TKV Desikachar's

Reflections on Yoga-sūtras

The sūtra-s of Patañjali are represented in four chapters. The first chapter is called Samādhipādaḥ (the chapter on samādhi). This chapter defines Yoga and its characteristics. It further discusses the problems encountered in reaching the state of Yoga and how these problems can be handled.
atha yogānuśāsanam ॥ 1 ॥
The first sūtra introduces the subject matter, as the oral tradition requires. In the convention of ancient Sanskrit literature, the first word, atha, carries the connotation of a prayer, both for an auspicious beginning and a successful conclusion to the work which follows.
Here beings the authoritative instruction on Yoga
Patañjali indicates that, while the subject matter is of ancient origin and he is not the source, he has studied and practiced it to an appropriate depth under his own teacher and is now competent to share his understanding with his disciples. His style will be in a manner suitable for them to transmit his knowledge in turn to their disciples through traditional oral methods.
yogaścittavṛttinirodhaḥ ॥ 2 ॥
What is Yoga? It is a word that has many interpretations and connotations. Patañjali defines his understanding of the word.
Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively towards an object and sustain focus in that direction without any distractions.
The object can be a concrete one, either external to ourselves or part of ourselves. It can be an area of interest, a concept or something beyond the level of the senses, such as God.
tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe'vasthānam ॥ 3 ॥
Then, the ability to understand the object fully and correctly is apparent.
In the state of Yoga, the different preconceptions and products of the imagination that can prevent or distort understanding are controlled, reduced or eliminated. The tendency to be closed to fresh comprehension or the inability to comprehend are overcome.
vṛttisārupyamitaratra ॥ 4 ॥
In the absence of the state of mind called Yoga
The ability to understand the object is simply replaced by the mind's conception of that object or by a total lack of comprehension.
A disturbed mind can rarely focus on a single direction. If it ever does, comprehension of the object will be faulty.
vṛttayaḥ pañcatayyaḥ kliṣṭākliṣṭāḥ ॥ 5 ॥
What is the mind? Patañjali defines the mind as a composite of the activities that occupy it. It cannot be perceived expect in terms of these activities.
There are five activities of the mind. Each of these can be beneficial and each can cause problems.
Whether these activities are beneficial or will create problems cannot be seen immediately. Time alone will confirm their effects.
pramāṇaviparyayavikalpanidrāsmṛtaya ॥ 6 ॥
The five activities are comprehension, misapprehension, imagination, deep sleep and memory.
Each mental activity has its own characteristics and although not always apparent, these can be individually recognised. Their dominance and effects on our behaviour and attitudes combine to make up our personalities.
pratyakṣānumānāgamāḥ pramāṇāni ॥ 7 ॥
The activities are defined individually.
Comprehension is based on direct observation of the object, inference and reference to reliable authorities.
The mind can register an object directly through the senses. When the information is available is inadequate or incomplete, for sensual perception, other faculties such as logic and memory may enable a more complete comprehension of the object to be inferred. When no direct comprehension is possible, reference to reliable authorities, such as written texts or a trusted individual, can enable comprehension indirectly.
Thus do we understand places, people or concepts outside our direct experiences. Comprehension in the state of Yoga, is different from comprehension at other times. It is closer to the true nature of the object.
viparyayo mithyājñānamatadrūpapratiṣṭham ॥ 8 ॥
Misapprehension is that comprehension which is taken to be correct until more favourable conditions reveal the actual nature of the object.
This is considered to be the most frequent activity of the mind. Misapprehension may occur through faulty observation or the misinterpretation of what is seen. It is caused due to our inability to understand in depth what we see, often as a result of past experiences and conditioning. The error may be recognised later or never at all. The aim of Yoga practice is to recognise and control the causes of misapprehension (Patañjali explores this in Chapter Two)
śabdajñānānupātī vastuśūnyo vikalpaḥ ॥ 9 ॥
Imagination is the comprehension of an object based only on words and expressions, even though the object is absent.
Imagination happens in the absence of any direct perception. Reference to the meaning, connotations or implications of descriptive words guides imagination towards comprehension. It may be further helped if the words are used poetically or oratorically. It can also arise through other means such as dreams, feelings and emotions. Past experiences, stored as memory, often contribute to this mental activity.
abhāvaprayayālambanā vṛttirnidrā ॥ 10 ॥
Deep sleep is when the mind is overcome with heaviness and no other activities are present.
Sleep is a common activity for the mind and there is a certain time for it. But the heaviness can also occur due to boredom or exhaustion, resulting in sleep. Sleep is a regular condition for all living beings.
anubhūtaviṣayāsaṁpramoṣaḥ smṛtiḥ ॥ 11 ॥
Memory is the mental retention of a conscious experience.
