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   The Problem

As we shall see Yoga is hard work, involves solitude, renunciation of lower pleasures, the difficult battle of getting control of the mind, and acceptance of pain with equanimity. Nobody would pursue these things or take this approach to life without some compelling reason. One obviously has to have some kind of motivation to do these things that  are contrary to the normal human urges of pursuing pleasure, fellowship, wealth, and fun. Indeed, nobody can throw himself  into the real yoga with an adequate aspiration if he does not have a strong motivation and purpose. It must be as if he's running from a ferocious beast! So nobody embraces the hard and seemingly anti-human teachings of yoga without first arriving at "the problem."

The Problem must be seen and registered clearly or nobody will pursue it. Yoga is full of dabblers and the curious. But only those who become convinced that a sad problem exists, and deeply dissatisfied about this problem, throw themselves into yoga with enough sincerity and energy so as to get divine fruit.

The Problem has both existential aspects such as "What is the point of this repetitive samsara?" and technical, metaphysical aspects like: "How can I purify the particular samskaras in my body that project this unsatisfactory waking world?" or "How can I get the mind to stop moving and manufacturing dualistic images"? As that body gets purified by chastity, fasting, and meditation the external projected samsara thus necessarily keeps improving and becomes more satvic and "The Problem" starts diminishing. Aum.

The Yoga-Sutra states the problem clearly here and refers to both these aspects:


Those who develop wisdom come to see all creation, externals, and perceivables as unsatisfactory, containing inherent suffering (such as anxiety). This on account of constant change, conditioning (karma), and due to the unstable, dualistic nature of the natural forces that underly phenomena and the movement of the mind itself. This is the problem that yoga is pursued to solve.

This verse, whether in spare translations or the renderings presently offered, is one of the more jittery, obscure verses of the Sutra. It is also one of the verses that most challenges the western mind once it manages to get a peek at its import. Having studied the verse many years, as well as come to understand its value (the Yoga-Vasistha helps a great deal) I have tried to unload its real content, a bit beyond what a spare translation would produce. Another way of putting it: I have rendered the verse in such a way that it's right in-the-face and you can't deny what it says, or why it says it. I do believe one could chase around 50 thousand yoguh mavens with this verse for the next thousand years, and they would run from through hill and dale, screaming like children running from a witch on a raised stick. For one must get sick of the world, and cynical about its fulfillments, before he sets foot on the path of yoga. Do most yoga-mavens even accept this thought?

It turns out that Yoga is God-search. The purpose of Yoga is to come to know God directly and end suffering. According to the Bhagavad-Gita, one comes to yoga through three common impulses: suffering, desire for good things, and sheer love-of-God. Krsna explained to Arjuna that these are the three types who seek and find God. Let me list them again:

-- The man of suffering

-- The seeker of some particular thing other than God

-- The man who knows that God is the only thing worth having.

The Yoga-Sutra is implying here that the recognition of suffering, and the unsatisfactory nature of the material creation, is the best platform for undertaking the path of yoga. You become a "man (or woman) of suffering" when you realize the truth of this verse, saying "This is a repetitive samsara!" You also become the 2nd type even thinking, "I want true knowledge," or "I want mastery over theses karmic limitations and afflictions." You become, also, the 3rd type when you say: This yoga is giving me God-knowledge and bliss, and I prefer it to these other things I used to chase." But one can say the Yoga-Sutra, in this verse, is giving dignity to Krsna's first type: the man of suffering. This despondency was the state that Rama attained in the Yoga-Vasistha that made him finally ready for higher knowledge according to the Sage Vasistha.

The verse above tends to be ignored by those interested in body-yoguh which is not the same thing as yoga. I would say it even goes against the wishes and dispositions of most. It's not an easy statement. But it's included in the Yoga-Sutra because this attitude -- the recognition of the unsatisfactory nature of material creation or "the seen" -- is the place of wisdom.

