Yoga Sutra - Sādhana Pada 2.23
स्वस्वामिशक्त्योः स्वरूपोप्लब्धिहेतुः संयोगः ॥२३॥
sva-svāmi-śaktyoḥ svarūpa-upalabdhi-hetuḥ saṃyogaḥ ||23||
Union (samyoga) is the cause of apprehending as [one] self-form the two powers of owner and owned.
[The notion of] conjunction is the means of understanding the real nature of the powers of the possessed and of the possessor.
Tying the verses in this chapter together, as touched upon in II.15, and echoing the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, the theme of this second pāda (chapter) is suffering, the cause of suffering, the state beyond suffering, and the were dedicated to the immediate causes of suffering on a psychological level (the kleśas and their consequences); II.15 to the reality of suffering itself; II.16, to future suffering that can be avoided; II.17, to the cause of suffering on a metaphysical level as the union, saṁyoga, between the seer, draṣṭṛ, and the seen drśya; II.18–19, to the seen; II.20, to the seer and the state beyond suffering; and II.21–22, to the seen again. This sūtra through II.27 will deal with saṁyoga, union, the metaphysical cause of suffering, and saṁyoga’s removal, and the remainder of the chapter will be devoted to the means to accomplish this.
This sūtra was composed with the intention of explaining the nature of the conjunction, or association, saṁyoga, between prakṛti and puruṣa, says Vyāsa. Puruṣa is the possessor, svāmi, and he is conjoined with that which he possesses, sva, namely prakṛti and her objects (the seen of the previous sūtra), for the sake of experience. Worldly experience means perceiving the seen, and liberation means perceiving the real nature of the seer. Ignorance is the cause of the conjunction between the seer and the seen, and true knowledge dispels ignorance and is therefore the cause of liberation.
Strictly speaking, continues Vyāsa, true knowledge is not the real cause of liberation because when ignorance does not exist, bondage does not exist, and so technically it is this absence of ignorance that corresponds to liberation. It is because knowledge removes ignorance that it is said to be the cause of liberation, but it is actually the indirect cause of liberation. Vijñānabhikṣu points out that true knowledge, or discrimination, operates right up until the immediate moment prior to liberation. He reminds his readers that discrimination is still a product of the material intelligence, but full liberation involves complete separation between puruṣa and buddhi. This is the difference between sabīja and nirbīja samādhis.
With an eye on the next sūtra, Vyāsa turns his attention to different views on what constitutes ignorance—the synonym he uses for ignorance here is adarśana, the lack of perception (of the real nature of the puruṣa). He lists the following possibilities, which are further discussed by the commentators.
(1) Is ignorance the result of the play of the guṇas? This, says Hariharānanda, is correct insofar as ignorance continues for as long as the guṇas are active, but it doesn’t explain the cause of ignorance any more than heat in the body explains the cause of fever.
(2) Is ignorance due to the mind, which fails to modify itself into the true object of knowledge, that is, the knowledge of the distinction between puruṣa and prakṛti, even though this object is present before it? This possibility is of limited value, says Hariharānanda, like saying, “Illness means to be unwell.”
(3) Does ignorance spring from the guṇas, which fail to produce the true object of knowledge, namely, discrimination, even though this is latent within them? The same limitations from the previous option apply to this possibility. Another problem with this type of view, says Śaṅkara, is that since the guṇas are eternally in flux, if ignorance were a product of the guṇas, it too would be eternal and so there would be no liberation.
(4) Does ignorance remain dissolved as latent saṁskāras in the guṇas of prakṛti at the end of each creative cycle, becoming reactivated in the next creative cycle, at which time it produces an appropriate mind to serve as its substratum or container? This position, say the commentators, is acceptable to the Yoga school and is discussed further in the next sūtra, but it does not explain ignorance.
(5) Is ignorance the latent impetus that impels movement in prakṛti itself? The same objections apply here.
(6) Is it the very power and capability of prakṛti to reveal herself to puruṣa that is the ultimate cause of ignorance? This option, says Vijñānabhikṣu, is a variant of item 3. Vijñānabhikṣu quotes a charming verse from the Sā ṅkhya Kārikās (LXI) personifying prakṛti when her game is up and she has been seen by the enlightened puruṣa for what she is: “The other one [prakṛti] thinks ‘I have been seen!’”
(7) Is ignorance the characteristic of both prakṛti and puruṣa? Prakṛti is inert, lifeless matter, but its evolute buddhi appears to be ignorant due to being animated by the presence of puruṣa; likewise, puruṣa appears to be ignorant due to its awareness of buddhi, even though, in its pure state, it does not contain either ignorance or knowledge.45 It is only when the power behind knowledge contacts the objects of knowledge—when the consciousness of puruṣa shines on prakṛti and her manifestations—and is reflected back to puruṣa that ignorance is produced, so is ignorance the product of both? The problem with this, says Hariharānanda, is that it may be correct, but it doesn’t explain ignorance: It is like saying sight is dependent on the sun, which doesn’t explain sight.
(8) A final opinion is that ignorance is ultimately and paradoxically knowledge itself. To know, after all, is to know something. All things are prākṛtic. Therefore, knowledge of things occurs only when puruṣa is joined with prakṛti.
There are thus many views on ignorance, says Vyāsa. They all contain some element of truth. The common denominator of all them is the conjunction of puruṣa with the guṇas of prakṛti. Ultimately, the origin of ignorance remains mysterious in all Indic philosophical schools; indeed, it is considered beginningless, and thus the question of its origin is bypassed altogether. In the theistic schools, it is a power of Īśvara, God.