4.9 – Memories and latent psychic impressions form together. There is an unbroken link between them even when they are separated by birth, time, or location.

जाति देश काल व्यवहितानामप्यान्तर्यां स्मृतिसंस्कारयोः एकरूपत्वात् ॥९॥

jati desha kala vyavahitanam api anantaryam smriti samskarayoh eka rupatvat

  • jati – type of birth; genus; lineage; family
  • desha – place; region; location
  • kala – time
  • vyavahitanam – placed apart; separated by; hidden; covered; concealed
  • api – even; also; too; though
  • anantaryam – immediate succession; absence of interval
  • smriti – memory; recollection; remembrance
  • samskarayoh – psychic impressions; forming the mind; conditionings
  • eka – one
  • rupatvat – having form

4.10 – Those imprints in consciousness and the desires which form them have no beginning or end.

तासामनादित्वं चाशिषो नित्यत्वात् ॥१०॥

tasam anaditvam cha ashisah nityatvat

  • tasam – of those
  • anaditvam – having no beginning
  • cha – and; also; both
  • ashisah – desire
  • nityatvat – eternal; permanent; having no end

4.11 – Those desires and imprints disappear when the underlying cause-and-effect cycle holding them together is eliminated.

हेतुफलाश्रयालम्बनैः संगृहीतत्वातेषामभावेतदभावः ॥११॥

hetu phala ashraya alambana samgrihitatvat esam abhave tad abhavah

  • hetu – cause
  • phala – fruit; effect; result
  • ashraya – underlying; substratum; that which everything rests upon; support
  • alambana – base; sustaining; support; foundation; depending on; resting upon
  • samgrihitatvat – held together; restrained
  • esam – of these
  • abhave – nothingness; absence; void; negation
  • tad – that
  • abhavah – of the nothingness; absence; void; negation

Commentary on Sutras 4.9—4.11:

Our field of consciousness (chitta) contains the residual imprints of past actions from this and other lives. We may remember many of the samskaras created in this life, while those from years (or lifetimes) past remain out of reach. Memories accessible to us will often surface when a samskara is triggered. The opposite is also true. We can activate a samskara as we recollect a past event.

For example, the smell of freshly baked bread might evoke the emotions of warmth and comfort you felt around your grandmother as a child. You experience those rising emotions (the effects of the triggered samskara) along with the memory of spending time with your grandmother in her kitchen.

Or, you could be drinking coffee with a friend, reminiscing about old times. Your friend mentions an abusive boyfriend you used to date, and the memory of him triggers a flood of emotions surrounding that relationship.

On rare occasions, an event may stir up a latent impression that calls forth a foreign memory, something we don’t recognize as our own. For a moment, we become immersed in a scene from another place and time. These may be flashbacks from a previous life. Or from an ancestor’s experience stored deep within our DNA.

It’s unnecessary to attempt to dig up all the impressions embedded within the complex structures of our consciousness. Efforts made by therapists to unearth and untangle them can often create more problems and difficulties than they solve.

The yogic approach is to dissolve samskaras through higher meditation and to cultivate positive samskaras to neutralize those which create suffering. And when confronted by surges of dislodged emotions, to remain centered and open, feeling them fully and watching with dispassionate nonattachment until they burn themselves out.

When latent samskaras are activated while we’re in lower states of consciousness, we don’t even realize it’s happening. Instead, all we’re aware of is the flood of uncontrollable thoughts and feelings that drive us toward unconscious actions, creating more problematic samskaras.

The yogi is in touch with the wider landscape of their field of consciousness. Functioning from that higher state, they notice the activation of a samskara while it’s still subtle and controllable. They then consciously release and reclaim the trapped energy held within it. In this way, they eliminate the cause which supported the samskara, along with the unconscious habits and tendencies it upheld, thereby breaking the cycle of suffering.

At this point, the yoga student might ask where the process began. When were the first imprints in consciousness laid down?

Patanjali tells us there was no beginning to their formation because Awareness Itself is eternal, and it’s the nature of that Eternal Awareness to express life. The cosmic play of the Goddess Maya has no beginning and no end.

However, it’s the destiny of every individual expression of Awareness to awaken to the truth of their nature. Either through the natural evolution of the soul throughout many lifetimes or through intentional spiritual practice, grace will guide the soul toward the ultimate liberation of consciousness.