All conscious experiences leave an impression on the individual and are stored as memory. It is not possible to tell if a memory is true, false, incomplete or imaginary. All and each of these activities of the mind confirm the existence of the mind. They are interrelated and complex, so that each one, except perhaps sleep, should be considered as a matrix or genus of activity rather than a distinct entity with exclusive and limited characteristics. Each can, at different times and in different circumstances, be both beneficial and harmful. Their effects may be direct and immediate or they may be indirect as a later consequence of their manifestation.
abhyāsavairāgyābhyāṁ tannirodhaḥ ॥ 12 ॥
How do we arrive at the state of Yoga? What should we do and what should we not do?
The mind can reach the state of Yoga through practice and detachment.
tatra sthitau yatnā'bhyāsaḥ ॥ 13 ॥
What are the essential features of this practice and detachment? Even though the techniques involved are not specified here, the following two sūtra-s indicate their qualities.
Practice is basically the correct effort required to move towards, reach and maintain the state of Yoga (See I-2)
The practices chosen must be learned correctly from and guided by a competent teacher who understands the personal and social traits of the student. If the appropriate practice for a particular student is not provided and followed, there can be little hope of achieving success.
sa tu dīrghakālanairantaryasatkārāsevito dṛḍhabhūmiḥ ॥ 14 ॥
It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions, and with a positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed.
There will always be a tendency to start practice with enthusiasm and energy, and a desire for immediate results. But, the continuing pressures of everyday life and the enormous resistance of the mind encourages us to succumb to human weaknesses. All this is understandable. We all have these tendencies. The sūtra emphasises the need to approach practice soberly with a positive, self disciplined attitude and with a long term view towards eventual success.
dṛṣṭānuśravikaviṣayavitṛṣṇasya vaśīkārasaṁjñā vairāgyam ॥ 15 ॥
As we develop our practice along the correct lines, we find that our ability to discipline ourselves and reject intrusive influences grows. Eventually we may reach a state of detachment when
At the highest level there is an absence of any cravings, either for the fulfilment of the senses or for extraordinary experiences.
Practice gives benefits such as physical strength, dexterity, heightened awareness and sensitivity. There may also be the temptation to use our new skills to prove our higher state. But, these are incidental benefits and diversionary temptations, and if we place too much importance on them, we are in danger of losing sight of the path to the state of Yoga.
tatparaṁ puruṣakhyāterguṇavetṛṣṇyam ॥ 16 ॥
When an individual has achieved complete understanding of his true self, he will no longer be disturbed by the distracting influences within and around him.
Detachment develops with self understanding. The inevitable desires for diversion cannot be suppressed, for if they are, they will surely surface again later.
vitarkavicārānandāsmitārūpānugamātsaṁprajñātaḥ ॥ 17 ॥
Then the object is gradually understood in totality. At first this understanding is at a more superficial level. In time, comprehension becomes deeper. And finally it is total. There is pure joy in reaching such a depth of understanding. For then, individual is so much in unity with the object that he is oblivious to his surroundings.
Such a level of perception of the nature of the object is only possible in the state of Yoga. Frequently we are able to understand the superficial and more obvious elements. But comprehension is incomplete until we have achieved perception at the deepest level without any errors.
virāmapratyayābhyāsapūrvaḥ saṁskāraśeṣo'nyaḥ ॥ 18 ॥
When the mind rises to the state of Yoga and remains so
The usual mental disturbances are absent. However, memories of the past continue.
Then, perception is immediate, not gradual. The memories remain to help us live in the day to day world, but do not create distractions.
bhavaprayayo videhaprakṛtilayānām ॥ 19 ॥
Inevitably, because of the many millions who share the world with us,
There will be some who are born in a state of Yoga. They need not practice or discipline themselves.
But, these are rare persons who cannot and should not be emulated. Indeed, some may succumb to worldly influences and lose their superior qualities.
śraddhāvīryasmṛtisamādhiprajñāpūrvaka itareṣām ॥ 20 ॥
But, what about the rest of us? Is there really a chance of achieving this state of Yoga?
Through faith, which will give sufficient energy to achieve success against all odds, direction will be maintained. The realisation of the goal of Yoga is a matter of time.
The goal is the ability to direct the mind towards an object without any distraction, resulting in time, in a clear and correct understanding of that object.
Faith is the unshakeable conviction that we can arrive at a goal. We must not be complacent about success or discouraged by failure. We must work hard and steadily inspite of all distractions, whether good or bad.
tīvrasaṁvegānāmāsannaḥ ॥ 21 ॥
The more intense the faith and effort, the closer the goal.
mṛdumadhyādhimātratvāttato'pi viśeṣaḥ ॥ 22 ॥
Do we and can we all have the same degree of faith?
Inevitably, the depth of faith varies with different individuals and at different times with the same individual. The results will reflect these variations.
