Chapter IV: On Liberation (Kaivalya Pada)

Table of contents

4.1 – 3  Evolution cannot be stopped

4.4 – 6  Individual and universal mind

4.7 – 8  Cause and effect is karma

4.9 – 12  We are Samskaras and Smritis

4.13 – 14   Gunas change objects and mind

4.15 – 17   Belief filters perception

4.18 – 21   Consciousness is eternal

4.22 – 26   Knowledge, discernment, and liberation

4.27 – 28   Interruptions of Enlightenment

4.29 – 30   Uninterrupted Enlightenment

4.31  What can be experienced through the mind is tiny

4.32 – 34   Gunas and liberation

Yoga Sutra 4.1-3 – Evolution cannot be stopped

The 4th chapter of the Yoga Sutra is called Kaivalya Pada, and it is certainly the least noticed section of the four parts in Patanjali's work, especially since in Chapters 1 and 2, well-known models such as Ashtanga and Kriya are taught, and in the third chapter, the Siddhis are discussed. The 4th chapter begins with an analysis of various paths to psychic abilities and then discusses the powerlessness of the seeker due to the impossible task of achieving enlightenment through one's own will.

4.1. “Psychic abilities can be achieved through birth, drugs, spells, asceticism, or super-consciousness.”

The third chapter is almost entirely about the extraordinary abilities that you can get with the help of Samyama. Now Patanjali reveals that one can also come to Siddhis through other paths, whereas these do not contradict the methodology of Samyama. So he names five methods to grow beyond regular personhood and achieve Siddhis:

Birth: there are rare cases of incarnated people who already have a high level of consciousness and special abilities at birth. Examples of such people include Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Anandamayi Ma, both of whom experienced special states as children and were worshiped. Patanjali already talks about this in verses 19 and 20 of the 1st chapter; he says that some experience high Samadhis in the new birth through previous Sadhanas, and others evolve there through “faith, will, memory, objective observation, and wisdom”.

Drugs: This is not intended to legitimize drug abuse but is about the fact that by consuming certain substances in the right setting, one can at least temporarily overcome illusions and false concepts.

Mantras: There are great traditions in yoga that specialize in working with mystical sound vibrations, with which you can awaken specific powers by constantly repeating the corresponding mantras. Working with “magic spells” can certainly also be used for black magic goals. The black tantrics have developed very powerful instruments that should not be of any further interest to the yogi aiming for liberation.

Asceticism: The aim of this intense practice is the taming of the senses through the cultivation of a strong will, which can be interpreted and lived in very different ways. There are very intense exercises to grow beyond the level of the personal and reach supernatural states. For example, there are the “Sirshasins” who intend never to sit down or even lie down, or yogis who stretch their arm up and never take it down. This is of course harmful to the body and is therefore not recommended, but it trains the mind immensely.

4.2. “Through flooding with one’s own inner nature, complete change occurs.”

4.3. “What stands in the way of the flow of nature is broken, as in the rice field, so in man.” or “Just as a field owner opens the water locks of the rice field at the right time, our will cannot produce a faster growth towards true nature.”

At some point, we must let go of our knowledge and our will and surrender to the flow; we must let our nature take its course. However, it is difficult to know the exact point when we need to let go of the effort (Abhyasa) in order to fully surrender (Vairagya) to the flow of the moment; for this, among other things, we need a guru.

Yoga Sutra 4.4-6 – Individual and universal mind

I am again and again amazed at the depth and complexity of the individual verses of Patanjali's work; every single sentence has so many levels of interpretation and so much potential to be misinterpreted. The comparison of different translations and commentaries is really exciting, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to delve deeper into the Yoga Sutras.

In this second section of the Kaivalya Pada, Patanjali once again deepens the statements about overcoming identification with the individual personality and the evolution of the yogi towards cosmic universal consciousness. The central cause of our misery, including the need to practice yoga, arises from our dominating ignorance about the true, universal self.

4.4. “The individual mind arises only through ego identification.”

Through the identification of our mind with itself and its alleged individuality, it consolidates itself in the form of the personal psyche or mind. Only by identifying ourselves as being a person or the body with its functions do we generate a mental field that clouds us in the almost endless dream of separation. Through this fatal identification, we get the strong illusion of an individual mind and suffer from self-created limitations.

