Yoga in its asana form has spread worldwide in a remarkable manner. While an interest in deeper yoga practices also continues to steadily grow, much confusion remains as to the real nature and goal of Yoga practice. Many people look to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as the main text for guidance on Yoga.
Yet the Yoga Sutras, though presenting what is essentially a science of consciousness, is commonly scaled down to physical, psychological and personal considerations, in which any transcendent vision is easily lost.
A clear reading of the text shows us that Yoga Sutras teaches us how to move beyond the body and the mind to the Purusha, the seer or pure consciousness that stands above all that can be seen or cognized. The goal of Yoga is not simply to develop or heal the body and mind, though these have their value, but to reach our true nature that is not limited by body or mind, time or space.
Yoga Sutras defines Yoga as the "negation (nirodha) of the vrittis of activities of the chitta" or mind in the broadest sense of the term (YS I.2). This is a definition of Samadhi or the state of unitary awareness. When it occurs "there is abidance in the Self-nature of the seer or Purusha" beyond all death and sorrow (YS I.3). Such is the foundation of the traditional Yoga.
These statements connect us to the last sutra in the Yoga Sutras about Kaivalya or the ultimate realization of the Purusha, with Yoga Sutras ending with "Chiti Shakti or the power of consciousness abiding in its own nature" (YS IV.34), with the seer and its power of seeing as one. In other words, the goal of Yoga is Self-realization, abiding in an unbounded awareness beyond all the qualities or gunas of nature (Prakriti).
If this mastery of the mind in not achieved then the Sutras states our awareness "assumes the form of the activities of the mind" and fails to recognize the Seer (YS I.4). We get lost in our thoughts and caught in the external world, unable to connect to the Seer or power of consciousness within.
Nature of Chitta or Mind in Yoga Sutras
Here we must understand what chitta or mind refers to. Chitta and its functions are not the true Self or Purusha, but constitute its internal instrument or antahkarana for gaining knowledge of the outer world. The functions of chitta include all aspects of memory, right and wrong perception, imagination and even sleep - mind or conditioned consciousness on all levels.
Chitta, we must note, is part of Prakriti or the world of nature, reflects its qualities (gunas) and works according to its laws and processes. The mind or chitta is the subtlest aspect of nature and it karmic core persists from one incarnation to another. Mind is not consciousness and has no consciousness of its own. It operates only through the reflected light of the Purusha. In other words, the mind is not you, your true Self or reality but only your mental instrumentality that you must learn to master from the standpoint of a higher awareness or it will lead you into ignorance and sorrow.
Nirodha or Negation of the Mind
The key to understanding the Yoga Sutras is understanding what the term nirodha indicates, which I rendered earlier as negation, though it has no equivalent in the English language. Nirodha is samadhi that takes us beyond the movements of the mind, yet it implies many factors to arrive at it including vairagya and viveka, detachment and discernment.
Nirodha is sometimes called control of the mind but it is not a control of the mind by the mind but according to a higher awareness beyond the mind. Nirodha does not inhibit the right functioning of the mind. It simply removes any sense of identification of the Self with the activities of the mind. When there is no longer any identification with the mind, the mind functions like an objective instrument, meaning we can turn our minds off or on as needed, but are not seeking of truth or happiness through the mind. Ideas of "I am the body" or "I am the mind" come to an end. Nirodha is not simply a non-functioning state of the mind, which we can experience in deep sleep and several other states, but transcendence of the mind.
In the nirodha state the identification between Purusha and Prakriti or the seer and the seen is removed. This is the same as removing the confusion between Self and not-self, the eternal and transient, being and non-being, light and darkness as the Upanishads proclaim. This liberation of our Self-nature from any externality is the core teaching the Yoga Sutras. The other views, methods, principles and practices of Yoga are only support factors for this higher Self-knowledge.
The Light of Yoga
We can certainly benefit from Yoga practices on many ways relative to all aspects of our lives, but the true goal of Yoga is about our inner being for whom our physical lives are but one episode or expression in a greater eternal reality and unbounded existence. This may at first sound abstract, metaphysical and unachievable. But if we look deeply within we can discern that the essence of our being is the light of consciousness, not the compulsions of the mind or the biology of the body. This is the light of Yoga.
Om Sri Yoga Purushaya Namah!
(Dr David Frawley, or Pandit Vamadeva Shastri, is a Western-born Vedacharya, who teaches an integral approach to Yoga, Vedanta, Ayurveda and Vedic studies. He is the author of 50 books published in 20 languages, and is a recipient of the Padma Bhushan from the Government of India. He is the director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies.)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)