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Everyday Questions on
Patanjalis Yoga Aphorisms


Part III

Articles from Theosophy Magazine in
Vol. 36 pgs. 35, 82, 129, 177, 228



© 2006 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet Malmö 

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APHORISM 2 (Book IV) seems to find its explanation in ISIS UNVEILED, II, 615, where it says, “Whenever a denizen of earth desires to enter into communication with his invisible brethren, he has to assimilate himself to their nature, i.e., he meets these beings half-way, and, furnished by them with a supply of spiritual essence, endows them, in his turn, with a portion of his physical nature, thus enabling them sometimes to appear in a semi- objective form. It is a temporary exchange of natures, called theurgy.” If my surmise is correct, it throws further light on the “celestial beings” of Book III. Is there a distinction between these and “one’s favorite deity,” Book II, Aphorism 44?

There is, of course, a correlation between this Aphorism and the whole highly abstruse subject of “Elementals,” as indicated by the passage from Isis Unveiled. Yet at the outset, it seems well to remember that each Aphorism of Patanjali needs to be first referred to the book of which it is an integral part, and finally to the three other books. Therefore, the subject of the second Aphorism of Book IV is not really “elementals,” per se, but the way in which a disciple undertaking regular self-discipline can alter portions of his being to partake of a greater “luminousness” or perceptiveness. Also important is the philosophical context in which one must place the title of Book IV, “The Essential Nature of Isolation.” Isolation, it can be seen from pondering the implications of Aphorism 2, is not a substitute for incarnation, but rather a state of inner equilibrium attended by various forms of “transfusions of natures” – or incarnations. Finally, when one has attained isolation – the subject of Patanjali’s discourses – he is only then ready to incarnate fully, with all faculties unclouded and alert.

The key to the development of any faculty is an increase of sensitivity to all those forms of intelligence which represent the higher evolutionary attainments of that plane. The elementals – presently disembodied forms of intelligence – permeate the higher astral realms. A man able to feel a complete inspiration in certain surroundings or in certain combinations of circumstances is “communing” with elemental intelligences representing various perfections on that particular plane. For some, an ideal family life – a perfect balance of psychic and mental interrelationships – provides such inspiration in all its details, since attendance to each one of those details evokes the hidden forms of intelligence associated with “perfections” at that level of experience. A wilderness inspired Thoreau, and at the source of his inspiration, perhaps, was a communion with elemental forces unspoiled by the pollution of Kama-Manas. It might be said that he was communing in some sense with his “favorite deity.” From a psychological point of view, man’s relationship with the “elementals” cannot be discussed in precise English terms, for the “temporary exchange of natures” which takes place normally with many sensitive men may express itself simply by a quickening of sympathy or inspiration.

A correlation of a different sort is suggested by H. P. Blavatsky’s relationship with her Adept Teachers, a case in which, as per the section from Isis Unveiled, a being on this plane is able to endow another of “celestial” attainments “with a portion of his physical nature, thus enabling them sometimes to appear in a semi-objective form.” Sympathy is the most easily understandable key to theurgy.

APHORISM 4 [Book IV]: In what sense is the word egoism” to be understood in this Aphorism? In the usual sense of the term, one could call this a dangerous practice – as if those minds give up their integrity to one who serves his own purposes. Also, in Aphorism 5 [Book IV], are we to infer that the different activities of those various minds” in the various bodies voluntarily assumed by the ascetic, are something apart from the ascetic himself? That is, do they indicate mental activities experienced in bodies by the ascetic prior to becoming an ascetic?

Aphorisms 4 and 5 seem to be Patanjali’s way of saying that all of our faculties are constructed, vivified and colored by the individual mind – ”the moving cause” (Aphorism 5). Aphorism 4 does not necessarily imply the “borrowing of other bodies,” and in such instances it seems prudent to restrict the interpretation of the Aphorism to its most universal philosophical meaning. The influencing of the “various minds in the various bodies” is a proper evolutionary use of “egoism.” In Book II, Patanjali, of course, lists egoism as one of the five afflictions of the mind, as an involvement of the power that sees with the power of seeing. This is simply one of the dangers of “incarnation,” which does not make incarnation any the less an evolutionary necessity for all man’s sheaths and instruments as well as for himself.

