then, is not a means for attaining one’s perfect nature; the Lord is one’s perfect nature. This bold truth reverberates across the scriptures, and should not be missed by any student of yoga.

The qualities we attribute to the Lord as the source, sustenance, and resolution of the cycles of the universe, of course, are applicable only in relationship to the Lord’s manifestation as the total, and not to our individual body-mind complexes. The essential nature of this Lord – not the Lord’s nature as we think of it through those cosmic attributes – is the limitless puruṣa, and that also is the essential nature of oneself as limitless reality.

The word viśeṣa often also means an adjective, a word to describe. Here, Īśvara (the Lord) when understood in its full implication is descriptive of the puruṣa. The term ‘Lord’ is the least limiting term, at least in this tradition, that one can give to reality, to the puruṣa. The Lord is the most accurately expansive description of inherently indescribable reality – reality that cannot be circumscribed in words, in notions.

When the compound puruṣa-viśeṣa, here, is rendered instead as the special puruṣa by a commentator or translator, then you know you are reading a dualist rendering of these sūtras. This dualist vision amounts to a notion about God as a separate being, better than you, of course. With this perspective, you could never be the completely free puruṣa that is the goal of yoga.

The dualist vision is naturally there for everyone, including those in the Abrahamic religions, the dualist sects within theist Hinduism, and even many neo-Vedāntins. By ‘neo-Vedāntins’ we mean those who filter and fit the scripture to seem more amenable to a secular or a Western spiritual seeking audience. They are often the ones who claim that all religions are the same, and represent Vedānta as another belief system with nothing too foreign, too threatening to other belief systems. For them, the Upaniṣads are not a unique means of knowledge, but are just an additional set of scriptures, perhaps as believable as others.

A motivated student, however, will discover the keys to the scripture and to him or herself through Vedānta and Patañjali’s vision as presented herein. One of the keys is relating the totality of the Lord in its essence to the essence that is the reality of the individual. Westerners would need to learn how to expand their understanding of a Lord to this fullest of extent, to encompass everything including oneself. The following sūtras and their commentary will help.

This fuller understanding of the Lord is also a means to a sense of universal community, social and ecological responsibility, and emotional health. These benefits will in turn help further mature the students so that their understanding of the Lord can finally expand to the identity of self and Lord. That identity is the resolution of the misconception of duality and isolation.

ईश्वरः इति ‘समं सर्वेषु भूतेषु तिष्ठन्तं परमेश्वरम्। विनश्यत्सु अ-विनश्यन्तं यः पश्यति सः पश्यति॥ समं पश्यन् हि सर्वत्र समवस्थितम् ईश्वरम्। न हिनस्ति आत्मना आत्मानं (=स्वेन एव स्वम्) ततः याति परां गतिम्’ इति (BhG.13.27–28)॥


[tatra – in that; bīja – seed; sarva-jña – knowing all; nir-atiśaya – unsurpassed.]

तत्र ईश्वरे निर्-अतिशयं सर्व-ज्ञ-बीजं सर्व-ज्ञ-शक्तिः (MunU.1.1.9), सर्व-ज्ञातृत्वं (YS.3.49) चिति-शक्तिः (YS.4.34)॥ – [Vṛtti]

In the scripture (āgama), the Lord is understood as the material and efficient cause of the universe, pervading the cycles of manifestation. By material cause is meant that the Lord is the very reality, the existence, (sat) of everything that manifests. No separate material is necessary for creation. There is no prakṛti or pradhāna (unmanifest and manifest Mother Nature) apart from this reality (sat). In this understanding, there is not even a creation, a separation of the created from a creator. There is only a manifestation of a universe to the senses from the perspective of each individual totally within the only reality which we call the Lord.

By efficient cause is meant that the Lord is the intelligence according to which this well-ordered manifestation occurs. The common example given for a material and efficient cause is the making of a clay pot. There, the clay itself is the material cause, and the intelligent potter is the efficient cause. In this example, the material and efficient causes are separate. The example where they are not separate is dreaming. You are the material of your dream world. Your dream world material does not exist apart from you, the dreamer. And you, as the intelligent dreamer, are the efficient cause of the dream.

The material (upādāna) and efficient (nimitta) cause (kāraṇa) of the universe is none other than that which the scriptures call the limitless Lord. All the intelligence (jñāna) expressed as the amazing order (dharma) of this particular universe, from the quantum to the celestial, is only an aspect, just one manifestation, of the intelligence (jñapti-svarūpa, the nature of the source of knowing, that expresses as intelligence) that is the Lord. It is this same jñapti-svarūpa that is the nature of one’s self, the nature of the witness-puruṣa, the sarva-jñātṛtva (the very nature of the knower of all, YS.3.49).

This may at first be an unexpected understanding of the Lord and the universe. The Lord and the universe and the self are not inherently separate things. Atheists and materialist scientists are accommodated in this sophisticated model. Here, the universe is but a reoccurring manifestation of the Lord. There is no separation between the universe and the Lord, any more than there can be separation between a clay pot and clay. There is one intelligence that accounts for both the manifestation of the pot and the manifestation of the universe. A Lord is not needed to explain the world; the manifestation of the world is nothing but what could be called a Lord. The ‘Lord’ is just a respectful name we give to the singular reality of everything and of oneself. You can call it the quantum soup of everything, if you include yourself as that soup and understand that all time and space is that soup, that reality. And within that soup, that reality, there can be no distinctions.

To a human being operating totally within the science of this one current manifestation, the appearance of the re-manifested universe from the unmanifest would naturally and scientifically look as if it were spontaneous. Within the model of our present science of multi-dimensional space and multiverses, it would not be necessary to postulate an external Lord. Nor does this scriptural tradition here in its purest form envision an external Lord.

The expression of the Lord in our spiritual lives, though, is not limited to explaining our scientific life. Our total human life includes science, community, empathy, and love. One can construct a scientific universe model that is without an external Lord, but one can also construct a scientific universe model that includes an intrinsic Lord as the only material and order of this universe, a highly unifying and satisfying principle. The Indian tradition says that science and Lord need not and cannot exclude one another.

सर्वज्ञः इति ‘एषः सर्व-ईश्वरः एषः सर्वज्ञः एषः अन्तर्-यामी एषः योनिः सर्वस्य प्रभव-अप्ययौ हि भूतानाम्’ इति (ManU.6)॥


[api – also; guru – teacher; pūrvas – everyone before; an-avaccheda – not limited; kāla – time.]

सः ईश्वरः पूर्वेषां गुरूणाम् अपि प्राणिनाम् अपि गुरुः चिति-शक्ति-रूपेण ‘अन्तर्-यामी’ सन् (ManU.6) कालेन अन्-अवच्छेदात् ‘काल-कालः’ इति काल-स्व-रूपतया (SvetU.6.2)॥ – [Vṛtti]

That which is not limited by time, must also be free from space (ākāśa), since time and space (including the objects that change within space) are inseparable and mutually dependent aspects making up the warp and woof of the limiting adjunct (upādhi) we call the universe. The Lord is thus time-free and space-free. Whether time or space is there or not, the Lord, the unconditional existence itself, is there. The Lord is free from, yet sustains, the universe. Sustains here is the sense that the Lord alone is the reality and is the truth of the limited reality this universe enjoys. The Lord alone lends this universe its limited reality. Nothing can exist apart from reality, from the Lord, whereas reality is not dependent on or limited by any thing. Things have no reality apart from the reality the Lord lends them, but that loaned reality does not in turn limit the Lord, since the Lord alone is that reality.

The dream is a very helpful example for loaned reality. We assign reality to the objects in our dream, but we are not circumscribed and made smaller by those dream objects. You think of them, and in that way alone they exist in dream. You think of them differently, and they change. No man-eating creature or horrendous catastrophe has ever succeeded in harming or destroying you, the dreamer and the waker. Only the dream changes or ends. The reality of these dream objects and experiences, including the role you play as an actor in the dream, resolves back into you the waker or deep sleeper, unscratched.

Dream appearances shine in the borrowed light of you the dreamer, and do not exist independent from you the dreamer, nor limit you the dreamer. You pervade and survive the dream, pervade and survive the deep sleep, and pervade and survive the waking world. You supersede all these. You outlast them as the reality that witnesses all states of experience, and are thus free from all sense of limitations. The ability to objectify sleep, dream, and waking in the light of the unchanging presence of the self underlying the three states is enough to support your understanding of your limit-less nature. No more or other experience, including thought-less samādhi, is required to assimilate this teaching.

गुरुः इति ‘इमं विवस्वते योगं प्रोक्तवान् अहम् अव्ययम्’ इति (BhG.4.1); ‘(तद् परं ब्रह्म) ज्ञानं ज्ञेयं ज्ञान-गम्यं हृदि सर्वस्य विष्ठितम्’ इति (BhG.13.17)। कालेन अन्-अवच्छेदात् इति ‘पुरुषः एव इदं सर्वम्। यद् भूतम् यद् च भव्यम्। उत अ-मृतत्वस्य ईषानः’ इति (PurSuk.2, Rg Veda 10.90.2); ‘तद् एतद् ब्रह्म अ-पूर्वम् अन्-अपरम् अन्-अन्तरम् अ-बाह्यम्, अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म सर्व-अनुभूः इति अनुशासनम्’ इति (BrhU.2.5.19); ‘सः ह उवाच यद् ऊर्ध्वं गार्गि दिवः यद् अवाक् पृथिव्याः यद् अन्तरा द्यावा-पृथिवी इमे यद् भूतं च भवच् च भविष्यच् च इति आचक्षते आकाशे तद् ओतं च प्रोतं च’ इति (BrhU.3.8.4); ‘मद्-स्थानि सर्व-भूतानि न च अहं तेषु अवस्थितः॥ न च मद्-स्थानि भूतानि…भूत-भृत् न च भूत-स्थः मम आत्मा भूत-भावनः’ इति (BhG.9.4–5)॥


[vācaka – expressive name; tasya – of that; praṇava – syllable Om.]

तस्य ईश्वरस्य वाचकः प्रणवः ओम्-कारः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Om is presented and unfolded in the Upaniṣad scriptures as the limitless reality called brahman (literally, the big, from the Sanskrit verbal root bṛh,) and as the reality which is one’s self (ātman). Through its three component sounds a–u–m (a and u equaling o), on Om are super-imposed the three apparent states of oneself and all experience: waking-consciousness (a), dream-consciousness (u), and sleep-consciousness (m). A so-called “fourth” state of oneself is reality as consciousness itself, the silent basis before, during, and after those three – from which they are produced, in which they are sustained, and back into which (without having left) they resolve.

The student can keep in mind that the Upaniṣad tradition is the basis for Patañjali. Om is the name for brahman (limitless reality) in the Upaniṣads. Patañjali’s use of this name for the Lord clearly indicates that Patañjali is referring to the Lord in its limitless reality as brahman, not as the role of creator, sustainer, and resolver of the manifestations of the universe, nor simply as a God to be prayed to.


In the West, particularly within philosophy and psychology, the English word ‘consciousness’ is often used synonymously with (human) thought, self-conscious thought, mindfulness, or mind. Sometimes it is expressed as knowing that one knows. This is not how this commentary is using the word ‘consciousness’. Here, we are using it in the same way we find it in the reliable Vedānta texts, especially scripture translations. This is because the Vedānta scriptures present a unique understanding of the mind and knowledge that is not readily found in the West.

Here, initially, the word ‘consciousness’ should be understood in its natural grammatical sense (and this is why Vedāntins choose to use this word) so it better fits the Vedānta scriptures’ meaning of its terms – cit and caitanya. That grammatical sense is the -ness, both the essence and reality, of being conscious of. Multiple thoughts, experiences, or minds cannot be called ‘multiple consciousnesses’ – a word having a suffix that does not easily allow a plural form. So ‘consciousness’ is not an ideal word for what we all understand to be a thought or a mind. At best the word ‘consciousness’ could indicate a particular type of thought, such as thoughts about oneself in relationship to others. But this is nowhere near what Vedānta means by cit and caitanya. The Sanskrit term citta (literally, what is witnessed), which Patañjali uses throughout these sūtras and which certain Western scholars translate as consciousness, is rendered everywhere else in Sanskrit literature by native speakers as thought or mind, as it is here.

Caitanya (consciousness) is not the conscious or witnessed thoughts themselves, rather the witnessing-being of conscious thoughts. It is the conscious-ness; the witness of, or witnessing capacity for, thoughts. With this initial understanding, this commentary will expand the meaning of the word ‘consciousness’ to bring out its full meaning that indicates brahman, the unchanging reality revealed in the teaching on Om. With the same meaning, an alternate rendering of the terms cit and caitanya is the word ‘awareness.’ These two words – consciousness and awareness – will be used interchangeably.

Om is presented in this tradition as the entirety of language, hence of all knowledge and, in the final analysis, of everything, of everything distinguished and known to us through language and mind. The initial sound a is the simplest linguistic sound that can be made by opening and letting out breath from the back of the mouth without any other modification of the effort within the mouth. The linguistic sound u is that same sound modified by the rounding constriction of the last part of the mouth, the lips, as the breath is being expelled. The linguistic sound m is produced with the lips closed and the breath expelled out the nose. I am using the term ‘linguistic’ sound to indicate the sounds we use for language, not the other sounds we can make with the breath, such as expelling breath out of the mouth or nose while simply breathing.

The entirety of linguistic sounds the vocal apparatus can make is represented then by the range of modifications of the vibration sounds of the vocal cords from the back of the mouth to the front, from a to u. The only other linguistic sounds are those made with the nose, namely n and m. The linguistic sound m is the simplest of the nasals, requiring no effort in the mouth. The n sound with its variations requires the opening of the lips with some shaping of the mouth, though the breath is only out the nose.

In order for there to be language, there have to be separable words. By extension, the silence before and after words is represented by the silence between repetitions of Om. We will see in the following commentary that the entire diversity of the universe can be appreciated as the names we give to distinguish phenomenal appearances from each other.

In this way Om indicates the Lord, the entirety of experiences, the ultimate reality (brahman), all of language, all of knowledge, and the whole of the universe. Repeating this sound Om and contemplating upon it, upon its many meanings and on its meaning as oneself, addresses the central topic within the spiritual teaching tradition.

Care must be taken, though, because it may have gathered a power by its utterance through billions of repetitions over thousands of years. As a single word mantra it is traditionally recommended only to renunciates, sannyāsins, because its essential meaning resolves everything of language, knowledge, and the universe to their silent basis, their final resolution – the ultimate renunciation. For those of us who live a more active life in society, the sound Om is combined with other sacred words, such as the mantra, Om īśāya namaḥ (meaning, Om, I surrender [the body, mind, and actions] to the universal Lord) – which supports our most helpful actions and thoughts.

प्रणवः इति ‘प्रणवं हि ईश्वरं विद्यात् सर्वस्य हृदये स्थितम्। सर्व-व्यापिनम् ओंकारं मत्वा धीरः न शोचति’ इति (ManKa.1.28); ‘न अन्तः-प्रज्ञं न बहिः-प्रज्ञं न उभयतः-प्रज्ञं न प्रज्ञान-घनं न प्रज्ञं न अ-प्रज्ञम्। अ-दृश्यम् अ-व्यवहार्यम् अ-ग्राह्यम् अ-लक्षणम् अ-चिन्त्यम् अ-व्यपदेश्यम् एक-आत्म-प्रत्यय-सारं प्रपञ्च-उपशमं शान्तं शिवम् अ-द्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते सः आत्मा सः विज्ञेयः’ इति (ManU.7)॥


[japa – oral or mental repetition; tad – that; bhāvana – contemplation; tad-artha – its meaning.]

तद्-जपः ओम्-कार-जपः तद्-अर्थ-भावनम् ओम्-कार-अर्थ-श्रुति-व्याख्यान-ध्यानं च॥ – [Vṛtti]

Your neighbor, unless he or she has studied the scripture, is probably not going to give you verbal testimony yielding knowledge about the meaning of Om. Only the scripture and its commentaries talk meaningfully and with authority about Om. This is why āgama pramāṇa, as scripture, is important to be correctly understood. It is not reasonable to think you can read a contemporary yoga book, close your eyes, repeat Om, and attain the ultimate non-dual goal of yoga.

The vast majority of the translations of and commentaries on these sūtras avoid the scriptures either because they do not understand them and their intimate connection with these sūtras, or the authors think the scriptures render yoga less marketable in secular societies.

The teachings about praṇava, about Om, are important enough to be given in many Upaniṣads. This sūtra directs the student to them.


[tataḥ – from that; api – indeed; adhigama – comes to know; cetana – conscious being; pratyak – center; ca – and; antarāyas – obstacles; a-bhāva – disappear.]

ततः ओम्-कार-ध्यानस्य प्रत्यक्-चेतन-अधिगमः आत्म-स्व-रूप-ज्ञानम् अपि अन्तराय-अ-भावः ज्ञान-प्रतिबन्ध-रूप-अन्तराय-नाशः ॥ – [Vṛtti]

By contemplation on the essential nature of the Lord, one comes to know the conscious being at the center of oneself, which is the reality of everything. Grace is said to be attained by chanting the name of and by contemplating the nature of the Lord. That grace can be seen as the opportunity and motivation to come to terms with the facts of one’s spiritual and emotional growth. It may play a part in removing psychological and other obstacles to gaining this knowledge. The obstacles are the limitations we impose upon ourselves because we think we are limited. The Lord is the limitless presence that we are saying is our true nature and we are contemplating as already being in fact our own true nature. How could those obstacles not be attenuated by this practice (abhyāsa)? The obstacles are our well-ingrained imaginations about ourselves that we believe are true; they manifest as distractions of the mind and self-defeating thoughts that hinder our progress in yoga.

प्रत्यक्-चेतनम् इति ‘कश्चिद् धीरः प्रत्यग्-आत्मानम् ऐक्षद् आवृत्त-चक्षुः (=न हि बाह्य-विषय-आलोचन-परत्वम्) अ-मृतत्वम् इच्छन्’ इति (KathU.2.1.1)। अन्तराय-अ-भावः इति ‘चतुर्-विधा भजन्ते मां जनाः सु-कृतिनः अर्जुन। आर्तः जिज्ञासुः अर्थ-अर्थी ज्ञानी च भरत-ऋषभ॥ तेषां ज्ञानी नित्य-युक्तः एक-भक्तिः विशिष्यते। प्रियः हि ज्ञानिनः अत्यर्थम् (=अतिशयेन) अहं सः च मम प्रियः॥ उदाराः सर्वे एव एते ज्ञानी तु आत्मा एव मे मतम्। आस्थितः सः हि युक्त-आत्मा माम् एव अन्-उत्तमां गतिम्’ इति (BhG.7.16–18); ‘प्रशान्त-आत्मा (=प्रशान्त-मनाः) विगत-भीः ब्रह्म-चारि-व्रते स्थितः। मनः संयम्य मद्-चित्तः युक्तः आसीत मद्-परः’ इति (BhG.6.14); ‘ब्रह्म-विद् आप्नोति परम्।…सत्यं ज्ञानम् अन्-अन्तं ब्रह्म। यः वेद निहितं गुहायां परमे व्योमन् (=परमे व्योम्नि)। सः अश्नुते सर्वान् कामान् सह’ इति (TaitU.2.1.1); ‘तत् (सत्-ब्रह्म) त्वम् असि’ इति (ChanU.6.8.7…); ‘तद् इदम् अपि एतर्हि यः एवं वेद अहं ब्रह्म अस्मि इति सः इदं सर्वं भवति’ इति (BrhU.1.4.10)॥


[te – those; antarāyas – obstacles; vikṣepas – distractions; citta – mind; vyādhi – dis-ease; styāna – lack of mental acumen; saṃśaya – doubt; pramāda – inattention; ālasya – laziness; a-virati – intemperance; bhrānti-darśana – erroneous understanding; a-labdha-bhūmikatva – not attaining success at the stages; an-avasthitatva – lack of stability.]

व्याधि-स्त्यान-संशय-प्रमाद-आलस्य-अ-विरति-भ्रान्ति-दर्शन-अ-लब्ध-भूमिकत्व-अन्-अवस्थितत्वानि व्याधिः स्त्यानं संशयः प्रमादः आलस्यम् अ-विरतिः भ्रान्ति-दर्शनम् अ-लब्ध-योग-भूमिकत्वं तद्-भूमिकत्व-अन्-अवस्थितत्वं च नव चित्त-विक्षेपाः ते अन्तरायाः प्रतिबन्धाः नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]


[saha-bhū – arising together with; vikṣepa – distraction; duḥkha – sorrow; daurmanasya – despair; śvāsa – inhalation; praśvāsa – exhalation; ejayatva – causing agitation; aṅgam – body.]

दुःख-दौर्-मनस्य-अङ्गम्-एजयत्व-श्वास-प्रश्वासाः चित्त-दुःखं च चित्त-दुस्-स्थ-भावं च देह-अङ्ग-वेपथुः च यस्मात् चञ्चल-अपानाः चञ्चल-प्राणाः च ते विक्षेप-सह-भुवः चित्त-विक्षेपैः सह प्रवर्तमानाः॥ – [Vṛtti]

These two sūtras list twelve factors that distract the mind in this discipline. They are another expression of the five afflictions (kleśas). The scriptural literature has a number of ways of expressing the obstacles to gaining freedom in life. These two sūtras list many of them, however, the other sūtras tend to use the more succinct expression as the five kleśas – ignorance (a-vidyā), a possessive I-notion (asmitā), binding desire for (rāga) and against (dveṣa) objects and situations, and fear of death (abhiniveśa) (YS.2.3).

The detailed listing of the distractions here initiates a process in aspirants for addressing what they find most distracting from their goals, starting with health onwards. More importantly, these two sūtras connect those distractions that affect the body to the fact that they in turn affect the mind. This is where they become obstructions to yoga. One only needs adequate health to embark on this path. This is sometimes mistaken by those who believe that the body has to be perfected before meditation can even be taught or attempted.

Considering that traditionally one takes to the spiritual path fulltime in one’s later years as the final stage in life upon retirement – as a vāna-prastha (moving out of the family house to a private or public hermitage in the woods) or as a sannyāsin (a secluded or wandering renunciate) – imperfect health (flexibility, energy level, and so on) is not likely to have been seen as an unmanageable obstacle in yoga.


[tad-pratiṣedha-artha – for removing these; abhyāsa – repetition; eka-tattva – one reality.]

तद्-प्रतिषेध-अर्थम् अन्तराय-क्षय-अर्थम् एक-तत्त्व-अभ्यासः ईश्वर-एक-परम-तत्त्व-अर्थ-साधन-यत्नः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Some commentaries and most translations weaken this eka-tattva by taking it to mean only one object of contemplation. But this will be completely addressed in Yoga Sūtras 1.35 & 39. On the other hand, the ultimate tattva (reality) – the Lord understood as the completely free puruṣa that is oneself – has already been introduced and said to be appreciated as the remover of obstacles in the preceding sūtra 1.29. That tattva, the completely free puruṣa, and not some one object of desire is the goal of kaivalya (liberation). Therefore, its importance here as the key to removing distractions, to removing unsteadiness of the mind and objective self-acceptance of all that occurs in the mind, which is the goal of samādhi and hence of yoga itself, has to be and is included here.

Yoga is a method for attaining a goal that is already possessed, for attaining the perfect nature of oneself. This already attained goal is not appreciated due to ignorance of that nature resulting in misidentifying oneself with the various beliefs and opinions in the mind. This method begins and ends with contemplating the already, always present ultimate nature of the self. At first it may be helpful to appreciate this as the Lord. Finally, it is appreciated as the real nature of oneself.

It is like finding out that you are a twin by having your long lost twin come to your door and first simply tell you and then explain how you are twins. Initially, since the person looks a lot like you, you can understand how that person might be your twin, but finally you end up appreciating that you are the twin to this person. You were a twin before you knew you were a twin. You become the twin by appreciating the very fact itself, nothing else.

Only listening to the knowledge, listening to the teaching, not any change to the self, is required on your part. Contemplation on the ultimate person, at first, as the Lord – the person that you in fact are, and ultimately as the limitless reality within oneself – is the principle technique of Patañjali’s yoga. If you do not get it when you listen to the teaching, then there are a number of steps in yoga you can take to explain and clear any doubts.

Many of the commentators and most of the translators assume that Patañjali advocates a version of dualist Sāṅkhya philosophy. Their aversion to appreciating the Lord as the pure puruṣa that is oneself is understandable. Understandable, because that identity is not acceptable to Sāṅkhya philosophy, which holds that there is no Lord. Moreover Sāṅkhya says the puruṣas are many and separate, without being able to give a satisfactory explanation of how these puruṣas can be both nir-guṇa (attributeless) and yet somehow many and separate from each other. Many and separate, themselves, are attributes.

The so-called Sāṅkhya-Yoga philosophy also cannot accept the identity of the Lord and the self. They talk about a Lord as a separate, special puruṣa that one can pretend is in one’s heart, but who is not really there. That Lord sits somewhere staring, a unique non-action contact (saṃyoga) of the witnessing Lord, upon the witnessed pradhāna (unmanifest nature in non-evolving equilibrium) and somehow agitates the components (guṇas) within it into manifestation in the form of this evolving universe, with the purpose of being of service to the many puruṣas.

Sāṅkhya and Sāṅkhya-Yoga both accept this agitation into manifestation of an insentient entity. Both are very odd in that they rely on this literally impossible phenomenon to prop up their thesis of the distinction between the self (puruṣa) and an insentient nature that can evolve. Even if they hold that the unmanifest nature (pradhāna) is kind-of sentient by the presence of a sentient-like component (sattva), still their philosophy also holds that the puruṣa is nir-guṇa (attributeless) and so could not be something that stares itself in contact with anything else!

Their philosophy, for this reason, seems quaint and is logically inconsistent. This may be why so many yogins spend more of their time practicing yoga than thinking about the philosophy behind those practices. Patañjali does not propose or argue for any dualist philosophy in any of these sūtras. Patañjali never uses the term sāṅkhya in any of these sūtras. The dualist views are all Īśvara-kṛṣṇa’s contributions that have been assumed to be behind Patañjali’s yoga by later commentators. Īśvara-kṛṣṇa was a later philosopher who formulated a version of dualist philosophy called Sāṅkhya.

In regard to the Lord, Patañjali himself has no such reservation in offering many sūtras on this eka-tattva – eight so far and many more to follow. This can be taken as an indication that Patañjali was not an advocate of Sāṅkhya philosophy or a Sāṅkhya-Yoga philosophy. Patañjali, just as many Indian writers and commentators, did borrow common terminologies from the scriptures and also from each other. But borrowing some terminology does not necessarily entail accepting any of the philosophies that share these common terms.

Rather, Patañjali appears here as simply an advocate of yoga that includes samādhi (contemplation) and an appreciation of an intelligent Lord as a means for equipping the mind to attain kaivalya (liberation). The vast majority of seekers in India accept that kaivalya means a Lord that really is in one’s heart. They grow up with a shrine in their homes, parents who understand that Lord in the heart, and a habit of going to temple to affirm that Lord’s presence. The iconography of these temples clearly adheres to this concept. The seeker enters from the external world into the religious environs of the temple. At the center of the temple is a dark enclosure (the mind in ignorance of the Lord) wherein the Lord’s presence is illumined by the lamp (of knowledge).

Patañjali clearly takes an approach that accepts the same tenants as the Bhagavad Gītā, the other great and earlier, or perhaps contemporary, text on yoga. Patañjali expounds on the nuances of samādhi, which was only lightly touched upon in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gītā.

The Bhagavad Gītā is clearly based on Upaniṣad teachings and uses some of the same terminology as the original Upaniṣads. Sāṅkhya philosophy also borrowed from and elaborated upon the terminologies of the Upaniṣads. The Bhagavad Gītā clearly teaches a real, not a pretend, identity of the limitless Lord and the limitless self. Please see this author’s works on the Bhagavad Gītā for more on this topic.


[prasādana – clarity; citta – mind; bhāvanātas – through cultivating; maitrī – goodwill; sukha-viṣaya – the joyful; karuṇā – compassion; duḥkha[-viṣaya] – the sorrowful; muditā – approval; puṇya[-viṣaya] – the meritorious; upekṣā – allowance; a-puṇya[-viṣaya] – the non-meritorious.]

मैत्री-करुणा-मुदित-उपेक्षाणां सुख-दुःख-पुण्य-अ-पुण्य-विषयाणां सुखि-मैत्री दुःखि-करुणा पुण्यवत्-मुदिता अ-पुण्यवत्-उपेक्षा च तेषां भावनातः ध्यानात्, मैत्री-आदिं भावयेत् इति तस्मात् चित्त-प्रसादनम् अन्तःकरण-शुद्धिः॥ – [Vṛtti]

These attitudes – based on the universal value structure called dharma (universal justice) in the scripture – uphold an objective, non-distracting, and supportive relationship with oneself, other people, other living beings, and all situations around us. The student’s objective is to assimilate this teaching in all thinking, attitudes, and behavior. It is a way of life, not a philosophy. These and other values that support a more open and contemplative mind are fully developed in the Bhagavad Gītā.

The values noted in this sūtra are the student’s tools in addressing and assessing his or her attitudes toward him or herself as well as toward the world. Goodwill toward oneself is not self-indulgence. It is personal honesty and a commitment to integrate the various aspects of the psyche. It is a commitment to emotional maturity and inner growth. We envy another’s joy when we place unwarranted value on another’s possession or achievement. So neither the joy nor the envy is justified. Therefore to bear goodwill to oneself is to always have the highest value in mind, or easily available.

Compassion, actually empathy, is a natural and honest human connection to all living things. Compassion toward oneself is easily overdone; we tend to be extremely forgiving of our mistakes, even more so than we are of others. It takes a sensitive, uncompromising objectivity to evaluate our underlying motivations. Often our sorrows toward ourselves, our feelings of self-pity, voice our childish sense of entitlement and a more basic sense of worthlessness and unlovability. Feeling unworthy can influence our attitudes expressing judgment.

There is no healthy mind incapable of entertaining the full range of human behavior, from abject depravity to saintly beatitude. What makes a difference is a life of allowance, objectivity, and unconditional understanding. Again this works both in relationship to our self and to the world. The clarity, the steadiness of mind this sūtra suggests, is gained by the development and nurturing of buddhi, of the intellect, the higher mind which is non-reactive, non-judgmental, understanding, bright, enthusiastic, and cheerful. This teaching that addresses the self, the Lord, and the world in terms of the benevolent whole is a proven, teachable sharing of spiritual truth.


[ – also; pracchardana – exhalation; vidhāraṇa – retention; prāṇa – breath.]

चित्त-स्थैर्यं प्रच्छर्दन-विधारणाभ्यां बाह्य-अभन्तर-स्तम्भैः वा अपि प्राणस्य (YS.2.50)। – [Vṛtti]

More details and the purpose of this, as it relates to the other steps towards contemplation within the eight limbs (aṣṭāṅga) of yoga, will be presented in Yoga Sutras 2.49–52. This is the second time breath has been mentioned in this chapter (YS.1.31). In the second chapter the topic of breath will be covered, and in the third it is again taken up with reference to the gain of calm (YS.3.31). Breath control is important and should be considered and practiced in order to promote a composed, meditative mind. This is not an attempt to raise kuṇḍalinī (the coiled energy at the base of the spine) here. We are simply making an honest effort to own up to our already perfect self, free of ignorance, sorrow, and fear.

प्राणस्य इति ‘प्राणान् प्रपीड्य इह संयुक्त-चेष्टः क्षीणे प्राणे नासिकया उच्छ्वसीत। दुष्ट-अश्व-युक्तम् इव वाहम् एनं विद्वान् मनः धारयेत अ-प्रमत्तः’ इति (SvetU.2.9)॥


[ – also; utpanna – developing; pravṛtti – concerted mental pursuit; viṣayavatin – having but one object; nibandhanin – brings about; sthiti – steadiness; manas – mind.]

यतः श्रुति-आचार्य-उपदेश-विषयवती (YS.1.39 अपेक्ष्य) वा अपि ध्यान-प्रवृत्तिः उत्पन्ना, ततः मनसः स्थिति-निबन्धनी चित्त-स्थैर्यम्॥ – [Vṛtti]


[ – also; jyotiṣmatin – having the light; vi-śoka – free of sorrow.]

यतः वि-शोका शोक-रहितं चैतन्य-ज्योतिः अस्याः सा वा अपि ज्योतिष्मती हृद्-पुण्डरीके बुद्धौ चैतन्य-ज्योतिः अस्याः सा तद्-ध्यान-प्रवृत्तिः उत्पन्ना, ततः चित्त-स्थैर्यम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

This is contemplating the very nature of the awareful being that is oneself. This needs the person to understand that the shining being within is none other than the perfect puruṣa, the Lord. So instead of the contemplation upon the Lord as the perfect person in sūtra 1.23, this is upon the being within as the perfect person. Of course, they are the same, but this takes the understanding of the scripture. This is well taught in the scriptures, such as in the footnote quotations to this sūtra. Patañjali has already directed the seeker to the scripture (āgama) and he specifically indicates which scriptures by the terminology he uses – jyotis and viśoka. The commentator Vyāsa using the term hṛdaya-puṇḍarīka indicates the mantra from Kaivalya Upaniṣad which uses the equivalent term hṛd-puṇḍarīka.

Imagine the person who knows not the scripture behind these sūtras trying to contemplate some painless light inside his or her head. It is irresponsible to not indicate to seekers what this viśoka jyotis really is.

ज्योतिष्मती इति ‘अथ यद् अतः परः दिवः ज्योतिः दीप्यते विश्वतः पृष्ठेषु सर्वतः पृष्ठेषु अन्-उत्तमेषु उत्तमेषु लोकेषु इदं वाव तद् यद् इदम् अस्मिम् अन्तः पुरुषे ज्योतिः’ इति (ChanU.3.13.7); ‘ज्योतिषाम् अपि तद् ज्योतिः तमसः परम् उच्यते’ इति (BhG.13.17)। वि-शोका इति ‘न अस्य (देहस्य) जरया एतद् (अन्तर्-आकाशः ब्रह्म) जीर्यति, न वधेन अस्य हन्यते। एतत् सत्यं ब्रह्म-पुरम्, अस्मिन् कामाः समाहिताः॥ एषः आत्मा अपहत-पाप्मा वि-जरः वि-मृत्युः वि-शोकः वि-जिघत्सः अ-पिपासः सत्य-कामः सत्य-सङ्कल्पः’ इति (ChanU.8.1.5); ‘हृद्-पुण्डरीकं वि-रजं वि-शुद्धं विचिन्त्य, मध्ये (च) वि-शोदं वि-शोकं (परम-ईश्वरं विचिन्त्य)’ इति (KaivU.1.6)॥


[citta – mind; – also; vīta-rāga – no attachment; viṣayas – objects.]

यावत् वीत-राग-विषयं सर्व-विषयेषु रागाः विगताः अस्य वा अपि चित्तं, तावत् चित्त-स्थैर्यम्। – [Vṛtti]

Objects are manifestations of the tattvas (evolutes) of the world, in Sāṅkhya terminology. Thus attachment to objects, such as contemplating on the tattvas just to gain specific objects or powers, would be kliṣṭa (what hinders one’s progress in yoga, YS.3.37). These objects should instead be contemplated in order to see their limitations. These limitations, no matter how grand, are not one’s self, nor can they make a difference in or improve one’s self in any way, shape, or form.

वीत-रागम् इति ‘सम्प्राप्य एनम् ऋषयः ज्ञान-तृप्ताः कृत-आत्मानः वीत-रागाः प्रशान्ताः। ते सर्व-गं सर्वतः प्राप्य धीराः युक्त-आत्मानः सर्वम् एव आविशन्ति’ (MunU.3.2.5)॥


[ – also; ālambana – basis; jñāna – knowledge; svapna – dream; nidrā – sleep.]

यतः चित्तं स्वप्न-निद्रा-ज्ञान-आलम्बनम् ओम्-कार-ध्याने त्रि-आवस्था-श्रुति-ज्ञान-आश्रयं वा अपि, ततः चित्त-स्थैर्यम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

Like the Lord in reference to this entire waking world, I, the dreamer, can see myself as the Lord of the dream world, as its source and substance. Then in deep sleep, which is also just me, this dream world as well as the waking world resolves, like the universe resolves into an unmanifest state in the reality we call the Lord, until the next big-bang – in our case, the clang of the alarm clock. In this way one can come to assimilate how one can be that same reality from which the universe appears and into which it resolves. All this, as taught by the Upaniṣads, can be meditated upon with the help of Om, also called the ālambana (basis).

The Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, especially, presents the nature of the self, of reality, via the three states of experience, waking-dreaming-sleeping. It says the conscious being that in-forms all three states, that is always there, unaffected before, during, and after each of the appearances of these three states, is the reality of oneself, the reality of brahman (the infinite). So these experiences within waking life that we cling to as if they make or break us are, in comparison to the reality of oneself, no more real than dreams. These experiences are simply movements of the mind that come and go in its restlessness. This understanding is what is to be contemplated during recitation of Om in meditation. Every thought, every experience, is the same as this Om arising in awareness, remaining for a moment in awareness, then resolving back within the awareful being, within oneself. It is temporary; oneself alone is permanent and untainted by the appearances of thoughts.

These are not poetic statements that life is like a dream, but statements of fact about all our experiences, namely that all of life has a nature not essentially different from a dream – as simply the movement of the mind. This is reality based teaching. This and similar analyses of dream and deep sleep in the Upaniṣads is what Patañjali is referring to here in this sūtra, and again why scripture (āgama) is to be studied with the help of a skilled teacher.

The superficial commentary of Vyāsa on these last several sūtras led to a lack of independent analysis by the following commentators and translators. They completely miss the connection of these very important topics to their clear development in the scriptures. This allows a few translators to imagine that the ancient yogins were into psychotherapeutic dream analysis. This imagination cannot be laid at the feet of Vyāsa, though, as it is perhaps more a wish by those translators to make their medieval Sāṅkhya based interpretations sound current.

The teaching analyses dream not for therapeutic experiences but for its lesson in understanding what is the reality of this world, the dream, and oneself – the waker and dreamer. The Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad with its commentary especially details this critical understanding of the mind and oneself as its independent witness through waking, dream, and deep sleep (BrhU. 4.2 & 4.3 with commentary).

ज्ञान-आलम्बनम् इति ‘सर्वे वेदाः यत् पदम् आमनन्ति तपांसि सर्वाणि च यद् वदन्ति। यद् इच्छन्तः ब्रह्म-चर्यं चरन्ति तत् ते पदं संग्रहेण ब्रवीमि ओम् इति एतत्॥…एतद् आ॒लम्बनं श्रेष्ठम् एतद् आलम्बनं परम्। एतद् आलम्बनं ज्ञात्वा ब्रह्म-लोके महीयते’ इति (KathU.1.2.15 & 17); ‘न नरेण अ-वरेण प्रोक्तः एषः सु-विज्ञेयः बहुधा चिन्त्यमानः। अन्-अन्य-प्रोक्ते गतिः अत्र न अस्ति’ इति (KathU.1.2.8)। स्वप्न-ज्ञानम् इति ‘तस्य वै एतस्य पुरुषस्य द्वे एव स्थाने भवतः, इदं (भवत्-जन्म) च पर-लोक-स्थानं (शरीरादि-भूत-जन्मानि) च, सन्ध्यं तृतीयं स्वप्न-स्थानं, तस्मिन् सन्ध्ये स्थाने तिष्ठन् एते उभे स्थाने पश्यति इदं च पर-लोक-स्थानं च। अथ यथा-आक्रमः अयं पर-लोक-स्थाने भवति तम् (कर्म) आक्रमम् आक्रम्य उभयान् पाप्मनः आनन्दान् च पश्यति, सः यत्र प्रस्वपिति, अस्य लोकस्य सर्व-अवतः मात्राम् अपादाय स्वयं (स्थूल-शरीरं) विहत्य, स्वयं (स्वप्न-शरीरं) निर्माय, स्वेन भासा (वासना-आत्मक-अन्तःकरण-वृत्ति-प्रकाशेन) स्वेन ज्योतिषा प्रस्वपिति, अत्र अयं पुरुषः (आत्मा) स्वयं ज्योतिः भवति’ इति (BrhU.4.3.9)॥


[ – also; dhyāna – retaining a single pointed inquiry in contemplation; yathā-abhimata – any object one likes.]

