Yoga Sutra - Sādhana Pada 2.27
तस्य सप्तधा प्रान्तभूमिः प्रज्ञ ॥२७॥
tasya saptadhā-prānta-bhūmiḥ prajñā ||27||
His wisdom to the last stage is sevenfold.
The yogī’s true insight has seven ultimate stages.
This sūtra introduces a sevenfold, saptadhā, division of prajñā, insight. We see here that Patañjali did not specify what these seven stages were, which indicates that he assumed his audience would be familiar with this seven-stepped insight (and that, therefore, as noted in the introduction, Patañjali was not the founder of yoga; this type of knowledge was already in circulation). It also reinforces the point that these sūtras served as manuals that required unpacking by a teacher.
Upon examination of how this sevenfold division is understood by the commentators, it seems that several of these stages are essentially different ways of looking at the same state rather than actual sequential stages. With regard to prajñā, it seems useful here to note Rukmani’s (reassuring) observation that “of the six schools of philosophy, Yoga is perhaps the one school which has a profusion of technical words used interchangeably. Thus we have dharma-megha, prasaṅkhyāna, anyathā-khyāti, sattvapuruṣānyatā-khyāti, viveka, viveka-khyāti, prajña, ṛtambharā, prātibha-jñāna, ekāg ra-citta, sa-bījaḥ and more being used more or less in the same sense” (1997, 619). While commentators try to tease out different semantic nuances, at the very least these terms overlap considerably. Rukmani concludes that it might not always be fruitful to attempt to extract logical consistency in the usage of terms and concepts in the system:
“The conviction grows that this [Yoga] is not something that can be logically described. It is a system that has brought in a number of ideas from so many sources and tried to make sense of them. Yoga was a practical school in which the various steps of prajñā and asamprajñāta were clearly intelligible to the adept in Yoga … This is one school which has believed all along in … following some well laid down yogic practices. So it is best to accept it as a discipline to be followed rather than to be understood intellectually. (623)”
The yogī referred to by Patañjali in this sūtra refers to the one in whom discrimination has arisen, says Vyāsa. When the impure rājasic and tāmasic coverings of the citta have been removed, and no further pratyayas, notions, arise in the mind of the discriminating yogī, true insight manifests in seven aspects, which Vyāsa lists as follows:
“(1) That which is to be avoided (suffering) is known, and there is nothing further to be known in this regard. The very desire to know ceases, says Hariharānanda, and thus knowledge itself can cease.
(2) The causes of this suffering have been completely eradicated. These causes are the kleśas, ignorance, desire, etc., and the ensuing karma, as we know.
(3) By nirodha-samādhi, the samādhi of restraint, which, we recall is how Patañjali defines the entire enterprise of yoga (citta-vṛtti-nirodha), the removal of the misidentification of puruṣa with buddhi becomes directly realized. Once this misidentification is removed, asamprajñāta-samādhi can manifest.
(4) The means to accomplish this removal of misidentification in the form of discriminative knowledge has been attained.
These first four aspects, says Vyāsa, pertain to liberation from action, or external events. One should note their obvious parallel to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. The next three pertain to liberation of the citta. Moreover, the first four are the result of the personal effort of the yogī, say the commentators, unlike the following three, which arise spontaneously. In other words, one need no longer strive to practice yoga at this point. These final three stages represent the complete cessation of the activities of buddhi.
“(5) Intelligence has fulfilled its purpose: to provide either worldly experience or liberation. It has now become redundant.
(6) The yogī’s guṇas dissolve back into their causal matrix, prakṛti, and emerge no more, since they no longer have a function. Vyāsa compares this to boulders falling from the tops of mountains when deprived of their support. Hariharānanda hastens to point out that the guṇas to which Vyāsa is referring are the effects of the guṇas, not the primordial guṇas themselves, which are constituent ontological categories inherent in prakṛti and thus as eternal as is prakṛti. Specifically, it is the subtle body of the citta, says Vijñānabhikṣu, that dissolves.
(7) Puruṣa, removed from the bonds of the guṇas, is now eligible to shine forth in its own pure luminous nature. This is called kevala, absolute freedom. The puruṣa who has surpassed the guṇas and attained these seven stages of realization is known as an adept, says Vyāsa. In this state, one doesn’t actually realize anything, because now, by definition, one is fully detached and separated from the organ of realization or discrimination, buddhi. But just as one realizes upon awakening one has slept well, even if one cannot recall the actual experience of sleep, so does the yogī coming out of the state of asamprajñāta back into external awareness realize that this has been a state free from all suffering.
There are differing views among Hindu schools as to whether this ability to remain embodied despite having attained asamprajñātasamādhi (called jīvanmukti, liberation, while still in the body) is possible, or whether ultimate and absolute liberation can take place only after death. One can attain this stage even while living, say the Yoga commentators, although this will be such a person’s last birth. According to Vijñānabhikṣu, the jīvanmukta, the liberated yogī who is still embodied, may, if he or she wishes, merely witness the stages of insight, prajñā, produced by buddhi. There is no sense of ahaṅkāra, of wishing to appropriate prajñā or misidentify with it, as in normal consciousness.
One must remember that in the Yoga system, prajñā is still a function of buddhi and thus of prakṛtis connection with puruṣa. Therefore, according to Hariharānanda, these seven steps do not yet represent the puruṣa being in itself, asamprajñāta-samādhi, but the highest or final level of insight prior to this ultimate samādhi. As has been discussed, in asamprajñāta-samādhi, the mental function, citta, ceases completely and the yogī consequently ceases to function in the world. In the jīvanmukta stage, the yogī still retains the prākṛtic citta, since, of course, by definition, embodiment entails association with the mind and intelligence, etc. (although the jīvanmukta is fully capable of discarding all prākṛtic coverings and entering the state of asamprajñāta, notes Hariharānanda). The jīvanmukta, who has, by definition, no personal desire or reason to do so, might choose to remain embodied so as to help other beings who are still suffering. Obviously, says Hariharānanda, the jīvanmukta can rise above any suffering that might come his or her way due to any saṁskāras that might still be left, by use of the buddhi in the form of discrimination and detachment.
Thus the yogī is completely free from the control of the guṇas. Vijñānabhikṣu quotes the Gītā here: “One who renounces all endeavour is known to have transcended the guṇas” (XIV.25). In this section of the Gītā, Arjuna asks Kṛṣṇa to describe the symptoms by which one might recognize someone who has transcended the guṇas, in other words, what are the characteristics of the jīvanmukta? It might be useful for the reader to refer to the translation of this section in I.37, since this material overlaps with what the commentators have to say in their commentaries for this sūtra.