Such variations are a part of the human psyche. They are a product of the individual's cultural background and capabilities.
īśvarapraṇidhānādvā ॥ 23 ॥
Patañjali recognises that attempts to bring the mind to the state of Yoga are fraught with obstacles which vary in potency. But, for those who have either an inborn faith in God or are able to develop it over the years,
Offering regular prayers to God with a feeling of submission to His power, surely enables that state of Yoga to be achieved.
In the following sūtra-s, Patañjali gives his definition of God.
kleśakarmavipākāśayairaparāmṛṣṭaḥ puruṣaviśeṣa īśvaraḥ ॥ 24 ॥
God is the Supreme Being whose actions are never based on misapprehension.
tatra niratiśayaṁ sarvajñabījam ॥ 25 ॥
How can God be so extraordinary?
He knows everything there is to be known.
His comprehension is beyond any human comparisons.
pūrveṣāmapi guruḥ kālenānavacchedāt ॥ 26 ॥
Is God, according to Patañjali, timebound or timeless?
God is eternal. In fact, He is the ultimate Teacher. He is the Source of guidance for all teachers, past, present and future.
tasya vācakaḥ praṇavaḥ ॥ 27 ॥
How should we refer to God? How should we address him?
In the way most appropriate to the qualities of God.
In different cultures and different religions, different words are used to describe God and His qualities. It is more important that we refer to God with greatest respect and without any conflicts. In this, a teacher can be of tremendous help.
tajjapastadarthabhāvanam ॥ 28 ॥
How do we relate to God?
In order to relate to God, it is necessary to regularly address Him properly and reflect on His qualities.
Patañjali suggests that it is necessary to reflect constantly on the qualities of God. This might be aided by the repeated recitation of His name along with prayer and contemplation. But mechanical repetition and prayer are worthless. This must be accompanied by conscious thought and consideration, and done with profound respect.
tataḥ pratyaktcetanādhigamo'pyantarāyābhāvaśca ॥ 29 ॥
For those who have faith in God, such reflections will inevitably be beneficial.
The individual will in time perceive his true nature. He will not be disturbed by any interruptions that may arise in his journey to the state of Yoga.
vyādhistyāna​saṁśayapramādālasyā​viratibhrāntidarśanālabdha​bhūmikatvānavasthitatvāni citavikṣepāste'ntarāyāḥ ॥ 30 ॥
What, if any, are the interruptions?
There are nine types of interruptions to developing mental clarity. These are illness, mental stagnation, doubt, lack of foresight, fatigue, over indulgence, illusions about one's true state of mind, lack of perseverance and regression. These factors are obstacles to mental clarity because they create disturbances and encourage distractions.
The more vulnerable we are to these interruptions, the more difficult it is to reach a state of Yoga.
duḥkhadaurmanasyāṅgamejayatvaśvāsapraśvāsā vikṣepasahabhuvaḥ ॥ 31 ॥
Can we tell when these interruptions are having an effect and taking root?
All these interruptions produce one ore more of the following symptoms – mental discomfort, negative thinking, inability to be at ease in different body postures and difficulty in controlling one's breath.
Any of these symptoms, can have further consequences. The following eight sūtra-s give some suggestions for controlling these interruptions and their symptoms. These suggestions are useful both for those with great faith in God and for atheists.
tatpratiṣedhārthamekatattvābhyāsaḥ ॥ 32 ॥
If one can select an appropriate means to steady the mind and practice this, whatever the provocations, the interruptions cannot take root.
maitrīkaruṇāmuditopekṣāṇāṁ sukhaduḥkhapuṇyāpuṇyaviṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaścitaprasādanam ॥ 33 ॥
In daily life, we see around us people who are happier than we are and people who are less happy. Some may be doing things worthy of praise and others may be causing problems. Whatever be our usual attitudes towards such people and their actions, if we can be happy for those who are happier than ourselves, compassionate towards those who are not as happy, pleased with those whose activities are praiseworthy and remain undisturbed by the error of others, our minds will be very tranquil.
pracchardanavidhāraṇābhyāṁ vā prāṇasya ॥ 34 ॥
When we find interruptions or the symptoms of interruptions
The practice of breathing exercises involving extending exhalation might be helpful.
These breathing techniques, however, must be correctly taught and guided.
viṣayavatī vā pravṛttirutpannā manasaḥ sthitinibandhanī ॥ 35 ॥
The role of senses, such as sight and hearing, in providing information to the mind is significant. These senses are the doors of perception and we are often their slaves. But, can we not examine what is even more powerful in us than our senses? Can we not make them sharper and at our disposal?
By regular enquiry into the role of the senses we can reduce mental distortions.
viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī ॥ 36 ॥
One of the great mysteries of life is life itself.
