4.14 – The material reality of an object is due to the unique transformative interactions (between the primary forces of nature).

परिणामैकत्वात् वस्तुतत्त्वम् ॥१४॥

parinama ekatvat vastu tattvam

  • parinama – change; consequence; fruit; result; effect; transformation
  • ekatvat – oneness; singular; unique
  • vastu – object; thing; truth; fact
  • tattvam – principle; essence

4.15 – The same object is perceived differently because of the different pathways of consciousness of those perceiving it.

वस्तुसाम्ये चित्तभेदात्तयोर्विभक्तः पन्थाः ॥१५॥

vastu samye chitta bhedat tayoh vibhaktah panthah

  • vastu – object; thing; truth; fact
  • samye – same; identical; equal
  • chitta – consciousness; field of consciousness; reflecting; mind; thought
  • bhedat – separating; removing; division; diverse
  • tayoh – of both; of the two
  • vibhaktah – separated by
  • panthah – path; way

4.16 – An object is not dependent upon the consciousness of the one perceiving it. Otherwise, what would become of the object when it wasn’t being perceived?

न चैकचित्ततन्त्रं चेद्वस्तु तदप्रमाणकं तदा किं स्यात् ॥१६॥

na cha eka chitta tantram ched vastu tat pramanakam tada kim syat

  • na – no; not
  • cha – and; also; both
  • eka – one
  • chitta – consciousness; field of consciousness; reflecting; mind; thought
  • tantram – dependence; a thread
  • ched – if; if so
  • vastu – object; thing; truth; fact
  • tat – that
  • pramanakam – accurate knowing; valid proof; evidence
  • tada – then
  • kim – what
  • syat – becomes; would become

4.17 – The pathways in consciousness, created by desires and conditionings, determine whether or not one perceives an object.

तदुपरागापेक्षित्वात् चित्तस्य वस्तुज्ञाताज्ञातं ॥१७॥

tad uparaga apeksitvat chittasya vastu jnata ajnatam

  • tad – that
  • uparaga – coloring; affecting; conditioning
  • apeksitvat – looked for; desired; wished for
  • chittasya – of consciousness
  • vastu – object; thing; truth; fact
  • jnata – perceived; known; comprehended
  • ajnatam – not perceived; unknown; not comprehended

4.18 – Changes in consciousness are always known to the superior, changeless Self.

सदाज्ञाताः चित्तव्र्त्तयः तत्प्रभोः पुरुषस्यापरिणामित्वात् ॥१८॥

sada jnatah chitta vrittayah tat prabhu purusasya aparinamitvat

  • sada – always; eternally; continually
  • jnatah – perceived; known; comprehended
  • chitta – consciousness; field of consciousness; reflecting; mind; thought
  • vrittayah – “the vrittis are”; vrittis = changes; fluctuations, modifications; activities, movements
  • tat – that
  • prabhu – master; power over; superior
  • purusasya – of the soul, spirit or Self
  • aparinamitvat – changeless

Commentary on Sutras 4.14—4.18:

The entire universe, and all objects contained within it, are made from Mother Nature’s (prakriti’s) subtle cosmic particles. In contrast with some other philosophical systems, Patanjali’s worldview holds that nature is real. It is illusory but not an illusion.

Nature creates the world out of the energies of the three gunas. She blends and mixes those energies to create the vast variety of material phenomena.

Unlike a dream, the reality of objects is not dependent upon whether or not we are perceiving them. They will continue to exist if we look in the other direction.

Philosophers have debated these issues for millennia and will continue to do so far into the future. Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if no one is around to hear it? Would the world exist if no sentient beings were alive within it? Such unanswerable questions can create confusion for the spiritual seeker and are best left for the scholars to battle out.

However, our philosophical perspective serves as a lens through which we view life and our purpose. For this reason, it’s important to clarify where we stand.

Here are a few examples of differing views:

  • The world is real, and God is unreal.
  • The world is unreal. Only God is real.
  • The world is unreal, and there is no God.
  • The world and God are real but forever separate.
  • The world and God are real and only
    appear to be separate. All is one.

These are oversimplifications, of course. The above ideas have many nuances and blends, and many others are left unmentioned.

Why does any of this matter? And why bring it up here?

Our philosophical worldview shapes our spiritual practice and relationship with life. For example, if we have a burning desire to know God and hold the strict belief that the world and God are separate, we may renounce the world as evil.

There are yogis, Christians, and spiritual seekers from other traditions, who perform all kinds of self-torturing austerities. Believing the flesh is evil, they deny themselves the enjoyment of any sensual pleasures and abuse their bodies through pain and starvation.

Others, believing the world is an illusion and that God is the only reality, may become cold and distant, giving no weight to the state of the environment or to the joy and suffering of others. They might use their view that the world is a dream to justify the neglect of responsibilities.

A more life-affirming, nondual tantric perspective asserts that both God and the world are real. They may appear to be separate, but they are one. God is manifest as the world.

Unlike the strict dualistic systems, which either reject God or the world, or nondual systems, which accept God as real but dismiss the world as a mere illusion, the life-affirming nondual outlook gives weight to them both. The physical world, rather than being a problem we must overcome, is seen as the fullest, outermost expression of Divinity Itself.

In other words, everything is sacred because everything is an inseparable part of God.

“Few mortals know that the kingdom of God includes the kingdom of mundane fulfillments… The divine realm extends to the earthly, but the latter, being illusory, cannot include the essence of reality.” – Mahavatar Babaji

(The infinite contains the finite. But the unending expanse of the infinite cannot be contained within the finite.)

Samkhya and Patanjali

The Samkhya system is a unique form of dualism that holds that the world and the soul are both real, but God does not exist (or at least is never mentioned). Many scholars equate Patanjali with Samkhya because he drew on their system. However, a small but growing number of thinkers disagree that he shared their strict dualistic view.

There are definitive differences between the two, the biggest being Patanjali’s inclusion of Ishvara and his repeated emphasis on devotional surrender.

Whatever the case, the Yoga Sutras’ main focus is practice, not philosophy. And many of the methods given are life-affirming. Rather than advocating a rejection of the world, Patanjali teaches us ways to harmonize with it.

Cultivating the yamas and niyamas is one example. Another is the samyama practices on friendliness, compassion, etc. And Sutras 3.46 and 3.47 discuss how practicing samyama on the elements develops physical grace, beauty, and diamond-like hardness. Rather than rejecting the body, Patanjali describes how to embrace it.

In any case, the universal and practical approach of the Yoga Sutras has allowed it to become absorbed into many yoga lineages, including those of nondual tantra and Advaita Vedanta.

Coming back to the specific ideas put forth in the last five sutras…

Our past actions and experiences have shaped our worldview and way of thinking. Those past actions created the samskaras and vasanas, which form our internal structure. And the attention and energy that flow through that inner structure determine how we perceive the world and its many objects.

We have all followed unique life paths and therefore have unique internal structures. Because of this, no one soul perceives the world in the same way as another.

Depending on the conditioning of our consciousness, we may overlook entire aspects of reality altogether. The more narrow and contracted our worldview, the more of the spectrum we miss.

There is one constant, and that is Awareness Itself. Awareness is the changeless witness to all the movements and fluctuations within consciousness. From the expansive perspective of Awareness, the entire spectrum is observed.

When we learn to go beyond the intellect and abide in and as Awareness, we see things as they truly are. From that viewpoint, all philosophical worldviews and debates are seen as relative and limited.