The Rate of Development. Spiritual Flow, Personal Power, Inner Human Core. Sutras 1.21 and 1.22

The following several sutras of Patanjali are dedicated to one’s developmental rate:

तीव्रसंवेगानामासन्नः ॥ २१॥

1.21 tivra-sanveganam asannah

tivra – utmost, extreme, ultimate;
sanveganam – intention;
asannah – near, proximate;
that is, taking into account the previous line that says that prajna is preceded

by shraddha, virya, smriti and samadhi, this one can be understood and translated in the following way:

1.21 near under ultimate intention

That is, the distance (probably, the temporal) between enlightenment (prajna) and its preceding stages shall not be big if a person is ultimate in his/her totality. It is clear by intuition: comprehension may occur only if you are totally engaged in pondering over the problem. This very principle can be applied to any other kind of development – quality transformations may only result from efforts that are thorough enough. Spiritual practice is not something that can be done “in the course of” and “together with” etc. It’s like V. Suvorov had it in his work “Aquarium” – “You cannot have your muscles built by lifting an iron twice a day».

The idea that the more effort you make, the faster the result will come is obvious in any aspect, so the reason why the classic has drawn our attention to it is not very clear. Was it for the purpose of giving instructions, for motivating young practicing persons? Yet if we think hard, we will be able to find additional points that enable us to understand Patanjali’s view of spiritual practice in a more precise and profound way. First of all, the given view opposes Patanjali to a good number of doctrines (including branches of Christianity) based on the idea that a person’s spiritual level (in this context we use this term in a most broad sense; considering the latter lines of Yoga Sutras we should have spoken about prajna) does not result from his efforts, yet only comes as a product of favour granted by a supernatural creature. By drawing this line, Patanjali shows his anthropocentric position – in his opinion, success depends upon personal energy and efforts contributed.

The next line:

मृदुमध्याधिमात्रत्वात् ततोऽपि विशेषः ॥ २२॥

1.22 mridu-madhyadhimatratvat tato’pi visheshah

mridu – weak, gentle;
madhya – middlemost, moderate;

adhimatra – extremely strong. The prefix is adhi- above, extra, while the word matra derives from the root ma – measure, quantity, rate – and can be translated as “quality”;

tvat – due to;
tatas – consequently, as a result; api – also, even, moreover; visheshah – differences;

Thus we will have the following approximate understanding of the line:

1.22 [there are] also differences due to [qualities] that are weak, moderate and extreme

(literally: differences through weakness, moderateness and extremeness).

In this sutra, Patanjali most probably means the traits of a student due to which he becomes more or less capable of practicing spiritually. Sooner or later this question occurs in every system practice since when performing the same techniques with the same diligence some students are faster in achieving results while others are slower. And though a man of today takes the concept of each personality being specific in its features and qualities as a manifest truth, this could be not that commonplace in ancient times. And even today almost every novice instructor is still amazed to see in their practice that the rate of students’ advance differs much depending upon their abilities.

Being very important from practical point of view, this sutra was developed further and gained a number of interpretations. For instance, in Tantra the followers are divided into divya (divine, a person for whom everything is clear from the very beginning, who picks up everything in a jiffy), vira (hero, a person who concentrates and pushes forward like a tank – it is hard for him, yet he overcomes it, and so he is the second best student), and pashu (pashu – an animal, a dunce, a slow-witted person who doesn’t understand things, who needs to be whipped on and forced to do – this is the most unfavourable (but still possible) kind of a student). And two more kinds that are extremely unfavourable – bhuta (the name derived from the totally “grounded” spirits of the lowest order) and mahapashu (literally, “big beast” 😉 – i.e. a person who is in a grotesque way resolved in his bestial nature. According to tantric sources, the majority of people from Kali Yuga belong to these two classes. A pashu-person is theoretically able to perform the simplest types of spiritual practices if guided by an experienced teacher (for instance, the traditional exoteric religious practice was meant exactly for pashu), while for bhuta and mahapashu the major source of development is suffering. Still this is not the only classification of students available. The reader may see G. Feuerstein and his “Encyclopedia of Yoga” to find a number of more or less complicated descriptions of these systems set forth in various periods.

A direct commentary to this sutra was given by Vyasa who specificated Patanjali’s tripartition having declared that yogins are divided into three groups not only by type, but also by “method intensity” (extreme, or vehement, moderate and gentle), thus there come 9 types of practicing persons (the 3 by 3 matrix).

“In that there is a gently keen and a moderately keen and a vehemently keen, there is a superior even to this [concentration]. Because there is a superior to this [near kind], the attainment of concentration and the result of concentration is near to him who follows the vehement method and is of mildly keen intensity, still more near to him who is of moderately keen intensity, and most near to him who is of vehemently keen intensity (the English variant of the citation is quoted as per J.H.Wood’s “Yoga – System of Patanjali – transl.note).

