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Everyday Questions on
Patanjalis Yoga Aphorisms


Part 1

Articles from Theosophy Magazine in
Vol. 35 pgs. 30, 81, 129, 180


© 2006 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet Malmö 

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Question: WHAT is the real and essential difference between Eastern and Western psychology? That is, aside from the basis of reincarnation, what would be a few primary differences, taking Patanjali as a type of Eastern psychology?

Answer: The essential difference between the two is described in a few words of Chapter XIV of Notes on the Bhagavad Gita:

“Both abound in classifications; those of the East are much more numerous than those of the West and cover a far wider field; Western psychology in its classifications refers solely to mental states. The psychology of the Gita and the ancient sages classifies the moral states, treating of the mental states as mere effects produced by moral conditions (p. 197).

A psychology which is founded on the study of moral conditions is immediately and practically related to conduct. Eastern psychology is therefore dynamic, not merely descriptive. The Gita, rich in oriental psychology, is above all a treatise on action. Its purpose is to assist the reader in deciding what he ought to do. Thus true study of Eastern psychology is impossible without living it as well. In her article, ”Psychic and Noëtic Action,” H.P.B. identifies the two great springs of human action, the higher and the lower. It is meant as a practical guide in the struggle for self-knowledge.

The classifications of Western psychology deal almost entirely with the psychic nature and the psycho-physical correlations of the lower man. It sets forth many details of psychic stimulus and response and describes typical human behavior in individuals and in the mass. But Western psychology has no general doctrine of the nature of man, no clear concept of soul, no serious consideration of the moral struggle.

An apt admission of the confusion of modern psychology is found in the words of the late William McDougall, himself a leader in the field. ”It remains,” he wrote in 1931, ”a chaos of dogmas and opinions diametrically opposed, a jangle of discordant schools and sects; a field exploited by quacks and charlatans of every sort, preying upon the ignorance of a deeply interested public which knows not which way to turn for authoritative guidance.”

Eastern psychology is the study of the mind as a principle in itself, in its relation to external and internal experience, and in relation to the Spirit or the Self. By understanding of the mind, the student learns to overcome its limitations – its ”modifications,” as Patanjali calls them – and thereby becomes a free being. This freedom is identical with knowledge, for it is the product of knowledge.

True psychology, therefore, is inseparable from philosophy; is, in fact, a department of philosophy. In the West, psychology is the enemy of philosophy and the ally of the grossest materialism. It is this materialism of academic psychology which has delivered ”a deeply interested public” into the hands of ”quacks and charlatans of every sort,” as McDougall says. There can be no true psychology without a philosophy of soul.

Question: Is it possible for the public to be enlightened as to the psychic and mental enslavement which follows the misuse of psychological laws and principles?

Answer: Mental enslavement, except for its extreme subtlety, is like any other enslavement. Its victims can be enlightened if they are beginning to be aware of their slavery and want to be free. There is a high degree of enlightenment today regarding the evils of drink, but this does not prevent the increasing use of liquor in modern society.

Public enlightenment regarding false psychologies and harmful psychic practices will depend upon the public desire for knowledge on these subjects. It is probable that a general interest in true psychology will result only as a reaction to these abuses, to the excesses described by H.P.B. in the Five Messages to American Theosophists.

Meanwhile, students of the present day may spread the enlightenment provided in Theosophy as widely as they can, so that the suffering and the disillusioned will have opportunity to find the truth after bitter experience starts them on the quest.

Question: If the moral nature is to be developed ahead of the intellectual, will it be necessary to change our entire educational system as it exists today?

Answer: The task of subordinating intellectual to moral development is accomplished by individuals, not by ”systems,” educational or otherwise. Educational theory and practice may place obstacles in the way of natural development, but it cannot prevent men of will from reaching to the truth. When enough individuals place a higher value on moral integrity than on intellectual facility, the educational system will undergo the natural modifications required to introduce a similar emphasis in the schools.

Systems reflect the thoughts of men, they do not create them, except as ”conditioning” operates as an influence in all human relations. Great moral changes come about, not by changing ”systems,” but by creative thought and action which lead men to rely on themselves instead of systems. Systems are only social habits – no better, no worse, than habits of any other sort.

