The Third Chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
By Tom Hess
The third chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali starts with the last three of the eight limbs of yoga.
The sixth limb of yoga is dharana, the art of concentration, fixing the mind on something and keeping it there. The seventh limb is dhyana, or meditation, which is a deepening of the experience of concentration, and the eighth limb is the disassociation of the separateness between the meditator and the object of meditation. When the meditator comes to a certain point in his or her meditation, there is no difference between the object being meditated upon and the meditator.
These three limbs are often thought of as an ever-deepening experience rather than separate experiences. Performing these last three limbs of yoga together is called samyama. In this state of mind, insight occurs about the seen by the seer. This is when the seer dissolves his ego to the point where true perception can occur of the object. And in this perception the lack of separateness becomes known.
The most attractive part of the third chapter is the powers that are attained through this practice of the last three limbs of yoga, or samyama. These powers are called vibhuti. They occur for practitioners when they focus their meditation on a certain object. But it is described as not just meditation, but as the state of samyama mentioned above—a state of total absorption into the object meditated upon that leads to an understanding of the unity of all things.
This type of meditation will give insight into these things:
- Focusing on friendliness, compassion, and delight, one is imbued with these energies.
- Focusing on the body’s own form, it becomes invisible, and the power to perceive is suspended.
- Focusing on the powers of an elephant, one becomes strong as an elephant.
- Focusing on the moon leads to insight about the stars’ positions.
- Focusing on the polestar leads to insight about the stars’ movements.
- Focusing on the navel center gives one insight into the organization of the body.
- Focusing on the pit of the throat removes thirst and hunger.
- Focusing on the “tortoise channel,” one becomes steady.
- Focusing on the crown of the head, one acquires the viewpoint of a perfect one.
- Focusing on the heart brings one an understanding of his or her own consciousness.
- Focusing on any of the senses will bring an enhancement of those senses.
- Focusing on the flow of energy within the body, one can float over obstacles.
- Focusing on the solar plexus, one becomes radiant.
- Focusing on the way sound travels through ether, one attains divine hearing.
- Focusing on the aspects of matter, one masters the elements of nature.
When practitioners master the elements of nature within themselves, it allows them to perceive the inner workings of the body. This leads them to a more perfected body with strength and grace. This allows them to not be bound by the limitations that are inherent within the normal being. This is what gives them the power to be as small as an atom or as powerful as an elephant.
When one can see the distinction between pure awareness and the world around us, all conditions can be known and mastered. It is this deep understanding that occurs when the meditator moves beyond his or her ego and really integrates with the object of meditation.
Then Patanjali tells us that these are just signposts along the way and that the real seeker needs to detach even from these powers, and only then can the real emancipation can take place.
What Patanjali is saying is that these powers can be just another thing to get attached to, but in the end all things that are not the final goal are just distractions along the way.