1.19 Higher integration results from objective existence for disembodied beings (videhas) and for those merged in nature (prakritilayas).
(The podcast and blog are one more opportunity to clarify my understanding of the Yoga Sutras. Please note that the text below was revised to make the content clearer. The corresponding episode of the podcast still has the previous version. Namaste, rubén )
This sutra can be one of the most obscure verses in this chapter, as it mentions two types of beings: the disembodied and the ones merged into the essence of nature. Before exploring those types of being, it is helpful to think about one possible interpretation of one of the cosmological views of the world in the yoga tradition. The world can be understood as a synergistic interaction between consciousness and life. The notion of consciousness is still a matter of debate today. From a simple, common sense perspective consciousness can be thought of as the knowing or witnessing that gives us a sense of being alive. It is consciousness that enables to sense and perceive. Life, on the other hand, can be understood as all the experiences and phenomena that can be sensed and perceived. Life is a process of endless change while consciousness is the ongoing witnessing of all of those changes. If you think of life as doing and consciousness as being, what is the relationship between the two? This is a question worth contemplating.
The previous sutra says that after reaching a high level of inner silence (samadhi), there are still some subtle impressions left in the yogini’s mind. This sutra talks about two states of existence at a high level of subtlety before reaching the higher level of objectless integration (asamprajñata samadhi). (The interpretation that follows is not the result of my direct experience (pratyaksha), but a combination of the two other sources of correct knowledge, traditional wisdom (agama) and inference (anumana) combined with pure speculation.) The first state mentioned is disembodied beings (videhas). These are the gods whose bodies have dissolved, and all that is left of them is the accumulation of their subconscious impressions existing at a very high level of subtlety, yet still as part of nature. The other state, the prakritilayas, are beings who have identified fully with one of the primordial elements of nature and, when their bodies have come to an end, have merged into the subtle aspects of nature. Although both the disembodied and the merged in nature have reached high levels of purification, being part of nature implies that these disembodied beings will continue to exist at these subtle levels while nature continues its never-ending cycles of change and transformation.
This sutra states that, eventually both the disembodied (videhas) and the merged in nature (prakritilayas) will have to take existence as an embodied being in order to reach complete liberation. If you are reading this, it is more than likely that you are still embodied. This means that you can still try to put this sutra into practice.
A practical way of interpreting this sutra is to see disembodiment as a way to release all identification with your body and with your ways of being. Practices such as yoga nidra and meditation on very subtle focal objects may facilitate gradual release of awareness of the different layers of your body from the most external, until you experience directly the subtlest aspect of yourself, your own awareness. In the state of yoga nidra and in meditation you can effectively release body identification. One notion that is important here is that being attached to your preferences will keep you from moving to higher levels of integration.
It may also be possible to explore the experience of disembodiment by using a floatation tank. Also known as a sensory deprivation tank, it is a tank where you can float effortlessly due to Epsom salts dissolved in body temperature water. Isolated from visual and auditory stimuli and free from gravitational forces, your awareness can release your body, entering a meditative state. Another way of practicing is to allow your sense of self to dissolve by contemplating a natural phenomenon. Some useful phenomena include a sunset, the endless flow of ocean waves, clouds floating effortlessly in the sky or a meteor shower. For instance, concentrate fully on the cosmos in its vastness. Gradually expand your focal point to invite the whole universe to expand completely in your inner environment. Let go of your awareness of your own physical boundaries and allow your sense of self and associated processes to disappear. Keep releasing until eventually there is not even the sense of “I.” Remain open so that all that you experience is your pure awareness. You may also choose to focus your attention on one of the elements, earth, water, fire, air or space, perhaps following the progression from coarse to subtle presented in sutra 1.17, going from external to internal and gradually to the subtlest aspect of the experience. What happens when you try this?
What happens when you try these techniques? Can these practices offer you a different perspective and, perhaps, even a way to re-evaluate some of your attitudes and preferences? Can some of the inner stillness you experience be carried into your activities in the world? Even if the experience does not produce a deeper sense of inner peace or integration, can it assist you in highlighting some of your current ways of being that are preventing a deeper experience of your awareness?
As usual, one more way of exploring the meaning of this sutra is by chanting it.
You can choose to chant it in its traditional form with all the words coming together:
भवप्रत्ययो विदेहप्रकृतिलयानम् ॥१९॥
Another option is to chant each word in the sutra individually: