The Yoga of Patanjali

The talk this evening is based on a series of lectures, which our teacher gave from 1946 to 1948, for over two years on meditation, centring around the Yoga of Patanjali. You heard in the first reading, one of the great themes is the cosmic mind and that the individual mind must come into touch with it.

The second great theme is in this passage: “The mind of a man, like a rose, has petals after petals, and yet more and more – the depth of the mind has not been touched by psychology yet. When we have opened these secret petals of the rose of our mind, in which peace and tranquillity dwell, we call it Samadhi. Samadhi is that the mind contacts, within itself, the region of peace and tranquillity. This peace is creative-minded – not like the peace and tranquillity of the drone which, having left the honeycomb, sleeps the whole day doing nothing; a few days more and the other bees kill him.  Never confound peace with negativity – intense creativity is a characteristic of Samadhi.”

There are these two themes, one the meditation in Shri Shankara’s language on ‘That’ – That from which the whole universe has come forth, by which it is supported and controlled, in which it is dissolved.  Then the other meditation on the essence, the unmoved, the unchanging within man himself. Patanjali takes it only so far; but in the Vedanta, those two are one and this is the third aspect of the meditation.

Let’s hear, first, the Sutras of Patanjali on which our teacher commented at great length and then some of his comments. “The mind stuff is like a jewel and when from it the obscurities have dwindled away, then it is focused on the knower, or on the process of knowledge, or on an object and becomes of that form. When it is concentrated on an object, at first, it is confused with associations of words and ideas. (This is on, what’s technically called, a gross object – something which has a physical form.)  It is first confused with associations of words and ideas; but when the memory, the past associations, have become purified, that state – as it were empty of itself, where the object alone shines – is called nirvikalpa: beyond the associations of words and ideas with a physical object.”

When it is, as it were, empty of itself, our teacher explained there’s no more consciousness: “I am meditating. This is the object of meditation.”  The object becomes radiant. The object alone shines by itself. For a long time in meditation, the object has to be constantly revived in attention, but the time comes when the object becomes radiant and begins to shine. In Buddhism, this is often called the sign. The object alone shines as radiant.

Then the next higher stage is to meditate on subtle objects like compassion, like the all-pervading aspect of the Lord – the undying in the dying, the imperishable in the perishable, the unseen in the seen. Then to meditate, at first, there will be confusion with words, and then it will be beyond associations of space and time and ideas and words.  Our teacher said that in some systems, it is said you should kill the mental faculties; but in this Yoga, you are set to master them and then make use of the faculties for the fulfilment of the supreme purpose of life.

Reflection or vichāra: “If we have lost anything of the greatest importance today, it is the habit of reflection and inquiry, philosophical inquiry, inquiry into the undying essence of the universe, the undying essence of one’s own personality. The Yoga teaches us not to be a slave to a dogma. We can accept a hypothesis, but the value lies in its quality of being verified. Unless you accept a hypothesis which is verifiable, you have committed a wrong. What we need is verified and verifiable knowledge and not dogmas.

Through the meditations, you verify the substance of the Yoga. ‘I am a spark of Divine fire. In my heart is a ray of the divine light – today covered under passion, delusions, wrong ideals; but I can uncover it.’ The uncovering is Yoga or meditation. Anything you are given is verified and verifiable.” In this passage on vichāra, the meditation is not a killing of the faculties, but a fulfilment of them.

In the commentary on Chapter 6 of the Gita by Madhusudan, one of the great followers of Shri Shankara, he says that when this practice of nirvichāra, a meditation on subtle things such as the Self and the essence of the universe, free from all associations of memories, space and time, when that has been practised for a long time and becomes clear, then suddenly there’s a flash.

“After long practice of nirvichāra, when it is not overcome by Rajas and Tamas but there’s abundance of sattva, the serenity principle, the mind stuff is freed from taint and latent tendencies with an inner peace. Then there manifests a vision of knowledge of a real object as an instantaneous flash. In this calm, the insight, ‘prajnā’ – this is technically called prajnā – is truth-bearing, it carries the Truth.  In that state of insight serenity, the insight borne of the concentrated mind-stuff, of the Yogi bears Truth alone. There’s not in it even a trace of error.”

Then a verse is quoted: “By holy authority and by inference (reasoning) and by eagerness for practice in meditation, in three ways he promotes his insight and gains the highest Yoga.”  Those are the three ways – by the scriptural authority, then by reasoning on it and, lastly, by the meditation, delight in meditation.  Shri Shankara, in his commentary on this verse of Patanjali, says almost the same thing.

