भव - प्रत्ययो विदेह – प्रकृति – लयानाम् ॥१९
bhava-pratyayo videha-prakṛti layānām
This is the hardest sutra I’ve yet to interpret. Even a literal translation is challenging. I have accessed many sources and find little cohesive thought. Have a look at the table below and get a sense of the disparate interpretations.
Where does this wealth of information leave us? The previous sutra was describing a state of Samadhi which is achieved without external support, where the mind needs nothing specific to focus on (ie a mantra, mandala, technique) as an to aid its journey to clarity. In the Samadhi achieved without a supporting technique the mind simply turns to look at itself and is absorbed in that Self. In this context the Self is pure consciousness, puruṣa. So, following the pattern of the sutras that each threads together from the preceding one (unless Patanjali notifies us of a change of direction which he doesn’t seem to be here) let’s try to deduce (using logical inference, maybe – अनुमान ) what this sutra is about. Probably some form Samadhi. Probably the same form of Samadhi as the last sutra.
There is consensus that the subject of the sutra is the videha and the prakriti-layanam; those who are unembodied or merged in matter. To me that these two classifications of being are placed in the same context is deeply confusing. how can we be incorporeal and merged in matter? Unless when we become merged in matter we become incorporeal?
In Shri Bhramanda Saraswati’s commentary on this sutra he seems to be suggesting that the act of becoming totally absorbed in something gives rise to a feeling of being out of bady – take an intense physical or psychological task (researching this for example, an asana practice, driving on a busy road in adverse weather conditions) anything that requires your full attention, when we are engaged in this task, which is of the physical relam, prakṛti, we are merged with the ‘real’ world around us. During the activity it is as though time has no meaning, place has no meaning, we have no sense of the individual self because we are so focused. If we let our concentration slip for a moment the consequence is that we come back to an awareness of separation between our self carrying out the activity and the activity. But for the duration our concentration holds it is as though we do not have a body, our consciousness is liberated from the restraint of ego or thinking mind and flows freely.
Perhaps Patanjlai is suggesting that this state is very similar to the state when the mind ceases it’s whirling and sees itself because it is so focused so concentrated, but that when we become ephemeral through being merged with matter it is very easy for the mind to be jolted back out of this state?
To be utterly honest this sutra is a real challenge for me to make sense of. Some of the commentaries talk about the videha as being the devas, the demi gods of the hindu pantheon. Or they mention that both those without bodies and those merged in matter are yogis who have not quite reached the state of Samadhi that transcends matter, and are still connected to prakṛti. But then there is Desikachar who favours a simple translation that some people are naturally born in a state of yoga.
I shall continue to explore the ideas in this sutra in my own practice, and perhaps through that study (swadyaya) I too may experience being ephemeral, outside of time and space, for a while.