This specification might have been of motivating value and was meant for preventing the talented students from “loosing”, and those not that talented – from giving way to despair, yet it left open the natural question arising after reading the sutra – why do different people have different development abilities? And another one asked from the position of practice – can this be changed? Another famous commentator of Yoga Sutras, Vacaspati Mishra, tried to answer the first question by proposing an opinion that the type a yogi belongs to depends upon the “traces” (vasana) of his previous lives and upon some “invisible power” (adrishta) in which he might have condensed all factors that are unclear. The development of a system in such a way (the conditionality of abilities upon one’s previous karma) was rather natural intellectually, yet if we give it a second thought it wouldn’t be of much logic, especially in case we look at it through the eyes of a Buddhist. Indeed, the karma that is implied to get a person entangled in the net of samsara now happens to bear potential for his spiritual practice! It may have some specific “spiritual” or “liberating” element within it. Yet this discrepancy and the idea that hence arises were omitted by ancient commentators. Maybe except for Shankara who postulated something like: “In its nature moksha is opposite to karma, yet without good karma it is not possible”.

However, let us come from classical commentaries and philosophies back to the practice of our days. The question of prerequisites for development and one’s abilities required for spiritual advance is still topical, and basing upon years of my personal experience, I will give my resulted view of these aspects trying to make the categories that I use as clear as possible.

I single out three factors that are required for a proper spiritual advance of a person. They are the spiritual flow, the personal power and the inner human core.

Spiritual flow.

The Spiritual flow is one’s inner sensing that in this Universe there is something more and bigger than the things you perceive. This is a sense of a mystery, of the Universe having its order and meaning, its biased attitude in respect of yours, as well as the sense of your own place in this Universe that you do feel but don’t understand. The spiritual flow starts when you are no longer self-obsessed. In this sense I use the following classification of people who in this or that way proceed with their development depending upon the rate of the spiritual flow display.

The lowest stage is occupied by a person whom we shall conventionally call “the man in the street”, i.e. a person who is self-obsessed, who is focused only on his own targets, tasks, needs, interests and so on. He does not think about global character of the system. Moreover – he protests and rejects when others start to think about it. The man in the street can be known for his characteristic feature – a deep, yet not motivated by any logic certainty about having very valuable views of all aspects around. A person may live paycheck to paycheck and consider himself competent in the questions of social order, he may be ill “from top to the bottom” yet speak out his ideas about health problems, he may be emotionally unsatisfied with his life but still “lecture” others about the way they should live. The man in the street is rare in looking for new emotional experience, and being sexually unsatisfied/concerned he almost in every case practices puritan “moral”. The average man is unconsciously afraid of everything that can somehow wake him up: of new knowledge, experiences, people. As a rule, people from the street are much wary of spiritual systems considering them to be “sects” or “brain-washing” organizations. Such people almost never attain high social positions since it requires ardent character and non-standard mode of thinking. People usually turn into persons from the street not at once but gradually, with age, when subject to effect of some factors that we shall speak about later the person’s “inner fire” subsides. Here we cannot but remember the words of Don Juan who in reply to Castaneda’s question “What happens if warriors are defeated by petty tyrants” said that “…they… join the ranks of the petty tyrants for life”.

Of course a man from the street, just like any other creature on our Planet, does develop, yet his development follows nothing but the Way of Suffering. The Nature and Social Environment give chance neither to stop nor to rest, they create new diseases, social crises that require new solutions and so on. Sometimes very severe shocks may even destroy the shell of the man from the street and push him forward, promote his shift to the next level. However, it more often happens that the suffering experienced by the average person is not of the “peak” but of “background” character, so that in course of his life he receives evidence that his idea of the universe and life-mode does not work as well as he thinks. The point of life of the man from the street is the bitterness in the eyes of an old man who understands that he has “fu**ed up” another life as well. A good amount of such suffering accumulated over a number of lives results in karmic memory (here they are, the “vasanas” of Mishra) about one’s need to develop, to advance, not to go with the crowd, or at least to look around. The person accumulates potential for development and the first flicker of the spiritual flow.

The next level of development is a religious person, or a believer. He already understands that there is something else, something bigger, yet does not want to ponder about it, to reflect, to get down to it seriously. Or he is trying to content himself with ready-made answers proposed to him, for instance, by religion. All religions convince people that “…well, we have thought it over, and you only have to do the ritual…” But such a person still admits that there is something bigger. Sometimes (though very rarely) he even starts to feel it. And if he forgets, he shall be reminded about it – not only by suffering, but by religion as well. It’s not without reason that the word “religare” is translated from Latin as “connection”. Religion “links” its followers to something bigger, prevents them from forgetting – but nothing more. Of course not every person who has put the symbols of this or that religion or reached for a local temple at the day of a Great Feast is a religious person. These can come as elements in the man from the street life as well. What I mean are genuinely religious people who live in our days of traditional forms of religiosity crisis and often don’t follow any “official” confession, yet reflect on the “god in one’s heart”, “cosmic justice” and so on. Their reasoning is often naïve since they don’t have a well-formed and firmly- based outlook in this sphere, but this is already the first step to cognition.