Question: May the failure of Christianity be rightly attributed to false psychology, in view of the fact that its dogmas have destroyed self-reliance and all sense of individual responsibility?

Answer: Christianity failed because it contracted the universal Christos principle, potential in every man, to a single historical personality, and made the moral evolution of all dependent upon the achievement of one. As the questioner intimates, this undermined self-reliance among Christians, with the logical effect of weakening individual responsibility.

Modern psychology is materialistic, largely because of the betrayal of the Western world by its priests, who so degraded and distorted the original psychology of the Gnostic Christians that modern thinkers felt it necessary to make an entirely new beginning in psychology, leaving out the soul, and even the mind, in order to avoid any resemblance to hated theological dogmas!

Question: Why does William Q Judge, in the Preface to the Aphorisms, speak of the mind as an ”organ” Is not an organ ”physical”?

Answer: The mind is called an organ by William Q Judge for the reason that mind is a substantial and dynamic principle, and not the mere abstraction of cognitive functions which modern psychology would have us accept as its meaning. The power of Patanjali's psychological system is rendered into the Western idiom by Judge precisely in this way. He provides an ”anatomy” of the mental principle, and blueprints the method of its control. His Preface makes clear that for him, Patanjali's teaching was not merely a ”theory of knowledge,” but knowledge itself.

Euclidean certainty of these aphorisms challenges the reader to basic decisions. One does not ”read” or dabble in Patanjali. This psychology has the precision of a treatise on engineering; obedience to its principles as stated is as crucial for soul-development as following the known laws of stress and strain in physical construction.

The mind is the psycho-moral organ of the evolving ego. It is the link between Spirit and Matter, the principle of individuation, the source of all illusions and the means of overcoming them. Perfect control of the mind is the dynamic aspect of self-knowledge. Adeptship is simply the indivisible unity of mind and the spiritual will.


Question: THE mind, it is said, is constantly modified by the perceptions of the senses (p. xii). When the Soul is without concentration, it is similarly modified by the senses via the mind ( p.3). When Soul is in control (xiii), is it the Mind or the Soul that controls sense? (Aphorisms 35 and 36 in Book I raise this point.)

Answer: To say that ”the soul has concentration” is to describe a condition under which the full energies of the matter-transcending self find active expression through the mind. Therefore, there is no separate control over the senses by either ”soul” or ”mind” – the controlling entity being indivisible as Atma-Buddhi-Manas.

The difference between the ”higher nature” and the ”lower nature” resides in the power of creativity – first distinguishing mark of the self-conscious being. The ”lower nature,” expressing itself actively through a form of intelligence we call ”latent” manas, is simply instinctual in behavior. Instinctual intelligence is never creative, but rather repetitive. The modern school of behavioristic psychology has studied long and arduously the nature of instinctual intelligence and pronounced that intelligence is derived from a conditioning process. This is quite correct. The error of  ”behaviorism” from a Theosophical point of view is simply that such a description becomes misleading if a further, and in this case, unwarranted assumption is also made – that all intelligence is simply instinctual or repetitive, and that therefore all conditioning comes from external sources.

One of the ”conditioning” factors in the formation of new habits of instinctual intelligence is the creative impulse of the Higher Man – the man who thinks in terms of progress and evolutionary growth – the man who is quite literally bored with a routine of sensations. New habits, on this view, are formed from within as the always new purposes of soul are given preference over the routinized purposes of the purely sensory self. It is only when the Buddhi-Manasic center of self-consciousness is afraid to attempt the evolutionary growth for which it nevertheless secretly hungers, that the energies of Buddhi flow back through a passive mind, serving no evolutionary purpose, yet temporarily vivifying sensory pleasure. But since a denial of the purposes of the inner self is implicit in this process, such intensifying of sensory pleasure is sufficiently frustrating to the soul nature to produce more actual neuroses than ever accrue from the too-stern disciplines over the lower self recommended by the ”denial” theory of religious practice.