“Prajnā, the realization,” says Shri Shankara, “is divided into three. The first division of insight is scrutinizing the meaning of what is taught by scripture and by the teacher. Second is to investigate it by proper reasoning and, having overcome the conceptions opposed it, to establish it as correct.  Third is to apply oneself to eager meditation on that idea, which has been fully established from the scriptures and the reasoning.”

Here he repeats something which often comes in his Gita commentary, that the knowledge and the realization are not different; but the realization is an actualization of the knowledge. For instance, in three passages: in chapter 3, verse 41 he says, ”Jñāna-knowledge is the knowledge of the Self and other things acquired from the scripture and from a teacher. Vijñāna, realization, is the personal experience of the thing so taught, not something new, but an actualization or clearer realization of what is already taught and already known.”

In chapter 7, verse 2, “Jñāna is knowledge, vijñāna is experience of that. The same thing is not something different.” In chapter 16, verse 1, “Jñāna-knowledge consists in understanding the nature of things such as the Self, as taught in the scripture and by the teacher. Yoga consists in making what has been thus learned an object of one’s own direct perception, by one-pointedness through subduing the senses.”

Then, what our teacher has said here, and in Madhusudan, and in Shankarācharya, comes over clearly – that the Truth is first learned by scripture, and our teacher says it’s verifiable; it’s reasoned on very closely and then it is actualized or realized more clearly. It’s already known, but realized more clearly in the meditation practice.

Madhusudan says the insight is different from the insight from authority, or from reasoning – in the sense that it is of a particular thing and they deal with universals. The object of authority or inference is not a particular thing. This particular thing is attained through this special samadhi meditation. In the Buddhism, it’s called applying the holy Truth to one’s own self.

“The object shining alone, the state of meditation as it were emptied of itself.” This same phrase comes again, in Book III of Patanjali: ‘the state of meditation, as it were empty of itself, the object shines alone’. Here it’s said that this is the culmination of the process of abstraction; then the process of supporting an object in the mind; then, when that is deepened after practice, that becomes a continuous stream of similar thoughts – and then finally this phrase (which previously had only been used of the nirvichāra samadhi state, but here’s used of samadhi as a whole): “The state as it were emptied of itself.”    Our teacher says, “The man is no longer aware, ‘I am one who meditates.  There is a process of meditation.’ There is only the object shining.”

The three-in-one are joined together. Patanjali says, “When these three-in-one have been performed – an object has been chosen, very persistently held, and all the faculties have been brought out on it (the faculty of reasoning, and the faculty of devotion, and the faculty of will, and the faculty especially of inquiry) – then the prajnā shines forth. This comes for the second time, in Patanjali, ‘the prajnā shines forth’.  It’s clearly distinguished from accidental states. There are these states about which our teacher warned in the first passage; but this is not a lethargic state, not a state that comes about by chance.

For instance, Edgar Allan Poe speaks, undoubtedly from his own experience, “To muse for long and wearied hours with my attention riveted to some commonplace device on the margin, or in the typography of a book, to become absorbed for the better part of a summer’s day in a quaint shadow forming a slant upon the floor, to lose myself for an entire night in watching the steady flame of a lamp, or the embers of a fire, to dream away whole days over the perfume of a flower, to repeat monotonously some common word until the sound by dint of repetition ceased to convey any idea whatever to the mind, to lose all sense of motion or physical existence by means of absolute bodily quiescence long persevered – such were a few. This was quite different from ordinary daydreaming. These meditations, if I call them so, were never pleasurable.”

Now these would be states that would come about by chance, not selected; in which there is no inquiry; and in which the faculties of the mind, instead of being employed, have been dulled. Technically, they’re called in Yoga states of laya. People say, “Well, isn’t it the same thing, really? The man who meditates on the universal mind and the man who’s lost in meditation on the shadow on the floor, after all, isn’t that the same thing?”  Well, people do to say this. Newton used to get up and he would sit sometimes on the bed and pass into a state very close to trance. Then when he came out of it, he used to write one of his mathematical inquiries. Well, I have seen a man do this, get up from bed, and sit on the edge of the bed as if he was in a trance.  But the fact was, he had such a bad hangover, he couldn’t even bear to move his eyes.  He simply remained as if he had been turned to stone. Well, there is this difference – but afterwards, Newton produced the mathematics, while the man with a hangover produced nothing.  Our teacher said, “Samadhi is intensely creative.” Therefore, this is one of the tests which we can apply.