The reason this recognition -- the same one attributed to Buddha -- is auspicious for yoga is that yoga involves disengagement from the material creation and cleansing of the mind which is soaked with the markings (samskaras) of the material creation. The best platform for undertaking this most prodigious of all human battles is to become thoroughly convinced "there is nothing out there worth seeking," and even, in the wonderful Sankarian sense: "There is nothing out there." (You thought there was, but it was just a rope across the path at dusk that you thought was a snake.) This attitude creates vairagya, which is dispassion and  detachment. The experience of bliss in yogic meditation, moreover, increases that vairagya because one comes to prefer it over the desultory thrills of the exterior creation. But the best yogis will have matured to the point that they are convinced that the material creation offers nothing truly worth attaining. This makes the task of concentrating the mind all the easier, as one loses his interest in the external. 

The wonderful avadhuta Nityananda spoke this:

"What is visible  is transient; it is perishable."

Nityananda, Chidakasha Gita

It is partly the transience of outer phenomena that, in the eyes of the wise, make it unsatisfactory. Recognition of the unsatisfactory nature of the dualistic creation helps the yogi or yogess achieve dispassion or vairagya, specified in the next two verses, which vairagya in turn helps immensely with the stilling of the mind unto bliss and samadhi.


Samsara (worldly experience) is the result of inability to distinquish between creation and God though they are absolutely separate. By samyama on God (Purusa) as distinct from even the most attractive aspects of creation one gets knowledge of God.

This verse was brought forward from deeper in the text because it's an amplifier and clarifier of 1:4. The term "samyama" comes in the section on meditation, and means perfect concentration. Repeatedly in the Yoga-Sutra arises the phrase "knowledge of the difference." This refers to a final yogic attainment of distinguishing between God as perceived within, and His creation. It is usually put as discriminating the difference "between satva and Purusha," satva is the most pleasant and desirable aspects of the creation. For this reason the faculty of discrimination is central to spiritual knowledge and the attainments of yoga. The verse is saying that our dualistic experience comes about because of our inability to distinguish between these two. We see God in the karmic play though He is only reflected there. We project reality onto unsatisfactory karma, and chase the lesser thing, remaining enmeshed in it; enmeshed in worlds.

The last three verses might well have fit in the later section on Metaphysics as they define our fundamental existential problem. However, it is good to state the fundamental metaphysical problem yoga seeks to solve right at the start, even if it is a new and strange idea to most seekers. In fact, Patanjali did state it by his third verse. Nightly we separate ourselves from the dualistic world-miasm and are happy to completely forget it, in fact knowing with assurance that it does not exist. Yet when we awake, drawn back to our vasana-ridden body and entering back into it, we become enstupidated again. Yoga seeks to destroy this problem in the waking state, and waking sorrows.


The afflictions/distractions are: Ignorance, asmita (the  sense of "I exist"), desire, aversion, and attachment.

We can say that "distractions" here means any distraction from full at-one-ment with God, or anything that keeps one from the highest state sought in the Yoga-Sutra, which would be described variously as nirbikalpa samadhi, kaivalya, or dharma-megha-samadhi. You will see along the way that the Sutra's categorization of "sense of being" or "I exist" as a distraction is difficult to accept and that this is necessarily the last "distraction" a devotee is willing to give up on his way to nirvikalpa samadhi, if he wishes to pursue it.


Ignorance is the substrate of the other four, whether the four are in a dormant, reduced, controlled, or expanded state.


Ignorance is taking the non-eternal, impure, evil, and non-atman to be eternal, pure, good, and atman.

Our normal relation with the exterior world is to regard it as real though it is transient, the accretion of mental fluctuations and remembered experiences, and thus not any more real than a dream. We perceive desirables in the waking world though it contains no desirables. We effectively worship the external world, throughout our days, as the one worthy and the one desirable. At that time we don't give much thought to the divine place from which the world arises, or to the Eternal. This notwithstanding the fact that we utterly forget it and regard it as wholly non-desirable and even non-existent throughout the nightly sleep state. We could not worship the world or its contents in this way unless we were temporarily deluded into thinking they were eternal, pure, good, and worthy (atman). Yet every night we break that delusion and abandon the world utterly. It is actually the body that binds our mind to the world illusion during the waking state.

