The Wisdom of Patanjali and Krishnamurti

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In my reading of the Yoga Sutras I have been influenced by many sacred texts, especially the Bhagavad Gita and the Gospels, both canonical and non-canonical. There are two sages who have been sources of great inspiration and clarity for me. They are Madame Jeanne de Salzmann (who was responsible for the teaching of Gurdjieff after his death) and J. Krishnamurti. Their teachings have been constant reminders of the existence of higher levels of being and the possibility of connecting with these. Whenever I was unclear about the meaning of any sutra in Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras, I would turn to their teachings and find helpful insights. No words are adequate to express my gratitude to them; I feel blessed having had some contact with them.

All great masters are original, not necessarily novel. They are original in the real sense of the word—they are close to the origins. They each express truth in their own quite unique way. Krishnamurti spoke of an intelligence beyond thought. He insisted that we need to go beyond knowledge. Although we usually think of knowledge as being a good thing, Krishnamurti emphasized the point that thought is the source of the problem, not the source of the solution. And Patañjali maintained that the movements of the mind, including all right knowledge, are the source of the problem. There is much in common between Patañjali and Krishnamurti, but each one expressed their insights in a unique way.

Sutra 1.2 Yoga is establishing the mind (chitta) in stillness.

The literal translation of this sutra, “Yoga is the stopping of the movements (vrittis) of the mind” speaks of the process of yoga to reach the aim of “establishing the mind in stillness.” An accomplished yogi’s mind has a quality of deep silence. Krishnamurti embodied this stillness of the mind. On one occasion, I asked him, “What is the nature of your mind, Krishna Ji? What do you see when you look at that tree?” He was silent for a while and then said, “My mind is like a mill-pond. Any disturbance that is created in it soon dies, leaving it unruffled as before.” Then, as if reading what I was about to ask, he added with the most playful smile, “And your mind, sir, is like a mill!”

Yoga Sutras Conversation with Ravi and Kira

The sages have said that when the mind is silent, without distractions, the original state of intelligence or of consciousness, far beyond the capacity of the thinking mind, is present. That intelligence is more aligned to direct perception than to thinking or reasoning. There is a reminder from Krishnamurti: “Don’t think; look!” It calls us to a perception of the intelligence beyond thought. We may well say that Yoga is for the purpose of cultivating direct seeing, without imaginings. Yoga leads to gnosis, a knowledge which is quite different from rational knowledge. In fact, Patañjali prefers to call the Real Knower, the Seer.

Sutra 1.3 Then the Seer dwells in its essential nature.

Sutra 1.4 Otherwise the movements of the mind (vrittis) are regarded as the Seer.

The essential nature, or the true form of the Seer, or the Seer’s own form, is Purusha, the Transcendent Being. Purusha is steady attention without distractions, Conscious Energy or Pure Awareness. When the distractions are removed, the Seer resides in its own true nature. The true Seer is Purusha who knows through the mind. The purpose of Yoga is to refine the mind, so that it can serve as a proper instrument for Purusha. When thinking enters, the mind brings its expectations and its projections; then we cannot see reality as it is.

On one occasion, I had asked Krishnamurti what he thought of something we had been looking at. He said, “Sir, K (that is how he often referred to himself) does not think at all; he just looks.”

In the Indian tradition, the emphasis has always been on seeing, but it is a perception beyond the sense organs, an enlightenment beyond thought, an insight from presence. The real knower is not the mind, although the mind can be a proper instrument of knowledge. The mind needs to become free of the distractions which occupy it and prevent true seeing. The Yoga Sutras emphasizes the need to quiet the mind so that there can be more and more correspondence with the clear seeing of Purusha. Only a still mind can be attentive, and only a still mind can be the dwelling place of Purusha in its own true form. There is a quality of attention and seeing which can bring about an action in ourselves which allows a radical change to take place naturally, from the inside.

Steady attention is the first requirement of letting the Real reveal itself to us.

Patañjali begins with the attitude that attention is the main concern of Yoga. Otherwise the Seer, which is above the mind, is misidentified with the instrument of seeing. Steady attention is the first requirement of letting the Real reveal itself to us. The Real is always revealing itself everywhere, but in our untransformed state we are not receptive to this revelation. All the sages of humanity are of one accord in saying that there is a level of reality pervading the entire space, inside us as well as outside, which is not subject to time. The sages call it by various names—such as God, Brahman, Purusha, the Holy Spirit, Allah. However, we are not, in general, in touch with this level because we are distracted by the unreal, by the personal and by the transitory.

I once asked Krishnamurti about the nature of this attention, what he himself called total attention. I said to him, “What I find in myself is that attention fluctuates.” He said with emphasis, “What fluctuates is not attention. Only inattention fluctuates.” We can see from this brief dialogue that for Krishnamurti, attention is the ground, like Purusha, and it does not fluctuate. My question implied that attention can be distracted and can fluctuate—clearly a misidentification of the Seer with the distracted mind.

