Swami Satyamayanandaji is a young monk of the Ramakrishna Order, and looks after all the Prabuddha Bharata work in Kolkata. He contributes articles to different journals and periodicals from time to time, and also reviews scholarly works. In this absorbing article, he concentrates on latria in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The Magic of the Word Yoga
While sightseeing in Canton, China, Swami Vivekananda was bent on visiting a nearby monastery that was off limits to visitors, even when their party’s interpreter was trying to dissuade him. Suddenly, they were accosted with a tangible form of dissuasion in the shape of two or three furious club-wielding men who rushed at them with the intent of not just scaring them away. The rest of the party fled for safety. Swamiji caught hold of the interpreter’s arm and inquired what was the Chinese equivalent for “Indian yogi”. Swamiji repeated this loudly. The words instantly acted like magic. The men dropped their clubs and fell at his feet with deep reverence (1). Truly it can be said that the words “yoga” and “yogi” have cast their spell on humankind for thousands and thousands of years. With the present revival and interest in Indian spirituality everywhere, yoga is now influencing more and more minds than ever before. And the danger of misinterpretations and misrepresentations is not small. Yet the charm persists in whatever form it is in, pure or diluted.
The Most Difficult Thing
Sri Sankara asks, “What is the most difficult thing for a man to do?” and answers, “To keep the mind always under control”(2). Even Arjuna complains to Krishna in the Bhagavadgita that controlling the mind is as difficult as controlling the wind. How true it is! Anyone attempting to still the mind, even briefly, is immediately faced with the truth of the impossibility of it. Yet the few brave souls, endowed with faith, energy, memory, concentration and discrimination, become living testimonies to this great science and are rightly worshipped as gods. India has been the special stronghold of yoga. Every other orthodox and unorthodox darsana (philosophy, incorrectly though), in some form or other, has adopted and adapted yogic practices to their systems, for sadhana has always been integral in philosophy or it would have been reduced to mere speculation. Patanjali, the great sage, himself is said to be the compiler, systematizer and codifier of certain ancient tested yogic practices prevalent in society then (3). The immense practicality of yoga has made it currently the most popular and respected philosophy.
The Word Yoga
This technical term yoga, like the term samadhi, has been variously interpreted: sometimes novel, sometimes strange, and sometimes bordering on the absurd. The word yoga itself has many definitions but, for our purpose, two meanings need to be looked at. According to the great Sanskrit grammarian Panini, the root yuj belonging to the divadi-gana means samadhi. The root yujir in the rudadi-gana means samyoga, ‘yoke‘ in English. In Patanjali’s Уоga Sutras the former is meant. So the Yoga Sutras can also be called Samadhi Sutras.
Yoga, based on the ancient Samkhya philosophy, is vast but yet contains only 195 sutras (aphorisms, literally threads) divided into four padas, chapters: “Samadhi”, “Sadhana”, “Vibhuti” and “Kaivalya”. There are certain basic concepts that need to be looked at before we can we can see how the practice of samadhi can be a continuos form of adoration.
The Illustration for Citta-Vrttis
Picture a sea in the bosom of a long, violent storm. Huge monster waves rise, crest the dark sky, and fall with a deafening roar into the churning waters. Add lightning and sleet for better visual and sound effects. In this heaving sea, a man is struggling for life in a battered boat, which is repeatedly being lifted by waves and crashed in the troughs. Compare this scene for what goes on within: the citta, mind-stuff, is the stormy sea; the waves in it are vrttis, and the man in the boat is the effort to still the waves. This is exactly what a novice experiences in the beginning of yoga practice.
Now consider another picture: that of the same sea after the storm has abated. The sky is clear and sunny, and the water luminous and mirror-still. As she yogi puts his whole being into his efforts and is inexorably reaching the end of yoga, this is what his citta appears like. The constant fire of tremendous sadhana that goes into subduing each vrtti becomes truly an act of adoration. It is this adoration that helps the yogi stand up and fight even after being knocked down millions and millions of times. Nothing is possible in its absence, and yoga will be an empty word. The yogi takes flowers which can be compared to his yogic experiences and struggles, strings them on the yoga sutra (thread of yoga), and offers this garland to Isvara, God, who is the special Purusa, the first Guru – omniscient and omnipotent – whose manifesting name is the sacred syllable Om. (4)
The Ontological Postulates in Yoga Sutras
Yoga philosophy postulates two ultimate realities called purusa, soul, and prakrti, nature. The former is the kutastha nitya, suffering no change and the latter is parinami rtitya, that which does not lose its specilic nature in spite of changes (yasmin vihanyamane tattvam na vihanyate).This prakrti is constantly transforming itself due to the actions of the three gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas). This transformation embraces all of nature from the microcosm to the macrocosm. Citta, being a product of prakrti, is also subject to change. Prakrti is jada, insentient, and one. But there is a plurality of purusas that are by nature pure consciousness. Yoga accepts the external world, the experiencing subject (bhokta), the means of exprience and the things experienced as real. In the “Samadhi Pada”, the second sutra sets the tone of the whole scheme of things. “Yoga-citta-vrtti-nirodhah“, yoga is the restraint (nirodha) of vrttis in the citta. Let us look at these words, yoga, citta-vrtti and nirodha.