This is a very inspirational and purifying verse to ponder. The whole substrate of this verse is the recognition that in all things/experiences that humans seek, they are really seeking atman, and that as the Upanishad says, only "the Self" is dear; that it is the Self that makes other things seem dear. When you have fond memories of moments in the past, or perhaps those memories of moments of childhood that seem to telescope into other worlds or lives, you are really remembering how in those moments you sensed the Self. It was not really "that blue sky" or "those playmates' happy cries" or "those trees" that give you joy on remembrance. Rather, it is your memory of the Self in that time, which you call to mind again through that picture frame as it were. Now we come to view a variety of things as stand-ins or substitutes for The Self. The verse is pointing that out. But to remind us of the truth we ourselves repair to the two sleep states nightly, utterly abandon all that is here, and abide there in the self unconsciously.


Asmita, or the sense "I exist," arises when Pure Consciousness, the power-of-knowing, gets associated  with the body and  its senses.

Maybe the most difficult aspect of Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra is here: For the highest attainment advocated in the Yoga-Sutra the aspirant must lose even the awareness of his own existence. Let's first deal with the situation in which the goal of losing a sense of existence is not attractive.

Who wants to lose the sense of his own existence? It sounds like obliteration and who can get attracted to that? This is where the Yoga-Sutra becomes challenging. Indeed, the Sutra itself states elsewhere that even sages fear giving up the individual ego which feels like the prospect of death. It helps to realize two things: First, this state is one that is intermittent in the highest form of samadhi or nirvikalpa. A yogi who had the appearance of nirvikalpa samadhi, and that intermittent "no I" state would be Nityananda of Ganeshpuri. He had lost many of his human qualities such as conversation, likes and dislikes, or interactivity with others. Indeed, another frightening term for the Yoga-Sutra's goal is "kaivalya" which means isolation. Yet it should be remembered that Nityananda was highly attractive to humanity, was imbibing higher bliss, and showered blessings on others via siddhi. This relates to the "dharma-megha-samadhi" state, another of the Sutra's higher goals, which means "raincloud of good." The aspirant must develop faith that as he gives up the lower ego this sacrifice makes him become a greater blessing to others. Yet this does not offer total comfort when confronted with the prospect of radical alteration of one's identity or explosion of the ego into the sea of the Purusha.
Yet another way we can entertain this prospect as a goal, perhaps, is to resort to considering the state of deep dreamless sleep and realize that we each already seek this state -- and experience it without full awareness -- nightly during dreamless sleep. During that state, even the thought "I exist" is lost or is intermittent, seeming to appear only on the way toward waking or some lower perch close to the state of dreaming. Thus we can see that we experience this ego annihilation already nightly and unconscious nirvikalpa samadhi nightly.

Now the problem with this route is that the dreamless sleep state, as a goal, is unsatisfactory to the human waking mind. The Upanishads find fault with both sleep states: The dreaming on account of its transience and dualistic nature (good and bad things happen); the dreamless sleep on the very account that an "I" becomes obliterated, or as the Upanishad states: "One has gone as if to oblivion. I see no good in this."

The verse can also be viewed as being at odds with Sutra 2:1 which prescribes bhakti. In the devotional state of worship-of-the-Lord there is an "I" that worships the divine Other, the Lord, getting bliss and rapture in this state that conduces to samadhi. Bhakti-yoga is an I-Thou enterprise. This problem might be solved by understanding bhakti as the beginning of a process that ends in oneness with the Lord where the small "I" disappears and is subsumed. Yet then in that state the "I Exist" or asmita of The Lord can continue to exist. However, the Yoga-Sutra here makes no such distinction between the jiva's "I" and the Lord's as a distraction or form of ignorance. Indeed, the high-fallooting non-dualistic of Vedanta, much to the dismay of a dualist or bhakta, regards Isvara, the Lord of the Universe, as basically a deluded jiva.

This Sutra verse deals with an ultimate, the same ultimate as it's stated goal of kaivalya. The bhakta and happy yogin has no need to press for it.. Rather, "He will play in the fields of siddhis for many years."