यथा-अभिमत-ध्यानात् यथा-स्व-इष्टे अ-क्लिष्ट-विषये ध्यानात् वा अपि चित्त-स्थैर्यम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

One has to start somewhere. If only objects you desire attract you, then contemplate upon them in order to eventually appreciate their limitations through the teaching.


[vaśī-kāra – mastery; asya – of this; anta – extends; parama-aṇu – most minute; parama-mahattva – most pervasive.]

तद्-अभ्यासानां फलम् आह – परम-अणु-परम-महत्त्व-अन्तः अति-सूक्ष्म-विषय-आदिः आ लिङ्गमात्र-नाम-महत्त्व-विषयात् (YS.2.19) अस्य चित्तस्य वशी-कारः सर्व-दृश्येषु वैराग्य-रूपः (YS.1.15)॥ – [Vṛtti]

Mastery or control is not to be understood as power over individual things. Such a power and its craving, imagined to be a part of yoga or not, can only be based on the erroneous belief that objects, including this body and mind, can provide the satisfaction-full freedom which is the real goal of yoga and is the natural goal of everyone, whether they fully recognize it or not. Mastery, as had already been explained in Yoga Sūtra 1.15, here concerns the ability to pursue what is conducive and avoid what is not conducive to yoga. It is the nirodha (discipline) of the thoughts of the mind indicated in Yoga Sūtra 1.2 as the definition of yoga.

The power this individual body and mind can have over even a tiny portion of the universe is a pittance. The real mastery is freeing oneself from the notions that these things of the universe are an addition to or subtraction from me, are to be pursued and possessed, or feared and avoided. It is complete independence, a lack of dependence on anything. This complete mastery entails the appreciation that all this is not other than the reality that is oneself.

वशी-कारः इति ‘यः तु आत्म-रतिः एव स्याद् आत्म-तृप्तः च मानवः। आत्मनि एव च सन्तुष्टः तस्य कार्यं न विद्यते॥ न एव तस्य कृतेन अर्थः न अ-कृतेन इह कश्चन। न च अस्य सर्व-भूतेषु कश्चिद् अर्थ-व्यपाश्रयः’ इति (BhG.3.17–18)॥


[samāpatti – contemplation; vṛttis – thoughts; kṣīṇa – have waned; tat-añjanatā – what makes clearly evident that; tat-stha – which it rests upon; grahītṛ – knower; grahaṇa – knowing; grāhya – known; iva – like; abhijāta maṇi – quality crystal ball.]

क्षीण-वृत्तेः रजस्-तमस्-जनित-क्लेश-वृत्ति-क्षयः अस्य योगिनः, अभिजातस्य नित्य-निर्-दोष-स्व-रूपस्य इव मणेः स्फटिकस्य, ग्रहीतृ-ग्रहण-ग्राह्येषु विषयेषु तद्-स्थ-तद्-अञ्जनता ग्रहीतृ-आदि-स्थ-यद्-यद्-रूपस्य स्व-रूप-अ-परित्यागेन अपि तद्-रूपस्य दर्शनता समापत्तिः संप्रज्ञात-समाधिः इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

This is the immediate goal of yoga – a sufficiently clean and clear mind that can easily assimilate, can easily take on the truth of, any truth it rests upon, like a clear crystal takes on the exact color of any object it rests upon.


[tatra – there; samāpatti – contemplation; saṅkīrṇa – mixed up; vikalpa – imagination; śabda – word; arthaperceptual or logical object; jñāna – idea; sa-vitarka – with reasoning.]

तत्र चतुर्-विध-समापत्तौ प्रत्यक्ष-अनुमान-प्रमाण-विषयेषु शब्द-अर्थ-ज्ञान-विकल्पैः (YS.3.17) सङ्कीर्णा नाम च वस्तु (अस्मिता इत्यर्थः YS.1.17, 3.14 & 4.14) च तद्-रूप-वृत्तिः च, यथा ‘इदं घटः अस्ति’ इति तत्र ‘घटः’ इति नाम च ‘अस्ति’ इति वस्तु एव अर्थः च ‘इदम्’ इति तद्-रूप-वृत्तिः च, तेषां विकल्पित-भेद-स्मृतेः स-सन्निधिः इत्यर्थः स-वितर्का नाम प्रथमा समापत्तिः॥ – [Vṛtti]


[pariśuddhi – purified; smṛti – memory; nirbhāsa – illumination; artha-mātra – only the perceptual or logical object; iva – as if; śūnya – had no; sva-rūpa – form of its own; nis-vitarka – free of reasoning.]

प्रत्यक्ष-अनुमान-प्रमाण-विषयेषु स्मृति-परिशुद्धौ विकल्पित-भेद-स्मृति-परिशुद्धौ सतां स्व-रूप-शून्या इव यदि अपि भेद-वासना-बुद्धिः तिष्ठति, भेद-कल्पना-स्मृतिः सु-अल्प-कालं गलिता अस्याः सा इत्यर्थः अर्थमात्र-निर्भासा अस्मितामात्र-दर्शनता निर्-वितर्का नाम द्वितीया समापत्तिः॥ – [Vṛtti]

All objects of the universe, including the senses and mind with all its various ideas and notions, are but name and form, as the scripture never tires in pointing out. This getting past the name and form in the mind to their reality, their is-ness (YS.1.17), that is not separate from oneself is this being purified of memory of word and idea. The terms word and idea in these sūtras are the equivalent of the scripture’s terms name and form, respectively. The term memory is used because memory alone can be the vehicle to introduce into the current moment a name connected to a particular form learned in the past. Language, the matching of word with a form, is a skill learned in a culture over time that is retained in memory and applied to the current moment at hand. This language is the tool to distinguish objects through these different names and forms. If these distinguished objects are then given (are hypothesized to have) a reality beyond the reality of the applied names and forms from memory, then one is making a mistake of creating a reality for objects that is not there.

An example of such a mistake is hearing a noise in my room at night and bringing to mind the thought of a monster as actually existing in my room. When I know the thought as simply a thought, then it can be objectively investigated appropriately. When I believe, however, that there is an existing monster simply based on that thought, then this is a mistake.

A more subtle and devastating example is thinking of my body and becoming worried that I am ageing, thus I am subject to death, to disappear.

When I correctly know this body is simply a perceptual notion I have in the current moment, and when I correctly know that this notion is bound up with memories of a past body and with imaginations of an uncertain future body, and when I correctly know that the notion that I am this body is a mistake, then I can objectively see that this body is now something that may be called old but it is not me. This body is intrinsically only existing right now. There is no age for this current appearance other than the present moment. The reality of time and the flow of time will be analyzed in the later chapters to reveal this understanding (see comm. on YS.3.16, 52, 4.12–14 & 33). Though the momentary appearance of this body may be given the name old, still I do not then become old.

However, if I believe that this body now is the same as the body in the past memories of it and is the same as the body in the imagined uncertain future notions of it, and therefore it is a single continuous entity that is continually ageing till death, and this ageing till death is myself ageing, then this is a devastating, death-dealing mistake.

Believing that the current appearance of this body is a single continuous entity, external to and completely independent from thought and its content, is a mistake that does not necessarily cause a problem. This is just misidentifying a factual object (the current appearance of this body) with an imaginary object fading to its death. Thinking that what happens to this external entity is happening to me, to the notion I have of myself as the knower of these thoughts and entities, however, is a mistake that causes a problem. This latter mistake makes myself appear to be unduly limited and necessarily subjects this mind to baseless anxiety and fear – all because of shallow, loose thinking that mixes up entities and realities. This is misidentifying oneself with a factual or imaginary object – limiting oneself to whatever problem that object appears to have.

The moment, which is pure cognition, is the reality of oneself that is timeless (time-free) and limitless, whereas memory is of the past and imagination is of the future. These latter two are limited since they are simply thoughts in time that will go away in time. When contemplating the nature of the objects of the world, such as this body or the mind, in keeping with the teaching, one is objectively seeing their inherent limitations as simply names and forms. One sees their limitations as not belonging to or affecting the single reality in which they temporarily manifest as names and forms. This is the preliminary sa-vicāra contemplation.

Then, in nir-vicāra, one finally comes to appreciate the pure is-ness of the object as the same “I am,” the same is-ness of oneself, sat-cit (reality-consciousness), the reality in which these objects manifest. At the moment of appreciating this single reality basis of objects, one is not imagining separate, real existences for the contents of thoughts beyond their mere appearances in the moment, whether those contents be the memories of the names and forms that constitute the objects, or that content be another thought with the name and form of “I am now contemplating.” At that timeless moment, in other words, there is no notion distinguishing the thinker, thinking, and thought. The thought here is only of the nature of the object as is-ness. Hence, the normal activity of the mind employing its distinguishing names to various forms is missing, and is here said to be as though not there. Of course, it is there as the non-reflexive, non-distinguishing, non-dual thought of is-ness.

Many commentators and translators imagine that contemplating an object free of word and idea, free of name and form, is some special yoga vision that yields some kind of supernormal knowledge about that object. But think about that claim. Isn’t it that, when you remove word and idea, the object in fact can only disappear? How could it appear in contemplation without any form whatsoever? It cannot. Thus, how could there then be any special super vision that yields supernormal knowledge about the object by such contemplation? If there is no form, there can be no supernormal information about the object. That supernormal information also would have to be without name and form too, if it were, in fact, part of this contemplation. How could that be information at all?

Does the author claim that he or she has this super vision? Or, are they claiming that some yogins are said to have these super power? Can you attain complete freedom in your life which is the goal of yoga simply by believing anecdotal stories about some yogins somewhere else or in the past? Do you really believe you also have the stuff to attain those rare powers yourself?

Please think about such claims. Isn’t the scripture’s explanation given above the obvious way to understand these sūtras? Contemplating anything free of name and form can only be the scripture’s vision of non-dual reality, pure is-ness. This alone is a teaching grounded in reality and clarity that can actually help you, not something grounded in mysticism – if there is such an oxymoron.


[etayā eva – in that same way alone; sūkṣma-viṣayas – subtle objects; vyākhyāta – is explained; sa-vicāra – with inquiry; ca – and; nis-vicāra – free of inquiry.]

एतया एव यथा प्रत्यक्ष-अनुमान-प्रमाण-विषया समापत्तिः स-वितर्का निर्-वितर्का च, तथा स-विचारा निर्-विचारा च नाम सूक्ष्म-विषया विचार्य-श्रुति-प्रमाण-विषया व्याख्याता तृतीया चतुर्था च समापत्तिः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Inquiry (vicāra) is a term used for scriptural analysis of subtle objects not otherwise known through the senses, and thus not knowable by any logic (vitarka) based on sense perceptions.

Scriptural or divine objects, such as heaven or a particular form of a deity, though subtle in nature, are still objects. They are just not objects of the senses. They are either completely or mostly objects of the mind. Divine visions, such as when one dies and gets into heaven, are possible at that time by a provided subtle eye sight. Such subtle sights, sounds, etcetera would not be unlike the perceptions we have here within our dreams. These divine subtle objects, though, have no more intrinsic reality than the so-called mundane subtle objects, such as everyday thoughts, dreams, and so on. They both have the same subtle nature.

Even scriptural objects are but name and form alone. This getting past the name and form to their reality, their is-ness, that is not separate from oneself is this being purified of memory of word and idea. When contemplating the limited nature of the subtle objects presented in the scripture – which perception and logic cannot reach, such as the heavens or the subtlest nature of common objects (such as all objects being only a manifestation of the Lord), and, in keeping with the teaching, dismissing those limitations as not constituting separate real entities – one starts to appreciate the objective reality of the subtle object, freed of one’s mistaken or incomplete perspectives.

One then can ultimately come to appreciate the pure awareness of the subtle object as being the same “I am aware” awareness of the self, sat-cit (reality-consciousness). One gains a glimpse of the ultimate goal of yoga. At that time, one is not consciously aware of the thought process going on, of “I am now contemplating.”

Fully appreciating mundane or divine objects all the way to their is-ness is not anything like the fanciful imaginations that we read in modern yoga advertising brochures. Neither are they like Arjuna’s divine vision given to him by Lord Kṛṣṇa in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gītā. That divine vision was of forms that Arjuna could give names to. That was not a vision free of names and forms, free of memory of word and idea.

Seeing artha-mātra, an object purely free of erroneous mental projections, is not some mystical capacity hidden from others. Anything like an x-ray vision is still well within names and forms. All names and forms are projections, whether from x-ray vision, dream, or through the senses. A real vision, free of names and forms, can only be a non-sensory appreciation, understanding, of the is-ness of the object. That vision, then, only frees when it is clearly known that this is-ness is but the same is-ness of all objects, and is but the same is-ness of oneself (asmitā), and that is oneself.

Included in scriptural objects or topics are, of course, Īśvara (the Lord), ātman (oneself), and brahman (limitless reality). They are also, initially, only the notions we have about them, and, as such, have no more intrinsic reality than their subtle nature as thoughts. Inquiry into their real nature, though, through the scripture supported by reasoning, reveals their true nature through an expanded meaning of the words, free from erroneous notions that appeared to limit them. They are all nothing but limitless is-ness. They are the puruṣa, the being which alone is kaivalya (freedom).

सूक्ष्म-विषया इति ‘अर्जुन: उवाच। पश्यामि देवान् तव देव देहे सर्वान् तथा भूत-विशेष-सङ्घान्। ब्रह्माणम् ईशं कमल-आसन-स्थम् ऋषीन् च सर्वान् उर-गान् च दिव्यान्॥ अन्-एक-बाहु-उदर-वक्त्र-नेत्रं पश्यामि त्वां सर्वतः अन्-अन्त-रूपम्। न अन्तं न मध्यं न पुनः तव आदिं पश्यामि विश्व-ईश्वर विश्व-रूप…’ इति (BhG.11.15–16)॥


[ca – and; sūkṣma-viṣayatva – nature of being a subtle object; paryavasāna – reaches up to; a-liṅga – unmanifest.]

सूक्ष्म-विषयत्वम् अति-इन्द्रिय-श्रुति-प्रमाण-विषयत्वं च अ-लिङ्ग-पर्यवसानम् अति-सूक्ष्म-विषय-आदि आ लिङ्गमात्र-विषयात्, न तु आ अ-लिङ्गात् अ-लिङ्ग-प्रकृतेः विषय-अ-योग्यत्वात्॥ – [Vṛtti]

One can contemplate on one single object, such as an annoying habit one may have, particularly if it blocks doubt-free knowledge and one needs to get past that single sticking point to gain clarity in knowledge. This sūtra, however, indicates that, in general, one should move from contemplating innumerable single manifest objects to contemplating their subtle, uniting totality as presented in the scripture. Since this mind cannot comprehend much more than one object at a time, then this contemplation would be on the subtle nature that unites these objects (see YS.4.14).

All these contemplations based on the understanding of reality in the scripture, based on reasoning in keeping with the scripture (vitarka) and inquiry into the scripture (vicāra), are a subtle progression, leading to more subtle clarity of mind (YS.1.47–48). These contemplations connect the individual to the cosmos, and like the meditations in the Upaniṣads, called upāsanas, are meant to make the mind more subtle (pervasive) and amenable to the truth of all of reality.

The puruṣa is subtle but is never an object. In the scripture (āgama), which Patañjali accepts as a means of knowledge, it is called the subtlest (sūkṣmatara) and is the reality basis (satya) of even prakṛti. Prakṛti, being a-liṅga (unmanifest) and not oneself, is what naturally cannot be an object of contemplation. The term paryavasāna (meaning reaching culmination at) is thus here used exclusively, not inclusively. Subtle objects for meditation include everything subtle up to but not including prakṛti.

The puruṣa, however, though the subtlest but not an object, is one’s self and so not totally unknown. Hence, it can be appreciated not as an object, but as oneself free of limiting concepts and thus always clearly available, including in quiet contemplation, in a-saṃprajñāta samādhi (YS.1.18).

सूक्ष्म-विषयत्वम् इति ‘बृहत् च तद् दिव्यम् अ-चिन्त्य-रूपं सूक्ष्मात् च॑ तत् सू॒क्ष्मतरं विभाति। दूरात् सु-दूरे तद् इह अन्तिके च पश्यत्सु इह एव निहितं गुहायाम्’ इति (MunU.3.1.7); ‘मायां तु प्रकृतिं विद्यात् मायिनं च मह-ईश्वरम्’ इति (SvetU.4.10); ‘दैवी हि एषा गुणमयी मम माया दुर्-अत्यया। माम् एव ये प्रपद्यन्ते मायाम् एतां तरन्ति ते’ इति (BhG.7.14); ‘यद् एव साक्षाद् अ-परोक्षाद् ब्रह्म…एषः ते आत्मा सर्व-अन्तरः।…न दृष्टेः द्रष्टारं पश्येः, न श्रुतेः श्रोतारं शृणुयाः, न मतेः मन्तारं मन्वीथाः, न विज्ञातेः विज्ञातारं विजानीयाः’ इति (BrhU.3.4.2)॥


[tāḥ – these; eva – indeed; samādhi – contemplation; sa-bīja – that retains the seed.]

ताः चतुर्-विध-समापत्तयः एव स-बीजः स-अ-विद्या-कल्पित-भिन्न-विषय-आलम्बनः समाधिः (cf. YS.1.51)॥ – [Vṛtti]

The four sa-bīja samāpattis, in order of subtlety, were contemplation on common objects with reasoning (sa-vitarka) culminating in contemplation free of reasoning (nir-vitarka), and contemplation on subtle scriptural objects with inquiry (sa-vicāra) culminating in contemplation free of inquiry (nir-vicāra).

These reasonings and inquires, though helping (a-kliṣṭa) one’s progress in yoga, are nevertheless within the realm of the fundamental ignorance (a-vidyā) that is there from birth. Until the fundamental ignorance goes, every thought one entertains, even if it is scriptural, will be within the skewed perspective of this original ignorance.

How can a singular ignorance affect all thoughts? The reason is because this ignorance concerns the very nature of the seer of all thoughts, as well as the reality of all thoughts and their content. This fundamental ignorance takes what is unreal as real and the real as no better than the unreal (YS.2.5).

This is why one can listen to this teaching over and over and gain more clarity and more maturity, but there is yet no complete solution, no appreciation of complete freedom in one’s life, no acknowledgement of fearlessness as one’s being. The fundamental ignorance has to completely go. It cannot be kind of gone (YS.3.54).

This fundamental ignorance (including the teaching to get out of ignorance) and its resulting afflictions are the seeds (bījas, see YS.1.24, 50–51 & 2.3–4) that need to be rendered totally impotent for this teaching to finally bless. The teaching in all the Vedas, including their Upaniṣads, are just so many words, until their meaning is assimilated as clear knowledge – that knowledge alone is para-vidyā (knowledge of the unlimited). Even in quiet contemplation (a-saṃprajñāta samādhi) one’s ignorance remains as latent tendencies to raise doubts and confusion upon coming out of these temporary samādhis. Nevertheless, these samādhis are included in the limbs of yoga (see YS.3.1–8), and they serve their purpose in bringing discipline and clarity to the mind and thus making it contemplative.

Being contemplative allows this vision of truth to take hold in one’s life. Being ever contemplative – never outside of clear, valid thinking – is a spontaneous expression of, or conducive to, the complete assimilation of this teaching.

स-बीजः इति ‘ये तु एतद् अभ्यसूयन्तः न अनुतिष्ठन्ति मे मतं (=अनुशासनम्)। सर्व-ज्ञान-विमूढान् तान् विद्धि नष्टान् अ-चेतसः’ इति (BhG.3.32); ‘द्वे विद्ये वेदितव्ये इति ह स्म यद् ब्रह्म-विदः वदन्ति परा च एव अ-परा च॥ तत्र अ-परा ऋग्-वेदः यजुर्-वेदः साम-वेदः अथर्व-वेदः शिक्षा कल्पः व्याकरणं निरुक्तं छन्दो ज्योतिषम् इति। अथ परा यया तद् अक्षरं (ब्रह्म) अधिगम्यते’ इति (MunU.1.1.4–5); ‘यावान् अर्थः उद-पाने सर्वतः सम्प्लुत-उदके। तावान् सर्वेषु वेदेषु ब्राह्मणस्य (परम-अर्थ-तत्त्वं) विजानतः’ इति (BhG.2.46)॥


[vaiśāradya – mastery; nis-vicāra – free of inquiry; prasāda – clarity; adhi-ātman – mind.]

निर्-विचार-वैशारद्ये निर्-विचार-नाम-चतुर्थ-समाधि-परिपाकत्वे सति अधि-आत्म-प्रसादः अन्तःकरण-शुद्धिः, चित्ते यद्-किम्-चिद्-अल्प-मलस्य त्यागः अन्-आत्मतया इत्यर्थः (YS.4.25)॥ – [Vṛtti]

Here is pointed out the immediate goal of nir-vicāra samādhi. It is clarity of mind. And this clarity can ultimately culminate in knowledge as nir-bīja samādhi (see comm. on YS.1.51 & 3.9).

प्रसादः इति ‘राग-द्वेष-वियुक्तैः तु विषयान् इन्द्रियैः चरन्। आत्म-वश्यैः विधेय-आत्मा (=विधेय-चित्तः) प्रसादम् अधिगच्छति॥ प्रसादे सर्व-दुःखानां हानिः अस्य उपजायते। प्रसन्न-चेतसः हि आशु बुद्धिः पर्यवतिष्ठते’ इति (BhG.2.64–65)॥


[tatra – when that takes place; prajñā – knowledge; ṛtaṃ-bhara – bears the truth.]

या ऋतं-भरा सत्यं बिभर्त्ति, आत्म-सत्यं विवारयते इत्यर्थः तत्र चित्त-प्रसादे सति, सा प्रज्ञा श्रुति-प्रमाण-जनित-स्व-पुरुष-परिपक्व-ज्ञानं नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]

Here, it is not exactly explicit what the source of this prajñā (knowledge) is. Some say that samādhi is a source of knowledge, but that is not said by Patañjali. He has given three sources of knowledge (pramāṇas): pratyakṣa (direct perception), anumāna (indirect knowledge), and āgama (scripture) (YS.1.7). Samādhi has been exhaustively presented here as a method of clarifying and steadying the mind, which is an instrument in all three pramāṇas. In particular, samādhi has here been clearly presented as a means of gaining clarity with the two means of knowledge one is employing in these contemplations, namely the last two, reasoning (vitarka) and inquiry into the scripture (vicāra). Just as it has been indicated that the a-liṅga (unmanifest) cannot be an object of samāpatti or samādhi, so also the puruṣa (self), which is the witness of everything, cannot itself be an object of samādhi.

The grahītṛ (knower see YS.1.41) as an object of contemplation that is talked about in each of the preceding samāpattis has been carefully limited as just a notion about oneself (“I am…”) as a grahītṛ (knower), not the actual self that witnesses this mind’s notions. Thus, samādhi cannot be a unique means of knowledge of the puruṣa. And it is knowledge of the puruṣa that will be said to be kaivalya (freedom).

In this sūtra, when Patañjali uses the word prajñā (knowledge), one should understand it is a kind of knowledge, or rather an understanding drawn from āgama (scripture) in keeping with reason. It is an understanding that lacks full clarity that one will expand upon. It is an understanding one brings to the samādhi that can be and eventually is made clear by this method of clarifying the mind in regard to whatever is the object of the contemplation.

To know certain things we either do or we do not have to also contemplate them. For example, we do not have to contemplate on one plus one equals two, since, once clearly explained, there is nothing more to clarify. But contemplation is helpful to clearly understand subtle topics as to how they should be incorporated in one’s world view. In particular, this samādhi taught here is helpful in owning up to the subtlest nature of the universe as one’s very self.

The purpose of samādhi is indicated here by joining the prefix pra-, meaning thoroughly, with the Sanskrit verbal root jñā, meaning to know. Thus this sūtra indicates that the knowledge of subtle things does not bear its fruit of truth until it becomes thoroughly clear. This is the purpose of samādhi – to gain that clarity if it is not already there.

When it comes to knowing the self, the process is one of dropping concepts about the self that necessarily limit the self. I have knowledge of myself, namely, that I exist, but it is not clear due to being mixed up with innumerable limiting notions about myself.

This is not a blind dropping of any and all concepts; it is one of clearly understanding the inadequacies in these concepts as applying to the self. The way of approaching self-knowledge is given in the scripture as neti-neti (not this, not that) – I am not the things I think I love, not the body, not the mind, nor the ego which is just one aspect of the mind. But the end of this neti-neti is not nothingness or thoughtlessness. Neti-neti is directed at oneself, and the self can never be unknown, never be denied, and thus never dropped. The culmination of neti-neti is just being oneself, without limiting concepts of oneself.

This is described in the scriptures as knowledge. In the case of self-knowledge, the self is its own pramāṇa (means of knowledge), called svataḥ prāmāṇya (self-revealing – see comm. on YS.4.19–20), like any source of light does not require another source of light to physically illumine it. In other words, the self, which illumines everything including the concepts in the mind, also illumines itself, or more precisely, does not require another source to illumine it. This is the most direct knowledge – sākṣāt a-parokṣāt (immediate and not remote) – requiring no other instrument to reveal itself. But this self-revealing is not what one may think must come in an imagined white heat of meditation. It is not a unique meditative experience which makes the meditator somehow transformed or super-sensitive. The self-revealing reality, is-ness, is always present in every thought and between every thought – in “Pot is,” “Body is,” “I am,” everything is the is-ness I am. “Pot,” “Body,” “I” are just adjectives (upādhis, YS.3.14) that make no division, no limitation in is-ness. Any more added to that knowledge will limit oneself. And until this is assimilated, even “I am infinite” is a limiting imagination (see YS.1.9).

Here, samādhi becomes an upāya (means) to this end, through gaining clarity on the inapplicability of one’s own life-long and unexamined concepts of oneself through the words of the scripture that point out what the self is not.

And that is also why ultimate non-attachment (para-vairāgya) towards these near and dear concepts wrapped up with one’s ego is involved in this process so that they can be dropped once falsified. Knowing oneself is unlike other applications of seeking knowledge, such as learning one plus one equals two, where non-attachment plays no role. This is how and why ultimate non-attachment (para-vairāgya) is required (YS.1.12–16) to assimilate self-knowledge.

प्रज्ञा इति ‘अथ अतः आदेशः नेति नेति (=न इति न इति)’ इति (BrhU.2.3.6); ‘सः एषः नेति नेति आत्मा, अ-गृह्यः न हि गृह्यते (मनसा)…’ इति (BrhU.3.9.26…4.2.4, 4.22 & 5.15)॥


[arthatva – object; viśeṣa – unique; viṣaya – object; anya – other; prajñā – knowledge; śrutas – words of the scripture heard; anumānas – inferences.]

इयं प्रज्ञा श्रुत-अनुमान-प्रज्ञाभ्यां श्रुति-शब्दस्य अनुमानस्य वा प्रज्ञाभ्याम् अन्य-विषया, विशेष-अर्थत्वात् यस्मात् अस्याः पुरुष-प्रज्ञायाः विषयः केवलः, दृक् एव सन् न तु दृश्यं, सः दृक् स्व-प्रकाशकः इत्यर्थः (YS.4.18–22)॥ – [Vṛtti]

Words of the scripture and the supporting logic, the two means of knowledge brought into contemplation, cannot directly reveal the self. The self is instead self-revealing as I. Nevertheless, it takes words, takes teaching, to remove mistakes we have imposed on the self-revealing I.

This process of listening to the words of the scripture with their supporting logic, which together remove mistakes, can also be expressed as a going beyond the words to get to their implicit meaning, which points to the reality of oneself.

It is not a pursuit of learning how to discuss the topic of yoga, not a PhD course, nor a training to be a lecturer. It is rather a pursuit to be a yogin and attain the goal of yoga, which is liberation as the limitless self. If one is unclear on the nature of the self that one has been taught through words and with reasoning, then the clarity of mind that contemplation brings to these words and logic allows this teaching to be assimilated and brings the truth of this teaching into one’s life, in the first-person, not as a third-person topic.

It is possibly this distinction that Vyāsa in his commentary was alluding to by saying that the scope (viṣaya) of the words of the scripture and the supporting logic is general (sāmānya) (in my terms, is in the 3rd person), whereas, the scope of this assimilated knowledge (prajñā) is unique (viśeṣa) (in my terms, is in the 1st person).

This is the limitation of words, even the words of the scripture and logic. They both are in the realm of the 3rd person. They are about the topic. They, themselves, are not here the topic, the object talked about. Here that topic, that object, is I, oneself alone. This self is doubly viśeṣa (unique). First, the self is not the words or the logic, nor their object. Second, the self, the only thing that always remains the subject (I) and never an object (he, she, it, you), is unlike anything else in the universe. Everything else in the universe, including thoughts and even notions one has about oneself, are objects known. The ātman (self) alone is the only subject in the universe and can never be an object by its very nature.

This is why there is a need to assimilate this teaching and its supporting logic. The direct object of this teaching and supporting logic has the nature of being a 3rd person account about the self. What frees, though, is their 1st person assimilation that is the self free of the 3rd person erroneous notions imposed on the self, counteracted by an integrated understanding of the teaching and its supporting logic. It is a change from “The teaching says this or that about the limitless self,” to “I am the limitless self.”

This is, and has always been, the critical sticking point for every generation of all students. The student hears the teaching (called śravaṇa) and has been trying to understand the teaching (called manana), but seems to get stuck at not yet assimilating the teaching (called nididhyāsana).

In nididhyāsana, instead of being simply a repeated mental activity, it is a repeated operation of a means of knowledge. It is similar to opening the eyes to see a visual object. No effort is required other than to operate the means of knowledge, for example, by simply opening the eyes sight takes place. In nididhyāsana, one is simply bringing to a contemplative mind the teaching and seeing its truth.

A term related to nididhyāsana is upāsana (meditation). Upāsana is a practice prescribed in the ritual parts of the Vedas that is a mental ritual of visualizing in an object the Lord. It is a mental worship of the Lord. In the Vedas, it is primarily for gaining puṇya (karma merit) through this mental activity. The upāsanas in the Upaniṣads, the last part of the Vedas, on the other hand, pertain more to topics within the teaching methodology than to rituals, such as meditating on space as the source and resolution of the universe, as sa-guṇa-brahman (reality in reference to the attributes of nature).

These upāsanas develop a contemplative mind (cittasya naiścalya, steadiness of mind), and they have a special karma benefit (puṇya a-dṛṣṭa phala) later in life or in the after-life, such as getting to a better heaven. These Veda upāsanas have the same detailed prescriptions in their performances as Veda rituals. As such, by performing them wrongly, they can yield unwanted benefits (pāpa a-dṛṣṭa phala) also.

When these upāsanas, especially the ones from the Upaniṣads that relate to topics of the teaching methodology, are performed as a karma-yoga, as simply an offering to the Lord (Īśvara-praṇidhāna), they do not yield any special karma benefit (puṇya a-dṛṣṭa phala), nor unwanted benefit if performed wrongly. They instead always yield an immediate benefit of a more contemplative mind, in keeping with how well they are performed. If the upāsanas are a seeing of the truth of these teachings, these become contemplations.

A contemplative mind is integral to assimilating this teaching. There are students who, because of a mind sufficiently groomed over prior lives, quickly mature spiritually in this life and are able to assimilate the teaching upon first hearing it (śravaṇa). We see this in the Upaniṣad descriptions of certain students with their teacher. Others take longer to understand what they heard and longer to assimilate it – until they know with certitude, “I am what this teaching is about.”

Because of the universality of this vision, encompassing all of one’s understanding of the universe and oneself, the teaching cannot be fully assimilated until it is thoroughly understood. Not understanding the teaching correctly keeps the student from being able to assimilate it. When it is crystal clear, one can whole-heartedly jump into it, and just be it.

विशेष-अर्थत्वात् इति ‘न अयम् आत्मा प्रवचनेन लभ्यः न मेधया न बहना श्रुतेन। यम् एव एषः वृणुते तेन लभ्यः तस्य एषः आत्मा विवृणुते तनूं स्वाम्’ इति (KathU.1.2.23, MunU.3.2.3); ‘अन्-एजद् एकं मनसः जवीयः न एनद् देवाः आप्नुवन् पूर्वम् अर्षत्’ इति (IsU.4); ‘यतः वाचः निवर्तन्ते। अ-प्राप्य मनसा सह। आनन्दं ब्रह्मणः विद्वान्। न बिभेति कुतश्चन’ इति (TaitU.2.9.1); ‘न चक्षुषा गृह्यते न अपि वाचा न अन्यैः देवैः (इतर-इन्द्रियैः) तपसा कर्मणा वा’ इति (MunU.3.1.8); ‘न तत्र चक्षुः गच्छति न वाग् गच्छति न उ मनः॥…यद् वाचा अन्-अभ्युदितं येन वाग् अभ्युद्यते॥…यन् मनसा न मनुते येन आहुः मनः मतम्। तद् एव ब्रह्म त्वं विद्धि न इदं यद् इदम् उपासते’ इति (KenU.1.3–5); ‘श्रवणाय अपि बहुभिः यः न लभ्यः शृण्वन्तः अपि बहवः यं न विद्युः’ इति (KathU.1.2.7); ‘न एषा तर्केण मतिः आपनेया’ इति (KathU.1.2.9); ‘श्रुत्वा अपि एनं (आत्मानं) वेद न च एव कश्चित्’ इति (BhG.2.29); ‘आत्मा वै अरे द्रष्टव्यः – श्रोतव्यः मन्तव्यः निदिध्यासितव्यः, मैत्रेयि’ इति (BrhU.2.4.5 & 4.5.6); ‘बहु-जन्म-दृढ-अभ्यासात् देह-आदिषु आत्म-धीः क्षणात्। पुनः पुनः उदेति एवं जगत्-सत्यत्व-धीः अपि॥ विपरीता भावना इयं ऐक-अग्र्यात् सा निवर्तते। तत्त्व-उपदेशात् प्राक् एव भवति एतद् उपासनात्॥ उपास्तयः अतः एव अत्र ब्रह्म-शास्त्रे अपि चिन्तिताः। प्राक् अन्-अभ्यासिनः पश्चात् ब्रह्म-अभ्यासेन तद् भवेत्’ इति (PancD.7.103–105)॥


[saṃskāra – latent tendency; tad-ja – born of that; pratibandhin – counter-acts; anya – other; saṃskāras – latent tendencies.]

तद्-जः प्रज्ञा-जः श्रुति-प्रमाण-रूप-संस्कारः अन्य-संस्कार-प्रतिबन्धी अ-विद्या-जनित-संस्कार-प्रतिरोधकः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Clarity of knowledge through the preceding sa-bīja samādhi brings to maturity the saṃskāra, (latent impression) of the teaching of the limitless self. The teaching saṃskāra nullifies the ingrained but erroneous orientation that we each have had from beginningless time. Of course, this assumes that one is contemplating on the nature of the self and not on some object of desire or power. Contemplating worldly attachments, one remains in saṃsāra (rounds of unbecoming becoming and its attendant rebirths and deaths), chasing after phantoms with an enlarged ego. According to the Bhagavad Gītā chapter 16, such a lifestyle is trying to perfect the path of an asura, an unworthy person bent on consumption.

There are two sets of saṃskāras. One set is the inherent tendencies that manifest as the continuing ignorant notions and their effects in the mind and thus in one’s actions. Those saṃskāras are formed over lifetimes of erroneous thinking. The other set is the inherent tendencies that manifest as the recall of the teaching and its supporting logic. The second set counteracts, blocks, the first set of saṃskāras. The second set of saṃskāras also were formed over lifetimes, and have now brought you to listen to the teaching right here and now. It is this latter set of saṃskāras that pratibandhin (counter-acts) the other.

Note here that we are talking about saṃskāras, not actual thoughts themselves (again, please see Appendix - Nature of the Mind for a description of the mind within this tradition). Yoga is about getting at the source of the problem. The problem may appear to be the negative thinking one has about oneself, but here the deeper problem is the root inherent tendency to manifest these erroneous notions. These tendencies are within the unconscious and may involve psychological issues, as well as the normal but blocking orientation of an individual against a world out there.

That is why thoughtless samādhi is useless in yoga. Samādhi is all about bringing in the teaching from previous lifetimes (in the form of one’s accumulated beneficial saṃskāras) and from this life into the mind and assimilating it from 3rd person to 1st person in nature.

Properly, this samādhi occurs while one is walking around, as well as while sitting. It is the awareful, continuous attempt (YS.1.13–14) to assimilate the teaching. This alone strengthens the beneficial saṃskāras that effectively counteract any limiting notions about oneself before, during, or after they arise – during the samādhi and for the rest of one’s life.


[nirodha – dropping; tasya api – of even that; nirodha – dropping; sarva – everything; nir-bīja samādhi – contemplation free of seed.]

तस्य धान्-योगेन ज्ञान-योगेन, श्रुति-शब्द-रूप-संस्कारस्य अपि निरोधे त्यागे अन्-आत्मतया सर्व-निरोधात् सर्व-दृश्य-त्यागात् अन्-आत्मतया सति, निर्-बीजः अ-विद्या-बीज-रहितः नाम समाधिः समाधीयते यस्मिन् इति समाधिः, सः स्व-रूप-अवस्थानं न तु ध्यान-चित्त-क्रिया, नित्य-समाधिः परम-आत्म-स्व-रूप-ज्ञानतया इत्यर्थः (YS.3.8)॥ – [Vṛtti]

This nir-bīja samādhi is the natural, inevitable result of sa-bīja samādhi when one sees past the name and form of the object of contemplation to its reality basis, past the words of the contemplation to their meaning. That meaning is the limitless reality that is oneself. It is the fulfillment of the change from saṃprajñāta to a-saṃprajñāta samādhi, from 3rd person understanding to 1st person assimilated knowledge. After that, the teaching need not be repeatedly brought back to memory for the knowledge to remain clear and unshakable. There is no need for further activation of the teaching saṃskāras.

The latent tendencies needed to regenerate these memories of the teaching have done their job in sa-bīja samādhi. Now they are not needed to correct any erroneous thinking. They too are dropped; though they are not destroyed. Latent tendencies are not destroyed as several translators suppose. They are just not activated into memories of the teaching in the quiet stillness of nir-bīja samādhi. This is their nirodha, in much the same way as the erroneous saṃskāras were not destroyed in sa-bīja samādhi, only deactivated, rendered powerless for a period of time (YS.1.18) by the teaching’s saṃskāras. This quietude in nir-bīja samādhi, as we will see in sūtra 3.9, is in fact silently maintained by the saṃskāras of the teaching. They just do not manifest a thought in the form of a memory of the teaching during this nir-bīja samādhi.

This is one way of understanding what goes on in samādhi. It is a very mechanical way of understanding samādhi and the purpose of yoga. However, there is a much deeper way of understanding nir-bīja samādhi.

Instead of looking at this mechanically, paying far too much attention to what happens to the mind, the more fruitful vision is to look at the knowledge of the realities of nature including the mind and of the puruṣa, which alone is the real concern of Patañjali in these sūtras.

Actually, Vyāsa had a much better grasp of this than most of the current translators. In his commentary he says that the saṃskāras born of the teaching did not destroy the other saṃskāras, they instead cause the stopping (avasādayanti) of the other saṃskāras from manifesting the afflictions (kleśas) in the mind. He goes on to say that in nir-bīja samādhi the mind along with both sets of its latent tendencies remains merged in its own nature (saha saṃskārāiḥ cittaṃ svasyāṃ prakṛtau avasthitāyāṃ pravilīyate). For Vyāsa there is no destruction of saṃskāras, they only remain merged in their own nature, in the guṇas.

