2.26 – The continuous flow of intuitive knowledge is the way of freedom.

विवेकख्यातिरविप्लवा हानोपायः ॥२६॥

viveka khyatih aviplava hana upayah

  • viveka – discernment; discrimination; wisdom; clear intuition
  • khyatih – knowledge; view; point of view; conception
  • aviplava – undisturbed; uncorrupted
  • hana – avoidance; rejection; subtraction; elimination; dissolution
  • upayah – means; method; the way

2.27 – On that way to freedom, intuitive knowledge unfolds in seven stages.

तस्य सप्तधा प्रान्तभूमिः प्रज्ञ ॥२७॥

tasya saptadha pranta bhumih prajna

  • tasya – of that; his; her
  • saptadha – seven-fold; in seven parts
  • pranta – extremity; end
  • bhumih – stage; ground; land; place
  • prajna – wisdom; intuitive insight

Commentary on Sutras 2.26 and 2.27:

Patanjali makes it clear in these two sutras that liberation is a sequential awakening process. Our persistent, devoted practice opens the way for the continuous flow of intuitive insights. In rare cases, such as with the great sage Ramana Maharshi, full awakening comes in a sudden, spontaneous flash. But for most, it’s like watching the night gradually give way to the dawn.

Some yogis may experience life-altering shifts in consciousness, which they may initially mistake for full enlightenment. But over time, their consciousness contracts again, and it becomes clear that there is still much inner work they need to do.

Sutra 2.27 is an example of why the Yoga Sutras are not a complete, detailed manual that can be read and applied without guidance. Patanjali gives very few details on specific techniques and procedures throughout the text. And in this sutra, he states that there are seven stages in which liberation occurs, but he does not take the time to unpack this.

One reason is that yoga in Patanjali’s time, and for many centuries before, was an oral tradition. The teachings were passed down from teacher to student as terse statements, or sutras, which were easy to remember. Then, as the teacher instructed the student, they would elaborate on those statements, weaving in their particular tradition’s various techniques and philosophical insights as they went along.

The seven stages in which liberation occurs were probably commonplace knowledge within the yoga community of that time, so Patanjali didn’t feel it necessary to list them here. Whatever the case, we have ancient written commentaries by the revered teachers Vyasa and Shankara and many more recent commentaries which do.

The seven stages to liberation:

  1. We see the things in our life that limit our progress on the path and choose to let them go.
  2. The impressions and tendencies in our consciousness that previously caused us pain and suffering become weakened.
  3. Internal and external distractions fade, our consciousness becomes still, and samadhi states unfold.
  4. We gain the ability to discern the differences between Pure Awareness and its external expressions (the mind, body, thoughts, sensations, and all other external phenomena).
  5. Samskaras and vasanas (impressions and habitual tendencies) no longer create fluctuations within our field of consciousness. Self-awareness becomes our default state.
  6. The primordial forces of nature (gunas) cease to influence our states of consciousness. We comprehend the wholeness of life and the unity of all things.
  7. Fully liberated, we abide in our essence, the Power of Awareness. (See Sutra 4.34.)

It has been taught that the only purpose of life is to transcend it. In other words, it’s to leave the manifest plane and dissolve into the infinite expanse of Pure Awareness.

A more life-affirming perspective states that creative expression and enjoyment of the physical world can walk hand-in-hand with the unfolding stages of enlightenment. And once the yogi realizes final liberation, they can live in the world as a free soul. In that state, the yogi no longer perceives a separate world outside themselves. They perceive all as one subjective whole.

In other words, there’s no need to renounce the world because the Self is fully present in the here and now. The goal isn’t to extinguish the physical. It’s to recognize the spiritual. The enlightened behold the seer, the seen, and the process of seeing as one continuum of Awareness. They know that it’s the nature of Awareness to express, enjoy, appear to lose Itself in Its expressions, and then discover Itself anew.