This is Roberto Assagioli’s introduction to the Italian edition of Alice Bailey’s book The Light of the Soul, which is a commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
Source: From the Italian edition; Introduzione agli Yoga Sutra, Translated by Gordon Symons.
(Archivio Assagioli – Florence)
In this time in which action is urgent, in which there is an immense work of reconstruction and renewal to be carried out, the publication of an essay entirely dedicated to the interior life, and, apparently, to detachment from the world may seem untimely.
But a deeper consideration will instead show how current this ancient Indian text is and how it is the true remedy for the present evils, how it can be learned to develop the qualities and energies necessary to perform the work before us effectively and truly constructively.
Anyone who objectively examines the tragic contemporary events, and in particular the two world wars, easily discovers what the essential causes have been: unbridled activism, the unfettered unleashing of individual and collective instincts and passions, and above all the insatiable craving for possession and dominion.
So, in order avoid repeating the earlier mistakes, to create a world order that avoids the danger of renewed competitions and struggles, of a third and even more terrible war, the only radical solution, the only sure way, is to learn to dominate those instincts and those passions. This does not mean suppressing them, but regulating them, channeling them, and, after properly purifying and transforming them, using them for constructive purposes.
Thus, not only will the deplored evils become impossible, but incalculable quantities of energy will be acquired and recovered to repair the material and moral ruins of the war and to create the desired New Era.
This work of domination and use of psychic forces is possible, as demonstrated by the example of those who have implemented it at all times and in all places and conditions, and also by certain great collective facts. It is now a matter of accomplishing it in the wisest and most effective way and on a global scale.
In other words, it is a matter of regulating and directing any external activity through enlightened and energetic inner action.
For the most part, when we talk about psychological and spiritual issues, we believe we are entering a theoretical, abstract, “out of reality” field; and so, inner and outer life, contemplation and action are opposed to each other. This is an error which indicates a profound misunderstanding, and which must be eliminated. It can be partially justified by the fact that in the past there were excesses of one-sidedness in the inner life, as now there are those in the outer life (however the former were nobler and much less harmful to humanity than the latter!).
But true and healthy interior life is no less active, (indeed it is more active, (in a higher and essential sense), than external life; and as such it is productive and fruitful. The one is not in conflict, much less incompatible, with the other; full perfect action is the result of the synthesis of both. In order to accomplish this, it is necessary to realize two facts that are easy to ascertain, but which are generally not recognized, and from which the obvious and necessary practical consequences are not drawn.
The first is the substantial reality of the inner world, of the world of passions, desires, feelings, ideas and spiritual forces.
Is a passion that devastates the soul of a man, that invades everything, that overwhelms every moral barrier, every restraint of reason and that breaks out in violent and destructive acts – for example in a murder or in a declaration of war – any less “real” as an existing force in the world, and with its concrete effects, than is a torrent in full flow that breaks the banks and floods the fields?
Is an idea that arises, takes root and develops in the mind of a Christopher Columbus, who owns and dominates it, who with his powerful dynamism moves to action, which is communicated to others and ends up leading to the discovery of an unknown continent, is this perhaps less “real”, does it have less important practical consequences than a handful of snow which, rolling down a slope, gradually moves more snow and forms an avalanche that plummets downwards and covers a village?
The second observation – the consequence and extension of the first – is that, if it is well observed, all human actions and the changes in external reality that result from them are effects of causes, of psychological motives.
Is not a house, (and all the physical actions necessary to build it) fundamentally determined by the desire for shelter, protection and comfort? Each architectural style expresses in a visible and tangible way the mentality, the concept of life, the sensitivity of an era. Many buildings then specifically reflect the soul of those who wanted them and those who conceived and imagined them. There are certain palaces, certain pretentious villas, laden with superstructures, which are the evident material projection of the pompous vanity and the insolent ostentation of the “new rich”. All of this can be formulated in the general law that every creation proceeds from the inside to the outside, from the invisible to the visible, from the idea, from the feeling and from the image to the material form.
