III.8 तदपि बहिरङ्गं निर्बीजस्य

tad api bahir-aṅgam nirbījasya
tat api bahir-aṅgam nirbījasya

“But it is an outer limb compared to the seedless.”

A seed is a blueprint. It carries the DNA that will bring forth new life according to a form. Here, Patañjali says there is a state, a place, a mechanism, where the blueprint is gone–it is lost, destroyed, altered. Maybe we do not recognize this place. In mystical language, it is sometimes described as a cloud, as dark, though perhaps it might be equally said to be full of light, shining. The seedless state is confounding, a kind of death; it is also a place of rebirth.

The threefold practice of saṁyama, compared to this, is exterior–part of the world of familiar things, repeatable. Many commentators speak of the seedless state as an accomplishment, a conquest, a climax of the practice. I wonder if, instead, it is a calamity, one that most of us must encounter at some time or other in the course of life. It is the place of tremendous loss, of bafflement.

The poet and philosopher Bayo Akomolafe has declared that we are in a time of urgency, and in this urgent time, he says, it is important to slow down. He does not mean by this that we must reduce our speed, per se, nor that we do more yoga or become more inward (though he does not slight these pursuits). He means that we must become more relational. To explain, he uses the Yoruba idea of the Crossroads. In Yoruba tradition, the Crossroads is the marketplace–it is where we meet other beings, all kinds of embodied being, spirits, ancestors, monsters. There we encounter an undoing of ourselves:

We participate in a world that exceeds us. When we move our hands, we are moving with ancestors, we are moving with microbial worlds, we are moving with bacterial forms. To do anything, is to do with. …We don’t just witness the world, we withness the world. To see is to see with. Seeing is a political enterprise. Every gesture is haunted by that which is invisible. Which is why I think of the Covid-19 phenomenon as an insurgency of the invisible, an eruption of those things that resist articulation and intelligibility.

During Covid-19 and facing the worldwide climate crisis, we are experiencing a crumbling of norms; the expectations and assumptions of modern society are overthrown. We are come to the Crossroads. Akomolafe might say this is our opportunity. This is our chance to meet the things that defeat us. At the Crossroads, he says, we gain identity and we lose identity. We lose shape, so that we can gain new shapes.

To enter into the state of seedlessness, as Patañjali here describes it, is to let go of old forms. As we confront the predicament of our society, and of our society’s effect on the world, we might look at our idea of how we make change.

Our notion of power, says Akomolafe, is impoverished; it has been defined by modern life. There are ways of being that are another kind of power, a power based in relationship. The loss of identity, the loss of old forms, is a defeat that allows the new, allows us to shift to a less anthropocentric, less dominating and controlling relation to our world. We need, Bayo says, to ask new questions. We need “a practice of failure…but not the failure that modernity has taught us, the failure that makes everything possible.”*

We might ask ourselves, what forms are we shedding? what forms are we gaining?

…when I lean over the chasm of myself—
it seems
my God is dark
and like a web: a hundred roots
silently drinking.

This is the ferment I grow out of.

More I don’t know, because my branches
rest in deep silence, stirred only by the wind.

–Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, I.3, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy


Dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi, when expressed and defined, are outer compared to that which is seedless or unmanifest. But they are inner compared to the five outer instruments of Yoga. The experience of communion is not what is expressed in words. We have to remember that the description is not the described. The word samādhi is not the experience of samādhi. A name or a word is something outer compared to the actual experience. It is only like a finger pointing the way. The finger is not to be mistaken for the way…. The word is not the thing.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 289-91

“When we can play with the elements within our own bodies, with their renewal and disproportion and rebalancing, then we are aware of nature at a level that is not apprehendable in a normal way. It is supranatural, as normal consciousness is blind to it. We are discovering evolution through a journey of involution, like a salmon swimming back up the torrent from which he was born to spawn again….” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, pp. 206, 211

• Does practice help you experience beyond what you have words for? Are you more aware of the play of elements in you?
• How does your practice support you now?
• Are there ways that the crisis we are in is leading you to become more “relational”–to consider perspectives and experience not your own?
• How are you encountering the loss of this time? How are you engaging with change?








functions like an adjective in compound



neuter noun, 1st case singular

limb (from aṅg, “to walk, move about”)


masculine adjective, 6th case singular, “of”

seedless (nir-, “without,” + bījaḥ, “seed”)

*From Bayo Akomolafe, Yoruba Tradition and Post-Activism for Our Times and Gathering Around the Fire with Bayo Akomolafe. Also, see his website.

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