Yoga Sutra 1.45
Translation and Commentary
Meditation on the most subtle object culminates in meditation on prakriti, the building blocks of our life and the life of the universe.
Listen to Sutra 1.45 Recitation
Audio Recitation by D.C. Rao, PhD
sūkṣmaviṣayatvaṃ = sūkṣma + viṣayatvam
- sūkṣma subtle
- viṣayatvam essence of the object; the nature of the object
Together, sūkṣmaviṣayatvaṃ means meditation on the most subtle object.
aliṅgaparyavasānam = aliṅga + paryavasānam
- aliṅga that which does not have a sign; that which cannot be indicated; hard to be detected; not tangible; very subtle
- paryavasānam the end in every respect; final stage; final destination
Together, aliṅgaparyavasānam means everything ends in the knowledge of the most subtle cause; the cause in its final stage is imperceptible; the finest object of meditation is prakriti, the imperceptible, primordial cause of all that exists; the finest stage of nature, imperceptible to an ordinary mind, is the most subtle object of meditation.
Choosing a Meditative Object
In sutras 1.39-44, Patanjali explained the importance of cultivating a clear and calm mind and described how, with practice, a tranquil mind can focus on both subtle and gross objects. It can also develop the capacity to go back and forth between subtle and gross, attending effortlessly to the two extremes and remaining unaffected by any object it contacts.
The cause of sorrow is deep within, at the very core of our being, and the cure lies there too.
In sutra 1.45, Patanjali makes a crucial point: the highest goal of meditation or any other form of spirituality is to penetrate to the very nature of things and discover the cause of, and cure for, suffering at both the individual and collective levels. He reminds us that in order to attain freedom from all forms of sorrow we must understand our own nature.
The cause of sorrow is deep within, at the very core of our being, and the cure lies there too. Unless you understand the most subtle components of your inner makeup, your search for inner freedom will remain confined to the outer layers of your being and you will never discover either the cause of sorrow or the cure for it.
Many of us know that life is precious and that we must not waste it. And yet we find little or no motivation to rid ourselves of sloth and inertia. Even when we do become motivated it doesn’t last long. Despite our good intentions, we sink back into our old grooves. And even though we are blessed with many great traditions, teachers, and scriptures, we go on living with the same complaint: “I can’t do it; I don’t have the energy for it.” Great philosophers, spiritual leaders, and wise and selfless social reformers come and go, yet as a society we remain stuck with our self-centered and divisive social and cultural norms, the breeding ground for perpetual strife. Even though wise men from all traditions tell us we must pay attention to the underlying subtle (and therefore more potent) causes of happiness and sorrow, health and sickness, we still find ourselves attending to only their gross causes. We fight over tangible objects and seek solutions to these endless fights in the tangible world. With each failure we hold someone or something in the external world responsible. Why? This sutra provides the answer.
We are what we think. For all practical purposes, our core being is made up of the habit patterns, the belief systems, and the inner tendencies that define our personality. Our likes and dislikes are shaped by these inner tendencies, and it is from these tendencies that our own personal mind-set arises. At the level of the soul, we are divine—a spark of the absolute Almighty. But in our day-to-day existence it is our mindset that frames our life and creates a context—positive or negative, constructive or destructive, painful or joyful—around our behavior. In other words, we live in the box of our mind-set, and from the confines of this box we see everything in our own particular way. Thus is born our inescapable pattern of likes and dislikes.
That is why in this sutra, Patanjali says that the highest form of meditation is meditation on alinga—meditation on one’s self-nature.
We perform actions that conform to these likes and dislikes, and each action creates an impression in our mind. Through repeated actions, these impressions become stronger and stronger until they have formed deep grooves in our mind-field, further strengthening our likes and dislikes. This is called the wheel of karma—karma chakra, also known as samsara chakra. Once this wheel is set in motion, it goes on spinning with ever-increasing velocity. That is why, unless we bring a fundamental change in the realm of our likes and dislikes, the building blocks of our personality, we cannot truly transform ourselves. It is transformation at this level that brings a lasting change in all the other aspects of our lives. That is why in this sutra, Patanjali says that the highest form of meditation is meditation on alinga—meditation on one’s self-nature.
There is a common myth that our innate nature cannot be changed. The truth is that we have the power to become whatever we wish, but we can exercise this power only by purifying our mind. We do this by transcending our likes and dislikes, our attachments and aversions. This is what enables us to recognize what lies at the core of our being—how much of it is great and glorious and what is rotten and must be discarded. This means that we must gather the courage to face ourselves and let the rotten part go. Unless we do we will continue to be trapped and molded by our likes and dislikes.
Meditation on our true nature takes us all the way to our core being, where the seeds of all our troubles and struggles lie. It is called sabija samadhi, the state of mind which is so clear, calm, and tranquil that it has the capacity to reveal the ultimate cause of the seemingly endless chain of suffering. It is through this knowledge that we are transformed.
Spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, Pandit Tigunait is the successor of Swami Rama of the Himalayas. Lecturing and teaching worldwide for more than a quarter of a century, he is the author of fourteen books, including his recently-released The Secret of the Yoga Sutra, and his autobiography Touched by Fire: The Ongoing Journey of a Spiritual Seeker. Pandit Tigunait holds two doctorates: one in Sanskrit from the University of Allahabad in India, and another in Oriental Studies from the... Read more>>