‘There, the prajnā shines forth.’  Our teacher said that in Yoga, there are these two aspects: there’s the Lord, considered together with the manifestation of the universe, ‘I am one, let me be many’, and then there is the transcendent.  They’re not separate, but from our point of view, they are considered separately very often. The prajnā, the insight, which comes from meditation can apply to the things of the world.  He often used to quote, for instance, some scientific discoveries, artistic masterpieces and many other things which came from states of meditation. This is a flash, an instantaneous flash, which doesn’t pass through the phases of reasoning and gradually approaching the notion.

In an old book on The Nature Of Intelligence by Thurstone it says, “It is of some interest to speculate about the nature of the continued development of intelligence. Further development of intelligence might give facility in selecting effective behaviour with impulses that are close to their source, while they are in what we know as the preconscious or subconscious. To think would then be to use terms that are less and less cognitive, more and more loaded with affectivity. It might possibly come about that the highest possible form of intelligence is one in which the alternatives are essentially nothing but affective states, states of feeling. The alternatives are decided not by reasoning, but by feeling. Some characteristics of genius will not be inconsistent with such a view.”

Now, if we look at some of the accounts of Einstein, by those who knew him, his highest praise for a good theory or a good piece of work, was not that it was correct, nor that it was exact, but that it was beautiful. He would never consider what he felt to be an ‘ugly’ theorem. In some ways, he had what we call the artistic temperament. To him thinking and feeling were closely allied: feeling came first and the thought and verbalization came later.  I remember his saying of a well-known American physicist, that he really couldn’t understand how anybody could know so much and understand so little.

Einstein always emphasized you could know too many facts and get lost. His arguments were typical of his intuitive approach. He always spoke quite openly over the aesthetic appeal of the beauty and harmony of certain conceptions of classical physics. It was this feeling closely allied to his musical talent that guided him in his scientific thinking: “Then, we need inspiration, not only in the scientific and the artistic things of life, but in the ordinary facts of behaviour.”  and our teacher often emphasized this point.

Russell in his analysis of ethics says, “Ethics is derived from passions. There is no valid method of travelling from passions to what ought to be done. The practical distinction among passions comes as regards their success. Some passions lead to success in what is desired, others to failure. If you pursue the former, you will be happy, if the latter unhappy. I do not know any rational ground for the view that the man who brings widespread happiness at the expense of misery to himself is a better man than the man who brings unhappiness to others and happiness to himself.”  For Russell, this was his intellectual conclusion. He wasn’t happy with it and he didn’t live quite like that. Essentially, he’s saying there’s no difference between good or bad, there’s no difference of value between the two. It can’t be intellectually established and there’s simply a difference of passions.

Our teacher said that the prajnā must tell us what to do in daily life. It must inspire the ordinary person in daily life, and it is not a question of exceptional cases.  “The mind can be made one-pointed by dwelling on the scriptures and the logical aspect of the scriptural Truth.  And this leads to a vision, a subjective picture of Truth, sometimes symbolic, which flashes suddenly on the conscious mind from the superconscious region.” (not the subconscious region, the superconscious region).  “You will acquire a state of which you are today unaware, but which is an integral part of your mind. That state is called samadhi, when the Truth will be made clear to you.”

Then in the Gita, Shri Shankara gives two main methods of meditation on ‘That’, and on the essence of the ‘Thou’. “The meditation on ‘That’ reaches its culmination”, he says, “in the universal vision, in the 11th chapter of the Gita.”  It’s often a surprise that the Gita doesn’t end with that universal vision. But if we look at it, we shall see that Arjuna perceived the Lord, as Shri Shankara says, “The Lord has been presented as the great human being.”  Then he has been presented as the acme of all the best of the attributes:  “Of waters, I am the ocean; of radiant things, I am the sun.” Then in the 11th chapter, he shows himself as ‘all’ – not merely the great and the good, but as the whole universe.

Arjuna is overwhelmed by this. He’s not able to enter into it. He’s not yet ready to find the essence of himself and the essence of the universe. This is shown with very great psychological subtlety in the Gita, by one of the things he says. When he confronts that vision, he’s shown the future. He’s shown the warriors in the battle who will die in the battle.  The Lord says, “Now fight this battle as an instrument of mine.” And Arjuna sees the forms of the warriors in the universal form of the Lord. He says, “All the sons of Dhritarashtra with hosts of princes, Bhishma, Drona, and that son of a charioteer.”

This was the great Karna who had been abandoned by the parents and he’d been brought up by a charioteer and the great princes used to sneer at him.  Even at this moment, when the divine glory was revealed, Arjuna still spoke of him as ‘that son of a charioteer’. When Krishna speaks of him, he calls him by name, Karna, but Arjuna was still in his individuality, ‘that son of a charioteer’.

