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Stages in Yoga


By jnAnakunjastha mahAmahopAdhyAya AchArya shrI gopInAtha kavirAjA

The earliest and the greatest pre-occupation of an ordinary man’s life is the thought of happiness to himself or to those around him. It is this positive thought which spurs him into activity and constitutes the mainspring of his moral existence. But circumstanced as he is, he is hardly in a position to clearly envisage the ideal which lies vaguely before him. For the clear presentation of the ideal requires a degree of mental clarity and disinterested quiescence which is rarely to be found in an average man of the present age, in which the insistent demands of one’s physical nature and surroundings leave one hardly any time or energy to devote to a clam consideration of a deep ethical problem. The difficulty remains the same, even when the ideal is pictured in a different color. Perfection, harmony, universal love and service, freedom, all these concepts represent the varied aspects of one and the same ideal, and the vagueness found in respect of the one pertains equally to all the rest.

The truth is, the facts of transcendent life are, as a rule, so little known to the world outside that the very existence or possibility of such a life is often more a matter of pious belief than of sincere conviction. And it is no wonder. With the limitations imposed upon us by our material nature, it is hardly possible to look behind the appearances and have a glimpse of the transcendent realms beyond. The knowledge of a higher life than what is ordinarily presented to us cannot be possible unless and until our general outlook is widened in consequence of the inner awakening due to Yoga. Yoga is really the paramount power which leads us not only to knowledge of the higher life, which is spiritual, but also to its practical realization by the Self. India has always asserted, and it has been doing so in no feeble accents since the very dawn of the world’s civilization, that it is exclusively in Yoga that one can find the key to the solution of all the problems of life and mind as well as to the realization of the supreme end of existence. nAsti yogasamaM balaM, ayaM tu paramo dharmaH yadyogenAtmadarshanaM and similar other sayings point to this fact.

But what is Yoga? What is the secret of the great power which is universally attributed to it? What are the natural stages through which the life of a Yogin must, of necessity, pass before it can attain to consummation and realize its community with the essence of the Universal Life and even transcend it? Before these questions are taken up for discussion, it should be clearly borne in mind that what ordinarily passes for Yoga in the world around us can hardly be described as such in the real sense of the term. Even if it be not a travesty of the great science, it is at least a faint semblance, mostly artificial, of a rudimentary aspect of the complex psycho-physical discipline which in itself represents only a fragment of the true way to Yoga proper. It is unfortunate that ordinary people, including most of the educated persons of the present day (both of the West and of this country), have all their knowledge of the subject derived from this source. And the effect of this corrupt and vitiated knowledge on their mental outlook has been what might be expected. To understand a subject properly, specially when the subject is of an intricate and extremely delicate character, it is necessary that the mind should be dispossessed of all its pre-conceived notions and predilections and held in readiness in an attitude of passive but self-conscious receptivity.

Yoga is really the establishment of identity, at least of communion, between the individual self or jIvAtman and the Universal Self or paramAtman, which presupposes a corresponding relation on the lower planes of existence viz., between the mind and the individual self, between the senses and the mind and between the object and the senses. The individual cannot realize its eternal affinity with the Universal or merge in it, unless it can get over the influence of the mind with which it falsely identifies itself. In the same way, the absorption of the mind in the quiet awareness of the Self is not possible so long as, through concentration and consequent self-effacement, it has not got rid of the distracting power of the senses over it. On the lowest level, similarly, the senses cannot calm down and attain to unity with the mind they are free from the action of the objects of the world outside. All the principles are thus found to be arranged in a concatenated series. In the lowest stage of spiritual perfection, therefore, Yoga may be described in a language which would represent it as the withdrawal of the senses from the external world and their convergence in the mind. Ascending a step higher up, one would find it in the suspension of the modalities of the mind itself and its consequent unity, as it were, with the individual self, from which it appears as distinct only through its workings. When the mind ceases to be active, its distinctness as an entity vanishes altogether. But the final and culminating perfection of Yoga does not manifest itself even at this stage, which represents the standpoint of Patanjali and his school. For with the individual left as separate from the Universal, the higher function of Yoga cannot be stated to have been fulfilled. As soon as the artificial barrier raised between the higher and the lower self is demolished, the Pure Self emerges as a radiant and eternally self-aware existence of Joy in which the two aspects of its being appear as united in an eternal embrace of ineffable sweetness. This is Yoga in the truest sense of the world.

