Disconnecting seer and seen: The key to breaking the cycle of karma is that the connection between "seer" and that which is "seen" is set aside (2.17). This allows one to avoid even the future karmas that have not yet manifested (2.16). Ignorance, or avidya (2.5), is the cause of this alliance (2.24), and eliminating this ignorance is the means of ending the alliance (2.25). This, in turn, breaks the cycle of karma.
Consequences of the colorings: The colorings (1.5, 2.3)(klishta/aklishta) lead to birth, span of life, and experiences (2.13). These are painful or not painful (2.14), though the yogi comes to see them all as painful (2.15), and thus wants to avoid these (2.16).
The subtler process of breaking the alliance: Descriptions of the nature of the objects are given (2.18), along with the subtle states of the elements (2.19), and explanation of how the seer cognizes them (2.20). It is explained that the objects exist for the benefit of the seer (2.21), and that they cease to exist when one knows their true nature (2.22), though continuing to be experienced by others. Even so, it is explained, the relationship between seer and seen had to be there, so that the seer could eventually experience the subtler truth (2.23).
Foundation: The ability to break the alliance with karma as described in sutras 2.12-2.25 is built on a foundation of prerequisites, including stabilizing the mind (1.33-1.39) and minimizing the gross colorings (kleshas) of the mind (2.1-2.9).
Key is discriminative knowledge: The eight rungs of Yoga and discriminative knowledge are the key tools in this process, and are described in the next section (2.26-2.29).
Summary of Yoga Sutras 2.12-2.25 on Breaking the Alliance of Karma: Latent impressions that are colored (karmashaya) result from other actions (karmas) that were brought about by colorings (kleshas), and become active and experienced in a current life or a future life. As long as those colorings (kleshas) remains at the root, three consequences are produced: 1) birth, 2) span of life, and 3) experiences in that life. Because of having the nature of merits or demerits (virtue or vice), these three (birth, span of life, and experiences) may be experienced as either pleasure or pain.
A wise, discriminating person sees all worldly experiences as painful, because of reasoning that all these experiences lead to more consequences, anxiety, and deep habits (samskaras), as well as acting in opposition to the natural qualities. Because the worldly experiences are seen as painful, it is the pain, which is yet to come that is to be avoided and discarded.
The uniting of the seer (the subject, or experiencer) with the seen (the object, or that which is experienced) is the cause or connection to be avoided.
The objects (or knowables) are by their nature of: 1) illumination or sentience, 2) activity or mutability, or 3) inertia or stasis; they consist of the elements and the powers of the senses, and exist for the purpose of experiencing the world and for liberation or enlightenment. There are four states of the elements (gunas), and these are: 1) diversified, specialized, or particularized (vishesha), 2) undiversified, unspecialized, or unparticularized (avishesha), 3) indicator-only, undifferentiated phenomenal, or marked only (linga-matra), and 4) without indicator, noumenal, or without mark (alingani).
The Seer is but the force of seeing itself, appearing to see or experience that which is presented as a cognitive principle. The essence or nature of the knowable objects exists only to serve as the objective field for pure consciousness. Although knowable objects cease to exist in relation to one who has experienced their fundamental, formless true nature, the appearance of the knowable objects is not destroyed, for their existence continues to be shared by others who are still observing them in their grosser forms.
Having an alliance, or relationship between objects and the Self is the necessary means by which there can subsequently be realization of the true nature of those objects by that very Self. Avidya or ignorance (2.3-2.5), the condition of ignoring, is the underlying cause that allows this alliance to appear to exist.
By causing a lack of avidya, or ignorance there is then an absence of the alliance, and this leads to a freedom known as a state of liberation or enlightenment for the Seer.
Latent impressions that are colored (karmashaya) result from other actions
(karmas) that were brought about by colorings (kleshas), and become active
and experienced in a current life or a future life.
Cycle of karma: The word karma literally means actions. Here, the word karmashaya is the repository of the effects of those actions. Usually, those individual impressions in the repository are called samskaras. There is a cycling process whereby the samskaras in the karmashaya rise, cause more actions, which in turn lead to more (or stronger) samskaras in the karmashaya.