Shri Shankara says, “The Path is to be engaged without intermission in doing works for the Lord’s sake and meditating with concentrated mind on the Lord in the universal form.”  This is the path of karma-yoga, until the man begins to move from his individuality and to begin to seek for an identity. This is the first of the meditations Shri Shankara gives.

The next one is the meditation on the essence of the ‘Thou’. “This”, says Shri Shankara, “is finding the knower of the field”. The field is the body, all the physical characteristics and the mental characteristics. It’s discrimination, but not a discrimination performed by the mind, but a discrimination of the Self from the mind.  Our teacher says, “You say to discriminate the Self from the mind, but that is all we have.” He says, “None of the Western philosophers have solved this point. All think the mind is the Self.” He says, “It’s the glory of the Yoga that the Self is different from the mind, different from the intellect, different from the unmanifest.”

Then there are those two.  There is the supreme Self, “Brahman is the supreme Self”, says Shri Shankara in chapter 8, verse 3. “It is at the command of this imperishable supreme Self that heaven and earth remain held in their places. Brahman, the Imperishable, transcends all.”  That same Brahman existing as the innermost Self in every individual body is called Adhyatma. He says “That, which first chose itself as the innermost Self in the body and turns out, in the end, to be identical with the supreme reality, Brahman, is called Adhyatma.”

Our teacher comments on this, “The Self is also realized. When you realize your self as the witness of all operations of the mind, this is the first step of the vision of the macrocosmic Self revealed in the composition of the microcosmic self.”  The first step then, he says, is to find what witnesses the body and the mind. This is the first step, as Shri Shankara says, in finding in the end that the Brahman, which is the innermost Self in the body, is the same as the supreme reality Brahman called Adhyatma.

Then there are those two and our teacher said, “The meditations in Patanjali are mainly directed towards the witness Self and to worship of the supreme Self, which in Patanjali, is Ishvara, the creator of the universe.  And to that extent, the doctrine of Patanjali is a limited doctrine. It takes us only so far.” But he said, “There is the Lord in the heart of every living being.  It was by inhibition of the mind, by meditation, that Newton was able to add as many inventions to the realm of science as the years he lived. People think, “Well, he had an exceptionally great mind.”  Break this prejudice at once. When Newton was at school, his teacher complained that he was the dullest boy in the school. Dismiss the ideas, ‘I cannot do this, I cannot study’. They are your enemies who have inspired you with these ideas. You are Spirit. You have that power, the light of God in your mind. If you bring it into play, you can become artists, constructors in the realm of Spirit. You can raise edifices, not second to those raised by Socrates or Shakespeare. Each and every one of you can do that. Infinite, endless are the potentialities.

“Spiritual absorption takes place when you awaken the ultra-cognitive faculties. This is done by the practice of Yoga step-by-step. This, my friends, is the true atomic bomb. Split the atom of your mind. When a physical atom can encase in itself so much energy that it can cause the death of 80,000 people in a few hours; the spiritual atom of buddhi, if you can split it, will give rejuvenation to millions of people. Know the Truth by the faculty, which is dormant in an ordinary mind, which holy Patanjali calls ‘ritambhara’. Elsewhere it is called prajnā, in the Gita it is called sthita- prajnā, the words mean one and the same thing.

“My object is that these thoughts should reach the recesses of your heart so that you may practise it, so that you may live as true human beings, not sub-human beings as we are today. Concentration itself is only the method, by itself valueless. It is to be judged by the result. The Yoga subscribes to the theory that the source of the scriptures, which is perfect, is located in the hearts of all. Omniscience, control of the forces of life, freedom, they constitute the yogic happiness.  I’ve seen many libraries, but there’s a greater library still in each human mind. How can we approach this library, in which is hidden the tiny volume of peace and omniscience? It is hidden very deep. You have to dive deep through meditation, and remove veils after veils from the mind. It is called the hidden name of God by Arabs and Jews – only one word, which contains all.”

Now our teacher gave some of the practices, but he said, “The important thing is not to feel that something is being created by practice. Only to feel that something already existent is being revealed.” In Buddhism, they give the example of a desert and in some places in the desert, you see weeds. Then in other places, you see an oasis where there’s a deep well, and in that well, the travellers can wash and can drink and they can rest.  Where there are only weeds, the presence of those weeds in the desert is a proof that there’s water underneath. Therefore, by digging at those weeds, the water is bound to be found. The weeds, it’s said, are the distractions and passions and disturbances of the mind. They are the weeds, which are a proof of the existence of the pure Buddha-nature below. Therefore, if they’re dug, it doesn’t matter what the top appearance of the earth is, there is a proof that the water is below.