It is not legitimate to infer from Patanjali’s terms that the “various minds in the various bodies” are “something apart from the ascetic himself.” If the ascetic has incarnated properly in his various instruments, he will have assimilated to himself and identified with his purposes the natural uses of the organs and faculties. This is quite different from identifying himself with the faculties. It is true also, however, that the ascetic is sometimes drawn to unite himself once more with those sheaths previously used by him in incomplete or somewhat unenlightened fashion by karmic necessity. These are the skandhas.

APHORISM 7 [Book IV]: In the explanatory note on this Aphorism, we find that the three kinds of work are (1) pure in action and motive; (2) dark, such as that of infernal beings; (3) that of the general run of men, pure-dark. Would not that of the ascetic be PURE, rather than neither pure nor dark”? Could this cryptic Aphorism be explained more clearly?

To say that the ascetic performs work that is “neither pure nor dark” appears cryptic only because it is extremely difficult for the ordinary Western mind to realize that reality is neither good nor bad, nor a combination of the two. The Western ascetic strives for “goodness,” which usually means he strives to follow certain rules which keep him away from those areas of action generally called “evil.” The true ascetic does not follow any specific type of religious discipline; he seeks not good, nor its opposite. Once again we come close to the mystery of incarnation, and to the cardinal point of the Secret Doctrine – that isolation and emancipation are only means to an end and never ends in themselves. The end of life becomes the ability to incarnate wisely in any circumstance and in any form, without regard for the fact that any forms thus embodied may have previously been associated with “the dark.” And here, again, we have the difference between the temperament of religious fanaticism and the inner temper of understanding that compels love from all beings, high or low, pure and dark.


APHORISMS 8-9 (Book IV): What is the relation, if any, between Mental Deposits and the Skandhas? Both these Aphorisms refer to mental deposits. The note to Aphorism 9 states that memory is not due to mere brain matter, but is possessed by the incarnating ego, which holds all the mental deposits in a latent state, each one becoming manifest whenever the suitable bodily constitution and environment are provided for it.”

Two articles deal specifically with the subject of skandhas: “The Persian Student’s Doctrine”
(THEOSOPHY II, 375), by Mr. Judge, and “Propensity or Skandhic Memory” (xix, 505). These articles indicate that the skandhas are those “lives” or elementals which once entered into the composition of our principles, but when cast off by us are taken up by other beings and kingdoms to which they are drawn by natural affinity. It is obvious that upon rebirth the ego repossesses the skandhas once in use by him.

Now, do the mental deposits exert the attractive power which draws the skandhas together once more, or rather, does the ego use the deposits as the attractive power, and thus the deposits bear a relation to the skandhas similar to the magnet which attracts the iron filings? Or is another solution suggested by H.P.B.’s article on “Memory”
(THEOSOPHY XXVII, 411), where it is stated that the brain cells are not the RETAINERS of impressions, but only their RECEIVERS and CONVEY0RS? If this be true, are not both the mental deposits and the skandhas merely the “window panes” or lenses through which the ego looks in order to recover the memory of the past? Or, are the deposits astral images?

In his comment on Aphorism 6, Mr. Judge writes that “each life leaves in the Ego mental deposits which form the basis upon which subsequent vicissitudes follow.” The note on Aphorism 9 might be regarded as equivocal in respect to the resting place of these “deposits,” but the words “in the Ego” are categorical. This phrasing needs examination, since “ego” is often used as synonymous with the “Perceiver,” or spiritual center in man, though it may be recalled that Mr. Judge in The Ocean of Theosophy states that the real memories of all past lives are retained by mans, the reincarnating ego. “This and none other,” says Mr. Judge, “are we.”

The root of individuality, here, is the conjunction of both personal and spiritual powers of perception. Unless the soul gains by accretion and by modification during the course of evolution, there is no such thing as immortality, for immortality means the retention of significant experiences in terms of altered soul-characteristics. What is the retaining agent? It may be remembered that manas, as the connecting link between higher and lower modes of perception, has a substantial aspect, referred to in the S.D. as “fifth state matter.” Mental deposits can then be thought to have a substantial base in a form of highly developed matter, which accompanies the spiritual ego through incarnations, and which is inseparable from him during the course of an entire manvantara.