Colorings or kleshas: The reason for the cycling process of deep impressions and actions is the coloring or klishta quality described in sutras 1.5 and 2.3. It bears repeating and reflecting on many times that it is this coloring or klishta quality that is the key to removing the blocks over Self-realization (1.3). (See the article on klishta and aklishta vrittis.)
Karmashaya or repository: This karmashaya or repository of deep impressions is in the latent part of the mind, and later springs forth into the conscious part of the mind, as well as the unconscious processing part of the mind. These impressions cause the mind as manas to carry out the actions or karmas in the external world, doing so through the karmendriyas. (See the article on levels and domains of consciousness.)
Actions come at any time: The timing of the playing out of these actions is varied. It may come in the present or seen (drishta) birth (janma), or it may come in later or unseen (adrishta) births. In the meantime, the coloring or klishta of the samskaras (karmashaya) may remain completely dormant, or it may play out in the unconscious dream state.
See also the article:
As long as those colorings (kleshas) remains at the root, three
consequences are produced: 1) birth, 2) span of life, and 3) experiences
in that life.
Colorings lead to three consequences: The entire principle of karma (which literally translates as actions) is that the deep impressions (samskaras) that are colored (klishta) leads to the further playing out of karma. That karma is of three kinds:
Altering the samskaras: Describing this process is setting the stage for the means of altering these deep impressions. The point of this sutra is that these consequences play out only as long as the root samskaras are there, and that they remain colored (klishta). If the coloring is reduced or removed (aklishta), then the consequences are altered.
Remember, once again, the foundation principle of Yoga has to do with these colorings, as was first presented in Chapter 1, in sutra 1.5)
Because of having the nature of merits or demerits (virtue or vice), these
three (birth, span of life, and experiences) may be experienced as either
pleasure or pain.
There are three major parts in this short sutra, and each are important:
Three consequences: The playing out of the kleshas (colored impressions or samskaras) mentioned in the previous sutra (2.13) will lead to experiences of one form or another. They will not just remain inert, and will not just go away. They will definitely lead to some experiential effect. These deep impressions are so strong that they will also lead to birth. Thus, it has been said that desire is stronger than death, in that it causes rebirth. A part of the play out of the karmashaya is also that a certain duration comes along. This can make sense by simply reflecting on the notion that stronger drives logically last longer than weaker ones.
Merit or demerit: Though not purely accurate, it has become commonplace to speak of good karma or bad karma. In a broad sense, this is the meaning of punya and apunya. It means that when our actions lead to deep impressions or samskaras, they are either of a type or nature that leads in a positive, useful direction, or in a negative, un-useful direction. The nature of this merit or demerit (virtue or vice) goes along with the samskara itself, in that the samskara leads to the action, and this secondary quality comes along.
Notice that cultivating punya versus apunya is one of the stabilizing practices introduced in sutra 1.33.
Pain or pleasure: Once the future action starts to play out as a result of the samskaras (karmashaya), the issue of merit or demerit will cause the actions to be experienced as either pain (paritaba) or pleasure (hlada).
Planning your karma: By understanding this process, it becomes clear that ones actions can be planned in such a way that future karma is determined. This is described further in the next few sutras.
A wise, discriminating person sees all worldly experiences as painful,
because of reasoning that all these experiences lead to more consequences,
anxiety, and deep habits (samskaras), as well as acting in opposition to
the natural qualities.
Discrimination comes in time: Seeing all worldly experiences as painful is not a mere opinion or belief system that one cultivates because of following some certain spiritual path. Rather, it comes from the process of discrimination, and this takes time and practice. By repeatedly seeing the process of the playing out of samskaras (karmashaya), leading to more deep impressions, and again recycling, the Yogi comes to conclude for himself or herself that the entire process is bringing nothing but pain in the long run.
Wisdom, not depression: To simply read this, that everything worldly brings pain, can seem rather depressing or fatalistic. This is definitely not the case. This insight comes with wisdom, with seeing clearly the nature of the temporal process. The Yogi feels a sense of joy in this insight, as it causes an even greater drive towards Self-realization, the direct experience of that eternal Self, which is not subject to change, death, decay, or decomposition.
Name and form of the prime elements: The Yogi comes to see that the primal elements or gunas (sattvas, rajas, and tamas) just keep changing names and forms. It is that incessant transitioning process that is seen to be not worthy of continuing unabated. Eventually, through the practices of Yoga, the gunas themselves are resolved back into their cause, leading to liberation (4.32-4.34).
