In conjunction with earlier blogs in this series, Patañjali’s work does not beat around the bush—there needs to be a daily purification of the sattva, of one’s being. If not undertaken, future karmic seeds will continue to run amok. Mircea Eliade writes eloquently about being conditioned and governed by the seeds of karma:
This means that every action whose point of departure is illusion (that is, which is based on ignorance, the confusion between Spirit and non-Spirit) is either the consummation of a virtuality created by a preceding act or the projection of another force that in turn demand its actualization, its consummation, in the present existence or in an existence to come.
The Yogasūtras of Patañjali is a veritable showcase in the science behind karma itself. This blog will make references to the work from the series of the same name and written in Light of the Unborn. Accompanying it will be the excellent and in-depth analysis of the early Yogic system by K. Ramakrishna Rao from his recent work, Foundations of Yoga Psychology.
Professor Rao encapsulates the inner-structure and mechanisms of the karmic beast:
The person is consciousness (puruṣa) embodied. Embodied, consciousness is reflected in the sattva aspect of the mind. However, the mind is also covered by tamas and driven by rajas. Consciousness thus veiled and tainted, the person misconstrues the manifestations of the mind as consciousness-as-such (puruṣa). The ego takes the center stage. The self-recedes into the background. With the reigns resting with the ego, the person gets entangled in a continuous course of conditioned existence. Consciousness circumscribed, limited, insulated, clouded, tainted, and defiled by the manifestations of rajas and tamas, the experiencing person is cast in the shadow of suffering. Knowing, doing, and feeling in the person individuate as the “self”. The “self” is not any more the puruṣa, the principle of consciousness. Rather it denotes the person’s identity with the ego as the organizing principle. Identity is the experience of self-sameness in the midst of continually changing mental states. The experience of the self is the defense mechanism that bestows unity and coherence on the manifold manifestations of the mind. The ego (ahaṃkāra) aspect of the mind is at the base of the notion of individual self. The defining characteristic of the ego is individuation. Its essential quality is attachment. Attachment generates desires. Desires drive the person to act. Actions accumulate karma, and the person becomes conditioned. Karma is the principle of mental causation. Saṃskāras, the carriers of karma, are the hidden persuaders. (ibid, pg.11)
Saṃskāras: Subconscious impressions wherein every thought, word, and deed (whether done consciously or unconsciously) becomes a Saṃskāra. Saṃskāras function as subliminal activators, constantly propelling the conscious mind into further thought and action. (Jaganath Carrea, Inside The Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.)
All of these karmic-impressions are stored in what is yogically termed as Karmāśaya, which parallels the Alaya-vijnana in the Yogacara system.
Karmāśaya: Karmāśaya (the receptacle of karma), which is the source of all that happens in this or future lives, is rooted in kleśas. Karmāśaya is the depository of all the effects of one’s thoughts, passions, and actions, and it is the womb of all the dispositions to act. (ibid, pg. 41); also from Carrea: No action is without its reaction. All reactions are stored as subtle impressions in the subconscious mind. The receptacle for karma is called the karmasaya. There are three kinds of karma found in the karmasaya: those being expressed and exhausted in this birth (prarabdha karma); new karma created during this birth (agami karma); and latent karma waiting to be fulfilled in future births (sancita karma).
The Yogasūtras of Patañjali states thus:
2.12 The womb of karma (karmasaya) is impregnated by the Five Obstructions and any forthcoming karmas will mature whether in this present lifetime, in parallel realities, and in future births to come.
From the Commentary: Every action or inaction leading to further karma leaves its trace in karmic residues. The effects can be seen immediately, or in unseen ways only to mature in the distant future in this present life or in future existences. While there are occasions for meritorious karma, as perfected and deposited by faithful adherence to the Buddhadharma resulting in commendable actions, the greater risk involves blindly following the baser-instincts [obstructions] that induce untold samsaric labours to come. The karmic seeds can also come to maturation in parallel realities as the laws governed by these hindrances affect neighboring inter-dimensional mind-fields whose magnetic wave-shifting intersects our own.