Sutra 2.1 and 2.32 both emphasize the importance of svadhyaya which is self-study, self-inquiry, self-knowledge, and self-awareness. Svadhyaya is one of the niyamas and is a part of kriya yoga in the Yoga Sutras. Self-inquiry is emphasized in the whole of the Indian tradition, but gradually svadhyaya has come to refer to a study of sacred scriptures. However, there would hardly be any point in reading the sacred literature unless it helps one to come to a clearer and clearer self-awareness. Krishnamurti emphasized that the most important thing was to study the book of oneself in one’s own life. He was not at all interested in recommending a study of what the sages had said.

Self-inquiry is the heart of the yoga of Krishnamurti. He said, “Without self-knowledge, experience breeds illusion; with self-knowledge, experience, which is the response to challenge, does not leave a cumulative residue as memory. Self-knowledge is the discovery from moment to moment of the ways of the self, its intentions and pursuit, its thoughts and appetites ... When we do not know ourselves, the eternal becomes a mere word, a symbol, a speculation, a dogma, a belief, an illusion to which the mind can escape. But if one begins to understand the "me" in all its various activities from day to day, then in that very understanding, without any effort, the nameless, the timeless comes into being. But the timeless is not a reward for self-knowledge. That which is eternal cannot be sought after; the mind cannot acquire it. It comes into being when the mind is quiet, and the mind can be quiet only when it is simple, when it is no longer storing up, condemning, judging, weighing. It is only the simple mind that can understand the real, not the mind that is full of words, knowledge, information. The mind that analyzes, calculates, is not a simple mind.” (The Book of Life)

What is Transformation?

“Wisdom comes when there is the maturity of self-knowing. Without knowing oneself, order is not possible, and therefore there is no virtue ... What is important is not how to recognize one who is liberated but how to understand yourself. No authority here or hereafter can give you knowledge of yourself; without self-knowledge there is no liberation from ignorance, from sorrow.” (The Book of Life)

Sutra 2.9 Abhinivesha is the automatic tendency for continuity; it overwhelms even the wise.

Although abhinivesha is sometimes translated as a ‘wish to live,’ it is closer to a ‘wish to continue,’ or a ‘wish to preserve the status quo.’ Abhinivesha is what is technically called ‘inertia’ in physics, as in Newton’s First Law of Motion (also called the Law of Inertia) according to which a body continues in a state of rest or of motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force. Abhinivesha is the wish for continuity of any state and any situation, because it is known. We fear the unknown and therefore we fear change which may lead to the unknown. In fact, this fear is of a discontinuation of the known, simply because the unknown, if it is truly unknown, cannot produce fear or pleasure. Freedom from abhinivesha, from the wish to continue the known, is a dying to the self, or a dying to the world, which is so much spoken about in so many traditions. It has often been said by the sages that only when we are willing and able to die to our old self, can we be born into a new vision and a new life. A profound saying of an ancient Sufi master, echoed in so much of sacred literature, says, “If you die before you die, then you do not die when you die.”

During a conversation about life after death, Krishnamurti said, “The real question is ‘Can I die while I am living? Can I die to all my collections—material, psychological, religious?’ If you can die to all that, then you’ll find out what is there after death. Either there is nothing; absolutely nothing. Or there is something. But you cannot find out until you actually die while living.”

All serious meditation is a practice of dying to the ordinary self.
Dying daily is a spiritual practice—a regaining of a sort of innocence, which is quite different from ignorance, akin to openness and humility. It is an active unknowing; not achieved but needing to be renewed again and again. All serious meditation is a practice of dying to the ordinary self.

Here it is helpful to quote a remark of Krishnamurti: “That which has continuity can never renew itself. As long as thought continues through memory, through desire, through experience, it can never renew itself; therefore, that which is continued cannot know the real.” (Little Book of Life)

Sutra 3.3 Samadhi is the state when the self is not, when there is awareness only of the object of meditation.

Samadhi is a state in which the ‘I’ does not exist as separate from the object of attention. It is a state of self-naughting, the state spoken of in Buddhism as akinchan, a state of freedom from myself or a freedom from egoism. There is no observer separate from the observed, no subject separate from the object. Only the knowledge gained in such states of consciousness can be called ‘objective’ in the true sense of the word; otherwise, it is more or less subjective. Even scientific knowledge which has been considered to be objective because it is inter-subjective, amenable to verification by competent researchers everywhere, is not objective in the sense of being completely free of subjectivity.

In samadhi the seeing is without subjectivity. Attention in the state of samadhi is free attention, freed from all constraints and all functions. Attention in this state is not conditioned by any object, even very subtle ones, such as ideas and feelings. The three stages of meditation—dhyana, dharana, samadhi—are like those of a warrior, lover and beloved—in the movement from the ego to the Self. The stage of samadhi is that of being the beloved. Then Purusha, Conscious Energy and Transcendent Being, is the sole initiator; all the elements of Prakriti in a human being—body, mind, feelings—are completely relaxed and receptive. In this context a few suggestive remarks of Krishnamurti are in order:

“We must put aside all these things and come to the central issue, how to dissolve the ‘me’ which is time-binding, in which there is no love, no compassion."

“When there is love, self is not."

“To be absolutely nothing is to be beyond measure.”