Every experience is simply the meeting of two different forms and degrees of intelligence. As manas retains those modifications of its substance caused by evolutionary experience, so do all forms of elemental intelligence likewise involved in the actions of the soul retain the impact of the contacts which produced the experiences. These are the skandhas. They retain a potential magnetic affinity for the manasic substance of that ego with whom they were previously associated. A full manifestation of skandhic karma occurs when the mental deposits of manas and the retained impressions of lower forms of sensitive life become re-united. The “mental deposit” tends to condition the action of the soul in meeting the external pressure of skandhic involvement, yet it may be at least partially dissolved by mental action.

We have probably all had the experience of “settling” our troubled relationships with other human beings without any direct contact and though they be hundreds or thousands of miles distant. Here the mental deposits have been themselves altered by mental evolution. In such instances, while the skandhas will be once again drawn into contact with the ego, difficulties in meeting intelligently such ghosts of the past can be considerably lessened. Since Manas, when united to Buddhi, is creative rather than repetitive, the study of true philosophy and the practice of occult disciplines may ultimately make possible an entirely different type of interaction between the soul and the skandhic aggregates, when they are rejoined.

The mental deposits may also be regarded as astral images, if it be remembered that a form of astral matter actually accompanies the reincarnating ego.

The unnumbered mental deposits which are a part of every being, save those who have finished with the necessary lessons of evolution, require a certain amount of energy to maintain their coherence. They are a drain on the vital creative forces of the higher nature. The correct comprehension of philosophy can reclaim some of this lost energy and thus accelerate the progress of the soul. This might be suggested as one of the reasons why study of Theosophy as a philosophy becomes for the individual himself – if applied to his mental evolution – a matter of practical psychology. Thus the constant asking of questions which tend to break up mental fixations is part of the Theosophic as well as the Socratic method of education:
“Ask the Self questions, and the Self will answer,” as Mr. Judge once wrote to an inquirer. Karmic returns cause us to question our attitudes of mind, that we may not re-energize skandhas of ignorance.

APHORISM 10 [Book IV]: The note on this Aphorism indicates that ALL mental deposits result from a desire for enjoyment. Now, can it be that mental deposits are of less force when the mind feels a disgust for vice and foolishness in others, or has a feeling of horror when tales of tragedy or crime are being told? Can it be said that a “mental deposit” is a memory” picture in the lower order of nature providing a suitable environment?

The mental deposit is not in any strict sense a “memory picture,” if we mean by memory actual visualization of past events. Rather, a mental deposit cannot be thoroughly dissipated until a suitable environment is furnished by the lower orders of nature, even though philosophical study can prepare the way for this release. Disgust and horror, as negations of enjoyment, however, are themselves mental deposits of a very lasting and dangerous sort. The wisest response to vice, tragedy or crime would seem to be a complete immobility as far as personal feelings are concerned, so that the mind may see the more quickly what definite and positive action may be taken in regard to the situation. Disgust or horror in the presence of bestiality may, of course, serve the same sort of intermediary function as is sometimes accomplished by religious restrictions and taboos. In such instances these emotions can be a protection to the ego, but they cannot of themselves lead to understanding. “Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” appears to be an injunction especially meant for those who have passed beyond the need of ceremonial and other emotional aids in avoiding dangerous situations. Such men, obviously, are few indeed.

APHORISM 17 [Book IV]: ‘The modifications of the mind are always known to the presiding spirit, because it is not subject to modification.” How is this so? One feels, in a sense, this must be so, or illusions could never be overcome; nor would one feel that secret sense of unreality about illusions to which the personal man becomes subject. And yet, that awareness is certainly different from consciously realized knowledge in waking life, it is as though one knows, and yet does not know. Yet, why does the presiding spirit permit the modifications?

The “presiding spirit” neither permits nor opposes the modifying illusions of the mind, but simply perceives them. In a sense, the “Presiding Spirit”, itself creates all modifications, or it might be said that the presiding spirit “cooperates” with the modifications of the thinking principle, without itself being modified. In other words, the intuitive faculties of the higher soul must incarnate in the modifications, in order to raise the nature of evolutionary relationships.

