Sutra I – 47:
“Proficiency in a state devoid of any thought movement results in inward gracious felicity of disposition.”
In our exploration of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali we have been following the thread of citta-vrtti-nirodha. This key concept of yoga can be said to be “the state of being in which the ideational choice-making movement of the mind slows down and comes to a stop” – which happens on its own. Now, close to the end of Part One of the Yoga Sutras, this Sutra number 47 speaks of the results of becoming proficient in this state.
To say that one has become proficient in a state free of thought sounds like something that one can practice and become proficient or skilled at doing. Of course, all who have attempted to simply sit down and stop thinking will agree that it is an art, and not simply the result of a certain amount of practice. In my experience thinking subsides when I find myself letting go of all agendas, searching, striving after achievements of any kind and just BE. This point at which I just relax and allow myself to BE comes when I am humble enough to realize that it is not in my power as my limited self to step out of the stream of conditioned consciousness.
Then I let go of trying to reach stillness or a state devoid of thought and my deepest, most subtle efforting subsides. In that letting go of all effort on all levels something happens. It is also NOT that I let go, as a consciously engineered act, but it is a sort of raising the white flag of surrender: I give up! It is in a certain way a continual surrender of my adamance as the limited, local entity that I sometimes think I am. I sort of let that entity die, and then something often can happen that is not of thought and is of a completely different dimension than life in the stream of conditioned consciousness – life in the ‘world of words and concepts’.
This sutra speaks of the result in one’s experience when this state devoid of thought becomes more and more habitual. “…a mind devoid of any thought movement acquires by itself a proficiency, a new-born capacity to remain in this motionless state, without any effort. This results in a disposition of vulnerable felicity, which responds to everything, within and without, with an easy and beautiful gracefulness. It seeks nothing. It finds in this gracefulness the very vibration of Life, which it had never experienced before. There is now a graceful response to everything and reaction to nothing.” (The Authentic Yoga, P.Y. Deshpande, p. 68)
The capacity to remain in this motionless state without effort, according to the Yoga Sutras, has to do with an inner alignment with the quality of sthiti (inertia), one of the three-fold energies of the objective world. The other two being kriya (action) and prakasa (illumination). When one finds oneself aligned with the basic force of inertia, there is no thought movement of the mind and one remains in clear space devoid of thought forms. This can be felt as a void, and yet, as this sutra tells us, there is an “inward gracious felicity of disposition” that fills one with a warmth and compassion towards all forms of life, indeed a vulnerability towards all that surrounds one in life. There are, of course, perceptions of phenomena, but the thinking apparatus, as it were, is disengaged and so there is great equanimity and peace of mind. When functionality is called for, I find that a kind of innate intelligence rises to the occasion and I am able to function even more efficiently than in the conditioned state of consciousness.
In the following sentence from Authentic Yoga above: “There is now a graceful response to everything and reaction to nothing.” I put the words ‘reaction to nothing’ in bold. For me it is emotional reactivity that trips most of us up when we find that we have actually stepped out of the river of conditioned consciousness, by whatever means or grace. Therefore to sense this inward disposition to refrain from reacting in a given situation that otherwise would have triggered us is an immense revelation. It also points to the connection between the movements of thought and our emotional attachment which in turn results in emotional reactivity.
The most powerful factor that allows this state devoid of any movements of thought is, in my experience, seeing the fallacy in the belief that thoughts need to be heeded. Once we realize that thoughts are very often nothing more than swamp gas bubbles rising up from some primordial swamp in the sluggish waters of the river of conditioned consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, we are less and less likely to pay them any attention. We then come to the realization that Life is in no way dependent upon thoughts and that our personal life is indeed much more vital, fulfilled and satisfying the less we think.