Yoga Sutra 1.49

Translation and Commentary

April 24, 2013    BY Pandit Rajmani Tigunait


The content of intuitive wisdom is totally different from that which can be derived from scriptural sources and inference, for both its source and its intent are unique and extraordinary.

śrutānumānaprajñābhyām = śruta + anumāna + prajñā

  • śruta that which has been heard; that which has been passed on by the oral tradition; the experiential knowledge documented in the scriptures; the ancient spiritual text popularly known as the Veda
  • anumāna inference, as opposed to perception and the knowledge documented in the texts
  • prajñā intuitive knowledge; revelation

anyaviṣayā = anya + viṣayā

  • anya other; different from
  • viṣayā object

Together, anyaviṣayā means that which is totally different from both scriptural knowledge and inference.

viśeṣārthatvāt = viśeṣa + arthatvāt

  • viśeṣa unique; special; extraordinary
  • arthatvāt due to having meaning or content

Together, viśeṣārthatvāt means the knowledge whose content and source are unique.

The Power of an Impure Mind

Knowledge flowing from the realm of intuition is unique in the sense that it is not dependent on scripture, inference, or any other evidence for its validity. Intuition is clear, like a crystal, and the light passing through it, therefore, retains its original clarity and brilliance. Due to its unalloyed nature, this light reveals its source. That is why it is called revelation.

Thus what appears to be revealed knowledge is actually compromised by the likes, dislikes, prejudices, and preoccupations of asmita.

If there is even the slightest urge to consult the scriptures to verify whether or not what you experienced as a revelation is valid, it means either that the revelation did not descend from the field of pure intuition or that before landing in the domain of your conscious mind, it picked up impurities from the deeper dimensions of your unconcious. Here, once again, Patanjali is emphasizing the importance of purifying the mind, for an impure mind can undermine the force of revelation.

What is the most powerful impurity that contaminates the force of revelation and eventually renders it inert? Asmita (I-am-ness, strong self-identification). We hold our self-image so dear that it overshadows the existence of our core being, the soul. The function of asmita is subtle and yet extremely potent. To a seeker not armed with the highest level of vigilence, asmita is like a black hole that can devour the brilliance of a thousand suns.

Our self-image is driven by the powerful desire to hold on to those attributes that give it existence. At its maturity, this process of self-identification gives our self-image a meaning so concrete that everything else becomes meaningless. Our self-image places itself at the center of the universe and demands that the world around it conform to its wishes. It cannot tolerate the existence of anything—or anyone—else.

In this way, asmita creates its own world and lives in it. Even the remotest possibility of losing what it stands for terrifies it. Its identification with its self-created image is so strong that it equates any change or alteration with annihilation. The scriptures call this abhinivesha (fear of death), and state that it is firmly established, even in the wise.

This world is an amazing tangle of asmita. It is enveloped in darkness, and it is hard to detect where the darkness begins and where it ends. Attachment to this world forces us to live in the safety of this enveloping darkness. We keep ourselves shut within the confines of the world created by our asmita, because opening ourselves to any other possibility is frightening. And in our ignorance, we call this prolonged bondage salvation.

Absolute Truth, the source of pure knowledge, lies beyond the world of asmita. The light of revelation, laden with pure knowledge, passes through the realm of asmita and picks up the subtle properties of the contents that make up this world. Thus what appears to be revealed knowledge is actually compromised by the likes, dislikes, prejudices, and preoccupations of asmita.

Let’s take an example. Often we start our spiritual quest while holding on to a strong identification of being a Christian, a Hindu, or a Jew. We commit ourselves to different kinds of purificatory practices: prayer, scripture recitation, meditation, ritual worship, pilgrimage, austerity, selfless service, and worship of God. One of these practices, or a combination, helps us purify our hearts and turn our minds inward, enabling us to receive the light of revelation. But before reaching our conscious mind, this light passes through a world of asmita made of Christianity, Hinduism, or Judaism. Thus we receive the revelation with that flavor. This is what confines the range of our enlightenment, for if we are not careful, we will take this tainted knowledge as pure and perfect, and it will bear limited fruit.

How do we know if the light of revelation has picked up impurities from the realm of asmita? The next sutra is Patanjali’s response to this important question.

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
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>>