Yoga Sutra - Sādhana Pada 2.15
परिणाम ताप संस्कार दुःखैः गुणवृत्तिविरोधाच्च दुःखमेव सर्वं विवेकिनः ॥१५॥
pariṇāma-tāpa-saṃskāra-duḥkhaiḥ guṇa-vṛtti-virodhāt-ca duḥkham-eva sarvaṃ vivekinaḥ ||15||
For the discriminating one, all is dissatisfaction due to the conflict of the fluctuations of the gunas and by the dissatisfactions due to parinama, sorrow, and samskaras.
For one who has discrimination, everything is suffering on account of the suffering produced by the consequences [of action], by pain [itself], and by the saṁskāras, as well as on account of the suffering ensuing from the turmoil of the vṛttis due to the guṇas.
Patañjali here makes a seemingly radical statement that everything is seen as duḥkha, suffering, by the wise. In the previous sūtra, he noted that pious activities produced hlāda, pleasure, but lest anyone take this to indicate that the pursuit of pleasure through piety be a fitting goal of life, he here informs us that even the so-called pleasure of prakṛti is only deemed pleasure relative to more obvious forms of paritāpa, pain. To the vivekin—one who has viveka, discrimination—all is suffering, even the so-called hlāda of good birth, experiences, and life span mentioned in the last sūtra. Indeed, hlāda is particularly insidious and especially perpetuates saṁsāra, since it is the memories of pleasure that propel people to try to re-create and reexperience that pleasure, and thus get caught in the vicious cycle of karma that perpetuates saṁsāra.
The term viveka, discrimination, comes from the root vic, to separate. Vivekin is the possessor of viveka. Thus, those possessing discrimination, the wise, can separate puruṣa from prakṛti (to discriminate entails distinguishing between different entities). Hence they can discriminate that even the hlāda described in the previous sūtra belongs to the world of prakṛti and is therefore, from an ultimate perspective, actually duḥkha.
A better translation of duḥkha than suffering might be, in my view, frustration, since suffering often has physical connotations, and, in addition to referring to physical pain, duḥkha, perhaps even primarily, is the frustration that follows from the attempt to find permanent satisfaction in objects of the senses and mind that are by their very nature temporary. This perception of the world as a place of frustration is fairly ubiquitous in the Yogic traditions. The first Noble Truth of Buddhism, sarvaṁ duḥkham, all is suffering, consists of the exact same terms adopted by Patañjali. Indeed, the other three Noble Truths are predicated upon the first (that there is a cause of this suffering, that there is a possibility of putting an end to suffering, and that there is a path to accomplish the removal of suffering). Thus the Buddhist path is based on a perception that the world—that is, the world as experienced under the influence of ignorance—is a place of suffering. Patañjali makes the same claim.
In fact, most of the soteriological systems of ancient India shared this perception. As early as the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad we find that, other than the ātman, “everything else is grief” (III.4.2), and the Gītā calls the world duhkhālayam aś āśvatam, a “place of suffering which is temporary” (VIII.15). The Sāṅkhya Kārikās state in the very first verse: “Because of the torment of the threefold duḥkha [discussed below], the desire to know the means of counteracting them arises” (I.1). In the Nyāya Sūtras, duḥkha is one of the nine objects of “right knowledge,” and liberation is defined as the removal of suffering (I.1.9, 22). Similarly, the very definition of yoga in the Vaiśeṣika Sūtras is the elimination of duḥkha (V.16).27
This sūtra is actually the pivot of this chapter, which, in turn, is the heart of the entire text. Verses II.1–14 discuss the causes, the kleśas, that produce duḥkha, and verses 16 onward focus on the path to remove duḥkha as well as the state beyond. The chapter thus echoes the Four Noble Truths.
One might ask, without an experience of the world as frustrating on some level, what would motivate one to seek fulfillment elsewhere and take up the rigors and challenges of the yoga path? If one perceives the world of experience as a jolly fine place in which to be, why would one wish to seek a higher truth? From this perspective, a recognition of the world as a place of suffering is actually a preliminary realization for the path of yoga or, it might be argued, for any serious spiritual practice, as indicated in the Sāṅkhya Kārikās quote above.
Vyāsa sets out to examine the nature of suffering and its apparent opposite, pleasure. Pleasure, says Vyāsa, means attachment to the objects that give pleasure, whether inanimate objects or living beings. It is this attachment to pleasure that motivates action, and, as we know, action produces the karmāśaya, the store of action, that is, the cycle of reaction inherent in karma. Aversion to suffering is the flip side of this—the attempt to avoid the objects that cause suffering. Therefore, it is attachment and aversion that produce the karmāśaya. More specifically, pleasure is the appeasement that occurs when the senses are gratified with the objects of enjoyment, and suffering the lack of such appeasement, in other words, the agitation that results from unfulfilled desire.