If so, the problem of how to act righteously and effectively shifts and deepens; in fact it is necessary to go back to the sources, to the real motives of the external actions; and in order to do this, it is necessary to know and master the world of psychospiritual realities and energies.
Well, Yoga offers precisely the means to achieve this knowledge and this dominion.
YOGA derives from the root yug, which means to join, to unite, and therefore can be translated as the science of union – union between the human and the divine, between individual and universal consciousness, between the psyche and the Spirit.
The root yug also means union in the sense of domination, yoke, and therefore Yoga can also mean domination, discipline, the “yoking” of the lower elements of human nature by the higher ones and the transmutation of one into the other.
The methods by which this Yoga is carried out are different in nature, and according to those used, various types of Yoga have been distinguished.
The main ones are: Hatha Yoga, which uses physical means, such as certain body positions, special breathing exercises, etc. Karma Yoga, or Yoga of action, which teaches us to free ourselves from earthly ties and to achieve union with the Supreme through right activity in the world carried out with disinterest and inner detachment, through the perfect fulfillment of one’s duties, of those which are called the “duties of one’s state” – what Indians call “following one’s own dharma”.
Bhakti Yoga, or the Yoga of devotion to the Supreme Being, corresponds to the mystical way of every religion. Jnana Yoga, or the Yoga of wisdom, following which union is achieved with transcendental knowledge, enlightenment, obtained through the awakening of an organ of supra-rational knowledge: spiritual intuition.
All these Yoga methods are brought together and synthesized in Raja Yoga, or royal Yoga, which has been called the Royal Science of the Soul, and which is precisely that which is presented in the aphorisms translated here.
Little is known of their author Patanjali. According to different orientalists, the date of his birth varies from 820 to 300 BC, or even later; the Indians consider it more ancient.
But this is of little importance, because Patanjali simply coordinated and synthesized in his short sutras methods and teachings known and used since time immemorial in India, and which are mentioned in ancient texts such as the Upanishads. Readers will find in the pages that follow the faithful Italian version of an English translation of the original Sanskrit text, made by a competent Oriental Teacher.
That translation is not literal but – as you can see in the Introduction to the English edition – it is an attempt to give the true meaning of the sutras to Western readers in a clear and understandable language, which due to their great conciseness and their technical terminology are difficult and often obscure.
The extensive commentary on the sutras was written by Mrs. Alice A. Bailey, a profound scholar of Eastern and Western esotericism, and founder of an internal development school (The Arcane School) based on Raja Yoga methods.
The sutras are divided into four books, but it is a rather formal division; in fact, the discussion of the eight methods of Yoga begins towards the second half of the second Book and continues in the first part of the third.
A distinction – which is not absolute but practically useful above all for us Westerners – can be made between the four goals or stages of realization.
The first stage, which does not transcend the sphere of consciousness and life of the normal man, but which he rarely arrives at, can be called the achievement of self-control. In fact, the sutras teach, first of all, how sensitivity, passions, emotions, imagination (which together make up the “versatile psychic nature”) and the mind can be disciplined and mastered.
It is not necessary to insist on the value of such self-control. It gives man the power to avoid innumerable errors, blindness and blame, from which derive – as has been mentioned and as Patanjali also says (Book II, 34) – the greatest individual and collective evils; it allows him to eliminate the constant waste of physical and psychic energies that often make him ill and shorten his life; it gives him the precious gift of concentration, which is the essential element of efficiency in every field.
The second goal that can be reached by following the wise teachings and by practicing the effective methods of Yoga is awakening and spiritual realization. Patanjali shows man the way for man to get to “know himself as he is in reality” (I, 3), that is, a soul, a center of spiritual self-awareness.
This guides us to the discovery of the true self, pure spiritual essence, teaching how to eliminate the various physical and psychic, conscious and unconscious obstacles that stand in the way of its realization in human consciousness.
This union between soul and personality corresponds to what in modern language is called “spiritual psychosynthesis” or, in mystical terms, “regeneration” and “second birth”. It produces a true conversion or revolution in man, since his center of consciousness and interest is transferred from the small personal self to his real Being “made in the image and likeness of God”, to the “Spark of the Divine Flame” that he is “In spirit and in truth”.