4.5. “The various activities of the mind field are controlled by the one mind.”

The one, all-encompassing consciousness underlies the individual mind. If we dissolve the identifications and overcome the rigid, ego-centered thinking, we can become one with the universal mind. This union is the goal of yoga; it is Kaivalya, which is spoken of in this chapter of the Yoga Sutras. The one mind that reveals itself in diversity is who we really are, not the mind of our self-created person.

4.6. “Consciousness grown out of meditation is free from personal impressions.”

Yoga Sutra 4.7-8 – Cause and effect is karma

This section, 4.7-8, deals with the principle of cause and effect and explains how the yogi can rise above karma. As long as we limit ourselves to the dual perspective, we create new karma (cause and effect) with every single action, which binds us to the cycle of existence. When, through spiritual practice, our identification with the apparent individual is dissolved, our perspective will be transformed, and we will recognize the unity of all beings.

4.7. “Actions are neither black nor white for the yogi, but for others they are threefold.”

Instead of black or white, we can also say good or bad.

4.8. “Therefore, the programming becomes apparent through the fruits of action.”

This verse from Patanjali reminds us of Jesus's words from Mat.7.16:
You will know them by their fruits.”

Since all of our actions result from our deep-seated programming, these become evident in the fruits of our actions.

Yoga Sutra 4.9-12 – We are Samskaras and Smritis

This section is about the Samskaras and Smritis, i.e., the programming and memories that, as the essence of our earthly existence, form our core and endure over time.

There are many verses in the Yoga Sutras that I have developed great joy for while working on my commentaries and translations, but this section is not one of them.

Some verses in Patanjali's work are very difficult to understand and even more difficult to translate with any degree of accuracy. With these verses, I found it very difficult to figure out what Patanjali's intention could have been because many commentators analyze them in very different ways.

4.9. “Because memories and programming appear similar, there is an unbroken continuity in the reproduction of these traits, even when birth, place, and time lie in between.”

The oldest surviving commentator on the Yoga Sutras from Vyasa speaks in his Yoga Bhashya on this verse of a “karmic residue” that persists through many incarnations, i.e., regardless of the three factors mentioned. So the karmic residue, which is commonly referred to as “Sanchita”, can manifest itself in many ways in future lives, especially through the Samskaras and Smritis.

4.10. “They (Samskaras and Smritis) are beginningless and endless by desire.”

You cannot find the beginning of memories and programming; they form a chain with no beginning and no end. At its origin was the desire to live, which probably did not arise from nothing but is an essential and elementary force behind evolution. Just as there is no beginning, there is no end here, since every wish contains new wishes, and every wish satisfaction binds us further to the idea that happiness can be achieved through the fulfillment of the wishes. This is the eternal cycle that we call "Samsara," and liberation from it is the goal of yoga.

4.11. “Cause, effect, basis, and object maintain them; with these, they disappear.”

This is again about the “Smritis and Samskaras” from the 9th verse, which are eternal but still have to be overcome in order to achieve the freedom “Kaivalya”. The reason they are described as eternal is because if we don't actively seek freedom, we will be stuck in this cycle forever.

4.12. “One's own form also exists in the past and future; differences in paths follow an order.”

Time accumulates, so to speak, always in the present. The past and the future are connected to each other at any time through the present; respectively, they are dependent on each other because the causal principle is always effective; this becomes manifest in the Samskaras and Smritis. So all events are ultimately connected to each other via the chains of cause (past) and effect (future), but the impressions can of course only be experienced in the present, as Vivekananda comments:
That means that my being can never arise from non-being. Even if the past and future are not visible in the present, they are still present in a subtle form."

In addition, the mind drastically filters memories of the past and always presents itself in an appropriate light. This in turn also has an effect on the future, as we give direction to our future experiences with our expectations and intentions.

Yoga Sutra 4.13-14 – Gunas change objects and mind

4.13. “They (Samskaras and Smritis) are perceivable or subtle in their Guna nature.”

Vyasa comments on this verse that the Samskaras and Smritis are perceivable in the present and exist only subtly and unmanifested in the past and future. The Samskaras and Smritis are made manifest in the present through the Gunas or determined by them. The entire universe exists through, and as the Gunas, nothing is untouched by the three forces except pure consciousness. And so the Samskaras and Smritis are also dominated by the Gunas. So the way we let ourselves be influenced by the past in the present depends on our thoughts and feelings because it is determined by the nature of the Gunas.

