1.16 तत्परं पुरुसख्यातेर्गुनवैतृष्ण्यम्
tat – that; paraṁ – supreme; puruṣaḥ – self, soul; khyāteḥ – known as, due to; guṇa – constituent principles of Nature, qualities; vaitṛṣṇyam – freedom from desire, indifference:
When a person, after gaining knowledge of the atma (purusha) through self-realization, becomes indifferent to the gunas (the underpinnings of material nature), this is called supreme detachment.
1.16 tat-paraṁ puruṣa-khyāter-guṇa-vaitṛṣṇyam
When a person, after gaining knowledge of the ātmā (puruṣa) through self-realization, becomes indifferent to the gunas (the underpinnings of material nature), this is called supreme detachment.
So now in this particular sutra, we are going to be speaking about some things that we haven’t really touched on in any depth as yet. And the first thing I wanted to speak about is these ‘guṇa’. This word ‘guṇa’ literally means ‘quality’. And they often referenced the term ‘tri-guṇa’, which means the three qualities, and they’re speaking about the three qualities or the modes, under which the material nature functions. So there are these three guṇas, or three material modes: one is called sattva, which literally translates to goodness or purity – the mode of goodness; or rajas, which means the motive of passion, and tamas, which is the mode of ignorance.
So, on the… it’s important to understand that these very subtle energies completely pervade everything material; everything in the material creation – my body, my mind, my intelligence (the buddhi). Everything is influenced and pervaded by these three qualities. Some of them may become more prominent than others, and at other times, other ones will become more prominent in terms of the effects on us and on our life, on our body, on our mind, our environment. And like three primary colors that can be mixed in almost an unlimited way… like for instance you can have one drop of the first one, and five drops of the second one, and three drops of the third one… and you can just mix it up in so many different ways, and it creates an unlimited number of different shades of color.
In a similar manner, the effect or influence of the material modes may be experienced by individuals, and at different times in their life and different times of the day, and it has a very profound effect on us. When we look at the big picture of the material energy…When I say the material energy, I’m talking about the sum total of the material creation…sum total of it. It initially exists in a condition, as described as ‘pradhāna’. Pradhāna means the material energy existing in its potential form. When it becomes mixed with the guṇas and the element of time or ‘kāla’, then it becomes known as ‘prakṛti’. Prakṛti – through this now very highly technical process – begins to produce different evolutes, and the world as we know it begins to manifest. And we will be talking about that in another sutra a little later.
So, the guṇas literally underpin… they underpin all action and all transformations in the material world. So we’ll be talking about the way in which the guṇas work, but just really appreciate that absolutely everything within the material world – all material energy – is permeated by, and stimulated by the guṇas, which are ultimately responsible for all activity.
The one thing that the guṇas do not touch or effect, is the ātmā or the puruṣa. What the guṇas do effect, is the citta, or the consciousness. If we recall, you have two material coverings: the gross physical body – the ‘sthūla-śarīra’, and the ‘liṅga-śarīra’, the subtle body; the subtle body been comprised of the mind, the intelligence or buddhi, and the ahaṇkāra, the false ego – the false concept of who I am or who we may be. Since the gross and subtle bodies evolve from prakṛti, the guṇas will therefore affect them all the time – always; it’s always going on. In the material condition… it means that the living… the pure spiritual being, and the pure consciousness of the spiritual being, have become contaminated or polluted.
The first layer of contamination or pollution is this ahaṇkāra. Ahaṇkāra – as I have stated – is a material energy, and it forms part of the subtle body. But because of its nature, it brings the false concept of ‘who I am’ – this false idea of being male or female; of the body being ‘me’, arises from this very subtle covering of the living being. And one cannot easily escape or separate from it; in fact, you can’t escape it or separate from it. It is only through the process of self-realization, that one can come to the position of becoming free from the influence of it, and it has no effect on the living being from that point forward.
So Vyāsa…he states that… in this verse he references this supreme detachment; this state of vairāgyeṇa – supreme state of detachment – as being arising or stemming from… in his term, he states ‘puruṣa-khyāter.’ Puruṣa-khyāter is the awareness of the puruṣa itself; where the living being is completely self-aware or self-realized. And he states in his commentary, that complete loss of interest in all material things, can only take place when the yogi has attained self-realization. So, we’re not talking about a condition of just having a strength of will, and not submitting to the desires of the mind or the body, and things like this. We are talking about this state of supreme detachment arising from this spiritual realization. And when that happens, the living being begins to see… even in an embodied state… begins to see themself, their own physical covering, others, and the world, in a completely different way that they saw before.
And it brings about a state of equanimity, where the living being becomes unmoved by different things that may be happening to the body or happening within the environment. It does not disturb them it doesn’t ‘rock your life’. There is this equanimity, this levelness of everything, and a great peace that comes with it. In the Bhagavad-gīta, there are four verses in the fourteenth chapter that really describe in a wonderful way, what that condition is, and how it has arisen for a person who has transcended these modes of material nature – the guṇas.
So it states: “Oh son of Kuntī, he who does not hate illumination, attachment and delusion when they are present, nor longs for them when they disappear; who is unwavering and undisturbed through all of these reactions of the material qualities (meaning the three gunas) remaining neutral and transcendental, knowing that the modes alone are active; who is situated in the self and regards alike happiness and distress; who looks upon a lump of earth, a stone, and a piece of gold with an equal eye; who is equal towards the desirable and undesirable; who is steady, situated equally well in praise and blame, honor and dishonor; who treats a like both friend and enemy, and who has renounced all material activities – such a person is said to have transcended the modes of nature.”
