To give you a taste of what
is inside this deeply profound ancient text, here is an
excerpt from the book, "How to Know God The Yoga Aphorisms of
Patanjali" by Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda
To purchase "How to
Chapter III. POWERS
1. Concentration (dharana) is holding the mind within a center of
spiritual consciousness in the body, or fixing it on some divine
form, either within the body or outside it.
The first five "limbs" of yoga have been discussed in the
preceding chapter. Three remain: concentration (dharana),
meditation (dhyana) and absorption (samadhi).
The centers of spiritual consciousness here referred to are the
seven lotuses (II, 49-50). In order to concentrate, you must
first fix your mind upon the Inner Light within one of these
lotuses, as your teacher directs. Or you may concentrate upon the
form of your Chosen Ideal, trying to visualize that form either
within a lotus or outside your own body altogether.
2. Meditation (dhyana) is an unbroken flow of thought toward the
object of concentration.
In other words, meditation is prolonged concentration. The process
of meditation is often compared to the pouring of oil from one
vessel to another, in a steady, unbroken stream. We have seen (1,
2) that Patanjali defines thought as a wave (vritti) in the mind.
Ordinarily a thought-wave arises, remains in the mind for a
moment, and then subsides, to be succeeded by another wave. In the
practice of meditation, a succession of identical waves are
raised in the mind; and this is done so quickly that no one wave
is allowed to subside before another rises to take its place. The
effect is therefore one of perfect continuity. If you shoot a
hundred feet of film without moving your camera or your object,
and then project the result on a screen, your audience might just
as well be looking at a single still photograph. The many
identical images are fused into one.
It will be seen from this definition that Patanjali 's dhyana does
not exactly correspond to our usual understanding of the word
"meditation." By "meditation" we commonly mean a more or less
discursive operation of the mind around a central idea. If, for
example, we say that we have been meditating on Christ, we are apt
to mean that we have not only tried to fix our minds on Christ's
ideal form but have also been thinking about his teachings, his
miracles, his disciples, his crucifixion, and so on. All this is
very good, but it is a mere preliminary to what may properly be
called dharana and dhyana.
3. When, in meditation, the true nature of the object shines
forth, not distorted by the mind of the perceiver, that is
Ordinary sense-perception is distorted and colored by the
imagination of the perceiver. We decide in advance what it is we
think we are going to see, and this preconception interferes with
our vision. Great painters have often been violently attacked
because they painted scenery as it actually looked, not as people
thought it ought to look.
It is only in the supersensuous perception of samadhi that we see
an object in the truth of its own nature, absolutely free from the
distortions of our imagination. Samadhi is, in fact, much more
than perception; it is direct knowledge. When Sri Ramakrishna told
Vivekananda, "I see God more real than I see you," he was
speaking the literal truth. For Ramakrishna meant that he saw God
in samadhi, while he saw Vivekananda with the eyes of his ordinary
sense-perception which must necessarily retain a measure of
4. When these three-concentration, meditation and absorption-are
brought to bear upon one subject, they are called samyama.
Samyama is simply a convenient technical term which describes the
three-fold process by which the true nature of an object is known.
5. Through mastery of samyama comes the light of knowledge.
6. It must be applied stage by stage.
Patanjali warns us not to go too fast. It is no use attempting
meditation before we have mastered concentration. It is no use
trying to concentrate upon subtle objects until we are able to
concentrate upon gross ones. Any attempt to take a short cut to
knowledge of this kind is exceedingly dangerous. One may, for
example, obtain certain psychic experiences while under the
influence of drugs. But such experiences, so obtained, can bring
no lasting spiritual benefits. On the contrary, they arc generally
followed by a relapse into complete agnosticism and despair.
The Vishnu Purana, one of the Hindu scriptures, teaches the
practice of meditation by stages, beginning with the worship of
God with form and culminating in the realization of the oneness of
Atman and Brahman:
Meditate on Vishnu, the Dweller in the hearts of all beings,
seated on a lotus within the rays of the sun, his body luminous,
adorned with diadem, necklace, earrings, and bracelets of great
luster, and holding conch shell and mace in his hands.
