Is alone-ness the same as loneliness? What was eating at Janis Joplin? And what has it to do with finding in ones heart the heart of all beings? Why is the mystic the true friend and why being all-one enables you to commune with others out of freedom rather than out of need. And how does it relate to Yoga Sutra II.25?

II.25 From the absence of ignorance the commingling of the seer and the seen ceases. This state is called liberation (kaivalya), the independence from the seen.

The state of kaivalya, which is the goal of yoga, is described here. In the four steps of the classical Indian medical system, kaivalya represents the healthy state. It is therefore also called the natural state. For yoga does not create through exertion some remote aloof paradise for the few: it merely re-establishes us in the truth of who we are, which is the natural state to be in. Unfortunately the natural state is not normal any more. Kaivalya can be translated as independence, freedom, aloneness or ‘transcendental aloneness’.[1] It can also mean liberation, since it is the opposite of bondage or mental slavery.

It is interesting to look at what the word ‘aloneness means. It is somewhat similar to loneliness but yet entirely different. Loneliness is the state in which one yearns or longs for the company of another but is deprived of it. It is a lack of something that makes it impossible to enjoy the mere absence of company. The blues singer Janis Joplin said, ‘On stage I give love for 50,000 people but at home Mr Loneliness awaits me’. She died soon afterwards from an overdose of drugs. It is interesting that she described loneliness as the absence of love. Also significant is her attempt to fill the gap left by this absence through the intake of an enormous amount of drugs.

Aloneness is the exact opposite of that. It is the drawing together of the words all-one-ness. To be aware of all-one-ness is to see Brahman, which is deep reality or truth. On the deepest level everything is an expression of the one reality, infinite consciousness.

One who has realised this is alone or all-one: all-one because once one has seen the space nature of consciousness one knows that one is forever united with everything. The very same consciousness contains us all. The very one self is looking out through all creatures’ eyes. According to the Bhagavad Gita, ‘He who sees the supreme Lord abiding equally in all beings, … he sees indeed.’[2] All-one-ness means to have recognised that at the deepest level all beings and things are one. Such a person is called alone since one has found in one’s heart the heart of all beings. No external contact like company is needed to experience happiness. In that state the deep wound called loneliness is healed. In fact company cannot heal loneliness because it cannot be ongoing: one day we, or our friends before us, will die. Then the wound – which has only been covered up – will break open again.

The wound is healed only when one has found in one’s heart the self, which is the self of all beings. This self the Gita calls the Supreme Lord, the Upanishads call Brahman and Buddha calls nirvana. Once this self is found, one does not approach others any more out of need but because one wants to give. Because the mystic does not need others, but can choose freely to be with others, he/she is said to be alone. It is a state of freedom. If one is lonely, one needs to seek others. In truth, however, one is not interested in them but only in their capacity to soothe one’s loneliness. There is no choice: one has to go about seeking others to relieve one’s pain.

For this reason the mystic is called the true friend. Since the mystic has realised him/herself as the container that contains the world and all beings, mystics have no further agenda in this world. They have no point to prove. They do not need others for company, entertainment or pain relief, but see in others that reality they have found in themselves. That person is our real friend who truly sees our innermost self, which is free, independent, uncreated, unstained and free of all that changes and becomes.

Because this true meaning of the word aloneness has been lost, the term ‘transcendental aloneness’ has been introduced to translate kaivalya.

This is an excerpt from the Yoga Sutra commentary contained in my 2006 book Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy.

[1] Leggett uses this term in his Shankara on the Yoga Sutra.

[2] Bhagavad Gita 13.27, trans. Sw. Vireswarananda, p. 271.