Even in a mechanical way, this is a much better expression of what is going on. It provides the basis for a discussion of what is meant by the resolution into its own nature. If the resolution of the mind is understood within a dualist philosophy, then the mind having been resolved in this way cannot reappear in any way, shape, or form. This mind, once capable of sublime thought on the nature of the universe and the puruṣa, is now disintegrated into its unthinking components, not to reform again. Is this outcome desirable by anyone?

If, however, the resolution of the mind is understood in the non-dual āgama tradition, then the mind – being clearly known as always being in its own insentient nature before, during, and after nir-bīja samādhi – cannot erroneously reappear confused as the sentient being that the puruṣa is, that I am. In that case, come what may in the mind, I remain in my own nature, free of identification with the thoughts in the mind.

This deeper understanding is recognition of the nature of the prajñā (knowledge) itself that allows nir-bīja samādhi. The knowledge is that the only reality is the reality that is oneself, and that reality is limitless, without a second. This means that as long as this knowledge is deeply assimilated in the 1st person, then even outside the seat of meditation this knowledge will remain. That knowledge is oneself – how could it not remain? Even while thoughts and their objects, the entire universe, parade in the mind, they are definitely known as not oneself, not the permanent reality, and hence unreal, less than real, dependent.

Their unreality is not that they do not appear in the mind. Many unreal (imaginary) things appear in our minds and we are not confused into thinking them real. In this case, every thought (imaginary or relatively real) is now known as unreal, as not absolutely real, not as real as oneself. This means that, being unreal by their nature, one is in nir-bīja samādhi without thoughts as being real, in and out of the seat of meditation. That is why we can have teachers who know (śrotriya) and have assimilated (brahma-niṣṭha) this reality (see comm. on YS.2.25), who can pass on this teaching to the next generation. Without this deeper understanding, no such teachers could exist. If resolution of the mind into its own nature is taken to be destruction of mind, great teachers would have to remain in the seat of nir-bīja samādhi, thoughtless and silent. This is not a helpful appreciation of kaivalya (freedom).

Why bother studying Patañjali’s text if you think he either did not yet have the knowledge he talked about, or he did, became a zombie, and that zombie wrote this? Now, if the mechanical resolution of the mind is only during meditation, but not afterward (which was not what Patañjali said), and thus if this freedom from the mind is just temporary in a-saṃprajñāta samādhi, then do either the ignorant saṃskāras activate again later, or not? If the ignorant saṃskāras return to being active, then the knowledge that brought a-saṃprajñāta samādhi was clearly not complete and fully assimilated. If you know one plus one is two, but forget it later, then did you in fact know it, or did you just memorize the answer for a while? If it was just memorizing an answer, then there never was knowledge (see comm. on YS.3.54).

The freedom that is kaivalya is knowledge, and that kaivalya, that knowledge, is the very nature of the puruṣa (YS.1.48, 2.25, 4.26 & 34). It was from the knowledge itself that nir-bīja samādhi effortlessly resulted. Nir-bīja samādhi, understood mechanically as simply quietude of the mind, would be just a state of the mind. The mind is not the puruṣa – at least Patañjali was clear about that! Any state of the mind, quietude or not, therefore, cannot be the kaivalya here.

In real kaivalya, which is the very nature of the self without identifying with any state of the mind, there is only the subject, oneself, as the only reality. Even when thoughts and their objects come and go, they are nothing but oneself, like all the bodies and all the thoughts in a dream, including my own body and thoughts therein, are nothing but me the dreamer. This was why Patañjali suggested contemplation on Om, and on the dream and sleep state.

Otherwise, if samādhi is without this discernment, without the teaching, then it is only a temporary dropping of problems, to be picked up again when thinking and the old latent tendencies kick back in (YS.1.18). This is why thought-less samādhi without the teaching has no efficacy here. Only clear knowledge (prajñā) has efficacy, since the problem is only one of ignorance.

सर्व-निरोधात् इति ‘यत्र (=यस्मिन् काले) उपरमते चित्तं निरुद्धं योग-सेवया। यत्र च एव आत्मना (=मनसा) आत्मानं पश्यन् आत्मनि (=स्वे) तुष्यति’ इति (BhG.6.20)। निर्-बीजः समाधिः इति ‘वेद अहम् एतं पुरुषं महान्तम् आदित्य-वर्णं तमसः परस्तात्। तम् एव विदित्वा अति मृत्युम् एति न अन्यः पन्था विद्यते अयनाय’ इति (SvetU.3.8)॥

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[kriyā-yoga – means in regard to activity; tapas – prayerful discipline; svādhyāya – one’s study of the family’s Veda scripture; Īśvara-praṇidhāna – surrendering to the Lord.]

अथ योग-प्रतिबन्ध-क्षय-उपायस्य भूयः विस्तारः – तपस्-स्व-अध्याय-ईश्वर-प्रणिधानानि (YS.2.43–45) देह-वाक्-मनसः शम-दम-उपरम-तितिक्षाः तपस्-साधनानि, विवेक-आत्मकः श्रवण-मनन-स्व-अध्यायः, अभ्यास-वैराग्य-आत्मकं परम-पुरुष-चिन्तनं च तानि क्रिया-योगः। आ-प्रत्याहार-यमादि-क्रीया:, प्रज्ञा-अर्थ-क्रिया-रूप-साधनं योगः इति क्रिया-योगः नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]

Prayerful discipline (tapas) is total commitment to one’s goal. The following words in the sūtra give the context of this commitment. Here it is commitment towards the scripture as a means of knowledge in order to gain the ultimate freedom that is the Lord. This naturally entails the physical and mental disciplines of a dedicated student. Again Patañjali emphasizes study of the scripture. That is where the reality teaching is given. It is through the scripture that one understands what it to be contemplated.

Īśvara-pra-ṇi-dhāna culminates, as was pointed out in the first pāda (chapter), in contemplation of the Lord, but it also means aligning (dhāna) oneself completely (pra-, prakarṣeṇa) with understanding (ni-, niścayena) towards the Lord, who is the whole order that expresses as this universe, and as this body and mind. In this, how one lives one’s life becomes an expression of a spontaneous sense of duty and care of all that is in-keeping with this order – respect for everyone and all of nature, with the proper values in support of this life style.

As part of kriyā-yoga, application of Īśvara-praṇidhāna in one’s life is emphasized here. This kriyā-yoga is the equivalent of karma-yoga in the Bhagavad Gītā, where this topic is more completely unfolded. Knowing that, Patañjali does not here develop this topic. Contemplation within yoga is the special topic of these sūtras. Here, when Īśvara-praṇidhāna is understood in its fullest extent, it includes all the limbs of yoga up to and including samādhi (YS.2.29), the contemplation of the perfect person (puruṣa) in the form of the Lord as oneself (YS.1.23–32).

The traditional teaching’s focus on the identity of self and the Lord helps develop one’s understanding of everything as interconnected. Seeing deeply into any one thing reveals the truth of everything. We will develop this more fully in the commentary on the many contemplations given in chapter three, sūtras 3.16–53. Here it is seen that the three components of kriyā-yoga are included in the niyamas, the second of the eight limbs of yoga (YS.2.32). In the Yoga Sūtras, the three components of kriyā-yoga in their full sense, and particularly Īśvara-praṇidhāna incorporate all eight limbs of yoga. Indeed, thinking through any universal value, or any of the limbs of yoga, or any object – in full measure – will reveal the uninterrupted correspondence of microcosm and macrocosm. This is seeing the macrocosm in the microcosm. This follows the principle that what is true here is true everywhere. Whether in samādhi or enjoying one’s mind and life, truly knowing oneself is knowing everything.

तपः इति ‘देव-द्विज-गुरु-प्राज्ञ-पूजनं शौचम् आर्जवम्। ब्रह्म-चर्यम् अहिंसा च शारीरं तपः उच्यते॥ अनुद्वेग-करं वाक्यं सत्यं प्रिय-हितं च यत्। स्व-अध्याय-अभ्यसनं च एव वाङ्मयं तपः उच्यते॥ मनः-प्रसादः सौम्यत्वं मौनम् आत्म-विनिग्रहः। भाव-संशुद्धिः इति एतत् तपः मानसम् उच्यते॥ श्रद्धया परया तप्तं तपः तत् त्रि-विधं नरैः। अ-फल-आकाङ्क्षिभिः युक्तैः सात्त्विकं परिचक्षते’ इति (BhG.17.14–17)। स्व-अध्यायः इति ‘आचार्य-कुलाद् वेदम् अधीत्य यथा-विधानं, गुरोः कर्म अतिशेषेण, अभिसमावृत्य कुटुम्बे (=गार्हस्थ्ये) शुचौ देशे स्वाध्यायम् अधीयानः…’ इति (ChanU.8.15.1)। ईश्वर-प्रणिधानम् इति ‘स-ततं कीर्तयन्तः मां यतन्तः च दृढ-व्रताः। नमस्यन्तः च मां भक्त्या नित्य-युक्ताः उपासते’ इति (BhG.9.14); ‘त्रयः धर्म-स्कन्धाः यज्ञः अध्ययनं दानम् इति प्रथमः, तपः एव द्वितीयः, ब्रह्म-चार्यी आचार्य-कुल-वासी तृतीयः अत्यन्तम् आत्मानम् आचार्य-कुले अवसादयन् सर्वे एते पुण्य-लोकाः भवन्ति, ब्रह्म-संस्थः (=ब्रह्मणि सम्यक्-स्थितः तु) (आत्यन्तिकम्) अ-मृतत्वम्’ इति (ChanU.2.23.1)॥


[artha – for; bhāvana – bringing about; samādhi – contemplation of the proper means of knowledge resulting in assimilation; ca – and; artha – for; tanū-karaṇa – minimizing; kleśas – afflictions.]

क्रिया-योगः समाधि-भावन-अर्थः समाधि-उपचय-अर्थः (YS.1.3, 24–25, 3.49, 55 & 4.34) क्लेश-तनू-करण-अर्थः क्लेश-अपचय-अर्थः ॥ – [Vṛtti]

Kriyā-yoga, which is the equivalent of karma-yoga, is a core aspect of the life of a yogin. The saints and sages of India underwent and were exposed to and influenced by this teaching discipline. If some saint appears to not have been formally initiated into this teaching tradition, then by his or her past karma, the person was naturally disciplined and had an appropriate attitude toward life and the universe. That person needed very little exposure to the teaching, which is inescapably heard in the cultural songs and literature of India, to be a saintly person. If you dream you are another exception, then a dream enlightenment may surely be yours. It would be better, though, to take advantage of this proven, detailed, and well maintained yoga tradition.

Karma-yoga is not, after all, an activity one does. It is instead an attitude based on understanding the reality of the world and of God. If one has this matured attitude, there is nothing more needed to be done to gain a mind that can assimilate this teaching. If one does not have this matured attitude, one may engage in activities that help bring about the necessary understanding to mature this attitude.

Karma-yoga brings about the two goals of yoga: samādhi culminating in an assimilated knowledge and freedom from the kleśas. These two goals are really just two ways of stating the same goal – being the perfect puruṣa (person, self). Put positively, this one goal is the freedom in the assimilation of self-knowledge with the help of samādhi (contemplation); put negatively it is the freedom from the kleśas.

क्लेश-तनू-करण-अर्थः इति ‘सिद्धिं प्राप्तः यथा ब्रह्म तथा आप्नोति निबोध मे। समासेन एव कौन्तेय निष्ठा ज्ञानस्य या परा॥ बुद्ध्या विशुद्धया युक्तः धृत्या आत्मानं नियम्य च। शब्द-आदीन् विषयान् त्यक्त्वा राग-द्वेषौ व्युदस्य च॥ विविक्त-सेवी लघु-आशी यत-वाक्-काय-मानसः। ध्यान-योग-परः नित्यं वैराग्यं समुपाश्रितः॥ अहङ्कारं बलं दर्पं कामं क्रोधं परिग्रहम्। विमुच्य निर्-ममः शान्तः ब्रह्म-भूयाय कल्पते॥ ब्रह्म-भूतः प्रसन्न-आत्मा (लब्ध-अध्यात्म-प्रसाद-स्व-भावः) न शोचति न काङ्क्षति। समः सर्वेषु भूतेषु मद्-भक्तिं लभते पराम्॥ भक्त्या माम् अभिजानाति यावान् यः च अस्मि तत्त्वतः। ततः मां तत्त्वतः ज्ञात्वा विशते तद्-अन्-अन्तरम्’ इति (BhG.18.50–55)॥


[pañca-kleśas – five afflictions; a-vidyā – ignorance; asmitā – I-notion; rāga – attachment; dveṣa – aversion; abhiniveśa – fear of death.]

अ-विद्या-अस्मिता-राग-द्वेष-अभिनिवेशाः वक्ष्यमाणाः पञ्च-क्लेशाः नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]

These five afflictions and their interrelationships will be unfolded in the next eight sūtras.


[a-vidyā – ignorance; kṣetra – soil; uttaras – others; prasupta – dormant; tanu – sprouting; vicchinna – variously breaking out; udāra – fully grown.]

अ-विद्या क्षेत्रं प्रसव-भूमिः, क्षेत्रम् इव क्षेत्रम् उत्तरेषां चतुर्-क्लेशानां प्रसुप्त-तनु-विच्छिन्न-उदाराणाम् ओषधिवत् बीज-उद्भव-स्फुटित-वृद्ध-रूपाणाम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

For those who have lived a full life of yoga, the first two, the dormant and the sprouting (like seeds), are subtle and can be taken care of by contemplation and self-inquiry, respectively. In this way the kleśas (afflictions) in these two states remain or are reduced to being dormant (prasupta). The later two, the variously breaking out and the fully grown, are where the kleśa has broken out of its obstructions or is unobstructed, respectively. Kriyā-yoga addresses these kleśas by bringing not only the mind but one’s activities to bear at reducing or neutralizing these afflictions.


[a-vidyā – ignorance; khyāti – determining; nitya – timeless; śuci – pure; sukha – satisfied; ātman – self; an-ātman – what is not the self; a-nitya – within time; a-śuci – impure; duḥkha – unsatisfied.]

अ-नित्य-अ-शुचि-दुःख-अन्-आत्मसु नित्य-शुचि-सुख-आत्म-ख्यातिः अ-नित्य-आत्मकेषु नित्य-आत्म-बुद्धिः अ-शुचि-आत्मकेषु शुचि-आत्म-बुद्धिः दुःख-आत्मकेषु आनन्द-आत्म-बुद्धिः, अ-तस्मिन् तद्-बुद्धिः परस्-पर-विरुद्ध-धर्म-अध्यासः इत्यर्थः आत्म-अन्-आत्म-अ-विवेक-रूपा अ-विद्या नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]

Ignorance is the erroneous transference of the natures of the mind, body, and their possessions and relationships upon the pure witness self; and the transference of the timeless reality nature of the witness self to the mind and body, and their possessions and relationships. The mutual transference is thinking, “I am time-bound, limited, and incomplete (like this body and mind)” and “the mind, body, possessions, and relationships should somehow last forever, be unlimited, and fully satisfying (like the pure witness self).” This is the fundamental mistake from which all other afflictions arise. It is not a simple cognitive mistake; it is a fundamental perspective with which all humans are born. This mistaken orientation requires an encompassing life of yoga to re-orient oneself in keeping with objectivity and with ultimate reality. Patañjali tells us that kriyā-yoga and vairāgya (non-attachment) are proven disciplines for reorientation.


[asmitā – I-notion; iva – apparent; eka-ātmatā – identity; śaktis – natures; dṛk – seer; darśana – instrument for seeing.]

अ-विद्या-गोचरे दृक्-दर्शन-शक्त्योः दृक्-आत्म-रूपस्य दृश्य-चित्त-रूपस्य च एक-आत्मता एक-रूपता ताद्-आत्म्यम् इव अस्मिता नाम अहम्-कारः अभिमानः इत्यर्थः, न तु समाधि-विषय-अस्मिता सत्यता॥ – [Vṛtti]

This mutual identity of oneself with the thoughts of the mind is called vṛtti-sārūpya (having the same form as the thoughts) in Yoga Sūtra 1.4. It includes the mind, in these cases manifesting as ego, thinking it is the witness self that should last forever, be unlimited, and fully satisfied. These are not possible for the mind, hence the resulting afflictions the ego, which is just one type of thought in this mind, suffers out of its own ignorance. The conflicts and defenses the ego suffers are rebuilt from childhood onwards – nurtured and possibly inflamed by parents who suffer their own problematic ego.

The mutual identification of the ego and the limitless I is the natural condition of every human being. We are not born with knowledge of the whole and of its identity with the self. Enlightened parents and qualified teachers can bring the light of knowledge to the darkness of self-ignorance. The specifics of the individual complexities of ego, of the kleśas, of anger and covetousness and self-criticism, are the field, the arena, for Patañjali’s kriyā-yoga and vairāgya. These are the ways to come to terms with the mind and its habitual misidentifications as the self. The unexamined and unresolved misidentification, the human mistake, perpetuates through the subtle processes identified in the traditional Indian understanding of the human condition.

This entity, the self identified with the mind, is the individual person called the jīva. The subtle mind, senses, and powers of the bodily functions, collectively called the subtle body, inhabit a physical body, and then move on when that physical body can no longer hold them. This is recognition of the continuance of energy, which is what this subtle body is. The subtle body is not an effect of the physical body. Rather, in this tradition, it is just the opposite. The physical is always an effect or a phenomenal manifestation of the subtle. The subtle body is independent – existing before, during, and after the physical body. In its presence, this physical body is animated; in its absence this body lies motionless and decaying. Whatever it is that makes that difference between a live and a dead body is called the subtle body. The witness self that is attribute free and therefore timeless lends reality, lends consciousness, to this composite subtle body. Again, the identification of that which has no attributes is taken to be the self in an apparent individual relationship with this subtle body. That self-identified subtle body is the transmigrating jīva, the individual.

The Sāṅkhya philosophers call the jīvas separate puruṣas. They mistakenly say the puruṣas are equivalent to the ātman taught in the Upaniṣads. There is an abrupt and irreconcilable discord in the Sāṅkhya explanation.

Īśvara-kṛṣṇa was the author responsible for formalizing many of the Sāṅkhya inconsistencies. The term sāṅkhya was a Sanskrit word meaning a well thought out reckoning, and was so used in the early literature of the Upaniṣads, the Purāṇas, and the Bhagavad-gītā as a term indicating the scriptural teaching relating to the self, the world, and God. The teaching tradition that takes the time and care to go through all the statements of the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad-gītā holds that there is only one reality, variously referred to by the terms brahman, ātman, or Īśvara, depending on whether the term is in reference, respectively, to itself, to oneself, or to the universe. It is this truly complete teaching that we present here and that brings understanding and relevant skills to the student.

Little is gained by philosophies which seek to confirm our innate sense of ultimate separation between individuals. Patañjali does not suggest a multiplicity of puruṣas. It is the one reality (the eka-tattva), the identification of the self and the Lord through knowledge, that provides meaningful contemplation and a fully integrated emotional and physical life. This is the original sāṅkhya taught in the scriptures. It is the clear teaching in the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad-gītā. Patañjali makes no claims that would force these sūtras outside of this tradition.


[rāga – attachment; anuśayin – being in-keeping; sukhas – pleasurable objects.]

अ-विद्या-अस्मिता-वशात् सुख-अनुशयी सुख-दृश्यैः अनुरूपवान् रागः नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]


[dveṣa – aversion; anuśayin – being in-keeping; duḥkhas – painful objects.]

दुःख-अनुशयी दुःख-दृश्यैः अनुरूपवान् द्वेषः नाम च॥ – [Vṛtti]

Both attachment (rāga, bandana-kāma binding desire) and aversion are impositions on objects of a capacity to be consistent sources of pleasure or sorrow. Seen as sources of pleasure and pain, we act upon those judgments, those beliefs, accordingly. Our judgments are based on subtle impressions (saṃskāras) formed during previous contact with similar objects and on our incessant desire to be fulfilled and satisfied.

However, when objectively seen, objects, animate or inanimate, do not intrinsically have that nature of being a source of pleasure or pain. Pleasure and pain are subjective judgments related to the mind and senses. The objects are what they are. The same object will stimulate pleasure or pain at one time and not at another; it will stimulate one person but not another, one creature but not another. Objects remain what they are irrespective of the imposition of emotional or sensed qualities upon them. Again, it is the individual’s unexamined and persistent need to find a sense of wholeness and satisfaction that drives him or her to attribute the potential for fulfillment to objects. It is the unexamined and wanting notion one has of oneself that drives an individual to seek remedy, or control, or approval, or attention, or safety, from the people with whom he or she is emotionally involved.

What Patañjali and the Yoga Sutras teach is that the only source of happiness and fulfillment is the fully realized self. When the student relieves objects, including other people, of the burden of providing satisfaction, when the value structure is appropriate, objects can serve their purpose and the student can enjoy or appreciate them and himself, or herself, without the confusion.

It is a human tendency to become emotionally attached to objects of desire and to distance from or reject what seems to bring pain. Contemplation is an effective tool for freeing oneself from emotional reactivity. Īśvara-praṇidhāna (acknowledgement of the Lord as the universal order) helps here, because the Lord manifests not only as the physical order, but also as the psychological order. This acknowledgement and appreciation is relating one’s individual mind and body objectively within the total. This interconnected universe is a given, mostly outside one’s own two hands. One learns to accept this order graciously.

Each person has a psychological background, and so too another person has his or her own background. If, in-keeping with the order, these two do not mesh together, then with this objective understanding one may stay away from another. One can draw a boundary – physically, emotionally, or intellectually (that is, make decisions that maintain a boundary). To hate another person is not objective, nor helpful, nor even natural, since one typically has to work oneself into that emotion. Hatred stems from an unwarranted imagination of this person as a source of pain (perhaps due to one’s own inability to maintain adequate boundaries) and an unwarranted expectation of this person as being a source of pleasure, when all there is objectively is a potential clash of personalities or activities, which can be managed more wisely.

To have a desire for or against something or someone is not the problem. These are privileges and necessities in order to enjoy the variety in nature. Otherwise, one would be an insensitive automaton. The problem is when one identifies with and becomes that obsession or hatred. This is being in-keeping with objects mixed up with one’s imagination upon them. One imposes the nature of being a source of pleasure or pain on the object, then oneself becomes different towards that object in keeping with one’s imagination upon it. This is another form of mutual imposing of natures, another expression of the basic ignorance.


[abhiniveśa – fear of death; vāhin – passed on; sva-rasa – one’s subtle essence; tathā – in that way; rūḍha (or ārūḍha) – well rooted; api – even; vidvas – scholar.]

स्व-रस-वाही स्व-रसतः प्रवाल-शीलः सन् विदुषः पर-लोक-आस्तिका-पण्डितस्य इत्यर्थः अपि तथा रूढः (आरूढः) मूलितः, दुर्-उन्मूलितः इत्यर्थः अभिनिवेशः नाशे अ-नित्यत्वे संसारे निमज्जन-रूप-भयं नाम पञ्चमः क्लेशः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Ni-veśa, and thus abhi-ni-veśa, normally means entering into or clinging to in classical Sanskrit, where here it can mean clinging to life or self-preservation. However, yoga has a particular meaning for the word. The word can as well be taken from the old Ṛg-Veda meaning for the Sanskrit prefix ni with the verbal root viś, from which come the words ni-veśa and abhi-ni-veśa. That old meaning is to sink down, to vanish, to cease, hence the meaning death, and, as an affliction, the fear of death – the fear that one will not be there after the body dies. The misidentification of the time-free self with the body’s changes causes us to assume that the body should last forever and causes us to see our selves as mortal. We seem shocked and find it difficult to accept that this decay is happening to oneself.

Even scriptural scholars who believe in life after death of the body still show fear and non-acceptance of death. What the āgamas (scriptures) reveal is beyond scholarly information; it is knowledge that affords a reorientation in understanding of oneself and the world. Yoga is the means to assimilation of that knowledge.

The reality here is that it is the body that we see dying. The consciousness, the is-ness that is my self, which is manifest as my mind, is the witness of this change in the body. To assume that the one who is witnessing it is dying, is the same kind of misidentification we can experience watching a 3-D movie, ducking every now and then because of that misidentification. It is another expression of the fundamental ignorance. If that is resolved, then so are all these afflictions, because these afflictions are not based in objective reality. It is a clear case of knowledge alone being the solution. But it is a knowledge that requires thorough assimilation for its benefit to manifest in one’s life. The saṃskāras (subtle impressions in the mind) and the scars of an unexamined emotional life do not yield readily. They have ways of coming back that require vigilance and patience until knowledge is free of doubt and spontaneous.

Fear of death is the mother of all fears, and that is why it is included here as one of the afflictions. It is also taken up in the Bhagavad Gītā, when fear of inflicting death on members of his own family and clan impels Arjuna to seek from Kṛṣṇa the teaching that frees one from unwanted fear of death. Every living being shares the survival instinct. Perhaps we retain some memory of prior deaths and loss that conditions the present life. Perhaps there was pain involved that informs us now. Otherwise, it is difficult to account for this natural fear and behavior towards something we had not experienced before.

It is not a fear of the unknown, though that also may be there. Can one really believe that a mosquito avoids its death because of fear of the unknown? This tradition’s explanation is that the subtle body and mind carry forth from birth to birth the impressions (saṃskāras) related to fundamental self-ignorance which result in, among other things, a fear of death. In modern science, we may attribute it to instinctual mechanisms passed on through DNA. Either way, this fear results from subtle sources that come with birth. The various forms of the fear are lodged in the subtle recesses of the mind, and may be neutralized, according to this tradition, by better assimilation of this teaching. But fear itself is only eliminated by a fully ascertained knowledge that I am limitless in terms of time and the notion of duality is erroneous.

Fear is not because of a second thing. There is, in fact, no second thing in reality. Nevertheless, we seem to have fear. Fear is thinking something else limits me. A wise person has the whole world all around, but fears not. The world is a secondary reality that makes no difference in the wise person.

The subtle world is a part of the order in the universe we call the manifestation of the Lord. Science is also part of the manifestation of the order which is the Lord, and without that order there would be no mathematics or science.

Some may have issue with a Lord. The issue is really with their concept of a Lord. This teaching tries to invoke the most open and broad sense for the term Lord. Any concept that cannot stand inquiry, including inappropriate or inadequate concepts of a Lord, need to drop in the light of a fuller understanding.

There is an intelligent order that pervades the entire universe, which enforces e=mc², as well as allows that formulation’s understanding. So, one logically needs an all-pervasive term to capture that fact. This is what is attempted here with the term Lord. It is a term used in the context of a very important understanding of a universe that is both sentient and insentient, but in both cases is completely intelligent. This universe manifest to our senses and understanding has its complete being in this Lord alone. The proof of such a Lord is, then, everywhere around. Open your eyes and you are seeing the Lord. Close your eyes and there is the Lord. You yourself are this Lord, and the Lord is you. If your concept of the Lord is smaller than this, then this teaching is here to expand it.

These scriptures are there because of the human mind. These minds do not differ in their issues and problems. If generations after generations contribute their understanding of these issues, such as in a scripture that grew and was gathered over millenniums like the Vedas, and faithfully commented upon for millenniums afterwards, then, when you look into that, you will see the basic truths of your own mind. They all had to deal with death for millenniums. They have something to teach on this subject, and it could be more profound than one can imagine.


[te – those; sūkṣma – subtle; heya – to be given up; prati-prasava – by resolving.]

ते अ-विद्या-कार्य-चतुर्-क्लेशाः प्रतिप्रसव-हेयाः शमेन हेयाः, अ-विद्या-आश्रय-प्रदर्शनेन त्यज्याः इत्यर्थः एवं-भूत-हेयाः काः रूपाः? – सूक्ष्माः प्रसुप्त-तनु-रूपाः क्लेषाः, विच्छिन्न-उदार-रूपाः तु शम-दम-हेयाः क्रिया-योगेन हेयाः इत्यर्थः, अथवा सूक्ष्माः प्रसुप्ताः एव, अ-क्लिष्ट-रूपाः सन्तः तेषां हानं गुण-प्रतिप्रसवः कैवल्यं (YS.4.34)॥ – [Vṛtti]

The kleśas (afflictions) arise from ignorance of reality, ignorance of the truth. Ignorance alone is their ground of being. When these afflictions are still just subtle thoughts, not broken out or in full bloom in one’s behavior, one only needs to see them as their source, as ignorance alone. By this, they easily resolve or dissolve themselves. No further counter action is required. This seeing their falsity can be employed anywhere and anytime, including in the seat of meditation. Basically, it is the application of objective, common sense to one’s afflictions. If their source in ignorance, in untruth, is not clearly seen continue your studies of this teaching with a competent teacher.


[tad-vṛttis – their expressions; heya – to be given up; dhyāna – retaining a single pointed inquiry in contemplation.]

ध्यान-हेयाः ध्यानेन हेयाः (e.g., YS.2.33–34) अपि तद्-वृत्तयः ते सूक्ष्म-क्लेश-आकाराः तनूनां वर्तमान-आकाराः पूर्व-प्रसुप्तानां भविष्य-आकाराः च, अथवा तद्-वृत्तयाः प्रसुप्त-अन्य-वृत्तयाः तनु-विच्छिन्न-उदार-आकाराः, क्लिष्ट-रूपाः सन्तः क्रिया-योग-ध्यान-अन्तेन साधनेन हेयाः॥ – [Vṛtti]

In contemplation, when these afflictions arise out of new and old saṃskāras, they are observed objectively, without identifying them as being associated with myself, and then let go without pursuing them, without being in-keeping with them, anuśayin (YS.2.7–8). Contemplation is a quiet, mental pursuit that allows these sub-conscious afflictions to bubble up and be clearly seen. But in contemplation one exercises the capacity to choose to not react to them by not identifying with them. This deliberate, contemplative attitude of objectivity carries over into one’s entire life, where it continues to counteract the afflictions. Contemplation requires prior inquiry (vicāra); this inquiry is brought into the contemplation in an abbreviated form. Inquiry into these afflictions exposes their erroneous nature. Seeing them as simply forms of ignorance, the afflictions are neutralized as being real impediments in life, so that one naturally can mature out of them.


[kleśas – afflictions; mūla – source; karma-āśayakarma-storage; vedanīya – to be experienced; janmas – births; dṛṣṭa – seen; a-dṛṣṭa – unseen.]

क्लेश-मूलः क्लेश-मूलवान् कर्म-आशयः एक-जीवस्य कर्म-निधानं सूक्ष्म-कारण-शरीर-गतं नाम दृष्ट-अ-दृष्ट-जन्म-वेदनीयः इह-जन्मनि अमुत्र-जन्मनि च अनुभाव्यः॥ – [Vṛtti]

It is said that only humans (or the equivalents to humans on other planets) can give rise to karma since it requires a faculty of choice, an intellect (buddhi). If a creature has no faculty of choice to guide its actions, as is the case with plants, insects, and other animals, then that creature has no resulting responsibility for those actions performed in that embodiment. These creatures have a mind (manas) that is controlled by instincts, and its own likes and dislikes which come with or are acquired in that birth. It is also said that subtle beings born into pleasant or unpleasant, purely subtle realms, such as a heaven, cannot accumulate new karma, since those embodiments, like other non-human physical embodiments, are only meant to exhaust certain karmas from an already existing karma-āśaya. The individual’s karma-āśaya is not somewhere in a heavenly vault; it is part of the individual’s subtle body (karaṇa-śarīra) that is with you right now in an unmanifest, potential form.

Only humans, or beings that are the equivalent to human in terms of having an intellect capable of making choices based on free-will and on the certitude of the judgment, “I am the doer,” “I am the experiencer,” and “I will reap the expected results of my actions,” can cause further births. Moreover, they alone can end their string of births through gaining knowledge of reality. That is also why the universe-manifestation cycles are beginningless. There always has to be the equivalent, or better, of humans for there to be the karmas for rebirths now and in the past. These universes are manifested in order to provide the variety of beings and variety of situations for exhaustion of these innumerable karmas.

This whole scheme of how the universe and its cycles are put together is, of course, a reflection of, and a discourse directed at the human mind, and itself is thus a reflection of the fundamental ignorance by which the human is born. The description of karma and rebirth is not of absolute reality. Instead, it is a means to understand the nature of conditional, dependent reality and of one’s experiences so that one can more easily understand and appreciate the teaching of the limitless reality that brings a mature freedom in one’s life.


[mūla – source; sati – is there; tad-vipāka – fruition of those; jātis – births; āyuses – life-spans; bhogas – life-experiences.]

सति क्लेश-कर्म-रूपे मूले, तद्-विपाकः तद्-कर्मणः फलं जाति-आयुर्-भोगाः प्रति-जन्म च आयुः च अनुभवः च॥ – [Vṛtti]


[te – these; phalas – results; hlādas – pleasures; paritāpas – pains; hetutva – they are caused; puṇya – merit; a-puṇya – demerit.]

ते जाति-आयुर्-भोगाः ह्लाद-परिताप-फलाः सुख-दुःख-फलवन्तः पुण्य-अ-पुण्य-हेतुत्वात्॥ – [Vṛtti]


[vivekins – discerning; sarva – all; duḥkha – painful; eva – alone; duḥkhas – pains; pariṇāma – change; tāpa – worry; saṃskāras – latent tendencies; ca – and; virodha – opposition; vṛtti – play; guṇas – components of nature.]

परिणाम-ताप-संस्कार-दुःखैः विकार-दुःखैः क्लेश-दुःखैः दुःख-बीज-संस्कारैः च गुण-वृत्ति-विरोधात् च, दुःखम् अ-दुःख-रहितम् एव सर्वं जगत् सुख-दुःख-मिश्रं सत् विवेकिनः तेषां सर्व-संसारः अन्-इष्टः जगत्-स्व-रूप-परम-आत्मा एव इष्टः च इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Why is keeping these births going unpleasant when pleasures are also mixed in? Change always involves loss. All pleasures, as experiences, come at a loss in the form of what it took to get each pleasure, what else one missed in getting that, and the wear and tear on the body and mind in entertaining and holding on to that pleasure.

The word tāpa means heat or fever. In the context of these sūtras, tāpa means worry, the overactive mind anticipating pleasure, its intensity and duration, concerned about securing the pleasurable object from competitors, and finally apprehensive over when that possessed object and oneself will decline and parish. Pleasures intensify the attachment to objects and strengthen tendencies (saṃskāras) to pursue more pleasures. These new and strengthened desires lead to actions whose future results necessitate more births, along with their additional mixtures of pains in the process.

Objects of pleasure and the instruments we use to enjoy pleasure – the body, senses, and mind – are composed of the three guṇas. All objects exhibit all three guṇas. These three guṇas continually over-power each other throughout the day and one’s life. Candy creates cavities; ice-cream consumed too quickly creates headaches. Good food spoils. The tamas of old-age overpowers the agility (rajas) of youth. Pleasure (sattva) leads to exhaustion (tamas) which interferes with one’s activities (rajas). The urge to get busy (rajas) overcomes the sleepiness (tamas), and causes one to be distracted from the experience of pleasure (sattva). The fluctuation is endless. No one expression of a guṇa can remain in isolation, holding off other expressions.

Moreover, every thing is painful alone, since the only source of pleasure is one’s self. In fact, the self is not even the source; it is the pleasure. Everything else is a pale reflection of that pleasure, which, if we miss the satisfaction in one’s self, entices us to chase after that shadow, always leading us away from the real satisfaction. Hence they always tend towards dissatisfaction. Therefore, the discerning have an objective view towards all things. They see that all limitations are inextricably bound with pain, whereas the limitless self is free of all pain, and thus there is no reason for sorrow. When one’s self is not accepted as being in pain, then the pain belonging to the body can be endured without causing sorrow.

Those who discern are not more unhappy than the non-discerning, although some commentaries explain this sūtra in that way. But ignorance is not bliss. If it was then would you rather redo your choices in life knowing what you know now, or not?

It is not the case that this pursuit of freedom increases the experience of sorrow. Objectivity, matured by this teaching and its contemplation, is the avoidance of bondage towards irrational elation, and of bondage from irrational sorrow. Non-attachment (vairāgya) is not a pursuit to become passionless or to become more sad. In fact, there is a great passion for gaining the knowledge that frees. Non-attachment is to be more objective and factual towards the world, to see that the real passion and real pleasure in life has one’s self as its basis, its reality. This pleasure, this reality, does not wax and wane, cannot have a more or a less. One discovers this limitless reality as oneself that no longer requires attachment to situations that fit the mind’s subjective and flirtatious perspectives in order to become happy. This is what is being pointed out here.

We all live lives confused with regard to the ability of objects to give happiness until we are taught by those who actually discern the confusion and its cause. This discernment (viveka) is the essence of the yoga of Patañjali and of the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad Gītā where the discernment is explored and emphasized. It is taught that one’s self alone is the source of happiness never to be missed, and anything else is a shadow of this happiness. In fact, unhappiness, grief, is said there to be illegitimate, simply by clear reasoning, even without knowing oneself as independent from the body or the soul.

The yogin who is objectively rational and who knows himself or herself as completely independent from the objects of the world is the one with real śānti, real satisfaction and happiness in life, not otherwise. Turning away from once pleasurable things is indeed only possible, and real, to the extent that one has already discovered the pleasure that is one’s self. The Bhagavad Gītā clearly explains this.

Even the very next sūtra tells us that sorrow, unhappiness, is no longer to be entertained in the yogin’s life.

दुःखैः इति ‘इह एव सन्तः अथ विद्मः तद् (ब्रह्म) वयम्, न चेद् अ-वेदिः महती विनष्टिः। ये तद् विदुः अ-मृताः ते भवन्ति, अथ इतरे दुःखम् एव आपियन्ति’ इति (BrhU.4.4.14)। गुण-वृत्तिः इति ‘रजः तमः च च अभिभूय सत्त्वं भवति भारत। रजः सत्त्वं तमः च एव तमः सत्त्वं रजः तथा’ इति (BhG.14.10)। विवेकिनः इति ‘अ-शोच्यान् अन्वशोचः त्वं प्रज्ञा-वादान् च भाषसे। गत-असून् अ-गत-असून् च न अनुशोचन्ति पण्डिताः’ इति (BhG.2.11)। परिणामः इति ‘मात्रा-स्पर्शाः तु कौन्तेय शीत-उष्ण-सुख-दुःख-दाः। आगम-अपायिनः अ-नित्याः तान् तितिक्षस्व भारत’ इति (BhG.2.14); ‘अथ च एनं नित्य-जातं नित्यं वा मन्यसे मृतम्। तथा अपि त्वं महा-बाहो न एवं शोचितुम् अर्हसि॥ जातस्य हि ध्रुवः मृत्युः ध्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च। तस्माद् अ-परिहार्ये अर्थे न त्वं शोचितुम् अर्हसि॥ अ-व्यक्त-आदीनि भूतानि व्यक्त-मध्यानि भारत। अ-व्यक्त-निधनानि एव तत्र का परिदेवना’ इति (BhG.2.26–28)। तापः इति ‘विषयाः विनिवर्तन्ते निर्-आहारस्य देहिनः। रस-वर्जं रसः अपि अस्य परं दृष्ट्वा निवर्तते’ इति (BhG.2.59); ‘कर्म-इन्द्रियाणि संयम्य यः आस्ते मनसा स्मरन्। इन्द्रिय-अर्थान् विमूढ-आत्मा मिथ्या-आचारः सः उच्यते’ इति (BhG.3.6)॥


[duḥkha – sorrow; an-āgata – not yet come; heya – to be given up.]

हेयं दुःखम् अन्-आगतं (YS.1.30–32) भविष्यं, भूत-दुःखं भूत-स्मृतितया स्वी-कर्तव्यं भवत्-दुःखं च तितिक्षितव्यं (BhG.2.14)॥ – [Vṛtti]

Future sorrow alone is what can be avoided. Obsession with past pain or sorrow, because it is past, is to be objectively dropped, and current pain is to be objectively endured. Saying future sorrows are to be given up (heya) can mean either they do not arise or, if and when they arise out of inattention (pramāda, YS.1.30), they can be dropped once the teaching is brought back in to bear on the painful situation.

