Yoga Sutra - Sādhana Pada 2.18
प्रकाशक्रियास्थितिशीलं भूतेन्द्रियात्मकं भोगापवर्गार्थं दृश्यम् ॥१८॥
prakāśa-kriyā-sthiti-śīlaṃ bhūta-indriya-ātmakaṃ bhoga-apavarga-arthaṃ dṛśyam ||18||
The seen has the qualities of light, activity, and inertia, consists of the elements and the senses, and has the purposes of experience an liberation.
That which is knowable has the nature of illumination, activity, and inertia [sattva, rajas, and tamas].
It consists of the senses and the elements, and exists for the purpose of [providing] either liberation or experience [to puruṣa].
Patañjali here describes the ultimate metaphysical ingredients of the seen, dṛsyam, the manifest world, and states its ultimate purpose for existing. The commentators correlate the illumination, prakāsa, noted here with sattva (the light inherent in buddhi); activity, kriyā, with rajas (all movement and effort); and inertia, sthiti, with tamas. These three guṇas are always in flux, as long as the world is manifest, and their nature is to assert themselves in various proportions and then ebb away, thus giving rise to the ever-changing world of manifest forms. Although one or the other of the three guṇas appears dominant and the others secondary at any given moment, the presence of the secondary guṇas can always be detected. This never-ending flux is what is called the known, says Vyāsa, and it transforms itself into both the elements and the senses, bhūtendriyātmakam. As the former, it manifests subtly as the elements of sound, etc., and grossly as the elements of earth, etc.; as the latter, it manifests subtly as hearing, and also as intelligence and ego, etc.
Hariharānanda correlates sattva with the knowledge or awareness aspect of any entity, such as a tree’s impulse toward the source of light; rajas as the factors that cause any activity or motion, such as a tree’s growth toward the source of light; and tamas as when any potentiality is retained or stored, such as the winter season for trees, when sap descends to the roots and is stored (or hibernation for animals). As noted, these guṇas pervade all manifest reality, whether of the nature of grahaṇa, the instruments or organs of cognition such as the ear, or grāhya, the objects of cognition such as sound; everything other than the puruṣa itself is composed of these three guṇas. The sāttvic aspect of the ear, for example, says Hariharānanda, manifests when it makes sound known; its rajasic aspect is represented by the ear’s nervous impulse excited by vibration; and the tāmasic aspect, by the energy stored in its nerves and muscles. And sound itself has a knowledge-bestowing aspect, which is sattva; a vibrational aspect, which is rajas; and a stored energy aspect, which is the tamas element.
Patañjali makes the important statement here that the purpose of these guṇas, and thus of their prākṛtic productions, is to provide either experience, bhoga, or liberation, apavarga, for the puruṣa, as indicated also in the Sāṅkhya Kārikā (XVII, XXI, XXXI). Experience, says Vyāsa, consists of occupying oneself with the desirable and undesirable nature of the guṇas as discussed in II.14—in other words, with pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain—while liberation entails the realization by puruṣa of its own true nature. There is no other reason for the existence of prakṛti.
Vyāsa then raises a very important question: How can either the experience or liberation noted in this sūtra be imposed on puruṣa when they are the constructs and products of buddhi and exist only in buddhi and not in puruṣa itself? Or, as Śaṅkara puts it, how can the deeds of one person be the work of another? The laundryman is not the dyer of clothes. Although experience and liberation are concepts of intelligence, says Vyāsa, they are attributed to the puruṣa because the puruṣa experiences their fruit, just as the victory and defeat of soldiers are attributed to their chief, even though he may only be witnessing the battle, because he experiences the fruits of victory or defeat.
Perception, memory, deliberation, critical reasoning, knowledge of the truth, determination, and, indeed, any cognitive functioning, all of which in actual fact are existing in buddhi, are superimposed on puruṣa, continues Vyāsa. As long as the awareness of puruṣa remains focused on and is erroneously identified with buddhi and its manifestations, puruṣa remains as if bound by that connection. But bondage is a state of mind, a product of buddhi, not an actual condition of puruṣa, and it exists only for as long as the real goal of puruṣa is not realized. Liberation is when that goal is attained, namely, the uncoupling of puruṣa and buddhi by the mind. It, too, is a state of mind, or, put differently, the state of puruṣa after the mind has eliminated its own kleśas and ceased to superimpose itself onto consciousness. Vācaspati Miśra etymologizes the term for liberation, apavarga, as apa– + vṛj (prefix + verbal root), that which is separated from something else.
Expanding on the notions that bondage and freedom are in buddhi, and that the puruṣa is merely a witness, Hariharānanda adds that when buddhi is impure due to the dust of rajas and darkness of tamas, it does not discriminate between seer and seen. He notes that rajas can mean dust, and as such, it tarnishes the pure lucidity of sattva; tamas, in turn, means darkness, and this obscures sattva even more densely than does rajas. When purified and the natural illumination of sattva is able to manifest, the knowledge of the distinction between these two entities becomes clear. This is what vidyā, knowledge, is. However, ultimately, even this knowledge is taking place in buddhi and, as will be discussed below, is transcended in the higher stages of samādhi. Buddhi has to deconstruct itself. Therefore the Sāṅkhya Kārikā states: “No one is actually bound, nor is anyone liberated from saṁsāra. Only prakṛti in its myriad forms transmigrates, is bound and then freed” (LXII).