Prana & Prajna in the Yogic Path

Paraphrase of BKS Iyengar 2013 Guru Purnima Address — 22 July 2013

Transcribed by Bruce M. Roger

+6.45 Yoga practice conquers weakness..

The purpose of yoga practice is to purge the citta by conquering the weaknesses of greed, anger, and delusion: vitarkah himsadayah… pratipaksha-bhavanam [PYS II.34].[1] Yoga is a discipline that builds up from the instinctive weakness of vitarka and himsa to experience the intuitive and intellectual goal of emancipation.

[citta = consciousness; vitarkah himsa = negative thoughts of violence]

+8.10 Vyasa Purnima

Lord Visnu births Brahma while reclining on Ananta, the serpent couch.

Lord Visnu births Brahma while reclining on Ananta, the serpent couch. Denver Art Museum: Photo: Bruce M. Roger, August, 2010.

Today is Vyasa Purnima [the day that Sage Vyasa completed transcribing the Vedas from memory].[2] Vyasa was an incarnation of Lord Visnu. Vyasa, as the first guru, gained knowledge that was then heard by Ananta, the serpent couch on which Lord Visnu slept. Patanjali was, in turn, an incarnation of Ananta. The same Lord Visnu, through Vyasa, was the first commentator on the Yoga Sutra. That’s why we pay our respects to him today.



+11.15 Each Yoga Sutra chapter is defined by a path— bhakti karma jnana dhyana.

Chapter 1 of Patanjali Yoga Sutra: bhakti marga

Chapter 2: karma marga

Chapter 3: jnana marga

Chapter 4: dhyana marga

[paths of devotion, action, knowledge, meditation][3]

+11.50 Bhakti marga is total surrender to Isvara.

In the first chapter, concerning bhakti marga, Patanjali says, Isvara pranidhanat va. [PYS I.23][4]  Va means “or.” If you can’t devote yourself 100% to Isvara, Patanjali says, “I’ll give you other methods.” [See PYS I.32-40]

+12.40 Body is the prop of the Self.

The second chapter, on karma marga, begins with the body because we are just scratching the surface. Body is the prop of the Self; Self depends on the finite body — which is explained in the fourth chapter concerning dhyana marga. [PYS IV. 24-28]

[Self = purusa, the individuated soul, or Seer that cannot act]

+14.00 Right action starts with pratipaksha-bhavanam.  

Asana is positioning and repositioning to trace what is missing. [Right action starts with] vitarka-badhane pratipaksha-bhavanam [PYS II.33][5]. The power and feeling [bhavana] must be equal on the right and left sides. Bhavana is soothing. Badhana is painful. Everyone has one pain or another. Even good things are painful: parinama tapa samskara duhkha… vivekinah [PYS II.15].[6] Patanjali guides you on how to practice asana by studying the soothing effect on one side so that you may conquer the pain on the other side. Practice is sodhana kriya.

[pratipaksha = opposite side; sodhana kriya = purification action]

Patanjali says that action is vyuttana. Reaction is nirodha. Reflection is prasanta. Vyuttana citta, nirodha citta, and prasanta citta generate consciousness.[7] All three happen is a split second when practicing asana, pranayama, and meditation.

[vyutthana citta = outgoing mind; nirodha citta = restrained mind; prasanta citta = peaceful mind]

+16.20 Prana, mind, and intelligence are substances that flow…

Nothing can be done without the prop of the body. Body is prthvi tattva, which has an akara, a shape. Water, fire, and air are substances, not objects.[8] Their prana sakti, mano sakti, and vijnana sakti are substances that flow like mercury. You cannot grip prana, mind, or intelligence. They flow without interruption.

[sakti = power, faculty; prthvi tattva = earth principle]

+18.30 …within the banks of skin in asana.

While practicing asana, pranayama, and dhyana, don’t let your prana, mind, or intelligence erode the banks of your body like water erodes the banks of a brook. In Tadasana, if your thighs and ankles inadvertently turn outward, it is like a [meandering] brook that erodes the inner and outer banks from the ankles to the knees. Skin is a jnanendriya, an organ of sense perception, that guides contraction and extension. Don’t allow practice to erode the banks of your body, which is the skin.