Going in the wrong direction: The Yogi also comes to see that all of these activities are outward bound, moving directly in the opposite direction from the eternal Self. Because of that insight, he or she wants even more strongly to go inward, in pursuit of the direct experience of pure consciousness, or Purusha (3.56, 4.34).
Because the worldly experiences are seen as painful, it is the pain, which
is yet to come that is to be avoided and discarded.
Currently manifesting: The three consequences of birth, span of life, and experiences (2.13) may be playing out in the current time or life, and may be experienced as pain or pleasure (2.14). One has to deal with these impressions and their actions (karmas) in the here and now.
Manifesting later: Other samskaras of the karmashaya (2.12) are not driven by their current coloring or life circumstance to play out at the present moment. They remain in their latent form in the latent part of the mind, destined to come to life and play out later.
Explore the latent: The Yogi comes to the point of practices where it is not only the currently manifesting karmas that are dealt with. Rather, he or she intentionally explores the unconscious processing part of the mind and the latent part of the mind, so as to uncover, attenuate, and eliminate the coloring (klishta) (1.5, 2.3) of these deep impressions, as was described in sutra 2.4. In this way, the effects (karma) of those deep impressions are discarded, avoided, or prevented (hevam). Then the absolute or pure consciousness behind the veil can be experienced.
As sensitive as the surface of the eyeball: In describing how the Yogi wants to avoid the pain that is still to come, the commentator Vyasa says that the Yogi's perception has become as sensitive as the surface of an eye-ball. It is because of this highly refined sense of self-awareness that he or she discovers the future karmas in the karmashaya, and wants to deal with them long before they have the chance to come to fruition.
The seer and the seen: The key to this process of avoiding future karmas is breaking the tie between the seer and the seen (2.17), as described in the remaining sutras of this section.
The uniting of the seer (the subject, or experiencer) with the seen (the
object, or that which is experienced) is the cause or connection to be
The seer engulfs the seen: Connecting the seer with the seen does not mean the physical eyes looking at physical objects. It means the pure consciousness (1.3, 2.20) wrapping itself around the subtlest of the traces in the deep unconscious. Those deep impressions (samskaras) are engulfed (1.4) by consciousness, and then the forgetting process of avidya (2.5, 2.24) becomes even more pronounced. The subtler nature of these seen objects is described in the next few sutras, below. (Click here for more info on the process of the observer observing the observed.)
The key is in loosening the alliance: The key here is that, in a moment when the seer is not connected with any of those possible seen objects, there is freedom, and that is the higher state of consciousness that is being sought (1.3, 4.26). However, it comes in stages. Layer after layer, object after object, the seer is loosened from its connection to the seen. This is why there is progress on the inner journey, and it is a progress that comes from revealing and setting aside, so as to uncover the true Self at the center.
Samskaras become mere memories: In the foundation principles of sutra 1.5, it was described that thought patterns are one of five kinds, and that these are either klishta or aklishta (colored or uncolored). One of those five kinds of thought patterns is that of memory. Here, in this current sutra (2.17), the fulfillment of that process is being described, wherein the colored thought processes become mere memories that are no longer colored by any of the five kleshas (2.3).
The final alliance is broken: The rest of this chapter, and the sutras of Chapter 3 further describe the process of breaking the alliances. After fully describing the process of how the many alliances are progressively loosened, sutras 2.25 and 3.50 (end of the next chapter) describe how the final disconnect happens with the renunciation of avidya itself, and of the alliance between buddhi and consciousness. This means that even the finest instrument of knowing is ultimately set aside from consciousness itself .
The objects (or knowables) are by their nature of: 1) illumination
or sentience, 2) activity or mutability, or 3) inertia or stasis; they
consist of the elements and the powers of the senses, and exist for the
purpose of experiencing the world and for liberation or enlightenment.
Understanding the seer and the seen: It is essential to have some understanding of the nature of the seer and of the seen if we are to be able to understand the nature of the alliance between them, and how to break that alliance. Describing the nature of the seer and the seen is the subject of this and the next few sutras. Here, in this sutra, that nature of the seen is briefly described as being part of several categories or types. The seer is described in sutra 2.20.
