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 the 16th sutra of Chapter 1 in which Patanjali describes what he means by the “highest non-attachment.” He explains this spiritual attainment as being the result of Self-realization. But what is the True Self? Rev. Jaganath clarifies the meaning of the term Patanjali uses for the True Self: the Purusha and the term he uses for that which causes attachments, the “gunas.”

Sutra 1.16 Tat param puruṣa-khyāter guṇavaitṛṣṇyam

When there is non-thirst for even the gunas (constituents of Nature) due to the realization of the Purusha (True Self), that is supreme non-attachment (Swami Satchidananda translation); The highest nonattachment arises when the Purusha is correctly discerned as the True Self. This realization ends all craving, the compulsive urge to find lasting satisfaction from any sense experience that can be provided by nature (gunas, the constituents of nature) (Rev. Jaganath translation).

Be aware of the ephemeral nature of material things. Lose your attachment to them.
—Shui-ch’ing Tzu

Purusha can simply mean person, or something more lofty: Seer, Self and Owner. There are no capital letters in Sanskrit. The meaning is inferred from context. Purusha is the highest Self, spirit, pure consciousness, the eternal witness of all phenomena. Its counterpart is prakriti, matter that is devoid of consciousness. In Sankhya philosophy and in Patanjali’s Yoga, Purusha, consciousness, is one of two eternal realities, the other being prakriti (matter). Strictly speaking, in this tradition, Purusha refers to the individual soul as distinct from the universal one. This means that every person has his or her own Purusha, each identical.

This differs from the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, which is based on a nondual vision: there is only one Reality with all names and forms we see around us as the product of ignorance, of misperception. Therefore, there is no difference between the individual Self and the Supreme Self.

In practical terms, the difference between Sankhya and Advaita Vedanta makes little impact on day-to-day living or in spiritual pursuits. Both are a combination of tradition, logic, and most importantly, subjective experience of truths—realities—that can essentially not be expressed in words. Think about it: We can’t even explain the taste of a banana to someone who has never  had one. How can we convey in words, the subtlest essences of the universe we live in, the nature of the mind and of enlightenment? We can be told where to find bananas, that they need to be ripe to be tasty, and that they should be peeled before eating. That is the true heart of spiritual teachings, especially Yoga, with its primary focus on practice.

Keep in mind,  regardless of the philosophical tradition, two important points: 1) That we  suffer due to ignorance, and 2) That there is a way out of ignorance. The first and most fundamental priority in spiritual life is to remove ignorance, selfishness, fear, and every artificial limitation imposed by the ego. The way we subjectively understand and describe the absolute, unchanging, eternal Truth after that experience will vary according the culture, language, and  beliefs of the individual.

The Gunas

The word “guna,” comes from linguistic roots that mean cow sinew. Cow sinew was most often used for making ropes and as a backing for bows. The sinew was both strong and able to stretch and store energy better than wood alone which prevented the bow from breaking. These characteristics are perhaps part of why the word guna was used to describe the forces or qualities that make up the material universe.

In Sankhya philosophy, the gunas are regarded as ingredients or constituents of prakriti. There are three gunas:

  • Sattva – balance, tranquility, harmony, luminosity
  • Rajas – activity, restlessness, passion
  • Tamas – dullness, inertia, lethargy

The gunas are also understood as attributes of the five elements:

  • Ether
  • Air
  • Fire or light
  • Water
  • Earth

The gunas and spiritual knowledge are also related. Think of true or reliable knowledge as discovering bits of the Absolute (the Self, God, Cosmic Consciousness). This category of knowledge is attained when the mind is sattvic—tranquil, clear, and focused. These tidbits of reality are like appetizers that nudge the seeker ever deeper into contemplative practices and selfless service. Knowledge that is colored by attachment, selfish desires, or restlessness often results in partial or misunderstood truths. This category of knowledge is marked by a predominance of rajas—restlessness and craving.

Knowledge that is rejected or mutated into its opposite is dominated by a tamasic—dull, inert, obstinate—state of mind. It would not be incorrect to regard the goal of Yoga to be cultivating a sattvic state of mind. Once that is achieved, individual effort ends and the seeker now allows and receives grace which carries her or him to liberation. (See sutras 4.25 & 4.26)

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 a work-in-progress.