Yoga Sutra - Sādhana Pada 2.19
विशेषाविशेषलिङ्गमात्रालिङ्गानि गुणपर्वाणि ॥१९॥
The distinct, the indistinct, the designator, and the unmaifest are the divisions of the gunas.
The different stages of the guṇa qualities consist of the particularized, the unparticularized, the distinctive, and the indistinctive.
This sūtra follows on the previous one by outlining the basic categories of evolutes that emerge from the primordial interaction of the guṇas in prakṛti. The first category noted by Patañjali, the particularized, viśeṣa, refers to all final evolutes of prakṛti, that is, to end products that do not produce further products or evolutes out of themselves. The second category, the unparticularized, aviśeṣa, refers to the evolutes that do produce further products or evolutes out of themselves. Thus, if we glance at the Saṅkhya chart in the introduction, the gross elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth) are the particularized aspects of the unparticularized subtle elements (sound, touch, sight, taste, smell). Along similar lines, the powers behind the five organs of knowledge (ears, eyes, skin, tongue, and nose), as well as those behind the five organs of action (speech, hands, feet, anus, and genitals), along with the internal organ of mind are the particularized aspects of the unparticularized ego, ahaṅkāra. (Since the mind works through these ten organs, it also is considered an organ.) Thus, there are sixteen particularized items including mind, none of which produces further evolutes, and six unparticularized ones including ego, which do produce evolutes. (This schema is found in the Sāṅkhya Kārikā III).
Beyond these there is mahat, which is another name for the cosmological buddhi, referred to in this sūtra as liṅga by Patañjali and translated here rather loosely as distinctive. The commentators have different views on why liṅga is used in this regard. Vijñānabhikṣu, for example, states that liṅga, literally mark or sign, is so called because it marks all the other effects of the world, that is, everything emanates from buddhi. (Ego, which is the immediate source from which all the particularized and unparticularized elements mentioned above have evolved, is itself a manifestation of buddhi.) Liṅga in Hindu logic is something that is the sign of something else—smoke is the sign of fire. So whereas prakṛti herself is unperceivable, buddhi is perceivable—it has signs or characteristics that distinguish it. Buddhi is like the root of a tree, says Śaṅkara: It is the closest to the seed that produced it, and it is also the cause of the trunk, branches, leaves, etc., which stem from it.
But buddhi, too, is ultimately a transformation of the guṇas, specifically that of sattva. It is pure beingness, says Vyāsa, neither existence nor nonexistence, neither real nor unreal. The world of manifest reality has yet to emerge from it. It is like the mind just awakened from sleep but prior to the activity that occurs in the ego stage, says Vijñānabhikṣu. He quotes the Bhāgavata Purāṇa: “Then, impelled by the Time factor, the entity mahat came into existence from the unmanifest. Its nature is knowledge, which dispels ignorance, and it manifests the universe which is situated within itself” (III.5.27).
Finally, the unmanifest mentioned in this sūtra is a yet more subtle manifestation of these guṇas, the primordial matrix from which even buddhi itself, along with all its evolutes, originates. At this level, we have arrived at prakṛti herself, and it is this that Patañjali refers to here as aliṅga, that without signs, the undistinctive (see also I.45). There are no signs by which one can discern prakṛti prior to the movement of the guṇas (thus the Sāṅkhya school holds that that prakṛti cannot be perceived, its existence can only be inferred [anumānita], and thus it is called the inferred one). This stage is eternal; the other three stages—buddhi, ahaṅkāra, and all subsequent evolutes—are temporary manifestations, or permutations of prakṛti.
Therefore, says Vyāsa, the world created by the guṇas may appear to have the nature of birth and death, but all that is really occurring is that the evolutes of the guṇas are manifesting and unmanifesting the various bodies and things of this world due to the constant flux of the guṇas themselves. If Devadatta’s cows die, he analogizes, we may think Devadatta has become poor, but his poverty is due to the death of his cows, not his own death. Similarly, there is no birth and death of puruṣa, simply the constant mutation and transformation of the guṇas of prakṛti within which puruṣa appears to be embedded, which temporarily produce bodies and forms in certain configurations, and then dissolve them back into their matrix. Vijñānabhikṣu quotes the Gītā: “All beings are unmanifest in their beginning, manifest in their interim stage, and unmanifest in their end. What is there to lament in this?” (II.28). The evolutes, such as bodies and states of mind, are temporary configurations; only the cause is eternal: prakṛti herself.
Vācaspati Miśra reiterates that everything one experiences in manifest reality, whether on the grossest level of sensual indulgence or the most subtle level of discrimination between buddhi and puruṣa, is ultimately taking place in buddhi or its evolutes. He notes that liṅga and aliṅga are called nonexistent by Vyāsa because the guṇas are quiescent in this stage, devoid of effects (the senses and sense objects of the world), and therefore cannot fulfill the objectives of puruṣa, which, we recall, is for the purpose of providing either experience or liberation to the puruṣa. At the same time, Vyāsa also states that they are not totally nonexistent (like the lotus in the sky), because they produce effects. In other words, they exist as cause.
Quoting various passages from the Vedānta Sūtras, Vijñānabhikṣu again takes this opportunity to distinguish the philosophy of the Yoga school from that of the advaita, nondualist Vedāntic school founded by Śaṅkara. The advaita school posits that prakṛti, the guṇas, and the entirety of the manifest world are all ultimately not real but are mental constructions produced by ignorance, superimpositions on the only real existent, Brahman. Outlining the position of the Yoga school, Vijñānabhikṣu stresses that the world in its essence—prakṛti—is real and eternal, and therefore the evolutes from this matrix, the world, are also in this sense real, albeit temporary and constantly changing, mutating, and eventually dissolving back into their source. He quotes the well-known verse from the Chāndogya Upaniṣad in reference to objects made out of clay, which we call pots or plates, etc., out of convenience, but which remain, essentially, clay: “By means of just one lump of clay, one can perceive everything made out of clay—the transformation is just a verbal handle, a name—while the reality is just this: ‘It is clay’” (VI.1.4). The manifestations of Brahman are not false, Vijñānabhikṣu argues, contra Śaṅkara, any more than the modifications of clay are false. But they are temporary.
Vācaspati Miśra further states that manifest reality has to follow the sequence of evolution noted by Patañjali in this sūtra. It is not that the seed of a nyagrodha tree will spontaneously and immediately produce a fully grown, stocky tree with its leaves and branches, he says. The tree comes about gradually, the seed becoming a shoot and slowly evolving in contact with light and water. At the same time, says Vijñānabhikṣu, seed, sprout, and tree are nondifferent from each other, and so, in the same way, are buddhi and its effects nondifferent. Puruṣa, on the other hand, is a totally different entity. When puruṣa and prakṛti combine, living beings come into existence, just as when air and water combine, bubbles are formed.