Reflections on Patanjali’s Yoga
The Raja Yoga Teachings
on the Path to Self-Knowledge
The Theosophical Movement
The four books of Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms, as interpreted by William Quan Judge  , present a clear picture of metaphysical tenets and principles as a basis for psychological disciplinary practices outlined throughout them. Their metaphysics provide a comprehensive foundation upon which their ethical and moral practices are built, and these in their turn must become part and parcel of the inner and outer life of the student.
Study and practice should go hand in hand, for the study of the tenets, with the necessary meditation on their actual meaning, provides a chart by which the student can guide his mental, emotional and physical natures towards a safe anchorage in “Concentration”. When the practical application of the philosophical tenets is seen to be necessary and is undertaken by the student, then the whole book becomes a “living treatise” on how to disentangle the mind from the several allurements of the senses and of the desire nature, which cause its “modifications”.
The mind gets modified or transformed, as it were, into the subject or object that comes up before it, and this makes concentration difficult for most of us. Book I carefully enumerates these modifications of the mind, which the student can verify by the direct process of observation or perception, the analytical process of inference, which involves weighing and measuring, and by careful checking of his findings with the testimony of others. These three, Perception, Inference and Testimony, give rise to what Patanjali calls “Correct Cognition”, that is, an accurate appraisal of all objects taken up by the mind for meditation. This form of meditation, which requires an object for the mind to focus itself upon, is called by Patanjali “meditation with its seed”.
That kind of meditation in which there is “distinct cognition” of the subject to be pondered upon involves the mental processes of Argumentation, Deliberation, Beatitude and Egoism. These four constitute degrees which the mind in meditation reaches. Egoism or the fourth degree, Mr. Judge explains, leads to that state of Egoic perception where “a distinct recognition of the object or subject with which the meditation began is lost, and self-consciousness alone results; but this self-consciousness does not include the consciousness of the Absolute or Supreme Soul”. From this point the meditation may proceed to an abstract stage, and to quicken this process the symbolic and mystical meaning of the Supreme Spirit manifesting as Ishwara (the spirit in the body) and named OM, is to be meditated upon.
When meditation has reached the “Non-Argumentative” condition, a state in which the object selected for meditation has disappeared from the plane of contemplation, and when “Wisdom has been reached, through the acquirement of the non-deliberative mental state”, there is spiritual clearness, or the perception of “that Knowledge which is absolutely free from Error”. This Knowledge differs from the knowledge resulting from testimony and inference, because, in the pursuit of the former, the mind is “engaged with the general field of knowledge itself”. The train of self-reproductive thought that results from this puts a stop to all other trains of thought.
The two main trains of thought are, first, that which depends on suggestion made either by the words of another or by impression upon the bodily or psychic senses or the mind; and secondly, that which may be referred to as “self-reproductive”, which depends altogether upon itself and “reproduces from itself the same thought as before” Self-reproductive thought acts as an obstacle to all other trains of thought, for it repels or expels from the mind any other kind of thought. Even this train of thought, with but one object, may be stopped, and then there results “meditation without a seed”, with consequent progressive thought upon a higher plane.
Book II continues with the practical aspect of the disciplinary instructions, and indicates that Ignorance is the source of all other forms of mental afflictions which assail the disciple from within. “Egoism, Desire, Aversion, and a tenacious wish for existence upon the earth” naturally arise from ignorance and produce “results in both physical and mental actions or works”, and these “have their fruitage either in the visible state or that which is unseen”.
Egoism is the confounding of the soul with the mind or with the organs of sense. Pleasure and pain have their seat in Desire and Aversion, respectively. “The tenacious wish for existence upon earth” is inherent in all sentient beings, and this wish, having its roots in the tendency of the spirit to manifest itself on the material plane throughout a Manvantara, continues through all incarnations, reproducing itself in each life.
The “afflictions” mentioned above may be evaded by producing “an antagonistic mental state”, and when they modify the mind by pressing themselves upon the attention, they are to be got rid of by meditation.
Vice, with its fruit of demerit in the form of suffering, can be transformed into its corresponding virtue with its fruit of merit in the form of happiness. This transformation, although a necessary step on the Path of Spiritual Cultivation, is not the ultimate goal or objective, for “to that man who has attained the perfection of spiritual cultivation, all mundane things are alike vexatious, since the modifications of the mind due to the natural qualities are adverse to the attainment of the highest condition”. Lack of discrimination follows from the fact that “the soul is conjoined in the body with the organ of thought, and thus with the whole of nature”; this produces misconceptions of duties and responsibilities.
The Universe, both visible and invisible, exists for the sake of the soul’s experience and emancipation, and when discriminative knowledge of the soul and its environment is attained, the ignorance that holds the soul in a state of bondage to matter is dispelled. With the attainment of perfect discriminative knowledge, the stage called the “Isolation of the soul” is reached.