2.13 As long as the karmic-root exists, it will ripen into viable nascency and generate more samsaric-births and recurring-actions to come.
From the Commentary: The karmadhatu is experienced kalpa after kalpa, a form of eternal recurrence wherein its inhabitants fall far short of ever catching even a glimpse of the dharmadhatu. In this realm the lower-manas rule the roost and blindly pursue its own incorrigible path. The awful weight of dense physicality becomes a self-enclosed tomb and can only be disemboweled when the yogin lays waste to the roots of the karmic-tree.
Professor Rao clearly articulates that the trigger behind all this involves the kleśas:
As long as there is the root [kleśas], it [karmāśaya] functions generating birth, determining the duration of life and the nature of experience. Kleśas are the roots that help nurture the karmāśaya and make it functional, karma and yielding its fruits…
The word kleśa generally refers to sorrow or something that brings suffering. In Yoga, kleśas are considered as hindrances that afflict and distract the mind, corrupt one’s conduct, bias the person, disturb concentration, and cause obstructions to achieve samādhi.
For example, from ignorance comes attachment and attachment reinforces and perpetuates ignorance. Kleśas prolong the evolutionary process, promote the guṇa fermentation, and cause flooding of the cause–effect stream, activate karma, and continue the cycle of saṃsāra. (ibid, pg.37)
Patañjali refers to this kleśa-impediment as fluctuations, or Vṛttis. He states that one needs to loosen these bonds (nirodha):
1.2 Yoga loosens the bonds (nirodha) of all karmic-mind (citta) fluctuations (vrtti).
loosens the bonds (nirodha)—yoga has the power to dissolve all mental perturbations that prevent the proper-flow of bodhipower (the power of the Self-Awakened Mind).
Pluralized Outflows (vrtti, fluctuations)—all the mental agitations (daily samsaric-injections); Mind mistakes Itself for this incessant mind turbulence. It feels and identifies Itself AS the turbulence.
The necessary shifts occurs through the following processes:
3.9 Nirodha parināma.
This is the process wherein one shifts [in transition] from the body-consciousness to the direct-gnosis of the inner (Amala) consciousness of the Tathatic Mind. This is also known as The Great Stillness from all skandhic activity. Once again, this transition is a gradual cultivation.
3.10 Effortless Nirodha.
There are no more concerted efforts of quieting the mind-stuff. All is still—like the calm surface of the ocean. Indeed, unobstructed gravitation to Self-Realization appears on the Imageless Horizon. This is St. Teresa’s “let nothing disturb you,” “all is settled now,” All things are perfectly resolved in the Unborn and No-where else.
By constant practice of meditation (dhyāna), we are told, the kleśas are deactivated like burned seeds unfit to germinate. The mind tainted by kleśas may be cleaned first by simple wash (Kriyā-yoga) that removes surface stains and then by a special wash (meditation) to remove the deeper (sukṣma) stains.
Of these those arising from meditation (dhyāna) leave no impressions saṃskāras) behind (IV.6). In other words, the yogic feats that arise from birth or induced by drugs, mantras, or tapas generate the subliminal impressions that fuel future thoughts and actions whereas those arising in the meditative state of samādhi are free from depositing karma and leaving saṃskāras behind, and therefore, they do not contribute to the perpetuation of the cycle of reciprocal psychophysical causation. (ibid, pg. 41 & 85)
Through regulatory dhyāna the saṃskāras can be curtailed, much like a cell carrying a genetic-code to offset their diurnal course. The realization also soon dawns as to their illusory nature:
For the enlightened yogin with discriminative insight into true knowledge, the dormant saṃskāras that arise at intervals are like burnt seeds impotent to sprout and cause the mind to act. Also, saṃskāras springing from true knowledge are nonbinding and do not involve the mind in generating new karma. In other words, they have no effects of their own and therefore can be safely ignored. (ibid, pg.92)
4.29 Through reinforced non-attachment to any-thing outside of Self, the Yogin has advanced into the Great Dharmamegha Samādhi.