Sutra 3.4 Total attention (samyama) is when dharana, dhyana, and samadhi are together.

Samyama, total attention, is realized when all three forms of attention—dharana, dhyana and samadhi—are practiced together at the same time. This seems to be much like the ‘total attention’ spoken of by Krishnamurti. In this state the splendor of insight emerges, and the person sees the suchness, the thing-in-itself (“ding en sich” of Immanuel Kant), of whatever the attention of samyama is directed upon.

Sutra 3.12 Ekagrata parinama, transformation towards one-pointedness, is the stage of transformation in which activity and silence are equally balanced in the mind.

The sages who have undergone this kind of radical transformation have a different quality of mind. It seemed obviously true in the case of Krishnamurti. I was struck by the special nature and quality of Krishnamurti's mind; so I often asked him about the particularities of his mind. He frequently spoke about the religious mind and its innocence, freshness and vulnerability. He would often suggest that he was just like everybody else and not someone special. But I was never convinced of this.

On one occasion, when I persisted in asking about the nature of his extraordinary mind, he said, “Sir, do you think the speaker is a freak?” Freak or not, he certainly was extraordinary and unusual. As was mentioned earlier, his mind was like a mill-pond; any disturbance that was created in it by an external stimulus soon died down, leaving it unruffled as before. Patañjali tells us that the whole difference between an ordinary person and an accomplished yogi is in the quality and depth of the silence of mind and how soon this silence returns after an external impression is received.

Krishnamurti once said during a conversation with me that the intelligence beyond thought is just there, like the air, and does not need to be created by discipline or effort. “All one needs to do is to open the window.” I suggested that most windows are painted shut and need a lot of scraping before they can be opened, and asked, “How does one scrape?” He did not wish to pursue this line of inquiry and closed it by saying, “You are too clever for your own good.”

Patañjali provides practical help in preparing the body-mind so that the window of our consciousness can be opened. Purusha is just there, it does not need to be created; it cannot be created; however, a purification of the instruments of perception in Prakriti allows Purusha to reveal itself. In practice, it was equally true for Krishnamurti, with his great emphasis on bodily sensitivity, emotional receptivity and freedom from thought leading to a stillness of the mind. In his own life he practiced yoga and engaged in chanting and meditation, and in general led a disciplined life in complete harmony with all the yamas and niyamas mentioned by Patañjali in Yoga Sutra 2.30 and 2.32. But, in general, he did not wish to provide a prescription for someone else. He so much emphasized that one cannot ascend to Truth but Truth can descend to one.

Many years ago I had written an article called "Letter to J. Krishnamurti" on the invitation of the editors of A Journal of Our Time. I had attempted to say where my own difficulties lay in trying to follow what he had been saying for so many years. This small article had ended with the following: "I am troubled because I do not know how to reconcile the call I hear from your distant shore with the realities where I am. It is clear that a bridge cannot be built from here to there. But can it be built from There to here?" A couple of years after the article had been published, there was an occasion for me to spend some time with Krishnamurti, in Ojai, California, the place where he felt most at home. We had a long and intense conversation in the evening, and we were going to meet again at breakfast the next morning. I asked that he read my little article and respond when we met in the morning. I was eager to know what he would say. He said he liked the last sentence, and added: "A bridge can be built from There to here." He would not say much more about it, except to imply that that is what he had been talking about all these years.

All true teachings offer bridges from There, where Truth and Freedom are, to here where we are. The Rig Veda describes the subtler and higher realms as those of Satyam, Ritam and Brihat (Truth, Order and Vastness) or Satyam, Ritam and Jyoti (Light) or Satyam, Ritam and Amritam (Eternal Life). For Patañjali, the subtlest state is that of Kaivalya, freedom without measure, the Aloneness of the power of seeing. In this state the pure unbounded Purusha remains forever established in its own absolute nature. (YS 4.34). For Krishnamurti, There is the realm of Truth, Beauty and Love; and here is the domain of thought, time and sorrow. Self-inquiry without the self is what can reveal to us that the Eternal is not away from time or life, but can be perceived within time and in daily life.

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This article has been partially excerpted from The Wisdom of Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras by Ravi Ravindra, and partly based on a talk given by him on “The Yoga of Krishnamurti” on April 27, 2012 in Ojai, California, under the aegis of the Krishnamurti Foundation of America.

[Published in the journal Integral Yoga in June 2010 with the following introduction: Over a period of twenty years, Dr. Ravindra engaged in conversations with Jiddu Krishnamurti. He keeps notes of these conversations and later wrote several books about Krishnamurti. As he pondered Patanjali’s teachings, Dr. Ravindra often returned to the philosophy of Krishnamurti and to that of his other mentor, Madame Jeanne de Salzmann (Gurdjieff’s closest disciple, appointed by him to continue his work) for illumination. In this article, Dr. Ravindra shares selected sutras excerpted from his book, The Wisdom of Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras, as he reflects on these in the light of his conversations with Krishnamurti.]
About the Author

Ravi Ravindra

Ravi is a spiritual visionary, scholar, and leading international speaker on religion, science, mysticism, and spirituality.


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