Rev. Jaganath, Integral Yoga Minister and Raja Yoga master teacher, has spent a lifetime delving into the deepest layers of meaning in Patanjali’s words within the Yoga Sutras. Our series continues with sutra: 2.18 in which Patanjali delineates the nature of “the seen” (prakriti) and the pivotal role it plays in spiritual unfolding.
Sutra 2.18: prakāśa-kriyā-sthiti-śīlam bhūta-indriya-ātmakaṃ bhoga-apavarga-arthaṃ dṛśyam
The seen is of the nature of the gunas: illumination, activity and inertia; and consists of the elements and sense organs, whose purpose is to provide both experiences and liberation to the Purusha (Swami Satchidananda translation). The seen consists of the five elements and sense organs and has the qualities of translucence, activity, and inertia. Its purpose is to provide experiences and liberation (Rev. Jaganath translation).
Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood. —Ralph Waldo Emerson
prakāśa = translucence; illumination, light, splendor, brightness, pure consciousness, visible, clear, manifest, open, public, expanded, universally noted, before the eyes of all, appearance, display, manifestation, diffusion, laughter, it is the principle by which everything else is known, the principle of self-revelation
from pra = before, forward + kāśa = from kaś = to shine, appear
Prakasa is an innate quality of the Divine or Absolute Truth. The word is also used to describe a quality of sattva.
kriyā = activity; doing, performing, work (See 2.1)
sthiti = inertia; remaining inert, standing
from sthā = to stand, to stand firmly, station one’s self, stand upon, to take up a position on, to stay, remain, continue in any condition or action, to remain occupied or engaged in, be intent on, make a practice of, keep on, persevere in any act, to continue to be or exist, endure, to be, exist, be present, be obtainable or at hand, to be with or at the disposal of, belong to, abide by, be near to, be on the side of, adhere or submit to, acquiesce in, serve, obey, stop, halt, wait, tarry, linger, hesitate, to behave or conduct oneself, to be directed to or fixed in, to be founded or rest or depend on, to rely on, confide in, resort to, arise from, to remain unnoticed, be left alone, to affirm, settle, determine, direct or turn towards
śīlam = qualities; character, nature, natural or acquired way of acting, conduct, disposition, form, shape, beauty. Or, good behavior, right discipline, morality, self-restraint, giving of one’s self, desisting from all sinful acts
from śīl = serve, act
In Buddhism sila is one of the six ideals, obligations, precepts, or virtues (paramita). These virtues guide and assist the seeker on the path to perfection. They have three stages and are six in number: ideals for the worldly life; ideals for the mental life; and ideals for the spiritual life.
- dana = charity and love
- sila = good behavior
- ksanti = patience
- virya = zeal
- dhyana = meditation
- prajna = insight
These guidelines help regulate the behavior of monks, nuns, and lay persons. They constitute the preconditions for progress on the path. As morality, sila is part of the eightfold path: right speech, right action, right livelihood.
bhūta = the five elements; earth, water, fire, air, space, constituents of the manifest universe
indriya = sense organs; power; derived from the Vedic god named Indra, it means agreeable to Indra.
from Indra = ruler, chief, mighty, powerful
Indra is the Vedic god of the atmosphere and sky as well as of rain, who rules over the deities in the mid-region of heaven and fights against and conquers demons and the forces of darkness with his thunderbolt. He rides an elephant, a symbol of strength and the ability to remove obstacles. He holds his hands in gestures of protection and the granting of boons. Sometimes, he is depicted with eyes all over his body.
Over time, his position as the great god weakened and he was only king of the lesser gods and the lord of heaven. He loves to drink soma, the intoxicating nectar of immortality of which he drinks enormous amounts. Stimulated by its exhilarating qualities, he goes forth to fight against his foes, and to perform his other duties. He was worshiped and loved, especially in Vedic times for his generous nature as the bestower of rain and the cause of fertility, yet was also feared as the ruler of storm and the sender of lightning and thunder.
