Understanding the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali Kaivalyam: Absolute Freedom

by M. Govindan

What is the ultimate goal of Yoga? In the fourth and final pada (chapter) of the Yoga-Sutras, Patanjali elaborates on this question, and defines it as: Kaivalyam. Most translators and commentators have translated this term as "Aloneness," particularly those who have emphasized Patanjali's philosophical dualism. They have concluded that the final goal of the realized soul is departure from the physical plane. Divorce between the spirit and the flesh again, so often repeated in spiritual literature. While Patanjali's Kriya Yoga, is based upon the Samkhya philosophy, as exemplified by purusha (consciousness, the Self, the Seer, the subject) versus prakriti (Nature, the Seen, the object) in my book, "The Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Siddhas," I have shown the influence of Tantra, in general, and Siddhantha in particular, on Patanjali's philosophy and theology. Based upon this new perspective, another meaning of the word "Kaivalyam" as "Absolute Freedom, is more precise.

As kaivalyam is the goal of Classical Yoga, it is important to have a clear understanding of the meaning of this term. Most commentators, such as the noted scholar, Georg Feuerstein, have concluded rather bleakly that the goal of "Aloneness" as described by Patanjali, requires that one leave behind this world when one reaches the highest state of "non-distinguished cognitive absorption," (Sutra (I.18) known as asamprajnata samadhi. This conclusion is perhaps rooted in the bias against Nature, and especially "human nature," which seems to pervade spiritual traditions in general, and renunciant traditions in particular. In this bias, there is the assumption that the laws of Nature are immutable, and that therefore the only way around them, so to speak, is to leave this world behind. This ignores the great potential for the Self-realized soul to transform its human vehicle, including the intellectual, mental, vital and even the physical bodies. The Yoga Siddhas, and more recently Sri Aurobindo and contemporary writers such as Ken Wilbur have however, affirmed our potential for such a transformation of our human nature on a collective scale. But there are many older sources in the literature of the Yoga Siddhas. Unfortunately, until recently, these sources have been largely ignored outside of very limited circles of initiates.

At the beginning of the Yoga-Sutras, (I.3) Patanjali informs us of this when he says: " The Seer abides in his own true form (svarupa)." That is, the individual soul or jiva, assumes by expansion, its true nature or form, Siva, the Supreme Consciousness. The perfection of cognitive absorption, in its progressive stages, as described by Patanjali and the Siddhas, brings about a radical transformation at many levels. The ordinary human nature, previously motivated only by the constituent forces of nature (the gunas) is replaced by a higher nature (svarupa) according to Patanjali in the fourth pada. (see IV.34).

IV.34: "Thus the supreme state of Absolute freedom (kaivalya) manifests while the qualities (gunas) reabsorb themselves into Nature, having no more purpose to serve the Self. Or (from another angle), the power of pure consciousness settles in its own pure Nature (svarupa)"

The term svarupa means literally "ones own true form or pure nature nature." Tirumular and other siddhas have referred often to svarupa as "self-illuminating manifestness." In Tamil, this may be pronounced as "soruba" and the state of samadhi which Babaji and the 18 Siddhas have attained is referred to in their literature as "soruba samadhi," wherein the body glows with a golden luster. IV.34 means essentially that the laws governing our ordinary human nature, including those of the physical body, including the play of the constituent forces (gunas) are replaced by that of a higher nature. Sri Aurobindo referred to this higher nature as the "supramental."

In (verse (II.25) Patanjali defines kaivalyam as follows: "Without this ignorance (avidya) no such union (samyoga) occurs. This is the absolute freedom (kaivalyam) from the Seen." Avidya is defined by Patanjali in (verse (II.5) as "ignorance." There he states" "Ignorance is seeing the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasurable and the non-Self as the Self."

In (verse (II.17) Patanjali informs us of samyoga, saying:

"The cause (of suffering) to be eliminated is (samyoga) the union of Seer and the Seen."

Samyoga may be understood as that ordinary state of human consciousness where the Self is identified with the objects of its experience. For example, when we say, "I am tired," or "I am concerned." Or "I want that," we are manifesting the state of samyoga, the union of the Seer and the Seen.

In the fourth pada, (verse 27), Patanjali informs us that the method to free ourselves from this state of samyoga is to continue to detach from the false identification with the vrittis or fluctuations arising within consciousness and their attendant klesas or afflictions. This method is explained in (sutra (I.12):

"By constant practice and with detachment (arises) the cessation (of identifying with the fluctuations of consciousness)."

And in (verse (II.26) he says: "Uninterrupted discriminative discernment is the method for its removal."

The term Siddhantha means the final end of perfection or accomplishment for the Saivite. A siddha is one who manifests siddhi or perfection or special powers. "I am the Supreme one" says the Vedantin. "I shall become the Supreme One" says the Siddhantin. While kaivalya refers to the final attainments, it also marks the beginning of unlimited possibilities. But kaivalyam understood as a beginning of "absolute freedom" is synonymous with the state of a Siddha, who has allowed the Supreme Being to descend within himself or herself at all levels, in complete surrender. This brings about an integrated development at all levels, not simply a vertical ascent out of the world, as in most spiritual traditions. Only such an all encompassing transformation merits recognition with the term "perfection." To be spiritually awakened in a diseased body, and a disturbed mind and vital, is not perfection. Whether a Siddha continues to remain on the physical plane is unimportant. If he or she does, it is only to be instrumental in the awakening and transformation of the human race. If they depart, it is not because they are forced to do so, due to a degeneration of the human organism. And unlike the bodhisattva vow in Buddhism, where one promises to return until all sentient beings reach final liberation, the Siddhantin is dedicated to the transformation of this world, which is not illusionary or without value. This world is intrinsically divine. It is our collective divine "edge" where the Lord, through us, realizes its greatest potential.

Thus the fourth pada, is not the final one. The final one is yet to be written by all of us, as we realize our evolutionary potential.

In (Sutra (IV.2), Patanjali informs us of not only the possibility, but the likelihood that the human species will evolve into something new, with as yet undreamed of possibilities:

"The transformation into another species (is due to) the vast possibilities inherent in Nature."

What the Siddhas attained individually can be a goal, or final attainment, for the rest of us, even collectively. The collective transformation of the human species is rarely referred to in spiritual liberation literature. Modern siddhas such as Sri Aurobindo and Ramalinga Swamigal have also provided much guidance. By following their example, and teachings, sincere students of Yoga may work towards such a goal of Absolute Freedom. They have shown us the path to such a complete surrender and transformation. Only then will our highest potential as human beings be realized. Only then will kaivalyam, absolute freedom, be realized.

Copyright 2003 by Marshall Govindan. All rights reserved.


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