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The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - Book 1 - The Problem of Union
30. The obstacles to soul cognition are bodily disability, mental inertia, wrong questioning, carelessness, laziness, lack of dispassion, erroneous perception, inability to achieve concentration, failure to hold the meditative attitude when achieved.

Obstacle I - Bodily Disability

It is interesting to note that the first obstacle has relation to the physical body. Aspirants would do well to remember this and should seek to adjust the physical vehicle to the demands later to be made upon it. These adjustments will be great and they fall into four groups:

  1. The rendering of the body immune to the attacks of disease or indisposition. This is in itself a triple process involving:
    1. The eradication of present disease,
    2. The refining and the purifying of the body so as to rebuild it eventually,
    3. The protection of the body from future attack and its utilization as a vehicle of the soul.
  2. The strengthening and refining of the etheric body in order that it may be finally tuned up so that the work of force direction may be safely undertaken. The disciple has to pass the forces used in his work through his body.
  3. The unfoldment and awakening of the centers in the etheric body, the centralization of the fires of the body and their just progression up the [63] spine, in order to make union with the fire of the soul.
  4. The coordination of the physical body in its two divisions and its subsequent alignment with the soul via the sutratma or the thread, which is the magnetic link.

The third adjustment spoken of can only safely be undertaken after the first three means of yoga have been used and developed. These are:

  1. The five commandments, (See: Book II Sutras 28 and 29.)
  2. The five rules, (See: Book II Sutras 32 to 46.)
  3. Right poise. (See: Book II Sutras 46 to 48.)

This is a point often forgotten by aspirants to yoga, and hence the disasters and trouble so often seen amongst those who prematurely occupy themselves with the awakening of the centers and the arousing of the serpent fire. Only when the entire relation of the aspirant to the social economy (as dealt with in the commandments), only when the task of purifying and regulating the threefold lower nature has been worked at (as outlined in the rules), and only as a balanced and controlled condition of the emotional nature has been brought about and right poise achieved, can the aspirant to Raja Yoga safely proceed to the more esoteric and occult work connected with the fires of his little system. This point cannot be too strongly emphasized. Only at a very advanced stage of discipleship will it be safe for the man to deal consciously with the vital fires and direct [64] their right progression up the spine. Few there are as yet who have "kept the law and the commandments."

Obstacle II - Mental Inertia

The next great basic obstacle (for these obstacles are given in the order of their relative power over average man) is inability to think clearly about the problem of attainment. Unless clear thinking precedes action, insufficient momentum will be found coupled with failure to appreciate the magnitude of the problem. Mental inertia is due to the lethargic condition of the "vesture of consciousness" which we call the mental body and to the heavy rate of rhythm found in most people. That is the reason why Raja Yoga necessarily makes a greater appeal to mental types than to pure devotees, and it accounts for the fact that those whose mental bodies are well equipped and actively used can more quickly be trained in this sacred science. For the majority of people, the awakening of the mental body, the development of an intellectual interest, and the substitution of mind control in place of control by the emotions has to precede any later realization of the need of soul culture. The apparatus of thought must be contacted and used before the nature of the thinker can be intelligently appreciated.

When this is realized, the contribution to human development by the great schools of thought we call Mental Science, Christian Science, New Thought and other groups which lay the emphasis upon the mental states will be more justly [65] appraised. The human family is only now becoming aware of the "vesture of consciousness" which we call the mental body.

The majority of men have as yet to build that vesture which occult students call the mental body. From among those who are so doing, the true raja yogins will be gathered.

Obstacle III - Wrong Questioning

This is the next stage and is also dependent upon a certain amount of mental development. Some translators call this 'doubt.' This wrong questioning is that which is based upon lower perception and the identification of the real man with that illusory instrument, his mental body. This leads him to question the eternal verities, to doubt the existence of the fundamental realities and to seek for the solution of his problems in that which is ephemeral and transitory, and in the things of the senses.

There is a questioning which is right and proper. It is that "asking of questions" spoken of by the Christ in the words "Ask and ye shall receive." This faculty of enquiry is deliberately cultivated in their disciples by all true Masters in the Orient. They are taught to formulate questions about the inner realities and then to find the answer for themselves through a search for that source of all knowledge, latent at the heart of all beings. To ask intelligently and to find the answer, they must first free themselves from all outer imposed authority and from all tradition and from the imposition of every theological [66] dogma, whether religious or scientific. Only thus can the reality be found and the truth be seen.

"When thy Soul shall pass beyond the forest of delusion, thou shalt no more regard what shall be taught, or what has been taught.

When withdrawn from traditional teaching thy Soul shall stand steadfast, firm in soul-vision, then thou shalt gain union with the Soul." Gita II.51.52.

Obstacle IV - Carelessness

The attitude of mind dealt with here has been translated by some as "light-mindedness." It is really that versatile mental attitude which makes one-pointedness and attention so difficult to achieve. It is literally the thought-form-making tendency of the mind stuff which has also been described as the "mind's tendency to flit from one object to another." See Book III Sutra 11.