We propose to study the problem under these three aspects, though as a matter of actual fact, each of these aspects may be examined in several distinct phases. The first stage which finds its achievement in the abstraction of the senses from their objects is really the viewpoint of haTha yoga proper, as taught by mArkaNDeya in ancient times and matsyendranAtha and his band of followers (gorakSha, jAlandhara, chatura~NgI etc.) in the middle ages. The activities of the senses and their contact with the external world are occasioned by the operation of vAyu, which though corresponding to the so-called bio-motor force of the living organism is to be regarded as identical with vAsanA. The vision of an external world as other than the Supreme Self is, in fact, a magic show of illusive character devoid of all reality. It is the action of vAyu or vAsanA on the sensory mechanism of organic existence which projects before it a world of illusion. The control of vAyu, at which all the processes of haTha yoga aim, ends in securing a relative steadiness of the senses and therewith a comparative detachment from the world outside. This is an indispensible preliminary to the success of the mental culture towards which the discipline of the next higher stage is directed. Perfection in the first stage is the perfection of the body as presupposed in the control of the senses. The human body in its normal state, however healthy in an ordinary sense, is highly defective and incapable of acting as a fit instrument for the exercise of higher powers. It has to be purged of its impurities and made clean. This purification may be effected by a variety of ways, many of which fall within the scope of haTha yoga proper. This culture of the senses, of which the physical culture is an aspect, is completed when the senses are drawn inwards and coalesce in a common sense, which is different from and yet identical with the mind.

As soon as the common outer sense disappears, what is left behind is the mind in a state of concentration. As this concentration matures and gathers strength, various degrees of ecstatic intuition manifest themselves, of course as a result of a continued process of meditation. The rise of prajnA is consequent on the attainment of samAdhi of the mind. But as the samAdhi corresponds to the object aimed at, its variety is dependent on the varieties of objects. The object may be an ordinary thing perceived in the world around us or a subtle element. It may even be the inner organ itself or agent behind the organ making use of it as an instrument. The luminous substance of the mind, when immediately in contact with an object, the senses having ceased, interpenetrates into it and is imbued with its nature and form. The Self behind the mind, now converted into the object as it were, shines on as a silent witness of the entire process of metamorphosis and of its result. It looks on as a transcendent observer towards the mind, which, having been already purged, now appears in the form of the object concerned. During this time, the mind is free from subjection to the physical body; in fact the body totally disappears in the radiance of the luminous mind, and this is not only in the eye of the person engaged in the spiritual pursuit but even of the world. This marks a condition when the subtle body of the man, being disengaged from his fleshy bonds as a result of his efforts in the first stage described above, asserts itself in a luminous form, the brightness and color of which are proportionate to the degree of the purity attained. This light has a pseudo-eternal form of its own, but it is not easily revealed; so long as association with the body continues to be strong, it appears more or less in the shape of its physical counterpart from which it has been partially and temporarily separated. This influence of the flesh on the mind is really the impurity of the latter, so that the relative purity of the mind corresponds to its comparative elimination of the physical shape imposed upon it. And this elimination, which is indicated by the gradual brightening and whitening of the luminous stuff, may or may not be accompanied by the appearance of a fresh form, according as the impress of an object outside itself may or may not have already been made upon it. The existence of this impress represents a particular stage of samAdhi conditioned by the character of the object occasioning it. Patanjali’s school marks four distinct subdivisions of this stage as we shall observe hereafter. But there are various other possible schemes which are recognized in the other systems. In case there is no outside object to determine the form of the luminous mind and even no subjective impression carried forth from the flesh left behind, the mind in the ordinary circumstances would sink into formlessness entailing an unconscious and a dark existence. It cannot ordinarily retain its individuality, in fact it finds no character of its own, when it is absolutely free. It gets overpowered under the weight of primitive matter from which it emerged as an essence to co-operate with the Spirit in the work of spiritual emancipation. This is the Sphinx Riddle which inevitably presents itself to the aspirant.

