3.36 – Ordinary experience (under the influence of avidya/spiritual ignorance) is caused by confusing that which exists for a separate purpose with That which exists for its own purpose. Pure Self-knowledge is revealed through samyama on the distinction between the illuminating force of nature and the source of that force.

सत्त्वपुरुषायोः अत्यन्तासंकीर्णयोः प्रत्ययाविशेषोभोगः परार्थत्वात्स्वार्थसंयमात् पुरुषज्ञानम् ॥३५॥

sattva purusayoh atyanta asankirnayoh pratyaya avishesah bhogah pararthatvat svartha samyamat purusha-jnanam

  • sattva – primal force of luminosity; subtlest aspect of the intellect (buddhi)
  • purusayoh – of the soul; spirit; Pure Awareness; the true Self
  • atyanta – absolute; completely; quite
  • asankirnayoh – unmixed; not unclean
  • pratyaya – contents of consciousness; mental content; notion; cognition; conception
  • avishesah – – without difference; uniform; equally
  • bhogah – experience; enjoyment
  • pararthatvat – for the sake of others; dependent on something else
  • svartha – for one’s own sake; for it’s own purpose; self-interest
  • samyamat – by samyama – the perfect integration of consciousness; the uniting of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi
  • purusha-jnanam – Self-knowledge

In this sutra, we receive the highest purpose of samyama—to unveil pure knowledge of the Self by showing us the distinction between the experience and the experiencer, the seen and the seer. It’s an important part of the text, so we want to break it down to make it easier to understand.

  • “ordinary experience” = the state in which the bound soul, under the influence of avidya, experiences reality
  • “that which exists for a separate purpose” = the seen
  • “That which exists for its own purpose” = the seer
  • We’re given the information on the second and third statements in Sutra 2.21, which states that the seen exists for the seer. So the seen exists for a separate purpose, while the seer exists for its own purpose.
  • the illuminating force of nature = sattva guna, the force that uplifts and establishes the inner current that helps us evolve toward a state of liberation. The part of the mind associated with sattva guna is called the buddhi.

In yogic philosophy, four levels of mind are delineated:

  • manas – the organ of thought
  • ahamkara – the part of the mind which creates an individual sense of existence, the sense of “I” or “me”
  • buddhi – the higher intellect – the part of the mind which enables us to perceive right from wrong, truth from untruth
  • chitta – the entire spectrum of the mind – our field of consciousness, which includes all of our thoughts, emotions, and instincts

Buddhi is the highest aspect of chitta. It’s the reflective part of the mind that functions when the rest of chitta is still. In buddhi, rajas and tamas gunas (the forces of restless movement and dullness/inertia) are absent. Only sattva guna prevails.

Alright, so Patanjali tells us that pure Self-knowledge is revealed through samyama on the distinction of sattva/buddhi and its source, Pure Awareness. And here’s an interesting point: we can begin with any form of samyama, then follow with this even more advanced form.

Let’s take the example of samyama on a candle flame to see how that’s possible.

First, we focus on the flame (concentration), which eventually leads to an unbroken flow of attention (meditation), which culminates in the experience of our consciousness being one with the flame (samadhi). Now the process of samyama is complete, and the consciousness is still. The only thing contained within it is the experience of oneness with the flame. The buddhi (again, the higher intellect) perfectly reflects that flame’s nature.

Behind the buddhi, within the buddhi, and all around the buddhi, is Awareness—our all-pervasive true Self.

In normal states of consciousness, we don’t notice Awareness. Being the changeless background of all our experiences, we overlook it the same way we lose sight of a movie screen while engaged in the drama. But now that our consciousness has collapsed into the candle flame and become still, we can more easily direct it toward Awareness.

An effective method for this is called vichara, a Sanskrit word meaning “inquiry.” In this case, the line of inquiry we would use is “What is it that’s aware of this candle flame?” At this point, however, we’re so deeply immersed in the practice that our question isn’t even formed in words. It’s very subtle and refined.

Since our consciousness is already still, there’s no longer any resistance to the process, and no more distractions remain. There’s just the simple turning back of our attention toward Awareness. And in that return, pure Self-knowledge is revealed.

Stated another way, the yogi practices samyama on an object, then releases that object and enters nirbija samadhi.