4.14. “By developing towards the essential, one recognizes the true nature of the phenomena.”

Yoga Sutra 4.15-17 – Belief filters perception

People's perceptions are filtered and limited by their beliefs. Depending on how we think about the world or what concepts we have about reality, our mind will predominantly confirm this. Unfortunately, experiences that do not correspond to our worldview are usually not consciously perceived but ignored and repressed.

4.15. “The same objects are apprehended differently by states of consciousness in different ways.”

By “different ways” Patanjali means the individual progress and perspectives of the seekers. Everyone is moving toward the same destination, but they are at different points along the way. So depending on where you are, what you're dealing with, or what you're thinking and feeling at the moment, you'll look at things differently.

4.16. “Objects exist regardless of whether they are apprehended by the medium of perception.”

4.17. “Depending on how strongly consciousness perceives and colors a thing, it is known or unknown.”

We always see the world through the filter of our beliefs. Even if we think we see things as they are, we always wear glasses because of our ways of thinking that limit our perception. Everything we perceive is colored by our thinking. The more filters (=beliefs) we have, the less we perceive reality objectively. The objects are “known” to us when we have few filters and beliefs, and “unknown” when we color our perception.

Yoga Sutra 4.18-21 – Consciousness is eternal

In this section of the 4th chapter, Patanjali talks about the mind and its relation to the Absolute. This relationship is highlighted again and again in the various viewpoints of yoga philosophy.

The true self is the observing entity within. It is referred to as Purusha in Samkhya, Atman in Vedanta, and Shiva in Tantra. It is not the mind that becomes enlightened, but rather the consciousness that shines when the mind has become permeable.

4.18. “True consciousness is eternally unchanging; it perceives the impulses in the mind.”

As already explained several times in my comments on the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali's philosophy is based on the teachings of Samkhya. Samkhya philosophy has a dual and even atheistic view in which a distinction is made between the pure consciousness “Purusha” and the perceived “Prakriti”. Patanjali further expands this teaching to include the concepts of “Ishvara” and “Viveka Khyati”, i.e., the highest ideal, such as God, and uninterrupted discrimination as a practice.

In this verse, Patanjali talks about Purusha as the observing consciousness, which perceives Prakriti as an observed object. From the standpoint of pure consciousness, every experience in the mind is just an object that comes and goes. Unlike in Advaita Vedanta, in Samkhya, there is separation between these two levels.

4.19. “The mind is not self-illuminating because it is perceivable.”

The mind is perceived through the authority of the observer.

4.20. “Both cannot be grasped at the same time.” or “Two things cannot be grasped at the same time.”

We cannot take the dual perspective and, at the same time, recognize the non-dual. In order to recognize the unity of all being, we must completely let go of the dual.

4.21. “If a mind were to perceive another mind, there would be the absurdity of perception of perception as well as confusion of memory.”

This verse can be interpreted in many ways:

The point is that one person's mind cannot and should not perceive another's mind. Although Patanjali also gives us methods for mind reading in his third chapter, this surly leads to a lot of confusion. The mind of another can be glimpsed but is not fully known. On the path to the true self, we are often subject to the illusion that we can perceive the self or observe it like an ordinary object, but this is not possible.

Yoga Sutra 4.22-26 – Knowledge, discrimination, and liberation

In this section of the Kaivalya Pada, Patanjali reiterates how important a clear distinction is between what is seen and what sees. Without the focus of the mind and the distinction of its functions, freedom from one's own patterns cannot occur. Even if it is understood who I am, the programming is always taking over control again.

4.22. “If the mind no longer wanders, the knowledge of the true form comes.”

One can say that all of yoga is just about finally bringing peace to the mind. When the mind comes to peace through the practice of yoga, the state of yoga is achieved. In the state of yoga, the true self is recognized, which was previously concealed through the thoughts. Our beliefs and deep-seated thought patterns put a filter in front of the mind and thus distort perception.

This verse points to the second and most famous verse of the Yoga Sutras; it says:
Yoga is the calming of the thought waves in the mind.”

4.23. "Therefore, the mind field is colored by what is perceived by the perceiver and has the potential to capture objects directly.”