The main practice he gave was the repetition of ‘Om’. He said that Yoga is practice and detachment. Practice is the objective function, detachment is the subjective.  The commentators on Patanjali say that, for people who are very intense, these two words are enough. If we need to learn a language, if we know the necessity is very great, then it’s enough to be told, “Here’s the book, learn it, cut out everything else.” But if one’s perception of the necessity isn’t so strong, then it will be necessary for our friends to make a programme for us and to arrange sessions and say, “Now, for so long, work at the grammar, then do the exercises, then have them correct it, and then you should learn this and this.”  There will need to be a programme.  But the danger of the programme is we may feel, “Oh, well, if we just do the programme, then it’s enough.” The purpose is, that we should in the end think of the language the whole time until, finally, we think in the language.  In Buddhism, this is a very important term, ‘spiritual translation’. They say, “For years, our thoughts have to be translated into spiritual terms, no easy matter sometimes; but finally it’ll become natural that they will be spiritual.”

Then our teacher spoke of posture. Steady and comfortable position is to be adopted for meditation but the spinal column in the neck must be upright. If this is not observed, then the vital energy which flows through the cells and fibres of the body will be restricted. The vitality that is needed to keep the body going will be distributed in other directions, man will have imperfect nutrition and development of the body. In that case, also the Yoga will defeat its own purpose.

How is the posture required? No anxious endeavouring. Some people always endeavour anxiously, strain the neck like a crane to find the result, or when it will be down, and so on. This is the wrong way. The Zen philosophy of China and Japan is based on the principle to let nature work through you – not to let the operations of nature be interfered with by your puny anxiety. It does not mean not to plan, but it is done with deliberation, determination, and composure.  Transforming the mind into infinity gives a perfect posture.

These are the two conditions, to sit in the posture, then to give up anxious endeavouring and transform the mind into infinity. Time is to be turned into infinity; no space, no time. This is a key to the real life. Take care of the mind and the behaviour will take care of itself – it applies to posture also. How shall we know we have conquered the posture – when the Yogi is not overpowered by the pairs of opposites.

Our senses have been created with a tendency to move outward. Man looks outside himself rather than inside, but a wise man desirous of immortality looks to his inner Self with the eye turned inward. Our teacher often stressed this, that insofar as we are aware of death, the desire and the longing for immortality becomes stronger, then we should begin to turn within.

Now in hundreds of places in these lectures, and there are hundreds, he gives the essence of the practice as ‘Om’.  It has the form and is a map of the human entity – not merely the mind, but three states, waking, dream and dreamless sleep, and also what is beyond and supports them. It has a form and it has a sound, a long drawn out, “Om” – and one can feel the sound.  The world traditionally was created out of this sound; the world is maintained by the radiations of this primary sound, coming from God. All that is highest and holiest is summed up in this one ‘Om’. Understand the meaning; study carefully in some of the Yogic books.  In the ‘Yoga Handbook’, in the book on ‘Training the Mind through Yoga’, some of the meanings are explained.

Sit quiet.  Say mentally, with comprehension of the sanctity and meaning of the word, “Om, Om, Om”, again and again for half an hour, excluding other thoughts. Be dissolved in the cosmic mind, which is ‘Om’.  From this is the attainment of the inner Self and the removal of the impediments.  Disease, instability, unfavourable circumstances, lethargy, and many others are removed by the repetition of ‘Om’, with concentration, with worship – and the inner Self is revealed.  Our teacher often gave this practice.

In the great battle of Mahabharata, Karna is the hero on one side, and Arjuna is the centre of the army on the other. They know that if Arjuna is killed, the whole opposition will collapse. Karna possesses a weapon, which has been blessed by the cosmic force, so that it must succeed in its effect. It cannot fail. He knows that if he launches this weapon, Arjuna will be killed by it, if it is aimed at him. This is one of the great sources of anguish for Arjuna, the knowledge that his chief opponent possesses this weapon. Now in the Mahabharata, it’s very, very acutely observed. In the heat of the battle, they forget to use it.

We could say, “Oh ridiculous.”  No. It’s a very acute observation and our teacher obliquely referred to it. He said, “This ‘Om’ will remove the impediments if you do it. It will reveal the Self if you do it.” Then he said, “If you do it. If you do it.”

From it, comes the attainment of the inner Self and the removal of impediments. If you meditate on ‘Om’ in the heart, feeling the vibrations of the sound in the heart when it’s repeated, and then meditating on the form in light in the heart, until the object becomes radiant, as our teacher said, “It becomes radiant”, you will come to know what is your inner Self. Secondly, all the impediments will be removed. We want the removal of the impediments to the higher vision, and we want the higher vision itself. Both these things are available by ‘Om’.”