     The spiritual awareness, on this plane, that the personal man is involved in many illusions grows to the degree that he begins to ask himself fundamental questions. Only one who is willing to continually revaluate his entire store of understanding can develop this spiritual faculty to the full. In all human beings, however, the sense of a need for asking basic questions persists. Kipling apparently knew this well when he wrote Kim. Many a thoughtful person must have been struck by the way in which the hero, a youth of singular talents, favored by a host of exciting adventures, returns in solitude with frank wonder to the query, “Who is Kim ?“ Kim did not know the full answer to this question, nor do we, yet he knew one thing we too may know – that the persistent questioning of every modification of the mind is in itself a link to reality.


APHORISM 18 (Book IV): “The mind is not self-illuminative, because it is an instrument of the soul, is colored and modified by experiences and objects, and is cognized by the soul.” In this Aphorism I find what relieves me of most of my perplexities in Patanjali. Certainly, Higher Manas is “self-illuminative.” “Mind born sons” of the SECRET DOCTRINE are luminous.” Therefore, it is clear that all through these Aphorisms, it is the lower mind which has to be restrained and controlled, and which is subject to modification and coloring. Is, then, the “Soul” of Patanjali but what H.P.B. describes as Higher Manas?

Mind is the connecting link between the Egoic power of perception and the objects which must be correctly perceived in order to provide a working knowledge of the manifested world. Manas is intelligence and, more specifically, manifested intelligence. The intensification of Buddhi-Manas means the successful incarnation of the Buddhic powers into that semi-substantial, plastic intelligence which is the highest efflorescence of the material world. Higher Manas is “developed,” on this plane, through the interaction of Buddhi and the intelligence of matter. We might regard the powers of Higher Manas as higher faculties, and Buddhi as a symbol of the power which makes attainment of those faculties possible. In the terms of William Q. Judge’s Ocean of Theosophy, Higher Manas – that is, Manas with Buddhi – is the incarnated Ego or Soul. The work of “restraining and controlling the lower mind” is not to be regarded as negative or non-constructive endeavor, for it is also the work, here, in a sense, of “producing” Higher Manas – that is, those faculties which convey accurately to the five senses and organs the behests of Spiritual Intuition.

When the problem of making fine distinctions between the various faculties of man arises, it is helpful to consider some of the immediate implications of the Third Fundamental Proposition of the Secret Doctrine: (a) All intelligence is of the same essence, even though not of the same degree. (b) Since evolution begins with a Spiritual impulse given to matter, the development of Higher Manas begins with the incarnation of the spiritual individuality. Therefore, each Manvantara calls for a new development of higher manasic faculties – the absorption of the purposes of lesser intelligences in the wider and more comprehensive purposes of the Spiritual Will. Higher Manas does not develop from lower manas, yet in the long course of evolution gains accretions, so to speak, from the material of lower manas.

“We must help personalities to become living Souls,” wrote Robert Crosbie. This is the process through which the qualities of intelligence are refined and identified with the permanent in man. Higher Manas is the key to what we call individuality, for the abilities of perception which it represents are acquired in ways distinctive for each individual, and it is Higher Manas which provides the attractive focus which draws the skandhas together in each new incarnation.

APHORISM 19 [Book IV]: In view of this Aphorism, and when we consider how many people listen to the radio, read a book or paper, and carry on a conversation at the same time, is it legitimate to conclude that such diffusion of concentration is likely to induce a current of passivity and mediumship in the race-mind?

The implication of the question is obviously correct. The inveterate radio-listeners – whether or not they do anything else at the same time – usually find it increasingly difficult to be alone with themselves. It is as if the Ego makes an indefinable demand for evaluative thinking when one is alone, and if a person has avoided any steps which might utilize this internal demand – if he simply does not know how to reflect – the result is a feeling of oppression, or egoic “frustration,” of which modern psychology is still ignorant. The feeling of oppression, incidentally, is as far as “soul thinking” can get in an unwelcome solitude, and may drive the man to resume almost immediately a distracting activity.

It may be possible to concentrate on a great many things at the same time, if one knows exactly why one is paying attention to each of them, but it is impossible to have real concentration without a sense of moral direction or balance. Only when this is obtained is it possible to “render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar’s.” Sometimes, a disagreeable task must be accomplished by concentration upon the end to be accomplished, rather than the event itself. A properly trained body and lower mind can provide their own “concentration” for the accomplishment of various physical tasks, and the most worthwhile assistance to the lower mind thus engaged will come when the higher mind is focussed on a moral objective.

