By Tom Hess
The fourth chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is in some ways a culmination of the body of work that has come before and, more important, it is a description of how a realized being exists on the earth. Realized beings are those who have gone through the practice of yoga until they have reached a degree of integration or absorption between themselves and the world around them. Once the practitioner reaches this state, the latent impressions, or samskaras, stop accumulating and therefore the practitioner is free from the influence of past experiences. When he or she is free from the influence of these past impressions, the practitioner has the freedom to see the situation without the influence of past experience and to act, not from the past, but from the now. This is a powerful tool of perception.
This is especially important when it comes to ourselves. We have built up quite an impression of who we are as individuals and when we see beyond these impressions to the real us, we might be surprised at whom we see in the mirror.
We all perceive objects differently. All of our past impressions of that object color our view of it and what it means to someone can be quite different from what it might mean to another.
But what if we were to see that object without any preconceived idea of what it might be, but just in its true form? This is what the realized person sees when he or she sees something—its real form.
When seekers recognize the difference between their own consciousness and their awareness, then understanding blossoms.
And then we are back to the third sutra of the first chapter. To quote B. K. S. Iyengar:
“When the waves of consciousness are stilled and silenced, they can no longer distort the true expression of the soul. Revealed in his own nature, the radiant seer abides in his own grandeur.”
Here is a brief summary of the Sutras as a whole—
In the first chapter of the Sutras, Patanjali describes the importance of the practices of yoga and detachment from the worldly attachments that draw us away from our true natures. Then the gunas are described. Tamas, rajas, and sattva—these are the states that we always exist in and the goal is to guide our lives to have more of a sattvic or illumined state. Then he defines God or Isvara, and then he lists some of the obstacles of yoga so that we know what we are up against. Then he lists the types of yoga work that we need to practice to overcome these obstacles.
In the second chapter, Patanjali tells us of the various practices we should be doing to accomplish this yoga. He describes Kriya Yoga and its components as an abbreviated path to yoga, and later in the chapter he goes into a long description of the eight limbs of yoga, the more traditional path that most beings must travel; only some advanced beings can take the abbreviated path. In this chapter he also talks about the kleshas; these are deeply seated impressions we have that make us see the world with a particular viewpoint.
In the third chapter, Patanjali describes the changes that occur for the practitioner as he or she travels the path of yoga. Many of these powers are a direct result of a deeper understanding of the world that leads the practitioner to see things differently. Without distortion.
And in this last chapter, Patanjali describes what it is like for the person who has traveled this path. What would it be like to see and perceive the world around us with no filter? It would be the miracle of yoga.