The mind cannot be dispensed with before it has been pressed into service. What is really needed is that it should be purged and purified and then enlightened. The light having once dawned on the mind, the mind is merged in it and the light alone remains which becomes then the adjunct of the lower spirit and marks its attainment of self-consciousness. In the poetical language of the shAstras, this is a necessary phase of the spiritual awakening or the awakening of the kuNDalinI. But the practical difficulty is that as soon as the mind, which is always illumined by the Spirit behind it, loses touch with the object which impresses it anew or with its old impressions, it loses its luminous nature and sinks into the unconscious. And for its purification such loss of touch is indispensible. The required solution consists in the purification of the mind with its consciousness and luminosity retained, that is in the revelation of the pseudo-eternal form of the light which stands fixed behind the subtle body. Call it by name of mental body, celestial body (divya deha), ideal body (bhAva deha) or by any other name, it is a marvelous acquisition. It is a form of perpetual freshness and ideal beauty radiant with a sweet halo shining above the mists of worldly passions and the incessant flux of Time, and is eternally free from decay and death. The second stage of the spiritual journey ends in the attainment of the outer phase of this status. The inner phase cannot be acquired except through initiation or the special grace of the Guru.

That cessation of the modalities of the mind is in itself no criterion of Wisdom is recognized by all the shAstras and by the people who have some experience of the path. The system propounded by Patanjali makes a clean-cut distinction between the cessation due to physiological or even psychological causes [bhavapratyaya asamprajnAta samAdhi] and that which follows as a matter of course from the rise of Intuition or prajnA [upAyapratyaya asamprajnAta samAdhi]. Intuition is the legitimate offspring of the samprajnAta samAdhi which develops itself steadily and through continued practice from proper sAdhanas (upAya), viz. shraddhA, vIrya and smR^iti. The ascending courses of this samAdhi serve to clarify the Intuition and liberate it from the discursive elements of the lower nature. The purity of Intuition implies an effacement of all the samskAras and inhibition of all the vR^ittis and its own disappearance in the end. This is yoga proper, from the standpoint of Patanjali, in which the individual spirit, standing on itself, becomes witness of the Nature, in itself and in its becoming (through the process of becoming for the observing subject has stopped). The Buddhists also were aware of this distinction in nirodha. The difference between the pratisankhyA nirodha and the apratisankhyA nirodha which has been described with such details in general treatises of some Buddhist sects is in reality this very difference in another shape. One is reminded in this connection of the interesting story of the Buddhist scholar kamala shIla, the disciple of shAntarakShita, who was invited from Magadha to Tibet by its king Thisron Den Tsan and had a learned controversy on this very question with the great Chinese Monk mahAyAn Hoshang (900 AD). Hoshang maintained, if the mind was kept absolutely free from thought or vikalpanA, emancipation from worldly existence (bhava) was possible. This freedom from thought or vikalpanA corresponded in his opinion to the state of nirAlamba which was ideal to be aimed at. But the position of kamalashIla was that the absolute negation of mental activity implied an absence of pratyavekShaNa prajnA (critical knowledge), without which perfect knowledge which was transcendent, could not arise. The inactivity of the mind or its unconscious state could not ensure eternal freedom from vikaplas for which the rise of the transcendent wisdom through pratyavekShaNa prajnA was indispensible.

Before we proceed to describe at some length the third and the highest stage, we may appropriately pause to examine the second stage of the path. There are four successive periods of this as recognized by vyAsa in his commentary on yoga sUtras:

The initial period when the light has just set in: during this time, the supernormal sense is evolved. The yogin who is passing through this period is yet a mere practitioner, though the manifestation of the inner light brings within his reach certain extraordinary phenomena. Reading the thoughts of other minds, sensing distant objects as if they were near (clairvoyance, clairaudience etc.), direct knowledge of the past and the future as well as that of the present, and various other powers of a like nature accrue to a yogin even in the first period of his spiritual evolution. But they are only occasional manifestations and not permanent possessions. In the same way visions of gods and goddesses, of angels and siddhas, of strange scenes of distant worlds and past lives occur to him from time to time, indicating that he is on a new path with glorious prospects lying before him.

