Pata≤jali refers to the word dharma directly on five occasions and indirectly on at least two. On the first three instances the word dharma is associated with the transformative qualities of the mind and on the forth occasion it has to do with the inmost subtle contents of physical objects. The final reference to the word dharma is employed as dharma-megha samådhi (the cloud of virtue state), an indicative term that is also equivalent with the highest state of viveka (discrimination) praj≤å (wisdom) and prasa≤khyåna (meditative wisdom).
The first indirect reference to the dharma is found in association with the word ®ta (superior truth). Close to the end of the first chapter, after introducing the concept of samåpatti (internal absorption) and the subsequent four stages of higher awareness Pata≤jali claims that ‘the wisdom/knowledge born (of this highest state) is supported by ®ta (divine truth)’. In the Vedas this word is normally indicating the harmony of the cosmos and the foundation of truth. It is later expanded upon in the Upanißad and often coupled with satya (relative truth) to indicate a greater truth that stands above time. In the Vedas this world is also associated with dharma and ‘denotes a proper conduct based on truth, which in itself is dharma’. Here Pata≤jali uses the word to indicate the highest awareness of what is true and the wisdom that is produced when one has attain such a state. Vyåsa further explains that such a state ‘retains and sustains truth alone with no trace of misconception’ (satyam eva vibhartti na tatra viparyåsandho’ pyastîti). To perfect this highest state of yoga the commentators suggests to study the Ωåstras, develop a clear deduction and practice higher states of meditation (ågamena-anumånena-dhyånåbhyåsarasena ca). For a traditional follower of the Indian tradition, dharma is here implicit in every step of the way. Dharma is supposed to be the support of the scriptural sources that communicate the higher truths. It is falling in line with the teachings of dharma and applying these principles in daily life, which is supposed to bring the mind to greater clarity and insight. And finally when the senses of perception have been purified the knowledge that appears is the superior truth. This is quite in line with Pata≤jali’s reference to the highest state of meditative awareness expressed as: ®tambharå tatra praj≤å where the insight gives birth to truth-bearing wisdom.
The first direct reference to the word dharma is found in the 3rd chapter. Here in two subsequent verses (v. 12-13) prior to Pata≤jali’s reference to the numerous siddhis (perfections) that may come about in the higher stages of yoga the word dharma is used. An important point is that these siddhis may be the direct results for one who has mastered the combined practice of samyama (self-control) and the application of this within the mind. These are brought about by subtle transformations (pariñåmas) that takes place within the mind when the practitioner has learnt to master his prak®ti constitutions and then directly can influence these. However, this is first considered attainable once the practitioner has gone through the stages of refining the mind in the three stages of nirodha-pariñåma, samå∂hi-pariñåma and ekågrata-pariñåma. These three stages may be paraphrased as follows: The first is the practice of refining ones operating saµskåras (subliminal patterns) by first constructing new ones built on nirodha (restraint). The second is the developing of a higher insightful concentration through the centering experience ofsamådhi (harmonious insight). Then finally a deeper more penetrative perception may arise called ekågratå (one-pointedness).
When Pata≤jali therefore finally applies the term dharma in YS 3:13 it is indicative of the specific inherent characteristics or attributes situated within an individual that has refined themselves to their fullest potential. The word dharma is here employed in a compound together with lakßaña and avasthå (temporal character and condition), and they signify the numerous transformations that take place in the organs, senses and the mind. The subtle positive mutations (pariñåmas)brought about within the mind of a practitioner are thus the foundation for building new healthy patterns within the mind. This may suppress fluctuating tendencies and build solid patterns ofnirodhathat may awaken the qualities of samådhi and ekågratå. Dharma is here the key concept to indicate the actual underlying qualities and attributes within the mind, but also perhaps the gravitational pull that help to shape them?
One may wonder what is this subtle alteration that is taking place within the mind? Vyåsa also asks this question:ko’ yam pariñåma˙,‘what is this transformation?’ The commentary to follow is the longest and most extensive within the Yoga Sütras, but eventually he concludes:avasthitasya dravyasya pürva-dharma-niv®ttau dharma-antarotpatti˙ pariñåma˙. ‘It is the manifestation of another characteristic (dharma) on the disappearance of the previous characteristic (dharma) of a substance which remains constant’.