Different Stages of Yoga
We have seen that the word yoga stands for samadhi. Some of the commentators on Yoga Sutras are of the opinion that it means both samprajnata and asamprajnata samadhis. In Patandjali’s system, no effort is made to realize the purusa directly but the quelling of citta-vrttis is attempted wholeheartedly. As a potential marksman first aims at large objects, then proceeds to smaller and smaller ones, so is the aspirant first made to attempt meditation on gross objects and then proceed to subtle ones. Samadhi is a much-touted word erywhere; to attain it is very difficult. But in yoga, mere samadhi (samadhi matra) has not much value. It is, however, the doorway to the higher realm called samprajnata samadhi in which transcendental knowledge known as prajna is obtained. These advanced stages are technically called samapattis (not to be confused with the samapattis of Buddhism). Samapattis, simply stated, are the deepening of the constantly practised samadhi matra by which the citta has attained stability like a clear piece of crystal, and is merely tinged with the objects presented to it. In samprajnata samadhi the objects of meditation are categorized as grahya, gross and subtle aspects of the object; the subtle entities are categorized as grahana, instruments of knowledge (sense-organs, mind, intellect); and the subtlest as the grahita (the experiencing subject), the “I”.
When an object, which is within time, space and causation, is reflected upon, it is savitarka samapatti. Higher still is when memory (smrti) is purified, and the object of meditation becomes free from any misconceptions and is unmixed (asankirna); then the awareness of the transcendental nature of the object beyond time etc shines, and it is nirvitarka samapatti. Then comes savicara samapatti, the object now is subtle (tanmatra) and is deliberated within time, space and causation. Its higher aspect is when that subtle object is deliberated upon transcending time, space and causation; then it is nirvicara samapatti. Rising still higher and meditating on citta as bereft of all impurities of rajas and tamas becomes sananda samapatti. Going deeper, when there remains only the sattva state of the ego and absorption is made on oneself, it is called sasmita samapatti (with asmita, ego). (5) In the highest samprajnata samadhi there dawns what is known as rtambhara prajna, truth-filled transcendental knowledge. With its help the clear distinction between the purusa and prakrti is known and this is called viveka-khyati.
Establishing oneself in viveka-khyati, there then arises dharma-megha (“cloud of dharma”) samadhi. Dharma-megha samadhi gives rise to para-vairagya, supreme detachment from all things related to the three gunas of prakrti. The citta still has a residue of impressions so these samprajnata states are known as sabija, with seeds. After this comes asarhprajnata samadhi, this is perfect super-consciousness. The strong repeated impressions of rtambhara-prajna have obstructed all other subliminal impressions of vyutthana (distractions). Rtambhara-prajna itself is checked by supreme control and that leads to nirbija state, without seeds. In this asamhprajnata samadhi, the purusa only is there, being neither subject nor object. The door to final liberation, kaivalya, is open, and the citta, now freed from everything, resolves back to its causes, pratiprasava.
From the above we can see to what heights the yogi has to reach. Each stage requires rigorous and unrelenting practice. Speaking about these samadhis seems almost a blasphemy when we realize that to attain even the lowest one might take a long, long time. The yogi very quickly understands what he is up against and this brings in humility, devotion and adoration that will smoothen and sweeten his rough road.
The Citta and Vrttis
The citta is, as we have noted above, insentient, and it is accounted for the difference between pure consciousness and our different states of consciousness. According to yoga philosophy, our consciousness, however, is only possible when a vrtti arises in it. There can be no knowledge or cognition without vrttis. These two then, citta and vrttis are inseparable like milk and its whiteness. Broadly speaking, vrtti-jnana is of two types, pratyaya and prajna. The former is ordinary consciousness, and the latter is related to super-consiousness. Citta is said to be pervasive, but vrttis are sankoca-vikasa-sali, contracting and expanding, rising and falling, taking the form of the objects presented to it. The process is unimaginably superfast. Citta being prakrti‘s evolute, it also has the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is characterized by luminosity and is ascribed a white colour. Rajas is activity with red colour, and tamas is inertia with black colour. These colours or gunas are mixed in varying degrees.
According to the great commentator Vyasa, there are five bhumis, states, through which citta manifests. They are: ksipta, mudha, viksipta, ekagra and niruddha – scattering, darkening, scattering and gathering alternatively, one-pointed, and controlled respectively. Yoga is possible only in the last two. Cognitive vrttis or pratyayas are of five kinds: pramana, viparyaya, vikalpa, nidra and smrti – right knowledge, indiscrimination, verbal delusion, sleep and memory respectively. Moreover, there are the five klista vrttis, affective (emotional), called “pain-bearing obstructions”: avidya, asmita, raga, dvesa and abhinivesa – ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion and the fear of death.
