The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali




Book I - Sutras 42 to 51


Book III - Sutras 1 to 5


This section presents two select parts of  The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which offer insight how meditation works.


    Most experts agree that the scripture is a collection of texts probably written during 300+ years from ca. 200BC onwards. Patanjali is named the author associated with this scripture, yet he most likely just condensed separate texts into one single work.


    My translation takes into account the differences in expression between the period the Sutras were written in and our present time.


    It brings to light the Yoga Sutras' focus on practical instruction.


    Since it declines to interpret the work as a mainly philosophical text, it is regarded as controversial by scholars.


    Yet the translation is true to the original.




A Brief Excursion Into Archaic Yoga


Yoga is widely seen as a system of gentle Indian exercises aimed at balancing body and mind. Yet these exercises are only a minute part of an ancient scripture that carries far more powerful instructions.


    The current, almost exclusive focus on 'yoga postures' originates in one single element (asana) within this work that describes how to position the body in preparation for meditation. The exercises associated with this element mushroomed into the concept of Yoga we presently are familiar with in the West.


    The entire rest - and that's quite a lot - is almost completely unknown.




An Ancient Manual of Meditation


The Yoga Sutras are thought to contain one of the six classical systems of Hinduistic philosophy.


    Yet as one starts reading, the work looks more like a handbook for a training session than a philosophical treatise: - The sutras present copious practical directives how meditation works and how to prepare the ground for optimal results.


    And the directives are of such clarity that it's just a matter of actually trying out the instructions, - without the need for outside guidance.


What About A Guru ?


Meditation as we know it today is mainly used for reducing tensions and bringing calmness to people stressed by their jobs or by life in general. Such relaxation-techniques are fairly easy to learn and mostly taught in a non-esoteric, down-to-earth way.


    Yet meditation aimed at inner expansion is somewhat shrouded in inscrutability, with the taciturn presumption that - if received by mystic, secret instruction from a guru connected to the supernatural - it would be more effective.


    But the very secrecy surrounding such instructions is actually indication of a major problem.


    Secrecy is always installed to hide the fact that there's no real knowledge, - that the magic teacher, the lead guy doesn't have a clue, - or that there's an even more sinister agenda.


    Sure, sure, - he or she is highly charismatic, looking sacred and radiating tangible mystery. But then, - if the guru has true insight, - why does he set up artificial barriers - secrecy - in the process of gaining insight.


    What knowledge we have access to depends only on how much we open ourselves to the infinite source of wisdom existing readily within each one of us.


    We cannot comprehend knowledge that is still blocked by prejudices, misconceptions or erroneous beliefs we maintain, - even if our ears hear detailed descriptions of it.


    Access to higher knowledge thus depends entirely on how much energy we ourselves invest into removing these - our very own - individual obstructions (pride, rigidity etc.).


    And thus the genuine comprehension and widened awareness we experience after we neutralized our inner blockages is always the outcome of our very own efforts and intentions.

    This inner widening can never be controlled by giving or withholding any formal information.

    Attachment to a guru, a particular technique, a hierarchy of secrets, or a social group surrounding these three is just another obstacle in the expansion into wider freedom, - an additional obstacle we absolutely need to remove before we can progress further.


    It pays to be aware of such 'secrecy mechanisms' not to get trapped in any pointless, subconscious manipulation in the first place.


    Meditation of the ancient, upanishadic kind is neither mystic nor complicated. We only expand abilities we already employ and are familiar with, and thus do not require outside guidance. We just need to become more aware of these mechanisms and find out how to steer them towards wider sight.


    Questions that may arise during practice are answered by individuals progressing along the same path, who solved such issues by their own experience. The community of these individuals can be contacted on the internet (see 'What to do … ?' at the end of this book).



    The title 'Yoga Sutras' essentially means: -

The aphorisms

on how to connect our present existence

to The Origin



    Yet I prefer to name these select passages according to their content -



of the

Grand Self





Sutra 42 - Yoga Sutras - Book I


Meditation that employs sounds (mantras), meanings, (mental) images of objects or
emotional themes, attaches us to further
material experiences.

This sutra alerts us to the consequences of visualizing - meditating on - limiting themes.


    Meditation of such type directs our focus - however subtly - towards further encounters within the realm of matter - and thus prevents us from real expansion.