However, Vyāsa points out that the senses are never really freed from hankering by repeated indulgence, because such indulgence simply increases the attachment to pleasure as well as the demands of the senses. One remains even more dissatisfied than before. The Gītā considers lust “the eternal enemy … insatiable as fire” (III.39). The more fuel one pours on a fire, the stronger it burns. Therefore, indulgence is not the means to gain ultimate pleasure, and one who gets addicted to sense pleasure ends up immersed in dissatisfaction and in this sense enmeshed in frustration. This is the frustration born of consequences, pariṇāma, the first type of suffering on Patañjali’s list. Pariṇāma also means change, transformation, as well as consequences, and can be read as pointing to the ever-changing nature of everything. From this perspective, the experience of any happiness, even our “Kodak moments,” which appear so satisfying at the moment of experience, are changing or temporary by nature. Hence, when the pleasurable moment inevitably passes, the sense of frustration is enhanced. Therefore the yogī, says Vyāsa, sees suffering inherent even in the moment of pleasure.
Vācaspati Miśra continues this theme by pointing out that attachment to pleasure is itself a source of pain because one is never satisfied with what one has but constantly craves additional objects of pleasure. And on the occasions when one gains possession of such perceived sources of pleasure, one finds that they do not provide the anticipated satisfaction, and thus one craves more or different objects. The Mānava-dharma-śastra makes the observation that “desire is never extinguished by the enjoyment of what is desired; it just grows stronger, like a fire that flares up with the oblation of butter” (II.94). This constant hankering for more enjoyment is itself suffering. Vācaspati Miśra cites a similar verse in the Gītā: “Happiness derived from the contact of the senses appears like nectar in the beginning, but in the end becomes like poison. Such happiness is born from rajas.” Like honey mixed with poison, he says, there is always suffering inherent as a consequence of pleasure; indeed, there is always suffering mixed in with the actual experience of pleasure itself.
The suffering of pain, tāpa, the second type of suffering listed in this sūtra, is identified by Vyāsa as the three standard sources of suffering identified in traditional texts. (Tāpa here refers to involuntary pain experienced by the mind and senses, in contrast to the spiritual practice of tāpa as an ingredient of kriyā-yoga or the niyamas, where it refers to the voluntary control of the senses.) These three are ādhyātmika, ādhibhautika, and ādhidaivika: suffering produced by one’s own body and mind (such as illness, injury, insecurity, or anxiety); suffering produced by other beings (such as mosquitoes, enemies, obnoxious neighbors, even one’s own sometimes troublesome family members and loved ones); and suffering produced by nature and the environment (such as storms or earthquakes). Through body, speech, and mind, a person tries to avoid distressful situations and instead attain the means of pleasure. A small amount of suffering is felt more than an abundance of pleasure, says Vijñānabhikṣu, and so aversion to pain is stronger than desire for pleasure. Therefore, people pray to God that their happiness be perpetuated and suffering be avoided.
A further result of the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, says Vyāsa, is that it inevitably causes one to harm others in this endeavor, even if some benefit, and thus binds one to accumulate merit and demerit, karma. He states that pleasure can be attained only at some direct or indirect cost of harm to others, and thus the seeds of aggression are added to one’s store of karma. Even in such seemingly innocuous activities as preparing food and cleaning, violence is performed against other living creatures. Tiny creatures are harmed unknowingly in the performance of household chores, as Vācaspati Miśra illustrates with another well-known verse from Manu (III.69) that the householder must atone for the five slaughterhouses of the household: the fireplace, the grindstone, the broom, the mortar, and the pestle.
Saṁskāras, subliminal impressions, the next item mentioned by Patañjali as a source of suffering, are, as we know, the latent imprints deposited in the mind of every past experience of pleasure and suffering. When these ripen as karma and fructify, one again experiences pleasure and suffering. The desire for pleasure and aversion to pain trigger these latent saṁskāras, which fructify and become memories of past pleasures or pains. These memories generate fresh craving or aversion, the desire to re-create past pleasurable experiences (or avoid known miseries). This is a form of mental torment or suffering: One is constantly lamenting the loss of past pleasures and hankering for the attainment of pleasures one does not at present have. Additionally, of course, inspired by such memories, a person acts, producing further experiences, and these produce a new set of saṁskāras that add to the accumulation of karma. Thus the river of karma, which, as Vyāsa will argue next, is all ultimately suffering, swells continuously. Since one cannot experience the fruition of all this karma in one cannot experience the fruition of all this karma in one life, one is bound to experience it in future lives, and so the cycle of embodied existence, saṁsāra, is perpetuated across lifetimes.