Duḥkha can mean either pain or sorrow. Pain is different from sorrow. Physical pains are natural to the body. Mental preferences for avoidance of physical pains are likewise natural to the mind. What is unnatural, because it is due to ignorance that can be removed, is sorrow towards pains. To get to sorrow from pain requires a series of mistakes, a process of ignorance, which this teaching addresses. Pain and pleasure need not be removed; the mind’s habit of coveting and blaming objects for its own condition is where objectivity is advised.

Sorrow can be seen as understandable, but unnecessary, to an objective outsider. However, that objective outsider is anything but, when it comes to one’s own experiences. Having a scholarly understanding is not enough. The knowledge here is the knowledge of one’s very identity. This knowledge is thus completely transformative of one’s vision of one’s self and the world. By removing ignorance through this knowledge based on objectively and thoroughly understanding realities, one can avoid sorrow in the heart, but not pain. If the pain is acute, an environment that is more therapeutic may be needed to better address re-emerging pain, guilt, shame, and trauma.


[saṃyoga – mutual identification; draṣṭṛ – seer; dṛśya – seen; hetu – cause; heya – to be given up.]

द्रष्टृ-दृश्ययोः दृक्-पुरुष-दृश्य-विषययोः संयोगः अ-विवेक-ख्याति (YS.2.5) संयोगः इव संयोगः मिथ्या न तु सत्यं हेय-हेतुः हेय-दुःख-हेतुः, तस्मात् विवेक-ख्यातिः दुःख-हान-हेतुः, ‘दुःख-संयोग-वियोगं योग-संज्ञितम्’ इति (BhG.6.23)॥ – [Vṛtti]

संयोगः इति ‘यावत् सञ्जायते किञ्चित् सत्त्वं स्थावर-जङ्गमम्। क्षेत्र-क्षेत्रज्ञ-संयोगात् तद् विद्धि भरत-र्षभ’ इति (BhG.13.26)॥


[dṛśya – seen; sīla – nature; prakāśa-kriyā-sthiti – light-action-inertia; ātmaka – nature; bhūtas – elements; indriyas – organs; artha – for; bhoga – enjoyment; apavarga – freedom.]

प्रकाश-क्रिया-स्थिति-शीलं सत्त्व-रजस्-तमस्-गुण-रूपं भूत-इन्द्रिय-आत्मकं पञ्च-भूत-पञ्च-इन्द्रिय-रूपं, दृश्य-दर्शन-रूपं भोग-अपवर्ग-अर्थं भोगस्य कैवल्यस्य च निमित्तं दृश्यम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

The objects of the world are both hindering and helpful. They can keep you in bondage or help you out of bondage (YS.1.5). The attachment to the presence or absence of sense objects is what makes you feel as though you are bound. Believing that one is less or more whole as a result of the absence or presence of objects, associations, position, or influence is bondage and is ignorance. This teaching is also an object in the world, but it shows you how to convert what could bind, into what will liberate.

दृश्यम् इति ‘(तत् ज्ञेयं ब्रह्म) सर्व-इन्द्रिय-गुण-आभासं सर्व-इन्द्रिय-विवर्जितम्। अ-सक्तं सर्व-भृत् च एव निर्-गुणं गुण-भोक्तृ च’ इति (BhG.13.14); ‘प्रकाशं च प्रवृत्तिं च मोहम् एव च पाण्डव। न द्वेष्टि सम्प्रवृत्तानि न निवृत्तानि काङ्क्षति॥ उदासीनवद् आसीनः गुणैः यः न विचाल्यते। गुणाः वर्तन्ते इति एव यः अवतिष्ठति न इङ्गते॥ सम-दुःख-सुखः स्व-स्थः सम-लोष्ट-अश्म-काञ्चनः। तुल्य-प्रिय-अ-प्रियः धीरः तुल्य-निन्दा-आत्म-संस्तुतिः॥ मान-अपमानयोः तुल्यः तुल्यः मित्र-अरि-पक्षयोः। सर्व-आरम्भ-परित्यागी गुण-अतीतः सः उच्यते’ इति (BhG.14.22–25)॥


[parvans – levels; guṇas – components of nature; viśeṣa – particularized; a-viśeṣa – non-particularized; liṅga-mātra – merely indicated; a-liṅga – non-indicated.]

विशेष-अ-विशेष-लिङ्ग-मात्र-अ-लिङ्गानि स्थूल-मिश्र-भूतानि सूक्ष्म-तन्मात्र-भूतानि ईश्वर-नियतृ-महत्-बुद्धिः अ-व्यक्त-प्रकृतिः च तानि गुण-पर्वाणि गुण-क्रम-अवस्थाः॥ – [Vṛtti]

In each cycle of manifestation of the universe, the unmanifest prakṛti (nature), consisting of the undifferentiated guṇas, first manifests as intellect, the mind of God, so to speak, which is then said to contain the divisions cognized as the subtle and gross elements, each being five-fold in this human-authored description that is based on our five senses.

The universe is said to be entirely formed according to the evolution of prakṛti through the subtle and gross elements in keeping with the universal order (buddhi). The evolution is not one level of nature changing into another; it is the later levels manifesting due to the continuing presence of the earlier more basic levels of reality. The manifest does not replace the unmanifest; it manifests because of the presence of the unmanifest, because of the order in the universe, because of the Lord.

The elements have no independent reality. They and their manifestations are all nāma-rūpa (names and forms alone). They are all of the nature of names flowing from intellect. At the end of each cycle of manifestation they flow back into their unmanifest nature (prakṛti). All this happens in the unlimited being-awareness (sat-cit) that is the Lord and that is oneself.

The analogy at the individual level is that of one’s universe springing out from and returning back into the ignorance of deep sleep. It is the intellect that awakens. As the intellect thinks so one’s universe seems and so one’s conditional sense of reality is. And then the intellect resolves into unmanifest in sleep. Even at the universal level, this teaching’s presentation of the cycles of manifestation of the universe is itself only more names employed in the teaching to help reveal that, just as in waking and sleep, this cycle of manifestation and dissolution of the universe is still no more than the cyclic flow of names and forms.

When the intellect has the abiding knowledge that there is only one reality, and from this one reality, which is oneself, nothing else separate from reality can possibly come into or go out of being, then there is no cycle. The cycle of creation simply falls, as a name (nāmadheya), from the tip of the tongue. The universe is spun from the mind in the form of words, lit up by the witness-being which alone is their reality.

This is the only sūtra dealing with the evolution of the universe. The sūtra is in keeping with the scripture and thus with Vedānta and its analysis of the Upaniṣads.

गुण-पर्वाणि इति ‘(स्थूल-)इन्द्रियेभ्यः पराः हि (सूक्ष-स्थूल-)अर्थाः अर्थेभ्यः च परं (अर्थ-ग्रहक-)मनः। मनसः तु परा (निश्चय-आत्मिक-)बुद्धिः बुद्धेः आत्मा महान् (=हैरण्य-गर्भं तत्त्वं) परः॥ महतः परम् अ-व्यक्तम् (=त्रि-गुण-आत्मिक-प्रकृतिः) अ-व्यक्तात् (निर्-गुण-)पु॒रुषः परः। पुरुषात् न परं किंचित् सा काष्ठा सा परा गतिः’ इति (KathU.1.3.10–11)॥


[draṣṭṛ – seer; dṛśi-mātra – pure perception; api – though; śuddha – pure; anupaśya – sees; pratyayas – thoughts.]

द्रष्टा दृक्-साक्षि-पुरुषः दृशि-मात्रः ज्ञप्ति-स्व-रूपः शुद्धः केवलः दृश्य-अ-संयुक्तः अपि प्रत्यय-अनुपश्यः चित्त-वृत्ति-अनुभव-शक्यः इव, अथवा चित्त-वृत्ति-अनुरूप-कल्पितः॥ – [Vṛtti]

The nature of the seer has been presented and discussed in the context of earlier sūtras, where it had to be introduced to fully comprehend the sūtras up to this point. This sūtra clearly states Patañjali’s adherence to the scriptures as we have been unfolding them in the context of these sūtras. This sūtra emphasizes the undifferentiated nature of the seer. The seer, unlike the universe and all the entities within it, is partless. In fact, the seer is the very partless reality of the universe and all within it, including the individual, yourself.

Later, Patañjali and this commentary will discuss in detail the nature of thought, the seer, and knowledge in sūtras 4.18–24.


[ātman – nature; dṛśya – seen; eva – simply; tad-artha – its object.]

तद्-अर्थः द्रष्टृ-अर्थः यथा, दृक्-पुरुष-विषयतया जीवस्य धर्म-अर्थ-काम-मोक्ष-पुरुष-अर्थः इत्यर्थः एव दृश्यस्य आत्मा स्व-रूपः सत्ता व्यावहारिकं स-अपेक्षा-सत्ता-वत् एव दृश्यं, न तु पारम-अर्थिकम् इत्यर्थः (YS.3.44)॥ – [Vṛtti]

The seen has no more reality than its phenomenological experience, which is why it is always temporary. The example of dream and deep sleep comprehensively illustrates this point. Just because we see something does not determine the seen’s independent existence. We see in dream, yet the dream objects have no independent existence. When we move from dream back into deep sleep those supposedly independent dream objects lose all their independent reality. They disappear. The same can be said for the waking world objects. They too are temporary within the time they appear. The only existence any seen object has is just its nature of being seen. That nature of being seen is no more than being within awareness, the nature of the seer.

A seen object is then nothing more than its nature of being a seen object. It does not in fact exist as an equal reality independent of the seer (draṣṭṛ). It is nothing more than a form (rūpa) perceived and a corresponding name (nāma) ascribed. Objects, including thoughts, have this transient, relative (vyāvahārika) existence. Their reality is attributed to them only in as much as they become, or can become, known. These objects do not exist in and of themselves. This understanding is consistent with the principles of quantum physics which say that the scientific manner in which you examine and measure an object determines what you will find to be that object.

An example of an object seen is a table. Now, there is no such absolute thing as a table that the eyes see. The eyes see something, but only the human mind has the form and gives the name ‘table’ or the various equivalents in other languages. A bug’s eyes certainly do not see a table; they may see something to fly around or something to climb upon to find food. At the atomic-scale, in what way would an electron experience, so to speak, this so-called table? Would not what it encounters be really an atomic field, not at all resembling a table?

If one inquires into the table, then its absoluteness disappears. The absoluteness as a table object disappears when it is known that it is but wood. The absoluteness as a wood object disappears when resolved into cellulose fibers. Cellulose fibers resolve into molecules. Molecules resolve, when they are better known, into atoms, then into particles, and those into packets of variously vibrating energy in dimensions of space. These appreciations of various energies within dimensions of space are all notions within the awareness of the scientist. Where did the table go? It is still there as a name ascribed to a phenomenological experience.

This more complete understanding of objects seen is incorporated in the process of sub-ration (see comm. on YS.3.44) of very temporal and contingent realities to their more permanent and universal reality.

In fact, none of these so-called objects need disappear to appreciate the partless, universal reality. At the same time I am seeing table, I also see wood, know fibers, molecules, atoms, and etcetera. While seeing table, I can transcend table and see wood. While seeing wood, I can transcend wood and see fibers, and so on. What one sees is not really an independently existing object, but rather one sees (with the mind) only the name which we have attributed to the experience. What disappears is my assumption that any of the object/name is absolutely real. What is absolute is reality itself. The names and forms – as the objects, the senses, and the mind – are relative perspectives of reality itself. These names and forms exist only as appearances within the awareness of the witness, in oneself alone.

Prakṛti, unmanifest nature, which is the source of the perceived objects, can enjoy no greater degree of reality than the observed objects. Sāṅkhya claims prakṛti to be as equally real as puruṣa, the reality that is oneself. But Patañjali has not given equal status to prakṛti. Prakṛti is a concept and a reality only so far as one ascribes to the Sāṅkhya philosophy. Whereas, puruṣa (oneself) is universally never unknown or unknowable, and is independent of any seen object or collection of objects or their unmanifest aspect.

Again the clear illustration is deep sleep, where all objects along with their supposed absoluteness disappear, yet I must be there in order for me to later recall the absence of any separate experience during that time. The puruṣa alone is the timeless reality to be discovered, and it alone is the goal of Patañjali’s yoga. It is reached, so to speak, by a knowledge (the knowledge alone is the reaching) that is free of erroneous thinking and incomplete philosophies. There is no new, special thing to know; there is only acknowledgement that the seen has not, nor ever had, the reality one had believed.


[api – though; naṣṭa – lost; prati – in regard to; kṛta-artha – one who has achieved the goal; tad – it; a-naṣṭa – not lost; sa-ādhāraṇatva – it has commonality; anyas – others.]

कृत-अर्थं प्रति परम-अर्थ-कैवल्य-सम्पन्न-योगिनं नष्टं दृश्यं पारम-अर्थिक-सत्तया नष्टम् अपि, अ-नष्टं वर्तमानं तद् दृश्यं जगत् अन्य-साधारणत्वात् (YS.4.14–15, 2.5 & 1.8–9) यस्मात् अन्य-अ-कृत-अर्थ-जीवानां दृश्य-पारम-अर्थिक-सत्ता-कल्पना-दृष्टिनां ‘परिछिन्न-दृशिवत् दृश्यानि नाना-विध-सत्यानि’ इति-अ-विद्या (YS.2.24)॥ – [Vṛtti]

The seen’s status as an objective (vyāvahārika) reality is based on its commonality to multiple seers (grahītṛs). When it does not have that commonality and there is only one person seeing it, then it could be an imaginary (prātibhāsika) reality.

Though objects are known to exist when they are seen by a person and not known to exist when they are not seen by a person, this status of objects does not lead to pure subjectivism – that objects are only their independent perceptions. Since a commonality (YS.4.14–15) of an object is also something that can be known.

This teaching accepts that a name and form can have commonality for multiple seers. Now, one seer’s version of the form of an object is not exactly the same as another seer’s, and no form is the same the next time you see it. But the fact that there are certain commonalities of these names and forms determines their objective (vyāvahārika) reality, as opposed to an imaginary (prātibhāsika) reality. That commonality itself is a name and form having an objective reality. Commonality is, like any other object, not absolutely real. Only existence-consciousness, the truth of the universe and you, is absolutely real.

The word ‘others’ (anyas) here does not mean that there absolutely are multiple puruṣas. An individual seer (grahītṛ), which itself is a product of ignorance in the form of a mutual identification of the subject and an object (the act of seeing), enjoys the same non-absolute reality as the seen (grāhya). An individual seer is just another concept in the mind. This concept comes and goes; it is relative and impermanent, not absolute.

Nor can the reality of a quality of many-ness for the puruṣa, as the pure witness, be established (siddha) by a conjunction of seer-seen which is a product of ignorance, as will be told in the next two sūtras. In other words, one cannot establish a truth by reason of a fabrication. When witnessing, as an attribute of the attribute-less puruṣa, is only as if, then any opinion based on this as if assumption, namely, since there are many witnessings then there must be many puruṣas – is also as if.

Moreover, this sūtra points out an even more profound fact. Namely, the same object can exist for certain people and not exist for others. And this not existing for others is not due to them not looking, but rather to them knowing a fact about the object that makes that object lose its supposed reality. To the others, to the unwise, the object is taken as absolutely (pāramārthika) real. Whereas, for one who has achieved the knowledge (prajñā) that is kaivalya (complete freedom), the same object is taken as only objectively (vyāvahārika) real – as transient and relative. Once one distinguishes pāramārthika (absolute) reality from vyāvahārika (transactional) reality, then this less-real world of phenomenon becomes what is meant by vyāvahārika, the transactional reality that is now understood as being only apparently-real (mithyā), not as real as oneself who is pāramārthika.

Before knowledge, we confuse the relatively real (the ego, mind, body, and objects) with the absolute (the being-consciousness that is oneself and all of reality). We falsely believe that all that we desire should last forever and what we do not want should never be. We falsely believe we are born and die, when it is but the objects including this body that come and go within the unchanging awareness that is oneself, that is reality. Only the wise see in general the relative reality as it really is. The otherwise see a confusing reality that they think is absolute – which goes against reason and ultimate knowledge.

In the snake-rope example, two people are looking at the same object. The one with knowledge sees a rope and has no fear; the other without knowledge sees a snake and has fear. This means that in error one does not see what is there and can project out of the fears in one’s mind what one believes is there. The one who has knowledge, upon first glance at the rope, originally also thought it was a snake, but after careful analysis with the light of a proper means of knowledge discovered it was really a rope. For that person, the snake is lost (naṣṭa), but, more importantly to that person, the basis for the fear vanishes. One can still see how the mistaken rope could appear as a snake, but that correction nevertheless frees one from the fear of a snake there. This is freedom (kaivalya) from one’s baseless fears. The snake is apparently-real (mithyā), and so now the basis for the fear is mithyā.

The same relationship that exists between imaginary (prātibhāsika) reality and objective (vyāvahārika) reality, for example, the snake and the rope, also exists between objective (vyāvahārika) reality and absolute (pāramārthika) reality – the world and I (ātman), respectively. Both the imaginary (prātibhāsika) world and the phenomenal (vyāvahārika) world seem absolutely real only when they are believed to be so. In the wake of more complete knowledge, both are only mithyā (apparently-real). The unwise and the wise see the same object, but their understanding of realities is vastly different. The unwise is limited and thus bound by the seen; the other is not. As a result, for the unwise, the objects as possessions become necessities they are bound to; for the wise, they are simply luxuries – life is seen as a luxury.

The term mithyā when translated as false or imaginary or illusion has confused many. The word mithyā is a later form of the Veda word mithunā, meaning conflictingly, wrongly, falsely. Properly used, mithyā is an adverb describing how we take an object, how we know it. When we take an object falsely, that is mithyā.

The statement, “The world is mithyā (jagan mithyā),” does not mean the world is false, imaginary, or useless. It means the world is taken, is understood, falsely. In this tradition, the world – or anything in the world – cannot be an object distinct from the absolute reality that is oneself, distinct from ātman, from sat (reality). There is already fundamental ignorance that keeps one from the factual, absolute reality nature of objects, in which case there would be mithyā, the taking of it as otherwise than what it is, along with that confusion reoccurring and cascading variously about everything throughout one’s life.

Even what we call knowledge about the world, such as, “Today is hot,” is only relatively true from a limited perspective – hot for a human compared to that same person’s memories of the past or expectations of the future temperatures at this location. That kind of knowledge has a practicality and usefulness; it is not absolutely and universally true. From the essential truth of everything and of oneself, even that knowledge is mithyā. Mithyā is an inevitable expression of one’s fundamental ignorance.

The verbal root of the words mithyā and mithunā is mith, meaning to associate, to mix. Mithyā is mixing up one thing for another, which is what Patañjali has described as ignorance (YS.2.5 & 1.18).

The wise who say “the world is mithyā” do not mean they are mixed up about the world. For them the world is none other than themselves – the one, indivisible, and sacred reality. The wise mean the world once was mithyā for them and is mithyā for the majority who take objects as other and as absolutely real, and who take themselves to thus be limited or bound by those objects.

Patañjali points out that all objects (dṛśyas) are to be seen in terms of mithyā (falsely taken as being absolutely real). Every thing that has conditional, dependent reality is not of the same order of reality as absolute reality, as oneself. The status of absolute (pāramārthika) reality that an individual ascribes to objects out of ignorance is now lost. Objects enjoy conditional existence as name and form and are available for transaction (vyāvahāra), but they are entirely dependent upon the reality that is the self. The objects are dṛśyam eva (simply the seen), not reality as real as oneself.

The seen (dṛśya) is capable of being dismissed in thought, dismissed in samādhi, and permanently dismissed as absolute reality in knowledge, dismissed as mithyā. What is capable of being dismissed defines the dismissed as less real than what dismisses it (see the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.3). What is not dismissed in thought, contemplation, or knowledge is oneself (puruṣa), the being that alone remains real.

The pursuits and skills of yoga are themselves part of the vyāvahārika world. Yoga starts with inculcating an understanding of the absolute reality (initially as the reality of the limitless Lord) behind all this transactional life we lead. From there, we can loosen the grip of our mistaken identities with our limited and limiting thoughts in the mind. They are all a part of the universal order called the Lord, and are not my personal possessions or identity. Then one can begin to appreciate that I am this reality that is the Lord, in which all thoughts and objects come and go.

This is not wishful thinking, or a simple positive attitude. It is a disciplined analysis and immersion in the realities of how I see myself and how I deal with an overwhelming large and complex world. The techniques have worked to free those who have gone before. As a student of this yoga, one starts with the following understanding.

This universe is what I view from the limited perspective of my experiences I have in this mind during this life, so it is not absolutely, categorically real – not as real as me, its witness. And the various facets of this limited perspective may be wrong – “My perspective may be wrong.” This not only includes my perspective of the world and others, but of what I think myself to be, or to have been or will be.

This allows one’s objectivity to be complete. This truly objective perspective helps heal the sorrows retained from the past that are based on absolutely identifying with the painful projections of my perspective of events and people. It provides a buffer from present pains to help keep them from becoming sorrows. This objectivity culminates in a clear absolute knowledge of life, where even this transactional universe has no more power to limit me than a dream can affect the one who awakens from dream. Life, like the dream upon waking, can surprise and pain me. But it has not the power it had, once I know it for what it is. This universe is not absolutely real as I had once thought. It has lost (naṣṭa) its power, its reality, to define me. I am the reality, who alone validates the reality this transactional reality can enjoy. The world is no different than before, but how I more wisely take the world has changed. This is true wisdom that frees.

This is the full vision, and for Patañjali to point this out here among sūtras meant for explaining the nature of the self and of objects clearly places him outside of the later Sāṅkhya philosophy of Īśvara-kṛṣṇa, where duality is taken as real. These sūtras naturally fall within the teaching of the sacred scriptures of India, within the field of the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad Gītā, where Patañjali clearly placed them. The sūtras understood in that field, in the field of knowledge, not of a sectarian philosophy, are where these words are pregnant with a depth of meaning and clarity, with tradition and certainty.

कृत-अर्थम् इति ‘यथा एव बिम्बं मृदया उपलिप्तं तेजोमयं भ्राजते तत् सुधान्तम् (=सुधौतम्)। तद् वै आत्म-तत्त्वं प्रसमीक्ष्य देही एकः कृत-अर्थः भवते वीत-शोकः’ इति (SvetU.2.14); ‘इति गुह्यतमं शास्त्रम् इदम् उक्तं मया अन्-अघ। एतद् बुद्ध्वा बुद्धिमान् स्यात् कृत-कृत्यः च भारत’ इति (BhG.15.20)। नष्टम् इति ‘अर्जुन उवाच। नष्टः मोहः स्मृतिः लब्धा त्वद्-प्रसादात् मया अ-च्युत’ इति (BhG.18.73)॥


[saṃyoga – conjunction; śaktis – natures; sva – itself; svāmin – master; hetu – cause; upalabdhi – ascertainment; sva-rūpas – their natures.]

स्व-स्वामि-शक्त्योः स्व-दृश्य-शीलस्य स्वामि-द्रष्टृ-शीलस्य च स्व-रूप-उपलब्धि-हेतुः भिन्न-स्व-रूप-अनुभाव-हेतुः सह-ज-दृक्-दृश्य-संयोगः (YS.4.22)॥ – [Vṛtti]

Without the knowledge of reality, I have a notion of a separate, real object or thought only when I perceive or think of it; and I entertain a notion, a wrong notion, of myself as a separate, individual witnessor only when I see or think of an object or thought. Like pot-space, as though separate from limitless space, appears to come into existence when a pot is formed, so an individual, limited seer appears to come into existence when a thought is formed.

But an independently existing, absolutely real pot-space is not really created when a pot is formed. It is in fact only as if, but becomes a definite mistake if taken as absolutely real. So too, I (ātman), the witness-being, am not really created when a thought is formed. A pot comes and goes within limitless space without affecting space in the least; a thought comes and goes within the witness-being without affecting or limiting the witness-being in the least. This is the truth. If thought does seem to affect you, then that notion, an ego notion, of oneself being affected is itself just another thought, the same as any other thought. These notions that thoughts actually affect the witness of the thoughts are themselves thoughts, ignorant of their mixing up of realities.

Because one thinks the self is like this or that thought, does not make it so. We need a pramāṇa (a valid means of knowledge) to help us see that the self and the thoughts are not in interrelationship, not in conjunction (saṃyoga). The self is the unchanging witness and reality of the thoughts. If one imagines the self is changing while seeing the thought, that imagined self is only a notion, a thought, about the self. The self witnesses that notion also, but does not change (YS.4.22). Even in confusion one remains the changeless, limitless witness-being (sat-cit). This is what the scripture and this teaching says. Continue listening (śravaṇa) to this teaching pramāṇa while living a life of yoga and contemplation; the truth of this teaching will be one’s own truth.


[hetu – cause; tasya – of that; a-vidyā – ignorance.]

तस्य संयोगस्य हेतुः अ-विद्या॥ – [Vṛtti]

We see now why one has to include the phrase “as if” or “as though” in Yoga Sūtra 2.20. By doing so, the connection between seer (draṣṭṛ) and thought/object is clarified. The limitless self, which has no attributes, cannot be an object, nor even a thought, which is within the realm of words. Every statement about it is an as if. The best one can think about the self is what it is not – neti-neti (not this – not that), since we have so many wrong conclusions about ourselves. Because the one who negates is oneself, then this negation ends in reality, your reality free of its seeming limitations, where you have always been.

Negation is one technique within the teaching methodology. Another technique involves using words with a positive sense, such as satya (reality) and jñāna (knowledge). The understood meanings of these words are used as the basis to expand their sense and indicate the affirmative, inexplicable whole. Some negation is used to free these positive words of the limitations they connote within space, time, and the dualist separation of knower and known. Both negation and expansion of meaning are used to point out the nature of oneself as limitless reality (an-antam brahman), pure perception (jñapti-svarūpa), the witness-being. This reality is the changeless reality of all notions and objects, the inherent reality of the universe in and between every cycle of its manifestation.

विद्या इति ‘सत्यं ज्ञानम् अन्-अन्तं ब्रह्म’ इति (TaitU.2.1.1)॥


[hāna – giving up; a-bhāva – disappearance; saṃyoga – conjunction; tad-a-bhāva – disappearance of that; tad – that; kaivalya – freedom; dṛśi – seer.]

तद्-अभावात् अ-विद्या-अ-भावात् विवेक-ख्यात्या (YS.2.26) संयोग-अ-भावः अ-विद्या-रूप-संयोग-अ-भावः (YS.4.25–26) हानम् इति एवं दृश्यं नष्टम् इत्यर्थः, तद् द्रष्टृ-स्व-रूपे अवस्थानं च दृशेः कैवल्यं जीवत्-मुक्तिः इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Patañjali makes very clear here what is meant by freedom (kaivalya). It is not the disappearance of objects, the disappearance of the world. Freedom is the appreciation of the absence of any conjunction (saṃyoga) of the self with objects, the confusion of mixing the nature of the object with the nature of oneself, which confusion is a form of ignorance (a-vidyā). Once ignorance disappears, is removed, then confusions of ignorance also disappear. There is no reasonable way to interpret the words of this sūtra as a statement that Patañjali advises making the worldly objects disappear.

Kaivalya means being one, non-dual (kevalaḥ ekaḥ bhāvaḥ), which also means the nature of being pure, without non-intrinsic attributes (kevalasya śuddhasya upādhi-rahitasya bhāvaḥ). One is no longer seen as limited by some one thing or notion. This entire universe is but oneself, one non-dual, indivisible whole. This alone is known as complete freedom – not to be mistaken for isolation from the world.

The disappearance is of the ignorance, not of the objects of the world, because what distinguishes the wise from the unwise is simply their knowledge. It is like a child looking at a rock, and a physicist looking at the same rock. The child simply sees what is before its eyes, the physicist sees the rock and knows it is not completely solid, but consists of mass-less packets of energy in mostly empty space, more information than matter. The physicist knows the rock is simply a temporary, massive phenomenal presentation to the human’s senses, but its basic component reality is altogether something else. The phenomenal reality is less real and less amazing than its underlying component reality. But if the rock comes flying his or her way, like the child, the physicist ducks. That much practical reality it has. The physicist does not stop seeing the rock simply as a rock, nor does he or she have to stop perceiving the rock to clearly know its underlying component reality. Similarly here, the yogins know the practical reality of the rock and the absolute reality as themselves in which this rock phenomenally appears, and that it is time to duck.

Sāṅkhya-Yogins, on the other hand, seek to dismiss the objects of the world in kaivalya, even though believing the objects, as prakṛti (nature), are as equally real as themselves. It is as if they are simply closing their eyes in the face of the approaching rock. Their contradiction looms large. This is because of a mechanical interpretation of kaivalya, instead of the knowledge-based kaivalya which Patañjali clearly indicates (YS.4.25–34). Knowledge cannot dismiss what is practically real; it can only dismiss ignorance. Along with that ignorance goes the confusions based on that ignorance, including the belief in the absolute nature of what is only practically real. In fact, knowledge is what discerns the practicality of objects as well.

The freedom of the self is not some new condition of the self gained or accomplished by meditation or any other activity, nor is it the loss of the ability of the senses and the mind to behold their objects. It is merely the loss (a-bhāva) of what cannot withstand inquiry. Freedom is already the nature of the seer. Living one’s life practically in this world with this assimilated knowledge is living in freedom. Then only can we have wise people who may be teachers for the otherwise. The necessity of having a teacher, and hence the necessity of that teacher being liberated even while living, is pointed out often in the scriptures.

कैवल्यम् इति ‘अनेन (कैवल्य-उपनिषद्-अध्यायेन) ज्ञानम् आप्नोति संसार-अर्णव-नाशम्। तस्मात् एवं विदित्वा एनं कैवल्यं पदम् अश्नुते’ इति (KaivU.2.2); ‘यथा सोम्य पुरुषं गन्धारेभ्यः अभिनद्ध-अक्षम् आनीय तं ततः अति-जने विसृजेत्, सः यथा तत्र प्राङ् वा उदङ् वा अधराङ् वा प्रत्यङ् वा प्रध्मायीत “अभिनद्ध-अक्षः आनीतः अभिनद्ध-अक्षः विसृष्टः”॥ तस्य यथा अभिनहनं प्रमुच्य प्रब्रूयात् “एतां दिशं गन्धाराः एतां दिशं व्रज” इति, सः ग्रामाद् ग्रामं पृच्छन् पण्डितः मेधावी गन्धारान् एव उपसंपद्येत, एवम् एव इह आचार्यवान् पुरुषः वेद, तस्य तावद् एव चिरं यावत् “न विमोक्ष्ये अथ सम्पत्स्ये” इति (मन्यते)॥ – सः यः एषः अणिमा, एतद् आत्म्यम्, इदं सर्वं, तत् सत्यं, सः आत्मा, तत् त्वम् असि श्वेतकेतो’ इति (ChanU.6.14.1–3); ‘परीक्ष्य लोकान् कर्म-चितान् ब्राह्मणः निर्वेदम् आयात् न अस्ति अकृतः कृतेन। तद्-विज्ञानार्थं सः गुरुम् एव अभिगच्छेत् समित्-पाणिः श्रोत्रियं ब्रह्म-निष्ठम्’ इति (MunU.1.2.12)॥


[upāya – means; hāna – giving up; viveka-khyāti – discerning knowledge; a-viplavā – which does not go astray.]

विवेक-ख्यातिः दृक्-दृश्य-विवेक-बुद्धिः अ-विप्लवा अ-बाधिता संसार-रूप-संयोग-हान-उपायः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Again, Patañjali points out that the ignorance in the form of mutual identification (saṃyoga, YS.2.17) goes away only by knowledge, not by some mechanical, karma stopping of the mind in samādhi. This knowledge has to be a-viplava, one that does not go astray – not float away or get inundated by life’s situations. This is what we have been stating to be a fully assimilated knowledge, not some new information or philosophy about the self and the world that one remembers, can forget, or be distracted from.


[tasya – its; prānta-bhūmi – final stage; saptadhā – seven-fold; prajñā – assimilated knowledge.]

तस्य हान-उपायस्य कृत-अर्थ-जीवत्-मुक्तस्य वा सप्तधा प्रान्त-भूमिः सप्त-अवस्थावती प्रज्ञा – यतः सूत्रेषु प्रज्ञा-अवस्थाः न प्रथक् व्याख्याताः, इदं ज्ञानं च ‘अ-क्रमम्’ इति वक्ष्यमाणं (YS.3.54), ततः इह इयं प्रज्ञा प्रज्ञा-उपाये योग्यतायां वा यथा-उक्तम् अभ्यास-वैराग्य-श्रद्धा-वीर्य-आदि-तारतम्यम् अपेक्ष्या। अथवा, योग-अष्टाङ्ग-उपोद्घात-रूपेण सप्तधाः इति, यत्र यम-नियमे प्रथम-भागः एव। कथम्? सूत्र-करेण यम-नियम-सूत्राणि मिश्री-भूतानि (YS.3.31–45) प्रवृत्ति-निवृत्ति-कर्म-योग-क्रीया-योगतया। का प्रात-भूमिः? कर्म-योगः मोक्ष-उत्तम-पुरुष-अर्थ-दृष्टि-अर्थः, तस्य ज्ञानार्थत्वात् एव (BhG.13.11)॥ – [Vṛtti]

The seven-fold nature of the final, assimilated knowledge is not explained in this or the following sūtras. We could assume that there are some missing sūtras, since Patañjali has certainly given a consistent and thorough presentation. The commentators have assumed the task of delineating the seven aspects of this knowledge, and not with convincing success. Vyāsa’s commentary attempt, which everyone seems to follow, looks more related to the various steps one takes to get to this knowledge, than the nature of the final stage itself.

Many of the ancient texts were fixed and essentially frozen by their commentaries. These commentaries established a final form that was thereafter maintained. In the case of the Yoga Sūtras, the commentaries, which became popular by quirk of history (perhaps simply due to the famous names [or titles] of two of those authors – Vyāsa and Śaṅkara – not likely the same as the famous Veda-Vyāsa and Ādi-Śaṅkara) and thus passed down to us, were the Sāṅkhya influenced commentaries. If they skipped over or dropped sūtras that were missing in their original or which contradicted their own views and might have been themselves thought to have been corruptions or incorrect additions, those sūtras would be lost. Certainly the content of the missing sūtra or sūtras that would have detailed this seven-fold nature of knowledge is a significant elision.

A better and benign way of looking at this sūtra, though, is to see this as part of Vyāsa’s commentary being later confused as a sūtra in Patañjali’s work. These texts and commentaries were maintained as recopied, edge-to-edge lines of Sanskrit on stacks of palm leaves, not the highly formatted, multi-font texts we have nowadays. There are other possible examples of this mixing up of original with commentary in Patañjali’s Yoga-Sūtra text. This sūtra and Vyāsa’s filling in the answer are all just part of Vyāsa’s commentary, and is not a sūtra in Patañjali’s work. So nothing of Patañjali is lost at all, and that is why there is no follow up sūtra needed to explain the seven-fold nature of this knowledge.

I’ve not seen anyone else suggest this, but it seems a possibility. Other translators in different places suggest that one or more sūtras have crept in from the surrounding commentary, though usually on the clue that those sūtras are missing in some of the existent manuscripts. Not attempting a textual exegesis, that manuscript claim is not being made here.

Alternatively, the seven stages here perhaps introduce the following eight limbs of yoga, where the first two limbs, yama-niyama, are combined into the first of the seven stages, both being the initial stage of karma-yoga. The next sūtra shows how these limbs may be looked upon as prajñā, knowledge, in that they lead to knowledge.

सप्तधा इति ‘तद् यथा – परिज्ञातं हेयं न अस्य पुनः परिज्ञेयम् अस्ति। क्षीणाः हेय-हेयवः न पुनः एतेषां क्षेतव्यम् अस्ति। साक्षात्-कृतं निरोध-समाधिना हानम्। भावितः विवेक-ख्याति-रूपः हान-उपायः।…चरित-अधिकारा बुद्धिः। गुणाः गिरि-शिखर-कूट-च्युताः इव ग्रावाणः निरवस्थानाः स्व-कारणे प्रलय-अभिमुखाः सह तेन अस्तं गच्छन्ति, न च एषां विप्रलीनानां पुनः अस्ति उत्पादः प्रयोजन-अभावात् इति। एतस्यां अवस्थायां गुण-सम्बन्ध-अतीतः स्व-रूपमात्र-ज्योतिः अ-मलः केवली पुरुषः इति’ इति (Vyāsa’s Pātañjali Yoga Sūtrāṇi Bhāṣya 2.27)॥


[anuṣṭhāna – following; aṅgas – limbs; yoga – the means; a-śuddhis – impurities; kṣaya – diminish; dīpti – light; jñāna – knowledge; ā – reaches to; viveka-khyāti – discerning knowledge.]

वक्ष्यमाण-योग-अङ्ग-अनुष्ठानात् अ-शुद्धि-क्षये परम-तत्त्व-नाना-विध-संशय-रूप-अन्तःकरण-अ-शुद्धि-क्षये शनैः शनैः सति ज्ञान-दीप्तिः आ अ-बाधित-विवेक-ख्यातेः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Patañjali does not say that these eight limbs, which include samādhi, create new knowledge. They only remove the impurities that inhibit knowledge. We will discover more about the nature of knowledge in the last (the fourth) pāda (chapter) of these sūtras. Now Patañjali explains the eight limbs of yoga.


[aṣṭa – eight; aṅgas – limbs; yama – avoidance; niyama – observance; āsana – sitting posture; prāṇa-āyāma – controlling the breath; pratyāhāra – withdrawing; dhāraṇā – restraining the pursuit of unwanted or hindering thoughts in contemplation; dhyāna – retaining the flow of wanted or helpful thoughts in contemplation; samādhi – contemplation resulting in assimilation.]

यम-नियम-आसन-प्राण-आयाम-प्रत्याहार-धारणा-ध्यान-समाधयः नाम अष्टौ योगस्य अङ्गानि॥ – [Vṛtti]

The limbs of yoga are effective as a full lifestyle. They are much less effective as part-time (YS.1.13–14). They are explained in order in the following thirty four sūtras, stretching into what the commentaries divide as the third chapter to sūtra 3.8. The pairs, yama-niyama and dhāraṇā-dhyāna, are of special note. Yama-niyama is the basic life of the karma-yogin. Dhāraṇā-dhyāna is the basic life of the jñāna-yogin. These are the two lifestyles discussed in the Bhagavad Gītā. They are essentially the same. That is, both avoid what hinders and observe what helps. The yama-niyama pair is more in regard to one’s activities and attitudes in life, the dhāraṇā-dhyāna pair is more in regard to the quite life of contemplation. This is why both lifestyles are said in the Bhagavad Gītā to be conducive to freedom.

योगात् इति ‘लोके अस्मिन् द्वि-विधा निष्ठा पुरा प्रोक्ता मया अन्-अघ। ज्ञान-योगेन साङ्ख्यानां कर्म-योगेन योगिनाम्’ इति (BhG.3.3); ‘सन्न्यासः कर्म-योगः च निःश्रेयस-करौ उभौ’ इति (BhG.5.2)॥


[yamas – avoidances; a-hiṃsā – non-violence; satya – truthfulness; a-steya – non-usurping; brahma-carya – pursuing the scripture; a-parigraha – renunciation.]

अहिंसा-सत्य-अ-स्तेय-ब्रह्म-चर्य-अ-परिग्रहाः वक्ष्यमाणाः (YS.2.35–39) यमाः नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]

Each of these yamas will be discussed in later sūtras. First, though, is an explanation of the translation of certain of these yamas. A-steya is rendered as non-usurping. This is a rather old terminology, but so is this text. Though the popular meaning is not stealing (steya), as a part of karma-yoga that popular meaning stands out in this list as not needing to be said. Of course one should not behave like a criminal! The deeper meaning is through pairing it with a-parigraha (renunciation of what is given). A-steya, then, is not confiscating what is not given. This is an avoidance of both the act and the attitude of usurping. A-steya is then a satisfaction that what little I have is enough. This is maturity, not just an avoidance of criminal behavior.