So that’s quite an extraordinary description and looking at that in relation to our own lives, and reflecting from time to time on perhaps these verses, would be extremely beneficial for us. So, I am just looking here…when it states that, “One who is unwavering and undisturbed through all these reactions of material qualities, remaining neutral and transcendental, knowing that the modes alone are active.” This is an incredible concept; when a person comes to really understand and appreciate this, and see the spiritual reality of it, it’s incredibly transformative in one’s life.
The whole material world and all the activities that are going on, are simply happening due to the stimulation from these three modes of material nature. And the living being – the actual soul; the atma – is actually untouched, sitting like within a machine. But because of this close identification with the body and mind as being who I am, because of the agency of the subtle covering – the ahaṇkāra. So the living being becomes incredibly caught up – just like someone who’s sitting and watching a movie, and getting all emotional or incredibly caught up in their movie; the living being becomes really caught up in everything that’s going on. I mean we think that we are making our own decisions to act on things; we don’t recognize and see the degree to which we have been influenced by so many external forces, and in particular these modes of material nature.
So, when a person comes to this platform of self-realization, it is so incredibly transformative, and they may be recognizable to ordinary people, or such a realized person may not be recognizable. In the Pūraṇas, there are many wonderful stories of people that have attained this state of great detachment from things. And one of them from the Bhāgavat Pūraṇa is the story of Jaḍa Bharata – which we’ll possibly talk about at some point in the future – and the incredible journey he went through. But what you saw in the life of such a person – he became so utterly detached from things, he chose not to engage with anyone in the world; he would not even speak; he did not beg, he appeared to be just like an like an animal – utterly unkempt; he did nothing to maintain his appearance or anything like that. And because of that, he received a lot of trouble from others.
But there is another story about a person from a community in a state…. it was known as the Avantī, and he was from the brāhmin community, but he was very much engaged in banking and business, and it so overtook his life, he became utterly obsessed with money and making money. He developed an incredibly miserly nature, and as his wealth grew he became even more miserly and harsh, to the point that his family absolutely… you know, they were so bitter with him because he treated them in a horrible way as well.
So by the designs of providence, he gradually began to lose his money for different reasons…a whole variety of them…but he finally came to the point where he was actually destitute. And at this time his family – who were no longer receiving any economic benefit from him and were angered at him because of his very selfish nature – they utterly rejected him, and so he found himself now all alone. He reflected very deeply on his life, and he took spiritual counsel and began this this spiritual journey that was so incredible. He grew tremendously in self-realization, and adopted the life of a simple beggar, just constantly moving about the place. He was subjected oftentimes to such harshness that it was…people would consider it…regular people would consider it to be unendurable.
So what I would like to do is just read you a few passages from the Bhāgavat Pūraṇa, that relates the story, and I think just bear in mind that it is a clear manifestation… his life and the way he responded and reacted to things…of his tremendous detachment, that came by virtue of being incredibly spiritually advanced. So, I’ll just read through:
“He wandered about the earth, keeping his intelligence, senses, and life air under control. To beg charity, he traveled alone to various cities and villages. He did not advertise his advanced spiritual position, and thus was not recognized by others. Seeing him as an old, dirty beggar, rowdy persons would dishonor him with many insults. Some of these persons would take away his sannyāsī rod…” So I’ll just mention here that when someone had accepted this fourth āśrama or spiritual order, which was the life of a sannyāsī – a wandering mendicant who lived very austere lives – they would often accept and carry a rod to remind them… it had a lot of different significance…but when people saw it, they recognized him as a wandering monk and mendicant. So, “Some of these people, would take away his sannyāsī rod, and some the water pot that he used as a begging bowl. Some took his deerskin seat, and some would take his chanting beads (the japa beads), and some would steal his torn, ragged clothing. Displaying these things before him, they would pretend to offer them back but would then hide them again. When he was sitting on the bank of a river about to partake of the food that he had collected by his begging, such sinful rascals would come and pass urine on it, and they would dare to spit on his head. Although he had taken a vow of silence, they would try to make him speak, and if he did not speak, they would beat him with sticks. Others would chastise him, saying, “This man is just a thief.” And others would bind him up with rope, shouting, “Tie him up! Tie him up!” They would criticize and insult him, saying, “This man is just a hypocrite and a cheat. He makes a business of religion simply because he’s lost all his wealth and his family threw him out.” Some would ridicule him by saying, “Just see this greatly powerful sage! He is a steadfast as the Himalayan Mountains. By practice of silence he strives for his goal with great determination, just like a duck.” Other persons would pass foul air upon him, and sometimes others would bind this twice-born brāhmaṇa with chains and keep him captive like a pet animal. The brāhmaṇa understood that all his sufferings – from other living beings, from the higher forces of nature and from his own body – were unavoidable, being allotted to him by providence. Even while being insulted by these low-class men who are trying to effect his downfall, he remained steady in his spiritual duties. Fixing his resolution in the mode of goodness, he began to chant the following song:”… So, I’ll just read a couple of verses from it; it’s a little bit long. The brāhmaṇa said: “These people are not the cause of my happiness and distress. Neither are the demigods, my own body, the planets, my past work, or time. Rather, it is the mind alone that causes happiness and distress and perpetuates the rotation of material life (or saṁsāra). The powerful mind actuates the functions of the material modes, from which evolve the different kinds of material activities and the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. From the activities in each of these modes develops a corresponding status in life.”
So, we see in this recitation that he did not lay blame on anyone, for anything that was happening to him. He accepted that things were happening this way because of his own past sinfulness; his own karma, and now he was experiencing the fruit of that. But in spite of that happening, it did not diminish the internal and spiritual experience that he was happening as a result of his great spiritual realization. And so, it is this state of supreme detachment that Patañjali speaks about in this verse.