by Patti Shelton
Sattva Yoga 200 Hour Teacher Trainee
NOTE: Every quarter, we ask one of our teacher trainers to share one of their essays that they are asked to create based on the yoga teacher training curriculum. Two of the texts are reflected upon here: the Bhagavad Gita and book four of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The fourth book of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is called Kaivalya Pada. I found it interesting to learn that the word kaivalya, while usually translated as “liberation,” literally means “isolation.” The yogi learns to isolate Purusha from prakriti, freeing the consciousness from the constant movement of the gunas and allowing it to rest in its own eternal unchanging nature. This is true liberation.
Sutra 4.7 states, “The actions of a yogi are neither white nor black, while for others they are black, white, or gray.” These three colors are equivalent to the three gunas; for people who have not attained kaivalya, all actions are attached to prakriti and the qualities thereof (sattva, rajas, and tamas). In sutra 4.8, Patanjali continues: “These three types of actions leave impressions that become manifest when conditions are favorable and ripe.” This also implies the corollary; for the yogi, whose actions are free of the gunas, there are no longer accumulating impressions (karma). For those who are not yogis, their actions are driven by attachment to the worldly effects of the actions; because of such attachments, their actions also leave energetic effects upon them, which will continue to affect them until the karma is cleared. For those who have severed their attachments to the fruits of the actions (i.e., whose actions are colorless), there is also no karma being generated, because it is attachment rather than action itself that results in karma.
This is the same point made by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita; it is one of the main themes, indeed perhaps the main theme, of the Gita. Krishna tells Arjuna, “He who has renounced attachment to the fruit of action, who is ever content, and free from all dependence — he, though immersed in action, yet acts not” (shloka 4.20). This is the same as saying that the actions of a yogi are colorless. The same thought is stated repeatedly throughout the Gita; that a seeker should not cease acting, but rather should cease attaching to the fruits of the action.
Another important sutra is 4.19, in which Patanjali states, “Consciousness cannot illumine itself as it is a knowable object.” He is drawing the distinction between the chitta and Purusha. Though it is easy to mistake the chitta, especially the buddhi, for Purusha, the chitta is in reality part of prakriti. The chitta is in a state of change; the unrestrained mind constantly experiences vrittis, and this observation helps to make clear that the chitta is part of the changing prakriti rather than the eternally unchanging Purusha.
I have certainly found myself having trouble with this distinction. It is very easy to see that the body is prakriti and is subject to the gunas, and to feel that one’s essence is separate from the body. However, it is much more difficult to feel that one’s true essence, the soul which is a part of Purusha, is also separate from the mind. Patanjali is here pointing out that of course this is difficult, because one is actually using the mind to try to become separate from the mind. When I feel that I am separate from my body, what I am really feeling is that my mind is separate from my body.
In order to go beyond this, the seeker must learn to isolate the soul and mind from each other, to learn which things inside are part of the mind and which are part of the soul.
This can be accomplished during dhyana. For instance, I was once taught a meditation technique that involved looking at whatever thought comes up during meditation and asking, “Is this me?” No matter what the thought is — even if the thought is, “I am not my thoughts” — the answer is always no. I am the one asking whether this is me; no, I am the one who sees the one asking whether this is me…by following this thread, one comes closer and closer to abiding in the atman itself, discarding all thoughts.
As Patanjali points out in 4.20, “Consciousness cannot comprehend both the seer and itself at the same time.”
By noticing what is part of consciousness, one can become aware of the difference between that (the chitta) and the seer (Purusha) and come to rest in Purusha. At this point, the sadhaka becomes free from prakriti, and his or her actions become colorless because they are no longer directed by any attachment to the gunas.
The process of seeking that culminates in true kaivalya is a long and complicated process that I am just beginning to understand and embark upon. This is a journey of many lifetimes, which I have been on for quite some time already. Though I have no way of knowing when I will achieve the goal, each step brings me closer to the ultimate bliss.