Practice various asanas to make the prana and prajna flow within the banks of the skin. Don’t press the front thighs forward in Tadasana, else the energy hits only into the front thigh skin, but not the back thigh. Similarly, don’t stretch the back of the calf and not the front. The three substances — manas substance, buddhi substance, and ahamkara substance — must spread evenly throughout, inside and out, front and back.

[prana prajna = energy awareness; manas, buddhi, ahamkara = mind, intelligence, ego]

+21.50 …. Then observe the gunas and restrain the mind.

In Tadasana, when we mistakenly create hills and valleys in the body, the energy does not flow evenly.

[+22:50-26:05 Raya Uma Datta Tadasana Demo omitted][9]

Don’t act from the vyutthana citta. Instead, rethink, “What is restraint?” Restrain the action to observe the result, the reaction.[10] In each asana study which part is tamasic, dull, which part is sattvic [luminous, pure], and which part is rajasic [vibrant].[11]

+26.00 Mind is hooked either by the objects of the senses, or the Self.

If the mind is hooked by the objects of the jnanendriyas and karmendriyas, it is sambhoga, intercourse between the mind and the objects of the senses. The substance of the mind, which is hooked to the senses in bhoga, must be withdrawn, else you must forget jnana, dharana, and dhyana.

[jnanendriyas = organs of sense perception; karmendriyas = organs of action]

[bhoga = the undisciplined pursuit of the pleasures of the senses by the vyuttana citta; the antonym of yoga]

The same mind, when hooked to consciousness and Self, is emancipated. [PYS II.18][12] That’s why Patanjali said the effect of the asanas is the cessation of duality. [PYS II.48][13]

+28.05 When prana and prajna flow evenly throughout the entire body, ahamkara dissolves and only purusa remains….

Prana and prajna are substances that flow like mercury. When you stand on your head in Sirsasana, are the prana and prajna in the feet dormant, or as dominant as in the forearms? When prana and prajna  cover the entire bank of the body, illumination comes, and emancipation takes place.

+29.30 … which is samadhi in asana.

Patanjali says that svarupa-sunya [“devoid of nature”] is the effect of samadhi. [PYS I.43][14] Aham is Self that has no shape or form. In order to make you function, the nir-akara [form-less] Self takes the shape of akara to become aham-akara.[15] Aham-akara transforms itself into ahamkara, ego — or the personification of the true Self — takes the lead, and says, “I am doing. Me. Mine.” When prana and prajna are able to flow from head to toe, throughout the entire body without leaving any space, ahamkara dissolves and ceases to exist.[16] That is samadhi in asana. Samadhana citta means spreading the consciousness evenly throughout the entire body — harmoniously with balance, measure, and intelligence.[17]

[samadhana citta = composed, steadfast mind]

+32.05 Karma marga is discipline in asana.

The second chapter speaks of karma marga: kaya indriya suddhih asuddhi-ksayat tapasah [PYS II.43]. Kaya is the body. Indriya includes the senses of perception, mind, intelligence, and ahamkara. They are trained and disciplined through karma by asana and pranayama. That’s why it is called the karma marga.

+33.00 Jnana marga blends intellectual and emotional intelligence.

The third chapter is called vibhuti pada, or jnana, knowledge, or intelligence. When intellectual and emotional intelligence are blended together without deviation in the human being, he is called a saint.

+33.20 Dhyana marga — the fullness of purusa remains when ahamkara dissolves.

Then comes kaivalya pada, the fourth chapter, the experience of aloneness. It is dhyana marga because ahamkara has dissolved. When practicing asana and the ahamkara dissolves, and prana and prajna engulf the entire body and Self — your entire being — svarupa-sunya takes place. Because there is no ahamkara, you are in a state of kaivalya-avastha, aloneness. What is left is purusa. Purusa is samyoga, and samyoga is the end of yoga practice. Aloneness is fullness. Loneliness is emptiness. If you are lonely in yoga practice, you are empty. In a state of aloneness you are full of prana and prajna moving everywhere; there is no emptiness anywhere.

[kaivalya-avastha = absolute-aloneness state; samyoga = union]

+34.50 Make friends with the body, the temple of the Self, and keep it clean.

