3.48 – One gains mastery over the senses through samyama on their powers of perception, intrinsic natures, the way one comes to identify with them, and their connections and purposes.

ग्रहणस्वरूपास्मितावयार्थवत्त्वसंयमातिन्द्रियजयः ॥४७॥

grahana svarupa asmita anvaya arthavattva samyamad indriya jayah

  • grahana – perceiving; experiencing
  • svarupa – nature; quality; essence; appearance; original form
  • asmita – egoism; a mistaken self-identity; the sense of being an “I”; a sense of being a separate, isolated, independent entity
  • anvaya – association; connection
  • arthavattva – having purpose
  • samyamad – by samyama – the perfect integration of consciousness; the uniting of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi
  • indriya – senses; sense organ; power of the senses
  • jayah – victory; mastery

3.49 – Through mastery of the senses comes speed of mind, trans-sensory perception, and control over the subtle field of nature.

ततो मनोजवित्वं विकरणभावः प्रधानजयश्च ॥४८॥

tatah mano-javitvam virarana-bhavah pradhaua jayah

  • tatah – due to that; from that
  • mano – mind
  • javitvam – quickness; speed; running
  • vikarana – separate from (or beyond) the senses; trans-sensory (prefix “vi” = separate or distinct from and “karana” = the organs of the senses)
  • bhavah – state of being
  • pradhaua – the source of all material existence; prakriti; subtle primordial nature
  • jayah – victory; mastery
  • cha – and; also; both

Commentary on Sutras 3.48 and 3.49:

As individualized expressions of Awareness, we come into form and begin to identify with that form. That veiling of Self-knowledge causes us to seek happiness and fulfillment outside ourselves. We become attached to the objects of the senses and spend most of our lives trying to accumulate the possessions or relationships we believe will bring us lasting pleasure, comfort, and security.

The way of yoga is to turn our attention back on itself toward the origin of the senses, the source of all true happiness. Then, abiding in our true nature, we can direct the bliss of Awareness back through the senses into the world. The more we practice this, the more purified the senses become, and the more our inner light shines through.

We can accelerate this process through samyama on our powers of perception. It’s an exploration of their underlying qualities and purposes. And its purpose is to discover how they connect with our tendency to construct a false-self.

The practice is a potent form of svadhyaya, one of the three elements of Patanjali’s kriya yoga and the fourth niyama. We can practice it outside of our regular seated meditation while engaging in sensual experiences such as eating, listening to music or the sounds of nature, lying in the sun, taking a shower, etc.

The most direct method is to use inquiry (vichara). As an example, we’ll take a chocolate milkshake as our object of meditation. First, breathe deeply for a moment until you’re quiet inside. Then take a sip of the shake and sense the sweet taste of chocolate spread out across your tongue. Go deeply into that sensation, becoming fully absorbed in it. Then ask yourself what it is that’s tasting.

The answer will rise immediately before any words can form to describe it. It’s the same answer to the questions:

  • What is it that sees the sun?
  • What is it that hears the birds?
  • What is it that smells the flowers?
  • What is it that feels the grass underfoot?

We can describe the answer to these questions with labels such as pure consciousness, the eternal witness, or Awareness Itself—but these are just words that point toward the truth. Only when we turn our attention back onto That which the words attempt to describe do we directly perceive It.

As the senses become purified through this process, we gain mastery over them. Meaning we aren’t being pulled toward the many objects of the senses. We’re no longer seeking fulfillment through them because we’re resting more and more in the source of fulfillment.

Nor are we hiding in a cave, unexposed to sense objects. Instead, we become even more intimate with all we experience because we’re present with the rising energies of the moment.

That mastery over the senses leads to enhanced mental functioning, more refined powers of perception, and control over the more subtle aspects of our being.