In a Victorian way, brahma-carya is often equated with chastity, sexual abstinence. This can and should be a component in a full-time student’s life (particularly as a student from the age of twelve to twenty-four, while living in the teacher’s house!), but the total dedication to this study is so much more than avoidance of unnecessary or inappropriate sex. Traditionally, the term brahma in brahma-carya means the Veda (brahman, scripture). So it meant Veda studies, the life of a scriptural student. Over time and with secular intensions, the expression took on the pre-marital status that a young student was to have. It was only after finishing studies that one was qualified to get married. Until then, one was to remain chaste. The interpretation of brahma-carya as simply chastity is a result of a more and more secular society giving greater weight to the status of marriage than the status of scriptural studies. Moreover, the secular side of modern yoga does not want to promote scriptural studies as part of kriyā-yoga, or as one of the yamas.

ब्रह्म-चर्यम् इति ‘श्वेत-केतुः ह आरुणेयः आस तं ह पिता उवाच श्वेत-केतो वस ब्रह्म-चर्यम्, न वै सोम्य अस्मत् कुलीनः अन्-अनूच्य ब्रह्म-बन्धुः इव भवति इति॥ सः ह द्वा-दश-वर्षः उपेत्य चतुर-विंशति-वर्षः सर्वान् वेदान् अधीत्य…एयाय’ इति (ChanU.6.1.1–2)। अ-परिग्रहः इति ‘अ-सक्तिः अन्-अभिष्वङ्गः पुत्र-दार-गृहादिषु। नित्यं च सम-चित्तत्वंइष्ट-अन्-इष्ट-उपपत्तिषु॥…एतद् ज्ञानम् इति प्रोक्तम् अ-ज्ञानं यद् अतः अन्यथा’ इति (BhG.13.9 & 11)॥


[sārva-bhauma – applied to the entire universe; an-avacchinna – not limited; jāti – origination; deśa – place; kāla – time; samaya – circumstance; mahā-vrata – great vow.]

जाति-देश-काल-समय-अन्-अवच्छिन्नाः ब्राह्मण-आदि-जाति-अ-परिच्छिन्नाः देश-काल-अ-परिच्छिन्नाः, जीवन-दशा-अ-परिच्छिन्नाः यमाः सार्व-भौमाः सर्वथा-सर्व-विषये (YS.3.54) इत्यर्थः महा-व्रतं सर्व-सन्न्यास-अर्थ-व्रतम्, अथवा तथा अहिंसा-आदि-यम-व्रतम् अन्तिमं भवेत्॥ – [Vṛtti]

A-parigraha (renunciation) of the entire universe is sannyāsa. This renunciation is cognitive, born out of an understanding of reality. A life of sannyāsa encompasses a life of yamas and niyamas. See the Bhagavad Gītā for a complete unfoldment of what constitutes sannyāsa. Only indirectly is sannyāsa defined in terms of a stage in one’s life, like a retirement from competitive society for study and contemplation. Sannyāsa and its less formal equivalent vāna-prasthya (retirement in the forest) lifestyles are well known and accepted stages in the lives of people within the Indian culture.

A more general interpretation of this sūtra, but one that is less likely to be what Patañjali intended, is – [The yamas as virtues] are applicable universally, not limited by [one’s own] social status, location, time, or circumstance, and (would be) a great vow [for anyone who could more fully live in accordance with these virtues].

महा-व्रतम् इति ‘…केन भगवन् (प्रजा-पते) कर्माणि अ-शेषतः विसृजानि इति। तं (आरुणिं) ह उवाच प्रजा-पतिः तव पुर्त्रान् भ्रातॄन् बन्धु-आदीन् शिखं यज्ञ-उपवीतं यागं सूत्रं स्व-अध्यायं च भूलोक-भवलोक-स्वर्लोक-महर्लोक-जनोलोक-तपोलोक-सत्यलोकं च अतल-तलातल-वितल-सुतल-रसातल-महातल-पातालं ब्रह्म-अण्डं च विसृजेत्।…(इदं सर्वं) सन्धिं समाधौ आत्मनि आचरेत्। सवेषु वेदेषु आरण्यकम् आवर्तयेत्, उपनिषदम् आवर्तयेत् उपनिषदम् आवर्तयेत् इति।…ब्रह्म-चर्यम् अ-हिंसां च अ-परिग्रहं च सत्यं च, यत्नेन हे रक्षतः हे रक्षतः हे रक्षतः’ इति (Āruṇeya Up. 1–3)॥


[niyamas – observances; śauca – cleanliness; santoṣa – contentment; tapas – prayerful discipline; svādhyāya – one’s study of the family’s Veda scripture; Īśvara-praṇidhāna – intelligently surrendering to the Lord.]

शौच-सन्तोष-तपस्-स्व-अध्याय-ईश्वर-प्रणिधानानि वक्ष्यमानानि (YS.2.40–45) नियमाः नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]

Together, the yamas and niyamas cover what is expressed in the Bhagavad Gītā as living in keeping with dharma (the universal physical and psychological order in nature). Acting against the universal order – against the natural forces in nature, objective justice, and universal values – is acting against dharma. The yamas and niyamas essentially help connect the individual to the whole, helping the individual to be a better participant in the natural cosmic order.

Patañjali does not take advantage of this understanding. He describes instead how they personally advantage the individual. The same also happens in the third chapter, where Patañjali offers many contemplations ostensibly for gaining superpowers. The values incorporated in these yamas and niyamas may be better understood by referring to their explanation in the Bhagavad Gītā and Śaṅkara’s commentary thereon. Within the limits of these sūtras, this commentary will attempt to bring in a sense of the cosmic order perspective in regard to these values, and to the contemplations in the third chapter.


[bādhana – hindered; vi-tarka – wrong thinking; prati-pakṣa-bhāvana – contemplate the contradiction.]

वि-तर्क-बाधने विपर्यय-तर्केन योग-प्रतिबन्धने सति प्रति-पक्ष-भावनं तद्-वि-तर्कात् विपरीत-भावनं भवेत्॥ – [Vṛtti]

As in Yoga Sūtra 2.10, this practice here is to see the illogical and false nature of any hindrance as being in fact a hindrance to the truth. Until I am convinced that what I am doing results in the opposite of what I need and want, that ill behavior will remain uninhibited. I may stop doing it for a while. But, having not thought out the nature of that activity and its results, it can unconsciously return back in my life.

Here, the word vitarka is not used in its general sense of reasoning as in sūtra 1.17. Instead, the prefix vi in vi-tarka has the sense of vaiparītya (the reverse of) tarka (logic). This means vi-tarka has the sense of illogic, for which prati-pakṣa-bhāvana (contemplating the contradiction) is required to counteract that illogic, that wrong thinking.

Wrong thinking, even a moral mistake, as is noted in the next sūtra, is seen to be illogical. Within this tradition dharma, the just and right thing to do, will always be the logical thing to do. The most logical will be what takes into account not only what seems best for me, but also best for others, best for the community, best for everyone’s spiritual well being, and best for our shared environment. If all this is considered in one’s deliberation, then such logic will be in keeping with dharma, the most supportive for everyone.

The West tends to view logic as cold and misleading when it comes to doing what’s right. That is often true only because of an out of balance importance to what is me-and-mine. Fixing the me-and-mine balance, reducing the over importance of the individual and of what’s in it for me in relationship to everything else in life, will fix both logic and our emotional heart. Within this balance, treating others as you would want others to treat you is logical, not just a commandment.

If I am just commanded not to do something, I can easily disobey out of a sense of me-and-mine. If I understand it is wrong because it is illogical and not in my interest, then I will be disobeying myself by doing it. That is a more intelligent and powerful argument.


[prati-pakṣa-bhāvana – contemplating the contradiction; hiṃsā-ādi – violence, etcetera; kṛta – done; kārita – ordered; anumodita – permitted; pūrvaka – out of; lobha – greed; krodha – anger; moha – delusion; mṛdu – small; madhya – middling; adhi-mātra – great measure; an-anta – continuous, unfailing; phalas – results; duḥkha – pain; a-jñāna – ignorance; vi-tarka – illogical; iti – “…”.]

यथा ‘ये वि-तर्काः हिंसा-आदयः कृत-कारित-अनुमोदिताः लोभ-क्रोध-मोह-पूर्वकाः मृदु-मध्य-अधि-मात्राः ते दुःख-अ-ज्ञान-अन्-अन्त-फलाःइति प्रति-पक्ष-भावनम्॥ – [Vṛtti]


[pratiṣṭhā – establishment; a-hiṃsā – non-violence; tyāga – dropping; vaira – hostility; tad-sannidhi – those around that.]

अहिंसा-प्रतिष्ठायां सत्यां तद्-सन्निधौ तस्य योगिनः सन्निधौ वैर-त्यागः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Violence toward another is often an attempt to control. The best approach towards this felt need to control another is to address that felt need within oneself, where a degree of control is more likely to succeed now and be yours later to have in relating to others. A matured non-violent understanding, attitude, and behavior toward others help evoke the same from others towards oneself. It does not always thwart hostility from some, but from some people there may be nothing more effective in the long run.

Along with this non-violent understanding, attitude, and behavior towards others is an equal directing of these towards oneself. Attending to non-violence towards one’s own body and mind, such as clearly knowing their capabilities and not chasing after what they do not really need, will help protect them and keep them from having to need so much protection. Additionally, attending to non-violence towards one’s own body and mind encompasses defending and protecting one’s own body and mind from others, when required. A-hiṃsā as a paramount value and a comprehensive skill is both logical and in keeping with dharma.

An even deeper meaning for a-hiṃsā is the understanding that the one behind these eyes of mine is the very one behind all other eyes. Ātman (the self) is one and the same in all embodiments, in all life-forms. To hurt another is genuinely to hurt oneself.

This understanding and behavior is saintly. There is no more miraculous change than to change one’s own attitudes for the better.


[pratiṣṭhā – establishment; satya – truthfulness; āśrayatva – has the power of sustaining; phalas – results; kriyā – action.]

सत्य-प्रतिष्ठायां सत्यां क्रिया-फल-आश्रयत्वं तस्य योगिनः क्रिया-इष्ट-फलानाम् उत्पत्ति-स्थानम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

A karma-phala (result of action) requires the willful, conscious power of a doer performing the action and desiring to gain its hoped for reward in order for the eventual result (karma-phala) to be stored in the individual doer’s karma account, and to be enjoyed or bemoaned later, even in succeeding births. An action without this will power, for example, purely accidental, yet not out of carelessness, will not create a lasting karma-phala accrued in one’s karma account for later fruition, though there will be an immediate result of action out of simple cause and effect. One’s head will hurt if it is accidentally bumped, but a residual karma to rebound later is not generated.

We have a will, but its power is variable depending upon how informed and clear each choice is. The less informed and clear our choice, the weaker the will power in that choice, as well the power of the karma result to accrue in keeping with our intention.

An informed, conscious, willful choice is not there (or is not fully developed) for very young children and other creatures lacking a fully functioning facility of choice, a buddhi (intellect). They act and react mostly instinctually from their manas (faculty of notion and doubt, saṅkalpa-vikalpa). We mistakenly think children are willful when they are being adamantine in their cravings of the moment. A craving is not a willful choice; it is itself a result, not a chosen action.

In the karma model, innocent children and animals cannot create new karma-phalas. A lioness will not have to reap the karma result of killing, no matter how horrific it may seem to us. The activity itself, of course, has a result. For every action there will be a reaction. The action of the lioness will result in the death of the prey, but there is no willful mental action beyond just the intelligence to acquire food for survival, right now.

Action is either physical (bodily or vocally) or mental. In willful actions, we are talking of a subtle karma result of the action of the mind – not of a physical action itself and its result. This action of the mind is an action of the willful choice by a mature human.

Satya (truthfulness to ourselves and others) will better inform our not-so-blind actions. Truthfulness will guide our actions to do the most benefit for ourselves in the short and long term, and least harm to others. The more clarity in the intelligence behind our choices and the more pure our will power, uncompromised by our self-serving desires or fears, then the more power behind the fruition of a truly beneficial result.

This willful power of a human is strengthened when the doer aligns thought, word, and deed in a truthful straight line, in other words, when there is integrity. This power, generated through all three actions of thought, word, and deed will sustain the karma-phala and presumably keep that result more on the top, so that it is retrieved more quickly. Any dilution or pollution of this power through these three sources of action will weaken and delay the fruition of the result, which may as well be harmful or less helpful when inadequate or inappropriate thinking is involved.

सत्यम् इति ‘अन्-उद्वेग-करं वाक्यं सत्यं प्रिय-हितं च यत्’ इति (BhG.17.15)॥


[pratiṣṭhā – establishment; a-steya – non-usurping; sarva – everything; upasthāna – around; ratnas – jewels.]

अ-स्तेय-प्रतिष्ठायाम् अ-लोभ-प्रतिष्ठायां सत्यां सर्व-रत्न-उपस्थानं तस्य योगिनः ईश्वरमत्त्वेन एव सर्व-विभूति-आधारः, न ममत्वम् इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

When one appreciates everything as the precious glories (vibhūtis) of the Lord, of the total, to be enjoyed freely wherever they are and in whosever temporary possession they are in, then the need to personally possess a few simply drops away. This helps the mind settle and be available for what is really essential in life, including and especially for this teaching.


[pratiṣṭhā – establishment; brahma-carya – pursuing the scripture; lābha – gain; vīrya – strength.]

ब्रह्म-चर्य-प्रतिष्ठायां सत्यां वीर्य-लाभः योगे तीव्र-संवेग-लाभः (YS.1.21)॥ – [Vṛtti]

When this pursuit becomes the only pursuit, the power and tenacity in that inquiry will overcome all obstacles to understanding the scripture.


[sthairya – establishment; a-parigraha – renunciation; sambodha – understanding; kathaṃtā – reason; janma – birth.]

अ-परिग्रह-स्थैर्ये परित्याग-स्थैर्ये सति जन्म-कथंता-सम्बोधः त्यक्तव्य-कर्म-आशयतया अन्-आदि-जन्म-याथा-अर्थ्यं सम्बुध्यते (YS.2.12)॥ – [Vṛtti]

In cognitive-based renunciation, one comes to clearly understand that unwarranted desire, a sense of lack and inadequacy in oneself, leads to further re-birth, and that knowledge of the self, which possesses nothing yet is everything, removes the ignorance which is the source of desire and re-birth.

There is no basis found in this sūtra to say that the tradition holds a value for discovering or exploring past life experiences, as some claim. If renunciation is the value here, then it would naturally include the renunciation of a me-and-mine notion in those past life experiences too. There is no purpose in renunciation to go there. Nevertheless, there are many commentators and authors who would like to take the student in that direction. The current life holds more than enough to come to the freedom that these sūtras unfold. The karma setup here is that the individual’s mind is wiped of the details of the previous life’s memories, allowing a fresh, clean start to get it right this time. This mind, after many years, has brought you to this teaching, so why regress back into what happened in your past? It may distract you, and this opportunity for the teaching may be missed.


[śauca – cleanliness; jugupsā – repulse; sva-aṅga – one’s own body; a-saṃsarga – non-attachment; paras – others.]

बाह्य-शौचात् नियमात् स्व-अङ्ग-जुगुप्सा स्व-देह-अ-पुण्य-भाग-त्याग-दृष्टिः परैः बाह्य-मनस्-हारैः अपि पुण्य-अ-पुण्य-मिश्र-देहैः अ-संसर्गः भाग-त्याग-दृष्टिः तथा अपि इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

The objective attributes of the body are, of course, what they are. But when the mind also labels these as alluring or repulsive due to the ignorance of mutual identification, namely, “This improves or ruins me,” then this subjectivity needs to be balanced. If one extreme is seen then the other extreme cannot be far away, since an opposite does not exist without its contrary. Moreover, once the subjective nature of the labeling is better appreciated, then the allurement and repulsion is properly placed in one’s mind instead of in the object. This balance and understanding towards one’s own body is easily applicable to the bodies of others too.

This technique of prati-pakṣa-bhāvana (contemplating the contradiction) is useful here. We are not trying to develop a repulsion or disgust with the body or with other bodies. This and all other bodies are glories of the Lord. But, if one is nagged by emotions towards others, they can effectively be jolted back into balance by a one-time realignment, as and when necessary. This is the repulse (an instance of being driven away) regarding the least agreeable aspects of this body being surely present in that other, otherwise alluring, body also.

This is a preliminary discipline to counter-balance the extremes of attachment, so that one can get to a more objective center, from which to progress altogether out of attachment in all its forms, positive and negative, to arrive at an acceptance of all that one sees. But this is an objective acceptance, not a blind acceptance. If something needs fixing, and it is within my means to fix, then cleanliness (śauca) does not stop. It proceeds without attachment.


[sattva-śuddhi – mental cleanliness; sau-manasya – contentment; aika-agrya – ability to stay on one; indriya-jaya – mastery over the senses; yogyatva – capacity; ātma-darśana – knowing the self.]

सत्त्व-शुद्धि-सौ-मनस्य-ऐक-अग्र्य-इन्द्रिय-जय-आत्म-दर्शन-योग्यत्वानि अन्तःकरण-शौचात् सु-मनस्-भावे ऐक-अग्र्ये इन्द्रिय-विनिग्रहे आत्म-ज्ञाने च योग्यत्वानि ॥ – [Vṛtti]


[santoṣa – contentment; lābha – attains; an-uttama – unsurpassed; sukha – fullness.]

यतः आत्म-दर्शन-योग्यत्वं ततः सन्तोषात् नियमात् अन्-उत्तमः सुख-लाभः आत्म-स्व-रूप-तृप्तिः इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

When the mind attains clarity, the nature of the limitless fullness of oneself, which is the teaching of this tradition, is unimpeded. This is through a discerning knowledge that I am full and complete, untainted by the limitations of the mind and body since, as their witness, I cannot be them, yet they cannot be without me since I am the existence they enjoy.

सन्तोषात् इति ‘यः तु आत्म-रतिः एव स्याद् आत्म-तृप्तः च मानवः। आत्मनि एव च सन्तुष्टः तस्य कार्यं न विद्यते’ इति (BhG.3.17)॥


[tapas – prayerful discipline; kṣaya – wane; a-śuddhis – impurities; kāya – body; indriyas – senses; siddhi – success.]

काय-इन्द्रिय-सिद्धिः देह-इन्द्रिय-योग्यत्व-सिद्धिः इह जन्मनि च परम-पुरुष-अर्थ-सिद्धिः अ-शुद्धि-क्षयात् क्लेश-क्षयात् तपसः (YS.2.1) नियमात्॥ – [Vṛtti]

The body and senses also are allowed to be all they can be, not hindered by an undisciplined and doubting mind and by a weakness of will-power, which erect barriers that are not there. The tapas listed in the Bhagavad Gītā verses 17.14–17 quoted under sūtra 2.1 clearly are reasonable and effective disciplines that directly address the weaknesses the mind may have in assimilating this teaching.

Tapas is sometimes confused with torturing the body or mind. Stories of exaggerated self-torture in local tales get passed down and spread by otherwise well-meaning people – thinking they may be inspiring others, but are more likely discouraging. Self-torture is not what reasonable people would want to do unto themselves, or want others to do unto themselves. Self-violence cannot be the intention or the practice of tapas, since this runs exactly counter to a-hiṃsā (non-violence). One cannot observe both at the same time. Patañjali neither introduces nor suggests any torturous practices in his sūtras.

Self-violence is disrespect for the Lord’s creation, for the temple of the ātman. All these disciplines are to be imbued with satya (truthfulness) and a-hiṃsā (non-violence), the two pillars of all values. A yogin undertakes certain practices because they are the more intelligent to perform. It may be like a medicine that could be unpleasant, though it is corrective. But if the corrective is more destructive than the problem, then such cures should be avoided or dropped. The body and senses cannot attain their success if they are distorted or destroyed in the practice of tapas.


[svādhyāya – one’s study of the family’s Veda scripture; saṃprayoga – identity; devatā – Lord; iṣṭa – one’s family or personal worship.]

स्व-अध्यायात् (YS.2.1) नियमात् इष्ट-देवता-संप्रयोगः सर्व-विभूति-रूपेण सर्व-नियन्तृ-रूपेण जन्म-स्थिति-लय-रूपेण च ईश्वरस्य इष्ट-देवता-रूपेण अ-भिन्नत्वम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

One can gain enough of an understanding of limitless reality, of the Lord, so one can proceed to contemplate upon that Lord. One’s worshiped Lord (iṣṭa-devatā) may be just an aspect of the Lord. Any and all of the forces in nature can be looked upon as devatās (deities). A devatā is a manifestation of the Lord, so the Lord can be invoked in that particular form. Recognition of the Lord’s awareful presence in the sacred waters of Gaṅgā, in a temple stone carving, or in the embodiment of Lord Kṛṣṇa, is similar to gaining another’s attention by just touching their hand, instead of having to touch their entire body. This is why the term devatā (deity) was used here. It can have this limited sense, unlike the term Īśvara (Lord) used in sūtra 1.24, that rarely has a limited sense.

The term devatā (deity) here can be extended to nearly all the various descriptions of the gods and goddesses of any and all cultures.

A limited form of the Lord does not limit the Lord itself. Even the worshipers of the gods and goddesses of any and all cultures really worship in their heart, knowingly or unknowingly, the limitless Lord. Though they may be temporarily confused into believing their own version of the Lord is the limitless, since a distinct version or perspective of anything, even of the Lord, can only be something that is limited.

In fact, no one really worships a form, such as an element of nature, the sun, a stone-carving, or a historical person, but only what that form stands for, what it means, what it is a manifestation of. No one keeps staring at their glasses on their nose, but uses them to clearly focus beyond them. The iṣṭa-devatā is the lens adopted to appreciate the formless, limitless reality, called the Lord.

To grow up with such spiritual study and enjoying the presence and support of a personal and family deity is the norm in Veda inspired India. Few Westerners have experienced this quality of interaction with an ever-present and loving deity. The devotee grows up knowing that his iṣṭa-devatā hears and sees all words and gestures and understands their fullest meaning. That Lord is non-judgmental and points always to the way to grow from life’s experiences and challenges – the extra parent, so to speak, that one may need in life. This is an appreciation that fully lends itself to success in the contemplations in these Yoga Sūtras. Anyone can choose an aspect of creation to use as an altar for devotion and meditation. The Lord’s presence is in and available in all things. The student who does not already do so begins a relationship with the Lord as an aspect of nature and as a symbol of what she sees as her most complete and most mature self.

It should again be noticed with due importance that Patañjali has not mentioned any other source or teaching upon which to contemplate than the Veda, as a means of knowledge. Completeness and clarity require a broad and certain basis – physically, emotionally, and logically. The various philosophies throughout history are based on various sets of assumptions that may or may not be true or pertinent. These philosophies may not have such a grand vision of oneself that encompasses the entire universe and accepts all forms of worship. They may not have a vast array of practical, mythical, psychological, and logical teachings that have been lived fully for thousands of years. Those other philosophies may not provide the student such a certain and firm basis that this teaching tradition does provide.

इष्ट-देवता इति ‘सः एव काले भुवनस्य गोप्ता विश्व-अधिपः सर्व-भूतेषु गूढः। यस्मिन् युक्ताः ब्रह्म-ऋषयः देवताः च तम् एवं ज्ञात्वा मृत्यु-पाशान् छिनत्ति’ इति (SvetU.4.15)॥


[Īśvara-praṇidhāna – intelligently surrendering to the Lord; siddhi – attainment; samādhi – contemplation resulting in assimilation.]

समाधि-सिद्धिः परम-पुरुषे सर्वं समाधीयते यस्मिन् इति समाधिः तस्मिन् समाधौ सिद्धिः (YS.1.51) ईश्वर-प्रणिधानात् (YS.2.1) नियमात्॥ – [Vṛtti]

Gradually one comes to the surrender of the belief that one controls the results of one’s actions. When this surrender is fully assimilated, and all of one’s body and mind, and all of one’s actions and their results are no longer mine, but are known as belonging to nature as a manifestation of the Lord, of reality, and further, when one knows that this reality, the Lord, cannot be separate from, and in fact is, oneself, then that is samādhi. There is no second limiting, real thing – no thoughts, no body, no actions, no results which can be misidentified as one’s limited self. Then you understand that which is and always was yourself as complete and free of any sense of limitation.

ईश्वर-प्रणिधानात् इति ‘तम् (ईश्वरम्) एव शरणं गच्छ सर्व-भावेन भारत। तत्-प्रसादात् परां शान्तिं स्थानं प्राप्स्यसि शाश्वतम्’ इति (BhG.18.62)॥


[āsana – sitting practice; sthira – stable; sukha – comfortable.]

स्थिर-सुखं स्थिरं सुखं च भवेत् आसनं ध्यान-अर्थम् एव पद्म-स्वस्तिक-आदि-देह-स्थापनं नाम तृतीय-योग-अङ्गम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

If one cannot sit erect with head-neck-back in balanced alignment, remaining still and comfortable for a span of 48 minutes, one muhurta, then prior to meditation one can practice various yoga-āsanas (healing postures) to gain the required flexibility and strength to maintain this alert sitting posture. Whatever sitting, after practice, allows one to remain alert and comfortable for a sufficient length of time is called āsana. For more, one can see Śaṅkara’s Brahma-Sūtra-Bhāṣya 4.1.7–11.

आसनम् इति ‘स्पर्शान् कृत्वा बहिः बाह्यान् चक्षुः च एव अन्तरे भ्रुवोः। प्राण-अपानौ समौ कृत्वा नासाभ्यन्तर-चारिणौ॥ यत-इन्द्रिय-मनो-बुद्धिः मुनिः मोक्ष-परायणः। विगत-इच्छा-भय-क्रोधः यः सदा मुक्तः एव सः’ इति (BhG.05.27–28); ‘शुचौ देशे प्रतिष्ठाप्य स्थिरम् आसनम् आत्मनः। न अति-उच्छ्रितं न अति-नीचं चैल-अजिन-कुश-उत्तरम्॥ तत्र एक-अग्रं मनः कृत्वा यत-चित्त-इन्द्रिय-क्रियः। उपविश्य आसने युञ्ज्याद् योगम् आत्म-विशुद्धये॥ समं काय-शिरो-ग्रीवं धारयन् अ-चलं स्थिरः। सम्प्रेक्ष्य नासिका-अग्रं स्वं दिशः च अन्-अवलोकयन्॥ प्रशान्त-आत्मा विगत-भीः ब्रह्म-चारि-व्रते स्थितः। मनः संयम्य मद्-चित्तः युक्तः आसीत मद्-परः’ इति (BhG.6.11–14)॥


[śaithilya – relaxation; prayatna – straining; samāpatti – contemplating; an-anta – limitless.]

प्रयत्न-शैथिल्य-अन्-अन्त-समापत्तिभ्यां स्थिर-आसने प्रयत्न-शैथिल्येन सुख-आसने च आकाश-प्राण-आदि-अन्-अन्त-विषय-समापत्त्या॥ – [Vṛtti]

Until there is relaxation in the posture, then that stress will keep it from being still and stable. Comfort, on the other hand, is gained not only physically (by repeated practice in flexibility), but also mentally by removing the mind’s focus from the confines of any small bodily pain, and focusing instead on what lacks limitation. The body and its small pains are then, in time, dismissed and dropped in the seat of contemplation on the limitless. If the pains persist, though, better corrective measures should be applied to gain a more painless, still and stable posture.

Samādhi is for gaining complete freedom in all of one’s life. Even to attain comfort in sitting for meditation Patañjali recommends contemplation on the limitless. Even the smallest thing, like breath, can be connected in the seat of contemplation to its cosmic manifestation, intelligently appreciating breath as the life force that pervades this entire universe. Similarly, the space of the body, or the space in the heart, is not different, not separated in anyway, from the entire expanse of the space in this universe, just as a pot does not divide or limit the space of the universe.

Āsana for meditation may involve the visualization of the body, mentally observing the physical body as an object. Start from the top of the head slowly down to the toes, or from bottom up. Bathe in your attention and breath (as life’s energy) each part of the body – the top of the head, forehead, eyes, mouth, jaw, ears, neck, shoulders left and right, chest, and the rest of the lower body, relaxing each of them in turn. Then visualize the entire body, like it was a statue – a living, breathing statue – in limitless space, in the limitless space of awareness in the heart.

Appendix - Nature of the Mind presents effective steps in contemplation.


[tataḥ – from that; an-abhighāta – not assailed; dvan-dvas – pairs of opposites.]

ततः स्थिर-सुख-आसनात् योगी शीत-उष्ण-सुख-दुःख-आदि-द्वम्-द्व-अन्-अभिघातः॥ – [Vṛtti]

If the body has an itch, mentally scratch it with attention and let it go. You have an appointment later – note it and let it drop for now. A memory of what someone said to you arises – acknowledge its current significance, then drop it for the time being.

With repeated practice one can sit and quickly shut out awareness of the physical environment, including one’s body. The attention then can shift to the more subtle – the breath, the mind, the teaching, and oneself. This alone is Patañjali’s advice concerning āsana. One needs to be able to sit still and comfortable, without bodily affliction, in order to contemplate subtle reality. Other yoga āsanas and practices are for addressing health and related concerns that might be a distraction for the mind (YS.1.30).


[tasmin sati – established in this; prāṇa-āyāma – controlling the breath; viccheda – separating; gati – flow; śvāsa – inhalation; pra-śvāsa – exhalation.]

तस्मिन् द्वम्-द्व-अन्-अभिघात-आसने सति, श्वास-प्रश्वासयोः अन्तर्-श्वास-बहिर्-श्वासयोः गति-विच्छेदः प्राणायामः नाम चतुर्थ-योग-अङ्गम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

Established in this (tasmin sati) does not mean when this (āsana) is perfected (siddha). That could take a lifetime and beyond. The breath control practices here only require one to be able to have a stable, comfortable sit, which naturally blocks out the environment, including the pains and itches of the body. The mind can then start to fully contemplate upon the infinite, the cosmic aspect of a topic of contemplation.

Between inhalation and exhalation, introduce a pause. This pause is the first step in prāṇāyāma (controlling the breath). Because of the continual necessity for this major source of life-energy, this pause naturally draws one’s attention to the quiet subtleness of the life-breath. If the mind wanders away from this attention on the breath, recognize the distraction, acknowledge that the distraction too is present in this same life-force that pervades the universe, and gently bring it back. Do not scold the mind for wandering. The art of continually bringing the mind back to its topic is what meditation is. This prāṇāyāma (breath control) naturally calms the mind into its own quiet, subtleness, and thus fulfills its expressed purpose as the fourth limb of yoga.


[vṛtti – operation; bāhya – outward; abhyantara – inward; stambha – stoppage; paridṛṣṭa – is observed; deśa – location; kāla – length; saṃkhyā – count; dīrgha – long; sūkṣma – subtle.]

बाह्य-अभ्यन्तर-स्तम्भ-वृत्तिः श्वास-प्रश्वासयोः बाह्य-वृत्तिः अभन्तर-वृत्तिः स्तम्भ-वृत्तिः च त्रि-विध-प्राण-आयामः, देश-काल-संख्याभिः देशतः कालतः संख्यातः च परिदृष्टः परीक्षितः, दीर्घ-सूक्ष्मः काल-संख्यातः दीर्घः अन्-अन्त-बाह्य-अभ्यन्तर-प्राण-देशतः (YS.2.51) सूक्ष्मः च प्राण-आयामः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Prāṇāyāma can be a simple practice learned in a few sessions, which is good enough for settling into contemplation. Its more elaborate practices need careful instruction and direction from a skilled and experienced teacher, but are not necessary for the following next step in prāṇāyāma.


[caturtha – fourth; ākṣepin – diminishing; viṣaya – attention; bāhya – outward; abhyantara – inward.]

बाह्य-अभ्यन्तर-विषय-आक्षेपी बाह्य-अभ्यन्तर-श्वास-गमन-विषयात् दृष्टि-प्रत्याहारः चतुर्थः प्राण-आयामः प्राण-सन्निधि-वीक्षणम्, अ-बाह्य-अन्-अभ्यन्तर-सर्व-व्याप्त-प्राण-वीक्षणम् इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

The other three prāṇāyāmas are the bāhya (outward), abhyantara (inward), and stambha (stoppage). In the fourth, breathing continues, but no attention is placed on controlling the out-going or in-coming movements, or holding of the breath. Rather attention is placed only upon the presence of the breath. One’s breathing then becomes effortless and imperceptible. During this time the conscious controlling of the breath stops and the inward and outward breaths would become naturally equal (sama). This then becomes the more subtle, simple witnessing of the presence of the breath without attention to controlling the breaths, also called prāṇa-vīkṣaṇa. One moves from there to the next more subtle step of withdrawing the senses.

The practices of āsana and prāṇāyāma will bless any practitioner. They are skills that can be gained and enjoyed for themselves. Indeed, for adept yogis they are simple, reasonable ways to promote a healthy life that supports the commitment to knowledge. Nevertheless, breathing techniques have an observable effect on the thought processes (YS.1.31) and the ability to contemplate on and with them.


[tataḥ – from that; āvaraṇa – blocking; prakāśa – clarity; kṣīyate – lessened.]

ततः प्राण-आयामात् क्षीयते प्रकाश-आवरणं रजस्-तमोभ्यां चित्त-सत्त्व-गुण-आच्छादनम् (YS.1.31)॥ – [Vṛtti]

The dullness (tamas) of the mind is lessened by oxygenating the body and brain through prāṇāyāma. Restlessness (rajas) is lessened by attention put on the quiet, still subtleness of the breath. Then, the natural clarity (sattva) of the mind will become more predominant. But a clear mind needs correct thinking to be brought in. We are not looking for an empty-headed samādhi.

Like samādhi, prāṇāyāma cannot give knowledge. Prāṇāyāma quietly awakens the mind for entering into contemplation, and contemplation (samādhi) is for sitting undistracted in appreciation of what one already understands, but has not yet assimilated as firm knowledge in one’s heart.


[ca – and; manas – mind; yogyatā – fitness; dhāraṇā – restraining the pursuit of unwanted or hindering thoughts in contemplation.]

अ-बाह्य-अन्-अभ्यन्तर-प्राण-वीक्षणात् धारणासु (YS.3.1) च योग्यता मनसः॥ – [Vṛtti]


[pratyāhāra – withdrawing; indriyas – senses; iva – seeming; anukāra – take on; sva-rūpa – very nature; citta – mind; a-saṃprayoga – withdraw; sva-viṣayas – their own objects.]

स्व-विषय-अ-संप्रयोगे इन्द्रियाणां सति, चित्तस्य स्व-रूप-अनुकारः इव आसने प्राण-आयामे च चित्तस्य यथा अन्-अन्त-विषय-अनुरूपः बाह्य-अभ्यन्तर-विषय-आक्षेपि-अनुरूपः अपि इन्दियाणां प्रत्याहारः नाम पञ्चम-योग-अङ्गम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

The senses are by their nature led by the mind. If the mind lacks discipline and gives up the lead, then the senses, like wild horses yoked to a chariot with an unskilled driver, will drag the mind through the fields of their objects. When the mind gains the discipline and skill of the yamas and niyamas, the rāga-dveṣas (attraction and aversion toward objects) diminish. With the help of āsana and prāṇāyāma, the mind experiences a composure that is naturally available. When that informed and composed mind takes lead of the senses, then the senses will naturally follow suit, like well trained horses anticipating the subtle orders of their master.

The senses seeming to take on the nature of the mind is the key to gaining control of the senses. One has to command the mind by an informed intellect to not allow the mind’s attention to be stolen away against one’s will. The informed intellect is one that is clear about what is hindering (kliṣṭa) and what is helpful (a-kliṣṭa) in this discipline. Such an intellect will guide the other functions of the mind to remain in this discipline.

It is not by blocking sensory experiences that we command the senses. You can close your eyes in the seat of meditation, but the other senses remain wide open. They will do their job regardless. You cannot live your life in a sensory deprivation chamber. In meditation, as well as in your life, you simply have to choose not to let your mind be distracted by following after a sound, smell, or any other sensation that is not your current concern. That choice can only have effect when it is backed by a clearly ascertained understanding of what is one’s goal, what is the appropriate discipline for that goal, and how to undertake that discipline.

If the intellect is not maintaining this control, then the preceding yamas and niyamas should be revisited. They concern the values, and the meaning of the values, that the intellect needs to invoke in the mind to control the senses and the body.

With ahiṃsa (non-violence) in your life, when the world has no need of fear from you, then you can relax your ninja stance against the world and allow the Lord as the natural order to provide your sustenance. With satya (truthfulness) in your life, will power is strengthened by your mind, words, and deeds being in natural alignment. With asteya (non-usurping) in your life, the cravings of the senses are filtered through your assimilated values. With brahma-carya (pursuing the scripture) in your life, those values you have can be better assimilated through the more universal perspective the scripture invokes. With aparigraha (renunciation) in your life, a cleaner and simpler lifestyle will bring balance back from living your life for the sake of your senses to living your life for the sake of the highest goals your intellect can envision. Similarly, the niyamas (physical and mental cleanliness, contentment, prayerful discipline, studying one’s Veda, and intelligently surrendering to the Lord) will move one’s center of attention from sensory phenomena to contentment and contemplation of the reality stage upon which all these phenomena dance.

Pratyāhāra (withdrawal of the senses) is at its core vairāgya – non-attachment to and non-identification with sense objects, as well as with thoughts that are equally objects within awareness.

इन्द्रियाणाम् इति ‘यः तु अ-विज्ञानवान् भवति अ-युक्तेन मनसा सदा। तस्य इन्द्रियाणि अ-वश्यानि दुष्ट-अश्वाः इव सा-रथेः॥ यः तु विज्ञानवान् भवति युक्तेन मनसा सदा। तस्य इन्द्रियाणि वश्यानि सद्-अश्वाः इव सा-रथेः’ इति (KathU.1.3.5–6); ‘राग-द्वेष-वियुक्तैः तु विषयान् इन्द्रियैः चरन्। आत्म-वश्यैः (बुद्धि-वश्यैः) विधेय-आत्मा (विधेय-अन्तःकरणः) प्रसादम् अधिगच्छति’ इति (BhG.2.64)॥


[parama – best; vaśyatā – mastery; indriyas – senses; tataḥ – by that.]

ततः चित्त-पूर्वका वश्यता, परमा वश्यता इन्द्रियाणाम् अपि मानसः इन्द्रिय-शमः भवेत् इत्यर्थः, न तु इन्द्रिय-दमः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Compare this with Yoga Sūtra 2.41. This sūtra emphasizes the importance of an informed understanding of the erroneous ways of thinking that increase the distraction and agitation of the senses. An informed intellect bests the various forms of mechanical sense denial, because the point of this mastery is to command calmness in and out of the seat of meditation, not just when the senses can be temporarily denied.

One of the Sanskrit words for the mind is hṛd or hṛdaya (heart or center). When the scripture talks of the heart, it means the buddhi (intellect). The hṛd of anything is its center. The individual’s subtle body, which includes the mind and intellect, pervades the entire physical body, and at its center is the intellect. This tradition does not accept that the heart and mind should be separated in any way. The intellect is where one’s deepest convictions are. Where the intellect is, where this heart is, that is where the senses will naturally be directed. If the intellect, the heart, is weak and unstable, then the senses will be in charge.

इन्द्रियाणाम् इति ‘इन्द्रियाणां हि चरतां यद् मनः अनुविधीयते। तद् अस्य हरति प्रज्ञां वायुः नावम् इव अम्भसि’ इति (BhG.2.67)॥

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The preceding five limbs of yoga deal with being in keeping with dharma – being an objectively virtuous and just citizen in the world, relatively free from conflicts and actions that result in conflicts. Additionally, one gains the ability to sit quietly in meditation, dropping attention towards sense stimuli. This creates the meditative environment for the mind to turn its attention to a selected contemplation. This chapter on siddhis (accomplishments) begins with the first siddhi – the skill of contemplation. That skill is developed in the next three limbs of yoga, namely, dhāraṇā (restraining the pursuit of unwanted or hindering thoughts in contemplation), dhyāna (retaining the flow of wanted or helpful thoughts in contemplation), and samādhi (contemplation resulting in assimilation). The chapter (pāda) ends with the teaching on the ultimate fulfillment – contemplation on the reality of the world and the puruṣa (YS.3.43–53). This contemplation leads directly to Patañjali’s goal of yoga, kaivalya (complete freedom), the ultimate siddhi.