The third goal – which however must not be considered to be subsequent to the second, but which is often pursued simultaneously and in parallel with this – can be called esoteric and consists in the acquisition of supernormal knowledge and powers.
Among these areas of knowledge, the most useful are those concerning the etheric body, its vital currents (prana), and its “centers of force”, called “loti” or “wheels” (chakras). According to esotericism, the physical body, made up of solid, liquid and air-like matter, is permeated and vivified by a “subtle body”, formed of etheric matter, of four different types and densities, that is, of “four ethers”. The Orientals, however, preceding in this the most recent conceptions of modern physics, believe that matter is a form of energy, and therefore consider the etheric body as actually constituted by currents of vital energy, emanating from various “centers”. Thus, they distinguish five vital currents, or prana, with different locations and functions, and Patanjali speaks explicitly of two of them. Patanjali (Book III, 39-40).
The pranas are related to the breath, and through suitable breathing exercises they can be regulated and directed. These exercises constitute the Fourth Method of Yoga, called pranayama (Book I, 34 and Book II, 49-50). But, as Bailey opportunely warns in her comment, these exercises, precisely because of their effectiveness, can have harmful and dangerous effects and must therefore be performed with great caution, and only after having put into practice the three previous Yoga Methods (the Commandments, the Rules and Posture), and preferably with the guidance and supervision of a competent instructor. There are seven “centers” or main chakras of the etheric body, and the seven methods indicated by Patanjali (Book I, 33-39) correspond to them to achieve “peace of chitta” (mental substance). The structure and qualities of the “centers” are briefly indicated in the commentary on sutra 36 of the first Book.
The supernormal powers enumerated by Patanjali and the methods for developing them indicated by him (Book III, 23 et seq.) may seem strange to the Western reader, all the more, given the symbolic language used. But in this case also, the scientific researches and the metapsychic experiments made by numerous investigators in the last decades have led to the discovery of most of the exceptional faculties indicated by Patanjali: levitation; the conscious exit from the physical body; psychometry; telepathy; premonition. Furthermore, in the biographies of many mystics, manifestations of almost all the same phenomena are reported. There is a difference, and it consists in the fact that while the phenomena of the “psychics” and “sensitives” generally occur spontaneously, they manifest themselves in special conditions (trance, hypnotic states) and often escape the control of the subjects, indeed they can also occur against their will, the powers of the yogis are instead conquered through the conscious use of certain methods based on esoteric knowledge.
Regarding these powers Patanjali gives two very wise teachings. In the first place, in the gradual series of Yoga methods, he precedes all the others with that which refers to the domain of personal passions and desires, that is, to ethical development. It includes five “commandments”, or yama, and according to Patanjali it constitutes the duty of all, in any condition or circumstance (Book II, 31). This is followed by the five “rules”, or niyama, the first of which prescribes internal and external purification (Book II, 32). Therefore, the principles are healthy, and the moral foundations on which – according to Patanjali – the subsequent psychospiritual developments must firmly rest.
It is obvious, in fact, to what serious dangers one could expose himself, and how badly he could harm himself and others, whoever came into possession of those powers without the necessary rectitude and purity of purpose.
But psychic powers, even if they are exercised harmlessly, or even beneficially, with the charm that they exercise, with the interest and attachment they arouse, with the presumption and pride that they generate, easily constitute obstacles, or at least diversions and delays on the way to the highest spiritual realization.
This righteous warning is given by Patanjali in sutra 37 of the third Book.
The fourth stage, the supreme goal, is the complete liberation of man from any bond of matter; it is the conquest of what in mystical language has been called “the holy freedom of the Sons of God”; it is conscious identification with Divine Life. As Patanjali says, “pure spiritual consciousness withdraws into the One”. (Book IV, 34).
What the state of consciousness experienced in this communion with the Supreme is, “is not possible to express in words”. Only those who achieve it can truly know. 
