The ultimate renunciation is when one transcends the qualities of nature and perceives the soul.
Indifference to the subtlest elements, constituent principles, or qualities themselves, achieved through a knowledge of the nature of pure consciousness, is called supreme non-attachment
That highest non-interest occurs when there is
freedom from desire for the features of material nature and thorough awareness of the spiritual person
This sutra is saying that the ultimate detachment comes from indifference to the gunas, or qualities of nature. There are three gunas: sattvas (creation), rajas (preservation), and tamas (destruction). I take this to mean that once we are aware of the constant flux of life and nature, and learn to be indifferent towards it, then we achieve detachment and can see things as they really are.
However, this sutra does not give any guidance on how to obtain this detachment, it does not give us any practical help yet on how to do this. Surely the answer is through meditation though?
The creation, preservation and destruction elements are quite powerful, and all-encompassing. This sutra is guiding us to be indifferent to new life, and also to death. This is certainly not easy. If I have a baby, how can I possibly be indifferent towards it? Or if a relative or friend dies? Perhaps using the word ‘indifference’ implies not caring, but I don’t think that this is the case. If I have a good meditation session, I am pleased about that, but as Suzuki said we should retain a ‘nothing special’ attitude – it’s ok to be pleased about it, but don’t expect to be pleased every time, or sit on the cushion in order to be pleased. This is harder to apply when we come to our relationships with other people. Suppose I have a new baby, I feel love towards it, which is a form of attachment. The indifference does not mean not caring for that baby or feeling nothing towards it, but rather not expecting to gain pleasure from the relationship, and not having that pleasure as the goal of spending time with the child.
I must admit, I do struggle with this yogic / Zen concept of indifference. Patanjali does not explicitly state here in this sutra that the gunas refer to our relationships with others, but it seems to me that they must apply to all aspects of life. We must remain indifferent to the impermanence of life in order to see things as they really are. Impermanence is a huge concept in Buddhism, and we must recognise it to avoid the suffering it causes in us. This impermanence applies to human life in the aging process, the cycle of birth and death, and in any experience of loss.