Now, let us address the verse from a mechanical point-of-view to understand what it is saying. How is it that the sense "I exist" arises from the "power of knowing" when it combines with the instruments of knowing, in the way that yeast, flour, and water result in bread? This is a difficult question to get one's head around since it deals with the core of our own being, just as it is difficult for a fish to understand that it lives in water. The verse states that the thought "I exist" arises when the pure knowing quality of Purusha gets involved with the bodily senses of sight, sound, touch, etc. A paragraph from the Yoga-Vasistha explains this verse:

"The eyes but see: the notions pleasant, unpleasant, etc. arise, not in the eyes, but elsewhere--it is even so with the other senses. Hence, the sense-functions are not evil. If egoistic thought is linked to these sense functions (which arise in a moment) there is mental agitation."

Yoga Vasistha

Remember that the "power of knowing" in verse 2:6 is Nirguna Brahman, Pure Consciousness, or what is also called The Self. Now this Yoga-Vasistha verse helps explain how the mixing of that power-of-knowing with the senses can be identified as the cause of the "sense I exist."

The verses present a metaphysical scenario in which individual sense faculties get developed -- eyes, ears, etc. -- and that this alone becomes the substrate for a unique jivahood or "I" as the power of knowing looks out through those particular senses.

The Yoga-Vasistha verse recommends that the power-of-knowing be disconnected from one's senses, just as happens naturally nightly in sleep and in the state of samadhi as the sense functions of the body are abandoned.

What the Yoga-Vasistha paragraph above actually describes is the state of pratyahara in which the life force reverses itself up the spine and ceases to enliven the outward-going senses. This disconnection between the Seer and the senses, apart from being the way into samadhi, is already is experienced by all when falling asleep and in the death process.

When Vasistha states "there is mental agitation" through this connection -- it means "there then is a jiva, with it's history, conditioning, worries, desires etc."

As is usual with the Yoga-Vasistha, a philosophical point-of-view is much more in evidence than practical yogic experience. The above Vasistha verse, by itself, speaks as if simply disconnecting these two would lead to a happy state and leaves out the vital factor of samadhi. But without the jiva becoming subsumed in ananda and Pure Consciousness -- this disconnection itself, or pratyaharaitself, is an unhappy state. This state of pratyahara, which is a process of reversal and necessary to the dissolution of I-ness or asmita, is discussed later with the YS verse 2:54 which broaches pratyahara itself.

A summary of this commentary:

My view is that there is no need at all for the aspirant to make efforts toward getting rid of his "sense of being" for these 7 reasons:

1) We already experience it in prajna/sushupti (dreamless sleep),
2) The state arises intermittently after the acquisition of savikalpa samadhi, and
3) The bhakta prefers to enjoy the bliss of the I-Thou interaction with the blissful Lord and this can certainly continue during many incarnations with no harm, and
4) Asmita is the last thing to go
5) Even the Lord of all Cycles, Isvara (Saguna Brahman) and our natural divine Father -- has not relinquished his "I," and
6) It is the role of Brahman to fold up the universe into a "night of Brahman" or non-existence at the end of his grand cycle and there is no need for us to hurry it along, and
7) The falling into Nirvikalpa and dissolution of one's jiva-I will best happen on its own through contact with the sat-chit-ananda and there is little that can be done from the egoic point-of-view to "make" it happen. A piece of salt that interacts with the sea will surely dissolve. The devoted yogi who practices brahmacharya and intense meditation will more likely be hurrying and hustling to somehow KEEP his "I" intact sooner than he is in a rush to totally lose it!

There is no need for the yogin to try to lose his asmita or "Sense of I" for the reasons stated. There is only need to get addicted to God's causeless bliss through brahmacharya, bhakti, and meditation. Egoistic thought is what the Lord as Isvara continuously applies to his creation, in most systems involving Saguna Brahman. In other words, the Lord of the long-cycled universe itself acts as a lawgiver and Father having his own "I."

