II.23 स्वस्वामिशक्त्योः स्वरूपोपलब्धहेतुः संयोगः

sva-svāmi-śaktyoḥ svarūpopalabdhi-hetuḥ saṁyogaḥ
sva-svāmi-śaktyoḥ svarūpa-upalabdhi-hetuḥ saṁyogaḥ

“The conflation [of the seer and what is seen] is the cause of the [mis-]apprehension of the true nature of what is and the one who would possess it.”

This first part of Chapter Two has been about suffering, particularly psychological suffering (the kleśas, II.3), and Patañjali has declared that much of our pain (specifically, the pain “to be abandoned,” II.16) has to do with a conflation between what we think we see and what is real, between pure seeing and the concepts and categories that are the means by which we see (II.6, II.17).

The process of involution (II.10) awakens our inner felt sense of self and brings us to a clearer perception of the moving and transforming nature of things. As we do so, we come to know how beyond possession this world is.

I am a householder. I am married, have two adult children, a dog, a cat, a house. Yet in an ultimate way, I do not own my husband, not my children, and not my pets. My husband and my children–the pets too–change through time. They are not fixed entities. To see them truly, to be in loving relationship with them, I have to see that.

What of the house, the city lot that it stands on? The garden that I just planted this summer? Native American culture has long taught that land is a living entity as well, sacred. Persons do not own land but rather are in a relationship of blessing, obligation with it. Of course, the modern American economy is based on the accumulation of wealth, and land, by these lights, is considered one more thing to be owned, perhaps the most fundamental unit of capital.

How do ideas of ownership influence my view of myself, my purpose, my values? Sūtra II.23 asks us to consider ownership, or, as Rohit Mehta puts it, our “relationships of usage.” Sva-svāmin is a Sanskrit phrase meaning “the possessed and the possessor.” Sva is a resonant word; it is used to mean “one’s own,” “self,” or the essential part of something. Svāmin is formed by adding the suffix -min, which denotes possession (in exactly this way, -in is added to yogaḥ to form yogin, “one who possesses yoga”). So svāmin literally is “the one who possesses one’s self”; generally, it is translated owner or master.

Who owns me? Do I exist for the sake of another? Is my own being-ness sufficient unto itself?

Another fascinating phrase in this sūtra is svarūpa-upalabdhi. Labh is “to obtain, to get.” Upa-labh is “to perceive,” but there is a double meaning here, much as we say in English, “I get it” to express understanding. To form a concept, to think we know, is a kind of acquiring. Sva-rūpa (“form of the self,” “essential identity”) will always be beyond concept. We do not “own” sva-rūpa.

To be a yogin or yogini (masculine and feminine, respectively, for “one who possesses yoga”) is to be a renunciate of fixed concepts. It is to seek out, with the heart, the sacred living spirit.

Recently, a friend recommended to me Mohsin Hamid’s novel Exit West. It is a powerful book, and I am still feeling its effects. It is the story of a couple who migrates and of a global culture transformed by migration. It is disturbing but also inspiring. It has led me to question my own assumptions of possession. We may think we own things. But we don’t.

She had always had carp in a mossy pond in the back of her house, carp that her granddaughter called goldfish, and she had known the names of almost everyone on her street, and most had been there a long time, they were old California, from families that were California families, but over the years they had changed more and more rapidly, and now she knew none of them, and saw no reason to make the effort, for people bought and sold houses the way they bought and sold stocks, and every year someone was moving out and someone was moving in, and now all these doors from who knows where were opening, and all sorts of strange people were around, people who looked more at home than she was, even the homeless ones who spoke no English, more at home maybe because they were younger, and when she went out it seemed to her that she too had migrated, that everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it.

We are all migrants through time.

–Mohsin Hamid, Exit West (Riverhead Books, copyright 2017)


“The potential for objective vision is always present in us. But, being too involved in ourselves, we clutter it with our subjective views. Our projections, emotions, and sentiments lead us astray. This imperfect condition has a positive aspect. It pushes us to evolve with greater lucidity toward correct action and awareness of the two entities and their respective roles. This aphorism emphasizes that through our mistakes, we make progress.” —Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on II.23

“The relationship of usage is motivated by the desire for possession. But before one can possess the other, one must possess oneself. But can Self be possessed? Then what is it one possesses? Surely one can possess only one’s image and it is this image that one regards as oneself. This is asmita in its true sense.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga the Art of Integration, p. 134

• Has yoga affected the “relationships of usage” in your life?
• Do you feel enough in yourself?
• What do you feel you own? Do you feel you are owned?
• Are you able to learn about yourself from how others respond to you?


pronoun in compound

one’s own, one’s self


noun in compound

owner (from sva + -min, “having that”)


feminine noun, 6th case dual, “of”

power (from śak, “to be able)


noun in compound

essence, true identity


masculine noun in compound

perception, understanding, getting  (upa- , “near,”+ labh, “to obtain”)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

cause (from hi, “to incite”)



masculine noun, 1st case singular
union (from sam-, “together,” “all,” “same,” + yuj, “to join”)


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