Yoga Sutra 3.38 What to do with Experiences
YOGA SUTRA 3.38
3.38 These experiences resulting from samyama are obstacles to samadhi, but appear to be attainments or powers to the outgoing or worldly mind.
(te samadhau upasargah vyutthane siddhayah)
[Note: In some renditions this is sutra 3.36 or 3.37]
* te = these (attainments)
* samadhi = meditation in its higher state, deep absorption of meditation, the state of perfected concentration
* upasrga = obstacles, hindrances, impediments
* vyutthana = to the outgoing mind, worldly mind
* siddhi = attainments, powers, perfections, subtle experiences, psychic abilities
EXPERIENCES ARE BOTH ATTAINMENTS AND OBSTACLES:
From the perspective of the typical in-the-world mind, all of these subtle experiences of Yoga coming from Samyama appear to be attainments, powers, or psychic abilities to be pursued. From the perspective of samadhi and Self-realization, these subtle experiences of Yoga are considered to be obstacles (1.4), except in the sense that they reflect steps along the way.
NEITHER PURSUE NOR RECOIL:
The yogi neither pursues these powers for their own sake, nor recoils from them out of a misapplied spirit of renunciation. As with all of the experiences of life, the yogi seeks neither attraction, nor aversion (1.5-1.11, 2.3). In this way, the path of non-attachment is followed to ever subtler levels, and this non-attachment is one of the two foundation principles of Yoga (1.12-1.16). Through discrimination (2.26-2.29), the path to the center of consciousness becomes clearer and clearer. This includes non-attachment even to supremacy over creation of all forms and states of existence, as well as higher knowledge (3.51).
INTERNAL COMES TO BE SEEN AS EXTERNAL:
To say that the subtle experiences are obstacles is not merely a matter of their being negative in some way. Rather, as glimpses of deeper meditation come, these experiences come to be seen as external in relation to the true Self being sought. This foundation principle of the internal coming to be seen as external was described as a foundation principle in sutras 3.7-3.8. As this realization comes with object after object of subtler exploration, ever deeper degrees of non-attachment (vairagya, 1.15) come, ultimately leading to the realization of the true Self (1.3) through discrimination (2.26-2.29).
THE NATURE OF OBSTACLES:
The entire process of Yoga is one of removing obstacles (1.2, 4.3), so that the true Self, which is there all along, can be revealed (1.3). However, the allurements of the external world pale by comparison to the allurements of the subtle world, where these so-called attainments, powers, and psychic abilities abound. On the inner journey it is therefore imperative to increasingly, gently, systematically cultivate the levels of non-attachment or vairagya (1.12-1.16), all the way up to supreme non-attachment or paravairagya (1.16).
Subtle experiences surely come for the yogi on the inner journey. While it is said that they are to be renounced, this has special meaning. First, think of sensory renunciation at the gross level. Imagine your favorite food attachment, maybe some particular kind of sweet treat you eat all the time. If you decide to quit eating that sweet, you give up the item itself, whether completely stopping to eat it or cutting back, but do not give up your sense of taste. You may give up the attachment to the tasting process, but the ability to taste, itself, does not go away. The attachment is the key, not getting rid of either the object or the sensory ability.
Similarly, experiences such as those described in the Yoga Sutras exist, and naturally start to come along the way. Saying that they are renounced does not mean they go away. Rather, it means they become a responsibly used part of the yogi's way of engaging with the outer and inner world. The abilities are there, and become as much a part of life as are the grosser aspects of the senses (indriyas), including the jnanendriyas of smell, taste, sight, touch, and hearing, as well as the karmendriyas of elimination, procreation, motion, grasping, and speaking. Whether those gross senses or the subtle attainments are used with or without attachment is the question (1.12-1.16).
EACH ATTAINMENT REFLECTS A LEVEL OF PASSAGE:
With a close reading and careful reflection on the experiences described in the Yoga Sutras, along with some glimpses of direct experience, it is evident that the attainments being mentioned are not just randomly selected powers that are being described. Each of them reveals one form or another of the evermore unfolding process of going inward, through the levels and layers of our being. Each reveals one more aspect of experience and ourselves that is encountered, examined, understood, and set aside.
WE NEED NOT EXPERIENCE THEM ALL:
In the process of moving inward it is not essential that we seek out and experience each and every one of the attainments mentioned. This is well described by the sage Vyasa in his commentary on applying samyama (3.4-3.6) to the stages of practice (3.6). He explains that samyama may not be needed on all of the stages because proficiency can be attained by other sources, particularly through the gift of grace. He points out that, "Yoga is to be known by Yoga, and Yoga itself leads to Yoga. One who remains steadfast in Yoga always delights in it." To apply this in practice simply means to remain steadily focused on the direct experience of the goal (1.3).