Metaphysics of the Yoga-Sutra
I use the term "metaphysics" to refer to broad systems of belief, whether practically realized or merely theoretical, about the structure of the universe and the laws of manifest existence. The Yoga-Sutra expresses a system of metaphysics, or understanding of the mechanics of material reality and karma. Some of it tallies with statements of the Upanishads; some appears to be unique to the view of Patanjali. Some statements are at variance with the Non-Dualistic views expounded by Sankara. Much of the metaphysical content is in the fourth and final chapter, but such references are found scattered about the Sutra. A lot of it deals with the nature of karma or samskaras and embodiment processes. I have gathered them together for this section.It is very good to have a metaphysical vision when entering into the more occult side of religious development.
The functions of the mind can always be known because of the constant nature of the Seer, the Lord, Purusha.
The transformation into another
body (for another incarnation) is
effected by the flow of prakritis; the jiva gets the
body natural and appropriate to it.
Actions are neither white nor black in the case of sages, in the case of others they are of three kinds.
Having the three kinds of samskaras, they fruit variously as conditions become appropriate.
Jati-desa-kala-vyavahitanam apy anataryam smrti-samskarayor ekarupatvat.
among the samskaras there
This is one of the most fascinating metaphysical statements, for me, that the Sutra makes. It is saying that samskaras (impressions) that we carry have an influence on one another.
And samskaras are without beginning because the will to live and desire for well-being are eternal.
This is a confusing verse and doesn't fit nicely into the metaphysics we have on hand in Hindu thought, so it requires some analysis. Some commentators use "desire is eternal" for this verse. Most translators use "beginningless" or "without beginning." The mind, on reading the verse, tends to add "without end" because if a thing has no beginning, yet exists, it has no end.
It is similar to the Buddhist statement "samsara has no head nor tail." Does it mean samskaras have no beginning -- or end? But it is the jiva who experiences samskaras. Neither Nirguna or Saguna Brahman can be said to experience samskaras. Thus these have to be relative to the jiva. Yet the suffering and limited jiva is a delusion that yoga aims to dissolve. How can the jiva, slated for dissolution, possess something that is eternal, and that being the worst part of him?
Or is it just that jiva may have started out on a timeline, but we can't really cipher out where his story started any more? This evokes statements by Vasistha in the Yoga-Vasistha: 'I have tried to to see where it all begins, and it can't be seen.' Could it be that since the jiva has the power to manufacture and invent pasts, for this reason there is no way to find a beginning for the vasana hairball?
And whose "will to live" is under discussion? That of the jiva, who at that primordial encountering God fears self-annihilation in Brahman? Or is it Isvara's will to live that's at cause? Is our "will to live" only Isvara's, beating in our own hearts?
The verse coming next says that samskaras are destroyed when their locus or substrate is destroyed. Thus the two verses will seem contradictory. Are samskaras only eternal from the point-of-view of a mind not yet dissolved by samadhi, just as a small boy who plays in the outdoors can get endless dirt upon himself? Is it that one's own samskaras and power to create them, within the context of one's own jiva-mind, are beginningless and endless?
Or does it relate to the power of the Pure Consciousness, Brahman, to generate infinite thoughts and vision?
Does in relate to some master dump of all creatures' samskaras, which are continually increased as deluded souls continually take birth? Some imprint in prakriti?
This is one of the more difficult verses of the Sutra. In Hindu metaphysics there are kosas or sheaths, related to an individual identity (jiva) which contain the storehouse of samskaras or conditioning. Samskaras relative to this physical life are stored in the body and brain, the samskaras of the astral life in the astral body, etc. It is not considered that Brahman, the infinite Pure Consciousness, is a like a storehouse of samskaras. Rather, as pure consciousness, the "uncarved block," any notion, story, or conception can arise in Brahman. And why couldn't an "endless a vasana dump" be included.
Theoretically Saguna Brahman has access to all minds, all bodies, and all time -- and that would include the samskaras of all. We could say that as long as any material creation exists, since the material creation is nothing but samskaras, a great storehouse of same exists. The world-appearance containing mountains, seas, stones, earth, and sun are all nothing but samskaras.
Further, theoretically one person, able to connect with the samskaras of others, could get their samskaras tangled up with others, with those becoming his own, sort of like a pile of hairs becomes tangled together or a pile of paper clips become connected in tangles. There is a great deal of content in the Yoga-Vasistha that suggests this. The sage Vasistha relates tales in which he, or another person, decides to enter the body of another. Or they look upon another creature at some key moment and find themselves incarnated as that other creature. Then it happens that the original person forgets his old state and gets drawn into the stories and conditions of that new body, this being absurd, pathetic, or merely routine as the teller tells it. This would be a case one man's karma becoming continuous with that of others. Yoga-Sutra commentators have also asserted the prospect of a yogin enjoying the good karma of other people, that being listed as a kind of siddhi. This makes perfect sense considering the Sutra verse about the yogin occupying and living through several bodies simultaneously.
Then again in the long span of Hindu cosmology there is the "Night of Brahma" in which the creation is folded up into an unmanifest state. Certainly at that time there is an end to samskaras, at least accessible or present in any created body.
