Two core principles: Practice (abhyasa, 1.13) and non-attachment
(vairagya, 1.15) are the two core principles on which the entire system of Yoga
rests (1.12). It is through the cultivation of these two that
the other practices evolve, by which mastery
over the mind field occurs (1.2), and
allows the realization of the true Self (1.3).
They work together: Practice leads you in the right direction, while non-attachment allows you to continue the inner journey without getting sidetracked into the pains and pleasures along the way.
Supreme Non-attachment: Gradually, non-attachment expands to the depth of the subtlest building blocks (gunas) of ourselves and the universe, which is called paravairagya, supreme non-attachment (1.16). Eventually the three gunas resolve back into their cause during deep meditation, leading to final liberation (4.13-4.14, 4.32-4.34).
These thought patterns (vrittis) are mastered (nirodhah, regulated,
coordinated, controlled, stilled, quieted) through practice (abhyasa) and
Two practices: Abhyasa and vairagya are companion practices, and are the means of mastering (nirodhah, 1.2) the many levels of mind, so as to experience the true Self (1.3). All of the many other practices of Yoga rest on these two principles.
Two directions: There are two directions that one can go in life as well as individual actions, speech, or thoughts. One direction is towards truth, reality, Self, or spiritual realization. The other direction is opposite, and involves those lifestyles, actions, speech, and thoughts that take one away from the higher experiences.
Discrimination is key: To be able to do the practices and to cultivate non-attachment, it is necessary to become better and better at discriminating between what actions, speech, and thoughts take you in the right direction, and those which are a diversion (2.26-2.29, 3.4-3.6). This discrimination is both a foundation practice and also the subtler tool of the inner journey.
Practice (abhyasa) means choosing, applying the effort, and doing those
actions that bring a stable and tranquil state (sthitau).
Two words for practice: There are two different words that are often translated into English as practice. One is abhyasa and the other is sadhana, which is the title of Chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutras (Sadhana Pada). It is important to understand the difference between these two words.
Stithau has two parts: Abhyasa is defined in this sutra as choosing or cultivating that which leads to sthitau. To understand the meaning of sthitau, it is necessary to combine two principles. First is that of tranquility, calmness, or peace of mind. Second is that of stability, steadiness, or being of firm ground. Thus, sthitau means a stable form of tranquility. In other words, it is the pursuit of an equanimity that is with you at all times.
This stability is not just a matter of regaining peace of mind when it has been lost, like having a weekend away from work or taking a vacation. One might be able to temporarily have some tranquility while avoiding the core decisions of lifestyle, attitudes, and practices. However, to have stable tranquility, which is with you all, or most of the time, it is necessary to take the extra steps in life planning that supports meditation. This is the meaning of sthitau.
When that practice is done for a long time, without a break, and with
sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and
Keep practicing: One of the most important principles of living yoga meditation is that of continuing to practice without a break. Often a meditator gets started, practices for a few weeks or months, and then stops for a while due to some life situation. Then, he or she starts over again. While it is good to start again, it is better to choose a level of practice that you know you can maintain without a break. If, for example, you try to practice 2-3 hours per day when you are well aware you do not consistently have that much time in your current lifestyle, it is a set up for breaking practice. It's far better to choose an amount of time that you can consistently practice.
Choose your level of practice: Because of the importance of consistency of practice, one of the later sutras (1.21-1.22) suggests that you choose one of nine levels of practice to which you commit yourself.
Develop attitude: The attitude satkara contains the principles of devotion, sincerity, respect, reverence, positiveness, and right choice. As you choose your proper level of practice, and decide to do that daily, the attitude will come more easily. It is like having a little flame of desire in the heart for the fruits of meditation, and then slowly starting to experience those benefits. That little flame starts to grow slowly and consistently into a burning desire to guide your life in the direction of spiritual realization.
It all rests on attention: Throughout the science of Yoga meditation attention is a critical principle to practice. This sharp, clear, assiduous attention (asevitah) is essential if you are to develop the attitude of conviction for practices over a long time, and without a break as described in this sutra. "Attention, attention, attention!" is the formula to follow, though done in loving kindness towards yourself.
When the mind loses desire even for objects seen or described in a
tradition or in scriptures, it acquires a state of utter (vashikara)
desirelessness that is called non-attachment (vairagya).
Letting go and not taking on: The simplest way of describing non-attachment is as the process of letting go. We gradually learn to let go of our attachments and aversions, systematically moving subtler and subtler through the layers of attachments in the mind. However, non-attachment goes beyond this; it is not just a practice of letting go, but is a practice of not taking on in the first place.
Non-attachment is not suppression: Non-attachment is not a mere personality trait that one practices in dealing with the other people of the world. It is very easy to fool oneself into thinking that non-attachment is being practiced when what is really happening is pretending to be non-attached. It is like saying that you have lost your inner craving to some object while inside you are longing for it intensely. Non-attachment is not a process of suppression or repression of wants, wishes, desires, thoughts, or emotions. It comes by the ongoing practice of awareness of the existence of attachments (kleshas, 1.5, 2.3) and gradually letting these weaken (2.4).