Then the wise man should meditate upon the luminous, benign form
of the Lord, without the conch shell and mace, but adorned with
As the mind becomes concentrated on the form, he must then keep
his mind on the form without ornaments.
Then he must meditate upon his oneness with the luminous form of
Lastly, he must let the form vanish and meditate upon the Atman.
7. These three are more direct aids to experience than the five
limbs previously described.
That is to say, the first five limbs of yoga arc only a form of
training for the aspirant, to prepare him for the practice of
samyama (concentration-meditation-absorption). The mind and
senses have to be purified by the cultivation of ethical virtues
and the whole organism has to be strengthened in order that it may
be able to undergo the tremendous experiences that await it. But
this is just the beginning. Even the perfection of samyama is
just the beginning. For, whenever we are inclined to feel proud of
some tiny indication of spiritual growth in ourselves, we shall do
well to re-member Brahmananda's amazing and sobering words:
"Spiritual life begins after sarnadhi."
8. But even these are not direct aids to the seedless sarnadhi.
The practice of samyama leads to the lower samadhi. But the
"seedless" samadhi (nirvikalpa) demands a further and even more
intense spiritual effort. (See chapter I, aphorism 51.) Nearly
everything Patanjali says here on the subject is simply
recapitulation.) Patanjali now speaks of nirvikalpa:
9. When the vision of the lower samadhi is suppressed by an act
of conscious control, so that there are no longer any thoughts or
visions in the mind, that is the achievement of control of the
thought-waves of the mind.
10. When this suppression of thought-waves becomes continuous, the
mind's flow is calm.
11. When all mental distractions disappear and the mind becomes
one-pointed, it enters the state called samadhi.
12. The mind becomes one-pointed when similar thought-waves arise
in succession without any gaps between them.
It has been said that if the mind can be made to flow
uninterruptedly toward the same object for twelve seconds, this
may be called concentration. If the mind can continue in that
concentration for twelve times twelve seconds (i.e., two minutes
and twenty-four seconds), this may be called meditation. If the
mind can continue in that meditation for twelve times two minutes
and twenty-four seconds (i.e., twenty-eight minutes and
forty-eight seconds), this will be the lower sarnadhi. And if the
lower samadhi can be maintained for twelve times that period
(i.e., five hours, forty-five minutes, and thirty-six seconds),
this will lead to nirvikalpa sarnadhi.
13. In this state, it passes beyond the three kinds of changes
which take place in subtle or gross matter, and in the organs:
change of form, change of time and change of condition.
Vivekananda takes, as an example, a lump of gold. Change of form
occurs when the gold is made first into a bracelet and then into
an earring. Change of time occurs as it gets older. Change of
condition occurs when the bright gold becomes dull, or wears thin.
Similar changes occur in subtle matter and in the thought waves
of the mind. The thought-waves may be of different kinds, may
refer to different periods of time, and may vary in intensity. But
the mind, in the state of samadhi, is beyond all three kinds of
14. A compound object has attributes and is subject to change,
either past, present or yet to be manifested.
15. The succession of these changes is the cause of manifold
Every object within the realm of differentiated matter has
attributes and is a compound object, since it is made of the three
gunas in varying combinations. As has already been explained in
chapter 1, the attributes of an object vary and change according
to the action of the gunas and the constitution of the samskaras.
Any object can change into any other object. Therefore, the
enlightened yogi sees no essential difference between a piece of
gold and a lump of mud. Hence, he acquires complete dispassion
toward the object of the phenomenal world.
16. By making samyama on the three kinds of changes, one obtains
knowledge of the past and the future.
Patanjali now begins to describe the various occult powers and the
methods by which they are acquired. All authorities, including
Patanjali himself, regard occult powers as the greatest stumbling
blocks in the path to truth. "Heaps of rubbish," Sri Ramakrishna
calls them. Buddha told his disciples very definitely never to put
their faith in miracles but to sec truth in the eternal
principles. Christ spoke sharply against those who "seek for a
sign," and it is unfortunate that his strictures were not taken
more seriously to heart by his followers.
Occult powers do, however, exist, and Patanjali, in his
comprehensive treatise on yoga psychology, obviously cannot
ignore them. We translate the aphorisms which follow for the sake
of completeness, but we do so with a minimum of technical
explanation. The sincere spiritual aspirant can have very little
concern with such matters.