APHORISM 22 [Book IV]: Kindly explain what distinction may exist between this Aphorism and Aphorism 23, Book II. To me, they seem identical, but I realize there must be a clue I have not caught.

The distinction between Aphorism 23, Book II, and Aphorism 22, Book IV, is that the former speaks of the mind as the tool which must be used in discovering the essentials of Soul knowledge, while the latter describes a state already attained. There is a difference between understanding the nature of the Universe,” and “embracing universally all objects.” Any man, by a study of correct philosophical principles, can gain a perspective of the purpose of evolutionary endeavor, while to “embrace universally all objects” means that a complete mastery of the specifics of manifestation has become one with the broader understanding of universals.

APHORISM 32 [Book IV]: (a) Can this Aphorism be interpreted to mean that when emancipation” has been reached, one’s view is no longer of time, but of and in duration? This would seem justified by the description of Soul at the time of concentration (Book I, Aphorism 3) as abiding in the state of a spectator without a spectacle.”
     (b) In the above connection, I should like to know how the definition of concentration differs from that of sleep, as given in Book I, Aphorism 10?
The question has stated the case. All human difficulties are proved by each one as being involved in Maya, precisely because the passage of time alters or changes completely one’s feeling about them. The mastery of the “time sense” is also a mastery of the whole material world with its disturbing effect upon Egoic clarity. The man who has reached the state of “spectator without a spectacle” no longer sees “through a glass darkly.” Soul vision is that vision which includes past, present and future in one cognition.
     (b) Concentration is a description of the mental state wherein the mind embraces and includes all subjects and objects. The final stage of concentration brings the universal perception that all subjects and objects are in essence “one.” Perception of differences and distinctions cease because those qualities are understood by the Soul. In the case of sleep it is also true that “differences and distinctions” cease, but only because of withdrawal from the material world. Many difficult problems not yet solved have temporarily retreated beyond the horizon. There is, however, a very real correspondence between a state of highest concentration and deep sleep, when the Soul is in a state of absolute consciousness. (The Secret Doctrine, I, 266.)


I FIND myself still confused on the subject of meditation. Can it be that the kind of meditation referred to under Aphorism 17 Book I, as also in the first four Aphorisms, Book III, is to be applied to mundane matters – from the bottom up,” so to say; while that kind referred to in Aphorisms 13-16, of Book 1 is rather from above down,” and is to be correlated with the Isolation described in Book IV, Aphorism 33?

There is a very clear distinction, made throughout the four books of the Aphorisms, between “meditation with a seed” and “meditation without a seed.” Successful meditation with a seed leads to intellectual or cognitive clarity. Meditation without a seed leads to moral clarity, or spiritual vision. In Western philosophy, we are able to sense this same distinction between the perspective encouraged by Aristotle, whose concern was primarily intellectual, and that of Plato, whose concern was primarily moral.

Aphorism 19 of Book I relates that “the meditative state attained by those whose discrimination does not extend to pure spirit, depends upon the phenomenal world.” Patanjali begins his course of instruction by insisting on the necessity of a universal view before one engages in the mastery of particulars. The understanding of details is to be accompanied by “a firm position observed out of regard for the end in view” – the attainment which enables a man to “act for and as the Self of all creatures.” Aphorisms 45 to 49 of Book I  further illuminate the limitations of that meditation “which has a subtle object in view” rather than an “end” of permanent moral significance.

The Isolation described by Aphorism 3, Book IV, is “the abiding of the Soul united with understanding in its own nature.” The implications of this phrase may be expanded by the student to explain both the superiority of the meditation which focusses upon The Self over the meditation centered upon objects – the selves of matter – and also the temporary necessity for the latter meditation in seeking complete understanding of the phenomenal world. The first task of philosophy is to create a vision of universality as to spirit and interdependence as to beings. The specifics of Occult Science are then concerned with establishing egoic comprehension of every object and relationship of the material world. Yet if this mastery over particulars is accompanied by a steadfast retention of a moral “end in view,” the original philosophical vision is not lost. Spiritual emancipation. is attained by blending direct perception of all phases of the objective world in that spiritual vision which – while not relinquishing the acquaintance with particulars – no longer necessitates the classifying or departmentalizing of knowledge. This final state might also be regarded as descriptive of the goal of human evolution in any manvantaric period. It is never enough to see either the forest or the trees alone, nor first the one and then the other. Instead, it is incumbent, upon the Sage to see both of these at once, in the light of the principles of evolutionary action which produced both.