    Sounds (mantras), meanings, images of material objects and emotional themes are firm parts of our present manifested reality. Visualizing such limited objectives and channelling energy towards them - as it happens during meditation, - attaches our desires (or dreads) to exactly the limited realm to which they belong. This attachment re-enforces the bond between us and our current material environment and thus causes further (continued) involvement of our awareness in physical reality.


    As the sutra mentions - using mantras (sounds) during meditation also restricts expansion. Since mantras are the mainstay of many contemporary systems of meditation, a section further down deals with the range within which mantras can have effects, what kind of results they may produce and the limits of their usage.


    But there are other ways to meditate:


Sutra 43


Yet there exists a type of meditation that does not generate attachment to further material experiences.

    If we – during meditation - detach our self (our identity, - i.e. what we regard as I ) more and more from memories of our physical existence, we reach a state in which no petty thoughts or emotions disturb the widening of our focus towards illuminating (higher) perception.

Initially this state manifests as a mere vague notion, as an exquisite subtleness we feel inside as we proceed in this direction.


    (The second passage selected of the Yoga Sutras describes in detail how to bring about this subtlety - see 'And Even Deeper Instructions'.)




Sutra 44


From this (initial sensation) arises a more conscious and determined exploration of our new perception, - which consequently leads us to even higher, subtler insight.

    These (two) types of meditation - which do or do not generate attachment to further material experiences – are essentially distinguished (characterized) by the subtleness of our focus during the process.

The key is to direct our innermost thoughts and emotions towards ever subtler perception beyond the images and memories of our material existence. This makes us systematically progress towards higher sight.




Sutra 45


The focus on ever subtler aspects of what we think and feel ends (culminates) in the perception of the unmanifested.

The unmanifested is a kind of cloud that surrounds the physical sphere we currently focus on. It contains cravings (and dreads) that will manifest in our future, and which we have not yet encountered.


    While presenting The Grand Self I named this layer of yet unexpressed, yet unmanifested longings - see 'desire-structure' .


    As our perception expands beyond the realm of senses and mind, we begin to recognize this structure of unmanifested desires as a vast domain containing sublime and highly powerful structures which are in a state of constant fluidity and filled with explorative energy.


    Once we apprehend the desire-structure in its entirety, we realize that it is finite, - that all variety and fluctuation we may experience within our current manifested reality - all we think, feel and do - is contained, is enclosed within this structure.


    Yet we also notice that our awareness doesn't end there. What ends at the structure's boundary is (merely) that part of our consciousness we focus onto and express within material reality.



Sutra 46


As long as our focus (during meditation and outside of meditation) remains within the limits of the unmanifested (within the boundary of the desire-structure), we are unable to progress beyond.

To truly perceive the grandeur of unrestricted awareness, we need to break from the bounds of the desire-structure. Only beyond this 'cloud of limited desires and dreads' do we begin to discern the true unlimited majesty of our consciousness. Experiencing this widening of our perspective feeds back vast energy to our being.




Sutra 47

Once we progress beyond the unmanifested (once we leave our attachment to material objects and memories of them behind), - the purer our cognition becomes, - the clearer are we able to discern the higher sphere, - the more intense grows our perception of and orientation towards the 'Grand Self' - (called) adyatma (in the Yoga Sutras).



Sutra 48


This (increasing purity) makes us experience a special state – ritambhara (lit.: 'the impact of truth') - in which we recognize the true nature of reality (the Grand Self - adyatma) and its incessant flow towards expansion.

The experience of ritambhara - 'the impact of truth' restores – re-establishes - our conscious connection to this eternal expansive current.


    Ritambhara is actually the shift of our awareness onto the layer of truth.


Above the mind is truth (is recognition of truth).

Katha Upanishad II.3.7-8

We experience this special state as a kind of 'space' where no limiting thoughts, desires or dreads disturb us.


    Ritambhara initially feels like a fragile equilibrium in which we simply ARE, - where our senses and mind cease to feed impulses (of physical origin) to our awareness, - yet which contains a lively alertness that far surpasses any sense-perception or mundane thought.


    This state is highly powerful, and what we visualize while experiencing it has sufficient power to manifest in our life.



Sutra 49


This special experience is so obviously different from anything we ever felt before that we can easily distinguish it from any knowledge gained through e.g. scriptures, verbal instruction or reasoning.



Sutra 50


Through this experience all bonds that currently connect us (our awareness) to our (limited) material existence, and also all our latent desires and fears that are not currently manifested, become dissolved (neutralized).