So the verse leaves some loose ends. Likely it means that for the jiva-mind, as long as his world exists, samskaras are endless just as a small boy who plays in the outdoors is able to get new dirt on him each day. But there is one more view.
In hard-core non-Dualistic Vedanta the very creator Himself, whether styled as Isvara or Brahma, is considered to be one more deluded soul. The greatest of all, and omnipotent in His creation, yet deluded like us. He himself has an outward-going mind, thus he keeps creating the universe. (My view is that God the Creator is much more comparable to a nirvikalpa yogi; outward turned at times, but capable of samadhi and knowing the Brahman reality as well, and the statements of Krsna comport with that idea. Indeed, why wouldn't God, king of the Universe, also be Enlightened since even human creatures can be. This never occurred to Sankara. But let's stay with the idea.) Thus in this verse the will to live and desire for well-being could belong to Isvara, whose breath breathes in us and whose heart beats behind ours. Patanjali may be referring to His will to live, and desire for well-being, and that being eternal, at least as eternal as a Day of Brahman. Then also His power to create endless conceptions which then become conditioning (samskaras) in the great "I" of God just as we little "I"s similarly trap ourselves -- that is endless. In this case, Patanjali may be taking Sankara's view of our very Creator Himself as the ultimate deluded Person.
Perhaps the real kernel of this verse is: "Don't bother to think about finally destroying all samskaras. As long a the mind and jiva-mind exist, there is an endless supply. Dissolve the substrate of samskaras instead, which is the individual 'I'" This may be Patanjali's intent, because the very next verse says this:
But as they are bound together by cause, effect, substratum and support, samskaras are destroyed when those are destroyed.
The verse says that one's samskaras can be destroyed when the the thing in which they are embedded is destroyed. "Substratum" here probably means the jiva along with it's kernel of unique I-ness, plus the bodies it possesses, the linga sharira (astral body) and causal body, and what we call the mind. Some commentators say "support" means the objects of perception that caused the original vasana or which may cause them now. When the substrate carrying the samskaras -- mind, body, and jiva -- are dissolved the samskaras have to go with them. Samskaras even exist in the physical body, a thing that "body workers" and emotional healers know. As a clear example, when the body dies and dissolves those emotional impressions embedded in it, a form of vasana, dissolve with it.
This raises the immediate question: Can samskaras not be destroyed in the aspirant while living in the body? Or at least changed? The answer to that is: Yes, they may be both destroyed and altered. The lack of mention of this is, in my view, of flaw of the text. Grace doesn't happen all at once in the form of samadhi, but we incrementally move into grace and more satvic lives by our yoga. Concomitantly with that, the samskaras must necessarily become more satvic, or "upgraded" if you might.
Yogic Topics Left Out of the Yoga-Sutras
The Yoga-Sutra assumes a lot of things about the reader. It is a text that arose from a yogic culture; not an introductory text to the yogic culture. Because it fails to mention certain things does not mean that they were not known, assumed, or ever part-and-parcel of that yogic system. Now that the text is available and even receiving attention from various and sundry, it is inevitable that it will have influence on peoples. This is a different age, in some ways much darker, and in other ways full of opportunity. The topics I will list here are topics that I believe could have easily been included in the Yoga-Sutra, but were left out either because they were viewed as not fundamental enough for such a text, or were assumed, or were of the nature of secrets.
The Sutra says nothing about meditation on space or akasa as a meditation object. In the ripest metaphysics that the Upanishads can hand you, akasa is only the 3rd evolute from Brahman, with prana itself first, then faith, then akasa. So infinite space (akasa) is very near to God. In fact, in practical application prana and akasa become synonymous. Thus space is one of the best meditation objects.
Part of my own good karma in this life was being born Christian and spending time in the Christian churches which are built in such a manner as to evoke akasa (space), God's third evolute (after faith). Then also, lucky enough to be a child under Isvara's great sky and see many cloudscapes, the play of light, the night sky and stars, and stories by scientists about the apparent infinity of even the material cosmos. All these, starting with the Christian churches with their exquisite reverb (again evoking akasa), helped me to comprehend space later as a meditation object itself. (Indeed, listening to a Gregorian chant within the beautiful reverb of a Christian church, or singing one as a monk or nun, puts the mind into awareness of akasa and this is no doubt why the White Europeans developed all these things, even if subconsciously.)
Indeed, space is a powerful meditation object. Patanjali lists a number of meditation objects, but leaves this out. With the inclusion of "experiences of dream" and "Meditation on whatever appeals" as meditation objects, it could have well been listed. Akasa is a common meditation object in yogic traditions. It is synonymous with prana and one of the first evolutes of Isvara. Infinite space could have been mentioned as an approach to meditating on the infinite Lord. I believe that this meditation object might have easily ranked with meditation on an experience from sleep or even ranked above it in value.
-- The Sutra says nothing about the phenomenon of shaktipat.. It also make no mention of kundalini which is an aspect of shaktipat. It is likely that these were well known but were considered secrets. This was likely considered secret. It is my opinion that most of the knowledge and experience that the Yoga-Sutra describes will be accompanied by shaktipat.
COPYRIGHT 2011 Julian Lee. All Rights Reserved.