The second period, called madhumatI bhUmi, marks a decided advance on the first and is initiated by the origin of the clarified intuition, called R^itambharA prajnA, when the mind of the yogin gains a vision of pure truth and is never touched by error. This intuition can not originate so long as the objective samAdhi is not perfected. It has already been observed that the samAdhi may have for its support either an external substance which is a gross physical object or a subtle element. There is really no limit in its greatness or in its minuteness. As a matter of fact, there is nothing existing in nature to which the mind of the yogin cannot be directed. The subtle and super-sensuous objects consist of the atoms: the Ego, the Pure Linga and the ultimate guNas. This is a very critical period in the life of a yogin, in which he is apt to be led astray by the passion of conceit or by attachment. The yogin at this stage has already passed beyond the initial state of illumination but has not yet obtained full control over the senses and the elements. The visits of the celestial beings, whether angels, gods or of any other class, of which we read so much in the lives of mystics, are of common occurrence during this time. Even tempting offers are sometimes made, but the yogin, not yet firm in his position, has to exercise his judgment and spurn all such offers. It is to be noted that this, the second period of a yogin’s life, represents remarkable purity (shuddhi) which invites such temptations but no powers.

The third period, called prajnAjyotiH, marks the fullest mastery of the elements and the senses, a mastery which affords him control over the forces of nature, creative, preservative and destructive. The conquest of the five primordial elements and ability to use them at will gives rise in the mind to the eight great powers and also tends to produce a beautiful and durable body. It should be remembered that each of the elements has five distinct aspects which have to be mastered one by one. The grossest aspect of the elements (sthUla) is, of course, familiar to all as the object of our sense perception. In other words, for instance, the specific characters of the outer world which are reported by the senses as well as the peculiar collocation in which they appear to us constitute the so called dense form of the elements. The entire sensible universe belongs to this category and it is not possible for an ordinary man to step beyond it. The next form of the elements is more general and as such is not easily perceived as distinct except by logical abstraction. Thus configuration is the generic essence of the first element, wetness of the second, heat of the third and so forth. It is worth pointing out that the specific properties noted above, viz. sound, touch, color, moisture and smell are evolved from, and are peculiar manifestations of, these generic essences. Every substance existing in the world (dravya), in fact substance itself, is no more than a combination of these generic and specific qualities in a coordinated complex. The laws of collocation are extremely intricate, but they govern the entire field of cosmic action. A mere assemblage of particles does not show signs of unity and life, which presuppose synthesis and harmony; and without this unity there can be no substance. What in scientific parlance is denominated as chemical affinity is from the viewpoint of yoga the semblance of a relation, in fact of a composite union, existing on a higher plane, which vaguely asserts itself even after descent from the plane concerned. Where such unity is not inexistence, the collection of particles is only a mechanical and barren affair and has no urge of life within, and it does not tend to evolve any new property characteristic of the production of a new substance. The third or subtle form of the elements is the tanmAtra, of which the atomic substance with its generic and specific properties is a modification. The fourth form (anvaya) is the guNas which follow the nature of the effect. The fifth aspect of an element is the pragmatic virtue (arthavattva) inherent in the guNas in so far as the latter serve the ends of worldly experience or freedom. All these aspects reveal themselves to a yogin and are subject to his control.

