Q: The soul is pure and divine, never subject to change, and peace and bliss are its intrinsic nature. If this is the case, why doesn’t yoga focus on purifying the way of the soul so we can find God, instead of placing so much emphasis on working with the mind?

A: Divinity is intrinsic to us. What we call soul or consciousness is pure and divine. The mind is the tool the soul uses to see itself and to see the world, to experience itself and to experience the world. The soul can experience its intrinsic divinity only when the mind is no longer in turmoil. It is true that the soul is pure and divine, that it is never subject to change, and that peace and bliss are its intrinsic nature, but once embodied, the soul must use the mind as a tool to experience its own inherent attributes. If this tool is contaminated, the soul has no chance to experience its own nature; instead, it helplessly experiences only what the mind presents to it. In other words, when the soul is accompanied by a disturbed mind, it loses its self-awareness. That is why this pure and divine, ever-perfect soul finds itself in bondage and craves liberation.

Spiritual practices in all traditions aim at enabling us to discover our inner divinity. We visit shrines, recite scriptures, perform rituals, and meditate on sacred objects in the hope these practices will purify our mind, burn our bad karmas, add to our virtues, minimize our bondage, and bring about inner purification. But unless we undertake these practices with a clear and still mind, their effectiveness will be compromised by an agitated, wandering mind. By focusing on the mind, yoga takes us directly to the cause of our inner disturbance and clears the way for us to discover our divine nature.

The Yoga Sutra tells us emphatically that the soul can be established in its true nature only after the mind has become still. By implication, it also tells us that a confused mind is not fit to follow any path—that in order to do any practice successfully, we need a disciplined and focused mind. Chanting, praying, repeating mantras, and reciting scriptures are of little value when done with a scattered mind. A practice can be effective only when the mind is fully with us, for only then can we employ it to attend our practice.

Happiness is a state of mind that emerges when the mind is at peace.

Novice seekers talk about purification of mind and heart as a prerequisite to seeing God. They fail to understand that in reality they are not as interested in seeing God as in getting something from God. What they are really seeking from God is happiness. Happiness is a state of mind that emerges naturally when the mind is at peace. Peace is a product of inner tranquility, which emerges when the mind is clear, calm, and still.

As we attempt to acquire a clear, calm, and still mind, we automatically come in touch with inner impurities, such as anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, desire, and possessiveness. These impurities churn our mind to its very core. When we commit ourselves to stilling our mind, we gradually come to realize the role these inner impurities play in disrupting and contaminating our inner world. That is why mental purification and the process of stilling the mind can be seen as two sides of the same coin. In sutra 1:3, Patanjali says that when the mind is fully still, consciousness naturally becomes established in its pure self. But as the next sutra explains, when the mind is not still, consciousness helplessly identifies itself with its impurities.

The divine within us is ever enlightened and self-illumined. Illumination is its intrinsic nature. But when the mind is unsteady and unclear, darkness casts its spell on us. This is called being engulfed by the darkness of ignorance. When the mind is still and clear, the inner divinity automatically enlightens our whole being. This is called freedom from the bondage of ignorance. Spiritual practices neither illuminate, nor have the power to illuminate, our essential, ever-enlightened core being. Rather they are designed to make our mind still and crystal clear. Thereafter, the light passes through this crystal-clear mind unobstructed, making known everything that falls in its path. This process is called dhyana, meditation. Dhyana takes us to a state called samadhi, the state in which the soul is fully aware of itself and fully aware of God. In short, a clear, one-pointed, and inwardly turned mind leads to seeing God face-to-face, experiencing God in the core of our own being, and infusing our mind and heart with divine virtues and attributes. That is the goal of yoga.

Further Reading

The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada

by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The Secret of the Yoga Sutra is the first practitioner-oriented commentary of the Yoga Sutra which is fully grounded in a living tradition. It shares the essence of Pandit Tigunait’s rigorous scholarly understanding of the Yoga Sutra, through the filter of experiential knowledge gained through decades of advanced yogic practices, and enriched by the gift of living wisdom he received from the masters of the Himalayan Tradition.

More in this Series

Inner Quest: Seeker’s Q&A