So, maitri karuna mudita upeksa…. [PYS I.33].[18]

[Karma marga:] As the body is the prop of the soul, let me be friendly [maitra] to the body, the temple of the Self. Let me keep the temple clean.

+35.25 Dhyana marga spreads prana and prajna to meditate in asana.

From that you move to dhyana marga. That’s why vibhuti pada [the third chapter] begins with dharana, dhyana, and samadhi — the dhyana margas: concentration, absorption, and total attentive awareness. Attention is concentration. Attentive awareness is meditation. Like light extending into the next room, the moment you spread prana and prajna beyond a single place to each and every place, you are meditating in the asana. It’s not physical yoga.

[dhyana = meditation]

+36.35 Silence citta with maitri karuna to allow citi, Self, to arise.

Dhyana marga[19] of the fourth chapter begins in the third chapter of vibhuti pada, where the intelligence is developed. Patanjali speaks of buddhi marga,[20] which is the same as dhyana marga. After attaining buddhi marga, citta marga is explained in the fourth chapter. Compared to manas, buddhi, and ahamkara, citta is more subtle. Citta has to be silenced so that citi, Self, arises. When you reach that level, tada drastuh svarupe – avasthanam, you are in a state of aloneness and free from contact of the body [PYS I.3].[21] That is why gladness has maitri karuna. Treat your body with compassionsadhana pada I.33. Dhyana will come to you because you include gladness. Enjoying it all is upeksa, indifference to all things. That is karuna.

[maitri karuna = friendliness, compassion]

+38.05 Pause to receive the action in the asana so that the moment does not move.

As you are listening quietly and receiving my words, receive the action in the asana. Digest the action. The moment you wait and pause, you are in the present and the moment does not move. Only when the moment transforms into movement is there past and future, as well as present. [PYS III.9; IV.12, 33][22]

+39.05 Prana and prajna spread together destroys impurity and lights jnana-dipti.

It is only possible to prevent the moment from [moving] when prana and prajna are interwoven when practicing asana. As the river has a bank, the inner skin is the bank of the being. The soul has to engulf the inner frontier, the inner bank of its existence. When this happens, you will be close to the effect of yoga, which is jnana-dipti, the lamp of knowledge, that glows from moment to moment, without fail. That is yoganganusthanat asuddhi-ksaye jnana-diptih aviveka-khyateh, uninterrupted flowing in sadhana, which is only possible when prana and prajna are [spread] together [PYS II.28].[23] If you practice like that, you will be close to spiritual samyoga [union].

[1]         PYS II.34 vitarkah himsadayah… duhkha ajnana ananta-phalah iti pratipaksha-bhavanam: Uncertain knowledge giving rise to himsa (violence), whether done directly or indirectly, or condoned, is caused by greed, anger or delusion and they are either mild, medium and intense in degree. It results in endless pain and ignorance. Through pratipaksha-bhavanam (introspection) comes the end of pain and ignorance.

Guruji will later explain how to apply pratipaksha-bhavanam to asana.

[2]         Guru Purnima is also known as Vyasa Purnima after Sage Vyasa, author of the epic Mahabharata, and compiler and editor of the Vedas and the Puranas.

[3]         The first three paths are common to all Indian philosophy. Dhyana marga is the hallmark of yoga. See B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993. P. 226

[4]         PYS I.23 Or citta may be restrained by profound meditation on Isvara (and total surrender to him).

[5]         PYS II.33 “Improper thinking – counteract the opposite-cultivate”: The principles which are against yama and niyama are to be counteracted with right knowledge and awareness.

In this address, Guruji interprets the sutra in the context of performing asana: As part of the purification  process, asana reveals how to correct unintended harm to oneself. Ethical behavior requires searching — in a physically concrete way for the cause of the harm — the prati-paksa, opposite-side, wheither it be left versus right, inner versus outer, front versus back, or top versus bottom.

Badhana means pain… When there is pain here (on the left side of the neck and shoulder), pratipaksha-bhavanam: what is the bhavana, feeling, here (on the right side)?”