That the word for the senses is related to the name of this deity suggests an understanding of the senses as powerful. They can be used for good but should be treated as potential gateways into troubles. Like Indra, the senses can create disturbing storms, become intoxicated with overuse, misuse, or abuse, or they can be powerful allies in perceiving and learning the lessons that life provides.
In Buddhism, indriya also refers to twenty-two psychological and physical faculties.
ātmakaṃ = consists; consisting or composed of, belonging to, having the nature or character of, loving one’s self, desire for the Self, desirous of emancipation, loving the supreme spirit, possessed of, self-conceit
from ātma = self + ka = a possessive suffix, or from kam = to desire
Traditionally, kama, pleasure, is one of the four accepted values or goals of life, which is regulated by dharma and eventually superseded by the highest desire: moksha, liberation.
Patanjali’s Sutras presents prakriti in a materially-based way, as gross and subtle elements. Using this model, prakriti is described by most commentators much like the way scientists describe matter — as the building blocks of objects, devoid of life. This approach captures much of the nature of prakriti, but could there be another dimension? Let’s break it down.
Look at the list of definitions for atmakam, or what prakriti consists of. Going deeper into that list we find words that have undertones of what appear to be emotions, all stemming from the root, kam (to desire). Kam is the root of kama, as in the Kama Sutra. That is why the translation for atmakam includes desire for the Self or liberation, and loving the supreme Spirit.
The notion of prakriti having an element of love may seem a bit odd. But it may not seem odd once we add the second sentence of this sutra which presents the purpose of prakriti. We can see a picture of prakriti emerging that reveals a profound understanding of Nature. If the purpose of the seen (prakriti) is to give us experiences that bring liberation, why couldn’t the relationship between Seer and seen be regarded as love, a quality innate in any healthy relationship?
Need further indications of this understanding of prakriti? Look to sutra 4.2 which, along with sutra 4.3, describes the nature of prakriti’s manifestations. The acts of creation result from an abundance, an overflowing, of prakriti. Here, we have a picture of prakriti as if it is intent on flowing and filling the universe. Why? To provide experiences and liberation for the individual.
There’s still more that supports this intimate relationship between Purusha and prakriti. For this, we’ll look to Sankhya philosophy upon which much of the Sutras rest.
Prakriti has been described as a woman dancing to get the attention of the Purusha. But once Purusha’s attention fully turns to prakriti’s dance, she vanishes. Isn’t this just a metaphorical way of saying that prakriti gives us experiences that lead to liberation? Kaivalya is Patanjali’s term to describe enlightenment. Kaivalya means independence, liberation, isolation. It is the vanishing of prakriti as the only reality, allowing the Seer, the Purusha, to stand apart —to be experienced — in its true nature as citi shakti, the power of pure consciousness (see 4.34).
The message here is profound: this universe, with all its tumult, unexpected hardships, and confounding human behaviors, is a benevolent place. The universe is on our side. Teachings and practices such as those in the Yoga Sutras help us to see this truth by peeling away the layers of ignorance that obscure our True Nature and the true nature of the universe we live in. (See 2.21 to expand on the subject matter of this sutra.) Also see the comments on bhoga and on artham that follows.
bhoga = experiences; enjoyment, any winding or curve, feasting, feeding on, use, application, fruition, sexual enjoyment, enjoyment of the earth or of a country, perception of pleasure or pain, utility, advantage, delight, any object of enjoyment, property, wealth, revenue (see 2.13)
Look at the list of definitions for bhoga. Note that most of them express some sort of joy or delight. Especially pertinent is enjoyment of the earth. Could it be that we are to understand that nature is not an enemy to be overcome, but a gift to be enjoyed and that it is the perfect arena — challenges as well as pleasures — for spiritual growth and enlightenment?
apavarga = liberation; emancipation, completion, end, final beatitude, gift, donation; from apa = away, off + varga = a division, class, set, multitude of similar things, group, company, family, everything comprehended under any department or head, everything included under a category, province or sphere of, from vrj = twist, bend, turn, crooked,
arthaṃ = purpose (See 1.28, 1.32, 1.42, 1.43, 2.2, 2.18, 2.21, 2.22, 3.3, 3.17, 3.36, 4.23, 4.24, 4.32, 4.34)
This sutra affirms that the purpose of the seen is to provide experiences and liberation for the individual. The entire universe is a university that exists for the benefit of our liberation. Yet, what about the countless manifestations of the seen that no human ever sees. Science tells us, for example, that two thirds of all living beings exist in the ocean, still undiscovered. Why would the seen express in ways and in beings that no human has or may never see?