Here the word dharma signifies the actual attribute of an underlying essence that may potentially change its attributes for the better. This is also the purpose of kriyåyoga and aß†å÷ga yoga where the disturbing kleΩas (afflictions) are subdued through practice in favor of the more healthy/positive patterns that may arise, more conducing to a integrated experience of yoga. For this to happen one would assume that certain principles are in place and the practitioner has the skills, tools and applications to navigate between the numerous fluctuations of the mind and find a genuine support in something that is steady. This was the purpose of the Buddhas teaching as well as the dharma-Ωåstra tradition that most probably developed in the post Buddhist period. Both schools tried to articulate the inmost support of man and give advice on what are the appropriate actions to be followed in order to integrate a genuine experience of this. Perhaps this was also what Pata≤jali (and Vyåsa) had in mind when he employed dharma as the first causal word that brings about the higher subtle transformations within the mind? Perhaps in order to indicate the subtle changes a person need to go through according to aptitude, condition, time and place, but with the overall goal of reaching something steady.
One would assume that the characteristics (here dharma) of any object presuppose a substratum. If there were no center of gravity or certain applicable laws that would govern the inmost nature of an object, things would transform ad infinitum or eventually digress or deteriorate into unrecognizable qualities. This is also the subject of Pata÷jali’s next sütra where he verifies the dharmin, the underlying principle of subtle matter that knows/upholds its intricate laws and is well established in them:
såntoditå-avyapadesya-dharma-anupåtî dharmî|| 3.14 || ‘The substratum(dharmin)is that which follows the characteristics (dharma) of past, present and future.’
Here the word dharminreferrers to a bearer of some particular attributes and peculiarities that which does not change - although the visible characteristics of it may change according to time, place and circumstances - its underlying nature will remain the same. For example, one may have various ornaments made of gold. If one were to melt all the ornaments, the essence would still remain the same, gold. Dharminis thus the embodiment or substratum from which specific things, according to their particular disposition evolve. Although the visible characteristics (dharma) may change, the underlying essence will remain the same. In Vyåsas commentary on this verse he says in the first sentence: yogyatåvac-chinnå dharmañi˙ Ωaktir-eva dharma˙‘Dharma (characteristic) is the inherent capability of an object particularized by its functioning.’ Prior to the Yoga Sütras this view was taken to an extreme in the Upanißads where dharma was the underlying subtle fabric that consecrated creation, the very life-force (pråña)of Brahman, which made the sun rise and kept everything in proper order and place. The ruling power of kings, the inner sweetness of men and that which gave human beings an identity with something greater than themselves. Dharma was that which supported the highest teachings and that which enabled men to conquer any difficulties through righteous behavior. It is hardly unlikely that Pata≤jali would take an opposite view in this matter.
Within nature there are numerous species of minerals, plants, vegetables and animals. They have their own characteristics, process of alterations and stipulations in time. According to the sat-kårya vådatheory of Sa÷khya and Yoga, whatever is a product of existence is an effect present in its cause. All manifest reality (subtle and gross) is thus the transformation of its underlying cause, which is here defined to be the guñas of prak®ti. How they evolve, develop and bring about various transformations is dependent upon intricate laws within the patterns of nature. Bhoja Råja therefore declares: ‘everything is essentially a temporarily manifestation (dharma) of Prak®ti.’ From this perspective, ultimately there is no difference between a lump of gold and a stone’. According to this theory, the essence of matter, or anything that may be perceived isprak®ti. However, the characteristics (here dharma) of it may change, but ultimately those very same characteristics are the object of focus, medium and integration that may lead to the inmost support of what holds them together; the dharmin.
If everything within nature equally(prak®ti)exists within potential form, understanding the subtlest patterns of nature may then provide insights into how the laws and transformations are taking place. On a gross level how the various elements composite our reality and on the inmost subtle level, how the three guñas are actually operating and cause the incessant change, which governs the visible universe in name and form. If the normal conditions that historically or naturally operate on any conventional matter would suddenly be transcended, due to higher yogic insights into the subtle intricate laws of nature. That very matter could potentially transform according to the insight and influence of a person well familiar with the operating laws of nature.