I am also confused on the subject of memory. In Book I, Aphorism II, memory seems to be described in one aspect only, that of recollection. But in Book IV, Aphorisms 8 and 9, memory seems to be referred to as a faculty of the reincarnating Ego – NOT as a function of mere brain matter. From this, I would judge that memory is primarily the basis of individual consciousness. Can memory, either latent or active, be the real basis of mind itself in a manvantaric cycle?

Since memory is a word which stands in the average mind for recollection of things perceived, it might be confusing to say that memory is the primary basis of individual consciousness. It is true that individual consciousness is always accompanied by some perception of continuity, but this does not depend upon the visualization of any specific past events. The first “perception” of the incarnating Ego is that of continuity itself – a sense of the enduring – and the first memory of an egoic nature is that which abides within the Soul as a perception of the interdependence between “events” and beings. Mr. Judge’s commentary states that memory is “possessed” by the incarnating Ego, not that it causes egoic perception. There is, of course, the memory of impacted and assimilated experience in the “three lines of evolution” which signifies attainment of the man-state. Only the personal self-consciousness depends upon memory (see The Secret Doctrine, I, 292).

The majority of our definitions are overlaid with centuries-old habits of superficiality and materialization. “Reminiscence” today is more apt to bring to mind the picture of a man in a nostalgic reverie involving the lost romances of youth, than to suggest Plato’s “reminiscence” – which meant the intuitive retention of the essence of experiences gained in former incarnations. Acting in our age, we are constantly hampered by too many “mental deposits” – which Patanjali speaks of elsewhere – and thus allow the deeper memory of Soul little opportunity to manifest.

Another concept I would like to be entirely clear on: as Patanjali uses mind, it seems always to be the lower mind (KAMA-MANAS) to which he refers. His soul seems to be what H.P.B. refers to as Higher MANAS, it being “unconditionally omniscient on its own plane,” as she points out in her article, “Psychic and Noëtic Action.” Patanjali makes it plain, as H.P.B. does, that ATMA is the Universal Spirit above and inclusive of all other principles. If this is correct, then, Self-realization makes of man a God, and this is the object of Patanjali’s whole treatise. For the ascetic, or adept, it is no longer Desire, but Higher MANAS that is the mover of the Will. Can this be confirmed?

Desire is a word which expresses either a primary action of the personal man or a primary action of the spiritual man. The universal applicability of the saying, “behind will stands desire,” is noted in Mr. Judge’s statement in the Ocean of Theosophy, that even a Buddha “had first to make a vow.” Would we say that Buddha first intellectually perceived a need for knowledge, or that he first desired knowledge? There is, in our own experience, a mover of the mind behind every mental effort made, whether toward self-aggrandizement or to serve the need of humankind. And so it was, perhaps, with Buddha. His initial impulse must have come from the egoic perception of the inter-relatedness of all life. His first experiences in the world served to deepen this feeling and then he deliberately sought to develop the highest faculties of mind in a search for the laws which apparently decreed suffering for all that lived.

In the life of a Sage, impersonal Higher Manas is the mover of the will. That is, Higher Manas fires the otherwise latent Buddhi, which exists in the lower orders of nature as an energizing force. There, we call it Fohatic intelligence. Higher Manas draws the energies of this intelligence into a pattern of action which we call special abilities and faculties, to be gained only through the continuous working over of the material principles. Thus Higher Manas eventually attracts all the elements of nature into its service, and the Spiritual Will is said to be operative when all the forces used by the Ego are directed by one single purpose.


 THE whole of Patanjali seems to be concerned with the problems of self-discipline – but self-discipline of a very specialized sort. Little or nothing is written about the modes of discipline necessary for entering a field of action. Rather the emphasis is upon ways of leaving the involvements of the manifested world. But would not the student of occult science seek to learn both how to leave such involvements and also how to incarnate” in them most fully and intelligently?