But one thing can be said, and it is appropriate to do it to prevent a misunderstanding that could easily lead to misunderstandings and unjust devaluations.
That liberation does not imply the abandonment of the external world and the cessation of all activity in the human field. Its true meaning is the release from all slavery imposed by matter, passions and mind, and therefore a complete dominion over matter, and freedom in matter.
The confirmation of this conception is given by the high example of those who, moved by deep compassion for the blindness and sufferings of men, propose to dedicate all of themselves, while traveling on the path of spiritual liberation, and after having conquered it, to the good of their fellow men. These purposes are found formulated in the noble “vows of the Bodhisattvas” (or “future Buddhas”) reported by various Eastern texts. Here are two of them:
May I, in this universe of the living, be the refuge … the salvation, the island of creatures … I adopt all creatures as mother, father, brothers, sisters and relatives. From now on I will practice with all my strength, for the happiness of creatures, generosity, righteousness, patience, heroism and meditation. (Bodhisattvapratimoksa).
Just as the elements – earth, water, fire and air – are in every way and without selfishness in the service of the innumerable creatures in the immensity of the world, so may I contribute to the life of every creature, until every creature is freed from pain and reaches nirvana. (Bodhicharyavatara).
Therefore, by practicing Yoga and aiming for inner conquests, freeing oneself from the “chains” of the world – far from being, as someone who had not understood called it, a form of “spiritual selfishness” (a contradiction in terms!) – is really the way to acquire the qualities necessary to help humanity more effectively. That in this hour of supreme need – but precisely therefore also of special opportunity – all those who hear the “call”, who truly love their brothers and feel the urge for compassion, shall, with a resolute will, free themselves to free others.
 This concept was widely demonstrated by E. Carpenter in his book The art of Creation (Rome, Voghera ed.).
 This Yoga is very well described in the Third Song from the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord’s Song, a philosophical poem pervaded by high spiritual wisdom whose study integrates that of the Yoga Sutras very appropriately.
 Many centuries before Janet and Freud, Patanjali had indicated with the word Sanskara the impressions, tendencies and complexes latent in the unconscious that condition and limit the life of man (see Book II, 13-15).
 Wider and more precise teachings on the chakras, their functions and ways to “awaken” and use them can be found in Powell’s book The Etheric Double (Milan, Alaya) and in the aforementioned volumes written or published by A. Bailey, especially in “The Soul and its Mechanism” and in “A Treatise on Cosmic Fire.”
 The literature on supernormal phenomena already has thousands of publications. For its importance and seriousness, I will limit myself to pointing out the work of Dr. E. Osty, La Connaissance Supranormale (Paris, Alcan). Numerous facts, news and bibliographical indications can be found in the collections of the magazines La Ricerca Psichica (Milan; formerly Luce e Ombra); La Revue Métapsychique Internationale (Paris); and in the new magazines Sciences of the Mystery (Rome), Le Vie dello Spirito (Rome), and Humanism (Rome).
 Some of those who have had – even imperfectly and temporarily, that experience have attempted to express it, or at least to indicate its “reflections” in human consciousness. Among them there is Dante himself, who, despite the affirmed ineffability, has managed in some of his inspired verses, to suggest with luminous symbols something of what he felt, as he came closer and closer, from one heaven to the next, to the “glory of Him who is the Mover of all ”, until he reaches His presence.
Many mystics have also attempted to convey in words the high mystery of their communion with God. Some of their most significant expressions have been collected and commented by E. Underhill in her extensive and valuable work Mysticism (London, Methuen). The characteristics of spiritual consciousness have been examined, on the basis of their own and others’ experiences, by various modern scholars including: Bucke (Cosmic Consciousness. Philadelpia, Innes, 1901); W. James (Varieties of Religious Experiences, London and New York, Macmillan. Italian translation: Religious consciousness. Turin, Mouth); W. Hall (Observed Illuminates, London, Daniels, 1926); P. Brunton (Secret India); Ouspensky (Tertium Organon and A New Model of the Universe); Van Der Leeuw (The Fire of Creation. Milan, Alaya).