One may wonder why Pata≤jali lists all the 31 different supernatural perfections (siddhis)if he had no greater reason behind it? He states specifically that all of these perfections are distractions to the introspective mind because they are born of the three guñasand a cause for further entanglements and identifications. The highest process of yoga according to Pata≤jali is not about gaining anything, but rather understanding the subtle patterns that govern the citta and then dissolving them until purußa is no longer miss-identified to be something that it is not. If the varioussiddhis Pata≤jali refers to are indicatives of the great transformative powers that may come about the interesting question for a true seeker of yoga is not how, but why. Pata÷jali’s reasons for listing thesesiddhis were certainly not to entrap the practitioner, and counter the main proposition of his teachings. Perhaps it was just a road map to indicate the subtle changes that may come about if one learns to master, refine and gain control over onesprak®ti constitution. What is further noteworthy of teachings of Pata≤jali is that there are no commands, no strict rules or dogmas that must be followed at all times. He rather points out certain principles that ought to be followed and observed for greater awareness to arise. This is the insightful key that opens the door into a transformational higher consciousness that perhaps also unlocks a greater awareness of the governing laws and attributes constituent in matter, subtle and gross.
After the two direct references to dharma in YS 3:13-14 Pata÷jali refers to it indirectly in the following sütra when he says: kramånyatvam pariñåmånyatve hetu˙‘the change in the sequence [of dharma, characteristics] is the cause of the transformations [of objects]. Here the particular change of sequence or pattern(krama) in ones meditative awareness of the subtle attributes (dharma) of the mind, is what will eventually transform the mind, build more sattvic qualities and elevate the subtle patterns of the mind into a more distinguished way of seeing.
Naturally it is impossible to see the momentary changes taking place within in the mind. However, according to Vyåßa, it is possible to witness the effect of them over time. Vyåsa concludes his commentary on this sütra by stating that ‘the subconscious characteristic patterns of the mind are seven in number and their existence is established by inference’. On the highest level there is a complete stoppage of mental fluctuations through the proper practice ofnirodha (restraint). What is noteworthy to observe is that the underlying support ofnirodha is dharma and perhaps this is indicates that both Vyåsa and Pata≤jali had a close affiliation with the term. Not only as the proper execution of virtuous thoughts, actions, deeds etc. to attractpuñya and avoidpåpa (merit and demerit), but simply as the breathing ground to build a steady foundation to attain the higher states of yoga. When the mind becomes clear, it is less affected by the kleΩas and opens itself up for the inner seer(purußa) to transcend matter(prak®ti) and transform its restrictive patterns. In the final analysis given by Vyåsa, when the characteristics (dharma) of the mind is more in synch with its inmost substratum (dharmin) they are eventually perceived as one and the same.
This view is also in line with Pata≤jali when he refers to dharma for the third time. One sütra prior to this he claims that ‘a mastery over the elements may be attained when ‘one has developed a proper samyama, integration and understanding of the nature of objects with their respective gross, essential, subtle, inherent constitutional and primary qualities’. As the natural result of this ‘there are no limitations by the characteristics/inherent nature (here dharma) of the body and the mystic powers such as añimå (lightness) etc., manifest’. There is no scope to go into the eight mysitical powers Pata≤jali refers to beginning withañimå, etc., Vyåsa explains them thoroughly, but most importantly he lies great emphasis that yogis who have attained such powers do not utilize them for disturbing the disposition of the world. That would certainly be a breach of dharma and eventually disturb or destroy the practitioner.
The penultimate reference to dharma is found in 4:12. Here Pata≤jali states that ‘the existence of the past and future is equally real. The only difference is in the manifestations of dharma (characteristics) in the present moment.’ The clearest commentary on this cryptic statement is by Hari Harånand Årañya who explains this in accordance with the sat-kårya våda (effects are latent in their causes). In short he demonstrates how nothing of the inmost subtle fabric of prak®tican ever be annihilated, it only change form and appearance according time and conditioning. Although physical objects, as well as thought patterns in the mind, may be un-manifest at present, they are only lying merged in their causal substance, but may come into being in the future or have been present in the past. Bryant argues this sütra overlap with the discussion initiated in YS 3:9-15, where an understanding of the transformations of subtle matter is related to the inherent characteristics (dharma) of the mind, and finally, how these are refined through the practice of nirodha, samådhi and ekågrata, which may result in mystical powers. In this sütra however, dharma refers to the transformation of matter in the contexts of the metaphysics of objects in external reality.
If everything within nature exists within potential form, externally as well as internally, the meditative awareness in which a practitioner of yoga tries to observe his/her subtle patterns of the mind becomes the present tool to bring about a greater awareness of the causal patterns that governs the mind. The characteristics (dharma) of any object may change, but the attention into how they operate appears here to be the governing key for integration and understanding.