When we enquire into what life is and what keeps us alive, we may find some solace for our mental distractions.
Consideration of things greater than our individual selves helps us put ourselves in perspective.
vītarāgaviṣayaṁ vā cittam ॥ 37 ॥
When we are confronted with problems, the counsel of someone who has mastered similar problems can be of great help.
Such counsel can come directly from a living person or from the study of someone alive or dead.
svapnanidrājñānālambanaṁ vā ॥ 38 ॥
When we believe we know a lot, we may become arrogant. The consequences can be disturbing. In fact, even the most ordinary, everyday occurrences are not always clear to us.
Enquiry into dreams and sleep and our experiences during or around these states can help to clarify some of our problems.
How refreshing it is after a good night's sleep! How disturbing a bad dream can be!
yathābhimatadhyānādvā ॥ 39 ॥
Any enquiry of interest can calm the mind.
Sometimes, the most simple objects of enquiry, such as the first cry of an infant, can help relieve mental disturbances. Sometimes complex enquiries should not replace the main goal, which remains to change our state of mind gradually from distraction to direction.
paramāṇuparamamahattvānto'sya vaśīkāraḥ ॥ 40 ॥
What are the consequences of developing this state of Yoga?
When one reaches this state, nothing is beyond comprehension. The mind can follow and help in the understanding of the simple and the complex, the infinite and the infinitesimal, the perceptible and the imperceptible.
The actual process of this comprehension is explained below.
kṣīṇavṛtterabhijātasyeva maṇergrahītṛgrahaṇagrāhyeṣu tatsthatadañjanatā samāpattiḥ ॥ 41 ॥
When the mind is free from distraction, it is possible for all the mental processes to be involved in the object of enquiry. As one remains in this state, gradually one becomes totally immersed in the object. The min, then like a flawless diamond, reflects only the features of the object and nothing else.
In the beginning all mental activities, except sleep, are involved in the comprehension of an object. But, gradually, only those needed for correct, flawless comprehension remain.
tatra śabdārthajñānavikalpaiḥ saṁkīrṇā savitarkā samāpattiḥ ॥ 42 ॥
However, this does not happen spontaneously. It is gradual.
Initially, because of our past experience and ideas, our understanding of the object is distorted. Everything that has been heard, read or felt may interfere with our perception.
Some of these influences may have no validity. Others may now be redundant.
smṛtipariśuddhau svarūpaśūnyevārthamātranirbhāsā nirvitarkā ॥ 43 ॥
When the direction of the mind towards the object is sustained, the ideas and memories of the past gradually recede. The mind becomes crystal clear and is in union with the object. At this moment there is no feeling of oneself. This is pure perception.
etayaiva savicārā nirvicārā ca sūkṣmaviṣayā vyākhyātā ॥ 44 ॥
But, this phenomenon is not limited in scope.
This process is possible with any type of object, at any level of perception, whether superficial and general, or profound and specific.
sūkṣmaviṣayatvaṁ cāliṅgaparyavasānam ॥ 45 ॥
Except that the mind cannot comprehend the very source of perception within us, its objects can be unlimited.
tā eva sabījaḥ samādhiḥ ॥ 46 ॥
Can the mind arrive at a state of Yoga unilaterally?
All these processes of directing the mind involve an object of enquiry.
They also involve preparation, gradual progression and sustained interest. For, without this interest, there will be distraction. Without preparation, there can be no foundation. And without gradual progression, the human system may react and rebel.
nirvicāravaiśāradye'dhyātmaprasādaḥ ॥ 47 ॥
What are the consequences of achieving this ability to direct the mind?
Then the individual begins to truly know himself.
As the correct comprehension of the object begins to enrich us, we also begin to understand out very selves.
ṛtaṁbharā tatra prajñā ॥ 48 ॥
Then, what one sees and shares with others is free from error.
śrutānumānaprajñābhyāmanyaviṣayā viśeṣārthatvāt ॥ 49 ॥
His knowledge is no longer based on memory or inference. It is spontaneous, direct and at a level and intensity that is beyond the ordinary.
In such circumstances, the mind reflects the object of our enquiry simply, like a clear and perfect mirror.
tajjaḥ saṁskāro'nyasaṁskārapratibandhī ॥ 50 ॥
As this newly acquired quality of the mind strengthens gradually, it dominates other mental tendencies which are based on misapprehensions.
tasyāpi nirodhe sarvanirodhānnirbījaḥ samādhiḥ ॥ 51 ॥
Finally, if ever,
The mind reaches a state when it has no impressions of any sort. It is open, clear and simply transparent.
Such comprehension is not sought. It comes inevitably and nothing can stop it.
This is the highest state of Yoga, but it cannot be described in words. Only those who have reached this state can comprehend its nature.