The mind is always colored by its environment, so it takes the shape of what it is currently dealing with.

4.24. “Even if the innumerable conditionings operate manifold in the mind, it's true purpose is to cooperate.”

The possible translations of this verse are again very diverse. If in doubt, I always refer to the Yoga Bhashya of Vyasa, as it is considered the oldest translation. Many scholars now believe that Patanjali himself wrote his Sutras with the commentary “Bhashya”.

In the Bhashya, it is written that the mind has no self-purpose, but there must be a higher sense of diversity. This lies in the achievement of the higher and in imparting it then to others. And so, as stated in verse 4.32, it is important to get the mind to cooperate. To make it an instrument for pure consciousness.

Here again, Swami Durgananda:

“Mind and Atman are very closely entangled; mind is an object, and objects are constantly changing.”

When we learn to observe the movements of the mind and to resolve our entanglements with them, the mind comes to rest and the true self can radiate from within.

4.25. “If you recognize the difference, the doubting mind calms down, and you recognize the true self.”

Here Patanjali alludes again to the central verse 2.26, which is about the uninterrupted distinction (viveka-khyāti).

The most important practice is the clear distinction between Prakriti and Purusha, or between the seer and the seen. The more we observe the inner processes in a detached manner, the less the mind is obscured by its movements.

Swami Viveka comments here:

Through discrimination, the yogi knows that the Purusha is not identical with the thought substance.”

4.26. “Then the mind has depth of discrimination and stands before liberation.”

Here it becomes very clear again: through the clear separation of the observer and what is observed, we achieve the unity of both. It's like a paradoxical bottleneck that we have to go through; we detach ourselves from the world in order to become one with it.

Yoga Sutra 4.27-28 – Interruptions of Enlightenment

This section of the Yoga Sutras contains another concept that is quite impressive. Patanjali emphasizes that until the last step, the old patterns can always take over and prevent dissolution.

4.27. “Impulses from the old programming interrupt the distinction.”

We know the stories of the fallen gurus. People who have had deep insights, achieved deep concentration, or have a special purity are revered as gurus. But if liberation has not really been achieved, the stubborn programs still lie dormant in the unconscious.

For example, sexual desires can become very strong. If a male guru also has many young women as students, the programs can create space for themselves in a very destructive way.

Here is another quote from Swami Vivekananda from a commentary on this verse. By the way, I am increasingly enthusiastic about his clear comments; I highly recommend them!

The many thoughts that arise within us and try to make us believe that we need something from outside for our happiness stand in the way of perfection.”

4.28. “These will be eliminated, as said by the Kleshas.”

In verse 2.3, Patanjali describes the five causes of suffering or afflictions: avidyā-asmitā-rāga-dveṣa-abhiniveśah. He says here in verse 4.28 that “they will be eliminated”, he probably means the programming.

According to Swami Vivekananda and Georg Feuerstein, here he alludes to verses 2.10 and 2.11, which describe how to overcome suffering and ignorance:

The subtle causes of suffering should be counteracted at their roots.” or “If the causes of suffering are avoided when they arise, their subtle influence remains small.”

The active forms of suffering can be overcome through meditation.” or “Through meditation, the painful thought waves are avoided.”

This is about “pratiprasava”, the practice of involution. So, the continuous turning inwards is necessary in order to stop the thought waves from arising at the root. Like the practice of meditation, the practice of continuous discrimination is never finished. So even if you think you are liberated, you still have to continue practicing.

Yoga Sutras 4.29-30 – Uninterrupted Enlightenment

4.29. “When all desire disappears during meditation and permanent discrimination comes, one reaches the Dharma cloud and is in Samadhi.”

Although the desire for spiritual liberation is the main attraction on the path to spiritual liberation, in the end, it is important to let go of it completely. Yes, the desire for enlightenment must be dropped in order to achieve enlightenment. When this happens at some point, the distinction becomes permanent and natural, and one attains the highest consciousness. There is a comparison to climbing the roof of a house. You need a ladder to climb rung by rung. The last step, however, is the one that goes from the ladder to the roof. You have to let go of the ladder to reach the goal of the roof. In the same way, you have to let go of the imperative desire for liberation to achieve it in the last step.

4.30. “This ends suffering and karma.”

