From Patanjali’s perspective in his Yoga Sutras, there is ultimately one problem in life; not perceiving the difference between the transparent, luminous and reflective quality (guna) of the mind with its perceptual field known as sattva, and my true nature as “I” purusha, my true self. The cost of not making this distinction is an uncertainty of identity based upon a fluctuating field, a loss of self, and a confusing and painful search for self in places where the self does not exist. Sattva is the very subtlest essence of what seems to be one’s self but is not. Perhaps the most important aspect of sattva is that it can be discerned as an object of perception (drshya or seeable), whereas the self (purusha) is drashtaa, the seer, or drshi-maatra, seeing alone.

In effect, Patanjali says that all study of Yoga exists for the sake of making this distinction, and only when this distinction is made continuously does there occur kaivalya, the freedom of the self from all limiting identities, and hence from what we refer to as “problems,” the big one and the little ones. Simple logic assumes that if kaivalya is free from all problems but we are being devoured by problems and their accompanying anxieties, that we are not familiar with kaivalya. Therefore the presence of problems is the absence of kaivalya and vice versa. But before kaivalya, we have the challenge of distinguishing sattva from purusha. The immediate choice is not between kaivalya and problems, but of one big problem or lots of little ones.

The specific term Patanjali uses to describe this distinguishing of the difference between sattva and purusha is viveka-khyaati. Khyaati implies “knowledge by naming.” It comes from the root khyaa — to name or declare. Viveka means “distinguishing by separating apart”, from the root vic. In this case it refers to separating apart one’s own self, purusha from sattva.

Since nothing can be known or distinguished without naming it, the act of naming something is the decisive turning point where anything can be known. Through his choice of words, Patanjali implies that the only difference between those who have discovered kaivalya and those who haven’t is that the former have been careful to focus upon the act of naming sattva and purusha as distinct from each other. In the same context, Patanjali also uses the term purusha-khyaati — naming, hence, knowing purusha (my true identity) to be independent from and therefore not at the effect of any activity in the perceptual field. This being the ultimate viveka, or distinction, it is also referred to as viveka-khyaati. Without purusha-khyaati, or viveka-khyaati. it is certain that identity will be shaped by what is occurring in the always changing field. We suffer from a limited identity, whose happiness depends upon the weather, so to speak.

The best hope we have of making this ultimate distinction of life is to assume that it’s the most natural thing in the world to do so. It’s natural in the sense that others like ourselves, worn down by multiple problems, sought and found this simplicity. It’s perfectly practical to choose the one problem that resolves the others to say “my problem is that my perspective has not included sattva — light, the essence of clarity, the subtlest substratum of life, and the original pulsation.” But it’s hard to imagine that one could ever arrive at viveka-khyaati without problem—khyaati, the act of naming the problem.

Several things occur by the sincere declaration of such a problem. The first is that other problems lose their charge. This is not to say that responsibilities or needs or relations disappear, or that discomfort, pain etc. go away, but that they no longer occur as “problems.” They can’t continue to exist in the same way when I say “my only problem is that I’m not seeing sattva and getting on to viveka-khyaati.” The funny thing about this is that by making the absence of sattva the big problem, sattva begins to show up. What becomes apparent is that the primary cause of not seeing sattva is a preoccupation with problems and worries. It also becomes clear that sattva, the medium of consciousness, is always present. The very fact that we are aware of a field is at once evidence of sattva, and can be a means of redirecting our attention to sattva. Another thing that occurs is an extraordinary appreciation of the Yoga Sutras and the Sanskrit language as the lenses that help to bring sattva into focus. They are lenses which we use, by our own choice, to focus, and thereby see. This is in contrast to a passive approach where we hope that something external, such as the Yoga Sutras, or Sanskrit, will enlighten us.

Most important, while seeing sattva, there a medium of clarity that makes it possible to become aware of the continuous presence of drashtaa — I the seer, purusha, seeing sattva. Since sattva is subtle, “seeing” here refers to a direct experience of an expanded field of vibration, by a simultaneous seeing, feeling and hearing of finer frequencies. With this comes the discovery that I, the seer, am always present, but when seeing sattva, it’s easier to remember. Patanjali has made the alternative clear by his definition of avidyaa (the lack of awareness):

Avidyaa is the khyaati of a self on what is not the self, happiness on misery, purity on impurity, and permanence on impermanence.

Again, he uses the word khyaati as if to say “if there is no viveka-khyaati, there will be the khyaati (naming and therefore knowing, projecting a self on what is not the self, etc.)” Another sutra, reinforcing the importance of dealing with the big problem adds:

vidyaa is the field of the other klesha (problems).

The use of Sanskrit as a lens to bring sattva into focus can be even more effective in a class environment with people who have agreed to exercise the continuous application of Yoga to the study of Sanskrit (and Sanskrit to the study of Yoga). Essential to this are abhyaasa — continuously choosing to focus on a predetermined point of focus — and vairaagya — the recognition of being off the point and not being stuck on staying off the point. Patanjali defines this as the “declaration of mastery on the part of one not holding on to prior experience.”

The Sanskrit required to grasp the Sutras is elementary, since the Sutras are only word equations. But, the richness of inspiration derived from this first step into the language is indescribable. It can never become one of those programs we try once and forget about. Its purity draws us, inspires us, and constantly reminds us, in case we forget, of our biggest problem.

By Vyaas Houston, M.A.

Vyaas (Tuck) Houston is the founder and director the American Sanskrit Institute. After teaching Sanskrit and Yoga for more than 15 years, he discovered in 1987 a successful method for teaching Sanskrit based on the yoga model of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. His Sanskrit Training has provided thousands of people with the opportunity to discover their own unique relationship with Sanskrit. Vyaas Houston is the author of Sanskrit by CD and the Sanskrit Atlas 1.0, and has recorded and translated many Sanskrit classics.