The conquest of the elements produces great psychic powers. Thus, when a yogin can command the lowest or gross form of matter, he finds it possible to convert his body into any dimension he likes, become as minute as a particle and as big as the universe (aNimA and mahimA). He can attain to extreme levity and rise up against gravitation, so that flying through space becomes possible to him (laghimA). To such a man, real distance is annihilated; he is capable of touching a thing even from a great distance (prApti). The conquest of the second form of matter enables the yogin to become immune from the effect of the generic properties of substance. Thus it is possible for such a person to sink into the earth as if into water, the earth not resisting him (prAkAmya). The third subtle, that is tanmAtric form of the element, when subdued, produces the siddhi called mastery or vashitva, whereby the yogin can control the bhUtas and their products (IshitR^itva). The greatest power however, is the supreme efficiency of the will, whereby the yogin can arrange the natures of the bhUtas in any manner he wills: this is derived from a control of the highest form of matter (arthavattva). He can make any object serve any purpose and is not tied down by the so-called natural properties. At his will even poison yields the fruits of nectar, and vice versa. Though gifted with these powers and capable of doing anything, the yogin never cares to transgress the laws of nature, which are imposed on objects by the Will of the First Power. The elements do not resist the freedom of the movement of the yogin. Thus he can physically enter into a block of solid stone which yields to his touch; the waters cannot drench him even on contact, fires cannot burn him nor can wind dislodge him. Space itself, which is free from all covering (AvaraNa), may be made to serve as a veil to conceal his presence, so that he may remain invisible even to those higher and exalted beings who wander about through space.

Corresponding to the elements, the senses also have five progressive states. The first state of the sense is that of cognition having for its object a thing which is not merely generic but also specific in character (grahaNa). The second state consists in the illuminating essence which characterizes every organ of knowledge as such and every particular kind of organ directed to a particular object. This essence is the sattva portion pertaining to ahamkAra or asmitA, which is the third state of the sense. The fourth form of the sense is the guNas. But it should be borne in mind that the guNas form the pervasive aspect of the bhUtas and of the senses. The fifth or the highest form of the sense is identical with that of the bhUtas described above. The control of the senses in all these five states leads to super-normal powers, technically known as the madhupratIka siddhis. A yogin with his senses held in control attains to the power of transporting himself physically to any distance within an instant. It is called manojavitattva because at such a stage, the body acquires the velocity of the mind on account of the senses being controlled. In an ordinary state, a man cannot expect to make his body respond to the mind, in the immediacy and quickness of its movements, owing to defects in the senses. Apart from this, the sense of the yogin is then able to act on the desired object, however remote in time or distance, even outside the physical body, though ordinarily a sense cannot operate except when related to a body. Besides, the yogin has then at his command all the emanations of the primordial Nature.

When the different states of matter and sense have been thus mastered, the yogin has no longer the risk of a fall. The powers he has attained no longer depart from him. But at this time, he becomes very particular about the states to be realized in future. The highest siddhi of a yogin, which consists in omniscience and universal mastery, remains yet to be obtained. When the mind realizes the greatest purity and steadiness, it comes under the fullest control of the yogin, who is then fixed in the knowledge of distinction between the mind and the self and becomes truly a master (vashI). Thus the supreme power of a man comes from a control of the mind. The ultimate constituents of Nature, those from which the sense and the matter evolve, present themselves to such a person as to their master, responsive to his will. This state represents the God-like nature of a yogin, who is all-knowing, all-powerful, free and divested of all the bonds of klesha (e.g. ignorance, egoism, desire, aversion and fear of self-annihilation).

The fourth period marks a transcendence of the supreme vishokA as well. The yogin realizes that even this power, greatest though it is in the state of outer consciousness, is yet a foreign element that needs to be eliminated. The acquisition of the supreme power is the first result of vivekakhyAti and non-attachment to this power ending in the nirodha proper and absolution (kaivalya) is the next. The fourth period commences from after the supreme non-attachment (i.e. detachment from the guNas) and continues so long as the mind continues to exist. This is jIvanmukti proper from the viewpoint of yoga. The mind is dissolved by means of the nirodha when kaivalya follows in which the Self shines by itself unaccompanied by the mind.

From the above sketch, it would appear that the four periods, beginning with the first appearance of the inner light and closing with its absolute purity, stand for the entire samprajnAta stage. The nirodha or samprajnAta stage comes in when the light or mind has disappeared and the Self alone shines. This is kaivalya.

