III.13 एतेन भूतेन्द्रियेषु धर्मलक्षणावस्थापरिणामा व्याख्याताः

etena bhūtendriyeṣu dharma-lakṣaṇāvasthā-pariṇāmā vyākhyātāḥ
etena bhūta-indriyeṣu dharma-lakṣaṇa-avasthā-pariṇāmāḥ vyākhyātāḥ

“By this, the transformations of the body and the senses are explained. These transformations are significant in relation to one’s role in life, one’s age, and the circumstances one endures.”

In her prophetic science fiction novel Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler speaks of “shaping change.” Apparent stability will disintegrate, she says, and a living world will demand more of us–more attention, more patience, more adaptability.

How does yoga practice prepare us to adapt? In sūtras III.9-12, Patañjali has described the transformation of citta (consciousness/mind). He has said that the practice brings a peaceful flow to awareness (III.10), that discernment of value rises (III.11), and that equanimity and acceptance become more established (III.12).  In today’s sūtra, he emphasizes how thorough these changes are and how far they extend through the whole being.

Citta is in and of the body. Yoga as a method begins with a focus on the body. The practitioner comes to know mind through the body. Indeed, body is citta, and citta is body. By what has just been described (etena), says Patañjali, you can understand (vyākhyātāḥ) transformation of the body (bhūta, specifically, the material elements of the body) and its nervous system (indriya, the sense organs, the apparatus of our sensing, thinking, feeling).

Much traditional commentary on this sūtra reflects on the nature of change in a large, philosophical sense. The terms dharma-lakṣaṇa-avasthā are taken to refer to the three axes of change: form, time, and circumstance. In my translation, I have focused on the change in the human being, and so have translated the terms as one’s role (dharma), one’s age (lakṣaṇa), and one’s circumstance (avasthā). None of us control these three aspects of our lives. To some extent, we must submit to them. Yet yoga can support us in moving with them and through them. Yoga can help us come unstuck.

Isabel Wilkerson, in the recently published Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, has written a masterful examination of our racially constructed society. The framework of the country’s founding affects us all today. We assume hierarchical roles–based on race–and may have little awareness of how artificial this construct is. We accept inequity, injustice and cruelty because it is baked into our system.

Day after day, the curtain rises on a stage of epic proportions, one that has been running for centuries. The actors wear the costumes of their predecessors and inhabit the roles assigned to them. The people in these roles are not the characters they play, but they have played the roles long enough to incorporate the roles into their very being, to merge the assignment with their inner selves and how they are seen in the world. … We are all players on a stage that was built long before our ancestors arrived in this land. We are the latest cast in a long-running drama that premiered on this soil in the early seventeenth century. … It was in the making of the New World that Europeans became white, Africans black, and everyone else yellow, red, or brown. It was in the making of the New World that humans were set apart on the basis of what they looked like, identified solely in contrast to one another, and ranked to form a caste system based on a new concept called race. It was in the process of ranking that we were all cast into assigned roles to meet the needs of the larger production. None of us are ourselves.  –Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, pp. 40-53

The roles we have been assigned are not immutable. If we are willing to see them for what they are, we have a better shot at imagining new possibility.

Are we working, in our practices, toward flexibility and adaptability? Does the peaceful flow of practice extend out through our nervous systems to our society? Does a deep knowledge of our connectedness inform our actions? Does our yoga practice prepare us to adapt?


“The range of influence exercised by this transformation is expressed in the above sūtra by bhūta and indriya. Now bhūta represents the basic structure of things, for the five elements are the very foundation of the material world. Similarly indriya or the senses represent the functional base of all activities. …. The impact of the new mind is such that the entire being of [a person] in the whole gamut of [his/her] expressional range undergoes a fundamental change.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on III.13

“With appearances, everything changes. The paper I am reading was once a tree and one day will be recycled or burned. My gold ring was once ore in the soil. What will it become in the hands of my great grandchildren? It is the same with our physical forms and psyches, which change constantly within the fields of our potentials. Three successive specific states have been presented [in sūtras III.9-12]: the transformations toward stability, contemplation, and one-pointedness…. Such changes appear in one’s body and in one’s relationship with the surroundings. In this way, health and physical form and possibilities evolve along with the way one perceives the world, acts, thinks, and behaves.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.13

• Have your body, your attitudes, or your relationships changed [since beginning yoga]?
• What roles have you assumed in your lifetime? What roles have you left behind?
• How are you aging? What aspects of your aging might you pay more attention to, be more respectful of? What aspects might you shape?
• How do you respond to adversity?


masculine or neuter pronoun, 3rd case singular, “by”

by this


neuter noun in compound
element, that which exists (from bhū, “to be”)


neuter noun, 7th case plural,”in”
organ of sense (from Indra, name of lord of the atmosphere,  + –ya, suffix that designates belonging)

masculine noun in compound

nature, character, essential quality (from dhṛ, “to hold”); also expresses what is one’s particular virtue,  responsibility, or purpose
neuter noun in compound
attribute, quality, potential change (from lakṣ, “to observe, define, or mark”)

feminine noun in compound

condition, circumstance (from ava-, “apart” + sthā, “to stand”)


masculine noun, 1st case plural

transformation, change (from pari-, “around,” + nam, “to bend”)


masculine past passive participle, 1st case plural

explained (from vi-, “distinct,” + ā, “fully,” + khyā, “to name”)


One thought on “III.13 एतेन भूतेन्द्रियेषु धर्मलक्षणावस्थापरिणामा व्याख्याताः

  1. I have been studying you blog as a make my way through the sutras, it has been very very helpful, thank you! I am a bit perplexed on this:
    These transformations are significant in property (dharma), character (lakshana) and condition (avastha).
    Your interpretation has the laksana and avastha are switched, from what I can tell upon further research.
    Dharma- our blueprint. Laksana- life factors. Avastha- timing.
    Any direction would be most helpful! Thank you!

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