Wisdom of Attainments Introduction

Introduction to

Patanjali Yog Darshan: Wisdom of Attainments - Vibhooti Pad

by Brijendra

Before considering our present chapter on attainments, or Vibhooti Paad, which is the third chapter of Patanjali Yog Darshan, we can briefly review the topics covered in Saadhan Paad, the chapter on practice.

Brief review of Saadhan Paad

Saadhan Paad presents a background understanding for the practice and attainment of samaadhi, the oneness of meditation. Samaadhi, including its levels, was covered extensively in the first chapter, Samaadhi Paad, the chapter on meditation. However, for those who are not established in samaadhi, some practice needs to be adopted. The second half of Saadhan Paad delineates the components of ashtaang yog, the eight limbs of the practice of yog, which are an outline of the lifestyle of yog.

But practice is not just a matter of following recommended techniques, whether of physical exercise, breathing exercise, or the mental practice of meditation. The human mind needs some foundation of understanding, a framework by which to approach and comprehend, not only the practices of yog, but the transformations that occur in the yogi as he or she progresses into the subtler realms of samaadhi. So, the first half of Saadhan Paad provides several frameworks by which to understand both the way in which consciousness has become trapped in duality and the way in which a practicing yogi can unfold the liberation of consciousness, which means the establishment of one’s sense of I, one’s very identity, in the true, eternal Self.

Saadhan Paad begins by declaring that the practices of yog (kriyaa yog) are for the purpose both of becoming established in samaadhi and of becoming free from the kleshic ignorance about the Self that blocks human beings from existing in their eternal, true nature. The discussion subsequently moves on to the kleshas, the ignorance-based obstacles to living one’s true state of blessed, eternal being. The basic root klesh is avidyaa, the ignorance of the true Self state. The immediate result of ignorance is asmitaa, the sense of I, in which consciousness becomes individuated into identification with the manifested forms of body and mind. Operating as extensions of this individualized state of consciousness are raag, dwesh, and abhinivesh, or attachment, aversion, and fear of death. Based upon these five kleshas, or suffering-producing modes of Self-ignorance, the human mind accumulates experiences and stores them as sanskaars, or recordings, in the mind. These project into a person’s life, instigating further experiences, which will be of happiness or unhappiness depending upon the purity or impurity (punya or apunya) of the previous sanskaaric experiences.

From sanskaars based upon impure actions comes pain. Human beings do not want pain, and so pain is heya, something to be gotten rid of. It is expressly stated in the key sootra, II:17, that sanyog, the mixture of the Knower with the known, is the cause of pain. Then, the solution to the human predicament of wanting to be free from pain is to undo the knot of Self-ignorance that is sanyog. Through this, consciousness as the Knower is enabled to become established in its true Self, as in sootra 3 of the first paad: “Then the drashtaa, or Knower, is established in its own true nature.”

The specific means to undo or cut asunder the false identification of Purush, the eternal consciousness, with the momentary manifestations of prakriti’s forms is vivek khyaati, the discrimination of the true, eternal Self from the temporary, wavelike, individual formation known as ego. This brings us to the middle of Saadhan Paad which presents the range of vivek khyaati, discriminative knowledge. Seven levels of vivek khyaati are mentioned.

However, the mind rarely possesses the acute staying power that can maintain vivek khyaati, and so the rest of the paad is devoted to the description of ashtaang yog, the yogi’s eight areas of practice. The paad ends with statements about pratyaahaar, the fifth ang, or limb, the turning inward of the power of knowing from the senses. With this inward turning of attention, the way opens in the beginning of Vibhooti Paad for the unfoldment of the last three angs of ashtaang yog, which are dhaaranaa, dhyaan, and samaadhi: concentration, meditation, and oneness. Thus, our present chapter, Vibhooti Paad begins with the discussion of meditation.

