Tag Archives: gunas

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.19



In this state one may experience bodilessness, or become merged in nature. This may lead to isolation or to a state of loneliness.

Other translations:

Some who have attained higher levels (videhas) or know unmanifest nature (prakritilayas), are drawn into birth in this world by their remaining latent impressions of ignorance, and more naturally come to these states of samadhi.

People belonging to the category of videha and prakṛtilaya are born with the capacity to attain the highest level of samadhi.

The ‘category of videha‘ mentioned in the third translation above refers to someone who has transcended the body (which could also include the mind). ‘Prakṛtilaya’ means absorbed in ‘prakriti‘ – the nature of intelligence by which the universe exists, the ‘primal motive force‘ in the Bhagavad Gita. Before creation, this nature, this prakriti, was the perfect balance of Sattva (light, bliss, goodness), Rajas (passion, motion) and Tamas (inertia, darkness)(the 3 gunas, the primary qualities of nature). A disturbance in this equilibrium gave rise to the physical world.

So this sutra is saying that when one has transcended the physical body, and when one is absorbed in the primary qualities of nature, one has the capacity to reach the highest level of samadhi (meditative consciousness).

Iyengar seems to go further by saying that ‘this may lead to isolation or loneliness’, which the other two translations do no mention. Loneliness has many negative connotations, I wonder whether ‘solitude’ is more what is meant here, but perhaps this will be elaborated on as we read further through the sutras.


Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.16


The ultimate renunciation is when one transcends the qualities of nature and perceives the soul.

As an atheist, I struggle with this idea of “the soul”, but can find meaning if I substitute “the self” or “ultimate reality”, but perhaps this is straying too far from what Patanjali intended. Other interpretations use “supreme consciousness” or self.

Iyengar lists five stages of detachment:
1. Disengaging the senses from action
2. Keeping away from desire
3. Stilling the mind
4. Mastery of desire
5. Supreme detachment

The qualities referred to here are the gunas: sattva (luminosity or serenity), rajas (vibrance) and tamas (inertia or dormancy). Hopefully we will return to these gunas again, as I feel I do not understand them completely at present.

Iyengar describes the practice of yoga (in the wider sense, rather than just asana) as the impetus for climbing the ladder to enlightenment or samadhi. By practising detachment we can pull the ladder up behind us.

For iyengar, practising yoga can help us to free ourselves from the trappings of consciousness. I might go even further and add that we would also seek to be free from the unconscious. In psychoanalytic theory, the unconscious mind is the cause of much suffering, whether from childhood trauma or just past experience. The goal of psychoanalysis is to bring the unconscious to the fore, to see what is there, thereby freeing the mind of those forces which cause suffering. Another way of doing this is through meditation – noticing those “negative automatic thoughts” (in CBT lingo) and just letting then be, observing our reaction to them without judgement. So the yoga sutras predict the whole Western psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic tradition!