In the West, these powers are seldom exhibited, and are therefore
the object of a good deal of skepticism. Yet they are all within
each one of us and could be de-veloped through constant practice.
Western man has made a different choice. He has preferred to
concentrate on the production of mechanical rather than
psychological powers; and so, instead of telepathy we have the
telephone, instead of levitation we have the helicopter, and
instead of clairvoyance we have television. We may regret the
rnaterialisrn that is expressed by such a choice; but perhaps it
is the lesser of two evils. A community of degenerated yogis,
using psychic powers for business and political ends, would be
even more unpleasant to live in than our own atom-wielding world.
So let us stop hankering after the psychic powers and turn back to
the true path toward spiritual growth, remembering Patanjali's
warning: "They are powers in the worldly state, but they are
obstacles to samadhi.
17. By making samyama on the sound of a word, one's perception of
its meaning, and one's reaction to it--three things which are
confused-one obtains understanding of all sounds uttered by living
Ordinarily, we are aware of no distinction between hearing the
sound of a word, understanding what it means, and reacting, in one
way or another, to the information it contains. If someone shouts
"fire" we jump to our feet in an instant. But the yogi is able to
separate these three functions. By making this samyama, he can
understand foreign languages and the sounds made by all kinds of
18. By making samyama on previous thought-waves, one obtains
knowledge of one's past lives.
When a thought-wave subsides, it remains within the mind, in a
minute, subtle form. Therefore it can be revived as memory. And
this memory can be made to extend backward into previous
19. By making samyama on the distinguishing marks of another man's
body, one obtains knowledge of the nature of his mind.
20. But not of its contents, because that is not the object of the
In order to know the contents of another man's mind, the yogi
would have to make a second sarnyama on the heart (aphorism 35 of
21. If one makes samyama on the form of one's body, obstructing
its perceptibility and separating its power of manifestation from
the eyes of the beholder, then one's body becomes invisible.
22. Thus, also, its sounds cease to be heard.
In other words, it is possible for the yogi, while remaining
present in a room, to obstruct the outward manifestation of his
body in such a way that the senses of other people will be unable
to detect it. The reality behind the outward manifestation will
remain, but, since this reality cannot be detected by the gross
sense organs of others, the yogi will become unseen, unheard,
unfelt, and so on.
23. By making samyama on two kinds of karma-that which will soon
bear fruit and that which will not bear fruit until later-or by
recognizing the portents of death, a yogi may know the exact time
of his separation from the body.
Portents of death include various physical and psychical
phenomena, together with visions of supernatural beings. (It is
better not to be too explicit here, lest the reader should alarm
himself unduly!) Hindus believe that it is very important to know
the exact hour of one's death in advance, because the thoughts one
is thinking at that moment will to some degree determine the
nature of one's afterlife.
24. By making samyama on friendliness, compassion, etc., one
develops the powers of these qualities.
The reference Here is to aphorism 33 of chapter I: "friendliness
toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the
virtuous." The yogi who masters this samyama has the power of
giving joy to everyone he meets, and relieving him from pain and
25. By making samyama on any kind of strength, such as that of the
elephant, one obtains that strength.
26. By making samyama on the Inner Light, one obtains knowledge
of what is subtle, hidden, or far distant.
The Inner Light is the light of the lotus within the heart,
referred to in aphorisrn 36 of chapter I.
27. By making samyama on the sun, one gains knowledge of the
28. By making samyama on the moon, one gains knowledge of the
arrangement of the stars.
29. By making samyama on the polestar, one gains knowledge of the
motions of the stars.
It has already been remarked that there is a strong resemblance
between the cosmology of Patanjali and the theories of modern
atomic physics. Yet the ancient Hindus had, as far as we know,
practically no scientific apparatus of any accuracy. This fact
alone would seem to offer some proof of the validity of the
psychic powers. For how else could these sages have formed such a
correct and comprehensive picture of the nature of the universe?
Their knowledge cannot have been based, as ours is, simply upon
sense-perception assisted by instruments.
30. By making samyama on the navel, one gains knowledge of the
constitution of the body.