The final reference to the word dharma is found in between the sütrathat describes the destruction of all samskårasand the one, which refers to the cessation of all kleΩas. This is the highest point of discrimination, knowledge and insight. Pata≤jali calls this point dharma-megha, or the cloud of virtue, which will sustain the practitioner with complete omniscience. The wisdom that blossom forth in this state is not governed by underlying samskåras, but shines through in its capacity of being the inmost support of nature(prak®ti). Nothing else remains to be known or identified and the practitioner can thus absorb the awareness internally in thepurußa(pure consciousness) since the patterns of prak®ti (that which issues forth) have become totally subdued.
It is difficult to know why this level of samådhiis called dharma-megha samådhi. The commentators give various reasons from the simile of a nurturing rain that uproots all kleΩas and karmas and washes away impurities to that which offer the optimum condition for further growth. They all agree it is the highest state of viveka (discrimination). Hariharånanda claims it rains down the dharma of kaivalya (liberation) and it comes easily like the showers in the rainy season. Vij≤åna Bhikßu believes it to be a state of jîvanmukti (liberated while living), whereas Våcaspati MiΩra considers it to be the highest form of dispassion towards everything constituent of the three guñas. Vyåsa remains moderate and takes support in the word dharma-megha alone which he believe to take place ‘once the destruction of the seeds of latent impressions is accomplished and no other cognitions will arise.’ All of the interpretations seem perfectly justifiable and it serves no purpose to try to dispute them. Although their perspectives and interpretation are slightly different, they all agree with Pata≤jali that in the highest state of discriminative wisdom a virtue bearing cloud of dharma issues forth.
In the article above I’ve listed all the five references to the word dharma that is found in the Yoga Sütras of Pata≤jali. It is evident that the significance of the word slightly differs, but the underlying deeper meaning appear to be the same. Something of a subtle structure that manifest as characteristics, attributes and qualities inherent within a substratum called dharmin. It operates according to laws on an individual level as well as in physical objects. The essence of it is impossible to define, but according to Pata≤jali’s employment of the word it seems reasonable to believe he held dharma in high esteem. It appears to be they key that unlocks a greater insight into the subtle patterns of the mind and the firm foundation of nirodha. The highest state of discriminative insight and most probably also the inmost support of yoga.
 YS 3:13-14 and 3:46.
 YS 4:12.
 YS 4:29
Savitarka, nirvitarka, savicåra, nirvicåra. See YS 1:42-44.
 RV 10.190.1
 See Taittirîya Up. 1.1.1, 1.4.1, 2.4.1, and Ka†ha Up. 3.1
 Swami Harshananda “A Concise Encyclopaedia of HINDUISM, Volume 1 p. 504.
 In Sampraj≤åta Samådhi.
 Trustworthy sources, beginning with the Veda, Upanißads, Bråhmanas, Vedå÷gas and darΩånas.
 YS 1:48.
Dhårañå, dhyåna and samådhi.
 See YS 3:9-12.
 See previous article titled ‘Dharma in the Vedas and Upanißads’.
 In Edwin F. Bryant YS p. 325.
 YS 3:49-51
 YS 3:15
te ca saptaiva bhavanti anumånena pråpitavastumåtrasad-bhåvå˙‘nirodha-dharma-samskårå˙ pariñåmo’tha jîvanam | ceß†å ΩaktiΩ-ca cittasya dharma darΩanavarjitå˙’ iti. || YS Bhåßya 3:15 ||
 The integration ofdharañå, dhyånaand samådhi(trayam ekatra samyama˙) YS 3:4.
 YS 3:44
 YS 3:45
 E. Bryant p: 426.
 YS 4:28 and 30.
prasa÷khyåne’ pyakusîdasya sarvathå viveka-khyåter dharma-megha˙ samådhi˙ YS 4:29
 See Hariharånanda Årañyak
kaivalya-dharmam sa varßati, varßålabdham vårîva dharma-meghad aprayatnalabhyam kaivalyam bhavatîti sütrårtha˙ | Bhåsvatî 4:29
 See E. Bryant pp. 451-2.
samskåra-vijayakßayån-nåsya pratyayåntarånyutpadyante | tadå-asya dharma-megho nåma samådhir-bhavati|| YS Bhåsya 4:29