The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are divided into four sections. The first three discuss contemplation, spiritual disciplines, and the divine powers yogis can achieve with practice. The fourth section is about evolution as a yogi, which begins with spiritual insights.
You’ve likely learned or read about evolution as a scientific principle. But what is evolution as a yogic principle? Simply, it’s the journey from the ego (the small self) to divine nature (the true Self, with a capital “S”). To evolve as yogis, we need to understand ourselves as spiritual beings.
So far, the sutras have shown us that our thoughts guide our behavior. If we practice yoga for a long time, we learn to control our thoughts. As a result, our behavior changes. We become more powerful and able to do things some would consider almost supernatural.
These new actions guide the process of change. As we turn to the fourth section of the sutras, we find that we didn’t necessarily begin this work recently. In fact, we were possibly doing it in other lifetimes.
Siddhis are born of practices performed in previous births, or by herbs, mantra repetition, asceticism, or samadhi. (sutra 4.1)
What are Siddhis?
Siddhis are spiritual insights, and they come from a variety of sources. We may acquire them in past lives, by taking herbs, by chanting mantras, by living as ascetics, or by union with God.
Since we can’t concern ourselves with past or future lifetimes now, let’s look at some of the sources we can turn to in this lifetime to acquire spiritual insights.
- Use of herbs. I won’t go into the use of herbs, simply because using herbs for spiritual purposes requires guidance from someone qualified in this area. Suffice it to say that people have always used chemicals (in both healthy and unhealthy ways) to achieve higher states of consciousness.
- Mantra repetition. Mantras and chants are forms of prayer, and prayer is communication with a higher power. So, it’s reasonable to think we can gain spiritual insights through mantra repetitions.
- Asceticism. There’s a lot of debate over the value of asceticism when seeking spiritual insight. Some religious communities appear to go to extremes of self-denial that may not be healthy or useful. However, once you have a glimpse of your true nature, you will probably feel less attached to material and physical pleasure. In that sense, there’s a direct connection between asceticism and spiritual insight.
- Samadhi. The depth and stillness that comes from union with the divine is samadhi. In this state, we open ourselves to an abundance of spiritual insight. If you recall, samadhi is the eighth limb of yoga. We reach it via the other practices: the yamas, the niyamas, physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation.
Spiritual Insights are Not the Goal
We need to keep in mind, though, that spiritual insights are not the goal of yoga. Yoga is union. We practice so that we will become one. The path becomes clearer, though, with the help of a spiritual practice and the insights we gain when we commit to that practice!