Divine Grace: The Other Side of Enlightenment

By Graham M. Schweig, Ph.D.

In this article, Graham Schweig, an Indic studies and Sanskrit scholar, unpacks the subtle meanings behind a profoundly mystical teaching that lies within Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Professor Schweig’s translations and explorations of this text and the Bhagavad Gita, can illuminate another aspect Yoga’s most profound goal.


The two major classical texts on Yoga, namely the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, indicate that the attainment of enlightenment requires great effort and discipline. The practitioner’s exertion, or effort, or “intense discipline” (tapas), is a theme in the Sutras; and effort, or striving (yatna), as necessary on the part of the practitioner for achievement of higher states of consciousness is a theme in the Gita. Most of the guidance in these two great works centers upon what we, as practitioners, should do, can practice, must avoid or engage in, might perform and so on. No doubt, there is much instruction on what we must do to strive for and achieve enlightenment in Yoga.

However, there is another side to enlightenment. It is a less-known side, a more subtle, or hidden side, a side that often goes unnoticed or that simply gets overlooked despite its dramatic expressions in the sacred texts on Yoga. It is the side of enlightenment that is a gift, the side that is an offering from something much greater than ourselves. It is the side of divine grace.

In the Yoga workshops I offer, I often ask my students these questions when they introduce themselves to the group: “I know all of you have been doing Yoga. But how has Yoga been influencing you? How did Yoga enter your life? How did Yoga make itself known to you?” My query strongly suggests that Yoga is not just something that we do, but Yoga has a special power that does something to us. We have all experienced it in our own ways.

When we practice Yoga, a certain light of knowledge and devotion becomes ignited in us. In a general sense, this is enlightenment. But the other side of enlightenment is the way in which the power of Yoga itself, a power independent of us, allows us to excel in greater levels of consciousness that formerly we could not even imagine. It is that power which, paradoxically, lifts us up into higher realms of achievement most effortlessly. The Gita tells us that this is the gift of the divine, Yogamaya, “the divine power of Yoga.

Enlightenment is not something that suddenly turns on one day, but rather is something that we grow into more and more. In his exposition, Patanjali shows us that enlightenment is developmental, that there are stages leading to samadhi and even in samadhi itself. Although samadhi is considered the perfection of Yoga, it too has many stages within its sabija phases, on the way to nirbija and dharma-megha-samadhi. From the very beginning of our practice, enlightenment begins as the tiniest spark and moves into its blazing fires that contain both its divine gifts and extraordinary achievements.

Patanjali cleverly presents an idea of divine grace in one of his longer sutra texts. If one knows to look for it, one finds in his vision of divine grace a most profound presentation and, perhaps surprisingly, a metaphorical description of it as well. The idea of divine grace or a certain power of Yoga that favors and enhances our practice can be seen in the experience of samapatti, which, amazingly, is presented only once in the Sutras (1.41) in the following:

When the turning has ceased, when
that which is inborn shines forth like that
of a jewel in the one who grasps [the meditator],
in the grasping [the act of meditating] and in that
which is to be grasped [the object of meditation],
one stands so near that one attains a state
in which a magic ointment has been absorbed—
this is samapatti.                                          (YS 1.41)

What is being said in this sutra text? First, the turnings of consciousness that have been conditioned by the mind’s impressions cease. Then, that beloved divinity, Isvara, embedded within the consciousness of Self, shines forth like that of a jewel due to its pure turnings, which are conducted within meditation, just as one turns a fine jewel to catch the light in its perfectly cut multiple facets. The turnings of conditioned consciousness cease while the turnings of pure consciousness occur in meditation. When the meditator, the meditating and the meditated reach perfect harmony with one another, the meditator enters a meditative state in which he or she absorbs a magic or divine “ointment” that comes from the meditated. This ointment is a metaphor for divine grace. Thus, samapatti entails a grace that reciprocates the efforts, strivings and achievements of the meditator in reaching the divine object and in giving one’s self fully to the divine…

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2013 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.