From the Commentary: This stage can only be reached once the yogin has effectively disengaged from even the highest possible exalted state imaginable. Indeed, this is the Dharma-Cloud Samādhi. This is likened to what the Lankavatara Sutra terms the 10th stage of Mind-Realization. Once reached there is no longer any lingering trace of any kind of desire to reach the ultimate—because the Self now fully Recollects that IT IS the Ultimate. Also, this is an effortless Pure Self-Mind Realization. There is not even any infinitesimal traces of effort being made on the yogin’s part—all IS AS IT IS, with No-Thing arising or descending.
4.30 All former karmic associations and attachments are neutralized within the Dharmamegha Samādhi.
From the Commentary: Being the ultimate in Deep Samādhi, ALL past conflicting associations and attachments are stilled as the Wheel of Karma ceases to turn on its diurnal base of samsara. Patañjali would associate the word jivanmukta here, as the yogin is now liberated from any further rebirths while still in the flesh.
As Professor Rao asserts, “In the state of dharma-megha samādhi, the yogin finds herself free from all hindrances afflicting her and all karma, good and bad, uprooted and destroyed for good. Thus, the person finds herself free and released from the constraints of saṃsāra.” (ibid, pg. 92)
In conclusion of this section, the following extended quote from Professor Rao is well-worth reading as it is a compact treatment and overview of what we just presented and of the karma-effect in general:
Karma is the natural law of behavioral causation with axiological and ontological implications. Our thoughts and actions are interrelated in a loop of reciprocal causation. Actions generate impressions stored in the psyche, which are called saṃskāras. When saṃskāras are formed into clusters in the unconscious they tend to act as latent dispositions. These are vāsanās. Saṃskāras and vāsanās bias the person, fuel the mental processes, and tilt her to act in certain ways. These actions generally reinforce the existing saṃskāras or generate new ones. Saṃskāras are shrouded in karmāśaya, the receptacle of karma that fuels saṃskāras, and cause subsequent actions, and inflict behavioral modifications. Inasmuch as actions may be good or evil, karma acquires ethical dimensions. The power of karma to cause action has implications to our being.
Vāsanā (Sanskrit; Devanagari: वासना) is a behavioral tendency or karmic imprint which influences the present behavior of a person. (wiki)
As mentioned, our thoughts and actions leave potent residues in the mind in the form of karma. Karma is the dormant source, the seed that sprouts in a series of subsequent actions and reactions. Karma as we discussed is the deterministic source of the cause-effect continuum in human conduct, thought, and action. In the Indian view, which asserts the continuity of life after death, karma, which does not sprout in a given lifetime, will be carried over to the next birth. In fact, it is believed that the mind–body complex with which one is born is determined by karma accumulated in previous lives. Such karma is called prārabdha karma. It is karma that has already begun to work itself out. It is likened to the potter’s wheel, which, set in motion, will run its course before coming to a stop, and the arrow that left the bow, which will not stop until its momentum is exhausted. Two other kinds of karma are distinguished. Sancita karma is the residual karma from previous births, which is believed to determine one’s tendencies to act and react in the present. Āgāmi karma is karma engendered by present conduct, which would effect future actions. It includes current tendencies to act and react in specific ways as well.
One may believe or not in reincarnation and the possibility of karma spilling over from one birth to another. We could, however, hardly disagree that our beliefs and attitudes influence our actions and reactions and that actions have their imprint on the mind, which in turn influences later actions. Again, our beliefs and motivations may be entirely unconscious. These are necessary postulates of psychological determinism. Karma in a secular sense is the underlying principle of determinism. Such determinism, in the Indian view, is neither fundamental nor absolute. The vortex of conditioned existence, caught in the crosscurrents of karma, can be overcome by disciplined practices to gain true knowledge, the realization of which dispels ignorance and releases the individual from the conditioned habits of action and reaction. In other words, the realization of truth in one’s being that dispels ignorance born out of incomplete and biased knowledge revealed through and acted upon by the mind–body complex incapacitates and neutralizes the accumulated karma and eliminates the possibility of acquiring further karma. (ibid, pg. 95)