This vicious cycle causes concern only to the yogī, however, who can recognize it as being a highly undesirable state of affairs. As the Buddha notes, what others call pleasure, sukha, the Noble Ones call duḥkha. A wise person cannot enjoy something sweet if he or she knows it will eventually cause sickness, says Śaṅkara. A yogī is as sensitive as an eyeball: If a strand of thread falls on the eyeball, says Vyāsa, it causes distress, but if it falls on any other part of the body, it is hardly felt at all. Similarly, the pain of existence even in so-called situations of happiness troubles only the yogī; it does not trouble other people. Others, say the commentators, cannot see the long-term repercussions of activities that produce limited so-called happiness in the present. Consequently, they repeatedly experience the suffering accrued due to their karma, try to avoid this suffering and pursue happiness but, planting more seeds of karma, continue to reexperience it. This is rather like a person running away from a scorpion who gets bitten by a poisonous snake, says Vyāsa.
Everything is painful to the ignorant as well, says Vijñānabhikṣu, but they do not realize it, whereas the yogī does. Vijñānabhikṣu illustrates this with a verse from the Viṣṇu Puraṇa: “There is more pain created for a person through spouse, friends, children, income, home, property and wealth, etc., than there is pleasure” (VI.5.56). Thus, Patañjali notes that for a wise person, everything is called pain, rather than happiness mixed with pain. Also, fools realize their mistake upon attaining the consequences of the pursuit of pleasure after the event, Vyāsa continues, whereas for the yogī, pain is evident at the very time of the experience of pleasure. Moreover, most people relate only to present pain, whereas the yogī is aware of past pain, which influences the present, and future pain, which is inherent in and a consequence of the present.
One might give the example of a person who wakes up with a terrible hangover after a night of alcohol excess, swears he or she will never drink again, but, come the next weekend, is back at the bar, destined to awake with another hangover the next morning. The saṁskāras of so-called pleasure produced from a night on the town are imprinted in one’s citta mind. When these reactivate, if one’s desire to enjoy in this way is sufficiently strong, it overrides discernment, or the memory of the negative consequences, and one again feels the urge. Thus the cycle of attempting to find happiness but, instead, ultimately being subject to suffering, is perpetuated. The compulsion to experience happiness is so strong that one typically resigns oneself to the inevitable inconveniences that accompany it, under the rationalization, “That’s just life.” For Cārvāka, an ancient materialist philosopher, all the pleasures of life have some inconveniences, and one must simply tolerate them. In one of his well-known quotes, the enjoyment of fish inevitably requires that one first remove the fish bones. For yogīs, of course, such an attitude perpetuates saṁsāra, but there are other possibilities, namely, the freedom from all suffering, which is the nature of puruṣa itself.
The fourth item on Patañjali’s list of the causes of suffering, being constantly subject to the citta–vṛttis, the agitations of the mind, refers to the fact that the mind is always changing, never peaceful or satisfied. This is because the guṇas, which constitute the citta, are always in flux, as Kṛṣṇa states in the Gītā (XIV.10). Depending on whether sattva, rajas, or tamas is dominant at any particular time, the mind temporarily experiences mundane (prākṛtic) happiness, distress, or illusion, respectively. But this very turmoil is ultimately a condition of suffering, since the mind craves continuous happiness. Vijñānabhikṣu also quotes the Gītā: “For those whose intelligence is not fixed in yoga … there is no peace, and how can there be real happiness without peace?” (II.66). As he points out, since any one of the guṇas is never exclusively present, when sattva is temporarily dominant and one experiences the prākṛtic happiness that is a characteristic of sattva, even then, rajas and tamas are also present to a subordinate degree. Therefore, this prākṛtic happiness is always mixed with some degree of pain (rajas) and dejection or illusion (tamas)—just like the fruit of the harītakī tree contains at the same time all six tastes known to Hindu gastronomy (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent). And, besides, since the guṇas are always in flux, even one’s mixed happy state eventually evaporates and one is plunged into a predominantly rājasic or tāmasic state that is primarily distressful or dejected. Therefore, every state contains some degree of suffering, hence Patañjali’s claim that all is suffering to the wise.
These sources of pain and suffering all stem from ignorance, which is lack of discrimination, that is, being attached to mistaken notions of I and mine—considering the I to be the temporary body, senses, and fluctuating mind rather than pure awareness, and the mine to be one’s spouse, children, and possessions, says Vācaspati Miśra. In this way, by attempting to find happiness through one’s body, mind, relationships, and possessions, one perpetuates the cycle of birth and death. Vijñānabhikṣu quotes the Bhāgavata Puraṇa: “Real happiness is to transcend mundane pleasure and distress” (XI.19.45), and the means to do this is to remove all desire of the senses for the sense objects by ceasing to misidentify the real self with the sensual body.
