Yoga is the suspension of the fluctuations of the mind.

In the second Yoga Sutra I.2, Patanjali defines yoga. Rather than union, yoga is defined here as the effort or discipline that transforms the mind into a clear surface capable of reflecting whatever it is directed at.

Consider the following. If the surface of a lake is still, you can use it as a mirror to reflect objects. If you throw a stone into the lake, ripples appear that distort the reflected images. The lake represents the mind and the ripples are the fluctuations of the mind or mind waves. While these mind waves can be appropriate for the purpose of survival, they present an obstacle if we want to recognize our innermost nature. The mind waves have to cease and the mind has to become still in order for us to reflect on our deepest core. What exactly the fluctuations or mind waves are will be discussed in sutras I.5.

We turn next to Patanjali’s concept of mind. The Sanskrit word chit refers to that which is conscious. The term achit, with the negating prefix “a,” refers to what is unconscious. By using the term chitta (and not antahkarana, which followers of Samkhya usually use) Patanjali expresses the notion that the mind is unconscious, or in other words consciousness is not contained in the mind. In many ways Patanjali does not present a philosophy of his own, but a psychology or what Georg Feuerstein calls a psycho technology. Where philosophical questions are concerned, Patanjali completely accepts the findings of the Samkhya, with one exception (Ishvara), which we will discuss later.

Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

The similarities between Yoga and Samkhya are so striking that S. Dasgupta says, “The Samkhya of Kapila and the Yoga of Patanjali are so similar that they can be regarded as two modifications of the same system.” The founder of Samkhya was the Rishi Kapila, who lived according to Western scholars around 1300 BCE. 5 Tradition places him much earlier than that.

Samkhya means order, number, or enumeration, and it is humankind’s first attempt to explain the entire creation as one coherent system. I therefore we could call it the ancient mother of all systematic philosophies. During Patanjali’s time and the time of the Bhagavad Gita, Samkhya was still the dominant philosophy. Today it has gone out of fashion somewhat, but it is important to remember that most Indian philosophies of today, such as Vedanta, Yoga, Buddhism, and Tantra, have used Samkhya as a foundation and built upon it. If we understand Samkhya, we will easily understand all of these later approaches.

Unfortunately the scripture compiled by Kapila, the Shastitantra, is lost. To fill in the gaps that Patanjali leaves, we have to resort to the Samkhya Karika of Ishvara Krishna, which was written much later than Kapila’s text. The Samkhya Karika is an absolute must for every yoga student. At only seventy-three stanzas it is relatively short, and this makes it relatively accessible. Mind in the Samkhya Karika is called antah karana, which means inner instrument. Opposed to that is the outer instrument, the body. The inner instrument is made up of three constituents:

  1. MANAS

This is the mind or thinking principle. The word “man” is derived from manas. It collects sensory input, compares it with previous data, and makes a decision as to what the object cognized probably is. But a rope in the darkness can be mistaken for a snake, or a post in the distance for a man. The mind speedily processes sensory data for the purpose of survival, and in this process accuracy is lost. For example, if we are crossing a street and hear a loud mechanical noise approaching, we move quickly. The mind tells us it is likely the noise comes from a truck, and we should therefore not wait and inquire more deeply into what the noise actually is. In such a situation we are likely to react before we recognize that the sound is really an airplane flying overhead or a construction machine nearby. The mind is constantly telling us to react, and as a result we hardly ever take the time to stop and understand what is really happening.


This is ego or egoity. Aham means I and kara means caster or maker. Together they mean I-maker. The ego is the agent that owns the perceptions of the thinking principle. Ego says, “It is ‘I’ who is perceiving the approaching truck, and it is ‘I’ who has to proceed to the safety of the footpath, otherwise ‘I’ will be dead.”


This is intellect or intelligence, the term being derived from the verb root budh, which means to awake. In yoga, intellect means seat of intelligence.

In our example, intelligence is the agent that, for example, manages to comprehend iron ore and fire to the extent that it can conceive an internal combustion engine and build a truck. It is the intellect (buddhi) that is the locomotive of yoga. Yoga is the process of refining, sharpening, and enhancing the intellect until we can realize consciousness (purusha) itself. This will be looked at in more detail in the third and fourth chapters of the Yoga Sutra. The last term in this sutra is nirodha. This is often translated as “control” or “restraint,” which does not make sense in the context of yoga. It can also send students on the wrong path. If we restrain or control the mind, there must be an entity that controls it. This entity must be active, so it can’t be consciousness, which does not interfere in the world but is a pure witness. Furthermore, this entity must have willpower at its disposal in order to suppress the mind. The only entity available to perform such an act is the ego. The process of suppressing, controlling, and restraining the mind will strengthen the ego. However it is the ego that stands in the way of realizing consciousness. The way to realize consciousness is through a passive suspending, calming, and ceasing of mind waves, which is possible only through insight, wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge. Sutra I.16 declares that the state of nirodha is produced by complete surrender, which is nothing but supreme detachment (paravairagya). We will therefore translate nirodha as suspension or cessation, since it does not imply an external aggressor like the term “control. ”The state of suspended mind (nirodha chitta) produces objectless or superconscious samadhi (asamprajnata samadhi). Sutra II.45 states that samadhi also results from surrender to the Supreme Being. Shri T. Krishnamacharya, the teacher of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, believed that this was the prime way of reaching samadhi.

All of these notions show that samadhi is an act of surrender, detachment, realization, and knowing through appeasing, stilling, suspending, and silencing the mind waves. Using terms like control, suppression, and restraint to explain nirodha implies the agitation of the mind by the use of ego and willpower. Done in this way, meditation will lead not to liberation but to egomania.

In this second sutra, Patanjali also states that only the highest form of samadhi constitutes yoga proper. The two forms of samadhi, the lower objective (samprajnata) samadhi and the higher objectless (asamprajnata) samadhi, are so different that Patanjali could have divided them into two separate limbs. Instead of separating them, however, he defines yoga in this sutra as objectless samadhi and in sutra III.3 he defines objective samadhi. Objectless samadhi can be understood in the following way: This highest form of samadhi is our true and natural state — consciousness abiding in consciousness. It is not an experience; rather it is eternal, uncreated, without beginning, and without end. It cannot be practiced and cannot be produced. It is our core, our origin and our destiny. It is our abode right now, but due to ignorance we do not know it. This highest samadhi is the goal, and it is the true yoga. The eight limbs, which include objective samadhi, are steps that will lead us back to our source. For this reason, yoga is defined here as the natural state of suspension of mind (nirodha), and samadhi is defined in sutra III.3 as recognizing an object exactly as it is. In summary we can say that objectless (asamprajnata) samadhi is the goal and the true state of yoga.

The practicing of objective (samprajnata) samadhi is the path to that goal.


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