Vibhooti Paad

Vibhooti Paad, the subject of our present investigation, is the chapter on the glories, the attainments that may come to the yogi as yog saadhanaa progresses and the yogi’s chitt, or mind, shifts from the distraction of the viksheps, or mental diversities, to the meditative one-pointedness of ekaagrataa, concentration. These vibhootis or siddhis are perfections at their respective levels of physical objects, beings, occurrences, mental and praanic realms, and planes of subtle existence. As the cultivated attention is placed on a particular level, the yogi acquires siddhi, or perfection, power, and oneness, at that level.

But the siddhis are both attainments and distractions, for they can draw a yogi away from the high path of liberation in the Self. While they do appear to be attainments to the mind attached to experiences, they actually are distractions for the yogi who is dedicated to Kaivalya, the goal of yog, the state of the One Self with no division. The siddhis exist at a subtle level, and so they appear to be special; they appeal to a human being’s sense of gain, and so they enhance the ego—but this would be the antithesis of liberation. At the end of the paad, the yogi is encouraged to forgo siddhis and to maintain the higher aim of param siddhi, the supreme attainment, Kaivalya. That is acquired through vivek gyaan, the discrimination within one’s own sense of “I” of the infinite Self from the apparent, individual self. This practice, too, will make use of the yogi’s acquired power of sanyam, but it will direct sanyam to vivek khyaati, and thereby the meditator will attain the param siddhi of knowledge of Self as unborn, undying, infinite, the Whole.

A siddhi, though it may appear to the human mind as something wonderful, is still a parinaam, a change in prakriti. It is, therefore, a limited, changing, and eventually a pain-producing form of knowledge. A siddhi is a vilakshan parinaam: it is a parinaam unique and out of the realm of the ordinary, or lakshan. It is extraordinary, beyond the ordinary. The vilakshan parinaam that is siddhi can take place throughout the entire range of human experience. Thus, such unique parinaams can occur at the levels of the body, the senses, and the mind. A siddhi can be defined as an unusual or extraordinary development at the level of shareer, indriyas, and chitt, or body, senses, and mind.

The paad begins as a continuation of the topic of ashtaang yog, which was covered in the second paad. Here, the topic is picked up at the last three angs of ashtaang yog: dhaaranaa, dhyaan, and samaadhi, or concentration, meditation, and oneness. These three, acting as one, constitute sanyam, the meditator’s acquired power of meditative concentration. Having attained proficiency in these three, the yogi is able to apply sanyam, the concentrated state of mind and awareness, to any point of his or her choosing. As a result of the saadhanaa, the mind’s sanyam becomes like a laser, which takes light, normally shining in all directions, and aligns it within itself to produce an effect many times more powerful than when simply shining in a dispersed manner. The laser-like or intensified nature of the yogi’s consciousness can likewise be applied with an effect much more powerful than that of the undeveloped, unfocused, scattered mind.

In the beginning of this paad, there is a discussion of the yogi’s attainment of sanyam and of the ever-unfolding field of time and space to which it can be applied. In the middle section of the paad, the sootras describe the attainments that develop when the focusing power of sanyam is applied to particular areas of existence. Thus, there are descriptions in relation to shareer, indriyas, and chitt, or body, senses, mind, and the known world. Through sanyam being applied to these fields, siddhis, or powers, arise that correspond to those areas of attention, such as the body, the senses, and all perceptions engaged in acquiring knowledge and investigating the powers of the mind. There can also develop the power of knowing the nature of someone else’s mind, not only one’s own; one can know previous versions of one’s mind and even previous births. There can arise jay, or victory, over the sthool bhootas, the five physical elements, where the body exists and interacts with the world. Also possible is jay of the indriyas, or senses, the gross and subtle components of the senses. And, finally, the yogi may attain jay of the highest reaches of the mind, reaching up to omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.

However, the yogi should not stop there and rest on the laurels won. Indeed, the sincere yogi will realize the uselessness of all such siddhis as they relate to the main goal of liberation. For the astute yogi, the sanyam acquired through meditation is to be applied to vivek, the discrimination of the true Self from all separate appearances of acquired, illusory identity. This highest discernment of one’s true state of Self results in Kaivalya, absolute liberation. Kaivalya will be the topic of the fourth chapter, Kaivalya Paad.