Sutra 51


And once even this (process of) dissolution ceases, our restrictive, intense and exclusive focus on matter-related objects and meanings (which currently severely limits our perception) ends.
This enables us to take in (perceive) that (vast universe) existing beyond all material objects.


 Here ends the first book of the Yoga Sutras, -


    - presenting the fundamental mechanics of meditation and how to progress and expand our awareness beyond our present sphere of physical manifestation.



And Even Deeper Instructions


Yet  Book III of the Yoga Sutras  offers even more advanced instructions: -


    Three factors need to come together to achieve real and ultimate results in meditation:


Aiming thoughts (and emotions) into one exclusive direction is 'alignment'.

(Sanskrit: 'dharana').

While being immersed in that state of 'alignment', - i.e. while (one-pointed and purposely) directing our thoughts (and emotions), - the continued flow of our thoughts is 'meditation'.

(Sanskrit: 'dhyana').

When the object (or theme) onto which this 'meditation' is directed, shines forth in our mind exclusively and undisturbed by any other thought, - taking over our entire attention to the point where we (virtually) 'merge' with the object, - this state is called 'absorption'.

(Sanskrit: 'samadhi').

Fixing these three components

  • 'alignment (of thoughts and emotions)'
  • 'meditation' and
  • 'absorption'

simultaneously onto one object is called 'steering (of mind)'

(Sanskrit: 'samyama').

Once we mastered this, the light of knowledge dawns on us.

(Sanskrit: 'prajna').

Yoga Sutras - Book III, 1-5



Alignment - dharana


Alignment of thoughts and emotions - as these sutras portray it - is different from what we normally do when 'concentrating on something'.


    Concentration - as we know it in daily life - usually involves effort to keep our focus trained on the chosen subject. Yet effort of such kind thoroughly prevents the rising of ritambara, - prevents us from experiencing 'the impact of truth' (described above in Sutra 48 - Book I of the Yoga Sutras).


    Effort would also fundamentally disrupt our perception once we experience that precious yet fragile state of immersion into the layer of truth.


    When we concentrate, we direct energy onto one particular point of our reality. In stark contrast to that the 'alignment of thought' as described in the sutra, does not bundle our focus, but lets it rest easily on the selected theme in our mind, allowing it to naturally expand to deeper, unknown aspects and features of the subject. It is a kind of accepting, of assimilating, of smoothly integrating into our awareness that what exists at the fringe of our focus, - a kind of 'peripheral vision' of the edge of what the spotlight of our attention illuminates.




Meditation - dhyana


Meditation is the continuous alignment of our thoughts and emotions.


    To bring about this continuity we need to coach our awareness to stay trained on the object or theme we selected. And this means to choose - at one point or the other during meditation - to let go thoughts unrelated to what our focus rests on.


    Yet this choice is effortless and easy. We do not fight unwanted thoughts, but rather give preference to the theme we chose.

    The exhilarating subtleness of what we perceive in this expanding state of our awareness, the delicate, yet highly stimulating energy flowing from the layer of truth into our being, the ever deeper aspects and layers we detect in our chosen object attract us far more than allowing our thoughts to drift to other subjects.


    That flow of exhilarating energy strengthens our foot-hold on the layer of truth. Initially our moments of insight may be short, but as we repeat our practice, they become clearer and more stable.


    This is not some kind of 'training our perception' as we would exercise in a fitness studio, but more an unhurried, non-strenuous repetition of the experience, - to simply get used to it, - to acquaint ourselves with how this yet unknown feature of our awareness feels like, - and to effortlessly discover ever new depths and attraction within it.


    It may require different amounts of time for each individual to stabilize this delicate state. Perseverance certainly helps. After a while you then become able to summon this subtleness at will during meditation, - and tap its power for your life.


How to deal with disruptions

If unrelated thoughts start to disturb the practice, it helps to affirm that you decided to explore one select theme through meditation. So simply stay with this decision during the time you allocated to meditation and steer your focus back to the subject you originally chose.


    And if irritating thoughts persistently keep interrupting meditation, it almost always is not the content of our thoughts, but the strong emotions associated with the intruding theme that fuels the disruption.


    If we now pit 'the strength of our mind' against 'the power of our emotions' in a kind of heads-on battle, we won't succeed. Trying to 'meditate away' the strong intrusion also doesn't work. Since the disturbance originates on a 'lower' layer (senses, mind), such 'battle' makes us focus on exactly that lower level, and thus effectively stops us from regaining perception of the 'higher' and far subtler layer of truth.


