Sutra 3.18: samskara saksat karanat purva jati jnanam
By bringing [previous] samskaras into direct perception comes the knowledge of previous births. Translation by Edwin Bryant
By bringing roots or causes into direct observation there comes knowledge of lives as they have been lived before. Translation by Kofi Busia
Once upon a time, people didn’t know why there were patterns in the stars, so they made up stories to explain them. Their stories carried weight as truth until people developed more thorough and precise methods of observation, which enabled the development of mathematically verifiable explanations. We went from knowing the universe through our five senses to beginning to know the universe and ourselves through math and science.
When we use science to explore how and why something is the way it is, we hopefully only announce it when we get it right –and until then, admit to our ignorance.
Just like science asks us all to be patient with our knowledge, yoga requires you to be patient with your practice. When you begin to practice yoga, most likely you operate for a while using information given to you. And while you’re testing it out, there’s a fair amount of trusting what your teachers told you. Eventually, though, you get to a place in your practice where all of your yoga knowledge comes through your own direct experience.
Sutra 3.18 describes what happens when you move beyond assumption of truth into a thorough knowledge – of not only the present but also the past.
Knowing our past –whether you think of it as past lives or past form or something else– helps us make sense of the present. Evolution may not have been a familiar concept for the yogis of Patanjali’s time and earlier, but sutra 3.18 indicates clearly that they had an idea that our past could be uncovered.
That’s the beauty of our structure and the structure of the creatures and forms who inhabit earth and space: they share principles that make evident a deep connection –indeed an unbroken line– to the past. That clear connection becomes a way to also know yourself through direct experience. Whether or not this also empowers us to know our future as sutra 3.18 suggests, only time will tell!
Hari om tat sat!
Experience your true self and bring it into every moment of your living!
The Yoga Sutras are a classical text on yoga–a guidebook of sorts.
Each week, 216 teacher Esther Palmer dives into one of the sutras and we let it take us where it takes us.