Question: The Preface calls for sincere students and resolute students to gain the knowledge implied in Patanjali's Yoga aphorisms. Is it possible that there are today theosophists with the stamina to become true occultists, in order to help the world in the present critical cycle? If so, what are they doing toward this end?

Answer: A text to answer this question might be Judge's statement, that ”the world of real occultists . . . goes on with the laborious process of sifting out the living germs from the masses of men. For occultists must be found and fostered and prepared for coming ages when power will be needed and pretensions will go for nothing.”

Can we suppose that H.P.B. came simply to found a Movement of benevolent humanitarianism? The Third Object, read between the lines, or even as she stated its meaning in Recent Progress in Theosophy (see THEOSOPHY for October, pp. 445-46), suggests that the development of real occultists is the very heart of the Theosophic enterprise, for Brotherhood must not only spread as a sentiment; it must become a power.

When it is realized that the first step on the path to occultism is a deliberate and thorough inventory of one's qualifications for this high calling, then the self-imposed discipline of the Theosophic life may be recognized as being in fact that step.

It would be well to refer to the article, What Is Occultism? printed in THEOSOPHY, VIII, 353, and to read Robert Crosbie on impersonality (The Friendly Philosopher, p. 127), for a better understanding of what Judge may mean by ”the living germs” on whom the future of the Theosophical Movement, of all mankind, maybe, will depend.



IT is said (Preface, xiii) that “Knowledge exists as an abstraction.” This is not clear. It seems that there could be no knowledge without the knowers of it. On the other hand, if knowledge exists without knowers, where does it exist. It is said that in the Astral Light are “all human actions and things, thoughts and circumstances fixed,” but how could they be regarded as an “abstraction”?

The “astral light” does not contain knowledge. Knowledge is a manasically-perceived relationship between the Buddhic element of the individual and “human actions and circumstances.” Such relationships always pertain to the “moral” aspects of human evolution which are simply the specifics of interdependence. But moral knowledge is never the exclusive possession of any individual, for moral knowledge resides in a grasp of principles that underlie all relationships. Principles are “abstract” because they may be and are applied in all directions – not just in certain specified instances – by the beings who seek to embody them.

A principle is not possessed by an individual – he uses the principle, and what he “possesses” is simply the sum total of results caused by his application of the principle. Therefore, unless it is perceived that knowledge resides in the world of principles rather than in the realm of specific actions, the only solution to the human moral problem would be an enforced conformity to categorically “good” actions. This latter tendency, the “materialization” of the moral equation, characterizes all revealed or authoritarian religions – and moves towards the stultification of individual growth in the attainment of knowledge. Knowledge, when attained, is in a definitive sense “abstract,” because it resides in a grasp of principles rather than in a memorization of events. There is no knowledge without the grasp of a principle, and a principle is abstract, for the simple reason that if it is a principle it cannot be limited by any single embodiment.

All real scientific knowledge is “abstract” in origin, for it depends upon the establishment of laws. To formulate a law means to discover a principle of relationship between apparently unrelated objects and motions. The knowledge of the scientist, measurable only by his discovery of abstract principle (since these principles never reside in objects or motions themselves), comes to him as he grasps the principle, not while he is engaged in sorting his “facts.”

The word “abstract” should also be related to the word “metaphysical.” Metaphysical realities, not physical realities, are primary. It is only by learning to think in terms of a metaphysical world of reality that man learns to raise himself above the instinctual level of animal behavior. Looking from below upward, all realities are very much “abstract,” but that fact makes their attainment more, rather than less, necessary.

In Aphorisms 2 to 13 (Book I), “Mind” is represented as an internal tactile organ which conveys the properties of an object to the Perceiver by forming itself in the image of the object. But this does not seem to be a “thinking” process, the latter being the action of logically relating the properties of an object to those of other objects or to successive states of the object itself. Thus the mind does not here appear as a “thinker,” but only as a perceptive organ. But again we are informed that the “soul” is in the same modification as the mind when objects are being perceived. Thus the “soul” does not seem to be the “thinker” either. The ultimate “Perceiver” we recognize as Atma; but, between the perceiving organ and the “Perceiver” there seems to be a missing link of thought. Are we to find it in a parallel definition of the “principles”?

