Yoga Sutras of Patanjali — Book IV

Paramahansa Yogananda's Comments on
Karma (Material Action)

Excerpts from God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita
by Paramahansa Yogananda

Here karma means material action, that which is instigated by egoistic desire. It sets into motion the law of cause and effect. The action produces a result that binds itself to the doer until the cause is compensated by the appropriate effect, whether forthcoming immediately or carried over from one lifetime to another. Though not always as literal, it is as exacting as the Old Testament law "an eye for an eye." One's present condition and circumstances are a composite of current free-will-initiated action and the bondage of the accumulated effects of past actions, the causes of which have often been long-since forgotten or disassociated from the results. Thus man laments his present misfortunes as bad luck, fate, injustice. By enduring, learning from, and constructively and spiritually working his way out of these effects, past karma is destroyed. But unless present actions are guided by wisdom, and thereby carry no binding impressions, new karmic effects will replace those that have been justly compensated. So long as karmic effects from past and present actions do not fade away by being worked out or dissolved by wisdom, it is impossible to attain final emancipation.

Karma or action is of four kinds according to Patanjali, Yoga Sutras IV:7. "The actions of a yogi are neither pure nor dark; in others, they are of three kinds [pure, dark, or a mixture of pure and dark]." The actions of an evil man are dark, binding him to disastrous effects.

The works of the ordinary worldly man are a mixture of both good and evil, binding him to the corresponding results of same. The actions of a spiritual man are pure. They produce good effects that lead toward freedom; but even good karmic effects are binding. The works of a yogi who is established in Self-realization, the ultimate wisdom, leave no impressions, either good or evil, to bind him. Bhurishravas— material action that produces binding effects because it is instigated by egoistic desire—is thus to be conquered by the aspiring yogi. (God Talks With Arjuna p.87)


Latent Desire - Ashaya

The metaphorical derivation: Asnuvan sancayan tisthati iti—"That which remains stored up or preserved." The allegorical meaning of Ashvatthaman is found in the key Sanskrit roots from which the name derives. As-va means "preserved or stored up"; and tthaman (from the root stha), "to remain, to continue in a particular condition" and "to continue to be or exist (as opposed to 'perish')." That which accumulates and remains unchanged, and does not perish with death is desire—Patanjali's ashaya (from a-sa). More specifically, it is latent desire or desire-seed—vasana, or the impressions of desire on the consciousness. The Yoga Sutras IV:10 states: "This desire is the eternal root of Nature's creation." It is the universal cause of all that exists since the beginning of time.

The Hindu scriptures say that it is the desireless desire of Spirit to enjoy Its singular nature in many forms that spawns this drama of the universal cosmic dream. This impression of the wish to exist and to enjoy the experience of existing is part of the nucleus of individuality in these multiple forms of Spirit. Desire is thus a fundamental law that assures the continuity of creation. Men dream their individual desires within the ever awake somnolence of the Cosmic Dreamer. Avidya, ignorance, produces egoism; from ego arises feeling or desire and concomitant identification with the senses and sense objects as a means of enjoyment. This leads to desire-motivated good and bad actions and their results or impressions, which in turn produce new causes and effects from one lifetime to another in a self-perpetuating cycle. So long as there is no end to desire, there is no end to rebirth.

In man, this desire-seed or latent desire (Ashvatthaman) should be distinguished from active desire (Duryodhana). There is a vast difference between the two. Active desire is an impulse of the mind that produces an independent wish. This act of the mind has no roots in the subconscious. When this impulse arises fresh in the mind of the agent, it is not powerful enough that it cannot be easily checked or suppressed by a quick act of will. Every desire, however, whether acted on or not, is soon followed by another. Such desires for the gratification of ego do not cease even when they are supposedly satisfied; in every worldly accomplishment or every attainment of a material possession, something always remains unfulfilled. Desire-seeds are born of these ego-instigated active desires. Every unfulfilled active desire, unless roasted by wisdom, plants a new desire-seed in the mind. These desire-seeds are more compelling than impulsive fresh desires, deeply rooting themselves in the subconscious, ready to spring up suddenly with demands that are most often unreasonable, frustrating, and sorrow-producing. As desire begets desires, the only way to end the cycle is to destroy the causes. (God Talks With Arjuna p.89)

When the yogi attains liberation, becoming irrevocably established in divine soul consciousness, his "desires" are like the desireless desire of Spirit, having no conquering power or ability to bind the soul.


BOOK IV - Kaivalya ('emancipation', 'liberation')


1. The Siddhis (powers) are attained by birth, chemical means, power of words, mortification or concentration.

2. The change into another species is by the filling in of nature.

3. Good deeds, etc., are not the direct causes in the transformation of nature, but they act as breakers of obstacles to the evolutions of nature, as a farmer breaks the obstacles to the course of water, which then runs down by its own nature.

4. From egoism alone proceed the created minds.

5. Though the activities of the different created minds are various, the one original mind is the controller of them all.

6. Among the various Chittas that which is attained by Samadhi is desireless.

7. Works are neither black nor white for the Yogis; for others they are threefold, black, white, and mixed.

8. From these threefold works are manifested in each state only those desires (which are) fitting to that state alone. (The others are held in abeyance for the time being.)

9. There is connectiveness in desire, even though separated by spices, space and time, there being identification of memory and impressions.

10. Thirst for happiness being eternal, desires are without beginning.

11. Being held together by cause, effect, support, and objects, in the absence of these is its absence.

12. The past and future exist in their own nature, qualities having different ways.

13. They are manifested or fine, being of the nature of the Gunas.

14. The unity in things is from the unity in changes. Though there are three substances their changes being coordinated all objects have their unity.

15. The object being the same, perception and desire vary according to the various minds.

16. Things are known or unknown to the mind, being dependent on the coloring which they give to the mind.

17. The states of the mind are always known because the lord of the mind is unchangeable.

18. Mind is not self-luminous, being an object.

19. From its being unable to cognize two things at the same time.

20. Another cognizing mind being assumed there will be no end to such assumptions and confusion of memory.

21. The essence of knowledge (the Purusa) being unchangeable, when the mind takes its form, it becomes conscious.

22. Colored by the seer and the seen the mind is able to understand everything.

23. The mind through its innumerable desires acts for another (the Purusa), being combinations.

24. For the discriminating the perception of the mind as Atman ceases.

25. Then bent on discriminating the mind attains the previous state of Kaivalya (isolation).

26. The thoughts that arise as obstructions to that are from impressions.

27. Their destruction is in the same manner as of ignorance, etc., as said before.

28. Even when arriving at the right discriminating knowledge of the senses, he who gives up the fruits, unto him comes as the result of perfect discrimination, the Samadhi called the cloud of virtue.

29. From that comes cessation of pains and works.

30. Then knowledge, bereft of covering and impurities, becoming infinite, the knowable becomes small.

31. Then are finished the successive transformations of the qualities, they having attained the end.

32. The changes that exist in relation to moments, and which are perceived at the other end (at the end of a series) are succession.

33. The resolution in the inverse order of the qualities, bereft of any motive of action for the Purusa, is Kaivalya, or it is the establishment of the power of knowledge in its own nature.

Alternative translation:
(34.) Absolute freedom comes when the guṇas, becoming devoid of the object of the Puruṣa, become latent; or the power of consciousness becomes established in its own nature.


Yoga Sutras translated by Swami Vivekananda