Sūtras 3.16–42 point out an additional accomplishment. This is the acquisition of a cosmic perspective towards objects in the universe in contemplation. This helps one gain and abide in limitless freedom. This accomplishment is connected to specific side-effects (gauṇa-phalas, by-products, secondary to the main goal) in the contemplations of this section. These side-effects are the superpowers mentioned, but deemphasized by us. They too are called siddhis in Sanskrit.

The student should avoid confusing these superpower siddhis with the main accomplishments in yoga. These superpowers play a part in the popular spiritual literature within this tradition, namely the Purāṇas (legends dealing with creation stories and the deities), such as the Viṣṇu-Purāṇa, and the Iti-hāsas (epic histories), such as the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahā-bhārata. These superpowers are typically attributed to heroes or demons, and are key to advancing a story within a particular legend or epic. The quests for superpowers were and are a part of the practices of some yogis, as well as of shaman practitioners from around the world in cultures old and new. Patañjali gives mention of them in this chapter, though he too deemphasizes their import (YS.3.37).

The mention of these superpowers is more to connect these helpful cosmic contemplations to what the Indian practitioner has read in these very popular legends and epics that tell how these powers can be helpful and can be detrimental. In the West, where there may not be exposure to this literature, there could be an over-tendency to take these superpowers out of context, and as being the most interesting and so necessary pursuits in yoga.

There is no separate, special, or unique experience or capacity that one needs to fulfill the knowledge yogins seek. Every experience, every object, every thought, when viewed in keeping with the cosmic whole, reveals that whole. The task of this commentary, in keeping with the scripture of this tradition and with Patañjali, is to clearly indicate the real purport of these sūtras as the development of the three principle siddhis: skill in contemplation, the gaining of a cosmic perspective in the mind that certain contemplations can give if understood in the light of this tradition’s physics and metaphysics of life, and then the final goal of kaivalya. In the contemplations we will elaborately explore how the contemplations are employed in gaining a cosmic perspective, and then briefly note the purported side-effect superpowers and their connection with the topic of the contemplations.


[dhāraṇā – restraining the pursuit of unwanted or hindering thoughts in contemplation; bandha – keeping; citta – mind; deśa – place.]

भूयः – देश-बन्धं क्लिष्ट-विषयात् अ-क्लिष्ट-एक-विषये स्थापनं पुनः पुनः चित्तस्य धारणा नाम षष्ठ-योग-अङ्गम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

This is keeping the mind from straying to other places, other areas of thought, that hinder or are not the topic of the contemplation. Dhāraṇā naturally culminates in the following dhyāna. When the mind is not where it should not be, then it is where it should be. All the preceding disciplines have given the mind this strength to settle down and the wisdom to know what to settle into. Like for pratyāhāra, it succeeds from an informed intellect that can stay alert to when the attention strays from the contemplation topic. Remember, we are talking about the mind here. Restraint in thinking does not mean suppression. It is not like the physical restraint of a pet. It is a cognitive alertness allowing the most appropriate and helpful thinking to arise and remain, in and out of the seat of meditation (see comm. on YS.1.2).

The Contemplation Process

There is a progression from pratyāhāra through dhāraṇā to dhyāna – from redirecting the mind’s attention away from the external to being only upon the chosen topic of contemplation. But this directing inward is directing the mind toward the more inward truth of everything, not seeking isolation from the external world.

The student generates a systematic practice that establishes a firm seat of meditation. There may be a confirmation of one’s intention to address the mind and to nurture a friendly and supportive relationship with one’s emotions. The student attends to āsana (including visualizing the parts of the body to relax them), prāṇayāma, and pratyāhāra. The student acknowledges the physical environment around, and mentally affirms that this particular time is for oneself not for everything else – including your body, health, finances, family, neighbors, co-workers, friends, foes, politics, and the world. They will all be there afterwards. Now is the time for this mind to attend to its own purpose in freeing itself, no matter what the environment.

Then, beginning japa (quiet or silent chant), the student repeats a sacred mantra whose meaning he or she knows, for example, Om īśāya namaḥ, meaning, “Om (see sūtra 1.27) I surrender all ownership and identification with this body, mind, and senses unto the natural cosmic order that is the embodiment of the Lord.” I am one with the Lord that manifests and enlivens this entire universe, which is the reality into which all universes resolve in sleep as well as at the ends of time.

If one finds that the mind tends to drift during the mental repetition of the mantra, use the voice to softly chant the mantra for a time. We can often control our body – here, the voice – better than our mind, so vocalization may be introduced to bring the mind back. Returning to mental repetition, make the chant non-physical. Keep the mouth, tongue, and vocal chords still during the chant. This keeps the chant in the more absorbing depth of the intellect. The mental chant can be disassociated from the rhythms of the breath. Let the chant sometimes occur during in-breaths as well as during the change over from the in and out breaths. An additional technique is keeping the tongue still in the middle of the mouth without touching any part inside the mouth.

Appreciate in the heart, in the center of one’s certitude and conviction, the truth of the mantra. Do not think about the mantra or its meaning; simply behold its truth, as to how it encompasses you and your universe.

Let the silent pause between chants and between words of the chant lengthen, and sometime stop, while beholding their meaning. The chant and silence are oneself, pure awareness. They resolve in the reality of oneself as the meaning of the mantra. They come out of the reality of oneself, they appear, and they resolve back into oneself. The truth of the mantra is the truth of oneself.

Once the silence of oneself is foremost, let the chant drop. There is only oneself as the self-evident reality and truth of the mantra.

One may recognize other thoughts or perceptions arising. If these thoughts or perceptions are felt to be distractions, recognize that they are all within your awareness, the truth of oneself. If it is a sense perception, that could only be from a contact of one of the senses with its object. Being a contact, there can be no distance between your sense organ and the object, whether it is the sense reaching out to the object or the medium of the object reaching to the sense organ. Even the notional distance or the calculated estimation of the distance between the seat of the sense and the seat of the object are a notion or estimation within the mind right now. There is no distance or separation of that notion or estimation in the mind from awareness. The sense or notion of the time elapsed also only occurs right now in the mind within awareness. Simply appreciate that these thoughts are well within the order and convention of the mind. The entire mind is within the Lord’s order. This thought and its object are both a manifestation of the Lord, the reality that is the Lord. Bring back the mantra which holds this fact and carries the sense and wisdom of surrender and freedom from identification with the mind and its separate thoughts.

This understanding of the nature of thought, sense perceptions, objects, distance, and time will be unfolded in this text in keeping with the teaching tradition here and in the scriptures.

The absorption discovered in contemplation is natural, unforced, and all-encompassing. Give depth to that absorption by introducing thoughts that express the truth of the identity of the Lord and oneself. These are the contemplation of one’s choosing. They may only be the mantra one has used for japa. They may be words of the teacher or from scripture that the student finds particularly meaningful and helpful. They may be prati-pakṣa-bhāvanas (YS.2.33–34) that counteract an affliction that is hindering your progress in yoga. Do not be content with aimless pondering, wandering through a disconnected enjoyment of some part of the whole truth. Keep in the mind well thought out expressions that encompass a truth you wish to always remain in your heart. This truth should be clearly seen as the truth of oneself in and out of contemplation.

Again, when the mind strays during contemplation, see that thought and its object as not outside of the truth one is contemplating, then, having been brought back to the truth, remain in its contemplation – with or without words.

For the steps involved see Appendix - Suggested Steps in Contemplation.

धारणा इति ‘यतः यतः निश्चरति मनः चञ्चलम् अ-स्थिरम्। ततः ततः नियम्य एतद् आत्मनि एव वशं नयेत्’ इति (BhG.6.26)॥


[tatra – when that is; dhyāna – retaining the flow of wanted or helpful thoughts in contemplation; ekatānatā – nature of having a oneness; pratyayas – thoughts.]

तत्र धारणायां पर्याप्तौ सत्यां प्रत्यय-एक-तानता अ-क्लिष्ट-एक-विषये स्थितिः ध्यानं नाम सप्तम-योग-अङ्गम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

Consciousness is the one, timeless witness of all thoughts. The conscious mind is characterized by a flow of thoughts and images (of pratyayas). That flow tends to jump from one associated or distracting thought to another. This is the common mind with which we are all very familiar. Dhāraṇā is the practice we saw of limiting unwanted thoughts. This practice merges into dhyāna where only the wanted thoughts occur. Mind being a flow of thoughts, then this oneness of thought is a flow of the same (sajātīya) thought. It can be likened to a steady flow of pure, clear oil.

Oneness of thoughts (pratyaya-ekatānatā) is not to be seen as only keeping one single thought in the mind for some time. The oneness of thoughts, the flow of thoughts, here implies an ongoing, relevant topic of contemplation. A topic started in dhāraṇā can be any prayer, such as japa, which sets up or is the topic of contemplation, or any reasoning (tarka) or inquiry (vicāra) belonging to the contemplation. Dhyāna naturally culminates in the following samādhi.

धारणा इति ‘तैल-धाराम् इव’ इति (Dhyāna-bindu Up. 18); ‘यज्ञानां जप-यज्ञः अस्मि’ इति (BhG.10.25)॥


[samādhi – contemplation that culminates in assimilation; tad eva – the same; nirbhāsa – appearance; artha-mātra – only the object; iva – as if; śūnya – lacks; sva-rūpa – its own form.]

तद् ध्यानम् एव अर्थ-मात्र-निर्भासम् अस्मितामात्र-दर्शनता (YS.1.43) अस्य तद् चित्त-स्व-रूप-शून्यं यदि अपि भेद-वासना-बुद्धिः तिष्ठति, भेद-कल्पना-स्मृतिः सु-अल्प-कालं गलिता अस्य तद् इत्यर्थः (YS.1.43) इव समाधिः नाम अष्टम-योग-अङ्गम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

As noted in Yoga Sūtra 1.43, because this is as if (iva), the mind is still subtly present. This indicates the samādhi is with-seed (sa-bīja), that is, with-idea, the seed/idea being the teaching. The attention is completely on the object/topic of the contemplation, and there is no attention on the fact one is thinking of or contemplating on this object/topic. There is no conscious thinker-thinking-thought distinction.

This is not the final goal of samādhi, though. The goal is without-seed (nir-bīja) samādhi (Yoga Sūtras 1.51 & 3.8), where the teaching has done its job and one abides in this knowledge in and out of the seat of meditation.

In sa-bīja samādhi the quality of the absorption is not too unlike that experienced by an artist or scientist when they create or invent, or by someone engrossed in a visual or mental activity such as reading. The difference is only in the nature of the topic under consideration. Here, for the yogin, the topic is oneself and, at the time of contemplation, not one’s psychological processes. The yogins mature their intellect so it abides in the teaching and in the truth that is oneself. Samādhi is not a degree of mental awareness and not a special awareness. It is the teaching, the bīja, one brings to the absorbing contemplation that makes this abidance a samādhi.


[traya – three; ekatra – together; saṃyama – uniting.]

त्रयं धारना-ध्यान-समाधि-साधनम् एकत्र संयमः नाम॥ – [Vṛtti]

Saṃyama (uniting) is not a new contemplation. It is simply a convenient term that Patañjali uses to group the last three limbs of yoga. Again, in the seat of meditation, one directs one’s attention from thoughts that you do not want to the teaching that you want to be there. This is dhāraṇā leading to dhyāna. The teaching is seen in its fullest meaning, to the purpose these words point, at which the words drop, having done their job. You sit with that assimilated knowledge, that revelation, of their meaning, their goal. With the background of the scripture, this revelation, this goal, will be acknowledged to its very reality, the reality that is oneself. This is prajñā (wisdom). That wisdom, once all doubts and vagueness are finally cleared, will not stray (YS.2.24–27) no matter where life takes you. This is timeless freedom, even while one still lives in time.


[tad-jaya – mastering that; āloka – there manifests; prajñā – knowledge that is assimilated.]

तद्-जयात् संयम-जयात् प्रज्ञा-आलोकः संयम-विषये प्रज्ञा-विस्तारः, ऋतं-भरा प्रज्ञा इत्यर्थः (YS.1.48)॥ – [Vṛtti]


[viniyoga – application; tasya – of that; bhūmis – stages.]

तस्य संयमस्य भूमिषु योग-उपाय-प्रति-अवस्थानेषु (YS.2.27) विनियोगः प्रवृत्तिः, योगी ध्यान-शीलः भवेत् इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Do not leave contemplation of reality to the end, exhausting life’s energy trying only to perfect the imperfectable body and mind. This is Patañjali’s injunction to include contemplation with your āsana practice. What can be done to heal, strengthen, or relax the body is to be done. Then employ the mind, where the knowledge takes place and where Patañjali’s techniques have proven their worth. Find out what is to be contemplated and contemplate.


[traya – these three; antar-aṅgas – internal limbs; pūrvas – preceding.]

त्रयं संयम-नाम अन्तर्-अङ्गं सूक्ष्मतर-अङ्गं पूर्वेभ्यः पञ्च-योग-अङ्गेभ्यः॥ – [Vṛtti]

They are more internal since they deal only with the mind, which is more internal than one’s activities, posture, breath, and senses. The other limbs of yoga address those. These three internal limbs are more direct when it comes to assimilation of the knowledge. Nevertheless, without the external practices the internal cannot be mastered. Certainly without the external pursuit of the scriptures there would be nothing to contemplate, and so nothing to master.


[tad api – even they; bahir-aṅgas – external limbs; nir-bīja – free of seed.]

तद् त्रयम् अपि बहिर्-अङ्गम् अ-सु-सूक्ष्म-अङ्गं स-अविद्या-बीजतया निर्-बीजस्य ऋतं-भर-समाधेः कैवल्यस्य॥ – [Vṛtti]

In the quiet appreciation of the self, there is no duality of seer-seen. The self is not the object of any word or thought. There are no thoughts as second things, as other than oneself. There is only oneself, the only reality without a second, equal, and limiting reality. It becomes clear that this is in fact the nature of the self, the nature of reality. Even before this samādhi this was my nature. The thoughts, even mistaken thoughts of me being the thoughts, never affected or restricted the pure, limitless reality of me.

The afflictions are known to have been due to the mutual identification that is ignorance. The well-assimilated knowledge (prajñā) removes for good the prior ignorance. Its crops, the afflictions (kleśas), are seen for what they are and cannot return in force. This is not a knowledge subject to forgetting; it is oneself. Once known it is always known. The reappearance of thoughts and their objects, even ones tied to emotional well-being, are within this prajñā that releases them of identification with oneself and eliminates any possibility of their having an independent reality. The thoughts remain as mere appearances, and the afflictions lose their potency to touch oneself.

The final stage of Patañjali’s teachings on samādhi is the culmination in complete freedom (kaivalya). Here, there is no longer an as if. This is different than the prior stage (see Yoga Sūtra 1.18) where the student suspended the presence of limiting thoughts which were otherwise taken as real. In nir-bīja samādhi there is no thought taken to have absolute reality and no affliction taken to limit the free self. Even latent tendencies of doubt and confusion are left impotent to reappear as they were. If any personal criticisms arise from me or from others, they are objectively seen to apply only to the limited mind, not to oneself. They will lack any force or reason to afflict the self. No longer is there confusion with regard to the real and the unreal.

This is what nir-bīja (free of seed) means. The many old seeds of doubt and confusion in the field of ignorance in the form of afflictions neither sprout, or grow, or flower. Nir-bījā (the state of being free of seed) is where the potency of the seeds of doubt and confusion has been burnt by the fire of knowledge (jñāna-agni-bharjita-bīja-śakti).

This samādhi, as assimilated knowledge of reality, remains in and outside the seat of meditation. The meditation has swallowed all time and all situations within this knowledge. All of one’s life resolves into this samādhi that is the very nature of I. This is no passing experience and no super-experience. The earlier states of samādhi pass. The beatific or prophetic or psychedelic experience, though memorable and inspiring, passes without yielding abiding knowledge. This knowledge abides as the reality that is self.

निर्-बीजस्य इति ‘(सनत्-कुमार: उवाच) तस्य ह वै एतस्य एवं पश्यतः एवं मन्वानस्य एवं विजानतः – आत्मतः प्राणः, आत्मतः आशा, आत्मतः स्मरः, आत्मतः आकाशः, आत्मतः तेजः, आत्मतः आपः, आत्मतः आविर्-भाव-तिरो-भावौ, आत्मतः अन्नम्, आत्मतः बलम्, आत्मतः विज्ञानम्, आत्मतः ध्यानम्, आत्मतः चित्तम्, आत्मतः सङ्कल्पः, आत्मतः मनः, आत्मतः वाक्, आत्मतः नाम, आत्मतः मन्त्राः, आत्मतः कर्माणि, आत्मतः एव इदं सर्वम् इति॥ तद् एषः श्लोकः। न पश्यः मृत्युं पश्यति, न रोगं, न उत दुःखतां, सर्वं ह पश्यः पश्यति सर्वम् आप्नोति सर्वशः इति’ इति (ChanU.7.26.1–2)॥


[pariṇāma – change; nirodha – assimilation; anvaya – regarding; citta – mind; kṣaṇa – moment; nirodha – assimilation; prādur-bhāva – arising; saṃskāras – latent tendencies; nirodha – assimilation; abhibhava – quelling; vyutthāna – active mind.]

अथ संयमे की-दृशः चित्त-परिणामः, सर्व-दृष्टेषु च धर्म-लक्षण-अवशा-परिणामानां वस्तु-देश-काल-परिणामानां प्रथम: (YS.3.13) – व्युत्थान-निरोध-संस्कारयोः अभिभव-प्रादुर्-भावौ अ-निरोध-चित्ते क्लिष्ट-संस्कारस्य शमः निरोध-चित्ते शासन-अ-क्लिष्ट-संस्कारस्य उद्भवः च निरोध-क्षण-चित्त-अन्वयः निरोध-समय-चित्ते सन्तत-अनुगतः निरोध-परिणामः समाधि-निरोधे धर्म-विकारः भवति॥ – [Vṛtti]

The quelling or deactivation of the latent tendencies (saṃskāras), the seeds, of ignorance and associated tendencies (the crop of kleśas) by the activation of the saṃskāras, the seeds, of the teaching is the essential characteristic (dharma) of assimilation (nirodha) in samādhi. If it were just the quelling of the ignorance without the teaching, then such a nirodha (dropping) would either be deep sleep or a mechanical stunning of the mind, which is not the distinguishing characteristic, the dharma, of nirodha in samādhi. The saṃskāras of the teaching are active in samādhi.

With continued progress, the adept yogin quells even the saṃskāras of the teaching, the cause of the first nirodha. With assimilation of the reality that is the focus of the contemplation, the second and comprehensive nirodha is the accomplishment of nir-bīja-samādhi in the clear knowledge of reality.

This sūtra addresses only the first nirodha, the change from no nirodha to nirodha. The beginner’s mind had active saṃskāras of ignorance. Then, at the first stage of nirodha, those saṃskāras are deactivated by the teaching saṃskāras.

This is the start of a discussion on the three factors involved in change, initially as it relates to the changes that take place in saṃyama, and then extended to all objects – physical and mental. The three factors are the dharma (characteristic) that distinguishes one thing from others, the lakṣaṇa (external symptom) that surround a thing and in that way help point out a thing based on its surroundings, and the avasthā (period) that is the time a thing exists.


[tasya – its; vāhitā – flow; praśānta – clarity; saṃskāra – latent tendency.]

तस्य चित्तस्य प्रशान्त-वाहिता सत्त्वता-शम-सन्तत-प्रवाहः अ-क्लिष्ट-संस्कारात्, चित्ते अ-क्लिष्ट-संस्कार-प्राधान्य-अनुगतः समाधि-धर्म-सन्तत-परिणामः इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

The final latent tendency (saṃskāra), knowledge in the form of the teaching being fully assimilated, maintains the characteristic (dharma) of the quelling of latent tendencies (saṃskāras) of ignorance during samādhi. The maintenance of the same characteristic of a thing that is continually being regenerated, such as the flow of thoughts during nirodha, requires a cause. In this case it is the saṃskāra of the teaching.

Saṃskāras are not manifest thoughts. They are tendencies assumed to be present in the unconscious part of the citta (the storehouse of the mind). Again, see Appendix - Nature of the Mind for a description of the mind within this tradition. The existence of saṃskāras is proposed to explain how certain manifest thoughts or images arise in the mind and not others. The saṃskāras are seed potentials that when triggered may manifest a certain memory or image, or effect the flow and content of manifest thoughts, even during nirodha.

The quelling here is not destruction of saṃskāras that can manifest unhelpful thoughts; it is the blocking of unhelpful saṃskāras by other, helpful saṃskāras. If the quelling of unhelpful thoughts is temporary, because the teaching is not clearly and fully assimilated, then the unhelpful thoughts return. If permanent, this is because of the assimilation of the teaching so that one no longer has to remember it or keep it in the forefront of the mind to fight off notions of limitation, of bondage. One simply lives the teaching in the first person (as I am free), not as a student trying to get it.

In nir-bīja samādhi and in the freedom that is kaivalya, there is even the nirodha of all saṃskāras, including the teaching, because one need no longer have to remind oneself of the teaching to negate the limiting saṃskāras of ignorance. The teaching is no longer a memory to be recalled, but is firm, assimilated knowledge, like we do not remember one plus one is two, we just know it.

This nirodha is of all saṃskāras because it affects how I understand everything. The relativity and dependence of everything one knows is now perfectly clear. Everything one knows is now known as only as if. They are recognized as only mithyā, as always only from a relative perspective. They are not and never will be absolutely true, as I had previously believed. They are imaginary or transactional, not pāramārthika (absolute). Only I, only awareness-being, am pāramārthika. The nirodha of these saṃskāras and their manifest affect as thoughts in the mind is not their disappearance; it is recognizing their nature of being mithyā (relative). This teaching is now ingrained in my thinking. This new perspective of thinking is now natural, not requiring an effort to remember it.

We may think we know a person’s name, until we forget it. Perhaps the only name we know is our own, because we just don’t seem to forget it. We may forget facts regarding some area of knowledge, such as in calculus. But the simple fact of one plus one is two, does not appear to be forgettable. Its unforgettable nature may be said to be due to the unfading and unblockable power of the saṃskāra that maintains this particular knowledge. The simple knowledge of this teaching is “I am absolutely free.” With continued listening to the scripture from a qualified teacher, understanding what is being said, and contemplation, this simple teaching becomes ingrained as an unfading and unblockable saṃskāra. If contrary notions lack any power to contradict or block this simple knowledge, then this is one’s assimilated knowledge (prajñā).

Controlling the appearances of contrary notions does not control the cause for them being taken as real, being taken as myself (see Yoga Sūtra 1.4). In the assimilation of knowledge as the culmination of contemplation, the latent tendencies that manifest as contrary notions lose their power when the fundamental ignorance about oneself goes, and they can no longer manifest a notion of a real duality of seer-seen, limiting oneself. When there is no manifestation of a believed notion of a real duality of seer-seen, limiting oneself, that is nir-bīja samādhi. One is now free of the bījas (seeds) of ignorance and living a life of assimilated knowledge, of kaivalya.

This liberating teaching brings with it an appreciation of its own fiction. The liberating teaching is relative to, is dependent upon, the belief in being bound. Even the teaching is mithyā – this is its nirodha too. The teaching says the self is never bound, therefore any liberating teaching is no less a fiction than the sense of bondage itself. Nevertheless, until the liberating teaching is heard, considered, and assimilated, the delusion of bondage will not go away except in sleep or coma. The liberated person would have a natural modesty in regard to this discovery of the already liberated self.

संस्कारात् इति ‘न निरोधः न च उत्पत्तिः न बद्धः न च साधकः। न मुमुक्षुः न वै मुक्तः इति एषा परम-अर्थता’ इति (Brahma-bindu Up. 10, ManKa.2.32)॥


[pariṇāma – change; samādhi – contemplation; citta – mind; kṣaya – losing; sarva-arthatā – all directedness; udaya – gaining; eka-agratā – one directedness.]

सर्व-अर्थता-एक-अग्रतयोः क्षय-उदयौ विविध-विषयत्व-चित्तस्य क्षयः एक-अग्रता-चितस्य उदयः च उभौ चित्तस्य समाधि-परिणामः समाधि-प्रथम-क्षण-पूर्वकः विकारः भवति, समाधि-पुरस्-सरण-लक्षणं धारणा-ध्यान-धर्म-परिणामः इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Objects that cause, foster, or are a result of another object may be used to indicate that object. They become that object’s lakṣaṇas (external symptoms). The lakṣaṇas may even be causally unrelated, like a crow sitting on a house may help indicate the second house down the street, so long as they help point out the indicated object.

The all-directedness, or rather the mis-directedness, is the mind’s normal condition, or symptom, prior to dhyāna. That symptom goes away, becomes external, in dhyāna. One directedness of the mind happens in dhyāna, and continues in samādhi. Dhyāna, in which the change to this one directedness first occurs, is thus indicated (lakṣita) by its contrast from the extrinsic condition of our normal all-directedness. Inside dhyāna and samādhi one characteristic of the mind occurs, outside another as an external symptom of the mind occurs. After samādhi, activities of life start again, and the all-directedness returns, except in the case of nir-bīja samādhi. Nir-bīja samādhi is the appreciation of even all-directedness as within the limitless reality that is oneself and is the Lord. That assimilation would be, then, defined by Patañjali as an ongoing samādhi.


[punaḥ – and; tataḥ – apart from those; pariṇāma – change; eka-agratā – one directedness; citta – mind; tulya – same; pratyaya – thought; śānta – past; udita – present.]

ततः तद्-द्वि-परिणामयोः पृथक् पुनर्शान्त-उदितौ तुल्य-प्रत्ययौ पूर्व-उत्तरौ तुल्य-द्वि-प्रत्ययौ चित्तस्य एक-अग्रता-परिणामः एक-अग्रतायाम् अवस्था-विकारः भवति, ध्यान-अवस्था ध्यान-कालः एक-अग्रता-सम-धर्म-परिणामः इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

The change occurring during one directedness (eka-agratā) of the mind is one thought ending and the same thought arising again. In one directedness the successive thoughts have a consistent theme and content. Because this succession involves past and present thoughts, it is better to connect avasthā (period) with time, than lakṣaṇa (extrinsic symptom). Other commentators, following the lead of Vyāsa, reverse these, connecting lakṣaṇa with time (a stretch grammatically), and avasthā with place (which can grammatically be either time or place). Whichever is the intended significance of these two terms individually, together they certainly indicate the two factors involved in change, namely, time and place. The three factors in change (Yoga Sūtras 3.9–12) during various meditative steps were singled out to set up the next sūtra.


[etena – by this; vyākhyāta – are explained; pariṇāmas – changes; dharmas – distinguishing characteristics; lakṣaṇas – extrinsic symptoms; avasthās – periods; bhūtas – objects; indriyas – senses.]

एतेन चित्त-परिणाम-त्रयेण दृष्ट-अन्तेन भूत-इन्द्रियेषु सर्वेषु दृष्टेषु दर्शनेषु च अपि धर्म-लक्षण-अवस्था-परिणामाः नाम वस्तुतः देशतः कालतः च विकाराः इत्यर्थः व्याख्याताः॥ – [Vṛtti]

The change of the mind during nirodha is an example of a change of characteristic (dharma), as the appearance and subsequent quelling of the latent tendencies, of their self-limiting notions, is a distinguishing characteristic of nirodha (assimilation).

The change of the mind leading to samādhi is an example of a change of an extrinsic symptom (lakṣaṇa), as the all-directedness to one directedness is prior but leading to (indicating where is) samādhi proper, not distinguishing it.

The change of mind during eka-agratā is an example of a change of period (avasthā) where the same one directedness continues over time. Each thought is essentially the same within a flow of thoughts.

These three types of changes happen to all other phenomena also. By these changes then, every change in phenomena can be defined (the what), located (the where), and their track through time (the when) be pointed out. Using the terminology of Vedānta, a change taking place is to be understood vastutaḥ (in terms of content), deśataḥ (in terms of place), and kālataḥ (in terms of time).

In this text, the objects that undergo change are the three guṇas (Yoga Sūtras 2.18–19) that form the five subtle elements (see commentary on Yoga Sūtra 3.41), which combine to form the five gross elements and everything made from them.


[dharmin – domain of the characteristics; anupātin – consequence; dharmas – distinguishing characteristics; śānta – past; udita – present; a-vyapadeśya – future.]

शान्त-उदित-अ-व्यपदेश्य-धर्म-अनुपाती (YS.1.9) भूत-भवत्-भविष्यत्-कालतः धर्मभिः उपाधीयते धर्मी देशतः वस्तु, यस्मिन् धर्माः स्व-काले व्यक्ताः अ-व्यक्ताः च सः धर्मी, तद् सत्-वस्तु अधिष्ठानं न परिणमते न व्यभिचरति, यथा घटे व्यक्ते अ-व्यक्ते च सति तद्-आकाशः न व्यभिचरति, ततः इदं धर्म-परिणाम-भेदत्वं धर्मि-भेदत्वेन कल्पते अ-विवेकतः॥ – [Vṛtti]

The sūtra now switches from the change that objects undergo, to the very object itself, while using the same terminology of characteristic, place, and time. With regard to an object itself, we are concerned only with the location (deśa) of the characteristics, not with the surroundings (lakṣaṇas), as we were when we looked at the change that objects undergo. Here, the characteristics are the lakṣaṇas, the indicators, of the location, of the object (dharmin). An object is seen in terms of its place. Indeed, that place (deśa) itself is the object (dharmin, what has a dharma), and it is where the characteristics (dharmas) are within time (avasthā or kāla).

An object, a dharmin (domain of characteristics), is separately distinguished from other objects (domains) by virtue of a set of qualities (dharmas) being held together over a span of time (kāla). The separation of objects is from the standpoint of a set of qualities in time, not from the nature of the domain itself in which the qualities appear for a time. Qualities do not attach to a permanently separable domain. Rather, our senses perceive certain qualities persisting in time and, we posit that there is a separate, individual object or domain, somehow distinguished from other objects.

The example of pot-space is employed to point out how the mind assumes the objects it perceives are separately real, in the way we assume a separately real pot-space is created by a pot being formed.

A visible clay pot (a set of perceived characteristics), when formed, seems to create a pot-space (the domain) within. In truth, before the pot there is no pot-space, after the pot is destroyed there is no pot-space, and even during the life of the pot there is no independently existing pot-space. Pot-space is a creation of the human imagination (see comm. on YS.1.9). It exists only because we give a name to it.

There is, objectively speaking, space and there is a pot, but there is no pot-space. The pot exists within space. Space exists outside the pot walls, within the clay of the pot walls, and between the pot walls. Space did not get cut up into separate entities or objects, any more than space can be sliced up into separable chucks by swinging a sword in space. The human mind through language gives a name to an area between the walls of the pot and calls it a pot-space. That name, that pot-space, is not separately there for the countless other creatures in this world who have not this language, this imagination.

In the example, limitless space is the more objectively real dharmin (domain, or reality basis), the particular pot walls are the dharma (characteristic), such as round or rectangular shape, and the pot-space is the imagined dharmin, the imagined object, existing as it is only because of the characteristics of the pot walls. If it had been a rectangular pot that was formed instead of a round pot, would that same space have been really a rectangular space all along? Is that same space instead or also a room-space, a city-space, a state-space, a country-space, a continent-space, an Earth-space, a solar system space? Are these equally knowable to whom – a human, an ant, an atom? Or is that space really, categorically, none of these?

Patañjali is telling us that an object (dharmin) is not its distinguishing characteristics; rather, it is wherever the particular conjunction of these distinguishing characteristics happens to occur within time. It is its intersecting, distinguishing characteristics’ domain. These distinguishing characteristics are then the limiting adjuncts (upādhi) for what we perceive the object, the domain of the characteristics, to be. The form of these intersecting characteristics within time, as they appear to this mind, is the peculiar form to which we can give a name. That name and form defines by circumscribing a domain.

Later (in discussing sūtras 4.12–14) we will see that the ultimate domain (dharmin) is not many, individual things or beings, but is nothing other than the one, indivisible existence itself that lights up everything within. The limiting adjuncts (upādhis) are the words connected to perceptions of qualities that our mind uses to impose a temporary division in reality, without making any real change to the reality at all.

Patañjali’s presentation of the nature of our perceptions and our unexamined take on reality is based on the Upaniṣads, this culture’s science of the nature of the person and the nature of the universe. Together they deconstruct the attribution of reality to objects and take us back from sense-perceptions to ourselves, to the underlying reality. As we have said, doing this does not discount or seek to dismiss the experience and usefulness of objects and the empirical universe. We seek knowledge at a fundamental level of truth about the human condition. A mind firmly established in the appreciation of the limitations of perception will not inappropriately ascribe those limitations to oneself.

Back to the topic of change regarding an object, as it is for change, to know or imagine any object all three factors are needed. This is knowing an object in terms of content, place, and time.

धर्मी इति ‘मनस्-आद्ः च प्राण-आदिः च इच्छा-आदिः च सत्त्व-आदिः च पुण्य-आदिः च एते पञ्च-वर्गाणां धर्मी भूत-आत्म-ज्ञानात् ऋते न विनश्यति, आत्म-सन्निधौ नित्यत्वेन प्रतीयमानः आत्म-उपाधिः यः तद् लिङ्ग-शरीरं हृद्-ग्रन्थिः इति उच्यते। तत्र यद् प्रकाशते चैतन्यं सः क्षेत्र-ज्ञः इति उच्यते’ इति (Sarva-Sāra Up. 16, or 7 & 8 by a different numbering)॥


[anyatva – difference; krama – sequence; hetu – cause; anyatva – difference; pariṇāma – change.]

क्रम-अन्यत्वं धर्माणां क्रम-भेदत्वं, यथा पूर्वं शीतम् अपरम् उष्णम्, अथवा पूर्वम् उष्णम् अपरं शीतं परिणाम-अन्यत्वे तापन-शीतल-आदि-परिणाम-रूप-भेदत्वे हेतुः परिणामः धर्म-क्रम-अपेक्षः इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Change in an object is a function of differences in its characteristics that apply to the sequence of past, present, and future. Again, the object is the domain for these characteristics. With regard to the mind as an object, in the movement from being all directed to one directed the characteristic of the quality of attentiveness changes and is noticeable. You do not see the mind, the domain of thoughts, as such; you see the attendant dharmas (characteristics), the thought characteristics, changing over time.


[traya – three-fold; saṃyama – contemplation; pariṇāma – change; jñāna – knowledge; atīta – past; an-āgata – future.]

अथ विविधाः परिणाम-आदि-संयमाः – परिणाम-त्रय-संयमात् अतीत-अन्-आगत-ज्ञानं भूत-भविष्यत्-रूप-काल-ज्ञानं चित्त-कल्पनात्वेन (YS.4.12–13 & 33) – प्रत्यक्ष-प्रमाण-अ-विषयतया चित्त-कल्पना-धर्मवन्तौ, प्रत्यक्ष-धर्म-भवत्-लक्षणात् अन्यौ यदि अपि भवत्-अवस्थायाम् एव प्रतीतौ॥ – [Vṛtti]

Accomplishments and Superpowers – Siddhis

Sūtras 3.16–53 list a variety of contemplations and their results. These results can be taken as what are called superpowers. But that is far from their most useful and meaningful interpretation. As superpowers, these results fall far short of the limitlessness that is the object of samādhi. Patañjali, himself, notes their limited nature and their potential as obstacles to an enlightened appreciation of the self in Yoga Sūtra 3.37.

Initially the listed results of these contemplations are forms of praise (stuti). Praise points out some glory in something or someone, but it may also involve exaggeration. One may draw a parallel with today’s commercials – Buy and use this toothpaste and that special person of your dreams will be irresistibly attracted to you. Not that one follows from the other, but they are not totally unconnected.

These sūtras say that if you do saṃyama (that is, dhāraṇā, dhyāna, and samādhi) on some particular object for a certain number of years, or decades, or who knows how long, and if you are the best at it in the past year, decade, century, or millennium or so, then maybe this superpower will be yours. Patañjali may be putting value on strict discipline as a part of a healthy life. He may be emphasizing the value of these disciplines as they affect the chance for a better next life, including a heaven. Overall though, the student who pursues these disciplines and powers may be disappointed with the results of his or her attempts. The toothpaste does not often fulfill one’s dreams – but your teeth may be healthier. Mere praise of the disciplines leading toward enjoyable results, though, does not justify the space allowed here in the terse sūtra form.

Sūtra literature does not introduce a new subject matter; it consolidates and filters the verbal and written material already extant. Much of the yoga tradition and history is covered in the vast body of the Purāṇas. The yogins and their accomplishments live on in the Purāṇas. The Purāṇas hold the history and tradition of the culture. They are a mixture of the histories of events and people and other beings in a way that reflects their current cultural mores and teachings while also being flexible and able to accept and carry new interpretations and meaning. The Purāṇas are the mind and heart of India in the form of fable and parable.

The Purāṇas are the playing field for superpowers and super-beings. There are stories of powerful yogins, and even of asuras (bad guys and gals), whose special powers are important features to dramatize the story. These highlight and amplify the struggle between the forces of dharma and a-dharma (justice and injustice). It is the grey area between the two that life is lived. The superpowers are not the exclusive property of either side of this struggle. Patañjali may give them space in the sūtras because, in light of the tradition, the superpowers are of interest and may encourage study and contemplation which do yield benefit for anyone.

A more ancient literature that this section harkens to is the Veda Āraṇyakas, including the Upaniṣad literature, when they present various upāsanas (meditations), sometimes with their side-effects (gauṇa-phalas) being superpowers used as a praise to encourage their worthy practice. These various meditations involve contemplating the nature of the world with the specific intent to create a cosmic perspective in the meditating mind. They often connect a feature in the meditator to a feature in the cosmos, such as the being behind one’s right eye and the being behind the face of the sun, indicating their identity of some sort. This helps expand one’s thinking and helps one to more easily accept the ultimate truth that the Upaniṣads are interested in, namely that oneself is limitless reality, and the whole cosmos is oneself alone.

As we go through this section we will pay attention to the objects of contemplation, see their inter-connections and their connections to their superpower side-effects (gauṇa-phalas). This analysis of the Upaniṣad upāsanas introduces the cosmic perspectives valuable to the meditator.

We can also consider the strength of these powers as being of value to the student in a relative way. We do not consider the superpowers to be impossible, since that is generally impossible to prove. Rather, there is a maxim in the Mīmāṃsā discipline that analyzes the statements in the Veda as to their context. The maxim is that if a statement in the Veda says that fire is cold, then the Veda would be wrong, and since the Veda should not be wrong, then there must be some other meaning indicated by such a statement. In this example, a particular ritual fire should not cool down too much.

A scriptural statement, as a means of knowledge (pramāṇa), cannot contradict any other means of knowledge (in our example, the sense of touch in contact with fire); therefore we need to revise our understanding of the scriptural statement so the two do not conflict. We will generally apply this Mīmāṃsā maxim in the following sūtras, if necessary, to see if there is something else being indicated here, than its literal or an exaggerated meaning.

Saṃyama on Change

Patañjali has thrown light on the dependent reality of objects (see comm. on YS.2.21–22). By reflecting on what the nature of change is in distinguishing characteristics (dharmas), extrinsic symptoms (lakṣaṇas), and periods of objects, one gains a better understanding of time itself. We can draw from his instruction and see that time itself, in spite of our perception of past and future, is itself an object that exists only to our senses and in our mind in the present.