The word “mind,” as used by Patanjali, has two meanings. The “tactile organ” is composed of a highly refined, tenuous substance – referred to in The Secret Doctrine as “fifth-state matter.” But the man, the individual, is not a state of matter, nor a combination of states of matter. Man, as the center of self-consciousness, is the causative and governing balance between various states of matter. An illustration may be offered: A lever is not even a potential mover of three-thousand-pound stones. When man (or higher intelligence) is combined with the lever, the ability to handle such weights is at least potential. The lever of itself cannot move anything, nor can the man without the lever. Thus fifth-state matter is simply the medium through which mind must function, even though it (fifth-state matter) is also a conditioned aspect of intelligence itself, having the sixth, or Buddhic state of matter, for its substratum. Individualized mind is Buddhi aware of the potentialities of fifth-state matter, and, through that mirror, of the other states of matter represented by the psychical and physical principles. Such “joining” or incarnation, however, “produces” a new principle, a new form of being which may be called the self-conscious soul – although the being is not new, but only the form of being.

Patanjali asserts a philosophy of “dualism.” Together with Krishna, as the latter sage speaks through the Bhagavad Gita, he teaches that all human beings have both a higher nature – which is the same in all, and a lower nature composed of elements which are the same in all. Man is the balance struck between the elements of the higher and lower natures, and therein resides the individuality. The man-entity is the center of being, capable of consciously establishing new relationships between the higher and lower elements of the states of matter which surround him. The mind, then, is both a “tactile organ” or substance, and directive mind or soul – the latter being more truly metaphysical. The term Buddhi-Manas, as differentiated from Kama-Manas, is used to make this distinction clear.

In Aphorisms 2 and 6 [Book 1], it is said (a) that one of the five modifications of the mind is Correct Cognition, and (b) that the modifications of the mind must be hindered if concentration is to be achieved. Thus it would seem that in order to be perfected in concentration, one must “hinder” Correct Cognition. Is, then, Correct Cognition undesirable?

“Correct cognition” employs the analyzing, weighing, measuring aspect of the mind. Intellect is indirect perception through cognition. Intuition is direct perception. The scientist, and also every man, can only use “correct cognition” as a means of opening up a passageway for intuition.

The ability to synthesize, wherein intuition is employed, is never a matter of establishing certain definitive, descriptive relationships between objects, events and beings. It is the manifestation of the power to combine essences of relationships in a single vision of meaning. If “concentration” is only upon the mechanical potentialities of the mind-organ, the tendency to see only one relationship at a time between objects will binder the synthesis of intuition. The mind, therefore, must be turned by philosophy to a consideration of purpose – the why of objective movements, in order to leave full opportunity for direct or synthesizing perception. This was the story, self-told, of Copernicus’ discovery that the earth revolved around the sun.


IN notes on Aphorism 17 (page 4) {Book I]: When “all lower subjects and objects are lost sight of, and nothing remains but the cognition of the self,” does it mean a condition in which the will is, or is not, active?

In simple psychological terms, the only inhibition of the will is anxiety or fear. And man’s fear is never fear of a thing, but simply doubt of his ability to meet the “thing” if it should confront him. Doubt of oneself and fear of oneself are the anxieties of ignorance. No man who faces and knows himself is “afraid.” Dissatisfied with his present state he may be, but in such a case dissatisfaction is but a prelude to an invocation of will to correct matters. Death is “feared” when knowledge of the permanence of self is lacking or incomplete. Thus fearlessness is the first quality assigned by Krishna as a requisite of successful discipleship – for only when a man realizes the inexhaustible power of Soul can he fully release the will and attain concentration.

Meditation represents the quality of steadiness in mental and moral states which must be the accompaniment of a will grown strong. The common forms of will are not in action during meditation, but they are present in a very vital sense – since their combined potential energies are being reconstituted for newer and more meaningful expression. This is the action of Soul, the regeneration and reconstitution of the will.

