2.15 – The discerning see that all experience can result in suffering. This is because of the pains caused by the activation of latent psychic impressions and the constant changes brought about by the primal forces of nature.

परिणाम ताप संस्कार दुःखैः गुणवृत्तिविरोधाच्च दुःखमेव सर्वं विवेकिनः ॥१५॥

parinama tapa samskara duhkhaih guna vrittih virodhat cha duhkham eva sarvam vivekinah

  • parinama – change; consequence; fruit; result; effect; transformation
  • tapa – heat; pain; distress; affliction
  • samskara – psychic impressions; forming the mind; conditionings
  • duhkham – suffering; misery; grief; distress; pain; unease
  • guna – fundamental forces of nature; primal qualities
  • vrittih – fluctuations; modifications; activities; movements
  • virodhat – opposed; against; contrary
  • cha – and; also; both
  • duhkham – suffering; misery; grief; distress; pain; unease
  • eva – same; way; like
  • sarvam – all; every
  • vivekinah – discerning; discriminative; wise; intuitive

2.16 – Future suffering is avoidable.

हेयं दुःखमनागतम् ॥१६॥

heyam duhkham anagatam

  • heyam – to be avoided; to be rejected; to be subtracted, eliminated, dissolved
  • duhkham – suffering; misery; grief; distress; pain; unease
  • anagatam – future; not yet arrived

2.17 – The cause of the avoidable suffering is being identified with That which is seen rather than with that which sees.

द्रष्टृदृश्ययोः संयोगो हेयहेतुः ॥१७॥

drashtri drishyayoh samyogah heya hetuh

  • drashtri – the seer; the perceiver; the witness
  • drishyayoh – the seen; experienced; perceived; visible
  • samyogah – absorption with; identification with; junction; union
  • heya – to be avoided; to be rejected; to be subtracted, eliminated, dissolved
  • hetuh – cause

Commentary on Sutras 2.15—2.17:

Sutras 2.15 and 2.16 are a stark contrast of darkness and light. 2.15 lays out a harsh worldview often translated as “all of life is suffering,” but this is followed by the bright promise that future suffering can be avoided.

2.14 describes how virtuous karma results in pleasurable life conditions and that non-virtuous karma results in painful ones. If we focus on that sutra alone, we might think that virtuous action is our ticket out of the prison of suffering. And while that sounds right in theory, there are self-sabotaging forces at work behind the scenes thwarting our plans of continuous angelic conduct.

As discussed earlier, it’s the nature of the mind to latch onto pleasurable experiences. And when those experiences inevitably fade, we react negatively, act non-virtuously, and create pain-producing karma.

Also, as Patanjali points out again in Sutra 2.15, there are endless storage rooms of latent impressions embedded in our field of consciousness which become activated as the primal forces of nature (the gunas) move through and around us. As this happens, we slip into lower, habitual states and operate unconsciously.

But in case we missed the message in 2.6, he gives us the true cause of suffering in 2.17—identifying with the seen rather than the seer. From the opening verses of the sutras all the way to the final line, the core message is the same. Awareness is your true Self. And through yogic training, you can come to recognize that truth.