The yogi is then one with everything; all separation has disappeared, and from the awareness of oneness, he acts in complete harmony. Everything that is experienced in the limited mind of the seeker is insignificant compared to the cosmic consciousness. However, how can we understand the two terms in this context? What does it mean to no longer experience suffering and karma?

Suffering: First of all, we must understand that we can distinguish between destructive or painful experiences and the suffering that results from them. There is a beautiful saying: “Pain is unavoidable, suffering is not.” Because it is a question of how we deal with the experiences, whether we suffer from them or not. So Ramana Maharshi was in great pain due to his tumor on his shoulder, and his body was writhing in pain. However, his mind was free, and the highest consciousness radiated from it. When we have experienced or recognized unity, every earthly experience is mundane and insignificant.

Karma: The liberated sage is always in harmony with his environment; otherwise, he would not be liberated. Every action takes place from impulses that arise from the now, without any coloring from the ego. So no action creates new causal chains that fall back on the doer. However, there are effects of past actions that do fall back on the yogi. Prarabhda karma is active until the end of life.

Yoga Sutra 4.31 – What can be experienced through the mind is tiny

4.31. “Freed from all veils and dirt, the relative knowledge of the mind becomes tiny compared to the infinite knowledge.”

All veils, filters, impurities, habits, patterns, and limitations of the mind are dissolved. The yogi has fully realized that he has merged with the unity of all being.

Yoga Sutra 4.32-34 – Gunas and liberation

In the very last section of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali once again explains the benefits of spiritual liberation. The three verses are about the fact that the yogi is no longer affected by the ups and downs of this world. The properties of nature have lost their power; space and time dissolve for the yogi, and striving dissolves into emptiness. Everything merges into an infinite point in the flow of the eternal moment.

4.32. “Once the goal is reached, the changes in the gunas end.”

Now he talks about the transcendence of the forces of nature. The yogi becomes the Triguṇātita, the one who has overcome the gunas.

This is what the Bhagavad Gita says in verse 14.26:

He who serves me with unwavering devotion goes beyond the three qualities and is fit to become Brahman.”

The Yoga Sutras instead recommend not only the path of devotion but also the overcoming of duality, above all through uninterrupted discrimination and meditation. The Gunas continue to work in the world and also in the body-mind-soul complex of the yogi, but he has recognized the unity and therefore acts independently of these natural forces.

4.33. “The relationship between individual moments becomes noticeable, and change comes to an end as a result.”

The liberated yogi gains deep insights into the nature of reality. The perception of space and time can also dissolve, and you get a deeper view of things beyond the matrix. You realize that time is actually an illusion, even though you also exist in its course. These are experiences that cannot be described properly with words. Hence some quotes from the respective commentary on this verse.

Swami Vivekananda:

For the thought substance that has realized omnipresence, there is no longer any succession. Everything became present for it; for it there is only this, but no more past or future.”

Swami Jnanananda:

Think of a film reel. You can hold them and all the frames in your hand in a moment, and yet when you play the film through a projector, they give the appearance of time. It is in the sequence of frames, one after the other, that it gives the appearance of time.”

Swami Durgananda:

Looking back, you realize that they were just flashes of images, a succession of different moments in which the changing play of nature’s properties takes place.”

4.34. “When all striving dissolves into emptiness and the Gunas are transcended, liberation will fill the mind. End."

When the yogi has recognized and/or experienced oneness, there is no longer any reason to strive for anything. The seer then abides in his true nature, as Patanjali already explained in verse 1.3. Patanjali uses the term “puruṣārtha”, which stands for the four goals of man. All goals are achieved when liberation fills the mind; there is nothing left to do except whatever arises in the flow of the moment.

Such a yogi is absolutely spontaneous, without any inner drive that makes him strive somewhere, since all his programming has dissolved into being. He made himself completely available to serve creation. For him, there is no self and others, but only the one, the undivided consciousness.

Swami Vivekananda writes about this in his commentary:

The task set by nature has been fulfilled, this selfless task imposed on us by our friendly nurse, nature. As it were, she kindly took the self-forgotten soul by the hand and showed it all the experiences of the world, all manifestations, and led it higher and higher through different bodies until the soul found its lost glory again and reflected on its own nature. Then the mother went back the same way to assist others who are lost in the pathless desert of life.”

With that, it is accomplished.

The original version is in German language by Narada: