II.19 विशेषाविशेषलिङ्गमात्रालिङ्गानि गुणपर्वाणि

viśeṣāviśeṣa-liṅgamātrāliṅgāni guṇa-parvāṇi
viśeṣa-aviśeṣa-liṅgamātra-aliṅgāni guṇa-parvāṇi

“The levels of the guṇas [are]: distinct and non-distinct, manifest and unmanifest.”

What is beyond what we can perceive? What happens on a sub-atomic level of nature? Where does matter end and non-matter begin?  Where does the manifest meet the unmanifest?

For Patañjali, the guṇas are the forces that drive the visible world. As a yogi, Patañjali questions how far do they go. How deep is the perceivable?

Guṇa parvāṇi–the guṇas have stages, he says here. They are active to the finest levels of creation, even up to the level of the unmanifest. They are visible, and not-visible; differentiated, and not-differentiated. The terms he uses parallel the terms used in the Sāṅkhya Karika: viśeṣa-aviśeṣa-liṅgamātra-aliṅga. They could be defined as follows:

viśeṣa—what we perceive; the elements and the senses, gross objects
aviśeṣa—what is perceptible at a subtle level, including the sense of “I,” the intelligence, the mind
liṅga—the beginning of the movement of the guṇas, what is “marked” only; the beginning of the manifest
aliṅga—“unmarked”; the foundation of the world, the matrix, undifferentiated matter, germ of creation, the unmanifest

However, while sāṅkhya philosophy delves into a comprehensive discourse on the properties of each of these stages—which are considered evolutes, which original (see Light on the Yoga Sūtras, pp. 132-33, Table 9, for a diagram of these groupings)—it satisfies Patañjali’s purpose to say very little—in effect, he just says that there are stages.

Patañjali, as Georg Feuerstein emphasizes, has written a guide for the practitioner. His interest is the experience of the practitioner—to use Feuerstein’s words, the “experiment” of practice, not the “speculations” of the rational mind.

As an experimenter in yoga, do I tune into levels of nature beyond the visible? Am I coming to know my own psychology–the subtle energies (see I.44-45) that shape my behavior, the patterns of thought that predetermine my understanding? Does my sense of the stages of the manifest take me to the unmanifest? Where does it begin? Where does it end? Yoga tells me that it is, after all, in me. I am made of it.

Beings are such that their beginnings are unmanifest,
Their middles are manifest,
And their ends are unmanifest again.
What complaint can there be over this?
The Bhagavad Gītā II.28, translation by Winthrop Sargent


“The hierarchic arrangement of the cosmos suggests comparison with a pyramid. The key-stone at the very top of the pyramid represents the unitary world-ground, its base is the realm of the particularised material objects, and the layers of brickwork in between symbolise the various categories of psychomental life, that is, the ‘invisible’ or ‘spiritual’ dimension of the universe.” — Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 14

“This ontological scheme may seem strange and confused to the Western mind, especially with regard to the mixing of psychological with cosmological elements, but it must be remembered that these metaphysical constructions are the result of meditative experiences and that they were formulated some twenty centuries ago by persons who had little interest in expounding sterile intellectual systems. They were merely to serve as sign-posts for yogins who set out to discover the Self.” — Georg Feuerstein, The Essence of Yoga

• Does working with the “physically manifest” elements in practice—or releasing
them in śavāsana—bring awareness of levels that are other than that?
• Has yoga practice taught you more about subtle levels of your being? Have you come to know your own psychology better?
• Do you listen to yourself?
• What level of nature is the breath?


adjective in compound

distinct, particularized, discernible (from vi-, “separate,” + śiṣ, “to remain”)


adjective in compound

non-distinct, non-particularized, not discernible


 adjective in compound

marked only (from liṇg, “to paint,” + mātra, “only”)


neuter adjective, 1st case plural



masculine noun in compound

quality, constituent of nature (sattva, rajas and tamas)


neuter noun, 1st case plural

part, portion, level, stage (from parv, “to fill”)

One thought on “II.19 विशेषाविशेषलिङ्गमात्रालिङ्गानि गुणपर्वाणि

  1. Your questions are the best Julia. They are simple, to the point, and get the heart (and body) of the matter. I am more interested in these questions than the sutra itself. I know how that might sound…but it is true.

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