B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga ’90: 2nd North American Yoga Convention: Therapeutic Yoga Video#902

[6]         PYS II.15 A wise yogin knows that… even pleasant experiences are tinged with sorrow, and he remains aloof.

[7]         B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, HarperCollins, 1993. Table 10, P. 131

[8]         Water, fire, and air are substances, not objects: Along with earth, these elements have form; only space has no form other than the shape of its container, or more subtly, sound. They are symbolic rather than literal substances, e.g. fluidity as opposed to water as H2O. In that sense they certainly are not objects. The term “object” also is negatively associated with “objects of the senses” that draw the manas towards bhoga and away from yoga.

As all matter, these substances are comprised of gunas. Dasgupta defines guna as “the manner in which a substance reacts.” Although not everyone agrees, he describes them as “substantive entities and not abstract qualities (each quality is a unit of substance)” that are the very “bases of substantive matter.” Gunas are “our feelings…. Lower down the scale of evolution, the automatic reactions… are concomitant with… feelings which never rise to the level of knowledge.” [Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy Vols. 1 Cambridge University Press, 1932 P. 242-43]

The Bhagavad Gita describes sattvic action as devoid of likes and dislikes, and without desire for fruit; rajasic action as with ego, with a wish to obtain desires, and with too much effort; tamasic action as caused by delusion, disregard of consequences that injure oneself as well as others. [BG XVIII.6-9]

[9]         Similar to 2011 Guru Purnima Address

[10]       Yamas, ethical precepts, are literally “restraints” that negate the vyuttana citta.

[11]       This implies that the senses lead us astray. Counter that tendency to gravitate towards rajas and tamas by seeking the purity of sattva in sodhana kriya.

[12]       PYS II.18 Nature and its three qualities of brilliance, action (kriya), and stability, and its evolutes, the elements (bhutas), the mind, senses of perception (jnanendriyas) and organs of action (karmendriyas), exist eternally to serve the Seer, for bhoga (enjoyment) or apavarga (emancipation).

[13]       PYS II.48 From that arises immunity to the pairs of opposites.

[14]       PYS I.43 In nirvitarka samapatti, citta has no form other than dhyeya, the object of meditation.

[15]       B.K.S. Iyengar, Yaugika Manas: Know and Realize the Yogic Mind, Mumbai: Yog, 2010. P. 14:

B.K.S. Iyengar distinguishes between the hyphenated “aham-akara” (the “I-form”) as the physical form of the jivatman, individual soul, whose purpose is to commune with purusa — the capital-S “Self,” as well as the objects of the world, versus the non-hyphenated “ahamkara” (the “I-maker”) which actually is the small-s “self” that has no form and impersonates purusa.

[16]       Depending on which model of prakrti one subscribes to, ahamkara either merges back into the buddhi, the individuated intelligence, or into the mahat, the universal intelligence from which it evolved.

[17]       B.K.S. Iyengar, Yaugika Manas: Know and Realize the Yogic Mind, Mumbai: Yog, 2010. P. 31

[18]       PYS I.33 Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference respectively towards pleasure, pain, virtue and vice, citta becomes serene, benevolent and diffused like a calm lake.

[19]       Dhyana is synonymous with samadhi in older Upanisad texts: Edwin F. Bryant, The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary with Insights from the Traditional Commentators, 2009. P. 304

[20]       Dharana is bringing buddhi to a refined and tranquil steadiness. In dhyana it gets reabsorbed into citta: B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993. P. 32

[21]       PYS I.3 Then the Seer dwells in his own state.

[22]       PYS IV.12 The existence of the past and the future is as real as the present. As moments roll into movements which have yet to appear as the future, the quality of knowledge in one’s intellect and consciousness is affected.

PYS IV.33       As the mutation of the gunas cease to function, time, the uninterrupted movement of moments, stops. The deconstruction of the flow of time is comprehensible only at this final stage of emancipation.

[23]       PYS II.28 By dedicated practice of the yoganga, the asuddhi (impurities) are destroyed and jnana (wisdom) radiates in viveka khyateh.


One thought on “Prana & Prajna in the Yogic Path

  1. Pingback: Samkhya Cosmogeny in Asana | Yoga St. Louis Blog

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