Following is a brief breakdown of the topics covered in Vibhooti Paad:

Sootra 1: dhaaranaa, concentration

Sootra 2: dhyaan, sustained meditation

Sootra 3: samaadhi, oneness in meditation

Sootras 4-6: sanyam, the meditative power of focus

Sootras 7-8: comparison of inner and outer saadhanaa

Sootras 9-12: the chitt parinaams, the transformations that occur in the meditator’s mind

Sootras 13-15: dharmee and dharm, the substratum and its manifest forms in time and space

Sootras 16-34: some siddhis that result from sanyam applied to specific areas

Sootra 35: a key sootra, providing a definition of bhog, or experience, and Purush gyaan, knowledge of the Self

Sootra 36:  some siddhis that result as sanyam moves towards Self-knowledge

Sootra 37: a warning about siddhis 

Sootras 38-43: more siddhis resulting from performing sanyam on particular areas

Sootras 44-48: bhoot-jay and indriya-jay siddhis, or the powers of mastery over the elements and the senses

Sootras 49–54: the higher siddhis—such as insight, omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence—that may arise before liberation, or Kaivalya, is attained

Sootra 55: a definition of Kaivalya, providing an insight into the relation between buddhi and Kaivalya, or intellect and liberation

Vibhooti Paad: the fruits of applied attention

Vibhooti Paad begins by defining and discussing the role of the final three angs of ashtaang yog. When working together, these three––dhaaranaa, dhyaan, and samaadhi––become a mental force that can bring about changes at various levels of prakriti, which includes the mind. That force of attention is termed sanyam, the mental power of focus derived from meditation. The paad then describes results that may ensue when sanyam is directed to various objects, both internal and external. By the end of the paad, the sage brings our attention once again to the necessity, as ever, of cultivating vivek khyaati, discrimination of the Self from the form of mind.

We can conclude from its persistent reference in Yog Darshan that vivek khyaati is vital, both to maintain freedom from the allure of the siddhis and to know the Self. Our constant cultivation of the higher consciousness that is vivek frees our identity from the tendency to conclude that form, even if subtle and powerful, is the final reality. It is not. The yogi’s application of the power of sanyam to the cultivation of vivek is what will lead to Kaivalya, as developed in the fourth paad.

Samaadhi Paad outlined the basic development of yog in terms of becoming free from chitt vrittis through the practice of samaadhi. That paad went straight to the heart of the matter, and for those who could understand and were ready for it, that was enough. Saadhan Paad discussed the kleshas, the main obstacles to the Vision of Oneness or highest samaadhi, and after thoroughly delineating the nature of human identification with the forms of body, mind, and world perception, declared that vivek khyaati provides the means to become free from the existentially problematic human state and be established in one’s true nature as indivisible Purush, the Self.

In order to support the fine point of understanding and Self-knowledge that is vivek khyaati, the life-style of yogic practice was described as ashtaang yog, the eight limbs of yog. Cultivation of these parts of the yogic lifestyle leads to sthiti, a settled and established state of being. Through yam, niyam, aasan, praanaayaam, on into the change towards internal orientation that is pratyaahaar, the yogi’s attention grows capable of remaining undisturbed by external stimulation and is able to begin the internal exploration and further cultivation of sthiti, or stability, in dhaaranaa, dhyaan, and samaadhi, leading eventually to the final swaroop awasthiti, or Self-establishment, that is Kaivalya, liberation as the Pure Self.

Vibhooti Paad picks up the discussion of ashtaang yog where the second chapter concluded with the attainment of pratyaahaar, the turning inwards of attention. This third paad, therefore, continues the discussion of ashtaang yog from a more internal perspective. It explores meditation and spends much time discussing the formed results of meditation practice. Like a researcher dispassionately recording the results of his research, Patanjali describes some of the siddhis that can result from the practice of meditation if attention is applied to those areas. Towards the end of the paad, however, he specifically warns against such cultivation and indicates that the powers of meditation should be used to cultivate vivek. It is vivek khyaati that liberates the yogi from the allure of powers that would otherwise sidetrack him or her from the goal of Kaivalya.

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