31. By making samyama on the hollow of the throat, one stills
hunger and thirst.
32. By making samyama on the tube within the chest, one acquires
The motionlessness, for example, of the snake or the lizard. This
enables the yogi to meditate undisturbed by the involuntary
rnovements of his body.
33. By making samyama on the radiance within the back of the head,
one becomes able to see the celestial beings.
The radiance within the back of the head is not to be confused
with the radiance of the seventh lotus, the highest center of
spiritual consciousness, which is situated at the top of the head
(see 11, 50)
34. All these powers of knowledge may also come to one whose mind
is spontaneously enlightened through purity.
When the mind has reached a very high state of purification, the
psychic powers may come to it spontaneously and unbidden, without
the making of any
35. By making samyama on the heart, one gains knowledge of the
contents of the mind.
36. The power of enjoyment arises from a failure to discriminate
between the Atman and the sattwa guna, which are totally
different. The sattwa guna is merely the agent of the Atman, which
is independent, existing only for its own sake. By making samyama
on the independence of the Atman, one gains knowledge of the
In the ordinary state of consciousness, the highest enjoyment we
can know is the joy inspired by the guna of sattwa. This seems to
us, in our ignorance, to be identical with the joy of the pure
Atman; but it is not. Sattwa, even in its purest state, is still a
guna; and sattwic joy still contains a measure of egotism. What
What we have to understand is that the gunas are only agents of
the Atman, and that sattwic joy is only a pale reflection of the
joy of the Atman, which is without egotism and entirely
independent of the gunas. By making this samyama and
discriminating between Atman and sattwa, the yogi passes beyond
earthly enjoyment into the joy of the Atman itself.
37. Hence one gains the knowledge due to spontaneous
enlightenment, and obtains supernatural powers of hearing, touch,
sight, taste and smell.
38. They are powers in the worldly state, but they are obstacles
39. When the bonds of the mind caused by karma have been loosened,
the yogi can enter into the body of another by knowledge of the
operation of its nerve-currents.
"The yogi," says Vivekananda, "can enter a dead body and make it
get up and move, even while he himself is working in another
body. Or he can enter a living body, and hold that man's mind and
organs in check, and for the time being act through the body of
This recalls a story that is told about Shankara, the great
philosopher and saint. When Shankara was still a bov in his teens,
there was a philosopher named Mandan Misra who held that the life
of the householder was far superior to that of the monk; an
opinion which was widely shared throughout India. Shankara
determined to hold a debate with Misra. knowing that if he could
convert him he could also convert Misra's many disciples. After
considerable difficulties, he succeeded in making Misra agree to
this. It was understood that Shankara, if he lost, should become a
householder, and that Misra, if he lost, should become a monk. At
Shankara's suggestion, Misra's wife Bharati, herself a famous
scholar, acted as umpire.
After a debate of several days, Misra was ready to admit total
defeat. But Bharati said to Shankara: "Wait. Husband and wife are
one person. You have only defeated half of us. Now you must debate
with me. You may know all about philosophy, but I choose another
subject. I choose sex. It is a great science. Before you can
claim either of us as your disciples, you will have to debate with
me and defeat me on that."
For the moment Shankara was baffled. As a monk and a mere boy, he
knew nothing whatever about sex. However, a plan occurred to him.
He asked for a month's delay; and this Bharati granted.
At this time, it so happened that a king named Amaraka lay dying.
Shankara told his disciples to hide his own body in a safe place
and take great care of it. Then, by yoga power, he left his body
and entered the newly dead body of the king. Amaraka apparently
revived, and continued to rule the kingdom under the guidance of
Shankara-Amaraka proved to be a brilliant and just ruler, winning
the admiration of all. But Amaraka's two wives soon realized that
something extraordinary had happened. For the new Amaraka not only
showed astonishingly youthful energy; he seemed as ignorant of
sexual love as a baby. Meanwhile, the preoccupations of kingship
and domestic life began to cloud Shankara's mind. He began to
forget what he had done, why he had done it, and who he was. He
began to believe that he really was Amaraka, and not Shankara.
Shankara's disciples learned of this. Since monks were not
admitted to the court, they disguised themselves as wandering
musicians and so came into his presence. Then they began to sing
the poem called "Moha Mudgaram," "The Shattering of Delusion,"
which Shankara himself had composed:
Beloved, strange are the world's ways and vast thy ignorance. Who
is thy wife, and who thy son? Whose art thou? From what place come
Ponder this in thy heart and bow to God in reverence.
The words recalled Shankara to awareness of his own identity. The
body of King Amaraka fell dead to the ground as Shankara left it
and returned to his own body.
Later, when Shankara appeared at Misra's house, Bharati knew at
once what it was that he had done, for she also possessed yoga
powers, and she admitted defeat without further debate.
40. By controlling the nerve-currents that govern the lungs and
the upper part of the body, the yogi can walk on water and swamps,
or on thorns and similar objects, and he can die at will.
41. By controlling the force which governs the prana, he can
surround himself with a blaze of light.
This is the force which regulates the various functions of the
vital energy (prana). One of the brother-disciples of Sri
Ramakrishna actually had this power; and it is recorded that he
once used it to light the path for Ramakrishna on a dark night.
However, Ramakrishna later found it necessary to take the power
away from him because it was making him dangerously egotistic.
42. By making samyama on the relation between the ear and the
ether, one obtains supernatural powers of hearing.
43. By making samyama on the relation between the body and the
ether, or by acquiring through meditation the lightness of cotton
fiber, the yogi can fly through the air.
44. By making samyama on the thought-waves of the mind when it is
separated from the body-the state known as the Great Disincamation-all
coverings can be removed from the light of knowledge.
Like aphorism 39, this refers to the yoga power of Withdrawing the
mind from one's own body in order to make it pass into the body of
another. In this state of withdrawal, the "Great Disincamation,"
the mental coverings composed of rajas and tamas dwindle away and
the light of sattwa is revealed.
45. By making samyama on the gross and subtle forms of the
elements, on their essential characteristics and the inherence of
the gunas in them, and on the experiences they provide for the
individual, one gains mastery of the elements.
46. Hence one gains the power of becoming as tiny as an atom and
all similar powers; also perfection of the body, which is no
longer subject to the obstructions of the elements.
Not only can the yogi become as tiny as an atom but as huge as a
mountain, as heavy as lead, or as light as air. And the elements
cease to obstruct him. He can pass through rock. He can hold his
hand in the fire, unburned. He can walk through water, unwetted.
He can stand firm against a hurricane.
47. Perfection of the body includes beauty, grace, strength and
the hardness of a thunderbolt.
43. By making samyama on the transformation that the sense-organs
undergo when they contact objects, on the power of illumination
of the sense
organs, on the ego-sense, on the gunas which constitute the
organs, and on the experiences they provide for the individual,
one gains mastery of the organs.
49. Hence the body gains the power of movement as rapid as that of
the mind, the power of using the sense-organs outside the confines
of the body, and the mastery of Prakriti.
Aphorism 48 describes a progressive samyama on all the separate
phases of an act of cognition.
The power of using the sense-organs outside the confines of the
body, mentioned in aphorism 49, enables one to exercise
clairvoyance and clairaudience. Mastery of Prakriti, the primal
cause, gives the yogi control of all the effects evolved from
Prakriti-in other words, control of Nature.
50. By making samyama on the discrimination between the sattwa
guna and the Atman, one gains omnipotence and omniscience.
This discrimination has already been discussed (aphorism 36 of
51. By giving up even these powers, the seed of evil is destroyed
and liberation follows.
The "seed of evil" is ignorance. Because of ignorance, man forgets
that he is the Atman and creates for himself the illusion of a
private, separate ego-personality. This ego-personality is intent
upon satisfying its desires, and acquiring possessions and powers
over external nature. Of all powers, the psychic powers arc, from
the standpoint of the ego, the most desirable; and, of the psychic
powers, omnipotence and omniscience (to which Patanjali has
referred in the previous aphorism) are obviously the greatest. The
yogi who has held even these powers within his grasp and
nevertheless renounced them, has rejected the ultimate temptation
of the ego. Henceforth, he is freed from bondage. (For example,
Christ rejected the psychic powers offered to him by Satan in the
52. When tempted by the invisible beings in high places, let the
yogi feel neither allured nor flattered; for he is in danger of
being caught once more by ignorance.
"The invisible beings in high places" are the fallen yogis already
referred to (I, 19) who have reached the state of disincarnate
gods or become merged in the forces of Nature. Such beings have
failed to find liberation precisely because they yielded to the
temptations of the psychic powers. Therefore, it is said, they are
jealous of those who seem about to overcome these temptations, and
they try to drag them back into ignorance. In the commentary on
Patanjali's aphorisms which is attributed to Vyasa, the
allurements offered to the yogi by "those in high places" are
described, quaintly but forcefully, as follows: "Sir, will you
seat yourself here? Will you rest here? You might enjoy this
pleasure. You might find this maiden attractive. This elixir will
banish old age and death. In this chariot you can fly through the
air. Over there are trees which grant all wishes. That heavenly
stream will give you happiness. Those sages know everything. These
nymphs arc peerlessly beautiful, and you will not find them cold.
Your eyes and cars ,will become supernaturally keen, your body
will shine like a diamond. In consequence of your distinguished
virtues, honored Sir, you are entitled to all these rewards.
Please enter into this heaven which is unfailing, ageless,
deathless, and dear to the gods."
Thus tempted, the yogi is advised to reply as follows: "I have
been baked on the dreadful coals of reincarnation. I have writhed
in the darkness of rebirth and death. Now at last I have found the
lamp of yoga which dispels the shadows of ignorance. How then can
I, who has seen its light, be led astray once more by sensual
The great Hindu teachers all believed that a yogi's spiritual
development might be interfered with by external forces-by the
disincarnate gods, by beings on the psychic or subtle plane of
matter, or by earthbound spirits. And this belief is symbolized in
the traditional Hindu ritualistic worship, which begins as
First, the worshiper must try to feel the presence of God
everywhere, as the all-pervading Existence. Then he must feel that
the doors of his senses are locked and that he has entered into
the shrine of his own heart, where God dwells. He must say: "As a
man with eyes wide open sees the sky before him, so the seers see
always the supreme truth of God." Trying to imagine that he has
already gained this power of spiritual sight, he now opens his
eyes, repeating his mantram as he does so. He must look about him,
trying to see the presence of God in everything he sees and to
know that by the power of the mantram the obstacles created by the
disincarnate gods are being removed.
Next he must throw a spoonful of water straight up into the air,
as if into the psychic realm, invoking the protective power of God
to remove all psychic obstacles.
Finally, he must take some rice between his right thumb and
forefinger, and scatter it in a circle, saving: "May the
earthbound spirits and the spirits that create obstacles be
dissolved by the NN-111 of the Lord Shiva." The earthbound spirits
arc said to be the spirits of those who have committed suicide.
They are earthbound because they still have to work out the karma
which they have tried to reject by their act. The worshiper is
praying that they may be released from their present form and
thus set free to develop toward liberation. Sometimes, a food
offering is given to the earthbound spirits to propitiate them,
and they are told either to leave the place or to remain and watch
the worship without interfering, from a respectful distance.
It is only after performing these preliminary ceremonies that the
worshiper can proceed to the direct ritualistic worship of his
Up to a certain point, temptation increases with spiritual growth.
As the aspirant ceases to be a mere beginner and gains some
mystical experience, his personality becomes magnetic. He finds
that he can exert psychological power over others, and also sexual
attraction. At the same time, his own senses grow keener and more
capable of enjoyment. It is therefore easy for him to become
involved in power- and sex-relationships which will make him
forget his original purpose. The very people who are drawn to him
because of the godlike quality they see in his nature may be the
ones who are most responsible for his gradual alienation from God.
But, as Sri Krishna tells us, "no one who seeks Brahman ever comes
to an evil end." And so, even when such a lapse takes place, we
may believe that the spiritual aspirant will eventually find his
Way back to the path, and that those who tempted him from it will
also, to some extent, have gained spiritual benefit from their
association with him.
53. By making samyama on single moments and on their sequence in
time, one gains discriminative knowledge.
By a "moment" is meant an indivisible unit, the smallest
imaginable instant. A moment is regarded by Patanjali as an
object. It belongs to the order of external phenomena, like a
dog, a diamond, or a tree. But a sequence of moments-that is to
say, what we call "time"-is not an object; it is only a structure
created by our minds, an idea.