“Isolation of the soul” means, not a permanent withdrawal of the soul from its instruments, but the unbroken retention of consciousness while in the body, at the moment of quitting it, and when passing into higher spheres, and likewise when returning to the material plane. The mind, freed from the modifications resulting from sensory and psychical perceptions, becomes an instrument for the unfoldment of the soul’s powers. But before perfect discriminative knowledge, continuously maintained, becomes ours, it is possible to achieve, with the help of practices which are conducive to concentration, an illumination more or less brilliant which is effective for removing impurities. Such practices include, among other things, harmlessness, veracity, abstinence from theft in mind and act, continence, elimination of covetousness, purification of mind and body, contentment, austerity, properly uttered invocations, persevering devotion to the Supreme Soul, and restraint. Postures and regulation of the breath are also mentioned, but Mr. Judge explains that these exercises are not absolutely essential to the successful pursuit of the practice of concentration and attainment of its ultimate fruits. At the present day, few are acquainted with the rules and prescriptions for physical exercises performed with a view to producing physiological, followed by psychical, effects, and therefore such exercises had best be left alone.
Other practices conducive to concentration are attention, contemplation, and meditation, and these are dealt with in Book III.
Perfect concentration, or Sanyama, is explained as the use or operation of the practices of Dharana or attention, Dhyana or contemplation, and Samadhi or meditation, in respect to a single object. These three practices are to be used by the student for overcoming all modifications of the mind, or the tendency towards mental diffuseness. They facilitate the attainment of that state of meditation in which that which is to be pondered upon is well known, without doubt or error, and it is a distinct cognition which excludes every other modification of the mind than the object that is to be pondered upon. Attention, contemplation and meditation are anterior to the state called “meditation without a seed”.
There are two trains of self-reproductive thought, “the first of which results from the mind being modified and shifted by the object or subject contemplated; the second, when it is passing from that modification and is becoming engaged only with the truth itself”. That state of meditation in which there is a uniform flow of mind, and in which the mind is concerned in both the trains of self-reproductive thought, is called Nirodha. Ekagrata is a state of one-pointedness in which the mind is intent on a single object, having transcended all thoughts about its condition, qualities and relations.
Sanyama or perfect concentration may be performed with regard to any particular object or subject, and by this means the ascetic acquires [true] knowledge concerning it as also the powers resulting from such [true] knowledge. By concentrating the mind upon the true nature of the soul “as being entirely distinct from any experiences, and disconnected from all material things, and dissociated from the understanding, a knowledge of the true nature of the soul itself arises in the ascetic”. Such a one becomes endowed with power over space, time, mind and matter.
One who has attained to perfect discriminative knowledge and power is a Jivanmukta, the possessor of “knowledge that saves from rebirth”. Such a one may, however, return to earth by his own free choice, in order to help and teach others. Such Adepts, Mahatmas, Masters, are not in any way subject to the body, for the soul is perfectly free at every moment. When the mind has become one with the soul, which is the real knower and experiencer, “Isolation takes place and the soul is emancipated”.
In Book IV we are told that each life leaves in the Ego mental deposits which it holds in a latent state, and each of these becomes manifest in other births whenever a suitable bodily constitution and environment are provided. These deposits are produced by the force of desire, and though they are always added to by new experiences and new desires, they may be removed by eliminating the causes producing them.
The mind is merely an instrument that the soul uses for acquiring experience and attaining emancipation. When the false notion that the mind is the knower and experiencer is removed, then the permanency of the soul is seen and Self-knowledge results. “Then the mind becomes deflected towards discrimination and bowed down before Isolation”. If the ascetic who has arrived at this stage bends his concentration towards the prevention of all other thoughts, and is not desirous of attaining the powers resulting just at his wish, a further state of meditation, called “cloud of virtue”, is reached. It is so called because it will bring about the “spiritual rain” needed to reach complete emancipation, which is the chief end of the soul. Until this end is attained, the desire for results acts as a hindrance.
This complete emancipation of the soul is called in the Aphorisms Isolation. When this stage is reached, the objects, senses, feelings, etc., that had hitherto hindered the soul are no longer mistaken by it for realities, and it abides in its own nature, united with understanding, and unaffected by such “pairs of opposites” as cold and heat, pleasure and pain, good and evil, etc. The next step that the emancipated soul takes is to help other souls, who are still struggling on the way, to achieve their end.
This concludes this résumé of the instructions given in the Aphorisms, instructions which provide the means for the transition of the mind from Kama-Manas to Buddhi-Manas. This transition is to be achieved by the metaphysical principles and ethical and moral precepts which form the basis of the disciplinary practices and methods outlined throughout the four books of the Aphorisms. Spiritual knowledge arises spontaneously in the disciple who studies such treatises with the intention of undertaking the necessary discipline to bring about the desired result - Isolation or Emancipation of the Soul.
 “The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali - an interpretation by William Q. Judge”, Theosophy Co., Los Angeles and Mumbai, 74 pp. The book is available in PDF in our associated websites.
Reproduced from the monthly magazine “The Theosophical Movement”, April 2005, pp. 199-204. Original title: “Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms - Reflections”. The subtitle and the bibliographical footnote were added for the present online version of the article.
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Reflections on Patanjali’s Yoga