Obstacle V - Laziness

All the commentators agree as to this translation, employing the terms, sloth, languor or laziness. This refers not so much to mental inertia (for it may accompany acute mental perception) as to that slothfulness of the entire lower man which prevents him from measuring up to the intellectual recognition and the inner aspiration. The aspirant has been told what he has to do, the "means of yoga" have been clear to him. He has glimpsed the ideal and is aware of the obstacles; he knows theoretically just what steps he has to take but there is no correspondence between his activity and his knowledge. There is a gap between his aspiration and his performance. [67] Though he longs to achieve and to know, it is too hard work to fulfil the conditions. His will is not yet strong enough to force him forwards. He permits time to slip by and does nothing.

Obstacle VI - Lack of dispassion

This has been well translated by some as "addiction to objects." This is the desire for material and sensuous things. It is love of sense perceptions and attraction for all that brings a man back again and again into the condition of physical plane existence. The disciple has to cultivate "dispassion" or that attitude which never identifies itself with forms of any kind, but which is ever detached and aloof, freed from limitations imposed by possessions and belongings. This is covered in many places in the various sutras and need not be enlarged upon here.

Obstacle VII - Erroneous perception

This inability to perceive correctly and to vision things as they really are, is the natural outcome of the six previous obstacles. As long as the thinker identifies himself with form, as long as the lesser lives of the lower vestures of consciousness can hold him in thrall, and as long as he refuses to separate himself from the material aspect, just so long will his perceptions remain erroneous. Vision is of various kinds and these might be enumerated as follows:

  1. Physical vision reveals the nature of the physical plane, and is achieved through the medium of the eyes, photographing through the lens of the eye, the aspect of the tangible form, upon [68] the wonderful film which every man possesses. It is circumscribed and limited.
  2. Etheric vision. This is a rapidly developing faculty of the human eye which ultimately will reveal the health aura of all forms in the four kingdoms of nature, which will bring about recognition of the vital pranic emanations of all living centers and will make manifest the conditions of the centers.
  3. Clairvoyance. This is the faculty of sight upon the astral plane and is one of the lower "siddhis" or psychic powers. It is achieved through a surface sensibility of the entire "body of feeling," the emotional sheath, and is sensuous perception carried to a very advanced condition. It is misleading and, apart from its higher correspondence, which is spiritual perception, is the very apotheosis of maya or illusion.
  4. Symbolic vision. This is a faculty of the mental body and the factor which produces the seeing of colors, of geometrical symbols, fourth dimensional sight, and those dreams and visions which are the result of mental activity, and not of astral sight. Frequently these visions have a quality of prevision.
  5. These four types of vision are the cause of wrong perception and will only produce illusion and error until that time when the higher forms of vision, enumerated below, supersede them. These higher forms of sight include the others.

  6. Pure vision. This is spoken of by Patanjali in the words:

    "The seer is pure Knowledge (gnosis). Though [69] pure, he looks upon the presented idea through the medium of the mind." (Book II, Sutra 20.)

    The words "pure knowledge" have been translated "pure vision." This vision is the faculty of the soul which is pure knowledge, and is manifest when the soul uses the mind as its instrument of vision. Charles Johnston translates the same Sutra as follows:

    "The seer is pure vision... He looks out through the vesture of the mind."

    It is that clear apprehension of knowledge and a perfect comprehension of the things of the soul which is characteristic of the man who - through concentration and meditation - has achieved mind control. The mind then becomes the window of the soul, and through it the spiritual man can look out onto a new and higher realm of knowledge. Simultaneously with the development of this type of vision, the pineal gland becomes active, and the third eye (in etheric matter) develops with a paralleling activity.

  7. Spiritual vision or true perception. This type of vision opens up the world of the intuitional or buddhic plane, and takes its possessor beyond the abstract levels of the mental plane. The things of pure spirit, and the basic purposes underlying all manifestation are thus realized just as pure vision permitted its owner to tap the resources of pure wisdom. With the development of this vision the alta major center becomes active, and the thousand-petalled lotus unfolded.
  8. Cosmic sight. This is of a nature inconceivable to man and characterizes the realization of those Existences Who manifest through the [70] medium of a planetary scheme in a solar system just as a man manifests through his bodies.

By the study of these types of perception, the student will arrive at a just appreciation of the work he has to do. He is thus aided to place himself where he at present stands, and consequently to prepare intelligently for the next step forward.

Obstacle VIII - Inability to achieve Concentration

The two last obstacles indicate the way whereby "old things can pass away" and the new man come into his heritage. The method of the disciple must not only include self-discipline or the subjugation of the vestures or sheaths, nor must it only include service or identification with group consciousness, but it must also include the two stages of concentration, focusing or control of the mind, and meditation, the steady process of pondering upon what the soul has contacted and knows. These two will later be dealt with and will not be further touched upon here.

Obstacle IX - Failure to hold the Meditative Attitude

It will be apparent therefore that the first six obstacles deal with wrong conditions and the last three with the results of those conditions. They contain a hint as to the method whereby liberation from the wrong states of consciousness can be effected.

The next sutra is most interesting as it deals with the effects produced in each of the four bodies [71] of the lower nature. in the case of the man who has not overcome the obstacles.

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