3.45 Meditative integration (samyama) on the relationship between the physical, the generic nature, the subtle, the inherent qualities and the purpose of any element results in mastery over the constitutive elements of all natural phenomena.
Consistent with the rest of the Yoga Sutra, Patañjali continues describing the effects of these advanced practices, now at their highest levels. Already sutra 1.17 pointed out that meditation reveals increasing levels of subtlety in the object meditated upon. Remember also that aphorism 3.13 in this chapter already explained one perspective on how the world is organized as consisting of a substratum manifesting along the dimensions of characteristics, properties, and condition. These three dimensions are the field of interaction between the elements and your senses. In this sutra, the samyama practice is directed to the elements that make up everything in the universe. The elements mentioned here are the five elements listed by the Samkhya philosophical school. Samkhya is concerned with classifying existence according to its different categories of manifestation. According to Samkhya, the five fundamental elements are earth, water, fire, air and space or ether (akasha, mentioned in the previous aphorisms). This sutra states that practicing samyama on these elements and their different aspects of manifestation leads to mastery over the fundamental properties of all sensory phenomena.
Each element has five interrelated aspects: physical, generic, subtle, inherent qualities and purpose. The first level is what can be perceived by the senses. If you are tasting water, you taste its temperature, texture, and flavor. Each element has its own physical characteristics that change, they are not fixed. Increasing the level of subtlety requires practicing samyama on the generic aspect of the element. In the case of water, it would be its quality of being liquid. Deeper than the generic quality is the subtle aspect of the element, which is its indescribable most fundamental aspect, its essence. This is the indivisible essence beyond the level of the senses that can be perceived only in the state of integration (samadhi). The inherent qualities of that element are a combination of its interactive tendencies towards wholeness or clarity (sattva), inertia or darkness (tamas), and agitation or activity (rajas). These tendencies were mentioned previously in sutras 2.18 and 2.19. The final aspect of the element is its purpose as an object of experience: Is it causing you to attach to your experiences, or is it a vehicle to liberation from your sense of self? A complete experiential understanding of these five aspects of the five fundamental elements enables the practitioner to master anything that is made from these fundamental elements.
It is worth mentioning that according to the Samkhya philosophical perspective, consciousness (purusha) and the world (prakriti) are two fundamental and complementary aspects of existence. According to Samkhya, consciousness is the cause of all existence starting at the subtlest level and emerging into a sense of being that generates a sense of individuality that, in turn, generates the units of sensation and from there the senses, the elements and perception develop. Delving into this philosophical system is related to an ongoing debate in Indian philosophy over many centuries: Is there one pervading principle in the Universe that animates everything? Or are there more than one? Perhaps, is there only pervasive emptiness and impermanence? A similar debate exists in Western philosophy, and in some fields of science: does the physical universe give rise to consciousness? Or does consciousness exist before the material world and generate it? Of course, there are other possibilities including that consciousness and materiality emerge from their synergetic interaction that generates a more complex system than the sum of its parts. You may find these questions interesting enough to explore them and to use them as one filter for interpreting your experiences.
This can be a very dense sutra. How can it be put into practice? Would it be possible to start by moving all your practices (yama, niyama, pratipaksha bhavana, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana) from a gross level of experience to a subtler level? For instance, in present times the most popular aspect of yoga is the physical practice, asana. A yoga practice consisting only of asana will have results mostly in the physical realm, helping with fitness and health, when practiced consciously. When you expand your practice to have a strong foundation on the yama and niyama, your yoga practice will extend to your mind and emotions, helping you refine your attitude and perspective through love and contentment. Next, if you enrich your practice with pranayama, in addition to enhancing your respiratory function, you will directly experience its purifying effects, and you will prepare yourself for pratyahara and the meditative limbs. Each one of the limbs takes you into experiencing deeper levels of subtlety. Rather than isolating the different limbs of yoga, you can yoke them together to act synergistically on all aspects of your being. You may also choose to try the following questions to move towards application of this sutra:
What happens when you try to meditate on each one of the five elements?
Could it be possible to find out if the intricate levels of manifestation of each element can be experienced directly through meditation?
Might it be possible that such subtler levels of experience offer a different approach to your sensory experiences?
What is your purpose in experiencing the primordial elements that make up life?
Is it really possible to gain access to the most fundamental aspects of existence through meditative integration?
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 some of the words coming together:
3.45 sthūlasvarūpasūkṣmānvayārthavattvasaṃyamāt bhūtajayaḥ
स्थूलस्वरूपसूक्ष्मान्वयार्थवत्त्वसंयमात् भूतजयः ॥४५॥
Another option is to chant each word in the sutra individually:
If you prefer, you may listen to the podcast:
This is an excerpt from the book Unravel the thread: Applying the ancient wisdom of yoga to live a happy life
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