All posts by Hannah Marciniak

Sūtra 1.3: Tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe’vasthānam

  • Then the seer abides in his own form.
  • When mental activity ceases, we are established in our essential essence.

Introductory Remarks

There are many paths to samādhi—sometimes for the benefit of different individuals, sometimes for the benefit of a single individual at different points in their life. This is usually seen as different philosophies, yoga philosophy being one among them. Some also refer to “the path of yoga,” whether that be the yoga of devotion, the yoga of knowledge, the yoga of action, the eight-limbed yoga of Patañjali. While every path appears externally unique, all paths are internally united, working toward the same goal—no matter the means, all paths focus on letting go of the ego.

But we must take care to remember that it is the ego itself that drives us to self-inquiry. The ego function in itself is therefore not negative. Within the ego function, there are two distinct perspectives: that of the notional ego, which takes the self to be the body-mind complex (“I am everything,” “I do this”), and that of the functional ego, which corresponds to the seer who comprehends the true state of reality. We make use of the notional ego to lead us into awareness of and ultimately identification with the functional ego.

What stands in the way of this discovery of and abiding in this functional ego (the essence of the aphorism we discuss today) is our unique set of rāgas (passionate or clinging attachments and aversions). So development of vairāgya, dispassion is the first step. To achieve vairāgya, we must must recognize, first, that there is passion; second, that passion leads to trouble; and third, that once passionate desires are satisfied, the happiness we thereby seek does not last. Only then can we let go. Spiritual growth begins with inquiry, when we ask, “What is it that truly brings me peace?” Yama, niyama, the limbs of yoga—these are all very practical ways of rehabilitating ourselves once we have entered the process of self-inquiry.

Remember that puruṣa must operate prakṛti for any activity to happen in this world. And one last note on duality: some say that prakṛti never truly disappears, that when the fluctuations of the mind cease, prakṛti simply becomes transparent, free of obstruction.


STUDENTS (on the meaning of the sūtra):

  • We are not what we think we are, and yoga helps us know what we really are.
  • It seems to answer the question “Who am I?” This question seems to arise when consciousness develops, and maybe part of living is trying to answer that question.
  • In building on the previous sūtra, this sūtra describes what arises from restraint of thought patterns of the mind.
  • The Vedanta perspective points to a veil of ignorance that obscures the true nature of the self and suggests that, to pierce this ignorance, one needs knowledge, an understanding of who one really is.
  • The practice of āsana is so meaningful in this—an exploration of what your personal limitations truly are. In āsana practice, you have to face your limitations head on, and where you meet them, you learn more about yourself, what you can do, where your limitations really are, who you are.
  • In this sūtra is a sense of the external falling away, yet of something remaining—and it is what remains that this sūtra describes: the core You.

RAM: The word tadā (then) refers to the previous sūtra, which defines samādhi as “the restraint of all mental modes.” Tadā thus indicates the moment when samādhi occurs.

The phrase draṣṭuḥ svarūpe means “in the (true) nature of the seer.” The technical meaning of svarūpa refers to one’s form, but in the context of this sūtra, the word refers the true nature of one’s self. This is in contrast to the term svabhāva, which refers to what one takes oneself to be. In the vision of yoga, the puruṣa mistakenly takes itself to be associated with prakṛti, and yoga enables the puruṣa (the seeker) to understand that it is not associated with prakṛti. In this way, thus puruṣa can remain in right relationship with its own true nature.

Draṣta is an important word here. Derived from the verb dṛś (to see), draṣta (seer) refers to the subject, whereas dṛśya (object seen) refers to the object. We are good at distinguishing the core of our being (the seer) from the gross body (physical form), but less skilled at separating the seer from the subtle body (the mind, citta). We would not, for instance, say, “I am leg,” for we understand our legs to be objects that  are distinct from our deepest selves. Yet very often we identify ourselves with our mental state. We say, “I am happy,” when it would be more accurate say, “My mind is experiencing a state of happiness.” To free ourselves from the conflation of seer and mind, however, we must engage that very mind, using the idea of duality as a stepping stone, as a means to free our inherent nature from the force of prakṛti. When we are no longer bound by the dictates of our own minds, we see ourselves for what we truly are.

Once you have become centered in Yourself, you carry on as usual with your daily affairs. What has changed is how you perceive the world. This is the import of the word avasthānam in this aphorism.  Avasthānam means “abiding” or “remaining established.” It is useful here to remember the sage who, when asked to describe his life before enlightenment, said, “I chopped wood, made tea.” When asked to describe his life after enlightenment, he responds, “I chop wood, make tea.”


Sūtra 1.2: Yogaścittavṛttinirodhaḥ

Notes by Hannah Marciniak, edited by Ram




RAM: To come to truly understand what we have learned, we must revisit what we have already studied. To that end, we’ll start today by discussing Sūtra 1.2, which we explored in our last meeting.  Remember that during the learning process you will have doubts. It like putting in a fence post: you begin by making room for the post, but you must adjust the post numerous times to get it solidly planted. Asking a question is like readjusting the post—there are no stupid questions. What questions or thoughts have come up for you regarding this sutra since our last discussion?