Now that we have mentioned kaivalya, some study becomes necessary. A close student of Indian philosophy cannot fail to be struck with the apparently anomalous attitude of certain schools of thought towards what is usually considered to be the highest object of spiritual pursuit of a man, viz. kaivalya. The vaiShNavas, the shAktas, the shaivas, in fact most of the philosophical systems connected with some form of Agamic culture refer to it, as it was conceived in sAMkhya and allied systems, as if it were a thing not worthy of our highest quest. We propose to analyze, in the following lines, a briefly as possible, this attitude of champions of tAntric sAdhanA (dualistic) and try to find out the place assigned to kaivalya.

The term kaivalya which is pre-eminently a sAmkhya term, conveys the sense of being kevala or alone. It implies the idea of purity and freedom from defilement. puruSha or Self are essentially pure; it seems to be defiled owing to its association, through non-discrimination, with prakR^iti or matter, an association which is said to be beginning less in time. The entire psychology of sAMkhya discipline aims at producing a discriminative knowledge which reveals puruSha as distinct from sattva i.e. prakR^iti and helps it to be established in its transcendent purity, otherwise known as kaivalya. It is a state in which puruSha by virtue of its essential character of awareness stands isolated from prakR^iti as the self-conscious witness (draShTA) of her undifferentiated existence, above and beyond the play of her forces.

It is well-known that this conception of the soul’s consummation does not appeal to most of the vaiShNavas. But before speaking of them, we may try to find out the general attitude of the other orthodox thinkers. The nyAya-vaisheShika conception of niHshreyasa or apavarga, as the destruction of the visheSha guNas of the Self, is more or less similar in character to the sAmkhya-yoga view. Consciousness, like will, pleasure, and several other qualities, inheres in the Self and forms an integral element in its psychic life. Nevertheless, it is a product and as such does not co-exist with the Self as its constant and inalienable attribute. It arises in consequence of the contact of the manas with the Self due to the activity of the mind, an activity which results ultimately from the function of the adR^iShTa attached to the Self concerned. The saving knowledge destroys ignorance and cuts at the root of all adR^iShTa. The higher mukti which follows upon the fall of the body is thus a state of the Self in which consciousness and other qualities are conspicuous by their absence. In this lack of consciousness and other so-called psychic qualities, there is a virtual agreement between nyAya-vaisheShika and sAMkhya conceptions. For, in sAMkhya too, puruSha does not possess consciousness etc. as attributes; it is chit in essence, indeed, but not chatanA except in relation to buddhi, which is a product of prakR^iti.

The position of vedAnta is analogous, save for its conception of unity of the Self, rather than its plularity as in sAMkhya. It is true that the vedAntic Self is self-luminous, but consciousness or will as a quality does not belong to it. Qualities seem to appear in it on account of its apparent relation with mAyA. It is evident, therefore, that the conception of mokSha in the various orthodox systems is, in a sense, similar and comes very nearly to the sAMkhya view of kaivalya.

The vaiShNava thinkers however, evidently under different inspiration, raised their voices against kaivalya as the highest end of life. The exact position of the pAncharAtra saMhitAs in this matter is not definitely known, though in view of the theistic character of their literature and the great emphasis they place upon bhakti in their sAdhanA, it may be presumed that their attitude to kaivalya was not marked by any sense of high regard. But the followers of rAmAnuja school are very explicit on this question. They hold that kaivalya represents an experience of the soul through jnAnayoga, of its own Self as dissociated from prakR^iti or matter. There are two rival opinions current among the vaiShNavas as to the status of the soul which attains kaivalya mukti. According to tenkalais, such an emancipated soul lives for ever in a corner of the paramapada having reached there by the white path or achirAdi mArga and enjoys there eternal and ineffable peace, but it has never any hope of finding God and enjoying his communion. Its life is like that of a forlorn wife forsaken by her husband. The vaDakalais, on the other hand, affirm that the kevala lives, not in the outskirts of the paramapada but somewhere within the dominion of prakR^iti itself. The kaivalya is thus, from both the points of view, distinguished from mokSha proper which consists in the experience of endless joy of divine presence (brahmAnubhava), manifestation of divine powers and all kinds of service and ministration of the Divine Will according to differences in place, time and circumstances. It is realized through bhakti and prapatti and not through jnAna yoga.

|| kR^iShNaM vande jagadgurum ||