By making samyama on single moments and on their sequence in time,
the yogi comes to realize that the entire universe passes through
a change within every single moment. Hence, he understands that
the nature of the universe is transitory. This understanding is
what is meant by discriminative knowledge. Because tic yogi's mind
is not subject to the illusion of "time," he can understand the
real nature of his experiences. The rest of us, who think in terms
of time-sequences, are constantly generalizing our sensations,
mentally carrying over the sensations of one moment into the next
and the next. We say, "I was sad the whole afternoon," when, in
fact, we were only sad at 2:15, 2:37, or, and so forth. Thus we
not only deceive ourselves but suffer much imaginary pain. There
is a Zen Buddhist technique for enduring torture by breaking up
the time-sequence, and concentrating only upon what is happening
in each moment of the immediate present. In this way, suffering
can be robbed of its continuity and made much more tolerable. For
suffering is largely composed of our memory of past pain and our
fear of repeated pain in the future, and this memory and this fear
are dependent on our consciousness of a time-sequence.
54. Thus one is able to distinguish between two exactly similar
objects, which cannot be distinguished by their species,
characteristic marks, or positions in space.
Suppose you took two exactly similar, newly minted coins, showed
first one, then the other; then changed them behind your back and
showed them again. The yogi who had made this samyama would,
according to Patanjali, be able to tell you correctly which one
you had showed him first.
The spiritual value of this power of discrimination lies, of
course, in one's ability to distinguish always between the Atman
and the non-Atman, the outward appearance, however deceptive the
latter may be.
55. This discriminative knowledge delivers a man from the bondage
of ignorance. It comprehends all objects simultaneously, at every
moment of their existence and in all their modifications.
Ordinary knowledge based on sense-perception is a sequence. We
learn one fact about a given object, then another fact, then more
and more facts. But the yogi who possesses discriminative
knowledge understands objects totally and immediately. If, for
example, he meets another human being, he knows him at once m all
his past and future modifications, as a baby, a youth, an adult,
and an old man. Such knowledge is infinite; it is within eternity,
not time. It delivers a man from the bondage of karma and
56. Perfection is attained when the mind becomes as pure as the
Atman itself. When all the thought-waves in the mind have been
stilled, the mind holds nothing but pure, undifferentiated
consciousness. In this state, it is one with the Atman. Sri
Ramakrishna used to say: "The pure mind and the Atman are the
1. The psychic powers may be obtained either by birth, or by means
of drugs, or by the power of words, or by the practice of
austerities, or by concentration.
Some are born with psychic powers as the result of their struggles
in previous lives. And not psychic powers merely, but real
spiritual genius. Such are those most mysterious of all human
beings, the "natural" saints, who are filled with the knowledge
and love of God even in early childhood and up seemingly
untouched by the temptations of worldliness.
In the Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna asks: "Suppose a man has faith, but
does not struggle hard enough? His mind wanders away from the
practice of yoga and he fails to reach perfection. What will
become of him then?" And Sri Krishna answers: "Even if a man falls
away from the practice of yoga, he will still win the heaven of
the doers of good deeds, and dwell there many long years. After
that, he will be reborn into the home of pure and prosperous
parents.... he will then regain that spiritual discernment which
he acquired in his former body; and so he will strive harder than
ever for perfection. Because of his practices in the previous
life, he will be driven on toward union with Brahman, even in
spite of himself."
Certain drugs may produce visions but these are invariably
psychic-not spiritual, as is commonly believed. Furthermore, they
may cause prolonged spiritual dryness and disbelief and may even
do permanent damage to the brain.
The repetition of sacred words or mantrams is, as we have been
told, an invaluable aid to spiritual progress. There are also
special mantrams which produce psychic powers.
The practice of austerities enormously strengthens the aspirant's
will power. Hence also the psychic powers may be obtained.
But concentration is the surest of all the means of obtaining the
psychic powers. This has been thoroughly discussed in the previous
2. The transformation of one species into another is caused by the
inflowing of nature.