The characteristic of a present experience of an object right now is different from the characteristic of a present notion of the object in the past or in the future. Nevertheless, the present experience of an object right now is often influenced by, and even mixed up with, how that object was in the past (through memories) or will be in the future (through fears and expectations) (see comm. on YS.1.43 & 3.17). Even the present experience of an external object right now is an experience of its past, since it takes time for the light reflected from the object to get to us and for our mind to reach out to form a conscious idea of the object as being out there. Time often seems to drag or speed up. During dream, time is even more flexible, sometime stopping or repeating. While in deep sleep, time itself disappears.

Time is a mental construct for thinking about and talking about that which is not now before one’s senses. We have cultural conventions that set time to certain units, for example, moments, minutes, and months. Even these will vary according to one’s individual experience, mood, age, and situation. Neither time nor its partner space is a fixed reality. Space too expands, contracts, and disappears in our daily experiences – between and within waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.

Einstein and Heisenberg taught us about the relative nature of time and the importance of the observer’s intent when he looks at things in nature. However, this teaching goes straight to the point of the reality basis of time by focusing on the individual mind’s experience of time, where alone time, as we know it, exists and matters.

Patañjali clarifies the processes and meanings of our day-to-day experiences. He asks us to question and investigate how we give value and reality to things in the world and in our minds. He incorporates this into a practical approach to maximizing one’s life. This is neither theoretical or an exercise of a superpower. Clarity in this pursuit makes the difference between the wise and the otherwise.

Concerning the nature of change in terms of distinguishing characteristics (dharmas), extrinsic symptoms (lakṣaṇas), and periods (avasthā) of things, the dharma of the past is as a memory, of the future is as an expectation. The lakṣaṇa of the past and the future is the connection of both in the present. The avasthā of both is but the present alone.

Without reflecting on all its aspects, there is so much we take for granted about our understanding of time, indeed any object, thinking it to be transparently real. The fact is there is much confusion about time. It appears to be both real and unreal. This status is what the teaching calls its being indefinable (a-nirvacanīya), unavailable for categorical definition as to whether it exists or does not exist. Sūtras to come will explain this further (YS.3.52, 4.12–13 & 33). This indefinable nature extends to all objects within time and space also. All objects are useful and available for transaction, and they would not even be said to exist but for the one indivisible reality. None of them enjoy independent reality.

Nevertheless, one can certainly gain some transactional knowledge of an object’s past, which has its effect in the present object, and its future, which is its present potentiality, by a reflection – not necessarily on time itself, but, granting time and the object their transactional reality – on a particular object in its past, present, and future. As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, everything of an entity’s past and future is knowable.

सूत्र इति ‘सु-अल्प-अक्षरम् अ-सन्दिग्धं सारवत् विश्वतो-मुखम्। अ-स्तोभम् अन्-अ-वद्यं च सूत्रं सूत्र-विदः विदुः’ इति (Śabda-Stoma-Mahānidhi: A Sanskrit Dictionary by Tārānātha Bhaṭṭāchārya)॥


[saṅkara – confusion; śabda-artha-pratyaya – word-object-idea; adhyāsa – being imposed; itara-itara – each other. saṃyama – contemplation; tad-pravibhāgas – its separate parts; jñāna – knowledge; rutas – sounds; sarva-bhūtas – all beings.]

शब्द-अर्थ-प्रत्ययानाम् इतर-इतर-अध्यासात् यस्मात् नाम-वस्तु-रूपाणां परस्-पर-अध्यासः सङ्करः मिश्रं, तद्-प्रविभाग-संयमात् सङ्कर-विवेक-संयमात् सर्व-भूत-रुत-ज्ञानं सर्व-भूतानां वाक्-प्रयोजन-ज्ञानं संसार-सङ्कर-निमित्तत्वेन भवेत्, ‘समाने वृषे पुरुषः निमग्नः अन्-ईशया शोचति मुह्यमानः’ इति (MunU.3.1.2) ‘प्राणि-सुख-दुःख-उद्भूत-हर्ष-शोक-जात-नृत्य-गीत-वादित्र-क्ष्वेलित-आस्फोटित-हसित-आकृष्ट-रुदित-हा-हा-मुञ्च-मुञ्च-इति-आदि-अन्-एक-शब्द-कृत-तुमुली-भूत-महा-रवः’ इति (‘ऊर्ध्व-मूलः अवाक्-शाखः…’ इति KathU.2.3.1 Śaṅkara-bhāṣya)॥ – [Vṛtti]

The student’s contemplation and understanding gain by an appreciation of Patañjali’s teaching on perception and time. They also gain by a similar examination of what occurs in the process of naming, in the process of word recognition and ascription of a meaningful word to a recognized object. We do not as a rule separate the steps involved, and one may live an entire life without doing so. But by taking them apart we can see that mixing them up can lead to basic but correctable errors.

Without examination, we may tend to see what we are habituated to see, or expect to see, without seeing what is actually there. We may think that what we believe we saw was what was really there. The automatic and habitual practice that happens in our mind when we see and identify by name an object tends to cement our acceptance of that object as real and true. This in turn informs and conditions subsequent perceptions as to their valuation and reality. We tend to develop a mental narrative in our life that continually conditions our world of experiences. Unless we take the time to examine this narrative objectively, it may not serve us well.

There is a reality in naming that attracts us; we like to know the names of the objects around us. Knowledge of our environment helps gives us a sense of security. This may be a false comfort that hides the fact of not knowing oneself. The name, the object, and the thought-form can be separately objectified, but they all exist within and because of the one consciousness that is the only reality.

Contemplation is, in part, a quiet examination of how I interact with myself and with the world. I now also have an appreciation of myself as the whole in which this world shines. The clarity of understanding of myself is the basis with which to appreciate the world.

Sounds of living beings, unlike sounds of inanimate objects, are often a form of communication. There is an intelligence in living beings that allows a rudimentary language for communication. We see this from insects to mammals. At the apex of this capacity for communication is the human. Since this human body and brain seems to be a product of the evolution of life on Earth, this same rudimentary capacity lays at the core of the human also. As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, all sounds of all creatures are understandable and thus knowable.


[saṃskāras – latent tendencies; sākṣāt – immediate; karaṇa – instrumental cause; jñāna – knowledge; pūrva – prior; jātis – births.]

संस्कार-साक्षात्-करणात् अस्मिन् जन्मनि संस्कार-साक्षात्-करण-संयमात् पूर्व-जाति-ज्ञानं स्वे परेषु च पूर्व-जन्मनां निज-संस्कार-अपेक्षा-ज्ञानम् (YS.2.12–13)॥ – [Vṛtti]

Contemplation on one’s unique tendencies leads to an assumption of prior causes for these tendencies. Prodigies and those with inborn talent are examples of the breadth of human uniqueness. Patañjali gives us the traditional explanation for the individual conditions and capacities with which each being comes. The Indian perspective gives meaning and promise to the whole of human experience. We are as actors who come to the stage of life with a script to play, a script with many roles. We are actors who do not realize that we are more than our roles. The promise is that, when one recognizes the truth of the actor who takes on all the roles, the fullness of life is appreciated. Only as a self-conscious actor can you come to this realization – knowing that as the actor one is not diminished or exalted while playing the role of a beggar or a king with equal ease and satisfaction. Deities, animals, and other sentient beings must go around again until they earn birth as an actor capable of recognizing that the role does not define the actor.

Since this script is for just one part in the great drama of creation, it can be taken as having been crafted for this individual to fit in with the whole. The scripture teaches that this script was self authored through various prior lifetimes, and it is this particular embodiment at this time in this place that was designed to play out this part in the drama. This script, in the form of these latent tendencies, thus becomes the immediate instrumental cause for ordering up this particular embodiment to appropriately play out the role.

Of course, the ultimate cause of these tendencies, and thus this embodiment, is the basic ignorance of which these tendencies are its manifestation. By contemplating this script in the form of one’s natural latent tendencies, one can gain an appreciation for the existence of, and to a certain extent the nature of, the variety of causes for these effects in the form of these tendencies. For example, if I am having a protracted problem with some other person, it can indicate something in the relationship that occurred in the past, or it may be symbolic of how I act within all similar relationships. This can indicate an aspect of me where I can learn and grow and thereby contribute to my chances for a better current life and a better coming life.

This is a recognition that everyone, including oneself, comes with a background that cannot be fully known. Misunderstandings and confusions in relating to others can be the result of not appreciating these backgrounds. One’s known and unknown latent tendencies work in concert with new experiences and conditions to shape the current and future lives. There are recognizable patterns of behavior and feeling that can help one to learn and grow. Or this may be a lifetime where you enjoy so many assets and opportunities that you have little need to question life. The teaching tradition says that we all come to earth with some work to do toward mental and emotional maturity, and to the discovery of and owning up to the truth of the self. And we all, no matter our situation or our capacities, have an opportunity to seek the fullest expression of our intellects and to realize our sense of fullness.

Clarity with respect to latent tendencies has positive benefits in this life. As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, all of one’s prior lives can not only be understood but also known.


[pratyaya – thought; jñāna – knowledge; para – other; cittas – minds.]

स्व-प्रत्ययस्य संयमात् पर-चित्त-ज्ञानम् अन्य-चित्त-प्रकार-ज्ञानम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

Human minds overall have more in common than they do differences. Though there is a broad range of human expression, the feelings, motivations, and capacities are similar. One may contemplate on the distinguishing characteristics, defining stimuli, and patterns of thought and behavior within oneself, within one’s mind. By doing so, one may get in touch with empathy and patience and an understanding toward other human minds.

Beyond maturing an empathy and an accommodative attitude towards others whose minds are not unlike our own, we may also consider the very nature of the mind and how it makes contact with others.

In the West we tend to identify the mind with the brain. But mind can be seen as much more, as a subtle capacity for knowledge that reaches out beyond the skull. One feels pain or movement in the toe as being down there in the toe, not in the spinal cord leading to the brain. One sees a tree across the valley and sees it as being over there, not in the brain or back of the eye. The mind encompasses the distance, as well as the object of the sense perception. The form of the thought of a distance is the distance we experience.

Is it not so that the mind has gone to the toe and to the tree, by means of touch and sight, and filled the objects, taken their form and used those to identify and name the objects? Does not the mind envelop the expansive world of your experience? Does this not bring the whole of the universe into the realm, the scope, of your mind in a very intimate yet objective sense? Can you envision how a simple change in your mind changes how you see the world; how you can best see the world?

The Western science model begins with the assumption that there are totally independent sense objects outside our minds, yet the current perceptual model in science is that all perceptions happen only inside this mind, this brain. Since this assumed model has to also apply to the scientists themselves doing their experiments and analyses, there is no way for them to objectively be sure any object can be a totally independent entity outside their own, much less their test subject’s, mind. Since the determination that any object can be a totally independent entity is itself dependent on the world-view assumptions of those who setup and measure the experiment, then the experiment would be prejudiced by these unavoidable assumptions.

That there are objects external to, distanced from, our brain is a common sense assumption not in dispute. However, science has no tools to independently verify the assumption that objects are also external to the mind, much less that these objects are not only external but also totally independent of our thought of them. The teaching here does accept as a given that objects exist externally to the brain, but the teaching does not accept that these objects can be independent of our mind.

It takes the mind to know any object, and this mind will unavoidably have its own perspective and limitations that will color the perception or knowledge of any object it can think of. Even our current science is starting to recognize that the very act of perceiving an object or event, such as measuring whether light behaves like waves or particles, in some way affects the nature, or understanding of the nature, of the object or event. How could that be if the observer is simply a passive entity only encountering the object or event once it arrives to the brain? Can we take this scientific observation and its logical consequences as perhaps a confirmation that no object can factually be external to the mind?

Moreover, since the current perceptual model is that an object stimulus indirectly reaches the brain and a resulting thought of that stimulus occurs, then doesn’t this implicitly impose a separation of external objects from our internal thoughts? The world of stimuli outside our brain is of one nature, totally independent of thought, and the world of thought inside our brain is another. Whether that model matches our common sense assumptions, or even our most current science, is debatable.

The scientific perceptual model seems to propose some unknowable universe of stimuli outside our brain that, once it enters into the brain, forms a known universe of thoughts within. This model tends to invoke a sense of isolation of myself from the universe, an isolation of my world of thoughts from the supposedly real world of stimuli out there. Nevertheless, we can muddle along in our life with this perspective. Thankfully, we don’t spend too much time pondering this perceptual model and its implications. While growing up, we have all managed to survive well enough before our teachers taught this perceptual model. Life has and can be lived with or without acknowledgement of this model.

Let’s assume another model can apply. Suppose thought is not a passive, reactive entity in this universe. Imagine thoughts are active entities participating in every aspect of our universe. Imagine that there cannot be any object outside of or away from thought. If one assumes there is any object that is outside or away, that object at that time is not a totally, independently existing object, but is only an assumption of such an object. That assumption is itself a thought, a type of thought we call an assumption. How could we possibly think of any object, perceptual or logical, that is totally unconnected to thought?

Let us imagine a model that, whereas the brain is a physical base or coordinating center for subtle thoughts and their sense organ apertures, these thoughts extend or expand out from that base (this teaching, however, prefers this base to be the heart as the center of the person, the center of the person’s subtle body) into the perceptual, known, and imagined universe in keeping with the nature of the thought. If the thought has the nature of a distance between my body and a tree, for example, this thought is in the form of this distance. The nature of the thought is all we could ever know about the distance itself. The sense of any distance we have is simply our thinking of it. This is maybe why it varies from time to time in our perspective. The mountain at the other end of the valley we live in doesn’t look too far way, until we have to start walking towards it. We do not so much objectively see distance, as we sense distance. Our perceptual sense of distance is more wrapped up in our sense of current comparisons of near and far, than actual measurements. Near and far are valuation thoughts.

This teaching here does not prescribe any specific model of perception. It is concerned with the essential nature of oneself and world, not with different models of the universe wherein we can happily choose one or the other. But we can gain by a reexamination of any model of the universe that concretizes a sense of isolation and otherness within this world of experience.

At least we may be able to learn to not be so inclined to think this experienced world perspective, this one life, is in fact categorically real and the permanent truth. Just recognize that every individual in the past, present or future has its own experienced world perspective. Our own perspective alone cannot categorically be the truth. This seems obvious, yet we continue to believe that the world is exactly how we currently think it to be. This certainty in our current beliefs would seem to be rationally impossible, yet we do it all the time.

The traditional teaching here uses the word mithyā to describe the dependent nature of all that is objectified by our minds. The world is not independent of our thinking of it. Our thinking of it varies in time, so naturally the specific nature of the world appears variable and is not categorically true. Mithyā is not unreality or simply imagination; it is just incomplete knowledge which an individual is satisfied or stuck with for the time being. Objects are taken as absolutely real only until we more clearly understand them. We talked about mithyā when discussing Yoga Sūtra 2.22.

The contemplative model of perception suggested here is that sight and the other senses, followed by the mind, directly expand or extend out into the universe. Where the senses cannot extend, the intellect reaches out beyond. Whereas sight can see that the stars are far away, only to the extent that the intellect knows how far away those stars are can one think them to be that far away. The distance is only what each person thinks it to be. This alone can be the expanse of one’s universe.

This contemplative model provides a perspective in which the individual is integrally connected to and is co-extensive with the entire phenomenal and known universe, in keeping with how we each know our universe of experience. This universe, because it is pervaded by the mind, is directly lit-up in situ, in place, by the awareness-being we are. As far as and to where the senses and mind are directed, that mind-pervaded universe of experience is lit by you, the awareness-being. One’s self, as this awareness-being, is at least as vast as one’s universe.

You are the witness-being lighting this mind that pervades this entire universe of your experience, from your perspective. As the only witness-being, you are the witness-being (cit-sat) lighting up all minds that pervade all their perspectives of this entire manifestation, the manifestation of the Lord as this universe. There is a continuing thought and belief in this particular mind, in my mind, that its experience is all there is, that this particular universe of experience is absolutely real. This misconception can be removed by the teaching, by Vedānta as yoga.

We will apply this understanding of the mind and of reality to gain a depth of understanding in those sūtras that deal with the individual and with the cosmos.

Here, if the mind is not limited to the confines of the brain, then the ability of a mind to come in contact with another’s thoughts is not necessarily a stretch of imagination. It can be viewed as objectively possible within the contemplative model of perception. Just as external phenomenal objects can be contacted by our mind, so too can other minds. Your mind moves about within a shared field of minds – of your family members, neighbors, community, group, and so on. The more intimate and interconnected the shared field of minds, such as between loved ones, twins, etcetera, the more the possibilities of these mental contacts. In an objective sense your mind moves about in others’ universes of experience, in their mind spaces too.

But an ability to intentionally contact another’s mind seems thankfully limited in people. We generally seem to not have any more contact with the minds of others beyond mentally sensing another’s emotion or someone’s presence nearby. We would hardly recognize we have this subtle natural ability, unless it proves itself unusual in comparison with others. Different people naturally have, or perhaps can develop, a more extensive contact with others’ minds. There are also some people we may diagnose as unstable who may attest to having an extensive form of this ability.

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, one can perceive thoughts in another’s mind, can read another’s mind.

प्रत्ययस्य इति ‘मातुर् मानाभिनिष्पत्तिः निष्पन्नं मेयम् एति तत्। मेयाभिसङ्गतं तच् च मेयाभत्वं प्रपद्यते’ इति (PancD.4.30); ‘यत्र यथा तटाक-उदकं छिद्रात् निर्गत्य कुल्या-आत्मना केदारान् प्रविश्य तद्वत् एव चतुर्-कोण-आदि-आकारं भवति, तथा तैजसम् अन्तःकरणम् अपि चक्षुर्-आदि-द्वारा निर्गत्य घट-आदि-विषय-देशं गत्वा घट-आदि-विषय-आकारेण परिणमते। सः एव परिणामः वृत्तिः इति उच्यते’ इति (Vedānta-paribhāṣā 1.18)॥


[ca – but; na – not; tat-sa-ālambana – accompanied with its basis; a-viṣayī-bhūtatva – is not within the scope; tasya – of that.]

तद्-ज्ञानं न च तु तद्-स-आलम्बनं पर-चित्तस्य आदिम-संस्कारेण सहितं, तस्य स्व-चित्तस्य अ-विषयी-भूतत्वात् तस्मात् पर-चित्तस्य ज्ञानं न संपूर्णं भवेत्॥ – [Vṛtti]

One’s mind can come into contact with another’s current thought, but not with the object of that other’s thought. A yogin may cognize another’s feeling of desire, but the yogin’s mind does not also contact, at the same time, the actual object of that desire. We say this because we look upon a thought as different from the object perceived. A latent tendency of the mind can also generate a desire, but, just as with the object of desire, that latent tendency will not be contacted by the yogin’s mind. Latent tendencies involved in memory, in general, are not available to even the thinker’s mind. A latent tendency, the originating thought, or the object of that thought cannot be read by another. Only the current manifest thought is available.

It might be possible that a manifest, though subliminal, thought may be noticeable to a yogin. Perhaps, whatever blocks the thinker from distinctly noticing his own subliminal thought would not be a block to the yogin. A subliminal thought, or aspect of a thought, is like an unnoticed object, such as a neighbor in a crowd, in one’s field of perception (see Yoga Sūtra YS.4.17).

Why another person has a specific thought cannot be fully known even when this is interpreted as a superpower, since fully includes the original object and the latent tendency sources of the thought.


[saṃyama – contemplation; rūpa – form; kāya – body; tad-grāhya-śakti – its capability of being grasped; stambha – stopped; a-saṃprayoga – non-contact; prakāśa – light; cakṣus – sight; antar-dhāna – concealment.]

काय-रूप-संयमात् तद्-ग्राह्य-शक्ति-स्तम्भे स्वयं तिरस्-भूते तूष्णी-भूते च इत्यर्थः चक्षुस्-प्रकाश-अ-संप्रयोगे चित्तस्य पर-देह-आदि-विषय-आक्षेपेण (YS.2.51–54) च सति स्व-देहस्य पर-देहस्य च अन्तर्-धानं बुद्धि-कृतम् अन्-अवधानं, स्थूल-विषयेषु न चित्त-विक्षेपाः इत्यर्थः (YS.1.30–31)॥ – [Vṛtti]

If this is taken as a saṃyama dealing with the form of other bodies, other objects, then this is a method for making those bodies unnoticed, invisible. These bodies may also become unavailable to the other senses, inaudible, etcetera, by taking one’s attention from them. This may be seen as a development of the ability to intentionally not pay attention to what one knows is not helpful in life. Instead of being distracted by so many things, we do need to discipline our time and be selective in our attention.

Or perhaps, by reflection on the form of one’s own body, understanding its nature of reflecting light and creating sounds, one can gain a certain stealth. This is a practicality when living in a forest with predators, a skill in the martial arts, and a science actively pursued today for military advantage.

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, one can gain a laser-like, undistracted focus of attention and one’s body can become invisible to others.


[karma – subtle result of willful action; sa-upakrama – has a sequence that is quick; ca – and; nir-upakrama – has a sequence that is slow; saṃyama – contemplation; tat – that; – or; a-riṣṭas – ill-omens; jñāna – knowledge; apara-anta – death.]

स-उपक्रमं निर्-उपक्रमं च स-फलं शीघ्रम् अ-शीघ्रं च कर्म, तद्-संयमात् अपर-अन्त-ज्ञानं मरण-काल-ज्ञानम्, अ-रिष्टेभ्यः दुर्-निमित्तेभ्यः वा॥ – [Vṛtti]

To have a body is to have the means to exhaust past karma. These karmas get exhausted early or later in life, but they eventually get exhausted, at which end the embodiment will end. Knowing this makes clear that the end is certain and relatively near. There are also said to be omens that indicate that death is near. Some are very clear, such as closing one’s ears and not hearing any sound, that is, there is little or no pulsing of blood heard. There are also said to be omens from the environment around or from the beyond. These are anecdotal beliefs that one may choose to take seriously or not.

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, one knows exactly when one will die.


[maitrī-ādi – goodwill, etcetera; balas – strengths.]

मैत्री-आदिषु (YS.1.33) संयमात् बलानि मैत्री-करुणा-मुदित-उपेक्ष-बलानि॥ – [Vṛtti]

Contemplating on these four makes a significant contribution to one’s clarity. Despite what some commentators claim here, allowance (upekṣa) towards those who have committed offence and towards the offence itself is a virtue of great value. It is, once again, seeing everything as within the order, within the Lord’s order. It is also a practical attitude because the yogin consciously limits the areas for which he or she needs to take responsibility. Seeing beyond good and bad is part of this. Often the tendency to criticize, condemn, and control others is a compensation for one’s doubt that a person can control himself. The student will use this sūtra as a guide toward emotional strength and good judgment. Saṃyama is to be done at all stages in one’s progress in yoga (YS.3.6).

All the pairs of opposites we deal with in life are seen within this teaching tradition as the natural flow of the three guṇas. Stepping back from reactivity by means of contemplation gives the student freedom from unnecessary involvement with anything other than his or her proper concern. Apart from self or others’ immediate defense, in the view of the yogin, only a parent and perhaps someone in law enforcement needs to restrain another. Watching the guṇas at work, one knows he cannot influence them except as they affect his own intentions and manifest in his own behavior. Watching the guṇas at work, in a sense, is this contemplation.

Clarity is not a mechanical clearing or cleaning of the mind. Clarity is being clear in the nature and quality of one’s thoughts so that they are in keeping with a proper means of knowledge, are without error, and are free of unnecessary imagination. This results in knowing what one wants and needs, and knowing the means to that.


[balas – strengths; bala-ādi – strength, etcetera; hastin – elephant.]

पर-भूत-बलेषु संयमात् हस्ति-बल-आदीनि हस्ति-आदि-अपेक्षा-नैपुण्यानि॥ – [Vṛtti]

Beyond their names, many of the yoga-āsanas draw from animals as examples of how to stretch, relax, and tone one’s body and to fill it with maximal energy. The elephant is certainly an Indian icon of strength, steadfastness, dexterity, grace, and even wisdom. Other animals and forces in nature also have strengths and abilities that are worth contemplating. Many of the martial arts have adopted this study. Our sciences study nature for these same reasons.

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, one can gain super strength.


[nyāsa – directing; āloka – light; pravṛtti – outward; jñāna – knowledge; sūkṣma – subtle; vyavahita – concealed; viprakṛṣṭa – remote.]

प्रवृत्ति-आलोक-न्यासात् बहिर्-बुद्धि-प्रकाश-लक्ष्यी-करणात् सूक्ष्म-व्यवहित-विप्रकृष्ट-ज्ञानं सूक्ष्म-गूढ-दूराणां ज्ञानं यथा सूर्यं प्रति॥ – [Vṛtti]

Where the senses cannot penetrate, the intellect uncovers the rest of the universe. Our sciences have already demonstrated that this extends from the tiny loops of energy at the heart of matter to the farthest limits of space, and back in time from the first moments of this universe to the farthest reaches of possible futures. This teaching tradition goes further in that it opens this mind to the mind of the Lord (i.e., a universal perspective), and in that way it resolves with objectivity this intellect, along with the entire universe, all the way to its singular reality. The light of awareness lights the way for this intellect.


[saṃyama – contemplation; sūrya – sun; jñāna – knowledge; bhuvanas – worlds.]

भुवन-ज्ञानं तमस्-रजस्-सत्त्वस्य भूर्-भुवस्-स्वरः ज्ञानं सूर्ये भास्करे पूषनि ब्रह्म-लोक-द्वारे संयमात्॥ – [Vṛtti]

The energy of the big bang is the source of the hydrogen and helium that eventually formed the stars by way of the gravitational attraction of these two elements. These stars are the source of all the other elements in the universe needed to form all the earths there may be. The gravity of the suns and their elements are the cause for the formations of planets. And the suns heat those planets to allow life to exist. This is what our sciences tell us.

This was recognized, in very general, less exacting technical terms, by the tradition we are studying. In their terminology, the earth (bhū) is predominantly mass (tamas), while the sun (svar, the heavens including the sun) is predominantly energy (sattva), the obvious source of all energy on earth. The atmosphere (bhuvas) between the earth and the heavens is predominantly motion or turbulence (rajas). Between mass and energy, between tamas and sattva, is the entire makeup of the universe (bhū-bhuvas-svar, tamas-rajas-sattva).

Further, the light (the truth) of the sun removes the darkness here, so the sun also stands for the light of intelligence, the awareness itself that is the light of the mind. Intelligence (sattva, also called satya), is the basic, subtle nature or reality of the universe. It manifests in the mind and to the senses as motion (rajas) and mass (tamas), by way of name (the motion of forming a thought) and form (the seeming fixed structure of the motion of thought), like the appearance of distinct patterns when the glowing end of a firebrand or incense stick is waved in darkness. In this firebrand example, the glow is the awareness-intelligence that alone is both the movement and the patterns, and their absence.

The sun is also considered the door to the subtle heavenly worlds, and beyond to the truth of everything. This is recognition that heavens and hells are subtle forms of energy within the universe. They are not specific locations in space. Neither the physical body nor even a subtle body goes to heaven or a hell in a particular location in physical space. The subtle body – the mind and the subtle powers of sensing and action – has gone to various subtle realms before and after the death of this physical body. These are regions of thought-like reality, like in a realm of dream. Their order up and down is in terms of their pleasant or unpleasant valuation, not necessarily in terms of physical space. These subtle realms are the topic of the scriptures and the literature based on these scriptures.

The sun is especially seen as a doorway to the highest heaven, Brahma-loka. There one enjoys an extended opportunity to gain knowledge that frees one from moving through all realms of heavens and hells. Let your contemplation tie what you know from science together with what Patañjali and the Upaniṣads say. They are not at odds; they are helpful perspectives from those who have gone before.

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, one gains detailed knowledge of the universe as this tradition understands it – with seven heavens (including the earthly realm in the lowest of these heavens) and seven hells, and the various regions within each one of these. These details are already given in various accounts throughout the classic literature of this culture.

सूर्ये इति ‘तत् सवितुर् वरेण्यं भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि। धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात्’ इति (Gāyatrī Mantra, Ṛg Veda 3.62.10); ‘केन इषितं पतति प्रेषितं मनः’ इति (KenU.1.1); ‘आदित्यं गच्छति एतद् वै खलु लोक-द्वारम्’ इति (ChanU.8.6.5); ‘हिरण्मयेन पात्रेण सत्यस्य अपिहितं मुखम्। तद् त्वं पूषन् अपावृणु सत्य-धर्माय दृष्टये’ इति (BrhU.5.15.1); ‘ते ये एवम् एतद् विदुः, ये च अमी अरण्ये श्रद्धां सत्यम् उपासते, ते अर्चिः अभिसम्भवन्ति, अर्चिषः अहः, अह्नः आपूर्यमाण-पक्षम् आपूर्यमाण-पक्षात् यान् षण्मासान् उदन् आदित्यः एति, मासेभ्यः देव-लोकं, देव-लोकात् आदित्यम्, आदित्याद् वैद्युतं, तान् वैद्युतान् पुरुषः मानसः एत्य ब्रह्म-लोकान् गमयति, ते तेषु ब्रह्म-लोकेषु पराः परावतः वसन्ति, तेषां न पुनर्-आवृत्तिः’ इति (BrhU.6.2.15)॥


[candra – moon; jñāna – knowledge; vyūha – arrangement; tārās – stars.]

चन्द्रे नक्षत्र-नाथे दक्षिण-आयन-देवतायां संयमात् तारा-व्यूह-ज्ञानं नक्षत्र-रचना-मार्ग-ज्ञानम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

The moon traverses the visible sky in its nightly journey. The constellations and their positions were important to the herding and agrarian segments of this society in need of knowledge of the seasons, and for maintaining their ritual calendar. The lunar calendar is based on the movement, and the waxing and waning, of the moon against the backdrop of the constellations.

In this tradition, the moon is seen as the doorway to all the lower heavenly realms, from which there will be a return to this world of opportunity to create new, beneficial karma or get out of the transmigration cycle altogether.

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, by contemplation on this nightly wanderer there is detailed knowledge of all the constellations.

चन्द्रे इति ‘अथ ये यज्ञेन दानेन तपसा लोकान् जयन्ति ते धूमम् अभिसम्भवन्ति, धूमाद् रात्रिं रात्रेः पक्षीयमाण-पक्षम् अपक्षीयमाण-पक्षाद् यान् षण्मासान् दक्षिण-आदित्यः एति, मासेभ्यः पितृ-लोकं, पितृ-लोकात् चन्द्रं, ते चन्द्रं प्राप्य अन्नं भवन्ति, तान् तत्र देवाः यथा सोमं राजानम् आप्यायस्व अपक्षीयस्व इति, एवम् एनान् तत्र भक्षयन्ति, तेषां यदा तत् पर्यवैति अथ इमम् एव आकाशम् अभिनिष्पद्यन्ते, आकाशाद् वायुं, वायोः वृष्टिं, वृष्टेः पृथिवीं, ते पृथिवीं प्राप्य अन्नं भवन्ति, ते पुनः पुरुष-अग्नौ हूयन्ते, ततः योषा-अग्नौ जायन्ते, लोकान् प्रति उत्थायिनः ते एवम् एव अनुपरिवर्तन्ते, अथ ये एतौ पन्थानौ न विदुः ते कीटाः पतङ्गाः यद् इदं दन्दशूकम्’ इति (BrhU.6.2.16)॥


[dhruva – pole star; jñāna – knowledge; tad-gati – their movement.]

ध्रुवे संयमात् तद्-गति-ज्ञानं नक्षत्र-चक्र-गति-ज्ञानम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

Around the Northern pole star, the constellations of stars slowly revolve as the earth daily spins around its axis. The stars visually arise from the horizon four minutes earlier every day throughout the year because of the combination of the earth’s spin on its axis and its rotation around the sun. Together, by these one can tell the time in the night. As the tipped earth rotates around the sun, the constellations revolve at a slightly different angle throughout the year, so one can also tell the date. Even the pole star revolves in a circle around the earth’s axis once every 26,000 years as the earth wobbles on its axis like a spinning top that is off center.

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, there is detailed knowledge of the movement of the constellations around the pole star.


[nābhi-cakra – navel plexus; jñāna – knowledge; vyūha – arrangement; kāya – body.]

नाभि-चक्रे संयमात् काय-व्यूह-ज्ञानम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

Like the fixed pole star, so the central navel plexus may be used as a fixed point of reference to contemplate the arrangement of the various systems in the body.

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, there is detailed knowledge of the various systems of the body.


[kaṇṭha-kūpa – cavity of the throat; nivṛtti – suppression; kṣudh – hunger; pipāsā – thirst.]

कण्ठ-कूपे संयमात् क्षुत्-पिपासा-निवृत्तिः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Hunger and thirst may be suppressed by this contemplation. The mind plays, or can play, a large role in what we otherwise consider to be bodily processes outside of our control.


[kūrma-nāḍī – bronchial passage[s]; sthairya – calmness.]

कूर्म-नाड्यां कूर्मः इव कूर्मः नाम उरस्-स्थ-नाडी तस्यां, तद्-सन्निधि-प्राणे संयमात् स्थैर्यं चित्त-स्थैर्यं, यथा प्राण-विक्षणे॥ – [Vṛtti]

This is related to control of the breath in that, just as slowing the breath calms the mind, watching the breath in the upper chest also calms the mind. This can be taken as the focus on the presence of the breath in prāṇa-vīkṣaṇa (Yoga Sūtra 2.51), the focal point for life’s energy, since this is where the essential life force of air is centered in the body. We may gain more energy from food than from air, but we can survive weeks without food, while only minutes without air.


[mūrdhan-jyotis – light in the head; darśana – vision; siddhas – accomplished beings.]

मूर्ध-ज्योतिषि मूर्धनि शिरसि ज्योतिः चित्त-चैतन्यं तस्मिन् दृशि, मूर्ध-नाडि-प्राणस्य वा प्रगत्यां संयमात् सिद्ध-दर्शनं तेषां सिद्धं ज्ञानं भवेत्, अथवा वि-देह-आदि-सिद्ध-पुरुष-स्वर्ग-स्थस्य दर्शनं भवेत् (YS.3.25 & 1.19)॥ – [Vṛtti]

There are references to siddhas (accomplished beings) in the Purāṇa literature, and saṃyama on them is said to be a way of contacting them. If there is a description of any thing or any place, the human mind will find a way to reach it, and there will be those who claim to have the only or best way. The available teaching sources, present in these appropriately analyzed scriptures and texts, are enough to point the way to yoga’s freedom. If these teaching sources were not available at certain times or places, perhaps the mind would still be able to connect to a source wiser than itself.

These siddhas are subtle beings that only the mind reaches, similar to someone you encounter in dream, who have a certain knowledge of these teachings. Being still within saṃsāra after their previous life, they themselves are not liberated. They may know about this knowledge, but would not as yet have fully assimilated it (cf. YS.4.32 & 34). A teacher can be one who is fluent in the teaching methodology of the scriptures, but has not yet assimilated the knowledge being taught. He or she may be a śrotriya (scriptural master), but not yet a brahma-niṣṭha (reality master). Or, if they have assimilated the knowledge, then their karma, yet to be exhausted, is still somehow maintaining their subtle body after the death of the physical body. In either case, the best of knowledge they can impart to those who contact them would be this same teaching – that perfect reality always exists everywhere, is right here now, and you are that.

You would know if there was another teaching that is more valid and reliable than this teaching. If you do know, you should take advantage of it.

A more traditional way of understanding what the sūtras mean by the siddhas and the afterlife is found in the Upaniṣads that talk about the path the subtle body takes when it leaves the physical body behind. Siddhas can be subtle beings who guide us along the path to higher or lower heavens. Or, one’s actions and meditations on the shining conscious being behind the right eye (see footnote for jyotiṣmatin in Yoga Sūtra 1.36) gain for you the highest heaven within the universe, Brahma-loka, in that world there will be other likewise accomplished (siddha) beings in residence. Or, as an upāsana (meditation), in this life itself, one can gain the greatness (the siddhi) and brilliance of whatever, or whoever, siddha is meditated upon.

सिद्ध-दर्शनम् इति ‘अथ यत्र एतद् अस्मात् शरीराद् उत्क्रामति अथ एतैः एव रश्मिभिः ऊर्ध्वम् आक्रमते सः ओम् इति वा ह उद् वा मीयते सः यावत् क्षिप्येन् मनः तावद् आदित्यं गच्छति एतद् वै खलु लोक-द्वारं विदुषां प्रपदनं, निरोधः अ-विदुषाम्॥ तद् एषः श्लोकः। शतं च एका च हृदयस्य नाड्यः तासां मूर्धानम् अभिनिःसृता एका। तया ऊर्ध्वम् आयन् अ-मृतत्वम् एव विष्वन् अन्याः उत्क्रमणे भवन्ति उत्क्रमणे भवन्ति’ इति (ChanU.8.6.5–6 & KathU.2.3.16); ‘सर्व-द्वाराणि संयम्य मनः हृदि निरुध्य च। मूर्ध्नि आधाय आत्मनः प्राणम् आस्थितः योग-धारणाम्॥ ओम् इति एक-अक्षरं ब्रह्म व्याहरन् माम् अनुस्मरन्। यः प्रयाति त्यजन् देहं सः याति परमां गतिम्’ इति (BhG.8.12–13); ‘यः एव असौ आदित्ये पुरुषः…अतिष्ठाः सर्वेषां भूतानां मूर्धा राजा इति वा अहम् एतम् उपास इति, सः यः एतम् एवम् उपास्ते अति-ष्ठाः सर्वेषां भूतानां मूर्धा राजा भवति’ इति (BrhU.2.1.2)॥


[ – and; prātibha – light; sarva – everything.]

प्रातिभात् (YS.3.25) बुद्धि-चैतन्ये संयमात् वा सर्वं परम-पुरुष-अर्थ-कृतम् इत्यर्थः॥ – [Vṛtti]

By intelligence, which is the mind lit in awareness, alone we come to know everything of our world. This fact can be lost in our interactions with the world. The mind often appears transparent and not a factor when we perceive the world, but it is only by the form our mind takes in perceiving and understanding the world that we can ever know anything. Whatever limitations or colorings the mind has, these limitations and colorings inform our knowledge of everything in our world. Contemplating this gives rise to renewed commitment to gaining more clarity of mind so that it does not unnecessarily limit and afflict one’s world of experience.

Alternatively, the sūtra can be taken as: Or from the light (prāti-bha) [of intelligence just before total absorption in samādhi] there is [knowledge of] everything.

The prefix, prāti- (= prati-), can mean pre- or before. As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, just before total absorption of understanding in samādhi that is enlightenment, there is a power of knowing everything – according to some in the Sāṅkhya-Yoga tradition.

However, this knowing everything is an expression in the Upaniṣad tradition for knowing everything to be known. One knows that everything is the reality that is oneself, so, in knowing oneself as such, one knows everything in essence. For example, when one knows the nature of clay, one knows the essential nature of all things made of clay. In the Upaniṣads the knowing everything by knowing reality itself is the enlightenment. Nothing more needs to be known for one to be totally free. There is even an entire Upaniṣad called Muṇdaka that is devoted to answering this specific question, “Upon having known what all this is known?” With this knowledge the knower comes to terms with all fear that is the result of giving absolute reality to what is other than oneself, to what appears to limit and afflict oneself.

The student can see here the major distinction between the freedom the Veda tradition teaches, the tradition Patanjali comes from, and the misinterpretation by those who see yoga contemplation as bringing about a fundamental change to oneself to become free and with superpowers.

Sāṅkhya-Yoga writers misinterpret what yoga freedom is. They think that the mind has to disappear for freedom to arise in samādhi. The knowing of everything, if it happens, can only be possible just prior to the mind disappearing in samādhi absorption in which there is no other thing known. It is then designated as a superpower that comes to the meditator just prior to this absorption. Total absorption is their goal; it is a lonely goal (kaivalya, freedom in isolation). But this is a misinterpretation of freedom. It is not even consistent with the third sūtra of Patañjali’s text – “(From yoga’s success) then the witness remains in its own nature.” If freedom was not already one’s nature, then remaining in one’s nature could not be freedom.

Freedom cannot be a state or stage arrived at in contemplation, preceded or not by a superpower of all-knowledge. If freedom were a result of contemplation, and not the very nature of the self, then, like every other result gained in the world, it would be limited in time and equal to its cost, and could just as well slip away in time and value. As with every experience, we soon enough get used to it and start demanding more and better and new. When has experience ever been anything else than that?

सर्वम् इति ‘शौनकः ह वै महा-शालः अङ्गिरसं विधिवत् उपसन्नः पप्रच्छ। कस्मिन् नु भगवः विज्ञाते सर्वम् इदं विज्ञातं भवति इति’ इति (MunU.1.1.3)॥


[hṛdaya – center; saṃvid – knowledge; citta – mind.]

हृदये बुद्धौ हृद्-आकाशे संयमात् चित्त-संवित् चित्त-स्व-रूप-ज्ञानम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

When this tradition talks about the heart, it is talking about the mind, in particular the intellect (buddhi). There is no knowing that goes on in the physical heart, but it is in the heart that one can be said to feel the truth of wisdom.

Placing the mind or intellect in the heart is an imagery that has been used in the West too. The heart is the center of our body that remains active day and night. The heart is said to be the seat or wellspring of the mind. The heart stands for the center of one’s being, and that is realistically the mind, since one is essentially a cognitive being. Even now we still point to our heart when we talk about our deeply held convictions, and deeply held convictions are what constitute the intellect. Our language, even today, allows the use of the word ‘heart’ when we are indicating where we know or believe something. As was pointed out before, the mind is subtle and thus is not really something that can be categorized as having, or being limited to, a physical location. But as the center of one’s own mind, in any culture, the heart is as good as any place to point.

The heart is as vast as the mind. Within it can be seen the entire cosmos.

हृदये इति ‘यावान् वै अयम् आकाशः तावान् एषः अन्तर्-हृदये आकाशः। उभे अस्मिन् द्यावा-पृथिवी अन्तः एव समाहिते॥ उभौ अग्निः च वायुः च सूर्या-चन्द्रमसौ उभौ विद्युत्-नक्षत्राणि। यद् च अस्य इह अस्ति यद् च न अस्ति सर्वं तद् अस्मिन् समाहितम्’ इति (ChanU.8.1.3)॥


[bhoga – experience; arthatva – sake; para – other; a-viśeṣa – non-distinguishing; pratyaya – notion; sattva – mind; puruṣa – self; atyanta – completely; a-saṅkīrṇa – separate. saṃyama – contemplation; artha – sake; sva – the self; jñāna – knowledge; puruṣa – self.]

सत्त्व-पुरुषयोः चित्त-पुरुषोः अति-अन्त-अ-सङ्कीर्णयोः अ-शेष-भेदयोः धर्मतः (YS.2.5) प्रत्यय-अ-विशेषः अ-विवेक-प्रत्ययः भोगः पर-अर्थत्वात् यस्मात् अन्-आत्म-अर्थः, स्व-अर्थ-संयमात् आत्म-अवस्थान-अर्थे संयमात् तु पुरुष-ज्ञानं स्व-परम-पुरुष-ज्ञानम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

Objects by their nature are limited, and the self by its nature is unlimited. We seek experience because of our binding desire for objects as unending sources of satisfaction. Unending satisfaction is the nature of only the self. Mutual imposing their natures is thinking the objects are limitless and the source of satisfaction, whereas oneself is limited and not satisfied. When this mutual imposing of natures of oneself and the objects is there in the confused mind, and oneself is thus thought to be unacceptable, then there is a drive for the sake of these objects of experience. This yoga is for turning away from this delusion and seeking the real, lasting satisfaction in the self.

Sattva (pure-energy) is the guṇa that constitutes the essential nature of the mind. The other two guṇas, rajas (agitation) and tamas (darkness), are considered impurities of the mind. These two guṇas allow the mind to experience all objects, since every object is a composite of the three guṇas. If these two guṇas are predominant in the mind, they are said to inhibit the ability of the mind to contemplate their reality as dependent on the self that is free of the guṇas. When rajas and tamas are in abeyance, when they have only their appropriate proportion, the sattva predominant mind – in contemplation of the self, in removing its wrong notions of the self – becomes like a clear crystal unclouded by ignorance and doubt.

The sattva mind in assimilated knowledge is said to have the form, so to speak, of the self, of brahman (nondual reality), called a-khaṇḍa-ākāra-vṛtti – the knowledge that limitations have no separate reality from the self, that there is only one undivided reality. In terms of contemplation, this is said to be the dawn of self-knowledge, of knowledge that is true to the nature of the self. The tradition clearly says, though, that it is the words of the teaching from a capable teacher to the adept student that afford the possibility of realizing that knowledge. The practice of contemplation supports and helps the assimilation of that knowledge; it does not produce it.

Ignorance with regard to the nature of the self, once burned away in the light of truth, cannot stage a comeback. Just as one clearly and doubtlessly knows one exists, and this is not forgotten, similarly when one clearly and doubtlessly knows one exists free of limitations, this cannot be forgotten. One is no longer deluded by the appearance of limitations, thinking them to be real, to be as real as me. This contemplation is an appreciation of myself as unlimited reality, free of any mixing up with that which is not self. Compare this sūtra with Yoga Sūtras 2.17, 2.18, 2.20, and 2.21.

The only way one can know objects as other is through the duality of taking them as other. When contemplating simply oneself, there can only be non-duality, since one’s self is but the reality of everything.

सत्त्वम् इति ‘तत्र सत्त्वं निर्-मलत्वात् प्रकाशकम् अन्-आमयम्। सुख-सङ्गेन बध्नाति ज्ञान-सङ्गेन च अन्-अघ॥ रजः राग-आत्मकं विद्धि तृष्ण-आसङ्ग-समुद्भवम्। तद् निबध्नाति कौन्तेय कर्म-सङ्गेन देहिनम्॥ तमः तु अ-ज्ञान-जं विद्धि मोहनं सर्व-देहिनाम्। प्रमाद-आलस्य-निद्राभिः तद् निबध्नाति भारत’ इति (BhG.14.6–8); ‘न अन्यं गुणेभ्यः कर्तारं यदा द्रष्टा अनुपश्यति। गुणेभ्यः च परं वेत्ति मद्-भावं सः अधिगच्छति’ इति (BhG.14.19)। पुरुष-ज्ञानम् इति ‘मनसः वृत्ति-शून्यस्य (भेद-वृत्ति-रहितस्य अ-खण्ड-आकारतया) ब्रह्म-आकारतया स्थितिः’ इति (Pātañjala-Yoga-Sūtrāṇi-Bhoja-Sadāśiva-Vṛtti 3.3); ‘तद्-विज्ञान-अर्थं सः गुरुम् एव अभिगच्छेत् समित्-पाणिः श्रोत्रियं ब्रह्म-निष्ठम्’ इति (MunU.1.2.12); ‘अन्-अन्य-प्रोक्ते गतिः अत्र न अस्ति अणीयान् हि अ-तर्क्यम् अणु-प्रमाणात्’ इति (KathU.1.2.8); ‘वेद अहम् एतं पुरुषं महान्तम् आदित्य-वर्णं तमसः परस्तात्। तम् एव विदित्वा अति-मृत्युम् एति न अन्यः पन्थाः विद्यते अयनाय’ इति (SvetU.3.8)॥


[tataḥ – from that; jāyante – arise; prātibha – light; vārttās – activities; śrāvaṇa – hearing; vedanā – sensation; ādarśa – sight; āsvāda – taste.]

ततः स्व-अर्थ-संयमात् प्रातिभ-श्रावण-वेदन-आदर्श-आस्वाद-वार्त्ताः बुद्धि-शक्तिः श्रवणस्य स्पर्शनस्य दर्शनस्य रसनस्य घ्राणस्य इन्द्रिय-शक्तयः च, अथवा वार्त्तः वृत्ति-इत्यर्थे ततः चतुर्-इन्द्रिय-वृत्ति-शक्तयः इत्यर्थः जायन्ते॥ – [Vṛtti]

The word vārttā (vārtā in some texts) is from the Sanskrit verbal root vṛt (to happen or take place) and generally means an occupation. It is rendered here as the activities of the four senses. Some take the word to mean smell, because of the word being limited sometimes to agricultural occupation. We can imagine the smell of the rich earth, the element connected with smell, in that occupation. Then the sūtra would read, “…the light [of intelligence], hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell.”

This sūtra indicates that meditation, or certain forms of meditations, can enhance the senses. For whatever entertainment or occupational value that would be, it can be considered a superpower.


[siddhis – superpowers; vyutthāna – active mind; te – these; upasargas – impediments [or secondary]; samādhi – contemplation.]

ते प्रातिभ-आदि-शक्ति-रूपाः पुरुष-ज्ञान-अर्थ-समाधौ उपसर्गाः प्रतिबन्धकाः यदि भोगार्थाः एव, अथवा अधिकाः एव प्रतिबन्ध-रहिताः (YS.1.12 & 15), भोग-अर्थे व्युत्थाने अ-निरोध-चित्ते तु प्रयोजनवत्यः सिद्धयः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Superpowers or imagined superpowers are not the nature of limitless reality that is the goal of samādhi. They are possible side-effects along the way. If they are mistaken as the main goal, they become upasargas (impediments) waiting along the way, from which one may not get back on the path. Final wisdom is relatively uncommon (see Bhagavad Gītā 7.3); seeking can be a drawn out process. There are those who settle for the limited attainments of powers and perhaps the charisma to attract followers. There is no shortage of followers. This sūtra encourages the student to maintain focus on the goal and the worthy guides to that goal.

These superpowers in and of themselves are not impediments. However, they can become impediments when they invoke in the seeker attitudes not helpful to success in yoga. Any attention the student gives to the superpowers should not be counter to vairāgya (non-attachment, YS.1.12 & 15). The superpowers can only become impediments when the side-effects become ends in themselves.

The pronoun te (these) in this sūtra refers specifically to the siddhis in sūtra 3.36. These are not intrinsically different, though, from all the other siddhis in the preceding and following sūtras, in regards to being possible impediments. All of them are attractive side-effects (gauṇa-phalas). They are neither the accomplishments of skill in contemplation (saṃyama), the gaining of a cosmic perspective in the mind, nor the attainment of greater clarity of mind that was pointed out in the first chapter as the immediate goal of contemplation. Nor are they the final attainment of samādhi culminating in assimilated knowledge (prajñā). So they are not part of the direct path to assimilated knowledge. They are like the other gauṇa-phalas mentioned here and there in the scriptures, such as gaining abundance or fame. By the very same reasoning that the siddhis in sūtra 3.36 can be impediments, all the superpower siddhis mentioned in this chapter are indicated by this sūtra here as capable of being impediments.

However, the siddhis in sūtra 3.36 were possible from the contemplation in sūtra 3.35. That contemplation has a quite distinct topic. The contemplation in sūtra 3.35 was on the ultimate topic, the puruṣa free of misidentification with the mind or other objects. This contemplation would be the contemplation detailed in the first chapter of these sūtras. Any side-effect there would be considered by yogins possessing sufficient vairāgya (non-attachment) far short of his or her goal.

Moreover, the other contemplations in this section are on various objects within the universe. Those contemplations may even be suggested for persons interested in other disciplines besides yoga. Students of astronomy, astrology, healing, martial arts, and other disciplines may find them useful. These superpowers, even in limited measure, may be their ultimate goal. They would not be impediments for such seekers. Since sūtras can have more than one meaning or application, this can be an additional and acceptable interpretation of this sūtra, and thus of this section of sūtras.

Perhaps another way to understand the superpowers, while avoiding here the consideration of them being impediments, is by taking the word upasarga as meaning additional or secondary, opposed to pradhāna (primary). The simple, alternative meaning of the sūtra would be, “Though being superpowers, upon arising out of contemplation these are secondary to final progress in samādhi.”

उपसर्गाः (=अधिकाः एव) इति ‘सः यः एवं वेद प्रतितिष्ठति। अन्नवान् अन्न-अदः भवति। महान् भवति। प्रजया पशुभिः ब्रह्म-वर्चसेन। महान् कीर्त्या’ इति (TaitU.3.6.1)॥


[śaithilya – loosening; kāraṇa – cause; bandha – bondage; ca – and; saṃvedana – fully understanding; pracāra – travel; citta – mind; āveśa – entering; para-śarīra – another body.]

बन्ध-कारण-शैथिल्यात् इदम्-शरीर-बन्ध-कारण-मोचनात् अभिनिवेश-क्लेश-मोचनात् च प्राचुर्येण प्रचार-संवेदनात् उदान-आदि-जीव-यात्रा-ज्ञानात् च चित्तस्य पुनर्-जन्मनि ‘योगिनाम् एव कुले’ पर-शरीर-आवेशः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Here, the nature of the subtle mind as not being an effect of the gross brain must be assumed. Nor does the mind die when the body dies. This allows the mind to not only go out during perception through senses, but also leave the body upon the body’s death.

This sūtra also brings up questions about the propriety of a yogin ending this life to continue the pursuit in a young, healthy body.

Belief in reincarnation can be just as sure in the believer’s mind as a belief in going to a heaven. Belief in karma that continues past this life can be just as sure as the belief that one’s life résumé and personality tendencies continue up to and into a heaven, or doesn’t. Everyone, no matter what their beliefs, eventually arrive at the threshold of death. The wise in this tradition chose to contemplate this topic to their most honest satisfaction. Their decision should be understood within the context of their beliefs.

At the advent of death, though the mind might not let go easily, the body may naturally lose appetite for life sustaining food and drink. The mind may also wish to let go as death nears. These are common experiences. Though we understand and accept that the body naturally can and eventually must shut down, we often do not understand or accept another person choosing death. We have recently gained a greater ability to extend the death process through medical discoveries. This has benefits in certain circumstances, but also prolongs an often agonizing event process for the individual and for others in relationship with the person.

This sūtra provides some relief, acknowledging that in the karma model everyone’s spiritual progress continues to the next life. Though the karma model promotes a-hiṃsā (non-injury or offence) towards any body as a preeminent value, it allows the knowledge and decision of the individual as a positive or negative factor within this value.

If one could separate from the physical body without injuring it (see the next sūtra) simply by the power of will to choose to separate from the physical body, then no hiṃsā would incur. It is the nature of the body to disintegrate and that will naturally continue and accelerate when the mind and the rest of the subtle body are not there to provide and direct the body’s life extending functions.

In the legends and epics of India there are stories of characters leaving their own body to inhabit another body. This sūtra could be indicating how this may be accomplished. As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, one may gain, for whatever benefit it may be, the ability to leave this body, and even, according to the Purāṇa stories, enter into another person’s body.

प्रचार-संवेदनात् इति ‘पार्थ न एव इह न अमुत्र विनाशः तस्य विद्यते। न हि कल्याण-कृत् कश्चिद् दुर्-गतिं तात गच्छति॥ प्राप्य पुण्य-कृतां लोकान् उषित्वा शाश्वतीः समाः। शुचीनां श्रीमतां गेहे योग-भ्रष्टः अभिजायते॥ अथवा योगिनाम् एव कुले भवति धीमताम्। एतद् हि दुर्-लभतरं लोके जन्म यद् ईदृशम्॥ तत्र तं बुद्धि-संयोगं लभते पौर्व-देहिकम्। यतते च ततः भूयः संसिद्धौ कुरु-नन्दन॥ पूर्व-अभ्यासेन तेन एव ह्रियते हि अ-वशः अपि सः। जिज्ञासुः अपि योगस्य शब्द-ब्रह्म अतिवर्तते’ इति (BhG.6.40–44)॥


[jaya – mastering; udāna – upward energy; a-saṅga – not getting stuck; jala – water; paṅka – mud; kaṇṭakas – thorns; ādi – etcetera; ca – and; utkrānti – ascending.]

उदान-जयात् शरीर-त्याग-आदि-उदान-नाम-प्राण-ऊर्ध्व-शक्ति-वशी-करणात् जल-पङ्क-कण्टक-आदिषु अ-सङ्गः अ-निमग्नः मरण-काले उत्क्रान्तिः च॥ – [Vṛtti]

Udāna is one of the five subtle life-force energies (prāṇas). It accounts for any rising up power within the body. Certainly it takes power to stay afloat in water and to pull oneself out of mud. It takes dexterous power to tiptoe over thorny ground. Upon death’s door, it also takes strength to hang on longer or let go of the body, at one’s choosing.

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, one may become light and can walk on water and over mud, and lightly walk over thorns without getting stuck. Exit from the body, death, is a power one can wield at any time. The latter is connected with the preceding sūtra, since udāna is the force that also ejects the subtle body, including the mind, out of the then lifeless physical body.


[jaya – from mastering; samāna – uniting energy; jvalana – glowing.]

समान-जयात् उदर-परिपाक-आदि-समान-नाम-प्राणस्य समी-करण-शक्तेः वशी-करणात् ज्वलनं बल-आदि-तेजः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Digestion, another of the five prāṇas, is the body’s subtle assimilation of the energy from food, water, and air. It provides strength to the body. So this glow is the glow of good health and strength, including the ability to survive cold temperatures when needed. This glow is also the brilliance of the senses and mind because of the assimilation of the energy from food. This brilliance may increase through a broad based knowledge and self-confidence, called brahma-varcasa (brilliance in scriptural knowledge).

Through a broader knowledge of the various topics in the scriptures one can unfold these sūtras without having to leap to mystical or nearly impossible superpowers. This scriptural background should be there through svādhyāya (study, YS.2.1).

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, one’s aura brightens, illuminates a room, or dries the clothes on one’s back in winter.

प्रचार-संवेदनात् इति ‘एषः हि एतद् हुतम् अन्नं समं नयति तस्माद् एताः सप्त-अर्चिषः भवन्ति’ इति (PrasU.3.5)॥


[saṃyama – contemplation; saṃbandha – connection; śrotra – sense of hearing; ākāśa – element space; divya – divine; śrotra – hearing.]

श्रोत्र-आकाशयोः श्रवण-आकाशयोः संबन्ध-संयमात् कार्य-कारण-व्यष्टि-समष्टि-संबन्धे संयमात् दिव्यं श्रोत्रं श्रुति-व्यष्टि-समष्टि-शासन-श्रवणम्॥ – [Vṛtti]

Vedānta accepts one of the traditional Upaniṣad and Sāṅkhya explanations of the process of creation via the elements that make up the dependent universe. We use that explanation to unfold the Yoga Sūtras. Within that explanation, space is the first of the five elements: space (ākāśa), air (vāyu), fire (agni), water (āpaḥ), and earth (pṛthivī). From the subtle element space come the other four subtle elements, each successively less subtle than the other. Subtle, here, means incapable of being an object of the five sense organs, as well as being more innermost and/or more pervasive. From space comes air, from air comes fire, from fire comes water, and from water comes earth. Out of these subtle elements is the entire universe. Each succeeding subtle element includes the natures of the previous.

These elements seem to be just a selection of five common features we see in the world, but there is a significant sophistication behind these terms, when the tradition expounds on them as subtle elements. They are not actually the five features we experience in the world. Here, they are the subtle, hidden basics behind all features we experience in the world.

Subtle space is defined as what gives accommodation (avakāśayati iti ākāśa). Subtle space thus means dimension. Subtle air means movement (vāti gacchati iti vāyuḥ). Subtle fire means heat and light (dahati iti dahanam agniḥ). Subtle water means liquidity (āvṛnoti iti vāriḥ). Subtle earth means solidity and mass (sambhavati iti bhūḥ).

Each subtle element allows the following element to arise. Dimension allows the possibility of movement and form (rūpa), including thought forms. Dimension and movement via vibration allow heat/light, the start of visible form. Dimension, movement, and heat/light allow liquidity, for example, the possibility of magma. Dimension, movement, heat/light, liquidity via cooling allows solidity/mass, for example, the possibility of land formation.

These subtle elements, also called the tan-mātras (literally, merely that) the basic elements, not mixed together with any of the other elements, are not the gross elements we interact with. The mixing of these subtle elements are their grossification – each one a combination of the other four with itself being the predominant element. This five-folding of the five elements is an extrapolation from the three-folding of the last three (visible) elements mentioned in scripture as just a naming convention employed by living beings to distinguish things. For example, the gross space we interact with is a combination of the subtle elements space, air, fire, water, and earth, with space being the predominant. That is, gross space we move through is a combination of mostly dimension, with movement, heat/light, fluidity, and solidity/mass. Because of its movement aspect, the expanding and bending of space can be demonstrated by experiments. In this way, we may say a particular space is breezy, hot, humid, or polluted. It is from the distinguishing names of these gross elements that their more sophisticated subtle elements get their names: space, wind, and so on.

This is our model. The model could be the string theory (multiple dimensions of space and spins of energy making up the characteristics of everything) or the periodic table of the elements from the airy light to the most massive. But those mappings have no benefit in understanding the self-based freedom that this teaching is alone concerned with. Our model’s purpose is simply to comprehend in five components the entirety of the universe, so everything within the universe can be later summarily dismissed as not fully satisfying our basic quest for ultimate freedom.

This is an ancient, sophisticated presentation of the entire universe into five components because we happen to have five sense organs. The subtle elements of the macrocosm are matched to the five subtle sense organs with which the human body is equipped. So, wherever you go, whatever you perceive will be in keeping with this model. The addition of better means of gathering data, such as the telescope, microscope or electrocardiograph, is simply useful extension of the five senses. Eventually, they and their data also have to be perceived through the five senses. This five-fold elemental model, and its purpose within this teaching, will thus never become outdated.

Space/dimension is connected to the sense of hearing, air/movement to the sense of touch, fire/heat/light to the sense of sight, water/liquidity to the sense of taste, and earth to the sense of smell. If we had six sense organs, then the tradition would have come up with six subtle and gross elements. If someone is born with less than the five senses, their entire universe would only consist of a mix of those elements sensed.

An alternative presentation, which we have already seen, is the later, three-guṇa model, perhaps derived from the three-elemental presentation in the scripture of fire-water-earth. These are models for comprehending everything in the universe without the sophisticated scientific tools and data we have now. Sitting in a cave in the Himalayas or in an apartment in New York City the entire universe through these elements can be contemplated.

Our model sees the universe as proceeding from three or five and then assuming or condensing into the forms that are available to the five senses. Again, the three or five are themselves said to manifest within the one reality that alone exists. The universe is but the names applied to the forms appearing along the continuum of the evolution of the universe.

No future science could ever improve or dismiss this world view. This knowledge of the one reality that is everything and is oneself is more complete than any possible Theory of Everything from science. The sciences can, without certitude, speculate what is the building block of everything perceived, but lack a method to resolve with certitude both the perceived and the perceiver into one absolute reality – beyond time and space, beyond mind. One cannot objectively stand outside this singular reality-consciousness to describe it or experiment with it.

The subtle sense of hearing in the body is directly connected to the subtle element space, dimension. In the dark of night or closed eye meditation, hearing connects us to the dimensions of the universe. By reflecting on the connection of subtle, limitless space and the subtle sense of hearing, one can start to appreciate the participation of one’s body-sense-mind complex in the limitless. Space is not altogether limitless, since it is bound up with time. And space itself is said to be re-created along with each manifestation cycle of the universe from the one, limitless reality called brahman, the Lord. But within this embodiment, hearing directly connects us to the relative limitless within this transactional world we live in.

Indeed, hearing also connects us to this oral teaching of the limitless reality of oneself, and this universe of space and time. Nothing is apart from this space, including the subtle realms of heaven. So one is directly connected, even here and now, to the entire universe including the divine heavens – everything one has heard of.

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, one’s hearing gains access to the whole, to all that is divine.

आकाशस्य इति ‘तस्माद् वै एतस्माद् आत्मनः आकाशः संभूतः। आकाशाद् वायुः। वायोः अग्निः। अग्नेः आपः। अद्भ्यः पृथिवी’ इति (TaitU.2.1.1); ‘सद् एव सोम्य इदम् अग्रे आसीद् एकम् एव अ-द्वितीयम्…तद् ऐक्षत बहु स्यां प्रजायेय इति तत् तेजः असृजत, तत् तेजः ऐक्षत बहु स्यां प्रजायेय इति तद् अपः असृजत। तस्माद् यत्र क्वच शोचति स्वेदते वा पुरुषः तेजसः एव तद् अधि आपः जायन्ते॥ ताः आपः ऐक्षन्त बह्व्यः स्याम प्रजायेमहि इति ताः अन्नम् असृजन्त, तस्माद् यत्र क्व च वर्षति तद् एव भूयिष्ठम् अन्नं भवति अद्भ्यः एव तद् अधि अन्न-अद्यं जायते’ इति (ChanU.6.2.1 & 3–4); ‘पृथिव्याः ओषधयः। ओषधीभ्यः अन्नम्। अन्नात् पुरुषः। सः वै एषः पुरुषः अन्न-रसमयः’ इति (TaitU.2.1.1); ‘एतावद् वै इदं सर्वम् अन्नं च एव अन्नादः च’ इति (BrhU.1.4.6); ‘सा इयं देवता ऐक्षत हन्त अहम् इमाः तिस्रः देवताः अनेन जीवेन आत्मना अनुप्रविश्य नाम-रूपें व्याकरवाणि इति॥ तासां त्रि-वृतं त्रि-वृतम् एक-एकां करवाणि इति सा इयं देवता इमाः तिस्रः देवताः अनेन एव जीवेन आत्मना अनुप्रविश्य नाम-रूपे व्याकरोत्॥…यद् अग्ने रोहितं रूपं तेजसः तद् रूपं यद् शुक्लं तद् अपां, यत् कृष्णं तद् अन्नस्य – अपागाद् अग्नेः अग्नित्वं वाचा-आरम्भणं विकारः नामधेयं त्रीणि रूपाणि इति एव सत्यम्’ इति (ChanU.6.3.2–3 & 4.1)॥


[saṃyama – contemplation; saṃbandha – connection; kāya – body; ākāśa – space; ca – and; samāpatti – contemplation; laghu-tūla – light cotton; gamana – movement; ākāśa – space.]

काय-आकाशयोः देह-आकाशयोः संबन्ध-संयमात् कारणमय-कार्यस्य कारणस्य च व्यष्टेः समष्टेः च संबन्धे संयमात् लघु-तूल-समापत्तेः तूल-पिण्ड-आदि-लघु-पद-अर्थ-समापत्तिः तया अपि आकाश-गमनम् आकाशे हि आकाशतया च सर्व-गमनम्, अ-प्रतिबद्ध-चित्तस्य हृद्-आकाशे च॥ – [Vṛtti]

Remember from the preceding sūtra’s commentary that the element air, meaning movement, exists from space, from dimension.

The body, which we take as solid, is, in fact, mostly space. The subatomic particles of matter are many, but far between. Even these particles of matter are, at their basis, mass-less packets of vibrating energy in multiple dimensions of space. Even these mass-less packets of energy are more intelligence, more conception in our mind and in our mathematics more abstractions, than something actually there.

This body is standing on earth, but the earth is spinning around on its axis. The earth is also flying around the sun. The sun is flying around in its star cluster. This star cluster is flying around in its galaxy. This galaxy is flying around in its galaxy cluster. This galaxy cluster is flying outward along with the expanding space of the universe. There is no standing still in space; it is mithyā – only apparently-real, valid only from a limited perspective and falsifiable when viewed in a broader and more factual context.

Our experiences in life are appearances gained through our senses and mind. This is the nature of life. It is not that someone can peek behind the curtain, behind the appearances, to see absolute facts free from the limited perspective of the senses and mind. Since appearances are the nature of all things, then it is not really an illusion. An ordinary illusion, such as pulling a rabbit out of an empty hat, can be corrected by figuring the trick. Here in our experiences, even figuring the trick, the appearances constantly continue to be believed. Seeing is believing, but if believed absolutely then the belief – not the appearance – is dismissible and can be characterized as a grand, though natural, illusion. The entirety of our experiences is not an illusion, but our believing in their absolute validity does qualify. Appreciating this helps free oneself from being caught up and identified with our natural belief system as a categorical, static reality in and of itself.

What alone is not an illusion is the limitless reality that is oneself. What can be an illusion in regard to the self are only our wrong notions of our self. Once those notions get exposed to knowledge, they dismiss themselves and there is only you, the undeniable reality. This reality was before, during, and will be after every big bang of the universe that was, is, or ever will be. It is unmoving and unchanging, since it is outside of time and space. Time and space are totally within it, without modifying or affecting it. Though unmoving, this reality is still called sarva-ga, literally, the all-moving, as it includes all that moves within it.

Short of the freedom called kaivalya, even objectively resolving in understanding this gross body down to its subtlest elemental source, to ākāśa (space), according to the preceding sūtra’s understanding of subtle space, and via our scientific understanding to be 99.999…% multi-dimensional space, one is, in a relatively real sense, the all-pervasive space within this universe.

This whole universe of names and forms before you is within your mind, within the space in the heart, that wields these names and forms. Within that space of your personal universe of experience you freely move, in the day and night.

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, one can fly, can move, unaided through space.

आकाश-गमनम् इति ‘ते सर्व-गं सर्वतः प्राप्य धीराः युक्त-आत्मानः (=युक्त-चेतसः) सर्वम् एव आविशन्ति’ इति (MunU.3.2.5)॥


[vṛtti – thought; bahir – externally; a-kalpita – without error; mahā-vi-deha – great disembodiment. tataḥ – from that; āvaraṇa – covering; prakāśa – light; kṣaya – removed.]

बहिस् पराक्-इन्द्रिय-द्वारेण अ-कल्पिता आत्म-परिच्छेद-विकल्पना-रहिता बुद्धि-वृत्तिः महा-वि-देहा अत्यन्त-देह-विमुक्ता, ततः प्रकाश-आवरण-क्षयः विद्या-प्रतिबन्द-क्षयः॥ – [Vṛtti]

Externally, here, means pertaining to beyond just this limited individual, to the entire phenomenal universe including this mind and body – in other words, with eyes wide open, not just in closed-eye meditation. A-kalpita means a-vikalpita, having a nature that is without vikalpa, without error. Knowledge of the external that is a-kalpita is then knowledge that is without one’s own erroneous imaginations (kalpas). It is seeing the universe objectively as it is, as has been unfolded in the scripture and indicated in these pages through these helpful five-element, three-guṇas, and waking-dream-sleep state categorizations, and other teachings that properly connect and resolve the individual into the total, into the Lord, in keeping with this teaching tradition.

Ultimately, all that is external is seen as but names and forms, as constructs. When thought, knowledge, of all that is external, of the entire universe within space, is free of error, that knowledge is great – as vast and true as the universe is, and is not limited to the body (deha). It is not bound up by the limitations of one’s body and mind.

Knowledge totally free of error, of course, cannot mean knowledge about all the details one could possibly and impossibly know regarding the universe. It only means the knowledge of the one essential truth of everything that makes the difference between oneself as totally free in this life, or not.

One’s body and mind do not determine the nature of the universe; rather the universe ought to be recognized as it is, not as my senses present it. Any knowledge of the universe that is based on the senses, and on inferences from that sense-generated knowledge, cannot but be constricted by the perspective and other limitations of those senses.

Knowledge of the universe is clearly recognizing the limited and the not so real nature of the entire phenomenal universe. Knowledge is recognizing that the actual nature of the universe is not exactly what is presented to the limited senses, but it is the reality that one’s self is. This knowledge is what is gained from the teaching of the Upaniṣads, the āgama. This is the removing of the covering, of the ignorance, that has kept one from seeing the nature of the external world as it is, and appreciating oneself as completely free of its phenomenal limitations. Again, the conclusion that there are phenomenal limitations of the self is known to be a mistake. The limitations are nāmadheya (in name only). This is the great dis-embodiment. This is oneself disembodied of all limitations.

The manifestation of the phenomenal universe is by māyā, the power (śakti) of the Lord. This māyā has two components: āvaraṇa (covering) that hides the real, non-dual reality that is the Lord as being oneself and vikṣepa (projection) of an unreal duality – in the form of the notion that these projections are distinct from each other and from oneself. This universal āvaraṇa that affects all creatures can be seen through, can be penetrated, by an individual who sees that the truth of this phenomenal universe is but the non-dual reality that is one’s nature, which is the non-dual nature of the Lord. Then, the phenomenal objects are seen as being the reality, as being oneself, but I am not any of them.

No super power accomplishment, whether visualized or actualized, is greater than that. The disembodiment, the freedom from limitation, always has been your nature. Through the teaching and your contemplations, as you inquire into the nature of yourself, see if you do not come to this appreciation and all it encompasses. Be wise!

महा-वि-देहा इति ‘विकरोति अपरान् भावान् अन्तर्-चित्ते व्यवस्थितान्। नियतान् च बहिर्-चित्तः एवं कल्पयते प्रभुः॥ चित्त-कालाः हि ये अन्तः तु द्वय-कालाः च ये बहिः। कल्पिताः एव ते सर्वे विशेषः न अन्य-हेतुकः॥ अ-व्यक्ताः एव ये अन्तः तु स्फुटाः एव च ये बहिः। कल्पिताः एव ते सर्वे विशेषः तु इन्द्रिय-अन्तरे’ इति (ManKa.2.13–15)॥


[saṃyama – contemplation; arthavattva – significance; anvaya – connection; sthūla – gross; sūkṣma – subtle; sva-rūpa – its own nature; jaya – mastery; bhūta – created.]

स्थूल-स्व-रूप-सूक्ष्म-अन्वय-अर्थवत्त्व-संयमात् स्थूल-रूपं स्व-रूपं सूक्ष्म-रूपं च तेषां समन्वयस्य तत्त्वे संयमात् – स्थूल-रूपं सूक्ष्मेण स्व-काल-बाधितं सूक्ष्म-रूपं च स्व-रूपेण स्व-काल-बोधितम् इत्यर्थः (YS.1.42–44) भूत-जयः सर्व-स्थूल-सूक्ष्म-भूत-वशी-करणम् (YS.2.18)॥ – [Vṛtti]

The connection between the gross, the subtle, and the essence of a thing is one of a sub-rating the one by the other. ‘Sub-rating’ or ‘sub-ration’ is a useful term this author is borrowing from Eliot Deutsch in his book Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction. Sub-ration is his rendering of the Sanskrit technical term bādha, which is often translated by the English term sublation. Sub-rating is more transparent in its meaning. It says that one thing is sub, meaning subsumed under or within, and is sub-rated (bādhita), meaning it is less valued in terms of its reality, when compared to another thing. That is, one thing sub-rates another when the latter is subsumed and devalued by that first thing. The term bādha is also usefully rendered as negation, where, in comparison to another, one thing is more negative, that is, lessened in value or truth.

The term sub-rating is employed in the context of levels or orders of reality. For example, the dream world is sub-rated by the waking world. Both worlds are known to the waker, but the dream world is a less inclusive level of reality than is waking. The dream world is based totally upon the waking world.

We compose the world of our nighttime dreams from what we have gathered as memories while awake. These may be colored by saṃskāras (subtle impressions) gained in our prior births’ waking experiences, however mixed up or distorted those impressions may appear in the dream. A portion of those saṃskāras may be otherwise described as the collective unconscious, common to the human mind. In turn, the dream world has only a limited effect on the waking world. In this tradition, the waking is taken as more basic, more real than the dream. We tend to place more value on our waking experiences than our dream experiences. After a nightmare dream, we are relieved upon waking to discover it was just a dream and not real. The nightmare of physical or emotional pain and suffering experienced in waking may not be as easily dismissed. The waking world in this way sub-rates the dream world.

In the traditional teaching, there are three levels of reality – imaginary (prātibhāsika), objective (vyāvahārika), and absolute (pāramārthika). This teaching literature, which talks about these three levels of reality, also makes further distinctions within the objective (vyāvahārika) reality that amount to similar sub-rating connections between distinct sub-levels of that reality. For instance, we sub-rate falsified or subordinate notions with more correct or inclusive notions. My being human sub-rates my being an author, or any other role I play in this life.

In the context of this sūtra, generally, the subtle sub-rates the gross, and the essence sub-rates the subtle. The gross is what our subtle senses perceive. This gross universe is the material world. In the language of this tradition’s physics (see commentary on Yoga Sūtra 3.41), the elements that make up the gross are actually composed of a mixture of the subtle elements. The gross is then nothing but a manifestation of the subtle. Moreover, the gross universe appears as it does only because of one’s peculiar senses, and is there only in our waking experience. It is not there in either the dream or deep sleep experience, which are both subtle. Two thirds of our experience, then, is purely subtle.

While dream and sleep are limited to the subtle, the waking world also has a significant subtle component. In the waking experience, we likely spend more time manipulating our subtle thoughts, our ideas, than we spend manipulating the gross objects of the world. Moreover, the names and forms that constitute the distinctions of this multitudinous universe are all within the subtle mind that wields these names and forms. And, as was pointed out before, we determine the reality of objective things by our mental estimation of their reality. In other words, our subtle mind weighs the reality or unreality of phenomenal, gross things. Put together, we can easily see how our subtle world sub-rates the gross world.

Sub-ration is even part of maturing as an adult. We get over dolls, marbles, excesses in unhealthy activities, and so on by sub-rating them for more fulfilling activities and interests. We usually get over pains and fears in life through being more concerned and occupied with and by the present moment. As we have seen, the present is the truth of both the past and future. Sub-ration, then, should not surprisingly be a natural process in spiritual maturation too.

If one exposes oneself to this teaching and stays committed until it is assimilated, he or she will understand the absolute reality that is the basis and reality of the gross and subtle worlds. The expression, “its own (real) nature (sva-rūpa),” in the sūtra here is the same as the absolute (pāramārthika). It is reality in and of itself. As such, it cannot be other than the basic nature of me. And the basic nature of me is a conscious being. I am, and I light up everything else within my experience. This is sat-cit, reality-consciousness – not a mixture of these two, rather these two are equivalent words indicating the single nature of myself. That single nature is what we say is beyond words and mind. These two words, sat and cit, point out that one reality which is all existence, which shines in the gross and the subtle, which is all words and mind, and which is more than words and mind.

This reality-consciousness is the nature of oneself, the puruṣa. It is also, without being a second thing, the nature of reality, brahman. And it is also, without being a second thing, the real, essential nature of the universe, which is but a manifestation of the Lord, of brahman, the only reality. Thus this reality, the sva-rūpa of everything, sub-rates the entire universe. It is the absolute reality that allows the dependent reality of the gross and subtle universe. The entire gross and subtle universe is swallowed into this limitless reality.

This reality also sub-rates, in terms of devaluing, the entire universe, since within this reality alone is one’s limitless and total satisfaction, ānanda. Every experience we go after in life is for our own experience. It is for our self alone (YS.2.18). Even altruistic activity is finally for the well-being of our own conscience, so we can be at peace with ourselves. This reality is indicated by the expression sat-cit-ānanda (existence-awareness-fullness). Gaining the knowledge of this self is the only real mastery of the universe; it alone completely and finally fulfils one’s life.

As a superpower, when extrapolated to its extreme, fictional or not, this sūtra, according to the Sāṅkhya-Yoga commentaries, shows how one can manipulate all the elements (bhūtas) of the universe. This could have been a valuable accomplishment in their system. This advantage over nature and over others was as well the pursuit of the demons in the epics and myths of India. We are just not sure how a superpower like this, or all the previous superpowers, fit with vairāgya (non-attachment), and all the values like a-steya (non-usurping) and a-parigraha (renunciation) that really lay at the core of this teaching.

If secondary (gauṇa-phala) superpowers are kliṣṭas (hindrances) to the goal of yoga, then what is the point of presenting the sūtras (3.16–48) about siddhis (accomplishments) as only meant for superpowers, instead of for accomplishing kaivalya in keeping with the means given in the other three chapters, as well as the starting and ending sutras (1–15, and 49–55) of this chapter? Yet, commentary after commentary gets sidetracked into exaggerating these sutras as primarily or only about superpowers. Has anyone else questioned this?

We continue to show how these siddhis (accomplishments) pertain to inculcating a more cosmic perspective towards this body, mind, and the things of this universe. In this way, all these sūtras resolve into the singular goal of oneself completely free from limitations without having to change this body, or this universe.