Seeing himself and all other beings caught up in this tide of suffering, says Vyāsa, the yogī takes shelter of true knowledge—that he is not the body or mind. Just as the science of medicine has four parts, he says—disease to be removed, cause of disease, freedom from disease, and the means of removal (medicine)—so the science of yoga has four parts: saṁsāra, the cause of saṁsāra, freedom from saṁsāra, and the means of liberation. Saṁsāra is the disease that is to be removed, its cause is the contact between puruṣa and prakṛti, freedom from saṁsāra is the cessation of this contact (liberation), and the means of removing this contact is pure knowledge.
Śaṅkara quotes this fourfold division of Vyāsa in the opening words of his Vivaraṇa commentary on the first sūtra of the Yoga Sūtras. The notion of life as suffering is clearly a pivotal tenet of the Yoga Sūtras and certainly dominates the present section of the text. This fourfold schema can be correlated with the following sūtras: Sūtra II.16 states that future suffering is to be avoided; II.17 considers the cause of suffering (with II.18–24 an extended discussion of saṁsāra, freedom from saṁsāra, and the means of liberation. Saṁsāra is the disease that is to be removed, its cause is the contact between puruṣa and prakṛti, freedom from saṁsāra is the cessation of this contact (liberation), and the means of removing this contact is pure knowledge.
Śaṅkara quotes this fourfold division of Vyāsa in the opening words of his Vivaraṇa commentary on the first sūtra of the Yoga Sūtras. The notion of life as suffering is clearly a pivotal tenet of the Yoga Sūtras and certainly dominates the present section of the text. This fourfold schema can be correlated with the following sūtras: Sūtra II.16 states that future suffering is to be avoided; II.17 considers the cause of suffering (with II.18–24 an extended discussion of its characteristics); II.25, freedom from suffering; and II.26, the means of attaining this freedom.
This four-part schema obviously echoes the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism,32 but Vijñānabhikṣu reads Vyāsa’s understanding of these four truths as a rejection of the Buddhist view that considers liberation to be not the cessation of contact between puruṣa and prakṛti but the giving up of the very notion of puruṣa/ātman itself. In Buddhism, consciousness is the fifth and most subtle of five skandhas, aggregates or ever-fluctuating interdependent coverings that constitute personhood. In this system, consciousness is not an immutable and eternal entity that can be uncoupled from objects of consciousness, as in the orthodox Hindu view, but an ever-changing noneternal layer that exists only in interdependent relation to objects of consciousness and not separately or autonomously from them.”
As has been discussed at length, the Yoga school holds that not only is consciousness, ātman/puruṣa, separate from the objects of consciousness, but the goal of the entire system is precisely for consciousness to be aware of itself as a separable, unchanging entity and thereby be extricated from its enmeshment in the world of objects. It is autonomous and independent. In contrast, liberation in Buddhism, nirvāṇa, is attained precisely when one ceases to identify with consciousness as an eternal, unchanging self and realizes that consciousness depends on objects of consciousness and does not exist without them. Consciousness is not autonomous or independent; it is dependent or interdependent on its objects—the very opposite of the Yoga position. In other words, whereas in Yoga, one must identify with and strive to realize the ātman, in Buddhism, one must cease identifying with or clinging to the notion of and striving for the liberation of an ātman; hence, in philosophical discourse, Buddhism is sometimes referred to as an-ātmavāda the system that does not believe in an ātman.
But, argues Vijñānabhikṣu, in order to reject something, there must be two entities: the rejecter and the thing to be rejected. If the notion of ātman becomes the thing to be rejected, who is the rejecter of the notion? Or, as Hariharānanda puts it, if one aspires to liberation by thinking, “Let me be free from misery by suspending the activities of the mind,” there will remain a pure me free from the pangs of misery. The self behind or beyond the mind is the real experiencer of this process. If one denies the ultimate existence of such an agent, then one is faced with the often-marshaled question: For whose sake is liberation sought? In any event, Vyāsa puts forth the position of Yoga in distinction to the Buddhist view: Consciousness, puruṣa, is eternal and immutable, the subject of experience, and liberation involves detaching it from the objects of experience in the form of the evolutes of prakṛti.
As an interesting aside, the term for suffering, duḥkha, seems to have been coined by analogy to its opposite, sukha, happiness. Kha refers to the axle of a wagon, and su– is a prefix denoting good (and duḥ-, bad). Thus in its old Indo-Aryan, Vedic usage, sukha denoted a wagon with good axles (that is, a comfortable ride). The Indo-Aryans were tribal cowherders, and one can imagine that comfortable wagons for their travels on the rough, unpaved trails of their day would have been a major factor in their notions of happiness and comfort.