The full power of Soul resides in the bonds of spiritual interdependence which reach out to and include all living things. All beings are sources of our “individual” strength, though they are such sources only because they are united in “the divine unity” –  the One Self, the Universal Will. Thus attention engrossed in failures, doubts and ignorances is but a “hindrance.” The will of the adept becomes fully active, because there is no corner of the wide universe where he fears to enter. Will, as the force of Spirit, moves in and from all beings in all states and conditions. But will, in the individual, is often sundered, disparted, while it can be integral and concentrated.

Aphorism 21 (page 10) [Book I ]: “The attainment of abstract meditation is speedy, in the case of the hotly impetuous.” It does not seem natural that the “hotly impetuous” would be capable of attaining the state of abstract meditation. Why should not a calmer, steadier nature be better fitted to attain that state?

Use of the term “hotly impetuous” would seem to first remind students that nothing is accomplished without passion. The fact that there are many kinds and qualities of “passions” is only to say that even a Buddha had first to desire to move toward universal understanding. The kingdom of heaven is always taken by violence, for there comes a time in the psychological life of every man when he must throw all trivial cautions to the seven winds. Yet it is necessary to remind ourselves that Patanjali is not implying that the person who is hotly impetuous in his relations to others can reach “abstract meditation.” He is the man “hotly impetuous” in respect to his own inner battle. To others, gentleness, calmness – to oneself, fire and steel.

Yet even when the state of abstract meditation is attained, this state is but a field for future action, a condition of mind which can be used wisely or not depending upon the degree of maturity of the being who has reached that state. The state of meditation differs for each individual according to why he has sought to reach it. If the “hotly impetuous” one desires the state as an acquisition, for instance, he will never attain it fully. If he desires it because he wishes to realize inner potentialities for the benefit of others as well as himself, his impetuousness may be simply a disinclination to be held forever in bondage to the energies of Kama.

Aphorism 17 [Book I]: Just how or what would be the thoughts of one who is pondering on the highest powers of the mind “together with truth in the abstract”?

The “highest powers of the mind” provide the soul with the metaphysical “contours” of relationships with other selves. The mind, when limited to functioning directly through the physical brain, can never directly perceive relationships between beings, since its sight is limited to the material effects of relationships and fails to illumine the fundamental nature of the beings involved.

“Truth in the abstract” might be regarded as representing the spiritual relationships between beings. The truth becomes constantly more “abstract,” but at the same time, more “real,” with each new awakening to enlightenment, since in the final analysis – which is reduction of all to One Spirit – beings are not “related” at all, but identical in Atma. Therefore the highest faculties of mind begin operation from a Buddhic perception of the One, and proceed downward in consideration of the other “principles” – which comprise the “differences” between individual beings. The highest use of the mind proceeds, then, from this deductive basis, the inductive operation of intellectual faculties serving in proper balance only when the One Self of all creatures is the internal point of departure for all reasoning. The favoring of “deductive” reasoning, however, is a dangerous doctrine in an age corrupted by the acceptance of specific dogmas, unless it be made clear that there is only one basis which can be trusted for deductive use of the mind – the basis of an all-pervasive metaphysical unity in spirit.

Aphorism 50 [Book I]: Would worry be considered self-reproductive thought in the sense of Aphorism 50, and also what about the endless going over of past actions, usually to try to find justification for the acts performed Would not this be analogous to a kamalokic condition, except that one meditating thus would have the chance to “pull out” of the state, whereas in kama-loka the initial energy has to be exhausted there, the will being inactive?
Worry is not genuinely self-reproductive, for it is always sustained by fear of the encroachment of external factors. Self-reproductive thought is inner generation. Self-reproductive thought, in the sense of this aphorism, means spiritual ideas, constantly generating and regenerating themselves from the inexhaustible reservoir of Universal Will, located in all that which is informed by Spirit. Kama-loka is only apparently a fully subjective state. Actually it has been produced from former concerns about external things – all those things less than spirit and soul. Its substance – that is, its apparent reality – is simply the inevitable crystallization into semi-substantial form of ideas based on incorrect cognition. Kama-loka is no more self-reproductive than is an astral or physical corpse. It is possessed of residual energy, not creative energy, and will pass out of existence as soon as the magnetic currents which are its substratum lose their momentum.


Theosophy Magazine vol. 35



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