The next level, or stage, is a person searching for something, a seeker. The one who understands there is something bigger and who tries to interpret and comprehend it. Because if you comprehend things you come to some practical modes of existing and self-development. Such people are torn between ideologies, religions, spiritual Schools and Teachings, simply interesting people. They often get disappointed, but sometimes they do find some interesting artefacts. The problem of a seeking person is that none of the methods works just because you know it – it should be practiced. Just seeing the Way is not enough – one should follow it, which is much more difficult. As one of my Teachers used to say “The road from your head to your butt is a lifelong way”. One cannot also understand the innermost core of a method or a Tradition without diving deep into it, since only after you experience transformations you will be able to understand what it really is. A caterpillar will never understand the emotional experience of a butterfly even if it knows “from theory” that it also bears the potential of a “butterfly character”. Sometimes seekers get stuck in eternal search without devoting themselves to any Tradition. This is a deadlock generated by one’s inability to go beyond the limits of his habitual “Self”. Such deadlock also entails suffering and a very recognizable experience of “spiritual grief” – yearning for some system that the person has not managed to dedicate himself to (though deep inside his heart he wanted this much) that will in his next life once again bring him to similar Traditions and the fear of which will urge him on a more intensive work.

A person who has still found the methods and realizes them systematically and according to some plan occupies the next stage of the hierarchy is called an advancing person. That is, a person who actually uses these methods for active self-refining. For instance, while taking study at our School a person learns the techniques of chakra system opening. In fact, any of these techniques will be sufficient for quiet and harmonious development throughout one’s life. By simple and systematic polishing chakra laws or opening up chakra system. In fact, this is a big task. This is not a task to be done within six months of even 4 years. The methods are known, but they are to be applied. And not only once – they should be applied continuously. And the one continuously applying these methods and understanding why and where he goes is the advancing person.

When he finally “reaches” some point, the methods unlock their potential in full and the person undergoes internal transformations so that he reaches the state that I refer to as adept [1]. That is, a person who has mastered some skills to perfection and who can deliver on a number of his life targets by means of, so to speak, new, breakthrough methods. But he does not always deliver. In the meaning that – well, you anyway understand how this can be done, but nevertheless you still reach out for habitual methods, for “the pill”, if I put it in a metaphor. When a person starts to perceive the universe in a brand new manner continuously and at any time he becomes a master. He himself starts elaborating manifold methods and explanations in order to open up to other people the things that he has comprehended. If they understand him – the new spiritual Schools shall be launched. If they fail to – there will be new religions.

Here is the classification, though a bit simplified one. However, I believe it to work fairly well in representing the core point of the issue.

But let us come back to the spiritual flow. Here are the signs of a person having it: willingness to listen to the Universe (in the sense of admitting some disharmony in one’s behaviour or Outlook and readiness to change it), restlessness and urge for new knowledge and experiences, irony in disposition to oneself (remember the article about vairagya and Castaneda’s reasoning about the sense of self-importance). The spiritual flow also enables a person to sense someone else’s spirituality – in order to learn you should be able to admit that someone can do it better than you, or in some other manner.

From the point of charkas the sensation of Spiritual Flow is a Sahasrara experience.

Personal power.

Personal power is the amount of energy. What does it depend on? On the task from one’s karma, dharma, mission, genes, natal chart and many other factors that probably no one knows about (adrishta;)). But the characteristic is very recognizable. Someone pushes forward like a tank, and under no circumstances he will stop. Someone has done something – and got tired. Personal power is the willingness to overcome, to make effort and so on. The more of it, the better, but if no proper (complying with person’s Dharma) application is found, the personal power will start destroying the person. Personal power is not just a bag with energy that can be spent on anything. These are rather “targeted funds” aimed at securing person’s realization of his personal dharma. Mastering one’s personal power is associated with acceptance of genuine desires and rather often this process is painful since it compels to branch off conventional and customary roads. Mastering one’s personal power can be compared to shamanic illness.