These are more lasting than the cognitive ones. Klista vrttis manifest only through the cognitive, and the cognitive are impelled by the klista. It is a kind of constantly revolving wheel.
Each vrtti, after it subsides, leaves a trace called samskara, impression, which has the power of producing the original vrtti under circumstances. Because of this there is memory, recognition, etc. The citta is supposed to be filled with these traces and they are in the states of: prasupti, tanu, vicchinna and udara, dormant, attenuated, suppressed or repressed and expanded respectively. The samskaras fall into two broad categories: karmasaya (receptacle of karma) and jnanasaya (receptacle of knowledge). Тhe former, filled with traces of bhoga vasanas, desires, are responsible for rebirth. Jnanasaya by itself does not bind, but in this very fluid situation what is what and where is difficult to posit.
Apart from the above there are the tremendous supernormal powers, vibhutis. Famous among them are the asta-siddhis, the eightfold yogic powers. The citta is ultimately destroyed in the state just preceding freedom. In this confusion of different things, let us see how Swamiji clearly explains it: “The unknowable furnishes the suggestion that gives the blow to the mind, and the mind gives out the reaction… in the same manner as when a stone thrown into the water, the water is thrown against it in the form of a wave. A book form oran elephant form, or a man form, is not outside; all that we know is our mental reaction from outer suggestions… You know how pearls are made. A parasite gets inside the shell and causes irritation, and the oyster throws a sort of enamelling round it, and this makes the pearl. The universe of experience is our own enamel, so to say, and the real universe is the parasite serving as a nucleus. The ordinary man will never understand it, because when he tries to do so, he throws out an enamel and sees his own enamel… Thus you understand what is meant by chitta. It is the mind-stuff, and vrttis and the waves and ripples rising in it when external causes impringe on it. These vrttis are our universe.” (6)
On reading the above, one gets an impression that controlling citta-vrttis is well nigh imposible. Let us look at it this way. The heart averages about 100,000 beats per day and this goes on for a whole lifetime. Made of tough muscle, does it ever take rest? It does, for a fraction of a second, between the systolic and diastolic beats. Similarly is the case with citta-vrttis, when one rise after taking a form of an object and subsides and a second one is rising, there is a very small interval between them; this has to be prolonged. But before we can do that, we need to raise only one class of vrttis (sajatiya) and this slowly holds back the many other classes of vrttis (vijatiya). Apart from this method of citta parikarma, purification of the mind, there are the bhavanas prescribed to raise vrttis opposed to the inimical ones. They are maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksa – friendship, mercy, gladness and indifference with regard to subjects that are happy, unhappy, righteous and unrighteous. These pacify the citta(7).
The Yoga Sutras has tailored different practices to fit different aspirants who are classed as superior, middling and inferior. The superior are advised abhaysa, vairagya and isvara-pranidhana – practice, non-attachment and devotion to God, as principal ones. The middling aspirant is advised kriya yoga: tapas, svadhyaya and isvara-pranidhana – penances, study and devotion to God. The inferior aspirant is advised to take up the astanga yoga, or eight-limbed yoga, consisting of: yama, niyama, asana, pranyama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. The first two are great moral and ethical vows, then posture and control of prana – these are physical in nature. Then comes withdrawal of the sensory-organs, concentration, meditation and samadhi. Isvara-pranidhana in astanga yoga is a part of niyama. Technically, nirodha is said to be vrtti-nirodha, pratyaya-nirodha, samkara-nirodha, klesa-nirodha and sarva-nirodha.
The Speciality of Adoration in Yoga Sutras
Adoration or isvara-pranidhana, we have noticed, is common to all the three classes of aspirants. Patanjali no doubt has seen its efficacy. Besides, the aspirant needs to understand that unless a higher power is admitted and adored with love, the goal can be extremely difficult. To repeat what we said above, whenever an aspirant struggles to restrain vrttis the very effort becomes an act of adoration by itself. Coupled with love for Isvara, the yogi or yogini becomes full of faith, hope, love and gentleness. This constant adoration makes them a blessing to humanity. Even the Lord says in the Gita: “A yogi is higher than men of penances; he is higher than men of knowledge; the yogi is higher than men of action. Therefore, О Arjuna, do become a yogi. Even among the yogis, he who adores Me with his mind fixed on Me and with faith – he is considered by Me to be the best of the yogis.”
- (1) His Eastern and Western Disciples, The Life of Swami Vivekananda (Mayavati: Advaita Ashrama, 1985), Vol. 1, p. 396.
- (2) Prasnottara-ratna-malika, 53.
- (3) Some scholars identify Patanjali with the grammarian, who flourished around 200 вс. Others who do not think so, giving historical and technical reasons say Yoga Sutras must have been written somewhere about 300 AD.
- (4) Cf. Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works (Mayavati: Advaita Ashrama, 1989), Vol. 1, pp. 212-8.
- (5) Swamiji’s explanation on Yoga Sutras, 1.17.
- (6) Swamiji’s explanations on Yoga Sutras, 1.2.
- (7) Yoga Sutras, 1.33.