    So simply stop what you are doing and allow your attention to be drawn to the physical sensation that always accompanies such intense emotional flare-ups. The physical sensation usually manifests as a kind of 'raw' feeling in the solar plexus region, but may turn up in other areas of the body as well.


    Now let your attention rest lightly on this physical sensation of 'rawness', - and only minutes later the emotional storm will have diminished to a point that you may continue with your meditation. Once (new) thoughts (unrelated to the intense earlier emotions) start rising within you, simply give preference again to the particular theme you want to meditate on.


    It also helps to deal with the upsetting subject outside of and before meditation to neutralize strong emotions that may accompany a particular theme ahead of time.


    'Let's bring our life (our house) in order, so calmness may enter it and we perceive more of our union with the Grand.'

- The Gospel of Truth (18) -



Absorption - samadhi


In our times samadhi often gets equated with 'enlightenment'. But there actually are several kinds of samadhi-experiences which reach into successively higher layers of perception and differ substantially from each other.



    [ In its highest form - nirvikalpa samadhi - awareness merges completely with the Grand Self, while in savikalpa samadhi there still exist differences between Brahman and the experiencer.


    Other types of samadhi are influenced by the emotional intensity and inner motivation in which meditation is pursued. ]


    Samadhi as defined in this part of the Yoga Sutras we experience when - during meditation - we enter a state of deep absorption into the theme we select to focus on -


    '… taking over our entire attention to the point where we (virtually) 'merge' with the object'


    This does not mean to become 'enlightened' or to lose ourselves in something so much bigger than we are, - but to simply extend our awareness to intentionally integrate this particular object or theme into our being.


    After some practice such absorption becomes deeper so that the subject we chose to meditatively 'visualize' is experienced in vivid detail in our awareness. We then are able to distinguish far more and subtler details of the theme than in the waking state.


    It's easy to recognize whether we have entered such deep absorption: - Experiencing this depth during meditation is highly energizing, we feel remote from the hustle-bustle of daily life and all our 'normal' ideas how this world functions, and are infused with feelings of fascination and enthusiasm that stay with us even after we left our state of immersion.


    Outside of meditation there's growing clarity of mind and comprehension, a more sovereign vision of our life's objectives, intenser and more satisfying emotions, a sense of deeper purpose and many other benefits that cannot all be listed here.


    Deep absorption - samadhi - of this kind may or may not be accompanied by a vibrant inner (3D) image of what we meditate on.


    Ultimately samadhi means to meditate in such fashion on our Grand Self, to thus widen our focus to the true majesty of our awareness. This special approach to meditation is explained once we return to The Upanishads.



Steering (of mind) - samyama


Bringing together these three components is called 'steering' or 'controlling'.


    Yet this is not limited to meditation exclusively. In time samyama extends to conscious steering of all our existence within physical boundaries - and outside of it.


    And one brief word of advise: - Take your time to establish solid recognition of the state of ritambhara - 'the impact of truth'. Find out first how this new feature of your awareness feels like, - instead of projecting limiting expectations onto it before you perceive it steadily. Be aware that you are activating a subtle mechanism of your consciousness that has no equivalent in the material world you currently experience.




The Light of Knowledge - prajna


Darkness is a feature of the desire-structure that does not reach beyond its bounds. Once our awareness awakens to the dimensions outside this limited sphere, it there discovers an irresistible bluish shine extending in ever-increasing subtlety into its far horizons.


    There's infinite fulfillment in moving further and deeper into the heart of everything we ever had desired, unveiling an inner, brilliant clarity we now know we never really lost.


    '… so that you – children of understanding – know that above (in the Sublime) day never becomes night, - that there is light that never goes out and which is perfect.'

- The Gospel of Truth (26) -

    What we perceive while in this state offers us deepest understanding of why we really are experiencing our present material existence. And this abundant insight hands us an unerring compass to find our way out of the labyrinthine mazes physical life confronts us with.


    Thus the Yoga Sutras tell us how to utilize mind for expansion.


    What kind of content to visualize during meditation for reaching this highest perception The Upanishads present in great detail and clarity. -



Next: - The Upanishads - continued

Author:  Hermann Kuhn
Book-Title:  'Where NOTHING Seems To Be'

ISBN:  978-3-9811466-1-5
Copyright 2009 Crosswind Publishing, Wunstorf, Germany

Available in pdf-format at DOWNLOADS