Non-attachment is cessation: If attachment does occur (whether attraction or aversion), wherein attention wraps itself around a deep mental impression, the ensuing non-attachment comes from the cessation of mental clinging, not from an act of prying attention away forcefully. It is easy to hear of the philosophy of non-attachment and then mistakenly walk around lying to ourselves, internally saying something like, "I'm not attached; I'm not attached." This is not non-attachment. It is better to see realistically where our minds are attached, and then learn to systematically release that coloring through the external and internal practices of yoga meditation.
Non-attachment is not detachment: It is not mere semantics to say that non-attachment is different from detachment. Detachment implies that there is first attachment, and that you then apply some method or technique to disconnect that attachment. It implies an act of doing something to cause the separation to occur. Non-attachment, on the other hand, means that the connection simply does not occur in the first place. Non-attachment is not a case of doing something, but is instead a non-doing sort of thing. It means that your attention does not grab onto that impression in the mind in the first place.
Like two ex-smokers: While the principle applies to all the gross and subtle levels, a gross level example will help. Think of two people who stopped smoking many years ago. One is still attached to cigarettes, and when he sees a cigarette, the craving begins. When he resists acting on that desire, and then let's go of the desire, this is the meaning of detachment. The other person also used to smoke, but when he sees a cigarette there is literally no reaction; the desire has completely disappeared at all levels of his conscious and unconscious mind. This is the meaning of non-attachment. The attachment is not released, but is simply not there any more; it is non or the absence of attachment.
Non-attachment deepens through all levels: Patanjali explains that non-attachment applies to progressively deeper levels of our being. While we might begin with our more surface level attachments, such as the objects and people of daily life, the practice deepens to include all of the objects or experiences we might have only heard about, including the many powers or experiences of the psychic or subtle realm. We gradually see that even these are nothing but distractions on the journey to Self-realization, and we learn to set them aside as well.
What to do with attachments: As you are reading this current sutra on non-attachment, it is useful to keep the perspective that the whole process of Yoga has to do with the mastery and integration of the fluctuations of the mind field, as introduced in Sutra 1.2. This allows the seer to rest in its true nature, the state of Self-realization, as outlined in Sutra 1.3. By also being mindful of the broad categories or clusters of sutras (as clustered on this site), it is relatively easy to see that we gradually need to stabilize the mind, weaken those attachments, and then start the ongoing process of letting them go entirely. In the meantime, we seek the direct experience of the Absolute, so that we might do an even more efficient job of letting go of the attachments. To better understand that process, take a look at the Chapter Outlines, which include the following:
Indifference to the subtlest elements, constituent principles, or
qualities themselves (gunas), achieved through a knowledge of the nature
of pure consciousness (purusha), is called supreme non-attachment (paravairagya).
Non-attachment to the building blocks: Sutra 1.15 describes non-attachment; it is a process that evolves progressively as practice deepens. Eventually it leads to a supreme non-attachment, which is described here. Paravairagya means there is non-attachment even in relation to the most fundamental building blocks of all manifestation. This level of non-attachment comes through the direct experience of pure consciousness or purusha (3.56).
Three levels of non-attachment: We can think of this as a systematic process of developing non-attachment (vairagya) at three levels:
Analogous to freedom from atomic particles: This concept of levels may seem foreign, but we are all accustomed to this in our world. If we compare this to only the physical universe, it would be somewhat like becoming non-attached to protons, electrons, and neutrons, which are the particles that form atoms. Notice how the physical universe is also constructed in levels or layers:
Imagine that you were free from attachment and aversion to the particles (protons, electrons, and neutrons). Then (in our metaphor) you would be free from attachment and aversion to all of its evolutes as well, including, molecules, compounds, and all of the physical objects of the world.
Supreme non-attachment: Similarly, this is the suggestion of supreme non-attachment (paravairagya) to the gunas, the three primal elements that the yogis speak of as the prime constituents of the manifest and unmanifest matter (prakriti). Non-attachment to the gunas includes non-attachment in relation to not only the gross world, but also the entire subtle, psychic, astral plane, as well as the causal out of which they arise.
Paravairagya comes after Self-realization: On a practical level, this is not to say that we must attain the paravairagya level to attain direct experience of the center of consciousness (purusha). Rather, it is describing where non-attachment ultimately leads once you have the tool of samadhi and direct experience.
------- This site is devoted to
presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of
the Tradition of the Himalayan masters in simple, understandable and
beneficial ways, while not compromising quality or depth. The goal of
our sadhana or practices is the highest
Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the
center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is
one and the same with the Absolute Reality.
This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga
Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the
intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which
complement one another like fingers on a hand.
We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti
Yoga, as well as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha,
and Tantra Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer
finally converge into a unified force directed towards the final
stage, piercing the pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the
This site is devoted to presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of the Tradition of the Himalayan masters in simple, understandable and beneficial ways, while not compromising quality or depth. The goal of our sadhana or practices is the highest Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is one and the same with the Absolute Reality. This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which complement one another like fingers on a hand. We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti Yoga, as well as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha, and Tantra Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer finally converge into a unified force directed towards the final stage, piercing the pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the Absolute.