The answer may be that this sutra can have an another, expanded meaning. Reflect on this alternate translation, using the same original Sanskrit as the source:
The seen consists of the elements and sense organs and has the qualities of illumination, activity, and inertia. Its purpose is delight and freedom.
The three words: bhoga, apavarga, and artha form a compound in the original Sanskrit: delight, freedom, and purpose or experience. This leaves room for the discovery of layers of meaning.
The seen exists for the Seer, but the Seer is not just the Self of all beings. It is the essential Self of all objects in the universe. The Seer delights in the seen and this delight exists in a free-flowing state of freedom. This description of delight is maybe the best way we can understand or describe what is essentially beyond the grasp of the mind. The Seer delights in the seen and it is a state of complete freedom. Freedom from what?
The categorizations, motives, and emotions the human mind projects onto creation. When the Seer and seen get mixed together, their true essences are obscured by an overlay of our notions, philosophies, aspirations, fears, and desires. From the unenlightened mind’s limited perspective, neither the Seer nor seen is free to exist according to its essential nature. From the perspective of the Seer, freedom is the unrestrained delight in the “show” put on by the seen. The delight is innate in the witnessing of the play of the universe: the drama, comedy, romance, adventure, and horror. The seen exists for the delight of the Seer. The Seer and seen, in Patanjali’s Yoga, coexist eternally together. And freedom is a hallmark of that relationship.
When we say that the Seer delights, it’s a human-centric way of expressing the state of harmony of purpose. This is what has been experienced and revealed to the great sages and saints and is waiting for us to discover for ourselves.
My master was once asked to describe enlightenment. He said: You’re in the light. You feel light. And you take delight in everything. The fully enlightened being is someone who has become an embodiment of the dance of delight of the Seer and seen. It sounds like love, doesn’t it? This truth is not limited to Yoga. It is found in all faith traditions. Here’s an example from Psalm 148 (an excerpt from the Berean Study Bible):
Praise the Lord from the earth,
All great sea creatures and ocean depths,
Lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
Powerful wind fulfilling His word,
Mountains and all hills,
Fruit trees and all cedars,
Wild animals and all cattle,
Crawling creatures and flying birds,
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
Princes and all rulers of the earth,
Young men and maidens,
Old and young together.
Let them praise the name of the Lord.
dṛśyam = the seen; the seeable, what is to be seen
About the Author:
Reverend Jaganath Carrera is and Integral Yoga Minister and the founder/spiritual head of Yoga Life Society. He is a direct disciple of world renowned Yoga master and leader in the interfaith movement, Sri Swami Satchidananda—the founder and spiritual guide of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and Integral Yoga International. Rev. Jaganath has taught at universities, prisons, Yoga centers, and interfaith programs both in the USA and abroad. He was a principal instructor of both Hatha and Raja Yoga for the Integral Yoga Teacher Training Certification Programs for over twenty years and co-wrote the training manual used for that course. He established the Integral Yoga Ministry and developed the highly regarded Integral Yoga Meditation and Raja Yoga Teacher Training Certification programs. He served for eight years as chief administrator of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and founded the Integral Yoga Institute of New Brunswick, NJ. He is also a spiritual advisor and visiting lecturer on Hinduism for the One Spirit Seminary in New York City. Reverend Jaganath is the author of Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, published by Integral Yoga Publications. His latest book, Patanjali’s Words, is coming soon from Integral Yoga Publications.