This question raises a very interesting consideration. All genuine religions and occult disciplines catalogue necessary restraints against purely impulsive action in the physical world. It has not been customary to found a religion upon the need of every Soul to involve itself with matter, for the karmic forces of evolution precipitate each being without delay into as many tangible experiences as consciousness is able to assimilate. The voice of the great religions of the past has expressed in a thousand different ways, “Take heed lest you forget you are a Soul,” and, “Move slowly and carefully in your selection of experiences in the world so that spiritual vision be not blurred.” When and if a once genuine religion becomes self-satisfied or reactionary, however, there come reformers and revolutionary prophets to demand that men desert the philosophy of escapism for the philosophy of obligation to one’s fellows. The message of Buddha was primarily an inspired revolt against the mental inertia which had submerged Brahmanism. Both Socrates and Christ also remonstrated against the habit of rejecting an unjust world, which is simply an indifference to the idea that there are necessary involvements and obligations. So the subtle “middle way” or “golden mean” represented by the Wisdom Religion has been neither a counsel to avoid involvement or participation in human experience, nor a counsel to welcome involvement for its own sake. Nevertheless the emphasis on one or the other of these factors has changed from age to age, as the teachers of Occult Science have encountered the obstacles characteristic of the minds of their times.

Our present period, as a natural moment of fruition in Kali-Yuga, has tumbled together all of the virtues and vices of the past – the strengths and weaknesses of the men who determined the course of history in past centuries and millenniums. At this time man encounters both indifference to courageous and vital living and the tendency to submerge human life indiscriminately in the sensations of matter. Further, the things that were once states of mind have crystallized into oppressive social, political and economic situations. The indifference of nineteenth-century capitalism was, in occult terms, “a refusal to incarnate” in the problems of all mankind – to recognize a fraternity with the poorer and the less fortunately endowed. The callous institution of slavery had a similar origin. During the many years when both of these human institutions flourished, religion came to be more and more a false withdrawal from the world, losing all semblance to the wise counsels of old, which had stressed a thoughtful and careful, rather than an impulsive, entrance into the struggle of human affairs.

Patanjali, it must be remembered, was Teacher in an age prior to our own religious and social crystallizations of indifference and sensualism. He is counseling the adoption of a state of mind rather than any specific mode of action. The political or social reformer, the religious revolutionary, and the determined individual ascetic can all make use of Patanjali’s classifications of mental states, regardless of how busy his hands or emotions may be in the work he has set himself to perform. Few are the writers that show as clearly as does Patanjali the possibility, and finally the necessity, of exercising continually the three powers of creation, preservation and destruction in ordering one’s own mind and actions. It may be remembered, too, that though Patanjali’s Self-governed Sage, “Emancipated” and dwelling in “Isolation,” has learned to refrain from ill-considered action – he has not forgotten action itself, nor the desire to be a moving force in evolution.

While I can find many a nugget of wisdom and many a hint that is valuable and practical in Patanjali, still, as a whole, this little book seems to me far beyond a Westerner’s capacity. Nowhere does one gain so full a sense of the powers latent in man, but most Westerners are not desirous of obtaining such powers. Ought there not to be some method suggested whereby one could really get at the core of this teaching? Can any be offered for consideration?

The writer can do no better on this point than quote directly from Mr. Judge’s Path Magazine, September, 1888, where this very question is taken up. “Study of Patanjali,” it is stated (III, 200), “will repay you amply”:

So deep is it that, no matter how much you perceive in each aphorism, there are still mines below. The best study is done in this wise. After the mind has extracted all it can from an aphorism, then hold it in your brain; take it about with you, as it were, into the street cars, while you wait for lunch, or where not else. Simply brood it, – as we say of a bird that she broods the nest. The subconscious mind knows the under side of that aphorism; it is based upon the finer forces; it attracts them and they will enlighten you. This process is mysterious, – that is to say, it cannot be better put into words. It must be experienced to be known. And thus you apply to Patanjali his own method of abstract meditation.

This process – the full control of the brain-mind – involves a restraint of the characteristic motions of kama-manas, as detailed by Mr. Judge in the Ocean. In intellectual terms, these are (1) the tendency to rush away from any concept or idea, as to a maze of peripheral questions or associated notions; (2) the tendency to fix on the agreeable aspect of the idea; (3) a fascination with its disagreeable or personally disturbing implications; and (4) the inclination to remain passive, considering the idea not at all. Patanjali’s doctrine, like any other philosophy, grows on and in the mind not in these sporadic motions, but by the everyday questions and answers which open up communication between higher and lower manas.


Theosophy Magazine vol. 36


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