Inner human core

And the third very important parameter is the inner human core. What is that inner core? When a person starts to advance – not only within the scope of spiritual Tradition but in the broad sense – he gets charmed with something and gets disillusioned, he becomes fascinated, he falls in love, survives through crises – and gets “carried away”. Especially if he has a good deal of personal power. He’s got overwhelmed by new experiences or he has changed his outlook – and that’s it, the person has, for instance, broken his habitual ties or turned his back upon his relatives, etc. Completely rearranged the things! He shall ease up in a while to see that he has already made a real mess of things. There should be some core that will make one preserve some specific “inertness” even in course of very dramatic and emotional situation, a kind of rational anchorage, the ability to rest upon discretion and humanness. This is what I call the inner human core. I believe this human core to arise out of the soul maturity, its age. This can be easily seen. For instance, here comes another stroke of policy, say, another revolution and so on. And now imagine that in your previous lives you have already survived the war of Spartacus or some other Ancient Roman commander, the French Revolution and something else. And now – another revolution… Most probably you won’t be pushing forward ahead of the curve with arms at the ready shouting rabidly after somebody’s pipe “Let there be..!!!!” Deep inside your heart you understand that it will be over in about three years. You start to treat the things around with ease. Yes, you have to somehow live with this, match this with your life, make use of it. But you will no longer be “getting charge out of it”. So the older the soul is, the less things there are that it is “a fan” of. That’s why it, so to say, does not ask for much trouble. On the other hand, it is more humane in respect of other people. It is not that rigid in accepting mistakes of other people, it forgets easily, and so on. These are the signs of the human core.

If these three factors are simultaneously united in one person they will significantly favour his spiritual advance.

Role of a Teacher

And now, what is, in fact, the role of a teacher? The point is that rather often a person doesn’t have much of spiritual flow. Or this flow is subject to rapid dispersion. We are surrounded by hundreds of dispersing factors. They are, in fact, some spaces where a person gets into and that as if “plug” the person within. One’s social environment can act in such a way as well. Let us take, for instance, a young professional. Here he is, working on his diploma at his university, he is full of ideas and he is ready to rock the world. And then he goes to work for some “Plunder and Flee – SaleSupplyLogistic Inc.” and they tell him that “Well, you have these ideas of yours – don’t! Here is your job – you go and do it” If a person has enough potential he will continue to live with these ideas and to experiment. And he will still try to do something according to his own plans and ideals, even if under new conditions. But it may also happen that a person fizzles out. His potential was not enough and so he resolved in the everyday existence, he lost his heart, ceased burning with desire, turned into a man from the street, into a “cog in a machine” (the Buddhist term to call this is “bhava” – one of the nidanas). I was always astonished by the way it used to happen to students from the university where I worked: they were generating brilliant diplomas, and then… Well, when I happened to meet them two years later they were already “featureless” (and wasted). Why? They had lost it all.

So, in fact, what is the task of a Teacher? On the one hand, having a sufficiently strong Spiritual Flow of his own, he inflames other people. This is a metaphor of a torch: in order another torch starts burning it should come into contact with the already burning one. And they will burn brighter together. When there are a lot of advancing people who come together in a spiritual School, the potential of each of them will redouble out of this aggregate. But sometimes it happens that a torch has not flared up and if you take it out of this group it will cease burning, because it was burning with somebody else’s flame. To put it metaphorically, this is the task of a Spiritual School or Tradition: to “stir up” the spiritual flow of its follower to the level where it could burn from its own potential. And if this has happened, there’s no need to motivate such person to his further development, neither social nor spiritual.

The person’s ignition, his initiation happen by means of numerous acts of consciousness expansion, by attempts of showing a person these or those situations from the point that is more global than the one he’s got used to, as if “lifting” him above the situation. From the point of energy such numerous “lift ups” come as pumping the person with the energy of Sahasrara. And teaching to him a more complicated framework of categories in which he would be able to apprehend his new vision is done by means of communicating the energy of Ajna. Otherwise, the Sahasrara experience one had will remain as a bright reminiscence only and it will not change a person globally, it will not give him any new instruments for further action. Sharing the knowledge of this more complicated “language” is the second task of a Teacher.

The third task of a Teacher is to correct. In fact, he partly performs the role of the inner human core. That is, when a person is “carried away” he needs some minor tuning because sometimes he does not have sufficient maturity and experience of his own needed to keep him from “getting carried away” within the process of development. And the fourth task is to develop the teaching process proper, that is, to give methods, techniques and experience that does not come down to his own experience only yet comes as the integral experience, the tradition.

[1] In this connection I cannot but recall one of the last interviews given by Karl Gustav Jung when they asked him whether he believed in god. Jung’s reply was that he didn’t need to believe in things like this, for he simply knew for sure. This reply was so much full of quiet confidence of a man who had more than once had his mystic experience, had comprehended it and integrated into his everyday life that to most people even listening to this reply was a kind of experience. In the course of his last visit to Kiev Stanislav Grof also spoke about similar things. Both of these persons are brilliant examples of masters who translate their knowledge and ideals into methods.