Three broad types of seen objects: Based on the three gunas, or primary constituent elements, objects have a tendency towards one or the other of three types. These are objects predominantly of prakasha (illumination, light), kriya (activity), or stithi (steadiness, inertia, stasis). The four states of these elements (2.19), the purpose of these knowable objects (2.18), the reason for the seer's alliance with them (2.23), and the means of freedom (2.25) are explained in the following sutras of this section.
Five elements as objects of meditation: The seen objects are composed of the five elements (indriyas) of earth, water, fire, air, and space (bhutas). The many manifestations of these, as well as the five elements as individual entities are examined with the razor-sharp discrimination of samyama (3.4-3.6), and are set aside with non-attachment (1.16). Mastery over the five elements comes through direct examination of their nature (3.45), with the fruits being renounced (3.38). This process of examining the objects and the elements leads ever closer towards the seer resting in its true nature (1.3).
Five indriyas as objects of meditation: Along with those many objects and the five elements, there comes the five instruments (indriyas) of action (karmendriyas) and sensation (jnanendriyas). After first training the senses (2.32, 2.43), these ten means of expression and perception are themselves examined as objects (3.48). Through samyama (3.4-3.6), the ten senses themselves are also set aside with non-attachment (1.16), adding to the movement towards the seer resting in its true nature (1.3).
Beyond conventional objects: At some stage of the subtler journey within, we examine not only objects and mental impressions in the conventional sense. We also explore both the components that build those objects (bhutas of earth, water, fire, air, and space), and the senses themselves (ten indriyas). Through such subtle practice, awareness moves past all of the objects in the conventional sense. It is starting the process of observing the observing process, which is of critical importance in the journey to realization of the observer itself (1.3).
There are four states of the elements (gunas), and these are: 1)
diversified, specialized, or particularized (vishesha), 2) undiversified,
unspecialized, or unparticularized (avishesha), 3) indicator-only,
undifferentiated phenomenal, or marked only (linga-matra), and 4) without
indicator, noumenal, or without mark (alingani).
Elements evolve and involve in four stages: All of the objects and elements mentioned in the last sutra (2.18) are constituted of the three primal elements (gunas). As the attention of the Yogi goes deeper and deeper into the gunas, they are seen to evolve and involve in four stages. Gradually the Yogi fathoms each of these very subtle processes. This allows the seer to systematically break the connection with the seen, as described in sutra 2.17.
Supreme non-attachment: Practice and non-attachment have been introduced as two foundations of Yoga (1.12-1.16). Supreme non-attachment (paravairagya) was described as non-attachment even to the gunas, the subtlest elements, constituent principles, or qualities themselves (1.16). These gunas are the subject of this current sutra.
The Seer is but the force of seeing itself, appearing to see or experience
that which is presented as a cognitive principle.
Understanding the seer and the seen: As was pointed out above (2.18), it is essential to have some understanding of the nature of the seer and of the seen if we are to be able to understand the nature of the alliance between them, and how to break that alliance. Describing the nature of the seer is the subject of this current sutra, and of the seen is the subject of the next few sutras.
Who makes the alliance?: If we are trying to break the alliance between seer and seen (2.17, 2.12-2.25), then who is the seer who has made that false alliance? It is the pure consciousness known as purusha, atman, or Self. It is that, which remains (1.3) after the mastery (nirodah, 1.2) of the many impressions in the mind field.
Nature of the objects of alliance: If the seer is pure consciousness, then what is the nature of those objects (1.4) with which the false alliance has occurred? The nature of those objects is described in the next sutra (2.21).
The essence or nature of the knowable objects exists only to serve as the objective field for pure consciousness.
Relationship between seer and seen: While there are countless objects, it is useful to know that all objects share one thing in common. They are all witnessed by the seer, the Self, or pure consciousness. Thus, the nature of the relationship between consciousness and one object is similar to the relationship between consciousness and any other object--they both share the same observer or seer.
Breaking the alliance is similar: If the nature of the alliances is similar, then the means of breaking those alliances is also similar. This means that there is a basic simplicity in the process of discrimination (2.26-2.29) that leads to Self-realization. This doesn't make the process easy, but it sure is useful to see the underlying simplicity in the process. Regardless of what object is seen by the seer, and regardless of its coloring (klishta), the means of seeing clearly through discrimination is similar in all cases. Thus, the Yogi keeps doing the same basic process of examining, discriminating, and setting aside with non-attachment (1.12-1.16). Over and over, through all the levels of concentration (1.17), and with each of the kinds of coloring (2.4), the same means of razor-like discrimination occurs (3.4-3.6).