My view is that the yogi, yogess, bhakta or devotee has no need to renounce his "I" and that this "distraction" can be carried along a long way. It is the jiva who experiences Nirguna and Saguna Brahman as bliss. Without that human experiencer there is no bliss in human terms. The Divine Lord which the Yoga-Sutra calls Isvara and who is Being, Consciousness, and Bliss plus an original Divine "I" -- wanted a jiva to exist who could then experience -- like a servant, child, or best beloved soul-mate -- the bliss, siddhi, and upgrade of the Lord and be full of inexpressible gratitude and lofty human joy. It is the asmita or "sense of I" which experiences that in this path of Yoga, and for the reasons stated there is no need to renounce it. It dissolves surely enough on its own with the arising of the transcendental perceptions such as ananda, Aum, jyoti, and the inner smells and sounds.  Aum. Practice yoga with your "sense of I" and love and enjoy God. Ramakrishna repeatedly made the yogic statement:

 "A salt doll went in to measure the sea."

It speaks of the inevitability of losing the "I" or asmita by contact with the Sat-Chit-Ananda and genuine sadhana.

One more point about this verse: Most translations of this verse refer to "the senses" but not the body. I placed "the body and its senses" into my rendering. It is more instructive and useful for the devotee or religious man to think in terms of "the body" rather than "the senses." The senses reside indeed in something more basic which is the body. The entire body is sensible and we have many ways of perceiving the world through it. The body is what draws back to this projected incarnation after sleeping; the body is what we strove hard to get and to build up when we were drawn to this incarnation. And dissolution of attachment to our bodies is what frees us to experience religion's fruit which is bliss, world-upgrade, and siddhi including samadhi. The body is the root of samsara and projected the samsara. Thus it is more helpful to think not of the "senses" as the ultimate source of asmita, but the body. So for best understanding I would write verse 2:6, indeed, the way presented above.


The afflictions are to be suppressed by meditation.


The suppression of distracting vrittis is attained by abhyasa and non-attachment.


That suffering which has not yet come can be warded off.

This verse happily answers the question "Can karma not yet experienced be warded off? Dissolved? Short circuited? Destroyed? Can we sit it out?" The answer is yes. How? By yoga, which will be described below. This is very good news. The sutra fails to signify another bit of good news: Even karma already experienced, and the effects of it, can be destroyed through Yoga. Isvara, the Lord, who is sought by the yogin, is not constrained or controlled by even the past, and has Lordship over the past. This is clearly stated in the Upanishads. Krsna says in the Bhagavad-Gita a wonderful thing:

"He who meditates on me with a oneness of mind, ever united to be by incessant worship, I remove all his deficiencies and make permanent his gains."

Krsna just described yoga there. The very purpose of yoga is, in fact, to help the aspirant to meditate on God "with a oneness of mind," and become united to Him.


The cause of that suffering which should be warded off is the entanglement of the Seer with the seen.

To get untrammeled bliss, samadhi, end suffering, know God and become a boon to your surroundings -- you need to stop worshiping the external ephemeral creation and turn back to God, worshiping That which is worthy of worship. When you turn your sight back to the source of sight, the distinction between That and this will be known.

This verse is similar to 1:4 which speaks of the Seer becoming "assimilated" with the seen, like milk mixed in water.

10:1 -- (A.O.)

The problem is solved by getting established in samadhi, which is liberation.


The seen consists of the elements and the sense organs. It is of the nature of Prakriti. Its purpose is experience and liberation of the jiva.


The seen is for the purpose of serving Purusha.

Fortunately, we can use the very creation itself to attain liberation. With proper practice we can use nature and our dualistic state, like an anvil, to hammer out the difference between the Seer and the seen. As Ramakrishna put it, we can use the one thorn of flawed dualistic scriptures and flawed, dualistic activities to pull out the thorn of ignorance and limitation. How to do this? Now yoga will be described in essence.

Introduction |  The YS: Path To God-Knowledge  |  The Summary Verses
Western Confusion About Yoga  |  On Brahmacharya
The Essence of Yoga |  The Problem  |  On Preparation
On Meditation  |   On Meditation Objects |  On Inner Divine Light
On Aum  |   On the 4th Pranayama
 |   On Samadhi  |  On Siddhis |  The State Of The Sage  |  Yoga-Sutra Metaphysics  |  APPENDIXES
COPYRIGHT 2011 Julian Lee. All Rights Reserved.