  • I find this to be a very concise reminder, but am discovering that it’s much easier said than done.

  • I have observed that the first chapter makes you think you want to stop—to cease these fluctuations of the mind—and then you find it does not.

  • I was struck by the idea of thought waves—such an interesting and large topic.

  • I was reminded of the best experiences in yoga with this sūtra and appreciate that the sūtras are so experiential.

  • I’ve been thinking of that momentary pause between thoughts as the beginning of happiness.

  • I keep coming back to how difficult this truly is: vṛtti is a nonjudgmental word, truly just any mental state, and how can you arrive at a goal without being attached to any mental state? I’m beginning to feel that just the practice of achieving this goal is inherently worthwhile in itself, that this alone enriches life.

  • What resonates from this sūtra is the stillness, the ability to observe regardless of the challenges you’re facing.

RAM: Sūtras are extremely concise. There is so much packed in that they need to be elaborated. Patañjali uses the first 3-4 sūtras in the first chapter to convey the essence of what the subsequent sūtras in his work go on to explore further. Thus, time spent up front to internalize the first sūtras is time well spent.

Citta (the mind) is a manifestation of prakṛti (matter) and puruṣa (the Observer / Awareness / Consciousness). Prakṛti and puruṣa are the underpinnings of the Sāṅkhya yoga philosophy. Puruṣa is the core of our Being, and  prakṛti (as mind and body) forms the layers through which we receive, filter, and store our perceptions of the world, which don’t touch the core of our Being.

The śāstra (teaching) cannot be understood simply through intellectual effort. It must go through you, and it happens through your whole wakeful life. The śāstra is not confined to the āsana practice, but appears in every moment of your wakeful time.

Prakṛti is composed of three core aspects or qualities, which are called guṇas:
1. Sattva – characterized by clarity, cognition, dominant quality of the mind
2. Rajas – activity
3. Tamas – inactivity, associated with the gross body
While we tend to assign value judgments to the qualities, they’re neither bad nor good. Indeed, all three are necessary. For example, the physical body is considered to be predominantly tamas. During deep sleep, the mind is also predominantly tamas. The world as we see it, including ourselves, is a combination of all the three aspects of prakṛti.

STUDENT: The distinction between sūkṣma (subtle) and sthūla (gross)—are they the same as mental vs. physical?

RAM: Yes and no. The subtle body is mental, yes, but it comprises much more than just the thinking mind, for it informs the physiological, neurological, and mental activities that drive everything. In Eastern philosophies, it is the subtle body that seeks another body to inhabit when the soul departs. Ultimately, the mind is involved. Take “seeing”: “I see” and the ability to see are properties of the subtle body, while the eyes, the organ of seeing, are part of the gross body.

Cultivating the singular focus of mind is the pathway to samādhiāsana is simply a training ground for this ability. Because the mind-intellect complex, which a manifestation of prakṛti, has a stranglehold on us, we introduce the concept of duality, of the observer and observed, as a method for regaining objectivity, as one approach to restraining thought patterns. (Remember that there are many pathways of approaching samādhi.)

Mind also is composed of the three aspects sattvarajas, and tamas. When the three guṇas are balanced, we are naturally drawn to doing the right thing. If tamas is dominant, we tend to act out of a perception that the end justifies the means. When rajas is dominant, we are driven to be highly active, primarily egocentric activities.  When sattva is dominant, we are ready for meditation, for cultivation of the single-pointed mind. We can, in such a mine realize “I am not the mind.” A sattva dominant state is that in which one is able to learn. It is sometimes called ‘the learning mind’.

Patañjali’s use of the word yoga hints at the duality of matter and consciousness, but the idea of an observer-observed binary is simply a stepping stone. What happens when cittavṛttinirodha is complete? What does it mean with regard to the question “Who am I”? This is the topic of the third aphorism.

STUDENT: In Western philosophical traditions, the idea of ontological exploration—or what exists and what doesn’t—is core. And it’s binary: something is either in or out. Is this ontological lens incompatible with the guṇas? It seems like they are more like qualities, or colors, of thought. Is modern scientific perspective incompatible with this perspective?

RAM: It may be a different lens, but I have found science to be a great help in understanding Vedanta—in a way, it drew me and kept me in Vedanta study. While science starts from the perspective of the fundamental duality of matter and energy, modern scientific inquiry increasingly reveals the blurring of this duality. Take the finding that the observed is modified by the very process of observation.

Nonduality is a substratum on which we say things exist. When we achieve samādhi, duality disappears. This is the oneness, aloneness—abstract ideas which deny any type of duality—and is expressed as kaivalya, the ability to see through the phenomenal world of duality. Recognition of duality is a tool that helps lead us to an understanding of oneness—or, better, of no-otherness. The dual world is just a perception. We don’t want to be the mind. That is, more often than not we do not see the separation between the mind and ourselves. This identification is what is behind the common expressions “I am sad, I am unhappy, I am happy.” We know that these are emotions that the mind undergoes, but they are cognized by me, the I.

Another important thing to note: the more centered you are, the more useful you will be to society. Your peace will spread. If you rehabilitate your mind, you cannot help but impact the world positively.