Although knowable objects cease to exist in relation to one who has
experienced their fundamental, formless true nature, the appearance of the
knowable objects is not destroyed, for their existence continues to be
shared by others who are still observing them in their grosser forms.
Objects cease to exist: As attention moves subtler and subtler through the layers of existence, those objects that were there for the benefit of the seer (2.21) no longer exist for the seer. A most simple example of this is when one's attention turns inward, even for the beginning meditator. At first, the external world and its sounds are a distraction. Yet, suddenly, when attention actually moves inward, it is as if the external world, its objects, and people cease to exist. When attention moves inward, down through the levels of manifestation of earth, water, fire, air, and space, for example, those levels also cease to exist for the seer.
Objects continue for others: While the objects cease to exist for the Yogi, they continue to exist for others. For example, in case of the meditator mentioned above, the external world ceases for that person, but continues for others. The same is also true for the subtler aspects such as the elements and indriyas (2.18).
an alliance, or relationship between objects and the Self is the necessary
means by which there can subsequently be realization of the true nature of
those objects by that very Self.
Alliance was necessary to know objects: If the alliance between the seer and the seen had never happened, it would not be possible for the seer to have objective knowledge. Later, as practices unfold, that so-called knowledge is seen to be based on ignorance (avidya, 2.5), and thus, is seen to be not knowledge after all.
Alliance allows breaking the alliance: Furthermore, having that false alliance between seer and seen allows one to seek, and to find the true Self (1.3). Had there been no alliance, this journey would not have been possible. In other words, the alliance itself (between seer and seen) was an essential prerequisite! Thus, it is sometimes said that the entire universe is all lila, or play.
Avidya or ignorance (2.3-2.5),
the condition of ignoring, is the underlying cause that allows this
alliance to appear to exist.
How the alliance arose in the first place: All of the alliances between seer and seen, which have been described in the previous few sutras (begin 2.17), were able to arise because of the foundation klesha (coloring) (1.5, 2.3) of avidya, or ignorance (2.5). Without that primary foundation, the other alliances simply could not have grown. It is somewhat like saying the walls and roof of a house could not be built without a foundation, or that plants could not grow without some form of soil or substratum in which to grow.
Neutralize the foundation: By neutralizing or eliminating the foundation of avidya or ignorance (2.5), all of the would-be alliances are effectively dealt with. This is described in the next sutra (2.25).
By causing a lack of avidya, or ignorance there is then an absence of the
alliance, and this leads to a freedom known as a state of liberation or
enlightenment for the Seer.
Causing an absence of ignorance: There is an important subtle point here that is very practical. By removal of the ignorance (avidya) (2.5), there remains a void, absence, or lack of avidya. It is this absence of avidya (ignorance) that is desired, not just the act of eliminating it. If we say that our goal is eliminating avidya, it sets the stage for the mind to continue to produce ignorance or misunderstanding, so that we can fulfill our goal of eliminating it. If we want to take on the false identity of being an eliminator of ignorance, then more and more ignorance will be produced, so that we may fulfill the desire of eliminating. However, if we have the stated goal of the absence of ignorance, our mind will become trained to seek that state of absence of avidya. The elimination of ignorance becomes the process along the way towards that eventual final goal (4.30).
Freedom beyond ignorance: With avidya or ignorance (2.5) seen as the foundation or soil out (2.24) of which grows the many alliances of seer and seen (2.17), we see one of the key points of all sadhana (spiritual practices), that of moving beyond the misperceptions of avidya, of which there are four major forms (2.5): 1) regarding that which is transient as eternal, 2) mistaking the impure for pure, 3) thinking that which brings misery to bring happiness, and 4) taking that which is not-self to be self.
Discrimination is the tool: Over and over, with our razor-like discrimination, we set aside the alliances between seer and seen (2.17), seeing beyond the four forms of avidya (2.5). This constitutes breaking the alliance of karma. This process of discrimination is described in the next (2.26-2.29) and later (3.1-3.3, 3.4-3.6) sutras.