3. Good or bad deeds arE not the direct causes of the
transformation. They only act as breakers of the obstacles to
natural evolution; just as a farmer breaks down the obstacles in a
water course, so that water flows through by its own nature.
Here, Patanjali explains the Hindu theory of evolution of species
by means of an illustration from agriculture. The farmer who
irrigates one of his fields from a reservoir does not have to
fetch the water. The water is there already. All the farmer leas
to do is to open a sluice gate or break down a clam, and the water
flows into the field by the natural force of gravity.
The "water" is the force of evolution which, according to
Patanjali, each one of us carries within him, only waiting to be
released from the "reservoir." By our acts we "open the sluice
gate," the water runs down into the field; the field bears its
crop and is thereby transformed. In other words, the form of the
next rebirth is determined. "All progress and power are already
in every man says Vivekananda. "Perfection is in every man's
nature, only it is barred in and prevented from taking its proper
course. If anyone can take the bar off, in rushes nature."
To pursue the image of the reservoir, the performance of bad
deeds and the consequent accumulation of bad karma is like
breaking the dam at the wrong place and therebv causing a
disastrous flood which will ruin and disfigure the field. If this
happens, the water is not to blame; it is in its nature to cause
change of one kind or another. It has to be properly directed. And
for that the farmer is entirely responsible.
It will be seen that there is a radical difference between the
ancient Hindu and the modern Eastern theories of evolution. As
Vivekananda puts it: "The two causes of evolution advanced by the
moderns, viz., sexual selection and survival of the fittest, are
inadequate. Suppose human knowledge to have advanced so much as to
eliminate competition, both from the function of acquiring
physical sustenance and the acquiring of a mate. Then, according
to the moderns, human progress will stop and the race will die.
But Patanjali declares that the true secret of evolution is the
manifestation of the perfection which is already in every being;
that this perfection leas been barred and the infinite tide behind
is struggling to express itself. Even when all competition has
ceased this perfect nature behind will make us go forward until
every one has become perfect. Therefore there is no reason to
believe that competition is necessary to progress. In the animal
the man was suppressed, but, as soon as the door was opened, out
rushed man. So, in man there is the potential god, kept in by the
locks and bars of ignorance. When knowledge breaks these bars, the
god becomes manifest."
4. The ego-sense alone can create minds.
5. Though the activities of the different created minds are
various, the one original mind controls them all.
These two aphorisms refer to the psychic power of creating for
oneself a number of subsidiary minds and bodies, over which the
original mind maintains control. Since it is the ego-sense which
creates an individual mind (1, r7), it is theoretically evident
that this egosense should be able to create subsidiary minds,
revolving like satellites around the original. The idea is that
the yogi might wish to have several minds and bodies in order to
exhaust all of ]its karma more quickly. But the Wisdom of this
plan would seem to be doubtful. There is a story of a king who
made himself many bodies, hoping in this way to exhaust his
craving for sexual enjoyment. But finally he abandoned the
attempt, declaring: "Lust is never satisfied by gratification; it
only flares up more and more, like a fire fed with butter."
Patanjali seems to admit this in the next aphorism:
6. Of the various types of mind, only that which is purified by
samadhi is freed from all latent impressions of karma and from
In other words, karma can only be exhausted by spiritual
realization; never by mere satiety of experience.
7. The karma of the yogi is neither white nor black. The karma of
others is of three kinds: white, black, or mixed.
The karma of ordinary people is either black (bad), white (good),
or mixed. But when a man has attained samadhi his acts will cease
to produce karmas for him, of any kind (see I, 18) . Nevertheless,
since the illumined yogi continues to act, karmas are being
produced, and there may even be some admixture of evil in them.
Who gets these karmas? Shankara gives an interesting answer to
this question. He says that those who love the illumined yogi will
receive the good effects of his karma. while those who hate him
will receive the bad.
Such is not the case, however, with an avatar or divine
incarnation. An avatar, such as Krishna, Christ or Ramakrishna, is
an actual incarnation of the Godhead. He enters the phenomenal
world by an act of grace and divine free will, not because he is
forced to do so by the karmas of previous births. He comes into
the world without karmas, and his acts in this world produce none.
Therefore, the effects of his karmas cannot be received by others,
either for good or for ill.
purchase the entire book of